Reflections of Honor
Due to unnatural circumstances, Mitch Wilder is pardoned from prison early. He wants to forget what he did in there, the relationships he had. But one man haunts him, the one who looks so much like his stepbrother, Tom Fleming. And Mitch finds that he's unable to form a serious relationship with anyone since his release. He is confused about his own identity.
On top of this, Mitch meets several of his kids for the first time. His womanizing has finally caught up to him. He vows to do right by them, no matter how many of them there are. Two of his sons are into drugs. Mitch is unable to do anything about it. Not when he's addicted himself.
Late August 1972. The 6 a.m. buzzer sounded, making Mitch Wilder groan and turn over on his narrow bed. He kept his eyes closed and tried for a few extra minutes of sleep, remnants of the nightmare still clouding his mind. Above him, he heard Snake stop partway down the ladder and straighten his covers. They were in a prison known locally as the Funny Farm...one of the many government experiments concocted in the sixties. It was in a small place called Damascus, Ontario; near Orangeville. The inmates grew most of their own vegetables and raised animals. They had fresh eggs for breakfast twice a week. Best of all, they grew their own pot. Both Mitch and Snake, bunk mates, worked the morning shifts in the gym. Mitch during the first part of the week, Snake the later part. They knew it kept them from beating the shit out of each other.
The nightmare had been about Mitch's first shower in prison and his introduction into gaydom. Several men had held him by the arms, bigger and stronger men, while a male hooker stripped and bent over. One man aimed Mitch's oversize dick into Queeny then stood back. Mitch resigned himself into screwing a man. In the dream, Mitch convinced himself that it was his brother, Tom's face he saw. Tom and Queeny looked so much alike that they could be twins.
Snake let out a cough Mitch was certain was aimed at him to get his ass out of bed. He hadn't had sex with Snake. Snake was a monk as far as Mitch was concerned. Or maybe he was too choosy. He'd never seen Snake partake in such acts. Yet, Snake kept track of the inmates' activities, who had little else to do outside of their assigned jobs.
Mitch kept telling himself that once he was out of prison, he'd go back to screwing women. After all, Sue Marshall was waiting for him. But then, why would she? If it hadn't been for his satyriasis, Mitch wouldn't have screwed more than 530 women...or taken his anger and frustrations out on some of them. He wouldn't be in prison, convicted of rape.
But he was calmer now. His medication made him feel like he was not quite awake enough for his temper to unleash. The Paxil he took for his depression kept him from trying to commit suicide again.
Mitch opened an eye and watched Snake finish making his bed then go over to the toilet to relieve himself. After, he put on his bright orange pants. As he tucked in his matching shirt, he kicked the bed. “Get up, Wild Man. Or we don't eat.”
Mitch followed the same routine as Snake. After they were both dressed, they waited until the cell door slid open on hydraulic hinges. They stepped outside and stood in front of their cell under a big number six in a line of fifteen cells. Across the hall was the same setup, giving them thirty, double- bunked cells. They waited until the guards went down each side of the big hall. Their keys jiggling on their belts as they counted heads. Mitch often wondered what all the keys were for, beings that most of the doors slid open on their own. All the guard did was talk into his little radio to someone who'd push a button somewhere within the confines of the prison.
After the all-clear buzzer sounded, Mitch lined up at a cart that a male nurse wheeled in. The doctor checked his armband then doled out Mitch's medication to him, watching carefully. Mitch washed his pills down with water from a paper cup.
Mitch threw the cup into the trash then went with Snake down the corridor and into the cafeteria. He picked up plastic utensils wrapped in a napkin and set it on a tray, sliding it along the counter. An inmate shoved a plate at him, loaded with pancakes and two sausages. Mitch put it on the tray then took a tiny paper cup filled with syrup and a mug of coffee.
He sat at the same table since he'd first come to the Funny Farm and poured milk into his cup from a little packet, then he stirred in two packages of sugar. The range boss, ironically called Boss, sat across from Mitch, along with Queeny and Snake. Sponge, the range whore, sat on Mitch's right, across from Snake. Sponge was a small man who never laughed. No one would laugh, being at the mercy of the nearly forty men in B Range...it could hold up to sixty inmates.
The seat on Mitch's left remained vacant. It would be so now that Mackey had been transferred to another prison. He had been severely beaten after attacking Mitch in a jealous rage. Testimonies and cameras had proven that Mitch hadn't been the culprit. A month later they still didn't know who had beaten the crap out of Mackey.
Mitch glanced at the man directly across from him. He was the man Mackey was jealous of. Queeny was the good-looking hooker chasing after Mitch. Proclaiming his love to him. Mitch knew he had feelings for Queeny---but it certainly wasn't love. The weird thing about Queeny was, he looked too much like Mitch's stepbrother, Tom Fleming. In fact, there had been a mix-up in the prison when Tom visited him. They arrested him when they thought Queeny had escaped. And knowing Tom, he would never visit Mitch again while he was in prison.
Mitch ate his breakfast and joined in idle chat with the men at his table, noticing again that Sponge just sat there, eating in silence, keeping his head down. Mitch gave up telling jokes to get the small man to laugh, or to engage him in conversation. Sponge seemed like a zombie, not quite focused
on life; eating, sleeping, and getting raped several times a day. Mitch often wondered what went on in Sponge's mind. Maybe he blanked everything out. Or he told himself that he'd be out of prison soon and be able to live normally. Somehow, Mitch didn't think Sponge's life would ever be normal again.
After breakfast, Boss stood and yelled for quiet. The drone of conversation dulled as all eyes turned toward the range boss. He scanned the paper in his hand then told five men that their jobs had been changed. Another three men were to report to the nurse for vaccinations. He looked down at the men sitting at his own table. “Snake and Wild Man; I need to see you later.”
Usually during Boss's speech, the kitchen staff would come out and collect the dishes. They'd take everything into the back where it would all be counted. No one could leave the cafeteria until the all-clear was given from the top dog in the kitchen. Except this time Boss didn't get the okay signal. His eyes turned hard as he addressed the men. “We will sit here all day until whoever stole the knife gives it up.” Nine out ten times it was a knife.
Mitch watched a couple more guards join the two already by the door. No one would be allowed to move from their seats, not even to go to the bathroom. They wouldn't get fed again either, no matter how long they were there. They'd just sit in their seats until the knife would suddenly appear on the table in front of an inmate. Then that inmate would automatically be sent into the hole...or solitary confinement as it were.
Beings they would be late vacating the cafeteria, it meant that they were holding up breakfast for the inmates from A Range. That in itself could cause a riot. Mitch hoped that this wasn't going to take long.
A hand slowly went up. “Stand,” Boss told the man.
An old-timer near the far wall stood and looked sheepishly at Boss. “I dropped it. It's on the floor somewhere.”
Boss nodded. “Find it then.”
The man squatted and looked under the table. Then he crawled under it. Mitch looked up at Boss. Boss was scowling at the men in the corner as if sensing that something was wrong. He signaled the guards.
All four guards headed toward the corner. A man suddenly started screaming and flailing about. Boss rushed over to him. Mitch stood, along with several others, craning his neck to see what was happening. The men in the corner crowded around the screaming man. Boss pushed his way into the center of the crowd. Mitch lost sight of him for a few minutes. The screaming suddenly stopped. Then a guard cuffed the old man and led him out. His hands were bloody. Another guard was talking into his little radio.
Minutes later the door burst open. The doctor and several of his staff ran in carrying a stretcher. Mitch saw them rush the injured man out, blood covering his stomach area. The missing knife sticking out of his gut.
“Take your seats,” Boss yelled as the doctor followed the stretcher out. The guards backed up toward the door, watching over the injured man...who looked dead to Mitch. Slowly the men took their seats and a nervous calm spread throughout the cafeteria.
Boss waited by the door with two of the guards who had stayed behind. “Nobody move.” He glared at the men in the corner.
Ten minutes later the warden marched in, along with her two bodyguards who followed her everywhere. She surveyed the room as Boss told her what had happened. Her eyes remaining a bit too long on Mitch. Snake snickered. “She has a thing for you, Wild Man.”
Mitch glanced at Snake and noticed Queeny's scowl. Snake chuckled. Mitch turned back to the action taking place across the room. Warden Little ordered five more men arrested. They'd be taken to the interrogation rooms and questioned. She said something to Boss on her way out. Boss nodded, then waited until everything had settled down again. He signaled the guard talking into his radio. The all-clear buzzard sounded.
Darren Hoffman looked at the new sign on the board in the lobby. Hoffman Holdings was officially in business. He didn't rejoice. Instead, he felt like a failure. It had been his fault that he'd lost his father's company, having to declare bankruptcy after so many disasters since his father had been sent to prison. He blamed himself, even though others blamed Mitch for dumping a multi-million-dollar business on him only months before Mitch's trial. Darren had no clue how to run such a huge company.
Another thing that irked Darren was that he had to quit going to Western University, in London. He had a year left to get his degree. Then he wondered if he could finish his course some other time. He remembered his dad saying something about him going to McMaster University here in Hamilton. But there was no money, and Darren needed to get his business up and running.
He sighed as he took the elevator up to the fifth floor. At least he didn't lose this building. He remembered when the now defunct Great Lakes Shipping Company took up all five floors. Hoffman Holdings was on the top floor. He leased out the rest.
The elevator doors swished open. Darren stepped out to see his secretary, Carol, at her desk. “Morning, boss,” she said. “Tom's in your office.”
“Thanks.” He gave her a solemn look then turned left and headed down the short hallway. The door to the right had been his father's huge office, originally. Now it had six desks squeezed in there, being used by all of Darren's office staff. He ducked his head in and greeted them; noticing the accountant sitting on the edge of the shipping-and-receiving clerk's desk. He jumped up when he saw Darren and rushed back to his own cramped quarters.
Darren went across the hall and opened the door to his smaller office. “Morning,” he said to Tom after he set his briefcase on his desk.
“Good morning,” Tom Fleming said from behind Darren's computer.
Darren sat across from his uncle and opened his briefcase. He took out several files and set them before him, not sure what he should be doing next. Tom squinted at the computer screen.
Darren opened a file, but watched his uncle, wondering about Tom's motives. He had severed the Great Lakes Shipping Company in half not long after Mitch was arrested. Taking half the ships and office equipment with him and starting his own business. Now he owned part of this company as well. Darren wondered if Tom would eventually end up with the whole damn thing.
Darren eyeballed his father's desk by the window. Mark Wilder usually sat there now, a younger, prettier version of their father. Mark was keeping track of the shipping orders and making sure their three ships were well equipped; from oil and grease for keeping things running, to food and toilet paper for the sailors. Mark also invested in this company, using his own and some of their father's money. He hadn't even met Mark until a month ago. Tom talked him into helping Darren, to save what they could of Mitch's shipping company. Darren understood he had the least invested in the new company, which they named after him. Everyone knew he was to inherit Mitch's part of it anyway.
Tom wrote something down on a sheet of paper in front of him, clicked the mouse then squinted at the screen again. He did seem invested in Hoffman Holding's success. Tom brokered deals for shipping contracts. Darren found positions for the sailors who'd stuck by him after the bankruptcy; promising them a decent size bonus.
His ex-accountant planted a bomb in the M W Franklin, killing four men. The Old Springbank was seized in the bankruptcy. Before that, they stripped the Mason and sold the parts. They had been left with the Lassina, a reefer ship which carried fresh produce. Along with the Bringington and the Kastings, which were both bulk carriers and carried dried goods. Tom and Mark invested in those ships...saving them from being repossessed. It was just before Darren declared bankruptcy on the Great Lakes Shipping Company. A company that his grandfather had started; that Mitch had inherited upon his death. Tom had been coerced into working for Mitch until he eventually inherited half of it. At one time they had eleven ships. Tom had taken off with five of them.
Darren looked down at the file in front of him and sighed. Then he picked up the phone and asked Carol to bring in coffee. “I'm going to pick up Leslie and Greg after work today,” he announced as he waited for his first cup of pick-me-up. They were two more of his father's nine kids. Eight of them with different last names. Most of Mitch's kids surfaced within the last year, after his trial. Darren hoped that there were no more of them.
“Good,” said Tom. He glanced over at Darren. “I wish Mark had stuck around longer.”
“He had to get back to Ottawa.”
Mark was looking after Mitch's properties up there. An apartment building, a restaurant, and a high-class motel. Mark himself had built a laundromat and bought a small motel of his own. Darren had spent a couple of days in Ottawa and had seen how good Mark was in business. How his businesses were thriving because he had the training and had done this for years.
It wouldn't have bothered Darren if Mark had been a few years older than he was. He wouldn't feel so much like a failure. But he and Mark were born only three months apart. Mitch hadn't owned up to Darren until after he turned twenty. He had been trying to make it up to Darren ever since. That was five years ago.
For the last two days Mark Wilder had gone to each of his and his father's properties, checking in and resolving any issues. He sat in the office of the Carlyle Motel and talked to the manager for four hours. Hudson was as much a part of the Carlyle as the bricks and mortar were. Mitch gave him shares in the motel before he went to prison.
Mark grew up with Hudson, feeling closer to the older man than his real father. Mitch never stuck around long enough to form a strong bond between father and son. He did, however, teach Mark about business. That, and the education he got from Carleton University had pretty much set Mark up for life. He graduated last spring with honors.
This morning he hurried over breakfast as his fiancée started packing the last of their belongings into boxes. Naomi Palmer wore his engagement ring, although Mark had no intentions of getting married, even though his mother was pushing him to set a date.
Mark finished his breakfast and gulped down the hot coffee as quickly as he dared without burning his mouth. He smiled at Naomi and set the cup down on the counter for her to wash. Then he carried a heavy box to the door and set it against the wall on top of another box. “How much more is there?”
“All you have to do now is to dismantle the bed. I've already taken the sheets off. I'll wash these dishes and get them packed.” She turned from facing the kitchen sink. “Then it's just the big furniture.”
“I'll get the bed,” he said as he headed down the hallway, noticing the bare walls. He turned right instead of left and went into the bathroom. After brushing his teeth, he took the toothbrush and paste into the kitchen, setting them on the counter for Naomi to pack with hers.
The bed was no sooner torn apart when there was a knock on the door. Mark walked into the living room, Naomi was letting in the movers. Three men entered the apartment and lifted the couch. Mark dried the dishes and helped Naomi pack them. “That's it then,” she said. Even so, Mark took one last look around, checking all the closets and cupboards.
“Okay,” he said and stopped beside one of the movers who had come back for another load. “You have the new address?”
“Jim does,” the man answered as he headed toward the television.
Naomi grabbed her purse and a small bag...the one containing their toothbrushes and things they'd need in case the movers got lost. They shouldn't though, they were only going fifteen blocks, to the edge of the city. Mark took her hand and held it until he opened the door on his 1970 Javelin. It was red with a wide black stripe on the sides. The only one he'd seen like it in Ottawa.
They drove to the south end of the city, onto Minor Road and parked in the driveway on the opposite side of their duplex. Mark grinned as he left the car. Christine ran down the steps and gave him and Naomi a hug. “I can't wait,” she said, taking Naomi by the arm and leading her into her half of the house.
Mark followed them inside and shut the door. Naomi's brother, Nathan, left his couch and embraced Mark, giving him a heated kiss.
Mitch sat on his bunk with his back to the wall, holding a book he'd gotten from the prison library. He hadn't looked at the book for a good ten minutes. Instead, he watched Queeny across the way. Queeny was negotiating, the man with him giving up three jars of what looked like jam. Queeny finally smiled, then glanced over at Mitch before walking away with his customer. Mitch tossed the book, which hit the side wall and bounced on the bed.
“Jealous, are we?” Snake asked. He was sitting at the steel desk, anchored to the wall and the floor. Without looking at Mitch, he turned the page on that morning's newspaper. Mitch didn't answer. Instead, he fought to control the feelings he had for Queeny. Kept telling himself that it was because he missed Tom. Every time he looked at Queeny, he'd see his brother. Mitch closed his eyes and wondered if he screwed Queeny because it was his way of sticking it to Tom. Because Tom had been the knife in his side ever since Mitch found out about him. He knew his father had a mistress, long before his mother died. He had not known that they had spawned a bastard until Mitch was twenty-five. The same age his two oldest sons were now. Since then, Tom had slowly seeped into Mitch's veins, turning hate in to love.
Mitch opened his eyes and pushed away from the wall. He stood as Boss entered their cell. Boss stopped by the desk and leaned on it, looking down at Mitch's bunk mate. “Snake,” he said. “Get spiffed up. You're out of here.”
Snake jumped up and headed toward his little foot locker on the other side of the cell. He flipped the lid open and took out his street clothes. “Finally,” he laughed. For days he'd been waiting for his ride to show up to take him home, taunting Mitch about his release.
As Snake changed, Boss looked over at Mitch. “You'll be the first to know this, Wild Man. I'll be announcing it to the rest of the population at lunchtime. Warden Little is being replaced.”
Snake stopped and looked over at Boss. He had one foot in his pants and was holding the other pant leg when he straightened. “How come?”
Boss glanced at Snake then faced Mitch. “Because of you. She took advantage of her position over you.”
Mitch's left eyebrow shot up. “But you were the one who set it up.”
“That's part of the investigation. She threatened me with a lifelong sentence in here. Claiming she could lose my file.”
Snake finally got his pants on and slipped into a white shirt. “That's the end of your Friday night rendezvous,” he said to Mitch as he did up the buttons. He had bulked up from working in the gym and his street clothes...that he had been arrested in... were tight on him now, the buttons straining to hold the shirt closed.
“Good,” Mitch said. He only went to her out of obligation, not because it was something he wanted. “Me screwing her wasn't part of the government experiment with this prison then?”
Boss shook his head. “No. That was her own little scheme. She's done that to three inmates that I know of.”
Mitch remembered being escorted through the halls, going into her little apartment beyond her office. Carla Little, wearing a sleek black dress, her dark hair flowing softly around her shoulders. He saw himself taking off that dress, kissing her soft creamy skin. He screwed her because he had no choice.
“Everything else will remain the same,” Boss said. “You can still get your marijuana.”
The experiment was that if the prison provided the inmates with marijuana, it would lessen the illegal trafficking. So far, it was working. Smoking the dope was controlled and done in a courtyard surrounded with windowless walls. The inmates sat on the few picnic tables in the center or along the walls on the cement. Or they stood huddled in small groups while they got high.
Other experiments included growing most of their own vegetables and raising animals. There was a small apple orchard. Some inmates tried growing grapes to make wine, but the soil wasn't right, neither was the climate. The prison was fence free across the back of the property, way down beyond the hill. A huge swamp stopped most people from getting close to it, beings it was full of mosquitoes. Rumor had it that there a serpent in there that ate people. It would take two days for a man to walk across it in the winter, on the ice. Mitch had learned that there were wires strung across the swamp under the surface. If anyone pushed on them, or stepped on them, they'd send off an alarm. Plus, guards patrolled it day and night. An escapee would be caught within the first hour.
Thirty-foot high fences surrounded the rest of the fifty acres. There was more freedom to move around inside this prison, known as the Funny Farm than even a medium secured prison. There were two Units, each divided in half, which gave them four ranges, housing up to sixty men each. The only time they could mingle with each other was outside. Different colored uniforms made sure the inmates entered only their range. B Range, where Mitch was, wore orange. The one restricted area was where the administration offices were. The only controlled areas were the cafeterias and the visiting rooms in each Unit. Inmates were locked up at night and during a lockdown.
But the inmates knew their limits. Cameras, guards, and dogs, patrolled both inside and out. Electricity charged through the fence that was topped with coils of barbed wire. And as long as they behaved themselves inmates could wander around anywhere they pleased in the free area. But if anyone violated the rules, punishment was swift and harsh. Most of the time containing a stint in the hole.
Snake ran a comb through his hair then stood there, waiting for his escort out of the building. When two guards showed up, he shook Mitch's hand. “Hope things turn out for you, man.”
“Have a few beers for me,” Mitch said as he held Snake's hand.
Snake nodded, then left. Mitch watched his bunk mate until he disappeared through a big door.