25 years since the Walk
“I’m getting out of here, Doolie,” Stefano said as he replaced a book on the cart with a wrinkled hand—his only hand.
Doolie shook his head. “That’s what you’ve been saying every week for the last twenty years.” He scratched the book return date into a hefty ledger he kept strapped to the cart.
“Tomorrow night,” Stefano grinned. “You won’t see me again, so you’d better say your goodbyes now. It’s been nice knowing you, book man. Only person around here with any brains if you ask me.”
Doolie gave a grunt. “We had this same conversation a year ago, señor. And yet you’re still here. Trapped like a rat in a cage, dreaming of impossible things.”
“That was different. I made a mistake. But, like most mistakes in life, all it cost me was a little more time.”
“And half your face,” Doolie said, gesturing at Stefano’s vandalized cheek and jaw.
He was right—some mistakes cost most than time.
“Like I tell you every week,” he continued, “no one has ever escaped from Taragally Prison. No one, you hear? It’s just your age catching up to you, giving you false hope that things will change. Delusion is shared equally by the young, and by the senile.” He smiled. “And I think we know which category you fall into.”
“I’m not kidding, Doolie. I’m leaving tomorrow.”
Doolie shrugged. “I wish you well, though I’m sure I’ll be seeing you next week, as always. Are you going to take out a book?”
Stefano rubbed his hand over the spines of the books in the cart. He’d read nearly every one, and the ones he hadn’t read were useless drivel and propaganda passed down from those in charge. Did the warden really think allowing his prisoners to read about The Divinity of Spain would calm their troubled minds? Would rehabilitate them?
“For a man who’s supposedly leaving, you sure are taking your time choosing.” Doolie held up a book. “Need a recommendation?”
Stefano simply smiled as he reached through the bars of his cell and took the tome from Doolie’s hands.
The Rebellion of Anti-Daqua.
He wouldn’t have a chance to read it, of course, but it might look suspicious if he didn’t borrow a book—as he had done once a week for twenty-five long years.
Stefano levelled his eyes at his old friend. “Thank you for all you’ve done for me. I would have died from boredom long before now if it weren’t for you.”
Doolie spat on the dusty floor and began pushing the cart down the dusty hall. The old wheels on the cart squealed out as they jostled over an ancient stone floor. “See you next week, amigo. Try not to rip out any pages this time,” he added and turned a corner.
Stefano thought of the pages he’d torn from the last book, hidden under his mattress with a matchbook, and the other items he had nearly given his life to procure. He put the book on a wooden table and settled onto his cot, careful not to put any pressure on his stub—the damn thing still pained him, all these years later.
He smiled and lay back in bed. Tomorrow was a new day, as always, but it would mark the day that Stefano Scagliano escaped from Taragally Prison and returned to a better life.
22 Years since the Walk
“The night sleeps soundly,” Antonio said as he stood beside Stefano in the shadows of the prison compound. “Aye, even the wind doesn’t stir this evening.” The moon hung low on the horizon, half formed and half bright—just enough light to see the ground before them, but not bright enough to illuminate the guard towers looming fifty paces away.
Stefano hoped the darkness would shroud their clandestine intentions equally.
He fingered the detonation device in the pocket of his prisoner’s robe. “The silence is a blessing and a curse for us, I’m afraid. Better a howling wind to conceal our endeavours.” He pulled his robe tighter around his bony shoulders—the quiet night held a sharp chill, one liable to bite an old man. “The guards will be back soon, returning to their posts all too quickly.”
“I still don’t know why I went along with this,” Antonio frowned as they crossed the compound. “It’s suicide, old man.”
“It’s only suicide if we get caught,” Stefano pointed out. “Turn back now if you wish, but you can trust me. I’ve been planning this for a long time. There isn’t much that could go wrong as long as you follow my lead. You remember the steps?”
The last thing they wanted was to get their legs blown off by a mine.
“Like they were my own father’s lashings,” Antonio said with a grin.
Stefano studied the younger man in the darkness. Brave. Brave and stupid, that’s what he was.
“I still don’t understand why you want to come with me,” Stefano said. “You only have two years left on your sentence. Why risk this?”
Antonio shook his head gravely. “Normally, I would wait and continue to rot in this pit until they deemed me worthy of release. But I, like many other foolish men trapped in the torturous embrace of youth, have fallen in love with an angel so heavenly, a rose so divine, that I cannot bear to wait a moment longer to reunite with her.”
“Sometimes patience is a virtue, young Antonio. This is a lesson best learned early, as the consequences can be dire.”
Antonio waved a hand, dismissing Stefano’s admonitions. “The love of a beautiful woman waits for no man. I must strike while the iron is still hot, as they say, otherwise, this city is full of men better suited to her than I. In this instance, she will no doubt interpret my patience as neglect and nonchalance. I must go to her before she moves on.”
“If you go through life thinking with your prick instead of your head, you’re bound to lose one or the other,” Stefano growled. He raised a hand, the universal signal for silence. His eyes followed the guard as he climbed down the ladder of the lookout tower.
“Pay attention, Antonio,” he whispered. “We wait until the tower guard moves into the shadows and around the corner. His shift brethren won’t replace him for six minutes.”
The guard reached the ground and peered around the compound. For a fleeting moment Stefano was sure the man’s eyes pierced the darkness straight into Stefano’s heart, but then he moved off and rounded the corner and out of sight.
“Come.” Stefano grabbed Antonio’s arm and pulled him along. They passed the base of the tower and came to a smooth, high wall separating the prisoners from freedom. Beside the wall was a barred gate, one of the two entrances into the prison, though this gate was never used.
Stefano removed the detonation device from his pocket along with a coil of wire. He walked up to the gate and found the tiny slot hidden in the dusty brick. Reaching inside, he pulled out the end of another wire and twisted them around each other—the bomb was complete.
The barred gate was lined with dynamite, hidden behind brick, invisible to the eye. Antonio had been good enough to smuggle in their supply. Setting this up was the result of a year of excruciating patience—he and Antonio had been sneaking out here every night laying the charges, working during the brief time when the guards were switching shifts. They'd managed an average of setting one charge per month. There were twelve charges lining the gate, concealed between the bricks.
He took the coil and walked backward toward Antonio, letting out the wire as he walked.
“On three, I blow the gate. Brace yourself.”
“One, two, three.” He tugged the wire on the detonation box and closed his eyes.
A flash lit up the courtyard, followed by a hollow boom.
But it didn’t seem loud enough.
When Stefano opened his eyes, his heart sank. It appeared that only one of the charges had detonated, barely making a scratch in the immovable gate.
“Heaven Almighty, what went wrong?” He ran up to the bars and found the second charge. He saw the wire between it and the first was disconnected. He cursed himself, realizing he should have checked all the connections first. His age was certainly catching up to him.
He fumbled with the loose wires and reinserted the missing fuse into the charge. He gave it one last push and his world lit up in a blinding white light. A dull blackness enveloped him just as quickly and the world was gone to him.
When he awoke days later, Stefano was missing his left hand, and most of his face.
What had he done wrong? His entire body ached and he wished more than anything for his warm bed. To hold his wife. To see his children. Stafano cursed his own foolishness.
He heard from Doolie that Antonio had escaped through the rather large hole that had been blown in the gate, and hadn’t yet been caught.
Seems he remembered the steps through the minefield, Stefano thought. He could only hope young Antonio was safe in the arms of his lover.
Stefano spent the next year in solitary confinement for his troubles.