Walt woke up to harsh sunlight glaring in his eyes. He rolled over and sat up, dusting the sand off of his face. It took a few minutes for his groggy brain to figure out why he was sleeping in the sand beneath a scrubby sagebrush. The pounding in his head at first made him think he had had too much to drink the night before. As the cobwebs cleared, memory returned and the memory brought him suddenly to complete consciousness. Rolling over to his knees brought another explosion of pain, and Walt was painfully reminded of the painful consequences of leaping from a moving vehicle. Grimacing through the pain, he surveyed the surrounding desert. Nothing appeared out of place, and satisfied that no pursuers were yet too close, he relaxed and sank back to the ground. Glancing around, he located a battered knapsack and dragged it across the sand to where he was sitting. Stuck in one of the side pockets was a bottle of water, which Walt opened and lifted to his lips. He drank sparingly, allowing the water to sit in his mouth for several seconds before swallowing. This was the only water he would have until he made it to town, and even then, finding more might be a close call. Every cop for miles around would be on the lookout for him, and finding a place to refill a water bottle without catching somebody's attention might be tough. After tightening the lid on the water, he rummaged in the bag again and produced a sandwich wrapped tightly in cellophane. He unwrapped the sandwich and took a bite, deliberately chewing the dry bread and meat. When the sandwich had disappeared, he took one more swallow of the precious water, savoring its coolness in his mouth. Then, he secured the water bottle once again in its pocket on the knapsack, and struggled to his feet.
Pain once again burst into his consciousness, but he simply clenched his jaw and ignored it. Pain was nothing new to Walt. A rough childhood had naturally led to a rough adolescence, progressing easily into a rough adulthood, which finally culminated in the beating death of a rival for the attentions of a rough woman. When she seemed unimpressed with his handiwork, he put her in the same shallow grave with her hapless suitor. Prison had always seemed to be his natural destination, and few were surprised when his life sentence was handed down. But prison life did not agree with Walt, rules and limits were not something he was used to obeying. So escape became the object of his existence, and after months of careful planning, he had finally found himself in the laundry truck, speeding away from the prison and into the Mojave Desert.
Making a last check of the surrounding skylines for any sign of pursuit, he turned towards the rising sun, slung the knapsack over his shoulder, and took the first of many painful steps towards what he hoped was a waiting ride south to Mexico.
* * *
Cliff, as usual, was utterly disgusted with life. Warden Claremont's fat red face was even redder than usual, and may have even swollen to larger than normal size. It had been nearly ten years since any prisoners had succeeded in escaping from Death Valley Penitentiary, and Donald B. Claremont took it as a personal insult that his own son-in-law was primarily responsible for this one.
"Tell me again, how you let a prisoner climb into the laundry cart and get himself loaded onto the laundry truck!" he hissed through clenched teeth. Cliff had only begun to formulate a response when the warden continued.
"Tell me again why you failed to thoroughly inspect each and every laundry cart loaded onto the truck, and then tell me again how you fell asleep in the back of the laundry truck that YOU were supposed to be guarding!" Cliff tried to choke back the bile that had collected at the back of his throat and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He opened his mouth to respond, but the warden cut him off before he could make a sound.
"SHUT UP! I don't want to hear a word out of your stupid pie hole! If you weren't married to my daughter you would not only be fired, but incarcerated here with the rest of this scum for aiding and abetting! Incompetence on this level is beyond stupidity, you MUST have been complicit in the plan from the get go!"
Cliff once again opened his mouth to defend himself, but was immediately cut off again.
"Didn't I tell you to shut your pie hole? Don't say a word. If I hear one word from your mealy mouth, I will completely lose control and kill you here and now. Get out of my sight. Report to the Captain Williams and see if you can do something to find the scumbag you managed to turn loose. And if I hear that you let him get past you again, I WILL put you in prison here for the rest of your natural existence."
The warden stood up from his chair and stalked over to a cabinet against the back wall of the office. Slamming the cabinet door open, he snatched a glass and a bottle. Half turning to pour himself a drink, he noticed Cliff still standing before his desk, his mouth gaping open as he tried to formulate some kind of response.
"GET OUT I SAID!" Screamed the warden, hurling the glass at Cliff's head. It caught him right over the left eye, and he went down like he had been shot. Cliff lay there on the floor, watching the streaks of light spinning across his vision until a bucket of ice was suddenly poured over his face. Cliff gasped, then jumped up and ran from the office, and continued running at top speed until he reached the prison courtyard.
He found a bench and sat down, cradling his throbbing head in his hands. A drop of blood splattered the ground between his feet, and Cliff realized that not only was he growing a considerable goose-egg, but he was cut as well. Judy was going to love that. Not only had he let a prisoner escape and pissed off the old man, but now he was sporting a big 'ole shiner and a cut over one eye to match. That would be sure to provide her with nagging ammo for months to come. Cliff could already hear her reminding him over and over again of where he would be if she hadn't married him, hooked him up with a job, and kept him out of the gutter. The main problem was she was not far off. When he met Judy, Cliff had been so blinding drunk that he hadn't noticed her self-centered egotism, and by the time he figured it out, she had already bought bridesmaid dresses and reserved the ballroom at the local hotel for their wedding. Even worse was the first time he met her parents. When Don B. Claremont discovered that he was a set painter for the local theater company, he nearly had a heart attack right there on the restaurant floor. Within a month, he had been pushed through the police academy, and found himself being harassed by prisoners who only restrained themselves from outright assault due to the knowledge that he was the warden's son-in-law. Day in and day out, he endured the taunting and insults at work, only to go home at night to more nagging and criticism. Utter disgust with everything about life barely began to cover the way Cliff felt right now.
The roar of an unmuffled engine brought Cliff out of his thoughts. A brown four-by-four roared up next to the bench he was sitting on. In the back were a half-dozen prison guards wearing fatigues and carrying riot guns. From the passenger seat jumped a tall rawboned man wearing desert pattern camouflage combat fatigues instead of the regular guard uniform. Captain Williams was in charge of the SWAT team that was kept on site to break up any heavy riots or disturbances. He had also been tasked to head up the half-hearted search for the escaped prisoner. Of all the guards at the prison, he seemed to have a special disdain for Cliff, because as second in command at the prison he had his eye on the warden's job. Cliff's relation to him and his obvious unsuitability for the position seemed to irk him beyond reason. He strode purposefully over to the bench where Cliff was trying desperately to clean the blood from his forehead with the palm of his hand before Captain Williams saw it.
"Cliff, boss says you are on my detail now. Climb up in back and try not to hurt yourself." He tossed a riot gun at Cliff, who nearly fumbled it before mercifully managing not to drop it.
"Don't worry, it ain't loaded, I ain't that stupid. I'll give you some ammo if I think you need it. Until then, try to stay out of the way and don't let any more prisoners escape if you can help it."
Cliff nodded his understanding, then stood up and started to climb into the back of the truck with the other guards. None of them offered to help, and he almost dropped the shotgun again before he got in. The only place left to sit was in the middle of the truck bed, at the feet of all the other guards sitting on benches around the edge. Just as he was getting settled in, the truck abruptly lurched into motion, throwing him back against a guard leaning against the tailgate. He shoved Cliff roughly back into the center of the truck bed with his boots, and growled an obscenity. Cliff settled the shotgun over his shoulder, propping it between his feet and bracing his hands against the bed to keep himself in place. As the truck roared out of the prison gates and into the desert, Cliff once again affirmed to himself, that life, more than ever, really sucked.
To be continued ...