"So, are we all set?" Johnny 'the Knife' Ardello whispered across the table to three fellow inmates of Thompson Prison.

"No worries, its all ready," David 'Big Dave' Perrin replied, winking at Chris Kelvin and Jack Baker.

They had planned the escape for months now, and were waiting for the right opportunity. It was a simple plan, really. A couple of the bigger guys, who were well paid in cigarettes, would start a fist fight in the workshop, and while the guards and other inmates were busy, the four pals would push aside a set of shelves, under which was a large trapdoor, leading into the sewer system, which entered the river about a mile downstream from the prison. From there, it was a short swim to the opposite bank, and then into the woods towards freedom. The only hard part was waiting until after lunch, a full six hours away. They didn't believe that the big guys would tell the guards, but there was always that chance. Hopefully the fight would last long enough for them to get a good way into the woods. There were so many things that could go wrong, but they didn't bear thinking about. And it beat trying to saw through the bars with a file.

"Just think," Dave commented, "this'll be the last day that we have to eat these crappy meals," the other three nodded in agreement, wiping the grins off their faces as one of the guards walked past.

Now they could only wait, and try not to do anything that would arouse suspicion in the guards.

The time passed so slowly. The hour and a half in the prison laundry after breakfast, where the clock seemed to be not working, the hour and a half in the exercise yard, where time seemed to have slowed to a crawl, while the anticipation in their stomachs rose until it was almost unbearable, and all the time, the guards patrolled around and around, like overwhelming birds of prey.

"God! Still another four hours to go! Is time actually moving, or is it standing still?" Johnny turned to look at his friends, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth.

"Tell me about it! The way the screws are sweeping around, you'd think they know. That's what's really getting me," Jack looked nervously around the yard, peering at the guards from under his eyelids.

They all had their reasons for wanting out of Thompson, just as they all had their reasons for why the ended up there in the first place.

Jack Baker had been nineteen years old when he had gone into a bar called 'The Lazy Pirate' after work, for a few beers. He hadn't taken much notice when the big guy with the tattoos had walked in, the big guy who had stood next to him at the bar.

"You're in my spot, asshole," If Jack had been paying more attention, he would have noticed that the bar had gone silent, and maybe events would have been different.

"I don't see your name on it," Jack had shot back, and that's when the fight had started.

The big guy had picked him up off the stool, intending on rearranging the geography of Jack's face, but he hadn't noticed the knife until it slashed across his jugular. The police were called, of course, and the blame was laid soley on Jack, even though they couldn't figure out what the motive was. It was almost a year to the day after that stabbing when Jack had arrived at Thompson Prison, with the recommendation that he serve at least thirty years of his life sentence. He didn't think he could stand another twenty five years in this hellhole. In fact, he didn't know how he managed to survive the five years he had been here.

Chris Kelvin had ended up in Thompson because of a simple misunderstanding. At least, that's the way he saw it. He had planned to wreck his car for the insurance money. He hadn't counted on his wife and her mother being in the car. It was blown way out of proportion by everybody, and what was a simple insurance scam turned into a vicious double murder plot, even though Chris explained that nobody was supposed to be in the car at the time, the chief investigating officer, who had been Chris's main rival at school, had managed to find a woman with absolutely no scruples, who got on the witness stand, and testified that she was his lover, even though Chris had never seen her in his life. That, of course, gave everyone the motive they needed. Although, Chris sometimes thought that he was lucky that he had escaped the death penalty, other times, he would have preferred death to the seventy five year sentence handed down upon him.

David Perrin couldn't, and didn't, blame any outside influence on what had happened, other than his own stupidity in getting caught. He had been a small-time thief and con-artist. While doing time in another prison, he had struck up an aqaintance with another two-bit crook named Jeremy, who had told him of an old man who reputedly kept millions in a safe behind a painting in his living room. Jeremy asked Dave if he wanted in on the job, and Dave had figured he had absolutely nothing to lose. Three months later, having been released from the joint, they had found themselves outside the old man's house, waiting for night to fall, kitted out in black, both of them carrying pistols. They had snuck in through a back window once they were sure the old man was out of the way, and then they crept through the house to find the living room. Everything had been going well until the old man had walked in, shotgun cradled under his arm, demanding to know what was going on. Jeremy, instead of speaking, had drawn his pistol, but before he could do anything, the sound of the shotgun's roar had filled the room, and Jeremy dropped to the floor, the top half of his head gone. The old man had then turned his gun on Dave, who had fired one shot into the old guy's head. His mistake had been to swap his gun with Jeremy's, in an attempt to make it look like there had been a fight between the two. He had then fled into the night, the wailing of police sirens screaming in his ears. The police had picked him up three weeks later, after another con had told them all he knew, in an effort to get his own sentence reduced. Dave had been in Thompson for three years now, and he wasn't due for parole for another thirty two years.

As for Johnny, all the others knew about him was that, one night, he had knifed his mother and sister to death. He had never given a reason for why he had done this, in fact, when the police had asked him why, he had just shrugged his shoulders. It was assumed that he was under the influence of drugs at the time, which is what saved him from lethal injection.

The four of them had struck up a friendship one rainy day in the prison, and found they had more in common than the fact that they were all convicted murderers. They had all overcome the distrust, and, with the exception of Johnny, were soon regaling each other with the circumstances that had landed them in Thompson in the first place. That had been a year ago. It had been Johnny who discovered the trapdoor, and a few carefully worded letters to a friend on the outside had given him what they needed to figure everything out.

They were all headed to the library, now, with time still crawling as slowly as it possible could. They still had three hours to go, when a guard walked slowly up to their table.

"Your lawyer's here, Baker, come with me,"

"That's weird, he's not due till tomorrow," Jack replied, slowly rising from the table and following the guard from the room, while the others looked on.

"What the hell's this all about, then?" Chris looked at the other two.

"I dunno. Why would his lawyer come early?" Dave kept his voice to a whisper. Usually, a visit from a lawyer was a small cause for celebration, but to these four men, today at least, it was a cause for some alarm. If they had to put the plan off, it would be a while before they could make another attempt.

Jack, meanwhile, was thinking almost exactly the same thing, as he followed the guard down the green-tiled hallway, and into the room used by lawyers and their clients. Roland Conner, as immaculate as ever, was re-tidying his briefcase when they walked in.

"Here he is, Mr Conner,"

"Thank you." Conner addressed the guard with barely controlled contempt in his voice.

"Sit down, Jack," he said after the guard had left the room.

"I have a small piece of news that may just brighten your day. On Friday, we're going to the Court of Appeal." Conner looked at his client, obviously hoping that Jack would be dancing on the ceiling with this bit of news.

"That's great, Mr Conner," Jack replied with as much enthusiasm as he could muster.

"You know, I worked very hard to get this, you could sound a bit happier," Conner frowned at him.

"I am happy about it, I just don't want to get my hopes up." It was the only thing he could think of that would sound convincing.

Jack and Conner went over all the details, and the lawyer got him to sign a few things, and when the guard came back in to announce their time was up, Jack was surprised to find that it was lunch time.

'An hour to go, God help us' he thought to himself as he followed the guard towards the dining hall, and then joined his friends at the usual table, with his tray of unidentifiable food that was on the menu today.

"So what was that all about?" Johnny asked him, examining the stuff on the end of his fork.

"Conner told me that we're going to the Appeals on Friday. But," he added, lowering his voice, "I think I prefer Do-it-yourself parole, myself."

Time seemed to be rushing by now in great dollops. No sooner were they sitting, eating lunch, then the guard was hustling them away towards the workshop. They had been in there fifteen minutes, when Big Gray, their 'helper' started a fight with:

"I'll teach you to push me, asshole!" and threw a punch at the guy next to him.

That's all it took. The rest of the guys in the workshop hurriedly picked sides, while the guards tried frantically to untangle everybody.

"This is it! Dave, you're on watch." Johnny, Chris, and Jack carefully moved the shelving, while Dave kept an eye on the guards.

"Let's go! Let's go!" They all slid down through the trapdoor, while Big Gray slipped, unnoticed, from the fight, and gently dropped a flashlight down to them, and then pushed the shelf back into position, nodding to himself as he received four thumbs up from below, while the fight raged on.

"Thank you, Big Gray," Johnny whispered, once the darkness had closed around them. He knew Gray wouldn't be able to hear him, but just in case, he thanked him anyway.

They started walking, feeling the way with their hands and feet, until they were a good distance away from the trapdoor, then Johnny switched on the flashlight that Gray had been kind enough to give them.