The next day, Paul receives a note from warden Moores summoning him to his office. He knows that this concerns the interaction he had with Percy the day before. However, instead of heading to the warden’s office, Paul first takes the time to go over Brutus Howell’s report of the previous night. In the report, Brutal mentions that Delacroix cried a bit before going to bed but that he took his pet mouse, Mr. Jingles, out of his box, and calmed down. Brutal also mentions trying to talk to Coffey, but failing to elicit any reaction from the prisoner.
Brutal is exhibiting the same compassionate behavior toward prisoners that Paul advocates by trying to talk to them and soothe them so that their days on the Mile are not too difficult. Delacroix’s crying and Coffey’s silence show that all prisoners have unique personalities and different ways of dealing with suffering, which the guards must learn to deal with.
Paul explains that talking to the prisoners is a vital task that regular guards must achieve, for it maintains peace on the block and keeps men on the Green Mile from going insane. Percy’s inability to engage in such tasks is an important reason why he is such an incompetent and dangerous guard, for his lack of civil interactions makes both inmates and guards hate him.
Paul’s compassionate attitude toward prisoners is both ideological and pragmatic: it is a noble goal meant to respect everyone’s dignity, and also a practical way to keep inmates from causing trouble on the block. In failing to adopt this attitude of respect, Percy paradoxically proves more dangerous than the inmates themselves.
Paul makes a note about trying to talk to John Coffey. He then reads the account that the warden’s chief assistant, Curtis Anderson, has written. In this note, Anderson explains that Delacroix’s DOE (date of execution) will come soon, but that before then a new prisoner, William Wharton, is scheduled to arrive. Anderson calls nineteen-year-old Wharton a “problem child,” wild and heartless. He underlines twice a crucial sentence: “This man just doesn’t care.”
While Paul believes in treating all prisoners with respect, it is also important for him to remain clear-headed and detached, identifying inmates’ evil and immoral behaviors so as to be prepared for the worst. The combination of Delacroix’s scheduled death and Wharton’s scheduled arrival serves as a reminder of the ease with which one life can replace another on E block, and the ease with which death comes and goes.
After discovering this bad news, Paul heads to warden Moores’s office. Paul describes Hal Moores as the most honest of the three wardens he has known during his career at Cold Mountain Penitentiary. When he reaches the warden’s office, he immediately asks about Moores’s wife Melinda. Moores explains that his wife’s headaches have gotten worse, that she’s developed a weakness in her right hand, and that her doctor has ordered X-rays. When the two men’s eyes suddenly meet, it becomes clear that both of them know, beyond the reassuring tones they are adopting, that Melinda’s condition could be explained by a stroke or, perhaps, by something worse, such as brain cancer.
The fact that Paul and the warden talk about the warden’s wife before getting into professional matters serves as a reminder that Moores is a full human being—potentially vulnerable, weak, and loving—in addition to being a figure of authority. The threat of illness and death hangs above Melinda’s head, similar to the way in which E-block inmates face the inevitability of their own impending executions. Death proves omnipresent in both life at prison and life outside of prison.
Moores then reaches the heart of the matter, telling Paul that he received an angry call from the state capital earlier that morning, for Percy, the governor’s wife’s nephew, has political connections that can defend him if anything happens to him at work. Paul defends himself by explaining that Percy is mean and stupid, and that Paul doesn’t know if he can stand him much longer. Hal, who has worked with Paul for five years, understands him, but reminds him that, in this historical period (the Great Depression), no one can afford to lose their jobs, and that Paul should simply put up with Percy.
Outside of the justice system, which punishes illegal actions, the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable behavior is more difficult to trace. Even though both the guards and warden Moores agree with Paul’s assessment of Percy’s incompetence, the economic and political conditions of the time make it impossible to punish Percy without fear of retribution. Percy’s unfair advantage in the professional world thus shows that justice does not always come for those who deserve it most.
Moores also tells Paul that Percy has apparently submitted an application to transfer to Briar Ridge hospital, which will be a quieter, better paid job. He concludes his speech by commenting that Paul could have gotten rid of Percy earlier if he had not put him in the switch-room during The Chief’s execution. Paul, shocked and confused, does not understand what the warden is saying—why, for example, he should have put such an undeserving, incompetent guard in charge of an execution.
Moores’s attitude toward Percy is purely pragmatic, not concerned with questions of justice or morality. Moores believes that the end justifies the means—in other words, that engaging in the morally dubious action of putting Percy in charge of an execution is justified if it helps them get rid of him. By contrast, Paul believes that the means (choosing who handles an execution) is of crucial importance. He clearly believes (or hopes) that he can get rid of Percy without causing more harm than Percy is already causing.
Despite Paul’s incomprehension, Moores tells Paul that a speedy way to get rid of Percy would be to put him in charge of Delacroix’s execution. Certain that Percy is going to make a mistake, Paul nevertheless finds himself forced to accept. He concludes that Percy’s main attraction to this job is the thrill of making a man die on the electric chair.
Paul finally understands the full extent of Percy’s character, which warden Moores had grasped before him: Percy is a purely sadistic being who only cares about seeing someone die at his own hands. Despite being on the other side of the bars, Percy’s attitude is strikingly criminal in its intent.
Before Paul leaves, Moores asks him if he thinks Coffey is going to be any trouble. Paul replies that he does not think so, adding that the new inmate has been extremely quiet and that he has strange, unusual eyes. Moores asks Paul if he knows what Coffey has done and Paul replies that he does. Leaving the office, Paul tells Moores to send Melinda his love. He prepares for another day in prison, and the endless waiting of which each day consists—waiting for Delacroix to die, for Wharton to arrive, and for Percy to leave.
Moores’s question about Coffey’s crime signals that he is skeptical of Paul’s awed attitude toward the new inmate. Moores seems to believe that what matters most—more than apparent docility—is the crime that Coffey has committed. Paul, by contrast, seems intuitively taken with Coffey’s personality and unable to see him as a mere murderer. Paul’s fatigue with the repetitions of prison life is existential in its scope, revealing his deep tiredness in constantly dealing with death and evil.