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Author Catherine Lea
Child of the State - Excerpt
CARRINGWAY WOMEN’S PRISON, OHIO—AMY
Amy knew she should have gone to Stacy the second she’d opened the box. All night she’d lain there in her cot, listening to every sound, frightened they’d come after her, and wondering who else knew. Because somebody did.
Why she’d even gotten stuck in that stupid job was anybody’s guess. She’d applied for the prison sewing program. Would have helped if she knew how to sew, but others on the same work scheme didn’t know how to sew when they started, either. They got lessons.
Amy still couldn’t make a buttonhole worth a damn so she got stuck in dispatch, sending out boxes of garments in the truck that turned up twice a week. Her job was to pack the boxes, check the details on the packing slip, seal the boxes up. Most boring job on the planet—or it was until that particular box came back, returned from wherever and marked Attention Dispatch Department. The only person around with any authority to accept the box was Trish Tomes, the prison officer overseeing the project.
Amy had been going through the contents of the box, looking at every item. She was just holding a silk blouse up to the light, checking she wasn’t imagining things, when Officer Tomes appeared behind her. Amy just about peed her pants. She yelped and pressed the blouse to her chest to try and slow her heart down. The woman had the stealth of a cat. Didn’t matter how hard you listened, you’d turn around and there she was, standing right behind you.
Officer Tomes took the blouse from Amy, holding it up to the light while she looked it over. Then she dug through the box, frowning as she brought out other garments and checked them.
“I’ll take care of this,” she told Amy.
“But these are ours.”
“I said I’ll take care of it. Now go back, seal up the last of those boxes.” Her tone implied she wasn’t going to say it again. She gathered up the returned box and took it back to her office. When Amy looked up the next time, she could see her on the phone, talking to someone with that sour look on her face, every now and then glancing accusingly across at Amy.
But Amy wasn’t stupid. She’d already tucked one of blouses down the front of her prison jumpsuit, then slept all night with it tucked under her mattress. Now here she was standing in line for breakfast with the blouse down the front of her jumpsuit while she waited for Stacy. What she’d discovered was something big—she just knew it was, and Stacy was the only one in this joint Amy could trust. She was also the one who’d know exactly what to do.
After several minutes, the doors opened and Stacy’s crew entered, lining up for their breakfast trays, all chattering and checking out the tables to see whether anyone had been stupid enough to sit in their seat, then looking back down the line to see who they might be eating with. Amy fell into line with her heart jumping and her hands shaking. She waited until her oatmeal and juice box had been set on her tray, and when she turned, she caught Stacy’s eye, indicating for her to sit with her.
Soon as Stacy came over, slid her tray onto the table and sat down, Amy looked left and right, and said, “Gotta talk.”
Stacy dug her spoon into her oatmeal, screwed her face up in disgust as she stirred it around. “Sure. Go ahead.”
Amy leaned forward and hissed, “I’m talking real talk. In private.”
Stacy looked up from her tray, her expression grim. “Are you okay?”
Amy gave the adjacent tables another furtive once-over. Satisfied they weren’t being overheard she leaned forward again. “I found something.”
Stacy straightened in her seat, lifting her head and letting her gaze casually navigate the room before settling back on Amy. “Go on.”
Amy took another quick glance back over her shoulder. “Can’t. Have to show you. Bathroom.”
Stacy got up and returned her tray to the counter along with her uneaten oatmeal, and pushed through the swing doors, heading in the direction of the bathroom. No point in leaving the meal until she got back. You leave your food unattended in this place, you never knew what might have been added to it while you were gone. Amy followed, placing her food tray back with her breakfast untouched, giving the area another wary scan before following Stacy.
When she got to the bathroom, two stalls were closed. A toilet flushed and Nyla Guthrie stepped out and looked from Stacy to Amy and back. “What?” she said in an accusing tone.
“Nothin’,” said Amy.
“It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it,” Stacy told her.
Nyla gave Amy a sour once up and down, then pushed through the bathroom door going back to the dining room, leaving Stacy and Amy both watching the second stall.
Impatient, Stacy went across and banged on the door with the side of her fist. “Hey, hurry it up, will ya?”
The toilet flushed and Cissy Pettameyer stepped out, a picture of ingratiating sweetness. “Good morning, ladies,” she said with a sly smile as she moved to the basin and washed her hands, checking her face in the mirror.
Neither of them spoke, just watched her.
“Be like that then,” Cissy told their reflections, and ran a smoothing finger along one eyebrow. “I’m just trying to be polite.”
Neither Amy nor Stacy was taken in. Cissy was a poisonous, two-faced gossip who spread stories at a rate that would make the black plague look slow.
Stacy stuck one hand on her hip and shifted her weight. “You done?”
Cissy turned and ran her eyes right down to Stacy’s prison issue shoes and back. “I guess.”
She jerked her head towards the door. “Then get out.”
After Cissy had gone, Stacy opened the door and peered out, then closed it, leaning against it so no one else could enter.
“So, what’s so important? Are you okay, Amy? Is someone giving you a hard time?”
“No, it’s not like that. I’m fine. But when I was working today, a box came, addressed to the prison, like they do sometimes. It had a Faulty Goods sticker on the side, so I figured it was just stuff coming back that had stitching problems with them or something.” She paused and dropped her voice to a whisper. “But this was in it.” She reached down into the front of her jumpsuit, pulled the blouse out, and handed it to Stacy.
“What is it?”
“You look,” Amy said, hugging herself and jerking her chin toward the blouse in Stacy’s hands. “I didn’t know else who to tell.”
Stacy checked the seams, the sleeves, the buttonholes and her eyes came back up to Amy, questioning.
“Keep lookin’,” she said.
Stacy turned the garment, checking the seams then the neckline. Her jaw dropped and she looked up, eyes wide.
“Well, holy shit,” she said.