So, the aspect of this challenge that I'm most proud about is that I actually sent my story. It didn't feel done. Not at all. But I worked on it (in my head) for a whole week. I just didn't have enough time (grading midterms all week long) to really make the ideas in the head come to the right fruition. However, participating in this exercise is so good for me, because I work best and most creatively with parameters and deadlines. Of course now, there are these two characters, Digger Brown and Clint Casey who are saying, "Don't leave us in this crapass story, we deserve better than this. . . . " And so, like Paulina Bellini and Reenie Sutton, and Layla Solomon, well, kids, all I can say, is hang tight . . . .This might be the summer for one of you to stop having only half a life. . . .
Digger Brown unfolded the scratchy blue blanket and pulled it from the foot of his cot. He considered whether he would refold it tomorrow morning making sure there was no crease, no wrinkle. Out of habit, he probably would, though it would be the last time. His execution was scheduled for 9 a.m. He laughed to himself thinking he might sleep-in tomorrow rather than waking at dawn like he usually did. Tonight everything made him laugh. A low sardonic “humph” laugh that got caught in a hardened lump building in his throat. He had that mixed-up feeling only twice in his life and neither was when he killed that cop nearly twenty-five years ago. There was no mixed-up feeling then. That cop was bashing his son’s head into a brick wall. Digger would have killed any motherfucker doing that and still willingly pay this same price. No, he had felt that ice and fire mixture, the bitter defiance facing death melded with the desperate, urgent clinging to life ten years ago. Digger was about to kick over the chair, sheets snugly around his neck, a letter from his estranged wife about his son’s recent fatal overdose gripped in his fist, and that damn new guard walked in and life won. But what Digger remembered most right now was that first time he felt that conflicting life and death pull, his last day in Vietnam. He remembered the feel of the sand on his face as he lay supine looking longingly at the edge of the green and still lake. Peaceful lapping waves pulling him toward the water, grappling real hands pulling him and what was left of his leg into the chopper. By denying the governor’s commuted sentence, by choosing the needle instead of another twenty-five years in this hell hole Chillicothe, Digger decided he might feel those peaceful lapping waves again.
Digger was startled by the guard rapping on the metal door.
“Digger! Warden’s here to see you.”
Would no one let a dead man get a good night’s sleep? Digger swung his good leg to the floor, lifting the dud one with his hands, the confident sound of the Warden’s footsteps echoing in the cell block.
“You gonna let me see you in that suit and tie?” Digger couldn’t help an odd sense of fatherly pride every time he got a visit from Warden Clint Casey, his former cell guard for the past ten years. “Nice of you to visit.”
“Been busy, Digs.” Clint stood close to the locked door. “It’s hard work pushing all that paper and bossing people around. So, you denied the commutation.”
“That’s old news, Warden Casey.”
“Hey, Kleinfelter!” Clint Casey shouted to the end of the hall. “You going to give me access or what?” He heard the electronic bolt shift and slid the heavy door on its track, the metal scraping loudly.
“I told you if fuckin’ Navy won again I was going for the kill.” Digger still sat on his cot as Clint entered. The former Green Beret and Navy Seal never shared a battle field, Digger’s memories in a humid forest, Clint’s on the shores of the Persian Gulf, but the two vets shook hands like they were old comrades. But it wasn’t their time scrambling their hearts and minds for Uncle Sam that held those two together, it was walleye and Lake Nipissing.
“Also old news. Months old.” Clint cupped the older man’s brown wrinkled hand in his own. “I wasn’t going to sign the injection order. Your lawyer threatened to sue me.” Clint looked intently into the old man’s face.
“I might have stuck around if you hadn’t gotten that promotion, shithead. Got no one who’ll listen to my stories down here any more.” Digger stood up, still tall and strong in his frame despite the mangled left leg. “My time has come.”
“We’ll see about that.” Clint clapped on the old man’s back and got close to Digger’s ear. “Don’t put your earplugs in tonight old guy.” Clint turned on his heels, scraping the metal door behind him. The bolt silently clicked back into place.
Digger wasn’t sure at what point he was asleep or awake through the night or how long Clint had been in there, but the old man’s reflexes weren’t so dull that his eyes didn’t pop wide open the second Clint covered Digger’s mouth with his leather gloved hand. Clint motioned to Digger to stay silent. Clint looked like a ninja, covered in black from head to foot, crazy goggles on his face. For a moment Digger thought he might be hallucinating, but as his foot hit the cold linoleum floor he knew everything about this was real and the blood rushed through his veins as Clint zipped Digger into a black jumpsuit and plopped the infrareds over Digger’s eyes.
Clint reapplied an oily solution to the track of the door as he slid it back into place. Digger had never watched that door shut from the other side before and the thought of freedom propelled him behind Clint who had strapped a kind of pillow shoe to Digger’s hobbly foot. He slid freely and silently in the darkened hall.
Digger had no idea there were so many back stairs and cubby holes in that place. They finally got to a small side door, more of a delivery chute and Clint motioned to Digger. He made a horizontal opening motion with his hands and then repeatedly jabbed his index fingers down. Despite the adrenaline Digger’s clouded mind could not make out the meaning, until Clint slowly opened the side door and slid Digger through. He landed in the opened trunk of an old silver Volvo sedan, his pillowed foot hitting with a muffled thud. Clint came down the chute slowly holding his body taut with his arms so he wouldn't slam into Digger. Clint quickly and deftly pulled off his own and Digger’s gear and handed the now fugitive criminal a water bottle and a pillow and shut the trunk. Digger could see just before the lid closed, Clint was still in his blue suit and striped tie.
Clint took a deep breath as he got into the driver’s seat. A slow scuba breath, fill the lungs. 1-2-3-4. Exhale. 1-2-3-4. This mission was riskier than anything he had ever done before. Riskier than Nasiriya or even Ramadi. He started the car, his precious cargo tucked tightly in the trunk. He maneuvered around the industrial dumpsters near the service entrance timing each turn with the light and camera sweep he had studied during his five months in his “desk job”, a job he was ditching right now with every turn of the wheels on the pavement.
Clint wasn’t sure at what point he made the decision. It started as a wild hidden day-dream after that night when Clint saved Digger from his own destruction. It took form as the seed of a real idea five years later when Digger kept Clint from a similar, though messier fate. But Clint wasn’t conscious that vying for the Warden position five years later still was all part of bringing the plan to fruition. Not until the day he watched Digger from the monitor. All day. Clint watched the old guy meticulously fold his cot blanket. Do crunches and pushups on the cold linoleum floor. Sit at the rickety little desk and read from the Bible. Write in a tiny palm-sized journal with tiny ant-sized script. For chrissake, the leathery old turd did yoga poses at night, trying his best to balance despite his crippled leg. That’s when the idea of the mission burgeoned fully out of the realm of fantasy into tactical operations. When Clint saw the purchase order for the pentobarbital on his desk, he knew it was time for real action.
Clint drove slowly, calmly through the staff parking lot. “Good night, Officer Dryden.”
“G’night, Warden. Always burning the midnight oil, aren’t you?”
“Still new to all that paperwork.”
“I hear you’re taking a few days off.”
“Going up north for some fishing.” Clint smiled and gave a mock salute as the razor wired gate rolled back. He wished he had thought earlier to rig communications between the trunk and the front of the car. Clint wanted to let Digger know the very millisecond he was crossing that threshold, but he’d have to wait until they got to Centerville and switched cars.
Clint calculated they had approximately one hour before Smith would check on Digger and the shit would hit the fan. If they were at least halfway to Sandusky already he’d feel a little better.
“Holy crap, Casey. Don’t forget I’m sixty-two years old. Almost died back there.” Digger was shaking his arms and pounding at the sides his legs as Clint helped him out of the trunk. “I’m all pins and needles.” They were in an empty K-Mart parking lot on North 104. Digger could see the truck and boat trailer across the lot. “Are we going in that?”
Clint grabbed a bag out of the Volvo and handed it to Digger. “Got you some Civvies.”
“How you know my size, Casey?”
“You forget I sign every P.O. for every little thing at Chillicothe. Who do you think bought you that orange jumpsuit.”
The two men walked silently, but swiftly across the lot. Digger’s pillow foot not-so-smoothly slid on the blacktop until they got to the truck.
“Can I take this pillow off my foot, now?”
“We’ve got three hours to go. You might want to use it for your head and doze off.”
“Doze off? You just sprung me from the slammer who’s going to doze off?” Digger was dancing a lively but erratic jig around the truck. “Hello, KMart! Hello, old red truck! Hello. . .” Digger stopped dead in his tracks as he looked at the ornate script on the back of the small fishing boat hitched to the back of the truck. “Well, hello Philomena.” Digger put his arms out to the boat and kissed its side like a long-lost lover.
“Come on, Digs. You gotta get in, we need to hit the road before they discover you’re gone.” Clint revved up the engine and the two peeled away from the parking lot.
It didn’t take long for Digger’s deep breaths to emit from the passenger seat. Clint’s mind drifted to the night he first met Digger. To the night this plan first hatched.
“Don’t leave me, Guard. Please, just talk to me a little more.”
“Ok. You know I should get you to psych.”
“Don’t do that, please. Besides, you took everything out of here what am I going to do, bite at my wrists to the vein.”
“I don’t know you, dude. You might. This is my first night on. And you got it all complicated.”
“My name’s Digger.”
“Where’d you get that name?”
“I’m good at digging for worms and nightcrawlers.”
“Like for fishing?”
“Exactly. You like fishing, Guard?”
“Yep. Don’t do it enough. But it sure is relaxing.”
“That’s probably the thing I miss the most. More than anything. Fishing.”
“More than your wife?”
“Aw, she left me before I even got in here. Fishing’s better than sex anyway.”
“Aw, she left me before I even got in here. Fishing’s better than sex anyway.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“Trust me. You’re young yet.”
“So Digger, where’s your favorite place to fish.”
“Small lake in Canada. Spent many a summer there working off a small fishing charter. Only thing that kept me sane when I got back from Nam.”
“You and I are twins. I’m a vet, too. Desert Storm. We also used to fish in Canada. Lake with a funny name. Something ‘pissing’. ”
“Yep, that’s it Knee Pissing. That name used to crack me up all the time.
“That’s where I worked every summer. Lake Nipissing.”
“Uncle Milt’s Charter Boats. I was first mate for years.”
“That was my Uncle Milt. I mean great uncle, but we called him Uncle Milt.”
“Everyone called him Uncle Milt. But no shit. Good old’ Milton Casey.”
“I inherited his boat. The Philomena.”
“Oh. Yes. The Philomena. Love that old boat. What’s your name, Guard?”
“I was apparently conceived at a drive-in during The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.”
“Good thing they didn’t name you Blondie.”
As they were just coming out of the north end of Columbus Clint’s cell phone rang. Like clockwork. It was Smith. “Sir. I’m sorry to wake you up, sir. I don’t know how to tell you this. But I can’t not tell you this. It’s pretty big. We haven’t had a break out here in decades.” Smith’s frenzy was making it much easier for Clint to keep his cool.
“What’s going on, Smith?” Clint could feel a long lost smile breaking out on his face.
“It’s Digger Brown, sir. He’s vanished.”
“What on earth are you talking about?” Clint looked at the sleeping Digger and felt more sure than ever that this was best mission he ever launched.
“He’s not in his cell.”
“Well, look, you’ll need to follow protocol. Sound the alarm. Call the local Police.”
“I never thought the old man had it in him.”
“He might be on grounds somewhere. Maybe he wanted to end things on his own terms.”
“That’s true, Warden. We’ll start there. But I’ll alert the police just in case.”
“Ok, Smith. Good thinking. Tell Jordan all about it when he comes in the morning.”
“Jordan? You’re not coming in? Can’t you postpone your trip till this is figured out?”
“Smith. I’m already on the road. Halfway to Sandusky.”
“You’re fishing Erie?”
“Well, there and other parts.”
Digger and Clint launched at Dock of the Bay heading due North to the St. Clare River. Clint made sure to hug the Canadian shoreline as much as he could. Digger’s eyes were wide with childish joy as the sun began to show its red sliver on the horizon. It was close to 7:30 in the morning before they hit the opening into Lake Nipissing. The younger man let out a whoop. The older one had a tear in the corner of his eye.
“Kneepissing, elbow shit, life’s worth nothing ‘less you fight with it.”
Digger looked over at Clint. Wind spray hitting their faces. They sang together.
“Kneepissing, armpit cum, life gives you nothing ‘less you grab at some.
“Get that walleye, bag that moose, life’s worth no kneepissing unless it’s what you choose.”