The Great Escape

EARLY MORNING, fog shrouding all the out-buildings and vegetation, ready to make the early morning run into town. That’s when she saw them. Spots of light flickered through the swirling white dawn, dancing in jerky movements all along the pasture fence line.

What the heck?

As my sister-in-law pulled out of the farmyard she saw the first patrol car. She lowered the window and the officer shown his light all through the interior of her SUV.

An escaped convict, he said. From up around Selma. Stole a car. State law, local law, and Sheriff’s Department all hot on his tail. He cut off 69 onto their dirt road. Didn’t figure on the loose gravel, he reckoned, and crashed down by the cattle crossing.

Keep your doors locked, he said. We got dogs coming. Should be able to catch him up pretty quick.

Back at home from her errands she told my brother the details. He got down the shotgun and checked it, loaded it. Went out and sat on the front porch.

She called her son who lives over the rise on the other side of the road. He had seen him, running across the pasture in his orange jumpsuit.

By this time there were more police cars up and down the county road. Everyone was keeping their dogs in because of the tracking hounds. The farm yard was filling up with law enforcement and vehicles.

About lunch time my nephew spotted him again. He had shed the jumpsuit over in the pasture. The dogs started up and my nephew looked out the window. He was dressed only in orange prison-issue boxers. He was running through their back yard, spurred on, no doubt, by the five confined dogs objecting to his presence with a chorus of baying and barking.

We can only assume this uproar was what gave him the burst of speed as he plunged straight into the briar patch situated where the pasture meets a little stand of trees.

At this point my sister-in-law called to fill me in on all the hi jinx. Everyone was exchanging a blow by blow of the unfolding drama as the number of vehicles and officers grew, huddling together in small groups, strategizing.

I decided to call my younger brother who lives a couple of miles, as the crow flies, from the epicenter of all that action.

My other sister-in-law informed me that they knew nothing about the great chase but that she would tell my brother. He would want, she was sure, to get his rifle and his one bullet and sit on the front porch, too.

I thought it was a Barney Fife witticism but she informed me that, no, he only had one bullet. The hardware store can’t seem to keep ammunitions on the shelves these days. He was down to his last bullet. But that’s all he would need, she assured me, if it came down to it.

Like the rest of the little rural community, my younger brother gleefully loaded his rifle with his single silver bullet and took up his post on the front porch.

The day rocked on, interest in the great chase waxed and waned. The grand baby was dropped off and the vigil moved inside to the recliner.

In the late afternoon my sister-in-law sat in the middle of the floor playing with the grand baby. My brother kept guard from the recliner, the quiet disturbed only by an occasional snorting snore.

Suddenly, my brother brought the recliner up-right and struggled awake as he got to his feet.

“Get outta the way!” he said as he stepped over the grand baby and headed for the hallway.

The convict, tired, sweaty, scratched and scraped, sat on the front porch steps. It’s uncertain how long he’d been sitting there or why he had risked capture with such a reckless act. It’s only known that by the time my brother returned with the gun, he was gone.

Well, I’ve made a long, shaggy-dog tale out of this little farce. Suffice it to say that at around eight that evening the man in orange was back in custody. Though I can’t speak for him, I imagine he was about as glad about that as the law was. All of which brings me to the question of choices.

As entertaining as this great chase was to all the local folk, you can’t help but wonder, what was he thinking?

Was this all the result of a fortuitous opportunity and a lapse in judgment? We can’t know what prompted the urge to run. And perhaps the decision to cut down a narrow, red clay road in the middle of nowhere where every man, woman, and child is as proficient with a gun as a mosquito is at finding me from half a mile away, was a valid choice to evade the police. But to strip down to your orange boxers defies logic, in my opinion.

We can guess, of course. Did he think he would become a less conspicuous target by shedding the jumpsuit? Was it the heat of clambering through scrub growth and racing across open fields that caused him to disrobe? Or could it be that he had his eye on the concrete storm bunker in my nephew’s back yard to hole up in that inspired his fashion decision. This is my sister-in-law’s favorite theory. I can’t quite see the logic of it.

Regardless of the motivation for his choices, in a certain neck of the woods in Marengo County, orange is definitely entertaining. Whether or not orange is the new black remains to be seen.

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