Frank shifted uneasily in his chair, a single bead of sweat trickling down his spine. He tried his best to outstare Watts, but lost the contest, his eyes wandering for a second before dropping to the floor. He could feel everyone in the room staring at him, wondering. God, he needed a stiff drink — six, eight, a dozen or more!
The warden strode to a wall panel, took a few seconds to suck in a breath and pressed a red button, sending 2000 volts of electricity surging through Cordell’s body. Watts started to shake under the charge, chest heaving and his eyes looking as though they might pop from their sockets. Then, to the shock of all those watching, he began to laugh like a hyena, a look of mutant glee spreading across his meaty face.
“Is that all you got, warden!” he shouted. “Shit, the Delco Rabbit has more energy! C’mon, c’mon, crank it up!”
The warden could only stare, open-mouthed, his eyes as big as Cordell’s. One of the guards hustled over, pried the man’s hand from the panel and jacked up the voltage.
Cordell’s body started to jerk and twitch, his skin turning bright red and swelling to the point of bursting; bloody sweat seeping from his pores; foam oozing from his mouth like a shaving cream dispenser! Smoke began to unfurl from his ears and nostrils! The witnesses could hear a sound that resembled bacon sizzling in a frying pan, the sickly sweet smell of roasting flesh permeating the entire room! Still, the man refused to die, laughing hysterically and shouting “yeah, yeah, yeah” as if he was on a ride at an amusement park!
“Holy frigging Hannah, they can’t kill the guy!” cried a reporter as he frantically scribbled notes onto a pad. Charlene’s mother gasped, wobbling for a few seconds before falling in a faint onto her husband’s shoulder.
The guard turned the voltage higher, the lights in the room going out and flickering back on.
Then, with an incredible display of strength, Cordell Watts snapped the straps on his arms and legs and jumped from the chair, tossing aside a guard as if he was nothing more than a rag doll! He started across the electrocution chamber, toward the glass partition, his body doing a jerky dance; lesions appearing on his lobster-red flesh, smoke pouring from his nose and ears! The foam at his mouth had turned pink with blood! Chairs toppled as the witnesses scrambled for the exit. Frank leapt to his feet, drawing his automatic. On and on Cordell came, until he had his face pressed flat against the glass, his wild eyes intent on Marino! Then, he gave a shudder and began to slide toward the floor, leaving a long trace of foam, bloody drool and the fog of one last dying breath!
* * *
Marino sat staring into space, unmindful of the sounds around him: the chatter of his fellow detectives; the clunking droning of an old air conditioner; the shrieks of a doped-up suspect being booked. He rehashed the events of the morning, wondering if it was indeed possible for Cordell Watts to return from the dead and exact his vengeance. Once, he laughed out-loud at his foolishness. Things like that only happened in horror movies or on the Sci-Fi channel. It was impossible, one-hundred percent impossible! The freak had made the threat to wreak havoc with his nerves, to keep him perpetually on edge: nothing more, nothing less.
The phone rang, startling him from his thoughts. He reached for the receiver, noticing that his hand was shaking. “Frank Marino, Homicide. Can I help you?”
“So it’s finally over, huh?” It was the voice of his brother, sounding very much relieved.
“Yeah, it’s finally over.”
“You know; you forever have my gratitude. I don’t know how many cops would have done this for their brother.”
“Not freakin' many, I’ll tell you that.”
“I’ll supply you with beer for a year, how’s that?”
“Make it a pint of blood a week, for a year.”
“I know, I know. You’ve made your point.”
“Look, kid; let’s not have this conversation on the phone. We’ll talk tonight. Come over to my place.”
“Sure, okay. I’ll see you then.”
Marino hung up the phone, wondering if his brother was really worth what he was going through. He fumbled out a cigarette and lit up, blowing out a thick cloud of smoke. Christ, it felt as though his nerve endings were crawling with fire ants! He nearly jumped out of the chair as his phone rang again.
“Hello, this is Homicide, Marino speaking.”
The voice on the line was hoarse and raspy, strangely hollow, as though spoken from the deep, dark depths of a well. “Collect call from hell. Will you accept the charges?”
“Man, I feel like a frigging French fry, sizzling in hot oil. I’ll be seeing you soon, asshole, real soon.”
Frank’s heart began to drum, almost as loud as the old air conditioner. He took the receiver from his ear and stared at it, as if he would somehow be able to see the caller. Then, slowly, ever so slowly, he returned it to his ear, his palm slick with sweat. “Cordell, is that you?”
The line went dead and he sat there for a long time, listening to the drone of the dial tone, brain whirling, his mouth as dry as sand. Finally, he slammed down the receiver, then again and again and again, cursing mightily, until the plastic cracked and the digit pads sprang from their mountings. When everyone in the room looked in his direction, he raised both hands in the air, pumping them a double bird. His stomach acids began to churn, feeling like a flow of molten lava. It couldn’t have been Cordell; someone out there, someone who didn’t like him, was playing a very sick prank!
Captain O’Malley marched across the room to Marino’s desk, placing his hands on his hips. He jerked his chin toward the shattered phone, his face flushing with anger. “I hope you have a good reason for destroying the city’s property.”
“I’m sorry, Cap. My nerves are pretty jangled.”
O’Malley considered him for a moment, his features softening. “Okay, okay, I guess you do have a good reason. From what I hear, Cordell’s execution didn’t go according to plan. They really botched it, huh?”
“No, Cap, they didn’t botch anything. Every procedure was strictly followed, but the bastard was one hard man to kill. Christ, he almost seemed to enjoy it. I thought that they were going to black out the whole state.”
“Look, why don’t you take the rest of the day off. Go home and take a nap, mow the lawn.”
“Uh, I dunno.”
“That’s an order. Relax, get those nerves under control.”
“Are you sure it’s okay?”
“Yes, damn it all, I’m sure. Go on, hit the road.”
* * *
Marino didn’t go home to take a nap, neither did he have any intentions of mowing his lawn. He wound up at Kelly’s Bar, plowing down double shots of Wild Turkey and chasing them with frosty mugs of beer; one after the other, as though they were coming off a conveyor belt. The buzz came fast on an empty stomach.
Sean Kelly leaned on the bar, his round, ruddy face etched with concern. “Hey, Frank, you better slow down or I’ll have to carry you out of here.”
“That’s just fine by me.”
“What’s up? You look a might frazzled.”
“I was at the state pen, this morning, when they threw the switch on Cordell Watts.”
“No, shit. I heard that it was quite a mess; so they said on TV.”
“Jesus, I’ll tell you; I have never seen anything like it. The bastard was a crispy critter, but, still, he snapped his leather bounds as if they were tissue paper, flung aside a guard and did a high voltage dance right across the electrocution chamber. I had to draw my Baretta just in case.”
Kelly stared, unbelieving. “C’mon.”
“I swear to God. Right about now, he’s probably kicking the shit out of the Devil.”
Kelly went off to serve a newly arrived customer, leaving Marino to his drinking. His face was already turning numb from the liquor, a warm, fuzzy feeling calming his nerves and taking away the edge. He was going to get seriously pie-eyed, totally frigging inebriated. As he stared at his weary face in the mirror behind the bar, he detected a strange smell, as if something was burning.
“Hey, Sean; did you leave some food on the grill, out back?”
“Don’t you smell it?”
“When’s the last time you had your wiring checked out?”
“You had better take it easy with your drinking, Frank.”
The smell started to get stronger and stronger, and, then, in a heart throbbing moment of realization, he knew exactly what it reminded him of: the sweet, cloying smell of burning flesh! Oh, Christ, no, it couldn’t be! Cold beads of sweat pooped out on his forehead and he leaned over, fighting back the urge to vomit.
Sean rushed over, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Jesus, Frank, are you all right?”
“C’mon, Sean; tell me that you smell it.”
“I don’t smell anything. Look, I think you’ve had enough. Are you in any shape to drive home?”
The smell grew even stronger, nearly suffocating him: roasting flesh and singed chest hair, and the overwhelming stench of urine and feces, as a dead body purged itself!
“Why don’t you go upstairs, Frank, and stretch out on my sofa.”
“Jesus H. Christ, you don’t smell it? You’ve got to, you’ve got to!”
“Man, I’ve never seen you like this.”
Marino spun off the stool, his rubbery legs nearly giving out from under him. “Goddamn you, Watts!” he shouted, as he staggered toward the door. “Goddamn your festering, black soul!”
“Frank, wait! I don’t think you should drive!”
Marino wobbled to his car, the heat making him feel even worse. Slumping behind the wheel, he pulled out his Baretta, pumped a bullet into its chamber and rested it on the passenger’s seat. What in the living hell was going on? Was Cordell Watts going to haunt him for the rest of his life? He sat there for a long time, his head resting on the wheel, before starting up the car and heading for home. There were two median lines and he had to close an eye to get it down to one. The whiskey and beer were churning in his stomach like a dishwasher and he found himself burping, a lump of sour bile lodged in his throat. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do once he got home; maybe hold up in his bedroom, with a fifth of Jim Beam, and barricade the effing door. He wandered over the yellow line and a blaring horn snapped him from his frantic thoughts, causing him to jerk the wheel so hard that he nearly went into a spin.
Then the smell came again, invading the car; reminding him of a foul steak burning on a grill. His stomach jerked and he started to gag, his knuckles turning white as he held onto the wheel for dear life.
“Oh, no, leave me alone! Please, please!”
A voice, guttural and horribly raspy. “It’s time to pay the piper, asshole. I’ve waited five long years for this.”
Frank’s head snapped to the passenger’s seat, and, in that moment, he thought his heart would explode. There, sat Cordell Watts; the skin of his face mottled and infested with oozing lesions, looking much like the molten wax of a candle! His teeth were loose and stained with blood, his green eyes as shriveled as old grapes! A trace of smoke was unfurling from his damaged left ear!
“Ah, Jesus, ah Jesus, this can’t be happening!” shouted Frank, as his bladder let loose, sending warm urine down his leg.
With a grotesque smile, Watts held up the Baretta and tossed it past Frank’s nose, out the open window.
“I had to do it, Cordell, I just had to! It was either you or my brother!”
Without another word, Watts grabbed hold of the wheel and jerked it to the left, sending the car into the other lane.
“No, no, no! What the hell are you doing!”
Frank tried to loosen Cordell’s grasp on the wheel, but the flesh peeled off the dead man’s hand, like the crisp, greasy skin of a chicken!
A black SUV was bearing down on them, coming fast, its driver laying on the horn! With a great gurgling laugh, Cordell placed his foot on Frank’s and pushed the accelerator to the floor.
“No! Jesus Christ, nooooo!”
The SUV tried to swerve out of the way, but Cordell adjusted the wheel and they collided head-on, both vehicles melding together into a solid hunk of twisted, screeching, grinding metal. Marino was launched through his shattered windshield, flying for a good two hundred feet, before landing, sliding along the asphalt and disappearing under the wheels of a diesel truck. People scrambled from their vehicles and headed for cover, just as the wreckage exploded into a fireball, sending fiery chunks of metal flying in every direction.
* * *
The late news was on the TV as Sean Kelly was cleaning up after closing time. Noticing the serious face of the anchor-woman, he stopped what he was doing to hike up the volume.
“We have just received a bit of tragic news. There has been a terrible accident, out on Route Sixty-Eight, near the Buckley Bridge. Joanne Simmons is on the scene, now. Joanne.”
The camera changed to a pretty, blonde woman, face taut, red and blue lights swirling in the background. “Yes, Carol, it is indeed tragic news. Frank P. Marino, a decorated veteran of our city’s police department, has been killed in a head-on collision, here, just short of the Buckley Bridge.”
Kelly groaned, leaned on the bar and ran his fingers through his mop of red hair. Shit, he thought to himself, I hope they never find out he was drinking here.
“I’ve learned that the accident happened perhaps an hour ago. And I must mention this, Carol; it was Frank Marino who brought to justice Cordell Watts, who, only today, was put to death at the state penitentiary. Life sure has its uncanny coincidences.” The blond woman paused, her features turning somber. “And it doesn’t end there, Carol. In yet another twist of fate: the driver of the other vehicle was none other than Peter Marino, Frank’s younger brother, twenty-seven years of age, husband and father of two, also a resident of our city.”
With an anguished cry, Kelly brought up the wet rag, with which he had been mopping the bar, and plopped it against his throbbing head.
Copyright © 2004 by Gerald Sheagren