“Hoffman, do you know how this works? Julian wanted me to…”
“I got it,” Hoff interrupted sharply. “It ain’t exactly complicated on this end.”
Baker looked up at the apparatus. “No, I suppose it isn’t.” This didn’t stop him from giving it one last test. Hoff hadn’t been nervous, but the noise it made caused his fancy supper to re-arrange itself inside his stomach.
“You can take a few minutes to get ready, but we’ve got to do this. If you can’t…”
Hoff interrupted him again with “I got it,” this time gently, to make Baker comfortable rather than himself. “This has been a long time coming. I can handle it.”
Baker couldn’t face such bravery and looked away as he headed for the door. Then he turned and looked Hoff straight in the eye.
“God be with you,” he said, holding Hoff’s gaze. At least he was sincere about it. These career guys were assholes most of the time.
Hoff offered his hand. “Thanks, man.” After a beat of hesitation, Baker shook it. Then he quickly turned away and out the door. The shick of the lock sliding home echoed through the small space.
Well, small, but bigger than he had anticipated and bigger than he was used to. The place was nearly square and completely devoid of furniture except for the simple apparatus at the dead center. Around the walls were photos of all his predecessors and a list of their deeds, like a hall of fame, and one small window. He was joining an elite group, the small band of men who’d taken that step.
He strolled around the room and looked at the faces. Quite the legacy. The only men he recognized were the last two. ”Bastards, the both of you,” he said aloud. The echo of his voice off the austere surfaces reminded him that time was short. Rumor had it that one of these fools had stalled too long and Baker, or some other guy in that uniform, had to come back in and see it through. He looked at the white space next to the last picture. That’s the spot where they would honor him, William Henry Hoffman, and he wouldn’t shrink from the task. A lot of years and some tough decisions had led him to this moment, and he would answer.
But first, he went to the window. He saved this for last — he had no idea when he’d see the sky again. The window was small and high in the wall. The glass was thick and it did not open — not that he expected it would. It offered a view of the hills and a small patch of the deep blue Wyoming sky. The sun was setting somewhere behind him and he wished he could have seen it. However, if he stood to the left and looked to his right while on his tiptoes, he could see the flowering shrubs that bordered the building across the small courtyard. They felt totally out-of-place in such a stark setting, but somehow matched what went on here. The bushes were huge and each leaf had serrated edges. The flowers were small, pale white with pink edges, and usually gave off a strong, sharp fragrance this time of day. Someone had grafted this combination together years ago, and this little courtyard was the only place in the world where they grew. Today, they bloomed only for him.
And Hoff knew he was ready. All the things he had done, the eternity he had waited, the shit he had endured, and now it was time to move on. He’d finally be done with this facility and Rawlins and all of Wyoming and the rest of it; he wouldn’t be cooped up any more.
He walked with purpose to the center of the room and hooked the apparatus around him. He felt like an idiot just standing there, so he took a leap of faith with one step forward onto the square in the middle of the floor.
There was a clunk as the platform took his weight, then everything was still. The silence only lasted a moment before he heard the boss man talking in the yard below him. That son of a bitch had no appreciation for what Hoff was doing in here, how hard this was. This is the most courageous journey a man can take, he thought, and that prick is in a hurry to get to dinner! When the grumbling stopped, Hoff heard another noise — water was running, and it was quickly running out. It had begun, and there was no way to stop it.
Maybe this wasn’t the escape he’d thought it was; maybe he’d be here forever. The best and the worst of him would always be in this space. He would be nothing more than a photograph on the wall and the cold chill down each visitor’s spine. It was then that his courage left him in a warm trail down his leg. He wanted to run, to bolt, to fly, but the only thing left to do was fall. With his last breath, Hoff thought he could smell the sweet aroma of the prison’s unique Death House roses.
William Henry Hoffman hung by the neck until dead.
J.P. Tioga grew up in California but came to Fort Worth, Texas, to go to college and never looked back. She teaches at a school for the Deaf.