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"All better?" Bear asked. He was holding out a chicken wing for m.u.f.fin.
"He shount . . . those things got bones." I was feeling wobbly and sick. Black ants conga-lined across my vision.
"I know." Bear held the chicken piece up out of m.u.f.fin's reach. m.u.f.fin leaped for it, but each time Bear s.n.a.t.c.hed it away. "Maybe the little b.a.s.t.a.r.d will choke to death. You know, I don't think that thing is even a dog. I think it's a rat with a bad perm."
Suddenly tiring of having his food s.n.a.t.c.hed away, m.u.f.fin sank his teeth into Bear's ankle.
"Jesus! You little bag of s.h.i.t!" Bear bolted off the stool, shook m.u.f.fin off his leg and s.n.a.t.c.hed the gun out of his pocket. He raised it and aimed it at m.u.f.fin. "I've always wanted to shoot that annoying little t.u.r.d," he said.
"Stoppit." My voice came out slow and stupid. He was kidding about m.u.f.fin. He wouldn't actually shoot a defenseless dog!
Bear aimed at m.u.f.fin and pulled the trigger. The shot sounded like an explosion. I screamed, squeezing my eyes shut. When I opened them m.u.f.fin was lying on the floor, eyes wide and shocked, blood trickling out of his small gray body. I tried to go to him, but a wave of dizziness suddenly overcame me. I tottered and would have fallen, but Bear caught me. He tilted my chin so I had to look up at him.
"Where's the picture, Mazie?" he asked.
"The G.o.ddam snapshot."
"You-you killed m.u.f.fin, you son a bish!" I tried to jerk away from Bear, but he had me in a hard grip. I'd never noticed before how cold his eyes were, pale greeny-gold like lizard eyes.
"Where's the snapshot?"
"You shot my dog! You're a total tool, you know that?"
I may have said tootal tole; my tongue and brain were going down different roads.
"Concentrate, d.a.m.n it!" Bear shook me, and my head snapped back and forth. "Who's been helping you? I want to know!"
"Dirty, stinkin' coward!"
Bear backhanded me. It stung like crazy. Tears sprang to my eyes. My over-stressed bladder released a squirt of pee.
"Wuzzit . . . the pop?" I was spaghetti. I was a Gummi bear left out in the sun. I was a Jell-O wiggler, squirting between your fingers when you try to pick it up. I had no bones; Bear had to carry me. I blinked dazedly up at the kitchen ceiling . . . the hallway . . . the laundry room . . .
"Yeah, in your drink, you stupid twit." His voice came from far away.
I was a stupid twit. Stupid, stupid, stupid! I'd known all along. Known in my gut. Guts never lie. Only I hadn't wanted to listen to my guts. "Wuzzit G . . . H . . . ?" I couldn't remember what came next. The girls in my cellblock talked about date rape drugs a lot. B-that was it. GHB.
Odor of rubber and oil; we were in the garage.
"Forget me," Bear said. He slid something black and crackly over my head. Instant darkness.
"Can't . . . breashe," I muttered.
"Mazie, baby, that is exactly the idea." His voice came out m.u.f.fled. "I'm wrapping you in a garbage bag. I'm sure you'll appreciate the irony. Vanessa always said you were trash. And guess what-she was right. You are nothing more than a big disposal problem."
Escape tip #19: There's always a way out.
You just have to dig for it.
A cold, wet b.u.t.ton pressed against my neck. A small, rough tongue flicked my ear. I opened my eyes to utter blackness, unable to see or move.
"m.u.f.fin?" I croaked, feeling the warm, furry body snuggled awkwardly between my shoulder and chin. "You're alive, baby?"
As I came more fully awake, I discovered that I was lying on my right side, one arm pinned beneath my body, an enormous weight crushing the breath out of me.
Why couldn't I move? My sluggish brain grappled with the question. As m.u.f.fin squirmed, a stream of something grainy whispered against plastic. Dirt. Dirt as in soil! Plastic as in lawn and leaf bag.
Memory returned in a confused jumble. You are nothing more than a big disposal problem. Understanding broke over me in a great, sickening wave. Bear had solved his disposal problem by burying m.u.f.fin and me. We were underground, maybe buried under tons of soil. My oxygen-starved brain served up gruesome Edgar Allan Poe visions of people walled up and buried alive, chewing on their own arms as they slowly starved to death.
But I knew I wasn't going to starve. I wasn't going to live long enough to chomp a single digit because I was going to suffocate within seconds. I would die in this dirt tomb and n.o.body would ever know what happened to me. Years from now I'd be a Discovery Channel special: Mazie Maguire: Alive in Argentina? All because I'd been so monumentally stupid! I'd violated the most elementary law of modern-day survival: Never, ever trust a politician!
Why fight the inevitable? It would only prolong the suffering. I could just drift back into that drugged sleep. Blackness reached up for me, ready to carry me down into blissful oblivion. Giving up would be so easy. It was just a matter of relaxing, of taking baby breaths, and then forgetting to breathe at all. Forget me, Bear had said. Not a bittersweet elegy, but the street name for the drug he'd used to knock me out.
Okay, so forget me. Forget everything. Resistance was futile. I was checking out of this rotten world. I was taking the easy way out. Bear won. I gave up.
My eyes flew open in the utterly lightless dark. The Shawshank Redemption guy hadn't given up. He'd escaped through a stinking sewer filled with stuff I didn't want to think about. And Richard Kimble had jumped off a five-hundred-foot dam rather than allow himself to be captured. Martha Stewart had toughed out five months of prison and emerged wearing a poncho crocheted out of shredded license plates.
And what about m.u.f.fin? He'd been burned by Colonel Tso Chicken, shot, and buried alive, but did you see m.u.f.fin giving up? No. m.u.f.fin was trying to comfort me, wriggling against my body and whining to wake me up, depending on me to bust us out of here.
Coughing, grinding my teeth with the effort, I moved my unpinned arm and tore feebly at the bag. At least I think I did; I could barely feel my own numb fingers. m.u.f.fin scratched too, his sharp little claws puncturing the plastic. Bitter grit sifted into my mouth. I flailed feebly with one foot, breaking through the tough vinyl. A clod of earth the size of a basketball thumped into the bag. The disturbed dirt above shifted, pressing down harder. My lungs felt like balloons being twisted by a birthday party magician.
Atticus, you are going to have to help me here. I flashed on Atticus Finch, sitting in a rocker in front of the town jail, facing down the lynch mob. m.u.f.fin and I kept clawing. Enormous clumps of displaced dirt rained down, clogging our mouths and noses. But it was loose earth, shoveled back hastily and honeycombed with air pockets. Quite abruptly my scrabbling hand poked through into nothingness.
"Holy s.h.i.t!" yelled a man's voice. A woman screamed.
Moments later hands were digging down into the soil, heaving me upward, dragging me up into blessed air, into what I would ever after think of as heaven-a September night alive with the sound of chirping crickets and so star-spangled that I had to squeeze my dirt-clogged eyes shut against the blaze of the constellations.
I reached down and hauled out m.u.f.fin, who snorted, sneezed, and shook himself. I horked ten tons of dirt out of my lungs, then looked up at the man and woman who'd pulled me out. The moon shed enough light for me to see that they were African-American, although at the moment they were both the color of cornstarch.
"Sweet Lord Jesus," the woman moaned. "I thought for a second-we just buried Mama yesterday. We stopped by here to check whether they planted the gra.s.s-"
"All of a sudden the ground starts shaking and I say to myself, Bobby Ray, you are about to experience your first resurrection," the man said. "Then your hand comes shooting out of the ground and I about need a Depends."
The woman was starting to get mad now. "Just what in G.o.d's name did you think you were doing, laying down there on top of my mama-"
"Hush now, Claudette," the man said, "This poor girl didn't wrap herself in a Hefty and dump dirt on herself." He ripped the remains of the garbage bag off me. "What happened to you, honey?"
I couldn't talk. I spat more dirt and tried to blink the grit out of my eyes as it slowly dawned on my oxygen-starved brain that we were in a cemetery. m.u.f.fin and I had been buried in a fresh grave with a new tombstone that read Marabelle Akin. Rest in Peace.
Where do you hide a marble? Inside a bag of marbles.
Where do you hide a pesky body? In a pre-dug grave. Bear must have scouted out the cemetery earlier. I was willing to bet we were within a mile or two of his house. Moon Lake was visible through a nearby grove of trees. This was a small rural cemetery, only an acre or two, probably with no caretaker or security gate. Now I understood why Bear had worn dark clothes-to lessen the chance of being spotted while he went about his dirty deeds. He'd probably stolen a shovel from the cemetery's toolshed and dug down a couple of feet into the fresh Akin grave. That would explain the grime on his soft, graft-grubbing politician's hands.
When everything was ready, he would have hurried back to his cottage, where I'd waited, trusting and gullible, a lamb ready to be slaughtered. He'd crushed a pill into my c.o.ke to knock me out, tossed m.u.f.fin and me into a Hefty, flung us into his car trunk, and driven us to this cemetery. He'd dumped us into the scooped-out grave, shoveled dirt back into it, and replaced the netting that held down the newly sown gra.s.s seed. Mission accomplished.
Only he hadn't counted on m.u.f.fin and me regaining consciousness. Or on Bobby Ray and Claudette showing up. Bobby Ray helped me to my feet. Claudette scooped up m.u.f.fin, who was too dazed to bite. "This poor little fella is bleeding," she said.
"We'd best get both these folks to the emergency room," Bobby said.
They bundled me along to their car, a roomy old Buick with tufted velvet upholstery that appeared to have been through a few kids and grandkids. Gently, they arranged me in the backseat with m.u.f.fin cradled in my arms. I wanted to apologize to them for getting dirt all over their car, but I was afraid that if I opened my mouth I'd throw up. My head throbbed, the world twirled, and I was the axis.
Lying back on the seat, I stroked m.u.f.fin, who was bleeding from a graze on his back. Bear's shot must have stunned him into temporary unconsciousness, but his thick fur had blunted the impact. Half an inch lower and his spine would have been shattered. He didn't seem to be in any pain though; in fact, he seemed to be in excellent spirits.
Why hadn't Bear used a gun on me, too? Because shooting someone was messy and I might bleed all over Charlene's environmentally friendly bamboo wood floors? Because it meant having to dispose of a gun?
And why did Bear want me dead?
The answer was there somewhere, floating above my head like Marabelle Akin's ghost, but my befuddled brain couldn't seize it. I was in shock. Not medical shock, the kind that shuts down your vital organs, but the kind of shock and disbelief you feel when a close relative suddenly dies. My best friend, the man I'd unreservedly trusted-okay, the man who'd starred in a few of my fantasies-had betrayed me. He'd been my hope, my hero, my angel for all these years-and then he'd savagely turned on me, drugged me, told me I was trash.
Bear thought I was trash. It burned; it festered; it rankled. I felt like trash. I felt abandoned, shaken from my moorings, worthless. I was the kind of loser who couldn't even control her bladder! Tears spurted from my gritty eyes, streamed down the sides of my face, created muddy trails on my filthy skin.
Claudette leaned over the back of the seat and took my cold hands in her warm ones. "Whoever did this to you, child, is so low he'd have to look up to a snake's belly. Lucky for him he didn't know he was burying you above the mortal remains of Marabelle Akin, the saintliest woman who ever walked the earth."
Bobby Ray made a sound that could have been a snort or a throat clearing. Claudette smacked the back of his head. "Don't you go doubting my mama. All the mess we had to deal with today-see Mama's lawyer, take her flowers to the retirement home, haul Bobby Ray's brother to the airport-well, I was knock-down-dragged-out tired. But I just had this feeling we needed to come here and check, see whether the cemetery planted Mama's gra.s.s like we paid for."
She adjusted her wide-brimmed black straw hat. "Well, now I know what that funny feeling was all about. That was Mama, telling us to come get this person off her bed of eternal slumber."
Escape tip #20: The only time a girl should put her feet in stirrups is when she's riding a horse.
"Pupils dilated," intoned the intern. "Heart rate eighty-five. Bloodshot eyes. Contusions on face consistent with physical a.s.sault. Appears to be disoriented." The intern, who was about twelve years old-he had pimples and wore colored braces-was dictating to a nurse who was scribbling notes on a chart.
I was lying on a gurney in the trauma unit of County General Hospital. Not by choice. Hospitals were scary at the best of times, but in my present situation were absolutely terrifying. So far I'd managed to avoid revealing my name, rank, and insurance number by playing dumb and drugged out-not a great stretch-but hospitals are run by a bureaucratic steamroller that would soon clank into gear. The sympathy and concern would turn to suspicion, and then the thumbscrews would appear.
Zo, you refuse to cooperate, eh? Igor, bring in za number 92 needle-za harpoon size!
"Roofies, betcha anything," said the orderly, who looked like he ought to be out on the gridiron sacking quarterbacks. He'd been the one who'd lifted me onto a gurney when Bobby Ray and Claudette had driven me to the hospital's emergency entrance. While the medical personnel were preoccupied with me and m.u.f.fin-who had already recovered to the extent that he was attempting to bite people-Bobby Ray and Claudette had hurried back to their car and vamoosed. I didn't blame them. I would have taken off too if I'd been in any condition for it.
"Roofies?" My intern, probably preoccupied over who he was going to ask to the sock hop, gave him a blank look.
"Yeah, Doc. Somebody slipped this little gal a roofie. You know-R2, Rope, Trip-and-Fall, Forget-me-"
"We use correct terminology on this ward," snapped the nurse, shooting the orderly a scathing look. "What he means is rohypnol, Doctor. Flunitrazepam. Illegal in this country. It's a date-rape drug. We'll know for certain when the lab sends up the results."
These would be the results of the blood sample the nurse had taken a few minutes earlier, stabbing a needle into my finger with the zeal of a born torturer. I looked around for m.u.f.fin. He was somewhere nearby; I could hear him barking up a storm. Probably he was locked in a broom closet. Couldn't they see he was hurt and needed treatment? Why didn't they have a veterinarian on call here?
A woman in scrubs, either a doctor or nurse-who could tell these days-breezed in with a computer printout. "Positive for roofies," she said.
"Told ya," the fullback crowed.
The intern cleared his throat and looked at me. "Miss? Were you s.e.xually a.s.saulted?'
I shook my head.
"She'll have to have a pelvic anyway. Regulations," said the nurse. Paris Island had lost out on a crack drill instructor when this one had gone into the health care field. "Rohypnol causes anterograde amnesia. She was probably a.s.saulted but doesn't remember. The couple who brought her in said she'd been wrapped in a trash bag and buried in the ground. So we have an attempted homicide in addition to a.s.sault-we'll need to get the police involved in this."
That wouldn't be hard. The room was chockablock with cops. It was one in the morning, prime time for drive-by shootings, bar brawls, and car crashes. b.l.o.o.d.y, moaning people lay stretched out on gurneys and cots. A few of the b.l.o.o.d.y, moaning people were handcuffed to police officers who weren't about to let their perps slip away just because their wounds were being st.i.tched up. The trauma unit was a happenin' place. Orderlies were hauling gurneys in and out, doctors were shouting orders, gang members were yelling obscenities, the PA system was blaring garbled announcements, and a big-screen TV set was blasting.
At the moment it was tuned to CNN. "U.S. Marshal Irving Katz and his team are following up reports that escaped convict Mazie Maguire was sighted this afternoon in Milwaukee," a newscaster was reporting. "The following video was taken earlier today by a surveillance camera in the downtown area of the city." The video showed a figure in dark shirt, pants, and cap. There I was, truckin' along Wisconsin Avenue, m.u.f.fin racing ahead.
Just in case anyone had forgotten what I looked like in the five minutes since the last broadcast, my face flashed on the screen. My mug shot, taken when I'd been booked for murder, with a deer-in-the-headlights expression and a big zit on my chin. Public Enemy Number One.
"Authorities are asking the public to phone in any tips that may lead to the fugitive's apprehension," the news guy resumed. "But the latest polls indicate that fifty-one percent of Milwaukeeans claim that they would a.s.sist Maguire, while only forty-eight percent would turn the fugitive in to authorities. One percent of those polled believe Maguire is a s.p.a.ce alien receiving a.s.sistance from an invisible mothership."
Quick shot of a vendor standing on the corner of Wisconsin and Third, grinning as he displayed a T-shirt with my photo on the front, neon pink letters splashed across it: Free Mazie. Next, a shot of a Marquette University frat house, a back-to-school kegger, the college kids wearing black-and-white striped prison suits and half a dozen frat boys waving a sagging, beer-stained banner at the camera: U Cn Crash with the Delta Delts, Mazie!!
It hadn't occurred to anyone that the wanted fugitive might be lying in the middle of County General's emergency room at eye level with the blue backside of one of Milwaukee's finest.
"Well . . . okey-dokey, then," said Doctor Doogie. "I'll put her down for a pelvic."
Pelvic. It sounds so innocent. Like they're going to tap your hipbones with a rubber-tipped mallet, when in fact a pelvic is a gross invasion of your most private orifices. The orderly helped me off the gurney and Nurse Nasty escorted me to a nearby curtained-off cubicle.
"Now we're going to take off all our clothes," she said.
"Of course. I noticed we weren't wearing a bra.s.siere," she said disapprovingly. "Next, we place everything in this evidence bag." She shoved a large baggie at me.
What was this we business? I was the one who'd be getting the finger up the cha cha.
"Once we're stripped, we're going to put on this gown."
Gown? Excuse me while I laugh so hard I drool roofie-flavored s...o...b..r all down my front. The thing was a sc.r.a.p of cotton the size of a Kleenex, designed so it flapped open over the heinie.
There are phrases you never want to hear-We're auditing your tax return. You tested positive for a brain fungus. We don't carry pants in a size that large. But the worst one is: Now put your feet in the stirrups and scootch down.
I have never seen the point in dying happy. I don't want to die in the midst of scarfing chocolate walnut brownies or lying on a beach in Jamaica. I want to kick off this mortal coil just as I'm about to have a pelvic and the doctor is making menacing moves toward my private parts with a speculum the size of a windshield sc.r.a.per.
I stood there, wondering how I was going to get out of this, nervously fingering the cotton gown, wondering whether they all come from the same ugly geometric prints factory.
"Hurry up," snapped the nurse.
"Umm . . . I'd like some privacy?"
"Don't be ridiculous. Do you think I enjoy watching people undress?"
"Hospital policy requires attending personnel to keep their eyes on drugged patients at all times. Regula-" Her voice suddenly broke into a piercing shriek as a small, snarling ball of fury attacked her ankles. She stumbled backward, ripping down the curtain and overturning a cart of surgical instruments. Yapping and snapping, m.u.f.fin tore around like a pint-sized Tasmanian devil, eluding the orderlies, flashing like a hairy laser beam between the legs of panicked patients, doctors, and cops, spreading spectacular chaos.
I made a run for it. All my synapses back in working order, I bolted out of the trauma unit, scrammed through the adjoining X-ray department, and exploded into the hospital's main corridor.
The loudspeaker system crackled to life. "First responders to the Emergency Room. Stat," it boomed.
My impulse was to run, but I forced myself to walk, trying to look like an accident victim's relative innocently searching for the coffee machine. Half a dozen guys in security uniforms charged past, looking as though they hoped they'd get to bust some heads. A female security officer rushed out of a room marked Hospital Personnel Only, its door swinging shut as I dived for it. Squeaking through, I found myself in a women's locker room.
Ashamed of my evil deed but excusing it on the grounds of necessity, I s.n.a.t.c.hed up a tote bag and nylon jacket left carelessly tossed on a bench-probably by the security guard who'd just rushed out of here. I slung the bag over my shoulder and immediately felt better. Real women carried purses. And I had a big d.a.m.n purse now. Look out, world, comin' through! It gave me the same powerful feeling I experienced when I was wearing matching bra and panties.