On the way to lock-up, one man's plan begins with a complication
| Before, in the world, I had a driver for the big black car. I climbed over people on my way up, some might even say a little roughly. There might be a ruckus from time to time. Back then, I was somebody; big, capital-letter somebody. Now, that’s done, gone. Now, I’m being driven again. I’m riding the prison bus heading to Mattamore State Pen. Now, I’m a con, a lower case, small-letter con, like all the rest of the chained- together and locked-down losers on the bus.
The day beyond the wire-mesh window is sun-sharpened to a blaze of tin-foil-bright fire; the kind of day that in the past might mean a day on the summer-shimmered southern sea, or on a slope somewhere like Vail in winter. Now, it’s just a slit-eyed squint; a real impediment, you know?
That’s not the problem here, though. The problem is the guy coming my way with a knife in his hand and a gleeful look in his eye. It looks like somebody forgot tell him about the rules, about staying put, cuffed tight in his waist-chain restraints like the rest of us. Not good, not good at all, but I plan on changing all that real soon.
Somebody hollered, “Knife!” and the guard in front of the locked grate quit picking his nose and was up and around with the stocky riot gun in one hand, the taser in the other, shouting something that I couldn’t make out, but it was not soothing our knife-happy new friend in the least. In fact, our blade-boy seemed intent on mischief, you might say, and came fast down the aisle right to my seat with the blade held low, sharp up, like he was looking for one of those under-belly cuts that’ll rip you from nuts to navel to neck. I was sitting window-side in the two-person bus seat, and I gave some thought to an escape gambit.
Gambit: man, I love that word.
That thought wasn’t necessary, because the gambit wasn’t going to happen. Knife-Man drove the blade in all the way to the hilt, plunging it into the right eye socket of the man straining hard back against his chains right next to me.
Knifer pulled the steel out, punched it into the man’s neck, and was going in for a third strike. The guard came in high, jabbed the taser’s twin barbs onto Knife-Man’s shoulder blade, and dropped him with a tumble-down sound like a hod of bricks falling from two stories up.
Seatmate’s blood pumping carotid red from the neck wound, splashing me, puddling in the seat. Shouting from the other cons, the guard standing over us working with a rag on the stabbed man’s face, cursing. The con moaning softly, almost femininely, for a big man in a lot of trouble, probably on the slip-slide over to the other side. The bus was stopped now, the driver behind the locked grate gate, talking loud and fast into the shoulder-clipped mike, kept saying, “Jesus. Mary.”
I said to the guard, “Unhook me and give me the rag. I can help. I was a medic.” Right.
“Shut up, asshole.” Sensitivity training seemed to be lacking in the guard’s background and demeanor.
“Look, uh . . .,” I read off the name tape sewn to his uniform: “Uh . . . Stortz. You can see he’s bleeding to death here. You want that coming down on you?” The con’s head lolled. “He’s not going to make it if you don’t get him some help. Unhook me.”
This time, Stortz hesitated for just that blink, and I could see the wheels turning, measuring out the distances and circumstances of danger. “Show me your hands, wrists up,” he said. I did it, and he keyed the cuff on one hand, showing me the taser. “Don’t be cute.”
“I can’t work with one hand. C’mon man.” He undid the other bracelet, stepped back, and I went to town, up on one knee in the seat, tearing the already bloody rag into strips, winding one strip in a tight roll, and pressing it against the artery in the con’s neck. “Here, hold this down tight,” I said to Stortz. The other cons were yelling and screaming, jostling around hard in their seats, rocking the bus back and forth and banging on the metal seat rails with their chains. The knife-guy still was on the floor, face-down, flopping side-to-side like a salmon trying to fight his way upstream over rocks.
“Let’s go, man; help me,” I said. “I’ve got to work on his eye. I need both hands.”
Stortz stepped in closer, still holding the taser, put the barbs directly on my shoulder, and said, “Give me an excuse, and I’ll spark you up.” But he took over pressing the neck wound, and I very carefully began trying to staunch the gaping eye. There wasn’t much to be done; I could see the con wasn’t going to make it. You didn’t have to be Dr. Phil to figure that one out. I couldn’t let Stortz in on that dirty little secret, though, because he’d either hook me up again, or give me a jolt with his buzzer. Neither of those options was going to cut it.
The driver called out, “Stortz, get back up here. Captain’s on my phone. Hurry, man!” Stortz turned away from me and the con, glancing back over his shoulder at the driver, started to say something, and never got it out.
I hadn’t been a medic, but I’d had good hand-to-hand in the Iraqi desert, and I looped the bloody strip in my hand into a clumsily effective garrotte, came up out of the seat, snapped the loop around Stortz’s neck and with both hands began to pull and twist. He was no pushover. Tried to get the taser on me, reaching back. I wasn’t in close enough to him, though, so the sparking arcs just crackled air with a smell like ozone after a lightning strike.
I tried to get a knee into his back for leverage, and, as he began clawing at the twist around his windpipe, the taser hit the deck. Now I knew the takedown was close, and we bulldogged onto the aisle floor, me on top, bracing against the seat stanchions. The cons around me were yelling, “Kill the bastard!” “Choke him out!”
I twisted the loop with everything I had. Stortz kept at it for a few more beats, but then started to fade away. I kept the pressure on; I needed him out. No need to get dead, Stortz, I thought. Take a nap; wake up refreshed. Then he was still. Breathing raggedly, but still.
All round me, the cons: “Get the keys; let me loose!” I wasn’t hearing them; my eyes were on the driver and that riot gun. I just had a feeling he wouldn’t use it; too close quarters, and Stortz and all. He also knew that I had the keys to all the cuffs in my hand, and that the other cons on the loose would make his day a long one. The better part of valor prevailed, and he took the front steps in one jump, and was beating feet down the road.
I bent over, pulled his arms behind him, and snapped cuffs onto Stortz’s wrists. Then, getting the now-bled-out con next to me out of his chains, I put those on knife-boy. I didn’t want that guy on the loose, either. The cacophony was building, the locked-down men screaming at me, cursing, snapping like dogs in the pit, ready to tear anything in their way limb from limb. It was like being in a movie about the damned, and I was damned sure not going to be around when the calvary rode in to the rescue. Besides, the cons might try to use Stortz as a hostage or worse. I damn sure didn’t need that aggravation following me either.
I picked up the bloody knife and the taser and stepped over the prone body of Stortz, dodging the lunging-but-chained-up rabble. I made for the locked grate across the front of the bus and tried a couple of likely suspects from the ring of keys in my paw. When the lock opened with a twist, I pushed through and locked the grate behind me.
I sang out in my best down-home lilt, “So long, boys. Y’all come back now, you hear?” The noise of the commotion behind the grate was deafening. I think I even heard death threats; can you believe it?
I dropped both the knife and the taser onto the driver’s seat. Then, finding myself down the bus steps and on terra firma, I fled.