| The detail came for Sparks at nine o’clock, giving him time to eat his last breakfast and say his
prayers. Two visitors had been in around dawn, an aunt with round mournful eyes and a thin woman who
had all but trembled with fright, as if in dread of the prisoner reaching out with one of his big pink-palmed
hands and dragging her to glory along with him.
Even with the brick-and-mortar wall separating them, as Georgia law prescribed, Frank woke during
the night to Sparks singing, then talking to himself or to God, he couldn’t tell. When it was time for the
Negro to go, the cell door gave out a sad, echoing creak, and Frank thought it was maybe the loneliest
sound he had ever heard.
After it was over, Sergeant Kennedy stopped at his cell to tell him that Sparks hadn’t quailed or
buckled or soiled himself, but had faced it like a man, alight with joy at meeting his Savior at long last.
Everyone working on the Colored side had liked the condemned. They all agreed that he wasn’t one of
those roughhouse types who deserved to swing at the end of the rope. He had just done the one thing, and
had he been white, would have gotten off with three-to-five, since he had killed the Geechee over a
Frank said, "So who all’s in the yard now?"
Kennedy knew what he meant and thought to say: You need to
not think about her, then realized it would only get the poor fellow started. The only person to come visit
had been his father, a broken and bewildered man, his back bent with the weight of the tragedy, and
looking old beyond his years.
Instead, the sergeant said, "They got a crowd, all right." He produced a hint of a smile. "Looks like
half of Atlanta’s out there."
"I’ll bet that's right," Frank said. "Ain't often they have this kind of a show. Two in one morning."
Kennedy didn’t know what to say to that and was glad when the moment passed and the prisoner said,
"What are we waiting for?" He had a common voice, hinting at the hills of Carolina. The sergeant
explained that the warden, the minister from North Avenue Baptist, and two junior officers, Wells and
Bailey, would be coming in a little while for the final preparations. Dupre nodded. Kennedy lingered in case
he wanted to talk, but the prisoner remained silent, tending to himself in these last minutes.
The sergeant leaned against the wall and gazed through the single high window at the clouds in the
morning sky. As a veteran of these affairs, he had often tried to imagine facing the gallows, had tried to put
himself in a condemned man’s shoes, and could never manage it. He had seen them quake and cry, laugh
with satanic pride, and fairly glow with rapture, like Sparks had done. Mostly, though, they were quiet, the
way that Dupre was quiet, accepting a piece at a time that what was coming was real and not a drunkard’s
dream. Kennedy guessed that this was the only way to get through it. All were men who knew better than
most how easily a life could be snuffed out and greeted the end of their own as not so different.
He also knew that a few welcomed the end of a sorry, good-for-nothing road. Most hoped for angels to
It was a grim and dragging business all the same, and Kennedy was relieved when he heard the
shuffling feet, the low voices, and the scattered nervous coughing that was a part of every such procession.
No matter how many times they did it, they never got comfortable. No one wanted to. The business with
Sparks had cast an added pall over the men, and they ambled in stiffly without as much as a traded glance.
Harold Gale, the warden of Fulton Tower, reached the cell first, with the minister a step behind and to his
right, and the two guards in blue uniforms studded with brass buttons following. The warden, dressed in a
sober three-piece suit, made a small gesture, and Kennedy moved to unlock the cell door and swing it
wide. When the prisoner turned his head and the light from the corridor caught his face, Kennedy thought
Christ, another boy going to the gallows. Then Dupre shifted his posture and the hollows in his cheeks and
around his eyes made him look ten years older and as guilty as sin.
Warden Gale said, "Stand up, now, son," keeping his voice gentle, in the manner of a polite request.
Frank rose by unwinding from the steel cot. He wasn’t tall, a few inches over five feet. His hair was
dark and neatly slicked back the way a fancy man would comb it. His eyes were deep brown and blank,
save for the sliver of nerves that caused him to blink too rapidly.
"Sergeant says there’s a good crowd out there." He spoke to no one in particular. All the men heard
the way his voice trembled.
Warden Gale said, "Well, you made all the newspapers. Front pages over half the country." He
waved his hand again and like twin magicians, the junior officers produced handcuffs and leg shackles and
got busy binding the prisoner’s wrists and ankles.
Once they had finished and retreated, Frank looked down and
said, "You think I was going to run, Warden?"
"It’s required, Frank," Gale said. "It’s the rules."
"Anyone ever try to get away?"
The warden shook his head. "Not yet."
"Well, I won’t be the first," the prisoner stated. "I guess I ran enough already." He paused. "Almost
made it, too."
"That’s right, you did," Warden Gale said. "But now you’re here."
Frank said, "Yes, sir," letting it go at that.
Warden Gale moved aside and Reverend Arnett stepped out of his shadow bearing hunched shoulders
and a sorrowful visage. It was no front; the man seemed in a true state of suffering. He clutched his black
Bible as if it was the only thing that would keep him from drowning in a current of woe, even as his stark
and gaping eyes announced that what was about to happen was just now dawning on him. He was not the
regular minister from North Avenue Baptist. That man of God was in bed with a fever. The replacement’s
face was starched white against the black of his suit, the same one he wore for funerals.
He realized that he couldn’t just stand there. The condemned man was waiting with a startling
patience for him to say something. So when another few seconds went by and Arnett could not for the life
of him find any words to suit, Dupre said simply, "Good morning, sir."
Arnett forced his voice steady. "Good morning, son. Do you require anything?"
The prisoner’s mouth tilted a bit. Other than a way out of here? No, sir. He did the near-petrified
preacher a service, shifting his gaze back to Warden Gale.
The warden said, "All right, Frank. Come on out."
Frank toddled from the cell as if just learning to walk, a childlike
motion that brought him a memory of a Carolina morning with a sun the color of butter just touching the
dew on the new grass in the field out back, a sight as brilliant and splashed with color as he would ever see.
That world had gone on forever, over the rolling hills and green forests and far mountains, and he was free
to roam it in endless delight.
One of the guards coughed and the dream dissolved. The Carolina fields faded back into the gray
walls around him as a rush of terrible sadness and churning dread over his sorry fate rose in his chest.
His thoughts shifted to Kelly explaining how it went on the gallows. "It don’t strangle you, boy. It
breaks your damn neck." He snapped his fingers. "You’re done, just like that. Don’t feel a fucking thing. If
you’re lucky, I mean." Or so Kelly had said.
A signal was passed, and the four officials arranged themselves about him like points on a compass.
Reverend Arnett hovered helplessly behind, a lost soul, his face drained of what little color it had held. The
warden, the three guards, the condemned man, and the lonely minister embarked on the slow walk along
the corridor. As they drew near the door, Frank was struck by the way the light edged the frame in a
precise white rectangle and wondered if that was what he’d behold at the gates of heaven.
After a few more mincing steps, he became aware of a low treble of voices. He had been to a
Crackers game at the ballpark on Ponce de Leon once, and it sounded like that when you got close and
could heard the first whispers of a crowd. The horde outside had arrived, ready to witness a whole other
kind of sport.
They halted five feet from the door. Warden Gale swung an arm and one of the junior guards stepped
forward to grasp the handle. The warden paused to let everyone catch a breath,
glancing over his shoulder to confirm that the prisoner wasn’t going to come apart so near the end.
Frank appeared only distracted and Gale understood that this had little to do with the rope that awaited
him. He displayed the wounded look of a man on the verge of a disappointment, bracing himself for
another broken promise in a life that had brought one after another.
Like most of the city, the warden had followed the story from the day it hit the newspapers. Indeed,
for a short while, half of the nation was reading of Frank Dupre’s exploits and the lurid love drama that
went along with it. The young man standing behind him had been nearly famous for a few short weeks. But
there were too many truly desperate felons running wild and shooting up the countryside for Frank Dupre’s
tawdry tale to stay afloat. Once he was brought to ground, he and his story dropped from sight. Now the
last chapter was about to unfold.
Gale looked at his prisoner directly and said, "Are you ready, Frank?"
The condemned man considered for a studied moment. "I did the crime, didn’t I, warden?"
Gale said, "Yes, you did. And you were tried, found guilty, and sentenced. Your appeals were denied."
"Then it’s time," Frank said.
Warden Gale gave a curt nod and the sergeant opened the door
|From Chapter One
Will You Meet Me in Heaven?