THEY CAME FOR HOLE while he was in the library.
Foss, small and tight and mean, was first. The civilian librarian took one look at him and immediately found something to do in the stacks. A few cons sitting at the scarred wooden desks in the bad light suddenly became interested in their airport thriller or smudgy copy of National Geographic.
Emile Hole was almost a forty, a large man with long russet hair and a scar that sawed its way across his throat. He sat at the very back of the prison library, where the light was best, by the windows that had three different kinds of cage on them. Emile had glasses so small they were almost comical on a man of his size. Dainty, thought Foss, and smiled. He did not have a very pleasant smile.
Foss grabbed one of the plastic scoop chairs and dragged it over to where Emile sat. Its feet scraped the raw floor. Loudly.
Emile didn't look up.
Foss turned the chair backwards, then sat down so hard it creaked.
Emile didn't look up.
Foss noticed Emile was reading an old, worn paperback of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Return of the King. What's the fucking point? Foss thought. They already made a movie of that shit.
Foss cleared his throat.
Emile didn't look up.
"What kind of name is 'Emile', anyway?" Foss said.
Emile licked his thumb. Turned back the yellowed page he was on. Put the book down.
Emile looked up at Foss. His eyes were bright, focused, but distant. He had that look cons get a few years after they realize they aren't going anywhere else ever again.
"Franco-American," Emile said. He had a voice that was a little too light for in here. Too airy. Nobody had yet made fun of it though. At least not to his face. Emile Hole was doing twenty-five to life for shooting a man in the chest with a shotgun because the man had decided that he wouldn't give Emile a large amount of cash money that didn't even belong to him.
"Franco-American, huh," said Foss. "That's a thing?"
"Yeah," said Emile. "It is."
"Huh. Huh. And 'Hole'? What's that?"
"That was my father's name."
Foss brought up his palms in false surrender. "Hey now. Take it easy. I'm just asking. Because, you see, we picked ourselves out a name."
"Did you?" Emile took off the little oval glasses. Folded them neatly on the paperback. Foss noticed there was some fucking elf on the cover or something.
"Oh, we did," he said. "'The Warlords.' What'd you think?"
"It has a ring to it."
"And we decided, well shit, we were always gonna be ecumenical, but we decided, like had a vote, that we were gonna be, you know what 'ecumenical' means?"
Emile sat back a little. "Means anyone can join."
"Anybody we offer can join," said Foss, "and that includes Franco-Americans."
"I told your boy Davie-"
"He ain't my boy." The words rung through the reading room. Foss wasn't smiling now. The civilian librarian scurried further back into the stacks.
"Your buddy," said Emile. "That work better?"
"Sure," said Foss. "Sure."
"I ain't interested," said Emile, picking up the book. "Don't want a crew, don't want the enemies it comes with. No offense meant." He flipped the book open to where he'd folded over the page. "You can go tell Davie now."
"See, Emile, that don't work for us," said Foss. "Either you're on the inside, or you're on the outside. And if you're on the outside, whoa, boy, that's not a place you want to be."
"Then I guess at least I know where I'm at,” said Emile, reading.
"I guess you do."
On his way out, Foss nodded to an old-timer named Sauce looking at tits in the National Geographic.
Waiting outside in the gray, cold corridor was Davie Ingram. He had two feet on Foss, a head so perfectly smooth that it never needed a razor, and a curved cantaloupe grin that never left his face, no matter what he got up to. Behind him were the rest of the Warlords.
Davie raised his eyebrows.
Foss shook his head.
Davie cracked his knuckles and threw open the library door.
Immediately, Sauce got up, stepped against the wall. When the Warlords had passed, he ran out into the hall as fast as he could, magazine under his arm.
There wasn't anywhere else for the civilian librarian to go, so he closed his eyes and then covered them with the palms of his hands.
Davie closed the distance with Emile like it was a thing that couldn't not happen.
Emile was still reading.
"Hole," said Davie. "Hey, Hole!"
Emile held up one finger, calling for a moment's silence.
Davie's grin didn't waver. He pivoted his left foot into the swing. Emile came out of the chair faster, kicking Davie's right leg out from underneath him. Cracked him once in the jaw on his way down.
Foss' mouth was open, so Emile put his fist in it.
Then the other Warlords had him.
Emile wouldn't lay still for them. He tore at ankles, snapped somebody's wrist, kicked somebody else in the junk. It took less than a minute for Davie to get to his feet. In that time, despite the fact that it was six against one, it could have gone either way.
And then Davie saw an opening and took it.
The punch laid out Emile.
"Don't let Davie Ingram hit you, even once," everyone had said. "Because he only needs the once."
It was true.
Emile saw stars made of blood and then he felt his bruised brain trying to pound its way out of his skull.
"Get him up," Davie said, toeing Foss, who was still laid out on the floor, his mouth full of blood and a few stray molars. The Warlords grabbed Foss, hauled him up. Davie snapped his fingers and Foss, blinking away pain, reached into his orange jumpsuit, dug out an off-brand smartphone.
Emile was just beginning to come around. "You shoulda said yes," Davie said. "See this, Hole?" Davie gestured at the phone, which Foss was aiming down at Emile. "My boy Renaldo had to have his girl smuggle it in up her ass."
Renaldo, who had tattoos that would have been very popular in places where he wasn't, spat. "Yeah," Renaldo said, "and she didn't say it was too pleasant neither."
"Maybe she just needs to get a taste for it," said Emile.
That was when Renaldo got the first punch in.
Davie had more to say, but, fuck it, he figured, *never try to control a situation's already going where you want it. *
As the Warlords tuned Emile up, Foss held the smartphone steady as he could.
When Emile was gasping through purpled, swelling lips, Davie held up his hand.
"Alright, turn that shit off," Davie said. He took the phone from Foss and crouched down, holding in front of Emile's mauled face. "Got video of that ass-whupping. Since you don't want to be on the inside with us, you're on the outside against us. What does this mean? It means we send this video to your brother. Tell he needs to scrape up ten grand, pay us. Or we do this again. And again. And again."
Emile grunted a laugh.
Davie's genial smile softened for a second, just barely. "You think that's funny, Hole?"
"My brother," said Emile. "He doesn't have a cell phone. You dumbshit peckerwood fuck."
That's when Davie Ingram stepped on Emile Hole's head.
copyright © 2021 Gerry Brown