The King’s Cage


The very last day on death row. A guy in a stiff blue shirt was writing down what Whalen wanted for his last meal.

“Stiff bacon. And wheat toast with butter and sunny-side up eggs on top of them,” said Jamie Whalen, 54. “With hot coffee—but bad coffee, like what you get from a diner. And three fluffy pancakes. Have them make the pancakes really big and round, like flying saucers, OK?”

Blue Shirt gave a series of accommodating nods while he wrote.

“Anything else?”

“Yes. Make sure the syrup isn’t that yuppie shit—none of that expensive Vermont stuff in the glass bottle. I want that hollow, empty-calorie, plastic bottle taste. Aunt Jemima’s should do, OK boss?”

Whalen had a square face and very blue eyes. And stripes of chrome shooting through his hair. He looked like he existed on the page of a comic book. Even if he was just sitting there, blank-faced with his hands on his knees, people found him interesting to look at. Whalen was born to be a pack leader. He probably had guys way back in his family tree who were buried in pyramids. It was just a thing of circumstance and environment that he’d ended up running the mob instead of the country.

“We’ll get that for you, Mr. Whalen,” said Blue Shirt. “This always been your favorite meal?”

“It’s been a motif in my life, you could say,” Whalen answered. “It was the first meal my dad taught me to cook. It’s what I cooked for my crew when we huddled on Saturday mornings. And,” he shrugged and gave a guilty grin, “it’s what those two gentleman from the government had just finished eating when I kicked them off the case.”

The murders that Whalen was in here for. He’d popped two undercover Bureau agents in a diner parking lot off of I-95. He would have gotten away with it if there hadn’t been a deer trail camera in the woods across the highway that caught him in the frame.

“It didn’t have to happen. They should have known,” said Whalen. Almost like this was a final appeal. “I gave them the look: I see you, I know who you are.”

Blue Shirt pocketed his pen. “See you soon, Mr. Whalen.”

The last day on death row. Whalen was like a lot of the doomed. In that he didn’t seem to dread what happened next. Instead he seemed like a kid about to be freed from high school.


Whalen ate. While he did so one of the FBI agents who’d known his victims came into a dull white room near the warden’s office. Wasn’t long now until the injection. The agent was here to watch.

The warden relayed Whalen’s last-meal anecdote to him.

“I guess it makes sense, right? Crappy diner food—same thing he made for his crew. He’s having one last meal from the glory days.”

The Bureau guy’s smile flattened.

“He said he cooked that meal for his crew? On Saturdays? No, he never did that. They didn’t meet on Saturdays. They barely met at all. They kept it all secretive.”

“What?” said the warden, suddenly adrift. “Well, uh…”

“Yeah. He would never gather all his guys in the same place and then cook them a meal.” The agent put his hands on his waist. “Trust me, we all know this guy better than our spouses.”

A pause. And the agent looked behind him like he was concentrating on some faraway noise.

“Is Whalen eating right now?” he asked the warden.


Jamie Whalen escaped that evening. The cops and the Bureau agent and the warden watched the video of his last meal. There had been a key cooked into the fat pancakes. They figured out later that someone from Whalen’s crew had worked in the kitchen. Of course there was; half the prison population was guys who’d hustled for Whalen on the outside. Nothing they could really do to the kitchen guy but take him out of the kitchen. He was already in here for life.

Whalen had pulled the key from his mouth and had quietly undone his shackles—with one hand—while talking to the guy in the blue shirt who had served him his brunch. Then Whalen threw the steaming coffee in the man’s face and knocked his head into the wall. There had been a guard uniform stashed in the janitor’s closet in the wing.

He’d just walked into the lot and gotten into a car and driven away.

As he got clear of the prison Whalen thought: this didn’t have to happen. They should have known.

This week’s prompt is “brunch.”


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