Chapter 19: Slave Labor

The houseboat is approaching a rock outcropping and water fall. Finegan is on the roof, with Joey peddling. The water is deep, but because of the rock outcropping Finegan is being cautious. Suddenly he holds his hand out to stop Joey.

Whoa!

Finegan is in shock.

Holy shit.

Dozens of skeletons, picked clean by fish and crabs, are under the clear mountain water. Some are of children. Some pieces of clothing in tatters are here and there still on the bodies, but mostly the skeletons are white and quite visible. Joey comes bounding up the boxes from the rear of the houseboat to see. He and Finegan stand side by side, in silence.

As the houseboat is moving along the rocky shoreline, in the background, in the woods, we see movement, a man crouching behind a rock. Finegan motions silently for Joey to stop peddling and to drift, and to stay where he is. Having seen the bodies and seeing the man's caution, Finegan speaks quietly, not knowing what might be nearby.

Yo. Is there danger nearby? We saw those bodies.

The escapee looks over his shoulder and then steps forward to the water's edge.

Can you get me outta here? I'm too old to work anymore, scheduled for termination. . . Please. They've got dogs, they're gonna be tracking me.

Having seen children's bones, Finegan does not assume this man to be a criminal, and hops down to get the canoe.

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The houseboat is approaching a small wooded island. It is surrounded by deep water, at least a mile from the rocky coastline they just left. The houseboat is maneuvered to a bay at the back of the island, and all three aboard tie the houseboat to partially submerged trees there. Now that they are invisible, they can talk. The escapee is eating some cold potatoes and fish and a tomato, with gusto. Finegan says,

I'd cook you a proper breakfast but if they have dogs, that'd give us away.

Finegan looks around him to double-check their location.

As is, they can't sight us, and if they weren't looking this way when we left, they're clueless.

Joey says,

I was watching, and I seen no activity. I think we're clean away.

The escapee starts to cry, not sobbing but just tears running down his face as he stuffs the food into his mouth and chews away. Barney comes up and sits by his feet, looking up - an attempt to comfort the escapee. Finally, Finegan can wait no longer and picks up the story line where they presumably left off earlier.

So these guys chasing you, they're guards? Guarding what?

The escapee looks at him incredulously, as though everyone has guards and should understand what he has been through.

The workers. Wait, I though you knew. Aren't you both runaways too?

The escapee glances at Joey.

I should'a figured. The first thing they did was kill the kids . . and the sick . . and the old . . ah, anyone over 50 is considered past their prime. . . threw em off a cliff to let them rot.

The escapee hands his empty platter to Finegan, who is looking aghast at this systematic extermination. Joey has become very quiet. The escapee continues with his story.

We were told to come to a military base where some wealthy folks had set up with supplies. It was like they were gonna share their supplies, and like the military would protect us.

The escapee lets out a guffaw at the absurdity of his expectations, compared to what happened afterwards.

Soon as the phone lines went dead and the roads were ripped up, things changed. . . The commander was in thick with them rich folks, always going up to their bunker and all. . . Next thing you know they were herding us all into that yard, behind barbed wire. I thought that was gonna be for criminals, ya know, but we all got sent in there. . . Then they pulls out those from 15 to 50 years of age, healthy men and women not pregnant, and we got sent to put up new homes for them wealthy folk. I was a plumber, so knew a thing or two about putting in plumbing. . . When we came back that first day, everyone else was gone.

The escapee falls silent. Finally sighs and continues.

We learned what happened when the guards bragged about it. Who shot how many and all. They liked it, the murders.

The escapee sits up straight, looking Finegan in the eye, as now the story is getting personal.

They were drawing straws for who was gonna do me, last night. The long straw gets to do it. So, ya know, what'd I have to lose? . . I went over the top and ran like hell.

Finegan asks,

The whole base is like that? Wanting to shoot civilians, kids?

The escapee realizes he has left out part of his story. He waves his hands in the air, as though to say "wait, wait, I missed a part".

Oh no, no. Most ran off to see about their families. Went AWOL long before the troubles hit. They saw what was coming. We'd see 'em walking by, through the woods, every day, sometimes in bunches. Those that was left became the guards, and if they objected to the plan, then they got put in the work camp too. . . New rules. . . I think it was the plan all along.

Finegan asks,

So how many people left in that camp, and how many guards, you recon?

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Finegan and the escapee are preparing to take the canoe to shore. The canoe has been loaded with a couple backpacks and the rifle. Finegan says,

Joey, you know what to do. I expect I'll be back in a day or so, but if five days pass and you ain't seeing me, you head off back down the coast the way we came. Stay to deep water, and only at night, and keep Barney muzzled. . . Look up that woman taking care of the old folks. And hey, they do eat rats, and there's nothing wrong with it. . . Them folks in Memphis weren't too bad either.

Joey says,

Yes sir.

Finegan and the escapee have pull the canoe up on shore on the rocky coastline. They both put on a backpack, Finegan carrying the rifle. They set off through the woods, picking their way carefully, the escapee in the lead.

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Finegan and the escapee peer out from the woods at the edge of the internment camp. The wood frames of the new homes for the wealthy can be see in the background. There are no lights, but dogs are guarding the edges of the barbed wire internment camp, staked to the ground. Two guards are sitting around a fire at one corner of the yard. Finegan says,

Here's the plan. I'm setting this dynamite off under the guardhouse. That takes out most of 'em. When that happens, those two are going to be looking in that direction. You shoot good?

The escapee nods his head.

Never missed, hunting.

Finegan continues,

OK. You take this rifle and shoot them dogs right off. Those guards ain't gonna be looking your way, they're gonna be running to the guardhouse. If they're looking your way, stop shooting, so's they can't place you. If it comes to you or them, shoot them guards too, because that's what I'm gonna do. Send 'em to hell. We sure can't leave them roving loose on the landscape, and I ain't inclined to run a prison. . . Here's a wire cutter. When the dogs are dead and the guards are gone, you open that yard. Use these if you have to. Let everyone out.

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The guard house explodes. Dogs are barking, rifle shots, dogs are yelping, then more shouting, then more shots. The work camp prisoners are streaming out of a cut in the barbed wire, running in all directions. Some of the prisoners are looking over their shoulders back at the melee. They pause, then turn around, seeing they are not being chased, the dogs are dead, and the guards are all on the ground, wounded or dead. They call to each other and come back. The prisoners are now making angry murmuring noises. Finegan points to the rifle in the escapee's hand.

You keep that, you folks might need it going up against them.

Finegan is now pointing to the new housing for the wealthy. He pulls some more dynamite out of his backpack, handing this to one of the men.

You know how to use this?

Another prisoner says,

I do. Worked in demolition.

Finegan continues his instructions.

They got any supplies, they should be yours, for back pay, eh? Send them off without anything. No food. No weapons. That's better'n they did to you. They may not have been in charge of this 'er camp, but they didn't rescue you either.

More and more prisoners are coming back to the group, realizing they are freed and the war has been won. The escapee is crying again, tears running down his face, a wordless, sobless weeping. Finegan says his goodbye, to the escapee, and with a wave to the rest of the prison population.

I gotta go talk to a boy now.