The Green Mile
by Stephen King

2.

“Woooee, boys!” Wharton laughed. “Ain't this a party, now? Is it, or what?”

Still screaming and laughing, Wharton went back to choking Dean with his chain. Why not? Wharton knew what Dean and Harry and my friend Brutus Howell knew - they could only fry a man once.

“Hit him!” Harry Terwilliger screamed. He had grappled with Wharton, tried to stop things before they got fairly started, but Wharton had thrown him off and now Harry was trying to find his feet. “Percy, hit him!”

But Percy only stood there, hickory baton in hand, eyes as wide as soup-plates. He loved that damned baton of his, and you would have said this was the chance to use it he'd been pining for ever since he came to Cold Mountain Penitentiary ... but now that it had come, he was too scared to use the opportunity. This wasn't some terrified little Frenchman like Delacroix or a black giant who hardly seemed to know he was in his own body, like John Coffey; this was a whirling devil.

I came out of Wharton's cell, dropping my clipboard and pulling my .38. For the second time that day I had forgotten the infection that was heating up my middle. I didn't doubt the story the others told of Wharton's blank face and dull eyes when they recounted it later, but that wasn't the Wharton I saw. What I saw was the face of an animal - not an intelligent animal, but one filled with cunning ... and meanness ... and joy. Yes. He was doing what he had been made to do. The place and the circumstances didn't matter. The other thing I saw was Dean Stanton's red, swelling face. He was dying in front of my eyes. Wharton saw the gun in my hand and turned Dean toward it, so that I'd almost certainly have to hit one to hit the other. From over Dean's shoulder, one blazing blue eye dared me to shoot. Wharton's other eye was hidden by Dean's hair. Behind them I saw Percy standing irresolute, with his baton half-raised. And then, filling the open doorway to the prison yard, a miracle in the flesh: Brutus Howell. They had finished moving the last of the infirmary equipment, and he had come over to see who wanted coffee.

He acted without a moment's hesitation - shoved Percy aside and into the wall with tooth-rattling force, pulled his own baton out of its loop, and brought it crashing down on the back of Wharton's head with all the force in his massive right arm. There was a dull whock! Sound - an almost hollow sound, as if there were no brain at all under Wharton's skull - and the chain finally loosened around Dean's neck. Wharton went down like a sack of meal and Dean crawled away, hacking harshly and holding one hand to his throat, his eyes bulging.

I knelt by him and he shook his head violently. “Okay,” he rasped. “Take care ... him!” He motioned at Wharton. “Lock! Cell!”

I didn't think he'd need a cell, as hard as Brutal had hit him; I thought he'd need a coffin. No such luck, though. Wharton was conked out, but a long way from dead. He lay sprawled on his side, one arm thrown out so that the tips of his fingers touched the linoleum of the Green Mile, his eyes shut, his breathing slow but regular. There was even a peaceful little smile on his face, as if he'd gone to sleep listening to his favorite lullaby. A tiny red rill of blood was seeping out of his hair and staining the collar of his new prison shirt. That was all.

“Percy,” I said. “Help me!”

Percy didn't move, only stood against the wall, staring with wide, stunned eyes. I don't think he knew exactly where he was.

“Percy, goddammit, grab hold of him!”

He got moving, then, and Harry helped him. Together the three of us hauled the unconscious Mr. Wharton into his cell while Brutal helped Dean to his feet and held him as gently as any mother while Dean bent over and hacked air back into his lungs.

Our new problem child didn't wake up for almost three hours, but when he did, he showed absolutely no ill effects from Brutal's savage hit. He came to the way he moved - fast. At one moment he was lying on his bunk, dead to the world. At the next he was standing at the bars - he was silent as a cat - and staring out at me as I sat at the duty desk, writing a report on the incident. When I finally sensed someone looking at me and glanced up, there he was, his grin displaying a set of blackening, dying teeth with several gaps among them already. It gave me a jump to see him there like that. I tried not to show it, but I think he knew. “Hey, flunky,” he said. “Next time it'll be you. And I won't miss.”

“Hello, Wharton,” I said, as evenly as I could. “Under the circumstances, I guess I can skip the speech and the Welcome Wagon, don't you think?”

His grin faltered just a little. It wasn't the sort of response he had expected, and probably wasn't the one I would have given under other circumstances. But something had happened while Wharton was unconscious. It is, I suppose, one of the major things I have trudged through all these pages to tell you about. Now let's just see if you believe it.