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Authors: John D. (John Dann) MacDonald,Internet Archive

The end of the night

BOOK: The end of the night
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Dear Ed,

Well, we had the big day here, and we sent the four of them off to their reward with what Satchel-Butt Shires, our lovable Warden called "splendid efficiency." Honest to God, if you'd still been here, you would have split a gut watching Shires sweat blood around here as burning day got closer and closer. I admit it was a pretty big deal all right, four in one day when the most we ever had before was three, and this time one of them was a she. Did you know she was the third female ever executed in this state? I didn't. It just goes to show how fast women can talk, Eddie boy. Do I need to tell you?

Anyhow, Big-Butt Shires knows he's going to have a full house, and he like to drove everybody crazy with this idea he got about rehearsals. He borrowed a stop watch someplace, and half the time it wasn't right because he didn't know how to work it, and then he'd chew us out. Remember how red his face gets? How could you forget? He chewed on you most of anybody.

I can't count how the hell many times he run us through it. Eight of us, and a damn stuffed dummy. He had old Creepy Staples over on the switch as usual. Bongo and me were on the electrodes, straps and hood. Christy and Brewer were on the cart. He couldn't get the Doc to mess around with that kind of nonsense, so he had old Mitch make like the Doc. Marano and Sid were escorts, and he'd say "Go" and they'd walk the dummy in, grinning like fools, with Shires yelling **Take it serious, men!" and they'd sit in on the throne and Bongo and me would make a full latchup like it was for real, and step back to our places. Staples would fake the switch with Shires giving us a slow count, then old Mitch would step in and hold a beatup stethoscope on the dummy and pronounce it dead, and then Christy and Brewer would come wheeling the cart in as we did the unlatching. We'd do it four straight times and then Shires would give us a pep talk and we'd do it again.

Honest to Pete, Eddie boy, you'd think Shires was going to get married.

I'll tell you, we did get us a full house. They were packed behind that glass shoulder to shoulder. I don't have to tell you the types. We had the cops and politicians you see every time on account of they get some kind of boot out of it. One way it's better tlian auto races on account of when you come here you know somebody is going to get it. Then there were the official witnesses appointed for this one, most of them hating the hell out of every minute, and then there was the reporters. You could tell about the few who'd seen this kind of thing before. They weren't making any smart cracks and trying to play tough. They just looked sick. Shires, by the way, managed to pass the buck upstairs about who could get in, so he didn't have a thing to do with it, and that made him real happy. They were shook down thorough for cameras and little tape recorders and little transmitters, and I hear they got a pretty good haul off those boys.

Shires was scared sick they wouldn't get the woman here on time, but it was timed right, and they brought her in through that little back death-house gate where the stiffs go out. I guess all those guys behind the glass were thinking about all the sexy pictures that got printed of the Koslov woman, and if they were, they had a hell of a disappointment. She put on maybe twenty pounds, and she had her hair in braids, and she'd got religion. She walked in steady, her hands together in front of her, her lips moving every minute, following right along with the Father who was with her, looking down toward the floor. She had on a white dress like a confirmation dress, J swear, but real plain. She didn't even flick an eye at the throne until she come to the step up onto the little platform, and then she stepped up and turned and sat down, not missing a word. She crossed herself before we strapped her arms, and she kept right on with the praying. She was shaved good under those braids, and the plates went on neat and tight. The only thing was just before the hood went on, it was like she saw all those guys behind the glass there watching her for the first time. She said a few words, not loud, but loud enough for Bongo and me to hear them, and I can tell you, Eddie boy, I can't put them in no letter going through the U. S. Mails. She picked up the praying when the hood went on, and we stepped back, and all I have to say to you is that it was a good one. You know how bad even the

good ones are. The first time was enough, and when they were running her out on the cart, I looked over and saw our audience had shrunk some, which is always to be expected, and there were a few bottles out, and some of them didn't look like they'd last much longer.

We got Golden next, the scrawny guy that talked so funny and made you so sore that time. He had nothing left at all, that boy. They'd taken his glasses. He had that empty foolish look, and Marano and Sid were carrying all but about two pounds of him. He was trying to make his legs go in that flappy stilt walk they get, and he had ruined his pants before they even got him to the door to bring him in. When that bird spotted the throne, he went stiff as a board and set his heels and tried to thrash around. And he started to make a hell of a noise like I never heard before. For a guy with so many words, he didn't have one left in English. He just went, *'Gaw, gaw, gaw, gaw," with the strings in his neck standing out, and he couldn't take his eyes off the throne. Marano and Sid slid him right along, lifted him and spun him and plunked him down and held him a second until we could make the first latch. He was thrashing, but there wasn't much strength in him. He was still going "Gaw, gaw" under the hood when Staples threw it to him. And that was a good one too, and that one cleaned out a few more behind the glass so those boys left had some nice standing room.

We got the big one next. All brute. He didn't take it bad. He had a silly grin on his face and he kept trying to move in any direction except toward the throne, but he handled easy. It could have been a lot tougher, but Shires got scared of what a guy so powerful might do, so he fixed it with the Doc to sneak a shot to that boy that woidd have stunned a horse. So he hardly knew where he was, and that's why he acted like a punchy fighter.

I had a hunch that everything was going too good, and 1 was sure right. It looked all right at first. But after Doc checked, he stepped back and gave the sign to Staples for another bang. He got rattled and didn't give us our chance to check the plates, so it was the Doc's fault. There was clearance at the leg and you know what that will do. You want to know how powerful that boy was? He busted the right arm-straps like wet string, and nobody thought anybody would ever bust those! I found out later he busted his right arm in three places, thrashing it. Of course it didn't work the second

time, but Doc gave us our chance to reset the electrode firrrit but then we didn't know what the hell to do about that arm. We all looked at Shires. He was like paste, and he gave us the go-ahead. Let it thrash. Staples made sure on that third run. You know, that one even made me feel a little funny.

There was a delay while we had to jury-rig something for the right arm, It was fifteen minutes before we could get heavy canvas straps from the shop, and I guess the waiting was hell on that Stassen boy. He was good as the girl, I'd say. Bongo says better. He came in dead-white and his mouth a little bit open, moving so fast they had to trot to stay with him. He hopped up onto the platform and hesitated such a little time you could hardly notice it, and sat down and put his arms right where they belonged. He saw them through the glass then, and I can tell you we had damn few customers left, and he turned red in the face and closed his eyes tight. And when Bongo slid the hood on, he said, "Thanks." Isn't that a hell of a thing? Bongo, he jumps a little and says, "You're welcome." We step back then, and that one went good too.

I knew you would want to know how it was, pal, because you were here in the fun house so long. As you can expect, I am sitting here writing this to you in an empty house. Like always, Mabel has gone to her sister's place for a while. She agrees about the extra money and all, and God knows we can use it, but it makes me sore as hell the way she gets it in her head she don't want to be anywhere around me afterwards, like I had some kind of disease.

All I can say is, I'm damn glad they didn't spread those four out, say about two weeks apart. A man would hardly have rw love life at all. Ha Ha. From the way it looks around here, we won't get the next one until July, and he's had two stays already and his lawyers are fighting for another one, so it might stay quiet right into fall, which would suit me just fine. Four of them like that, it takes something out of you, I guess.

Write me a note when you got time, Eddie boy, and tell me how it feels to be retired after a long useless life. And don't forget the bet. You got the Yankees and I got news for you. They're not going to make it this year either.

Yours in friendship Willy

It is not astotsttshtng that the memoranda written by Riker Deems Owen, the defense attorney, regarding what came to be known as the Wolf Pack Murders, have been presented by Leah Slayter, a softly adoring member of Mr. Owen's staff.

Though Riker Deems Owen had long had the habit of ^;vTit-ing windy and rambling memoranda for the files, to "clarify my concepts," his output in this instance is of more than normal interest.

It was his first—and most probably his last—case conducted under the hot glare and distorting lens of national pubUcity. Perhaps no one could have won the case. And "won," within this particular framework, can be translated to mean any penalty less than death. Riker Owen, at forty, had a sohd record of success. Once it had been determined, on a jurisdictional basis, that the four co-defendants would be tried in Monroe—which calls itself The Friendly City—the stunned parents of Kirby Stassen, the only defendant with family resources, made a logical choice when they retained Riker Deems Owen in their attempt to save the mortal existence of Kirby Stassen, their only son, their only child, their only chick, their only illusion of immonahty.

9

Owen had not only his comforting record of success, but also a persuasive plausibility that lessened, to some small and necessary extent, their horrid fear. They could not know that they had retained not a savior, not a hero, but an assiduously processed imitation, the hollow result of boyhood dreams distorted by the biographies of Fallon, Rogers, Darrow and other greats.

This does not indicate a special gullibility on the part of the Stassens. In fact, in the early days of the long trial, most of the correspondents in the courtroom believed themselves privileged to watch the birth of a new legend. But as Riker Deems Owen tired, he could not sustain his own illusion. The gloss crackled. The strings became visible. What had been considered quickness of mind was shown to be dreary gambits, well rehearsed. Originality dwindled to a contrived eccentricity. By the time it was over he had suffered a total exposure; he had been revealed as a dull-witted and pretentious poseur, irrevocably small-bore, a midget magician who strutted and puffed under the cruel appraisal of his audience, lifting long-dead rabbits out of his provincial hat.

Yet it cannot be said that he lost the case, because it can never be proven that anyone could have won it.

The notoriety of the case—the State versus Nanette Koslov, Kirby Stassen, Robert Hernandez and Sander Golden on a charge of murder in the first degree—gives a special interest to Owen's memoranda.

The student of law can read the actual transcript of the trial to his professional profit. Those more interested in the irony of the human condition can read the Owen memoranda instead, and see there the reaction of a rather pedestrian mind to the four souls he was committed to defend.

The confidential memoranda were dictated to Miss Leah Slayter, the newest addition to his staff, who not only took down many of the verbatim conversations between Riker Owen and the defendants, but also acted as his secretarial assistant during the trial itself.

Should the discerning reader detect in the Owen memoranda a certain striking of attitudes which seems inconsistent with the legal approach, it can be blamed not only upon Miss Slayter's physical attractiveness and her tendency toward hero worship, but also upon the confirmed tendency of Owen's wife, Miriam, to treat him and all his works, after twenty years of marriage, with an attitude best described as patroniz-

ing boredom. A man must have someone before whom he can strut. Also, any excessive imagery in the memoranda can perhaps be blamed upon a wistful desire to publish those memoranda as memoirs at some future date, a conceit not unusual in all professions.

Miss Leah Slayter's attitude toward her employer kept her from sharing the general disillusionment with the talents of the attorney for the defense. For her he burned as bright as morning. When he sought tears from a stony jury, it was Leah's eyes which misted. When the verdict was returned, her ripe, shocked mouth gaped open, her brown eyes went wide and round and her fingers snapped the yellow pencil in her hand.

Riker Deems Owen's reaction to defeat can only be guessed. He wrote no final memorandum after the verdict was returned. It is safe to gue^s that he knew what the verdict would be, that he sensed his own cumulative ineffectuality, and saw it confirmed by the very shortness of the jury's deliberations. They were out only fifty minutes—a typical time span when the verdict is to be guilty of murder in the first degree, with no recommendation for mercy. Perhaps Mr. Owen did write a memorandum heavy with blame for every factor except himself. If so, he recognized it in time as an unproductive example of unprofessional flatulence composed as balm for his own ego, and destroyed it.

Nor can Miss Slayter's total emotional reaction to the defeat of her hero be assessed. One can assume, with reasonable safety, that she was able to rationalize the traditional gift of self to ease the agony of the fallen one. Her warm charms, only very slightly overabundant, awarded with worshipful humility, would have properly reinflated the ego of many men less trivial than Riker Owen. One could say that while he was in the process of tumbling off the merry-go-round, he caught the brass ring.

BOOK: The end of the night
10.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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