Excerpt for One on One by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

One on One


Michael Kelso

Published by WordCrafts Press for Smashwords

Copyright © 2017 Michael Kelso

Cover design by David Warren

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite only retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

One on One is a work of fiction. All References to persons, places or events are fictitious or used fictitiously.
























































Special Thanks

About the Author


Corrections officers have a difficult job. They are called upon to enforce rules on those who have little or no regard for rules. They are vilified by those in their care as well as those who don’t understand what’s involved in the job they do.

When I was a C.O. there were certain things that you could only talk to another C.O. about. Friends, family, even spouses can’t understand if they’ve never worked in corrections. The job they do is one of the most dangerous of any profession. It can have long lasting psychological and physiological repercussions. The stress they endure every day is among the highest of any career, and yet 98% of them do it day in and day out with the highest level of professionalism. They not only watch the inmates, they teach, mentor, coach, counsel, and discipline them. They receive as much if not more training than other law enforcement agencies, for less pay and less appreciation.

98% of the good things that C.O.s do is forgotten when the 2% that do something wrong are plastered all over the headlines.

This book is about the 2%.

Revenge is an act of passion, vengeance of justice. Injuries are revenged; crimes are avenged.

—Samuel Johnson

My father once told me that character is judged by how you treat those you don’t have to treat well.

I never understood that saying.

—Emil Sorn


Smack! The impact stung Emil’s hand.

I can’t believe I forgot to ask the question. Reminder to self: never make this man really mad.

“Rough day at work, Dad?” Emil pulled the baseball from his glove and tossed it back.

“What?” Francis asked, coming out of his daze.

“You’re bringing the heat.” Emil smiled and shook his glove for emphasis.

“I’m sorry, boy.” He lobbed the ball back to Emil. “I’ve just got a lot on my mind.”

That’s never good. If he’s got a lot on his mind, then it wasn’t a good day. And if it wasn’t a good day, then it won’t be a good evening.

“It’s OK.” Emil smiled. “I don’t mind.”

Francis couldn’t help but smile too.

How is he always so upbeat? He’s so positive it’s just infectious. Nothing ever gets him down.

Emil threw the ball back much harder making his father’s glove smack. Francis grinned a little broader.

“And that was?”

“Just a little payback.” Emil gave a sly grin.

Let’s see if he can handle this.

Francis reached way back, looking like he was going to throw a major-league fastball. Emil braced for it, but instead Francis threw a curveball that he was unprepared for. It bounced off his glove and rolled away, with Emil in hot pursuit.

“Just remember, son,” Francis said as Emil retrieved the ball, “when you think you’ve got life figured out, that’s when it usually throws you a nasty curve.”

Emil shook his head.

Dad loves to give me these object lessons.

“I think I’m done for the day.”

“Why?” Emil frowned.

“I don’t want this to escalate until someone gets hurt.” Francis paused. “If you end up with a black eye or something, your mother’ll skin me alive.”

They turned and started toward the small, two-bedroom house they called home.

“Dad,” Emil asked, walking through grass that desperately needed mowing, “why do we live so far from your job?”

Because I hate Larsan and don’t want my family anywhere near that city.

“No reason. Why? Don’t you like riding the bus forty minutes to school?”

“No, that’s my favorite part of the day, goofing off with my buddies. Well, my second favorite. My favorite time is when you come home from work.”

“That’s my favorite time too.” Francis smiled.

“If you’ve had a good day.”

“Meaning what?”

“Well, I learned a long time ago to ask you how your day was as soon as you walk in the door,” Emil said. “If you say ‘fine,’ ‘good,’ or even ‘tolerable,’ I know it’s going to be a good evening. If you say ‘bad’ or ‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ I just go to my room and put on my headphones to drown out the noise of the inevitable fight.”

How old is this kid? His mother could learn a thing or two from him, Francis thought.

“Unfortunately, I work in a very stressful job,” he said. “Am I really that bad?”

“Sometimes.” Emil paused. “Other times you just need to be left alone to de-stress.”

“How’d you get so smart?”

“I learned from you.”

Francis wrapped his arm around Emil’s shoulders, and they walked in silence.

When did he get so tall?

“Dad, do you ever get tired of taking care of bad people?”

“Not everyone in prison is a bad person, son,” Francis said. “Some of them have just made bad choices.”

Emil nodded.

“But yes, sometimes I do get tired of taking care of ungrateful, bad people.”

“Will it ever stop?” Emil raised his eyebrows. “Will people ever stop being bad?”

“Only if we make them, son.”

The haunted look in Francis’ eye made Emil shudder.


“Heads up, guys,” Phil said. “Here comes Harley.”

“There’s the best case for birth control I’ve ever heard,” Glenn muttered.

“Maybe he’s just had a hard life,” Emil said.

“I heard his mom beats him every day,” Phil said.

“Yeah, well, it’s not enough,” Glenn said.

Harley marched down the hallway like he owned Frost Creek Middle School. Anyone who stood in his way got shoved into a locker.

“Watch it!” Harley said, slamming Emil into a wall.

Emil whipped around to face Harley.

“You got something to say?”

Calm down, he’s just trying to pick a fight. Ignore him.

“I’m talking to you, fat boy.”

Don’t do it. Don’t fall for it. Emil started to walk away.

Harley grabbed Emil and spun him around to face him. They stared each other down. Harley drew back his fist just as Mr. Terog came out of his science class.

“What’s going on here?” the teacher demanded.

“Nothing,” Harley said, letting go of Emil.

“Get to class,” Mr. Terog said.

“I’ll see you later,” Harley told Emil, and then he stalked away.

Glenn was excited as they walked to class. “You can take him,” he said.

“Take who where?” Emil frowned.

“Harley—you can beat him,” Glenn said.

“Are you nuts?” Phil said. “Harley’ll tear him up and throw him in the trash.”

“But they’re nearly the same size, and Harley’s never been challenged before,” said Glenn.

“He hasn’t been challenged now,” Emil said.

“You’re kidding, right?” Glenn asked. “You stood toe-to-toe with the biggest bully in school, and you think he’s just gonna let that go?”

The bell rang, and the boys went into their last class of the day. When the final bell rang, they all went to the bus. Phil and Glenn got on the bus without noticing that Emil wasn’t behind them.

As Harley boarded the bus with a grin, Phil glanced behind him. “Emil was right behind me,” he said.

The bus started to back out.

“Wait!” Glenn yelled, waving at the bus driver. “Emil’s not here yet.”

Just then, Emil stumbled onto the bus.

“Oh, my God,” bus driver said. His eyes grew round seeing Emil covered with scratches and blood. “What happened to you?”

“I fell down some stairs,” Emil lied.

“Yeah,” Glenn whispered, “some stairs named Harley. I can’t believe Emil’s going to let him get away with beating him like that.”

“You okay, bud?” Phil said.

“I’ll live.” Emil said.

“Not for long once your dad sees you. It looks like you were trampled by a herd of cattle.”

“I’ll live,” Emil said with moisture forming in the corners of his eyes.

“I hope so.” Phil said.


When Emil got home, his mother stared at him, her eyebrows knit in annoyance. She grabbed his ear.

“Don’t you dare bleed on my rug,” she squealed. “And look what you’ve done to your new shirt. I should give you a beating myself. Where do you think the money comes from to buy you new clothes? Your father works hard in that hellhole and this is how you repay him? Get out of my sight. Go get cleaned up.”

Thanks, Mom.

Ten minutes and one quick change later Emil’s dad walked in the door.

There’s Dad, right on time. Do I hide? Do I lie to him? Neither of those will turn out well for me when he finds out the truth. Oh well, I better get downstairs and greet him or he’ll know something’s wrong.

He approached his father with a smile. “Hey, Dad, how was your day?”

“Pretty good.” Francis did a double take at seeing the scratches and bruises on Emil. “Looks like I should ask how your day was. What happened to you?”

Tell the truth or he’ll be pissed.

“Well?” Dad said.

“I got beat up by a bully.”

“What? Did you tell anyone about it?”


“Why not?”

“It happened right before I left school, and the kid rides my bus. I couldn’t tell anyone without him seeing.”

“Who was it?”

“Harley Richardson.”

“That figures,” he said. “Those Richardsons are a bad lot. Tell you what, after supper I’ll teach you some defensive moves.”

“So, you want me to fight him?”

“I want you to be able to stand up for yourself,” Francis said. “I won’t be around forever to fight your battles for you. If you let someone else rule you through fear, you’ll be a slave to that fear until you stand up and face them.”

Emil saw the haunted look in his father’s eye and it made him shudder.

“No, you’re not,” Rosemarie said, coming in from the kitchen. “You’re not going to teach our son to be a thug.”

“It’s just some self-defense moves he needs to know.”

“I forbid it.”

“Not this time,” Francis said with quiet forcefulness.

Rosemarie turned and stomped to the kitchen muttering Mexican curses, and slammed the door behind her.

The silence hung like a storm cloud waiting to burst as they ate.

After supper, Rosemarie cleared the table and muttered as Francis and Emil moved the furniture in the living room to one side to make space. She glanced into the living room, then trudged to the kitchen to do the dishes.

“I’ll show you some moves that have kept me out of the hospital more than a few times, even saved my life,” Francis said.

“Is your job really that dangerous?”

“Not if you know how to handle yourself,” Francis lied.

Francis went over basic defensive moves, holds and pressure points. Emil picked up the basics with ease, but the rest gave him a little trouble. They practiced over and over for hours until Emil got the hang of each move.

Around midnight, Francis announced, “I’m tired. I’m going to bed.”

He took three steps, then turned around and charged at Emil. Emil didn’t think; he reacted. He sidestepped the charge, threw his leg out, grabbed his father’s arm with one hand, and pushed him to the floor with the other. Francis landed with a heavy thud that knocked the wind out of him.

Rosemarie came running into the room.

“What was that?” she exclaimed, expecting to see Emil lying on the floor, bleeding. Instead, she found Francis lying on his back unable to speak.

Emil was kneeling beside him. “I’m sorry, Dad,” he said over and over.

After a minute Francis sat up, turned to Emil, and said, “That’s OK, boy. You did good.”

“Look at this room!” Rosemarie said. “It looks like a bulldozer plowed through it and smells like old sweat socks. I want every stick of furniture back where it was before either of you go to bed, or so help me!”

“It’s OK, Mom,” Emil said quickly. “We’ll put it all back.”

Rosemarie stormed from the room, muttering in Spanish. Emil and his dad looked at each other and then erupted with laughter. They smiled and chuckled the whole time they were moving the furniture back.

“Good job, son,” Francis said. “I think you’ll be all right.”

“Thanks, Dad. I hope I didn’t hurt you too bad.”

Emil smiled.

Francis smiled back.

“That’s the most fun I’ve ever had while taking a beating.” He tousled Emil’s hair. “Good night, son.”


Emil yawned and stretched while getting out of bed and looking at the clock.

Oh good. It’s only seven o’clock.

“Seven o’clock? I’m late!”

He rushed downstairs.

I need to thank Dad before he leaves.

“Your father already left for work,” Rosemarie said. “He wanted to wake you early, but I wouldn’t let him.”

Emil’s face fell.

“I wish you would’ve,” Emil mumbled.

“What’s that?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

Emil knew that look. It usually preceded a plate or cup when her and Francis argued.

“Nothing; gotta go get ready. I don’t wanna miss the bus.”

“Don’t go getting into any fights,” she called after him.

He didn’t hear her. He was too busy drinking in the beautiful spring day—the smell of flowers and freshly mowed grass, the heavy air, dew on the leaves, birds chirping—all the sights, sounds, and smells that fear had stolen from him. That fear rose up again as the yellow metal beast hurtled toward him. For a moment, he considered turning and running back to the house. But that would only incur the wrath of his mother.

I have to face this, head-on.

He straightened his shoulders as the bus stopped. He mounted the stairs and walked straight back to Harley. “You ready for round two?” he asked.

“Anytime, punk.”

“Today, lunchtime, behind the school gymnasium.”

Harley smiled. “I’ll add a few more bruises to your collection.”

“Just be there.” Emil turned and walked four rows up to his seat.

Glenn and Phil stared at him in disbelief. Emil could feel their eyes boring into him.

Can they see me shaking?

Emil tried everything he could to keep himself calm as they arrived at school.

He walked to his locker and stood there, motionless.

So, this is what a death sentence feels like.

“What’s wrong?” Phil said from three lockers down. “Did you forget your combination?”


“Are you thinking about how stupid it was to challenge Harley like that?”

“No,” Emil lied as his quivering hand turned the dial of his lock.

Phil shook his head.

“Good luck with that denial.”

Then they walked to class.

Emil couldn’t think of anything other than watching the clock during his classes.

It’s ticking down to my execution. Maybe the governor will call and commute my sentence.

The ludicrous thought made him smile for the first time. Some of the tension seemed to bleed away through the smile.

Lunchtime came. Emil and his buddies made their way behind the gym only to find a lot more people than they expected. Dozens of kids who had fallen victim to Harley’s beatings were standing around waiting. When they saw Emil, they started to cheer.

“E-mil, E-mil, E-mil!”

As encouraging as the cheers were to Emil, they enraged Harley. He stood in the corner, pounding his fist into his palm as he glared at Emil.

Emil waded through the crowd and found Harley.

“Needed an audience to watch you get stomped?” Harley asked.

“Maybe all the people you pounded would like a chance at some payback,” Emil smiled.

“Are we gonna fight, or are you trying to bore me to death?”

“Whenever you’re ready.”

Instantly, Harley launched himself at Emil, but Emil sidestepped the charge and drove his elbow into the back of Harley’s skull. Harley collapsed in a heap. He lay there for a moment, stunned, then staggered back to his feet, rage pulsing in his temples. He shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs, then fixed his eyes on Emil. He lumbered up to him and threw a wild haymaker. Emil ducked, then threw a counterpunch into Harley’s exposed armpit, hitting a nerve cluster.

Harley reeled and held his right arm over his ribs to cover the pain. He charged again and this time managed to catch Emil in a bear hug. He started to squeeze. Emil’s ribs were screaming for him to get free when he shoved his finger with all his might into a pressure point on Harley’s chest right below the neck. Harley screamed and let him go.

Emil fell to his knees, gasping for breath when Harley kicked him in the ribs and then grabbed him by the hair and pulled him up. He wrapped his arms around Emil’s neck in a submission hold.

The crowd gasped, seeing Emil fall and their hopes collapse with him.

“Now whatcha gonna do, tough guy?”

Emil started seeing spots. He reached up in desperation, grabbed Harley’s thumb, and bent it backward with every ounce of strength he had left. Harley screamed and released him, but Emil didn’t let go of his thumb. He drove Harley to his knees in pain.

“Now, say it’s over.”

“What’s over?” Harley asked through gritted teeth.

“This fight, your career as a bully, and any thought you might have of revenge.”

Harley paused.

Emil put more pressure on his thumb, bringing Harley to the verge of tears.

“OK, OK, it’s over!”

The crowd erupted in thunderous cheers.

Emil let him go and helped him up just as Mr. Terog walked around the corner.

“What’s going on here?”

The tumult ended in a heartbeat as the children looked to Emil for the answer.

“Someone’s going to tell me, or else.”

“We were playing kickball, sir,” Emil said. “I just scored the winning run.

Mr. Terog eyed him and Harley warily. “I don’t see a ball.”

“I kicked it into the weeds. They’re still looking for it ... right, Harley?”

“Umm ... right.”

The teacher eyed the weeds dubiously.

“Recess is almost over,” he said.

“We’ll go out and help them look for the ball,” Emil said.

Mr. Terog walked away slowly.

As soon as the teacher was out of earshot, Emil said, “Everyone should go back to class and pretend this fight never happened.”

They all started walking away, but Emil pulled Harley aside to talk to him.

“Look, I don’t know what’s happening with you, if it’s something at home that’s causing it or what, but I think you need to talk to a counselor about it. I’ll go with you if you want.”


“For moral support.”

“No, I mean, why do you care?”

“Because I think you need a friend more than you need abuse or punishment.”

Harley eyed him cautiously.

“Whatever. I’ll think about it.”

“That’s all I ask.”


It was shift change at Larsan Prison, and Francis Sorn came on duty. The start of his shift was always boring. Watching an inmate clean wasn’t the most exciting thing to do, but that was his assignment.

The inmate put every ounce of energy into doing his job. He had mopped the entire tier, taking great pains to clean every inch of floor. He made it look effortless, and the floors shone when he was done. Like a model inmate, he was meticulous about his assigned tasks.

“Morning, Officer Sorn,” the inmate said cheerfully while wringing out his mop. “How’s the weather today?”

“All clear,” Francis said, looking at a window being pelted with rain. “Not a cloud in the sky.”

“Excellent. I’m finished mopping. Could you unlock the supply closet for me?”

“Sure,” Francis mumbled.

“What’s wrong?” The inmate raised his eyebrows. “You don’t seem very happy today.”

As if you really care. The officer just grunted as they arrived at the supply closet. He unlocked the door and entered before the inmate. He checked the room to make sure they were alone.

“I’m not very happy!” He grabbed the inmate by the collar and pinned him to the wall. “I’m not happy being your damn drug dealer. I’m not happy playing these stupid games. I’m not happy risking my job and my freedom for a piece of trash like you!”

“But you came to me,” the inmate choked out.

Francis paused and loosened his grip.

“I never came to you for anything.”

“Sure you did.” The inmate smiled. “You were complaining about that bitch of yours spending money you didn’t have.”

“You roped me into your drug ring.”

“I offered you some extra money; you made your own choice.”

“I had no choice; my wife was bankrupting us.”

“So, I helped you.”

“And you got your drugs.”

“And you got your money, so what’s the problem?”

Francis stared at him in silence. What would Emil think of his old man if he knew?

“Did somebody rat you out?”

No response.

The inmate started laughing.

“Did you grow a conscience?”

Francis’s blood began to boil. He grabbed the inmate by the neck.

“So, you want out?” the inmate asked, gasping for breath.

“Consider this my two-weeks’ notice.”

“No problem,” the inmate choked and clutched his throat.

Francis eyed him warily and then slowly released him.

“Can I at least have my last shipment?”

“Yeah. It’s over there with the pile of rags.”

The inmate found several bags of white powder. As usual, they were tied together to form a belt so he could easily hide them under his clothes.

“All done,” he said. “The money will be wired to your account—as usual.”

Just as pretty as you please. Would you like fries with that? Francis thought bitterly. He nodded and turned to unlock the door. A sharp pain shot through his back and then his chest. He looked down to see a sharpened piece of plastic sticking out of his uniform shirt, which was turning from gray to dark red.

As he collapsed to the floor, the inmate ripped the shank back out and cleaned it off with one of the rags.

“Consider that your severance pay. Nobody quits on me.”

Francis opened his mouth to try calling for help, but all that came out was a bloody gurgle.

Without even looking back, the inmate stepped into the hallway. He closed the door and strolled back to his cell whistling a happy tune as he went. Francis Sorn lay in a pool of his own blood for nearly two hours before someone found him. By then it was too late.


Emil Sorn, report to the principal’s office,” the loudspeaker blared. Emil put his lunch tray on the counter and walked slowly down the hall. He stopped in front of a door that read

Principal Edwards

and turned the knob.

“Come in, Mr. Sorn,” the principal said with a scowl.

He stepped inside and saw someone else sitting there too.


She silently stared into his eyes.

He has his father’s eyes.

Tears streamed down her face. The principal’s scowl turned to concern as he looked at her.

“Will you be alright to drive home?”

She nodded.

“You’re dismissed, Mr. Sorn. Your mother will explain the circumstances.”

Emil followed his mother to the car. It felt like a funeral march.

What’s the big deal? It was just a little fight. She’s acting as though I’ve killed someone. I just need to talk to dad; he’ll understand.

She dabbed her eyes as she drove towards home, then broke into uncontrollable sobs. The car swerved into the other lane, heading straight for another car.

“Mom!” Emil screamed. “What’re you doing?”

She seemed like she had lost interest in driving.

“Mom, this isn’t funny! Get back over!”

In desperation, Emil grabbed the wheel and yanked it over as hard as he could. The tires screeched in protest as they bit into the road and sent the car careening through their lane and towards the side of the road. They missed the oncoming car by mere inches as the driver swerved away from them and blew his horn.

“Mom, hit the brakes!”

Rosemarie hadn’t come out of her daze and they were rapidly approaching a telephone pole. Not knowing what else to do, Emil reached over and slammed the car into park, sending it into a skid. Gravel flew as a dust cloud enveloped the car and Emil prayed.

The car lurched to a stop. Emil looked out his window as the dust cleared and saw the phone pole mere inches away from his door.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” He screamed at her. “Is this your way of punishing me for fighting, by trying to kill me?”

He glared at her with eyes of rage, but they transformed into eyes of concern. She hadn’t moved. In fact, she still had her foot on the gas. The engine was revving faster and sounded like it was about to explode. Emil turned the keys to stop the engine and looked at his mother with a little fear.

“Mom, please tell me what’s wrong.” He reached out with trembling hands and held hers.

“Your father,” she said between sobs.

“What about him?”

She composed herself enough to talk.

“He’s dead.”


“He was killed today, by an inmate.”

“What? No. He’ll be home in a few hours.”

“Emil ...” she said softly, “he’s not coming home.”

He sat there staring out through the windshield, not moving.

“Emil?” she said.

“You’re lying. This is some sort of trick to make me feel bad about fighting today.”

“You really think I would pretend your father was dead just to make you feel bad?”

Emil’s answer was a withering glare. He tried to open his door but it banged against the pole and would only open a few inches. He crawled over the seat, opened the back door and got out.

“What’re you doing?” She called after him as he started walking. “Get back in this car.”

He didn’t answer. He didn’t pause. He just kept walking.

It can’t be true. How can she do something like this? Wait til I tell dad she almost wrecked the car and I had to save us. There’s gonna be a lot of yelling in the house tonight.

The last thought made him smile.

I’m not afraid of her. I’m proud of standing up to that bully today. Somebody needed to do it and I stepped up. Dad will be proud of me too. Why does she have to ruin everything?

“Emil Francis Sorn, you get back in this car this instant!”

He didn’t pause, turn, or break his stride.

Rosemarie’s anger at Emil had helped her regain her composure. She followed him on the side of the road in the car. They traveled this way for nearly a mile, looking every bit like the world’s smallest parade, until they reached home.

Emil ran inside.

“Dad! Dad, you’ll never guessed what happened today.”

He ran from room to room, searching in vain. He scoured the house from the attic to the basement, even searching their tiny backyard with no sign of his father.

Doubt had begun to creep into his mind. According to the clock his father should’ve been home half an hour ago. Little facts began nagging him now. His father’s car wasn’t in the garage or parked in the driveway. There was no empty lunchbox sitting on the kitchen table.

I know it’s a trick. He probably had to work overtime and she’s trying to upset me. He is gonna be so pissed when he finds out what she did.

An evil grin spread across Emil’s face. He looked over at the phone hanging on the wall in the kitchen. He picked up the receiver and dialed the number that was written on a faded piece of paper taped to the wall.

Rosemarie came in the front door and saw Emil on the phone.

“Who are you calling?”

“Larsan State Prison,” came a voice of the other end of the line.

“Yes, could I speak to Officer Sorn please?” Emil said.

“Umm … just a minute.”

Emil expected his mother to rip the phone from his hand, but she didn’t. She didn’t protest either. She just stood there, watching him. That frightened him more than anything.

“Lieutenant Wright, how can I help you?”

“Yes, I’d like to speak with officer Sorn if I could, please.”

“Officer Sorn?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Who is this?”

“This is his son, Emil.”

“Hasn’t anyone told you yet?”

“Told me what?”

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your father was involved in an incident.”

Emil swallowed hard.

“I-is he okay?”

“Son, your father was killed today.”

The phone hit the floor, followed closely by Emil. He sat, leaning against the wall, staring at nothing.

Rosemarie picked up the phone and hung it up without saying a word.

“Now do you believe me?” She asked Emil.

He didn’t answer, didn’t move, didn’t blink.


He sat there, motionless for hours, staring at the front door. She offered him food and drink, but received no response. A few friends and neighbors straggled through, wishing them condolences. Emil never moved or spoke.

As darkness fell the trickle of well-wishers dried up and Rosemarie sat beside her son trying to comfort him.

“He’s really not coming home, you know,” she said.

Emil didn’t respond.

“OK,” she said. “I’m going to bed. You can sleep here if you want, but he won’t be walking through that door no matter how long you watch.”

Emil didn’t move.

She sighed, staring into his empty eyes. The weight of the world crashed down on her. At that moment, she felt more alone than any other time in her life. Tears welled up in her eyes as she struggled to stand. She looked down at her catatonic son, realizing how much he looked like his father, and couldn’t take it anymore. She stumbled to her room and collapsed on the bed. She stared over at Francis’ empty side of the bed and fell into a tearful sleep.

Emil drifted off to sleep shortly after she left. When he woke, it was almost sunrise. He struggled to his feet, stretching the stiffness out of his body, then ran outside and looked around, but his dad’s car wasn’t in the driveway. He walked to the end of the drive thinking maybe his dad had parked in the street. He ignored the fact that in his twelve years on Earth he had never once seen his father park on the street.

He reached the sidewalk and looked both directions, but his father’s car was nowhere to be found. Slowly, it began to sink in. He turned and started back toward the house when something caught his eye.

He walked into the yard, bent down, and picked up his father’s baseball glove. He stared at it for a long time. He could almost picture his dad standing in this very spot just two days ago, throwing the ball to him. Emil collapsed to the dew-covered ground and began to sob. His face, hidden in the glove, made the inside as wet as the outside.

Why, Dad, why?


Emil didn’t go to school for three days. A few family members and friends attended the funeral, including the warden and a couple of officers from Larsan Prison.

As they approached, Rosemarie tried to ignore them.

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” the warden said. “Francis was a fine officer.”

Rosemarie pretended not to hear him. The warden took the hint and reached down to shake Emil’s hand.

“Your dad was a good man,” he said. “Don’t ever forget that.”

“So good that you let him die?” Rosemarie muttered.

“We will find his killer and bring him to justice,” the warden said.

“Justice? What the hell do you know about justice? You sit in your office, smoking cigars while good officers like my husband are brutally murdered by scum, and you have the nerve to mention justice to me?”

“This is a very dangerous profession. Francis knew that when he was hired. We deal with the dregs of society, but we do it the best we can. When one of our own gets hurt, we all feel it.”

“Oh, please. What do you feel right now? You might be sad for a day or two and then you’ll start interviewing to hire his replacement. In less than six months my husband will be reduced to a name on a wall, another statistic that decent people ignore because they don’t want to see it. And what will happen to me and my son?”

“I don’t know, ma’am.”

“You mean you don’t care.”

“I promise we will find his killer.”

“As far as I’m concerned, his killer is standing in front of me,” she said.

“I feel the same way,” he said, staring into her eyes. “We’ll be going now.”

She glared daggers into their backs as they walked away. Emil was torn. He wanted to hear about his father from the people who knew him best, but he had no desire to upset his mother.


Emil became a shell of a person. On the outside, he appeared normal, but the spark that made him who he was had been dimmed. He barely talked to anyone anymore, especially his mother. Now that it was just he and his mother, Emil began to realize how little they had in common.

He realized how different they were the first time he asked to watch one of his TV shows and she just ignored him. Those first few days gave Emil a taste of what was to come. As soon as he played one of his records in his room she shouted for him to turn that noise off.


His mom sent him back to school the day after the funeral.

“I’m sick of seeing you mope around,” she told Emil.

When he got on the bus, everyone was silent. No one approached him. No one talked to him. It made him feel even lonelier.

Suddenly, Harley came up and sat beside him. He tensed up waiting for the first blow, physical or verbal, to land. Harley tried to say something to Emil but paused as though struggling to get the words out. Finally, he said, “Real sorry about your dad, man.”

Emil wasn’t sure what to say, so he just said, “Thanks.”

“I lost my mom when I was younger. It took me a long time to get over it.”

“Is that why you try to hurt people? Because you got hurt?” Emil asked, knowing he may be treading on thin ice.

“I guess so,” Harley said with surprising honesty.

“Did you go see the counselor like I said?”

“Yeah, he told me a lot of useless crap and nearly bored me to sleep.”

Emil chuckled.

“It wasn’t all that great, huh?”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Harley said. “The one thing he did do was listen. I don’t think I’ve had anyone listen to my problems for a long time.”

“That’s good then.”


“Glad I could help.”

“Me too,” Harley said. “I actually came over here to return the favor.”

“OK ...”

“The doc told me how to deal with my mother’s death.”

Emil swallowed hard, trying to keep the tears from escaping his eyes.


“He said your life will never be the same, so don’t try to make it the same. You need to find a new normal and go from there.”

Emil couldn’t trust himself to say anything without breaking down and crying. He merely nodded.

School made him feel much worse. Everyone treated him like he had the plague. No one talked to him except Phil and Glenn. They weren’t themselves either. No one seemed to know what to say. Harley’s talk was the highlight of Emil’s day.

When he got off the bus, he picked up the mail from their mailbox, looked through it, and saw a letter from an insurance company. He told his mom about it when he got in the house, and she nearly ripped his hand off taking it from him.

She opened it in a frenzy, throwing the letter on the table, looking only for the check. When she read the amount, her face dropped. She fell into the chair, still staring at the check. She dropped it and picked up the letter, quickly reading it.

Emil picked up the check and said, “Wow, thirty thousand dollars!”

“Don’t touch that!” She squealed, yanking it away from him. When she did, it ripped.

“No,” she shrieked, and then she slapped him across the face so hard that it knocked him to the floor.

“Look what you’ve done!”

She picked up the loose pieces of the check, lumbered past him, and taped it together.

“You’re lucky,” she hissed, shaking her finger at the stunned boy on the floor. Emil cringed, afraid she might hit him again. Instead, she turned on her heel and stormed out. A moment later he heard the car roar out of the driveway.

He struggled to his feet, shaking, and stumbled to the bathroom. An angry patch of red graced his cheek looking like it may bruise. He opened the medicine cabinet searching for something to take the sting away when his eyes settled on his father’s straight razor. He picked it up, opened it, and stared at his reflection in the shining blade. He thought back to a time not so long ago.


Francis drew the razor slowly up his neck, scraping the shaving cream off as he went.

Doesn’t that hurt?” Emil said.

Not if you do it right.”

Emil watched, fascinated.

When can I learn to do that?”

Francis chuckled.

Not for a while yet. You don’t have anything to shave.”

Emil jumped up to the mirror to look at his chin. When he did, he accidentally bumped his father’s arm causing him to cut himself.

I’m so sorry, dad.”

Francis wiped away the blood and put a small Band-Aid over it.

It’s okay. See, good as new. You need to learn though to be careful with dangerous things.”

Is that dangerous?”

Absolutely.” Francis said, resuming his shave. “You could hurt or even kill someone with one of these.”

Then why do you use it?”

Dangerous things can be controlled as long as you respect them.”

Francis finished, wiped the remaining shaving cream away, and turned toward Emil.

How do I look?”

Emil smiled and gave him two thumbs up.

Francis smiled back and mussed his hair.


Emil stared at the razor in his hand and looked in the mirror to see if he had any hairs growing on his chin yet. Sadness crept over him as he glanced from the razor to his wrist. He brought the blade down and rested it flat on his skin. It felt cool and inviting. He slid the blade along his wrist with the sharp edge trailing behind.

It doesn’t feel any different from a butter knife.

He stopped the blade and was about to slide it the other way when he heard a door slam.

He quickly put the razor back in the cabinet and went to his room, not wanting to talk to his mother.


It was a clear, sunny day, but still quite cold. Emil zipped up his worn-out jacket as soon as he stepped off the school bus. It had only been a little over a year since his father had passed away, but to Emil it seemed much longer.

He picked up the mail, as usual. It consisted of bills and past-due notices. He walked in the house, which wasn’t much warmer than outside, and set down his backpack, which was falling apart. He had tried to sew it together, and it had worked for a while, but now it needed sewing again. He didn’t dare ask for a new one. The last time he tried, his mom went ballistic on him, saying that she barely had enough money to feed him.

To hear her say it you’d think I was a human garbage can.

At thirteen years old, Emil had lost thirty pounds in the past year. She barely fed him at all. Emil didn’t complain, though. He knew how tight money was and tried to help as much as he could.

Any snow shoveling or lawn mowing money he got, he gave to Mom. She would greedily snatch the money from him and then complain because it wasn’t more.

Emil sighed heavily, knowing exactly what he was about to see as he entered the kitchen.

His mother was at the kitchen table, sitting a little too straight. Her hands were folded together, and there was a small residue of silver powder on the table that looked like it had been hastily wiped away. Emil stifled a grin.

She looks like a little kid who’s been caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

“Did you win anything this time?”

He was answered by her best, ‘What do you mean?’ look. He went to the trash can and pulled out five scratch-off lottery tickets. She quickly snatched them out of his hand.

“This is none of your business,” she snarled at him, then stomped off slamming her bedroom door. Emil laid the bills down on the table, got the sewing kit from the utility drawer and sat on the creaky couch. There was no TV to watch and no radio to listen to—they had been sold long ago. Emil sewed in silence.

The years went by slowly for Emil and his mom. The older he got, the better paying his jobs became. Rosemarie finally stopped thinking that a financial miracle was going to save them and got a job as a waitress. Eventually they caught up on the bills and even managed a luxury or two.

Not that either of them had much time to enjoy the secondhand, black-and-white TV they bought from the Goodwill store, but the coffee pot came in handy. Between school and work, they didn’t see each other much, and neither was terribly sad about that.

Emil somehow managed passing grades, but nothing that would land him on the honor roll. It was pretty tough when he was working nearly every evening.

Occasionally he would still go out with his friends, which now included Harley, but it made his mom angry. She never wanted him to spend any money, even what he had earned, but Emil had stashed a little money here and there for himself.

Eventually, Emil was a senior and thinking about college. He knew what he wanted to do, but he also knew the reaction it would cause at home. He could hear his mother now, ‘We don’t have money to waste on something as stupid as college.’ Of course, she had no idea that he had managed to squirrel away nearly four thousand dollars. If she did, she would steal it from him in a heartbeat.

Finally, the dreaded day came. Emil knew he could no longer put it off; he would have to discuss college with his mother.

She worked late that night, but Emil waited up for her. Around eleven thirty, she trudged through the door. Emil had just finished watching the news when Rosemarie collapsed onto the couch.

“How was your day?” Emil asked.

She raised her head, and gave him a, ‘How does it look like my day was?’ expression and then let her head fall back against the couch.

“OK ... um ... we need to talk,” Emil said.

Every time he uttered those words, she headed for the bedroom. As if avoiding a problem somehow magically made it go away.

This time he was ready. Before she got halfway to her room, he blurted out, “I want to go to college.”

She turned and opened her mouth, but before she could protest, Emil said. “I’m already looking into grants to help with tuition and books.”

She closed her mouth, thought for a moment, and opened it again. Again, Emil beat her to it.

“And I would start Larsan Community College, so I wouldn’t have any housing costs. And I would get a third job, to offset the cost.”

Rosemarie regarded Emil.

Just as stubborn as his father.

“We don’t have money to waste on something as stupid as college.” she said and started to walk away.

“I’ll study to be a lawyer!” he called to her as she was reaching for her doorknob.

She froze.

A lawyer?

Emil thought he could see actual dollar signs in her eyes when she turned and said, “Okay.”


College was a different animal from high school. Emil applied for every grant known. He qualified for some, but by the time he got his paperwork in, only a few were left. He ended up paying for it mostly out of his own pocket and student loans.

Emil’s college days went quickly. Between working two jobs and having four classes a week, not to mention studying and schoolwork, college was a caffeine-fueled blur. The only thing Emil really remembered about it was his criminal-justice professor, who had some radical ideas and who unknowingly planted a seed in Emil’s mind.

After two years, Emil earned his associates degree in criminal justice. It was all he was really going for, but he kept that a carefully guarded secret.

Mom would have two heart attacks if she every found out that I have no intention of becoming a lawyer.

He told his mother that he wanted to look for a higher-paying job so he could quit his part-time job and have more time to study. Thinking of the pot of gold at the end of the college rainbow, she agreed. He never told her that the job was at Larsan State Prison.


“What do you think of our latest batch of applicants?” Deputy Warden Roose asked. Warden Tanzey threw the folders on his desk in disgust.

“I could find better people at a fast-food joint,” he replied. “The only one that even remotely impressed me was this Emil Sorn,” Roose said, rummaging through the files until he found a certain one.

“Emil Juan Sorn, born June eighteen, 1964, blah, blah, blah, German-Irish-Mexican descent. Wow, that’s quite a combination. Graduated from a local college with an associates degree in criminal justice but didn’t pursue law school. He’s six feet five, one hundred eighty-seven pounds. We’ll have to add some meat to this boy. How did his interview go?”

“This kid is idealistic as hell. He says the justice system is too soft on inmates.”

“I agree, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I do, but I’ve worked in a prison for a lot of years. I just think this kid is too young to be this jaded. We’ll have to keep an eye on him, make sure he doesn’t go too far over the edge.”

“What makes you say that?”

“I don’t know, just the way he looked when I was talking about justice. Like there was something just below the surface screaming to get out.”

“Well then, keep an eye on him.”

“So, he’s hired?”

“Yeah, I’ll call him and break the bad news. ‘Congratulations, you’ve just been hired by the worst prison in the state.’”

“That’s a helluva thing for the warden to say.” Roose laughed.

A pensive, melancholy shadow passed over Tanzey’s face.

“If only it weren’t true,” he said, looking at Sorn’s file.


“Thank you very much, warden. I’ll see you first thing on Monday.”

Emil hung up the phone as a ballistic missile of anger known as Rosemarie shoved a finger in his face.

“No! I absolutely refuse,” Emil’s mother declared.

“This is what I want to do.”

“I won’t allow it!”

“You won’t allow it?” Emil slowly repeated, as a cauldron of emotions started to bubble.

“I won’t let you throw away your life … like ...”

“Like? Like Dad threw away his? That’s what you want to say, isn’t it?”

She stood silently, somewhere between anger and despair.

“Did you love Dad?”

She stared at him with shock in her eyes. “How can you ask me a question like that?”

“Every time I mention him, you change the subject, and when I want to follow in his footsteps, you ‘absolutely refuse.’”

“Follow in his footsteps? Right to the grave?”

“I want to honor his memory … unlike you.”

It was too much for her.

“You didn’t know what your father was! You didn’t see what that place had made him. You saw a loving father; you didn’t see the drugs, the drinking, the abuse.”

“Oh, I’ve seen my share of abuse,” he said, glaring at her.

Rosemarie was shocked by the confrontation.

“I’ve provided a home for you in your darkest years, and this is how you repay me?”

“The only reason the years were dark is because of you. You stole my childhood. I became your slave. You stole money from me, pretending it was for both of us. Repay you? I already paid for all of this and then some!”

“Your father was a drug dealer. That’s why he died.”

“You’re lying,” Emil said with quiet menace.

“Am I? Or did you just see what you wanted to see and ignore the rest?”

The cauldron boiled over. Emil’s hand lashed out in a savage backhand across his mother’s face. The physical impact knocked her backward at the same time the mental impact sent him reeling.

He stared at his hand, eyes and mouth wide, as though it belonged to someone else. Until that moment, he had never imagined striking his mother. She regained her composure and rubbed her stinging cheek.

“This feels familiar,” she said. “This is how my arguments with your father usually ended.”

She closed her bedroom door behind her.


The powder exploded with a roar that reverberated off the concrete block walls, sending buckshot down the barrel to its intended destination—Anthony Morrilli’s chest.

The vicious gang leader looked down in shock at the expanding red stain in the middle of his inmate uniform.

I can’t believe the kid actually had the balls to do it.

The thought died with him as he toppled over, like a redwood that’s been cut down in its prime. His body hit the concrete floor with a hollow thud, splattering blood and spreading silence like the chill of an arctic wind.

Emil Sorn looked down the barrel of the shotgun hardly believing it himself. He knew all eyes were on him, and even though he wanted to go somewhere and throw up, a show of strength was needed. He slowly, deliberately, cycled another round into the chamber, silently daring anyone else to get within fifteen feet of the door he was guarding. The riot came to an abrupt end.


“All right, kid, what happened?” Warden Tanzey asked, pacing his office floor, puffing on a cigar.

“Well, sir, Mr. Roose met me at the front door, got me a uniform, and started me on a tour. I had never been inside a prison before and didn’t know how loud it could get. Mr. Roose took me to where the riot was, and a sergeant gave me a shotgun, telling me, ‘Any inmate who gets within fifteen feet of that door, you shoot them right here.’ Then he punched me in the middle of the chest.”

Tanzey looked at him in disbelief.

“You shot the leader of the worst gang in this prison because he got too close to a door?”

“Yes, sir. Wasn’t I supposed to?”

Tanzey looked at Emil with appraising eyes. When he hired the kid, he wasn’t sure if he would work out or not, but not in his wildest nightmare did he think that his deputy warden would take him to an active riot scene or that a senior sergeant would hand him a shotgun and say, “guard that door,” on his first day. The biggest surprise was that the kid did it.

I can’t believe he shot Morrilli without question, without hesitation. Apparently, there’s more to this kid than I thought.

“Write me a report on exactly what happened, then go home,” Tanzey said. “Be back first thing tomorrow. I need to straighten some things out.”

After he finished the report, Emil barely remembered driving home. His mind was a blur as a thousand thoughts raced around his head. He tried to slow them down by replaying the day’s events.

He was driving to his first day at his new job. He crested a hill, and there it was, Larsan State Prison.

It looks like an old castle.

He pictured torture chambers and people on the rack screaming, begging for mercy. He pulled up to the open gate, turned into the parking lot, parked, and walked inside. He stared at the walls and ceiling as he walked, nearly walking into the secretary’s desk.

“Take it easy, kid,” said a larger, older-looking woman. “Are you lost?”

“No, I’m Emil Sorn. I start today.”

She appraised him with her eyes, making him feel uncomfortable. She had the look of a hungry dog that had seen a piece of fresh meat.

“And just what are you starting as?” she said, licking her lips.

“Um ... guard.”

“Oh, honey, around here we call them Corrections Officers,” she said. “The inmates call them guards. It’s actually disrespectful. Don’t go letting anyone catch you using the “G” word or things won’t go so well for you.”

“Thank you,” Emil said. “I won’t.”

“Anytime, sugar,” she said with a wink. “I’ll call the deputy warden and tell him you’re here.”

“Thank you ... for everything.”

“Let’s just say you owe me one,” she said with a smile that looked like a predator sizing up its prey.

Emil suppressed a shudder and sat in the waiting area trying not to think about what exactly the “one” was that he owed.

“Good morning. I’m Bill Roose, deputy warden. How do you like the place so far?”

“Great!” Emil answered, with honest enthusiasm.

Was I ever that green? Roose wondered.

“Well, let’s get you a uniform and show you around.”

The secretary watched them go and made a mental note. Emil Sorn.

After he was shown a locker and changed into uniform, they started the tour.

“How many inmates are housed here?” Emil asked.

“Around thirteen hundred,” Roose answered. “This is an older prison, not nearly as big as they build them nowadays, and this was the last prison designed by Herbert Holmes, the famous architect. After he retired, they started building the more modern style. Translation, giant cubes of concrete.”

“Do you ever have any problems with the inmates?” Emil asked.

How many kids have I seen just like this one? Fresh out of college, with a criminal-justice degree, who think they know everything but don’t have a hint of backbone. What, do these kids come off an assembly line? Are they hatched out of pods?

He glanced at Emil, who was looking around starry-eyed. A sly grin came across Roose’s face.

“Hey, kid, how would you like to see a cellblock?”

“Um ... sure.”

Roose was going to enjoy scaring the hell out of this kid. He wasn’t sure why, but there was something about him he didn’t like. They took a door that led down a long hallway. Emil could almost feel the walls shaking, and he heard a dull roar.

“What’s that?” Emil asked.

Roose just smiled and kept walking. The roar got louder as they approached the end of the hall. When they opened the door, Emil was nearly knocked backward by the deafening noise. He looked up to see hundreds of inmates all screaming, cursing, banging on their cell doors, making an incredible racket. A handful of officers in riot gear stood in the middle of the room. Emil noticed some of the cell doors had been damaged and were about to fail. Many more were in the process of failing. The sergeant in charge ran over.

“Is this all you brought?” he yelled, looking at Emil.

“This is Emil Sorn. It’s his first day,” Roose yelled. “The Emergency Response Team should be on their way.”

The sergeant held out a twelve-gauge shotgun to Emil.

“You know how to use one of these, kid?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Good! If anyone in orange gets within fifteen feet of that door, you shoot them right here.” He punched Emil in the middle of the chest, knocking him backward a step, and then handed him the shotgun.

“You got it?”

“Yes, sir!”

The sergeant started to walk away when Roose grabbed his arm.

“Are you sure about this?”

The sergeant looked at Emil and then back at Roose.

“You brought him here.”

He turned and went back to his men.

“I’m going to check on the ERT. Be safe, kid,” Roose said. He sprinted through the door that Emil was now guarding.

Emil held the shotgun in front of his chest and felt a surge of power rush through him. He realized that he held the power of life and death in his hands. A small grin appeared on Emil’s face. Morrilli got free from the officers and started toward the door Emil was guarding. He saw the shotgun and paused, until he noticed the person holding it looked like a kid. He smiled and strode toward the door. He paused again when the kid aimed the shotgun directly at him.

“You don’t wanna do that now, do you?” Morrilli said, making sure the shank in his sleeve was still hidden. Emil gave no warning, just followed his every move while mentally measuring how close he was to the door.

“You couldn’t take a life, boy. You don’t have it in you. You don’t know what it takes,” Morrilli said, advancing again. “Why don’t you just put that gun down before innocent people get hurt?”

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