As the final preparations were being made, the executioner became increasingly nervous. He felt as if he were the one awaiting his own death rather than that of Prisoner #6602. Although hidden behind a black cloak, he felt naked in front of the crowd of witnesses. The cloak was something they always wore so that neither the chosen witnesses, the prisoner, nor any media reporters could identify the executioner. Only he, the warden and his accomplices knew his identity.
None of the others had the luxury of anonymity. A four by eight foot window framed their faces and entire bodies for the viewing crowd. In addition, their credentials were worn in a plastic pouch on their sleeves and their full names were embroidered above their breast pocket. It didn’t matter, though. They had nothing to hide. Nobody cared who buckled the final straps or who checked the pulse, or lack thereof, after the fact. It was the one who pushed the button who needed to be concealed. Hence, the executioner’s cloak.
They were accompanied by other prison officials who were not part of the plan, which was going to make things much more difficult, but not impossible. The first time they had tried this, it failed. There were too many variables and they hadn’t planned carefully enough. Fortunately, only they knew that they had failed. To everyone else, including the warden and viewing group, everything went according to plan. This time, though, they were ready.
Only the executioner and his accomplices were aware of the plan. They were paid off well enough so the executioner knew they would all keep their mouths shut. Prisoner #6602 himself didn’t even know about the plan, and they wanted it that way. While it might seem safe to confide in an inmate on death row who is mere minutes away from being executed, the executioner and his accomplices knew otherwise. They couldn’t take a chance of having this plot be exposed. They had worked too hard, for too long, on perfecting the procedure and the plan. They simply couldn’t risk it. Not even for the person they were risking it all because of.
The clock was ticking loudly, painfully loud, as it drew closer to midnight. They always carried out the sentences at midnight. The executioner knew he couldn’t linger in the chamber. He did one last quick check to make sure his accomplices had done as they were supposed to do. He looked over at the EKG machine. He discreetly checked for the white dot on the back to ensure it was the right machine.
He made his way to the anteroom, the room behind the chamber where the lethal cocktails were stored and administered from. He checked for the white dot on the bottom of the IV solutions. He pretended to merely be examining each bag for holes or other impurities so those around him wouldn’t know what he was doing. They seemed to be oblivious to his actions anyway.
During executions, everyone was always in sort of a zombie-like state. The prison staff, the witnesses, the execution team, even the condemned was generally quiet and reflective during the preparations. Nobody was particularly thrilled about the fact that a life was about to be ended or that they were about to participate in a murder of sorts. After all, the death certificate did state murder as the cause of death.
Some members of the team had religious or moral objections to the procedure, yet they carried them out as mandated in the capacity of their job function. They presumably made peace with it privately. The handful of those who were happy to be carrying out the execution didn’t show it. They couldn’t. The mood in the room was solemn, the witnesses were silent by order and the air was made thick by the impending death. Showing exuberance during a time like that would have likely resulted in some sort of repercussions either by the other witnesses or prison officials.
Surprisingly, even the family members of the victims were almost always quiet and buttoned up during the procedure. The executioner presumed this was more because of the reason they were there than the fact that they were actually mournful over the death of the convicted. After all, this whole event was taking place because they themselves had lost someone they loved. They had been profoundly hurt in a life-altering way by the events leading up to this. There was certainly no joy in that. Closure, perhaps, but joy? Doubtful.
The time was drawing closer. The warden assembled the team and quickly briefed them.
“Gentlemen,” he said. “I presume all final preparations have commenced.”
He looked to the prison officials responsible for handling those tasks, the executioner’s accomplices, and they nodded. The executioner worried that they nodded a little too emphatically, which worried him. Fortunately, the warden didn’t take notice of it. He wondered if his mind was playing tricks on him. He was all too aware of the phenomenon that occurred when someone was doing something wrong, and that feeling they got where it seemed as if their every movement was being displayed on a giant theater screen with their secrets in big red letters on a marquee below for all to see. He had to trust that nobody who wasn’t supposed to be was privy to his plan. He had to maintain the calm, collected façade that he was crumbling to pieces behind.
“The condemned refused his last meal and is being escorted to us as we speak,” the warden continued, completely devoid of emotion.
The executioner presumed that the warden was one of those who enjoyed putting prisoners to death, yet tried to hide this fact from the rest of the staff. He envisioned him toasting every execution with a flute of champagne when he was in the privacy of his own home. Tonight, he would likely do the same.
“Wilson, will you please make the final call to ensure that a stay has not been granted?” the warden demanded.
“Yes, sir,” Officer Wilson responded as he picked up the phone.
He spoke quietly into the receiver, reading the prisoner’s information from an index card that he held in his hand. He hung up the phone seconds later.
“No stay, sir,” he said to the warden.
“Very well then, does anybody have any questions before we proceed?” the warden asked.
It was a rhetorical question. They had all done this many times, it was just standard procedure to ask if anybody had questions. Not once in the executioner’s career had he ever seen any of the prison officials ask anything during that time.
“All right, then, let’s move. We’ve got a job to do.” The warden said.
Everyone scrambled to their respective positions as he gave the last order. The executioner had his eye on the staff members who went out the side door to meet the escorts and strap Prisoner #6602 to the gurney.
They were not in on the plan. They didn’t need to be.
Before he took his place in the anteroom, the executioner purposely brushed shoulders with one of his accomplices.
“Everything’s set, right?” the executioner asked.
“Everything’s set, right?” the executioner asked.
“I think so,” the accomplice replied.
“You think?” the executioner whispered from under the cloak.
“As much as it can be, we didn’t have much time and there were eyes all over us,” the accomplice responded.
“What about the coroner, and the morgue?” the executioner asked.
“All set,” the accomplice replied.
“If he dies, you die, got it?” the executioner demanded.
“Got it,” the accomplice gulped as he forced the words out of a tightening throat.
The executioner took his place in the anteroom and waited for the condemned to be brought in. A few seconds later, the gurney was wheeled in. The wheels squealed loudly and the executioner damned the sound. If they were wheeling someone to their death, couldn’t they at least do so on a gurney that didn’t scream across every single inch of the floor as it crossed?
The executioner could not see Prisoner #6602’s face. He had seen it many times before, though. Without seeing him today, the executioner could sense his fear. That was good, he had not been tipped off about the plan.
When the gurney squealed into its place in the center of the room, IVs were inserted into the man’s arm, one into each. After they were securely fastened in place, the viewing curtains which had been closed while he was wheeled in were now re-opened.
“Any last words, statements, or testimony?” the warden asked the prisoner.
They didn’t waste any time. Once the gurney was brought in, the process was started immediately. In fact, the IV lines were already flowing with saline when the question was asked. Prisoner #6602 likely didn’t even know how much time he had to spit out his last words.
“Radcliffe. Darren Radcliffe,” the prisoner simply said.
That was not Prisoner #6602’s name. Nobody knew who ‘Darren Radcliffe’ was or what the he meant when he muttered the name.
“Darren Radcliffe?” the warden asked.
“Yes,” the prisoner muttered.
“Care to elaborate?” the warden asked coldly.
“No, sir,” Prisoner #6602 said confidently.
“All right, then. If you have no further words, the intercom to the viewing audience will be disabled and the process will begin.”
The prisoner acknowledged with a slight head nod. He seemed to be at peace with what was about to take place.
The warden exited the chamber and appeared in the anteroom. He tapped the executioner on the shoulder and said, “It’s time, start the sequence.”
He was referring to the sequence of IVs that would deliver the ‘lethal’ part of the lethal injection. The executioner pushed the buttons that corresponded to each of the IV solutions. One by one, he pressed a stiff, shaking finger down on the buttons, praying that the plan would work.
The process was relatively uneventful. Prisoner #6602 kept his eyes closed the whole time and there wasn’t any spectacle of sorts to be seen. After about fifteen minutes, the accomplice went over to the heart rate monitor and checked it. He gestured for the physician to come over and declare a time of death. The physician nodded at the other accomplice as he did this. He put his hand on the wrist of Prisoner #6602 and gestured for the intercom to be turned back on.
“Time of death, 12:17 a.m.,” he said with his hand still on the wrist of the condemned.
The executioner put his hand to his own pocket. His fingers cupped the small device and wanted desperately to pull it out and look at it. When he was sure he wasn’t being watched, he removed it from his pocket and kept it tucked in the palm of his hand as he glanced at it. His stomach almost leapt through his throat as he read the tiny display.
Heart rate, sixty-two beats per minute.
The plan had worked.