The Cue Ball Incident

This chapter originally appeared as a blog post on Expat Chronicles titled “The Mick’s Prison Murder.”

Inside the prison, there was a carving industry that had piqued Christopher’s interest. Inmates carved wood, stone, and other items into Buddha statues and other decorative crafts. Christopher decided he wanted to take up carving.

One day after a soccer game, Niche offered Christopher a billiards cue ball. Niche had heard Christopher was buying different items to make into handicrafts, so he offered him this cue ball. Christopher agreed to buy the cue ball and gave Niche 500 pesos (worth 6,600 pesos in 2014 after inflation, or $3.23). Niche was a great soccer player, but he had a taste for bazuco. With that money, Niche would have spent the night smoking crack.

The next morning, Christopher was going to morning count when he noticed something out of order in his patio. One of the caspetes had a billiards table, but the usually busy table was empty of people. Christopher saw fifteen billiard balls neatly racked, but no cue ball. Christopher realized that Niche had sold him a stolen cue ball. Making things worse, he had stolen it from a caspetero. Caspete managers are the most powerful men in the prison.

The showers were a primetime for killings, but the morning and evening counts were also dangerous times. They were good for killing because all the inmates were down in the patio, so it was too crowded to see anything.

Just after being counted, Christopher was approached by the caspetero owner of the pool table. Caspetero told Christopher that he had received information that Niche sold him a cue ball the previous night. Christopher lied, telling Caspetero that he had sent it down to Patio 1 to be carved into a Buddha. Patio 1 was on the other side of the prison from Patio 7, so it would be difficult for Caspetero to check on the ball. Christopher added that he did not know it was stolen when he bought it, but now it was already being carved up.

That night while Caspetero was following up in Patio 1, Niche found Christopher outside his cell just after the evening count and before lockup. He was panicked and wearing multiple jackets. A Colombian prison trick from that time was to wear several jackets when in risk of being stabbed. If a knife hit punctures the fabric of a few jackets, its force is considerably reduced before it hits skin, thus increasing the chances of the victim’s survival.

Niche, on his knees and on the verge of tears, begged Christopher to give him back the cue ball. Christopher demanded the money. Niche invoked their friendship and soccer comradery. He complained that he was going to be killed. Christopher insisted that he would put the cue ball back on the table himself. Niche pleaded, insisting he had to give it to Caspetero personally. Christopher argued that he would put the ball on the table publicly, so he would be in the clear. But Niche kept begging until Christopher relented and gave back the cue ball.

The next morning, just before the count, Caspetero cornered Christopher on his landing with a knife. Caspetero was going to stab Christopher. Scared, Christopher insisted he gave the cue ball back to Niche and that Niche was supposed to put the ball back on the table.

Niche never gave the ball back to Caspetero. Instead, he sold the cue ball again. And all this time, Caspetero was losing money from his unused billiards table. Not only was Caspetero losing money, he was also losing face as the entire patio knew what was going on. Niche did not even bother to steal a cue ball from a different patio.

Christopher convinced Caspetero he did not have the cue ball, in no small part due to his agreement to help Caspetero kill Niche. Christopher and Caspetero took knives into the patio every day for a week, looking for Niche. But Niche was not around. An inmate in La Modelo has to be counted, but there were ways to avoid appearing in public. Christopher guesses that Niche was hiding in another patio, and he put his face through the bars of Patio 7 just in time to catch the attention of a prison guard to be counted. Then he would run straight back to his hiding place. However Niche managed to stay away from Patio 7, Christopher and Caspetero realized Niche was not coming out.

Christopher and Caspetero could have tracked Niche down to the crackhead lair he was hiding in to kill him there. But they wanted to do it in public.

Caspetero paid a prison guard to find Niche, pull him out of his hiding place, throw him into Patio 7, and look the other way. It was done the same day. Niche entered the patio wearing several jackets, clinging to the wall. Christopher says this is a common scene in Colombian prison. When somebody knows they are going to be stabbed, they stay against the wall walking sideways, frantically looking from side to side.

Christopher and Caspetero ran at him from opposite sides. Niche could not put up much resistance before taking stabbings from both of his attackers. Christopher says blood flew in all directions as they pounded away with their knives on Niche’s chest, stomach, arms, and shoulders. Christopher stabbed and stabbed, but Niche’s jackets were preventing the knives from penetrating too deep. So he and Caspetero kept stabbing. They left Niche on the ground hemorrhaging blood.

Niche survived the attack. He could not move in his infirmary bed, but he was alive. The official count of stab wounds was 29. But because of the jackets, they amounted to little more than flesh wounds.

Christopher learned that Niche was alive in the Salón Rojo from Tachuela, who gave him the news over lunch. Christopher was worried that Niche might survive and come for revenge. As Christopher says, “There are no small enemies in the nick.”

Tachuela was moved to help. He volunteered to finish the job for free. One day during the evening count, Tachuela slipped into the Red Room and cut Niche’s throat while he lay in bed. And it was over.

Christopher never found out what happened with the cue ball. He later acquired another. But instead of carving it into a Buddha, he painted a map of the world.

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