Shit! Goddamn it!" he muttered as stared at the red and blue flashing lights of the prison four wheel drive in his rear-view mirror. He let his foot off the accelerator and coasted slowly over to the side of the road, the snow crunching lightly under the tires. Slowly and hopefully without alerting the guard who was pulling him over, he turned the door handle to crack the window. The inside of his vehicle was a cloud of sweet, pungent marijuana smoke. He swallowed the roach down, the cold beer between his legs he'd just have to try to explain away.
Well fuck, there was just one guard in the truck, worse came to worse once the jack-off got out of truck, he could just throw his Mustang in gear, pull a shit-hook on the icy road and bust ass off the property. He was barely fifty yards on it. The Mustang had a re-built 35l Boss under hood, no way in hell that government issued piece of shit could even think about catching him. No, they already had his license down by now! Don't be stupid. Just show your I.D. and bullshit your way out of it. More motion in the rearview snapped his attention back.
"What in the fuck is going on here?" A local cop had pulled up behind the guard's truck. The guard stepped out of the truck. Big black son of a bitch and he was holding a Remington 12 gauge legal sawed off, normally used for riots or cons on the fence. The cop, a tall white boy with a shaved head, Jesus Christ, what a Mutt and Jeff pair these two were! White boy walked up to big son of a bitch and they had a quick two second conversation while they eyeballed his ass through the rear window. The cop pulled out his piece, thing was a goddamn hand cannon.
The big son of a bitch racked a round in the chamber and came on the driver's side while the skinny white cop came on the passenger side.
"Hands on the wheel, asshole!" That came from the son of a bitch. "Move and I'll blow your motherfucking head off." White boy speaking from the other side.
The door opened up letting in the sub-zero air. The barrel of the shotgun felt like an ice cube on the back of his head.
"Get out of the goddamn car onto your knees. One wrong move your fucking brains will be all over the road."
Doing as he was told he decided it was time to play his card.
"Hey, man! I'm an officer myself. I work in the state system over in Moose Lake. I'm a sergeant on the riot squad."
That didn't work.
"I know who you are, you piece of shit! Now get on your motherfucking belly with your hands behind your back."
He went down face first into the snow. The guard cuffed him just as he had been taught in the academy. A big boot stepped on the back of his neck driving his face further into the snow.
"Holy shit!" he heard the white cop shout out. "I hit the fucking jackpot. There must be seven or eight ounces here."
"You're in a world of shit, asshole." whispered the big son of a bitch.
"There's just a fine fucking line between a cop and criminal, or a guard and a convict. They both want the same goddamn thing. They just have never figured out how to get it or what it even is."
Axel's eyes snapped wide open as the heavy steel door slammed shut announcing the arrival of the breakfast cart at the far end of the cellblock. The buzzing of a jailhouse tattoo gun was quickly silenced. Had he dreamt the voice or really heard it? Was the voice his father’s or Phillip’s? Didn't matter now anyways.
By the smell wafting down towards his cell, Axel determined that the morning's entree would be shit-on-a-shingle, a prison staple whether it be inside a federal or a state or a county joint. That was the last damn thing he wanted in his gut. He was scheduled to get shackled up and shipped out this morning, if the guard on duty the night before hadn't been bullshitting him as they have been know to do, so the thought of getting on the bus for another day of endless and mindless riding with a case of cream chip beef induced shits with no where to let it go was not appealing.
On top of that, the orange juice based hooch that he had been drinking last night with his temporary cell mate, an obese child molester who had crossed state lines with a couple of his victims thus earning him a federal beef, wasn't sitting that well. In fact, his skull felt like a nail had been driven into it. Axel had drank literally gallons of jailhouse hooch, pruno, go-juice, or whatever the hell the current prison slang was calling it, but last nights batch had given him the weirdest buzz that he had ever experienced. When questioned about the ingredients, the pervert had given a sneaky little smile and admitted that he had crushed up several of his dispensary prescribed Prozac that he had been hoarding and had added it to the mix. Normally, Axel would follow the international jailhouse protocol about not associating with any scumbag involve in child molestation, but last night he been desperately in need of both getting loaded and sleep.
When the brew had finally gotten him to the point where he could close his eyes and mentally leave his enforced surroundings, his nightly dream came as always, only this time his father was illuminated by bright fluorescent psychedelic colors and was wearing a Minnesota Vikings jersey, not his prison issue. Axel at one time considered his nightly dream a nightmare but it had been coming for so long now that it almost felt like an old friend. He only wished that it's content was different. He would have preferred dreaming about sweating cold cans of Grain Belt Premium, snow white lines of coke, resin soaked joints of Columbian, and big titted blondes. But that wasn't what his sub-conscious ordered up for him so he‘d have to live with it.
Instead he got his Dad sitting behind the glass in the visiting area with his ear pressed to the phone with tears streaming down his face. His voice on Axel's phone came out sounding like someone walking on ground glass, "Axel, don't ever do anything that could send you to a living hell like this. Horrible things happen in here. Things you don't want to happen to you. I've seen men be beaten half to death for talking out of turn. Last night a kid, couldn't have been more than nineteen, got butt-fucked by five guys over in one of the dorms. I heard he hung himself this morning."
His father had been a longshoreman on the docks in Duluth until the union had gotten busted and he had been forced to take over his own father's business. Axel had childhood memories of his Dad coming home cut up and battered after brawling on the docks during labor disputes, stinking of booze, sweat, and blood. He was the toughest, meanest man who ever walked the face of the earth, Axel had thought back in those days. Looking at him through the wire encased glass in this stinking prison visiting room while he lectured Axel about the dangers of prison life, he seemed to be slowly shrinking. By the end of the seconds long dream, his father's head had shrunk to the size of one of those rubber shrunken heads that you could buy at the county fair. It was just a skull, his bright beady eyes peering out at him.
He lit up a Camel and groaned as swung his feet off the side of his bunk and slowly sat up. His bad back, the victim of his high school football days, endless miles on the bus, and a attack on the Leavenworth yard by an inmate sporting a softball bat, was absolutely fucking killing him. Squinting through the smoke he rubbed the light pink scars that were slowly building on his wrists and ankles, a by product of being in handcuffs and leg shackles ten to twenty hours a day.
Taking a final drag on his smoke, he flicked it across the cell and it landed directly into the toilet bowl with a sizzle, in the process scaring out a gigantic cockroach that looked like it might have crawled out of a crack leading directly down to hell instead of a metal prison commode. It’s enormous size made Axel question just what part of the country he was in. It couldn’t be the northern part of the states, they just didn’t grow them that big up there. He had to be in Texas or Oklahoma, maybe Colorado, but doubtful.
Such was the problem of an inmate destined to be on the road seemingly forever. Axel was undergoing a government sanctioned form of torture know by both convicts and The Man as “diesel therapy.”
The Federal prison system is stretched all across the United States and inmates are constantly being ferried about in buses as their custody status changes or more often, if behavioral or security problems arise. Only the more “elite” or “high status” cases are ever flown. If an inmate is really a pain in the ass to the administration for one of many reasons or if they feel that “he needs to get his mind right” as Strother Martin commented on Paul Newman’s character in Cool Hand Luke, he can earn himself a dose of diesel therapy.
Diesel therapy has a very simple philosophy to it. Shackle up an unruly inmate in cuffs and shackles, stick his ass on a bus and ship him off to another prison. But it doesn’t end there. Once he gets to his new home, give him a day or so to let him get barely acclimated to his new surroundings, then cuff him back up and put his no good inmate ass on the road again. Sometimes you don’t even give him a couple of days. Maybe he only gets an overnight stop before he’s back in the saddle again. Maybe you make him sleep in a sleazy old county jail where they feed him three week old bologna sandwiches. Maybe they don’t even stop at night, the guards and the driver get all hopped up on speeders and drive through the night after they’ve dropped off all the other inmates at a prison but left you shackled to your seat to think about what a no good rotten son of a bitch bastard piece of shit your really are and by then you've been in that fucking seat for over twenty hours and you shit in your pants like a baby. Your ankles swell. Your wrists swell. You're already in hell so you might as well fucking die. At least the goddamn suffering would end.
Or maybe it could be worse.
Maybe at Marion prison they let you out onto the yard, but only after some snitch has dropped a dime that you used to be a CO yourself. That’s right, motherfucker. A goddamn correctional officer. And maybe when a big Aryan Brotherhood boy tries to earn him some stripes and tries to take you out, he winds up in the dispensary with a razor tipped shank carved from a toothbrush between his ribs because he underestimated your ass. And that’s not the only time The Man pulls that stunt. Hell no! He does it not only in Marion, but in Terminal Island, Leavenworth, and Atlanta. Three other assholes carted off to the prison hospital. Now The Man can say that you’re really a shit stirrer. You're a constant problem. Lets keep him on the road even longer because he just can’t be trusted in any of our fine facilities.
Axel had been on diesel therapy for so long that he had lost track of time. So long that sometimes he didn’t even know where he was when they pulled in at night. State, federal, county, it didn’t mean shit to him anymore. Hell, when he first got on the bus, Clinton was trying to explain his way out of getting a blowjob from a government clerk and now another goddamn Bush was in office. Couple of days ago some fucking raghead had flown a jet into a skyscraper in New York. Shit, maybe prison was safer than the outside.
Axel figured that The Man just outright tried to have him murdered those times they let him out on the yard after they had snitched him off as a former guard. They didn't want him to talk. Former cops and guards have always had a rough time doing time. So if some shitbag killed Axel, big deal. It's the nature of the motherfucking beast that rules the prison yard. No one would be the wiser.
The Man just hadn't considered the size of Axel's balls. Big fucking brass balls. And when those scumbags came at him, they were the ones the medics were dragging off to the prison hospital, not Axel.
So The Man rethought the situation. Decided to put Axel on the road. Make him forget about things that he shouldn't have been thinking about in the first place. Get his shit together. Make his mind right. Put him out of his mind it that's what it took.
Axel was twenty years old the first time he walked in a prison. But it wasn't in cuffs, it was as a visitor. His old man was doing ten to twenty down in the federal slammer in Springfield, Missouri for income tax evasion and dealing some minor weight in cocaine. It was a one way ten hour straight drive from Minnesota to visit him.
He never ever understood what the allure had been but there had been something that had just reached up and grabbed him by the nuts the minute he had walked in the Joint. The uniforms of the bulls with all the badges and patches and flashlights and mace and handcuffs and all the other shit it seemed like guards were weighted down with could have been it. Or it could have been the loud banging, clanging, and shouting that never seemed to die down inside. The fucking place raced with adrenaline. God knows it couldn't have been the smell of dirty assholes, feet, and fear that every prison seemed to smell like. But there had been something there for Axel.
Men and women get addicted to being inside. Guards and cons. There's some sort of hideous virus lurking in the psyche there. And Axel had caught it.
While growing up in Duluth, Minnesota, working in a goddamn prison was the farthest things from young Axel's mind. Football, getting laid, and getting toasted via drugs or alcohol had been his main agenda. The three seem to go together hand in hand. Axel fell in love with football in grade school and by high school it was his obsession. Soon steroids and weight lifting joined into the mix. He needed to bigger, stronger, faster. Girls loved football players, especially big football players and Axel was getting big. Real fucking big! Special teams big! The pussy started to come around. All he could handle. Even with the coke and the speeders that the college recruiters handed out as a recruitment enticement.
His junior year, Axel's old man lost his job. The longshoreman's union went tits up and he was out of work. But not for long. For years, Axel's grandfather had owned a sleazy porn shop on the Superior Street strip in Duluth, but in his twilight years he was growing sick of it. Axel's old man took his pension from the union, bought out his Dad, and put the rest into the shop. Upgraded the hell out it. He carted out cases and boxes of old fuck books, dildos, vibrating butt plugs, blow up dolls, and the all the rest of the old school sex shit and drove it out to the dump in an U-Haul and trashed it (not realizing that Axel would return that night to the dump and make a tidy profit selling the discarded porno to his fellow students). He took a power sprayer and hosed the place out. Gave it fresh paint. New lights. New jack off booths with current videos. Total new fresh inventory was brought it. On weekends they’d bring a porn star up from Minneapolis to sign video boxes and to talk dirty to the local pervs. He even hired an old burned out stripper who went by the stage name of Vivian Vulva to manage the place. Axel and a couple of chosen football buddies provided muscle at the door.
The combination of his football skills and the fact that his old man owned a porn shop made Axel one of the big men on the high school campus that year. That winter he signed a letter of intent to play ball for the University of Minnesota-Duluth. A buddy of his was going to school out at the college in Nebraska and got hooked up with ‘roid dealers in Lincoln. That summer Axel started shooting up some kind of steroid used on horses. He put on huge size but his hair started to thin and his shoulders were covered in whiteheads, boils, and zits. But his bench was over 350 now so he didn’t give a shit.
His sophomore year, two days after the football season had ended, that's when the knock on the door came. Axel had been too hammered from the night before to get up and see who was there, so the bimbo he had been banging had gotten it. Axel’s mother had followed the nude bimbo back into his room.
“Him and his whore are in the county jail.” Axel had barely been able to get his head off the pillow to look at her much less see through his bloodshot eyes.
“Who’s in jail?” he muttered into his pillow.
“Your piece of shit father is, that’s who?” she screamed
Axel tried without much success to sit up, the bimbo was already back in bed and snoring like a Marine. “Let me get in the shower first and I’ll go on down there with you.” Although actually vomiting was the first thing on his agenda.
“Don’t bother getting up, Axel. I’m not going down there. I’m finished with both you and your fucking father.” She shook her head at her son. “My god, you’re just like him. My own son and I can’t stand the sight of you. You were born without a soul. You'll wind up just like him. Someday you'll be looking through bars.”
The door almost came off the hinges she slammed it so hard. He never saw his mother again. He rolled back into bed as was asleep in seconds.
The Feds had raided the old man's shop. Income tax evasion was the reason they gave but once they found the near kilo of cocaine, that became a moot point. Vivian it turned out had been busted before for dealing ganja and prostitution so she was looking at a longer stretch than the Old Man so she of course snitched him off to the federal prosecutor. There is no honor among fucking thieves.
Vivian walked with a little probation. Axel's Dad got handed down a hard stretch. He hadn't been inside the walls in Leavenworth a week before he dropped of a heart attack. They had to chopper his ass to Springfield to the federal prison hospital after it was discovered that his pump was all plugged up from years of booze, smokes, and bacon breakfasts.
When Axel laid eyes on him on that visit he couldn't believe it. The Old Man had already lost about fifty pounds and his hair had turned as white as the lake effect snow that swirled off Lake Superior. Axel could hardly concentrate while his father, his eyes darting around at the other inmates, whispered tales of prison beatings, corrupt guards, and midnight cornholings in a feeble maternal attempt to sway his only son away from a life of crime. But it was too late. Axel was lost. Gone.
He wanted to be inside.
The nightmares about his father in that waiting room would come years later. Then they were just talked away in the dark recesses of his mind. Tiny little time bombs just waiting to go off when he least expected it.
A month later he had dropped out of college, taken the state corrections exam, breezed through the interview process after a lengthy discussion on why his father was locked up in a federal joint, passed an extensive background check, and was in the corrections academy.
The state didn't much give a shit about his background. Once they saw that big fucking horse walk through the door they knew he was corrections officer material with a capital goddamn C.
Moose Lake was just forty miles down the road from Duluth. It was the home to a massive old state hospital that was built in the 1940s and at one time had housed over a thousand assorted retards, sex maniacs, mental cases, and just plain loony sons of bitches. Political correctness eventually had taken over and the patients had been released, shuttled off to group homes, or the dangerous ones had been transferred to other facilities. The place was built in a pristine location overlooking a beautiful lake filled with game fish. The property must have been worth a goddamn fortune. So of course the state of Minnesota decided to turn it into a prison.
Axel got hired on when the prison had been open just barely two years. He moved into a small studio apartment in tiny downtown Moose Lake. Since he lived mainly on cans of tuna, protein shakes, and steroids, he only needed a hot plate to cook on, other meals he took at the diner down below the apartments.
It was a life of pleasant routine for Axel. He'd arise early and fire up his miniature espresso machine and would then wash down a couple of black beauties and a reefer with two mugs of the thick brew. After that he'd head down to the local gym where lifted weights two straight hours with such intensity that he had already scared off the majority of the local gym rats. His workout complete, he'd back to his room for his daily injection of Stanazol.
On the job, he advanced quickly. Corrections officials love the big bastards who have the bully mentality ingrained in their tiny dinosaur brains. Quickly after the administration had picked up on Axel's sadistic abilities, he had been placed on the goon squad and had advanced to the rank of sergeant, a job where he was free to roam the prison at his leisure and could seek out the troublemakers to give them a taste of his private brand of justice. More than one inmate had decided to make a stand against Axel but inevitably paid for it in bruises, broken bones, lacerations, and a trip to the hole. He was feared by both staff and con alike. Axel was in heaven.
Then he met Phillip.
Alex's apartment building was more of a rooming house than an actual apartment complex. It was mainly a home for the town's indigents, welfare cases, and head-jobs. No one else from the prison lived there. Axel was there because it was cheap and all he really used it for was to sleep. Some of the rooms didn't even have crappers or a shower. Those residents had to go down the hall to use a community john. Alex's room had a toilet and shower but he made frequent trips to the community latrine to dispose of his used up syringes in the garbage can.
After a getting off a late shift and checking to see that no one was around, Axel had stuffed some needles and steroid bottles in a paper bag and had walked down to the latrine. There was an old man leaning against a sink, his skinny frame propped up with a cane. He couldn't have weighed a hundred pounds. His skin was as white as the snow that was falling outside and looked about as thin as cigarette paper. When he saw Axel he smiled, exposing yellowed, jagged, wolf like teeth. Something about him gave Axel an involuntary shudder.
"I knew it couldn't be anyone in this shit-box but you." he giggled at Axel.
"What are you talking about, you old fool?" Axel shot back as he folded the bag up and slipped it into his back pocket.
"The works. You're the one that throws away his old works in the garbage in here. I've been cleaning up them up with alcohol and re-using them." He shot the wolf grin again. "I'm an old junky living on a social security pension. I have to make things last. We actually have something in common. I use to live where you work."
"I don't know what the fuck you're talkin' about." Axel turned to walk out.
"Please! Wait! I didn't mean to offend you. I just thought it would be easier if you could give them straight to me. Spare me the indignity of having to dig through the garbage late at night."
Axel stopped and turned around. He gave it a moments thought and then tossed the bag to the old man where it bounced off his chest and fell to the floor. "You tell anyone where you got those needles I'll put my foot so far up your ass you'll taste leather." He stood and watched the old man as he groaned and leaned over to retrieve the bag. "What are you shooting anyway?"
The old man straightened back up. "Darvon. Ny-Quill. Whatever I can get my hands on. On payday I try to get some speed or horse but I have to catch a bus to Duluth to do that. It's hard on me in the winter time to do that."
It suddenly dawned on Axel that the old man wasn't much older than his own father. "What's your name?"
"Phillip. Nice to meet you."
"I'm Axel, Phillip. What do you mean? You lived where I work."
"Phillip nodded. "That's right. I was a patient at Moose Lake state hospital for forty some years. My daddy was a religious fanatic. What in these days you'd call a Jesus freak. I was fourteen when daddy caught me jacking off in the barn. Second time he had caught me. He brought me up here to the state hospital to try to get me cured. My first night in there, two patients, drooling goddamn retards, tried to fuck me. I beat the shit out of both of them with a chair. After that it was strait jackets, shock treatments, ice baths, and Thorazine. I was in there until the state closed the place down. I bet I know the place better than you."
Axel was stunned. "Holy shit, jacking off? That's what got you there?"
Phillip smiled sadly. "Isn't that the shits?"
There was something about the old guy that Axel liked. He couldn't put a finger on it but he liked him. Which was strange because Axel liked no one.
"Tell me Phillip. Do you like to smoke a little weed or do you just like the hard shit?"
After that night, the odd couple got together several nights a week. Axel drinking beer and smoking a couple of joints. Phillip joining in if he didn't have anything to mainline. Axel didn't have to talk, he just loved to listen to Phillip's wild stories of the mental hospital.
One evening, Axel was sprawled across his bunk, his hands behind his head, just enjoying his buzz as Phillip sat off in the corner and drawled on in his low pleasant voice. Almost like white noise. All of a sudden a word made it's way through his fuzzy senses and registered. Axel quickly sat up and stared at Phillip. He had his head tilted back against the wall with his eyes closed.
It was three words actually. Prison and tunnels and bodies. Bodies buried in the prison tunnels? Is that what that crazy old bastard said?
There were mazes of tunnels under the prison. They had been used for storage and to run the massive steam pipes and electrical conduits through for the old state hospital. They had also been used to shuttle mental patients from building to building during Minnesota's brutal northern winters. They were sealed off with security doors now but the staff made daily security rounds through them looking for breaches in the system. Axel had been in them literally hundreds of times. They gave him the fucking creeps.
"They made me bury them. The sons of bitches! Those motherfuckers killed those poor dim witted bastards and I had to be the one to clean up their dirty work!"
"Phillip!" He didn't seem to hear Axel. "Phillip!' he shouted.
He slowly opened his cloudy eyes. "Yes, Axel?"
"Phillip, there are bodies buried in the tunnels? What bodies? Whose bodies? What in the hell are you talking about?"
Phillip took his cane and stood up slowly and started to make his way to the door. Axel stood up and blocked his path.
"Phillip! Goddamn it don't leave! Are there bodies buried in the tunnels? Bodies in the prison tunnels?"
One tear was making it's way down Phillips face. "Yes, Axel. There are bodies buried in the tunnels. The north tunnel that leads out to the power plant. I had to bury them. You have to realize that back in those days people would be committed here and forgotten about. Retarded people, epileptics, people who would now just be considered eccentric. They‘d be sent here and forgotten about. Sometimes things happened to them. Horrible things." Phillip reached out for the door knob. “Now please, Axel. Let me pass.”
Axel stopped him with a hand to his shoulder. “How many bodies, Phillip?”
“Hundreds, maybe more, I have no fucking idea,” he whispered.
The door closed softly.
It took hours for Axel to get to sleep that night and when he awoke the next morning he found an envelope that had been slipped under his door during the night.
It was from Phillip.
Now you are privy to my darkest secret. I need your help. I need you for my redemption. Without your help I fear I will burn in hell with the other demons for what I have done.
Phillip M. Stackhouse
When Axel went to Phillip's door there was no answer. The door was unlocked and swung open with out a sound. Phillip was swinging from a noose that was wrapped around the heat pipes.
It was about a month before Axel would rotate to the graveyard shift. The inmates would be locked down for the night and the prison ran on a skeleton crew. Alex would be free to go down into the tunnels and check out Phillip’s story. He went to an army surplus store and purchased an entrenching tool, took it apart and smuggled it into work in pieces and hid it in his locker.
He waited until the first Sunday night of the shift. Sunday nights were the watch lieutenant’s night off and Axel was in charge on the shift. He stopped by master control around two in the morning and informed them that he would be down in the tunnels on a security check.
Taking out his master key he let himself into the stairwell leading down to the tunnels. They were lit very poorly every fifty yards or so by a single bulb so Axel had his flashlight out as he walked down the narrow concrete sidewalk that was bordered by ten feet of dirt on both sides. The red eyes of rats and mice reflected in Axel’s flashlight beam and the steam pipes hissed and popped above him. He was so nervous he thought he was going to shit cream corn. He was at the power plant access door in minutes.
Quickly assembling the entrenching tool, he swung the shovel down into the soft black soil. Since he had no point of reference he had chosen a random spot. He hadn’t dug two feet down before he realized that Phillip hadn’t been lying.
There were bodies everywhere. Actually skeletons. Some still in clothes. Some appeared to have been dismembered. Others were wrapped in plastic. Some appeared to be kids they were so small. Everywhere he dug. Both sides. Five feet in. Nine feet in. Bones. Shattered skulls. Lime had been scattered in some of the holes in a attempt to help dissolve the bodies. Wherever he dug he found pure horror. He dug about fifteen holes and there were bones everywhere. What the fuck was he going to do now?
Replacing the dirt, he tried to make the ground appear as natural as it had been previously. With the bad lighting down there no one would probably notice until he could figure out the next part of his plan. What plan? Shit, he was just winging it.
Hiding his shovel up on top of a beam, Axel dusted himself off and left the tunnels. He finished the remainder of his shift on auto-pilot. Since the majority of the staff considered him an asshole and couldn't stand the sight of him it wasn’t hard to keep them away from him while he tried to sort things out. What could he do anyway? These people had been dead for decades and no one seemed to give a shit. Didn’t seem like anyone was looking for them anyway. Why should he get involved? Then the light bulb went off in his head. By the end of his watch he knew what he had to do. The smart thing. The only thing.
Two days later he was sitting in the warden's office spilling his guts all over the man's desk. The warden sat back in his thousand dollar leather chair and looked at Axel like he had just beamed in from a fucking starship. Or had told the warden that he had anyway.
"Bodies in the tunnels." It was a statement. Not a question.
"Yes, sir." Axel's mouth was so goddamn dry his tongue was sticking to the roof of it.
"Hundred of bodies." Again a statement.
"Just an estimate, sir. But I'd guess there'd have to be that many from the little bit of digging I did."
"And you found this out from a former mental patient from when this was the state hospital."
"Yes, sir. The man's dead though. Hung himself."
The warden pivoted in his chair and gazed out the window that was overlooking the yard. Some inmates were out there playing a ragtag game of volleyball that appeared more like a game of rugby. Their colorful cursing could be heard right through the glass. The warden appeared to be mesmerized by the scene as he didn’t speak for several minutes. Suddenly he farted softly into the leather. Axel had to quell a tremendous urge to bust out in nervous laughter. The warden wheeled around to glare at Axel as if he had been reading his mind.
“All right then, Sergeant. I’ll notify the FBI immediately. But not a word of this to anyone, do you understand? I don’t want this to leak to the media or some other publicity hungry assholes, do you understand me? And you stay out those tunnels. Let the feds take over from here. We don‘t want to destroy or disturb the crime scene.” The warden stood up which Axel took as a sign that he was to get the hell out of his office.
“Yes, sir! Not a word.”
The warden extended his hand across the desk. “Good! Good job, Sergeant. This shit gets all taken care of and put to bed, you’re going to be looking at a promotion. You’re going to be able to name your ticket. No doubt about it.”
Axel floated out of the warden’s office on a cloud. Promotion! Yes! A fucking promotion. He congratulated himself on his wise decision.
After that the silence was deafening.
Axel heard nothing for months. He sure as shit hadn’t seen any FBI hanging around. Whenever he saw the warden the old bastard just winked and gave him a conspiring grin. Was the cocksucker going to fuck him on this? Do nothing? Or was he going to take all the glory for himself? Shit, no! Axel told himself, he was the warden, he knew what he was doing.
His rationalizing didn’t work. It was eating him up inside. He had to talk to someone. But who? He decided to go see his father. His father was nearing the end of his sentence. Within a year he would be released to a halfway house on good behavior. The feds had transferred him to the federal prison just thirty miles down the road in Sandstone. He had written Axel numerous times since he had arrived there and told him that Axel was on his visitor’s list but Axel hadn't been able to visit him. Not after the visit when Axel had informed his father that he was going to be a corrections officer.
"Jesus Christ, Axel." He father had shook his head sadly. "How do you think anything good can come from shit like this? This isn't what a man does to make living. A man has to be proud of himself. How can you be proud of yourself doing this? Maybe your mother was right all along. Maybe we were both born for the prison yard." He had stood up and slowly shuffled out of the visiting room.
Playing by the rules, Axel informed his Captain that he would be visiting his father who was currently an inmate at the federal prison in Sandstone. Permission was granted. To easily he would think about later.
But not much later.
Three days later Axel was face down in the snow with the barrel of a shotgun shoved in the back of his head.
The guards found eight ounces of ICE when they shook down Axel’s car. The prosecutor never bought his story that it wasn’t his, that the dope had been planted. The dope had been ICE, which is actually a high grade meth-amphetamine that is rarely found in the northern part of the country, usually found in California or Hawaii. So where would a local boy like Alex get his hands on that much weight?
They had him by the balls. Possession of a serious amount of a controlled substance on the federal grounds of a prison. Probably could tack on intent to smuggle it into the prison if they wanted to. He was going down for some hard time if he couldn‘t pull his ass out of the fire.
“I’m not going to cop a fucking plea, asshole!” had been his first response to the prosecutor. “You pricks set me up. That goddamn warden fucked me! I’ll take his ass down with me. I’m gonna spill my guts about all those bodies in Moose Lake prison that are buried in those fucking tunnels. See what the media does what that. They’ll have a fucking field day. They‘re trying to cover up all those fucking bodies.”
The prosecutor smiled coldly. He had eyes like a rattlesnake. “No you won’t, Axel. I’m telling you right now, you take this to trial, I’m going to ask for a minimum sentence fifty years without parole.” He stood up and stuck some papers in his briefcase. He smiled again. “And you bring up this crazy shit about bodies being buried in tunnels. I’ll recommend they send you for a nice long evaluation at the psychiatric prison in the Carolinas. They'll shoot you full of so much shit you won't know whether to shit or wind your wristwatch. The night attendants will come around and fuck you in your old ass. Just like your buddy Phillip. And don‘t forget this. Your father is still in federal custody. He hasn‘t been released yet.”
Axel copped a plea for ten.
He’d given up trying to figure out how it had all gone wrong. Just a waste of goddamn time. That’s the way it is in the joint. At first you rebel. Then you acclimate, accept your surroundings. Sometimes you even start to like it. Maybe he had been born for the prison yard. Just like dear old Mom had said.
All he knew right now was it was about time to cuff up and get onboard the bus. He could hear the guards walking down the cell block. Axel leaned back on his bunk and lit up cigarette. It could be his last one for twelve or more hours. He opened up his latest letter from his Dad. The Old Man was out and was full of piss and vinegar again. Trying with all of his goddamn heart to spring Axel. Hiring different attorneys and writing letters to congressman, senators, who ever would listen.
"Convict! Put out the smoke and get ready to cuff up." Axel looked over at the guard. He looked about eighteen years old and a little scared. Probably a rookie.
Axel swung his feet off the floor and laid all the way down. He took a luxurious drag on his Camel.
"I said on your feet and cuff up!" The guard's voice cracked on that one. "That's a direct order, inmate! I have to say it one more time your ass is going on report!"
Axel looked over at the guard. "And I'm going to finish my smoke so just shut that cock holster of a mouth of yours for a second." Axel settled his head back down on his pillow. "Shit, man. Relax. We got all the time in the fucking world."