The day they let Jules out of prison, two guards escorted him to meet the warden. The warden’s wood-paneled office was much bigger than the cell where Jules had spent the past five years of his life. The warden was a large man with a square jaw and skin tanned the color of mahogany. Jules was very pale but had spent the past one thousand eight hundred and twenty-five days lifting weights and that, combined with the crude tattoos, made him a very large and scary dude.
The warden had Jules’ file on his desk. He made a show of flipping through the papers inside, frowning at the lists of crimes and misdemeanors. He slapped it shut and said: “I have a cherry 1968 Shelby Mustang parked outside this facility, V8 engine, beautiful beast.”
Jules sat in the creaking wooden chair on the other side of the desk and said nothing. He was following the first rule of prison: stay quiet, at least until you know the score.
The warden said: “That car’s my baby. Can you guess why it’s parked outside?”
Jules shook his bullish neck: no.
“Because I earned it, Mister Jules. I came to work every day, and did my job, and collected an honest man’s paycheck.” The warden flashed his white tombstone teeth, leaning back in his plush throne. “And if you work very hard and stay out of trouble, someday you might have a car just like that. Something to ponder, Mister Jules.”
Jules nodded his massive head: yes.
The warden clapped his pillow-soft hands. “That’s settled, then. Good luck out there.” He offered a cheery wave as the guards escorted Jules out.
Down in a caged room they shook a manila envelope full of Jules’ personal effects onto the counter: two brass keys, an ancient cell phone, a pack of strip-club matches, a scuffed wallet with three crumpled dollars and an expired driver’s license, and a wedding ring. His knife was missing.
Jules slipped the keys, phone, matches, and wallet into the pockets of his leather jacket. The wedding ring he tossed into the convenient wastebasket. He let the guards walk him into the noonday firestorm and down a narrow sandy path sandwiched between tall fences. Beyond the chain-link the desert burned white and infinite, split by the black line of the highway snaking east to west.
“See you soon,” one of the guards said, and the front gate snapped open. Jules officially returned to the land of freedom, swiveling in his tracks like a lost dog. Nobody was waiting to pick him up, but that wasn’t surprising.
Already sweating in the hundred-degree heat, Jules walked along the fence and into the shadow of the prison wall. In front of him, ten rows of cars gleamed in the sunlight. He found the Mustang in a special parking space close to the entrance. It was every inch as cherry as the warden promised. The driver’s door was unlocked, the keys tucked behind the visor. Who would travel all the way out here to steal a car?
A guard on the wall shouted something as Jules roared for the highway, but that beautiful V8 engine made it hard to hear the words.