Authors: Sandra Brown
Tags: #Crime, #Suspense, #Fiction, #Mystery Fiction, #Psychological
yron are you listening to me?" Carl Herbold glowered at his fellow convict, impatiently shook his head, and muttered, "Stupid, stupid."
Impervious to the insult, Myron Hutts's vacant grin remained in place.
Carl thrust his face closer. "Lose the grin, okay, Myron? This is serious stuff I'm talking here. Has anything sunk into that lump of shit riding on top of your shoulders? Have you heard a fucking word I've said?"
Myron chomped down on his PayDay candy bar. "Sure, Carl, I heard you. You said for me to listen good and pay attention."
Carl relaxed somewhat, but he wasn't convinced that even a fraction of what he told Myron would register. Myron wasn't what you'd call brainy. In fact, stretching, Myron's IQ might range in the single digits.
He was physically strong and eager to please, but his shortage in the smarts department made him a risk to Carl's carefully laid plans. Having someone with Myron's limitations as an accomplice wasn't without its drawbacks.
On the plus side, Carl needed a Myron Hutts. He needed a nonthinker who did what he was told, when he was told to do it, without question or argument or scruple. That's why Myron was a perfect choice. Even if he'd been a fucking Einstein with gray matter to spare, Myron was missing a conscience.
A conscience was "internal dialogue." Now wasn't that a catchy phrase? Carl had picked it up from an article in a magazine. He'd committed it to memory, then pulled it out and used it on the parole board the last time he came up for review For five minutes he had waxed eloquent on how he had been having internal dialogues with himself about his past misdeeds and the havoc he'd wreaked on his life and the lives of others. These dialogues had shown him the error of his ways and pointed him toward the light of self-discovery and accountability. He was remorseful and wished to atone.
The board members weren't impressed by the big words he'd thrown in. They'd seen his speech for the string of bullshit it was and rejected his petition for parole. But supposing the conscience was internal dialogue. That entailed abstract ideas and concepts, which Myron was just too plain stupid to grasp. Actually Carl didn't give a damn whether Myron had a conscience or not. He would act on his impulses of the moment, period. Which was precisely why Carl had chosen him. Myron wouldn't go squeamish on him if things got ugly. And speaking of ugly, Myron was one butt-ugly dude. His skin had only a trace of pigmentation. Most of his coloration was concentrated in his lips. They were large and unnaturally red. By contrast, the irises of his eyes were virtually colorless. Pale, sparse eyebrows and lashes made his vacuous gaze appear even emptier. His hair was thin, but coarsely textured, radiating from his head like crinkled wire. It was almost white.
He was particularly unattractive with the half-masticated nougat center of a PayDay oozing from the corners of his fleshy lips. As his tongue swabbed up the drool, Carl looked away. Many would wonder why he and Myron were pals, as the contrast between them was so striking. Carl was tall, dark, and handsome. He worked out with weights when the mood struck him, but he religiously did push-ups and sit-ups in his cell to keep his torso hard. He had a killer smile that was reminiscent of a young Warren Beatty. At least that's what he'd been told. Personally, he thought he was better looking than the actor, whom Carl had always thought of as a fruit. Beatty had a great-looking wife, though. A real sweet piece was Mrs. Beatty.
Carl was certainly superior to Myron Hutts in the brains department. The quantity Myron lacked, Carl had as extra. He was a great planner. Brilliant ideas just seemed to come to him naturally. He also had a real talent for taking a loosely woven idea and pulling all the strings tight until it became a grand scheme.
If he'd been in the military, he would have been a general. But even the highest-ranking officers needed soldiers to carry out their strategies. Thus, Myron.
He could have picked his partner from any man in the joint. Myron spooked most people, even hardened criminals. They steered clear of him. But Carl's leadership qualities drew people like a magnet. Seniority had given him a lot of clout among the convict population. That and his innate charisma. He could have anointed any number of inmates as his partner, all of them smarter and meaner than Myron—because for all his violent tendencies, Myron was sweet-tempered. But anybody brainier also could have caused Carl problems.
He didn't need anybody with a conflicting opinion giving him lip along the way. Disharmony led to distraction, and distraction led to disaster, namely getting recaptured. All he needed for this escape plan was an extra pair of eyes and ears, and someone who could shoot and wasn't afraid to when necessary. Myron Hutts filled the bill. Myron didn't need any cunning. Carl had enough for both of them.
Besides, he was going to catch enough guff from Cecil. Cecil thought too much. He overanalyzed every goddamn thing. While he was weighing the odds, he missed opportunities. Like that funny postcard Carl had seen one time of a man holding a camera to his face and taking a picture of the Eiffel Tower while a naked French lady was strolling past—that was Cecil. But Carl didn't want to think about his older brother now. Later, when he was alone, he'd think about Cecil.
As he leaned back against the chain-link fence, his gaze roved over the exercise yard. The vigilance was second nature. Twenty years of incarceration had taught him always to be on the alert for the first sign of trouble from an enemy, declared or otherwise. He wielded a lot of influence and had a wide circle of friends, but he wasn't a favorite of everyone. Across the yard a gang of weight-lifting blacks were flexing their well-oiled muscles and glaring at him with undiluted hatred for no other reason than that he wasn't one of them. Society was all hepped up about rival gangs, street warfare, vendettas. Laughable. Until you'd been inside, you didn't know shit about gangs. The society inside was the most demarcated, polarized, segregated in the universe.
He'd had differences of opinion with the black prisoners, which had caused exchanges of insults, which had eventually led to fights, which had resulted in disciplinary actions. But he wasn't going to get anything started with anybody today or in the near future. Until the day he and Myron had their turn to work on the road crew, Carl Herbold was going to be an ideal prisoner. It was a new program, part of prison reform designed to make convicts feel like contributing members of society again. He didn't give a crap about the social implications. All he cared about was how it affected him. When his turn came to leave these walls and work outside, he would be first on the bus.
So he was keeping a low profile, doing nothing that might call the screws' attention to him. No rule-breaking, no fights, not even a bad attitude. If he heard a mumbled insult directed at him, he ignored it. What he didn't like, he pretended not to see. A few nights back, he'd had to stand by and watch Myron suck a guy off. The other prisoner, a white trash wife-killer two years into a life sentence, had bribed Myron with a prize, so Myron had obliged him. Frequently the more aggressive prisoners tried to take advantage of Myron's mental incapacity. Carl usually intervened. But this close to their break, it hadn't been worth the risk of a confrontation. Besides, Myron hadn't minded too much. In exchange for the blow job he'd been given a live mouse, which he'd later disemboweled with his long pinkie fingernail.
"Now, remember what I told you, Myron," Carl said to him now, realizing that rec time was almost up and they would have little privacy for the rest of the day. When our turn comes up to work the road crew, you can't seem too excited about it."
"Okay," Myron said, becoming distracted by the bleeding cuticle around his thumb.
"It might even be good if we could look sorta pissed that we gotta pull that detail. Think you can manage that? To look pissed?"
"Sure, Carl." He was gnawing the pulverized cuticle with all the relish he'd shown the PayDay.
"Because if they think we're eager to go, then—"
He never saw it coming. The blow literally knocked him off the bleacher on which he'd been sitting. One second he was looking into Myron's slack-jawed, candy-encrusted grin. The next he was lying on his side in the dirt, his ears ringing, his vision blurring, his gut heaving, and his kidney getting the piss kicked out of it.
He forgot about his resolve not to cause or continue any trouble. Survival instinct asserted itself. Rolling to his back, he brought his foot up and thrust it into his attacker's crotch. The black weight lifter, who obviously depended strictly on muscle instead of fighting finesse, hadn't anticipated a counterattack. He fell to his knees, yowling and clutching his testicles. Of course the other blacks sought reprisal by piling onto Carl and hammering him with their fists. The screws came running, swinging their clubs. Other prisoners began either to try to break up the fight or to cheer it on, depending. The struggle was quickly contained. When order had been restored and the damage assessed, it was found to be minimal. Only two prisoners were sent to the infirmary with injuries.
One of them was Carl Herbold.
thought it was a very nice occasion." His wife's comment caused Ezzy Hardge to snort with disdain. "That was the toughest piece of meat I've ever tried to eat, and the air conditioner was working at half capacity. Thought I was going to melt inside that black suit."
"Well, you wouldn't have been happy with the dinner no matter what. You were bound and determined to be a grouch about it."
Ezzy had been married to Cora two years longer than he had served as sheriff of Blewer County—fifty-two years. He'd first spotted her at a tent revival, which he and a group of friends had attended just for laughs. Almost in defiance of the hellfire being preached from the pulpit, Cora had been wearing a sassy red bow in her hair and lipstick to match. During the hymn singing, her eyes had drifted away from the songbook and across the aisle to land on Ezzy, who was staring at her with unabashed interest and speculation. The light in her eyes was not religious fervor but devilish mischief. She had winked at him.
In all these years, none of her sass had worn off, and he still liked it.
"The people of this county went to a lot of trouble and expense to host that dinner for you. The least you could do is show a little gratitude." Peeling off her housecoat, she joined him in bed. "If I'd had a dinner held in my honor, I think I could find it within myself to be gracious about it."
"I didn't ask for a testimonial dinner. I felt like a goddamn fool."
"You're not mad about the dinner. You're mad because you're having to retire." Cora rarely minced words. Tonight was no exception. Sullenly, Ezzy pulled the sheet up over them.
"Don't think for a minute that I look forward to your retirement, either," she said, unnecessarily pounding her pillow into shape. "You think I want you home all day, underfoot, sulking around and getting in my way as I go about my business? No, sir."
"Would you rather I'd've got shot one night by some rabble-rouser with one too many Lone Stars under his belt, spared you all the headaches of having me around?" Cora simmered for several seconds. "You've been trying to provoke me all evening, and you've finally succeeded. It's that kind of talk that makes me furious, Ezra Hardge." She yanked on the small chain on the nightstand lamp and plunged the bedroom into darkness, then rolled to her side, giving him her back. Ordinarily they went to sleep lying face to face. She knew him well. He had deliberately said something that was guaranteed to get her dander up. The irony of it was that every day of his tenure as sheriff he had prayed that he wouldn't get killed on the job and leave Cora a bloody corpse to deal with.
But from a practical standpoint, he should have died in the line of duty. It would have been cleaner, neater, simpler or all concerned. The community leaders would have been spared the embarrassment of suggesting that he not seek office again. They would have saved the expense of tonight's shindig at the Community Center, or at least put the funds to better use. If he had died sooner, he wouldn't be facing a future where he was going to feel about as useful as snowshoes in the Sahara. Seventy-two years old, going on seventy-three. Arthritis in every joint. Felt like it anyway. And his mind probably wasn't as sharp as it used to be. No, he hadn't noticed any slippage, but others probably had and laughed at his encroaching senility behind his back.
What hurt most was knowing everybody was right. He was old and decrepit and had no business heading up a law enforcement office. Okay, he could see that. Even if he didn't like it or wish it, he could accept retirement because the people of his county would be better served by having a younger man in office.
He just wished to hell that he hadn't had to quit before his job was finished. And it would never be finished until he knew what had happened to Patsy McCorkle.
For twenty-two years that girl had been sleeping between him and Cora. In a manner of speaking, of course. Feeling guilty about that intrusion now, especially in light of their quarrel, he rolled to his side and placed his hand on Cora's hip. He patted it lovingly. "Cora?"
"Forget it," she grumbled. "I'm too mad."
When Ezzy walked into the sheriff's office a few hours later, the dispatcher on duty lifted his head sleepily, then bounded from his chair. "Hey, Ezzy, what the hell you doin' here?"
"Sorry I interrupted your nap, Frank. Don't mind me. I've got some files that need clearing out." The deputy glanced at the large wall clock. "This time o' morning?"