t him.
He felt like he would make himself vulnerable.

The spacious rec room was teeming with inmates, typical of a Sunday night.
Micky spotted an open table with a hawk-like eye, and swiftly ran over to claim their seats.
Yuto sipped on a lukewarm soda ― Micky’s treat ― as he took in his surroundings.

Some groups were engrossed in a game of cards.
Other groups were enjoying spirited conversation.
In the back, there were also billiard, foosball, and speedball tables, but those were dominated by the gangs.
Inmates who could not participate distracted themselves from boredom by spectating the outcome of the game.

Sundays were still enveloped in the lively mood of day off from work, even in a place like this, cut off from the rest of society.
In the morning there was Sunday service in the prison church for Christians, and factory workers were given the day off.
Visitors also came in droves, and the entire mood of the prison was often giddy right up until the end of the day.
Right now, two hours remained until the last roll call.
On the surface, at least, everyone seemed to be enjoying the last precious hours of their evening off.

Micky took a pack of cards out of his pocket and proposed a game of poker.
When Yuto asked if they were going to bet packs of cigarettes, Micky instead pulled out a handful of small coins from his opposite pocket.

“We’ll use these coins instead of poker chips.
We’ll each get an equal number.
Five-stud, but no other particular rules.
Everyone has to participate in every deal.
You’re allowed to check.”

“It’s hard to take this seriously when we’re not betting anything real,” Matthew let slip.
Micky grinned slyly as he shuffled the cards.

“My dear boy, did you think we’d play a game of poker without betting anything? The number of coins you finish with determines if you win or lose.
The loser has a punishment waiting for him: the winner gets to dare him to do anything.”

“Oh, come on, I don’t wanna do dares,” Matthew protested, but to no avail.
The poker game began.
All the members studied their cards as they put coins down or folded, round after round.
A large portion of poker involved psychological strategies.
Yuto carefully observed each of the four members sitting around the table.
Micky scowled or swore exaggeratedly every time he looked at his hand, but he was most likely bluffing.
Nathan wore a constant smile, and Dick wore a poker face in the most literal sense.
Other than Matthew, whose expression was easy to read, it was hard to guess what kind of hand everyone had.

At the end of the third round, Yuto was in second place.
Dick was first.
Yuto did not want to lose to him, and his feeling of rivalry led him to step up the game.
Yuto had a full house, and was confident that he could win.
Micky, who was in third place, seemed be eager to win against Yuto, for he also went all in with the coins he had.

But when it came time for showdown, there was a plot twist that no one had anticipated.
Micky’s hand was a straight flush.

“No way.
You didn’t rig the cards when you dealt them, did you?” Yuto protested in disbelief, having lost everything so close to the end of the game.

“Why, I never,” said Micky, the victor, wearing a sly grin.
“Well, I have the very best dare saved up for a sore loser like you.
Yuto, go over to the sisters’ table, pick someone to your liking, and tell her this: ‘Madamoiselle, will you please let me kiss your beautiful hand?’”

“…You’re kidding, right?”

“There is no kidding in this game, my man,” Micky said firmly, throwing his chest out in triumph.
Yuto threw a glance at the table of sisters.
A flashy group of about ten people or so, their genders almost indistinguishable, chatted loudly as they dominated two tables.
They were a gaudy bunch who stood out clearly from their surroundings.

By ‘sisters’, they meant cross-dressing gay men.
The sisters always wore full faces of makeup with nail polish on their nails, and stood out in prison.
Of course, they could not cross-dress to a tee, but they made diligent efforts to look feminine within the possible limits; they cinched the hems of of their prison uniforms to look slimmer at the waist, wore lace camisoles underneath, or wrapped large cloths around their waists like skirts.

“Go on, Yuto.
Or do you not even have the balls to pick up a girl?” Micky teased.
Yuto gave him a withering stare.

“But they aren’t girls.”

“If you ignore what’s between their legs, they’re all adorable girls at heart.
And all of them love a good-looking man.”

No one in their group showed any sign of intercepting Micky’s mischief.
Nathan and Matthew were busy trying not to laugh.
Even Dick, out of all people, was smirking, watching to see what Yuto would do next.

Yuto swore inwardly as he continued to stare at the sisters.
Then he suddenly noticed something.
A man was saying something to an olive-skinned sister sitting near the wall at the farthest end of the table.
The man was one of the inmates listed as a Corvus candidate.
Joe Giverly, a resident of Block B.

Yuto instantly stood from his seat.

“Fine, I’ll go.
I’ll get back at you for this, Micky,” he said, pretending to be grumpy as he headed toward the sisters’ table.
The ladies instantly ceased their chatter as Yuto approached carefully.
Their gazes raked up and down Yuto’s body.

“What do you want, boy?” said a plump black sister humorously.
“Looking for a blowjob?” The group burst into raucous laughter.
Yuto took a look around at all of the sisters and furtively looked at Giverly.
Giverly appeared uninterested in Yuto, and continued to speak earnestly to the Latina-looking sister.

“Come on, Tonya.
I didn’t mean no harm.
Cindy was just having such a fit and making so much noise that I lashed out.
I couldn’t help it.
I’ll never do it again.
Won’t you let me start over with her?” he begged desperately.

“You’ve got some nerve, haven’t you?” Tonya replied coldly, her voice husky.
“How many times is it now that you’ve hurt her? Cindy’s had enough.
She said she’s never going to be with a man like you again,” Tonya’s appearance was, in a word, eye-catching.
Her age was hard to guess, but her long, glossy hair was tied back tightly at the top of her head.
Her shapely face was already beautiful by itself, and was only accentuated by her modest makeup.

“Yeah, but…”

“That’s enough.
Come near her again, and you’ll have to deal with me.
Now get out of my sight.
I’m sick of seeing your obnoxious face,” Tonya spat, turning her face aside in disdain.
Giverly’s attitude took a sudden turn.

“Who do you think you are, huh, fag? Getting on your high horse because I’m showing you some manners? Think you’re above me now, huh?” Giverly’s temper snapped as he grabbed something out of his pocket.
A small blade protruded from his fist – it was a small box cutter.
Yuto swiftly grabbed Giverly’s arm.

“Stop it,” Yuto muttered into Giverly’s ear, holding him back with as much strength as he could muster.
“Not exactly peaceful, are you? What do you think you’re going to do with that?”

“Who the hell’re you? Let the fuck go!”

“Calm down,” Yuto said to him.
“What’s gonna come of this? ―Look, the guard is looking at you.”

Giverly gave a startled glance at the guard standing near the wall, and his face turned rigid when he realized that the guard’s gazed was fixed on them.
He slowly began to make his way toward them, apparently noticing the change in Giverly’s attitude.
Giverly was as stiff as a board.

“Hey, Giverly.
What’s going on here?”

“N-Nothing, sir.”

Yuto furtively extracted the box cutter from Giverly’s hand as the man bumbled unintelligibly.
He slipped the knife into his own pocket before the guard could notice.

“Show me your hands.
Hurry up.”

He had escaped by a hair.
Giverly cowered as he showed his open palms to the guard.
The guard, still unsatisfied, gave Giverly a pat-down.
When he found nothing on him, the guard let Giverly off with a verbal warning.

“I don’t want to see you causing trouble,” he said as he left.

“I’ll put this back in your pocket, but don’t go swinging it around again.” Yuto returned the box cutter to Giverly and patted him on the shoulder.
“Temper cooled off a bit now?”

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Giverly seemed to have lost all will to fight, and nodded with a pale face.

“Y-Yeah.
I’m fine.
I’ll get going so the guard won’t get suspicious.” Giverly strode away in a hurry, looking unsettled.
Yuto watched him leave and mentally crossed him off his list of Corvus candidates.
Giverly’s impatience and lack of foresight, along with his contrasting lack of backbone, made him anything but cut out to be a terrorist leader who stood at the head of a cult organization.

The sisters erupted into a storm of complaints once Giverly was out of sight.

“He’s so quick to lose his temper.
What a hopeless case.”

“He can only act like that when people are weaker than him.”

None of the other sisters seemed to notice that Giverly had been trying to pull a knife on Tonya, but Tonya herself had noticed.

“Thank you for helping me back there,” said Tonya.
“That was a close call.
If he’d left a mark on my face, I would have had to spend every day in tears from the shock.”

Yuto turned to face her.

“You must be new,” Tonya said.

“Hi.
I’m Yuto Lennix, from Block A.”

The olive-skinned sister kept her legs crossed as she turned up the corners of her lips in a seductive manner.
It was as if she were fully aware of what kind of smile made her look most attractive.

“I’m Tonya.
You’re the new boy who’s in the same cell as Mr.
Handsome, Dick Burnford, right? I hear BB already claimed you from day one? Pity on you, being chased around by a beast like him.
Is that cute butt of yours still intact?” There was admittedly something sexy about her teasing husky voice.
Yuto felt like he was talking to an escort or a dancer whose voice had turned gravelly from days spent drinking and smoking.

“Safe for now,” he said, giving her a wry smile.

“So, something you want to discuss with me? I’m sorry, but I don’t talk business in the rec room.”

For an instant, Yuto wondered what she meant.
But it didn’t take him long to realize what these ladies meant by business.
Yuto shook his head in embarrassment.

“That’s not what I meant.”

“How can I help you, then?”

Yuto finally remembered what he had come for in the first place.
The dare ― he had to ask one of them for permission for a kiss.
Yuto decided on Tonya, and hesitantly broached the topic.

“I want to ask you for a favour.
I know I might be being rude and intruding, but if you don’t mind, I was wondering if you’d, um… let me kiss your hand.”

The sisters, who had been listening in on their conversation, let out excited squeals.
Yuto felt his face burn with embarrassment.
He mentally damned Micky as he turned around to look at the man.
Micky was on his feet and waving his arms around excitedly.

Tonya noticed Micky’s reaction and broke into a smile.
“Oh, dear,” she said.
“Did you lose a bet against that joker Micky?”

Yuto was equally grateful and relieved for Tonya’s sharp eye and understanding.

“I lost to him in a game of poker, and I have to do a dare.”

“I see.
I don’t mind a kiss on the hand at all, but on one condition: you have to come to my cell tomorrow for tea.
First floor in Block C, the cell at the very end.
Understood?”

Yuto agreed promptly.
The gushing sisters were attracting the attention of the inmates around them, and some were glancing this way.
He was eager to get it over with and leave.

“Saturday after lunch, then.
I’ll be waiting.” With that, Tonya held out her slender hand elegantly as a lady of nobility would do.
Yuto took her hand, bent forward and gently pressed his lips against the back of Tonya’s hand.
He felt no revulsion at all, despite the fact that he was fully aware that Tonya was a man.
Perhaps it was because of her dignified beauty.

When Yuto lifted his face and tried to express his gratitude with a stiff smile, Tonya smiled back amiably as if she were talking to an old friend.

“Is Tonya the only one to get a kiss?” the sisters protested.
“That’s not fair! Give me one, too!” They gushed like adolescent girls as they flocked around Yuto and clung to him.
Yuto managed to manoeuvre his way out, getting somewhat rumpled along the way, and fled back to his table.

“What were you talking about with Giverly?” Nathan asked worriedly when he came back.

“I told him to calm down because his temper was getting out of hand,” Yuto said casually.
Micky leaned in toward him, the picture of enjoyment.

“You’ve got balls, Yuto.
You were pretty brave to ask Tonya for a kiss.
You might’ve been dead if Libera wasn’t in solitary right now,” he said, clapping his hands in glee.
Yuto gave him a questioning glance.

“Libera? The boss of Locos Hermanos? What do you mean, I might have been dead?”

“Tonya is Libera’s girl, but before she got with him, she used to be close with Henry, the boss of the white gang, ABL.
To top it off, she’s pretty much the head of the sisters, too.
You won’t find anyone prettier than Tonya in Schelger Prison, but you’re as good as dead if you try to make any moves on her.”

Yuto sighed.
This was information he would have wanted before he did what he did.
If he’d known, he wouldn’t have asked such a risky person like Tonya for a kiss.
The last thing he wanted was to earn an unwanted grudge over something as trivial as a dare from a poker game.

“You should be fine,” Nathan smiled reassuringly.
“Libera’s a guy with a big heart.
Even if someone tries to flirt with Tonya, he’ll take it as a sign of how attractive his girl is, and he won’t get angry about it.
But Henry Galen, on the other hand, you should watch out for.”

Yuto’s ears pricked at the last name he mentioned.
Henry Galen was one of the people he was investigating.
From what Yuto could make of his past history, Galen was a likelier candidate for Corvus than any of the others.

“What kind of guy is he?”

“The big guy over there with the shaved head,” Micky said, pointing at the billiard table at the back of the room.
Yuto glanced over and saw a man he presumed to be Galen, holding a pool cue with one hand and his free arm around the waist of a pretty young man, whispering something into his ear.
The young man, slender and delicate like a boy, rested his head on the towering man’s shoulder as if basking in his attention.

“He’s a white-supremacist neo-Nazi.
Apparently he was in a right-wing extremist group before he got in here, so it’s ingrained in him.
He’s an intimidating cold-blooded bastard.
I’d be careful if I were you.”

“Who’s the guy with him?”

“Galen’s girl.
His name’s Lindsay.
He’s only been here for about a year, but he’s been able to get himself on Galen’s good side, and now he acts like some kind of queen.
He’s like a prepubescent girl next to Tonya, but as you can see, Galen’s got bad taste.”

“Really?” Matthew butted in.
“I think Lindsay’s way cuter.
I’d go out with him if I had to choose.”

Micky gave Matthew a stern knock upside the head.

“You know, it weren’t for me, you’d be part of that gang of sisters over there, sashaying your way around prison.
You’ve no right to be blabbering on about your preferences in women.”

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Matthew sullenly shut his mouth at the scolding from Micky.

“Tonya invited me to visit her cell,” Yuto said.
“Do you think it’d be alright if I went?” Micky swelled with pride at being asked for advice, and dispensed it with a grin.

“Must be the sisters’ tea party.
No harm in taking part.
If you’re scared of going into Block C by yourself, I’ll go to Tonya’s cell with you.”

“That’d be a relief,” Yuto gave Micky a smile, grateful for his consideration.
All the while he wondered if there was any way he could glean information about Henry Galen from Tonya.

 

When it neared time for the last roll call of the day, Yuto and his group headed back to their cells.

“You calmed Giverly down pretty well back there in the rec room.
He had a knife or something, didn’t he?” Dick said, standing in front of Yuto.
They had finished roll call and Yuto was now reading the paper.

“You saw? From that far away?” Yuto asked in surprise.

“No, actually,” Dick shook his head.
“I couldn’t see what he was holding, but I could guess from how he moved and how you stopped him.
You took it from him and slipped it in your pocket when the guard came, didn’t you? Why did you cover for his ass?”

“Just because.
No special reason.” In reality, Yuto had wanted to help Giverly because he sensed how agitated and fearful the man was feeling, not because he was a subject of investigation.

“You were staring at Giverly from the beginning.
Were you interested in him?”

Although Yuto had no idea what kind of “interest” Dick was referring to, he was nonetheless impressed by the man’s sharp observational eye.

“Not really.
He just wouldn’t stop talking to the sister I wanted to ask a kiss from.
I was looking at him wishing he would get out of the way.”

Dick seemed to want to say something more, but appeared to change his mind and let it slide as he sat down on the edge of the bed.

“…You’re awfully talkative today,” Yuto commented.
“What’s the matter?”

Dick shrugged.
“I just felt like making conversation.”

“Yeah, but why?”

“Who knows.
Maybe it’s because you’re starting to act a lot more like a proper inmate.”

“Is that an insult or a compliment?” Yuto scowled.

“That’s for you to figure out,” Dick said with a slight smile.
“So, why did you choose Tonya for the kissing dare? Is it because she’s pretty?”

Yuto wasn’t about to tell him that he wanted to get close to her for information about Giverly.
He thought of another excuse that would sound plausible.

“Tonya looked a little like my mother.
Her name is Letizia ― she’s a chicana.”

Dick gazed at Yuto’s face with bewilderment.

“You’ve got Latin-American blood in you?”

“No, Letizia is my stepmother.
She remarried my Japanese-American dad when I was ten.
Letizia had a son from her previous marriage who was three years older than me.
We spoke a mix of English and Spanish at home, and thanks to that, I can speak Spanish and Spanglish pretty much fluently.”

Spanglish was a mixture of English and Spanish used by Latinos living in the United States, almost a new language in itself.

“Where’s your family now?” Dick asked.

“My dad died in a car crash two years ago.
Leti was prone to illness, so she moved to Arizona to live with her older sister for support.
She took Lupita along, my twelve-year-old little sister, who was born to her and my dad.
My stepbrother, Paco, is working for the LAPD.”

Two years ago, Yuto had lamented and grieved the departure of his father, who had died much too young.
The grief had yet to fade, but one fortunate thing was that his father had died without having to see Yuto in such a state of degradation.

“Your brother’s a police officer?”

“Yeah.
A guy with smarts who knows what he’s doing, unlike me.” Yuto felt like he had swallowed a lump of lead every time he thought of his stepbrother, so heavy was his heart when he thought of how Paco had to live as a police officer with a criminal for a brother.
But never once did Paco blame Yuto for it.
On the contrary, he had sent messages of encouragement over and over.
Even after Yuto had been sentenced as guilty, Paco had told him through tears that he would still believe in him no matter what.

Yuto had first left home for college, and after graduating, had landed a job at the DEA in New York.
That meant he was only able to see his family once or twice a year, but they were still irreplaceable to him.
Despite their differences in skin colour and lack of blood relation, they still had an unbreakable bond that far exceeded those ties.

Yuto had strongly asked for Paco not to come in for visitations, since he would only feel worse seeing him in person.
So instead, he received a letter from his stepbrother two days ago.

It talked about Leti, who was in the hospital from her bad condition.
It talked about Lupita, who was living with her aunt and cousins and doing well.
Paco informed him that he himself was also doing well. Once you feel ready, you let me know.
I’ll go right over there to see you, the letter had said in closing.

“How about you? Where’s your family?” asked Yuto.
Dick shook his head.

“I have none.
I grew up in an orphanage.”

“I see,” Yuto murmured briefly.
He knew he sounded cold, but he did not want to throw out halfhearted words of pity simply for the sake of social graces.
Although they hadn’t known each other long, he could tell that Dick wasn’t the type to appreciate insincere sympathies.

“…So you’ve been alone since leaving the orphanage?”

“Pretty much.
But once I was a grown adult, I had my own friends.
I had lovers.
But now I’ve lost everything.”

If Dick had lost everything dear to him because of prison, it was a hard story to hear.
No matter how intimate you were with someone, that didn’t guarantee that they would still be accepting of a criminal.

Yuto was suddenly curious about what Dick had been sentenced with.
What had he done to be put in here? How many years would he be in here for?

But at the same time, Yuto was hesitant to put his questions into words.
For the majority of prisoners, this topic was a wound that they preferred to be left untouched.

The bell rang, signalling lights out.
Dick climbed up to his own bunk.
A few moments later, the lights were shut off.

Don’t nose around, Yuto told himself.
Within these walls, there were some things that were better left in the dark.

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