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Cranky Calls

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Morning in Em City usually brings out the kooks, but today there’s something unusual going on. Diane Wittlesey may only be walking her first set of rounds for the day, but she can feel it already, crackling in the air like lightning. Coushaine and Said are both on their knees praying to their separate gods, but the atmosphere is anything but pleasant. Adebisi is yelling at Wangler, Hoyt is giving the finger to Busmalis, Schillinger has his finger stuck in Robeson’s chest – fire in his eyes.

She sighs heavily as she walks down the stairs to the C.O.’s station. D’Agnasti is on the phone, bitching at someone.

“Because I don’t fucking feel like stopping by the store on the way home.”

Diane plops down in her chair too hard, and sends it rolling across the tiled floor. “Damn.” She hikes herself back to the desk, ignoring the conversation on the phone as best she can.

“You went out last night, why didn’t you get bread then?”

He’ll have to get off the phone soon. The C.O.s look the other way when a guard uses a unit phone for a private conversation, as long as the unit is locked down. But he’s got three minutes before the day begins for the inmates, and the other day staff are already arriving. She nods to Mineo and Armstrong as they climb the stairs, bickering back and forth about last night’s baseball game.

“I don’t care if you had a headache or not, I’ve been working hard all night long, and I shouldn’t have to go to the store just because you’re too lazy to go food shopping!”

D’Agnasti’s fighting with his wife again, but Diane couldn’t care less. She gives him the eye, and he drops his volume down, even though he ignores her when she taps her forefinger on her watch.

“Working hard, my ass,” Mineo grouches.

Diane agrees. If he was working a day or evening shift, she could see it, but when he sits on his butt all night, she has no sympathy.

“You know what? I’ll just eat cereal with the kids this morning.” He looks up when Diane stands, and rests her finger on the cell lock for the units.

“You ready to go, Mineo?” she asks. She’d rather be the one calling count; she is, after all, the Head C.O. for Em City, but Mineo has worked this unit since long before Tim took over as unit manager. It’s tradition by now, and as grumpy as she is today, she’s not going to take that away from him. The others wouldn’t understand.

“What do you mean there’s no milk!” That shout is loud enough for some of the inmates to notice. Every C.O. in the unit looks in his direction, and D’Agnasti’s face turns dark red with embarrassment.

Mineo steps up to the desk to stand with Diane, “Ready whenever you are,” he tells her.

Diane taps her finger on the switch, then speaks quietly. “Can it, D’Agnasti.”

“I gotta go,” he says quickly, then hangs up.

He opens his mouth to say something Diane has no interest in hearing, so she flips the switch, nodding her head to give Mineo the go-ahead.

“Coooooooount!” Mineo’s voice fills the whole huge room, his sharp baritone announcing the start of another day.

The inmates start streaming out of the pods as soon as they hear the buzzing click of the door locks, lining up next to their doors so the guards can check them off for their morning count. There is the usual subdued grumble of newly woken men trying to come out of their sweet dreams of families and lovers, and the glassy-eyed stare of nightmare ghosts that are taking their time clearing the minds of others. But for some reason, there’s more of an ill-tempered tone to their voices than normal.

Diane stares out at her charges, shaking her head. “There’s something in the air, and it ain’t love.”

Mineo laughs at that, slapping D’Agnasti on the shoulder as he heads down to help with count. It’s the last laugh Diane hears for hours.

xXx

Diane wanders into the phone room, letting the door close behind her as she leans against the Plexiglas wall. It seems like everyone in here has a frown on his face. They don’t usually watch the phones this closely, but with the nasty attitudes she’s been getting all morning, today might be the day to keep an ear out. She watches Beecher carefully. He’s ranting so badly he’s practically foaming at the mouth.

Rebadow has been tense and upset at something all morning, but she hasn’t been able to figure it out yet. He’s so upset that he’s trembling – she’s never seen him this out of control. Maybe God and he are on the outs; you can’t agree with the Almighty all the time. Pancamo is talking in Italian, so Diane has no clue what he’s up to, but the disgust on his face says it all. O’Reily’s smile is so oily that she could probably start a fire with it; she wonders who he’s trying to pull a con on this time.

o0o

“I really can’t take this toothpaste much longer, Dad,” Beecher says irritably. “It’s pasty and disgusting. You’ve got to promise me you’ll bring my Crest when you come tomorrow.” … “I’ve had to put up with this institutional crap for a whole month, now. You need to remember it, this time!” … “Thanks, Dad.” … “I’m okay; just a little on edge, I guess.”

On edge? She’d caught him red handed with a bottle of bathtub gin this morning. It’s a miracle he’s able to stand upright. He should be in the hole, but McManus left it up to Sister Pete, and she let him off with a slap on the wrist. How are they supposed to get anything accomplished here if everybody lets their favorites get away with murder?

“It’s my new podmate, Chris.” … “Cellmate, right.” … “No, we’re getting along fine. He’s funny. He makes me laugh.” … “No, see, he’s in the Hole, so I’m all alone.”

Right. That’s why he’s all shaky, and pale as a sheet. Doesn’t have anything to do with the empty bottle of booze she found on the floor of his room.

“About the toothpaste, how many tubes do you plan to bring me?” … “Is that all?” … “No! Bring me at least a case!”

Beecher’s voice rises quickly, his tone indignant. Diane kicks off from her lean against the wall, her eyes focused on him. He covers his phone, waving at her apologetically, then when she relaxes, he uncovers the phone. He listens for a minute, rolling his eyes.

“Wow, Dad. You really need to chill out. Is your blood pressure high again?”

o0o

“Are you kidding me?” … “Ma, the food here sucks!” … “With the nig… the homeboys in charge of the kitchen, the food has really gone downhill.” … “Yeah, when Dino ran the kitchen it purred like a racecar. These days, it chugs around like a worn down city bus.” … “Ah, Momma… I miss your manicotti.”

o0o

“You can’t delay his treatment like that! What happens if Alex can’t get the loan?” … “Susan, he’s only a boy. He can’t understand…” … “Yes, I know, I gave up all right to influence his father’s decisions when I told Mamma to tell Alex I was dead. But if they hold off the treatment on the hopes that Alex can take him to Disney World…” … “I understand that, but it’s Leukemia!” … “You have to convince Alex…” … “You have to!”

“Rebadow!”

The old man looks over at Diane, surprised that she’d spoken his name. He obviously hadn’t realized he’d gotten so loud. Somebody has Leukemia; no wonder he’s upset. He needs to calm down, though.

“My apologies, Officer Wittlesey. I’m speaking to my sister. I’ll keep it down.”

She nods to him, and he turns his back, as if uncomfortable with the concern in her eyes. He holds the handset back to his ear.

“Sorry, Susan. I didn’t mean to shout.” … “Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps I should speak to God. I try to avoid asking about personal affairs, but under the circumstances…” … “I’ll talk to you soon, Susan. Take care.”

“You all right, Rebadow?” Diane asks softly; she doesn’t want to upset him again.

“Oh yes, I’m fine. Thank you for asking.” He smiles at her wanly, obviously not as ‘fine’ as he says he is. “I just need to have a private conference with God. He’s usually around this time of day.”

Diane grins as he wanders off, mumbling to himself.

“About time you got off the phone, old man!” Adebisi saunters in as if he rules the world.

“Behave yourself, Adebisi, or you’ll be spending your phone time in the Hole.”

Adebisi has a bad temper even on the best of days, but she won’t put up with his shit today. Her fuse is too short for that bullcrap. Diane crosses her arms, staring at him sternly.

He tips his head to one side, and lowers his eyes meekly. “Oh, yes ma’am, Officer Wittlesey. Whatever you say!”

She’s not convinced by his show of meekness. He’s not the type to actually mean it.

“Shut up, Adebisi, and make your phone call. You’re holding up the line.” He turns around to start punching numbers into the phone before she adds, “…and keep it polite.”

He laughs, and she realizes that’s the first laugh she’s heard all day.

o0o

“I understand that she doesn’t talk to just anyone. That’s okay, really. She’ll talk to me.” … “Yeah, I know, I understand that.” … “But I’m her biggest fan, of course she’ll talk to me!” … “You don’t get it, do you? I NEED TO TALK TO MISS SALLY!”

Diane steps up to Busmalis just as he realizes he shouted that loudly enough that people outside the phone room are staring at him. He moves his hand up to cover his mouth, his eyes wide with surprise.

“I think that’s enough for today, don’t you, Busmalis?” she says softly.

He nods rapidly, then speaks into the handset. “I’ll try again later.” He quickly hangs up, and scuttles out of the room.

Diane is about to follow him, she’s tired of the grouchy attitude in here today, but as she reaches the door Adebisi starts arguing with someone.

“I don’t care what he says, he’s a lawyer, you can’t trust him!” … “No! They’re all pirates and thieves, hustlers, and con men! Don’t believe a word he says!”

She backpedals and comes to a stop with her billyclub across his throat. He freezes. That’s more like it.

“If I hear one more shout outta you, Adebisi…”

He interrupts her with more of his sweet talk. “I’m so sorry, Officer Wittlesey! I lost control, but I’m okay now. I promise.”

She lets him interrupt, because she really has no interest in calling in a bunch of officers to clean out this nest of buzzards. She knows he’s full of shit, and he knows that she knows, but if she pulls back now, she won’t have to spend the next hour writing all this up in the log. She’s too pissed off to mess with that shit, so she releases him with a warning.

“I’m watching you.”

He salutes her, and turns back to his phone with a smile that’s almost as fake as the one O’Reily has going on at the next phone. She’d rather leave, but O’Reily is talking fast, so she settles back at her spot by the door to see if he’s running a scam she needs to keep track of.

oOo

“Okay, okay, Aunt Brenda, I got your point.” … “Yes, he does like the soft chocolates best. I know.” … “But Cyril is also known for gorging on food, and eating so much that he goes off it and won’t eat it again. I’m just saying that if you bring him something else you know he likes every once in a while, he’ll be even happier when you bring him the soft chocolates.”

Chocolates? O’Reily is scamming his own aunt over chocolates? Cyril usually gives Diane a caramel when his Aunt Brenda comes to visit. If O’Reily screws up her caramel delivery, Diane is going to get very testy. She may have let her annoyance show through, because O’Reily turns to the side and stares out of the room before he starts talking again.

“So every once in a while, bring him something else, like maybe one of those big bars of Hershey’s with Almonds – he likes those, too.” … “Yeah, the big bars.” … “Or a bunch of the regular ones would do.” … “Oh.” … “You’ve got a good memory, Aunt Brenda. Yeah, those are my favorites.” … “But that doesn’t mean that Cyril won’t eat them.” … “No, I won’t cheat him out of them.” … “He usually gives me a chocolate or two, but he shares with some of the hacks, too. And a couple of the older guys that play checkers with him.” … “I try to keep him from giving them all away, but he likes to share, what am I supposed to do?” … “No, really. It’s not just for me.”

He glances around the room, and Diane focuses on Beecher again, so he doesn’t realize she’s paying attention to him. Finally, he turns his back, and starts in again, softer this time.

“It’s just…” … “Well, back when we were both in grade school… You know dad, he was always an asshole, and we had to scrounge to get anything for us. It used to take days to save up the money for candy, and we couldn’t get a big bag, some days we only had money for one bar between the two of us.” … “I know. But with Ma sick all the time…” … “We’d get a Hershey’s with Almonds, and I’d pull out the knife Uncle George gave me, and cut the candy bar right down the middle, between the S and the H.” … “It was something special between the two of us, you know? Just for us. And these days, sometimes Cyril looks at me, and he don’t recognize me at all, you know? And I thought maybe…”

Diane could practically hear his Aunt Brenda saying “Oh, Ryan, why didn’t you just say so?”

O’Reily’s back sags slightly, and he says softly, “Thanks, Aunt Brenda.”

As hard as it is to believe, it looks like O’Reily really does have a heart in there somewhere. If he realizes Diane heard that, he’ll have to do something terrible to save his rep, so she ignores him, and watches the exchange as Beecher leaves, and Guerra comes in and dials, his back to her.

It’s a good thing she does, since O’Reily turns around, the handset slamming into the cradle. He’s got a big shit-eating grin on his face, and Diane’s stomach falls. She could have sworn that by now she was immune to the crap these assholes could pull, but he’d taken her in, just like he’d taken in his own aunt. That son of a bitch.

Not only that, but she won’t be getting a caramel tomorrow, either. Damn. She hates almonds.

As she walks out the door, she hears Arif shouting behind her. “I don’t care what the children say - we are not made of money! As long as the sneakers still fit, they can’t have a new pair!” She doesn’t even bother to shrug it off; she leaves him yelling at his wife. If everyone else is having a rotten day why shouldn’t he?

xXx

Diane watches McManus climb the stairs to his office, and she grabs her paperwork. He’s been avoiding her all week, but she has to turn these in tomorrow, and if he doesn’t sign off on them, they’ll hand them right back to her again. Now’s the perfect time. She can trap him in his office. She’ll stand at the door, and refuse to let him out until he signs the fucking papers.

She doesn’t even knock, just barges into McManus’ office, and there he is - on the phone. Shit. She just can’t win.

He frowns at her, but then he turns back to the phone. “Can I put you on hold for a moment? Sorry. This won’t take long.” He hits the hold button, and slams the phone down. “You ever heard of knocking?”

She barks bitter laughter, and it sounds far too loud in the small office. “You ever heard of responsibility?” she snarks back at him. “I’ve been trying to get you to go over these statistical reports all week, but every time I show up you have something critically important to do on the other side of the building.”

He opens his mouth to say something, but she doesn’t give him a chance to talk. “Look, McManus, I get the idea that you’re upset with me about something, but as long as we both work in Em City we have to at least get along well enough to do our jobs.”

He reaches out for the paperwork, and she hands it over, arms crossed over her chest as he signs each page without even looking at it. He holds the stack out to her, but she doesn’t take it.

“You didn’t even look at them,” she points out.

He sets the papers down on the desk, and reaches for the phone. “In the entire time you’ve been my Head C.O., you’ve never made a single mistake on any of your paperwork. I don’t expect you to start now.”

She grinds her teeth together to avoid saying anything ugly. Instead she grabs the papers off his desk. “I know you’re a busy guy, McManus, but we have got to talk about this problem between the two of us.”

He looks down, his face flushed with embarrassment. “You’re right, we do. We will.” He glances over to his hand, resting on the phone handset. “But right now, I have someone on hold.”

She turns away, but only makes it as far as the door. With one hand on the knob, she turns back to him. “McManus…” She doesn't even know what she wants to say, she just doesn't want to leave it like that, but he interrupts her before she can say more.

“I’ll speak to you later, Officer Wittlesey.” He turns his back to her, but before she can leave, he looks back at her and asks, “When did we turn from Tim and Diane into Wittlesey and McManus?”

She studies his face for a moment before she answers. “When you stopped being my friend.”

She leaves the room, and sits down on the bench outside the office. She can hear everything he says from this spot. She’ll have to find out where Sister Pete gets her white noise machines, and requisition one for the office. But for now, what the hell, she listens.

“Sean?” … “Yeah, sorry about that.” … “Thanks.” … “No, that was her.” … “Yeah. She has no idea why I’m so upset.” … “I know. I have to talk to her. I’ll do it today.”

He laughs, bitterly. If she includes her own, that makes three laughs all day. They may be in a prison, but there was usually a lot more laughter than that in a morning.

“Yes, I mean today’s today,” he says.

He sounds like he’s smiling – like that’s a private joke between friends. Is this Sean guy a friend? McManus never mentioned him to Diane, but come to think of it, he’d seldom talked about his personal life with her. She wonders what that means in terms of their relationship. Had they even have a relationship, or had they simply had a lot of sex?

“Hey, I may hate confrontation, but I can do it when I have to.” … “No, I think she just gave me the perfect solution.” … “You sure you don’t want the job?” … “No, we’ve got someone who’s asked for the position, but I’d rather give it to you. I need a Head C.O. I can trust.”

Her stomach turns sour on her in a second. She stands up blindly, and walks to the railing, taking deep breaths, and blinking to clear her eyes. Maybe it’s time to ask for a transfer. If he can’t trust her to do her job, then she is definitely in the wrong place. She stays at the rail until her head clears. If she walks through Em City half aware she’ll end up dead for sure.

Diane checks her watch. It’s eleven – early yet, but she needs a break. Hopefully, the breakroom will be empty, and she can gather her thoughts. She takes a deep breath, and heads down the stairs.

xXx

“Try the top of the refrigerator.” … “I don’t know, Mary Agnes, but I found them there once, so it’s worth a try.” … “No?” … “Try the bathroom.”

Sister Pete is on the phone in the breakroom when she gets there, and Diane sighs heavily. Pete’s lost her glasses again. She goes through the same ritual every time. There’s a decent possibility that one of the inmates has stolen them, but before she raises the alarm, she always checks everyplace she’s been that day. It saves them the trouble of searching the entire prison only to find out she’s left them in the warden’s office. It wouldn’t be the first time.

“No, I checked the car first.” … “Yes, even under the seats.” … “Could you check under my bed, again? Just in case.”

Sr. Pete waves at her distractedly, busy with a piece of paper with a typewritten list on it. It’s a long list, and half of it has been crossed out. She fiddles nervously with a pen, occasionally writing something at the bottom of the list.

Diane isn’t really hungry, but she goes through the motions, anyway. She unpeels the corner of the tub, and sticks the thing in the microwave. She stares at the tub as it goes around, and around, but she’s still surprised when the bell goes off, letting her know her meal is ready.

The soup is salty, and that’s good; her stomach is still upset after McManus’ declaration of distrust, and the salt helps settle it. The saltine crackers are nice and bland. To quote Didi: “Oh, yummy.” When did her daughter get to be so sarcastic? Diane figures her mom would say it runs in the family.

“I don’t know. I just have a feeling they’re at home somewhere.” … “No, Agnes, the Virgin did not tell me, it’s just a feeling I have.” … “Oh, I know! Check the bookshelves next to the chair I like in the library.” … “Yes, the one Sr. Sheila and I both like.” … “We don’t fight over it! We just share it aggressively.”

Diane comes close to snorting into her soup over that one.

Sr. Pete looks up at her and rolls her eyes. “Nuns can get possessive over the strangest things,” she tells Diane, a smile on her lips.

She goes back to her list, and Diane realizes it’s a list of places that Pete could have left her glasses. One side for home, the other side for Oz. At the top of both lists:
1. On top of your head.
2. Around your neck.

Diane has a feeling Beecher came up with that list. Too bad they weren’t that easy to find today.

Sr. Agnes comes back, and Pete listens for a while. “Did you ask…” … “Everyone, huh?” … “Twice?” … “Well, shit! They have to be there, somewhere, dammit!”

Her eyes widen, and she puts her fingers over her mouth as she realizes that she just cussed out a fellow nun. “Sorry, Sister. Father Ray is a bad influence.” … “Oh, yes. He curses like a sailor and smokes like a chimneystack.”

Speak of the devil, Father Ray comes running into the room, waving the Sister’s glasses in one hand.

Sister Pete jumps up, “Oh, praise the Lord!” She hugs the Father, practically squishing the glasses between them. “Thank you, Saint Anthony!”

Diane smiles at the two as they hug. Her mother always swears that Saint Anthony can find anything for you, as long as you ask him politely enough, and thank him when he finds it for you.

“They were in the couch in my office, between the cushions,” the padre tells Pete breathlessly.

She kisses him on both cheeks, and he blushes adorably, fiddling with his permanently messy hair.

While the good sister is shouting “We found them, we found them!” into the phone, the Father grabs a Tupperware container off the top of the refrigerator. He plops down next to Diane, and opens the container with a glimmer of excitement in his eyes.

“Time for a celebration!” He pushes the container her way.

It’s full of moist, chocolaty brownies, and Diane feels her mood begin to lighten immediately. She hunts for the biggest brownie she can find, and takes a huge bite. “Mmmm,” she mumbles around her mouthful. “This is exactly what I needed.”

Before she knows it, she’s surrounded by her friends and co-workers, laughing over her miserable day. She’s going to have to deal with the McManus issue, but she’s got friends here, and she’s not going to let her troubles force her out of the best-paying job she can find. She’ll find a solution, and once she’s not face to face with McGrouchy every day, she’ll be happier, and the job will be easier.

She sneaks another brownie out of the rapidly emptying container, as Mineo sits down at the table. He reaches for the phone, and Diane almost drops her brownie in her haste to smack the handset right out of his hand.

“Put that phone down, now!” she orders.

He fumbles for the handset, and slams it into the cradle. “Yes, ma’am!”

She takes another bite of her brownie and props her feet up on the chair across from her. “That’s more like it,” she says, pushing the container over toward him.

“Here. You’ll feel better once you have a brownie.”