The Ranger heard my footsteps from behind him. He turned just in time to meet my fist. It was a long blow, over the couch. My fist connected lightly with our guard’s jaw. My swing was poorly timed with little power. The Ranger dived over the couch and tackled me. We both went down. The big guard hammered my mouth with his fist as he scrambled on top of me. He pulled his meaty hand back for a finishing blow. Mine was already back. Swinging up with all my power, my fist made contact with his mouth. Roger flopped flat on his back. His lips were suddenly grotesque, the size of his nose.
Struggling to my feet, I was a step behind Roger. His swing caught me in the gut, but I was moving away. His head came past me. I swung from my hip, stepping into the punch, the blow hit him flush on the nose. I heard a crunch and saw a mist of bright blood. Roger, The Ranger, went down like a bag of corn, his head crashing into the edge of an open door. I heard a sickening thud like a bat hitting a baseball or maybe a cantaloupe. Roger lay still. Blood was streaming from between his swollen lips and from his nose. The back of his head looked dented where his hairless skull had collided with the door. Our guard’s face glowed in a ghost-like, bleached-out white. I dropped to the couch. As I glanced around the room, three faces were staring at me.
Mary said, “You okay, Paul?”
I touched my nose. Blood was filling my mouth. My head felt as if a herd of cattle had stampeded over me.
“No, but I think I’ll live. How’s The Ranger?”
Rod said, “Not moving. I think he’s out.”
Bob was worried. “What now? All four of us had been about to be be freed. Two months and we’d have been out. Now this asshole spoiled it all. Why did he have to go after Mary? What would we do now? Maybe we should call 911.”
Rod said, “And be presented with four tickets back to the State Pen at Fort Madison? That ain’t a good idea. We need to get the fuck out of here.”
Bob said, “The fight just involved Paul and The Ranger. Maybe we should call 911. The rest of us might be all right.”
“All of us will be back in prison for our full terms, Bob,” said Mary. “I’m sorry, but you’re going to take the hit just like the rest of us, my friend.”
My eyes turned toward our guard. “The Ranger’s not moving,” I said. “Maybe we should check him out.”
Rod bent over The Ranger. He pulled him flat on the floor. The look on Rod’s face was incredulous.
“I don’t think he’s breathing.”
“Check his pulse.”
Rod grabbed the Ranger’s wrist. “I don’t feel nothing.”
“Let me try,” said Bob.
Bob’s gentle hands slid along Roger Stewart’s neck. Then he moved to his mouth.
“Nothing. No pulse. No breathing. The man is dead. You killed him, Paul.”