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Where the guardian circle of trees gave out, a dirt road dropped steeply away. Below could be seen the walls of San Quentin. It squatted, old and huge, half in the bay and half in the hills, its high walls washed in sickly yellow. Through the shimmering light we could see fishermen in tiny boats, drifting close in and trolling for stripers.
On the land, miniature men and cows moved slowly in and out of long tin milking sheds. They were convicts and Holsteins. The rolling pastures were spiked with lighthouselike machine-gun towers, each painted with a numeral. Nearer still, between us and a large white hay barn, was their water supply, a medium-size earth-dammed stock pond. Rainwater fed into it from a high brush-filled cleavage that connected threadlike to the burial place. On the pond's surface we counted nine ducks.
"Well, we've come this far, what the hell," Dan said.
Calling "Heel!" to the dog, we sprinted downhill and spilled into the drainage cut. We dove and rolled, sweating, gasping, then rested in the last poison oak clump before a final crawl across open territory to the base of the dam.
As we lay there, a fine clean whistling came from above. Six mature pintails were pumping upward from the prison pond.
"I don't believe it!" I moaned. "Our stalk was perfect!"
We were so close to San Quentin now, we could hear radios in the cells. Chuck Berry's Maybelline spanked cement walls. Feedback hissed and screamed through the public address loudspeakers. We knew Caryl Chessman was up there waiting, somewhere on Death Row.
"There should be three left in there," Dan reasoned. Flat on our bellies, heads down, we elbowed out into the open. I could see ripples.
"Heel, heel!" I squeaked. The bitch was crawling between us. Once under the brow of the dam we tried to predict their range and where they'd jump. I chambered a 7½, to be followed by a 6 and a number 4 in the magazine.
"Hold the dog," I commanded, and scrambled to the top of the dam. Three wary birds, necks extended, were centered in a slash of molten gold. Backlit silhouettes sprang off the surface while I squinted into the blinding glow. I smashed out three of the loudest shotgun blasts in history; they rang through the metal barns and echoed off the brick and concrete galleries. One duck fell backward into the pond and two sizzled away into the glare. The dog hit the water, steaming for the cripple. Flattened on the dam, I watched her trying to round up the poorly hit bird. Silence hung on the disbelieving prison walls, though later Dan insisted he'd heard sirens.