Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sheriff Charley Brown: Chapter XVIII


On March 9 the court decision was reached, LaRose must stand trial for the murder of his wife.

Each day the three prisoners, Murray, Godon and LaRose planned their escape. As each new idea came up, it was almost instantly discarded as impractical; the guards were just too alert. They were escorted outdoors daily excepting Sunday, to a nearby cordwood pile, ordered to cut the four-foot lengths into stove size lengths for the jail heater.

Their daytime jailer was Captain Bob, an irascible man armed with a short, double barreled, 10 gauge shotgun. He remained cautiously back from his charges while outdoors, giving them no chance of overpowering him. Finally it was the wily Murray, the man charged with fraud and embezzlement that came up with the most feasible escape plan. It seemed simple, but was beset by certain circumstances for success.

Closeted with his fellow prisoners during an evening in March, he offered his scheme. "No chance of tricking Bob during the day, we can't get close to him. Also he'll not hesitate to shoot any one of us. That shotgun holds buckshot; that means we'll have to make our break at night." He pointed up to the heavy-planked ceiling of their cell, above which Lawyer Ewing kept his office. "We can cut through that ceiling if we can get a saw blade, and, if we can get the night man, Parker, out of the way."

Godon shrugged, "Where in hell are you going to get a saw blade?"

Murray grinned, "That's the easy part. We'll just slip one out of a bucksaw when we quit work."

LaRose shook his head. "Bob picks up both saws each day after we quit. He'd notice the missing blade right off. And how do you figure to get Parker out of the way long enough for us to saw through those heavy planks? That ceiling above is criss-crossed with a double layer of rough-cut, two by twelve planks. You've got to get a blade through both planks in order to start a cut."

Murray pointed to the northeast corner of the planking. "Take a look. I've spotted a narrow slot next to the wall from which we can start the cut. It's wide enough for a slender blade."

LaRose brightened, "I know how to get a blade, or at least part of one; it all depends upon fooling Bob."

"How you going to steal one?" Godon was skeptical.

"I'll pinch a blade in a log, then pretend to lose my temper and jerk the saw, that'll break the blade. Then I'll pocket the longer piece. I'll file the blade before we begin working in the morning so it'll have a good edge."

"Let's try it, but best you pretend to throw the two parts of the broken blade deep into the snow. If you don't, Bob might not fall for it." Murray shrugged, "Maybe he won't, even then."

"He's lazy! He'll be resting his butt on that far pile of cordwood. Like you say, I'll slip the longest piece into my jacket, and then make a big show of tossing the pieces far away. He'll think I've thrown both of them."

"Knowing Bob, he'll be suspicious of any change, but if we play it up, it'll look like an accident."

The next morning Captain Bob escorted the prisoners to the woodpile, seating himself on his customary spot some thirty feet away. He was a careful man, having been raked over the coals by the sheriff for drinking on the job two years previously. At the time he had been drugged after drinking from a stranger's bottle. The prisoner in his charge had been spirited from the jail, then murdered.

It was nearly 10 a.m. when Murray and Godon picked up an exceptionally heavy log, dropping it violently onto the end of the bucksaw horse. The apparently startled LaRose, who was deep in a last cut, jumped back with an oath. He jerked the saw sideways, snapping the blade neatly in the process.

"You clumsy sons-of-bitches! Now look what you've made me do! I might have cut myself."

Godon feigned anger. "You're a stupid bastard -- should have gotten out of our way."

Murray pretended to intervene. "Sorry Frank, it was my fault, I slipped and dropped my end of the log."

Meanwhile LaRose, his back turned to jailer Bob, was busy unhooking the two pieces of the broken blade. Quickly tucking a length under his jacket he exclaimed in righteous indignation. "That darn blade was nearly worn out anyway. It was only an inch wide." As he spoke he flung the remaining portion edgewise. It spun away with a whirring sound, burying itself in the deep snow. Turning to the jailer, Frank asked, "Got another blade, Bob? That one has been sharpened so many times there was nothing left of it."

Bob looked at him suspiciously. "Just put the saw on top of the cordwood pile. I'll fix it tonight. You still have the spare saw, and you've got nearly two hours until noon. When twelve o'clock rolls around and you've got those blocks hauled into the jail it’ll be eating time."

At noon while the prisoners were being fed in their cell, LaRose buried the stolen length of blade in the mud and straw chinking between the logs. Their further plan of escape depended upon deceiving their night jailer.

Again it was Murray who came up with a further plan. "Parker has got to become sick, so sick that he'll have to leave the job during the night. There's only one way to do that -- that's either by bribery, or poisoning him some way."

"You can't buy off Parker, he's honest." Godon said sullenly.

"What else can we do then?" LaRose queried.

"Murray looked at him and grinned. "Hell, you know all about that. You got rid of your wife. Say! Got any of that poison left?"

LaRose exploded, "You bastard! Say that again and I'll beat the hell out of you!"

Godon quickly moved between them. "Let it go, Murray. Calm down, Frank, he's only teasing you. We've got enough trouble as it is."

Murray brightened, "I have it! Godon, you're going to get sick. You're going to miss a lot of meals!" He smiled, "You can stand to lose some weight, can't you?"

"What do'ya want me to do?"

"You're going to get sick, real sick. You can't eat. Your belly hurts something terrible, and you have no appetite. If you play it up enough, they'll take you out to the fort for observation and treatment."

"What good will that do?"

"Out at the fort you'll be housed in the hospital. There are chemicals out there that will knock a man out, something like Chloral Hydrate. That's what you've got to swipe. With that we can dose up Parker's supper. It might not work, but it's our only chance. The eating table is near the cell so we should be able to distract him long enough to dose his food or drink."

Godon lay back on the wooden bunk. “I'll play sick right after breakfast tomorrow morning, but you'd better tell me what to look for out at the fort. I don't know anything about pills or medicine."

"Chloral has a funny taste," said LaRose. "How will we get him to take it?"

Murray shrugged, "Doesn't necessarily have to be Chloral, there are emetics available." He turned to Godon, "The doctor out there will probably try to purge you. You're not stupid -- watch and listen. Then try to swipe some of what he gives you."

Godon refused his breakfast the next morning. His plate was not touched and the day guard, Captain Bob, immediately became suspicious. He watched the other two prisoners carefully, suspecting something was up. He hoped to catch them feeding Godon surreptitiously from their plates.

Godon complained of great pain, moaning aloud and occasionally cursing. On the second day of his sickness, Dr. Appel was notified. After checking Godon carefully he could find no outward sign of a serious nature, and prescribed an emetic, which he watched Godon take. "It's probably something in the victuals, Bob. Some people can't eat certain foods."

Bob snorted, "Hell, Doctor, they've all eaten the same stuff and Jud Winchester puts up mighty fine grub. I think he's putting on an act."

Appel laughed, "If it is, look out! I just gave him a massive dose of an emetic and watched him swallow it. You'd better give him an extra pail; he'll soon need it.”

Godon's act ended when he became violently ill with stomach cramps. The next morning he began to eat heartily, but it was apparent he bore a sudden malice toward his cellmate, Murray.

After their meeting at Geroux's hotel in mid-February, and their evening together in his quarters above the saloon, the relationship between Charley and Marguerite returned to a placid understanding. Marguerite decided that to avoid friction, she determined the subject of marriage would never be mentioned again unless brought up by Charley. Opportunities to further their romance became almost non-existent due to the frequent blizzards and high winds. Marguerite found herself wanting more and more, and getting little satisfaction. When Charley suggested another stop at his upstairs quarters she shook her head firmly, determined she would not become a sneak thief to hide their love. Paul's letters became all the more intriguing when he mentioned his new promotion. He was no longer traveling the road full time; he was to be in charge of sales for the states of Wisconsin and Minnesota.

His letters expressed his love in warm, newsy letters, extolling the advantages of Chicago. He was especially effusive about the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts that offered training in painting, drawing, sculpture, illustrating, decorative design and architecture. "Think of the opportunity to further your portrait painting! You could become famous here!"

The thought of such a school appealed to Marguerite's esthetic sense. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if I had such a chance." She knew she had gone as far as possible under Mrs. Mostyn's tutelage. Even that lady had said she should seek advanced training for her obvious talent.

Many of his letters postmarked Evanston were a mystery until Paul explained that Northwestern University was located just north of Chicago. He was now attending a night class in business administration, a graduate course, often dropping his letters to her in a local mailbox at the school.

A strange feeling seemed unveiled within her, questioning her judgment. What's wrong with me, thinking of Paul, a man I hardly know? I've got to put him out of my mind, but I can't!

April arrived with vigor, the bright sunlight pouncing upon and gobbling up the remaining snow. The almost constant sunlight brought myriads of geese, ducks and songbirds. The radiant rebirth of spring caused instant budding of the softwoods. Sleeping dogwood trees suddenly opened white blossoms to view that in turn awoke bees from their deep sleep. For a brief week the streets were a morass of mud and sticky gumbo, then the ruts magically dried to rough, buggy-jarring ridges.

Again Marguerite's contacts with Charley were brief, almost nonexistent, limited to an occasional lunch or cup of coffee together. She knew he made daily trips to his farm to prepare his fields for cropping. She also knew the work was tedious and that he came home at night completely exhausted. More and more she began to re-read Paul's letters, wondering if she was making a horrible mistake by continuing to hope for Charley's proposal. She found discussions with Susan often disappointing, her sister advising restraint. Even so, when Marguerite displayed letters from Paul, Susan read them with obvious interest. At one time she turned to ask, "Do you love Paul?"

"I can't say I do. I've been in love with Charley for the past two years but my love for him seems hopeless. I'm beginning to wonder if he really wants a wife. Perhaps my future is with Paul. I think I could grow to love him; he's everything a girl could ask for. I realize I only knew him for that week, but it was a week of excitement."

Susan commiserated, "Sometimes, the people we love don't love us the way we expect them to."