Authors: Michael Lister
Tags: #crime, #USA
About the only escapes that occurred these days were by inmates already outside the institution––inmates who worked on an outside grounds crew, those on furlough or being transported to court or to a hospital for a medical procedure––but even these were extremely rare because of all the procedures and protections in place.
If the inmate I was trading for Anna worked outside the institution, and the chances of that were extremely slim, getting him away from the correctional officers guarding him would still be unimaginably daunting, but if I had to break him out from inside, the task would become infinitely more difficult.
If he’s inside the prison and has to be broken out, what are my options?
There aren’t many.
Fake an illness and try to get him on an ambulance––something problematic on too many levels to count.
Create a diversion or distraction of some kind and . . . Even if I could, that wouldn’t help me get him through the several locked doors and gates and past the control room sergeant who has to identify him before he buzzes the gate open.
What if I had him switch places with another inmate working outside the fence? He’d have to be his twin––resemble enough to fool the correctional officer in the dorm, at the gate, and on the work crew––and the other inmate would have to be willing to switch places with him, something that wouldn’t benefit him in any way and would add a lot of time to his sentence.
I could try the same thing with a staff member. Finding one who resembled him even a little would be nearly impossible. Finding one who would agree to do it, and risk losing his job and going to jail, would be impossible.
And even if I could figure a way to do any of the above, I’d still have to be able to make it past the control room sergeant looking at faces and comparing them to IDs––something he or she does every single day, someone who knows the staff intimately.
So far every scenario I had considered involved some form of deception in an attempt to sneak the inmate out of the institution. It showed just how desperate I was that I even considered the possibility of a literal breakout next.
Breaking into a prison and then breaking an inmate out is as incredible a proposition as the ridiculous and farfetched movies made about such things.
First, you’d need a vehicle that could even attempt it––one especially designed to do it. An actual military tank or armored law enforcement riot control vehicle came to mind as the only vehicles that might even stand a chance.
Even if you could find a vehicle that could break through the main gate, with its cement pilings and steel cable reinforcements, that would only get you into the sally port, and in a prime spot to be ambushed by the armed officer in Tower I and the armed response team on the ground while facing the second gate. And even if you could somehow get through the second gate, that would only get you on the upper compound with the chapel, Medical, Education, Food Services, etc., and if by some miracle you made it through there, you’d again face two more gates and Tower II. You’d then have to be able to break into the locked dorm where the inmate was located and then possibly another locked door and a cell door, depending on his custody level. Then you’d have to return through a gauntlet of prison response teams, local law enforcement, and possibly the National Guard, depending on their response time.
Of course, you could come through a perimeter fence––well, the two razor wire–covered perimeter fences, which would immediately trigger an alarm in the control room, then continue through a series of other fences while being fired at by the towers and response teams, your vehicle covered by the looping razor wire designed to collapse in on whatever goes through it.
If breaking into the prison with a vehicle especially built to do such things wasn’t impossible, it was the next thing to it.
The other breakout scenario that came to mind was landing a helicopter on the rec yard or in the field between the chapel and the perimeter fence. You’d have to have a chopper, a pilot willing to do it, which meant involving others in the plan, you’d have to do it while being fired at, and you’d have to coordinate the landing with the inmate’s movements and hope somehow he wouldn’t be shot as he ran toward and climbed aboard the chopper.
Again, not entirely impossible. Just nearly entirely impossible.
I abandoned thoughts about the
for a few moments to think about the
Who could the inmate be?
Not many inmates in the state prison system come from families with money.
Had I counseled any inmates lately whose mothers were sick?
Of course, the caller could be lying about the motive––probably was. It could be a simple lie––a different loved one sick or a completely different but still benevolent motive, or it could be an altogether dark motive and the inmate’s life could be in danger.
If the last, would it change anything? Would I not only risk losing my job and doing jail time, but actually deliver an inmate to be tortured or killed to save Anna?
I will. I have to.
If I can keep the inmate from escaping, regardless of the motive, I will, but getting Anna back is far and away the first priority.
The kidnapper was putting me into a position of seeing what I was capable of on a lot of different levels. Under nearly all other circumstances, I’d never consider aiding the escape of an inmate––no matter the reason. But . . .
Anna trumps all.
He’d mentioned that Thursday night, the night we were supposed to trade Anna for the inmate, was a blood moon. Though I had heard the term, I wasn’t sure exactly what that was, so I took a minute and looked it up.
A blood moon is a total lunar eclipse of a full moon.
The earth casts its shadow on the moon. The sun’s rays that still manage to reach the moon travel through the earth’s atmosphere, turning the light dark red.
Some see a blood moon as an omen or portent, a sign in the sky of great spiritual significance.
The sun will turn into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord.
That night I dreamed of Suicide Kings, Wayne Williams, Hahn Ling, Martin Fisher, and my mom’s funeral.
Graveside. At Mom’s funeral. The living and the dead side by side in the folding chairs on the green AstroTurf spread out beneath the small awning and before the dark wooden casket.
Mom was among them. Smiling at me, nodding her support of what I was saying to comfort those mourning her passing.
I’m so proud of you
, she mouthed.
Danny Jacobs was sitting beside his mom, Cheryl. You couldn’t tell one was dead and one was alive.
Dad’s old Irish Setter, Wallace, was sitting just outside the tent on the grass, tongue out, panting loudly, his red hair shining in the sun.
Wallace had been dead a while. Dad’s inseparable companion for much of his too-short life, he had gotten sick and not left Dad’s house during the last several years before he died.
Why hadn’t Dad replaced him? Grief? Busyness? Had he found companionship somewhere else? Why hadn’t I asked him?
Martin Fisher was next to LaMarcus Williams.
Where is Anna? Why isn’t she here?
“The faceless man has her,” Martin Fisher said aloud, though I hadn’t voiced my thoughts.
“You’ve got to get her back,” LaMarcus said. “And fast.”
“She’s not here so she’s not dead,” I said.
“That’s not necessarily true, my brother,” Wayne Williams said. “People can be dead and you not even know it.”
The two Mollys were sitting together on the second row of chairs.
Molly Gellar was a nurse I had dated briefly when I first moved back to Pottersville from Atlanta. Molly Thomas was the wife on an inmate involved in the first investigation I had conducted at PCI.
“She’s not dead,” Molly Thomas said, her hair still wet and matted from where she had been pulled from the river.
“She can’t be,” Molly Gellar added, bullet hole still in her head, the small round wound haloed by a reddish abrasion ring and the darker tattooing, stippling, and burn marks of the barrel.
“People can be dead and
not even know it,” Williams added.
“Don’t listen to them, honey,” Mom said. “We’re all alive––and all dead, I guess. Go back to the eulogy.”
Suddenly there was an inmate in the last chair on the last row.
No matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t really see him.
“I’ve got a question,” I said. “How can I break him out of PCI?”
“You can’t,” Hahn said. “We all die there.”
“You’ll lose your job,” Molly Gellar said.
“You’d go to jail,” Molly Thomas said.
“It’s easy,” the inmate said. “I have to be someone else.”
“Can’t be me,” he added.
“But how? How can you be somebody else?”
“Put that big brain of yours to work on it,” Jordan Moore said.
She hadn’t been there before. Now she was sitting in the front row looking as fresh as the morning and beautiful as ever.
She was my first college girlfriend. She had been so much more than a girlfriend. She was the embodiment of pain and tragedy for me like few people were.
“You’ll figure it out.”
I woke haunted.
Not afraid or disturbed, just haunted.
I missed my mom. Was she really dead?
I missed many of the others who attended her funeral in my dream, and felt as if I had just spent actual time with them. Now they were all gone. I was alone and lonely.
If I could just roll over and touch Anna, hold her and have her whisper how much she loves me.
But she too was gone.
And in her absence I was utterly alone.
The call that came the next morning wasn’t the one I was waiting for.
“Chris Taunton is asking to see you again,” Dad said. “Says it’s extremely urgent and important. What’s going on?”
“With him? I have no idea.”
“Why’s he talkin’ to you and not us?”
“I was surprised when he asked to see me the first time,” I said. “I’m even more surprised this time.”
“You know more than you’re saying,” he said.
I had nothing for that so I left it alone.
“You gonna go see him?” he asked.
“Not sure,” I said. “Don’t want to. But I’m curious about what he has to say.”
“Would you go for me?” Dad said. “Let me know what he has to say.”
“How are you?” he asked. “I mean about your mom and everything.”
Still haunted by the dream, I was unable to answer.
I waited for a while but no call came.
I spent some time in prayer and meditation, showered and dressed. Still no call.
Drove to the hospital with my phone in my hand, held it the entire time I talked to Chris Taunton, but the call never came.
“Have they made contact yet?” Chris asked. “What do they want?”
“How’re you feeling?”
“Like shit. What did they say? Is she okay?”
“Seems so. I think she is.”
“What do they want? Do they know I’m still alive?”
“Don’t think they do.”
“We could use that.”
I shook my head.
“Let me help.”
“Do what?” I asked. “You can’t even sit up. And I’m not going to do anything but what they say.”
“What did they say? What do they want?”
“Get better, Chris.”
“You’re playing with Anna’s life. Let me––”
“I’m not playing at all.”
“Why won’t you let me help?”
“Already told you.”
“You’ve got an unknown––something they know nothing about. Use it. We can go back to hating each other after she’s back safe and okay.”
“I don’t hate you, Chris.”
“Then I’ll go back to hating you. But until then, let’s do all we can to make sure she gets back safely so I have something to hate you for.”
I shook my head again. “I’ve got to go.”
“What if you fail?” he said. “Somebody should know what’s going on, what you were trying to do.”
I nodded. “You’re right. Somebody will.”
As I drove to work, phone in hand, I thought about what Chris had said.
I couldn’t use him, could I?
He was in no shape. I didn’t trust him. I didn’t want to do anything but what they said to do.
Is that the wrong play? Am I making a mistake? Not using the one element of surprise I have?
He was right about one thing. I needed a contingency plan in case something went wrong. But what?
When I pulled up to the prison and saw Merrill in the parking lot I knew what.
I parked beside him and got out, pausing a minute to look at my phone one last time.
Why hadn’t I heard from the kidnapper this morning? What should I do?
Cell phones weren’t allowed inside the institution. The caller seemed to know a lot, but maybe he didn’t know that.
What if he calls while I’m inside?
I could try to sneak the phone in––something risky and very difficult to do––or I could come out here and check it often.
All staff entering the institution each morning were subjected to a full search. Depending on which officers conducted them, the searches were far more thorough sometimes than others. I could hide it somewhere and act as if I had forgotten it, but chances were it’d be found.
Of course, I could just not go into the institution, but the kidnapper had emphasized again for me to have the most normal day possible.
“Anna still sick?”
I nodded, dropped the phone on the seat, and locked her car. “Gettin’ better though.”
Across the lot, I saw Rachel Peterson pull up and park next to the warden in front of Admin.
“Need a favor,” I said. “It’s important.”
“It’s the no-questions-asked kind.”
He nodded. “Lot of yours are.”
I’d never thought about it, but I guess they were. And yet he always responded the same way. Name it. You got it. Shore thang boss. Shoot.