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The Condemnation of Tommy Williams

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If Byron Hadley, Captain of the Shawshank Prison Guard, had been any other man at that moment, he might have wondered, ‘How had it come to this?’ But Byron Hadley was not any other man. He knew the answer; greed and fear could corrupt even the most Christian of men.

Before his finger pulled down on the trigger, he felt the chill metal, smooth under his hand. Sharp shots broke the silence, ricocheting in the night. Somewhere, a dog barked and the silver moon turned its cool cheek, neither condemning nor approving the cold act below.

The Warden looked on impassively as a red stain blossomed like a rose in the chest of the crumpled body. The still smouldering cigarette sent curls of smoke into the search light. 

Captain Hadley had crossed the line of murder long ago; to him, this body on the ground was just another piece of scum. It was easy for him to reconcile his actions, he was merely following the Warden’s orders. Perhaps it was remorseless and cold, but in his defence, he had obeyed his boss, pointed and shot; it was The Warden who had decided Tommy’s fate. Hadley retreated into the shadows of the guard’s tower trying to avoid the white beam of light which had crossed his face like an accusation.

~

Captain Hadley eyed his superior as he paced the office. Warden Norton’s large plastic glass frames glinted on his narrow face, a small gold cross shone from his tie. Hadley watched silently as Norton’s fingers twitched at his side, a sheen of sweat gleamed on his brow despite the breeze that tumbled through the open windows behind the mahogany desk.

Every so often, the Warden’s eyes strayed to the framed needlepoint hanging on the wall. His wife had lovingly stitched it in her church group and it now hung proudly as a reminder of the Lord above. It gave no hint of the multitude of sins it hid, set deep into the belly of the wall.

Hadley was no fool, he knew what Norton was so scared about; that safe behind the needlepoint contained every scrap of information and incriminating evidence about the scams and various money-making schemes that the Warden had operating in the prison. That information would remain hidden and the money would continue to accrue, so long as Andy Dufrense stayed behind the bars of Shawshank. Unfortunately, for them both, neither had counted on Dufrense running up to the oak-panelled office yelping some cock-and-bull story claiming his innocence.

Warden Norton had given Dufrense solitary for giving lip and then summoned his second-in-command.

 “How can I help you Sir?” Hadley maintained the polite tone of deference and respect that Norton expected, but which Hadley didn’t really feel. He knew all too well that Norton liked to keep his fingers clean, both literally and figuratively; it was the reason he used Dufrense’s accounting skills to manage the books. It wasn’t something Hadley found he could respect, nor was the two-faced smarm that Norton applied when he wanted something.

 “Is it Dufrense?” Hadley ventured.

“Yes. “ Norton snapped, impatience lending a bite to his voice. “We have a problem.”

Hadley tucked his hat further under his arm, smoothing his handsome, if slightly doughy face into an even mask of interested inquiry and resisted the urge to quirk a thick brown eyebrow at the Warden.

“It appears that our money-cleaner is, after all, innocent and he’s demanding a damn retrial. Norton let out a short huff of breath and folded himself into his chair, glaring at the Captain standing before him when Hadley did nothing but frown lightly. Norton narrowed his eyes at Hadley and continued, “Do you have any idea about how much Dufrense knows about the running of this prison? If he gets out and sings like a canary, then we’re both going to end up behind bars. Are you getting it now, Captain?”

 He got it; the icy grip of fear clenched at Hadley’s heart . “So what do we do about it?” He asked, “You’ve thrown Dufrense in the Hole for a month; if he’s not mad by the end of it then he’ll certainly be broken. He won’t say a word after that, hell; he’ll practically be broken to bridle”

Norton levelled a glare at him, “Don’t be stupid, you ham-headed idiot. Dufrense is too smart for his own good and now he’s got the smell of freedom up his grubby little nostrils. A month of solitary isn’t going to break him, damn it!” The slam of the Warden’s fist, loud and sudden in the room, punctuated the last two words. Hadley quashed the anger tumbling like rocks in his stomach and let the Warden continue. “I want him back where he was – processing the money and not saying a word!”

Hadley thinned his lips and stayed silent; bitter experience had taught him it was better to say nothing at these moments.

There was a long pause, and the Warden gave a whistling sigh.  “This Tommy Williams, tell me about him.” He pursed his lips and looked down at his hands, staring at the pale skin and the carefully groomed nails, waiting for an answer.

“Dufrense was helping him get his high school diploma; I hear they know each other reasonably well. He’s the one that told Dufrense the about the person who most likely killed his wife and her golf-pro lover. “

“So you’d say that he’d be able to create a basis for a re-trial if he testified.”

“Only if his story is true Sir.” Hadley said.

 Deep creases lined the Warden’s waxy face. Within him a conflict raged, greed and fear fighting against undermined morals and the slim vestiges of good. His slippery mind grappled with the concept of what he was considering, finding ways to justify the chosen path. Fear lent a diamond edge to the granite of greed and his morals shattered like shale, the last glimpse of decency crumbling like sandstone.

“Hadley. I have a solution, but we’re going to have to make sure that we’re a hundred percent certain that Williams’ story is true.”

The handle of Hadley’s gun glinted with smug approval and the needlepoint on the wall purred its phrase in Norton’s ear, His Judgement Cometh And That Right Soon.

 Like a warm stone, the knowledge that this decision was the correct choice, settled comfortably in his heart.

Hadley gave a short nod of acknowledgement; he’d do whatever the Warden told him to, after all, he was only following orders.

Three weeks later, just before the end of Andy Dufrense’s month long stint in the Hole, a man with sideburns and eager brown eyes was invited out near the gate to speak with the Warden.

Shots rang out, a dog barked, the moon turned a cool cheek and red stains bloomed on the chest of Tommy Williams.