If it looks ominous it’s probably best to walk slowly. That thought swam through Prison Warden Hector Gonzalez’s mind as he stood at the before an inner city alley darkened by the tall dilapidated project complexes on either side. A twenty-year distinguished career with the Department of Corrections rested in the balance as he prepared to take his first step into the graffiti-ravaged, littered passageway to the stone building in the rear. The office of Doctor Yuri Bladonski. Hector was middle aged, fit, and gray before his time. He loosened the knot on his tie and stuck his finger into his collar to wipe away the sweat. He proceeded forward with caution keeping his eyes on the rear wall rather than his surroundings. His nose wrinkled at the cesspool scent that permeated his nostrils. The sound of passing vehicles rumbled behind him. Twenty-three echoing footsteps later Hector found himself before the door to Bladonski’s laboratory. Hector touched the doorbell and the single light bulb hanging above the door flickered on. Static broke up the voice on the speaker above but Hector thought he heard, “May I help you?” “It’s me,” Hector said. “As previously arranged.” He heard the click of the lock and reached for the scratched and tarnished brass doorknob. He entered a long hallway with barn board siding adorned with a kind of ornate flowery design carved eloquently into the plaster trimming. He came upon a heavy door with a small window made of unbreakable glass not unlike the windows used in the cells. Until now Hector only dealt with Bladonski on the phone. The man who opened the door was unshaven with disheveled snow-white hair. His bifocals sat low on the bridge of his nose. He wore a tee shirt, torn sweatpants, and carried a neon green notepad. Some kind of piano concerto played in the background. Rachmaninov? “You have come and that is good,” Bladonski mumbled in the familiar heavily accented voice. “I’m not sure where to begin,” Hector said as he looked around the room, which included multiple lab tables and cages of all sizes. Furry creatures wiggled in some cages and the empty ones stank of the rotting animal flesh. “We know why you are here,” Bladonski said. Hector nodded his head and took a deep breath. “As you know the Governor wants a ten-percent budget cut across the board for all state agencies because of a multimillion dollar shortfall. The prisons would take a solid hit with those kind of cuts and choices would have to be made between eliminating 250 employees including me or finding other sources of income.” “This is redundant information that you have already shared with me,” Bladonski said sharply. “Do you have the list?” Hector sighed and reached into his shirt pocket and removed the small folded piece of lined paper. Bladonski seized the paper from Hector’s hands and eagerly unfolded it. He adjusted his bifocals and pulled the slip of paper close to his face. The age worn wrinkles curled around his sickly smile. “All sixteen names,” Bladonski said. “That is not a bad start.” Hector thought Bladonski was loathsome. His lackadaisical attitude about this serious matter seemed atrocious to him. “Those may be all the names I can get for you.” Bladonski walked toward another door next to a large window. A luxuriously carpeted office dotted with an antique oak desk stood behind the wall. Bladonski pulled aside a huge portrait in a gold frame to expose a safe against the wall. “Eight million dollars should help your cause substantially,” Bladonski said with disdain. “It is not a cause,” Hector said firmly as he followed this ironic little man. “It’s for public safety.” Bladonski removed a briefcase and set it on the desk. He clicked it open to reveal thick bundles of cash. “This business deal will assist my research in many ways. Medicines must be developed and the effectiveness studied.” “The offenders on this list are lifers who haven’t received visits or family correspndence for eighteen months or more,” Hector said. “I feel sorry for them because they don’t have that important outside support.” “Their health?” “Dr. Bladonski,” Hector began. “Over eighty percent of the prisoners admitted have substance abuse and health care issues. These individuals are healthier than most.” “Excellent,” Bladonski said cheerfully. “And when can I have them?” “Not all at once because it would raise suspicions,” Hector said. “I’d say over the course of the next year.” “I look forward to it,” Bladonski said, closed the briefcase and shoved it toward Hector. “Now I must show you out.” Hector took the briefcase and watched Bladonski turn toward the door. He shook his head confounded with his benefactor and uneasy about the scurrilous situation he was putting himself into. “And your findings will help other people get well?” Bladonski stopped and cocked his head. “There are never any guarantees but one can only hope.” “Hope is a start,” Hector said as he exited onto the gloomy street and prepared for his first delivery.
* * *Dedicated to my supporter and friend whom his colleagues affectionately know as Doctor Bob.
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