|For the first time since he had been sentenced by the court's-martial,
Rick Lammers had his National Guard uniform on. This time he knew it would
be the last time he wore it -- whatever happened. Jack Lacour, his
cell-mate for the past five days, was also dressed and waiting.
One of the goon-like deputies snapped handcuffs on both of them -- too tight, pinching Rick's left wrist so tight his hand started to go numb. The goon-guards then marched Rick and Jack down stairs to the garage -- taunting them all the way.
Rick and Jack were then shoved into the back seat of an old Dodge Diplomat squad-car by a gorilla of a man -- with an apparent IQ of 50 or less. The deputy was so rough, Rick chipped a tooth on the cage separating the driver from the prisoners.
With siren screaming and lights flashing, the car lazed down Ludington Avenue -- stopping at the yellows rather than rushing through. Shoppers and pedestrians pointed and stared, laughing and chittering like monkeys. At Lincoln Road, the squad-car turned right and headed out for the Upper Peninsula State Fairgrounds.
A good sized crowd had already gathered round the main gate. When the Dodge stopped, the deputies and some Michigan State Police shouldered a path through the crowd for the two prisoners. Everyone was trying to get closer -- a better look -- shooting pictures, shouting and laughing.
Rick kept his head down. He heard a girl in the crowd say,
Greg Merrill's conviction for breaking-and-entering had been his third. And that made him a "career criminal" -- that's why he was here.
Although Rick had been staying in the Delta County jail with Jack Lacour, convicted of selling cigarettes to a minor, he was technically a "military prisoner". He had been on duty with his National Guard company when the "accident" happened. He'd been drinking -- he admitted that. But he insisted he wasn't "drunk" on duty.
Still, the jeep he was driving did hit that old guy walking along the highway, breaking his hip. Rick said the guy tripped and fell onto the road, but the man's daughter insisted that the jeep had swerved and Rick struck her father deliberately.
Everyone demanded that "something" be done about "drunk guardsmen who were more dangerous than the criminals!" That was the outcry. And the court's-martial board had found Rick guilty of "vehicular assault under the influence of alcohol". Rick was sentenced to die, of course. But, since it was a civilian he had injured, it was decided to have the execution at the Fair -- "for the entertainment and edification of the public as a whole."
Rick and Jack were escorted to the big enclosure outside the livestock building. Though it was only about ten in the morning, the Fairground was filled with people. Through the din, Rick could hear, from time to time, snitchets of conversation -- some of it directed as much to him and Jack as to the apparent "recipient".
A nasal, twangy voice caught Rick's attention,
The pig's bean-pole wimp friend looked straight at Rick as he commented,
"You go there and you really see some good display -- every stage -- just hung, half cooked, nearly dead -- every stage."
A first-generation from Sweden woman yahooded,
On each of the four days of the UP State Fair, one prisoner would be selected for execution. That meant one of them would be left over. That "lucky fifth" would get a pardon -- and walk free. So there was hope.
The deputies led Jack and Rick into the enclosure. At one end were the other three prisoners, already stripped -- naked. The guards grabbed Jack first. They ripped his shirt off and ordered him to pull off his jeans and shoes. In less than a minute, Jack was wearing only his jockey shorts. They were drenched with piss -- he must have just peed in them while stripping. His face was red with embarrassment. The guards laughed and made him keep the jockey-shorts on instead of stripping naked like the others.
The guards now turned to Rick. Two National Guardsmen came forward. The guard would conduct the process on their own man. Rick knew both of them -- Private Bill Carr and Sergeant Tom Vacello. Both were real bastards! Rick knew they had to be loving every minute of this! Sgt. Vacello twittered like a bird -- a big, ugly, raucous vulture --
Pvt. Carr unlocked Rick's handcuffs and ordered Rick to keep his hands on top of his head. The soldier unbuckled Rick's belt and pulled his pants down over his combat-boots. He pulled the pants off, then gave them to Sgt. Vacello -- who draped them over his arm.
|The spectators clustered behind the wire-mesh fence watched the
stripping -- the boots, the shirt, and finally the shorts. Someone in the
But the crowd liked it -- seeing the young soldier's well-developed physique -- thick muscles packed firmly onto his six-foot frame -- quite a contrast to the generally sad state of physical development flaunted by the spectators.
Sgt. Vacello stretched out a pointer and poked it at Rick's bicepses -- they quivered a little. Vacello pointed at Rick's pectorals and abdominals and thighs, waxing eloquent on how the military builds men from boys -- how the guard had specific exercises to build this muscle and that.
Sgt. Vacello then whacked the pointer across Rick's nuts. Rick gasped, choking back the tears. Sgt. Vacello laughed --
The prisoners had been given a bottle of cheap whiskey and some cigarettes ... to "calm their nerves". But a swig and a quick drag were all they really had time for.
This game of "Stud Poker" wouldn't take long. Big, oversized playing cards were placed against an elevated board -- prisoners, guards, and spectators alike could see each man's hand. Three cards were dealt each prisoner. Each one could discard one or two of those dealt and ask for new cards. The one with the worst hand would be executed that day.
Rick prayed silently as his hand was dealt -- a QUEEN, a NINE, and a SIX. Not too good, but possible. He whispered a little prayer then discarded the NINE and the SIX. Billy Richmond had discarded two cards and had also kept the QUEEN dealt him. Now, in the second round, he got a THREE ... and a QUEEN. He had a PAIR of QUEENS! He broke into a big grin and waved to someone in the crowd!
Jed Watal had kept his queen and discarded the rest. He got a JACK and an ACE this time. He looked worried. Greg Merrill kept the KING from his first hand. To it he added a TEN and an EIGHT -- the worst hand, so far.
Jack Lacour kept a NINE -- because that was his best card. The second deal gave him a TEN and another NINE -- a PAIR! Better than Jed or Greg, so he was safe for today. He gave a thumbs-up salute to a girl in the crows who squealed.
Rick watched as his second card was uncovered: a TEN. He looked over at the others' cards. All the QUEENS were gone -- he should have known better than to draw for a QUEEN when there were three QUEENS showing already! There was no chance for another QUEEN, but another TEN would give him a pair -- or a KING would give him a better bust than Greg's.
Rick squeezed his eyes as the final card was drawn. He heard the gasps from the spectators -- then the cheers. He opened his eyes. His final card was a THREE. He'd lost.
The tension snapped -- the other four prisoners relaxed. They had big smiles on their faces. They'd "made it" -- at least for today -- tomorrow morning there would be another game. But, for now, for the next twenty-four hours, they'd live. Jed threw his arm around Greg,
Jed threw back his hand and laughed,
All five prisoners were led from the enclosure. Executions took place at the fairgrounds arena. The other four prisoners were taken to the Midway area. They'd provide "entertainment" today -- in the "Rape-and-Run" and the "Lash-for-Cash" games.
Tonight they'd be caged in the livestock building -- to be brought out for tomorrow's game of "Stud Poker".
Before they were led away to the Midway, they shouted encouragement to Rick. All of them were glad it had been someone else but them.
The arena was filling rapidly. It was nearly eleven in the morning. The temperature was rising -- already to 85 degrees -- 29C.
Sgt. Vacello and Pvt. Carr led the way, with Rick following and several cops and State Troopers bringing up the rear. When the group entered the arena, the crowd went wild, cheering and shouting. One spectator yelled,
"Need another drink, kid?"
"You'll need it when they spike you!"
Several people from the stands were escorted onto the feel as "representatives of the public" -- for a much closer look -- to assure that no "funny business" was going on and that the execution was done as painfully and straight forwardly as possible. Pvt. Carr grabbed Rick's face and forced his head over to one side so he could see the witnesses. Like at most executions, some of the "witnesses" were family of the aggrieved. Pvt. Carr pried Rick's eyes open and forced him to look,
The nailing didn't take long. The first nail in Rick's wrist didn't hurt that much. Rick gasped, and breathed hard, but there was little pain. His thumb pulled into his palm. There were spasms as his tendons drew tight. The spike through Rick's other wrist did hurt. It was as if his body used up all its serotin -- or all its denial, one or the other.
Then suddenly, it felt like the spike rammed right through Rick's heart, ripping it out. Rick's breathing was hard -- each gasp hurt to the very depth of his guts -- all the way down to his nuts! Rick's powerful body twisted and jerked, trying to wriggle into some less painful contortion.
Rick suddenly heard himself screaming, begging for mercy. He tried to stop, but couldn't. His mind raced around his body -- every place was screaming in pain -- skin and joints -- joints between his ribs, long fused joints in his skull -- every possible nerve was already screaming in pain. -- And he wasn't even propped up yet!
Rick's mind could only vaguely feel Pvt. Carr fold his feet over the upright. But his mind was immediately in his feet when the spike rammed through one foot then the other -- slowly and inexorably, like a glacier -- but faster than he could move his feet away.
Rick could barely breathe, the pain was so intense -- so crushing in his chest. But something inside forced his chest to breathe -- something Rick wished he could stop so he could die -- he knew he was just beginning to absorb the pain from his mangled ankles and wrists. He had seen men hang for hours and even days -- in agony that he now realized was beyond any possible imagining -- and it was all just beginning.
Rick's eyes were full of tears. He continued to scream, despite his desperate desire to die with dignity. His voice was becoming hoarse. His body twisted and writhed, trying to pinch nerves, numb sensations, escape the pain in any way possible. His body bucked, like a bronco. His blood spurted from his wrists and ankles. Rick began whimpering, like a whipped child.
And then they raised the cross.
Through the long afternoon, rick hung from his cross -- the spikes securing his wrists and ankles to the heavy timbers. His voice was gone -- all that was left was harsh croaks that scraped his throat raw. Only his eyes showed how much he was suffering -- painful resignation.
The fence round the inner track of the arena kept the spectators at a "safe" distance -- close enough to watch and photograph Rick's agony in detail, but far enough back to protect the spectators from Ricks diarrheal farts, kidney spurts, and puke that streaked the timber and dribbled down his inner thigh.
By evening, it was apparent that Rick was near death -- from asphyxiation. -- A smaller man would have lasted longer, but a nice, large, heavily muscled young man makes such good show, that's what the fair directors always looked for from the hundreds of prospects.
The weight of Rick's body was pulling cords of muscle in his pectorals bicepses -- his round, full muscles had been stretched into parallel strands of rope underneath dry and cracking skin. -- Even if he was reprieved, his body was ruined -- extensive surgery would be necessary just to reintegrate his pectoral and arm muscles -- the joints and bones stretched and cracked could never heal -- even if Rick was allowed to live.
By now Rick's abdominals had also been stretched out of shape -- one band herniated through the other, back and forth, so his belly looked more like an Italian checkerboard table cloth rather than slabs of hard muscle. Rick was no longer aware of anything but a vague burning, enveloping his entire body and mind -- like he was inside some giant's belly, being digested slowly.
But the spectators could see, Rick's breathing muscles were fixed to inhale. About once every twenty to thirty seconds, his body struggled, his thighs quivered as they tried to tighten, as his knees strained to push him up -- accompanied by a rattling rale.
Rick's thighs quivered until they gave way and his body collapsed with a gasp. The purplish haze over his skin turned slightly pink in the center of his chest; his face became just slightly pink. Then the purple pawl started rinsing out the pink again.
It was nearly over.
Spectators who had gone for dinner or to see the rest of the fair could see what had happen so gradually the "official witnesses" could have missed -- Rick's skin had been severely burned. It was now lobster red. His body glistened in the light because the sweat had become thicker and thicker as poisons built up, coating Rick's body with a clear ooze that was more like sap than sweat.
The clouds of insects were much thicker now -- and more and more flies were biting little chunks out of his skin instead of just sucking the slime.
It was all very beautiful -- the point so close to death.
It was just a few minutes before the second "evening show". Jack Lacour lay on the floor of the tent, trying to rest a little and mentally prepare himself for the ordeal. He and Billy Richmond were scheduled for this "performance".
He heard the commotion outside. One of the teenagers who'd been watching the preparations for the show cursed,
"They just dragged Lammers' body down through the Midway!"
"A dead body! Big deal!"
"That ain't it! He wasn't all dead yet! They cut him down alive and dragged him down to the pig pen and threw him in!"
"The way those pigs go for cow guts, you can imagine how they'd go for live meat!"
The Upper Peninsula is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. By all rights, it should be part of Wisconsin, but it's not. It's separated from the rest of Michigan by Lakes Michigan and Huron. The Upper Peninsula is a world unto itself -- different from any other part of the US.
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