ONE MONTH LATER
The blood on his knuckles had dried off by the time he woke up the next morning. He had spent 15 minutes punching the steel wall last night. It was pretty much all Atlas could do in his prison cell, apart from sleeping and using the toilet.
The moment United had been convicted, they had been brought to Arkon prison and put into solitary confinement. Atlas had not seen the others for three weeks now. His cell was a small, constricted room consisting of a single bed on the right hand side and a sink and toilet on the left. It was all made of steel. There was a dog flap on the door from where the guards would pass him his meal twice a day. The bed had a single, hard pillow and no mattress and there were many nights when he had preferred the floor to sleep on.
There was a fire that burned in him. A fire of anger, of confusion. How had their foolproof plan gone wrong? How had the police known where they were heading? Who warned Jonathan Foster before he took the stage? Something had gone horribly wrong and he didn't know what it was. Atlas had a hunch but he was too scared to address it.
Now, as he lay on the cold floor, he tried to listen to whatever was going on outside his cell. It had become a habit of his to eavesdrop on the conversations of the prison guards. It had been very useful. He knew that the prison had three floors, the top one being the solitary cells, the second being the normal prison cells and the third being the cafeteria. The prison had two buildings opposite each other with a football field separating them. The field was used by the prisoners during the one hour of recreation they received after lunch.
Atlas, of course, had not yet received his one hour of recreation since he was in solitary. The flames burned higher than ever as he was filled with anger for the people who had put him in this hellhole, away from his friends. Sooner or later, United would escape from here, and when they would, people would pay.
The fire finally tore through him and Atlas got up and started punching the walls, opening last night’s wounds again.
“Are you ready?”
“ Yes”, he replied.
The President smiled and got up from behind his desk in the Oval Office. He went over and sat down next to his friend on the cashmere sofa.
“You've done a good job Jon. And I truly believe that a few months from now, it will be you sitting behind that desk. You will have the support of the people.”
Jonathan Foster smiled. How long he had waited for this moment.
“Will you be naming the people who helped you?’
“No Mr.President, they wish to remain unidentified. If United find out, they will tear them apart.”
“Well, it’s a good thing then that they have been put in Arkon prison”, said the President, standing up and straightening his blazer
There was a knock on the door and the President’s secretary entered the room.
“We’re ready for you.” she said.
Foster nodded and stood up. He kept rehearsing his lines as he followed the President out of the Oval Office and into another room. The room was bursting with activity. Cameramen moved from one place to another, trying to find the best angle. Two men worked on adjusting the flashes. The secretary handed the President a file.
“Here’s your script, Mr. President.”
“Thank you Beth.”
One of the cameramen approached them and gave them their mics. There were two chairs in the centre of the room with the US flag in the background. Foster took a seat outside the camera's field of vision. He would join the president when called upon. The President took his seat and smiled at him.
“Live in 10,9,8…….”
Foster took a deep breath. This was it. The moment had been waiting for. He was ready to tell the world.
Atlas woke up with a start to the sound of someone banging on his door.
“Wakey Wakey Cage”, yelled a guard.
“You’re out of solitary”, he continued, entering the cell.
Atlas groggily got up from the bed, washed his face and picked up the only two things which the guards had given him when he had entered Arkon- a brush and toothpaste.
“Put your hands behind your back” he instructed.
Atlas silently obeyed while the guard handcuffed him. The guard moved aside to let Atlas walk out and followed behind him, closing the door. He glanced at the name tag of the guard which read ‘Charlie’. Charlie poked Atlas from the back with his gun and pushed him forward. He walked ahead slowly, taking in as much as he could of the environment around him. A long passageway stretched ahead of him with cells on either side. He could hear screaming in some of them but there was complete silence in most of the cells. He winced. He knew which category he belonged to. There was a guard between every two cells and they were now eyeing Atlas and Charlie as they walked towards the end of the corridor.
There was a lift in front of him but Charlie pushed him to the right where the stairs led downwards.
Atlas noted another guard standing at the head of the stairs. Security was tight. He saw a camera pointed towards him as he walked down the stairs. The floor ahead of him had the same layout as above. The only difference in this was that the cells had small square windows in the door from where you could see a part of the cells. Charlie led him to an empty cell which had the number ‘23’ on it.
Charlie, who had just opened the prison cell, looked up at him.
“Do you know where the rest of the people who came with me are?”
Charlie pointed with his gun towards the door, indicating Atlas to go in. Atlas sighed and reluctantly started towards the room. Charlie pushed him from behind and he fell down on his knees inside the cells. The measly meals had made him weak. He wanted to round up on Charlie and teach him a lesson. If only he could get up. Instead, he satisfied himself with letting himself fall to the ground and lay on his back. The guard slammed the door with a bang and walked away.
“Great talk, Charlie.”
Atlas soon figured out this was the most comfortable you could get in Arkon. His ‘upgraded’ cell consisted of a bunk bed on the left side of the room and a toilet and sink on the right side. He was the only occupant of the cell and the beds were, for him, soft as clouds compared to the hard, unforgiving steel of solitary. He had changed into a fresh orange jumpsuit with the number ‘23’ on its back. Before this, he had been wearing a plain white jumpsuit, meant to differentiate the prisoners in solitary, for 3 weeks.
He had been given dinner inside his cell and he’d been told that inmates were let out into the cafeteria before being given their one hour of leisure time in the field.
“There’s a library next to the cafeteria as well but I don’t see the likes of you going in there”, he had added with a smirk.
Atlas would have loved nothing more than telling him he was probably more educated than the guard, but he just politely smiled. He couldn’t risk losing the leisure time, which was a chance for him to talk to the others.
Now, as he lay on the bottom bunk, his mind wandered to the hunch which he had been too scared to address before. Someone had betrayed them. The cops had known exactly where they were going and Jonathan Foster had been warned. Their plan was only known to the six of them. He tried to think of who could possibly have ratted them out but he came up blank. He couldn’t think of anyone. They had known each other for almost five years now. Why would someone do that? Were they offered money? And what was that money compared to what they would have got had they killed Foster? Coming up blank again, Atlas closed his eyes and fell into a dreamless sleep.
He woke up the next morning to see someone sitting on the toilet, pants down. He was a small thin man with the wisp of a goatee and he kept curling it as he looked around the cell in interest. When he spotted Atlas propped up on his elbow, he smiled and raised his hand.
“Sorry bout’ the smell, mate. Get used to it. I’m Alvin, shifted me ere’ this morning. You’re Atlas Cage, yes? Been seeing you and your boys in the news a lot before I was convicted.”
“Um….hi”, said Atlas,still sleepy while looking at this weird man.
“You got balls to attack the Foster laddy, I’ll give it to ya. Too bad you got tricked eh?”
“What do you mean?”
“Didn’t you see the news yesterday?”
“I was moved from solitary only yesterday”
Alvin’s eyes widened and he leaned forward from the seat.
“He admitted it. Said it had been a plan all along. To draw out you and your boys. Bait was the word he used, yes. The big man in Washington congratulated him. Said he’s a national hero.”
This last was said with a spit on the ground..
“Who?”, said Atlas, still not sure where this was heading.
Alvin leaned back and took a deep breath before saying, almost in a whisper, “Jonathan Foster.”
Author: Aditya Iyengar