Eli tore open the envelope he found on his bunk. He was pretty sure Roy had left it there before heading to the yard. Eli was only coming in to grab a clean set of his prison uniform and take a shower. He was filthy and had oil and grease everywhere.
That’s when he saw the letter. His heart pounded the more he unfolded the letter. He hadn’t bothered looking at the return address. Once he saw that it was from West Myshuno Unified School District, his heart went into overdrive.
He had to read it three times to be sure, but in the end it was the same. He finally did it. He finally passed the GED. It took a moment for the shock to wear off, and when it did, Eli jumped, hooted, and hollered. Two years! It had taken him two years and four different tests, but he did it!
Eli ran out of the cell, and headed straight for the library. “I did it, Pops!” he shouted. When he didn’t see Pops, he moved farther into the library. Weird, Pops was supposed to be in the library right now. “Pops?”
Eli noticed a foot, and his heart pounded for another reason. “Pops!” He screamed and ran over to the body. Pops was lying there. Eli knelt down and shook him. “Pops!” Nothing. Eli shouted over his shoulder out of the library. “Somebody help!”
Eli ran out and looked around. The mess hall was deserted. Most guys were in the yard, and that meant the guards would be out there. Still, there were cameras everywhere. Didn’t anyone notice Pops on the ground in the library?
Eli jumped up and waved his hands around at one of the cameras. He screamed for help, not sure if there were mics on the things or if it was just video footage. He ran back inside the library and went back to Pops.
Tears threatened their way, but Eli held back. “I’m going to find help, Pops,” he promised. Eli ran and he would have kept running if he hadn’t been stopped by the sight of two guards.
Eli stopped and held up his hands. “Look, it’s Pops. He’s…something’s wrong.”
The guard gave him another order. “On your knees. Hands behind your head.”
Eli got on his knees. “Please, you gotta help him!”
The guard giving orders motioned to Officer Turner, who ran passed Eli. The other waited.
“We need medical, now!” Turner yelled.
“Stay put, prisoner.” The guard headed for the library. Eli stayed, but turned. Another few minutes, more officers came rushing in along with the medical personnel.
Eli couldn’t take it. He finally got up and went into the library. The medical personnel were doing CPR. “Pops!” Eli shouted.
A guard came over and stopped Eli from moving any farther. “Get back, Prisoner.”
Eli stepped back, and cried. “Pops! Pops!”
The medical personnel stopped. One shook his head. “Time of death, 1610.”
Eli collapsed and shouted. His heart ached and broke. A couple of officers hauled him out of the library and into the mess hall. He could only scream and cry. Why? Why did this have to happen?
Someone put a glass of water in front of him after some time. No one said a word. Eli was devastated. He watched as the body of his best friend was rolled out of the library. Still no one said a word.
The Warden stepped in and sat across from Eli. “Ryder, you need to tell me exactly what happened.”
Eli kept staring away at the door.
He turned his head to the Warden. “I was so happy.” As if that explained it. “Why? Why’d he have to die today?”
“Son, he was eighty-two years old. Life happens.” The Warden sighed. “Tell me what happen, Elijah.”
Eli nodded and told him what transpired and finished with a sob. “He’ll never know. I was too late. He’ll never know I did it.”
The Warden gave him a soft smile. “I’m sure he knows. I’ll have CO Jordan escort you to your cell. We’re on lockdown.”
“Until I get a cause of death, yes. I’ll be speaking with you again soon, I’m sure.”
Eli stood and let Officer Jordan lead him to his cell. Roy was sitting there and stood when Eli came in. “Eli.” The cell door closed with a loud slam. Eli said nothing. Tears kept running down his face. “Eli? What’s wrong?”
“Pops,” he croaked. “He-he-he’s dead.”
Roy’s eyes widen. “Are you sure?”
Eli nodded. “Found him. He-he…Oh God, Roy!” He collapsed and held onto his knees. “He’s dead!”
Roy slumped down on his bed. “Shit,” he whispered. “I…fucking hell, Eli.”
For the longest time neither could talk. Eli finally stood and climbed up to his bunk where he rolled over into a ball and cried. He didn’t want to talk. He didn’t want to see anyone. He didn’t ever want to lose another friend in this dump. Pops was everything Eli wanted in a father and more. He looked up to the old man and followed the man’s lead. He even went to some of the Sunday services with Pops the last year or so when Pops encouraged him to go.
It was a couple of long days of mourning for Eli while under Lockdown. Finally he cell opened and the Warden entered. “Gentlemen.”
Roy sat up and Eli only turned over on the bed. “The autopsy came back, Ryder. Father Slater died of natural causes. There was nothing you or anyone could have done to help him.”
Roy asked, “Sir, where’s he going to be, uh, buried?”
“We’ve contacted a Catholic church nearby, and I’m in contact with the state. As a Priest, we want to respect his faith and him. I will keep you both informed. I know you two had a good relationship with Father Slater, as well as Mr. Nance.”
Nancy? Shit. “Does he know?” Eli asked.
“Not yet. You two only know because you found the body, Mr. Ryder. Now, I must be off. We will make the announcement soon, and lift the lockdown.”
It was within the hour that the cell doors open and the prisoners were ordered out for count. Once they were cleared, the Warden came out and spoke out to everyone inside the cell block.
“I am sure you have all been wondering why the recent lockdown? Two days ago, Father Slater’s body was found. I’m sorry to inform you of his passing. If you need any—”
There was a piercing scream below. Roy and Eli shared a worried look. Nancy.
When the screams stopped, and Eli was sure Kellogg had done something to help silence him, the Warden continued. “As I was saying, if you need any counseling or to speak to anyone, our counselors will be available for longer hours this week, as well as a few of our local ministers who will be visiting. Please just inform one of our COs, and we’ll get you the help you need.
“As of today, we are giving everyone the day off of their jobs, and the yard will be open an extra few hours. Dismissed.”
Eli and Roy headed down, but not to the yard. They went straight to Nancy’s and Kellogg’s cell. Kellogg was holding Nancy on the bottom bunk and whispering into his ear. Kellogg met both Roy’s and Eli’s gaze.
“Hey, look, your friends are here too,” Kellogg whispered.
“Nance?” Eli said and knelt in front of both Kellogg and Nancy. “Nancy?”
“Oh Nance, it’s going to be okay.”
“Go. Away!” Nancy buried his head into Kellogg’s neck. “Make them go.”
Eli stood and headed back for the door. “Take care of him, Kellogg.”
“I got this,” Kellogg growled, and if Eli wasn’t mistaken there were a few tears rolling down his eyes as well. “We’ll get through this, sweetheart,” Kellogg whispered into Nancy’s ear loud enough for Eli and Roy to hear. “We’ll be okay.”
Eli followed Roy out to the yard and sat at a bench. They hadn’t spoken to each other the past two days. “We’re all going to need to get through this,” Roy said. “You know, he was my first cell mate? Scared the living fuck out of me. I hadn’t been much older than you when you came in. And here was this guy just screaming at me, and giving me rules to follow in his bunk. At first I hated the guy.”
Roy chuckled, “Then I got to know him. I’ve been in here more than half my life, and Pops was the real bad-ass here even before me. In my day, everyone knew about him and how he got off of Death Row three days before he was supposed to fry on the electric chair. Votes came in, and Pops went from being on the verge of filling a body bag to L-Whop. He was the OG in here.”
Eli couldn’t imagine being in prison that long, or how Pops survived so long. “I can’t believe he’s gone.”
“I don’t thing any of us can, son.”
“He’ll never know…” Eli had kept saying that in his head. In fact he hadn’t told Roy yet about the GED.
“I got my GED.”
Roy laughed. It was odd to hear a laugh coming from anyone right now. He patted Eli on the back. “He knew, kid. He’s the one that gave me the envelope. Don’t worry, he was as proud of you as I am right now.”
Eli couldn’t hold back the tears. Pops had known, and Pops had been proud. Eli would go on with his life with that knowledge and he would never let down Pops. Not once. If anything, he’d hold Pops memory dear and when the time came, he would live his life clean and free to honor Pops. It was all he could do.