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The Escape Diaries Part 12

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"You know, The Fugitive-the guy who hunts down the one-armed killer?"

"Baby, it's been four years. You aren't going to find a one-armed killer, a two-armed killer, or a guy with three b.a.l.l.s after all this time."

"Listen, Bear-all kinds of weird stuff is popping up. I've found the loose end of a ball of yarn and I just need to give it a yank and everything will start to unravel. Like the snapshot. I found a snapshot hidden in Kip's old bedroom, an Instamatic-"

"Instamatic?"

"You know-those cheap little cameras people used before cellphones were invented. Here, I'll show you." I patted through my pockets, trying to remember where I'd stuck the snapshot.



"Not here," Bear said hastily. "Someone could barge in any second. Did anyone spot you entering the building?"

"I don't think so. I didn't want to get you in trouble."

Bear grinned. "Mazie, you're the biggest celebrity this state has produced since the Fonz. I only hope half your popularity rubs off on me."

"The Fonz wasn't actually from Milwaukee."

He chuckled. His big hands made soothing circles on my back. "Where did you get this ridiculous outfit? Who's been helping you?"

"I stole them out of a janitor's closet."

I don't know why I fibbed. After all, Bear would have to know about Labeck sooner or later. I was about to launch into an explanation when m.u.f.fin suddenly woke with a snort, shot out of the toolbox, and lunged for Bear, snapping ferociously at his calf.

"G.o.ddamit!" Bear, who'd been a college football star, still had great reflexes; he sidestepped quickly and I s.n.a.t.c.hed up m.u.f.fin before he could do any damage. He gave one sharp yip before I managed to clamp a hand over his muzzle.

"He ought to be on a leash," Bear growled, examining his pants leg and discovering it was ripped. "Listen, baby, against my better judgment, I'll do what I can to help you."

"I knew you'd come through."

He rubbed his forehead. His hair had receded a lot since I'd last seen him-were those implants on his scalp? "All right then. We've got to do this fast. Your clock is ticking away here. I want you to drive out to my summer place. You remember where it is?"

I nodded. The westernmost suburb of the city, out near Moon Lake.

"The cottage is closed down now-Charlene's in California, and I've been staying at our condo downtown, so the place will be empty. You'll be safe there. I'd drive you there myself, but-"

"No, forget it-you're sticking your neck out as it is." I started getting teary. I couldn't help it; I was a big, br.i.m.m.i.n.g bag of hormones. I didn't deserve this guy.

Bear flashed his smile, each shining tooth worth twenty thousand votes. "It's been a long time since I had to do anything riskier than miss a roll call vote. I forgot how much fun it can be flouting the law." He handed me a set of keys with an attached card. "Take my car. And stick to the speed limit. Every trigger-happy cop in the state will be gunning for you. I'll get out there as soon as I can."

Escape tip #17: Get connected.

When he was in DC, Bear drove a Mercedes, but in Wisconsin he was careful to be seen driving an American-made vehicle. I had no trouble finding his car in the parking garage: a large, black, testosterone-injected Chrysler with a sheen like lights on dark water. Power steering, power brakes, power shifting, power everything-it practically drove itself. All I had to do was vaguely aim it in the right direction. Exiting the garage, I didn't even have to worry about a ticket taker; just slide Bear's parking card into a reader slot and wait for the gate to go up before floating out onto the street.

m.u.f.fin was in heaven. He bounced back and forth between the front and back seats and rolled around on the upholstery, trying to soak the rich leathery aroma into his fur, even giving it a couple of exploratory licks. My favorite part of the car was the tinted windows. I could see out, but no one could see in.

More police patrols than usual seemed to be out on the street. Traffic snarled and then stopped. A motorcycle cop swarmed up next to me and rapped sharply on my window. My heart stopped beating. How had they found me so quickly? Were they using see-in-the-dark scopes that could pierce through tinted windows? The cop jerked his thumb toward the right, indicating that I should pull over.

What would Doctor Richard Kimble do?

Smash through a ring of cop cars, weave through traffic, and lead a whole squadron of pursuers on a high-speed chase. Then he'd drive off a dam.

What was Mazie Maguire going to do? Get out, spread 'em, and beg for mercy.

I steered toward the curb. Wait! Mine wasn't the only car being nudged off to the right. There was some kind of disturbance up ahead, near the public museum. People were milling around angrily as though they'd just learned that scalpers had snapped up the last ticket to the Bon Jovi concert. Protesters were marching along the sidewalk, spilling into the street, chanting and brandishing hand-lettered signs. They seemed to be riled about an upcoming museum exhibit.

Opening soon-BodyWorks! read a giant banner draped across the museum's faux-Grecian columns. It depicted a thirty-foot-tall man with skin cut away to expose his muscles and tendons, a creature that would stomp through your dreams on nights when you've snacked on jalapeno peppers and peppermint schnapps before bedtime.

The police moved in, the demonstrators gave way, traffic started flowing, and I began breathing again. What had that been about? Going with the flow, I cruised west over the long viaduct that straddled the Menominee Valley, Milwaukee's industrial underbelly. The aromas of roasting malt from the Miller Brewery and the rising bread smell of the Harvest Queen Yeast plant crept in even through the car's closed windows.

Soon the landscape began to change from city to suburban. Houses got larger, lawns got greener, streets got wider. Traffic dwindled, kids pedaled along on bikes, mothers pushed strollers along the sidewalks.

The Chrysler drove like a winged chariot; even the biggest potholes felt no b.u.mpier than a pea beneath forty layers of mattresses, unlike my old Ford van, which had ridden like a munic.i.p.al toilet being dragged across the Rockies by an ox team. Still, I'd kept on driving it even after I'd married Kip, because marriage had not improved my financial situation enough to buy a new car. Kip drove a natty Lexus convertible, a gift from his mother. But the Lexus had wear and tear around the edges, its air-conditioning didn't work, and Kip was always talking about trading it in for something s.e.xier.

A used Beamer or Porsche-Kip might have been able to swing one if he'd lied on his credit application. But a Maserati? Auctioning a lung, kidney, and t.e.s.t.i.c.l.e to the highest bidder, he'd only have been able to afford a Maserati's front b.u.mper. What bank had he robbed to obtain that paid in full from the Maserati dealership? And what had happened to the car? Shouldn't the dealer have refunded the money when he'd heard of Kip's death?

Preoccupied, I missed the Brenner driveway. I braked sharply, reversed, and made a left turn, halting in front of the iron scrollwork gates that guarded the entrance to the drive. The gates swung open with a click of a dashboard b.u.t.ton and I followed the winding driveway up a wooded slope until it ended in a turnaround in front of the cottage.

What Bear called a cottage was three million dollars' worth of gla.s.s, redwood, and fieldstone. It had four bedrooms, a sauna, a library, and a living room with a view of the lake from every window. The grounds were a tad scruffy, the gra.s.s in need of watering, and the shrubbery overgrown, clear indications that the place hadn't been occupied for a couple of weeks. I parked the Chrysler in the garage, remoted the door closed, and used Bear's keys to let myself into the house. m.u.f.fin scurried ahead, delighted to have a new place to explore, his tail stub wagging like a metronome.

I'd first been in this house five years ago, at a Labor Day barbecue the Brenners had thrown for three hundred of their closest friends and campaign contributors. This was right after Kip and I had announced our engagement. Bear was one of the few relatives who'd welcomed me into the family. I'd adored him on first sight, this big, good-looking guy with the booming laugh and raunchy sense of humor. Unlike the rest of the stick-up-the-a.s.s Brenners, who looked like they slept with their wingtips on and had the servants starch their underpants, Bear was vibrant, outgoing, and always up for a bit of mischief. We quickly discovered we had a lot in common: we both had strawberry allergies, we both loved moldy reruns of Hogan's Heroes, and we both believed that Vanessa ought to have horse tranquilizers slipped into her morning orange juice.

Okay, full disclosure here: the truth is I'd always had a crush on Bear Brenner.

Kip and Bear bore a strong physical resemblance. Both had the strong Brenner jaw, wavy hair that grew off a widow's peak, and slightly bulging brownish-green eyes. Studying Bear, you could see what Kip would look like in a few years. It must have been tough for Kip, always playing second fiddle to his older cousin.

Bear had the cool nickname, bestowed on him during his high school football days as a defensive tackle.

Kip was the kind of nickname given to guys who wear their backpacks squarely on their shoulders and letter in golf.

Bear was six-two.

Kip was five-eleven.

Bear had a stock portfolio worth millions.

Kip lived off the remnants of his garnisheed salary.

Bear had a collection of Cezanne nudes.

Kip collected Xeroxed copies of bare female backsides.

Bear was Batman.

Kip was Robin.

Bear had shattered the Brenner mold. Slash, burn, take no prisoners was his motto. He'd experimented with every illicit substance that could be smoked or snorted; he'd driven his motorcycle across the country; he'd been arrested for public drunkenness during a rock festival. His embarra.s.sed father, tired of bailing him out, sent Bear to Mexico for a starter job in the family business. The company had just begun outsourcing its bottle and can production to Janos, Mexico, and was a good place for Bear to learn the ropes. If he messed up, the important people back in Milwaukee wouldn't hear about it. What happens in Janos stays in Janos.

To everyone's surprise, Bear did an outstanding job during his Mexican tenure. He was brought back to Milwaukee and promoted to a job with more responsibility. He settled down, got married, and was groomed for the CEO-ship. But Bear had already caught the political bug. He'd started out doing organizational work for his party, but as his leadership capabilities became apparent, he was thrust more and more to center stage. Five years ago, his party had nominated him to run for a U.S. Senate seat.

His war chest plumped with his own private funds, Bear Brenner had swamped the airwaves with commercials and swept across Wisconsin glad-handing voters, kissing babies, chomping cheese, and posing for a zillion photos. Despite his wealth and family background, Bear had a common touch. Voters could imagine sitting down and hoisting a beer with him. He'd won the election without breaking a sweat.

No thanks to his wife, Charlene. Tall, gaunt, and designer-dressed, she radiated the warmth of an iceberg and looked like she never unclenched her k.n.o.bby jaw. Behind her back, Bear's staffers called her Cruella DeVille.

"Why did those two ever get married?" I'd once asked Kip, trying to imagine the outgoing, backslapping Bear in bed with Charlene, whose most recent facelift had left her face looking like cellophane stretched over a Tupperware bowl.

"Plastics," Kip said.

"Plastic surgery?"

"No, plastic products. Charlene is the heiress to her family's plastic fortune. She's loaded to the gills."

"Bear married her for her money? But he's already a millionaire."

He'd shrugged. "It's how rich people stay rich."

As far as I could tell, Charlene and Bear made their marriage work by staying as far apart from each other as possible. According to Kip, they didn't share a bedroom even on those rare occasions when they were both in the same house. They had no children.

Now, hiding out in the Brenner cottage, I raided Charlene's closet. Once I'd gotten to know Charlene, I discovered that her apparent coldness was a cover for a shy, introverted nature. At heart she was warm and generous, and I didn't think she'd object to my borrowing her clothes in my hour of need.

Charlene was heavily into swampy colors-mushroom beiges, sludge grays, slime ochres. I settled on the only thing I could find that didn't look as though it had been dyed with week-old nettle leaves: a pale yellow Oscar de la Renta sweater. I ditched my Jockeys for a pair of Charlene's underpants and hooked on one of her bras. Too small. I hauled myself back into Labeck's undershirt. Why trade comfort for 32AA underwires? I shoehorned myself into a pair of Charlene's toothpick jeans, gratefully ditched Labeck's clodhoppers, and tugged on a pair of Charlene's L.L. Bean sneakers. The shoes were too long and narrow for me but at least they didn't make my feet look like gunboats.

Sprawled atop Charlene's bed, m.u.f.fin observed the fashion parade. It'd been hours since he'd tried to bite me; in fact, having him here was actually kind of sweet. He hadn't even snickered when he'd seen me naked. I flumped down on the bed, and to my surprise m.u.f.fin crawled over and nuzzled my neck. Tentatively I extended a hand and stroked his fuzzy head. He thumped his tail and when I scratched under his chin, he gave a little grunt of pleasure, rolled over and exposed his belly, writhing ecstatically as I rubbed it. He wriggled his way onto my lap and we had a petting fest for a while. I swear he purred.

"This is all the further I'm willing to go until we're married," I told him.

m.u.f.fin licked my hand and whined.

"Okay. I get the hint."

We went to the kitchen. m.u.f.fin waited expectantly while I ran tap water into a shallow bowl and set it on the floor for him. Raiding the refrigerator, I found a package of franks that still looked fresh, took one out, and gave it to m.u.f.fin. He wolfed it down in three gulps, licked his chops, and looked at me for more. Maybe it was the first hot dog he'd ever had. Vanessa probably kept her babies on a diet of wheat germ dog biscuits.

"They're not good for you," I explained to m.u.f.fin. "They're made of pig snouts and turkey gizzards."

He looked at me. Didn't care.

"You can have a half," I said.

While m.u.f.fin ate, I gazed around Charlene's kitchen, admiring the warm, copper- colored walls, the charcoal granite countertops, the polished eucalyptus cabinets. Rows of cookbooks marched across built-in shelves, not a single spine spattered with Kool-Aid or globbed with frosting. And there, nestled between Julia Child and James Beard, was a shiny black screen.

It was a wafer-thin stand-alone computer monitor whose hard drive, I discovered, was hidden in the cabinet beneath. Its keyboard rolled out on a wooden desktop, and a cute little doctor's office-type stool wheeled out for sitting.

Of course the computer would be turned off. It was probably unplugged and even if it was accessible, it would be swaddled in layers of security.

I jiggled the mouse, then jumped as the screen flickered to life. It wasn't dead, just dormant! Someone must have neglected to turn off the computer when the house had been shut down. A recipe for avocado soup appeared on the screen. Welcome, Jelka! enthused the computer.

Who was Jelka?

Jelka, Jelka, Jelka . . . a hazy image of a grandmotherly woman with a heavy Slavic accent came to me. Jelka Braz, that was it! She was the Brenners' Serbian cook, who lavished paprika on every food she served, including French toast and ice cream. I felt a warm glow of grat.i.tude toward Jelka for forgetting to shut down her computer, saving me from having to punch through layers of log-on security.

My fingertips tingled. Information simmered beneath that keyboard, just waiting to divulge itself. Magic box, magic box, tell me what I want to know.

Well, what did I want to know? Answers to the questions I should have asked four years ago instead of relying on an overpriced lawyer to do my thinking for me. I needed to know what had been going on with my husband in the few weeks before his death, when he was buying Maseratis and luxury suites.

Follow the money. I decided to start by checking Kip's financial records. When we'd first been married, Kip and I had a joint checking account, but that had ended in a big blowup when Kip had overdrawn twice in a month and I'd had to beg my payroll office for an advance on salary. From that point on, we'd each kept separate accounts. Had that been the beginning of the end, only I'd been too blind to see it at the time?

Vanessa would probably have gotten hold of Kip's bank records after I'd gone to prison, but there was no way I was ever, ever going back in that house again. Her do-it-yourself electrocution kit had blown up, but she might have ordered some new gadgets from the Torture Unlimited catalog-hand-cranked shock machines, giant dental drills, fingernail extractors . . .

It didn't matter anyway; paper statements were practically obsolete. Nowadays everything was available online. My hands shook as I typed in the name of Kip's bank, half-expecting sirens to go off and Treasury Department guys to rappel down from the ceiling. But all that happened was that Kip's bank snippily informed me that his account was no longer available.

Okay, fine. There's more than one way to skim a casino-one of Liza Loonsfoot's mottoes, dating from the time she'd worked at Ho-Chunk Bingo.

I went to Kip's online appointment calendar, Byte Me.

Supply log-in and pa.s.sword, ordered the site's sentry, the cyber equivalent of Freda Schermerhorn. I didn't know Kip's log-in, but figured he would have used some form of his own name.

KipVonnerjohn.

Access denied.

Kvonnerjohn.

Fuhgeddaboudit.

I thought about what I knew about my late husband. Well, he was late; he operated on Kip time. He was lazy, wanted everything to be fast and easy.

KVon, I typed. It sounded like a rapper.

In like Flynn!

Pa.s.sword, nagged the computer.

Piece o' cake. Kip always used the same log-in: Ca.s.sius7, the name of his golden retriever, who'd been seven years old when he died.

The calendar opened to a blast from the Stones' "Time Is on My Side." Everything was jumbled together here: business meetings, car maintenance dates, client calls, tee times, dentist appointments . . . weeks and months flew by as I scrolled. In June of the year he'd been killed, P. began appearing. It didn't require a magic eight ball to tell me that P. was Prentice Stodgemore.

June 4: River Hills Squash Club 2 pm P.

June 10: Lunch with P. 12:30, Yacht Club.

June 13: Pick P. up at 7 for Jersey Boys I scrolled on through the summer, knowing it was ridiculous to feel hurt that I hadn't rated a mention, but feeling resentful nonetheless.

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The Escape Diaries Part 12 summary

You're reading The Escape Diaries. This manga has been translated by Updating. Author(s): Juliet Rosetti. Already has 495 views.

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