Plus Twenty by Steve Prusky

Those held in the county jail tagged this corridor ‘The Court Crawl’. Detainees and armed marshals herding them walked this underground passage from the jail to court. The angels who traveled it, ankles shackled, wrists manacled, linked together in two rows of six, were reduced to a shuffle by weighty, case hardened chain. They’d strain forward like seamen struggling against a Nantucket whaler’s windlass, weighing anchor, unfurling all sails of a luckless ship to catch the winds that sped them to their plight.

A rosacea faced marshal picked up his pace. His steel gray pewter eyes betrayed he was a righteous, sanctioned killer absolved by duty to snuff a life. He was no less contrite as the convicted murderer he caught up to.

“Whad’ja get?”

“Life. They wanna keep the body.” He smirked, elated by his off-the-cuff macabre jest. He planned revenge to right a wrong, coldly killed, fled to another state, gave up at gunpoint. Two of five counts rated Capital punishment: death by firing squad or hanging. The state gave their condemned a choice. For a rare few, a trip through the tunnel was fearfully whispered ‘The Waltz of Death’ by those about to dance it. That stroll and its result by any method didn’t appeal to him. He took a deal, maybe snitched a bit, opted to live.

“How long after?”

“Twenty years.”

“So….. No family’l be left t’claim ya. “

The marshal tightened his fingers round the black pistol grip, slowed, glaring with the mercuric cold stare of an executioner, “It should’a been death.” My chain mate nodded ‘yes’ without a word, as if in after-thought. ‘If only it were true’ his silence said. He’d never leave prison alive or dead. He’d breathe his last breath confined. No chance to cheat his conscience, die young by bullets or a noose. He was our Ahab. We were his crew, tacking Pequod to her fate, joined by chains to share the product of his vengeance.

They seated us in the juror’s booth. Irony? A phantom clerk called out each convict’s name. He’d rhythmically recite the offender’s verdict in a high-pitched eunuch’s monotone as if he were a boys choir soprano butchering a Gregorian chant. The judge droned the sentence in one breath, exhaling judicial condemnation out of hand, casually indifferent to each judgment’s punitive intent.

Ahab stood, attentive as an errant seaman facing captain’s mast, eyes focused; lids stretched wide open in a thousand-yard stare from too much peering into endless night at moonlit shadows of his sentence stumbling near.

The sentence, “Life plus twenty years,” clearly resonated like a ‘halloooo’ in a boxed canyon, bellowed from the deepest recess of the black silk robe, the man filling it facing as many demons as the countless he condemned.

There was no groan, no bitter curse the entire room might hear; no shoulders slumped in shame. There was no stoic stare, regret, remorse. No deaf seas, no angry whale would hear him cry.

Steve Prusky works and lives in Las Vegas.  His work has appeared in vis a tergo, Foundling Review, Orion headless, Apparatus Magazine and others, as well as past editions of Flash Fiction Offensive.  He even got lucky and is a current nominee for the Pushcart Prize.


David Barber said...

Enjoyed this, Steve. Well written throughout with some great lines, like this one....‘If only it were true’ his silence said.

Great work!

Christopher Pimental said...

Good read.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

That was probably the most literary crime short I have ever read and very well written. Nice atmoshere throughout and I liked how you mixed in the Moby Dick references.

Helen Ginger said...

Really great images in this. This line was my favorite: "They’d strain forward like seamen struggling against a Nantucket whaler’s windlass, weighing anchor, unfurling all sails of a luckless ship to catch the winds that sped them to their plight." Very visual.

Benjamin Sobieck said...

Hot diggity damn, that was perfect for a Friday.

Jesse Lee said...

Very entertaining read. Nice one!