It had been six months since Arkadian “Kay” Frost witnessed the death of his best friend, Apache. He had spent every day of those six months in the city jail, where he was held without bond and had been awakened every night by the same nightmare in which his friend’s body was torn to shreds and hit the ground in slow motion. This night would be no different.
He would be sentenced in a few hours. Kay had been advised by his lawyer to take the plea for 125 months offered by the federal government. He’d never been to prison before, but he wasn’t worried. He had a bigger problem; one that he would never live down. He was responsible for his friend’s death because he’d panicked under pressure. If he hadn’t run the red light, they would have made it home safely, just like all the other times. Kay blamed himself and he suffered every night because of it. . . .
Six months ago. It was 10:04 a.m. Kay looked at his watch for what seemed like the hundredth time since his crew had entered the bank at 10:00 a.m. “C’mon, c’mon, we’re s’posed to be in and out by now,” Kay said out loud as he waited in the getaway car. Something is wrong, he thought.
The sidewalk was packed with people when the crew ran out of the bank and jumped into the old Cadillac. Kay sped away from the curb, heading for Lexington Terrace, where they had a van waiting with a change of clothes. Without meaning to, Kay ran a red light. He didn’t see the police car sitting there, but the police saw him and hit the sirens.
“Oh shit, it’s the police!” Gee yelled.
At that exact moment, the call came across the police scanner about the bank robbery. They could hear the police behind them giving out their location. Everyone in the car yelled at Kay to drive faster. They knew a helicopter would be on them in a minute and when that happened it would be impossible for them to get away. Kay had to do something, and he had to do it quick. Glancing in the rearview mirror he saw that he was in front of the police car by at least five car lengths. He got an idea. He reached into one of the money bags and grabbed a ten-thousand-dollar stack. He used his teeth to take off the brown paper wrap. Without hesitation he threw the money out the window while the car was going at least eighty mph. When all the people on the sidewalk saw the hundred dollar bills raining through the air, they started running to grab the money. The police car that was pursuing them had to swerve so that it wouldn’t hit anyone in the crowd, and ran into a parked car instead. Kay and his friends saw what had happened and assumed that they were safe. But another police cruiser came out of nowhere, causing Kay to panic and make a wild left turn onto a one-way street going against traffic. He looked into the mirror again, and there were now three police cars behind them. All we have to do is make it to the projects and we’ll have a chance, Kay thought.
A city bus was coming directly toward them. Kay had to swerve hard to avoid crashing head on into the bus, barely missing the car that was parked in front of a liquor store. The old Cadillac bucked up on the sidewalk and clipped the side of a fish market, spinning around from the impact before coming to a complete stop. The crew jumped out the car and headed in different directions. Kay realized that he wasn’t far from the hair salon where his sister Lyniece worked, so he started that way. Apache must have read his mind because he was right on Kay’s heels. It was a surreal scene: men running down the street in wigs and dresses. Kay managed to look back over his shoulder and saw three police officers on foot behind them. Apache didn’t have to turn around; he could see by the look on Kay’s face that the police were gaining on them.
Apache yelled out, “Fuck that, Kay, court is now in session!” Then he stopped and spun around on his heels. Apache always said that if it came down to it he would take the street trial before the courtroom, and this was the day that it came down to it. He pulled out his 9s and started busting shots off at the police, firing both guns simultaneously. Kay, still running, could hear the cops firing back at Apache. He slightly turned and saw Apache run behind a parked car to reload his guns. Apache winked and smiled at Kay, who knew that he couldn’t leave his friend so he pulled out his gun and cocked it. Just as he started to run to Apache’s side, Apache jumped up from behind the car and yelled, “I plead the fifth, motherfuckers!” and started shooting at the police again. Kay saw his friend’s head nearly come off as a flood of bullets riddled Apache’s body. Everything seemed to move in slow motion as he watched his friend’s body hit the ground.
Kay laid on the ground to avoid the shots flying past him. He looked at Apache’s dead body and yelled, “Noooo!” He’d made up his mind that he was going to kill a couple of those police or die trying. As he got up on one knee, he felt the cold barrel of a gun on the back of his head.
“Freeze, motherfucker, or I’ll blow your fucking head off! Drop the gun now!” Within seconds there were twenty or more armed police officers surrounding Kay with their guns drawn, ready to do him like they did Apache. Kay knew it was over and dropped his gun.
Kay did his time at USP Lewisburg, a federal prison located in Pennsylvania. Processing at the facility took about three hours before Kay was shown to his tiny two-man cell, where his new roommate lay on the bottom bunk reading a book—The Art of War. It wasn’t until Kay placed his bedroll on the top bunk, that he noticed the little man was Asian. Kay greeted him, but the little man didn’t bother to answer. He never even looked up from reading his book. Kay thought to himself, Fuck you then. He made his bed and laid down. Five minutes later he was asleep.
As usual, in his dream, he saw Apache get shot by the police and his dead body hit the sidewalk in front of him. Then something different happened. Everything went pitch black. Apache came out of the darkness and walked toward him waving his index finger back and forth and shaking his head about something. When he reached out to touch him, Kay woke up in a cold sweat.
Kay jumped down from the bunk, went to the sink, and threw water on his face a few times. He looked in the mirror at the reflection of the man responsible for getting his friend killed. There was no way he was going to make it ten years in here like this. He had to get it together. He looked over his shoulder to see if his celly had seen what he was going through, but he wasn’t there.
Kay examined his surroundings. He noticed how clean and neat the small room was. The Chinaman’s bed didn’t have a wrinkle in it. His boots and shower shoes were lined up at the foot of the bed perfectly. Kay turned around and walked out the cell. He heard noises coming from a room down the hall. It sounded like a TV, so he headed in that direction. When he entered the TV area, a few inmates turned to look at him but didn’t say anything. They went back to watching their soaps. After Kay sat down a dude that looked to be about 6’5” and 300 pounds walked in. He walked over to Kay and told him to get out of his seat. Kay looked at the big guy from head to toe and knew where he was going to have to hit him to make him crumble. Kay had sized him up that quick. Kay pointed to a seat a few feet away and said, “There’s an empty seat right there.”
The big dude sat his soda and chips down and looked at Kay. “If I have to tell your punk ass one more time to get out my seat, I’ma smack fire out your ass!” Kay stood up and stared at the man who had just threatened him. Even though he was much bigger than him, Kay knew that he could hurt him bad. The other guys watching TV stood up and walked over to get a good view of their friend beating the crap out of the new kid.
Kay wasn’t afraid and he didn’t move. Then someone shouted from the doorway, “Frost!” It was a correctional officer named J. Johnson. All the guys went back to their seats while the big guy sat in the seat where he placed his chips and soda. Johnson spoke again. “Frost, come with me.”
Kay walked out with the officer while the big dude and his crew watched in silence. Johnson told Kay that he had seen him when he came in and he wanted to show him how things were run here. First he gave Kay the rules about the showers and the laundry rooms. He then told him about the TV rooms: the whites, blacks, and Spanish each had their own. He filled Kay in on the three things that could get him killed quicker than anything else in this place: TV, gambling, and homosexuals. “If you’re smart, you’ll avoid all three of them.” After finding out that Kay was from Baltimore, he said, “Well, when you go to chow, you’ll have to sit with the D.C./Baltimore section. How much time you got?”
“Ten and a half years,” Kay answered.
“I’m not telling you how to do your time, but you can do it the hard way or you can lay back and take it easy. The choice is yours. Since you’re here, you might as well go to college and get a degree, and whatever you do, just stay sucka free. The guys you just had the run-in with are knuckleheads. The big one, his name is Phife. They’re all from D.C. By this afternoon you’ll have all the D.C. guys on the compound hating you, so watch your back.”
“What’s up with the Chinaman I share my cell with?”
“That’s Yang Guam You. He’s not Chinese, he’s from Thailand. He’s a real quiet motherfucker. He doesn’t speak to anyone; mostly stays to himself. He’s one of those guys that’s never going home.”
“What he do?”
“He was the leader of the Thailand Mafia. You’ve heard of the Heron Don, right?” Kay wasn’t sure, but he thought he’d heard Mike and them talking about this guy before.
“He’s from California?” Kay asked.
“Yeah, and don’t get it confused, he’s a dangerous little fuck, too. While you’re here, don’t ask a man what he’s in for or how much time he has. If he wants you to know, he’ll tell you. I’ve got to make my rounds, I’ll see you later.” Johnson started walking away, then stopped.“Oh, one more thing: You better get yourself a knife. Everybody has one and you’re going to need one before it’s all over.”
As Officer Johnson walked away, Kay questioned why he was telling him all of that. He watched the officer leave, then went back to his room. His celly was sitting on the edge of the bed and for a quick second he and Kay made eye contact. From the look that the little man gave him, Kay could tell he didn’t want to be bothered. Kay climbed on his bunk and thought about the beef that was coming his way from the D.C. guys. If his celly didn’t want to talk to him, he didn’t have to as far as Kay was concerned. And that’s the way things remained between the two of them for the next two years.
Excerpted from Against the Grain by Freeze. Copyright © 2008 by Freeze. Excerpted by permission of One World/Ballantine, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.