The sprawl of buildings which called itself a town faded into the heat haze which hid the river. Closer, and clearer, the grey boxy buildings and high walls of the prison were visible over the trees. Halfway up a meadow, on the verandah of a pristine white colonial style mansion, the three most powerful people in the county looked down on everything they controlled and sipped iced tea.
"They say that this house was on the Underground Railroad. Back when the slaves would run out on their masters an' try and head North, they could stop here and there were passageways in the walls and a whole little living space where they could hide if'n anyone came a hunting for them." the warden announced, waving a cigar in an arc which took in the grounds and the building.
"Is that so?" the judge watched the chain gang which was laying a road over the dusty track up to the house as if he were valuing them and deciding which to take home. Despite his size, and the beads of perspiration on his forehead, the white suit he wore was still crisp, well fitted and the colour of fresh snow.
"Well no, your honour, not strictly. See, they say this old house was in the Railroad, but what they don't say is that most of the slaves that came through here never got no further. The truth is, the fella who owned the house, he liked killing people, and he figured if the slave's already gone missing they can't rightly disappear another time. He raped the women and tortured the men. Some say he even ate the children. That lake up the hill could be littered with bones for all we know. Or maybe he buried them out in the woods. The trees would have been thinner back then."
"But he got caught?" the sheriff kept trying on his new hat, testing it to find the right fit. He had an oddly shaped, long and narrow face and skull and it was hard to get anything to sit right on his head "How long did he get away with it?"
"Yes Jed, he got caught. One of the slaves got away and managed to find his way to the proper Railroad. When he told the tales of what went on here the word was spread quick like, and runaways soon learned to keep away from here. Now the owner, he'd really got the taste for murder by now, and he had to go out and find people to kill. And that's where he was undone. He only killed one white woman, but they did a proper investigation and they tracked him down and he hanged."
"Have you found any of these secret passageways then?" the Sheriff asked.
"No I haven't. I hold that they're just part of the story and they don't truly exist."
Every time the story was told it changed. The sheriff and the judge had heard that the killer was the rich son of a powerful family, and he'd bought all the slaves he butchered and ate. Or that it all happened after the War Between The States and he had preyed upon crippled soldiers, down on their luck and unlikely to be missed. Or any number of variations. About the only constant was the hidden passageways and rooms in the house, but they'd never met anyone who would admit to looking for, much less finding, them.
"You said you have something for me?" the judge said. He had been eyeing the sweating body of the nearest prisoner, who was levelling the track ready for the road layers. The judge wiped his forehead, he seemed to be sweating more now he'd asked his question.
"Oh we certainly do. Jed arrested him two days gone, hitching through, and I knew he'd be the type you like- young 'n skinny. He made it so easy, we didn't even have to plant the weed on him. He's due to come before you next week, but we thought you'd like to try him before then. We've got him out back with a guard."
"Is he willing?"
"He will be, if he knows what's good for him. Last night we took him to the showers, cuffed him under the hot water and threatened to let the prison daddies loose on him. He didn't want that, so he let me take him for a test drive. Mouth like the best New Orleans whore."
The sheriff was looking away, hiding his expression of disgust. He had no problem with beating, even killing, trouble makers inside or outside the jail, but the warden and the judge took it too far. They had to humiliate them as well as profit from them. It would backfire some day.
The judge had struggled up out of his chair, eager for a taste of the new prisoner. "Through the house and out the kitchen door. He's edging the back lawn." the warden announced.
"You want another taste?"
"I guess as I do. Jed, come on with us." It wasn't an offer or a request, the judge and the warden liked to remind the sheriff that he was part of their depravity no matter how much he wanted to deny it.
They walked through the grand foyer, with its sweeping staircases up either side to the balcony, to the door into the kitchen, which was made to blend in to the wall, only a door knob and a thin outline giving it away. The kitchen had been outfitted with the best and newest equipment available- the private jail business was lucrative, especially when you had both arms of the law helping to keep your cells full. It should have been full of domestic staff, but the warden had sent them away as soon as the iced tea was made. He didn't need one of them seeing what he and the judge did of an evening.
The view from the dining room at the rear of the house was of a lawn, separated by an iron fence from the meadow stretching uphill to a ridge line, with mountains beyond. The door from the kitchen, however, opened onto a hard packed parking area, currently occupied by two Cadillacs and the sheriff's patrol car. A shed, which housed the generator for the mansion's electricity, sat beyond the cars. Behind it was the tank for the gas and piled up between them were unused fence pieces. A lone figure in blue work overalls stood on the edge of the hard pack with his back to them, edging the lawn.
"What's his name?" the judge asked. Now he was sweating enough to start staining the white suit, but it wasn't the heat.
"I don't recall. I just call him by his number. Hey 1392! Git over here boy!"
The figure by the edge of the lawn didn't move. He just moved the edging tool, a semi circular blade on the end of a spade handle, from side to side. The warden scowled and moved ahead of the judge.
"Boy, what did I tell you? You pay attention now."
The sheriff was certain something wasn't right. He stopped and let the judge and the warden carry on toward their prey. Wasn't the boy out back with a guard? So where was the guard? He looked around. There was a shape that didn't seem right behind the shed.
"Now listen, you little shit!"
Prisoner 1392 turned his head. The dark, determined expression stopped the warden in his tracks. Then the turfing iron swung up and around. The warden had stopped exactly where 1392 wanted him, right at the reach of the blade's swing. It cut through the warden's throat and scraped against his spine. The warden tumbled backwards, blood spraying in all directions from his neck.
The judge stared at the figure which was revealed as the warden fell out of his vision. The front of the blue overalls was stained in dark, part dried blood. No wonder he hadn't turned around earlier. The judge wondered whose the blood on the prisoner was even as the warden's was staining the front of his suit. "Jed?" he managed to plead weakly.
The sheriff was fumbling with his gun, stepping back. The prisoner stood the other side of the judge, turfing iron in both hands. The judge was trembling, but couldn't move. Piss had joined the blood and sweat stains on the front of his suit.
When he finally had the gun from its holster the sheriff pointed it at the prisoner, who now started moving. The sheriff's aim followed the prisoner, his finger tightening on the trigger. The fat white bulk of the judge entered his vision just as he applied the last ounce of pressure. He tried to pull his aim up, but it was too late.
The gun roared. All the other times he had used it paled before this. He saw the small hole in the back of the judge's head spit out a little blood, whilst much more- and brain and bone fragments- fountained out the other side. "Fuck." the sheriff whispered.
The judge staggered, but remained standing. Slowly he started to turn toward the sheriff, who watched in terror. The judge's left eye was gone. In its place was a messy red hole. The sheriff was sure he could see all the way through the skull to the meadow beyond. The judge's mouth moved as if he was trying to say something, even though he was already dead.
Finally the thought registered with the sheriff- where was the prisoner? He looked left and right, and took another step back. This brought him up against the judge's Cadillac. He stumbled, sat back on the hood and dropped his gun.
The judge fell forward, revealing Prisoner 1392 crouched behind him. The prisoner twirled the lawn edger and then leapt. The sheriff didn't have time to even think of going for his gun before the blade was wedged deep in his skull.
1392 found the sheriff's gun and picked it up to examine it. There was shouting from the front of the house. He looked up to see a pair of guards with shotguns running round the corner. Lazily he raised the revolver and fired it. The first guard fell. The second guard faltered and started to raise his shotgun. 1392 fired again. The guard toppled, a hole right in the middle of his forehead.
The first guard wasn't dead, but he was in too much pain to cause any trouble. His name was Murphy, he had been the guard who dragged the prisoner into the showers and chained him up so the warden could have his way with him. 1392 had something special planned for him.
1392 picked bullets from the bandoleer on the sheriff's belt and reloaded the revolver. There were no more guards, and only six other prisoners. He walked around the side of the house to find them in a group, wondering what they should do. He closed the distance to them, then started firing. All six were dead before they could react.
The prisoner threw the gun into the grass then returned to the rear of the house again. He dragged Murphy around to the veranda and got to work. Murphy refused to go quietly, but the expletives and abuse changed when the prisoner stripped him naked and started slicing him with the turfing iron. Murphy cried and pleaded to be released, to no avail. 1392 made a smiley face on the porch with Murphy's intestines.
When he was done, when even Murphy's moans were all but inaudible, the prisoner stripped out of his prison overalls. The blood had soaked through the cheap material so that he was coated in gore. Taking his new friend the turfing iron with him he walked up the meadow and over the ridge and down to the lake beyond. He was reborn there, rising out of the water a pure creature of vengeance. Knowing that others would come looking soon enough and find the carnage around the warden's mansion he should run away. But he didn't. Rather he walked back to the mansion, happy for the first time in months. He walked across the lawn he had laid, stopping to piss on the wardens corpse and pay last respect. Then he had entered the mansion and found, in the pantry, an entrance to the secret passages which would become his home.
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