hug. The news sinks in and I feel my Slow Joe game face taking shape. The world that shifted off its axis twelve months ago is righting itself. What was out of whack is now in whack. Nature correcting itself. The laws of physics correcting themselves. My Slow Joe smile feels great and seems to fit a lot better than it did earlier when I was with Barlow. It’s the big smile that shows all the teeth, and if I can’t get it under control it’s going to break my mouth in half. My scar hurts as it shifts around the smile, looking for a comfortable position and not finding one, but I don’t care about the pain. Not now. I’m going to be home again. I’m going to have the chance to carry on doing the thing I love to do. Get some new pet goldfish. Buy some nice sharp knives. Get a really cool briefcase.
Adam looks at Glen, and then he starts to laugh, the muscles in his neck straining out from his shirt, and when he starts to laugh then Glen laughs too. They stare at each other for two seconds, then both look at me. “That was fucking great,” Adam says, and he’s looking at me, but talking to his boyfriend. “You see his face?”
“I didn’t think it’d work,” Glen says. “I really didn’t. Oh man, you totally picked it.”
“I told you,” Adam says. “I told you he was dumber than anybody really knew.”
“What?” I ask, but of course I know what. It’s a practical joke. In an ideal world, I’d stab these guys to death for making me look like a fool. But this isn’t an ideal world—proven by my surroundings and lack of knife. I play along with them—because to do otherwise would be to show them who I really am.
“He still doesn’t get it,” Glen says, his voice rising, trying to hold back a laugh. He sounds eager, as if excited to be making his point. Whatever that point is. “You think they’re ever going to let you out of here?” he asks, directing his question at me. “Come on, asshole, there’s somebody here who wants to see you.”
I take a step toward them. “Should I . . . should I bring my books?” I ask, and boy I’m good. Very, very good.
“Oh my God,” Adam says, and starts laughing all over. “Oh my God, he still doesn’t get it!”
“Stop being such a fucktard. Let’s go,” Glen says, and he grabs hold of my arm. There’s a dark tone in his voice, the eagerness and excitement gone. He’s on edge. He sounds like he’s ready for me to try something, or more likely he’s wanting me to try something that will give them permission to find out if a man’s skull can be crushed between a forearm and a bicep.
“I’m . . . I’m not going home?”
“You crack me up,” Adam says, and Glen agrees.
They lead me back to an identical room to the one I was in earlier with the shrink. I sit behind the desk and they don’t handcuff me and I know what that means. That means I’m going to be talking to somebody who has the ability to beat the shit out of me. The guards leave the room. I stand up and start pacing it. I’m faced with the two fundamental decisions of prison—sit down and do nothing, or pace the room you’re in. I study the concrete walls. Great architecture. A real timeless quality. I reach out and touch them. Prisons all over the world from last century to the next century are going to have these same walls. In a thousand years I doubt they will have improved on the design. The door opens up. Carl Schroder walks in. He’s soaking wet. I’ll update the weather conversationalists when I get back to my cell.
“Take a seat, Joe,” Schroder says.
I take a seat. He takes his jacket off and hangs it over the back of the chair. The front of his shirt is wet, so is the collar, but the sleeves look mostly dry. He rolls them up. He brushes a hand through his hair and flicks the water off his fingers. His hair is longer than the last time I saw him, the fringe has grown out and is plastered over his forehead. He wipes a drop of rainwater off his nose. Then