Category Archives: Week 2

Chapter 7: Incineration

Capital Offense CoverThis is a free sample of Capital Offense, which is now available nationwide as an e-book or paperback book.  Find it on Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com.

I couldn’t go out the front door. Not anymore. Cameras were everywhere, but the exits would be especially impossible to make it through. I slipped past Mendley’s office and hustled down the hallway. Against every instinct that told me to go back the way I’d come, I did the opposite and made my way away from the administrative offices and into the secured portion of the prison. I took long strides to the old laundry wing on the second level. Under the tall concrete ceilings the garish lights sizzled as they spewed puke green light against the walls.

My senses were acute in that moment, my mind clear. I burst through the door at the end of the hall into a cold sodden room with traces of mold climbing up the walls. It was a place that had barely been touched for the past thirty years. I’d never seen it except on floor plans I’d reviewed during meetings as we searched for security holes in the building. There was an obvious potential security flaw there that all of the guards knew about, even though none of us had ever seen it. The Warden wanted to hire a team with fiber optic cameras to scope it out but he never put it in the budget. Instead he just locked the door.

There was a trash chute at the end of the hall that used to empty into the incinerator. When the laundry had been in use the chute was locked and supervised, and besides, the incinerator at the end made it a poor escape route. But when the old furnace system was removed, the incinerator went with it. Now it was just a hole to nowhere in a locked laundry room that no one used.

I rushed acrossed the room, and I yanked open the door to the incinerator.  I looked down that hole, and I contemplated the odds. I contemplated my situation. I contemplated blind faith in a myth.

They call the London Correctional Institution “The Shithouse” because when its construction began in 1910, Mortimer Hugo Jefferson, descendant of Thomas Jefferson and first Warden of LCI, forced inmates to handcraft every brick from actual cow and horse and human shit, and then forced them to haul these baked bricks by nothing more than the strength of their own backs. It was a slightly more evolved method of digging your own grave. Mendley was a sweetheart compared to Jefferson.

The story goes that to spite the malicious Warden, an intelligent, amiable and wrongly accused young man named Robert Bone came up with a meticulous plan to build into the foundations of the prison an underground railroad of sorts. Lucky for Bone and his fellow prisoners, everyone—convicts, guards, law-abiding citizens—hated Mortimer Jefferson with equal ardor. It was men like Mortimer Jefferson who inspired authors like Steven King to write books like Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.

With the cooperation of a growing force of the Warden’s discontents, from architects to survey men, the square footage on the blueprints was simply “adjusted.” The railroad began imperceptibly somewhere on the second floor of the prison. The passage then meandered through the prison, lower and lower until it led to the basement and an underground tunnel that ran a half mile away from the prison complex in an unknown direction into the forest that surrounded the complex in 1910. And from there, freedom.  Or so the story goes.

Apparently Robert Bone and a few associates controlled the outflow of escapees. No rapists, no psychopaths or sociopaths. No one could use the tunnel until Bone told them where the hidden second floor access point was. Bone waited ten years before he took his turn.

The secret was incredibly maintained for sixty-two years, during which time an average of three inmates per year vanished. Most of the escapees were never recaptured, and of those who were, not one opened his mouth.

It should be noted that each one of the escapees (including Robert Bone in 1936) maintained his innocence leading up to the day he disappeared from the face of the earth.

Some argue that the book, Robert Bone: Real Warden at the Ohio State Penitentiary, prompted the 2007 renovations, which began the year after it was released. The Warden made it top priority to find and seal any “extra” space in the prison infrastructure. I don’t read many books but I pored through that one and took notes. It’s not often you read a book about your own backyard.

Spending ten years inside the prison, you hear the rumors, the stories of bodies hidden in walls, and treasures like gold watches and diamonds safely stashed up inmates’ asses. You hear about the corruption in your own ranks, and you wonder how the degenerates and scumbags can know more about the outside than you. But they do, and they also know more about the inside. What you hear as members of the staff pales in comparison to what you hear as an executioner when a man’s existence is about to be snuffed out.

In those last moments of life, some death row inmates clam up, close their mouths and await their final moments in trembling silence. Others can’t stop talking, as if the longer they ramble, the better chance they have of saying something that will save them. As if the universe is waiting for them to divulge some secret before it will balance and the magical Governor’s pardon will come through the phone line.

I made a habit of waiting around outside of the holding cell, the one where they sit and look at their hands, touch their eyes obsessively, and wait for the time when they’ll be led into the chamber and strapped to the table. Some of them have a chaplain in there, or a lawyer, sometimes both, but a lot of them are alone, just waiting, listening to the clock tick away their life.

Maybe I felt redemption, maybe it was a guilty pleasure, but there was something good about being there to listen. There was no point in my talking, there were no life lessons that would do these guys any good, but it became almost a last rite that I could offer, the opportunity to be heard.

In those final minutes I learned of the happiest moments and the cruelest defeats. I listened to sexual encounters, at times unbearably vivid, bitter words toward scorned family and friends, and, most of all, I learned about secrets like those at LCI. I first heard that the access point to the underground railroad was hidden in the incinerator chute in the spring of 2005 from a man convicted of stabbing his mother-in-law to death and then murdering his wife when she discovered his crime.

“You want to know?” Elmore Hitchens said to me twenty-five minutes before midnight. He had a high-pitched, whiny voice that didn’t match his lineman-like stature. “This is solid,” he said. “Solid.” He thought I’d be rewarded for passing this information on to the higher-ups. I thought Hitchens was nuts—most of them were—until I heard the same thing from Larry Hines, a serial rapist who dabbled in murder, two years later.

I never verified these stories, never reported them either. I didn’t report any of the crazy shit those guys told me. Moments before death are when a man is at his weakest. Some things are best to be buried along with the body.

Mostly I figured that this was a story invented by sociopathic convicts to convince freshmen inmates to dive headfirst into the incinerator chute.

But as I looked down into the blackness, I knew I didn’t have any options but to believe the lie until it worked out to be true. At least there wasn’t an incinerator at the bottom, just a closed room that could only be unlocked from the outside. But blind faith in the dead wasn’t all that sent me into that chute, I also heard the lock-down siren wail. I guess they stopped arguing long enough to figure out I wasn’t showing up at the Warden’s office. Or maybe Arnie pulled the alarm, it had a way of creating more chaos than it stopped—maybe he was buying me a little more time.

In any case, it didn’t matter. I hopped up onto the chute, swung my legs in and let go.

Thank you for enjoying this seven chapter sample of Capital Offense.  The complete book was released to the web through February 5, 2014.

The book is now available nationwide.  Find links to purchase the book and continue reading.

Chapter 6: Working the Ribs

Capital Offense CoverThis is a free sample of Capital Offense, which is now available nationwide as an e-book or paperback book.  Find it on Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com.

I approached the Warden’s office. I could just barely see him through the thin window in his door. Albert Mendley, all five feet six inches of him, was arguing with the local law enforcement. The loudest was from a voice I knew well, Detective Tolliver. He had a voice like a drill sergeant after a tracheotomy, a different man than the one I had talked to the night before. He was all rasp and grumble, yelling every word at the top of his voice. He argued with the Warden about jurisdiction. The gruff rasp in both their voices let me know they’d been at this for a while, yelling themselves hoarse over what to do with me. They’d probably been going at it since before I pushed down the plunger.

“Jurisdiction?” I heard Detective Tolliver say.

He and Mendley knew each other pretty well, enough that they were most comfortable yelling at each other. We all knew Tolliver. He was a fixture at LCI, having brought in many of the current batch of residents. He was a stickler for the rules and beyond reproach, which made the inmates hate him and the guards respect him.

“You’re the goddamn Warden, which means you don’t have shit for jurisdiction. You can’t make arrests or detain suspects–” Tolliver said.

The Warden cut him off, “I can’t detain anyone? I’ve got twenty-five hundred men inside these walls that would strongly disagree.”

Tolliver refused to listen.  The conversation progressed in halting phrases, usually littered with uninventive profanity like “Go fuck yourself!”

The Warden and his staff continued to assert themselves, as did the local boys, until Tolliver’s voice rose over them all.

“If a crime happens here, you call the state police. Kurt Stevens is my arrest. He’ll be booked at the station.”

“Listen here, Detective,” Warden Mendley’s voice boomed in a slightly higher, almost sing song paternal register. “Just get one thing straight. Anything, and I mean anything that happens on prison grounds is my jurisdiction. I’m the Pope and this is the Vatican. This is a goddamn foreign country, and my people will investigate it. Kurt Stevens is ours, and we’ll interrogate him here.”

“Interrogate him for what exactly? I’m arresting him from his place of employment, and taking him with me.”

“That’s a state prison matter, it doesn’t concern any other law enforcement.”

I pressed my back against the wall, and continued to listen. I couldn’t figure out if Mendley was trying to do me a favor, or if he just found himself in the middle of a dick-showing contest that he couldn’t back down from.

“You know what this is?” Tolliver’s voice came through the door. “This is obstruction of justice, and–”

“You gonna arrest me, Tolliver?” Warden Mendley asked. “How about we call Carson at home? It’s 4:30 in the morning. We’ll tell him one of his shit-for-nothing detectives is arresting the state Warden.”

For the first time since I’d come up to the doorway, the room was silent.

“Now listen, Tolliver, you can interview him here, in my ample facility, or…”

“Or what?”

“Or you can take that greasy bald head of yours, bend over, and shove it up your ass!” Warden Mendley’s steely voice terminated the conversation, for a moment.

This wasn’t about jurisdiction. This was about a Warden on duty for twenty-four hours straight, as every Warden in the state does during an execution. This was about an exhausted old man who was tired of the system, tired of bowing to every law enforcement prig who came through the door. Prisons weren’t a parasite to the system, prisons are the system. They’re at the top of the food chain, not the bottom, a fact society ignored, and I knew Mendley was tired of being treated like a civil servant’s servant every day of his life.

I peeked around into the window and could see Tolliver sway as he spoke to Mendley. His stocky build collided at his neck with a mass of cheap suit. The younger man I’d pushed out of the way the day before stood beside him, nodding when appropriate.

“Bullshit, Mendley,” Tolliver started up again. “Your boy Kurt Stevens went off the deep end—we all knew it was coming. I have every reason to arrest him.” Tolliver nodded to the kid, who grabbed a laptop from his bag and started it up. It was Tonya’s computer.

From my vantage point, I could just barely see the screen over his shoulder. As the pixels flashed to life, an image of my beautiful Tonya appeared. In the photo, my angel was alone on a bed with red sheets. She bit her finger seductively, her arm obscuring her right breast. The left lay bare to tease the photographer.

I vomited. Just a little bit. I was able to hold it in my mouth until I could swallow. My breath came in and out of my throat in pulses. My hands tightened into fists in front of me, and the muscles in my jaw seized. I don’t think I could have ever been prepared to see something like that, let alone so soon.

I could only see the back of his head but I could feel Tolliver’s delight. He closed the laptop’s lid. “That’s his wife, you know. It came in ninety minutes before she died. About 6:30 last evening an email arrived in her inbox, kurtswife@juno.com—cute, by the way—from Mr. Martin Dawes, who we assume is the mystery photographer. Said he missed her. The picture was attached…”

He trailed off, put his hand to his head, swallowed hard. “It’s the real deal. I had my guys check to see if it was Photoshopped. It’s not. It’s bonafide.” He chuckled, slow and deep. “It’s not hard to put the pieces together, Mendley.” He grunted in his throaty, grizzled way. “He read the email. He went blind with rage and he bashed her head in. Then he went to the store as an alibi.”

I wanted to run in there and scream in his face that I’d never seen that picture before, but it wouldn’t have helped.

Tolliver pressed forward. “Let me tell you something,” he whispered. “I don’t believe in coincidences, I’ve been doing this job too long.” He took on a pleading tone suddenly, like he needed Mendley to believe him. “This was a crime of passion. It won’t be so bad for him. He’ll go away for seven years or so…”

“In the general prison population?” Mendley scoffed.

Tolliver grunted. “Since he’s such a high profile catch they’ll probably put him up in a resort.”

“If word gets out that he’s the executioner they’ll string him up by his balls and–”

Tolliver cut him off. “I don’t give a shit!” he screamed. “If he’s guilty he deserves to get cut from neck to nuts! He deserves to get what he gave. Leave it to a jury to decide!”

Tears welled in my eyes. Everything was white noise. Everything was far away. I pulled back from the window and rested my head against the wall, still as death. My mind rocked and my pulse raced. I had no choice. I swear I had no choice. If I didn’t know it already, I knew it then. My fate was already sealed. I had to get out, or I didn’t stand a chance.

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