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Tall, Quiet Inmate Stays Icy Cool as He Gets Treatment

“Hey, cowboy, what’re you in for?”

No-Nose Malloy edged closer to the lanky, sandy-haired stranger standing next to him in the detention cell of Orange County Jail. He was one of the tallest prisoners No-Nose had ever seen, and he had uncommonly good posture. He was older than most of the other prisoners, with fair skin and a likeness of John Wayne with the inscription, “The Duke Forever” tattooed on his left forearm.

The stranger turned away from No-Nose.

“Not much of a talker, eh?” No-Nose said slyly, like a fox about to begin toying with a field mouse. It wasn’t that Malloy didn’t have a nose; it’s just that it was so smashed against his face that it looked more like a poached egg.

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“Guess not,” the stranger said.

“We don’t much like the silent type in here,” No-Nose said. “Kinda makes us s’picious, if you know what I mean.”

“Reckon I don’t,” the stranger said. “But I don’t want any trouble.”

That was the opening No-Nose needed. He looked around the cell at two of his pals and winked.

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“Hey, Meathook, Tweezers, this guy don’t want no trouble.”

Meathook and Tweezers moved in. “Well, now ain’t that nice?” Tweezers said. “We got ourselves a Boy Scout in here.”

“You look a little pasty-faced to me,” Meathook said. “You ain’t one of them white-collar criminals, are you? We hate those kind in here.”

The stranger shifted uncomfortably against the cement wall. He’d already spent six hours in the detention cell, waiting to be booked and sent to a smaller cell. He was afraid that hanging around with these guys might make him crazy.

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“Bet you’re wond’rin’ how my nose got this way, ain’t ya?” No-Nose said.

“Genetic mutation?” the stranger said.

“Pool cue,” No-Nose said.

A deputy came in and distributed lunch to each man--a baloney sandwich on white bread and some apple juice. Tweezers grabbed for the stranger’s sandwich and wolfed it down before he could react.

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“It’s what we call community property,” No-Nose said, sneeringly. “You got a problem with that?”

The stranger stretched to his full height and grabbed Tweezers, hard, on the shoulder, applying pressure to the nerve on top of the shoulder. He took Tweezer’s sandwich and, in one mighty gulp, swallowed it whole.

“I love cold cuts,” the stranger said, icily. “Don’t ever grab my baloney again.”

Tweezers made a move toward the stranger, then stopped. “There’ll be another time, another place,” he said, menacingly.

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No-Nose played the peacemaker. “Don’t take it personal, stranger,” he said. “It’s just a rite of initiation. And you passed just fine. You fit right in.”

Tweezers and the stranger continued to glare at each other.

“I think we’ve asked you politely more than once what you’re in here for,” No-Nose said. “It’d just be common courtesy if you answered. Or maybe you’re ashamed. What was it, shoplifting? Purse snatch?”

“Let’s just say I got on a judge’s bad side,” the stranger said. “Wouldn’t play ball with him.”

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“Hell, we all say that,” Tweezers said. “What’d he give ya?”

“Thirty days,” the stranger said.

“Thirty days? That’s peanuts,” Meathook said. “The way this county operates, that can mean 30 minutes.”

“Shut up,” the stranger said.

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“Little touchy, ain’t ya, big fella?” Tweezers said.

“Just shut up,” the stranger said.

Instinctively, the other prisoners sensed that the new guy wasn’t somebody to mess with. He didn’t seem afraid of them.

“What’s your name, pardner?” Meathook said.

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“Ain’t got one.”

“Everybody’s got a name,” Meathook said, “or else we give ‘em one. You’re damn tall. How about if we call you Stretch?”

“Suit yourself,” the stranger said. “Now just leave me alone.”

Outside the jail, the chants from a picket line echoed faintly in the night. “Free Brad Gates!” they chorused. “Jail is for criminals, not for the sheriff!”

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Inside, the lanky stranger heard the chants. He said a silent prayer of hope that his cellmates weren’t too bright.

“Ooo-eee,” No-Nose said. “I’d love to see that Sheriff Gates fella in here. We’d have a nice little reception for him.”

No-Nose, Meathook and Tweezers guffawed so much they slobbered on themselves.

The stranger cracked a thin smile but said nothing. He figured it probably was about 11 p.m. He looked at No-Nose, Meathook and Tweezers. They all looked wide awake. He curled up in a corner of the cell, half closed his eyes and pretended to sleep.

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