A Really Bad Start
Time stood still. The clock on the wall, frozen. The shadows, unmoving. His next breath, suspended in time.
Finally, they came for him. He was led down the drab hallway and through a metal door into the searing sunlight. The
day had grown torrid in the few hours since his early morning date with death.
As he stepped outside, the stench of the nearby paper mill assaulted his nostrils. He walked away from the
Georgetown County Jailhouse on a late August morning, the summer heat clutching to the last weeks of the fading
season. Fall was just one month away, but this toasty Carolina morning was no indication of any changes coming
soon. As he walked out into the bright sunlight, the sweat began to bead across his forehead. The sun felt like a light
bulb pressed against his face. The suffocating heat, combined with the thick paper mill smell, made it hard to breath.
Just three hours earlier, at dawn, Ben had stood before five police officers with rifles pointed directly at his heart.
"Ready!" His life flashed before his eyes - literally.
"Aim!" The horror of his crime played out in surreal drama in that instant. The memory of the facts that he had
subconsciously suppressed suddenly crushed him with brutal reality. He longed for the relief that death would bring.
Finally, the anticipated call. "Fire!" Good! At last relief would come. The blackness of death he hoped would end this
torment would now, at last, release him. But something went wrong.
Ben heard the guns fire, but death didn't come. Someone, Isaiah, the old black preacher, stepped in front of him.
Why? How cruel was this? Isaiah robbed him of the relief that death would bring.
Isaiah had tried to tell Ben that death would not relieve his torment. No! It would secure his torment for eternity.
Isaiah visited Ben in his cell during those last days before the sentence was to be carried out. He had pleaded with
Ben to 'get right with God'. The old man was unflinchingly convinced that Ben needed religion. "No!" Isaiah would
have insisted, "Not religion! You need Jesus! Jesus died for your sins. He can take away your guilt. He will forgive
you if you ask him to."
The old man had gone though this over and over and over - trying to 'save Ben's soul'. Ben didn't want his soul
saved. He just wanted it be over. Isaiah had said, "Ben, it ain't never goin' to be over 'til you give it to God."
Ben retorted, "No, Isaiah. When they execute me, I'll die, and everything will end."
"Ben," Isaiah cried, "if only that was true. But this judgment you done faced here ain't nothin' compared to God's
judgment. If you stand 'fore him without Jesus, you'll be cast into hell. Then, your sufferin' won't never end."
"Well, Isaiah," Ben mumbled to himself as he walked out into his unwanted freedom, "Now what? You're off to your
'happy hunting ground', and I'm stuck here in hell!" Ben looked up at the sun and wondered if hell, if there really was
a hell, would be as hot as this scorcher.
No one had offered Ben a ride home. No one spoke to him any more than was necessary to process him to an
undeserved freedom. He was a convicted killer released on a freak technicality that nobody could have anticipated.
And it was obvious that nobody liked it one bit. Ben was given the second chance he didn't deserve - never mind that
he didn't want it. He hated himself more than anyone else did. He cursed his bad luck.
Ben stepped out onto Butts Street and walked three blocks to Frasier. He turned left and walked about eight blocks
to where Frasier Street, Highway 17, branched off to the right and became Church Street. At the intersection, he
ducked into MacDonald's for a burger and fries. He was still wearing the jeans and denim shirt Isaiah had given him
when he shed his wet security guard uniform at Isaiah's wilderness cabin.
He sat down at a booth and enjoyed the air-conditioning more than he did the food. The sun had grown hotter by the
minute during his long walk. The cool dining area was a welcome relief. But he felt like every eye in the place was on
him. He looked around. Nobody seemed to notice him. He had insisted on banning the media from his execution, and
Judge Miller was only too happy to honor that request. So, the firing squad episode had been forbidden to the media
up to this point. By now, though, the presses were undoubtedly screaming with the news of the execution gone awry.
Ben quickly ate his food and made his exit, hating to leave the comfort of the air-conditioned room, but anxious to get
out of the company of other people.
He headed down Church Street and stuck out his thumb as he backed his way down the street. He backed all the
way across the bridge, about two miles from the jail, and was out on the Ocean Highway heading toward Pawley's
Island before he finally caught a ride. By that time his clothes were soaked with sweat and stuck to his skin. The air
conditioning in the car almost froze him, but no way was he going to complain.
"Where you headed?" the young driver said as Ben climbed into the car. "I don't usually pick up hitch-hikers, but you
look safe enough," he laughed.
If you only knew, Ben thought.
"Uh! Ocean Highway Mall on 17 in Murrells Inlet."
"No problem," the young man said. "I'm headed to Myrtle Beach to find some girls." He looked at Ben and wiggled his
eyebrows. "Want to go?"
"Uh! ... No! ... Thanks!" Ben stammered. "I have some business at the mall." Ben wanted to pick up his truck and his
pay check and then get home.
"Okay!" the guy said. "I'm David."
"Hi Dave. I'm ... Ben."
"You coming from Georgetown?" David asked.
Why is this guy asking so many questions? Ben thought.
"Uh! ... Yeah! I was … uhh ... visiting my parents.
"Yeah? Where do they live?"
"What's it to ya?”, he wanted to say. Ben was sweating now but not from the heat.
"Maryville," he answered as politely as he could and hoped that it would suffice.
"Cool! I'm from Bayview."
Ben put his head back and pretended to sleep. He wondered how long it would be till David saw Ben's face on the
news and realized his poor judgment in picking up hitchhikers.
After about twenty minutes, David spoke, “Hey! Here we are. Ocean Highway Mall. Okay if I just let you out at the
entrance? Gotta get to Myrtle Beach before all the girls are spoken for."
Ben pretended to wake up. He rubbed his eyes, faked a yawn, and said, "Sure! This is great! Thanks!"
He got out and walked toward the back parking lot. When he rounded the corner to the back lot, he stopped in his
tracks. His truck, what was left of it, apparently had been battered and torched. He stood and stared for a long
moment. Well, he thought, I guess the news is out.
He walked to the nearest entrance and headed for the mall office. He approached the counter and stated, "Hi. I'm
Benjamin Wilson. I need to pick up my pay check."
The lady behind the counter eyed him curiously for a moment, and then her expression hardened. She said coldly,
"Mr. Wilson. You'll need to speak with Mr. Johnston. I'll let him know you're here." She hurried from the room.
Ben took a seat without invitation. He could hear excited conversation going on in Johnston's office.
Shortly, Sam Johnston came out and led Ben to his office. "Wilson, I don't know how you got out of jail, but I suppose
you already know your employment has been terminated. I hope you don't expect a job reference. Frankly, you're
lucky to be alive."
"Yeah! Right!" Ben spit out the words like venom. "I'm just dripping with good luck."
"Don't get smart with me, Wilson. Here's your final paycheck - minus the fee for towing your truck off the property.
Any place special you want it towed?" Johnston sneered.
"Yeah!" Ben shot back. "Why don't haul it to your house! You can keep it as a trophy."
"Get out!" Johnston yelled. "And don't come back. If I see you in this mall again I'll have you arrested for vagrancy,
trespassing, and anything else I can think of. And, Mr. Wilson, if you need anything, buy it somewhere else. Nobody
here wants to do business with you."
"Fine!" Ben said. He wanted to say something else really nasty, but he couldn't think of anything. He stormed out of
the office and out of the mall. He walked across the parking lot and into the bank on the corner of Route 17 and Mall
Ben approached the teller's counter and presented his check and identification. "I'd like to cash this please."
The teller looked at his check, hesitated, and said, "One moment please." She walked away and into an office behind
the teller's station.
After a few minutes, the bank manager came to the counter holding an envelope in his hand. He stated in a very
businesslike manner, "Mr. Wilson, here is the money for your check plus the balance of your account. I would
appreciate if you would take your business elsewhere."
"What?" Ben sputtered.
"Mr. Johnston called me from the mall security office. He thought you might be paying us a visit. Our customers would
not feel safe with a convicted killer running loose in our bank. We’ve closed your account."
A security guard approached and stood nearby - his hand on his sidearm.
"This can't be legal," Ben retorted. "You can't do this!"
"Do you think any policeman or judge in this state would see it that way," the manager snapped. "If you come into this
bank again, I'll ..."
Ben cut him off, "Yeah! I know! You'll call the cops." With that he took his cash and started to leave.
"Wait, Mr. Wilson. Please count your money before you leave. I don't trust you."
Ben dutifully counted his money and left. From his cashed check, his balance in checking, and the savings he had
been putting away each week, he had two thousand, twenty seven dollars and sixty-five cents. He folded the
envelope and stuffed it into his back pocket.
He walked out onto the highway and headed for his apartment. When he finally got there, dripping wet again from
sweat, he found an eviction notice on the door. He had already noticed the neighbors peeking from behind their
curtains as he approached the building. He inserted his key half expecting that the lock had been changed. The key
worked. He entered the apartment and headed straight for the shower. It felt good to be in his own place again, in his
own shower - much better than the jail shower - more private anyway. At least he had his own place for another ...
hmmm ... how long did he have? He didn't know what the standard eviction procedure was. He checked the notice.
"The end of the month!" he screamed. "What? That's ridiculous!" He called the apartment manager.
When the manager answered, Ben half-yelled into the phone, "Mr. Walker, this is Ben Wilson ... apartment 14A."
"Yes, Ben, I know who you are. The neighbors already called me. What are you doing here?" Walker asked.
"What do you mean? I live here."
"Not anymore, you don't."
"Yeah! Well I saw that on the notice. How do expect me to find another place by the end of the month. That's just ..."
"That's not my problem, Killer! I'm surprised you're still alive. I don't how you got free, but you can't live here." Art
Walker had been in the rental management business for a long time. He shot straight and didn't put up with any
nonsense. "In fact, Ben, that notice was put up as a courtesy to your family so they could collect your things before
the end of the month. I didn't expect a dead man to show up. Actually, I want you out in three days."
"Three days?" Ben screamed. "That's ..."
"More than you deserve. The whole complex will be on pins and needles until you're out. You've got three days.
"I know! I know! Then you'll call the cops. I should just put their number on speed dial so I can save everybody the
trouble." He slammed the phone down.