Fanfiction: OZ

The Keeper


Subject Info: Tim McManus
Feedback: Yeah!
Highlight to view warnings: Character death.
Spoilers: Sonata Da Oz (S6, Ep. 3)
Notes: Written for the HT100 FlashFiction Challenge #9 Nightmare On OZ Street (which was supposed to be suitable for Halloween.) Many thanks to Actizera and Adastra for beta, analysis, and most importantly, for being the sick freaks that they are. This is *koff* a leetle bit over the word limit at 1607.


It would have been hard to imagine a more awkward encounter. The last time Reverend Truman had been inside Oz, it was as part of a lobbying effort to have him replaced as Em City's administrator. Now here she was standing in front of his desk, eyes deeply shadowed, with a small cardboard carton containing Said's meager possessions cradled in her arms.

"These are all of his things?" Reverend Truman indicated the carton by lifting it slightly.

"Yes." McManus stood, although he wasn't quite sure why. He shifted his weight, leaning against the edge of the desk to steady himself. "Inmates aren't allowed much to begin with, and your brother, he kept less than most. His books..."

"I've given to Mr. Arif." She let out a sigh. "All right, then. I suppose that's that."

Realizing that she was about to leave, McManus started to come around the desk to see her to the door before thinking better of the idea. The resulting hesitant waver caused them both to smile thinly.

"Said and I didn't always see eye to eye..." McManus said, finally. "But he was a man of honor and integrity. I respected him tremendously."

"Goodson. He'll always be Goodson to me," Reverend Truman corrected softly. "You know, I never really understood what happened with his conversion. We were never as close, afterwards."

"I'm sorry." McManus could feel beads of perspiration begin to prickle at his skin, and he suppressed an urge to wipe his upper lip. "I am deeply sorry for your loss. You'll please let me know if there's anything I can do?"

"Thank you for your time." She nodded, not curtly, but certainly aware that she had just revealed more of herself than she was comfortable doing in his presence. He was grateful that she had the carton in her arms so he wouldn't have to offer her a damp handshake. They eyed one another evenly for another beat of silence before she simply turned and walked out.

Giving her another moment to clear the corridor, McManus blew out a deeply held breath and went over to shut the door to his office. It could have been worse, but still.... He closed the mini blinds hanging over the top half of the door, then made his way across the room, lowering and closing the blinds on each pane of Plexiglas that comprised the two outer walls of his office. There were times when he regretted his initial zeal for transparency in designing Em City. This wasn't real privacy, but it was the best he could do. At least the day was almost over, and he wasn't expecting any more "guests."

Returning to his desk, he sank down into the chair and stared hard at the slightly chipped oak veneer front of the desk's center drawer. It wasn't really lying to her. She didn't relate to Said's religious choice anyway. Hell, she'd already given away his books -- volumes Said considered precious -- because they didn't jibe with who and what she wanted him to be.

It wasn't lying to her. It was more important, more right, that McManus have them. Said was one of his guys after all. One of his.

He glanced up and squinted for human-shaped shadows on the blinds. Seeing no hint of anyone looming outside his office, he slid open the desk drawer and looked down into the plastic organizer tray, where Said's wooden prayer beads sat neatly curled inside the paper clip compartment.

Now he did wipe at the sweat gathering on his face, smearing his hand across his mouth and chin before reaching into the drawer to run his fingers across the beads' smoothly polished surface. It was a ritual he had performed several times already, whenever he had a spare moment, since he'd stashed them there that morning. First, he counted out the three thirty-three bead sections, which were separated by marker beads carved from a deeper-toned wood. And when he reached the end of the strand, he traced his index finger along the larger oblong bead from which the modest tassel made of frayed cord emerged.

When he'd spotted the beads lying on the examiner's cart among the things that had been removed from Said's body before the autopsy, mostly hidden under the tattered folds of a bloodstained chambray shirt, he knew at once that they were the necessary item. There was something about the beads that seemed so emblematic of Said -- the way they gleamed softly under the harsh fluorescent lights, beautiful in their low-lustre simplicity. And when the lab tech who was there cleaning up turned her back for a moment, he'd reached out and snatched them off the cart, stuffing them in one swift motion deep into the right well pocket of his corduroy trousers. Nobody knew better than McManus the laxity of procedural follow through at Oz. Nobody would notice the beads were missing. Nobody would care.

But he cared.

A buzzer sounded over the loudspeaker system piped into every crevice of the prison, marking the end of administrative day shift. He didn't go home on time often, but he would tonight. McManus pulled an interoffice mail envelope from the top of his inbox pile. After discarding the undoubtedly nonsensical memo it contained, he slid the beads inside and wound shut the string-and-button closure. Then he sandwiched the envelope between a couple of other files before shoving the whole stack inside his briefcase. Not that exit security actually ever spot-checked his bag, but just in case...

He returned to the nondescript condo he'd been living in since his split with Ellie. He parked his car in the silent lot and listened to the sound of his own footsteps mocking his solitude as he made his way up the flight of stairs to his apartment.

It was an ugly place, furnished in a happenstance utilitarian style Sean jokingly referred to as "Early Bachelor Pad." The only thing that had changed since he'd moved in was the gradually increasing level of clutter. There were piles of books, both read and "meant to be gotten to." Mounds of newspapers and magazines he kept forgetting to take down to recycling. And files, files everywhere -- the curse of being middle management in a bureaucratic hellhole like the Department of Corrections. And as if work-related paper wasn't enough, now there was a whole teetering stack dedicated to his own bullshit legal entanglements.

After stopping at the nearly empty refrigerator for a cold beer (about the only thing he never let himself run out of), McManus took the briefcase over to the disordered corner where his desk was buried and his musty smelling bookshelves threatened to overspill their contents at any moment. He knelt on the floor and crawled part way under the desk. Shoving two unlabeled white corrugated cardboard trans-file boxes aside, he dragged a third, considerably more battered box out into the middle of the living room floor. He gulped down the last foamy dregs of his beer, lifted the lid of the box, and peered inside. It had started as a simple accumulation of things that had gone unclaimed -- personal effects overlooked in cell cleaning, turned in or confiscated later from other inmates. But it hadn't taken McManus long to recognize the pattern in the objects. The meaning.

He set aside the empty beer bottle and began to take things out of the box one by one, turning them slowly in his hands, remembering by touch and feel and smell, the failure each of them represented. An 18-karat gold electroplated cigar cutter, emblazoned with the gaudy monogram of Nino Schibetta. A set of creased and waterstained Schumann sheet music, belonging to Eugene Dobbins, that had turned up after the riot. Inside a small clear acrylic box, nested within a bed of cotton wadding, the partially decayed third molar extracted from the mouth of Donald Groves on his final visit to the prison dentist -- a jittery Miguel Alvarez had turned the tooth over to McManus following Groves' execution, claiming its presence in his pod was giving him nightmares. ("It was under his pillow, man -- like he was waiting on a visit from the fucking Tooth Fairy!") An unidentified square of pale blue acrylic knitted by Shirley Bellinger on Death Row. A pot holder? Or the beginnings of a scarf -- for herself, or maybe for Nat Ginsberg, who frequently complained of feeling chilled as he grew thinner.

The first thing McManus took deliberately was the rolled black watch cap Adebisi had been wearing the day Said stabbed him to death. It had so clearly belonged with the others that he had to have it. Picking things up proved easy enough -- paying a visit to the morgue to "check on the proceedings" whenever one of his guys was on the slab. Unobtrusively palming some small article, a token, from the ones he'd lost.

Except of course, he hadn't really lost them. They were all right here. Angry, and noisy, but safe inside the box.

And now, the latest addition. First, he gently placed all the items back into the box, carefully arranging them into the correct order. Then, rummaging around in his briefcase, he drew the prayer beads out of the interoffice mail envelope and rolled the smooth wood in his fingers. He studied the box for a moment to determine their proper location before setting them gently into the palm of one of Augustus Hill's fingerless gloves. Replacing the lid, he shoved the box back among the dust bunnies beneath his desk.

Safe, until next time.