Governor Milton Bergwilde leaned back in his high backed leather chair and listened closely as his adjutant general finished his report. The governor nodded and smiled, leaned forward to rest his forearms on the desk.
"I knew this was gonna work! Hot damn, we're by gawd taking care of two birds with one damn stone. You gotta love it. Right, T.J.?
The AG, T.J. McCormack replied, "Yessir, your plan to ease the burden of over population on the state's prison system and eliminating non-rehabitable criminals from getting back into society is working like a charm."
"How are we doing with the press?" asked the Governor.
"Just as planned. We've sent out press notices that we are releasing some of our less dangerous prisoners to ease the financial burden with running the prisons. We've told the press only that we have placed the selected prisoners on six different buses and sent them in six different directions. We've..."
"Did you tell the press how we selected those to be released? And, what did you say about where they were being sent."
"We only reported that approximately 200 prisoners had already been released and were selected according to the crime for which they'd been convicted, the number of years served and their likelihood of parole within the next two to three years. We told the press that we'd provide a list of names and where they had been sent within 30 days of their release."
"That's perfect. Perfect! No way anyone can go looking for these **** and, in thirty days, hell no one will give a damn."
"Yessir, we've contacted all of the individual family members, as well and pretty much told them the same story. Of course, after 30 days, when the families start looking in Chicago, for example...well, hell, it ain't our fault that they're nowhere to be found, is it?" T.J. laughed and the Governor quickly joined in.
"Right. How the heck are we supposed to know where they went or what they did after we let 'em go?" The governor chuckled.
"So. How many of those bastards are still walking?"
T.J. cleared his throat and answered, "Well, sir, it's been almost 3 days, 67 hours to be exact, and there are still 15 of them. Sheriff Matheson reported that, of those 15, 12 looked like they won't last another two hours." He glanced at this watch, "So, we could be down to three about now."
"Excellent. No chance of anyone finding any bodies, either, right?"
"Oh, no sir. As soon as they drop they're picked and taken to Death Valley, where they are buried. Buried deep. No sir, no way anyone will ever find a trace of these bodies."
"Okay. One more thing before you go, T.J. When we release the women next month, I want to add some "fun" to the walk. I'm still working out the details, but if you have any ideas, feel free to discuss them with me next week."
T.J. laughed, "Well, sir, I just might have a few ideas in that direction."
Raphael was fading fast. Jared, younger and stronger, had kept Rafe going for the past seven or eight hours, but now, even his strength was fading and there wasn't much he could do for his roommate any longer. Arm in arm they staggered, putting one foot in front of the other. It was slow, but they were still moving.
Jared couldn't remember how long it had been since the last gun shot. An hour? Ten minutes? Ten hours? He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts, but he simply couldn't keep a coherent string of thought going. He kept jumping from one thing to the next. A never ending cycle of split second pictures flashed across his brain. Some of it family and friends, some of it things he'd done in his life, some of it the walk. The **** walk.
When he was still thinking relatively clearly, he could not understand this thing. Why force them to walk when they were going to be shot, no matter what. What was the **** purpose of walking? He figured that he'd likely never discover the reason.
Jared glanced back over his shoulder and saw one, single, lonely man behind him and Raphael. This guy was weaving from right to left, four or five steps in each direction, while taking only one of two forward. He was falling quickly behind and Jared figured he wouldn't last another fifteen minutes.
Further behind this man, Jared could still see clean up crews throwing bodies into the back of some old army deuce and a half's. Briefly, he wondered what they were doing with the bodies. He chuckled to himself, "hell it just don't matter, Jare...it just don't ****' matter."
Raphael heard Jared muttering something. "Whu..whut you...say, J? Huh, y...you....say som..pen?"
"Naw, man, just talking to myself. Save your breath, Rafe. Save your breath, my man."
"F..for wh...what? You...know...I thi...I think I'm gon..na jest stop right...he....here." Putting action to words, Raphael stopped walking.
Jared tried to pull him forward. "Come on, man, you can't just give up. Hell, maybe there's a winner in this thing! You know, the last two guys standing get to go free! Come on, damn it, keep walking." He wrapped his arm around Raphael's waist and forced him forward another three steps, but Raphael had made up his mind. He wasn't going any further.
"Keep walking, boy. This is your final warning," the guard shouted from ten feet behind. Jared thought that the guards were getting pretty anxious to get this all over with. How long had they been walking?
"Let go of him, **** head. He ain't going any further."
Jared shook his head, "no sir, he's gonna be just fine, you'll see." To Raphael, he said, "come on, man, don't quit on m...."
The rifle shot was close. The bang of the weapon caused Jared to jerk and lose his hold on Raphael. He was looking right at Raphael when the gun went off and, though the sound caused him to blink, he clearly saw the entire front part of Raphael's face explode as the bullet entered the back and blew through the center of his forehead in front.
Jared stumbled and fell to his knees. He heard another shot. Was that an echo or was he going down now, too? He looked up at the guard, but his rifle wasn't trained on him and the guard was looking at Raphael. Still on his knees, Jared looked further back and saw the weaving man flat on his face, a guard standing over him.
It occured to him that he was now the last man standing. He wondered if he was going to be awarded his freedom, now that he'd "won" the walk. Hell, he thought, why else would we have been walking?
Another guard rode up, pulled his boot out of the stirrup and kicked Jared in the shoulder. "Get your **** up, boy. Just because you're the last doesn't mean you can stop walking. Get up. Now, boy. Last warning." Jared looked up to see the guard swinging his rifle around to aim in his direction. He struggled, but managed to get to his feet.
The guard watched him, but Jared couldn't see his eyes behind the reflection of his sunglasses. He knew, though, that the guard was not going to cut him any slack. He was not going to be giving him a reward for winning the walk, either.
Jared took a step toward the guard. He raised his hands, letting the guard know that he only wanted to say a word or two. The guard watched him, the hole at the end of the rifle barrel loomed large in Jared's eyes.
"Sir, sir. Just tell me, please sir, just tell me what this was all about. Why did we walk like this? Just, sir, please tell me why."
The guard said nothing for several seconds. Jared looked up at him, his eyes begging for an answer. Jared had given up, too. He knew he was not ever going to see his family again. He knew he would never touch a woman again. Hell, all of those things that he had taken for granted in his life would never be again.
Jared simply wanted to know.....why. He was afraid, though, that he would never know. The guard continued to stare at him until finally he leaned forward a little and pressed the barrel of the rifle against Jared's forehead.
"Well, boy, I reckon it don't much matter anymore." He paused and looked back along the trail of the walk before returning his gaze to Jared.
"You see, the Guvnor, he wanted to clean out the prisons 'cause there's just too damned many prisoners and the state can't hardly afford to house all you bastards. So, he decided to let some of you out. 'Course the Guvnor ain't partial to criminals running around lose in his state, neither. And, well, I guess the walking thing came about because" the guard paused to chuckle a little before continuing, "well, because the Guvnor, he likes to have a little fun and he's a big, big fan of that writer feller, Stephen King."
Jared looked up, cross-eyed at the barrel of the rifle pressing against his forehead. He shook his slowly and mumbled, "I knew it, I ****' knew this had something to do with that story I'd read....but, ****, the winner, he...."
The bullet ended any further arguments Jared may have had. The guard watched the spray of brain matter and blood blow from the back of Jared's head. He watched the body collapse in the dirt and he turned his horse in the direction of the trucks, where his co-deputies were still picking up bodies.