“I’m getting sick of getting the shit end of the stick in this fucking family,” Axel muttered to himself. “Now I’m a goddamn babysitter.”
Axel at the age of 36 was the youngest member of a prison family. His father was a retired warden from the state reformatory, his older 4-F brother (whose supposed bad back had gotten him out of the war) was a penitentiary prison watch captain, and Axel had signed on as a guard at the prison after his discharge from the Navy.
The family had finished whooping it up at a retirement party for a guard by the name of Ray Hoffman—an old friend of his Dad’s from his reformatory days. Axel, the only single man in the family, was left with the chore of getting the retiree home safely.
The old jailer sitting next to him was slumped face down in his own drool on the bar. Looking at him Axel remembered back when he was just a teenager and his family had gone out to Moose Lake for the day along with Ray, who had never married, in tow. Axel had caught Ray staring at his dick when they were getting into their swimsuits in the changing room. He remembered that Ray had had a hard-on.
But now the dirty old man had been pounding down shots of bar whiskey chased by ice-cold cans of Schlitz and he looked like death warmed over. He was sixty but looked a hundred plus. Axel hoped to hell that this wasn’t what he would look like after forty years working in the prison system. He gazed at the wreck in front of him through a haze of cigarette smoke: skeleton-like body, rheumy eyes, sallow skin, a constant hacking cough that sounded like lung cancer or tuberculosis—the son of a bitch was a dead man walking. He wrapped his arm around the drunk and stood him up on his feet; he was light as a feather.
“Come on, Ray, let’s get you home.” Axel dragged him out the side door of the bar and shoved him into the backseat of his Bel Air. “Don’t puke in there, asshole.”
It was a fifteen-minute drive out to Ray’s old farmhouse. Axel drowned out the snoring and hacking coming from the backseat with some Hank Williams on the radio while thinking about the night when a pretty young Mexican girl had shot him up for the first time, and then climbed on top of him and fucked him in ways he didn’t know were possible in a seedy, tiny Tijuana motel room with the sound of Hank coming up through the floor from the cantina below. Years later, that same pretty young Mexican girl—now a married mother of four—was crossing the border to San Diego once a month to mail him a package of H.
Axel pulled up in front of the farmhouse and pulled Ray out by his feet and led him to the front door, stopping once for the old guard to puke into his flowerbed. Ray slid down against the doorframe and wiped the vomit from his lips with his sleeve.
“Glen, I hate this fucking place. I can’t stand being here, especially at night. I’m going to burn it to the fucking ground and move down to Miami. It’s fucking haunted. Place is fucking haunted. I swear I can still hear those kids screaming out there in the barn. Screaming my goddamn name!”
The old shit’s really bombed, Axel thought. And why was he calling him Glen? Glen was his father’s name. “What in the hell are you talking about? What kids?” He really didn’t give a shit what he was babbling about; he just wanted to get out there. The place was giving him the creeps.
Hoffman, confused, suddenly looked up at Axel. “Kids? What kids? Uh, never mind, Axel. I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’ve had too goddamn much to drink is all. Never should mix whiskey with beer.” He leaned over and barfed again.
“Axel, wake up. Your show is coming on.”
His eyes popped open. He had been on a heroin nod. He should have known better than to fix tonight. Not with what he had planned for in the morning.
Axel rolled out bed, buck naked, and hopped over to the television set on one leg, massaging the area underneath his injured scrotum at the same time. That fucking dream, which had been going on for months, made him irritable and edgy every time he had it. Even more so since Ray had been found hanging from a noose in his barn several weeks ago. No suicide note was found.
“Goddamn it, for a prison nurse you have some pretty shitty skills at giving a guy a fix. Pretty fucking simple task, if you ask me. I think you hit me right at the base of my nut sack. Isn’t using a needle one of the first fucking things they show you in school? How in the hell did you manage to graduate from nursing college anyway?”
He banged on top of the TV and twisted the rabbit ears angrily. “This goddamn thing can’t pick up shit. What the hell is wrong with it? It’s all goddamn snow and static! Wrestling comes on in ten minutes and Antonio Rocca is going to the mat tonight.”
Delores, who was almost fifteen years older than Axel, rolled over onto her back, her large Jayne Mansfield-like breasts flopping to their respective sides. She took a deep toke on her reefer and blew a smoke ring up toward the water-stained ceiling. “Bitch, bitch, bitch! Jesus Christ, is that all you can do? Seems to me you have it pretty fucking good. You waltz over here whenever you feel like, eat my food, drink my beer, fuck me, and then for gratitude you all you can do is bitch about the TV reception being bad.”
Sitting up in bed she ground the joint out angrily on the top of a Hamm’s beer can. “And the syringe didn’t come close to touching your balls, it’s just getting hard to hit a vein down there with all that scar tissue building up. You need to stop shooting that shit anyway before you get your own ass hooked.”
Axel was bending over the TV fiddling madly with the control knobs and giving Delores quite a show at the same time. Tattooed on one ass cheek was the anchor of a ship and on the other a set of boxing gloves, souvenirs from the time Axel had spent in the Navy. Near the end of the war, Axel had enlisted and had been shipped to a small island in the Pacific called Leyte to meet his ship, the USS Indianapolis. His ship never reached port—having been torpedoed by the Japs—but Axel would never have been able to report aboard anyway, having simultaneously caught both a case of malaria and the clap from a local working girl that was so severe he spent the remainder of the war recuperating in a military hospital on Guam.
After the ship had been torpedoed the crew that had survived the initial explosion and sinking of the vessel spent days in the water awaiting rescue as they were feasted upon by sharks. Due to a Navy clerical error, Axel was somehow included in the list of the rescued crew even though he had been laid up in the hospital at the time, suffering from high fever and a dripping dick and acquiring a taste for morphine. A clerical error, by the way, that Axel didn’t attempt to correct, but would even embellish more as the years went by, with great gusto at times, especially after a few beers.
After he recovered, Axel was shipped to Pearl Harbor where he stood duty as a Shore Patrol and joined the base boxing team where he won the Pacific light heavyweight title two years in a row while building up a record of 22-0 with as many knockouts before exploding the bones in his right hand on the head of a negro Navy cook in the Navy San Francisco West Coast Finals.
The busted hand would eventually force Axel out the Navy, and while waiting on his paperwork to go through he had fallen in love with San Francisco and couldn’t wait to get back there. Especially after suffering years of brutal Midwestern winters after returning home.
He bent farther over and looked at her through his legs. “Who the hell are you to talk? That shit you’re smoking carries prison weight just like smack. If the prison brass knew their head nurse was smoking grass they’d shit a brick. Did you know that Robert Mitchum did time for just a couple of reefers?”
“You know what I’m talking about, Axel. Using and selling do not go together and you know that. You’re starting to lose control.”
“I can stop any fucking time I want. I’m not a junkie like one of those scumbags over on D block. I just need the shit every once in a while to mellow me out, you know that.” Axel limped back to the bed. Behind him through the snow on the TV, two half naked men, one wearing a mask, were climbing into the ring. He crawled into next to Delores and nuzzled one of her tits as he ground his growing erection into her thigh. “Come on, honey. Don’t be that way.”
She pushed his hand away. “I’m serious. They’ve been keeping an eye on you after you got shit-canned off your old unit and now after what happened last weekend you know your ass is really going to be hot after you come off your suspension. Jesus Christ! That’s two suspensions in less than five months. One more time and your ass is out the door and then what the hell are we going to do? Don’t you think this could screw things up with your application for the job at Alcatraz?”
“Shit, I hope not. I don’t know how long I’m going to be able to handle working with all those retards and nutcases on B unit.”
“Just hold on, baby, just a little while longer. Things will get back to normal and your application will go through and we can get out of here. And we’ll have a nice little nest egg to get started on once we get to San Francisco. Just be patient and try to stay out of any more trouble.”
Axel gave a loud sigh and rolled onto his back. She was right, but he hated to fucking admit it. Things had gotten out of hand in the last couple of months. Starting with that stupid goddamn inmate overdosing on horse.
Axel had been working graveyard shift and had been more than neglectful on making his security rounds up and down the cellblock on a very quiet early Monday morning. He had spent most of the night with his feet propped up on his desk while he smoked Lucky Strikes, ate bologna sandwiches, drank whiskey laced coffee out his thermos, while perusing several Playboy, Stag, and The Ring. Things had been fine until the day shift came on and immediately discovered one Horace J. Lennon, #C28169, dead and cold as a mackerel in his prison bunk. An autopsy would reveal that Mr. Lennon, who was doing thirty to fifty, strong arm robbery, had died from an extremely potent injection of heroin very early in Axel’s shift.
It was crystal clear to the warden that Axel had been lax, to say the least, in his duties that evening. Throw in that the Jim Beam on Axel’s breath hadn’t even been close to being covered by the Folgers it had been mixed with, and Axel was demoted by one pay grade, given a two week unpaid suspension, and was transferred to B unit—also known as the “Bug” unit—which housed the state’s mentally ill prisoners. It was considered the shittiest assignment in the entire state prison system. His ass had been lucky not to get flat out fired. The three things had saved his bacon: his war record, the fact that his prison personnel jacket had been clean up until then, and the good word of his brother, a long-time and respected bull and graveyard shift watch captain. Axel also suspected that his father may have had a hand in helping him out, but it was never mentioned.
But duty on B block was killing Axel. The convicts were all committed as mentally ill and dangerous and the nature of their crimes as a whole disgusted him. Rapists, child molesters, jack-off artists, dipshits that fell in love with their mother’s girdles. Axel was much more comfortable working with the mainline convicts—the car thieves, murderers, dope dealers, and burglars that walked the yard. The kind of men that Axel could identify with, not some mouth-breathing retard who was doing time for flashing his cock at a schoolyard full of kids, for fuck’s sake.
He also hated his block sergeant, Max Thompson, a highly decorated Korean War veteran who read the Bible on break, didn’t booze or curse, and was the star pitcher on the guard’s baseball team.
It had all come to a head four nights ago when a young, newly arrived convict, a fresh fish, had been cornered in his cell by three bull queers and turned out in a particularly brutal manner, even by prison standards. It had happened on Sergeant Thompson’s night off. Axel had been in charge of the block on the night in question, and the Sergeant had been livid when he found about it.
“Darn it, Axel. Where were you when it happened? That kid has only been here for three days. Regulations call for all new prisoners to be quarantined in their cells for five days before being released into general population. What the heck was he doing out of his cell?”
“He was in his goddamn cell! That’s where those bastards ass raped him.”
“Do not use that tone with me and what have I told you about using the Lord’s name in vain? I will not stand for it. Not on my block.”
Axel was loaded on some Benzedrine cotton balls (which he’d dug out of an inhaler that he busted open, and then washed down with a couple of cups of coffee) and it had been hard for him not to strangle Thompson on the spot listening to this high horseshit. All over a punk kid that couldn’t stand up for himself.
“I’m sorry, Sergeant,” he muttered. Axel worked his jaw angrily as he stared down at the floor.
“Now I’m asking you again. Why was his cell unlocked?”
“I must have misread the information log and popped his cell door open after the first security round.” During the rape, which went on for hours, Axel had been holed up in the office listening to the Rocky Marciano-Archie Moore fight on his transistor radio.
Thompson’s face was beet red. “That’s your excuse? You misread the paperwork?”
Axel was starting to get exasperated. “Yes, it does happen,” he whispered between his clenched teeth.
“Because of your mistake we have a young prisoner laid up in the infirmary beaten black and blue and bleeding from a torn rectum. I hope you’re happy.” He threw the report on his desk in disgust. “This will go in your personnel record. Now get back to work.”
What went on after the shift had been short and violent. Axel had walked up to Thompson in the prison parking lot as he was unlocking his car.
“No one talks to me like that. Especially a sawed off little cocksucker like you.” The combination of the speed, anger, and adrenalin rushing madly through his head was quickly pushing Axel past the point of reason.
Thompson had been startled but unafraid Squaring his shoulders he faced Axel while looking straight into his eyes. “Go home before you get into even more trouble.” He started to get into his car but stopped when Axel grabbed his arm.
“You’re not filing that fucking report, punk.”
“Officer, let go of my arm—and that’s an order.”
Axel let go of Thompson’s arm and took a step back. “This isn’t the fucking military. Your orders don’t mean shit to me, you backstabbing little prick!”
Before Thompson could respond Axel fired off three rapid left jabs, snapping Thompson’s head back in succession and bloodying his nose, threw a straight right that buckled Thompson’s knees and hammered a busted-off tooth into his lip, and then followed up with a vicious left hook that drove a geyser of bloody vomit from Thompson as he dropped down face-first onto the concrete.
Thompson was persuaded by prison officials not to pursue criminal charges but Axel was still suspended for one month without pay and demoted once again. The suspension was particularly hard on Axel since it cut out both his paycheck and the cash he earned smuggling the narcotics into the prison. Even worse, his requested transfer to Alcatraz was put on hold. Possibly for good.
But Axel now had a plan formulating. Something that he had been thinking about for quite some time. Something that might be able to pull his ass out of the fire.
He suddenly propped himself up on an elbow and looked at Delores. “Did you ever know anything about Ray Hoffman?”
Delores had become preoccupied watching the wrestling match more closely after she noticed how their genitals bulged in their wrestling tights. She looked at Axel and snorted out a laugh. “Ray Hoffman? You mean the old alky that hung himself last month? He was a piece of shit, I know that much.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look, I know he was an old friend of your father’s, but Ray was a fucking pervert, everybody knew that. He had short eyes.”
“Short eyes! He was a child molester?”
“It was never proven, but that’s why he got transferred from the reformatory to the penitentiary. It was rumored for years that he was turning out some of those young boys.”
Axel wondered if his dad knew about this.
Why are you so interested in Ray Hoffman all of a sudden? ” Delores got out of the bed and strolled naked over to her dresser where she pulled another rubber out of her underwear drawer. She climbed back into bed and began to stroke Axel’s cock. “Come on, baby, you know that reefer always makes me so goddamn horny. Fuck Ray Hoffman. It’s a good thing he’s dead.”
It was still dark out when Axel slipped out the front door of Delores’s place. He walked around the side of the house and grabbed a shovel from the tool shed and threw it in the trunk of his Bel Air. He sipped from a pint of whiskey and smoked three Lucky Strikes on the drive out to Ray Hoffman’s place. It was dark and deserted and the barn door was wide open. Just to be safe he reached under the driver’s seat and grabbed the Colt .45 that kept stashed there—he had stolen it from the Navy before he shipped out for the last time—and to his horror found the package from Tijuana that he had picked up the previous afternoon at the post office. He had totally forgotten about it. The goddamn thing had been sitting there the whole time while he had been driving around town! Jesus Christ! Delores was right. He was getting careless.
Axel grabbed the package, stuck the pistol in his belt, and pulled a flashlight from the glove box before fetching the shovel from the trunk. He then picked up the spare tire and stashed the heroin underneath it, reminding himself to take it into his apartment when he got home, where he would hide it in an attic crawlspace. Walking up to the barn, he about shit his pants when a hungry chicken looking for feed ran up to him before he kicked it away angrily.
He flicked the flashlight on when he stepped inside the barn and shined the light up onto the overhead beams. The three feet of rope they’d cut Ray down from still hung from the rafters. There was a dark stain in the dirt almost directly under it. Axel wondered how long Ray had been swinging there before somebody found him.
Dropping down to his knees and lying his face down close to the dirt, Axel shined the light over the floor in a sweeping motion—back and forth, back and forth—until he finally saw what he was looking for: numerous slight indentions. He walked over to one and sank his shovel into the moist earth. Just a couple of feet down the shovel hit something hard.
“We’ve got to call the cops and get them out there. I don’t how many there are, but in the short time I was digging I found four bodies stuck inside potato sacks. Who knows how many fucking kids are buried down there?” Axel paused and with shaking hands took a pull from a bottle of Schlitz, the only beer his dad drank. They were sitting in the living room of the house that Axel had grown up in. His mind in a fog, Axel had stumbled back to his car and driven straight to his father’s house. His father would know what to do. Hadn’t he always?
“Holy fuck, it was horrible! The first bag I dug up I tore the sack open. The fucking kid couldn’t have been twelve years old.”
“Why didn’t you call the police when you found the first body? Why did you come here first, Axel?” His father leaned back in his easy chair and puffed thoughtfully on his pipe, his eyes seemingly looking at Axel with amusement. Jesus Christ! Nothing ever fazed the old man. Nothing! The old son of a bitch had ice water running through his veins. Axel recalled the time thirty inmates had rioted and taken over one of the cellblocks for several days. His father had actually strolled into the cellblock himself to hear out the demands of the inmates face to face and to negotiate the release of hostages that had been taken. Like it was all just a walk in the fucking park.
Axel leaned over in his chair like he was sitting on a boxer’s corner stool and gazed between his feet. His father, although not a large, formidable man, had always been able to make Axel so uncomfortable with his ability to read him so easily. Even now as a grown man—a WWII veteran, an ex-fighter, and now as a prison guard—his father still had the power to make him feel like a helpless, stupid child.
His voice came out in a hoarse whisper. “I wanted to tell you first because you and Ray were friends. I wanted you to know first.”
“Do you think that I had anything to do with those dead boys? Just because Ray and I were old friends? Is that why you’re here? Is that who you think I am? A murdering child molester?” His father’s eyes bored into Axel – the whimsical glitter having been replaced with a look of pure disgust, his lip curled up into a sneer- as he sat there nervously smoking Lucky Strikes and sucking on the beer bottle.
“Of course not.”
“Let’s cut through the bullshit here, Axel. You came here because you want my help. You don’t give a fuck about those bodies and how they got there. This is your ticket out. You think that finding those boys will make you a hero, that it will square you from beating that guard half to death and from that convict that died from the poison that you smuggled to him, so that you can get that transfer out to California. Isn’t that right?”
Axel was stunned. “How did you know about the…”
His father chuckled. “How do I know you and that slut prison nurse have been smuggling narcotics in the prison? Never mind. Let’s just say that both your brother and I know what’s been going on with you two for quite a long while.”
Axel lit another cigarette and looked out the window onto the street he used to play on as a child. “So tell me what to do,” he whispered.
His father stood up, walked over, and stood behind him. He placed his hands on Axel’s shoulders. “Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me. You’re my son. Your brother and me will pull a few strings; you should have no problem with your transfer to Alcatraz going through. But this is it. When you and your whore nurse leave and go out to San Francisco, I never want to hear from you again.” He patted Axel on the top of his head just as he had done when Axel was a naughty child. “Now go on back out to Ray’s place and wait. I’ll call the police and have them meet you there.”
It was still dark out and a steady rain was coming down. The boat bumped up against the pier hard enough to knock one of the three convicts, a bank robber transferring in from Leavenworth, out of his seat and down onto the deck. A guard grabbed him roughly by the back of his jacket and stood him up. “You other two get on your fucking feet!”
It wasn’t supposed to have happened like this. It had been cold and snowing lightly when he had left his father’s house. He hadn’t driven two blocks before the two police officers had pulled him over with guns drawn, one with a pistol and one with a shotgun. He had been thrown facedown onto the snowy road, a foot on his neck and a knee buried in his spine while the cuffs were thrown on him. The charges against him had been brutal. Possession of heroin with intent to sell, shipment of heroin through the U. S. postal system, possession of a stolen federal firearm, smuggling heroin into a prison, the list seemingly went on and on. Prison weight.
A guard threw the boat hatch open and stuck his head inside. “Move your asses, convicts! And I mean fucking now!”
Axel stepped up the ladder and onto the dock and looked up the hill through the rain at Alcatraz.