Etc. etc. but so eventually, one night, after Lockdown and the muffled screams of pre-sleep rape, Mark makes good his prophecy of flight. Dave wakes from his one familiar diplopic nightmare to see, against the striped light of the cellblock's hallway, his bulbous cellmate manipulating a counterfeit key, one Mark has spent two months tempering in the Facility's license-plate metal shop, into their cell door's Lockdown mechanism. The key, which is surprisingly simple in shape and serration, nevertheless gives the hardened counterfeiter total control over the movements of all the Facility's state-of-the-art automated doors. The key, as key, doesn't look like much of anything: Mark's had the thing in plain sight by the elimination bucket for weeks — only Dave, he said, had been told what it really was, or what, if willingly used, it could do.
The barred door slides silently open on its reliably-oiled track. Dave hears Mark cock his floppy puke-white ear for sounds: there is only the distant whimpered symphony of unfree dreamers.
And in that familiar moment of hesitation, the one before all leapers leap, Dave's tormenting mate turns to survey the space he has filled and now would empty. The keen archerlight of Dave's open eye is reflected in the counterfeit absence of the bar-shadow that usually shades him. He, supine, and Mark, erect, stare at each other across that silent moment. Dave does not know, right then, whether what is spoken is aloud.
"You've known what I've made. You've heard me whisper. You see what I'm doing."
"And you know where I'm headed."
"Don't rat. Do not rat."
"Rat and I'll kill you."
"Rat and I'll have the whole place up your ass. They'll fuck you bloody and feed you your cock. They'll dink you. Your weak little body'll be found in locations. Note the plural. Shitspeck."
"I hear you," Dave says, so flatly there's no hint of echo.
But Mark's voice always echoes. "Rat and you're a late boy. As in zotzed. Klapped. This is a promise. I have tentacles, and rights. I'll defend myself against you."
"I don't rat," Dave says.
"Poppa!" cries a compulsive exhibitionist down the cellblock.
"Go, man." Dave's glad Mark's going, who're they kidding. "Bon voyage. Godspeed. Wear a hat. Don't try to hitchhike."
Further echoed connections between ratting and violent death recede with the counterfeiter, who holds his key before him like a candle in the bright cellblock hall.
Understandably, though, the M.F.C.'s professional penal authorities are not at all glad that the three-time counterfeiter has gone. Is at large. Penal helicopters chop and chuff all night, aloft. Dave turns his back to the still-unlocked door, holds his window's bars in his fists, and watches searchlights shine from clouds to play the land outside; hears the whiny petition of eager leashed hounds, the sinal rhythm of the Facility's escape siren; stands there, watching, till the gradual Maryland dawn, when he's led by uniformed hands to the spare, spartan, no-nonsense office of the Facility's Warden.
Here a narrative risk is gauged and taken. The Warden is Jack Lord, of fame. With the sort of apparent inconsistency that makes creative writing professors such delightfully puzzling pixies, Ambrose approves this particular unrealistic/symbolic touch. Some of the rich ambiguity of realism is, he concedes, sacrificed. But since Nechtr's whole story is interpreted by the workshop as about a whole new generation's feelings of amorphous but deserved guilt, confinement, fear, confusion, and, yes, the place of honor in the general postmodern American scheme of things, his fictional use of a popular icon, forged in the medium that is (sadly? sadly?) this generation's unbreakable window on itself, this rings somehow true, Ambrose tells us. It also ties in with the vivid post-escape helicopter imagery, which creates a sense of unity, craft, care. Which is good.
Also good is the fact that Lord needs little description, since he is an image of fame. His hard square face — white as the face of a man keeping an iron grip on ever-recalcitrant reins — his improbable overt jaw, barely-there lips, black eyes and high dark hair, one lank askew, are stamped on the consciousness of a whole post-bellbottom generation. Dave needn't even raise his eyes to know his gaoler's mettle as he listens to Jack Lord, listens, and then lies, denies that he knew of Mark's plans to escape, or that he witnessed the escape, or that he knows anything at all about the counterfeiter's means of exit, or destination, or route, or rate of travel. Mark, Dave says, did not confide in him. Mark repelled, terrorized and violated him. He is, to be honest, glad the Three-Time Loser has gone, yes, but knows not where to; cares less. If he'd been privy to the whole thing, wouldn't he be gone, too? Don't all, facing Life, given the chance, flee?
Not if they're guilty, Lord replies. Not if they're one of the special few here who know just where they belong.
Jack Lord always knows more than those he questions suspect that he knows. It is the nature of his character. It is law.
Another law of character is that an escapee always blabs to his cellmate about where he's going. And Mark, like all confined compromisers of the Mainland's order, like all loathsome men whose every movement is not toward but away, is a chatterer. A born talker. And Dave here, Lord can tell just by looking, is a born listener. Jack Lord's pointing finger is that of a potent and manicured God. His eyes burn dark. He may not smile. Dave knows, and he must tell. The truth.
Dave stands there and lies and lies and lies.
"And even if I did know," he says finally, voice even as cheese, "I don't rat. I will not rat. And you cannot make me. I've got Life, coming. The community heard my lover's screams. Fluids from my body were on the shaft that killed her. I'm going to be sentenced to Life. I'm trying to accept it, and this Facility. I'm coming of age. It's a hell beyond Bosch's worst nightmares here, and I'm headed for tenure. What more can you brandish? There's nothing you can do."
Mark Nechtr's dialogue does tend to get a tad flowery, when he's carried away. But what the fuck. You know?
But Jack Lord is smiling his one permitted smile: the smile that finds no humor in what may not change. The ordered world he lives by steering is black-and-white. Dave's face yellows as Lord breaks the basic news. It's not a question of what the penal authorities can do. It's what his cellmate, even though absent, can do. Dave is the one stray thread in the counterfeit escapee's seamless weave. And this counterfeiter's a hardened pro: he knows one sleepy mumble could unravel months of craft. Perhaps — no, undoubtedly—Mark threatened Dave about what happens to those who rat. Omitted from his presentation, though, Lord advises, was what happens even to those who do not rat. Dave represents an untidiness. A loose thread. An aesthetic problem. And counterfeiters are compulsive about the aesthetic integrity of what they've wrought. Lord makes a prediction. Mark is going to have Dave exterminated. Dinked. Zotzed. Jobbed. Mark has a circle, a ghastly following, here in the Facility. They will come, Lord predicts. Dave's only option is to rat, to reveal, to Jack Lord, Mark's means and route and velocity and end. Then and only then may Lord, who does not make the rules he only enforces them right up to the hilt, be allowed to shield and protect a helpful witness, Dave, an asset, with penal value. Only then will Jack Lord be empowered to preserve Dave's life. Let the archer eat and bathe, exercise and evacuate alone, in private, under trusted guard, away from Them. Perhaps even be able to work toward having Dave transferred to a different Facility. Let him make a fresh start, inside. Elsewhere. Clean penal slate. But Lord promises that all that, nay just plain old bare hand-to-mouth survival, can come to pass only if the archer reveals what Lord knows he knows. If not. . well, things don't need spelling out in this sort of environment, do they. No one is Alone in a Facility.