As Catch Can (Jack Marconi Series #1)by Vincent Zandri
It's been a year since Jack's wife was killed in a bizarre, unresolved auto accident. Ever since, he's been slipping up in his job as the warden of Green Haven, a concrete prison in upstate New York, and it makes him the perfect patsy when an infamous cop-killer escapes with the help of someone on the inside. Throwing himself into the hunt for the fleeing convict,… See more details below
It's been a year since Jack's wife was killed in a bizarre, unresolved auto accident. Ever since, he's been slipping up in his job as the warden of Green Haven, a concrete prison in upstate New York, and it makes him the perfect patsy when an infamous cop-killer escapes with the help of someone on the inside. Throwing himself into the hunt for the fleeing convict, Jack doesn't see what's coming. Suddenly, he's through the looking glass, and in the next twenty-four hours, Jack will defy direct orders, tamper with evidence, kidnap the con's girlfriend, and run from the law with a .45 hidden beneath his sports coat. Because Jack Marconi, keeper of laws, men, secrets, and memories, has been set up by a conspiracy that has turned everyone he ever trusted into an enemy. And everything he ever believed in into the worst kind of lie.
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Statement given by Robert Logan, the senior corrections officer in charge of the transportation of convicted cop-killer Eduard Vasquez at the time of his escape:
You wanna know about Vasquez, well I'll tell you about Vasquez. He looked like death twisted inside out. That dentist did a real job on him, or so I thought at the time. What I didn't know was that Vasquez was one hell of a faker, one hell of an actor. You should have seen him sitting in the backseat of that station wagon, all bound up in shackles and cuffs--skin white, lips swelled, gauze stuffed inside his cheeks. Blood and spit were running down his chin. His eyes were glazed and puffed up. That toothache must have been a real headache now that A.J. Royale, the butcher of Newburgh, had gotten to him. No way could Vasquez escape. But then, how could I make any goddamned sense out of the feeling I'd had since we'd started out? The feeling that told me he was going to make the break?
But here's how it really happened:
My partner, Bernie Mastriano, he drove the station wagon while I adjusted the rearview mirror to just the right angle so I could get a better look at Vasquez in the backseat without turning every ten seconds. He was suckin' air like there's no tomorrow. His feet and hands were bound up and he was locked up in that cage and you could see the pain all over his face. He just put his head back on the seat, opened his mouth wide, let his tongue hang out like a sick puppy. He didn't seem so tough then. He seemed kind of stupid and pathetic, not at all like the crazy bastard who pumped three caps into the back of that rookie cop's head back in '88. Vasquez kept suckin' upthat air like it somehow relieved the pain from the hole A.J. Royale left in his mouth. Then out of nowhere he doubled over, threw his head between his legs, started heaving blood all over the floor.
Mastriano screamed, "I think he's having a fucking heart attack."
I told him to shut up, stop the car.
"A fucking heart attack," he said.
"Damn it, Bernie," I said, "pull the car over before somebody gets hurt." Sometimes you gotta pound things into Mastriano's head. He pulled the wagon onto the shoulder of Route 84, killed the engine. Then he pulled Vasquez out of the car and laid him out on the field next to the road.
I was right behind him.
When I got down on my knees to see if Vasquez had swallowed his tongue, the black van pulled up behind the station wagon. The back doors of the van swung open. There they were. Three of the hugest dudes you ever saw--in black ski masks, packing shotguns.
Mastriano went for his sidearm. But he took a shot in the head with the butt end of a shotgun, hit the ground cold. I got up and went after the son-of-a-bitch. I guess I didn't see it coming either. I went down, right next to Vasquez. They kicked me in the face, in the forehead. See that purple-and-black shit above my eye?
One of those masked bastards knelt down, reached into my pockets, felt around for the keys to Vasquez's handcuffs and ankle shackles. But here's what really got to me: When Vasquez was free, he jumped up. When those shackles were off, he spun around to his knees, got up, spit out that bloody gauze, let out a laugh. "Hey boss," he said, "you fell for the whole thing, hook, line, and fucking sinker. Just like that, boss."
I rolled over onto my side in the high grass, jammed my knees into my chest. I couldn't work up the air to talk. But my ears were still good. "Lock 'em up," Vasquez said. They cuffed Mastriano and me together with my own handcuffs, shoved us into the front seat of the wagon. Vasquez ordered one of his men to take the wheel. But before we pulled away, he leaned his head inside the open window. "No hard feelings, boss," he said. "Hope this don't fuck up the promotion."
The last thing I remembered before waking up at the gravel pit was Mastriano's piece coming down hard on my right temple.
* * *
Nineteen ninety-seven was the year Green Haven Prison went insane. The winter hadn't produced a single snowstorm that lasted for more than an hour before turning to rain and slush, and what should have been covered with a velvety-smooth blanket of white went on being gray and lifeless and pitiful, as if God Himself saw to it that the twenty-five hundred inmates and corrections officers living and working inside nine concrete cell blocks never once forgot where they were and why they were put there in the first place.
But for a man living and working inside an iron house, you didn't take snow for granted. A fresh dose of snow always broke the endless monotony, pumping good vibrations throughout the facility so that even the hardest inmates showed wide ear-to-ear smiles on their scarred faces. And happy faces meant that, for maybe a day or so, you wouldn't have a prisoner shivved square in the chest or a shit-thrower tossing a handful of shit and piss at an unsuspecting officer or an HIV-positive lifer spitting a mouthful of blood at his cheating honey or a young queer wrapping a sheet around his neck and tying it to the overhead light fixture. What you might get instead was two thousand men joining in song, the gentle hum radiating against the concrete walls like music by moonlight while flakes of white snow drifted slowly down to earth.
What we got that winter, instead of snow, was rain and slush and bone-hard, damp cold. From New Year's to Easter alone, we had six shivvings that resulted in four deaths and two badly rearranged faces. We had seventeen beatings that resulted in one death, and one nineteen-year-old inmate who (mysteriously) fell from the third-floor gallery in F-Block and who would now do life inside an infirmary, taking his meals through IV.
That winter we had two ODs, one death by hanging, an inmate who somehow got his wife pregnant during visiting hours, and another who acquired a good old-fashioned dose of the clap. To make a dismal matter even worse, we also had a group of twelve corrections officers who attracted national attention with their own arrests after a bachelor party turned ugly. The short of it was that my COs thought it would be funny to pelt unsuspecting passersby with raw eggs from the open windows of the school bus they'd rented for the occasion. One elderly citizen, who stood outside his car on a side street in Newburgh and protested, was given a special dose of humiliation. (As of this writing, his suit against Green Haven Prison and the State of New York is pending.)
But these were not the most serious things that happened during that winter.
We also had an increase in the inner-prison drug and contraband trade, in the form of pot, crack, heroin, liquid hormones, and assorted pharmaceuticals. I was personally forced to retire a record number of COs, not because I wanted them gone (I didn't have enough support staff to run the prison as it was), but because the Commissioner of Corrections for the State of New York had sent down his official mandate. And what's more, the winter of 1997 was the first I had spent without my wife, Fran, in more than twenty-five years--although by then nothing more could be done for her.
To add insult to an otherwise uncauterized injury, we had been cheated of our spring. Even the anticipation of spring rains and fresh muddy yards and good sleeping weather (there is no climate control inside a concrete prison cell) had been taken from the men who occupied the walls of Green Haven Prison. The heat of summer took over early with all the force of martial law, and what was supposed to be a "green haven" turned into a broiler oven. What little green vegetation there was within the concrete-and-razor-wire barriers turned brown and died. Even the baseball diamond cracked and heaved, like the blood that thickens and cakes on the upper lip after it oozes from the nostrils of a man's nose when his body writhes and convulses during an execution by lethal injection. (For anyone believing lethal injection is the humanitarian way out, think again. I've witnessed three, and during all three, the men convulsed, choked, snapped their own ribs, and bled from the nose and mouth.)
In May of the year 1997, my prison smelled only of low morale, treason, and pity. And it tasted of sweat, shit, concrete, and human decay. And my God, it was hot. But as for me, Jack Marconi, the keeper . . . the warden . . . the superintendent in charge of all things living and dying inside the iron house?
I did the only thing I could do under circumstances best left in God's hands.
I blamed the fucking weather.
Meet the Author
Vincent Zandri has been a reporter for New York Newsday and The Times-Union (Albany). He has published short fiction in numerous journals and holds an MFA from Vermont College. He lives with his family in Albany. This is his first novel.
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