A small bespectacled man sat quietly in the corner, seemingly trying to blend into the background. This is how he had existed in life on the outside. Never standing out, never making a fuss, never being noticed. At first that had just been a natural shyness but later in life it was a quality which meant he was the last person the company had suspected of extracting over £100k from company coffers. In the first few days on the inside it had been a useful defence mechanism. Now a year into his sentence he sat untroubled in the far corner.
The chair opposite him was roughly pulled from beneath the table and he looked up from his reverie to see a shaven headed mass of muscle before him, the reds and blues of a tattoo dancing up his bulldog neck from the blue prison-issue sweatshirt.
“Bazboy tells me that you are the one everyone calls ‘The Book-Keeper’,” the shaven headed man spoke in a hushed, menacing voice.
“That is correct. But mother would much prefer you to call me Arthur,” the other man replied, not looking up from his jigsaw.
“Bazboy said you were the man to come to to be sorted out with some gear,” the bald thug whispered conspiratorially.
“It is true that I have a certain knack in the obtaining of particular articles, but you will have to be more specific than just ‘gear’ my dear fellow,” the Book-Keeper still concentrated on his puzzle.
“Drugs man, innit. Anything man. I don’t care. It’s been a while you see,” the voice softened, became a little pleading.
For the first time Arthur, the one known as the Book-Keeper looked up, his eyes suddenly animated. “Oh yes, I think I can help you there, most definitely. Perhaps Hunter S Thompson or Jack Kerouac would do the job.”
“Sorry mate, slow down. I am new to this gaffe, don’t know the words used here do I? Kerouac… is that Ketamine, and that Hunter thing, is that H? I could go some H to be honest.”
“My dear fellow, Hunter S Thompson wrote ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’, surely the finest book written about and under the influence of controlled substances ever. And I have a copy, just for you. Only paperback mind you….”
“Are you taking the piss?” a sudden note of anger flashed across the voice of the customer.
“I am sorry, were you looking for something a bit more non-fiction? Perhaps Howard Marks’s ‘Mr Nice’?” asked the Book-Keeper.
“Bazboy told me you were the go to man if I wanted anything hot in this nick,” the voice now sounded a little exasperated.
“You don’t seem like the Fifty Shades of Gray type and I’m afraid Smithy took my last copy anyway,” sighed Arthur. He pushed his spectacles back up his nose and returned his attention to the half completed picture of cats on the table.
“Not Fifty Shades of bleedin’ Gray, I mean things like a mobi…..”
The Book-Keeper interrupted, “I am beginning to guess that you are not referring to Melville’s tale of the whale, Moby-Dick?”
“Too right I am not. I am talking mobile phones and drugs. Hot gear. Proper prison stuff,” the man sat back in his chair with a deflated air, “and I was told you were the man who could sort me out.”
The Book-Keeper took his glasses off and pinched his nose. “My dear man, you are new here aren’t you?” He placed the glasses back on his face and continued, “I am a dealer in the hard to come by stuff. You want a phone, go and ask Bonehead but don’t ask him where he keeps it. You want drugs? They are easy. It rains tennis balls stuffed with drugs every night of the week and Mrs Jones, the blonde officer, well she has a romantic leaning towards Billy the Whizz on wing B so she brings in all the speed he needs to keep his nickname going hidden inside her bra.”
The Book-Keeper lent back in his seat, “But I, I only deal in the real deal. Books. The stuff that had to be banned. And since the library is only open now and then there is such a demand for what I can offer. The devil makes work for idle hands and all that.”
“How do you get hold of them?” the man asked, strangely curious.
“Smuggled inside kilos of cocaine,” the Book-Keeper allowed himself a little chuckle, “just my little joke. These days they are placed inside hollowed out Playstations.”
“Blimey, I had no idea books were so, well, important.”
“A book, my friend, is an education all in itself. The redemption tales of Dickens and Dostoyevsky, the true life inspiration of Christopher Reeves in ‘Still Me’ or the fantasy escapism of Harry Potter. All food for the soul. All training for the mind. And there is nothing better for business than a little bit of prohibition. So what will it be my friend, a little hit of Amis or a small tote of Betjeman?”
And so the Book-Keeper and the man struck a deal. The road to rehabilitation was mapped out in the pages of a novel.