The eleventh day Meehan was in the MCC, the barbers came around to
9 South; two barbers, a white one for the white inmates, a black
one for the rest. Each dragged a chair behind himself, with a guard
following, and they set up in opposite triangles of the communal
room, which was shaped like a six-pointed star, the cells outside
that, in two facing lines in sword hilts sunk into five of the
star's crotches: the exit to the concrete room where the elevators
came was at the sixth.
So that was another difference from state or county jugs; no
separate room for the barbers to ply their trade. After eleven
days, Meehan was thinking he might write a monograph on the
subject, was already writing it in his head. Never put anything on
paper in stir: that was one of the ten thousand rules.
Of course, the primary difference between the Manhattan
Correctional Center, which was where bail-less federal prisoners in
the borough of Manhattan, city and state of New York, waited before
and during their trials, was the attitude of the guards. The guards
thought the prisoners were animals, of course, as usual, and
treated them as such. But in this place the guards thought they
themselves were not animals; that was the difference.
You get into a state pen, any state pen in the country—well,
any state Meehan had been a guest in, and he felt he could
extrapolate—and there was a real sense of everybody being
stinking fetid swine shoveled into this shithole together, inmates
and staff alike. There was something, Meehan realized, now that he
was missing it, strangely comforting about that, about guards who,
with every breath they took, with every ooze from their pores,
said, "You're a piece of shit and so am I, so you got no reason to
expect anything but the worst from me if you irritate my ass."
These guards here, in the MCC, they buttoned all their shirt
buttons. What were they, fucking Mormons?
Meehan had never been held on a federal charge before, and he
didn't like it. He didn't like how inhuman the feds were, how
unemotional, how you could never get around the Book to the man.
Never get around the Book. They were like a place where the speed
limit's 55, and they enforce 55. Everybody knows you enforce
Shit. From now on, Meehan promised himself, no more federal
And this one was a wuss, this one was so lame. Him and three guys,
whose names he would no longer remember, had a little hijack thing,
off a truckstop, Interstate 84, upstate fifty miles north of the
city, there was no way to know that truck held registered
mail. Not a post office truck, a private carrier, no special
notices on it at all. The truck Meehan and his former allies
wanted, from the same carrier, was full of computer shit from
Mexico. Meehan wasn't looking forward to making that plea to some
But in the meantime, for who knows how long, here he was in the
MCC, downtown Manhattan, convenient to the federal courts, thinking
about his monograph on the differences between federal and
There were a number of ragheads on 9 South, Meehan presumed either
terrorists with bombs or assholes who strangled their sisters for
fucking around, and they all lined up to get their hair cut by the
white barber. Johnson, a white inmate who'd been friendly and palsy
with Meehan since he got here and who Meehan took it for granted
was a plant, came over to help him watch the barbering, the two of
them seated at one of the plastic tables in the middle of the
communal room. "Every time," Johnson said, "those guys are first in
line, get their hairs cut, never does any good."
Meehan, polite, said, "Oh?"
"Their hair grows too fast," Johnson told him. "It's something
about the sand or something, where there's no water, you look at
these guys, haircut haircut, end of the day they're back the way
they were, they still look like a Chia toy."
"Chia toys take water," Meehan said.
"And sparrows take shit," Johnson said.
What was that supposed to mean? Meehan watched the piles of curly
black oily hair mount up around the raghead in the chair, like they
were gonna finish with a Joan of Arc here, and it occurred to him
to wonder, as it had never occurred to him to wonder in a state
pen, how come barbers were such a total criminal class. Everywhere
you went, the barbers were inmates who happened on the outside to
be barbers, so this was how they made bad money and good time on
the inside, but the question was, how come so many barbers were
felons? And what kind of federal crime can a barber pull?
Maybe what happened, every jail around, whenever a barber was gonna
finish his time, the word went out to the police forces of the
world, keep your eyes on the barbers, we need one May 15. Could
A guard came into the block. His tan uniform was so neat, he looked
like he thought he was in the Pentagon. Maybe he really was in the
Pentagon; who knew?
The guard came over to Meehan: "Lawyer visit."
That was a bit of a surprise. There wasn't much Meehan and his
lawyer had to say to one another. But any distraction was welcome;
rising, Meehan said, "I'm with you."
Johnson, friendly and genial, said, "Expecting good news?"
"Maybe I'm being adopted," Meehan said.
Turned out, he was.
Excerpted from PUT A LID ON IT © Copyright 2002 by Donald
E. Westlake. Reprinted with permission by Mysterious Press. All