"Time's up, Chippy," the Warden said hesitantly as he slid the key into the lock of the steel door. "The Governor hasn't called. We can't stall anymore. I'm sorry."
Without so much as a peep or a request for a last meal of choice Chippy rose from his cot to stride to his destiny in that small room seen by very few people. His hands gripped the bars as his eyes met his captor's.
"No problem, Merle. I reckon it ain't your fault. I'll tell St. Peter the same. Don't worry."
It was just like him to offer consolation though he was the one in peril. No one in the pen anticipated having a steady stomach shortly when those lights would dim and flicker. Chippy's hands fell from the bars gracefully as he exited his cell in meek compliance.
The two men walked that dank corridor, one of them for his last time, without the clank of shackles since the Warden shook his head when Sgt. Simmons moved to cuff the prisoner as protocol demanded. It was an unnecessary precaution in this case, one that had never been omitted since the prison's first escorted death march. All present would tell the tale in solemn awe until their own stories came to end through natural causes or otherwise. Some images don't leave the mind no matter how many times the eyes are closed.
"Sir, you've been hit!" Private Reilly yelled through the hail of gunfire ricocheting off the rockface. It seemed an obvious statement, but Sgt. Malstrom appeared not to notice. A combination of adrenaline and sheer bravado kept the daring non-com climbing that ledge as if he hadn't been wounded. Reilly only realized since his face had been splattered with blood from his squad leader's gushing injury.
"It'll have time to heal when Hitler's six feet under," replied Sgt. Malstrom through gritted teeth, his hands rhythmically pulling himself up the rope that their scout had secured the night before the raid.
A .45 caliber submachine gun dangled from a strap around Malstrom's torso. He reached down to grab it, pointed it nonchalantly behind him, and squeezed the trigger without turning his head to aim. The barrage of German lead ceased, its echo reverberating through the ravine like punctuation to a mortal sentence.
"You hit 'em, Sarge! We're saved," bellowed Corporal Clancy from his spot on the tagline above.
"Only until those Jerries down below get their machine gun assembled," Malstrom corrected the good Corporal. "There's a ways to go before we're up this cliff. I'm hemorrhaging too hard to make it. I'll take care of those Krauts underneath us. You boys complete the mission. Make me proud."
And with those last words Sgt. Malstrom cut himself free of the rigging, pulled the pins in the two grenades tethered to his chest, and plunged silently to his martyrdom as three terrified Nazis stared up at an American madman.
"Chippy" Charlie Malstrom got the name in grade school when his classmates pointed out how no cruelty their teachers doled out could faze him. When detention was over he had to be asked to leave. "Charles," his confused instructors would say, "It's time to gather your things and go home."
But now, decades later, Chippy would return to his hearth no more.
The fishing trip wasn't his idea. Not many things that came to fruition were, though he had plenty going through his head. A buddy had suggested this latest venture and Charlie went along for the ride. Who can't appreciate a drunken day in the sun catching dinner?
But the finned creatures below their fluttering feet were not to be quietly taken.
"Hang on, Chip!" his pal screamed above the thrash of the waves. "The Coast Guard's bound to find us if we can float here long enough."
The remnants of their chartered craft were buoyant and would weather the squall, but the true enemy was circling beneath them. The first fin broke the water's edge and cruised their way like a hungry torpedo.
"Shark!" the Captain shrieked through his strained vocal cords as he clung to the shattered mast.
Chippy was the first to go. He didn't have the time or forethought to call out to his Maker. "Strange," he thought as the predator chomped down on both thighs simultaneously. "This shark has a mustache..."
"Malstrom!" the Supe wailed from below the conveyor line. "Quit hanging from the railing like a hopped-up chimpanzee and pay attention to those cans. QC says that too many of them are going through the Cleaner on their sides whenever it's your shift. You have one task: turn the flipped cans back up as they ride by your station. If you can't handle that then it's back to the broom for you."
Chippy's grip on the steel handguard slackened and his shoulders found their own gravity. He turned toward his Supervisor-- a wretch of a man with a nicotine stained patch of graying hair between his nose and upper lip and dentures that could decapitate-- smiled with a squint, and tugged at his suspenders as he jumped down from the platform into the realm of his reddening aggressor.
"Should I sweep or mop first?" he asked, quite unscathed.