Note: This short story is another entry in a series that I’ve been writing to explore the back story of James Leipfold, the main character in my series of detective novels. In this story, he’s in the middle of serving his jail time at Reading Jail. Enjoy!
LEIPFOLD WAS READING The Brothers Karamazov again. It was the third time he’d read it, and it was up there in his top five books of all time. It was a long book that took a lot of commitment, but he was in Jail – and he had nothing else but time.
There was a noise from outside his cell and the door unlocked. Leipfold looked at it suspiciously, then smiled when he saw that it was Simmonds, one of the younger guards who’d struck up a rapport with Leipfold over a shared love of puzzles and trivia. Simmonds had a habit of remembering brainteasers and then asking Leipfold for the answers, but that didn’t look like why he was opening up the cell door.
“Leipfold,” Simmonds said, “the guvnor wants to see you.”
“Me?” Leipfold replied. “Uh oh. You’d better take me there.”
Simmonds cuffed Leipfold and led him through the labyrinth towards the warden’s office. The jail was in the shape of a cross with three tiers, and Leipfold was on the top floor. He had to walk through half of the prison to get to the administration black where the warden’s office was, but he liked to take the walk – in prison, it was the closest he got to a holiday.
Simmonds ushered him up to the warden’s door, knocked on it and then turned around and walked away before the warden had a chance to answer it. Leipfold was still cuffed, but it didn’t bother him. He’d built his own prison inside his head, and it didn’t much matter what anyone did to him.
The door opened and the governor stepped out. “Ah, Leipfold,” he said, grabbing Leipfold by the arm and leading him inside the office. “Thanks for coming.”
“It’s not like I had a choice,” Leipfold murmured.
“What was that?”
“Good.” The warden paused for a moment. He stared at Leipfold with his shrewd, appraising eyes. “Leipfold,” he said, “I need another favour.”
“Oh no,” Leipfold said. “What is it this time?”
“I just thought that after the success of your last operation–“
“That was a fluke!” Leipfold insisted.
“Whatever it was, you got results. I want you to do it again.”
“Why would I do that? I’ve got my books.”
“And I can take them away again if I want to,” the warden said. “Help me out with this one and I’ll get you some more books.”
“I don’t need any more books,” Leipfold said.
“I don’t care,” the warden said. “Take it or leave it. But if you leave it, you’re going down to the hole.”
“Eurgh,” Leipfold said. “Okay, what do you need?”
“That’s more like it,” the warden said. “Okay, here’s the problem. Someone’s bringing drugs into the jail. Heroin, to be more specific. I’ve had word that people have been smoking the stuff inside the prison. That won’t do. Not on my watch.”
“And you want me to find out who’s been taking the stuff?”
The warden shook his head. “I already know who’s taking it. You might want to talk to that Bear of yours.”
“Bear’s taking heroin?”
“Afraid so,” the warden said. “He won’t be a bear for long. I’ve seen what that stuff does to people.”
“But if you already know who’s responsible, what do you need me for?”
“You think Bear is the only one?” the warden asked. “No, he’s just a symptom of the disease. We need to cut off the head and go straight to the supplier. I need you to find out how it’s getting into the jail in the first place.”
“Why me?” Leipfold asked.
“I don’t have anyone else that can get the job done,” the warden said. “And besides, I know you can do it.”
Leipfold sighed. “And if I don’t, you’ll take my books away?”
“Well then,” Leipfold said, “It looks like I don’t have much choice.”
Leipfold started the investigation immediately. Ever since he’d investigated the jailbreak, the warden had allowed him to keep his pens and his notebook as a token of gratitude. He was about to get some more use out of them.
After the failed escape attempt, which had resulted in the arrest of the white supremacists’ outside accomplices and the prisoners’ transport to a new facility, Leipfold had been on edge. The skinheads were being held up as heroes, and their escape attempt was already sure to go down in prison history. If the rest of the cons ever found out that Leipfold had a hand in stopping them…well, he’d rather not think about it.
But that meant that he was already on edge, and the idea of snooping around for drugs didn’t sit well with him. And as for Bear, forget about it. He was Leipfold’s protector, the closest thing he had to a friend there. He had no desire to start poking around and upsetting the only backup he had.
Still, there were plenty of other convicts, and Leipfold spent the next couple of days putting out some feelers and finding out what he could find out. The junkies were easy to intimidate, but Leipfold couldn’t get them to talk. Either they didn’t know anything, or they didn’t want to say anything and risk cutting off their supply. Then he started to tail them, and he learned to recognise the faces of the dealers as they handed the goods over in the shower block or took even bigger risks by throwing them from cell to cell in what the prisoners called ‘kites’.
He thought he was even making a little progress. Then the warden took the war to the next level with a formal announcement in front of the inmate populace.
“Right, you lot,” he said, marching up and down the middle gantry with his chest puffed out like a hot air balloon. “Listen up. Someone is bringing drugs into my facility. I don’t know who it is, but I do know who’s been taking them. I can assure you that the long arm of the law has got its boxing glove on. I hope you sleep well tonight.”
He paused for dramatic effect, but the threat didn’t carry as well as he’d been hoping. He could feel the eyes of the convicts upon him, but if it made him nervous then he didn’t show it.
“Now,” the warden continued, “as none of you have been forthcoming with your information, I’m going to escalate the situation. Here’s what we’re going to do. We’ll start by cancelling all visitations until further notice.”
A grumble of outrage surfaced from the inmates, but the warden wasn’t worried. They were all safely locked up, and after the riot that had accompanied the escape attempt he’d been sure to keep things that way. Still, he felt a chill along his spine when he realised that hundreds of eyes were staring at him from out of their metal viewing slots.
The warden held his hand up and the rabble died down. “I know, I know,” he said. “But needs must. If I can’t find out who’s bringing the drugs in, I can’t let people come in. So I’d advise you to think about that when you’re spending those long days alone, wondering how your family are and whether they’re missing you. Some of you have baby children. I’m afraid we won’t be able to allow the kids in either. Protocol, you see. It’s out of my hands.”
The warden waited for his words to sink in and basked in the uproar. He gave it a few moments and then held up a hand again. This time, there was still some muttering, but the warden allowed it to continue. He simply raised his voice to shout over it.
“Of course,” he bellowed, “if someone was to provide me with information as to where the drugs are coming in from, perhaps I could lift the ban. Just something to think about.”
The warden turned on his heel and left them to it, and Leipfold sank gloomily back onto his bed. The cancelled visitations weren’t a problem for him – after all, no one came to visit him – but it would change the status quo amongst the convicts and he wasn’t looking forward to the inevitable power struggle.
Bear wanted to know what Leipfold made of it. Leipfold shrugged.
“Doesn’t affect me,” Leipfold said. “Although…”
“If everyone’s bringing stuff in, why did nobody tell me?” Leipfold said. “I could murder a bottle of brandy.”
“Brandy, huh?” Bear was a man of few words, and this was the most that Leipfold had heard him talk for weeks. “I can get you that.”
“Don’t sweat it,” Leipfold said.
“I won’t,” Bear said. “But I’ll get you some brandy. I know what it’s like to need something.”
Leipfold thought about it. He’d been dry since he handed himself in to the police, but he still felt the same old urge.
“What the hell?” he said. “Let’s do it. But how are you going to bring it in? Did you not hear the announcement?”
Bear laughed. “Leave it to me,” he said. “There are other ways of bringing in contraband. Especially contraband like brandy that comes in heavy bottles.”
Leipfold pushed Bear for further details, but the man wouldn’t tell Leipfold any more than he needed to know. So Leipfold started to watch him instead, and when he finally learned what Bear’s plan was, on the day of its arrival, he laughed so hard he nearly vomited.
That evening, locked alone in his cell with his bottle of brandy, Leipfold thought back over the events of the day. He opened up the bottle and took a sniff from it. It smelled angelic, like a taste of home. He sniffed it again. Then he sighed and put the cap back on the bottle.
“Not tonight, old boy,” he murmured. He slid the bottle beneath his pillow and fell asleep.
The following day, the warden called Leipfold back into his office. Leipfold had spent so much time there since his incarceration that it was starting to feel like a second home to him. Leipfold was cuffed and ushered inside. Then the guards were dismissed and the warden gestured for Leipfold to sit down in the chair on the other side of his desk.
“I’ve got something for you,” Leipfold said. “Have someone check my cell and look beneath my pillow.”
“Why?” the warden asked.
“I managed to get something smuggled in,” Leipfold replied. “A little bottle of brandy. Cheap stuff, I’m afraid, but you’re welcome to it.”
“Interesting. How did you manage it?”
“Well,” Leipfold said, “that’s the whole story, isn’t it?”
The judge placed a call to get one of his men to check Leipfold’s cell, and then he leaned in close to hear what the man had to say.
“I’m not going to tell you who I got it from,” Leipfold said, “but if you really want to know, I’m pretty sure you can figure it out. What I can tell you, though, is how they did it.”
“You’re not going to believe this,” Leipfold said. “But it’s the truth. I saw it with my own eyes.”
“Damn it, Leipfold,” the warden said. “Just tell me how they did it.”
“They made a bloody blimp,” Leipfold said. “Rigged it all up using a couple of balloons and a paper basket. Then they just floated it over the wall.”
“I swear,” Leipfold said. “I saw it. Once it cleared the walls, someone brought it down with an air gun.”
“From inside the walls?”
Leipfold shook his head. “No,” he said. “From the outside. Although if they keep this up, there could be guns on the inside any day now. I’m surprised none have made their way inside already. That brandy wasn’t exactly lightweight, not like a couple of baggies and a lighter.”
“Point taken,” the warden said. “I don’t know, Leipfold. It seems a bit far-fetched. Are you sure?”
“Positive,” he said. He smiled.
“How do they get rid of the evidence?”
“Simple,” Leipfold said. “The gas disappears and the balloons and the paper get flushed.”
“Hmm,” the warden said. He thought it over for a minute. “I don’t know. But it’s better to be safe than sorry. I’ll order a search of the cells and sweep away any contraband. And I’ll get a man on the roof to keep watch. See if we can’t catch these bastards in the act.”
Leipfold laughed, slowly at first before descending into a cacophony of wheezes and giggles.
“What?” the warden asked. “What’s so funny?”
“It’s nothing,” Leipfold said, pulling himself together between breaths. “Well, almost nothing.”
Leipfold cleared his throat. “I wouldn’t bother if I was you,” he said. “Especially if you were planning on asking Simmons.”
“Simmons is a good man,” the warden said.
“Yeah,” Leipfold said. “I guess he is, if you’ve got the money.”
“What are you talking about?”
“He’s taking bribes,” Leipfold said. Bringing stuff in for the cons, if they give him the money. You wanted to know how drugs are coming in? You’d better have a little chat with Mr. Simmonds.”
“Simmonds?” the warden murmured. “I don’t believe it.”
“Take it or leave it,” Leipfold said. “It’s either that or the hot air balloons.”
“You mean the balloons didn’t happen?”
“Of course the balloons didn’t happen,” Leipfold said. “Jesus, if you believe that then you give these idiots way more credit than they deserve. It was Simmonds, I saw him. Who do you think brought me my brandy?”
“Have you got any proof?”
“Pah!” Leipfold said. “What do you think? I saw it. That’s enough. Besides, have you seen Simmons’ watch?”
“Of course,” the warden replied. “What about it?”
“It’s a Rolex,” Leipfold said. “One of the best. You think he paid for that on his prison salary?”
“Perhaps it was a gift.”
“Some gift,” Leipfold said.
The warden thought about it for a moment. “Hmm,” he said. “Well okay then. I’ll look into it.”
Leipfold waited expectantly for the governor to reward him, perhaps with more books or with a better cell. Maybe he’d even knock some time off the sentence. But no, there was none of that. Leipfold heard nothing from the warden, and he never saw Mr. Simmonds again. He didn’t even get to drink his brandy.
But a couple of weeks later, when Simmonds’ name came up in conversation, Bear shook his head sadly.
“We won’t be seeing Mr. Simmonds again,” Bear said. “The guy’s been dismissed pending a hearing. Turns out someone found out about the little scam he was running. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”
Leipfold looked Bear up and down, all 6”8 of him. He gauged the weight of his fists and decided that he didn’t want to be on the wrong side of them.
“No,” Leipfold lied. “I don’t know anything.”