The wand whispered over Jerry’s genitals and he closed his eyes, arms akimbo as the metal detector worried the bulge in his trousers.
“Go on sir,” the guard said, and stepped back, allowing Jerry entrance to the Sand County Penitentiary. One by one, the members of the little group were escorted through the security point with more attention paid to their personal areas than was strictly necessary, thanks to the screening process responsible for placing that particular guard. His personal fetishes coincided nicely with this job and he took full advantage of the opportunity to fondle Jessica’s curves. For her part she ignored this lechery, apart from contenting herself by fantasizing about making the guard eat his own penis.
Len led them down a white marble hallway, making for a door at the very end of the corridor with the rest of them forming a flying V behind him. He reached it and stopped, tentatively raising a hand to the knob. The group watched as he grasped the knob, then jerked his hand back.
“What? What’s wrong?” Paul asked.
“Damn thing shocked me,” Len grumbled and seized the offending knob, pulling it open with authority.
Behind the door sat a stairway, arteries leading up and down. Len led them down two flights and about ten degrees of temperature, stopping in front of an imposing looking iron door with what looked like three dead bolts. Len pounded on the door with the heavy gold ring he wore on his left hand, the crack echoing up and down the stairway, vibrating the fillings in Jessica’s teeth.
There was a pause, and the door was opened a crack. Another guard with an enormous black mustache looked out at them.
“Access is restricted down here, sir,” the guard said in a weary voice, one which was clearly used to redirecting idiots. “Take two flights of stairs up, and -”
“Thank you, no, we’re attending the execution of Dennis Arbogast. We should be on the list of witnesses.” Len gestured at the invisible list behind the door.
“Oh.” The guard seemed nonplussed. “IDs?”
There was the expected fumbling as everybody produced their bits of government plastic for perusal by the mustachioed giant, who examined them carefully before opening the door further and ushering them in. He showed no signs of returning their IDs and shook his head when Jessica asked for hers back. “Sorry ma’am, I keep these until you return. It’s the law.”
Jessica refrained from telling him what she thought of the law and smiled sweetly. “Of course. Thank you so much.” For what? she wondered.
They were standing in an area much like a parlor. There was a desk for the guard, a laptop and water cooler, and a phone. There were two doors on opposite sides of the parlor room, with a large 1 and 2 painted on them. The guard consulted a clipboard he had taken from the desk drawer and nodded toward door number two.
“That’s the one you want.”
Len nodded and they all followed him over to the door. It had no handle with which to shock, and Len pushed it open.
Inside was a small stuffy room with three rows of ten chairs bolted to the floor. A wall-sized window covered most of the wall the chairs were facing. Behind the glass was a chair similar to a dentist’s. Except dentist chairs don’t have arms sticking straight out. The room it inhabited was bright white linoleum and the kind of blue-green trim you only see in hospitals.
The group wordlessly took their seats in the front row. They sat quietly as the door swung open again and again, admitting relatives of Dennis Arbogast’s victims and various officials here to witness the humane taking of a human life. In an hour, the room was full.
Len stared straight ahead, neutral, his face blank.
Behind the glass, the show began. Two guards escorted Dennis Arbogast through the door. Arbogast was thin and balding with what had once been a well kept goatee. He was pale, but composed. Any tears had been shed earlier, leaving no trace. He had asked for death, and was not afraid of it. Surrounding the group, a mutter at Arbogast’s appearance from the peanut gallery. Another guard entered and took his place by the door, apparently there to hold the door in place, should it attempt escape.
Two doctors, a man and a woman, were the last to enter. He was a pudgy bald man with cottony wisps sprouting conspicuously from his ears and the slump-shouldered shuffle of a man who has long since given up on life. She was tall and her eyes took in the scene from behind horn-rimmed glasses. Her black hair was twisted up in a severe little bun behind her, and she surveyed the room with an air of unmistakable authority. She spoke a word muffled by the glass and her pudgy subordinate nodded, moving toward the chair upon which Arbogast had placed himself, arms spread as if to be crucified.
The pudgy doctor made a business of inserting the two IV lines, made more difficult by his inability to find a vein on the first try. The lady doctor’s face was immobile, but her eyes betrayed her irritation at the delay. Finally the vein was broached and the needles taped in place. The three bags of chemicals contained in bright red plastic were hung like poison apples from the IV tree. They were connected to a series of tubes flowing into the two IV lines with the same dexterity by the pudgy doctor. In the gallery, not everyone was so sanguine about the delay, and there was a good deal more muttering regarding curiosity as to where the good Pudge had gone to medical school and if he had bothered to earn his degree before starting to practice.
Pudge finally hooked Arbogast up to his demise and stepped back, his face slightly redder than when he started. The woman stepped forward, blatantly checking his work. Pudge watched with no expression as she did this, then nodded, satisfied, and stepped back to the IV.
The guard by the door flipped a switch on the wall. There was a click, and the gallery could now hear everything those in the death chamber heard. The guard began. “Dennis Arbogast, you have been sentenced to die by a jury of your peers. Do you have anything to say before the sentence is carried out?”
Throughout the rigamarole of being hooked up, Arbogast had stared at the ceiling, still as death. Now he raised his head, and looked directly at Len. Len nodded once. Arbogast nodded back, a ghost of a smile playing around his mouth.
“Nah, let’s get this over with so these fine folks can go on about their day. Be seeing you, Len.” Arbogast said cheerfully, then lay his head back down, a peaceful smile on his face. On his left middle finger, he wore a heavy gold ring.
In the gallery, there was dead silence.
The woman reached for the vines connected to the first poison apple. Sodium thiopental had been held from entering Arbogast’s body by the barest of crimping. Now as she opened the valve, it began flowing into his arm, working its magic quickly. Within ten seconds, Arbogast’s eyes had closed for the last time. The next apple was pancuronium bromide, which paralyzed Arbogast’s muscles, notably those which provide respiration; finally potassium chloride’s finishing touch stopped his heart completely. In seven minutes, it was over.
Len had not moved. His face had not changed. He could have been anywhere, but for a single tear.
The flick of a lighter. It was passed around as the group lit their cigarettes. Not all of them smoked regularly, but all of them smoked now, not all of whom with steady hands.
Len broke the silence, speaking for the first time since he had spoken to the guard who had taken their ID. “That’s what we have to look forward to if we step off this tightrope. Some pudgy fuck mangling our veins with an audience for our last death. Sound fun?”
Len took a deep drag and coughed, not being one of the regular smoker. “I’m glad I quit these. Who’s hungry?”
Nobody was, but they all nodded.
“Let’s go grab some chow before we head back. We’re just waiting for someone else -” he broke off. “Here she is.”
The group turned as one to see the lady executioner with her hair down coming toward them, all trace of her severe face gone. On it was a radiant smile. She raised a hand, waving. “Hi Len!” Len raised his hand in return, his smile radiant to match. “Guys, this is my sister Missy.