If you've never experienced a day that lasts a year, then you've never done hard time. I don't just mean hard time, I mean backbreaking, soul-destroying hard time. At the trial I was judged, found guilty and appropriately sentenced to a punishment befitting my heinous crime. So it is with a sense of acceptance that I serve my time at Basin City Women's Prison. An innocuous name for the hell on earth where they keep the scum of the earth...the female ones anyway.
Everything about this place is shit, the buildings, the cells, the exercise yards and the prisoners. As soon as I get out I'm going to find somewhere green, I don't care if it's a solitary tree and a patch of grass in some crappy little park, as long as it's green.
The only pure things in this stinking hole are the letters I get from little Willow Rosenberg. One beautifully crisp white envelope arrives every Wednesday morning signed with the name, Olivia. She's a good kid. She doesn't use her real name and keeps herself hidden. I open the letters and find neatly spaced and joined handwriting. The kid's bright and for some reason that makes me real proud even though I'm nothing to her except the screwed up cop that tried to save her life. Those letters are all I have to keep me going, those and the knowledge that she's safe.
My time here isn't going to be easy, I know that much but by god it was worth it. I wonder how little Tommy is adjusting to life as a cripple?
With a grunt of exertion Tara hefted the pickaxe up above her head, muscles straining with the effort, before bringing it crashing into the stone at her feet. The momentum of the heavy tool did most of the work but the jarring impact assaulted her already aching muscles. It was near quitting time but lunch had been an eternity ago and her endurance was at its limit. Tara let the pickaxe rest on the ground for a moment as she wiped the sweat from her forehead with her grimy forearm. She looked back and surveyed the path of rock she'd broken up over the course of the day, reflecting on the fact that it was almost like the course of her life over the past eight years. It had been one rock after another. Then she looked down at the impact those eight years had had on her body, clad as it was in a filthy t-shirt that had once been white and a pair of coveralls which had bee peeled off her shoulders and tied around her waist. Tara had never been soft but now her trim muscles were as hard as steel and there was not an ounce of spare fat on her body due to the combination of brutal physical work and sparse diet.
Not all her fellow inmates were as hard and lean. She looked across at the small group of favoured prisoners smoking cigarettes with one of the guards. A gang of heavy set stone butches and their femme girlfriends who had never lifted a perfectly manicured finger even though they were supposedly sentenced to hard labour.
One of the gang turned and saw Tara staring. Her name was Baby Dedera, the Queen Butch of Basin City women's prison. She was six foot, two hundred and fifty pounds of angry, ruthless dyke. What's more, she'd hated Tara's guts from the moment she'd arrived. Tara guessed it had something to do with the fact that she was responsible for putting Baby away in the first place. Baby certainly hadn't wasted any time trying to get her revenge. Tara's second day in the joint, six of them jumped her on trash detail. There was no way in hell Tara was going to submit to that kind of shit. She'd fought like a wildcat, breaking two arms and a nose, gouging an eye, dishing out at least fifty stitches and inflicting countless bruises. She hadn't escaped scot-free. Tara gently ran her index finger down the left side of her forehead, tracing the thick white scar which ended at her temple. In the fray, someone had got in a good slice with a broken bottle, narrowly missing her eye. It was a small price to pay for the respect Tara has earned from the other inmates. As a cop in prison, Tara had to maintain constant vigilance every hour of ever day, and it was exhausting. Tara's shoulders sagged slightly, only once had Baby got the better of her. Just once...and she'd made sure it would never happen again. She tore her eyes away from the group of women and resumed work with her pickaxe, smashing the next rock with an added ferocity.
Several minutes later the bell rang to signal the end of the days work. Tara found herself looking forward to the slop that they dished out at dinner; at least it would be hot.
Her leaden dinner sitting heavily in her stomach, Tara turned in that night to her narrow cot in her solitary cell. Before lights out she withdrew Willow's latest letter from the concealed compartment she had painstakingly carved out behind the grill in her room. Although it was plain, ordinary paper covered in ink pen, Tara could swear a sweet smell drifted into the room with that letter. She lay back on the pillow and unfolded its crisp white paper. For a moment or two she stared at the neat rows of handwriting which she had watched mature with age.
Tara honestly couldn't believe the letters had kept coming. Willow would be nineteen, or perhaps twenty? Tara had no idea when her birthday was. She had expected the letters to stop a few months after her arrival in prison. What kid maintained interest in writing letters to an inmate for eight years?
Yet they still came. Always the same meticulous style, full of little anecdotes, humorous stories that made Tara laugh whether or not they were made up. Willow never said where she was or exactly what she was doing. Although the word 'studying' came up a lot and Tara hoped that Willow was realising her dream to become a lawyer. She could just see the serious little girl surrounded by a pile of heavy textbooks...still the same skinny little Willow Rosenberg. It was difficult to imagine her as anything else.
Tara didn't expect to see her for a long time, if at all, but for now, there were the letters.
Tara looked at the days work assignments and saw with gratifying relief that she was back on 'rock' detail. Although it was exhausting, backbreaking work it was a chance for fresh air and a small measure of solitude. She supposed she ought to thank glory Talbot for making sure she got the worst details.
She waited for the bus in the bleak prison yard with the other ladies, her coveralls pulled up over her shoulders against the early chill of morning. The driver was watching her from the corner of her eye. She was some new woman Tara had never seen before. All Tara could see was a pair of full ruby red lips beneath the shadow of her trucker cap. Tara ignored her. Most of the prisoners stood around smoking fistfuls of cigarettes, Tara stood and dreamt of being in New York.
Baby and her gang of thugs joined the assembled crowd and they threaded their way through it to stand beside Tara. Tara ignored them as well. It wasn't going to be that way for long however, Baby clearly had something to say. She made a point of checking that the guards were up front talking to the driver and partially obscured by the throng. Tara sighed perceptibly as two of her goons took up position on either side of her, hemming her in. She couldn't stand crooks that lacked imagination.
"Lovely morning ain't it Maclay, sleep well?" Baby asked in her clipped working class accent.
"Probably feel asleep reading her love letters," another women standing in front of Tara sneered.
Tara always fell asleep reading Willow's letters. She kept her eyes on her boots...they were in definite need of a polish.
"Yeah," Baby seized on this point and ran with it, "Who they from Maclay? Some little rich bitch up in Sacred Oaks? Probably lying to 'yo lil arse, telling you she still loves you when she's really out getting poked by some rich doctor."
Tara lifted her head and met Baby's ice-like stare with one of her own. She couldn't keep her mouth shut any longer, "They're not love letters, and besides, they're none of your fuckin' business."
Baby growled low in her throat, that wasn't the way you talked to Baby and Tara knew it...but didn't care in the slightest. Like lightning, her thick fingers shot out and grabbed a fistful of Tara's hair. She yanked Tara's head back and lent over her. Tara averted her eyes so she didn't have to stare at her but Baby grabbed her chin and forced her to look.
"They're in my prison so of course they're my business!" spittle flecked at the corner of her mouth.
As her rank breath assaults me I reflect on my bad luck. Why do I always get the complete and utter psychos for enemies? They're dangerous, far more dangerous than a sane person. Unpredictable too. You never know what they're gonna pull. It could just as easily be a knife in the guts...and everything would be all over, just as simple as that.
"Could be that they're from a young lady by the name of Willow Rosenberg," Baby clearly enjoyed seeing the way Tara's eyes widened with shock, they widened even further when Baby withdrew a thick wad of white paper from inside her coveralls. Baby regarded the letters for a moment, waving them in Tara's face, "There's a whole lot more where these came from too...smart girl not signing her own name."
She whacked Tara across the cheek with the letters just to rub it in even further. Her thugs laughed mockingly, the raucous sounds grating in Tara's ears. Tara watched the letters move in her fat hand, wanting only to have them returned to her but knowing full well they were now gone forever.
They're only paper you silly girl...only paper. They can't hurt you.
Baby continued her taunting, "You see, I got some friends on the outside that would love to pay a visit to little Willow...in fact, I expect to be hearing back from them any day now. Maybe they'll bring me a few souvenirs of their fun."
Tara let out an angry roar and made to charge at her tormentor. She was seized from either side in vice-like grips, nails digging into her flesh through the material of her coveralls. With her thugs restraining Tara, Baby balled up her fist and with a grunt of effort, drive it straight into Tara's stomach. Tara doubled over instantly and at the same moment the thugs released their hold on her. She fell face first into the gravel but did not utter a sound. Baby pounced on her within seconds, turning her face so her cheek was pressed on the gravel. She could see Baby looking down on her out of one eye. A thug pressed her boot down on Tara's cheek to keep her down.
Tara glared, defiant even though her position hardly warranted it, "You're a lying sack of shit Baby, you have no idea where Willow is and it's gonna stay that way. Do you think I'd have any use for a stack of paper other than to wipe up the shit that comes out of your mouth?"
Baby was practically foaming at the mouth. With an indignant glare at Tara she passed the letters up to a member of her gang who was standing behind her with a lighter. With a look of malice, the woman set fire to a corner of the wad and let them fall to the gravel in front of Tara. Tara was forced to watch her only source of hope go up in flames, and pretend not to give a damn about it.
"Consider the others torched as well," Baby ground her knuckles into the back of Tara's head before she lent down close to her ear and hissed, "You're never gonna make it out of here alive Maclay...the next time you're alone and your back is turned, if you step into a dark shadow, if you relax your guard to so much as scratch your arse...you're dead."
I could yawn...if I had a dollar for the number of times I've heard that threat...well, let's just say I'd be set for life when I finally get out. This time however, something's different and I know it. Baby has new orders...get rid of me as soon as possible. Make me suffer...but get rid of me.
"Looking forward to it," Tara whispered as the boot was removed from her cheek.
The guards were starting to move through the throng, organizing the work party into lines to file onto the bus. Tara felt a rough hand on her back lift her to her feet. Baby's thugs brushed the gravel from her coveralls as though it had all been a bit of sport. They were smiling with their arms around Tara as the guards walked past.
They eventually let go of Tara to let her join the file which was moving onto the bus. As she shuffled towards the door, Tara kept her narrowed eyes on Baby's back.
Let them come. One thing I know for sure, I'm taking that fat dyke straight to hell with me.
The working day passed uneventfully. Tara worked her heart out as usual and took her seat on the bus bound for the prison covered in the day's dirt. She regarded her reflection in the window, her pale skin spotted with grime. Tara was approaching thirty-two and even in prison, the passing of years had done little to her face. Her cheeks were a little leaner, but her jaw was just as determined and her eyes even harder. She'd never been vain, what cop could afford to be? But she remembered the younger Tara that had captivated women. She had been a rookie cop with an air of invulnerability; aloof and unreachable. Tara had played on it for all it was worth...and by god had it worked.
It hadn't lasted long, after a year or two she let the corruption and sin that ran rampant through the police force, not to mention the City itself, get to her. Tara remembered the last relationship she'd been in, a whirlwind of a ride with an up and coming young actress. It had been in all the papers, the fact that such a famous actress was involved in a lesbian fling with a rookie detective. It had guaranteed front-page news for months. The starlet had eventually given up and walked out on her, blaming everything on Tara's dark moods and increasing anger at the world around her. Tara hadn't bothered to argue with her, she was right. They played a few of her movies at the prison even now and then. Sundays were movie nights...all the dykes loved the actress. Tara sat and watched the films as though she were watching one of her own dreams.
After that it was work, and it was supposed to have been work for the rest of her life. Now there was just this. Breaking rocks and having your soul sucked out through every pore in your body.
"Wonder what slop they're serving up tonight?" Tara's seatmate was talking to her.
Tara turned, supposing a little bit of polite chitchat was still possible even though she was a marked woman, she frowned slightly, "What day is it today?"
"Tuesday I think," the other woman replied.
Tara managed a small smile, "Beef casserole."
Her seatmate laughed and remarked with scorn, "You mean that shit they pretend is beef casserole, I used to feed my dog better tucker than that."
Tara didn't argue, "I know what you mean, you get scared when it starts to taste good."
Not to mentioned wondering whether it will be your last meal...
The other woman laughed, "I agree, I hate to think what's in that shit."
Tara didn't reply to her last statement, she was too busy staring up at the road ahead where something was blocking the road. As the bus ground to a rather screeching halt she realised it was a beaten up Oldsmobile 88. The prisoners were talking animatedly amongst themselves as they guards stood with their weapons at the ready.
At first there was no sign of movement from the car and it appeared to be empty. One of the guards exited the bus, a heavy 12 gauge at the ready in her hands. The other two remained alert and scanned their surrounds for any hint of trouble while the driver was on the RT, radioing it in. The prisoners were craning their necks to look out the window, always ready to seize an opportunity.
What happened next was too fast for most eyes although Tara saw it all clearly. The attack came not from the car but the rocks on the right side of the road. Something smashed through the window, narrowly missing the driver and taking out a guard, ripping through her neck with deadly accuracy. When it came to a halt, embedded in the side of the bus just in front of her, Tara saw it was a deadly throwing star.
The guard outside merely had time to begin to lift her weapon when a dark shape moved from the evening shadows and ripped her to pieces with a pair of samurai swords. The remaining guards raised their weapons and fired from the open door, the shape darted away and the shot only struck gravel. As both guards pumped their shotguns to fire a second time, the driver stood up, drew a massive magnum from the holster at her waist and fired twice. One guard fell backwards down the stairs, her shoulder a mass of ruptured flesh and bone. The other dropped in the aisle, killed instantly with a giant hole in her forehead, her brains sprayed over a window.
The driver pulled off her trucker cap and tossed it to one side, shaking out her long brown hair from beneath it. It fell about her shoulders like a cape. Her eyes burned with intensity as she trained her weapon on the heckling prisoners. All clamoured to be set free. Tara just sat, calmly watching the brunette with her full red lips. There was a groan of pain as the wounded guard was pulled from the stairs and thrown unceremoniously out onto the road. Another woman boarded the bus, clad head to toe in blood spattered black leather, carrying two blooded swords in her fists. Her blonde hair was tucked up neatly behind her head, revealing a rather sweet face. No doubt it cleverly concealed the hellion within. She sheathed one sword at her waist and tossed a set of keys to the driver.
Tara's eyes widened when the blonde raised her other sword and pointed directly at her, she didn't say a word. The brunette unlocked the grate that separated the guards from the prisoners. She then strode purposefully to Tara, ignoring the pleas of the other prisoners to be set free. She stood above Tara, lazily twirling her magnum on her finger. Tara's seatmate retreated as far back into her seat as she could with a look of stark terror on her face at being right beside the gun-twirling woman.
"You're Tara Maclay?" she asked bluntly.
Tara studied the woman's face, her brunette hair framing her olive skin and intense brown eyes and for once in her life she was almost speechless. She managed to find a little of her customary swagger somewhere.
"Depends, are you here to whack me or get me off this bus?" Tara wasn't even sure which option she preferred.
The woman smiled, "We're getting the fuck out of here."
In a matter of seconds, Tara's shackles were off. In the process her seatmate was freed but she just sat in her seat, too terrified to move. Tara felt distinctly odd as she walked down the aisle, trying her best to ignore the heckling that was being screamed out from behind her, mostly from Baby and her cohorts. As she moved off the bus, she didn't dare look back at her tormentor. She could picture the twisted, malicious face in her mind anyway. Her feet crunched on the gravel and as she moved away from the bus she was stuck by the sudden and rather frightening realisation that she was free. She stopped walking and stared at the two women climbing into the Oldsmobile. She had absolutely no idea who they were and what they wanted with her. For all she knew it could be Glory's twisted way of giving her hope and then snatching it away in the blink of an eye.
"Hey!" the brunette shouted, paused about to climb into the driver's side, "Are you coming or do you wanna go back to prison? The goons will be on their way!"
Tara found herself running towards the car as its engine flared into life, there was no way she was going back. No sooner had she opened the door then the cars wheels spun furiously and launched it down the road. Tara allowed herself one last look back at the bus behind her. It was only when she faced the front and settled back into the leather seat that she realised her heart was beating as though she had just run a mile. She regarded her rescuers...if they could even be called that.
"I'm not being rude, but considering that you know my name..." Tara began and the blonde immediately swivelled in her seat, giving her a piercing stare.
The brunette looked in the rear vision mirror and smiled to reveal a set of pearly white teeth beneath those ruby lips, "Don't be offended, she doesn't say much except with those blades of hers...she says a hell of a lot with those. She's Buffy, and I'm Faith, pleased to meet you, Tara Maclay."
"Likewise," Tara breathed, suddenly feeling extremely grateful, "I don't think I would've lasted another week in that place. I don't get it though...why would you do this for me?"
Faith kept her eyes on the road ahead but she reached for an object in the glove box, "Don't get me wrong Maclay, you seem real nice and all, but I would never do this for you. I'm doing it as a favour for a real good friend...and she made me promise to give you this as soon as I could."
Faith tossed a small object back at Tara and she caught it. Tara stared at the little misshapen, grey, furry object in bewilderment. She turned it over in her dirty hands and came face to face with two little button eyes and a few stitches for a nose. She recognised it, the last time she had seen it was in the hands of a little redheaded kid standing beside a hospital bed talking to a wounded cop.
"I only had time to grab Miss Kitty..."
"You have the nerve to come in here and tell me that fucking dyke that crippled my baby has escaped?"
The three grown men quailed beneath the fury of the impeccably manicured bronze-haired woman standing in front of them. Her scarlet Chanel gown tightly hugging each of curves. Glory Talbot strode forward and delivered a back handed slap to the man nearest her. His eyes watered as she snatched his chin and dug her nails into the flesh of his face.
"Madame Talbot, it was unexpected," he croaked, "We had no idea!"
"You had no idea?" she parroted in a mocking tone, "You fuckin' morons. It's your job to have an idea!"
She released her hold and strode back to her leather reclining sofa. She sat down and threw her feet up on it, rubbing her temples as though she had a fierce headache.
The past eight years appeared to have been kind to her, although a closer inspection would have revealed that it was mostly the result of trips to the plastic surgeon. Her cheeks were a little too rounded, her lips too swollen and her breasts most definitely too perky for a woman of her age. She selected a grape from the tray at her fingertips and placed it in her mouth, biting down on it savagely.
"She was supposed to die in there!" Glory raged, spitting out the grape pips onto the floor where a hovering servant immediately scooped them up, "I don't ask for much from you but I did ask this one little thing. Just how hard is it to knock off an inmate doing hard labour that no one gives a fuck about?"
"We had it planned on the inside..." the suited man began pitifully.
Glory picked up a second grape and threw it at him, hitting him on the forehead, "Well you'll have to change your plans won't you? I want her good and dead you hear? Now get out!"
With a chorus of 'Yes Madame Talbot' the three men scurried as fast as possible from her presence.
She called out at their retreating backs, "I still want her to suffer mind you! Make sure she does!"
With an almighty huff, Glory fell back amidst her cushions, an immense scowl completely ruining her handsome features. She silently vowed that Tara Maclay would come to rue the day she messed with the Talbot family.