The unlovely buildings of the Benton Correctional Facility squatted on the edge of the desert and within its electrified borders there dwelt a combustible mix of a thousand men.
All of them had been found guilty of offences meriting serious time.
It was no holiday camp.
The governor of Benton, John Reynolds, lived in a secluded house in an affluent area twenty miles away. The grounds of the house were extensive and the governor was talking to his wife Marcia over lunch one weekend about the difficulty of maintaining them. How Styles (their regular gardener) was doing a great job when he came each week but was knocking on in age now for the more strenuous of the activities required to keep everything in good order.
"Those half-rotting trees for example," the governor pointed out.
Marcia nodded vaguely. She was only half listening.
"We really have to get rid of them," the governor said.
"I know, John, I know."
"Hey, how about we put it on the program?"
"What do you mean?"
"The RUN program, honey. You know."
RUN - 'Release Unless Negative' – was a scheme which allowed the freeing before standard minimum term of those prisoners who had shown consistently excellent conduct during their time inside and who posed zero threat to society.
But there were strings.
Inmates accepted onto the program were licensed for day release on certain designated afternoons over a period of six months to do various bits and pieces in the vicinity. Only if they passed muster with this would they receive a positive overall assessment and be allowed full and final exit from BC.
A negative meant back to square one with no second chances.
So possible to fail, yes, but it was unusual nevertheless. A guy 'on the run' (how this status was colloquially referred to) was highly motivated not to mess up and the tasks required, benefit-the-community things like sweeping the streets, helping out in the communal parks and such, weren't exactly rocket science.
It was, all in all, a scheme which worked well. Governor Reynolds had instigated it approximately three years ago and he was proud of his baby.
"I know what it is, John."
Marcia's tone was playfully affectionate, recognizing this hobby horse of her husband's, recalling the countless times he'd held forth on the subject. Although exactly how the program operated, she wasn't sure, since whenever he went into the finer detail of it she tended to switch off.
The governor smiled at her fondly. Marcia was his second wife. He'd been married to her for six months and he absolutely doted on her.
Marcia was decades younger than him and she was very beautiful. She was out of his league – a fact that he was delighted to admit to all and sundry - and not a day passed by when he didn't thank his heavenly stars that she was with him and seemed content to stay that way.
Did Marcia exploit her husband's adoration a teeny bit sometimes?
Sure she did. She twisted him around her little finger.
But he didn't mind. He got plenty in return. His lovely young wife ran the house and their social life superbly well, and she did certain other things superbly well too. That John Reynolds looked forward to going to bed each night, for example, was something of an understatement. The governor was a happy man.
"Ok, so we have one of the guys come by and do a few hours out there. We get a great looking exterior, he gets another small step to freedom ... Neat, huh?"
Marcia could see that her husband was pleased with himself.
"Sure, hun, good idea."
"Course, it will mean having him here," said the governor.
The governor regarded his wife carefully as he said this. Despite his power and status, the fact that his word was iron law around BC, he'd never do anything of significance involving house and home without her approval.
Marcia's mental wheels were spinning.
She loved John and was happy enough being married to him; however there was only so much shopping and socialising with girlfriends, going to the gym or the country club, that a person could do and she'd been getting rather bored with life lately.
The more she mused about one of the prisoners coming to work at the house the more she liked the prospect. Certain 'possibilities' sprang to mind.
"But just for a few hours, right?" she said.
"Yes, darling. Just be for one afternoon. Weekday afternoons is when we schedule the outside activities."
"And he'd be supervised by one of the guards?"
"No need for that. Point is to demonstrate that they can be trusted."
"But can't they just up and run?"
"Never happens. Like I've told you before, Marcia, they're tagged. Get caught in no time. Besides, why run when you'll soon be out anyway if you play your cards right?"
"Guess that's incentive enough to behave themselves," Marcia acknowledged.
The governor nodded vigorously.
"Believe me, it is. You know how it works, sweetheart ... any trouble whatsoever and they're busted back and looking at a full stretch."
Marcia was looking settled and satisfied now.
"Ok, so great."
"So I'll go ahead and fix that up, darling girl, will I?"
Marcia smiled serenely across the table and nodded her consent.
The following Friday, Governor Reynolds came home with a file.
After he'd showered and changed, he presented it to his wife along with her usual pre-dinner campari soda.
"You're looking great, honey," he told her.
Marcia smiled up from the sofa. She was wearing sprayed-on jeans and a bright pink tee-shirt. She knew exactly how delicious she looked.
"Oh, what's this?" she said, taking the file.
Her husband fixed himself a large scotch on the rocks and joined her on the couch.
"Take a look," he suggested.
Marcia flipped quickly through the file. It contained half a dozen pages, each of which gave brief detail on a particular BC inmate: name, a head photo, age, what he was in for, time served and time still remaining.
"What exactly am I looking at?"
The governor swirled his drink and took a generous mouthful before replying.
"What you're looking at, sweetheart, are the candidates."
"The guys who are eligible to come and work at the house. That thing we talked about, remember?"
"Oh my god, yes!"
Marcia did remember. It hadn't been mentioned since first mooted and she'd thought that perhaps the idea had been dropped. She was glad that it hadn't.
"Ok, so those are the candidates," the governor repeated.
"I see. Right."
Marcia resumed her study of the file, this time with more focus.
"I've screened out all the murderers and rapists."
"Thank goodness for that!"
The governor chuckled and sipped at his scotch.
"So, of those, who do you think?"
Marcia's eyes widened.
"I get to choose?"
The governor smiled indulgently at her.
"If my wife is agreeing to be on the same premises as one of these guys then at least she ought to have some input on which one."
"Well if you put it that way," grinned Marcia.
She put her glass down so she could really concentrate on the 'candidates'.
"Ok, him," she announced after a few minutes of silent appraisal. She removed a single sheet from the file and passed it over.
"Yeah, he seems fine to me."
Marcia tossed the file down and looked expectantly at her husband. She'd selected the youngest (he was thirty three) and most physically attractive of the men on offer and she was a little anxious about his reaction.
But she needn't have worried.
"Yes. Vickers is an ok guy."
"That's good to hear, hun."
"Plus he got on RUN pretty early and he's more than halfway through it, which means if he's negative he has five years to do instead of just a couple more months, which means..."
"Which means he's gonna be doing a spectacular job when he comes here!" Marcia interrupted gleefully.
"You got it, sweetheart. He'll be super keen to impress."
"We'll have the best looking place in the county!"
The governor laughed at that and got up to refresh his drink.
When he rejoined her on the sofa, Marcia snuggled in close and she kissed him long and softly on the lips. Her hand crawled up his thigh and into his lap.
"I think something is stirring!" she giggled.
The governor was panting slightly and his own hands had started to roam.
"C'mon, baby, let's go to bed," he grunted.
Marcia wriggled away, laughing.
"Dinner will be ready soon," she teased.
"Rosa will be ecstatic hearing that."
Rosa was their cook and housemaid. A robust Mexican woman of indeterminate age who'd been with them since just after they married, Rosa lived in and was therefore always on duty. The only exception to this was the one day each week when she went to visit her son, a longish trip which had her leaving the house early in the morning and not returning until late the same evening.
The governor grinned and gathered himself.
"Anyway, look, we should finish arranging this," Marcia said.
"The thing with Vickers?"
"How is it gonna work exactly?"
The governor nodded, businesslike now, and laid it out for her.
"Ok, so he'll be driven here after lunch by one of the guards, dropped off at two say ... then he'll be picked up again later at about five ... three hours should be enough for what we need doing."
.... There is more of this story ...