He passed several other prisoners who were walking at a more leisurely pace. No one overtook him. He noticed a lone figure striding out in front of him who was keeping roughly the same speed. It was some time before he realized that it was Nick Moncrieff, his new cellmate, who was clearly as fit as he was. What could a guy like him have done to end up behind bars, Danny wondered. He recalled the old prison rule that you never ask another con what he's in for; always wait for him to volunteer the information himself.
Danny glanced to his right to see a small group of black prisoners lying bare-chested on the grass, sunbathing as if they were on a package holiday in Spain. He and Beth had spent a fortnight last summer in Weston-super-Mare, where they made love for the first time. Bernie had come along, too, and every evening he seemed to end up with a different girl, who had vanished by the light of day. Danny hadn't looked at another woman since the day he had seen Beth at the garage.
When Beth had told him she was pregnant, Danny had been surprised and delighted at the news. He'd even thought about suggesting going straight to the nearest register office and taking out a marriage license. But he knew Beth wouldn't hear of it, and neither would her mother. After all, they were both Roman Catholics, and therefore they must be married in St. Mary's, just as both of their parents had been. Father Michael would have expected nothing less.
For the first time, Danny wondered if he should offer to break off the engagement. After all, no girl could be expected to wait for twenty-two years. He decided not to make a decision until after his appeal had been heard.
Beth hadn't stopped crying since the foreman had delivered the jury's verdict. They didn't even allow her to kiss Danny goodbye before he was taken down to the cells by two officers. Her mother tried to comfort her on the way home, but her father said nothing.
"This nightmare will finally be over once the appeal is heard," her mother said.
"Don't count on it," said Mr. Wilson, as he swung the car into Bacon Road.
A klaxon proclaimed that the forty-five minutes set aside for Association was over. The prisoners were quickly herded back into their cells block by block.
Big Al was already slumbering on his bunk by the time Danny walked back into the cell. Nick followed a moment later, the door slamming behind him. It wouldn't be opened again until tea-another four hours.
Danny climbed back onto the top bunk, while Nick returned to the plastic chair behind the formica table. He was just about to start writing again, when Danny asked, "What are you scribblin'?"
"I keep a diary," replied Nick, "of everything that goes on while I'm in prison."
"Why would you want to be reminded of this dump?"
"It whiles away the time. And as I want to be a teacher when I'm released, it's important to keep my mind alert."
"Will they let you teach after you've done a stretch in 'ere?" asked Danny.
"You must have read about the teacher shortage?" said Nick with a grin.
"I don't read a lot," admitted Danny.
"Perhaps this is a good chance to start," said Nick, putting his pen down.
"Can't see the point," said Danny, " 'specially if I'm going to be banged up in 'ere for the next twenty-two years."
"But at least you'd be able to read your solicitor's letters, which would give you a better chance of preparing your defense when the case comes up for appeal."
" Ur yous ever gonnae stop talkin'?" asked Big Al in a thick Glaswegian accent that Danny could barely translate.
"Not much else to do," replied Nick with a laugh.
Big Al sat up and removed a pouch of tobacco from a pocket in his jeans. "So whit you in fur, Cartwright?" he asked, breaking one of prison's golden rules.
"Murder," said Danny. He paused. "But I was stitched up."
"Aye, that's whit they aw say." Big Al took out a packet of cigarette papers from his other pocket, extracted one and laid a pinch of tobacco on top of it.
"Maybe," said Danny, "but I still didn't do it." He didn't notice that Nick was writing down his every word. "What about you?" he asked.
"Me, I'm a fuckin' bank robber," said Big Al, licking the edge of the paper. "Sometimes I pull it aff and get rich, other times I get dinnae. The judge gied me fourteen years this fuckin' time."
"So how long have you been banged up in Belmarsh?" asked Danny.
"Two years. They transferred me tae an open prison for a while, but I decided tae abscond, so they'll no be takin' that risk again. Huv yous no got a light?"
"I don't smoke," said Danny.
"And neither do I, as you well know," added Nick, continuing to write his journal.
"What a pair of numpties," said Big Al. "Noo I'll no be able to huv a drag till efter tea."
"So you'll never be moved out of Belmarsh?" asked Danny in disbelief.
"Not until mah release date," said Big Al. "Wance ye've absconded fae a cat D, they send you back tae a high-security nick. Cannae say I blame the fuckers. If they transferred me I'd only try it again." He placed the cigarette in his mouth. "Still, I've only got three years tae go," he said as he lay back down and turned to face the wall.
"What about you?" Danny asked Nick. "How much longer have you got?"
"Two years, four months and eleven days. And you?"
"Twenty-two years," said Danny. "Unless I win my appeal."
"Naeb'dy wins their appeal," said Big Al. "Wance they've got ye banged to rights, they're no going tae let you oot, so ye'd better get used tae it." He removed the cigarette from his lips before adding, "Or top yersel."
Beth was also lying on her bed staring up at the ceiling. She would wait for Danny however long it took. She had no doubt that he would win his appeal, and that her father would finally come around to realizing that both of them had been telling the truth.
Mr. Redmayne assured her that he would continue to represent Danny at the appeal and that she shouldn't worry about the cost. Danny was right. Mr. Redmayne was a real diamond. Beth had already spent all her savings and forgone her annual holiday so that she could attend every day of the trial. What was the point of a holiday if she couldn't spend it with Danny? Her boss could not have been more understanding and told her not to report back until the trial was over. If Danny was found not guilty, Mr. Thomas had told her she could take another fortnight off for the honeymoon.
But Beth would be back at her desk on Monday morning, and the honeymoon would have to be postponed for at least a year. Although she had spent her life savings on Danny's defense, she still intended to send him some cash every month, as his prison wages would be only twelve pounds a week.
"Do you want a cup of tea, luv?" her mother shouted up from the kitchen.
"Tea!" hollered a voice as the door was unlocked for the second time that day. Danny picked up his plastic plate and mug and followed a stream of prisoners as they made their way downstairs to join the queue at the hotplate.
An officer was standing at the front of the queue, allowing six prisoners up to the hotplate at any one time.