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Authors: Thomas Perry

Poison Flower

BOOK: Poison Flower
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A Jane Whitefield Novel


Thomas Perry




Mysterious Press

an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

New York


Also by Thomas Perry


The Butcher's Boy

Metzger's Dog

Big Fish


Sleeping Dogs

Vanishing Act

Dance for the Dead

Shadow Woman

The Face-Changers

Blood Money

Death Benefits


Dead Aim






The Informant

Copyright c 2012 by Thomas Perry


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Scanning, uploading, and electronic distribution of this book or the facilitation of such without the permission of the publisher is prohibited. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated. Any member of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or anthology, should send inquiries to Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003 or [email protected].


Published simultaneously in Canada

Printed in the United States of America


ISBN-13: 978-0-8021-9469-5


Mysterious Press

an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

841 Broadway

New York, NY 10003

Distributed by Publishers Group West


12 13 14 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1




Chapter 1.

Chapter 2.

Chapter 3.

Chapter 4.

Chapter 5.

Chapter 6.

Chapter 7.

Chapter 8.

Chapter 9.

Chapter 10.

Chapter 11.

Chapter 12.

Chapter 13.

Chapter 14.

Chapter 15.

Chapter 16.

Chapter 17.

Chapter 18.

Chapter 19.

Chapter 20.

Chapter 21.

To my family



James Shelby sat in the white prison van looking out the tinted window. The tint was so dark it was hard to see out, and the grate on the inside that kept inmates from touching the glass made it worse. He was shackled to a ring welded to the side of the van, so he couldn't move around much.

Five prisoners were going to court this morning. Every-one in the California Institution for Men at Chino had already been tried and convicted, so they all knew the -routines -how they should stand, how their facial muscles should be set, where their eyes should be aimed. Three of the five men were going to be tried for crimes they had committed before they'd gone to jail-one man whose DNA had been taken at his prison intake physical and later matched to the sample swabbed from a rape victim, another man who had turned up on three bank security tapes committing robberies, and a liquor store bandit whose gun had been matched to a killing.

The fourth man was shackled a few feet from the others on the opposite side of the van with Shelby. His name was McCorkin and he was the former cellmate of an embezzler. McCorkin was going to testify that the embezzler had been bragging about using the money to buy drugs for resale. This was McCorkin's fourth trip to court to testify against cellmates, all of whom seemed to tell him things they hadn't told anyone else.

He and Shelby were shackled away from the others because they were both considered informers. Shelby had not concealed the name of the man who had stabbed him in the back two months ago. Being seated with McCorkin had its advantages. None of the others wanted to say anything in his presence that he could use to get more privileges or a shorter sentence. They didn't want him to be aware of them, because his mere notice brought with it a risk of future prosecutions.

Shelby looked out at the road, and not at his companions. From the start he hadn't let his eyes rest on any of them, because they were volatile. And today they were more dangerous to him than ever, because all any of them had to do was notice that something was odd about him and say so. If they even joked with him about being different today, the guards would hear it. He knew the malice and perversity that had tangled the prisoners' minds. If they knew he was planning to escape, they'd be resentful that he wasn't freeing them, too. They would be envious that he had a plan, because they didn't. And the ones who considered him an informer would find it simple justice to snitch on him.

On the way into Los Angeles there were mountains, then dry-looking pastureland and a succession of telephone poles, and then a big highway with cars driven by bored civilians who saw the marshal's logo on the side of the van and the reinforcement of the side and back windows, and tried to see through the tinted glass. They wanted to see a sideshow, a few ferocious beasts whose ugly faces would give them chills, and maybe even more, the poor, sad bastards who didn't look mean or crazy. Shelby was one of those. If they could have seen him through the glass, they would have said he looked just like their brother or nephew or cousin-a man in his late twenties with light hair and a reasonably handsome face. There was some unholy fake sympathy in people that made them think, "There, but for the grace of God . . ." and not mean it. The idea that they were the favored ones seemed to titillate them. They were not the ones inside the bars with the monsters and the freaks, and never would be.

The ride took another hour, and then the van pulled off the freeway at Grand Avenue, and went south to First Street and then up Broadway toward the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Courts Building. It was still early morning. Through the tinted glass Shelby could make out lots of people on the sidewalks of the court district. The lawyers all wore suits, mostly in shades between light gray and charcoal, with white shirts and neckties. The female city bureaucrats all wore pantsuits, and the males had dress pants and light-colored shirts and ties, and all of them wore plastic badges dangling on lanyards from their necks like jewelry. The jurors dressed more casually. Each of them had a red-and-white paper badge for jury duty stuck in a plastic holder with an alligator clip to hold it.

In the period of his life long before his troubles started, Shelby had lived for a year in Los Angeles. He'd served on a jury here, so he knew. They always started the day by herding a couple of hundred men and women into that small assembly room on the fifth floor. Then they waited, and at irregular intervals one of the clerks would come out of their office and read some juror numbers.

Benches lined the hallways of the court building, and they were always occupied by lawyers, their clients, witnesses, and the defendants' families. The first time he had seen the hallways, they had reminded him of the marketplaces in the Middle East, with people haggling and gossiping and scheming, their private conversations all out in the open, but unheard because there were too many people talking at once. Everyone had something pressing of his own to worry about at that moment-legal papers to look at and stories to repeat and get straight before going into the courtroom, or plea deals to evaluate before they were withdrawn.

The building was modern, with floors marked by rows of identical windows a person couldn't see into. The main entrance consisted of steps descending into a sunken patio. At the edge of the patio were glass doors leading into the building. The court building seemed worn. Everything had been walked on, rubbed, touched by human hands so many times that it was old while it was still new. Inside the tall glass doors was a security area that could have been transported from an airport. Long lines of people waited to put their belongings on conveyer belts that took them through X-ray machines, and then waited to walk through the arch of one of the three metal detectors.

Big, hard-eyed male cops and a few women cops operated the machines and funneled the mass of people into single-file lines and off into the rows of elevators on both sides of the lobby, first the ones for floors twelve through nineteen, and then the ones for floors two through eleven. During the past weeks Shelby had spent hours remembering every detail he could bring back.

Shelby prepared himself while the van pulled up behind the building and then into an underground garage. The van stopped. The guard yelled, "Listen up," and paused to hear the silence. "When you're unlocked, get out on the right side through the open door. Follow the man in front of you and line up in that order with your toes on the yellow line. Do not walk, do not move, until I tell you."

Shelby and the others got out and remained in line. They were all experts by now at hearing the order and following it without allowing it to linger in their minds to chafe. Following orders had become the only way forward in their lives.

The second guard got out with them and stood a few feet back, so they couldn't rush him without getting shot. The driver pulled the van ahead and around to an extra-long parking space reserved for the vehicles from the lockups. He came back and stood near his companion. "All right. We're going in through that door over there. When we're inside, you'll be given instructions and taken to a holding room. Walk."

The group of shackled prisoners walked ahead in single file to the door and then continued inside. The second guard handed a police officer a piece of paper, and he read it and handed it to another police officer at a desk, who used a pen to check something off against a list and wrote something down. All of the cops' faces were set in a wary distrust, making sure they were seeing the same things they'd seen ten thousand times before, and not something new.

The men were shackled to a railing that was attached to the wall in a holding room, in the same two groups. Shelby wondered where the black-haired woman was right now. He had listened closely to what she had told him during her visits to the California Institution for Men at Chino. She had told him where things were going to be and how he should reach them, but she'd never said where she was going to be or what she would do. Now he couldn't help wondering whether she hadn't told him because what she intended to do was insane, and she had been afraid he would lose his nerve. Maybe she had already set everything up before dawn, and had taken off, to be as far away as possible before things began to happen. She'd said only that she would give him a chance to free himself, and he had to be ready.

There was a television set on a metal stand high up in a corner, but it wasn't turned on. On the center of the wall was an electric clock. He and the others sat in silence for a long time watching it and waiting for something to happen, but nothing did. He began to worry again that he was not exuding the same air of bored emptiness that he had on other days, in prison. If he seemed nervous or unusually alert, one of the other inmates would know that he was hiding something. He half-closed his eyes and pretended to be dozing, but he tried to figure out where the guards were. About once an hour one of the sheriff's deputies in tan khaki shirts and green pants would come through the room as though he were taking a shortcut to somewhere else. Twice Shelby heard prisoners' names called over an intercom, but they must have been in other holding rooms.

At eleven thirty Shelby began to get nervous and agitated. The time was coming. Either it would happen soon, or it would not happen. There were a hundred reasons why it couldn't happen, and only one reason why it might-the woman's sheer mad certainty-but as long as that one reason wasn't dead, the tension in his chest kept growing. In a half hour he would be free or he'd be dead. Less than a half hour, now.

His eyes began to lose their ability to stay focused on one spot, because they weren't able to rest anywhere long enough. A cop came to the door and called out, "Shelby!"

BOOK: Poison Flower
2.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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