Therefore he was Number One on the fag hit parade, but the fags knew to stay away and could only dream of him in private. Lamar wasn't a fag, although, when the spirit moved him, he was a butt fucker He wasn't a boss con's fuck boy either, or a punk, or a bitch or a mary or a snitch, and he carried a simple message in the graceful economy of his movements: to fuck with me is to fuck with death itself.
It helped, of course, that he was also protected by Daddy Cool, the bullet-pocked biker king who ran the Mac's dirty white boys; with Daddy's special mojo protecting him and his own reputation as a man-killer, almost nobody, con or guard alike, messed with him. And it helped that his hulking cousin O’Dell stood ready to back him up on the dime if it went down hard. But mainly it was just Lamar and his attitude. He was the prince of the Dirty White Boys.
It was four o’clock in the afternoon, on a day like any other in the institution's melancholy history as Oklahoma's toughest prison. In the guard quarters, through two levels of security off the D corridor, Lamar turned on the shower and let the water hit him. Its blast struck his bulging muscles, washed the sweat away. This was his favorite moment of the day, and as a ranking lifer, he had earned the right to a private second or two in the hack's shower before lockup. It meant as much to him as a million dollars in the bank, and he knew he'd never have a million dollars in the bank.
What he had was a nice, fresh bar of Dial soap, which he'd just unwrapped: none of that green liquid disinfectant soap the regular cons used in their showers.
Lamar Pye was thirty-eight years old, with a tangle of thick hair, which he generally wore braided down his back or in a ponytail. Though he had an open, friendly face and warm eyes showing over a nose that had seen much wear, he also had fuck and you! inscribed across the knuckles of his left and right fists and born to kick ass on his left forearm, all in the spidery and uncertain blue ink of a freehand convict tattoo artist. On his right forearm, in the same wobbly line, was a pictograph of a dagger jammed halfway to its hilt into the flesh. A stream of red droplets wiggled out of it. On his left wrist it said shadow of death under a crude but unmistakably effective rendering of a skull. On the top of his right hand, it said white greased lightning, with a rat-tailed squiggle in fading blue indicating a lightning bolt. Lamar couldn't even remember getting that one.
He must have been drunk or high or something. He just woke up one goddamned day during a two-year slide for assault with intent up at Crabtree State in Helena and there it was. Craziest damn thing.
The water felt so good when it blasted against the swollen bulges of his muscles, with the contrast between the hissing steam and the sense of cooling. Two hundred curls with the seventy-five-pound bar, two hundred squat thrusts with the two-hundred-pound bar on his shoulders, a long goddamned time under the chest machine, hoisting two hundred pounds of dead weight until he was swollen like a tire on a hot day. When the water hit his muscles and deflated him, man, that felt so cool!
Lamar contemplated his chest in the hissing steam.
Looking downward he saw an endless field of possibility.
His chest was wide and white and not particularly hairy. It was wide open. You could put anything on it you wanted.
It was Richard who’d got his head turned in this direction.
Newboy Richard was so scared of them he hadn't said a thing for a week, and Lamar at first wanted just to torture him for a while before he fucked him and sold him to Rodney Smalls's niggers for cigarettes, but goddamn Richard was so weak it wouldn't have meant a thing. All Richard would do was sit there with a pencil and some kind of tablet, his hand flying over the surface of the paper, as if by concentrating so hard he could make it all go away. Or read funny little books with no pictures, underlining things furiously.
Though he clung to Lamar's shadow like a dog whenever Lamar went into the yard.
Finally Lamar had said, "Goddamn you, boy, what is that shit you're working at?”
Addressed directly, Richard had seemed to melt. His puffy face trembled as the color fled his cheeks. He quivered like a leaf in a high breeze. Then he said, "Art.”
“Art who?” Lamar demanded.
“Art art,” said Richard.
“You know. Art. Pictures. What the imagination can show.”
“Fuck all that shit,” said Lamar. Now he really wanted to hurt Richard. He hated when somebody threw a word at him. Mag-i-nation. Fuck that. But weirdly curious, he bent over and looked at what Richard had been diddling.
Goddamn, it was Lamar! It was Lamar himself, fearsome as a lion, scared of no man, looking like some kind of ancient king or Viking. Under a frosty moon. Lamar, with a mighty sword, ready to slay enemies by the thousands. The whole thing had a spooky feel to it, some kind of magic or something. Somewhere inside, Lamar felt a little thing move.
“The fuck,” he said, "that ain't the way it is. I'm a hard timer goddamned inmate butt fucker I ain't no goddamned hero.”
“I—I just drew what my mind saw,” said Richard.
“Please don't hurt me.”
“Ah,” said Lamar, stumped. He went back to his Penthouse.
Yet the image had somehow jiggered something in Lamar.
It troubled his dreams, bumping aside for a while the stroke-book blondes who gave their rosy asses to him every night until he came and could relax. Not that night. And the next day he wanted Richard to show it to him, and the next and the next. He thought about it for nearly another week, and then he started dreaming about it.
“You know that there picture?”
“Yes,” said Richard.
“Could you do another one? From what I told you. You wouldn't have to see it or nothing. I could just fucking tell you. You could make it?”
“Er, yes, I suppose. I mean, of course.”
“Hmm,” said Lamar, thinking hard.
“You know, what I truly like, is lions. But a lion not in no jungle but in a castle. You know. And a bitch, blond, with really big tits.
And, somehow, she love the lion. She love him like a man, not like no pet. Now, I don't want no picture of the lion fucking her, but the lion could fuck her if he wanted to.”
“Ah, I think I see what you're getting at. He's, like, an archetype of a certain aggressive masculine power.”
“Ah, I mean—”
“He's a lion and he's got a bitch. And she has tits. And it's all a long time ago. Got that?”
Richard got busy. For days he huddled in the corner madly dashing away. He'd throw pictures away, cursing. He even' went to the prison library and got books with lions in them. And then finally—
“Lamar? Is this what you had in mind?”
He held out a sketch. The lion was a god, the woman a slut with huge tits, her nipples taut as bowstrings. It was master, she was slave.
“Goddamn,” said Lamar.
“Look-a-that! Man, like you got that outta my head! Damn, ain't that a goddamn piece of work! Only, now, wouldn't it be better if the lion was taller? And maybe the gal's tits weren't that big? That's too big. It don't look real. I want it to be real. I like the castle though.”
Richard took the criticism like a man and spent another week on revisions. When he made his final submission, Lamar was quite pleased.
“Goddamn, Richard. You got a gift, if I do say so myself.
Now, say, I wanted you to try other things. You know, other things I see in my head, could you do it?”
“I know I could,” said Richard.
“Goddamn, ain't that something. I want you to draw what I tell you. You do that, I'll look after you. Got it?”
“Yes sir,” said Richard, and the deal was done.
Why was it so satisfying? He didn't know. But it was, and it was a newfound source of pleasure. He could just dream something up and Richard would make it appear on paper. It really made him happy. So Lamar swelled a little with pleasure, taking happiness from the pleasures of his well-ordered world. Everybody feared him. He could nick just about any of the white boys and half the niggers if he so chose. He had a percentage of three dope smuggling operations, including a methamphetamine lab in Caddo county that pulled in a pound of crystal a week. He had his cousin O’Dell about as happy as that poor boy could ever be.
He had Richard to draw whatsoever he chose. He was a wealthy man.
But then, ahead of him, something moved in the vapor, and it all changed, it all went away.
Lamar, startled, looked up. No-goddamned-body was supposed to be in here. He paid Harry Funt, the hack, four cartons of cigarettes a week to make sure nobody disturbed him in his private time.