It isn't the cough that carries you off, it's the coffin they carry you off in.
Joseph Cromarty has had five fantasy stories appear in the now defunct Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone Magazine, a humorous short story in the now defunct Cape Cod Voice, and another short story in Cape Cod’s Prime Time. He is currently working on a humorous fantasy novel tentatively called The Thrilling Adventures of Captain All Right, and has completed a 1940s detective novel, Dead Mann.
Joe has acted at many venues on Cape Cod, including W.H.A.T., Chatham Drama Guild, Harwich Junior Theater, Cape Rep, The Academy of Performing Arts, and The Cotuit Art Center. He is also a member of the Harwich Senior Players.
You may contact me at: cromartyj42(at)comcast.net
by Joe Cromarty
The county courthouse was a stone building constructed around 1920. The jail was below the first floor, where prisoners were kept for short periods of time, up to a year, but usually less. It was a jail in the sense of the hoosegows in western movies, not too well guarded and, with a little effort, easy enough to break into. Most of the prisoners spent nights there because either they couldn't make bail or weren't allowed out because the judge didn't feel they should be allowed into the community, due to his predisposition that they were guilty as hell.
The courthouse itself was closed for the night, but at 3:45 a.m. the jail suddenly became extremely active.
Three men arrived in a black sedan and pulled up near the door with the lights out. Powers, the shortest of the trio, held a bag of small tools when he exited the car, and O'Brien held two shotguns. It took Powers mere moments to unlock the door. He quickly retrieved his shotgun, and the three of them, led by Nolan, and all dressed alike, in black head to toe, and wearing ski masks, entered the jail office.
They entered too swiftly for Deputy Ethan Torlini, the officer at the desk, to react. O'Brien's shotgun was there, too soon and too close to the deputy's face for him to take any action. Powers gestured the startled man down onto the cement floor and held the shotgun against the back of his head while O'Brien, the tallest of the trio, handcuffed Torlini with his own cuffs, removed his gun, and wrapped duct tape over his mouth and around his legs.
When the second deputy, Dominic Franco, came down the short corridor, he saw too late what had happened. He briefly considered going for his Glock, but, with three shotguns aimed his way, knew it would be foolish to do so. He did the smart thing by raising his hands.
"Unlock the door, and don't do anything stupid," Nolan said in a gravelly voice that had no resemblance to his normal voice.
Franco nodded, unlocked the door, and stepped back, raising his hands. Nolan pushed open the door, took Franco's gun and motioned him to join his fellow deputy on the floor, where Powers trussed him up with duct tape.
With Powers and O'Brien keeping the deputies under control, Nolan entered the cell area and flicked on the lights.
There were only three men in the cells, and, since there were only three cells, that worked out nicely. Jackie Quinlan was the town drunk and, earlier that evening, had tossed an empty beer bottle at the police chief’s personal car, putting a slight scratch in the hood, as well as breaking the bottle and scattering pieces of glass on the pavement. George Russell was there because he had been unable to get bailed out after being nailed on six B and E charges. Harry Smalley was resting after the second day of his rape trial that looked to conclude the next day with an acquittal, due to a lack of circumstantial evidence and the fact the raped young lady was too ashamed to appear in court to testify.
George woke immediately, rubbing his eyes, Harry somewhat slower, and Jackie, still in his drunken stupor, not at all.
"Thank God," George said. He tossed his blanket aside and hurried to the cell door, smiling. "I knew you guys wouldn't forget me. Open 'er up and let's get us out of here."
Nolan ignored him and stepped to the cell containing Harry. He unlocked it, swung the door wide, and gestured Harry out. Harry's movements were too slow for Powers, so Powers started to close the door, which put some juice into Harry. He grabbed the bars to stop them from closing, his eyes asking a silent question. Powers nodded and moved the gun's barrel toward the exit.
They passed George's cell on the way out and he screamed, "Hey, what about me?" He looked at the man who had let Harry out, saw a pair of cold eyes looking back at him and retreated to the far corner of his cell.
Harry was startled to see two more men standing over the trussed deputies, one with the deputies' guns tucked into his belt. The cops' radios had been crushed underfoot and the phone cords dangled off the edge of the desk. He let out a whoop. Nolan took the guns from O'Brien, emptied the ammo in the toilet, flushed, and threw in the guns as the water refilled the bowl.
Almost as quickly as the three men had come, they left, taking Harry Smalley with them.
Powers got behind the wheel of the car, his face in shadow, while O'Brien and Nolan hustled Harry into the back seat and onto the floor.
"Take off your masks," Nolan said, yanking off his and handing it to O'Brien. "Drive down Main Street with a mask on at this time of night and you're sure to attract a cop. Personally I've seen enough cops to last me a year."
Powers removed his mask and handed it to O'Brien, who put the masks in the trunk, along with the shotguns, and got into the passenger's seat. The nondescript black car left as quietly as it had arrived.
After a few minutes of silence, Harry asked if it was all right to get up and started to do so. Nolan shook his head.
Harry smiled up at him. "Yeah, you're probably right. You know, though, you maybe didn't need to do this. The way things were going it was lookin' like I'd get off. Then again, you never know, so I guess big thanks are in order."
"No thanks necessary," Nolan said.
"These hicks are something. I jist asked this girl, this Mary Lou. How'd I know she was on'y fifteen? You see the tits on her? She looked to be eighteen, nineteen."
"She say yes?" Powers asked.
"We-e-ell" Harry smiled up at him again. "She didn't say no. A nod's as good as a wink, right?
"Big Jackie sure organized this break pretty quick. Quite the man, that Jackie." Harry laughed, and almost immediately stopped laughing. "It was Big Jackie sent ya, right?"
"Nobody sent us," Nolan said.
Harry took a good look at Nolan. And stiffened. The car suddenly seemed to Harry to be as quiet as a tomb. "Hey, I know you," Harry said, and his voice dropped to a whisper. "I seen you at the trial."
"You're ... "
"Mary Lou's father."