The Last MileLarge Print - 2016 | First edition: April 2016.
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Decker, the memory man:
He was a big man, six-five, and about halfway between three and four hundred pounds— the exact number depended on how much he ate at a particular meal. He was a former college football player with a truncated stint in the NFL, where a vicious blindside hit had altered his mind and given him pretty much a perfect memory. Hyperthymesia, as it was technically known.
“I have synesthesia.” “Synes-what?” “Synesthesia. It’s when your sensory pathways are commingled. I see certain numbers in color, for instance. And I saw my family’s murder in blue. I see death in blue. I also have hyperthymesia.” “What’s that?” “A perfect memory.”
… the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville. It was called the Walls Unit because of the prison’s redbrick walls. Opened in 1849, it was the oldest prison in the Lone Star State.
He’d been in this place almost as long as he’d not been in this place. And the time had not gone by fast. It didn’t feel like twenty years. It felt like two hundred.
Roy and Lucinda Mars, his white father and black mother. Back then that combination had been weird, different, exotic even, certainly in West Texas. Now it was commonplace. Every kid coming in now looked like bits and pieces of fifty different types of humanity.
He would have been forty-two years old in two months. His forty-first had been his very last birthday, as it turned out.
He wasn’t going to say anything. They had brought him to the party. They were going to have to start the music.
When he was anxious, he ate. When he was really anxious he was a garbage disposal.
Decker did not believe in fate, or even its little cousin, serendipity.
“Did you know that there are hundreds of people released each year from prison because they’ve been found to be innocent?”
Time did not heal wounds for him. Not for someone who could never forget. Their murders were as fresh now as when they occurred. Not just the visuals, but also the emotional hatchet attached to the mental images. They would be until the day he died.
… malodorous air that hung over them all like a marine layer of toxic gas.
America didn’t have prisons. It had chaos pens where men were transported back seventeen centuries. Where the strong survived until it met something even stronger, and where the weak died every time.
“And you bought me quinoa? Seriously? Is that even a food?”
“ … Do you think it has anything to do with their deaths?” “I don’t see how. But what I don’t see right now could fill a library.”
The warden immediately sent the first of two power surges to the chair, eight amps and 1,850 volts, that lasted thirty-four seconds each.
Decker stood. “What’s the key to winning on the football field?” “Preparation,” said Mars automatically.
“ … I lost everything because of it. My job, my house, pretty much everything. But it didn’t matter to me.” “Why not?” “Because I’d already lost the only things that really meant something to me.”
“How’s the diet coming?” “It’s coming.” “Trying to get back in football shape?” “No, trying to live to celebrate another birthday.”
“Honey, every marriage has problems, and some are better at hiding it than others. …”
“I hate the dentist. I had more cavities than teeth growing up.”
He had never seen this much rain before, even in Ohio, where the weather could go through long stretches of inclemency.
“Whatever your father feels or doesn’t feel about you, Melvin, has nothing to do with you,” said Jamison firmly. “It’s his issue, not yours.”
Melvin’s already lost twenty years of his life. I don’t want him to waste another second over a lost cause.”
“ … From the forties to the sixties and on. Riots, lynchings, shootings, things blown or burned up. Folks murdered. Federal marshals all over the place. The National Guard. Coloreds”—
“ … And in Mississippi, football rests only one rung below going to church as a state pastime.”
… but face it, this is a podunk town.
“It is my problem, because I chose to make it mine.”
Eastland’s plane had gotten bigger now that he dealt more with cyber than guns. The manufacturing costs were a lot lower and the ability to gouge Uncle Sam under a trillion bytes of bullshit was even higher.
“ … You can think those things if you want, but for God’s sake, keep those thoughts in your head.”
I was a tailback, man, one injury away from it all being over. And there are lots of examples of dudes like me coming out after wrecking college ball and then you find out you can’t run against the big boys in the NFL.
“ … He’s going to throw us some curveballs, it’s just how the guy’s wired.” “What sort of curveballs?” “Hell if I know. I played football, not baseball.”
My parents were pretty much sharecroppers. The only toilet I had growing up was the one at school. Most days I went out into the fields and picked my own meals.
“You got one minute and then we open fire. And we’re packing incendiary rounds.”
… He ‘accidentally’ slipped it into my pocket before he went out …
The Big Bad Wolf had finally gotten to the pigs.
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