CH TWO 49
After reinstating himself in the top bunk Frank lines up to collect his breakfast. A murmur goes along the queue and Scrapper pushes in behind him. ‘What went on last night in your gaff then?’ He asks with a suspicious grin on his face. Frank looks at him blankly; ‘I don’t know, I was dead to the world then suddenly the place was full of people and Barry Warren was moaning and groaning on the floor. Soon as they put the lights out I went back to sleep; I don’t want to get involved.’
The line shuffles forward and the man in front turns an unbelieving glance over his shoulder. ‘So he fell out of his bunk, hit the chair on his way down, broke both his legs and several ribs and you didn’t hear a thing?’ Frank holds out his tray at the counter and a ladle full of stodge is deposited on it; ‘not a thing, until the screws came to investigate. I reckon he was dreaming about one of those poor blokes he tortured and got carried away. Serves him right if you ask me, I can’t stand bully boys.’
The other lags give Frank a wide berth as he takes his seat at table and eats his food in silence. The bell rings and he heads off to the officers’ canteen to see what he can release from custody today. He is doing well with his memorizing and can recite perfectly the list of numbers and letters Thorndike has entrusted to him. He guesses this is some kind of bank code but it is good exercise for his brain whatever it’s in aid of and if he can make something out of it for himself he would be a fool to dismiss it.
Peg Leg Povey, the cook has been waiting to hear the gossip from the horse’s mouth and is disappointed by Frank’s insistence that he had nothing to do with the incident. ‘You did us all a favour,’ says Povey, ‘nobody likes the git, and he was due a good hiding.’ Frank explains that he would not do anything to jeopardise his early release date so can they please talk about something else. Povey says he can make a start on the vegetables, which today include real potatoes, asparagus and carrots. Four pounds of stewing steak is cooking in a casserole in the oven, which is disappointing because not even Frank has devised a way of spiriting anything like that back to the landing. There is, however, a nice sponge pudding on the go. He will make sure to save some of that for himself even if he has to eat it in the kitchen.
The morning passes in the usual boring way and the screws start arriving for their lunch. Corporal Clot calls Frank over to his table where he makes no secret of his feelings on the incident during the night. ‘Of all the men you’d want to fall out of bed and get bashed up that badly there couldn’t be a better candidate,’ he says, ‘the number of times that man’s been inside is nobody’s business. He won’t be bragging to anyone about this stretch, will he?’ Frank sets the meal before him and pours a glass of water. ‘I didn’t know him personally,’ he replies casually, ‘only met him yesterday and we barely spoke. Still, they do say he had it coming; The Lord works in mysterious ways so they say.’
Ray Cooper has been speaking with Scrapper Noakes. It is the 22 year olds first time in prison and he is nervous about upsetting anybody. ‘The last bloke who shared Frank Ridley’s cell was taken out on a stretcher,’ says Scrapper, ‘so you’d better watch yourself, you don’t want to get off on the wrong foot.’ Cooper leaves it to the very last minute before going to the cell, where he finds Frank stretched out on the top bunk reading the Daily Mirror and chewing on a Curly Wurly, which had been left on the dining table by Corporal Clot. Whether or not it was intended as a gift, Frank decided not to let it go to waste and pocketed it along with half a pound of cheddar.
He looks over the newspaper at the quaking Ray Cooper and asks if he is the new man. ‘They told me I have to share with you,’ Ray says timidly, ‘not that I don’t want to share with you, but they didn’t give me a choice. Sorry if I’m in the way and I’ll try not to get on your nerves.’
‘What are you on about?’ Frank puts the paper down and frowns at the lad, ‘has someone been winding you up? That business with Barry Warren was nothing to do with me, it was an accident. I won’t give you any trouble; I’m not here much longer anyway. The name’s Frank, by the way,’ Ray introduces himself and settles on the lower bunk. ‘Want a read of the paper?’ Asks Frank, handing it down to him, ‘I’ve finished with it.’ Ray flushes bright pink as he refuses to take the offering, ‘no good to me mate,’ he mumbles, ‘I can’t read.’
Frank takes a little time to consider this information before replying, ‘maybe you should join the adult education class,’ he suggests, ‘ask one of the screws.’ Ray says he might do that and asks if Frank has a job. ‘They got me working in the officers’ canteen,’ he replies, ‘it’s a nice cushy number if you can get on it and it helps the day go by. You may even get a few perks if you’re lucky so if they offer it to you I’d say take it.’
The lights go off and Frank settles down to sleep. Ray lays on his bunk for hours, unable to get off and worrying what the next six months has in store. They say it’s just bad luck he got sent down for a first offence but he reckons the law has it in for him because of his uncle, who is one of the South London gang members and has never been convicted of any of the crimes he has been involved in. Like the man said the day he was arrested, life is not fair.