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To Pass The Time

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"Ben, I told you to stop messing with that freak."

"But he gets it, every, single, time! It's incredible!"

Despite just returning from a smoke break, the sight of Ben outside of that cell was exasperating enough to make Jeremy already crave another. Four years on this job and not a whole lot bothered him, but there was never quite anything as unsettling as the polite and composed prisoners. Elias Bouchard always looked much too comfortable and happy to be here. Jeremy didn't know the whole story, but enough to know that he should trust his gut feelings of distrust around the man. He was vigilant around him and made sure to be thorough on his rounds, but otherwise avoided his cell as best as he could.

His coworker's lack of caution made this exceedingly frustrating. He found Ben with his hands behind his back and looking into the cell. Bouchard was seated at the desk with a tired but amused expression, as if humoring an excited child. He was facing Ben, legs crossed and his head propped up by one hand, elbow leaning on the desk. The prisoner blinked once slowly. "Nine this time," Bouchard said with patient confidence. "and now a six, two, four..."

Jeremy's eyes flickered over Ben's hands that had been holding up fingers out of sight of Bouchard. He got them all right. Ben rattled with an excessive amount of excitement. "I don't know how he does it. It's wild! I wish I could figure out his trick." He said, reminding Jeremy of all the Youtube videos he'd seen of magicians blowing the minds of drunk people in clubs. He didn't think guessing numbers warranted this much glee, no matter how uncanny the accuracy was.

"Yes, it's just as mesmerizing as last time. You were supposed to take your break when I radioed you, stop wasting time." Jeremy groaned, pulling at his coworker's arm in an attempt to drag him away.

Ben just wormed out of his hold with a laugh. "Come on, you have to admit it's weird!"

"I'm not denying that it's weird! I'm just saying that he's in here for a reason and you shouldn't be chummy with him like this." He said. "Did you not hear what that- uh, what's-her-name... Hussain, said about him? We need to be careful."

"The Detective tends to exaggerate my deeds. She honestly gives me too much credit." Bouchard piped up from his cell. He looked too pleased with himself as he watched the two bicker.

"Yeah, I wasn't asking you, buddy." Jeremy replied, glaring.

"I am careful, Jeremy, I'm not an idiot. He can't do anything from behind the bars. I'm just having a little fun." Ben said.

"Guard duty does get rather dull some nights. I've had some experience myself--"

"SHUSH!" Jeremy snapped, cutting Elias off. The look of infinite patience that he had was only more irritating. "Ben, take your break before I take it for you."

Ben shrugged at him, thankfully deciding not to be stubborn about this, and started to walk down the hall, punching in the door code and swiping his key to make his way into the break room. Jeremy just sighed and turned to walk away to do his rounds. He didn't like how he seemed to be able to feel Bouchard's gaze on his back as he left.

 

---

 

"I'm going to lose my fucking mind."

That specific phrase was not one he wanted to overhear when getting on shift that day. He emerged onto the floor, and passed near Bouchard's cell to see Ben and another guard standing there. As he approached, he saw that the other guard there was Tom, and suddenly Jeremy had lost a lot of respect for the man. He also noticed that Bouchard was standing, arms crossed behind his back and posing, like he was presenting something at a business meeting. Ben was holding a deck of playing cards.

"Seventh card from the bottom is the Eight of Spades. Go on," Elias said.

Jeremy watched as Ben counted aloud as he searched for the corresponding card, and shrieked in delight as Elias was correct once again. Tom was holding his head in disbelief, shouting "What the fuck?!" and laughing.

Ben piped down slightly as he turned and noticed Jeremy standing there looking unimpressed, though Ben didn't lose his careless smile. "I shuffled this deck in the other room, came back, and Bouchard can guess any card we pull. It's wild!"

"I cannot stress how much I don't care, Ben. What did I tell you?" He said, his exhaustion heavily leaking into his tone. In the corner of his vision, he could still see Tom, whose mind seemed to have been thoroughly freaked. He couldn't fathom how these two were the same age as him.

"You're quite the no-nonsense fellow, aren't you, Jeremy?" Bouchard asked, feigning disappointment in his failure to amaze him. Jeremy could see how his eyes were scanning him, as if looking for some weak spot to exploit. "You're not responsible for your colleagues; there's no need to chide them. Though I can see why you feel the need to, after what almost happened to your sister."

He was taken aback for a moment. The others didn't seem to hear what Bouchard had said, leaving Jeremy standing there dumbfounded at what he just heard. "What? How did you...?"

"I'm very observant. Not much else to do in here but watch." The inmate said, grinning smugly. Jeremy wasn't one for brutality, but he never felt such a need to punch a face before. Bouchard seemed to sense this as the guard stepped closer to the cell, and caught the attention of the other two. "Maybe this will interest you: Dalton's login password is 'pickles one-two', take a look at his inbox and you'll find some rather incriminating emails about the affair he's having with the warden. He really can't handle a scandal right now; he'll offer just about anything to keep that secret under wraps."

"No way." Ben said under his breath, after a surprised silence.

"It's simple enough to go check. Let me know if I got that one correct, I want to make sure my skills aren't rusty." Bouchard said. His fake attempt at being humble came off as ridiculous to Jeremy, though the scenario he dropped to them was wild enough to have him at a loss for words as well. That wasn't comparable to guessing a playing card, it was too specific. He highly doubted he was getting information from the outside; it seemed like his only regular visitor was that ex-cop, who was the one who warned the whole crew about him in the first place.

Jeremy turned tail and left while the other two seemed to whisper to each other about the possibilities of this secret. Blackmail could easily get you ahead in this place, but this was much too weird for him to be dealing with. He was happy to be posted at the furthest point away from Bouchard today.

 

---

 

In a couple week's time, Ben had gloated to Jeremy in private about how the blackmail had worked, and he and Tom were now making an extra 10 Pounds an hour in exchange for discretion. While Ben had seemed still in shock that it was all correct, he still had that smile that made him seem like he was a child experiencing a magic show for the first time. It just made Jeremy's gut feel heavy with anxiety. How was Bouchard getting this kind of information?

This curiosity made him especially vigilant in checking the camera feed of his cell when it was his turn in the office. He could see Bouchard stretched out and lounging in his bed. He could tell he was awake by the tapping of his feet, but he wasn't doing anything. No book or newspaper, nothing at all. Jeremy took a sip of his coffee as he observed the rest of the monitors, temporarily forgetting about it as he answered some questions of a coworker over the radio, and buzzed some doors open for other employees coming in and out at their scheduled times.

About an hour later he saw movement in Bouchard's cell. Jeremy suddenly felt all his attention swing over to that monitor as he watched the inmate stand up and move to the center of the room, mouth moving as he was talking to someone. Upon checking another nearby monitor, he could see that Ben was there, talking to him. Jeremy didn't like this. He turned a dial to unmute the microphone for Bouchard's cell, and turned the volume high to try and hear through the static.

It was all just small talk, which rubbed Jeremy the wrong way. Even moreso when he heard Ben actually thank him for the tip, and asked if he had anything else worth telling him. By this point, Jeremy stood up and reached into the drawer for his phone. This was now going a step too far, and he needed some evidence for misconduct. He liked Ben well enough, but this was bad news and needed to be nipped in the bud, even if it meant the guy being fired. The type of information that Bouchard was handing out wasn't likely going to keep being free for Ben. This was exactly what that Hussain woman warned them about. The camera and audio feeds were all automatically saved in the system for a set amount of time, but he couldn't trust Dalton at this point not to go in and delete footage to protect Ben. Jeremy would have to bring this issue higher up than Dalton.

As soon as he found and unlocked his phone, Jeremy positioned it at the camera feed and started recording a video. "...--place is rife with secrets, I could go on for hours about what the management here is covering up." Bouchard said, chuckling to himself. It came out sounding somewhat pixelated through the speakers. "Though we should be careful how we speak about these things. Not when there's someone else watching."

"Shit--what?" Jeremy heard from Ben. He turned his phone to face the feed that showed Ben looking around, then he went back to Bouchard's to find the man facing the camera, making Jeremy jump.

He held his breath on instinct, and went very still despite knowing that there was no explainable way that Bouchard could see him. Of course he couldn't, right? He kept his phone steady to make sure the video wouldn't be the worst quality imaginable, but found that it was hard to do much else. Bouchard's head cocked to one side, and for but a split second, the normally grainy look of his face seemed to sharpen, those eyes piercing right into Jeremy, making his heart stutter.

Without thinking, Jeremy let one hand go of his phone, and held up a few fingers, fiercely watching the camera feed as he did so. If he blinked, maybe he'd miss something crucial. Even Ben had quieted down, watching whatever the hell Bouchard was doing. It was the longest and quietest thirty seconds that Jeremy ever experienced. His skin was covered in goosebumps, the feeling that this inmate was somehow watching him was painfully intense. He felt like even the quiet corners of his brain were being violated by some voyeuristic intruder.

"Three." Bouchard said, loud enough that his answer couldn't be misheard. Jeremy felt his legs turn into jelly. He was right. What the hell was this guy? After another pregnant pause, he spoke up again with surprising clarity through the speakers. "That's a clever move on your part, but most digital recordings tend to fail on me." He said, very matter-of-factly.

Jeremy still didn't dare move, even as Bouchard turned away from the camera and went right back to speaking with Ben, who seemed thoroughly confused at whatever he was saying. But Bouchard continued to talk about how to find evidence of embezzlement, which caught Ben's attention much more than the previous ominous event. Bouchard didn't hold back anything, and when he finished speaking, he even looked back to the camera and nodded. Jeremy cut the recording, feeling his hands shake.

He was right. When Jeremy replayed the clip back to himself, it was corrupted beyond recognition.

...Maybe it was better to stay out of this, after all. This was way above his pay grade.