The car door thumped shut, and he got out at near his room at his hotel. The scarlet sun was sinking quickly in the west, lighting up the undersides of the low clouds. He went and walked down a broad cement walk. Before, him, to the east, the dimming hotel golf course offered long vistas of gently rich green, with palms and leafed trees standing solid at the distant fringes. There was a restful peace all around that touched the heart and produced gentle relief. In the middle distance, a cluster of players had stopped while a caddy with a heavy bag, handed a club to loudly dressed male player, then took out the flag out of the cup, waiting while a fat player bent and made a final put. Closer to the hotel were two other players, both men making final shots on a green as the caddy stood by holding both bulging, heavy leather bags sprouting clubs. Summerbee could hear their voices floating across to him faintly on the air.
The dark quickly deepened. The scarlet forge in the west was growing faint, streaking the sky with a dying scarlet fire. As he walked down the paved path, feeling relief from crushing cares of the day, he saw a figure standing by the side of the path ahead. The reporter, Mike Summerbee was spending a month in the Arizona State Prison, taking notes for a book and instantly recognized the man. The black man standing there was short; squat and powerful in outline. Lewis, he thought. Iron Man. The sight instantly refreshed his drooping spirits.
“I’m surprised they still letting you out,’ Lewis said with a small, white grin.
They talked for a bit. Iron Man’s real name was Lewis Adolphus. He had earned the name “Iron man” because he had always carried a piece of iron when he fought opponents in the Yard. Men feared him. He had been out of prison for three years now, working at this hotel, moving heavy furniture or old refrigerators. His body was built like refrigerator that had a large head placed on top. The two had come to like and trust each other.
Iron Man was talking about a friend in the prison: “We were cement tight. If ever there was partners, we was it, you dig? We sat up all that night…”
“What night? Before your release?”
“Yeah. All night we was talking, and he say to me, and Eddie say to me, `Iron Man you got out and forget about this place while you’re out there, learn to like the free world when you’re out there. He say to me, ‘You’re a strong man. Go out now and do them things you been telling me you can do. Only you know what you been telling me. Now go out there and live right,’ he say. Eddy McCloud his name was.”
Lewis looked out and sighed, then turned to him.
“I’ve did it all too, but for one thing. He told me to get my wife back, but whatever she got going, I don’t want to interfere with. She’s a nice woman, a good woman. No, it was all just me.”
“What did you do?” Mike asked him.
“I slapped her, and she turned me in.” Lewis said and stared gloomily, and then turned to Mike Summerbee. “You’re really okay in there?”
“I’m fine, why?”
“I think you maybe got friends in their now.”
“I sure hope so. I need all the friends I can get.”
He grew thoughtful “McCloud, Eddie McCloud, his name as, we celled together for thirty five months. We were cement-tight, man, you know?” he paused. “So are you done?”
“Done? Done with what?”
“Your book. You got what you need?”
“I’m getting there.”
Lewis simply stood there in the dark, not moving, plunged deep in thought, a bulky dark shadow. Finally, he said quietly, his voice very subdued and gloomy: “You know I buried one of my best friends in there. He was executed. ”
The startling words just hung there inj the darkening air.
“This was when you were out at the prison?”
“At the prison?”
“A friend. Yeah.” Lewis voice came out of the near dark. Mike couldn’t no longer see the features of is face. “See, there’s a grave yard there. Out by the chicken pens. He’s buried there. He was a good friend of mine.”
“Who was he?” Mike asked.
“Him? He was a fighter. Professional boxer.”
“Good boxer too. He was middleweight champion of the state,” Lewis said. “Yeah; good-looking, strong guy, really strong. His name was ‘Blackjack,’ His real name was Walt Hay. I buried him in the graveyard myself. There's a graveyard out there at the prison, near the chicken pens. The graves there don’t have names, only inmate numbers. A priest was there. Not Father Murphy, but another guy. The ambulance brought his body out at 7:15 in the morning.
“See, the doctors had to wait forty-five minutes up to an hour for the gas to clear the Gas Chamber, because that stuff is so goddamn deadly. If you open a cut in that Gas Chamber, you would be dead in seconds. When they carry a dead man out, the doctors, they always wear rubber gloves.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“You can smell that gas in there for a week after a killing,” Lewis said. “You can smell it. It takes ten to twelve days before they let an inmate in there to go in and clean.” The black shadow continued to talk to Mike.
“Yeah, old Blackjack his name was. He was a good fighter – middleweight boxing champion of the state. Only defeated once. Yessir.”
Mike Summerbee fixed his troubled gaze on the squat figure in the deepening dusk.
“Yeah. Famous man in the state,” Lewis said. “Good puncher; had a great left hook. He hit a man, and he’d crumble and curl up. I knew Blackjack real well. I even knew the pretty little wife that he killed.”
An inexplicable dread seized Summerbee. A chill swept down his spine.
“Why did he kill his wife?”
“She was beautiful. Man, she was beautiful. He shot her, see. She wanted to divorce him, and she had cheated on him, and he got into this rage and shot her in the head. I went to her funeral.”
Mike didn’t know what to say. “That was good of you,” he said.
“One day, I went to the jail while Blackjack was there?”
“You mean in Phoenix?”
“In Phoenix. Yeah. See, I had slapped my wife, and she turned me in, and I did thirty days in the same jail. When I got out, I got out I went to see Blackjack. You see, in the old jail in town, there was this fishpond, and if you stood there in the courtyard and looked up, you could talk up to whoever was up there in them cells. The inmates would press their faces to the bars to look down to talk. Later, Blackjack was transferred later to Death Row at the prison out here. Yessir.”
“Blackjack could stand up at the window of his cell and could see out to where he and his wife used to live. He could see their house from his cell.
“He was real upset, Blackjack was. He was crying real bad. He couldn’t stop crying. So I stood by the fish pond, and I looked up and could see him crying,” said Lewis. “He was real upset because he’d killed her. He called down and told me to go and be at the funeral for his wife, and he told me to come back and tell him what it was like. He asked me to take a bunch of flowers over there to honor her memory. He was real upset, just bawling like a little boy does, you know?”
There was a pause.
“It was hard for him to believe what he done, killing her. I remember him once saying, `Iron man, I got no right to go on living, after doing what I done.’ I remember him saying that over and over.. See, to him, there was no one like her, and he had done killed the only thing he ever really cared about in life, and he didn’t want to live any more. So me, after I got off my work, and I went and bought some real, nice flowers, real pretty ones, and took them and put them where her grave was. Her family was there, standing around, grieving.t”
Mike waited in silence, hoping to remember it all.
“So they transferred him to the main prison out here. One time, up in his cell on Death Row, I saw him sitting on top of the bed with those red trunks on that he used to box in. He just sat up there in those trunks. He didn’t say much. On the day he went to the Gas Chamber to get killed, he had dressed himself up in that fancy robe he wore in the ring for his fights. It was a big, loud red color with white trimmings.
“The day of his execution, he got dressed in his red trunks and that fancy robe, and as went to go down the walk to the Gas Chamber, old Blackjack, he threw punches all the way there, jabs and hooks, jabs and hooks until they strapped him down and closed the door and he lay quiet.”
Mike could feel the weight of iron Man’s sorrow even though he could barely see him in the thickening dusk.
“When was this?” Mike asked.
Iron man took thought. "It was five years ago. Doesn’t seem that long. Yup; five years. Seems just like yesterday, five years. Yessir.”
A group of colorfully dressed golfers went past, talking loudly. The hotel had turned on the lights of the golf course. People could be seen up in the dining room, eating and drinking. Lewis just stood staring out at nothing, remembering.
“Was that the last time you saw him?” Mike asked.
“Was that the last time you saw your friend?”
“Uh huh. The very last time. Uh huh. Yessir.”
They talked a bit, and then parted. Iron Man was off to Phoenix to party. Mike went to his little room on the motel off the main hotel building. He went in and sat down on the bed, trying to imagine a man throwing punches as he entered the Gas Chamber. Blackjack had met death with no recoil, no shrinking, and no hesitation. Acting bravely in the face of fear -- that was courage.
The reporter always carried a picture of his wife in his bag, and when he arrived there, he had unpacked it and put it atop his nightstand. He looked at the picture every morning as he got up to get dressed. Now, settled in bed, his jeans still on, his back against the headboard, he thought of all the precious things he and his wife had shared: the thoughtfulness, the consideration and respect, the thrilling sex, the wonder of their little boy – all the treasured delights of a close and caring marriage.
When their little boy died, Summerbee and his wife had felt the deep grief we all feel at the loss of a friend or a child or even a pet -- that terrible sorrow that comes from the knowledge that in every bond and attachment, there is something that no words can express, something which is peculiar only to that attachment, and the loss of which is irreparable.
He gazed at the photo for a long time until he felt his heart starting to fill. When he got back home, he and his wife would go and place fresh flowers on their son’s grave. To honor him. To remember. And then he reached for the phone to dial her.