Chapter 1: Chapter1
Brutal took a deep breath as he and Percy flung the unconscious Bill Wharton onto the bunk in his cell. As soon as they walked out, Harry Terwilliger quickly locked the door. After several moments, his heart should have slowed down to its normal rate. However, it did not.
He cast an anxious glance toward the office area, where he had left Dean sitting on the floor after he had knocked the new inmate out, If I hadn't come in when I did, Dean would be--. He broke off the thought as lumps formed in his throat and the pit of his stomach. His eyes burned; he quickly rubbed them before the excess moisture could build up.
Paul Edgecomb, Harry Terwilliger, and Percy were standing together. Harry wiped his face and blotted the trickle of blood from his lip. His nose and mouth were already swollen where Bill had thrown his head back and head-butted him in the face.
When I walked into E Block, I saw Paul with his pistol drawn, but he couldn't get a clear aim at Bill, the way he was jumping around and pulling Dean this way and that. Percy had his baton out and was holding it in the air; Paul was begging him to hit Bill, and Percy was just standing there and watching, this curious expression on his face!
It was all Brutal could do to keep from drawing his baton and beating Percy Wetmore until he was just a red spot on the floor. A tremor of fury ran through Brutal at the thought of what had just happened. I know the little shit doesn't like us, especially me, but to--.
Brutal joined the others, watching Paul closely. Paul has a hell of a urinary infection. He should've gone to see the doctor over two weeks before. When he takes a piss, he moans and gasps loud enough that you can hear him ten feet away from the W. C. door.
Paul had looked like hell when he arrived this morning. Now, he looked as if he would pass out at any minute.
Luckily for Percy, Paul's voice broke into his thoughts.
"Percy, you go and tell the Warden what happened. Tell him the situation is under control. It isn't a story. He won't appreciate you drawing out the suspense." Paul faced him. "Brutal, you take Harry and Dean down to the infirmary and get them looked at," Paul requested. "Make sure they're all right."
He stared at Paul, assessing him. If they all left, he would be on the block by himself. That was against the rules, but when all was going well, it was sometimes done for no more than five or ten minutes. This was definitely not a good time. What if Bill woke up? He should have died from the blow I gave him, but it only knocked him out. He just might come to, and there's no telling what he'll try. "What about you? You're just about ready to collapse."
"I've got the mile until you get back," Paul said. "Go on."
Although he was skeptical, he picked up the telephone, which had been knocked onto the floor. Depressing the lever the receiver rested on, he discovered to his relief that the phone still worked. "Motor pool, send a car to E Block. I've got two injured guards that need to get to the Infirmary."
There was no way he was going to try to walk them across the yard. Harry didn't look too good. When he moved, he tried not to show any sign of pain, but his eyes and the sharp intake of breath betrayed it. Dean was probably going to be worse off. Two injured guards and one man to tend them both was an open invitation for the inmates in the yard to try something if they tried to make it on foot.
Brutal walked to the small corridor located behind and to the left of the duty desk, just past the entrance door. Dean was sitting on the floor, his eyes downcast. He gasped as if every breath were a chore. His lips were turned downward at the corners.
The sound of a car driving up reached his ears.
"Come on, boy. Let's get you looked at," Brutal said gently.
Dean got to his feet. Brutal reached out to steady him as he swayed.
At the infirmary, the two injured guards were immediately taken into treatment rooms. Calvin Evers, the motor pool guard, helped Harry into the second treatment room; Brutal walked with Dean into the first one. Dean sat on the examining table. He was shaking. Brutal stood beside him and laid an arm across his shoulders. "'S'okay now. You're gonna be all right," Brutal whispered as he planted a couple of quick kisses on his cheek and hair.
Dean wiped his eyes without looking at him. "IÃ¢â‚¬"I've started shaking," he murmured hoarsely, "aÃ¢â‚¬"and IÃ¢â‚¬"can't stop."
Brutal slipped his arms around Dean, who leaned on him. Brutal rubbed his back gently, patting it occasionally.
There were footsteps outside the door. Brutal backed away from Dean a few inches. The door opened; Dr. Fletcher walked in, a clipboard in his hand.
As he approached and inserted the earpieces of his stethoscope into his ears, he scrutinized Dean. "I need you to unbutton your shirt for me," he said gently.
Dean complied; the prison doctor placed the bell of the scope on Dean's chest in several places. "Your heart rate's up," he observed. Then, he looked at the ugly bruises on Dean's neck and touched them. "There's some swelling, but I don't think it'll cut off your airway. It might make it painful and a bit difficult to breathe, but you should suffer no permanent problems." Dr. Fletcher's brow furrowed. "How did this happen?"
"An inmate caught him with his wrist chain," Brutal replied.
"Wrapped it around his neck and jerked him around by it.
Doc took the top off a large jar of tongue depressors and picked one out. "Say ahhh," he told Dean. Dean opened his mouth; the doctor looked into it. "There's swelling on the inside of your throat, too," he stated.
"Is he going to be okay?" asked Brutal.
Stepping back, the doctor nodded. "Dean, put some ice on your throat for the first day or two. That will help keep the swelling down." He left the room and came back a few moments later carrying a large red tube with a black top on it. It looked like a strangely shaped hot water bottle; basically, that was actually what it was.
Dr. Fletcher unscrewed the cap. "Fill it with ice and put the cap back on," he instructed. "Wrap it in a piece of cloth and put it on the injured area.' His eyes widened. "You're one lucky fellow," he said. "Just a little bit more pressure and you'd have had a crushed voice box and windpipe."
After being told to take it easy for a few days, the doctor left, closing the door behind him.
As Brutal and Dean emerged from the treatment room, Harry walked out. The motor pool guard was standing outside the door. "Doc said I've pulled some muscles and will be sore for a little while, but nothing was broken," Harry said.
Everyone was silent as the guard drove them back to E Block. On the way, they passed Percy Wetmore, who waved to them as he strode in the direction they were heading.
The motor pool guard slowed down. "Doesn't he work on the same block with you?" asked Calvin. "Want to see if he wants a lift?"
"Just keep going," Brutal snapped. He knew if he were in such close proximity to the man who had almost let his best friend and lover die, he would have lost his self-control and seriously hurt the little shit.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
It was getting close to the end of their shift. Wild Bill, as they had decided to call Bill Wharton, had regained consciousness with no ill effects from Brutal's blow to his head.
Brutal, Dean, Paul, and Harry were sitting at Paul's desk writing up and signing their duty reports. For the most part, Percy Wetmore had made himself scarce since the afternoon's disaster. Now, however, he walked past the office periodically, peering in. When he did so, his eyes met Brutal's; that little sly smile parted his lips.
With the exception of Brutal, the men glanced at him, then resumed their paperwork without acknowledging him.
"Damn Percy!" Brutal snorted, throwing his pencil onto the desk. The point broke off. "You were right, Paul. You've said Percy was going to get somebody hurt, or worse." He drew a deep, shaky breath. "Well, today was the day." He paused. "And with Dean's wife expecting their third child, too."
Harry looked in Paul's direction. "Something needs to be done, Paul. The outcome might not be so good next time," he stated.
"If his aunt weren't the Governor's sister, he'd have been out of here a long time ago. We all know that," Paul said. "But Brutal, are you sure you're not overreacting?" He frowned a trifle. "I mean, don't you think Percy could have chickened out; froze when Wild Bill attacked Dean?"
Brutal sprang from his chair, slamming his huge palms down on the desk. "Like hell he did!" Brutal spat viciously. "Percy beat Del onto the Mile because Del's hand brushed his crotch when Del stumbled. He hit John Coffey in the chest because he didn't go into his new cell as fast as what he thought he should have. He hit Del's hand and broke three fingers because you ordered him off the Mile, Paul. There are other times, too. He loves that stick; and loves to use it. But when we really need him to, he stands there." Brutal felt unshed tears burn his eyes. "Percy doesn't like any of us, but he has a particular dislike for me. He knows he'd better not do anything to me directly. So when Dean is in danger, he leaves Dean to fend for himself. We're all good friends, but Dean and I hang out together more, so it's obvious he tried to get to me by letting Dean get killed. If I hadn't shown up when I did, it might well have turned out that way."
Paul looked up at him, then slowly stood up. "Brutal, I know Dean's you best friend, and all, but I think Percy may be like most bullies. When they face someone who can stand up to them, they back down."
"Paul may be right," said Harry, scratching his thick gray hair for a moment. "Of the two explanations, I hope to hell Paul's is the right one."
"I would, too," said Dean. He wrapped his arms around his middle as a shiver ran through his slender frame.
Paul was the "bull goose screw". As the boss, Brutal did not want to contest his authority, especially in front of the other guards. "Look, Paul, we all know Percy. Maybe you're right. Maybe he did turn yellow. But we all know how petty and mean and spiteful he is."
Paul inhaled. "I've got to give you that," he admitted.
"Maybe next time, he'll hurt himself," Dean threw in as another shiver ran through him.
"In either case, waiting around until next timeÃ¢â‚¬"and with Percy, there will be a next timeÃ¢â‚¬"may cost a good man his life, not Percy," Harry said, voicing the thought that was now uppermost in Brutal's mind, and probably everyone else's, too.
Brutal saw Dean wince and his eyes close as he swallowed.
"Don't worry. I'm going to take care of it," Brutal stated.
"What are you going to do?" asked Paul. "You know who his connections are. He could get all of us fired."
Brutal had thought of a scenario when Percy was supervising Del or John in the exercise yard when several other prisoners attacked Percy and beat him within an inch of his life. Of course, the other guards would respond to the fray, but they would not see it when it first began. No, that won't get the point over, Brutal thought. "Don't worry. The shithead son of a bitch is going to pay for what he did to Dean," he vowed. "On that, you can bet your balls and dick, your life, your soul, your hope of heaven, and your fear of hell."
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
SHOWDOWN WITH PERCY WETMORE 3
by Jarren S. Mikiels
Normally, the tension left his mind and body as soon as he drove through the prison gate. Not today. Amongst the blazing urinary infection, the kick to his groin during the fight with the new inmate, and the way his infection had been taken away, his mind was in a whirl.
I don't know how the hell John coffey did it, but it would've taken Dr. Bishop's sulfa tablets at least a week to begin clearing up that infection. As bad as it had gotten, it might have taken even longer.
The whole thing was so surreal. If the burning heaviness had not left his pelvic region and his penis had not stopped feeling as if it had been reamed out with barbed wire and flushed with lye compound, he would have thought he was losing his mind. But his infection was gone as if he had never had it.
Then, his mind turned back to the afternoon fiasco with Wild Bill. Yes, his men should have checked with the Briar Ridge medical staff to see if he had been given any drugs. Most of the time, an inmate at the insane asylum was so doped he did not know he was in the world. It was a natural assumption -and an almost fatal one for Dean Stanton.
There would be serious repercussions, to be sure. His "boys" as he called them, had formed a closeness that would rival any tight-knit family. Within the group, there were closer friendships between some than others. Some of those friendships were closer than most people would understand or approve of if they knew. And those who were so close tried their damnedest to keep it hidden.
But if a man had been around those who had formed such friendships, he could spot the signs. He and Jack Van Hay had become that close right after Jack's first wife had died. But Jack had wanted that closeness to overshadow everything else in Paul's life. Those demands had threatened to totally destroy the bond between them-and their lives. Thankfully, Jack had met his second wife. Since then, the friendship had repaired itself. They were still intimate friends, but only on occasion.
Brutal and Dean had just such a friendship. If Dean had died today, Brutal would have killed Percy Wetmore. No two ways about it. He's not about to let the matter drop, Paul knew. When he had said that Percy would pay for not defending Dean, he meant it. An ancient Chinese proverb came to mind: "Beware the fury of a patient man." That short phrase summed up Brutal's state of mind.
Until today, he had managed to keep down the friction between the other guards and Percy. Now, Paul seriously doubted that he would be able to stop any retribution. If I hadn't promised Hal I'd keep the peace with Percy, I wouldn't mind it so much. The Governor has chewed his ass because of Percy's tattling to his aunt. If he had any balls, he'd have called Percy and ordered him to shape up or shut up.
Maybe Percy was hoping Wild Bill would kill Dean; maybe he had been paralyzed with fear. Knowing Percy, Brutal might be right. Over the years, Paul had seen a couple of young guards freeze in a crisis before. One man had performed his duties extremely well up to that point and had been well liked. He had been given another chance. A few months later, the man had been killed while coming to the aid of a fellow guard. The other man had been a marginal employee; he had been let go.
Whatever Percy's reason for not defending Dean was irrelevant. Percy had violated the most basic tenet: When a fellow guard was under attack from one or more inmates, his fellow guards would aid him without hesitation. In our business, you've got to be able to depend on the others to back you up. Your life will depend on it.
Percy had always had a penchant for fucking up. Today, he had done it up brown. Now, the entire guard population would know that Percy could not be depended on to defend a fellow guard. If Paul did nothing about Percy, the other guards would lose confidence in him. If he tried to discipline Percy, the Governor would stop it, as he had all the times before. He might even take action against Hal, him, or both.
Paul had tried to defuse the situation. For the first time, Brutal had argued with him in front of the other guards. That only proved just how deeply the whole thing had gone with him. Brutal would have the unanimous support of any other guards he would ask to aid him in his retribution against Percy.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
By Jarren S. Mikiels
Brutal watched with a mixture of revulsion and pleasure as Percy continued to cry. I'd have been upset if the son of a bitch had groped me, but I wouldn't have peed on myself. (It had happened to him once on C Block. The men had been filing in from the exercise yard when an inmate had sauntered up to him and placed a hand on his crotch, grinning salaciously. Almost instantaneously, Brutal had shoved him backward and drawn his baton from the loop on his belt. He had applied several strokes of understanding to the crazy fool. That had solved the problem.)
But Percy has been told a million times to walk in the center of the corridor.
It was like breathing. No man who had been a guard for any length of time had to think about it. If he'd pay attention to what we've tried to tell him since his first day here, that would never have happened, Brutal thought.
Whenever Paul or anyone else had tried to explain the policies and procedures to him, Percy had immediately placed a call to his aunt, the governor's wife. Then, the Governor was ready to turn the entire penitentiary upside to placate his whining nephew.
"You just keep on laughing, you French fried faggot!" Percy sobbed, then wiped his nose with his hand. "You just keep on laughing!" With that, he turned and strode from the Mile.
Both inmates and guards stared after the retreating figure.
"Wetmore a good name for you," Delacroix yelled after Percy. Then, he began to sing a little ditty. "Percy Wetmore do a dance. Listen to him squishing in his pants."
Wild Bill stared after Percy, a dreamy look on his face. The sizeable bulge in the front of his shorts attested to his lust for Percy. "If I could have but one wish, I'd wish I could have him in here with me for one night," he said softly. "And I'd die a happy man." His lips parted in an evil grin.
All the guards glanced at each other and shook their heads.
Brutal felt his insides twist. "I'd rather strap myself in Old Sparky and tell Jack to roll on two," he declared.
Dean smiled and nodded in agreement with him.
"Yeah," Paul chuckled.
"You'd be better off going to the zoo and crawling in the cage with a gorilla than with Wild Bill," Harry declared.
"Hey, fellers. You don't know what ye'r missin'," Wild Bill shot back. "I got a big pecker, ya know." With that, he pulled his pants down so that his pubic area was exposed.
"Yeah, yeah. We've seen it before," Brutal said, turning and walking to the duty desk and taking a seat to the right of Paul's chair. Between his peeing on Harry Terwilliger when he had first arrived, supervising him when he was taken to the shower facility, and his exhibitionism, all the guards were well aware of his male attributes.
Then, Wild Bill's words came back to Brutal. "Your noodle ain't limp at all, lover boy. I think you're sweet on ol' Billy The Kid."
Paul came to the duty desk and sat in his chair. Harry sat in the chair to Paul's left. Dean sat on Brutal's right.
Brutal looked at his fellow guards. "Do you really think Percy was horny when Wild Bill was messing with him down there?" he asked.
Paul's brow furrowed. "He looked absolutely terrified."
"And revolted," added Harry.
Brutal's eyes met Dean's. There was no mistaking the apprehension in them. If he'd dragged me into his cell, he might've tried that on me, Dean's gaze seemed to say.
Brutal nodded. Anger coursed through him. Dean had immediately backed up Paul and rushed to Percy's aid, his sidearm drawn.
"Maybe we should've let Wild Bill have Percy," Brutal suggested. "After all, he left Dean in the lurch." As soon as he got the words out of his mouth, he felt a weight leave his mind, as if he had solved a quite complex problem.
"Yeah, he did," Harry agreed.
"But he is a fellow guard," Paul said. "Whatever else he is, or isn't."
"Yeah, he is," Dean agreed. "He's a piss-poor excuse for one, but he's one of us, whether we like it or not."
"Is he?" Brutal said. "He wears a uniform like ours, but that's where the similarity ends." He stared at Harry, Paul, and Dean for a moment, then continued. "You can put a uniform on anybody. A monkey, even. But that uniform doesn't make a guard. A guard-a real guard-learns the ropes and does his job to the best of his ability. And he'll be there for his fellow guards when he's needed." He looked alternately at Paul and Dean. "Like you two did when Wild Bill grabbed Percy."
"It was just instinct. Like breathing," Dean said.
"My point exactly." Brutal took a deep breath. "As far as Percy's concerned, that uniform might as well be a costume for a party."
"Besides, two wrongs wouldn't make a right," Paul said, a worried look on his face.
"No, they don't. But sometimes, somebody has to be taught a lesson. Sometimes, the best way to do that is to fight fire with fire."
Paul walked down the Mile, looking into each cell. All inmates were present and accounted for, in good health, and in what passed for their right minds. As Paul passed Wild Bill's cell, the inmate grinned at him.
Wild Bill lay on his bunk with his generous erection sticking out of the fly of his shorts. Occasionally, he would caress it and strum it as if it were a harp. "Hey, let that purdy guard check me out," he said. "I like him better'n you."
Paul checked Delacroix and Coffey, then walked toward his office to begin his Block Report. There was no need to wait until the end of the shift to begin the necessary paperwork.
As he walked toward the duty desk, Brutal and the other two guards were talking in earnest, hushed tones. They glanced at him occasionally. As he passed by, they stopped talking. When he had walked a few feet past them, he heard them murmuring again.
"But, Bru, that's awful, even if it is Percy," Paul finally understood Dean to say. He said something else, but Paul could not make out the words.
Brutal said something, but Paul did not hear it clearly, either.
"We're with you, Brutal," Harry responded, his voice barely loud enough for Paul to hear.
Paul's insides knotted. Taking a deep breath, he fought the urge to rejoin the men and ask what they had been talking about. They had not excluded him from their talks before. Would they tell him the truth if he demanded an explanation? Or would they hedge? Or out and out lie?
Whatever his boys were planning, it was a lead pipe cinch it did not bode well for any of them, but least of all, Percy.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Fandom: The Green Mile
Pairing: Brutus Howell/Dean Stanton
Feedback: want it or no? Of course!
Series/Sequel: Sort of
They are trying to decide how to handle the situation with Percy, but an unexpected source volunteers to help them. That may cause problems, too.
Disclaimer: All characters are the property of Stephen King and Castle Rock Productions. No infringement of copyrights held by either is intended.
Showdown With Percy Wetmore 5
By Jarren S. Mikiels
The fewer who know what we're gonna do, the better, Brutal knew. He doubted that anyone would side with Percy and turn stool pigeon. Nobody liked Percy, but with the Depression, regular-paying jobs were like hens' teeth to come by. If a man had a job, he'd do anything to keep it. If Percy squeals, there's gonna be an investigation. All the guards will be given the third degree. If a man were threatened with the loss of his job when the shit hits the fan, he might spill the beans.
When they arrived at the parking lot, Brutal stopped and turned toward the others. "I really don't want to talk about this around here. Best to be careful," he said, looking at Dean and Harry in turn.
"And how," murmured Dean in agreement.
"Let's go to my place to discuss what we're going to do," Brutal said. The others nodded in agreement.
At that moment, Jack Van Hay approached the parking lot. His car was parked three cars away from Brutal's truck. "Hey, fellas," he said, removing his belt containing his holster and baton. He opened the door and put his equipment on the passenger's seat, then took off his uniform jacket and laid it over the back of the seat. He approached them.
The three men exchanged greetings with Jack.
"Everything going all right?" asked Harry.
Jack grunted, wiping his face with his handkerchief. "We tossed the cells just before lights out. Found three shanks." He held up three fingers of his left hand for emphasis. "Some of the guards're getting careless. They haven't done any searches the last three weeks. Somebody's gonna get hurt if Belleau don't start doing his damn job. "
The current C Block head guard, James Ketters, had been out due to a bout of diphtheria. For a time, they had heard he was not expected to make it, but his family had carried him to Shreveport as soon as Dr. Bishop had diagnosed him. A doctor named Renau had somehow managed to pull him through. Jean-Claude Belleau was acting in Ketters' stead.
No wonder, Brutal thought. "That fat son of a bitch don't do anything he don't absolutely have to. I don't know how he wound up in charge."
Jack nodded in agreement. "After tonight, he won't be. I've raised so much hell that it's gonna tighten up real quick. Call Warden Moores at home after all the excitement was over. He said he'd handle it in the morning. He was real pissed off." He wiped his face again. "We got a new inmate in a few days ago. He's been a pill the whole time. His name's Pinson Vincent, but we call him Piss 'n' Vinegar."
"Sounds like it fits him," Harry said.
"Well, when Kelley and I were doing the cell searches, all hell broke loose. The other inmates just let us search their stuff, but Piss 'N' Vinegar pulled a shank and tried to stab us." Jack's thin lips smiled crookedly, accenting several scars on his face. "He ain't gonna do that no more."
"You or Kelley get hurt?" asked Harry.
"Naw, but he did. I rammed the end of my stick up under his ribs. He went down, and I worked 'im over real good. His skull's bashed in in several places, and his brains were on the floor."
"It don't sound like ol' P and V'll make it," Harry said.
"He was dead when he got to the infirmary," Jack said. "Goodbye and good riddance."
"Glad you're all right, Jack. We've got to get going, so we'll see you tomorrow night," Brutal said as he put his hand on the door handle of his truck. "It's been a long night on E Block, too."
"So I heard," Jack said. "Ol' Toot said that Wild Bill grabbed Percy through the bars and massaged his dick and told him he'd rather fuck his asshole than his sister's pussy." His lips parted in an evil grin. "Said Percy had a crying conniption fit about it."
Toot had not been there at the time. None of the guards had told anyone unless it had been Percy. "What happens on the Mile stays on the Mile" was the motto Paul subscribed to; so did they. It was unlikely Percy would tell it, being it was about him.
"Too bad you didn't give Percy to him for a present. Let him fuck ol' Percy til he couldn't get it up anymore," Jack declared, "'specially after he stood by and watched Wild Bill choke Dean with that wrist chain."
Damn! That's gotten all over the prison, too. But I'd expect the others to know Dean was hurt. However, to know that Percy had not aided Dean means someone is talking too much.
"That's what Brutal said just after it happened," Harry told him.
Brutal shot Harry a warning glance. Harry looked abashed, then stared at the ground for a moment.
"How'd you hear about that?" asked Brutal, an edge to his voice.
"I have my sources," Jack said, meeting Brutal's gaze. "But I don't think I'd better say."
"Did Paul tell you?" he asked. Since he was a semi-regular, not a mere floater, as well as Paul's buddy-buddy, Paul might have told him.
"Delacroix told Old Toot. Toot told us, but leave those two alone. Paul told me about Dean's getting hurt. When I let him know I knew the rest of it, he told me he was worried that there would be some action taken against Percy."
An uncomfortable silence hung in the air.
"I can't say about that," Brutal said. "If you told Paul, we could be in trouble." No point beating around the bush about it, Brutal figured. Just come out and say it and have done with it.
"Whatever you're going to do, count me in," Jack told them. He smiled slyly. "Do that, and-well, I'd be a damn fool if I spilled the beans on myself, now. Wouldn't I?"
Jack can be as meek as a lamb and he has a heart of gold until he thinks somebody's double-crossing him. Then, that poor bastard'd rather be in bed with a mad rattlesnake than have to deal with John Hobart Van Hay. Damn! There's nothing he won't do.
Dean, Brutal, and Harry looked at each other.
Jack gave him a very solemn look. "Come on, guys. I'm with you on this, if you'll let me be. I've wanted to punch that prissy little fart's face in since the second week he's been here. Let him know he puts his britches on one leg at a time, just like we do, and damn his highfaluting connections."
Brutal took a deep breath and blew it out slowly as he nodded. Dean immediately nodded his consent.
"Okay," said Harry.
Jack was a lot of things, but he was no tattler. But if it came to Paul or them, things might change. Jack'll either be the best help we can have, or he'll take us all to hell with him, Brutal thought as he and Dean got into his truck and headed for his place, the others following closely behind him.