Hard News Excerpt

They moved on him just after dinner.

He didn’t know for sure how many. All he thought was: Please, don’t let them have a knife. He didn’t want to get cut. Swing the baseball bat, swing the pipe, drop the cinder block on his hands . . . but not a knife please.

He was walking down the corridor from the prison dining hall to the library, the gray corridor that had a smell he’d never been able to place. Sour, rotten . . .  And behind him: the footsteps growing closer.

The thin man, who’d eaten none of the fried meat and bread and green beans ladled on his tray, walked more quickly.

He was sixty feet from a guard station and none of the Department of Corrections officers at the far end of the corridor were looking his way.

Footsteps. Whispering.

Oh, Lord, the thin man thought. I can take one out maybe. I’m strong and I can move fast. But if there are two there’s no way . . . .

He glanced back.

Three men were close behind him.

Not a knife. Please . . . .

He started to run.

“Where you goin’, boy?” the Latino voice called as they broke into a trot after him.

Ascipio. It was Ascipio. And that meant he was going to die.

“Yo, Boggs, ain’ no use. Ain’ no use at all, you runnin’.”

Randy Boggs said nothing. He kept running. Foot after foot, head down. Now only forty feet from the guard station.

I can make it. I’ll be there just in time. I can sprint if I have to.

Please let them have a club or their fists.

But no knife.

No sliced flesh.

Of course word’d get out immediately in general pop how Boggs had run to the guards.

And then everybody, even the guards themselves, would wail on him every chance they got. Because if your nerve breaks there’s no hope for you Inside. It means you’re going to die and it’s just a question of how long it takes for the rest of the inmates to strip away your body from your cowardly soul.

“Shit, man,” another voice called, breathing hard from the effort of running. “Get him.”

“You got the glass?” one of them called to another.

It was a whisper but Boggs heard it. Glass. Ascipio’s friend would mean a glass knife, which was the most popular weapon in prison because you could wrap it in tape, hide it in you, pass through the metal detector and be shit out into your hand and none of the guards would ever know.

“Give it up, man. We gonna cut you one way or th’other. Give us you blood. . . .”

Boggs, thin but not in really good shape, ran like a track start but he realized that he wasn’t going to make it. The guards were in station seven — a room separating the communal facilities from the cells. The windows were an inch and a half thick and someone could stand directly in front of the window and scrap and pound with his bleeding bare hands on the glass and if the guards inside didn’t happen to look up at the slashed prisoner he’d never hear a thing and continue to enjoy his New York Post and pizza slice and coffee. He’d never know a man was bleeding to death two feet behind him.

Boggs saw the guards inside the fortress. They were concentrating on an important episode of St. Elsewhere on a small TV.

Boggs sprinted as fast as he could, calling, “Help me, help me!”

Go, go, go!

Okay, he’d turn, he’d face Ascipio and his buddies. Butt his long head into the closest one. Break his nose, try to grab the knife. Maybe the guards would notice by them.

A commercial on the TV. The guards were pointing at it and laughing. A big basketball player was saying something. Boggs raced directly toward him.

Wondering: Why were they doing this? Why? Just because he was white? Because he wasn’t a body builder? Because he hadn’t picked up a whittled broomstick along with the ten other inmates and stepped up to kill Rano the snitch?

Ten feet to the guard station . . . .

A hand grabbed his collar.

“No!” Randy Boggs cried.

And he felt himself start to tumble to the concrete floor under the tackle.

He saw: the characters on the hospital show on TV looking gravely at a body on the operating room.

He saw: the gray concrete rising up to slam him in the head.

He saw: A sparkle of the glass in the hand of a young Latino man. Ascipio whispered, “Do it.”
The young man stepped forward with the glass knife.

But then Boggs saw another motion. A shadow coming out of a deeper shadow. A huge shadow.
A hand reached down and gripped the wrist of the man holding the knife.


The attacker screamed as his wrist turned sideways in the shadow’s huge hand. The glass fell to the concrete floor and broke.

“Bless you,” the shadow said in a slow, thick voice. “You know not what you do.” Then the voice snapped, “Now get the fuck outa here. Try this again and you be dead.”

Ascipio and the third in the trio helped the wounded attacker to his feet. They hurried down the corridor.

The huge shadow, known as Severn Washington, fifteen to twenty-five for a murder committed before he accepted Allah into his heart, helped Boggs to his feet. The thin man closed his eyes and breathed deeply, leaning against the guard station. Inside of which the DOC guards nodded and smiled as the body on the operating room on the TV screen  was miraculously revived and the previews of next week’s show came on.

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