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Art by Sean O'Keefe 2018

The Last Meal of Laughing Boy Reilly

Jay Butkowski


C.O. McPherson tapped on the cell bars with the butt end of his Maglite to get the prisoner’s attention.

“Rise and shine, Reilly. Today’s your big day.”

From inside the prison cell, a figure moved around in the darkness.

“Is it the day of my grand cotillion already? Heavens, and I just don’t know what to wear… Fuck you, screwhead. I know what day it is.”

Bobby “Laughing Boy” Reilly was no debutante. He was a classic bad seed. In and out of juvie hall as a kid, more time spent behind institutional walls than out. On his 18th birthday, he graduated to the big leagues by stabbing a guard in the neck with the sharpened end of a tooth brush, all the while laughing like a goddamned hyena.

On his last brief stint with freedom, he killed a judge’s daughter. Brutalized her to the point where an open casket funeral was out of the question. Cackled like a maniac at his arraignment; giggled his way straight through the sentencing. Reilly probably would have been remanded to a psych ward for the rest of his miserable life, doped out of his head on Thorazine and confined to a straitjacket, except that the girl’s father intervened and pushed for Death Row.

The minute Reilly landed on the mile, McPherson knew he was bad news. A guy like that, who laughed at the value of human life – that wasn’t someone who McPherson wanted to have long-term in his prison. Guys who show remorse for their crimes, who genuinely feel sorry about what they’ve done – they’re the ones who turn into model prisoners. Laughing Boy Reilly was an animal – unstable, unapologetic. The guard was happy to be rid of him.

“Don’t be like that, Laughing Boy,” said McPherson. “I’m here to take your last meal request. What’s it going to be? Steak and eggs? Fried Chicken? There’s a decent Italian joint up the road…”

“Gimme your pen.”

“Now, you know I can’t do that,” said the prison guard, calmly. “Regulations… You might try to hurt somebody…”

“C’mon, McPherson, I’m taking the hot squat in a few hours,” said Laughing Boy Reilly. “I ain’t even gonna see nobody to hurt ‘em. I just wanna make sure you don’t fuck up my order. Unless you want to drag me kicking and screaming to Old Sparky…”

McPherson knew that an unruly prisoner taking his last walk was a dangerous and unpredictable prisoner. He didn’t need the headache of reporting yet another excessive force incident to the warden – he was already in hot water from the last time he put a prisoner in his place – and it’s not like he could just dump Reilly unconscious in the chair before his execution. If stretching the rules a little now bought him a little cooperation later, maybe it was worth it.

“Here,” said McPherson, looking around to make sure he wasn’t being watched before he handed the writing implement through the bars. “Don’t try anything stupid.”

“Gimme your hand. I gotta write on something.”

“No chance, Laughing Boy. I’m not a moron.”

Laughing Boy Reilly let out a peel of laughter. “Can’t blame a guy for trying… but I still gotta write on something….”

“Use the TP.”

“This cheap shit?! Tears too easy…”

“Oh, for Chrissakes…” exclaimed McPherson. He rooted around in his pocket, and produced an old dry cleaning slip from the place the Mrs. took his uniforms to be laundered. He handed it to the prisoner.

“Hurry up, Reilly. I don’t got all day.”

The prisoner scrawled something on the back of the dry cleaning slip, and handed the paper and pen back, grinning like an idiot. McPherson turned over the slip to see what was written on the back.

“You gotta be fucking kidding me, Reilly. Your last meal on earth, and this is what you want?”

“Gotta go out with a laugh, right? And you better not welch!”

McPherson shook his head and left the prisoner. Hysterical laughter followed the prison guard out the block.

* * *

True to his word, Laughing Boy Reilly went calmly to his fate. He put on a good act. If McPherson didn’t know that Reilly was an unrepentant sociopath, he would have assumed a legitimate jailhouse conversion had taken place.

It was a frigid day, and the execution chamber offered nothing by way of creature comforts. It was cold enough that McPherson could see his breath while standing at attention. The priest who gave last rites shivered – whether from the cold or from coming face-to-face with Laughing Boy Reilly was up for debate. Reilly himself seemed unaffected by the temperature, as if he had ice in his lungs.

The men and women in the observation room – many of them family members of some of Laughing Boy’s victims – sat bundled up and stone-faced as the sponge was placed atop his head, the hood lowered over his face, and the head gear strapped on.

The familiar command – “Roll on one.” – was uttered, and the generators powered up. No one expected a call for clemency from the Governor’s Office – particularly not this Governor, who made his bones in Statewide politics as a crusading, tough-on-crime former prosecutor type – but McPherson couldn’t think of a single time during his watch that a last-minute pardon ever came in. The phone sat on the wall, a consistently silent witness to the last minutes of evil men. False hope for the hopeless.

“Roll on two.”

The executioner flipped the large switch on the wall, and Reilly’s body strained against the straps in the chair, as 2,000 volts passed through him. Each second of the half-minute that the voltage was turned on felt like an eternity to McPherson. The switch was flipped to the off position, and Reilly’s body became still.

McPherson held his breath as the Medical Examiner listened for a heartbeat.

“The prisoner is dead…” announced the ME.

Thank God, thought McPherson.


The medical examiner’s eyes narrowed in confusion, and then went wide with disbelief. Deep inside Reilly’s lifeless body, past his black heart, a sound came through the stethoscope. It was faint and slow at first, but it grew louder and faster.

Pop. Pop. Puh-pop Pop.

McPherson hoped it wasn’t going to work – prayed it wasn’t going to work – but Bobby Reilly got his last wish after all. With his corpse turned into a human jiffy-pop, McPherson could almost hear Laughing Boy laughing at them all the way from Hell.

In the prison guard’s jacket pocket, scrawled on the back of a dry cleaning receipt in poor penmanship and bad spelling, was Laughing Boy Reilly’s last meal request – a bag of unpopped popcorn kernels, and a cup of olive oil.

McPherson had no idea how he was going to explain this one to the warden...

Jay Butkowski is a writer of crime fiction and an eater of tacos who lives in New Jersey. His work has appeared in Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter Online, and his own pulp-serial imprint, Episodes from the Zero Hour!.  You can find his work online at, or on Facebook at

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