Matthew’s condition was worse than expected.

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The physician on duty, Dr.
Spencer, assessed Matthew’s injuries as requiring immediate surgery; right away, he directed the prison to transfer the boy to a nearby hospital.

Matthew’s injuries included a torn anus, bruising on the entire body, depressed fractures on the cheekbones, and fractures in the collarbone and fingers.
His right eye was also damaged, and a detailed examination was scheduled for whenever his condition stabilized.
In the words of Dr.
Spencer, however, there was no doubt that Matthew’s vision would be severely affected.

 

The news from Dick only aggravated Micky further.
Yuto recommended him to tell the guard that Bernard was the perpetrator, but Micky stubbornly shook his head.

“Matthew followed the prisoner’s code and hasn’t told anyone who did it.
We can’t be the ones to snitch.
Besides, it’s no use when we didn’t even see him do it.
The most Bernard’s going to get is a few days in solitary.
His sentence is one-hundred and twenty years, for God’s sake.
A few more days isn’t going to make a difference to him.
―That’s why I’m going to avenge Matthew myself.”

“Don’t do it, Micky,” Nathan warned.
“If something happens to you, Matthew will feel like it’s his fault.”

Nathan’s words fell on deaf ears.

“That bastard raped Matthew knowing that I looked out for him like a little brother.
That’s why it isn’t just Matthew’s problem – it’s mine, too.
Will you guys lend me a hand?”

Dick and Nathan looked at each other and simultaneously sighed in resignation.
Micky’s mind was already completely occupied with revenge.
His anger was unlikely to abate until he had gotten back at Bernard somehow.

Micky was already moving onto his battle plan.
Bernard was in the habit of weight training in the training area on the grounds before dinner.
He took pride in his muscular body, which meant he never skipped his daily bench presses.

“When dinnertime rolls around, the inmates will all crowd around the only entrance to the West Wing, which is the central grate.
We’ll take advantage of the crowd to get close to Bernard, and I’ll stab him from behind.
Nathan, you take the knife from me, and pass it to Dick.
Dick, throw the knife away down the gutter beside the basketball court.
There’s an opening in the grate that’s about two inches wide.
Down below is a sloped tunnel that leads to the sewers.
If you throw the knife in there, it won’t be found.
Yuto, you stand behind me like a wall so no one sees what I’m doing.”

Yuto asked how he was planning to take a knife out onto the grounds.

“I’ll hide a small folding knife in my underwear,” Micky said.
“The guard in charge of that checkpoint is a rookie.
He used to give real thorough pat-downs, touching you all over the place, but ever since some inmates called him a touchy fag, he hasn’t been as enthusiastic.
The metal detector on the central gate is busted, anyway, so it won’t go off on a tiny knife.
―Tomorrow we take action.
I’m counting on you guys.”

Micky’s eyes were bloodshot, and his face was grim with an aura of intensity that was nothing like his usual fun-loving self.
After wrapping up their discussion, Yuto and Dick left Micky’s cell together.

Yuto leaned over to speak to Dick as they walked down the gangway.

“Are you okay with this?” he said in a low voice.
“I feel like we should try harder to talk him out of it.”

“It’s impossible to stop Micky when his mind is that set.
All we can do is pray that he doesn’t mess up.
―Are you okay with this, is what I’m wondering,” said Dick.
“By letting Micky do his thing, in a way you’re guilty of the same crime, even though you haven’t actively taken part.”

They had arrived at their cell.
Yuto strode to the end and stopped.

“I’m not worried about myself.
I’m more worried about Micky.
I can’t forgive Bernard for what he did, either.
If he can’t be punished by legal means, then I have no qualms with Micky taking things into his own hands.”

By acknowledging Micky’s revenge, he knew he was supporting a form of justice that was only accepted within these walls and not in the world outside.
He would be wrong if he said he was free of doubt.
But given that this was where he lived now – within the walls – he did not think his choice was mistaken.

It was a funny thing, Yuto thought.
Not long ago, he had been the one going around catching lawbreakers; but here he was, thinking nothing of taking part in an assault.
And surprisingly, he felt no hesitation toward it.
In this place, there were no laws or rights.
It was like the jungle – a dog-eat-dog world where the strongest survived.
He knew this as fact now, and not just in his head.
It was ingrained in his body.

Yuto sat on the bed, wondering what Dick would say if he told him he was a DEA agent.
For a moment, he was tempted to come clean – but he brought himself back from the edge just in time.
It was a secret he knew he absolutely had to keep, even without the warning from Warden Corning.

Dick sat down beside him.

“…Lennix, I shouldn’t have gone off at you like that about Lindsay.
I’m sorry,” he apologized.
Yuto shook his head.

“No need to be.
I caused you trouble.
Now you owe Galen.”

“It’s no big deal.
It was wrong of me to take out my frustrations on you like that.”

Yuto found it hard to believe Dick.
If his debt to Galen wasn’t such a big deal, then why had Dick gotten so angry? What did he mean when he said that everything he built up would collapse because of Yuto?

Yuto looked searchingly at Dick’s profile.

“What?” Dick said apprehensively.

“Nothing,” Yuto said.
“Just noticing how blue your eyes are.
And how blond your hair is.
Maybe you’ve got Nordic blood in you, or something.” He’d noticed a while ago, but he hoped it would distract Dick from his staring.

“Who knows, maybe I do,” said Dick.
“If only I had the smarts to go with it.
Then, I’d be able to make some good money selling my sperm to a sperm bank.”

Yuto smiled at Dick’s lighthearted joke.
He’d heard before that men who were young, white, and tall, with blond hair, blue eyes, and a good education fetched high prices for their sperm.

“But if you ask me, I’d say your black hair and dark eyes are more alluring,” Dick said.
“Your hair is shiny like silk, and those jet-black eyes – I feel like I could get lost in them.”

Yuto’s breath caught in his throat as Dick’s hand ran over his hair, almost like a caress.

“Dick, what are you doing?” he stammered.

“And your skin, as smooth as ivory.
Mind if I…?”

Dick’s brought his face so close they were almost kissing.
His rugged fingers tickled Yuto’s collarbone.

“Dick…!” Yuto burst out, unable to contain himself.
Dick twisted the corners of his mouth as if to hold back a laugh.

“You fall for anything, don’t you?”

Realizing he had been pranked again, Yuto felt the blood rise to his face as he rained his fists down on Dick’s stomach and shoulder.
Dick gave an exaggerated groan as he fell back onto the bed.

“I give up! Have mercy!”

“Do that again, and I’ll punch you for real.
I’ve earned a rank in karate, you know.”

“That’s pretty neat.
Let me see your hand.”

When Yuto held out his right hand, and Dick clasped it as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
Yuto’s heart leapt at the casual physical contact, though he knew it had no reason to.

Dick, who obviously had no inkling of Yuto’s feelings, continued to stroke the back of Yuto’s hand with his thumb.
His touch was light, as if he were holding a woman’s hand.
Yuto felt a strange restlessness in his heart, and even his cheeks were starting to grow warm.

“Th-That’s enough touching,” he said as he nonchalantly withdrew his hand.

“I see,” Dick murmured, his face serious.
“You really do have calloused knuckles.
Will you teach me karate? I’m interested.”

“Do you really know what karate is? It’s not Bruce Lee stuff, you know.”

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Americans tended to refer to any martial arts involving bare-handed fighting as karate, and most people tended to conflate karate, kung fu, and taekwondo.

Dick raised an eyebrow as if he were offended.

“I do know, thanks very much.
Karate is a martial art that originated in Okinawa.
Have you ever lived in Japan, Yuto?” he asked, still lying on the bed.

“I lived there for about a year when I was small, because of my dad’s work.
I spoke the language, so I was sent to a regular primary school with other Japanese kids.
I didn’t fit in at all, though.
I couldn’t wait to get back to the States.
But it was a beautiful country.
In the spring, the sakura trees would erupt into blossom everywhere.
You’d see the branches weighed down by full blossoms, and white petals fluttering down like snow… it was like a dream.
I can still remember it as clear as anything in my mind.”

“Sakura, huh,” Dick murmured pensively, propping his chin up with his hand.
To Yuto, it looked as if Dick was also reminiscing about some nostalgic memory from the past.

“I’m sure you’ll be able to go to Japan and see it again someday.”

Yuto felt his heart tighten at the gentle tone of consolation in Dick’s voice.
Dick had no family and no home to return to.
Just imagining the forlornness of living life alone filled Yuto’s heart with sadness for the other man.

Dick was staring out the window with a faraway look.
A tiny square of blue sky was the only view afforded to them.
What feelings lay behind that gaze?

They were close enough to touch, but Yuto couldn’t shake the feeling that Dick was in fact very far away.
He didn’t know why.
Dick’s heart was like a mirage – it was there, but not tangible.
Whenever he tried to grasp it, his fingers would claw at thin air.

Dick seemed aloof one moment, but caring the next.
Sometimes he was brusque, and other times he joked and teased others.
He had the ferocity to snap the neck of a man as big as a bear, but also the unique, nihilistic quality of a man who proudly stood alone.
Dick, the man of many faces, also carried something within his heart.
And Yuto felt an irrepressible urge to know what it was.
It wasn’t simply interest or curiosity – it was a powerful, compelling urge that came from deeper within himself.

He wanted to know who Dick really was.
He wanted to see what lay in the depths of his heart.

It was a longing, incomprehensible and fraught with such strong emotion that it startled even Yuto himself.

 

“Sorry I’m late,” Dick said when he showed up at the cell.
Micky gave an irritated sigh.

“Give me a break, Dick.
We don’t have much time left to get out onto the grounds.”

“Micky, forgive me, but we have to call this off,” Dick said.
“There was a huge melee between the blacks and whites in the East Wing, and there’s been a mass of injuries.
The infirmary is chaos.
I have to go back and help Spencer right away.”

Micky shook his head and stared up at the ceiling in exasperation.

“Oh, come on.
Haven’t you got people who can cover for you?”

“We’re extremely short-staffed.
Listen, Micky.
Postpone jumping Bernard until tomorrow.
He isn’t going anywhere – one more day wouldn’t hurt.
You hear me?” Dick emphasized firmly before striding out of the cell.
Nathan patted Yuto on the shoulder.

“Looks like we don’t have a choice,” he said.
“Let’s put it off.”

“No,” Micky said.
“It’s happening today.
We’re doing it without Dick if we have to.”

Nathan and Yuto tried their best to convince Micky otherwise, but the man stubbornly refused and sprung to his feet from where he was sitting on the bed.

“You guys can back out if you want to.
I’ll do it alone.”

Micky’s mind was set and was not going to change anytime soon.
Nathan and Yuto gave in and agreed to go along with Micky’s plan after all.
The plan was modified slightly so that Yuto would receive the knife from Micky and pass it on to Nathan.

Micky was able to pass unnoticed through the central gates with his concealed knife.
The three men crossed the grounds and stopped when they had a view of the training area.

Micky hid himself between Nathan and Yuto as he took the knife out of his underwear.
It was a small knife, with a blade about four inches long.
Micky wrapped it in a black handkerchief and slipped it back in his pocket.

Bernard was lying on his back on the weight-lifting bench, lifting a pair of heavy-looking barbells.
Yuto felt a growing anxiety at sight of his muscular, built physique.

“What if he fights back after you stab him?” he asked.

“I’ll be sure to get away quickly,” Micky said.
“Besides, how fast can a guy react after he’s been stabbed in the back?”

Micky was the one carrying it out; if he had no issues, there was no way Yuto could protest.

When the clock ticked close to five, all at once the inmates on the grounds began making their way to the cafeteria.
Bernard wrapped up his weight-lifting, put his shirt back on, and also began to head for the gates.
He didn’t seem particularly cautious of his surroundings.

Yuto fell in behind Bernard, leaving a little distance between them.
There was a bottleneck around the entrance to the central gates, and the movement of people naturally came to a stop.

“Let’s do it,” Micky whispered.

The three men threaded their way through the crowd to get closer to Bernard.
Micky took the knife out of his pocket.
Yuto felt his own nervousness grow as he watched.
He stood closely behind Micky to block the view from people around them.

Micky took a deep breath as if to ready himself.
A split second later, he rammed his whole body into Bernard and plunged the knife into his back with all the force he could muster.

“Agh…!” Bernard gave a yell.

Micky pulled the knife out, wrapped it in the black handkerchief, and quickly passed it to Yuto.
Yuto wore a nonchalant expression as he took a few steps back and pressed the knife into Nathan’s hand behind him.
Nathan took the knife and quickly disappeared.

The plan was for Micky to hurry through the central gates before the guards noticed anything.
But Bernard moved astonishingly quickly for someone who had been stabbed deeply in the lower back.
Like an angry bull on high-alert from being attacked, Bernard grabbed Micky by his shirt as he was about to leave and threw him to the ground.
Yuto’s fears were being realized.

“You fucker…!”

Bernard, livid with anger, bled profusely from his back as his hands closed around Micky’s neck and choked him.
Micky glared defiantly up at him.

“Got what you deserved, you fucking pervert! That was for Matthew!”

But Bernard’s thick fingers continued to dig into Micky’s neck, and the man’s face began to swell and turn purple.
The inmates around them began to buzz.
It was only a matter of time until the guards would find out.

In a moment of panic, Yuto aimed a kick that landed squarely on Bernard’s head.
Caught off guard, the man groaned and rolled over.
Yuto took the chance to hurry to Micky’s side, helping him sit up as he wheezed for breath.

“Oh, you little…” Bernard shook his head as he lurched to his feet.
“You part of that kid’s posse, too? You should’ve asked if you wanted it so bad.
I can give it to you hard.
Make you cry and whimper, with tears and snot running down your face, like him.”

Just then, a warning shot from a rifle rang out on the grounds.
The guards in the guard tower had noticed the commotion.
The inmates panicked as they threw themselves belly-down on the ground.

Bernard, however, remained standing.
His face was contorted in anger as he stared Yuto down.
Yuto also remained standing as he steadily returned Bernard’s gaze.

“It was a turn-on to see him crying like that, to be honest,” continued Bernard.
“I got bored of straight-up fucking him, so I let him enjoy the end of a mop handle partway through.
You telling me you want that?”

In that instant, Yuto wished nothing more than to murder the man.
Bernard was the scum of the earth.
He didn’t deserve to live even here in prison, home to society’s bottom of the barrel.

Instead of flying in a temper, Yuto felt a cold, quiet rage spread to every inch of his body.

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“Too scared to move?” Bernard said.
“I’ll start, then.”

The man charged.
Yuto dodged him without missing a beat, and as the man barrelled past, he swung his forearm down like a blade against the man’s neck.
It was a critical hit; Bernard froze mid-move.
Without losing momentum, Yuto landed a sharp heel kick on Bernard’s temple.
The final blow made Bernard go limp like a broken marionette.
He crumpled to his knees and fell head-first to the ground.

A shrill whistle sounded as a group of guards came running over.
Yuto showed no resistance, but was nonetheless apprehended forcefully and beaten repeatedly with a baton.

“Yuto Lennix! You heard the warning shot.
Why didn’t you get down?”

“…He was charging at me, sir.
It was self-defence,” Yuto replied with his face was pressed against the ground.
One of the guards gave him an annoyed look and a kick in the ribs.

“Don’t act smart with me,” he snapped.
“Hey, take Lennix into the interrogation room.
Bernard goes to the infirmary.
He’s out cold.”

As Yuto was being placed in in handcuffs and legcuffs, Micky staggered over, looking pale.
Yuto gave him a warning look to come no closer, and gave a nod of reassurance.
Micky shook his head over and over in despair.

There was no need for both of them to be hauled in.
Micky would likely go unpunished even if there was testimony that he stabbed Bernard.
Without the knife, there was no sufficient evidence.

“All of you, get your asses to the cafeteria! No food for latecomers!” bellowed the guard behind them as he herded the inmates inside.
Yuto alone was led off to the central wing, his hands and feet bound like a violent criminal arrested red-handed.

Yuto was interrogated thoroughly and tenaciously by the guards, but he maintained his story.
He had been walking to the central gates when Bernard suddenly gave a shout in front of him.
He had stepped closer, wondering what was wrong, when Bernard suddenly flew into a rage and began attacking him.
He had fought back solely in self-defence, and had meant no harm to Bernard.
It was even more absurd to even suggest that he had stabbed Bernard with a knife….

Yuto calmly repeated these lines, no matter how much they threatened him.
The guards eventually seemed to grow weary.

“Lennix, are you sure this incident doesn’t have something to do with Matthew Caine’s rape? Because if it does, and you’re not the one who stabbed him, it must have been Michele Lonini.
We know you guys were close with Matthew.
If you ‘fess up nicely, you’ll be free to go back to Block A right away.
You’ve been a model prisoner so far, Lennix.
You don’t want to extend your sentence over something stupid, do you?”

For a moment, Yuto’s resolve faltered.
The guard caught his hesitation and doubled down, speaking quickly and urgently to pressure him.

“Be honest, Lennix.
Lonini stabbed him, didn’t he? No one will know it came from you.”

It took all Yuto had to swallow the words of affirmation that were on the tip of his tongue.
Micky trusted him; there was no way he could betray the man.

“I don’t know who stabbed him,” Yuto said.

“I see.
Well, you insist on playing dumb, you go into solitary.
That simple.
Your sentence will be extended as per regulation.
Time to face the consequences.”

Once the interrogation was over, Yuto was sent straight into solitary confinement.
The other inmates in solitary seemed to show no concern for the newcomer’s appearance; they gazed dully at him out of their small, dark cells.

It reeked – of rot, mould, faeces, body odour, and a smell resembling rotting food.
The scents mingled together, resulting in an overpowering stench that seemed to be soaked into building itself.
An extended stay in here was enough to suck the soul out of even a healthy, young inmate, Yuto thought.

Yuto was ordered to stand with his back against the door.
When he did, the guards reached through the bars to remove the handcuffs and legcuffs from his wrists and ankles.
He could never get used to the sensation of being shackled, no matter how many times he went through it.
Every time he felt the cold metal against his skin and the irritating sound of the cuffs clinking against each other, he felt like he’d become something less than human – some kind of beast.

“This ought to help you cool off.
We can talk when you feel like confessing.”

The guard left.
Yuto glanced around his cell.
It was about four feet wide and eight feet long.
A yellowing toilet stood at the very end as if it were the centrepiece of the room.
There was nothing else, not even a bed.
There was only a blanket, folded and placed on the floor.

 

Yuto was curled up on the floor like a dog, wrapped in his blanket.
He was woken from his sleep by a noise from the corridor.
It was apparently time for breakfast.
A service wagon clattered past his cell.

Yuto shivered in his blanket.
His muscles were stiff and his joints ached from the cold.
Although the region was temperate throughout the year, it was still cool in the mornings and evenings.
Having to sleep on a cold floor with nothing but a single blanket was nothing short of unbearable.

But for Yuto, the toll it took on him was more mental than physical.
The cold made him feel miserable, and as much as he didn’t want to admit it, he felt some regret.
Sticking up for Micky was one thing, but it was reckless of him to have started a fight with Bernard.
Being trapped in here meant he had to halt his investigation.

As serious as he was about finding Corvus and getting out of prison, Yuto was well aware that there was no guarantee.
He knew he needed to be on his best behaviour in case things didn’t work out, so he could get good time or at least get out on parole.
But he had let his temper get the better of him.

He regretted his mistake, and yet felt a defiant justification for his actions.
He was no criminal, and yet felt the influence of the prison atmosphere beginning to rub off on him.
He was frightened of it, but at the same time felt like he had no choice.
Yuto’s heart was beset with one conflicting emotion after another, and along with the cold, tormented him at night.

The service wagon rattled to a stop in front of Yuto’s solitary cell.
There was a small slot at the bottom of the cell door, which the guard unlocked and slid open.
The mess hall inmate slid a tray of food inside.
Yuto recognized him – he was a Korean from Block A, called Park.

Park gave him a meaningful look, then glanced down at the plate.
Yuto nodded slightly and took the tray from him.
When the guard went on his way with the service wagon, Yuto immediately inspected his food.
Underneath a limp pancake, he found a small piece of folded paper.

 

Rip this up and flush it after reading.
Bachelor life isn’t too bad, is it? Catch a break from having to see your asshole roommate’s annoying face every day.
Relax and think of it as a special vacation.
Looking forward to having you back.
–D

It was a message from Dick, written in miniscule handwriting.
Although it was just a casual note, it was enough to brighten Yuto’s glum mood.

Looking forward to having you back – Yuto read that part over and over.
It was almost strange how encouraged he felt by those words.
He wished he could keep the note, but he knew it would be a hassle if the guards found out.
Yuto went along with Dick’s instructions, ripping up the note into small pieces before reluctantly flushing it down the toilet.

After eating and washing his face, he suddenly found himself with nothing to do.
There was one tiny window in his cell to let the light in, but it was too high up to reach.
He couldn’t even catch a view of the outdoors.
Being left without anything to do was even harder than he had imagined.
He couldn’t help but wish for something – even a newspaper to read.

Yuto sat absent-minded with his back against the wall when he heard a light knocking.
Once, then twice.
Whoever was in the cell to the right seemed to want to tell him something.
Yuto moved closer to the door.

“What is it?” he whispered, pushing his face against the bars.
He didn’t know what his neighbour looked like, since he had been curled up in a blanket and sleeping when Yuto passed his cell to go in.

“How’re you holding up, newcomer?”

It was a calm, deep voice.
He couldn’t tell if the speaker was young or old, but he seemed to be a Latino judging from his Spanish accent.

“I’m hanging in there.
How about you?”

“Not bad.
You’re the Japanese guy from Block A, right? The one who beat up Bernard?”

Did this inmate harbour ill will toward him for hurting a fellow Chicano? It was possible.

“So what if I did?” Yuto replied apprehensively.

“That was quite something, to take down a massive guy like him.
I wish I was there to see that supposedly spectacular kick of yours,” said the voice with a laugh.

Yuto was relieved to hear that the laugh sounded genuine.
But he wondered how the man had come across this information while being in solitary.
He decided to ask.

“My man brings me the latest paper with my meal, three times a day,” the man joked in reply.

The inmate, who called himself Neto, was a Chicano.
Yuto was surprised to learn that he had been in solitary for one month.
Neto also seemed to be looking for something to do, as he took every opportunity to chat with Yuto.
He was a good conversationalist, and was at times almost philosophical.
Although inmates were technically prohibited from speaking to each other, the guard only came to patrol the cells once every hour.
There was never a boring moment for Yuto when he lent his ear to Neto’s deep, rich voice.

On the third day, after lunch, Yuto was doing push-ups in his cell to stave off boredom when he heard Neto faintly humming from next door.
Drawn to the familiar, nostalgic melody, Yuto knocked on the wall twice.
Over time, knocking twice had become a sort of code between them that meant, “Let’s talk”.

“Neto, sounds like you’re in a good mood,” Yuto said, bringing his face close to the wall.
“Was that ‘La Golondrina’ you were singing?”

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“Yeah,” replied Neto.
“La Golondrina” was a famous Mexican folk song.
Yuto’s stepmother, Leti, also used to hum it from time to time.

“Today’s May 5, so I’m celebrating,” Neto said.

“Oh, is it the fifth already? It’s Cinco de Mayo.”

Cinco de Mayo was an official Mexican holiday commemorating the victory at the Battle of Puebla.
Curiously enough, it was celebrated more extravagantly in the US than its originating country of Mexico.
When Yuto still used to live with his parents, he would also enjoy Leti’s holiday cooking and go out to parties with Paco.

“What I’d give to eat some chicken with a good helping of mole sauce,” Yuto murmured nostalgically as he remembered Leti’s cooking.

“You like Mexican food?” Neto asked.

“Yeah.
My stepmother’s a Chicana, so when I think of ‘mom’s cooking’, it’s Mexican food.”

“Is that so?” murmured Neto with a tone of surprise.
“Does that mean you speak Spanish?”

“Yeah.
Spanglish, too.”

Neto suggested they converse in Spanish instead.

“Orale, amigo,” responded Yuto with a laugh.
Neto immediately switched to his mother tongue.

“Yuto, do you know what ‘La Golondrina’ is about?”

“Golondrina” was Spanish for “swallow”.
The singer wonders wistfully about where a free-flying swallow will go as he longs in despair for the fatherland he could never return to.
It was a sad song, but thanks to its gentle and beautiful melody, its mood was far from heavy and tragic.

“I’ve heard before that the swallows refer to seasonal migrant workers,” Yuto said.

“That’s what they say,” Neto said.
“But it’s actually a song of a captive man who seeks freedom during a revolution.
Pretty fitting for a prisoner, don’t you think? The swallow is a symbol of freedom.
Nothing holds it back, and it can fly wherever it wants.”

That was one way to interpret it, Yuto thought.

“I may be in prison, but I have the freedom to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in my heart,” Neto said.
“I’m free to praise the small but proud Mexican army that defeated the French in the Battle of Puebla when they were outnumbered many times over.
They can trap me in a tiny cell, but they can’t fetter my heart.
Don’t you agree?”

Yuto could sense Neto’s pride in his Mexican heritage in every word that he spoke.
One could also say it indicated Neto’s determination to push back against the various societal pressures he faced.

Although Mexicans comprised the biggest minority group in the United States, they faced discrimination from many Americans.
The discrimination ran so deep that when people referred to “illegal immigrants” in America, it often meant Mexicans.
But much of the land in the southwestern region of the States had previously belonged to Mexico.
As such, places like El Paso, Los Angeles, and San Francisco were all Spanish names.
One could even say that the continuous stream of Mexican immigrants crossing the border was like a form of Reconquista – an attempt to reclaim the homeland that was taken unfairly by the Americans due to the war.

“How long is your sentence, Neto?”

“Three years for assault.”

“I see.
―Say, Neto, did you know that Mexicans have the lowest suicide rates in the world?”

Neto laughed quietly.
“That’s great.
Suicide is not a way to go for us Mexicanos.
We’re jubilant, and we also never go down without a fight.
What about the Japanese?”

“It’s pretty high.
Twice that of the United States.
But the rate of homicides is only one-tenth.”

“So you’re saying the Japanese are kind-hearted pessimists?”

“Or probably weak to pressure.
I was born and raised in the States, so I couldn’t say.”

“So was I, but I have no problem understanding other Mexicans.”

Yuto gave a wry smile at Neto’s prompt response.
The man had grown up being surrounded by fellow Mexicans, immersed in the culture of his country in everyday life.
He wouldn’t understand how Yuto felt.

Yuto lacked a sense of identity that was rooted in race or ethnicity.
Describing himself as Japanese wasn’t quite a perfect fit; neither was being called American, which to him was simply his country of citizenship.
Although he carried characteristics of multiple groups, he never really belonged to any.
Yuto had lived all his life harbouring this sense of discomfort.

“To me, Japan is a really faraway country.
Not just in terms of physical distance, but emotional distance, too.
To be honest, I feel closer to Mexico.
When I was younger, I don’t know how many times I used to wish that I could become a Chicano like my brother and mother.”

“Why don’t you, then?” Neto said simply.
“Starting today, I declare you a yellow Chicano.”

Yuto knew he was joking, but his heart was warmed nonetheless.
It felt like Neto was welcoming Yuto into his circle.

“Neto, muchas gracias,” Yuto said.

“De nada,” Neto said, in an exaggerated haughty voice.

Yuto was sure he would have had a mental breakdown if he had no one to interact with.
Thanks to Neto being next door, he was able to keep his mind occupied.
He had made a good friend in an unexpected place.

Yuto leaned back against the cold wall, feeling heartfelt gratitude for this serendipitous meeting.

 

 

One week went by, and Yuto was still in solitary.
He wondered when he would ever be released.
Yuto’s mental distress worsened with every day that he lost in his search for Corvus.

Yuto was pounding the wall of his cell with his fists in frustration when he heard Neto knocking.
As Yuto sat down in his usual spot, Neto began with an encouraging tone.

“Ground yourself, Yuto.
Getting frustrated isn’t going to change anything.
You’ll be released soon.”

“How do you know?”

“People only get a week tops in solitary for fighting.
And Bernard’s been discharged from the infirmary.”

Yuto felt anxiety set in at the news.
He wondered if Bernard might seek revenge against Micky.

“Is Bernard the type to hold a grudge?”

“Yeah.
He’s tenacious, like a snake.
…Are you worried about Micky, or whatever his name was? He’s the one that stabbed Bernard, right?”

Although Yuto couldn’t see Neto’s face, he couldn’t help but stare in his direction in astonishment.

“You’ve got quite an information network.
Nothing slips past you, does it?”

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“That’s right.
I know you’re cellmates with Dick.
You were hit on by that bastard BB the day you came in.
Oh, and I know the sisters gave you a shave.”

“…Damn.
I didn’t know you knew about that, too.”

“Yuto, don’t worry about Bernard.
He won’t mess with you or your friends again.”

Yuto asked what he meant, struck with suspicion at Neto’s strangely decisive tone.
The man was clearly saying this based on some concrete reason.

“Right after he was sent to the infirmary, the senior members of Locos Hermanos dropped in in person to give him a warning.
They also told him that Locos Hermanos would come after him if he snitched anything about this incident to the guards.
Bernard doesn’t have the balls to stand up to us.”

It wasn’t until then that the realization finally dawned on Yuto.
He finally knew who the man was, the friendly Chicano with whom he had huddled with every day and had confided almost everything to.
The man’s real identity―

“…Are you Libera? The boss of the Locos Hermanos?”

“Yeah.
My full name is Ernesto Libera,” Neto said promptly, throwing Yuto off-guard with how easily he gave himself away.
Who could have guessed that Neto was the charismatic E.
Libera of the Locos Hermanos?

“Why did you keep it a secret all this time?”

“Keep it a secret? I never withheld anything.
You just never asked.”

“Yeah, but… no.
You’re right.”

Neto was a nickname for Ernesto.
He had given his real name all along – Yuto had just never caught on.
If Yuto had been a black inmate, Libera might have had a reason to conceal his identity because of the feud between their gangs.
But he had no reason to hide himself to Yuto.

“But why would you do that? Isn’t Bernard a fellow Chicano?”

“I know he raped one of your guys.
He deserves the consequences,” Neto spat, his voice filled with disgust.
“He’s given us Chicanos a bad name for what he did.”

“I see…” Yuto said.
“And when are you going to be out?”

“I don’t know.
At first it was only supposed to be for ten days or so, but it’s been dragging on.
The guards are probably too afraid to let me out.
They probably won’t until the infighting within the Black Soldiers has died down.”

Neto was rational and calm through and through.
He knew very well that his very existence could risk setting off a riot.
Although he was imprisoned alone with no end in sight, he did not easily succumb to anger or frustration.
The leader of Locos Hermanos was as tough as nails, with an emotional resilience that surpassed many.

“What are you going to do if the Black Soldiers start a war with you? Will you fight?”

“If we’re threatened, we’ll have no choice but to defend ourselves.
Of course, we’ll avoid a full-out war as much as possible.”

Henry Galen’s face suddenly rose in Yuto’s mind.
Perhaps Neto, being the leader of the Locos Hermanos, would know something about other opposing group bosses.

“Are things fine between you and ABL?”

“They’re cunning guys.
They want the Chicanos and Blacks to destroy themselves fighting.
They probably plan to play the spectators while the browns and blacks fight it out, and swoop in to finish off whoever remains.”

“What kind of leader is Galen?”

“He’s sharp, but it’s hard to tell what he’s thinking.
He’s the secretive type; I hear he doesn’t even let the senior members in on his true intentions.
Tonya dated him for a while, but even she said she didn’t get him.”

Neto’s sudden mention of Tonya reminded Yuto that the two were in a relationship.

“Oh, right,” Neto said.
“I haven’t thanked you yet for helping Tonya.”

Yuto wondered what it was, then realized that it was the time Tonya almost got attacked by Giverly.
So Neto was even privy to that.
Yuto inwardly rolled his eyes.

“I didn’t do much.
He was a coward.
All I had to do was tell him that the guard was watching, and he just shrivelled up in fear.”

“Still – it takes courage to talk down someone with a lethal weapon.
If it weren’t for you, Tonya might have been hurt.
I’m really grateful.”

“No need to thank me so much, you’re putting me on the spot,” Yuto said sheepishly.
“…You must miss Tonya, huh, Neto?” he said.

“Yeah.
She’s my only little brother, after all.”

“What?” Yuto brought his ear right up against the bars in disbelief.
“Did you say ‘little brother’? I heard that you two were lovers.”

“Tonya wants it that way, so that’s what we let people think.
Our parents divorced when I was seventeen, and we were forced to live apart.
We don’t even share the same surname anymore.
But we reunited here in prison, and now we can live together again.
Strange, isn’t it? …But she’s ashamed of herself.
Says she doesn’t want anyone to know that I’m related to someone like her.
Stupid kid.”

There was pity in Neto’s voice, but a sort of tenderness as well.

Yuto felt like he could understand Tonya’s perspective.
She was proud that the Chicanos looked up to her brother, but was afraid that she would become a source of shame and a stain on his reputation.

“You sure you should have told me that?” Yuto said.
“That’s supposed to be your secret, isn’t it?”

“I told you because I felt like I could trust you.
Tonya’s taken a liking to you, and so have I.
You’re a friend to me now.”

There was not a hint of doubt in Neto’s voice.
It wasn’t carefree optimism that made him trust someone he’d never met.
Neto was a man who had fought and survived in this dangerous world despite the threats to his life.
He probably had absolute confidence in his senses and instinct for getting him this far.

Yuto wanted to return the trust with trust.
He hoped he could give back to Neto by trusting him, too.
With a sense of resolve, he began to speak.

“Neto, do you know if Galen has a burn scar on his back?”

“A burn scar? Why?”

“…I’m looking for a certain man.
I can’t say why, but I need to find him at all costs, whatever it takes.
My life depends on it.
And I think Galen might be who I’m looking for.
If he has a burn scar on his back, that makes it even more likely.”

“Hm,” Neto sniffed before murmuring, “I see.
You have your own issues, huh.
Well, I don’t know about burn scars, but I’ve heard he has a scar from a gunshot wound on his lower back.”

A gunshot wound.
It was possible to suffer a burn from being shot.
If he was shot with a larger calibre gun, it might have caused a significant laceration that healed to look like a burn scar.
It was a stretch, but it was possible.

“You should ask Tonya once you get out,” Neto said.
“I’ll give her my word to help you out, too.”

“Thank you, Neto.
I can’t begin to tell you―”

“Shh,” Neto hissed in warning.
Yuto noticed the guard’s footsteps approaching.
He quickly stepped away from the bars and moved to the back of the room.

The guard stopped in front of Yuto’s cell.

“Yuto Lennix.
Stand up and get over here,” he barked in an overbearing tone.
“You’re going back to your regular cell.”

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