The guard called his name, frisked him and led him to a large room where a row of small booths was occupied with visitors talking and whispering through thick metal screens.
"Number fourteen," the guard said, and pointed. Mitch walked to his booth and sat down. A minute later Ray appeared and sat between his dividers on the other side of the screen. Were it not for a scar on Ray's forehead and a few wrinkles around the eyes, they could pass for twins. Both were six-two, weighed about one-eighty, with light brown hair, small blue eyes, high cheekbones and large chins. They had always been told there was Indian blood in the family, but the dark skin had been lost through years in the coal mines.
Mitch had not been to Brushy Mountain in three years. Three years and three months. They'd exchanged letters twice a month, every month, for eight years now.
"How's your French?" Mitch finally asked. Ray's Army test scores had revealed an amazing aptitude for languages. He had served two years as a Vietnamese interpreter. He had mastered German in six months while stationed there. Spanish had taken four years, but he was forced to learn it from a dictionary in the prison library. French was his latest project.
"I'm fluent, I guess," Ray answered. "It's kinda hard to tell in here. I don't get much practice. Evidently they don't teach French in the projects, so most of these brothers here are unilingual. It's undoubtedly the most beautiful language."
"Is it easy?"
"Not as easy as German. Of course, it was easier to learn German since I was living there and everybody spoke it. Did you know that fifty percent of our language comes from German through Old English?"
"No, I didn't know that."
"It's true. English and German are first cousins."
"Probably Italian. It's a Romance language like French and Spanish and Portuguese. Maybe Russian. Maybe Greek. I've been reading about the Greek isles. I plan to go there soon."
Mitch smiled. He was at least seven years away from parole.
"You think I'm kidding, don't you?" Ray asked. "I'm checking out of here, Mitchell, and it won't be long."
"What are your plans?"
"I can't talk. But I'm working on it."
"Don't do it, Ray."
"I'll need some help on the outside, and enough money to get me out of the country. A thousand should do it. You can handle that, can't you? You won't be implicated."
"Aren't they listening to us?"
"Let's talk about something else."
"Sure. How's Abby?"
"Where is she?"
"Right now she's in church. She wanted to come, but I told her she wouldn't get to see you."
"I'd like to see her. Your letters sound like y'all are doing real well. New house, cars, country club. I'm very proud of you. You're the first McDeere in two generations to amount to a damned thing."
"Our parents were good people, Ray. They had no opportunities and a lot of bad luck. They did the best they could."
Ray smiled and looked away. "Yeah, I guess so. Have you talked to Mom?"
"It's been a while."
"Is she still in Florida?"
"I think so."
They paused and studied their fingers. They thought of their mother. Painful thoughts for the most part. There had been happier times, when they were small and their father was alive. She never recovered from his death, and after Rusty was killed the aunts and uncles put her in an institution.
Ray took his finger and followed the small metal rods in the screen. He watched his finger. "Let's talk about something else."
Mitch nodded in agreement. There was so much to talk about, but it was all in the past. They had nothing in common but the past, and it was best to leave it alone.
"You mentioned in a letter that one of your excellmates is a private investigator in Memphis."
"Eddie Lomax. He was a Memphis cop for nine years, until he got sent up for rape."
"Yeah. He had a tough time here. Rapists are not well regarded around this place. Cops are hated. They almost killed him until I stepped in. He's been out about three years now. He writes me all the time. Does mainly divorce investigations."
"Is he in the phone book?"
"969-3838. Why do you need him?"
"I've got a lawyer buddy whose wife is fooling around, but he can't catch her. Is this guy good?"
"Very good, so he says. He's made some money."
"Can I trust him?"
"Are you kidding? Tell him you're my brother and he'll kill for you. He's gonna help me get out of here, he just doesn't know it. You might mention it to him."
"I wish you'd stop that."
A guard walked behind Mitch. "Three minutes," he said.
"What can I send you?" Mitch asked.
"I'd like a real favor, if you don't mind."
"Go to a bookstore and look for one of those cassette courses on how to speak Greek in twenty-four hours. That plus a Greek-to-English dictionary would be nice."
"I'll send it next week."
"How about Italian too?"
"I'm undecided about whether to go to Sicily or the Greek isles. It's really got me tore up. I asked the prison minister about it, and he was of no help. I've thought of going to the warden. What do you think?"
Mitch chuckled and shook his head. "Why don't you go to Australia?"
"Great idea. Send me some tapes in Australian and a dictionary."
They both smiled, then stopped. They watched each other carefully and waited for the guard to call time. Mitch looked at the scar on his forehead and thought of the countless bars and countless fights that led to the inevitable killing. Self-defense, Ray called it. For years he had wanted to cuss Ray for being so stupid, but the anger had passed. Now he wanted to embrace him and take him home and help him find a job.
"Don't feel sorry for me," Ray said.
"Abby wants to write you."
"I'd like that. I barely remember her as a small girl in Danesboro, hanging around her daddy's bank on Main Street. Tell her to send me a picture. And I'd like a picture of your house. You're the first McDeere in a hundred years to own real estate."
"I gotta go."
"Do me a favor. I think you need to find Mom, just to make sure she's alive. Now that you're out of school, it would be nice to reach out to her."
"I've thought about that."
"Think about it some more, okay?"
"Sure. I'll see you in a month or so."
* * *
DeVasher sucked on a Roi-Tan and blew a lungful of smoke into his air purifier. "We found Ray McDeere," he announced proudly.
"Where?" asked Ollie.
"Brushy Mountain State Prison. Convicted of second-degree murder in Nashville eight years ago and sentenced to fifteen years with no parole. Real name is Raymond McDeere. Thirty-one years old. No family. Served three years in the Army. Dishonorable discharge. A real loser."
"How'd you find him?"
"He was visited yesterday by his kid brother. We happened to be following. Twenty-four-hour surveillance, remember."
"His conviction is public record. You should've found this earlier."
"We would have, Ollie, if it was important. But it's not important. We do our job."
"Fifteen years, huh? Who'd he kill?"
"The usual. A buncha drunks in a bar fighting over a woman. No weapon, though. Police and autopsy reports say he hit the victim twice with his fists and cracked his skull."
"Why the dishonorable discharge?"
"Gross insubordination. Plus, he assaulted an officer. I don't know how he avoided a court-martial. Looks like a nasty character."
"You're right, it's not important. What else do you know?"
"Not much. We've got the house wired, right? He has not mentioned Tarrance to his wife. In fact, we listen to this kid around the clock, and he ain't mentioned Tarrance to anyone."
Ollie smiled and nodded his approval. He was proud of McDeere. What a lawyer.
"What about sex?"