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  • from The Devil in Silver
  • Victor LaValle

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Victor LaValle

Photograph by Emily Raboteau

[End Page 936]

Skinny Ray arrived in handcuffs. Escorted by two of the cops who'd caught him. Marched inside, straight to intake, where he got interviewed for about half an hour. But Skinny Ray didn't have any answers to give. Wouldn't even say his real name. They found it on the i.d. in his wallet. He had a thick file. It only took a few clicks on a computer to discover how he'd been since adolescence: a pain in the ass, to put it mildly. After the intake meeting he was led down a long yellow corridor. Yellow because the fluorescent ceiling lights turned the linoleum floors and cheap wall paint the color of a plucked chicken. And not that free range business. The police brought him to a room halfway down this hallway and threw him on one of the two beds inside. Then the cops took off his handcuffs. Then the cops left. The room's door remained open, but Skinny Ray wasn't free.

He knew where he was. Knew where they were taking him when they'd picked him up. Not this exact location, but the type of place. Not jail. Someplace worse. At least as far as Skinny Ray was concerned. And now he lay on the mattress in the airless room and he knew where he was but refused to really see it. Kind of like when you catch your ex at a party and suddenly you go blind, looking everywhere else just to deny your lying eyes.

Skinny Ray stood up and fixed his clothes. His shirt had come untucked and his shoe laces untied, but he hadn't asked the cops if he could straighten up before they pulled him in. Imagine that. They would've shot him in the leg just for being stupid. He touched his face, checking for bruises, but the police hadn't roughed him up at all. He kind of wished they had. It would've been more dramatic. A good story for any women he might meet in here. Yes, even five minutes after getting locked up Skinny Ray had ladies on his mind.

The room had three large windows in a row against one wall. The bed they'd thrown him on sat directly underneath. Right outside the window were well-maintained grounds. Fresh-mowed lawn and a line of trees that swayed peaceably. It was almost picturesque. If not for the twelve foot fence on the other side of the trees. The one with short, sharp barbs along the top.

Yeah, Skinny Ray knew exactly where he'd landed. He walked out the room.

Time to meet the natives.

The hallway, still yellow, sallow, stayed empty. He walked toward the sounds of activity. Passing doors to more rooms along the way, most of them shut. Walked with both hands in the pockets of his slacks, his head cocked back. Kind of a swagger. But a real swagger starts from the inside, of course. Skinny Ray's, right now, was more of a pantomime. Act confident. Act like you're happy to be here. Fool the world. Fool yourself.

He reached the end of the hallway and now the sounds increased by a hundred. He heard a television blaring gunshots and car crashes from somewhere down another hallway. Members of the staff sat behind a large L-shaped desk, talking with each other like co-workers everywhere tend to do. Absently, half-friendly, passing time. One of the [End Page 937] staff, a man wearing a white shirt, stood up and leaned over the L-shaped station. He didn't look at Skinny Ray, but down that other hallway, where the television continued to broadcast some killer sounds.

"You all turn that down!" he shouted. "You hear me? You hear me!"

If the sound reduced at all, Skinny Ray couldn't tell. He kind of wanted to see the man run down that hallway. The battle might be even more entertaining than whatever the folks down there were actually watching...


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