Wild Dog River

Chapter Twenty-five – The Coming of the Rain

WILD DOG RIVER BY GREG BARRON

Chiz and his two mates prowled the exercise yard like tiger sharks, watching me, and the screws did the same. I was forced to make my preparations in secret, saying nothing even to Marty, my cell mate. The days went by like slow-trolled slugs, and at times I felt like I was scarcely breathing at all, buried under iron and concrete in a world that my heart and soul had already left.

I studied the twenty-foot wall that encircled the prison like a priest studies his bible. The prison buildings were arranged, as I have said, in a radial pattern around the central observation tower. The main walls, however, formed a rectangle around the entire facility, almost a square. They were made of eighty-year-old brick, topped with broken glass. Old patches of bare concrete filled gaps in the brick, some of them cracking and falling.

Guards armed with Armalite autoloaders occupied the central observation tower and the sentry towers on three corners of the walls. The south-western corner had no sentry tower because the slope of the land meant that the walls were too high for any attempt to climb them. Around fifty screws were on duty at any given time, apart from during lock-away, when the number was reduced.

I asked Joseph the sweeper to get me some paper and a pencil. This I used to draw a sketch map of the facility, in an effort to understand fields of fire, and the best way to balance the height of the wall with the chance of getting shot. I hid this in a copy of a Tom Kenneally novel I had borrowed from the library.

My mind worried over the big question – how to scale that wall and get down the other side without losing my life in the process. I potted seedlings; I pulled out weeds, kept away from the blokes brewing prison grog down drains. I resisted efforts by Chiz and his mates to get me alone, and all the time my eyes and mind were focussed on the wall.

I became the most trustworthy and reliable gardener in the gang. I tried my best at everything. The supervising screw – one of the better men to wear a blue uniform – started greeting me with a smile instead of a scowl, and let me work without a guard breathing down my neck.

The superintendent asked to see me again and this time he wasn’t playing games. After a twenty-minute interview he called Jackson and Slowacki back from outside. They took an arm each and off we went. They dragged me two doors down the corridor into a room. There was nothing in there. No furniture at all, and the floor and walls were still damp as if they had recently been hosed down. That should have warned me. 

They pushed me forwards, then kicked the door closed. By the time I turned I knew what was happening.

Jackson slipped something from his pocket over the fingers of his right hand. A brass knuckle duster. Slowacki took his baton from its clip.

I raised my hands in front of my face, but the first punch broke through my fingers and struck my lips, smearing them against my teeth. The end of the baton cleaved into my gut.

A couple more blows and I fell backwards to the ground. They took turns at lifting me by the collar so the other one could lay into me. They beat me methodically, from solar plexus upwards, and my face bled from eyebrows, nose and lips. 

When this was done, I was taken back to my cell to bleed and moan and hate. They didn’t let me out for the rest of the day, not even for tea. My lips were so swollen I couldn’t eat anyway.  Two days passed before I was well enough to go back to work, and resume my planning.

No drought-stricken cockie ever prayed for rain like I did. I needed the creek to rise for my plan to work. Every breath of moisture-laden air was the scent of hope. I pored over the synoptic charts in the Townsville paper. I watched for clouds over the hills past the walls like a besieged general watches for the arrival of a friendly army.

I pictured every possible way that my plan could come unstuck – children finding the hidden boat and concerned parents telling the cops. Most of all, however, it was the wall that I focussed on. Nothing mattered if I could not get over the wall.

Dave came to visit again, without Mum this time. On the way out he shook my hand and whispered into my ear. ‘The boat is there, with a twenty-five horse Johnno. I tuned it up myself. Runs like a bloody rocket.’ He paused, ‘Good luck mate.’

We knew we wouldn’t see each other for a while. If I failed I’d either be dead or in segro for a long time. My classo would be upgraded and I’d only be allowed box visits, for years maybe. If I succeeded I would not go anywhere near my family. Most escaped crims homed in on their loved ones, all of whom were thoroughly staked out by the cops within a few hours of a break. I had no such plans. I had a list of things that had to be done before I turned my thoughts to home.

I made a small screwdriver from the ring pull cap of a steel can of coke, carefully folded over for strength. I avoided Chiz and his crew who must have seen from the bruises on my face that the Super and I had not done any deals. I waited for rain, and I waited some more, and the dry storms kept coming.

Finally, eight days before Christmas I got a copy of the paper, and the synoptic chart on page forty-six showed the beginnings of a tropical low out in the Coral Sea.  Day by day it swung closer. The rain started at last, moderate at first, then pissing down so heavily, hour after hour, that I began to pray that Dave’s boat was high enough that it would not float away.

It was time.

©2024 Greg Barron

Continued next Saturday.

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