The breakout is set for a quarter to one, the perfect time for a breakout. Although the guards in this prison are technically all weasels, the guy who’s on the night-shift for section B this week is a ferret, and really his heart just isn’t in it. I know him from last time he had the night-shift. He’s sort of grey-coloured, with light eyes that I saw once when he took off his tiny mirrored sunglasses to give me the stink eye. I had been rattling my metal cup to and fro along the bars of my cell, partly because it annoys the warders but mostly because it annoys Lance.
As you might expect, Lance learned nothing from his near-death experience. He is still intolerant of cliches, which makes the prison almost unbearable for him. Lance is in the cell next to mine, so I have to hear a lot of his complaining. This in turn makes the prison almost unbearable for me. I don’t really understand why two known associates were put in adjacent cells, and since the prison administration are unable to make anything more than hisses and squeaks there isn’t really anyone I can talk to about it.
The weasels are pretty relaxed compared to some of the warders I’ve had in the past. I did two years in the prison where all the guards are llamas, and I don’t think I went single day without getting jostled by some jumped-up screw with a chip on his haunch. No such problem here, but god help you if you get out of line. Lance went apeshit in the showers the other day because someone told him to bend over and pick up the soap, and by the time he was dragged back to his cell he was covered in tiny bites.
“You don’t understand,” Lance croaked from his cot. “I’m not afraid of any implied threat. It’s the playing into the hands of the tedious right-wing conflation of homosexuality and crime. Is it too much to ask to be threatened in a novel way?”
So anyway, the good news is that Lance wasn’t brought directly to his cell. I saw them dragging him away from the shower block. He was on the ground, surrounded by weasels, looking like nothing more than a man wrestling a fur coat.
The ferret does his midnight rounds, scampering from one cell to another. I lie on my bed with my head near the bars, watching him with one eye. He’s mostly just walking around, but occasionally he slips through the bars to nip at someone’s exposed toes – every so often I hear the yelp of a prison being surprised awake.
My first plan was to fake illness and knock him out when he came into the cell, but the rest of my plan requires Lance – and he will have nothing to do with such a hackneyed plot.
“In England,” Lance had told me, “in Yorkshire, they put ferrets down their trousers.”
“Down their trousers?”
Lance nodded grimly.
“Damn. That’s the sort of thing that should be more widely known. That’s the kind of deviance that makes me very glad on July 4th.”
“No. No, it’s not like that.” Lance shakes his head. “Why’s everything got to be sexual with you these days?” Lance tends to forget that I’ve been stuck in prison for eight months. “They do it as a kind of macho test, like that game Chunks always wanted to play. You know the one I mean.”
I did. Years ago, when we were just little shavers – mugging people in back alleys with flick-knives whose blades were chipmunks – we used to have a test of strength which involved taking turns to punch each other in the stomach. Chunks was always the best at it. Not because of a special abdominal fortitude – in fact, precisely the opposite. He got his name from the vomit he’d spew over you at the slightest blow to his gut, making playing the game with him a test of an iron stomach even when you were doing the hitting. After the first time you got puked on you never wanted to play him again. Chunks was completely oblivious to this, though, attributing our reluctance to an overwhelming fearsomeness that existed only in his own brain.
Anyway. In accordance with Lance’s bizarre trivia, I have spread out my spare pair of trousers on the ground. The waist is cinched closed with a pillow-case twisted into a makeshift belt, and one leg is tied off in a knot. The other lays invitingly on the floor just outside of my cell, propped open a few inches inside with my metal cup. Lance cut the bottom out of it in the shop when he was supposed to be pressing license-plates for cars with goats in the engines. He also snipped off the handle.
“That way,” he’d said, “if we fail to escape at least I won’t have to hear you dragging the damn thing up and down your bars all day like someone out of a seventies movie.”
I think he might be onto me.
Regardless, the plan works like a treat. The guard – unable to resist the temptation – rushes into the open leg of my trousers. As fast as I can I spring out of bed and snatch them up. I am just in time, the warder realising his mistake. He can fit through the hole in the bottom of my cup, but his big bundle of keys is too big. Grabbing the cup I release the keys from their chain before he can turn around, then knot the one open leg of the trousers shut.
“Have fun!” I whisper to him, tossing the whole bundle – guard and all – onto the bed.
I unlock my own cell, then Lance’s. He is still sore from hundreds of needle-sharp teeth, but drags himself up with the unholy strength of someone who believes that they have come back from the dead, and grabs his own pillow to bring with him. We rush to the door between section B and the laundry room, dash between rows of idle machinery, and climb out of the window. I’d left it open the last time I was there, having heard from one of the office workers that the alarm wires were broken.
All we need now is something to distract the guards, a job I have left up to Lance.
“Let’s see it,” I say.
Lance takes two identical shapes out of the pillow, and hands one of them to me. It is slippery, and I almost drop it as I turn it over to look. It is a rabbit carved out of soap.
“Nice,” I tell him.