The old man sat up on one of the upper bunks in his cell, gazing out through the barred window, deep in thought while taking in the awesome scenery which lay before him. The Colorado Rockies stretched across his vision as far as the eye could see, the early morning sun reflecting off the snow-capped summit of Pike’s Peak standing majestically off in the distance. But the old guy was no longer impressed with the magnificent view afforded him for the past 17 years.

Suddenly there came a light tapping noise on his cell door, stirring the old man from his reverie. The door opened a crack and his buddy Max peeked in from the second-tier range.

“Hey, Gus, ya goin’ up fer breakfas’? They gots them choc’late-covered donuts.” Max tentatively stepped into Gus’s cell.

Gus Ott looked down from his perch atop the bunk at the disheveled-looking Max Greene, his best friend for the past 11 years. “Nah, I’m not feeling too good, Max.” Gus rubbed his chest. “Think I might have a little heartburn . . . or maybe some gas.” He smiled weakly at Max, then belched.

“Ya need some Pepto-dismal?” asked Max.

“Yeah, maybe that might help some, Max. I’ll be down to get it in a minute.”

“No, tha’s okay, Gus. I’ll go get it. You jus’ sit tight ‘til I get back, okay?” Max hurried off down the range to get his pal some medication.

While Gus sat on his bunk rubbing his chest, waiting for his friend to return, he thought again about how much he was going to miss Max. Gus was scheduled to be released tomorrow to a detainer on an old warrant up in Denver , after serving 17 years of a 20-year sentence, and would be leaving behind the only real friend he had. Oh sure, he knew a lot of people and had several acquaintances he casually referred to as “friends,” but Max was the real deal. In fact, Gus truly believed that each of them would actually lay down his life for the other. And he trusted Max, which was probably the most important component of a true friendship.

“Here ya go, Gus,” wheezed Max, all out of breath as he trotted back into Gus’s cell and handed him two pinkish-colored packets of Pepto-Bismol tablets.

Gus reached for his coffee mug sitting atop the locker next to his bunk. “No, don’t swallow ‘em, Gus,” said Max. “I think they work better if’n ya jus’ chew on ‘em awhile.”

Nodding his agreement, Gus ripped open the two foil packets, spilling four tablets into his open palm. “Hey Max, hand me that cup there, will ya?” Gus pointed at the plastic container holding his dentures which rested on the back of the small porcelain sink attached to the wall. “Guess I better put my teeth in if I gotta chew ‘em, huh?”


* * *


Later that morning, after having dozed off for a brief nap, Gus was awakened by Chico, one of his cellies. “Hey, Pops! Sorry to bother you, man, but I gotta use the toilet…and queeks!”

Gus very slowly and deliberately sat up on his bunk, in no particular hurry so that he wouldn’t get dizzy, and also because his arthritis was getting so bad that it was becoming difficult for him to sit up at all sometimes.

“C’mon, Gus, I gotta go bad!” whined Chico, one of the three others who occupied the 7’ x 12’ cell with Gus. “Here, lemme give ya a hand, ol’ man.”

“Never mind that . . . I can get down by myself,” snapped Gus before he turned over onto his stomach, then eased himself down onto the floor. “Wha’dya think, I’m some kinda fuckin’ cripple or somethin’? And if you ever call me ‘Pops’ again, so help me God . . . I’ll fuckin’ stab ya in the eye! You got that, Chico?” Gus had his cellie backed up against a locker, one hand resting on the young man’s chest while wagging a finger from the other hand in Chico’s face.
“Okay, mano, okay . . . jus’ lemme use the john, will ya?” Chico stammered, not wanting to press the issue. After all, everyone knew this old gringo was stone crazy, right?
Gus then turned and left the cell, a smile playing across his face as he walked down the range in search of Max. Gus thoroughly enjoyed scaring the living crap out of Chico!

The truth was, Gus Ott wouldn’t hurt a fly. But he’d established a reputation long ago as being someone not to fuck with, and he used that notoriety to his advantage as a means of survival in here. Many of the stories about Gus were what legends are made from, and most of them were bogus. Exaggerations, embellishments, some of them coming from Gus himself, but they’d served him well during his time in prison. Most of the other inmates purposely stayed away from Gus, and that suited him just fine. He didn’t need anyone . . . except maybe Max.

“Hey, Gus! Over here, my man,” Max shouted, waving to his friend from a table down on the cell house flats.

Gus ambled down the stairs and over to the table where Max was sitting with two other inmates. “How ya feelin’ Gus, any better?” asked Max, his concern for Gus evident by the look on his wrinkled and ruddy-complected face.

“Yeah . . . took a little nap and that seemed to help some.”

“Yer prob’ly jus’ a little tense ‘bout tomorrow s’all. Hey, ya up fer some Pinochle, Gus?” his friend asked excitedly. “These mopes here think they can beat us. Must hate money or somethin’ s’all I can say,” Max added with a grin, indicating the two challengers sitting with them at the table. Gus and Max had been Pinochle partners for nearly 10 years and were considered to be among the best on the compound.

“Nah . . . I gotta go up and write a letter, Max, soon as one of the Marx Brothers is done shittin’ in there.” Gus jerked his thumb in the direction of his cell. He sometimes affectionately referred to his three cellies—Chico, Gotto and Harko—as the Marx Brothers, not only because of the similarity of their “street” names to the famous comedy trio from the movies of the ’30s and ’40s, but also because Gus thought they were oft times hilariously funny. And while he tried not to encourage their seemingly endless antics, many of which landed them in the “hole,” Gus nevertheless got a kick out of them and for the most part enjoyed their company.

They were all three Chicanos, two from the barrios of East L.A. and the third an illegal alien from Juarez, Mexico. They’d all been cellies now for almost two years and had come to respect one another, which was an essential part of survival in the overcrowded living conditions within the prison. You had to acquire and maintain at least a modicum of respect from the other inmates or, in all likelihood, you would die. And Gus had their respect, if for no other reason than out of sheer terror.

“Okay Gus, I’ll be up to see ya a little later. Need to talk ach’ya ‘bout somethin’ . . .  before ya leave, I mean.”

Gus had a fairly good notion as to what Max wanted to talk to him about. He knew that Max had a son out there somewhere and, like himself, had lost contact with him over the years and had no idea as to his son’s whereabouts. Unlike himself, however, Max would never have the opportunity to go out there and search for him, as Gus intended to do upon his release. He very badly wanted to locate his own son.

You see, Max would never be getting out of prison. He was doing a life sentence without the possibility of parole—plus 30 years! He would die here, and be carried out on a stretcher, in handcuffs, as is prison policy. Max had gotten busted in a cocaine trafficking conspiracy 12 years ago, and had made a conscious decision not to testify against his co-defendants, which would have gotten him off with a much lighter sentence. Instead, they ratted him out and the judge dropped the hammer on ol’ Max.

Chico finally appeared on the range and whistled at Gus, signaling to him that his business was done. Gus got up from the table and headed for the stairs, feeling a little queasy to his stomach. But at least the heartburn had subsided.

When he arrived back at his cell, Gus went to his locker to retrieve a pen and writing pad, then with great effort climbed up onto his top bunk, wincing slightly in pain from his arthritis. His cellies had on more than one occasion offered him one of the lower bunks, but stubborn ol’ Gus refused because he actually preferred the top bunk, that is, the one in front of the only window in their cell. From there he could sit and gaze out at the mountains, oft times lost in thought, while watching all the little critters scurrying around inside the razor-wire fence that surrounded the prison compound.

There were prairie dogs, rabbits, coon, even a stray cat now and then, and lots of birds—ravens, hawks, turkey buzzards, owls at night. And every so often Gus would spot a deer or an elk or a coyote outside the fence, tentatively walking towards the chain link enclosure, peering in like spectators at a zoo.

That suddenly struck Gus as being very amusing. They’re looking in at us, for chrissakes! And probably laughing at us as well, he reasoned, while snickering to himself. Well, why wouldn’t they? After all, this place is just like a fucking zoo . . . and we’re just a bunch of caged animals.

This plateau on which they were located was commonly known as “Prison Valley,” there being 14 different penal institutions within a close proximity of each other—men’s, women’s, state and federal facilities, including a “super- max” built into the side of a mountain where they held Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, during his trial and while awaiting execution. In actuality, it was more like a high plains desert, situated near the foothills of the Rocky Mountain range.

To tourists it was probably a beautiful sight to behold. Gorgeous snow-capped mountains, the Rocky Mountain National Forest, plenty of wildlife and babbling brooks. To Gus Ott, however, it was simply a vast wasteland, not unlike a nuclear waste disposal site. And he was part of the disposable waste.

Gus’s thoughts returned to the task at hand. He needed to write a letter to his son Nate, whom he had neither seen nor spoken to in more than 17 years. Gus didn’t even know his son’s whereabouts, or what he was doing, only that he was alive and well . . . somewhere. Nate‘s godparents, who lived in Des Moines, Iowa, had stayed in contact with him over the years, as they also had with Gus. But at Nate’s request, they would never divulge his whereabouts or, for that matter, anything about him.

The last Gus knew of him was 15 years ago, when Nate had played football at the University of Northern Colorado. The team had received a lot of attention and publicity from the local media when they won their conference championship, mostly on the arm strength of sophomore quarterback Nathan Ott, a southpaw who’d set six school and four Division II records before blowing out his knee from a blind-sided sack. Soon after that Gus lost track of him, and spent most of the next 15 years wondering if he’d ever see or hear from him again.

Well, he hadn’t so far, and Gus wanted to set things right between them before . . . before it was too late. So, he decided to write Nate a letter, explaining a few things about what happened in the hope that he’d understand, and possibly forgive him. Gus always felt as though he didn’t really need his son’s forgiveness as much as Nate needed to forgive him, for his own sake, to rid himself of the apparent hate and contempt he felt towards his father. It would eat him up, thought Gus, and eventually destroy him.

There was a knock on the door. Gus looked up and waved Max in.

“Hey, Gus, wha’cha doin’?” asked Max.

“Aw, just trying to figure out what I’m gonna put in this letter to my son. You know . . . what I should say . . . and how to say it.”

“Yeah, tha’s gonna be tough, for sure. How ya plannin’ to get it to him?”

“Yeah, well, I’ve thought about that a lot, too.” Gus turned to gaze out the window again, his thoughts a jumble of worries and concerns regarding the nonexistent relationship he had with his son. “I figure if I send it to his godparents, maybe they’ll see to it that he gets it, ya know?”

“So how come ya din’t write him before now, Gus?”

“Well, because there are some things I need to tell him that I didn’t want these assholes here to know about, know what I mean, Max? And I’m taking this letter with me tomorrow, when I leave.”

It was common knowledge among the inmates that all out-going mail was read and censored by the prison staff, as were all phone calls monitored and recorded, so you had to be careful sometimes of what you said. It might come back to bite you in the ass! The only safe place to talk without fear of being overheard was the visiting room, and Gus hadn’t had a visit the entire time he’d been here.

“Yeah, I got’cha, Gus,” Max nodded his understanding. “So, whad’re ya gonna tell him?”

“I haven’t figured that part out yet, Max,” said Gus, giving his friend a sheepish look that implied he really didn’t know what he was going to say.

“Okay, Gus, I’ll let’cha be so’s ya can get at it,” Max turned to leave. “Don’ forget, I need to talk ach’ya later, okay?”

Gus nodded, then picked up his pen and writing pad as Max left, quietly closing the door behind him.

Dear Nathan, Gus began, scribbling on the pad. Nah, that’s no good, he thought. So he tried again. Dear Nate . . . nope, that ain’t right, either. Let’s see . . . how about My dearest son...yeah, that’s more like it.

“Hey Gus! You wanna go play some bocce ball? I wanna kick your ass one more time before you leave, amigo,” inquired a smiling Harko as he strode confidently into the cell, interrupting Gus’s chain of thought.

“Listen here, ya little beaner pissant,” growled Gus. He still wasn’t feeling too well, he needed to write this letter, and he was in no mood for any nonsense from the Marx Brothers. Not right now, at least. “First of all, you little wetback, you couldn’t beat me on your best day . . . at anything! And second, if ya don’t get the fuck outta here and leave me alone, I’m gonna come down there and kick your ass! You got that, esse?”

“Okay, okay . . . I’m goin’,” said Harko, raising his hands in surrender and shaking his head as he bolted out the door. Crazy old fucking gringo, is what Harko was thinking as he ran down the stairs, taking them two at a time.

Let’s see now . . . where was I? Gus asked himself. Oh yeah . . . My dearest son . . . Well, thought Gus, it’s a good start!


* * *


It was the four o’clock stand-up count. Everyone was locked in their cells, all supposedly present and accounted for. Gus glanced around their pantry-size living quarters, taking in the three Mexicans he’d been bunking with for the past two years. He sure wasn’t going to miss these clowns, he thought, as he watched Chico rubbing his forehead after just bumping into an open locker door. And there’s Gotto, trying without much success to repair his reading glasses after having just sat on them . . . for the umpteenth time. Now what’s Harko doing? he wondered. Harko appeared to be looking for one of his shoes, both of which he’d been wearing when he came into the cell, not ten minutes earlier. Gus further wondered, and not for the first time, if these three lettuce pickers might not more closely resemble the Three Stooges—Larry, Moe and Curly—than they did the Marx Brothers.

The count cleared and everyone rushed out to go to the evening meal. Everyone except Gus, that is, and Max.

“Hey, Gus, ya goin’ up fer dinner?” asked Max as he stepped into Gus’s cell.

Gus was again sitting up on his bunk, and shook his head in response.

“Me neither,” said Max. “Hey, ya wanna go out later and watch the game? The Lobos are playin’ the Diablos for the championship. Should be a purdy good game, don’cha think?”

Gus had stayed fairly active during his 17-year stint in prison, that is, until his first heart attack eight years ago. That had slowed him down quite a bit. He’d been playing softball that day, pitching for his team, when he first became dizzy, then a little nauseous and, finally, struck down with a pain in his left arm that felt like he was hit by a lightning bolt. He was 67 years old when that happened, and that was the end of his playing days. Since then he’d taken up bocce ball and an occasional game of horseshoes for exercise, during which time he’d suffered a second heart attack, that one coming while locked in his cell late one night. His cellie at the time had called for help and, in all probability, saved his life.

But Gus still loved the game, even as a spectator. He’d become a self-professed “professional heckler,” seldom ever missing a game, and would sometimes even umpire a game or two, that is, when he felt up to it.

“Nah, I’m gonna stay in tonight, Max.  I wanna finish this letter I started to my son. But you go ahead. I’ll still be here when you get back,” he told his friend, giving him an encouraging smile.

“Okay, Gus, see ya leter,” said Max as he hurried out the door.

Gus then grabbed his writing pad and pen from the top of his locker and, for the umpteenth time that day, ripped off the top page, crumpled it in his hand and threw it at the porcelain commode located on the wall adjacent to the door. And like the other discarded wads of paper, it too landed on the floor. He was becoming agitated with himself because he couldn’t think of the right words to say to his son, to put his thoughts on paper albeit he’d said them to himself a thousand times before. Hell, 10,000 times!

He even had a degree in journalism, which he’d earned while in prison through the auspices of Pell grant money. Gus enjoyed writing and became quite good at it, in fact, having had some of his work published in various periodicals over the course of the past few years. But this was becoming by far the most difficult piece of literary composition he’d ever had to write!

With the relentless determination of someone on a mission, Gus began again.

My dearest son,

I hope this letter finds you and that you are well. It’s been a long time, Nate. Much too long. There are some things I want to say, to tell you, that I believe you need to know.

I’m finally coming home. Or more precisely, back to Denver. I no longer have a home, of course, but there is a shelter in Denver for ex-convicts who have no place to go and they’ve agreed to take me in. The Allens in Des Moines know the address and phone number where I’ll be at.

This wasn’t entirely true. There was still the matter of a detainer and an outstanding warrant in Denver County that had to be taken care of, an old “contempt of court” citation that some hard-nosed judge apparently refused to dismiss without a court appearance, even after 17 years. Hence, his release tomorrow to some other authority, but Gus was confident that it would be handled without too much of a problem.

Back to the letter . . . 

I must first of all remind you that things are not always as they appear to be. Such were the circumstances 17 years ago. I’ve done some terrible things in my life, Nate, none of which I’m proud of, but this isn’t one of them. Unfortunately, I found myself in a situation from which there was no way out other than to do what I did.

Gus had been arrested with seven others and charged in a 28 count indictment, which included money laundering, extortion and racketeering. After spending nearly 13 months in maximum security lockdown, and having unsuccessfully attempted suicide, Gus pleaded guilty to six counts of the indictment and received a 20-year sentence, the maximum allowed by law under the sentencing guidelines. And like his buddy Max, Gus chose not to “cooperate” with the government, refusing to testify against his co-defendants. Of course, he had some strong incentives not to.

It’s a natural assumption that if someone is arrested for something and pleads guilty to it, then that person must’ve done it. How do you argue with the logic of that? But sometimes, Nate, the facts don’t fit the premise. Sometimes, even when everything points towards a person’s guilt, there are nuances that equate to innocence, or at the very least a lesser degree of guilt.

Now, I‘m not going to try to convince you that I’m entirely innocent. That would be a lesson in futility, I know. But consider this—the government has so many resources and so much experience at its disposal that sometimes justice is subordinated by the over-zealous determination of the government to find someone it can point to and punish. Again, such was the case 17 years ago.

Guilt is a relative concept, Nate, a matter of ghosts and shadows. Like beauty, it is in the eye of the beholder. Like truth, it is subject to interpretation. And truth is almost irrelevant in a court of law. In fact, the law has nothing whatsoever to do with the truth. It’s all about advocates’ rights and ethical responsibility. Justice is relegated to the role of hapless observer, one person’s version of the truth against another’s. There is no such thing as the whole truth in a court of law. In fact, there is but a subtle difference between truth and fact. Fact is objectively real, while truth must conform to fact.

In other words, Nate, if you can’t find the facts, you can never prove the truth. The problem is, the system deals in evidence—what it calls fact—which works just fine until you take into consideration that people can’t always be judged by the facts.

Like I said, sometimes not all things are what they appear to be. The reality is that there is precious little objective truth to be had in the real world of law. Instead, there is “appearance,” or what seems to be, and that is all that is required most times when dealing with the criminal justice system.

I’ve been involved with the justice system too long to harbor any illusions about its so-called justice. Justice is merely luck and fate and circumstance and, most importantly, expedience. And as long as that is true, people are going to be convicted and serve time for things they should not be, as have I. The law and justice are not synonymous, Nate. They never have been and never will be.

“Hey, Pops, what’s up?” said Gotto, sauntering in through the cell door with his cocky jailhouse swagger.

Glowering down at Gotto from his bunk, wanting to berate the young man for needling him, Gus instead replied in a somewhat subdued, pleasant sounding tone of voice. “Gotto, do I even know your mama?”

“No . . . I don’ theen so,” replied Gotto, his brows furrowed in askance. “Why you ask me that for, Gus?”

“Because . . . for me to be your daddy, I’d surely have to know your mama, now wouldn’t I?”

Gotto didn’t have a clue as to where Gus was going with this, but before he had much of a chance to think about it, Gus enlightened him. In a much gruffer sounding voice he asked, “So, if I’m not your daddy, then why the fuck do you keep calling me ‘Pops’?”

Gus had an aversion to being called “Pops,” even though in prison it was a term of respect. He was aware of that, too, but he still preferred to be called “old man” or even “old geezer” rather than “Pops.”

“Now, get the fuck outta here and leave me alone, will ya? Because I swear, Gotto, if I gotta . . .”

“Okay, mano, okay,” said Gotto as he backed out the door. “I’m goin’.” That old man is nuts! thought Gotto to himself while scampering on down the range. I sure as fuck won’t be sorry to see his old ass go.

Meanwhile, Gus reached into his now barren locker and grabbed a handful of crackers that Max had brought him earlier in the day. It was nearly empty because he’d given all his “worldly possessions” away the day before. His radio and headphones went to Max, of course, along with a tattered set of sweatpants and sweatshirt. And a couple of candy bars had gone to his cellies. He had no tobacco, a highly-valued commodity in prison, to leave with anyone because Gus no longer used the stuff. He’d quit smoking soon after his heart attack. Well, the second one, that is . . . 

But now Gus was a little hungry, having just realized that he hadn’t eaten anything all day. He still wasn’t feeling up to par, but he needed to eat something. As he munched away on the flavorless saltines, Gus looked out his window and once again reflected on the orange and azure and violet hues in the sky above the mountains, the setting sun casting an aura of heavenly beauty. After all these years watching all these sunsets—how many were there?—Gus was still mesmerized by the peaceful, serene and calming effect this scene offered.

Sitting on his bunk, his legs dangling over the side, Gus again picked up his pen and began  to write.

This is the hard part, Nate, because you’ve never known the real truth about what happened to Naomi. And until now, I’ve never been able to tell you.

Naomi was Gus’s daughter, Nate’s twin sister, who’d been killed in a “questionable” automobile accident while he was sitting in jail awaiting trial. It was questionable because Gus had received death threats against his children if he were to testify against any of the other seven defendants involved in his case. And questionable because authorities were never certain that it was in fact an “accident.”

So, Gus had gotten the “message” and, fearful of further reprisals against Nate, his only other child, after first botching a suicide attempt, he then agreed to plead guilty and take the twenty years, that is, providing he didn’t have to testify.

In the meantime, all seven of his co-defendants were found guilty of lesser offenses than Gus and, consequently, all received lighter sentences. He’d just found out last week, through the prison grapevine, that the last surviving member of that group had finally died, of natural causes, at home. Four others had previously died, three at home and one while still in prison, all of natural causes. The remaining two had both been killed in prison.

There were threats made, serious threats, which encouraged me to do what I did. It’s not essential that you know what those threats were, Nate, only that you know your sister’s death was, in all probability, not an accident. And for that, I am truly guilty.

Gus stopped writing as he felt the impact of what he’d just written. A tear formed in the corner of his eye, then fell upon the paper he was holding, as he tried in vain to blink back the onslaught to follow. He gasped once, feeling the constriction in his throat, then began to quietly sob, all the emotion he’d kept bottled up inside all these years suddenly erupting like a volcano that had been dormant for centuries.

When he was finally able to control himself, the tears subsiding, Gus went back to the letter.

So, although you seem to have ostracized me from your life for all the wrong reasons, you nevertheless have all the more reason to hate me still. I hope you don’t, my son. It is my fervent wish that you are able to one day forgive me, to let all those resentments and anger go, not so much for me as for yourself. And for me as well.

Gus was speaking from experience and knew firsthand what this could do to Nate. Gus had not spoken to his mother for seven years, then one day just like that—poof!—she was gone. He’d never taken the opportunity in all those years—and there were many—to try to make amends with her, to put things right, and he lived with that guilt every day of his life. He didn’t want his son to have to carry that burden with him for the rest of his.

If you never believe another word I tell you, Nate, trust me on this one—I’ve missed you terribly, and I love you with all my heart. I’m here for you should you ever need me.

With all my love,


“Hey, Gus, how ya doin’?” Max was back, holding a piece of paper in his hand. “Ya missed a good game, Gus. The Lobos won it in the bottom of the seventh, 16 to 15. Anyway, here’s my grandson’s phone number.” Max handed the slip of paper to Gus. “If ya talk to him, tell him . . . no, ask him if he’d please get a hold of Robbie. Tha’s my son, Robert Greene, but I al’ays jus’ called him Robbie, you know. Yeah, ask him . . . oh hell, I dunno what he should ask him. But goddamn it, Gus, I’d sure like to see him . . . Robbie, that is. I mean, I prob’ly ain’t got all that many years left, ya know? An’ I’d sure like to see him once more before I die . . . ya know?”

“Yeah, I know, Max.” Indeed, Gus knew very well!

Gus turned over onto his side then and, holding onto the metal bedpost at the end of his bunk, eased himself down onto the floor. He grabbed Max around the shoulders with both arms, pulling Max into his embrace, affectionately hugging his best friend, giving him some solace in his time of need, just as best friends should do.

After a brief awkward moment during which they comforted each other, Max pulled away and asked, “So, what time ya leavin’ in the mornin’, Gus?”

“I’m not really sure, Max. They’ll probably be sending someone down to pick me up, I imagine. Probably a marshal or a state trooper . . . maybe even the sheriff himself.”

“Well, if’n yer still here when I get up, ya wanna go up fer some breakfas’? I think they’re havin’ cima . . . cimmonon rolls,” Max stuttered, excited as always about the prospect of getting some of his favorite food, which was any pastry known to mankind.

“Yeah, I think I’d like that, Max. See ya in the morning, old friend,” Gus said while patting him on the back, then standing on the range outside his cell as he watched Max hobble back to his cell. The guy’s in pretty good shape for 77, thought Gus. Better shape than me, that’s for sure.


* * *


Later that evening, after lockdown and the ten o’clock count, Gus was lying on his bunk thinking about how tired he was. Not so much physically tired as just emotionally spent. The years had taken their toll. And he was thinking about Nate, wondering how he might respond to his letter. That is, if he ever gets the letter, thought Gus.

“Hey Pops! You okay up there?” chided Harko, grinning as he lay on his bunk directly below Gus. Harko was getting in his last licks with the old bastard.

“Ya know what, Harko?” remarked Gus as he glanced around at his other cellies who were now chuckling at Harko’s comment, and enjoying every minute of it. “I was just thinking . . . if assholes could fly, this place’d be a fuckin’ airport, ya know that?”


* * *


Sometime near dawn, Gus Ott awoke with excruciating pain in his left arm and across his chest. He lay there momentarily, trying desperately to catch his breath, waiting for the pain to subside, then noticed some numbness in both his legs. Gus knew immediately what it was. He’d been through this before—twice!—only the pain then hadn’t been nearly as severe as it was now. He also knew that he could wake his cellies like he did the last time this happened, who would then call for help. That is if he chose to . . . or not. The decision was his.

Gus groped in the dark for the letter he’d written last night, which was sitting on top of the locker next to his bunk. He found it, then folded it into his hand, holding it tightly in his grasp.


* * *


Later that morning, at about the same time Gus’s body was leaving the prison grounds in the back of an ambulance, no siren or flashing lights necessary, a Denver County Sheriff’s car pulled into the prison parking lot and came to a stop alongside the yellow-painted curb in front of the administration building. A handsome looking 30-something man dressed in a severely pressed khaki uniform, Stetson hat and western boots, wearing a polished Sam Browne belt with an empty holster at his side, stepped out of the car and locked the door. He then strode confidently up the six concrete steps to the front entrance, carrying a large manila envelope in his hand.

Upon entering the building through the glass doors, the young man quickly surveiled the vacant lobby, his eyes coming to rest on a surly looking heavyset gray-haired woman standing behind a counter encased in Plexiglas. He walked across the room towards the woman, stepping around a metal detector, and as he approached the counter he noticed a large sign with white lettering on a black background fastened to the wall directly behind her: ALL VISITORS MUST HAVE PROPER IDFNFIFICATION.

Taking notice of his uniform and badge, but in a somewhat condescending manner, the woman inquired, “Is there something I can do for you, Sheriff?”

“Yeah, well, actually I’m just a Deputy Sheriff, maam,” replied the County Mountie, explaining his position in the law enforcement chain of command.
He then reached into the envelope he was holding and withdrew a packet of papers. Handing them to her through a cut-out in the Plexiglas, not unlike a bank teller’s window, along with his Sheriff’s Department picture ID, the young officer informed the woman, “I’m here to pick up a prisoner who’s being released today. This is the warrant from Denver County,” he further explained, pointing to the first document she now held, then added, “and a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, authorizing me to take him into custody.”

The woman studied the papers for a moment, frowning when she recognized the name on the warrant, then glanced back at the deputy’s identification card. With a puzzled expression on her face, she looked up at him and said, “Uh . . . nothing personal, Sheriff,” again erroneously addressing the man’s departmental rank, “but are you by any chance related to the de— . . . uh, I mean . . . this guy?” indicating the name on the papers she was holding. “Because if you are . . . um, well, we might have a problem here.”

“Yeah . . . he’s my father,” replied Deputy Nathan Ott.