Stores in Your Area
The metal door slammed behind him, effectively sealing Doctor Jack Harris in a secure compartment, the final checkpoint and last zone of guaranteed protection before he entered Elrice Prison. He took a hard breath and nearly choked on the sour taste. A pair of folding chairs had come to rest near a metal desk as if they'd been shoved back in anger, but no other clues remained to tell Jack what had happened before he arrived. He appraised the two guards, one male, one female, but there was little to be read from their expressions.
There were no windows or vents in the long gray room and layers of old paint peeled from the effects of the oppressive Georgia heat. It was here that countless inmates had their introduction to the hell-hole beyond the next door. In a place like this you did what you were told, but Jack tensed when the male guard began a strip search for concealed weapons. The guard moved with the street attitude of a young thug, palming the gun in his holster and making no effort to wipe the sweat from his shaved head.
Jack stripped to his boxers, aware that his body was nothing to be ashamed of. He was just over six feet tall with blue eyes that women talked about even when he was a boy. His jaw had strong angles like the other men in his family and his shoulders were broad from the years of working oil rigs before he entered med school. He kept his brown hair just long enough to bring out the waves in the back, and at moments like this-when he felt self-conscious-he could feel his mother quickly running her hands through his hair for good luck, the way some people touch a pregnant woman's belly.
He tried to ignore the female guard by the desk but there was something about the raw humiliation of the strip search that made him look at her. A part of him expected her to care, but she had dull eyes that didn't give a damn about him or any luck she might need some day. She just moved a little to get a better view. He braced himself for the inevitable questions about the scar on his back, but none came.
The skinhead finished most of the search then pointed to the boxers. "Either I see 'em, or I feel around in there." Jack glanced quickly at the woman, but she didn't flinch. When the man reached for some latex gloves, Jack stepped out of the boxers. After the guard made him turn and part his cheeks for a visual inspection, Jack had to remind himself that he'd pursued this job on purpose. Two weeks ago he'd walked out of Garity Hospital in Atlanta, finishing his residency and leaving behind what the chairman of Internal Medicine felt would be a promising academic career. He'd been warned that taking this prison job would be a serious mistake, something that would mar his curriculum vitae for the rest of his life.
But this place had a claim on him. A claim that had changed his family forever, leaving him with nothing but questions-questions that had cut so deep they'd disturbed something in his core. Questions about his father, and how he had died. There were things opening in him since his father's death, things he didn't want to deal with. Things that wouldn't stay silent anymore.
They finished the body search and Jack got dressed. As he put on his shirt, the male guard held out his hand. "No pens." Jack handed it over, upset at his mistake.
The guard checked off a list that confirmed he'd completed a thorough search, then looked up. "You'll write only in secure areas. They're in cages for a reason-the sooner you learn that, the better. They'll cut you with anything."
The lecture had its desired effect. He had been warned not to wear a tie, stethoscope, or any piece of clothing that a prisoner could use to choke him. He'd chosen his clothes carefully-khaki pants, blue blazer and a new white shirt. The kind of clothes he'd never had until he was old enough to buy them for himself.
Jack had grown up in the wrong part of small towns, moving to wherever his father could find work. When his old man eventually landed the prison job here, the moving stopped. He had hoped that staying in one place would make things better, but trailer parks were about the same in Louisiana or Georgia, places where no one ever had the kind of clothes that needed to be dry cleaned.
He'd grown up with people of the hard life. And as he watched the female guard unlock the door across the room, he realized he'd come full circle to the low end of society. Scholarships may have been his ticket out, but he'd still spent his summers working derricks in the Gulf of Mexico with the kind of people he was raised with-the kind who conquered each day with the force of their own labor. Looking back he knew it was only the thin line of fate that had kept him from landing in a cage like the ones on the other side of that door.
The woman guard re-locked the door after they passed into a caged tunnel that spanned the indoor courtyard of cell block A. It reminded him of the style of zoo-keeping where the animals had free range and the people walked through paths encased in steel bars. But these animals stalked with sweat-carved muscles and were anything but tame.
Jack scanned the layout as the inmates were being corralled. The walkway ran perpendicular to the two walls of cells, each four stories high with forty cages to each row. The noise was deafening from men screaming their hate across the brick floor that separated the two high-rise battlements.
Just as Jack noticed that the guards had slowed down, the cell block chilled quiet and an inmate yelled, "Lookie white boy. That cop check your ass in there? Gonna make some fine lovin'." He pumped his hips and the cell block erupted.
Jack stared straight ahead and kept walking. By the time they reached the end of the walkway, the entire cell block was whistling and jeering, some inmates grabbing their crotch, others pumping their granite arms through the bars with the threat of what they'd like to do to him.
The guard suppressed a smile and opened the next door, but Jack wasn't about to give him any satisfaction. He stared in the man's face until the guard spoke.
"We mostly get docs who've been pushed out of practice for one reason or another-coming out of rehab, stuff like that. Never had a young doctor work here."
Jack didn't lower his gaze. "What time are they expecting me?"
The guard looked him over and gripped the keys with his beefy hand.
"Everybody's got a story."
Jack didn't move. "That doesn't mean everybody's got to know it."
The man's face hardened as if he wanted to make something of it, but knew he
couldn't. Jack watched closely for any sign that the guard might have actually known his father, or might know the truth about his death. There was the official line, of course-a good man gone bad. But truth was a cheap commodity in prison.
The guard walked ahead and finally started talking. "We've got two clinics just off the cell blocks, and a small infirmary in a separate building. I was told to show you the infirmary first. Doctor Scalacey should meet us in about an hour."
Jack recognized the name from the list of medical personnel he'd been given. Scalacey was the doctor in charge of the clinic. Jack had asked around, but no one at Garity Memorial knew anything about him.
"Scalacey's an odd one. Not like any doctor I ever saw. Wears a pony tail and clogs. Comes and goes at all hours of the night. The Physician Assistants never know when he'll show up for clinic. You ask me, the P.A.'s do all the work and he just signs charts whenever he gets around to it."
Jack knew better than to rise to that kind of bait. They left the cell block and had to cross a hundred yards of dusty dead grass before they reached the Infirmary. It was one of only three structures that remained from the original prison, most of which had been torn down to make room for the modern facility that now held over two thousand prisoners. The old buildings looked like a medieval fortress, made of stone the color of dried blood. The building ahead was close to the front gate and was familiar from his childhood, a distant memory of picking up his father.
Jack noted the fine detail of the crenelated masonry at the top where the stones crowned the building in a series of cubes, places where a child could imagine archers positioning themselves to attack would-be intruders.
Suddenly, a piercing alarm broke him from his memories. He stopped, almost by reflex, unsure if he'd done something wrong. The alarm was so loud he pressed his hands against his ears.
The guard stiffened, then looked at the guard tower. "Shit." The air telegraphed fear: the sound of men running, chains, the smell of dogs. The guard quickly checked his watch. "Come with me, and do what you're told."
The guard jogged ahead and opened the Infirmary door. Inside Jack could see men moving to what looked like a small but standard ER trauma room. Letters on their white jump suits identified them as trusties. One of them positioned the emergency "crash cart" near the head of the trauma table, then connected an Ambu bag to one of the oxygen tanks. Another man quickly grabbed a bag of sterile saline from a mesh basket and began to connect it to the IV tubing.
The guard moved directly towards a man who was in an intense phone conversation across the room. He appeared to be in his early forties, with a few gray hairs in his neatly trimmed beard. Jack read his nameplate and recognized the senior Physician Assistant from the list he'd been given.
The man put the phone down and extended his hand. "I'm Bill Latham. Looks like we've got a baptism for you, doc. There's one man down in the yard, maybe with a seizure, maybe with something worse. The guard in the tower has already called an ambulance, but the count is down by two, so we can't open the gates for an anything-ambulances included."
Jack's stomach hadn't been this tight since his first day as a student on his surgery rotation. "The count?"
"The guards count every camper four times a day, plus some extra counts at random. They came up short, so nothing comes in or out of this place until they prove there's no breakout."
Jack took off his jacket. "You got any scrubs?"
"Bathroom's over there." The P.A. pointed to the door close to the lounge. "They're in a cabinet, marked by size."
Jack grabbed a pair of scrubs, and couldn't help but notice the trusties had finished preparing the trauma area and were now standing at attention against the wall. The look in their eyes conveyed something that would stay with Jack for a long time-a sense of abject resignation. They had forgotten long ago what it meant to be men in the broad sense of the word. Right now they were numbers, and the count was down.
The noise outside the building came before Jack could change clothes. Seconds later two guards burst into the trauma room with a black inmate on a gurney. The man appeared to be in his mid forties. His arms were tightly contracted against his chest with subtle twitching, but one leg jerked with violent repetitive spasms. His pants were stained where he'd lost bladder control, his facial muscles were in a constant tight grimace, and his eyes-which appeared to be jaundiced-were locked up and to the right. A fine layer of sweat covered his body. Jack recognized the classic signs of a grand mal seizure, and started barking orders.
"I need an IV with an 18 gauge needle, one amp of D50 and a gram of Dilantin. In the meantime, I want lab work for serum glucose, electrolytes, liver functions, and drug levels of any seizure meds he might be on."
Jack looked at the nameplates of the crew he hadn't met, and noted there was a second P.A. and an RN to help out.
The RN worked on the blood work and IV. Bill Latham turned on the wall suction and attached a hollow trochar to the tubing in case the man began to vomit.
Jack pointed at the junior P.A. "Get me a list of his meds."
The P.A. got on the phone, then put the receiver to his chest. "No one's picking up at West Clinic. They're probably tied up redoing the count. I may have to go check the med list myself. Give me his number."
Latham looked up. "It's Otis Burke-a lifer. He's one of Doctor Scalacey's regulars."
The junior P.A. wrote down the name and left with one of the guards to get the records.
Latham suctioned some frothy saliva from the man's mouth. "All our blood work gets sent out. The results won't be back until tomorrow."
Jack accepted the news then handed the thick pre-mixed syringe of concentrated dextrose to the nurse. "Push that D50 in case he's hypoglycemic, then give the Dilantin over a couple of minutes. We also need an EKG or some way to monitor his heart rhythm."
The other guard who'd brought the prisoner left, explaining that he had to help with the count. It cleared the way for Jack to move to the right of the man's body, the side from which all doctors are trained to examine their patients. Jack quickly unbuttoned the inmate's shirt. The man was all muscle and dirt, with a menacing cobra tattoo on his chest. The fangs were dripping blood.
The nurse finished the first injection and confirmed that the IV fluid was running well in the inmate's left arm.
Jack then bent closer and delicately ran his fingers behind the man's head and neck to check for blood or any other sign of trauma. Just as both of his hands were behind Burke's head, the man's right arm jerked up, catching Jack under the chin. In a split second that seemed like slow motion, Jack saw that the inmate's eyes were focused on his, and the facial contortions were gone.
A sharp metal point dug under Jack's chin and a burning stream of blood slipped down his neck. The inmate's other hand swiftly pulled the hair on the back of Jack's head. "Get the fuck out the way or he's dead."
Jack's neck felt like it was going to snap as he stared into the bright surgical light above. The inmate's arms were too strong for him to resist the pressure pulling his head back.
"I said MOVE."
Jack sensed that the others were backing away.
The only remaining guard was the one who'd performed the strip search. Burke told him, "Put your gun on the floor and kick it over here."
Nothing happened, and Jack's head was jerked back even further. "I'll break this mothafucka's neck."
Jack heard the metal scrape across the tile floor, but Burke didn't reach for it.
The inmate's hot breath was on his neck. "Get me a car."
Jack heard Bill Latham's voice. "The count's off. No vehicles go in or out."
"Bring me a car or I'll drain this fucker right here."
The sharp point sliced harder, digging close to the base of Jack's tongue. He felt the blood soaking his shirt and chest. He tried to speak but couldn't.
Someone apparently made a fast break at the inmate, but Burke cracked Jack's head against the metal frame of the table, bringing a shattering pain to the base of his skull. His vision grew hazy for a few seconds but he could tell that the others backed off.
"I said car. Right now."
Bill Latham got on the phone and argued with someone on the other end until they finally got the message. He put down the receiver and spoke in measured tones. "It's coming."
"Bring it to the back of the Infirmary, and I want both gates open out the front of this place. Tell those bastards in the towers that if they shoot I'll still have enough in me to cut this chickenshit to the bone."
Latham relayed the message, and argued into the phone. "Damn it, just do what I say."
Jack could imagine the guards rushing with rifles to whatever position they needed to take this prisoner out. He tried to reconstruct the layout of the prison from the minor tour he'd gotten this morning, but all he could think about was getting his carotid slit or being killed by a sharpshooter.
Jack lost all perception of time. He tried to ignore the pain, but the sharp blade continued to move ever so slightly with each breath, just enough to pierce a new wave of agony through his jaw. After what seemed an eternity, Latham indicated the car was in position.
Burke ripped out the IV but didn't bother to stop the blood from oozing down his arm. He pressed his teeth against Jack's ear. "I'm gonna get this gun. You move with me, but if you even jerk an inch I'll slit your fuckin' neck."
White hot pain shot through the base of Jack's tongue as they moved together. For the first time he could see the other men who had backed against the cabinet wall.
"Now everybody in the back room."
After the others moved away Burke inched Jack back to the table and brought the revolver to his head. "Try anything and you'll be dead before you hit the floor."
The inmate removed the metal blade, making Jack bleed more, but he didn't dare touch the wound.
Burke shouted at the guard. "YOU…come out but lock everybody else in that room. I figure all the snipers will be on top of block C just waiting for me to come out back. But I ain't that stupid. Stick your shiny-ass head out there and tell them to bring the car to the front…doors open on our side. Then I want the driver to get the hell away. We going through that door, and you gonna be my shield."
Jack could see the resignation in the guard's face, but he followed the instructions to the letter. In less than a minute the car was at the front door.
Burke cocked the pistol. "The guard gets in the back seat and we get in the front. Now move."
Jack shuffled his feet sideways until they were at the front entrance. A concrete overhang protected them from any rooftop snipers. The inmate motioned for the guard to go out the door, and they moved with him. He could see that the officer's back blocked their only exposed flank.
Burke shoved Jack in the car and then crouched down on the floor of the passenger side. The guard dove into the back seat.
Burke kept aiming the gun at Jack's head. "Drive."
He put the car in gear, hesitating just long enough to see his way to the inner gate. There were no guards in sight. The gate was wide open, as directed, but he could hardly concentrate well enough to drive. His chest pounded with the certainty that bullets would rain down on them any minute. He floored it and drove like he was possessed, believing that the snipers were a greater threat than the maniac next to him.
The inmate barked more orders. "Go left outside the front gate and drive straight 'til I tell you different."
Jack turned hard to the left after clearing the inner gate and sped through the more massive outer iron gates, turning left again onto the paved road. The large open fields outside the prison gave way to thick pine forest land. After a few minutes the woods thinned out and they began to pass an occasional shanty built on cinder blocks. He drove through a stop sign, praying that this little community had a speed trap. They flew past a corner laundromat and small grocery store, speeding through a run-down neighborhood of narrow old shotgun houses with weak front porches and loose siding. Sirens could be heard in the distance, but they weren't close enough to be of help.
The guard sat up in the back seat. "You know they'll track us down. Give me the gun and they'll go easy on…"
The blast rang in Jack's ear. His heart raced and his fists tightened on the wheel before he could consciously interpret what had happened. In the mirror he saw the guard's blood hit the back window.
Burke was up in the seat screaming over the back, "You shut the fuck up, hear me, shut the fuck up. YOU did this to me. Just shut the fuck up."
Jack saw the gun shaking in Burke's hand, but it was from rage, not fear. They sped down the oak covered street, past parked cars and bikes dropped in front yards. He stole a glance in the mirror and saw the guard had inched his way back into a seated position, his left hand pressing the bloody right shoulder. After a succession of quick glances Jack was satisfied that the bullet hadn't dropped a lung or severed an artery. But that was about all he could assume.
Burke sat with his back to the passenger door and pointed with the gun. "Turn here."
Jack turned right at a dirt path between the faded blue row-houses. He had to slow down to navigate the trash cans and stair landings that emptied onto the shaded alley. The car whipped clouds of dust in their wake, coating the towels and sheets that draped from laundry lines strung between poles and back porches.
At the end of the long alley, two black men stood in front of a red GTO that was blocking the road. They both wore sunglasses and dark muscle shirts. One quickly got in the driver's seat of the GTO and pointed a sawed-off shotgun through the open window. The other man was much larger, his arms covered with tattoos. He opened the back door of his car as a shield, then pointed a .357.
Burke glanced at the guard then pressed the gun in Jack's side. "Stop here."
The dust caught up with them. Burke jumped out then aimed at the guard. "Get out."
The guard struggled but got out of the car on his own. Jack went for his door handle, but Burke motioned with his gun. "Not you. Just him."
Jack could see about a half inch inside the steel barrel of the gun staring at him through the passenger window. He sensed the guard moving closer to the GTO, but he couldn't take his eyes off the small raised site on the end of the gun. Burke slid into the back seat. "Gimme the keys."
Jack saw the guard being shoved into the back of the GTO. Blood from his arm trailed him like dirty coins in the alley. Jack knew this was it. He became hyper-aware of everything…the coolness of the keys in the hot car, the white dust thinning in the air. Matted cords of dried blood caked under his jaw and pain burned to the base of his tongue. He held the key ring over his shoulder, but kept his eyes on the drooping elephant ear plant that touched the front edge of the car.
Burke eased close enough to grab the keys. The driver of the GTO yelled, "Do it. We gotta go."
Jack turned towards Burke, but the inmate shoved his shoulders, forcing him to look ahead. The blow was a cracking pain at the back of his head. The world went black before his face hit the steering wheel.
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