The cell door shut with a smug clank, and the two of them stood looking around them like sheep in a cornfield.
"When do you think Mr. B is going to bail us out?" Zack asked eventually.
"They have to hold us here for 24 hours," Vincent said. "So, I'm assuming, after then."
"When do you think they started timing?"
"I haven't the foggiest," Vincent said.
Zack sighed. "I hope they counted the time it took to process us. That lasted several hours."
"My guess is they started the clock when they closed that door on us."
They stood a moment looking at the cell. It looked exactly like the ones you see in the movies: grey, gloomy, small. It was empty save for them and a few cots, two on each of the opposite walls.
"Well!" Vincent said to break the depressing silence. "I think a good nap is well-deserved at this time." He sprawled out on one of the cots, tipping his hat over his eyes and settling in for a snooze.
Zack took off his shoes and crawled into the cot next to Vincent's.
Vincent's head popped up, alerted by the squeaking of Zack's cot. "What are you doing?"
"You said we should get some rest." Zack lay on his back, arms crossed. He had to lean his head back into the mattress to see Vincent.
"By which, of course, I meant one of us should rest, while the other stands guard."
"Look around, Zack. How many cots are there?"
"And how many of us are there?"
Zack's brow furrowed in confusion, an interesting spectacle to be viewed upside down. "Two?"
"So what does that tell you?"
"That there are twice as many cots as there are people in this cell?"
Vincent tipped a finger in Zack's direction. "Excellent math, friend. But, more specifically, what it indicates, if you have knowledge of the prison system—"
"Do you?" Zack asked.
Vincent ignored the implication. –"it indicates that two more individuals likely either already inhabit those cots, or will be assigned to them shortly. There are approximately 2,300 inmates in this prison, though the population capacity has been established as 2,164. As pleasant as it would be to have this much room to ourselves, we will probably be joined by two more inmates before our 24 hours are up, granted this place has long since filled its vacancies."
"So," Vincent said.
"So, what?" Zack asked.
"So, one of us needs to stay awake in case the others are let in, so we don't get ambushed in our sleep."
Zack rolled onto his stomach, propping himself up with his elbows. "Who says you get to sleep first?"
"I am unabashed in saying that, after the events of today, I most definitely need my beauty sleep."
Zack shook his head. "That doesn't make sense. Sleeping by itself does not make you beautiful. Unless you put beautifying products on while you sleep, but we don't have access to those here. And even if either of those were the case, that still does not indicate why you get to sleep first."
"Zack," Vincent said patiently, "I would explain to you just how much my beauty surpasses your own, thus justifying my need for sleep as a higher priority, but the last thing I want to do is hurt your feelings."
"What's the first thing you want to do?"
"Sleep!" To demonstrate, he settled back down and pushed his hat over his face again.
"Yours must not be a very long list," Zack said.
"I tend to focus on the now. It's a survival technique."
"The first thing I want to do is get out of here. I want Mr. B to bail us out. I want to continue working for Bren and for everything in the Lab to go back to normal. I want to eat something eventually too. Hey, if you know about prison, what kind of food do you think they have here?"
Vincent lay silently, hat still over his face.
"Vincent?" Zack said.
He received no reply. Zack sighed and rolled onto his back.
A clanking sound rang out from down the hallway. Zack sat up to look through the bars. Human-shaped shadows clipped towards their cell. He turned back to Vincent and shook him by the shoulder. "Vincent!"
Vincent started awake. "What?"
"There's someone coming."
Vincent looked around the cell, and spotted the shadows approaching in the hall.
"Why did you feel the need to wake me up?" he asked irritably.
"You were asleep, which means I was on guard. I thought that's what I was supposed to do."
"That defeats the purpose. You're supposed to let me sleep in peace and deal with the new people yourself."
"By doing what?"
"Well, it seems you don't have to now," Vincent grumbled.
A guard let in two men in handcuffs. The guard uncuffed them, and they stood by the door as it clanked shut.
Vincent and Zack stared uneasily at the newcomers.
They stared carefully back.
"Are they convicts?" Zack whispered to Vincent. Their previous conversation appeared to convince him that Vincent was an expert on all things prison-related.
"This is a holding cell. They're waiting for bail, like us," Vincent said. "Why do you ask?"
"They look a little scary," Zack whispered.
"I'm sure they think the same thing about us."
"I hope they're not dangerous."
"The best thing would be not to engage them."
Zack turned back to the newcomers.
"So what were you arrested for?" he asked.
Vincent looked to the ceiling in despair.
"Arson," the taller newcomer replied.
"Armed robbery," the other said.
"Did you shoot anyone?" Zack asked the latter.
The robber shook his head.
"Neither did we," Zack said. "But the detective thinks we did because we found a gun in Vincent's equipment and I touched it."
Vincent leaned towards Zack. "Z, on a normal day I know most folks find your innocent pronouncements of current events to be endearing, but at the moment, I think they are less than advisable."
"These two are criminals. Anything you say to them can and will be used against you."
"The police do that, not inmates."
"It goes both ways."
Zack turned to look at Vincent head-on. Their noses were almost touching.
"You think I'm stupid, don't you?" Zack said.
"On the contrary," Vincent said. "I know you to be extremely intelligent."
"I am," Zack said.
"However," Vincent went on, gently holding up a hand as if to shield Zack from a harsh truth, "your intellect does not always adequately guide you through interpersonal situations. I, however, possess a certain charm that tends to mellow people and make them more amicable."
"Why don't you try to charm them?" Zack asked.
Vincent, considering this, glanced sideways, and when the wall gave him no solid reason to deny their new roommates his charm, he turned to them with a smile. "Good evening, boys," he greeted. "Is it still raining outside?"
"We just got done being processed," the arsonist said. "So we wouldn't know."
"Ah. Well. I suppose we'll find out soon enough."
"By the time we get outside, if we do go outside, it could have stopped raining," Zack said. "Or it might still be raining. Or stopped and started again. Whichever way it happened there would be no reliable way to discern if it had been raining at this exact time, without more thorough knowledge of precipitation than I suspect any of us possess."
"Do you two ever stop talking?" The arsonist took a seat on the cot opposite of Vincent's. The robber flopped onto the remaining one, across from Zack.
"Eventually," Zack said. "Of course."
Vincent pursed his lips. He leaned closer to Zack in order to whisper as close to his ear as possible.
"Which do you think is worse, sleeping across from a robber or sleeping across from an arsonist?" he asked.
"Why do you ask?" Zack whispered back.
"I want to prepare myself for the inevitable."
"What do you consider to be inevitable in this context?"
Vincent shook his head. "It could be anything. I have a fifty-fifty chance of sleeping across from the wrong person."
Zack tipped his head to the side. "That statistic falls short of your usually more obscure and enlightening declarations."
"Unless they're both planning on doing something detestable." Vincent looked back to the others worriedly. "In which case is there really no saving me no matter where I sleep."
"Who says they're planning anything?" Zack whispered.
"They're a robber and an arsonist. They're here for a reason."
"What if they're innocent, like us?"
Vincent gave Zack a sidelong glance. Zack looked taken aback.
"You think I did it?" His voice raised to a stage whisper.
"I don't know that you didn't," Vincent pointed out.
"What are you two mumbling about?" the arsonist asked.
"The weather," Vincent quickly supplied.
"Still?" the arsonist rolled his eyes. "You must have pretty boring lives if you find weather so fascinating."
Zack and Vincent exchanged glances.
"Boring, ha," Vincent said.
"We could be meteorologists," Zack told the arsonist defensively. "How would you know?"
"Don't know, don't care." The arsonist lay down on his cot and put a hand over his eyes. "I'm going to try and sleep. I'm exhausted. I'd appreciate some quiet in here."
The robber pulled a book out from under his jacket and flipped it open to a dog-eared page.
Zack watched the proceedings with interest. "If I'd known we could bring books to prison, I would have grabbed one on our way out."
"Unfortunately, if you'd been caught in that act, the book would most likely have been seized as potential evidence," Vincent said. "This fellow in front of you is a thief. He likely was not permitted to bring in the book, rather concealed it in a miraculous fashion."
"Robber," Zack said.
Vincent nodded. "Yes, the robber."
"You said thief."
"No, I'm fairly certain I just said robber."
"The first time you said thief."
"Thief, robber. Potato, patato."
"I never understood that particular turn of phrase. But there is a distinction between the two. A robber is someone who commits the act directly to the person being robbed. A thief has no witnesses."
"Either way, you wouldn't have been able to get away with a book," Vincent said.
Zack looked pathetic enough in that moment that Vincent decided to continue. "If any of our companions back at the club decide to visit us, you might be able to ask them to bring you a book upon their next visit, provided they are allowed to visit you a reasonable amount of times before your boredom reaches detrimental levels."
"I hope I'm not here long enough to allow for such a convoluted series of events."
"If we're denied bail, we could be here a very long time."
"You seem to know a lot about how being in prison," Zack said. "Have you been arrested before?"
"No," Vincent said. "My record was spotless."
"Do you read a lot of books about prison?" Zack asked, oblivious to the annoyance in Vincent's remark. "I know a lot about murder and murder investigations from reading books."
"Don't say that during the hearing," Vincent said.
"I asked you to be quiet," the arsonist said.
"Sorry," Vincent and Zack said at the same time.
They looked at each other again.
"Are you mad at me?" Zack whispered.
"Why are you asking me that?" Vincent whispered back.
"I think you blame me for our getting arrested."
"I do," Vincent said. "But that goes without saying, doesn't it?"
"If you think it but don't say it, does that count as passive-aggression?"
"What, me? Passive-aggressive?" Vincent looked wounded.
"Well, as you said, my interpersonal skills are somewhat lacking," Zack admitted. "I sometimes have a hard time perceiving the emotions and intentions of others. So if you were being passive-aggressive, I probably wouldn't know. Which is why I wanted to clarify."
"Then I will clarify. I have it on good authority that I am one of the most pleasant and straightforward individuals to frequent the nightclub."
"Straightforwardness does not inherently equate to a lack of passive-aggression."
"Yes, Zack, but this is me we're talking about."
"Hey," the arsonist growled, lifting the hand from his face to cast a glower their way. "I'm not going to ask you again."
"You won't hear another word from us." Vincent mimed locking his lips with a key and throwing the key across the room. He turned to Zack.
"I'm not going to do that," Zack said.
"It's a show of good faith. A pantomime universally accepted to indicate—"
He was cut off by the arsonist travelling impossibly fast across the room to grab Vincent by his shirt collar and press him into the wall.
"Did I not make myself clear?" the arsonist growled in his face.
"You were perfectly clear," Vincent assured him.
"Then why am I holding you against the wall?"
"That's an excellent question," Vincent said, "to which I presume only you have the most accurate answer. As talented as I may be, I am as yet unable to reach inside a man's head and bring to light their innermost thoughts."
"Nobody is capable of doing that," Zack said.
The arsonist threw a dangerous look in Zack's direction.
Zack quickly mimed locking his mouth with a key and putting the key in his pocket.
Vincent watched him, concerned. "Zack, you're supposed to throw the key away. It's part of the deal."
"But I might need it later."
Vincent returned his attention to the aggressor holding him captive; the arsonist was leaning closer to his face than appreciated.
"You're a smug little twat." He gave Vincent a shove against the wall before letting him go. Vincent plopped back into his cot.
"Keep your mouth shut, pretty boy, and I won't have to hurt you." The arsonist returned to his cot.
"I never quite understood that insult," Vincent remarked, stroking his face. "I am a pretty boy. A very pretty boy."
"I never realized it was an insult," Zack said.
"Z," Vincent said, "there's this thing called inflection."
"I know. I've heard of it."
"What about be quiet don't you understand?" the arsonist roared, sitting back up. "Is it physically impossible for you to shut your traps?"
"No, it's not physically impossible," Zack said. "It only would be if—"
Vincent slapped his hand over Zack's mouth. "Don't give him any ideas!"
Zack shoved Vincent's hand away. "Vincent, that hurt."
"I apologize for my companion," Vincent said to the arsonist. "He's definitely the more inept of the two of us. If you're going to take out one of us, choose him."
Zack gave Vincent a shocked look. "Why would you say something like that? Do you want him to kill me?"
"Sometimes the sacrifice of one individual allows for the greater good of the rest of humanity."
"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."
This time Zack was the one pressed into the wall by an angry fist.
"I'm warning you…" the arsonist snarled.
"This is harassment," Zack said. "You could be put in solitary confinement for this kind of behavior. Right, Vincent?"
Both Zack and the arsonist looked towards Vincent. Vincent was motivated by the scarier of the two sets of eyeballs.
"How should I know?" he asked.
"You've had experience in prison before."
"I never said that."
"Zack, why is it you only acknowledge tones and implications when it suits you?"
"Solitary confinement would be a treat after dealing with you two," the arsonist said, shoving Zack further into the wall. Zack clutched the arsonist's arm in an attempt to ward him off. The arsonist used his free hand to rip Zack's off of him.
Vincent took an anxious breath through his teeth. "That is not an action I would recommend."
The arsonist glanced at him again. "Why?"
"Because the man you're holding could very possibly fight back, if reasonably provoked. His hands are a sore spot. Constantly getting into places they shouldn't. They may very well end you."
"What," the arsonist surveyed Zack skeptically, "this twig?"
"I'm stronger than I look," Zack said.
Vincent mimed punching motions. "Show him what you've got, Z-man."
Zack gave his aggressor a hearty push, which only resulted in both of them falling to the floor, as the arsonist did not let go of Zack's shirt collar. However, the arsonist's head did connect with the floor with a satisfying thud.
"Take him out!" Vincent rooted.
Zack, breaking free of the arsonist's grasp, stood, straightened his sleeves, and climbed back onto his cot.
Vincent's shoulders sagged in disappointment. "That was anti-climactic."
"Should I have done more?" Zack asked.
"It would have been interesting to watch, I'll admit."
The arsonist got to his feet with a scowl. "I've had enough of this." He cracked his knuckles.
"I never understood why forcibly releasing the air from the muscles in your fingers is seen as a sign of aggression," Zack mused.
"How about I show you?" The arsonist advanced on Zack and Vincent once again.
"I wouldn't if I were you."
A familiar voice sounded, followed by another clank as the cell door was swung shut. All three heads (the robber was still reading) turned to see a broad-shouldered blond man standing in the cell, arms crossed, eyes narrowed dangerously.
"Wendell!" Vincent cried. "I've never been happier to see you."
"I don't think that's very nice," Zack said, "since he's probably here under arrest for the suspicion of the same murder we are."
"I suggest you take a step back, mister," Wendell said, eyeing the arsonist.
"Who the hell are you?" the arsonist asked.
Wendell tipped his head. "I don't think you want to find out."
He spoke with such straightforward menace that the arsonist was intimidated into sitting back on his cot.
Vincent rushed to Wendell to give him a hug, which was not very well received.
"I knew someone would bail us out! Wendell, you never cease to impress me."
"Didn't you hear what I said?" Zack asked. "Wendell probably got arrested for the murder too."
Vincent stepped back and looked at Wendell's face. "Is that true?"
Wendell shrugged. "That, and threatening a gang leader with a pistol."
"So you're not here to bail us out."
Vincent drooped and returned to his cot, shoving his hat over his eyes once again.
Zack took a look around the room. "Hang on," he said, "there aren't enough cots for all of us."
Vincent raised a hand. "If we need to share, I request I retain my single."
"I wouldn't share with you anyway," Zack said.
"Now that's just rude."
"What's your point, Zack?" Wendell asked.
"About sleeping with Vincent?"
Vincent's eyebrows lifted. "Word choice, Zack. Word choice."
"No," Wendell said, "about the cots."
Zack indicated the cots with a nod. "Earlier we ascertained that there should be exactly enough cots to accommodate the number of inmates to a cell. But now there's five of us and only four cots."
"Perhaps because one of us is fated to fall victim to a mortal prison riot," Vincent surmised.
"I don't believe in fate," Zack said. "And I doubt the prison staff would base our cell accommodations on the suspicion of violence. I think it's more likely one of us is going to be released soon."
Vincent jumped up. "Oh, thank goodness. Zack, it was very nice getting to know you in such an intimate setting, but I believe my talents are better utilized with my true calling. I can't imagine how the club survived my absence."
"Sweets played a pretty good number," Wendell said.
"Sweets?" Vincent cried, affronted.
"What makes you so sure you're the one of us that's going to get released?" Zack asked.
"If it's not me, I pray it's one of you," the arsonist said, pointing between Vincent and Zack. "I don't know how much more of this I'm going to be able to handle."
"I'm guessing just the right amount," Wendell said calmly.
The arsonist shifted so he was no longer facing Wendell.
The door at the end of the hall clanked open. All heads turned towards the sound (except for that of the robber, who remained absorbed in his book).
A guard opened the door and beckoned to Zack. "Mr. Addy, you're free to go."
Zack slid off his cot, socked feet thumping to the floor. "Really?"
"On what grounds?" Vincent demanded.
"I'm just the guard. You think they clue me in to the details of these cases?" the guard asked. "Come on, kid, let's go."
Zack looked to Vincent as if seeking permission.
"What?" Vincent threw up his hands.
"I feel bad now."
"Don't you want to get out?" Wendell asked.
"I do," Zack said. "Very much. But I don't like not knowing things. Like why you have to stay when I can go."
Wendell shrugged. "We'll manage. I'm sure Bren will be happy to have you back."
Zack's face brightened. "Of course."
Vincent looked wounded. "But I'm her favorite."
"Bren doesn't quantify her relationships," Zack said.
"Hello," the guard said into the void.
"You would say that," Vincent said, "if you weren't her favorite."
"That doesn't make sense."
"Vince, let it go," Wendell said.
"I most definitely will not. I demand to see the evidence that exonerates Zack and not me."
"I told you, people don't give me the reasons," the guard said.
"Then may I speak to a higher authority?" Vincent asked.
"Sure," the guard said. "Let me just radio up to the manager."
Zack watched as the guard made no such move.
"But you're not radioing anyone," he said.
"It's called sarcasm," Wendell said. "I'll teach it to you some day."
"Why does everyone talk to me like I'm a child that doesn't know anything about verbal communication?" Zack demanded, crossing his arms.
Vincent leaned his face on his fist, looking to Wendell. "Do you want to tell him or should I?"
"You all are lovely," the guard said, "but I don't have all day. Let's get a move on."
The guard clapped twice in Zack's direction. Zack stood, looked at his feet, then knelt beside his cot and reached underneath.
"What's the matter?" the guard asked.
"I can't find my shoes," Zack said.
"You left them right there," Vincent said. "No one's been near them but you."
"I know. That's why I'm confused."
"And I'm sure if you stare at the ground long enough, they'll appear," the guard said.
Zack lifted his head up to look at the guard. "That's not very logical—"
"Oh, just go, Zack!" Vincent snapped.
"But what about my shoes?"
"If I find them, I'll send them to you in a cake."
Zack looked to Vincent, his face a mask of confusion. The guard grabbed Zack's arm and hauled him out the door.
"I've never had an inmate so reluctant to leave a cell," the guard grumbled.
"Am I still an inmate if you're letting me go?" Zack asked. His gait was lopsided as the guard tugged him along.
"Does he take anything at face value?" Wendell asked Vincent.
"I don't believe so," Vincent said, "though my sample of interactions is limited and potentially biased by our circumstances."
The door clanked shut. Zack cast a glance back at them through the bars before he was led off.
"Bye," he said uncertainly.
Vincent gave a halfhearted wave in Zack's direction as he vanished from sight. Then he flopped onto his back on his cot.
"That is so not fair," he said.
Wendell remained standing, arms crossed.
"But I am curious as to the whereabouts of Zack's shoes," Vincent said. "Their disappearance seems an oddly banal turn-up in our otherwise exceptional situation."
"Check baldy over here." Wendell jerked his head towards the robber.
Vincent sat up to look at the baldy in question. The robber sat on his cot, still reading his book and seemingly oblivious to his surroundings. Zack's shoes sat next to him on his cot.
"How in the—"