It is four in the morning. A big gorilla looking guy lumbers into the prison exercise yard. The yard has changed little since the old days under Stalin. Morning's first light silhouettes black mechanical shapes, and the silence is flawless. They call him Tarzan, but never to his face. He is always here first. This is his place. This is his time. This hour of solitary exercise is the closest thing to love he has ever known. Against the purple background of morning light he sees the silhouette of a man at the horizontal bar. In seven years no one has ever intruded by being here this early. Now, who dares?
Tarzan walks menacingly toward the black silhouette. "That's my horizontal bar buddy. How long you going to be?" Only silence. He gets to the man and sees him hanging motionless, hands at his sides. A thin rope leads from his neck to the horizontal bar. Suicide. There are lots of suicides, but Tarzan takes this one personally. He moves up close to the dead man's face and recognizes him; the new guy who works in the kitchen, thin and blond.
"Look at what you did! Anywhere but here. Why did you do this to me?" Tarzan circles the man in slow steps and starts to feel lightheaded. He takes a sharp spontaneous breath and suddenly his thoughts fly out of control. He desperately needs something to hold on to, but there is nothing.
Then he grasps one single fact. "This is my horizontal bar. The last time someone like you hung himself on my horizontal bar the guards took away our exercise privileges for two years!" Discovering a dead man means nothing to Tarzan. The threat of losing the exercise that keeps him sane is horrifying. Now he is like a cornered wolf. "You kill yourself and you kill me!"
"Why here? Why on this piece of equipment? It's for my exercise. Why didn't you come to me and say, 'I want to be strong, like you. I want to fight for my life. Teach me how to be strong!' I would have shown you how to do pull-ups and lift weights." Tarzan stands still, looking at the man. "You don't hear! If you were alive I would kill you."
But Tarzan does not give up. More than strong, even more than callous, he is defined by his ruthless persistence. It is what makes others step aside, at the horizontal bar, and in the mess hall.
Tarzan circles the corpse, "You are dead, but I am alive. You understand. I am alive and I don't want my exercise privileges taken away for two years. You don't know what it means to have two years in prison. You've only been inside for two months and you hang yourself at my expense."
Tarzan should have been on his second set of pull-ups by now. His body aches for exercise. He has to strain and sweat to burn away the demons that swarm in his head. Panic fans his anger. How can he protect the most precious thing in his life?
Then Tarzan's head moves to the side, like a dog's when it gets an idea. He looks toward the prison's gray stone wall searching for one of the old iron hooks that stick out of the wall. It was said that in Stalin's time men hung by chains from those hooks until they died and rotted. They were not interrogated. No questions were asked of them. They were nothing more than lessons to others. A thousand men would grow silent and cooperative at the sight of one man crying, and dying, and rotting. It never failed. And the hooks were still there.
There is one of the hooks, right over there, rusted yet sharp. Tarzan takes down the body and carries it toward the hook, murmuring on his way, "You were weak. Now you're dead. There is nothing left for you to feel. We who are alive need exercise to stay strong." He lifts the limp body high overhead and slams it down onto the hook with such force that the air rushes out of the dead man's lungs and the corpse gives a high, involuntary scream. Then it dangles, motionless, and now meaningless.
"Hang there, buddy. There you can't hurt me. You're dead. It doesn't matter to you if they find you on the hook or on the bar, but it matters to me. After my third set I'll call for a guard to take you down."