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To Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz's previous piece
It was straight up seven o'clock when Franklin Jeffers arrived at the bar. Momentarily, he stood in the doorway, searching the dark figures huddled at the counter, leaning against the walls in conversation, watching the big screen television behind the bar or hunched in a game of pool. Finding the person he was looking for, Franklin slipped into the room.
"Whatcha know?" Paul threw at his friend, looking up from his shot.
Franklin shrugged. "Not much."
"Still looking for work?" Paul remained involved in his game, even with the conversation aside.
"Yeah." Franklin watched as a ball stopped short of its intended pocket.
Paul moved back and his opponent leaned over the edge of the table.
"I heard they were rehiring at the factory. No truth to that?"
Franklin shrugged. "I haven't heard anything." He leaned against the wall and crossed his arms before him. "Maybe . . . I don't know. Anyway, I think I got something lined up."
Franklin hesitated. "Well, I'm not real sure about it. It's not anything full-time . . . hell, it isn't even really part-time. It's occasional work," he said, finally. "Just sometimes and I'm not really sure I've got it . . ."
His rambling caused his friend to eye him curiously and Franklin suddenly wished he'd said nothing.
"It ain't illegal?"
Franklin shook his head. He assured Paul it wasn't.
"Cause I ain't about to bail your ass outta jail."
Franklin chuckled. "I wouldn't ask you to."
"I would, though," Paul said. "Bail you out, but not for something you shouldn't have been doing in the first place." He eyed Franklin. "You been awhile without; sometimes that'll make a man do stupid things."
"Still getting unemployment?"
Franklin shook his head. "Ran out about two weeks ago."
"Shit, talk about luck."
Franklin smiled. "If it weren't for bad luck, I wouldn't have any."
It was Paul's turn again. Franklin watched in silence as the game progressed and then finished. Though Paul was a better player, he lost. He tossed a twenty-dollar bill on the table and turned to Franklin. "Buy you dinner?"
Franklin's stomach had no pride. "Sure," he said. "If you want to."
They took a table, a waitress came and Paul ordered roast beef sandwiches and potato salad for the two of them as well as a pitcher of beer. They drank while they waited for the food, only occasionally commenting on the baseball game on the television screen before them.
"Picture's worth crap," Paul said. "I get better reception on my five-inch black 'n white."
"It's the size," Franklin told him, launching into an explanation about resolution and how it gets worse as the picture gets larger, but halfway through it, Paul gave him a look and Franklin shut up.
The food came and Franklin busied himself with eating.
"Need anything?" Paul asked. They both understood he meant money.
Franklin shook his head.
"I could let you have something. To pay a bill or something."
"I got them all paid before the unemployment ran out. I'm doing okay," Franklin said, although he wasn't being completely honest. He had paid off some bills, the ones that had collectors calling. And he'd paid in advance for the phone cause he'd need it for his job search.
"Yep." He actually needed groceries but he was thinking about he money he might be picking up from the job. He could always pawn something else although he couldn't imagine anything of value he had left. And anyway, he was becoming annoyed with Paul's generosity. Franklin minded that more often than he wanted, he had to go to others for financial help, but he didn't like the way Paul persisted like Franklin was doomed to always be on the losing end.
Paul backed off, getting the vibe that he should. Still he said, "Just ask. I may not have it down the line, but still ask."
Franklin bobbed his head up and down. "Thanks," he said, though the tone of his voice didn't sound like he really meant it. Why did Paul keep on beyond what was necessary? Franklin dropped his head and poked at the chunks of potatoes on his plate.
Paul's attention returned to the television. "Look at that," he murmured.
Franklin looked up and into a large-scaled face.
Someone had changed the station. Franklin turned and saw the bartender with the remote in her hand. The volume of the television rose above the bar noise.
"Kenneth Lloyd Kuntz is scheduled to be executed at seven o'clock tomorrow morning unless a stay of execution is granted by the governor," the broadcaster's voice was saying. " Kuntz, a forty-seven-year old mechanic, originally from Florida, is one of three inmates scheduled to die in the electric chair this month. He was sentenced to death following his conviction last year of brutally murdering two college women . . ."
"Lousy sonuvabitch," Paul spat out.
Franklin didn't respond. He wanted no part of this conversation.
But Paul persisted. "Read in the papers that he confessed in fuckin' gory detail . . . he kept their heads on his dresser . . ."
Franklin held up his hand.
"No, listen. . ."
Franklin's stomach turned. He pushed his plate away and reached for his beer. He closed his eyes as he drank long and hard, trying to ignore what Paul was saying. Setting the glass on the table harder than he'd intended, Franklin announced he was departing.
"You can't stick around?" Paul asked. "We could shoot a few."
Franklin glanced at his watch. It was almost eight twenty. "I'm expecting a call about nine. About the job." Standing, he thanked his friend for the meal and left.
Franklin had imagined that the call, when it came, would somehow sound different. That the ring would be . . . jolting, he had thought, but when it came, it sounded like any other call.
Franklin fumbled with the receiver, getting it up to his ear. "Hello?"
"Mr. Jeffers. Mr. Franklin Jeffers?"
"Yes," Franklin said. "That's me."
"This is Warden Holderman."
Franklin knew what was coming next.
"As you might know, Mr. Jeffers, or not, executions were previously carried out at midnight. However, because the state now allows for members of the victim's family to view them, they are held first thing in the morning to better accommodate them. At this time, Mr. Jeffers, the execution of Mr. Kuntz is still scheduled for seven o'clock tomorrow morning. I had spoken with you previously regarding this."
Franklin cleared his throat.
"You are, at this time, still willing?"
Franklin wished he had time more to think about it, but he replied that he was yes, still willing.
"Do you know where the waste treatment facility is, on Highway 37?"
"I think so."
The warden provided brief directions that Franklin did not jot down.
"There's a rest area just after you pass the facility, about a quarter of a mile or so. We'd like you to park at or near the facility and walk to the rest area. Someone in a van with a corrections logo will pick you up."
"You should be there at five-thirty, Mr. Jeffers."
Franklin said he would be.
There was a long silence though there was clearly nothing else to say.
"Thank you Mr. Jeffers. And, goodnight."
It was a duty, Franklin told himself. Just like voting and registering for the draft.
Six months previous, he had marched around the courthouse with a group of other death penalty supporters, hoping to influence the jury's sentencing of a man convicted of killing two children.
A LIFE FOR A LIFE, his sign had read. Not original, but it was easier than explaining the feeling he got (and he knew it was something a bit more twisted than justice being served) when society, by way of execution, was cleansed of sickness. And his beliefs challenged, he'd put his name right there on the line - volunteered to be an executioner, if ever needed. He'd been surprised that the possibility was really without great drama, and he'd forgotten about it until the warden called a week ago about the pending execution.
The warden had explained the procedures regarding and asked if Franklin if he wanted to serve as an executioner.
The question had caught him off guard. Franklin had incoherently mumbled his beliefs regarding the death penalty, and asked, "But wouldn't I be just one? I mean, don't you use several people and only one is the real executioner?"
The warden's reply followed a light laugh. "Maybe that's done in some prisons, Mr. Jeffers, but the law in this state doesn't dictate that."
Franklin didn't know how to respond.
The warden's voice, impatient, grew stern. "Mr. Jeffers, are you interested in the job?"
Yes, Franklin uttered. Yes, he was.
Franklin was up before the alarm, which he'd set for four in the morning. He dressed casually, jeans and a t-shirt, thinking, after all, it wasn't his funeral he was going to. He fried an egg before deciding against breakfast, and slipped the plate inside the refrigerator. Sipping his cup of coffee, he stood at the window and watched the lights going on at the factory where he used to work, across the way.
His sleep had been restless, and though he felt tired, Franklin knew he dared not sit down for fear of missing his appointed ride.
Mr. Kuntz, your death has been delayed because the executioner has not yet shown up.
Franklin shook his head and laughed at his lunacy. He finished his coffee and left his apartment, driving around until it was time to head toward the rest area. He waited anxiously, failing at his attempts to push back those memories stepping in from his past.
Try as he might, Franklin could not hold back the night his father was executed. Franklin had been six years old and lying in his bed, he'd wondered if the impending volts of electricity were to be his father's introduction to the fires of hell - the man's apparent destination, according to the talk going around.
"Your daddy's gonna fry like pig meat at breakfast," one of the children at church had sneered after Sunday school.
At the elementary school, a group of boys had shoved him during recess. They pushed him and pushed him and pushed him, around in a circle, one to the other until Franklin was dizzy and intoxicated with their hate.
One thousand volts
They'll burn out his eyes
So he can't see
Franklin had said nothing of the taunting; his mother subject to ridicule and scorn within the community herself. Besides, no one in his family spoke about anything relating to John Walker Jeffers. Not his crime, his confession and conviction or his impending death. Not in the presence of children, anyway. There were hushed conversations amongst the grown-ups, accompanied by frightened and embarrassed and worried faces. He'd walk into the kitchen for another glass of iced tea and then there'd be sudden quiet. Franklin was used to it; he got the same treatment from the teachers at school.
But he had not gone to school that day. Nor his brothers and sister. They knew the reason, though, again, no one mentioned it; colluding as if they didn't know what was headlined in the local paper.
"You ask," Franklin's older brother had said, shoving him into the kitchen.
The lunch dishes had been cleared, the table wiped and their mother sat at the table, wringing the dishcloth in her hands.
Franklin stumbling in, catching hold of the table edge to keep himself from falling, diverted her attention.
"I already said no," she said in a voice that didn't sound like her own.
"Just for a little while . . ." Franklin pleaded in a weak tone. His brothers threaten to pound him, if they had nothing else to do.
Their mother slammed her hand on the table and narrowed her eyes at her son. "Don't be pestering me! You touch that damn TV and I swear I'll kick the screen in!"
Franklin wanted to ask if they could switch on the radio, maybe there'd be some kind of game on or some songs his brothers liked, but decided against it. His mother would've already had it on, seeing how, most of the time, she loved to sing along.
They appeared doomed to that day of restless silence, but Franklin headed out the house to disappear. He'd come back later when his brothers would have exhausted their boredom beating up on each other. Franklin thought of letting his mother know he'd be gone for awhile, but he didn't really think she'd notice.
Their mother had fixed an early dinner (bologna slapped between some bread; carrots, tomatoes and some lettuce leaves on the side; half a peanut butter cookie each). Franklin had wandered into the kitchen late afternoon to find his family round the table. His mother just told him to wash his hands and get ready to eat, though his brothers, hunched close to the wood, the remnants of their sandwiches clutched in their hands, glared at Franklin. (Where had he found sanctuary on a day like this?) For a moment, Franklin feared their jealousy, but their mother saved him, by dropping his plate before him and sending the others to their rooms before he had finished.
She even let them forgo their baths.
In his bedroom, Franklin had watched the black hands of the clock sweep the face, and then again, as he counted down the hours. He wondered if his daddy was thinking of them and did he have steak for dinner? A slice of apple pie with strawberry ice cream?
If it were him, Franklin thought, he wouldn't order his favorite food; he'd order something that he'd never tasted before.
Franklin was sleepy but he pushed himself awake whenever his head took to nodding. He wanted to see what he would feel moments after midnight.
He had hoped how many times for his father's death? He expected to be truly joyous that somebody was able to make his father stop causing others pain and make him pay for it as well. Finally. And, although, he had asked God to forgive him for his thoughts (he didn't want to grow up evil as his daddy), a feeling of joy was still what Franklin hoped for.
But what he was expecting did not occur. At twelve that night, the lights outside did not flicker as if they were bearing witness; they held steady. And though Franklin knew that in those minutes after midnight, his daddy was surely dead and waiting Satan's stamp on his traveling ticket, he didn't feel any different.
His hatred for his father had not been absolved. He felt it -- there, still manipulating the beat of his heart. Confused, and angry, he made himself think of other things: He wondered if he was going to school the next day and if there was going to be a funeral and if his mama would make him wear a tie and if the preacher at the church would expect tears . . .
When, precisely at five-thirty, a van drove up, Franklin sighed relief.
Without speaking, the driver directed Franklin to the back. Franklin opened one door and stepped into the empty van, shut the door behind. He was separated from the driver by a glass partition with a window. The driver, watching him, pointed to the black robe and hood lying on the floor.
The van began to move, Franklin's body swaying as the vehicle weaved through a well-planned, confused path. In his mind, he began hearing a tune, a childhood tune of his own making . . .
Daddy's giving up his cell
But I don't wish him well
He'll burn tonight
Become a fright
And meet the devil in Hell
Franklin picked up the robe and slipped it on without thought. The hood he twisted in his hands. He confessed. In fuckin' gory detail.
"I wonder if he ever thought he'd fry for it," Paul had said, last night when Franklin was trying to ignore him. "Probably thought he'd get away with it. I'm glad he's getting the chair, not that 'nice' lethal injection shit.
"Hope the guy flipping the switch doesn't know what the hell he's doing or that there's something wrong with the circuit." Paul said he hoped Kuntz ended up a botched job.
"It happens, you know. There's not enough electricity and the sucker's got to get burned time and again." Paul laughed. "If it were me, I'd definitely try to give this guy death in installments. Alive enough after the first shock to smell his own flesh burning."
. . . gonna fry like pig meat . . .
The driver rapped on the window. "We're almost there."
Hastily, Franklin pulled the hood over his head. But he'd put it on backward, and the complete blackness confused and frightened him. His fingers gripped the edge of the hood and twisted it. As his nose pierced the hole provided, Franklin took rapid breaths, each echoing the quickened pace of his heart.
A life for a life, Franklin thought, looking into the death chamber from the small one-way glass pane in the control booth. He ignored the churning inside him.
Fifteen minutes before seven o'clock, the Venetian blinds covering the window of the viewing room were raised. Members of the victims' families as well as select members of the press took their places in the pews.
When it was time, Kuntz was led into the death chamber by the execution team, followed by the prison warden, the prison chaplain and a physician. The warden spoke briefly on the phone with the board of pardon and paroles. Hanging up, he said, "There is no stay of execution."
The prisoner was led up to the platform in the center of the room and sat down on the gleaming oak chair. As he was being strapped in, black leather binding his arms, chest and legs, Kuntz said something that created brief and light laughter in the chamber. Even the warden's lips had momentarily turned upward.
Franklin wondered what a man would joke about in his last minutes.
Wet electrodes were placed on the shaved portion of Kuntz' head as well as his shaved right calf.
Warden Holderman reached into his inside jacket pocket and withdrew a folded piece of paper. He opened it and read:
"The court having sentenced the defendant Kenneth Lloyd Kuntz on the 31st day of March 1998 to be executed by the Department of Corrections at such penal institution as may be deemed by said department in accordance with the laws of the state . . .
"And the date for the execution of the said Kenneth Lloyd Kuntz having passed reason of supersedeas incident to appellate review, it is considered, ordered and adjudged by this court that within a time period commencing at noon on the 8th day of September, 1999, and ending seven days later at noon on the 15th day of September, 1999, the defendant Kenneth Lloyd Kuntz shall be executed by the Department of Corrections at such penal institution and on such a date and time within the aforementioned time period as may be designated by said department all in accordance with the laws of the state. . . ."
The warden refolded the paper, replaced it in his pocket and said in finality, "Let it be known that the execution of Kenneth Lloyd Kuntz took place at the Tocoma Prison on the morning of September 14, 1999 at seven a.m. in accordance with court order."
The warden pointed to the microphone suspended above the electric chair and asked the condemned if he wanted to make a final statement.
Kuntz shook his head. Someone stepped up from behind and wiggled the black hood into place.
Beneath his own hood, his mouth open, Franklin's breath spread hot across his face.
Twenty four hundred volts electricity I'll burn out your eyes so you can't see twenty four hundred volts electricity. . .
Franklin waited for the warden to place a key into a slot in the chamber wall, and turn it. Doing so would send a lighted signal to Franklin at which time he would flip a designated switch to the right. Twenty-four hundred volts of electricity, provided by the prison's emergency generator, would pass through Kuntz' body for seventeen seconds, followed by 600 volts for seven seconds. The cycle would repeat itself and if they were lucky, the warden had said earlier that morning as he instructed Franklin, "it'll be over in five minutes."
Paul would have been disappointed. Kuntz did not violently struggle in his chair, thrashing about as the electricity raced through him. No flames ignited from his head. His body quivered, but it was barely visible to Franklin and there was an unusual odor, but that was all.
Franklin leaned his head against the window. He wasn't sure what he felt, but he was aware that disappointment and frustration weighed down on him. He felt six years old again.
Following the cooling down period, the physician checked for a heartbeat, found none and pronounced the prisoner, Kenneth Lloyd Kuntz, dead at 7:09 a.m.
The Venetian blinds clacked as they fell, covering the window, the witnesses leaving the viewing room. The execution team moved in to unstrap the body.
Did Kuntz have family, Franklin wondered, and would there be a funeral?
Franklin removed the hood and robe as he'd been instructed; in the chaos and media frenzy that followed high profile executions, the warden had explained Franklin would better go unnoticed that way. Too, he was instructed to leave immediately following the physician's announcement. He momentarily glanced at the man slumped in the oak chair and then slipped out the same door he'd entered, walked down the short hall to a door leading outside and to the van waiting for him.
Franklin got into the back again, and the driver held an envelope through the small window.
"You've already earned it."
Franklin took it, though he didn't open it until they had arrived at the area, he'd gotten out and the van had driven away. $150. Cash. Franklin folded the envelope and slipped it into his t-shirt pocket.
Walking back to his car, he tried to plan the rest of his day. He had an appointment with a psychologist, scheduled by the prison. He'd have the chance to talk about his role in the morning's events, discuss his feelings if he wanted to, though Franklin was sure he didn't want to. He could talk in general ways about the death penalty, but he didn't like intimate discussion about it. Afraid that something might sneak up out of his past, smack him across the head like his daddy's hand, leaving him feeling confused and helpless. It was best if he kept his mind focused on other things.
As he trudged along the highway, Franklin was thinking about getting his television out of hock. He was thinking of stopping at Big A Foods on his way home, picking up some chops and a carton of beer and some potato chips as well as a cantaloupe and some vanilla ice cream that he'd been craving, but couldn't previously afford.
Franklin patted the envelope. He was just thinking how good it felt to have money in his pocket again.
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