End of the Matter
The End of the Matter
By S. J. Hinton
James "Mattie" Matlock was a man of mild disposition, but with a mean
streak of uncontrollable anger a mile wide. At six feet, three inches
tall, he'd always been the biggest kid in the class. He was considered
mildly retarded. Toss that in with being from a lower-class black
family, and you got a kid who was never really given the chance to make
anything of himself. He had three run-ins with the police by the time
he was sixteen, all for assault on other kids on his block. At
seventeen, he was put in juvenile hall after breaking into the corner
grocery. At twenty-three, he had been placed in prison for
participating in an armed robbery of a convenience store - he'd stood
outside watching for the police and had fallen asleep.
Kurt Theison liked to be called "Killer." He'd earned that nickname
during his very brief time on the high school football team, cut short
when his clothesline move crippled an opposing player during the third
game of the year. He wasn't a racist, hating everyone equally, but he
had very "little use for them folks," meaning people of any shade other
than white. It didn't keep him from determining Mattie was useful when
he broke out of prison. He was incarcerated for three counts of assault
with a deadly weapon; two of rape and one of attempted murder. He was
thirty years old.
Ronald Cushman was the last. Child of an abusive father, he'd been
steeped in petty cruelties all his life. At twelve, he'd been expelled
from school by a headmaster who discovered that Ronnie always carried a
knife to school - today he'd just pulled it on a teacher for giving him
an "F." Ronnie was afraid his father would beat him for the grade, so
he was taking no chances. He didn't know that his father had just been
hit by a car while crossing a busy intersection against traffic. It
turned out to be the happiest day of his life. At twenty-seven, he'd
been put in prison for beating a man to death in a bar over a pool
Parkman Prison was located two miles outside Sigil, Texas, on the
banks of Lake Corinth. The lake on its west side bound it, with swamp
to the south and west. The north side had a two-lane road raised above
the level of the marshy ground by the liberal use of crushed rock,
built by inmates in the early days of the prison.
Budget cutbacks had lead to the use of inmates as custodians instead
of utilizing the local janitorial services. Fewer civilians in the
prison meant fewer guards on duty to keep them safe, which equaled
savings to the prison in salaries and service charges, too.
After a large-scale cleanup of the west wing, the cleaning detail was
allowed to lounge in the disused yard off the wing. Joe Phillips, a
senior guard, often pulled his homemade trailer grill up to the inside
fence during details like this to cook burgers and dogs for the
prisoners - made them feel a little more human and easier to manage.
Today, an impromptu picnic had been approved.
Exactly what happened isn't really known, and won't be until a full
investigation is completed. Somehow, a single unarmed supervisor was
left in the yard with eleven inmates. He was jumped, beaten, and six
men escaped into the early evening. Five refused to participate in the
Judd Boreland, Kenneth Brown and Marty Skillman were captured within
hours and gave up without a fight. This was much to the surprise to the
special task force sent out from Dallas to aid in the capture.
Matlock, Theison and Cushman remained at large. It was said that
Theison was the leader of the escape.
"There will be an autopsy, of course."
"Of course. That's standard procedure whenever the cause of death has
A sigh. "They died because they chose not to turn themselves in
The manila folder tapped a knee slowly. "Not a shot was fired. All
three men were dead before the first policeman hit the door."
A nod. "It doesn't matter. You want the autopsies. They'll be done,
anyway. Those men won't care either way."
They ran on foot for the first thirty minutes. It was a wonder they
made it very far at all. They came across a lone motorist on the nearby
highway and forced him to stop. They took the car, a late model Ford,
and left the driver for dead.
Amazingly, he survived.
The warden didn't contact other authorities about the break for almost
an hour. He claimed he didn't want to panic the civilians, and that it
was unlikely the prisoners could make it far through the swamp. Shortly
after he made the call, the motorist was found. The warden no longer
works for the correctional system.
The task force was mobilized and sent by plane within two hours of
notification. By this time, then men had been free for a little less
than three hours.
Theison decided early on that it was too chancy to try to drive out of
the state. He had a plan, and they were going to go to ground. He knew
that is they were caught on the roads, they wouldn't have a
They drove for the first thirty minutes, then switched cars at a
parking lot. Somewhere along the way they also switched clothing.
About the same time the task force was boarding a plane in Dallas, the
six drove to a nearby Sporting Zone and broke in. They loaded
themselves with enough weapons and ammunition to start a small war and
left the building.
No one yet was notified of the escape. Officer Charles "Chuck" Van
Lees was called when the alarms began going off in the Sporting Zone.
He parked his car in the front and walked around the building to
determine a point of entry. Cushman was surprised exiting the rear door
of the store, but Theison was directly behind him. Van Lees took a
shotgun blast in the torso from twelve feet away and fell off the
concrete stairs onto the asphalt parking lot. He was shot three more
times, once in the face, but was still alive.
The three escapees piled into the van they'd stolen and drove over Van
Lees, crushing his chest. He died of his injuries before backup
The trio were now wanted cop killers, and had nothing else to
Parkman Prison doesn't have the facilities or staff to properly
perform autopsies on premises. That's the official story. In truth, the
prison hospital would have done quite nicely but the acting Warden
didn't think the publicity would do morale any good.
The next nearest hospital was Sinclair Memorial, but there was no
autopsy suite and the Administrator suggested the autopsy could be
conducted at Sandford Funeral Home by one of the hospital staff. Doctor
William Fredrick volunteered as the prosector, or person in charge of
the actual dissection. He was an osteopath and board-certified
He arrived at the funeral home at ten o'clock on the morning of the
nineteenth of June and was immediately met by Jonathan Sandford, owner
of the establishment. Mister Sandford introduced the doctor to Joe
Phelps, a dark-skinned man of forty years and questionable extraction,
and a third generation diener by profession. Phelps, like most people
in his particular job, was quiet and competent. Doctor Fredrick had
curiously met only one or two others in his career, and hadn't the
slightest idea what to make of the matter.
"I didn't know whether you'd have equipment available, so I brought my
own," said Fredrick. "I assume the two of us will be the only
Sandford shrugged. "The police don't know what to make of the affair,"
he replied. "They were invited, but declined. So did the Warden." He
made some obscure gesture that was lost to the doctor. "I have to
presume you're on your own. This is most irregular." He ended the
statement with a sniff.
People don't sniff, thought Fredrick. Not, at least, when they say
things. You only read about that in books. Aloud, he only said: "All
Reaching in a compact bag, Fredrick pulled out a pair of surgical
scrubs, gloves, and a face shield. Phelps disappeared for several
minutes and returned wearing an immaculate white surgical gown. Mister
Sandford also disappeared, but did not return.
Phelps removed the first body from its carriage and placed it on the
autopsy table in a series of pulls and shoves. Fredrick winced the
first time he saw a much smaller diener lift a two-hundred fifty pound
corpse in this fashion, but soon realized the deceased didn't mind. He
adjusted a body block beneath the torso to better expose the chest,
then stood back at ease.
Fredrick checked the ID tag and consulted the papers affixed to a
clipboard on the counter nearby. "Ronald Jerome Cushman," he said in a
The procedure continued in a rather routine fashion. Fredrick used
both a recorder and a checklist to note the physical appearance of the
body, after which Phelps stepped forward with a scalpel. With a
practiced and economical motion, he made the inverted "Y" incision in
the torso. Unlike the almost delicate, surgical precision often seen in
movies, the incision was very deep and exposed the rib bones of the
chest and cut completely through the abdominal wall. Phelps replaced
the scalpel on a steel tray, then picked up curved bone cutters, with
which he disconnected the rib cage down either side. Another series of
scalpel cuts allowed him to remove the chest plate and expose the
"What was the estimated time of death?" asked Fredrick, not really
expecting an answer.
Phelps shrugged carelessly. "Last night, sometime."
Fredrick frowned. "It says the men were dead when the police forced
the door at nine twenty-three last night. That's over thirteen
The trio changed cars again in the parking lot of a Val-Mart, pulling
a very large gun on a black woman named Valerie Carr, her brother
Vincent, and her three children. Vincent was punched and knew better
than to get up afterwards, so they left him as they forced Valerie to
drive them out of the area with Jenny, Lyle and Kevin piled in the
Matlock spoke to the children and effectively kept them quiet, which
suited the other two men and helped Valerie stay calm. It might just
have saved a life or two that day.
Theison and Cushman sat in the front with Valerie and complained of
the cramped ride. Theison directed the woman to the house of an old
friend of his, but it was deserted and empty. Instead, they broke into
the house next door. A neighbor saw and called the police.
Although Theison made several suggestive comments to Valerie, he
didn't actually offer to hurt or molest her. Cushman may have been a
different story, but he was nervous around Matlock, who seemed to want
to protect the woman.
Phelps had made his cut with the Stryker saw through the skull and had
carefully removed the calvarium with the characteristic wet skritching
sound of the halves of a coconut being rubbed together. Fredrick peered
at Matlock's brain with interest. He recorded several more comments in
his notes, then removed the soft brain tissue delicately and suspended
it from a string in a fixative of formalin in a large glass jar.
Jenny stared at the three men intently with a hate not at all
concealed. Although only nine, Matlock wanted her to do anything but
gaze at him and Cushman felt a chill whenever his blue eyes met her
Theison mostly left everyone else alone.
Things got stressful when the police arrived. They demanded the men
give up their hostages and come out of the house unarmed. It's doubtful
any of the three had thought of their captives as "hostages" until that
moment. Then the woman and her children became very powerful.
Suddenly, Theison realized he could make demands. The police didn't
like it, but it was true. And they didn't have much choice but to
consider whatever he wanted - so long as there was a chance of getting
the woman and her children out unharmed.
But that was when Theison began to get greedy...
Fredrick examined Theison's heart by the simple utilization of several
crosscuts with a scalpel along the coronary arteries. He removed the
adrenal glands, liver and spleen and dissected them. Not being a very
junior resident prosector, Fredrick didn't even allow a thought of
intimidation by Phelps keep him from assigning the diener the
unpleasant task of running the gut, or washing out the intestines so
Fredrick could examine the inner mucosal membranes. As this was done
the room filled with the mixed odor of vomit and shit. Fredrick coughed
slightly and wished he'd brought a jar of mentholated petroleum
Cut, catalogued and weighed, the entire operation went rather quickly
and Fredrick was done in time for a late lunch - not that he felt
hungry after the job was done. The three corpses - empty shells
stitched up like baseballs, for the most part - were ready to be picked
up by the authorities. As odd as the situation was, Fredrick's notes
and recordings were a matter he could stand by.
Mister Sandford was waiting by the doors to the makeshift autopsy
suite when Fredrick opened the door. The doctor could easily imagine
the man standing at attention outside that door throughout the entire
procedure, simply waiting for this one moment.
"It went well?" inquired the man.
Fredrick nodded. "As well as could be expected."
"And the - deceased - are ready for transporting to their final
Fredrick sighed, having had enough of this entire mess. "Whenever the
arrangements can be made," he replied. He paused. "I do have a
"What do you know about those men? What happened?"
Blink. "Whatever do you mean, Doctor?"
Another pause. "There was no apparent cause of death." He began
ticking points off his finger. "They were thirteen hours and more dead
when I began the autopsies, but their blood and bodily fluids seemed
those of the freshly dead. The coroner pronounced them, but wasn't
present at the autopsies. Neither were the Warden nor any police or
other law enforcement."
Sandford stared for a heartbeat, then: "Do you get the feeling,
Doctor, that they might all be afraid of what's in that room?"
When the situation deteriorated, the police decided to break in. They
fired tear gas and smoke, set themselves to lay down suppressing fire,
then broke the door in with a heavy battering ram.
Valerie and the two boys were hiding behind a couch in the living
room. The three escapees were lying about the floor as if asleep. Only
Jenny remained standing in the center of the room, her eyes strangely
"I'm punishing them," she told the police as they carried her out of
the house. "I told them to lay down and act dead, and they did."
"There are certain processes involved in the decomposition of a human
body," said Fredrick patiently. "I'm sure you're aware of this. They
begin at the moment of death and proceed like the passing of
microseconds for an atomic clock. That is an unassailable rule. Without
it, I'm afraid we'd be out of a job."
Representatives from the County Coroner's office, Sheriff's
department, and the
Police Commissioner sat silently in front of the doctor as he delivered
his small speech. He'd peevishly asked that everyone involved be
present as he presented his findings in the autopsies.
He cleared his throat. "Those particular signs were not present. What
I mean to say is that, although the bodies were positively identified
as those of the three men who were pronounced dead at the scene
thirteen hours before I performed the autopsies, the bodies I examined
showed no sign of such an elapse in time. They appeared to be bodies of
men no more than several minutes dead." He sighed. "I don't doubt the
accuracy of the pronouncement. And the men were most definitely dead.
But they showed no indications classical to the passage of such time
The County Coroner representative nodded. "And what do you expect of
us, Doctor Fredrick?"
The doctor smiled a sickly smile. "Nothing. Everything. Absolution?"
he laughed. "I am well aware of the oddities found in the autopsies. I
am not aware of exactly what I might expect from any of you gentlemen
in a case like this. Why was not one of you present?"
A nervous giggle welled up from somewhere, Doctor Fredrick not knowing
where. The County representative didn't seem to know what to say.
Finally: "We didn't think it necessary, Doctor. You were more than
"I know I'm qualified," replied Fredrick.
"And we felt it unnecessary," finished Landon, the
"I don't care what you thought," said Fredrick. "I will not be left
out to dry. What are you all afraid of?"
The Sheriff smiled weakly. "How long have you lived in Sigil,
Eventually, Doctor Fredrick was allowed to hear the tape.
"Jennifer Ellen Carr is nine years old," prefaced the young woman who
was introduced as Meg Caulley, the psychologist assigned to the Carr
family after the incident. "She's in good health, attends third grade
at a local elementary school, is in the advanced reader program, and
wants to be a doctor when she grows up. She has an intelligence quota
of 165, and she claims to be able to speak to the dead, among other
things." The last was said so matter-of-factly that Fredrick didn't
realize the import of the words at first.
Caulley took a breath. "Jenny has rated very highly in testing for
psychic abilities. I realize such testing is out of popularity right
now, and their results are questionable." She smiled. "But in spite of
that, Jenny consistently scores an average of better than eighty
percent. That's much higher than acceptable odds might provide for. She
also seems able to immediately gather information about people she
meets, and that without asking leading questions or
"ESP and speaking with the spirits of the dead don't exist," replied
"No, they don't," agreed Caulley. "Not in any known scientific
framework. I could go on stage in front of a crowd of people and say
that I felt someone had lost a loved one, and in a large enough crowd
that would be true of a number of the participants. Death is often
painful, and many people die of heart problems or cancer, so I could
say I felt a pain here, in the chest area and lead several people down
that path." She shrugged. "Leading questions, pure chance and
generalizations. Not very scientifically sound.
"But Jenny doesn't do that. She's pretty well known in some circles,
and she's met a couple of people who make their livings debunking
fakes. She passed their tests."
"Do you believe she can do what they claim?"
Caulley shook her head. "Doctor, I wasn't asked to try to convince
you. I was asked to tell you about Jenny so you could draw your own
conclusions about what happened after she was kidnapped." She sighed.
"But if I have to give you an answer, then I'd say I'm still looking
for something positive. I don't believe she does what she says, but I
believe she's explaining what she does do as well as she can. The
results are unquestionable, at this time."
"And what does it have to do with the death of three men?" he said
irritably. Fredrick was getting tired of all this.
"I don't know," replied Caulley. "Jenny was able to do some odd things
before this happened. Now even her mother is a little frightened of
her. Her brothers won't go near her." She paused for a beat. "I'd have
to say that the stress affected her very profoundly. If there was
something different in her psychic or psychological makeup to begin
with, then it appears to have also been affected by the ordeal. If I
had some sort of baseline from before the trauma, I could give a better
"So you're saying, and the police believe, that the little girl did
something to those men," stated Fredrick. He couldn't believe his
Caulley looked him in the eyes. "You're the one who says there was
something strange about the bodies. Ask the police, the sheriff and the
coroner what they think. I just know I have a traumatized little girl
who thinks she's responsible for doing something to those men. Most
kids would think they were heroes after that - she thinks she's a
Caulley pulled a compact cassette tape player out of a cabinet and
placed it in front of Fredrick. "The tape's inside and cued. Just press
the play button and hear the interview." She walked to the door. "I've
got some other duties to perform."
"They were bad men. They wanted to hurt my Mommy."
"Yes, they were. But they're gone now."
"I punished them. I told them to lay down and act like they were dead,
and they did. I fixed them."
"How did you do that, Jenny?"
"In my mind. I can talk to dead people."
"So you spoke to them when they were dead? After they died?"
"No. Everyone's a little dead. You die a little every day from the
time you're born. I talked to the dead part of them - Mattie, Kurt and
Ronnie were all a little more dead inside than most people, so it was
"And you told them to die."
"I told them to act dead. I wanted to scare them, so I wanted them to
act dead until the police came. But they took me away before I could
wake them up."
"You could have told them to get up?"
"They weren't really dead. I could have told them to wake up, but the
police took me away too fast. They weren't dead, and they could hear
and see and feel everything - they just couldn't act alive until I let
"So... The men aren't dead?"
Silence for several seconds
"They are now. They tried to scream when they were being cut up, but
they couldn't 'cause the police took me away before I could tell them
to act alive. I can't do it unless I'm near enough for them to hear
me." Sounds of crying. "I didn't wake them up, so the men at the
funeral home cut them up. Now they're dead."
"How do you know, Jenny?"
"Because, after they died, they came and told me."
Fredrick listened to the tape for twenty minutes, rewinding portions
of it when he felt the need to be clear about what was said. He didn't
believe it, not one bit of it, but it still raised gooseflesh along his
"Scarier than hell, right?" asked Caulley as he opened the door to
leave the office. She was leaning against the wall, just leaning there,
and Fredrick was reminded strangely of Sandford at the funeral home.
There was some sort of commonality between the two of them, both calm
in their own little worlds set aside from the otherness of what seemed
to be going on around them.
He stared for a moment, almost wanting to nod in agreement, but
knowing that to do so would make him a part of the shared madness of
these people. He debated for a heartbeat longer, then grunted
"I have to ask you again whether or not you believe the girl," he
Caulley smiled. "You know as well as I do that it doesn't really
matter what I believe," she replied. "What's done is done. There are an
awful lot of people who probably shouldn't believe things like this who
wanted it all to just go away. If you're concerned about it, I don't
think they intended to try to make you a scapegoat for anything - they
just wanted the job done and they didn't want to do it themselves. Now
they can sleep easier knowing that what needed to be accomplished was
Fredrick nodded slowly, then rubbed his eyes.
Caulley stood out from the wall and leaned toward Fredrick. "Hey, you
want to get a cup of coffee?"
"Yeah, I guess I could use a cup," he said. Then he stopped and looked
at Caulley suspiciously. Caulley raised an eyebrow, as if she could
read Fredrick's mind.
"It isn't like it was a pass or anything," she said with a laugh in
Fredrick smiled back with real humor. "You sure?"
"Positive," she nodded, smiling even more broadly. "Don't you know? We
don't do things like that around here. How long have you lived in Sigil