By William E. Wallace
Correctional Peace Officer Daniel Cespedes was pretty sure his jaw was broken in at least two places: blood was trickling from the wreckage of several of his teeth. He could feel the jagged edges with the tip of his tongue.
He was lying against the wall in the control unit where Hatcher had dropped him with a straight right that crushed his nose.
Despite his injuries, he was better off than his partner, CPO Lamar Cable: Hatcher had knocked Cable out with a single blow, then dragged him to the threshold of the lifer’s unit and slammed the door on his head until it was just a bloody mass of bone shards sticking up through curds of gray.
As Cespedes tried to clear the cobwebs caused by his beating, Hatcher crossed the room and grabbed him by the hair, pulling him into a sitting position. Danny whimpered with terror and raised his hands weakly. Hatcher was the hardest hardrock in the joint: a psycho already doing life-times-three for killing the crew in an armored car heist. He was unlikely to show Cespedes any mercy.
“You wanna survive, Cowboy?” Hatcher hissed in Danny’s face.
The guard nodded eagerly, then winced with pain as the movement jiggled his fractured jaw.
“Do exactly what I tell you, then,” Hatcher said, smiling sadistically and nodding toward Cable’s body. “If you fuck up, there’ll be so little left they’ll be able to bury you in the same box with your pal over there.”
The lifer tossed a neatly folded orange jumpsuit down on the floor next to the cowering guard.
“Strip out of your greens,” Hatcher said. “Boots, belt, socks, the whole uniform. Put your clothes on top of that desk and slip into that prison monkey suit.”
Trembling with fear, the guard complied.
As he changed, Cespedes struggled to understand how he had ended up in this situation. Max B Isolation was the state’s joint for inmates like Hatcher, the worst of the worst – prisoners too tough even for Pelican Bay, California’s other “supermax” high security lockup. At the facility, located in a remote corner of the state, inmates were in solitary confinement 24/7.
To minimize staff and save money the prison was fully automated with doors and lights controlled by a computer. Convicts were under constant surveillance. They had minimal contact with the staff and none at all with other prisoners.
A prisoner’s only link to the outside world was a visit with his lawyer – through laminated glass and a speakerphone in the prison library.
The place was bulletproof. In the fifteen years it had been in operation, no one had even tried to escape from Max B.
* * *
Cespedes remembered the lights in the unit had gone out just after he and Cable had put Hatcher’s breakfast tray through the bean slot and shut it. Some sort of power outage, he guessed. The emergency signal had triggered when the electricity was cut, alerting local law enforcement agencies.
That meant back-up would be coming from the sheriff’s office and highway patrol. An escapee would have to battle deputies and troopers to break out.
In an emergency like this, Max B’s computer unlocked all the doors so prisoners could move into the “moat,” a barren strip around the building surrounded by chain-link fencing topped with razor wire. The system’s designer didn’t want inmates trapped inside during a fire or earthquake. That had happened too many times in other state prisons and the aftermath was always a public relations disaster.
So when the power went out, all the electromagnetic locks at Max B had unlatched, including the one for Hatcher’s cell. In the moments of darkness that followed, there was a crash in the control unit and next thing Danny knew, he caught Hatcher’s fist on his nose, hammering him up against the wall where the convict continued to punch and kick him in the jaw and face.
As Cespedes slid to the floor, barely conscious, the emergency lights came on illuminating the control unit. He watched in horror as Hatcher turned Cable’s head into pulp and realized that the clatter he’d heard was Hatcher tearing the computer-controlled closed circuit camera out of the wall.
No one could see what was happening in the unit. Danny was trapped alone with a psychotic killer.
“Now, sit down on the floor and face the wall,” Hatcher said when Cespedes had finished changing. He waved a home-made knife under Cespedes’ nose: three inches of steel honed razor sharp against the prison’s concrete wall.
“In case you’re thinking about making a run for it,” the lifer said, stripping off his orange jumpsuit and pulling on Cespedes’ dark green uniform and black boots, “forget about it. I’ll use this blade to take your fucking head off your shoulders like the ragheads do in the Middle East.”
Cespedes wondered how Hatcher had obtained metal in a prison where everything was supposed to pass through security checkpoints. He wasn’t very good at solving mysteries, though. That’s why he was a prison guard and not a cop.
When he finished putting on Cespedes’ uniform, Hatcher grabbed the guard’s shoulder and pulled him up to face the door. “Okay, bend the corner, asshole,” he said. “Stick close or I’ll cut your throat, dig?”
Danny wanted to tell Hatcher he’d never make it and he might as well turn himself in because the prison was escape proof. But every time he moved his jaw, pain shot through it like a lightning bolt, making speech impossible. Instead he just moaned with agony.
Hatcher dragged the guard into the “walk,” the prison hallway. The emergency power – battery packs on Max B’s walls – lit the passage dimly.
“I could have done this last week, Cespedes,” he whispered hoarsely as he guided his captive through the gloom, “but they had you working somewhere else and I had to wait until you were rotated back to the Q wing. You’re the only guard in the fucking prison as big as I am. Cable was too small. And I really needed somebody I could trade clothes with.”
Cespedes groaned. He couldn’t imagine what difference swapping outfits would make: at six-eight and more than 250 pounds they might both be the same height but their bodies were completely different.
A former Cat skinner for Lyman Cowrie, a local construction outfit, Cespedes was soft and carried a bakery full of doughnuts around his waist. He was a typical screw, too weak to lift himself off a couch after a Friday night of chugging draft beer and gobbling pizza with his former colleagues at Cowrie’s. He might have been able to run a hundred yards in ten minutes, so long as the wind was at his back and the trail was downhill.
Even his face gave him away: the average inmate at Max B was a badass who sported the grim look of a guy doing life on the installment plan. Cespedes thought quitting construction to become a hack had been the smartest move of his life and he almost always had a goofy grin on his face, happy to have a job where a computer did his thinking and he didn’t get callouses on his hands.
On the other hand, Hatcher was hard as rock, with shoulders like an orangutan, an 18-inch neck and a nasty sneer he couldn’t wipe off. He looked like he’d kill without giving it second thought. In fact, he had: gunning down three armored courier employees had put him in Folsom for a life jolt in the first place; beating two Folsom inmates to death got him transferred to Max B.
The prison staff would look at Hatcher’s flat belly and evil leer and know immediately he wasn’t one of them. They would hit him with TASERs and bean-bag rounds and have him back in a cell in no time. The only way he could get out of the prison was in a rubber body bag.
Then Danny grasped Hatcher’s plan: there were only about 15 CPOs at the prison on a given day and in an emergency like this, all would be Kevlared up in hats and bats, guarding their normal units. To lock the prison down, the California Department of Corrections would rely on the sheriff and Highway Patrol for mutual aid – outsiders who couldn’t tell inmates from guards.
Maybe trading clothes wasn’t as dumb an idea as it seemed, Danny realized.
The prisoner and his captive turned the corner into the main passageway, Q-1. At its far end three sheriff’s deputies and a Highway Patrol officer in helmets and body armor were squatting behind riot shields. Four gun barrels turned toward Danny and Hatcher as if on cue.
“Freeze!” one lawman ordered.
Hatcher ignored him. He turned his back on the badges and jammed his makeshift blade into his own gut with a grunt.
“The fucker stuck me!” he yelled as he went down with the knife’s handle protruding from his belly.
That was all she wrote for Cespedes.
There was a roar of gunfire as all four officers emptied the ten-shot magazines of their Ruger Mini-14 tactical rifles into the camouflaged cop. The hail of lead threw Cespedes up against the wall where he hung, jerking, as rounds ripped his body and left 40 craters in the cement bulkhead behind him.
Only a few of the shots missed. With the fusillade still echoing down the hallway, Cespedes plummeted to the tile floor, his orange jumpsuit as riddled with holes as gauze. There was no need to check his pulse.
Sheriff’s Deputy Clint Raymond was the first cop to reach Hatcher. “We got a wounded CPO over here,” he said to the others. “He’s got a shiv in his belly I’m afraid to pull loose: it might be in a vital organ.”
The Highway Patrol officer looked over Raymond’s shoulder at the handle of the shank protruding from Hatcher’s abdomen. “That looks pretty bad,” he said. “If we call paramedics, they’ll take twenty minutes to get here from the hospital in Courtney. Best take him to emergency yourself, Clint. Go Code Three and I’ll call ahead on my mobile and make sure the county road is clear.”
Raymond nodded and helped Hatcher up, tucking his shoulder under the convict’s arm to hold him up. As he stood, Hatcher gasped: “There’s two more of them loose back there. Be careful – they killed my partner, CPO Cable.”
He and Raymond walked out of Max B almost unnoticed while the other trigger-happy lawmen began sweeping the prison for non-existent escapees.
* * *
Raymond cut the lights and siren of his cruiser about five minutes after he left the prison’s sally port.
He glanced at Hatcher, who wore the grin of a man thinking about the punch line to a twisted joke. Raymond had known him nearly 20 years and the convict still gave him the creeps.
Hatch had engineered his transfer to Max B solely because Raymond, an old chum who’d been his partner in a series of petty crimes when they attended the same high school, was now a deputy in the county that surrounded the prison. Even as a teenager, Raymond had been afraid of him: Hatcher was the most cold-blooded sonofabitch the deputy had ever met;
“You going to be okay, Hatch?” he asked, looking with concern at the knife sticking out of the convict’s stomach.
Hatcher winced as he jerked the shank from his abdomen and used a rolled hand towel to staunch the blood oozing from the hole. “Yeah,” he said, putting his leer back in place. “It’s only three knee deep. That blade wasn’t long enough to cut all the way through my stomach muscles. Looked pretty good, though, didn’t it?”
The deputy grunted. “That was cute, stabbing yourself and all. Where’d you get that knife in the joint?”
“Teri brought it to me,” Hatcher said. “She had it hidden in the plastic binding of a brief she brought me. Confidential inmate legal materials. She said they didn’t even give it a second look.”
The lifer shot Raymond his leer. “It’s always better when you’re balling your lawyer,” he said. “When a woman likes the way you pork her, she’ll do anything you ask. Even if it costs her bar card.”
The deputy shuddered involuntarily. Everybody was just a tool to Hatcher, something he could use to get want he wanted.
Hatcher rolled down the window and tossed the knife out of Raymond’s cruiser. “Anyway, it’s just a scratch,” he said. “She can take me to get the hole stitched up in Courtney.”
“You got nerve, I’ll give you that,” the deputy said as he glanced in the rear-view to make sure they weren’t being followed. “Crashing out of the toughest prison in the state takes a bigger set of balls than would fit over the door of a pawn shop.”
He darted Hatcher a nervous look. “Incidentally, you owe me, man. The deal was, fifteen large for blowing out the transformer north of the prison and another five for picking you up as a member of the police team inside the Q-unit corridor. That’s twenty grand altogether. Is your lawyer-girlfriend going to have my money at the motel?”
Hatcher looked at him with surprise. “Jesus, man!” he said with a frown. “You going to make me pay in full? No discounts, even though we’re old time buddy-fuckers and all?”
Raymond’s face fell and he was gripped with panic. He had taken a huge risk getting involved in the convict’s escape scheme. Just getting assigned to solo patrol north of the prison was dangerous. He was really counting on that cash.
Hatcher watched Raymond struggle to control his emotions. Then he laughed hysterically, tears rolling down his cheeks.
“I’m just jerking your chain, man,” he said, wiping his eyes. “Don’t worry, Clint: Teri will have your money for you. She’s still got most of the cash from the armored car I jacked in Fresno. I scored nearly two million in that job and didn’t get to spend a nickel of it before I got collared.”
Hatcher cranked back his seat with a smirk. “Man, you should have seen the look on your face,” he said, chuckling again at the memory. “I thought you were going to shit your pants.”
Raymond felt tension ooze out of his body. The fact is, he was going to have to change his underwear and put on another pair of uniform trousers as soon as he dropped Hatcher off: his bowels partially emptied when he feared the killer would refuse to pay him in full.
As the deputy relaxed, so did Hatcher, thinking about the future. Teri had talked about leaving the country and starting fresh someplace else. Hatcher wasn’t sure about that idea: his only trip outside the U.S. was a one-day wonder to Vancouver six years ago to hold up a Canadian bank. With two million in his pocket he could live like a prince, at least for a while, and when it ran out, he’d steal more. He knew American cops and law; he didn’t want to have to figure out how to operate successfully on foreign turf.
But first he’d have to get his money and he knew Teri would have it waiting for him.
She’d also have something else: the fully loaded twelve-gauge Hatcher had asked her to bring along. He liked shotguns; he’d used one on the armored car crew. It’s hard to miss with one at close range.
“We’ll settle up when we get to Courtney,” Hatcher told Raymond as he closed his eyes and leaned back into the headrest. “Don’t sweat it, buddy. I’ll make sure you get everything you’ve got coming.”
Just like Cespedes and Cable, he thought with a grin as he dropped into a doze.
William E. Wallace has been a house painter, cook, dishwasher, newspaper and magazine reporter, journalism professor, private investigator and military intelligence specialist. He took his bachelor's in political science at U.C. Berkeley and was an award-winning investigative reporter and special projects writer for the San Francisco Chronicle for 26 years.
His work has been published in All Due Respect (which has nominated it for a 2014 Pushcart Prize), Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter Online, Crime Factory, Dark Corners Pulp, Spinetingler, Plan B and Near 2 The Knuckle.Wallace’s longer fiction includes three self-published novels: The Jade Bone Jar, Tamer, and The Judas Hunter; and a novella, I Wait to Die. Dead Heat with the Reaper, a pair of noir novellas, was published by All Due Respect books in August, and another novella, Face Time, is scheduled for release by One-Eye Press next year. Among other projects, he is currently working on a new novel, Bottom Street.
His short story, “Incident on Car 412” appeared in omdb! in March, 2015.
Copyright © 2015 William E. Wallace. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!