“You got it on you?”
“I can get it in five minutes.”
DuWayne shrugged his massive shoulders. I took that as a yes.
I led Karen out of the house and limped back to the Cherokee. I opened the driver’s door. It hurt my back, but I leaned in and pulled a packet of one hundred fifty-dollar bills out from under the seat. I limped back to the house. This time when I knocked, DuWayne answered. He filled the doorframe with his bulk. I gave him the cash.
“Donny Orrick,” he said.
“Why else anybody be in St. Cloud?”
“Good enough,” I said. I turned away from the door, had a thought, and spun back again. “One more thing, the contractor. What does he look like?”
“He tryin’ to be.”
Visiting hours at the state prison in St. Cloud were between 3:30 and 9:30 P.M., yet it was wasn’t even noon when I left DuWayne Middleton’s house and drove Karen back to her car parked in the lot outside the Copper Dome. It took me about an hour driving north from the Twin Cities to reach St. Cloud, and that left nearly three hours to kill, eating, bumming around, trying not to think too much. It wasn’t easy. You can see the huge water tower in the center of the prison yard from a long way off on Highway 10. It made me ponder some of the things that Karen Studder had told me about prison and what it does to people. I didn’t want to agree with her; still, I was left with the certain knowledge that Scottie Thomforde had been a good guy before he went inside.
To reach the prison, I drove west on Minnesota Boulevard, crossing the two sets of Burlington Northern and Santa Fe railroad tracks that ran alongside the forbidding red-gray walls. The tracks reminded me of “Folsom Prison Blues” and Johnny Cash singing about that train a-rollin’ ’round the bend.
The song kept repeating itself in my head, following me to an uncomfortable chair in the visitors’ room. The room reminded me of the public lounges at the airport where passengers kill time while waiting for their flights to board. It was just as noisy, with children behaving the way children do when they’re asked to sit and do nothing for long periods, impatient adults raising their voices at the indignity of unexpected delays, and a barely understood voice calling names and giving instructions over a scratchy speaker system. The seats were all bolted to the floor and to each other and arranged so that nearly everyone was looking at everyone else. I had to lean forward while I sat so as not to crack the skull of the woman sitting directly behind me. Even so, I was able to hear the instructions she gave her daughter. “Please, honey, tell him how well you’re doing in school, tell him that you miss him, be sure to tell him that you love him.”
“I don’t love him,” the daughter said. “I don’t even know him.”
When I hear that whistle blowin’, I hang my head and cry.
I didn’t want to feel compassion for anyone who was in prison—I had helped put some people there. I convinced myself that except for the extremely rare case of mistaken identity or judicial incompetence, everyone in the place was getting exactly what they deserved. Yet that damn song kept repeating itself. And I could imagine Scottie sitting in on drums.
Finally I was directed to a metal stool behind a partition that isolated the visiting booths from the rest of the waiting room. The stool was one of ten, all bolted to the wall. It faced a cinder-block chamber about the size of a dining room table that contained only a wooden chair and a telephone. Steel bars and reinforced glass kept convicts and visitors apart. I sat on a stool and waited. A heavy door opened at the back of the chamber, and a man with pale skin dodged in sideways, one shoulder at a time, like someone afraid of being noticed. The door was sealed behind him. He took one look at me and decided he didn’t like what he saw. I reached for my telephone receiver and pressed it against my ear. Donny Orrick stepped forward. His prison threads hung on him like a label—this was a dangerous man.
He snatched his phone from its cradle. “Who you?” he asked.
“DuWayne Middleton sent me,” I said. I had no leverage with Or-rick. He was in prison, and all my money, guns, threats, and promises of favors joyfully returned weren’t going to persuade him to answer my questions. So I decided to do the next best thing. Lie.
“What about?” Orrick said.
“He wants to know what you’re trying to do to him.”
“What are you talking about?”
“This man that you sent to him, he paid DuWayne in marked money, money that ties DuWayne to a kidnapping. Now the FBI is on his ass, and he wants to know why you’re trying to jam him up.”
“I ain’t trying to—”
“You wanna know what’s really got DuWayne pissed? He gave the money to his mother to fix her house. Now the FBI is trying to jam her up, too.”