Jack Lord smiles that monochrome smile we know. The matter's in the archer's hands, not the Warden's. Dave is invited to give the whole matter some unleisurely thought, back in the general population. In the prison community.
Sure enough. In no time, things come to pass. They come for him in the exercise yard, the shower, the license-plate shop, the cell. Dave is assaulted, savaged, violated, punctured with homemade weapons the more fearsome for their being homemade. The Word is out. The grapevine sings. Vague drums beat low. Something has been offered. A bounty beyond measure. A hundred cigarettes.
Jack Lord explains to his teutonic new Assistant Warden — in a narrative interruption Ambrose says he'll let slide, just barely— that the price of life in the penal system is low, because the Facility is overstocked with lives, lives that wear only numbers, lives without honor or value or end. There is no demand for them. The market's invisible hand hefts a finger, damning the guilty to an existence of utter freedom, freedom to choke and starve, alone in a riot.
Didactic little fucker, too. Nechtr. But Ambrose was being indulgent that seminar day. We could tell he loved the kid, deep down.
But so here's the weak, sickly, and badly damaged archer, in the run-down Facility infirmary, looking like death incarnate, a black-eyed mummy of gauze, fed by tubes, relieved by tubes that often run red. Jack Lord appears bedside, dressed all in black. That his black pants are bellbottoms symbolizes what we already know: this is a man above ridicule.
Lord asks Dave how's life in general, down there, these days. It's the cold sort of question that is its own answer. The logic of Lord's prophecy has been immaculate. Mark, who's still at large, outside, though probably just long enough for someone in the population to accommodate his tentacled demand, has put a hundred-cigarette price on the archer's bandaged head. A hundred 100s. The good kind. The kind that burn forfuckingever. Word's out, kid. Not even this infirmary is safe, what with Dave's life as simultaneously worthless and valuable as it now is. Lord invites Dave to have a look at that Trusty of an orderly over there, grinning a Grinch-grin and filling a blunt syringe with something that just doesn't look promising at all; while out the hospital window's mesh a fag-hungry population waits, implacable, patient, pounding their own palms with socks filled with sand.
It's a matter of time, kid down there. Jack Lord won't waste it repeating himself. He's terse; it's well known. Dave can get dinked, or he can rat on the counterfeiter who sees him as a flaw, a smudge, who has the capacity and capital, and his suppliers the opportunity, to do the archer grievous and final harm. The Warden's helping hands remain penally bound. Dave must let him help. He must give, to receive. There can be lunch, but it is never free.
Ambrose tells us that this conversation, this dialogue between Dave in white gauze and Lord in black fashion, is handled with a deftness that earns our approval, a lengthy economy born of a precision that promises Payoff. That it "rings true." And that the story's end, "like all true apokes' tragicomic climae" (which I'm still damned if I can find in any dictionary or thesaurus anywhere), is not the less triumphant for its pathos.
OK, Ambrose concedes — he's no pedant — the story here bends over backwards a little too far — limbos, almost — to argue that Dave's climactic refusal to rat has nothing to do with his guilty innocence in the impalement and death of his one true love. That there's way less self-hatred than selflessness being performatively rendered here. Selflessness is, of course, horror embodied; but the argument here is that it keeps safe in its ghastly silent center the green kernel that is the true self.
Ambrose concedes that there are some technical fuck-ups here, because the story cuts its own argument's legs out from under, viz. when Dave admits that his refusal to rat to Jack Lord, still, is deeply selfish in a way. That it has to do with Desire. That he, Dave, covets something, some one thing, even in the depths of injury and cut-rate anesthesia above which Jack Lord's famous and logical image swims.
It has to do with honor, see, the prisoner says.
Dave tells an icon of popular culture that he feels like his own experiences and fuck-ups and trial and tribulations and anguish, both on the Outside and in the Facility, have given him some insights — some sight-ins — that have helped him on his way, a way less toward "coming of age" than toward just plain old living in the adult world. The adult world, in Dave's opinion, has turned out to be a basically shifty, shitty place. It's risky and often sad and always wildly insecure. It beats him over the head, just how insecure and fragile is his place in his own lifetime. He knows, now, that nearly everything you call Yours in the world can be taken away from you by other people, assuming that they want it enough. They can take away your freedom of location and movement, if there's judgment. Men you didn't vote for can take your life with one red button, Jack. The world can take your loved ones, your love, your one beloved. Your dreams can be taken. Your manhood, integrity of cock and bum: vapor before a gale. What's his, then, that he can hold tight, secure?
This is the one thing, he says. He's had time to think, and he's no idiot, and he's been able to come up with just one thing. They can't take your honor. Only that can be only given. And it can be given — with good reason, without good reason. But only given, that. It belongs to him. His be-longing. The one arrow he just can't lose, unless he lets it fly. His one thing.
Dave's thought it over, and he's decided he just does not rat. He does not betray. Not even Mark. Dave is going to be greedy. He's going to refuse to give away his last thing.
Get ready, because Jack Lord is… nonplussed. This weak kid's own life worth less to him than some idea? The Warden, were he younger, would be able to move his face's image into a surprise Dr. Ambrose confesses he'd like to see shown. 'Cause there's no logic here. No instinct. No sense. Some imaginary debt to a minimal human who'd job you over a matter of freaking aesthetics? Jack Lord's white face does move, a bit. What manner of beasts, these kids today? Our future? Tomorrow's Mainland? This boy would eat cock and die to honor some wacko abstract obligation to a person with no, and here Jack Lord means zero, value?
The supine murderer would sincerely like to make the erect peace officer understand. It is no matter, this To Whom the debt is owed. Dave's just too fucking selfish to do it. He feels like his bludgeon-blurred sense of obligation is all that's him, now. As much what's him as his past and present and future. His past is spent, cannot change; it's not in his control. God knows the future sure isn't. The present is, yes, probably just waiting to get zotzed by a market for endless flame. O Mr. Lord, but the fact that he does not rat: this is his self's coin, value constant against every curve's wave-like surge. Dave covets, values, hoards, and will not spend his honor. He'll not trade, not for anything the cosmic Monty's got stashed behind any silver curtain.