indoors. The female version, by all rights, should be ugly as homemade sin. But Amy Rubin is attractive, for her age anyway. Heâs never dated or married a woman old enough to need reading glasses.
âEverything all right here? You look like you seen a ghost.â
She sets down Time and stares as though she canât quite place him. Come off it, lady, he thinks. This is my company. Youâre here on my dime.
He extends his hand. âKip Oliphant. Happy to meet you, Miss Rubin. Is it Miss?â
âDoctor. Or Amy is fine.â
Old maid, he guesses, and not happy about it. âAmy, I want to thank you for coming all the way down here. You were a big help to us.â
In truth, the keynote had gone on longer than necessary. With the lights dimmed for her PowerPoint presentation, more than one shareholder had seized the opportunity for a nap. It had taken all Kipâs self-control to avoid hollering: Wake up, boys! Sheâs coming to the good part. And sure enough, in the end, the number roused them. It would have roused a corpse. The number was so staggeringly large that the room gasped audibly. Rubin had upped her estimate. The Marcellus Shale held more gas than anyone had imagined: by her calculations, a mind-blowing fifty trillion cubic feet.
Now she glares at Kip like he called her a sonofabitch. âIâm a scientist. Iâm always happy to talk about my research.â
âLet me buy you a drink. Itâs the least I can do.â He grins. âIn a year or two, youâll a bought me another ranch.â
She flinches as though he slapped her.
âThanks, but I canât.â She stands, stuffing Time into her giant pocketbook. âI have a plane to catch.â
T he town is named for its coal mines. The prison guard is named for his father. Both feel the weight of their naming, the ancestral burden: congenital defects, secondhand hopes. Condemned, like all namesakes, to carry anotherâs history, the bloopers and missteps, the lost promise. The concessions of age, its bitter surrenders; the rare and fleeting moments of grace.
At Deer Run Correctional Institute, on a Friday morning in May, Richard Devlin Jr. walks the length of F Block, making his rounds.
âA man needs privacy,â Hops says from behind the sheet. âIâve explained this before.â
The sheetâbleach-smelling, washed thinâis stretched across the front-facing bars of his cell. Itâs a stunt heâs pulled before, though never on Devlinâs watch.
Devlin waits, his arms crossed. From somewhere behind him, an odd noiseâa metallic chinking, like the tap of an ice pickâechoes through the corridor.
âIâm talking about a human right. A basic need like food and shelter. Iâm getting aggravated.â
The prison is named for the road it sits onâyears ago, a winding country lane scattered with red dog, bordered by forest and traveled mainly in buck season. Smoothly paved now, and widened, a fourlane highway the COs call Roadkill Run.
Devlin says, âI donât make the rules.â
Hops steps closer to the sheet and speaks in a low voice. âTell me one thing. You got a door on the bedroom at home? The baffroom?â
âThis isnât about me.â Devlin, too, lowers his voice. There is a certain intimacy to speaking through the sheet. They are emboldened by its presence, like a Hasidic couple making love.
What the hell is that noise?
âYou got a wife, boss? You let her see you on the crapper?â
Devlin is practiced at deflecting such questions. In his ten years at Deer Run, he has never spoken of Shelby or the kids, never once. âSorry, Hops. Didnât know you had a wife in here.â
From the next cell comes a stifled laugh. âGive it up, man,â someone calls.
âAll right, fine. You win, boss.â Hops pulls down the sheet with a flourish. He is older than Devlin, by decades possibly.