The meeting was held in a room with no windows.
The room was rectangular and it had no windows because it had no external walls. It was contained within a larger, square room. And the square room was contained within an even larger octagonal room. Together this nest of rooms formed the command hub of Unit S2 at the Minerva Correctional Facility in Winson, Mississippi. Along with its sister segregation unit, S1, it was the most secure place in the complex. It was laid out with walls like the concentric rings of a medieval castle. Designed to be impregnable. From the outside, even if attacked by the most determined rescuers. And from the inside, even during the most extreme riot.
The safety aspect was welcome but the reason the hub had been chosen for this meeting was its seclusion. The opportunity it offered for complete secrecy. Because the rest of Unit S2 was vacant. There were no guards. No admin staff. And none of its 120 isolation cells were in use. They weren't needed. Not with the way the prison was run under its current management. The progressive approach was a cause of great pride. And great PR.
There were six men in the room, and this was the third covert meeting they'd held there in the last week. The men were spread out around a long, narrow table and there were two spare chairs pushed back against a blank, white wall. The furniture was made of bright blue polycarbonate. Each piece was cast in a single mold, leaving no joins or seams. The shape and material made the items hard to break. The color made it hard to conceal any parts that did somehow get smashed off. It was practical. But not very comfortable. And all left over from the previous administration.
Three of the men were wearing suits. Bruno Hix, Minerva's Chief Executive and joint founder, at the head of the table. Damon Brockman, Chief Operating Officer and the other joint founder, to Hix's right. And Curtis Riverdale, the prison's warden, next to Brockman. The man next to Riverdale, the last one on that side of the table, was wearing a uniform. He was Rod Moseley, Chief of the Winson Police Department. On the opposite side, to Hix's left, were two guys in their late twenties. Both were wearing black T-shirts and jeans. One had a broken nose and two black eyes and a forehead full of angry purple bruises. The other had his left arm in a sling. Both were trying to avoid the other men's eyes.
"So is there a problem or not?" Brockman shrugged his shoulders. "Can anyone say for sure that there is? No. Therefore we should go ahead as planned. There's too much at stake to start running from shadows."
"No." Riverdale shook his head. "If there 'might be' a problem that means there is a problem, the way I see things. Safety first. We should—"
"We should find out for sure," Moseley said. "Make an informed decision. The key is, did the guy look in the envelope? That's what we need to know."
No one spoke.
"Well?" Moseley stretched his leg out under the table and kicked the guy with the sling. "Wake up. Answer the question."
"Give me a break." The guy stifled a yawn. "We had to drive all night to get to Colorado.
And all night again to get back here."
"Cry me a river." Moseley prodded the guy with his foot. "Just tell us. Did he look?" The guy stared at the wall. "We don't know."
"Looking in the envelope isn't definitive," Riverdale said. "If he did look, we need to know if he understood what he saw. And what he plans to do about it."
"Whether the guy looked is irrelevant," Brockman said. "So what if he did? Nothing in there gives the slightest clue to what's going on."
Riverdale shook his head. "It mentions 10:00 A.M. on Friday. Very clearly. The time, the date, the place."
"So what?" Brockman raised his hands. "Friday's an occasion for joy and celebration. There's nothing remotely suspicious about it."
"But the photograph was in there." Riverdale jabbed the air with his finger in time with each syllable. "Eight by ten. Impossible to miss."
"And again, that means nothing." Brockman threw himself back in his chair. "Not unless the guy actually comes here. If he shows up on Friday. And even then we'd be OK. We chose very carefully."
"We didn't. How could we? We only had nine to pick from."
A smile flashed across Moseley's face. "Ironic, isn't it? That the one we picked really is innocent."
"I wouldn't call it ironic." Riverdale scowled. "And there weren't nine. There were only five.
The others had family. That ruled them out."