originally appeared in the june through september 1956 issues of last stop - excitement magazine
editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo
there were only eight inmates in the maximum security wing of the women’s federal prison in b————, and four of them never got any visitors or mail.
so it was with some slight surprise that the chief guard of the wing, greta “iron mask” grumbowski, was interrupted from her dozing and doodling at her little desk by one of her underlings announcing,
“visitor for ricardo.”
it was saturday, the regular visiting day, and three of the inmates were already down in the visiting area. they had regular visitors, and their visitors that day had been scheduled in the proper fashion, according to regulations.
iron mask, who liked routine followed and regulations observed, checked her notebook while the guard, whose name was morrissey, waited.
“i don’t have any visitor down for ricardo.”
“he’s got a pass signed by the warden. nixon called the office and they said he was legit.”
“let me guess - he’s a lawyer.”
“he sure is, “ morrissey answered. “he looks like one. dressed real nice, like the king of spain , and nixon says she’s seen him in the papers - a real big shot lawyer for i don’t know, al capone or stalin or somebody.”
“seen him in the funny papers, probably. well, if the warden says it’s o k, it’s no skin off my big red nose.”
“want me to get ricardo?”
“no, i’ll get her myself. you wait here.” iron mask heaved herself out of her chair.
as iron mask headed down the corridor, she did not see the smirk on morrissey’s face but she knew it was there.
angela ricardo was iron mask’s favorite prisoner. she was young and good-looking and never acted up or gave any trouble, though she had kind of a smart mouth.
she was the only one of the eight occupants of the ward who was not serving time for murder. she had been sentenced to twenty to forty years for a long series of robbery and fraud charges. if she ever got out, she faced similar outstanding charges in mexico, brazil, france, egypt, and singapore.
she sometimes passed the time playing chess or checkers or cribbage or gin rummy with iron mask. although iron mask also played with a couple of the other inmates and ricardo played with some of the other guards, the other inmates somewhat resented ricardo as iron mask’s pet . this did not seem to concern ricardo.
iron mask reached the end of the corridor and entered the prisoners’ area. it was “maximum security” in that they could not get to the other parts of the prison, but the eight could move freely within it. if they acted up, they would be thrown in solitary. there was a dorm room with ten bunks, and a smaller room with tables and chairs where they could play cards or talk or stare into space.
iron mask found ricardo lying down on her cot in the dormitory, reading the letters of alice roosevelt, a book which had been in the prison library for a while but did not show much sign of wear.
“visitor for you,” iron mask announced .
ricardo showed no sign of surprise. she sat up. “about time.”
“he’s a lawyer.”
“i should hope so.” ricardo closed the letters of alice roosevelt and slipped it under her pillow.
“let’s go then. morrissey will take you down.”
ricardo stood up. “to the regular visitor’s area?”
iron mask laughed. “you were expecting something else, missy? a special room, with tea and buttered crumpets?”
“just asking, old sport, just asking.”
richard “dick” richmond had the complexion of a boating man, and wore a powder blue suit with a pink shirt and a scarlet and navy blue school tie. he was seated at the farthest end of the long row of visitors windows. only a few other windows were occupied with visitors on one side and prisoners on the other, although a number of inmates were talking to visitors - including a sizable number of children - in chairs in an area behind the widows.
he stood up as angela ricardo, escorted by morrissey. approached him. he gave the impression of leaning on a walking stick, although he was not actually doing so. a very thin briefcase lay on the narrow shelf on his side of the window.
“ah, miss ricardo, a pleasure. do you have my card?” he sat down again. “i gave it to this charming young lady” - indicating morrissey - “to give to you.”
“yeah, i got it.” they both waited until morrissey moved a couple of yards away.
“the card doesn’t say who you came from.”
“did you think it would? do you really need to know, at this point?”
“i guess not.”
dick richmond looked around. “i must say this is all quite informal. the noise of the children provides a most charming background.”
“are you going to ask them to turn it down?”
“oh, no, no! ha ha! actually it might prove quite useful - in certain cases. not that we have anything to hide.” he smiled.
“i’m not in any hurry here, counselor.”
“of course not. nor am i. well then, where to begin?”
“how about with what you can do for me?”
“indeed. as you have no doubt surmised, i represent interests friendly to yourself, and who have taken an interest in yourself.”
“who feel that your sentence is excessive, and are willing to exert their slight influence on your behalf, under the right circumstances.”
dick richmond lowered his voice. “let us be sure you do understand. my clients, if they are successful on your behalf, will owe you nothing, and you will owe them everything. also - this may sound a bit rude, but they asked me to give you this message in these words - they are interested in you, but do not regard you as unique or irreplaceable. there are, again in their words, other fish in the pond. if you are not amenable to their terms, they can find someone else for their purposes.”
“no problem. i understand.”
the lawyer relaxed. “ah. my clients told me you were a person who knew the drill, and my finely honed instincts tell me they were correct.”
“that’s good to know.”
“there is, however, one other little matter, that they requested that i bring up.”
“and what might that be?”
“slade. mister stanley slade.”
for the first time in the interview, angela ricardo looked a little unsure of herself. “slade? what about him?”
“yes, and such enquiries as they have made find nothing to contradict that. even so - “
“even so what? it was a coincidence, i don’t know what else to tell you .”
he gave her a cross-examining stare. “so you had nothing to do with slade before that night?”
“i ran into him a few times, years before that. i don’t know that i said two words to him.”
“you ran into him a few times.” the lawyer held his stare. “ mister slade had - no doubt still has - a reputation for having an eye for a pretty face. and if you will indulge an old man, you have a very pretty face.”
“and it was even prettier back then. what can i tell you? maybe slade had a girl. maybe he thought i was al gordon’s girl and he didn’t want to deal with al. maybe he heard i was a commie. i don’t know.”
“ha ha, as for your associations with as you put it - “commies” - my clients are aware of it and regard it with some amusement.” dick richmond cleared his throat. “so that is your final word on the subject?”
“yes, it is.”
“very well, then, i will advise my clients to that effect. if they decide to go forward and if a hearing is scheduled, you will know about it. you are a big girl, you know the proper things to say in that situation.”
“what about honest employment?”
“in a hearing you usually have to say you got a job lined up outside.”
dick richmond considered. “an excellent point. i see you really have a head on your shoulders. yes, i think i can say that if such information is deemed necessary, you will be informed.”
“and if i get out, what then?”
the lawyer looked around, lowered his voice still further. “if and when you are released, take the bus to new york, which runs at least twice daily. get off at yonkers. you will be contacted. “
“yonkers, i can remember that.”
“good.” he gripped his briefcase, which he had not glanced at the whole time, and stood up. “then i wish you good day and good luck.”