“Funny cat you are, Leo, very funny,” Williams replied.
“I’m not foolin’ you. We need to get some chewing gum before we go much further. We’ll be cutting through them metal bars and that gum is the way to make them much more quiet.”
“What the hell are you talkin’ about?”
“We chew it up, ok, get it soft. Then, we put it on the saw blades and that squeaky whine you get when cutting through metal, well, it goes away. Without that gum those guards are going to hear us.”
“Bushwa!” Williams snapped back at Leo.
“You’re gonna have to trust me on this, ok? I’m telling you that’s what we need to do.”
Williams did not exactly believe Leo but he did agree to go along with the plan. That night the only action they took was to both go through the hole and scout out the particulars of the office and window they would be using to escape. The next day they both purchased several packs of gum from the small commissary the jail had available for prisoners and that night they got to work on the bars. Williams was surprised when Leo’s gum trick actually worked, making the saws silent except for a dull scraping sound which neither of them believed could be heard even directly below the second-story window. The process of replacing the gum was tedious at times but certainly well worth the effort.
Over the next seven nights the two men worked diligently on their project, taking turns cutting almost completely through each of the bars except for one that they intended to leave intact. They would use this bar as an anchor to which they planned to fasten some tied together blankets as an aid in climbing down the wall. On the morning of the sixth an inmate, newly incarcerated the day before, threatened to expose the plot but was quickly silenced after a short discussion with Big Black Terry. During the night of October tenth Leo and Williams completed all the preparatory work possible, leaving only the last minute effort of fully cutting through each of the bars and achieving their goal of escaping. They did not tell any of the inmates about their success and slept more than usual during the eleventh so they would be ready to go that night and be alert as possible. That evening, awake to get the meager dinner the jail provided, they sat together eating and talking in a corner.
“We gotta go tonight, we can’t risk no delay,” Williams whispered.
“Yeah, it’s tonight. We’ll be running free by the time the sun comes up,” Leo replied, a grin on this face as he though about freedom.
“I’ll start telling the others now, ok, so they’re ready to go. We waited long enough today.”
Leo just held up his hand in reply and stared across the cell area, not speaking or eating. That dragged on for several minutes after which Williams thought he knew what his partner was considering.
“You can’t go back on the deal, you can’t I’m tellin’ ya. That’s what you’re thinking, ain’t it? You’re thinkin’ a slipping out tonight and leaving these guys behind?”
Leo did not speak but turned to look at Williams. He blinked slowly several times, his piercing blue eyes seeming to look beyond his partner.
“You can’t do it, we made a promise, we gotta make good, ok?” Williams reiterated, speaking just loud enough to get curious looks from several of the prisoners. Finally Leo shook his head.
“Of course, of course, we’ll make good on it. You tell Terry and he’ll set it up with the others. Get a few blankets together while you’re at it.” Leo then went back to eating after which he laid down and closed his eyes.
Immediately after the eleven-thirty head count the two men stood up and made their way to the hole, where Terry had stationed himself earlier in the evening. Before stepping aside he leaned in and whispered to Leo.
“I’ll be waitin’ for your sign’l, understand? I’m right here, yo’ make sure to tell me when you’re through them bars. We’ll all be right behind ya.”
“We’ll let you know like we said we would. It’ll be a couple hours though, ok, there’s still work to do before we’re through.”
Terry patted both men on the cheek and then removed the cut-out for them, after which they crawled through, pushing the blankets ahead as they squeezed through for what they hoped was the final time. They began work immediately and it was just after two a.m. when they quietly removed the last bar and Williams tentatively stuck his head out the window to check the area immediately surrounding their point of escape. All was clear so the men made their blanket-rope, secured it and prepared to lower it out the window. Williams pulled on Leo’s sleeve at this point and nodded his head back in the direction of the cell.
“Yeah, you go ahead and tell him then. Make sure he knows to wait ten minutes so we can get clear down below,” Leo said.
One minute later the tattered edge of a blue prison blanket peeked out of the second story window and was slowly followed by four more blankets, all of which were carefully tied together. Leo’s leg then appeared and over the course of the next minute he quietly descended to the ground. Williams followed and, although he almost lost his grip twice, successfully joined his partner. The men exchanged smiles and an exuberant handshake before creeping off into the darkness. Twenty minutes later Leo had stolen a vehicle and the two fugitives were making their way out of town.
Back in the jail, things did not go according to plan. Big Black Terry had actually waited a full fifteen minutes before starting to go through the hole, only to discover that his large body would not fit. After several attempts he gave up, threw the cut-out across the cell area and sat down in front of the hole. One brave inmate approached him only to be met with Terry simple challenge.
“If’n I ain’t goin’ through, ain’t any one of you goin’ unless ya go through me first.”
No one cared to take him up on that offer and he stayed there until six-thirty a.m. when it was time for the morning head count. The prisoners did not try to hide anything at that point, with the first one to step up to the door simply stating, “You all got two boys running loose right now.”
Several minutes later the prison guards and deputies had verified that claim, viewed the escape path and had started to look for Leo and Williams.
…to be continued