The Escape Diaries Part 13

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August 10: Car to garage. The Lexus had developed m.u.f.fler problems.

August 20: Wannamaker wedding River Hills Country Club 5 pm. Have Freda order corsage for P.

Kip's cousin Sophie Wannamaker had gotten married that day. I remembered receiving the invitation, handwritten in flowing calligraphy on expensive parchment paper and weighing as much as the Pottery Barn catalog. I'd been looking forward to attending the wedding, and had even considered splurging on a new dress. So why hadn't I been at the Wannamaker wedding?

Because that was the week my mother had come down with a case of the flu severe enough to land her in the hospital, I remembered. I'd flown down to Florida to stay with my dad while Mom recovered. Kip had seized the opportunity to take Prentice to the wedding. And ordered her a corsage, the sc.u.m-sucking weasel!

Something odd here: Kip's office entries had dwindled at the beginning of September. No more meetings, corporate brunches, or other dreary business obligations. What had been going on in his life the first weeks of September? Well, he'd been playing hooky from work a lot, sleeping late most days. He'd written me a nasty note complaining that the clatter I made getting ready for work woke him at the crack of dawn-seven o'clock in the morning. Even if you were the boss's nephew, constantly being AWOL was a bad decision. Kip was behaving as though he didn't care if he was fired.

September 16:See Bill re Sea G.o.ddess. 10 am South Marina.

The G.o.ddess! Kip had always admired that boat, a small sleek yacht owned by one of his sailing buddies. Was Kip seriously thinking of purchasing a yacht? That was nuts-even a small yacht must run two hundred grand!

No mention of P. in the later entries. If Prentice was financing his yacht-sailing, Maserati-driving new lifestyle, shouldn't she and Kip have been spending face time together? Or was Kip's income from some other source? Now that he was suddenly living like a hip-hop star who'd just cut a record deal, had things cooled between them?

September 18: Lawyer 10 am re Mazie/Divorce.

I'd rated a mention at last! I was now Mazie-slash-divorce, a distasteful tag end of business to be checked off Kip's to-do list.

The last few entries were for upcoming events, events he'd never lived to experience.

October 5: Pick up suit at Phillips. Phillips was a store that sold expensive menswear.

November 18: Maserati to be delivered.

I drummed my fingers on the keyboard, thinking so hard my head hurt.

Where had this cornucopia of goodies come from?

Scenario one: His blue chip chippie Prentice had handed Kip a chunk of change, a little walking-around money to last until he shucked his ties to me and they could get married. And remember, darling-gigolo is just an Italian word.

Scenario two: Someone had died and left him a pile of money. Not very likely. Transfers of wealth involved an unG.o.dly amount of paperwork as well as the notification of spouses and the IRS.

Scenario three: Vanessa was giving him money. Possible, but unlikely. Vanessa was well-to-do, but she certainly wouldn't fling money at her son to buy a sports car that might end up wrapped around a telephone pole.

Kip's calendar didn't supply any more clues, at least none that I was picking up. So what next? I got up and walked over to the refrigerator. m.u.f.fin was sitting in front of it with doggie patience. I broke down, opened the fridge, and gave him the other half of the wiener.

"Where do I look next?" I asked him.

He looked up at me, clearly conveying that I had the brains of a Milk Bone dog biscuit. Where else do you look up people? The social networking site that everyone uses, even the Pope.

I went back to Jelka's computer and brought up Facebook. A Facebook page stayed up beyond divorce, disgrace, and death, the cybers.p.a.ce equivalent of immortality. Using the same pa.s.sword as before, I logged in; Kip was nothing if not predictable. He'd used a boating shot for his profile photo. Out on the lake, wearing sungla.s.ses, with his hair ruffled by the wind, he looked like JFK Junior.

I scrolled through the photos in Kip's alb.u.m. He must have deleted any photos that showed the two of us together. But he had uploaded photos from the Wannamaker wedding. There was Sophie and her groom. And there was Kip arm in arm with Prentice, his orchid corsage pinned to her chicken wing shoulder. A blurb issued from Prentice's mouth. Okay, buddy, I gave you half a million bucks, now get out of those clothes!

Not really. No blatant clues like that, just a bunch of wealthy suburbanites grinning at the camera, making bunny ears, and sloshing down champagne. Bear was in several of the photos, posing with the bride, the bride's mother, and a bunch of other richie-riches.

Not helpful. I started scrolling through Kip's Friends list. Charlene Brenner appeared as a friend. Since I couldn't think of anything else to do, I clicked on her profile.

Wow! Charlene compensated for her shyness by photo-recording her every move. I flipped through the pictures in reverse order, the newest ones first, then the older ones. Some apparently went back to high school and college. Mostly they were of Charlene and her friends, but there were some of Bear, too, apparently in their dating days. In one photo a young hunk with dyed-blond hair, wearing a skimpy Speedo, mugged on a beach, showing off his biceps, his triceps, and-outlined graphically by the Speedo-his heat-seeking love missile. Charlene had tagged the picture: Bear, Malibu, 1999.

I peered closer, studying the strong jaw, the wide, thin-lipped mouth, the tattooed bicep? That was Bear?

Something swam up from my subconscious.

Bear looked like the guy in the Luis snapshot.

Escape hint #18: Trust your gut. Guts don't lie.

"No way," I muttered.

Where was the Luis photo? I panicked for a second before remembering I'd left it in my radon guy shirt, now stuffed in the back of Charlene's closet. I hurried to retrieve it, smoothed out its creases, and compared it to the Bear-Malibu photo. Resemblances zinged out-same surfer blond hair, same jaw, same build. I zoomed the Facebook photo. At 400 percent, the tattoo on Bear's left bicep leaped into focus as a Harley Davidson eagle.

The guy in the Luis snapshot had a dark blob on his left bicep that could have been a tattoo. Or a smear of blueberry popsicle or a hairy mole or a weird birthmark. Why was I jumping to conclusions? This whole notion was preposterous. Half the men in America had bicep tattoos. More details popped out as I examined the snapshot under a lamp: a newspaper with a Spanish headline, liquor bottles with Spanish labels. It might be a place in Mexico; the boy looked Mexican. I squinted at the tiny printed date at the bottom of the Luis snapshot. If the camera's built-in dater had been set correctly, the picture was about twelve years old.

Bear had been head of his company's Mexican operations eleven or twelve years ago.

Why was the man's arm wrapped around the kid's shoulder? There could be a perfectly innocent explanation-mugging for the camera, a boisterous guy-type hug, maybe a game of Couch Twister. Only that's not what it looked like. And why was the guy who resembled Bear holding up his hand as though to shield his face?

Turning the snapshot over, I stared at the number on the back, written in Kip's sloppy scribble. Why had Kip hidden this photo in his secret stash at Vanessa's house? Why not just hide it in our house? Maybe because he didn't want to risk my finding the snapshot and asking nosy questions about it. Who was Luis, anyway? Before I could talk myself out of it, I picked up the kitchen phone and dialed the number on the back of the snapshot.

"Hola?" A woman's voice. Spanish; I could hear the upside-down question mark.

"Uhh . . . Is Luis there?"

A pause. Then, "Who is this?"

"A friend."

"Yeah, some friend. Luis is dead and you should drop dead too, b.i.t.c.h." Slam.


Luis was dead? What did that mean? I needed to know more. I started to redial, then replaced the receiver. Did I really need to get chewed out twice?

This was a job for FonePhlip!

Type a phone number into your computer and Phlip spits out a name and address. Privacy? What privacy? No such thing these days. I learned about FonePhlip from Vonda "The Virus" Wollensky-hacker, ident.i.ty thief, and Taycheedah's reigning arm wrestling champion. She keeps the inmates abreast of every technological advance happening on the outside, so in case we ever get paroled and see flying cars we won't flip out. She explained to us how corporations track your every Google search, how nothing you ever do on the Internet really goes away, and how even your emptied trash lurks forever in the depths of your hard drive.

In seconds I had the name that matched the phone number: Constanza Arguello, 1633 East Schiller Street. Now what did I do? I desperately wanted to ask Ben Labeck for advice, but I'd burned my bridges with him when I'd stolen his car.

A key rattled and the front door opened. "Loo-see," Bear called from the foyer. "I'm ho-o-me."

I jumped, my heart doing the guilt dance. In one twitchy motion, I switched off the computer, rocketed off the stool, and frantically tried to stuff the snapshot into Charlene's strangler jeans, which turned out to lack pockets. Clawing at the jeans' tight waistband, I crammed the snapshot into my underpants.

m.u.f.fin detonated as Bear entered the room, charging out from beneath the table and hurling himself at Bear, snapping and snarling.

"m.u.f.fin! Knock it off!" To my shock, m.u.f.fin careened to a halt. Glancing back at me, he sat down on his haunches, then turned and glowered at Bear, growling deep in his throat, obviously restraining himself with difficulty. m.u.f.fin obeying a command? What next?

"Sorry," I said.

Bear set a paper sack down on a counter. Grinning, he came over and planted a kiss on my cheek. "You okay, sweetie? No shootouts with the coppers, no jumping out of barns?"

"I'm okay. But scared." The snapshot was burning a hole in my skin.

"You'd be crazy not to be. Hungry?"


"I hope you still like Chinese." He began pulling what appeared to be the entire contents of a Chinese restaurant out of the sack. Moo goo gai pan. Colonel Tso chicken. Mu Shu pork. Three different kinds of rice, four kinds of egg roll, fortune cookies, c.o.kes, chopsticks.

"How about getting some plates out of the cupboard?" Bear had changed out of his suit into a long-sleeved polo shirt, dark pants, and black high-top sneakers. His pants cuff had a smear of mud on it and stick-tight burrs were snagged on his shoelaces.

A thirty-something Bear, wearing only shorts, his hand up to block the camera.

I blocked out the image. "You didn't walk all the way from downtown, did you?"

Bear laughed. "Twelve miles? Mazie, I can barely walk twelve steps without puffing. One of my staffers drove me as far as my health club-that's only a couple of blocks away-then I walked from there. I didn't want to take a chance on my driver spotting you."

"I was starting to get worried."

"Hey, babes, have I ever let you down?"

He fished napkins out of the bag, popped the c.o.kes, unwrapped the chopsticks. I found plates and set them on the counter. Strung out on guilt and nerves, I knocked against cabinets, fumbled silverware, b.u.mped Bear's hip. Something hard was in his pocket.

"Is that a gun?"

"No, Mazie-I'm just glad to see you." He laughed at the old joke. "Yeah, it's a twenty-two-caliber jobbie. Want to see it?"

"No. I hate guns."

He shrugged. "You can't be too careful these days. Lots of nut jobs out there."

We ate perched on stools at the work island, looking out at the lake, faintly glimmering in the lights from cottages on the opposite sh.o.r.e. I described my escapades since the night I'd broken out of prison: stealing the van, crashing the Great Wall of Potties, being strung up in a milk house, and nearly being electrocuted in Vanessa's bathtub.

I made them sound like adventures, rather than the gut-wrenching near-death experiences they'd been. Bear laughed in all the right places and it was like old times. It made me feel warm, happy, protected. And ashamed of what I'd been thinking. Bear raised his gla.s.s. "To Mazie the Amazing! Leaps tall buildings in a single bound."

I clinked my soda can against his. "To Senator Brenner. Rescuer of damsels in distress, defender of democracy, and . . . and . . ."

"Golden-tongued speechmaker. Purveyor of pork barrels."

I slurped my c.o.ke. I noticed that Bear's right hand, clamped around his soda can, had grimy nails and a blistered thumb.

"Dirty politics?" I pointed at his hands.

He picked at a crescent of dirt beneath a nail. "Ground-breaking ceremony for a new strip mall."

"Another strip mall. Just what we need."

He grinned. "Yeah, but it gets my picture in the paper."

I took a deep pull on my pop. I've never understood the concept of tea with Chinese food. c.o.ke provides the perfect icy sweetness to offset the heat of the spices.

Bear dished shrimp-fried rice onto my plate. "You didn't tell me how you got from that farm to Milwaukee."

I popped a shrimp in my mouth, chewing to give myself time to think. I couldn't tell Bear about Labeck, not yet. I stuck as close to the truth as possible. "I stowed away in a TV truck. Luckily, it was a Milwaukee TV station."

"Which station?"

"Channel Six." I gazed out toward the lake so I didn't have to look him in the eye. Why was I lying? "I slept in the truck overnight. Someone left the keys in the ignition, so I stole the truck. I drove it to Vanessa's house. That's where I found the nanny cam video, in Vanessa's old VCR player."

"And you stole the video right out from under my aunt's nose?"

"Well, if you want to get technical about it, the tape was my property in the first place. But Bear-when you enlarge the film-"

"How'd you do that?"

"Fiddled around with some equipment in the TV van." If I told one more lie my tongue was going to turn black and fall off.

"Come on, kiddo-you couldn't have done that by yourself. Who helped you? Vanessa said some cable guy came to her house with you. Who was he?"

"n.o.body. A repair guy. I stowed away in his truck."

"I thought you said you drove yourself to Vanessa's house."

I didn't feel hungry anymore. My heart was fluttering, the kind of weird, shaky rush you get when the dentist injects epinephrine to numb your gums. "But the canny nam tape, Bear-I mean the nanny cam-stuff jumps out at you. Like the woman in a nightgown? I don't think it's a woman at all. I think it's a small man."

"Right. A midget wearing a wig."

I laughed again. Bear could always crack me up. I was feeling drunk, light-headed, s.p.a.ced out. It was the relief of finally feeling safe, I told myself. I'd fought so hard to get to Bear, and now I could relax. I could dump my burden on his broad shoulders.

"Mazie? Are you feeling okay?" Bear was staring at me, eyes narrowed.

"Gr-r-reat!" Jeez-why couldn't I talk straight?

Bear tossed a chunk of chicken to m.u.f.fin.

"Too spicy!" I sputtered. Too late. m.u.f.fin had already snorked down the chicken. Instantly his mouth was on fire. He yipped pitifully, racing in circles and rubbing his muzzle against the linoleum. Bear chuckled.

I found m.u.f.fin's water bowl and made him drink. He lapped greedily, then farted loudly.

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The Escape Diaries Part 13 summary

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