Tom Hemmings had hired on as a counselor at the Indiana Penal Farm—a
medium security facility covering twenty thousand acres of farmland and
sycamore forest. He had not expected the job to include a manhunt, but
now he was deployed on one. Assigned to a two-man shotgun team, his
mission was to pursue a pair of escapees along a bounding stretch of
whitewater known as Sugar Creek while the dog handlers kept pace on the
Since the escapees were rumored to have a pistol, Tom was not eager to
join the chase. He had heard the rumor from Henry Yoakum, his partner on
the manhunt, but Yoakum, a gaunt prison guard with a shrapnel-scarred
face, was also the subject of speculation. Although Yoakum was friendly
and gifted in gab, word had it he was deeply involved in drug
trafficking with the inmates. Tom did not know why he had been paired up
with Yoakum, but the man’s crafty eyes and sly demeanor should have
given him a hint of what the manhunt was going to cost him.
“The creek might snatch ’em up first,” Yoakum scoffed as the two
of them trudged towards the woods. “Seen it happen before—it’s a
damn good place to drown. But a rabbit will try anything to shake loose
Tom's palms were sweating in spite of the cold. "You really think
they're armed?" he asked.
Yoakum patted his shotgun and laughed. "Stick close by me, Tommy. If I
don't take care of you, who else will?"
They were climbing into a low fog bank. The cornfields, a quarter mile
behind them, had already become a blur while above them the boughs of
the sycamores were barely visible. Tom was losing sight of Yoakum as
well: the man was gliding before him with the stealth of a bobcat. Not
even the swaying of a branch or the snapping of a twig betrayed his
movement. Finally, the ethereal droning of Yoakum’s hand radio enabled
Tom to spot him. Yoakum was waiting at the top of the hill, sitting on a
log and taking a slow drag on a cigarette. His face looked macabre in
the smoky half-light, as though clawed by the talons of an eagle.
“Viet Nam taught me well,” he remarked. “Must’ve kilt a dozen of
the little yellow fuckers. And the place was a fuckin’ goldmine.”
“Good place for a shaft,” Tom replied irritably. He was hot
underneath his Second Chance vest and his skin was beginning to itch. He
sat gingerly on the log.
Yoakum shrugged cheerfully. He squinted into the haze and then spat.
“Their ghosts never bothered me none, Tommy. Guess I must’ve kilt
them too. ’Sides,” he went on, “it's the Cong left alive I feel
sorry for—sittin’ around in dirty huts, missin’ an arm or a leg,
while their country gets sold out to foreign cap’lists.” Yoakum
chuckled dryly and lifted the cigarette. The red eye expanded between
his fingers. “But Henry Yoakum hit pay dirt there. Made a fortune
outta black market commissary and gold. Pried it from the teeth of the
fuckers we shot dead.”
A hollow boom interrupted the conversation. The sound was remote and
barely audible, a reminder that they were far ahead of the other shotgun
teams. Yoakum shook his head and slipped the radio from its leather
sheath. Depressing the squelch button, he muttered into the receiver.
Not waiting for a reply, he plunged the radio back into its sheath.
“It was one of our guns,” he announced.“I’m bettin’ it was a
new officer shootin’ at a deer.”
“You sure of that?”
Yoakum nodded. “Them rabbits got too good a start on us. It ain’t
likely we’re gonna flush ’em this side of the dam.” He rose
lightly to his feet, surveying the woods as he did so. A gray squirrel
scrambling from bough to bough caught his eye momentarily then melted
into the haze. Yoakum sighed, relaxed his shoulders, and checked the
safety on his shotgun.
“Let’s get outta the range of friendly fire,” he said.
It was midmorning before the two stopped to rest. It seemed they had
been hiking forever, perhaps because the ground rose sharply and Yoakum
set a brisk pace. As they sat on a fallen maple, Tom gazed around
uneasily. It was unclear to him what the haste was all about; he could
not be sure whether Yoakum was seriously bent upon catching the escapees
or simply wanted to keep out of range of the other shotgun teams. In any
case, Tom needed a break--and so he welcomed the wintry air and the
perpetual laughter of the creek. Not even when he studied the terrain
below, observing the fog-shrouded prison in the distance, was he able to
recover his sense of mission. The buildings seemed as remote as passing
“What if we do catch up with them?” Tom blurted, a prospect he had
only begun to consider. He could now hear a thundering sound in the
distance, a hint that the dam was not far away.
Yoakum shrugged and lit another cigarette. “Ya ever dusted yerself a
“I’m not that good a shot,” Tom confessed.
“Well, shoot at the ground in front of ‘em. Like they showed ya on
the firing range. That’ll spread out the birdshot and throw it smack
Tom felt his scalp tingle. “What if they’re unarmed?”
Yoakum chuckled. He lifted a pant leg, exposing what at first appeared
to be a toy pistol strapped to his shin. It was a nine-millimeter Glock.
“Ain’t no way they can trace it, Tommy. The serial number’s been
filed to the quick.”
“A throw down?” Tom said. He was somehow not surprised.
“An equalizer, I call it. We ain’t supposed to carry ’em, but the
brass don’t bother checkin’ you out. An’ I’ll be damned if
I’ll chase down their rabbits without a little insurance. They’ll
hang ya in a second if the shoot ain’t up to standard.”
Yoakum wagged his foot. The Glock glittered like ice. “Rules of
engagement, they call it,” he said. “’Cept that they make the
rules while we do the engagin’.”
A shotgun spoke faintly in the woods below them, as though the fog had
smothered it. Yoakum lifted his radio to his ear and listened carefully
to the garbled messages. His face was expressionless when he returned
the radio to its sheath, confirming another false alarm.
“I did unstrap it once,” he confided. “Happened six years ago in
the kitchen dorm. This new guard and I was workin’ third shift—a
cherry officer just like yourself. Well, this fucking inmate with a
Smith & Wesson got the drop on us. Must’ve snuck the gun in
through the main gate when he was returnin’ from a work detail.”
Yoakum frowned and lifted his hand. The eye of the cigarette glowed like
a coal. “It was cold clear thinkin’ that got me out of
it—nothin’ else. The fucker said he was gonna waste me and let that
cherry officer live. Said he didn’t have no use for two hostages. Told
me I had it comin’ anyhow so I asked him if I could take a few minutes
to pray. Said I wanted to confess my sins to Jesus ’fore meetin’ my
maker an’ all.”
Yoakum laughed then shook his head. His hand stroked his shin. “Well,
the fucker was a Muslim so he hadda respect religion. He told me to take
a few minutes an’ I closed my eyes on him. When I opened ‘em five
minutes later he was lookin’ away so I hit the light switch and
rolled. Now the dorm went blacker’ than pitch, but by then my eyes had
adjusted. I could see that asshole, clear as day, stumblin’ around
like a blind man. Put four shots into his chest before he even knew what
was happinin’. Then I finished him off with a slug to the head.”
Yoakum dropped the cigarette, chuckling before crushing it out beneath
his boot heel. “It don’t hurt a man to see clear in the dark.”
“What about the investigation?”
“I told ’em the inmate had two rods on him. Said I just took one of
‘em away so I could give him what he had comin’. Now they couldn’t
prove nothin’ else ’cause there weren’t no witnesses. I took care
a that when I killed the lights.”
Tom lowered his voice. “What a way to shed light,” he joked. He
spoke as though fearful of being overheard.
“Fooled ’em all but Perkins,” Yoakum said. “You know who Perkins
is, don’t you? That fat-assed lieutenant who shits by the book? Well,
he came around later and tried to pin me down. Said, ‘Ahem, Mr.
Yoakum. You know there’s rules about carryin’ weapons into the
dorms?’ Well, I just stared back at him, like I was lookin’ at a
turd, and I said, ‘Mr. Perkins. Are them rules as important to you as
yer life?’ Well Perkins goes redder ’n a beet an says, ‘Is that a
threat, Mr. Yoakum?’ but I just kept starin’ him down and I said,
‘I repeat, Mr. Perkins. Are them rules as important to you as yer
life? If they are you’ll go on with yer line of questionin’.’
Well, off he goes, madder ’n sin and promisin’ to put me on report.
But that’s the last I ever heard about it.”
Yoakum shook his head, cackled, then unsheathed his radio. The static
coughed feebly, a sound too anemic to compete with the mounting rumble
of the falls. He called in their coordinates and rose to his feet.
“’Bout time we caught us some rabbits,” he said.
Tom felt his heart hammering as the two of them descended the hill. The
falls were louder now—like an approaching freight train—and he could
have traced out his name in the fog. Walking behind Yoakum was like
following a shadow: the man appeared and vanished so subtly it was
difficult to tell him apart from the trees. Tom wondered if Yoakum was
trying to outpace him. If this were the case, he could not fault the
man. Tom, with his heavy stride and callow sense of ethics, could only
be a liability to a phantom.
Shortly before noon, they spotted the inmates. Yoakum saw them first.
Clutching Tom’s sleeve, as though protecting him from a fall, he
pointed to the bottom of a hollow ravine.
A sinew of smoke, drifting lazily from a campfire, was the only movement
in the gully. The inmates lay motionless beside the blaze. Most likely,
they’d been pummeled into submission by the brambles and the bog and
were waiting for a search party to come and find them. The pair looked
like lepers, castaways, and the plume, bleeding gently into the fog,
appeared to be a signal of distress.
Tom nodded to Yoakum, a prearranged signal, and took his position behind
a dead oak. It would take Yoakum ten minutes to position himself on the
northernmost lip of the gully, ample time for Tom to muster up the
courage to squeeze off a round. Since the inmates were impeded by the
creek, Yoakum would easily intercept them if they chose to flee the
Tom waited and watched, convinced he was invisible. The fogbank was
particularly thick within the gully, filling it like soup in a bowl, and
the inmates seemed to be turning into mist. They looked like wraiths,
and for this reason Tom grew less reluctant to shoot in their direction.
A bough above him snapped and then teetered. He did not hear the
pop—the bark of a light caliber handgun—until a second later. The
sound seemed as impotent as a firecracker, and so it surprised him when
the bough came crashing down. Only then did he notice the glint of metal
in the gully below. Had the weapon been discharged in his direction?
He fired too quickly, failing to brace the stock of the shotgun against
his shoulder, and lost his balance when the butt kicked his chest. A
rock struck his head—he swore someone had flung it—but no one
approached as he lay semiconscious on the ground. Only darkness assailed
him and a distant booming that sounded like an echo. It was the second
boom, sharper than the first, that convinced him that Yoakum was
shooting at the inmates.
The darkness dissolved as Tom’s senses recovered. Slowly, painfully,
he rose to his feet. His shotgun, half buried by dead leaves, seemed as
foreign as an amputed limb, and he picked it up slowly before peering
through the branches of the oak. The sight in the gully was the same:
the plume climbed feebly from the campfire, and the two boys still
appeared to be asleep. Only the sight of Yoakum, crab-crawling down the
slope, suggested that anything had changed.
He kept his eyes on Yoakum now; the movement of the man, quick and
precise, was in sharp contrast to the lazy trajectory of the smoke. When
Yoakum finally waved to him, he chambered a round and set the safety on
the shotgun. Dead branches pawed at him, scratching his face, as he
abandoned his position behind the oak. Stepping into the clearing, he
began his descent to the bottom of the ravine. A minute later, he was
standing in front of the campfire.
The inmates lay slack-jawed and peaceful. They looked like children
napping, a sight that belied their crank-rotted teeth and the Aryan
Brotherhood swastikas printed upon their wrists and biceps. Obscured by
a membrane of watery heat, they had retained their ethereality and Tom
gazed upon them as though they were sacred. Not even the odor of shit
diminished the sanctity of the moment.
“One of ‘em crapped his pants,” Yoakum said.
Tom spoke woodenly. “Are they dead?”
Yoakum kicked at one of the bodies. “This one ain’t. The fucker
fainted before I had the chance to plug him too.”
As he spoke, Yoakum cracked the pump-action on his shotgun. His face was
like stone and he looked coldly at the surviving inmate. After a moment,
he shook his head then slipped the safety into place.
“The fucker will squeal on us—that’s for sure. Try an’ pack us
in. But it’s his word against ours, ain’t it now?”
Tom shook his head. “How much punch can he pack? It was a clean
Only then did Yoakum point, calling Tom’s attention to a shiny object,
the thing Tom had seen while behind the dead oak. His heart sank. It was
not a pistol—not even a knife—but a small can of Pork and Beans.
“That’s just the problem,” Yoakum said. “The fuckers weren’t
packin’. We dusted ourselves a clean rabbit.”
Tom looked at the can and saw only reflection—the shivery glitter of
the firelight upon the metal. He spoke lamely. “How could we have
“It won’t matter at the inquisition, Tommy. They’ll make us out to
be child killers. That’ll be certain if Perkins has his way.”
Yoakum coughed—his lungs rattling sharply—but when he spoke again
his voice was clear. “We may as well beat ’em to the punch.”
A bodiless murmur interrupted their conversation. Yoakum unsheathed his
radio, muted the sound, then reported their position with a quick series
of codes. He sighed before returning the radio to its sheath.
“Let's get down to business," he said at last.
Yoakum slipped his hand into his pocket, removing the Glock and a large
dirty handkerchief. For a moment he fumbled with the gun, stroking it
with the cloth as though burnishing a jewel. He then pressed the cloth
to the dead boy's fingers. "Gotta get gunpowder on 'em," he said.
Finishing his work, Yoakum pocketed the handkerchief. The gun he placed
in the dead boy's hand.
Excerpted from "The Siege" by James Hanna. Copyright © 2014 by James Hanna. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.