another day in the maximum security ward of the women’s federal prison in b—————.
outside, a gray sky with a threat of rain.
inside, business as usual.
angie lay on her bunk reading the battered prison library copy of “anthony adverse”. all the others had gone down to mail call but she had not bothered.
“hey, princess, iron mask has something for you. she asked us to tell you real special.”
angie looked up. collins and marrero were standing over her bunk and grinning own at her.
collins had killed three husbands and marrero two bank guards in a holdup. they liked to think of themselves as ruling the ward, but with only eight inmates in the ward and guards right there all the time, they were mostly just talk.
“i think it’s so sad, “ collins went on, “that a sweet-looking kid like you don’t get more mail. you don’t even go down to check.”
“that’s right,” marrero said. “you should go down and check every day. because you never know, do you?”
angie put a marker in the book and sat up. slowly, careful not to brush up against either of them.
“you’d think a cute number like this would have half the men in america writing to her asking for her picture, wouldn’t you,” collins smirked. “but maybe they know something we don’t.”
angie let them run on. she didn’t want to antagonize them, and eventually they would move away.
“too bad about that big fat book you’re reading,” said marrero. “looks like you might not have time to finish it.”
angie started slightly. what were they talking about? were they threatening her?
collins laughed. “oh, that got her attention, didn’t it?”
“that’s right, cupcake,” marrero said, “you got a little note from the parole board. gee, and it seems like you just got here, don’t it, sally?”
parole board? had the lawyer, dick chandler or whatever his name was, been able to work that fast?
angie looked up at marrero. “did officer grumbowski actually tell you i had a note from the parole board?” she asked slowly.
“no, but i know a parole board letter when i see one. i been looking for one for myself for fifteen years.”
“well, missy,” iron mask greeted angie, “it looks like your lawyer friend knows his onions. or knows where some bodies are buried, or something.” she handed her a thin letter.
the letter did indeed have a stamped return address of the federal parole board. angie ripped it open.
it was just a note. angie quickly scanned it.
“friday,” she told iron mask.
“this friday? three days away?”
“yeah.” angie stared down at the note.
“that was quick,” iron mask said.
almost too quick, angie thought. richmond - that was the lawyer’s name, dick richmond - better know what he was doing.
for one thing, he had agreed to provide her with some kind of jive story about a job waiting for her. well, he would either write her or come in again before friday - and saturday was visiting day - or he wouldn’t.
“you don’t have much time to get prepared,” iron mask interrupted angle’s musings.
angie shrugged. “who needs time to get prepared? just tell them the truth, that’s all you got to do.”
“ha ha ha! that’s what i like about you, missy, your sense of humor. you will lose those pretty looks, but never lose that sense of humor.”
dick richmond did not contact angie before friday, either in person or by mail.
she was left to wonder what was going on as she was driven to albany for the parole hearing.
rain poured down the whole ride to albany, and neither the driver, nor the two guards flanking her in the back seat, were talkative types.
it turned out her hearing was a special one, and there were no other prisoners having their cases heard.
the three members of the parole board - a man and two women - were seated at a table against the front wall of the hearing room. they watched without speaking as the guards brought angie in and took her handcuffs off. it seemed to angie that one of the two women looked very hostile.
there were two rows of seats against the back wall, and one of the guards motioned to angie to sit in the front row.
a table and two chairs were positioned directly in front of the board members, apparently for the petitioner and a lawyer.
there were no spectators present.
there was no sign of dick richmond.
the clock on the wall said ten minutes to two. the hearing was scheduled for two o’clock.
“well, at least she is on time,” said the man, who sat in the center of the threesome. “unlike her lawyer.”
“should we wait for the lawyer?” asked the hostile looking woman. she looks like a nun, thought angie.
“of course we will wait,” the man replied in a soft patient voice. “we will wait until the scheduled time of the hearing, at least.”
at five minutes to two, dick richmond rushed in, with rain drops glistening on his camels hair coat. he glanced up at the clock.
he held up his hand to the man. “please! i apologize for my lateness! a few words with my client, if you will.”
the man laughed. “of course. but don’t try our patience.” the two women grimaced, but said nothing.
the guards moved away and dick richmond took a seat beside angie.
he whispered in her ear. “ i’m sorry about this. some things didn’t go as planned. they tell me you are a cool customer - all i can say is, keep cool and get through this. and everything will work out. i repeat - everything will work out.” then he turned to the board members with a big smile. “all right, i think we are ready to proceed.”
“thank you, counselor,” the man replied drily. he pointed to the table. “both of you come forward, please.”
“let’s get on with it,” said the woman on the left, the less hostile looking one, when angie and the lawyer were seated. she picked up a paper from the table in front of her.
“i must say this is a very curious case, “ she finally said. “the prisoner has served eight months - i repeat, eight months, not eight years - of a twenty to forty year sentence and is up for parole? on a special hearing? very curious.” she pushed her glasses down on her nose and looked at angie. “what have you to say, miss ricardo? why, exactly, should we be giving you parole at this time?”
“because i feel i can be of more value to society out of prison than in it,” angie replied. “and because i am sincerely sorry for my crimes and the harm they have done.”
“let me ask you,” the woman continued, “do you have any particular employment waiting for you, where, as you put it, you can be of more value to society?”
angie managed not to glance at dick richmond as she answered. “no, ma’am, but if i am paroled i will make every effort, i assure you, to find an honest job as soon as i possibly can.”
the man spoke. “you are aware, miss ricardo, are you not, that in addition to the twenty to forty years you are now sentenced to, there are a number of outstanding warrants against you, not only in this country, but in europe and south america? “
and egypt and asia, too, thought angie, but she answered, “yes, sir, i know that.”
“if you are paroled, some or most of these jurisdictions may, as we say, spring into action. you understand that?”
the man shrugged. “i have no more questions.”
“but i do.” the angry looking women on the man’s right finally spoke. “i have a question for miss ricardo.”
angie turned to face her. “yes, ma’am.”
“are you, or have you ever been, a member of the communist party?”
“are you sure? i have documents here which seem to indicate otherwise.”
“no, ma’am, i was never a member of the american communist party. though i understand why you might be mistaken as to that. my parents died when i was just a little child, and i was brought up by my older sister, rose, who was a member - sometimes the only member - of the people’s united resistance party, a small group that never had more than - “
“resistance party? resistance to what? to the american dream? to everything decent?”
“no, ma’am. i love the american dream, and will try to pursue it myself if just given the chance -“
the man and the woman on his left both laughed.
it did not get any better. dick richmond down looked at his folded hands and never spoke, but cleared his throat a few times as the hearing proceeded.
finally it was over. dick richmond told angie to keep her chin up, grabbed his briefcase and disappeared.
“i hope i at least get something to eat out of all this,” angie said to the guards as they put her handcuffs back on and started to lead her back to the car.
“a sandwich,” one of them said. “the same sandwiches we are going to have ourselves.”
“she can have mine if she wants it,” said the other one. “i’ll wait for my old lady’s home cooking.”
that night angie had a dream in which she was on a mississippi riverboat playing poker with dick richmond, governor thomas dewey, mrs roosevelt, stalin, and her old associates tommy sullivan and frisco johnny ramirez.
frisco johnny was tugging on her arm, saying, “look out the window, babe, at the misty moonlight… in the misty moonlight…“
he kept tugging on her arm.
angie woke up.
iron mask was tugging on her arm. the dorm was dark and the others were all asleep, some of them wheezing or snoring.
iron mask held her finger to her lips. she nodded back at the door, which was open to the corridor.
angie got up groggily, quietly slipped her uniform and shoes on and followed iron mask.
they walked down the corridor. iron mask opened a small door that angie had never seen opened before.
she led her down six floors of narrow winding stairs to another small door, which said “emergency only” on it.
iron mask spoke for the first time. “listen carefully. when you get outside, stay against the wall and take a right until you come to a door in the wall. keep your eyes open, you could miss it. it will be unlocked. go out, walk down the road and there will be a car. the keys will be in it, and some clothes and a little money.” she opened the “emergency” door just wide enough for angie to slip through.
“just go,” she said, when angie hesitated.
angie went outside. the door closed behind her. the night was cold and the ground was wet, but the rain had stopped.
she found the door with no problem, and went through it. but where was the car? she started walking.
she finally came to it, a black 1947 desoto. the door to it was unlocked. the overhead light did not come on when she opened the door and slipped in.
there was a bag on the front passenger seat. she felt it, it felt like clothing.
she opened the glove compartment. the car keys were in it. and an envelope. the envelope had a couple of bills in it. she squinted at them in the dim light - just a couple of twenties. how far was she supposed to get with that? she thought there might be some kind of note with the money, but there was none.
now what? at their first meeting dick richmond had mentioned the bus station in yonkers.
the only other things in the glove compartment were an unopened pack of old golds and a book of matches.
the matchbook was black with gold lettering - “ronnie’s - yonkers new york”