A Miranda and Parker Mystery #17
Okay. Their last case was an unintended surprise, but now it’s time for Miranda and Parker to relax and get back to retirement.
Except Curt Holloway, Miranda’s old buddy and teammate, has other plans. When he decided to leave the Investigative Agency, Parker put Holloway in his place as acting CEO.
Now Holloway wants out.
Well, just for a week.
Or so he says.
His ex-wife needs him, he says. He has to go, he says. Looks like he might walk for good if Miranda and Parker don’t say yes. And so they do. It’s not so bad. Everything is hunky dory for a while.
Until attorney Antonio Estavez shows up and tells them a convicted felon he once defended in court has escaped from prison.
And he’s coming to kill him.
They have to find this dangerous fugitive before it’s too late.
So much for retiring.
He opened his eyes and listened.
His keen ears waited for the clomp clomp clomp of the guard’s boots against the concrete floor in the hall.
Every night for the past three years he had heard that sound in the various institutions where he’d been kept. A steady, intense rhythm, like the driving bass line in Chopin’s Prelude No. 24.
He raised his hands and studied his fingers. He could still play it, couldn’t he? Yes, of course he could. And he would soon. Soon he would never hear the guard’s boots again.
There was no sound of boots now. Only the familiar cough of the inmate on the other side of the block and the steady snoring of his cellmate.
It was time.
He rose, found the tiny flashlight he’d been hiding under the mattress, and put it in the breast pocket of his jumpsuit. Then he quietly stuffed his pillows under his sheet and blanket, shaping them with his hands until it looked like he was lying there. Just as she’d told him to do.
He moved over to the sink, bent down, and pulled out the loose brick from the wall. He’d discovered it a few weeks ago, just when he’d needed it. Just when she had agreed to help him. When she’d given him the pocket light.
And there they were.
The two keys she had smuggled to him in his mashed potatoes. He had had to be careful not to swallow them that day.
He took them out of the compartment, put them in his pocket, and wedged the brick back in place. Straightening, he smiled to himself.
He was ready.
As quietly as he could, he moved to the door of his cell. He removed the smaller key from his pocket, put his hands through the bars, and inserted the metal into the keyhole.
He gave it a turn, and the door opened.
It was so easy. Too easy?
Holding his breath, he stood and listened. Still no guard. He stepped out into the hall, grateful he was on the first floor. The concrete balcony on the second floor hid him from the cameras a bit. She said the guards wouldn’t be watching them now.
Still, he had to be perfectly quiet. He took the flip flops off his feet and held them in his hand while he made his way over the cold floor and past the dozen cells to the corridor that led to the kitchen. When he reached it, he turned down another passageway. And there it was.
A narrow door with a thick chain and padlock.
The Devil’s Hole.
It had once been a cell, but was no longer in use.
He stared at it for a long moment. Was it true? Was this the way out?
She had told him this passage had been dug by a prisoner twelve years ago. The rumor was that the officials had left it intact so the inmates would realize escape was futile.
It didn’t matter. Escape was his only option.
Yes, yes. I’m hurrying.
He took the second key out of his pocket and inserted it into the lock. He gave it a twist. It opened as easily as his cell door had.
He pulled on the door, stepped into the narrow dank space behind it. Working quickly, he put the two ends of the chain back together and locked it again behind him. He was inside.
He turned around and felt a tingle in his stomach. It was as if he had ended up in the same place he had started. The walls felt as if they were closing in on him. But there was no cell here now. No inmates. No beds. No latrine. It was just an empty space.
But at the far end, there was the hole the prisoner had cut into the wall.
After his attempt to escape, that man had been found and shot.
Would that be his fate, too? It might. Still, he had no choice.
He crossed the floor, bent down at the opening, and peered into the darkness. It smelled damp and foul.
He took out the pocket light and ran it over the drain pipe behind the wall. He reached into the hole and touched the metal. His fingers felt the moist cold of it.
All he had to do was follow that pipe, and it would take him to the outside. To freedom.
He had no choice.
With a shudder, he took a deep breath and forced his body through the hole.
He had to bend awkwardly to get inside the hollowed out space. There wasn’t even enough room to crouch here. He had to lie down on the ground. The pipe was as wide as his own body. The area around it was just large enough to breathe in. He would have to crawl along it on his back all the way.
You’re taking too long.
He had to go now. Holding onto the pipe, he pulled with his arms and pushed with his feet as he dragged his body over the dirt. Push and pull. Push and pull. He began to sweat. Soot fell into his eyes and mouth. He spat it out. He had always hated dirt. His studio had always been spotless. He’d insisted on it. He had insisted on so many things he no longer could.
He did. As fast as he could, though it seemed like an eternity. Push and pull. Push and pull. After a while, he wondered if he had died in his sleep and this was the everlasting purgatory he’d been sent to as punishment for his crime.
He hadn’t meant to do it. He hadn’t meant to kill her.
He’d loved her.
That night was a hazy fog in his mind.
Rosalynd, my darling. If the guards shot him outside, at least they would be together soon.
Keep going, I said.
Yes. Yes. Push and pull. Push and pull.
After two more eternities, at last he came to the ninety degree bend in the pipe where it reached the grounds outside. Struggling, he maneuvered his body until he was partially erect. A manhole cover formed the lid to the hole just above his head. He could see the night sky through its slots.
She had told him it would be unlocked. Was she right?
Stretching out his hand, he touched the cold metal. He put his fingers through the holes and dared to give it a push.
The cover moved. She was right. But it was heavy.
He pushed harder. The lid slid across the grass and he felt fresh air on his face. Finding a foothold in the pipe, he climbed up and out of the enclosure.
He was out. He was out.
He lay on the grass, breathing in the smell of it, feeling like a child. He wanted to roll around in it. He wanted to laugh. He wanted to weep, but freedom wasn’t his yet.
He turned over and raised his head. Behind him rose the guard tower and the prison wall topped with barbed wire. Before him lay a short patch of mowed grass.
He had to get across that grass to the field and the road beyond. That was where she had told him to go.
He got up and ran, half crouching until he reached the field.
He plunged in, limping over the uneven ground, pushing his way through the tall weeds like an Olympic swimmer doing breaststrokes. He had lost his shoes and his feet stung with debris from the ground, but he couldn’t stop.
Panic drove him.
Air. Air. He was breathing harder than he had in his life, but he couldn’t get enough air. His heart pounded hard in his chest.
Lights? Were those lights? Barking. Dogs? Had they set the dogs on him?
He knew this wouldn’t work. Why had he even attempted it?
Because I told you to.
Yes, he had to keep going no matter what. Even if they killed him.
But at last he reached the side of the road where the grass had been cut again. He burst out of the weeds and stood on the pavement, gasping for breath.
Don’t stop. Keep moving.
Yes. Move. He had to find it. Where was it? Where? Had she lied to him?
He stumbled over the pavement. There were no cars on the road. Could he walk?
He stumbled along for what seemed like a mile. And then he saw it.
An old white Buick.
He hurried to it as fast as he could. It had a dent in its side, just as she’d described it.
Quickly he moved to the driver’s side and got in. He tore open the glove compartment and fumbled inside it. There it was.
He pulled out the envelope and peeked inside. Yes. A bus ticket, just where she’d told him it would be. And in the backseat was a duffle bag with clothes and food and water. That would come later.
He turned back and stared at the keys in the ignition. Everything was here. Everything. She had kept all her promises.
Why wouldn’t she?
Jolting, he glared at the passenger seat.
There sat Ludwig, his old mentor from Julliard, with his rumpled brown coat, his long matted hair, and his glasses on the end of his nose.
“Wh-what?” he stammered.
Why wouldn’t she keep her promises?
He didn’t know what to tell him.
His teacher shook his head and laughed. You never did know when a woman was in love with you. But then, most of them were.
What was he saying? “Ludwig, should I go back? Should I beg for forgiveness? Throw myself on their mercy?”
Ludwig’s thick brows became a thunderstorm as he scowled in disappointment. Of course, not. You’re innocent, after all.
Yes. That was true. He was innocent.
Come now. The voice from the backseat startled him. He turned and glared at the dark figure sitting there next to the backpack.
Get on with it, or all this practice will be for naught.
A shudder went through him. He would always say that before a performance. He had always been terrified of displeasing him.
“Yes, Papa. You are right, as always.”
He touched the pocket of his prison shirt. Tucked inside were the pills. The two small blue ones and the large pink one. He needed them, but he couldn’t take them now. He had to save them for later.
Of course, I am right. Now get going. We have to be in Atlanta by morning.
Yes, of course. Where else would we find that lawyer? You remember what we have to do, don’t you?
“Yes, yes. I do.” And drawing in a deep breath, he turned the key. The engine started, he pulled onto the deserted road, and feeling as if he were going mad, he drove off into the night.