, , , , , , , ,

by J.M. Taylor

There would be no last minute reprieve.

The governor’s office had responded to his lawyer’s final appeal with laughter.

The state would get its revenge. They deserved it.

What could he expect? The police had caught him dead to rights, so to speak, in the act. Not that that should have been a surprise to him, and it wasn’t. He had set his last “play” in the bandstand on the town green for all the world to see. His “actors,” unwilling participants all, had been so brutally mutilated, three officers quit the force. One had attempted suicide. The town had dismantled the bandstand and burned the pieces.

A hell of a way to end a long, illustrious career.

The trial was like a retrospective of all his best performances. Somehow, they’d dug up (hee, hee) evidence of his earliest work, and the reviews were deafening. His lawyer tried to argue insanity, but that was strictly a non-starter. His careful rehearsals and revisions in subsequent drafts put the lie on that little scheme. And, to be honest, he was never comfortable with the suggestion. It wasn’t insanity, just the natural progression of a sick, hateful culture. That’s what artists did, he’d argued: hold a mirror up to society.

Maybe that’s why even the bleeding heart activists had shied away from his case. His work was just too compelling, too honest, for them to critique. In the end, the victim statements were all self-damning, and he listened to them with the aplomb of a true professional. The applause at the reading of his sentence was an affirmation of his genius.

So no, the rejection of the appeal came as no surprise, and he would have been disappointed if it had come through.

Time to get the show on the road.

The costumers had come this morning with his new clothes, dressing him in tasteful shirt and slacks, matching socks, clean boxers. No need for shoes: slippers were more appropriate for the last act. The curtains were to come down tonight at midnight. The audience would be small, invited guests only, critics at the preview.

He looked at the clock high on the wall, locked in its wire cage. Almost twelve hours. Time for his final meal.

They led him down the bare corridor, two ahead, two behind. Adoring fans. He took his place at the table. The smell of garlic permeated the room. He filled his lungs with the aroma. He’d make it last.

They sat him at the table. Shrimp scampi on a bed of spaghetti. Tonight’s was a solo performance, so who cared what his breath was like? No white wine, but sparkling apple cider would look good to the audience in their seats. There was a small cannoli for dessert.

He took a sip of the cider. It washed away the metallic taste of pre-show jitters. Eight jumbo prawns, curled up like little fetuses. Pretty as a picture. It was time.

He picked up his fork, and stabbed three shrimp, shoving them deep into his mouth, swallowing hard. He got another two in after those, and a gulp of cider. He ignored the shocked look on the guards. So what if he was a sloppy eater? Besides, it was all part of the show, something to talk about at the after-theatre dinner.

He was working on the sixth and seventh shrimp when the tingling started. He had to hurry. The eighth one went down, but just barely, as his throat closed, never to open again. He started to choke, but he had been prepared for it. He was able to feign a normal face, pretended to chew when in fact all of his organs were shutting down in panic. Every second counted.

At last, he knew he was starting to turn blue. He pitched forward, and eight hands grabbed him like those eight precious shrimps. His body went rigid, but in his mind he was laughing at the thought of cheating them out of their command performance.

The most important rule: always leave the audience wanting more.

J.M. Taylor’s work has also appeared in Crime FactoryThuglitCrime Syndicate, and Yellow Mama, among others. His novel, Night of the Furies, is available from New Pulp Press.