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I’m out in the exercise yard and keeping out of all the drama that inevitably crops up here. For me this means choosing a less desirable spot, without any shade, to pace with a greater range than I can while indoors. I just came up with some good lines in my head that I wish I could write down immediately, but I keep my notebook under my bed when I’m not writing in it. Safer that way. Instead I pick up a handful of dry, prickly grass and shred it with my fingernails. People leave me alone for the most part. It’s all about image.

Then, right smack-dab in the middle of the prison yard, a single, short, slender figure proclaims, “RIGHT! I’M GOING TO SAY THIS WHOLE SPIEL ONCE, SO LISTEN!”

Everyone looks. There are some laughs, but everyone looks.

I hear someone whisper to a buddy, “Who is that?”

“Gentlemen and others, this is my second day here, and it has become abundantly obvious to me that certain things need addressing. Most importantly, I’m not a man. Not a boy. Not a he. Not a woman either, got it? Not a girl, not a she. I’m a they. Unfortunately, legally male, so here we are.”

The whispered-to buddy says, “d’Eon.”

“Unless otherwise stated, no, I will not follow any requests for any forms of touch. If you’re the type to not bother with a request, you will find yourself trying to figure out how to explain your extensive injuries without admitting that I was the one who fucked you up.” D’eon smiled sweetly. Psychotically sweetly. “My husband - yes, I have a husband, say what you like about that but not to my face - got me a shiny new deck of cards with which to make friends. I’m partial to Texas Hold’em. Let’s be friends, gentlemen and others. I like my fingernails clean. That will be all.”

***

Behind their back, d’Eon initially gets called they, he, she, and rather memorably it - I find that last one tasteless as well as discourteous. It becomes known that d’Eon tolerates guards using ‘he’, beyond a long-suffering sigh, but anyone else who doesn’t use ‘they’ tends to find something unpleasant in one of their shoes in the morning. Nobody can prove anything.

In fact, in their first week, a few disputes kick off over petty slights that I suspect are d’Eon’s work. Whispered rumors, someone’s prized picture of his pet dog found in a toilet, things like that. A lot of those involved made crude remarks or overtures towards d'Eon earlier. Those of us with any class or sense stay out of it. I've been here long enough to see a "she" or two around, and not everyone is a dick about that either. Same principle. It's nice to see oafs weeded out.

Eight days after their arrival, d’Eon trounces a hulking gorilla of a guy in a game of poker and embarrasses him in the process. The next day, d’Eon has a bruise on their arm. Meanwhile, that guy goes to the infirmary with deep scratches on his face, a split lip, bruises around his throat, walking funny, and with a suspected concussion. He refuses to say who did it. D'Eon's dirty fingernails could be from lots of things.

It is wise that I do not say that I find d’Eon even more attractive now.

(I don’t say much to anyone, I mostly write.)

***

Ten days after their arrival, when I have to spend they day putting plastic dominoes in boxes, d’Eon is next to me. Also putting dominoes in boxes. They laugh. At first I think they might be laughing at me, and I think about interesting places one could put small rectangle of hard plastic. Then I realize they are laughing at the box.

“Made in the USA,” d’Eon says, pointing. “They’re so proud. Companies never say by whom.”

“I suppose not.” I haven’t heard anyone use the word “whom” in a while. It’s the first words we exchange directly.

“Y’know, I saved the life of a Chinese mob boss once -”

Someone else says, “Can the bullshit.”

Someone else than the other someone else says, “Nah, they tell good stories.”

D’Eon smiles again. Their fingers are quick. I imagine those fingers unable to move, none of d’Eon being able to move a muscle. It’ll be hours before I can write. They say, “How that happened is a story for another day. I was having tea with her, though - Chinese mob bosses love their tea - and she told me that even though it’d be profitable to sell traitors for their organs, she would never allow it.”

“Why?” I ask.

D’Eon gestures at the little assembly line in this room. “She said if you make it profitable to condemn people, the number of people getting in trouble ‘mysteriously’ goes up by a lot.”

***

Twelve days after they arrive, it’s a visitation day. I don’t have any visitors, and because of spousal privileges d’Eon will get more privacy with their husband than inmates do with other types of visitors. They give me a wave on their way, and they’re nervously twisting their wedding ring around.

“I didn’t used to wear one, but I wanted a reminder. For myself and others.”

This is the first time d’Eon has sounded anything but confident in my hearing.

“Cool,” I say. I’m more eloquent in my writing.

***

Thirteen days after their arrival, d’Eon joins me in pacing around a forgotten patch of the exercise yard. “You look at me a lot,” they say calmly.

“Um.”

“People don’t react well when they notice you looking at them, I’m guessing.”

“Um.”

“Everyone keeps making puns about your last name. It’s a remarkable coincidence.”

“Um.”

They smile, and leave me dangling.

“You know what I’m in for?” I say, desperately. Oh haha, my crime matches my surname, hahahahaha.

“Yes. You pleaded guilty.”

“What’d you plead?”

“To conspiracy to commit murder? Nolo contendere. No contest. It’s fortunate that it’s allowed in this jurisdiction. Pleading no contest, I mean, not conspiracy to commit murder.”

My lawyer only mentioned that in passing. “That’s neither innocent nor guilty?”

“Uh huh.” They look up at the sky, shading their eyes from the sun. “You get some, but not all, of the leniency of pleading guilty, as well as avoiding a public spectacle. There is some, though not total, protection from the ruling being used against you in other cases and in the future.”

“It makes sense that you chose a middle-of-the-road plea,” I say.

They laugh.

***

Fifteen days after their arrival, word on the cell block is that d’Eon went to a prayer meeting and they and the chaplain chatted away like old friends. I didn’t go. I was writing.

***

Eighteen days after their arrival, my notebook gets stolen. It gets passed around, but never where I can grab it back. Lots of people start calling me a sick fuck and worse. I get beaten up at one point, and when I tell a guard, he just looks at me like I’m something fuzzy and stained he found on the bottom of his shoe.

Then d’Eon gets it back, and brings it back, and I hug them. They don’t swat me away.

“Realistically, they shouldn’t be able to use beeswax like that,” d’Eon says. “Either you forgot, or don’t know, or the characters don’t care, or they’re really crappy Doms. And you know there’s a difference between a flogger and a cat-o-nine-tails, I hope?”

It is very difficult not to kiss them.

***

Twenty days after their arrival, I write d’Eon a note telling them that I know they’re married, but I love them. I have never felt a connection like I have with them, including with all my girlfriends and boyfriends and my ex-wife. As a humorous illustration, I mention that during the divorce proceedings, I converted the majority of my inherited wealth - I come from European aristocracy and centuries’-old name - into precious metals that I buried in the back of an abandoned former whorehouse. Very clever, if I think so myself. I mention that maybe when we’ve both done our time, we could dig it up together? Loved ones on the outside can be fickle, after all. Loved ones on the outside don’t understand.

I slip the note into their hand while we’re lining up for lunch. I do not see them for the rest of the day, or the day after, or the day after. They avoid me. Perhaps I came on too strong.

***

Twenty-three days after their arrival, there is the startling news that d’Eon has been declared innocent of all charges. Apparently the person they allegedly conspired to murder is alive and well, and it was all a terrible misunderstanding.

There’s more to the story, but I don’t care right then. They wave me goodbye on the way out, without a word.

***

Five days after their departure, I receive a letter from them.

It says they'd been able to 'tap out' at any time and still keep their deposit for such a dangerous assignment. The reason they did not plead guilty was that it might have sent them to a lower-security facility. It says that my (wealthy in her own right) ex-wife was the one who hired them, two actors, and an informed lawyer so they could get to me, befriend me, and trick me into revealing where I’d hidden my money. A large percentage will go to my victims and their loved ones. She wants me to know. She knew that d'Eon was a type of person, both in appearance and personality, that I would find interesting. Especially a fellow ostracized oddball.

It also says there is a huge divide between someone who does safe-sane-consensual BDSM with their husband and a serial torturer-rapist. It says they were the one who stole my notebook in the first place.

I just skimmed it, in case there were clues. Not my kink.

You knew what I was capable of, and I was kind to you. When I get out of here nineteen years from now, d’Eon, you better watch your back. It'll be no contest.

***

From the personal diary of Mark E.D. Sade