Being Inspired, Maybe - 29

A picture paints ... well, as many words as you like.  For instance:

And, then, the words:

"There are two ways out of the town, the road and the river."

"You mean there's three.  We could go overland too."  I was assuming that Henry had just omitted the most obvious for the most expedient.

"There are two that may be possible, not three.  Go by land, you have to navigate the land mines.  Go by the river, and you have to hope the patrol vessel is somewhere else, and by road, they'll have roadblocks set up and nothing as small as a mouse will get through."

"You're not exactly filling me with inspiration."

"Just telling you how it is.  It ain't going to be easy.  If it was, everyone would have left by now."

"How many have tried?"


"How many have made it?"

"None."  He let that sink in before adding, "but you and I are going to change that."

Henry was a mentor and a maniac.  He was the longest-serving prisoner in the jail, one of the many who continually protested his innocence.

Did I believe him?  As much as any of the others.  Every man in jail could not be innocent, I know I wasn't, but my crime was different, it didn't involve taking a life.

I was trying to save something that wasn't worth saving.  I just didn't realize it at the time.

But the time, he said, had come.  He was getting old, and apparently was dying.  He said he didn't want to die in prison, so he had come up with an elaborate escape plan.

Do or die.

Why did he pick me over all the others that he'd known longer?

Young, strong, and someone he could trust to investigate the circumstances of the crime he steadily maintained he did not commit.  He was the only one who knew I'd once been a private investigator, but not the fact I hadn't been a very good one.  I tried telling him, but he wouldn't listen.

The escape would be the following night.

There was always one guard who was sloppy.  Henry had made a detailed analysis of all the guards, and this one, Joe Petrovik, was always late, cutting corners, goofing off, whatever that meant.  But, more notably, Joe was in charge of 'creature comforts'.  The prison was a long way from civilization, and the guards needed something more for those long, lonely, cold nights.

Coincidentally, he was rostered on escape night.

We were not locked in our cells, it was not that sort of prison.  We were free to roam about at night if we couldn't sleep, and ofter there would be one or two outside, having a cigarette or two before going to bed.

Everyone knew the escape was on, but none of them believed we would succeed, but nevertheless, everyone co-operated.  Plan A was to act normally, Plan B was to make a diversion if there was trouble.  I'm not sure there was a Plan C, if we were caught.

Right on midnight, Joe went to the outer gate, opened it and let the women in.  There were five tonight, one more than usual.  We watched them make their way from the gate to the guard block and waited till the lights went out.

We had a cloud-filled sky, no moon, and it was very dark.  There were a few shimmering lights in the distance, a village near the sea.  Between us and there, low lying marsh and landmines.  Beyond the gate, the river.

We waited till the searchlight swept past, then we quickly scuttled down the path to the gate.  Henry looked at the lock, tried the gate, then produced an odd-looking key.  Odd or not, it opened the gate, and in seconds we were outside, and heading for the ravine.

It couldn't be this easy.

Or could it?

It was not a matter of worrying about prisoners getting out of jail.  If they were worried about it, we'd be locked in cells.  No.  I think the moment I stepped outside the jail itself, I realized it was the backup in place surrounding the prison.

No one had breached it.

We brought backpacks with us, and each had a vital component needed for the escape.  In our spare time, we had built a boat.  Not a conventional boat but one made out of dowel and plastic.  Much like a jigsaw puzzle.  It took a few minutes to put together, just wide enough and long enough for two to like flat and go with the flow.

We waited for another sweep of the searchlight and then launched.

I expected it to sink.  It didn't.

The flow of the river caught us and we were away.  Henry navigated by using his hand in the water.  We had to hope we wouldn't hit a rock, or get caught on a snag.

Five minutes, and freedom was beginning to become a reality.

Until we both heard the powerful motor of the patrol vessel.  Was it just a random patrol, or had someone told them?  The boat sounded like it was moving at speed, and in the distance, a light was shining in our direction.

"OK," Henry said.  "It's time."

"For what?"

"Us to part company.  This was designed for you to get away.  It's me they're after."

"What do you mean?"

I think I just realized this was his plan all along.  He wanted me to clear his name.  It didn't matter if he made it or not, he was going to die anyway.

"Just do what I asked."

With that said, he rolled sideways into the water and was gone.  The boat, lighter and higher, picked up speed.  

A few minutes later I heard the sound of several gunshots, and then nothing.  The patrol boat had stopped.  It would only be a matter of time after they reported back to the prison they'd discover another missing prisoner, me, and come after me.

They didn't.

© Charles Heath 2018


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