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Vanessa wheeled and fired. Bear tried to wrestle the gun away from her, but Vanessa, who possessed the adrenaline power of the demented, jerked it away and continued firing, drilling everything in sight. Horse parts exploded, zinging all over the room. I cowered, hands over head. She must have run out of bullets at last because she stopped shooting.
Bear sprang and caught me, knocking me against Marlboro Man, who toppled and broke. Lifting me completely off my feet, trapping my legs so I couldn't kick, Bear clamped me against his body, holding me like a human sacrifice. "You want her to suffer?" he said, panting. "Pick up that leg bone there."
Eyes glittering with malice, Vanessa s.n.a.t.c.hed up the horse's cannon bone, shattered at the knee by one of her stray shots. It must have weighed thirty pounds, but Vanessa hefted it as easily as though it were a cookie spatula. I saw my own death coming at me in slow motion; Vanessa would whale away at me until I was a b.l.o.o.d.y pulp, and when they found my body, it would look as though I'd been pulverized by plastinated sculptures.
With the skill engendered by years of swinging golf clubs, Vanessa leaped forward and brought the cannon bone crashing down toward my head. Lotsa muscle, lousy aim-she smashed Bear's crazy bone. He shrieked in agony and dropped me. As I stumbled away, Vanessa attacked again, bringing the bone down against my shoulder with an impact that staggered me to hands and knees. She straddled me, arching the cannon bone back for a killer blow. Torquing my body, I grabbed a fistful of Vanessa's skirt, yanked it with all my strength, and hauled her off balance. She crashed to the floor, toppling poor old Archer, whose body parts scattered like flung dice.
But Vanessa was the Energizer Bunny of crazed in-laws, single-mindedly bent on destroying me. Twisting around with remarkable agility, she flailed at me with the cannon bone, landing a blow on my ear. My skull exploded, the pain making me wild.
Growling like an animal, I clamped my jaws around Vanessa's hand and bit so hard my teeth jarred. She squealed in pain and dropped the bone. I jerked her up by her hair and got so far in her face we were bared teeth to bared teeth. "Listen, you insane hag! I didn't kill your idiot son. But guess what-I'm keeping your dog!"
Foolishly, I'd forgotten about Bear, who now lurched up behind me swinging a plastinated lung, intent on turning my brains to sushi. Releasing Vanessa, I scrabbled frantically for a weapon, s.n.a.t.c.hing the first thing that came to hand-the broken-off end of the archer's bow. I swiveled and jabbed blindly, driving the jagged wood into Bear's flesh with all my strength, puncturing his thigh. Shrieking, he floundered backward into the remnants of the horse and rider sculpture. It wobbled, tottered, and swayed. Bones cracked, muscles split, and laminate coating crackled like snapping wood. Then, twelve hundred pounds of dead horse collapsed onto Senator Stanford Brenner.
Suddenly the room was filled with people. Where had they been when I was being mauled by psycho-senator? Labeck hauled me to my feet and clutched me to him, hugging me so tightly I couldn't breathe, babbling incoherent stuff into my hair. Eddie hovered around anxiously, patting my back. Cops, museum security, emergency techs, firemen, camera crews, reporters-all came crowding into the exhibit, coughing and getting soaked and scoping out what I was wearing. Which was basically nothing.
Labeck took off his torn, b.l.o.o.d.y tuxedo jacket and draped it over me. The surge of grat.i.tude I experienced felt almost like love.
Amid the smoke, the confusion, the milling bodies, and the wreckage, it might even have been possible to slip away again. Rico had somehow managed to insinuate himself into the mob-his chauffeur's uniform made him look sort of official, like the dictator of a minor banana republic. He came up to me and whispered, "The limo's just out back. C'mon, Maze-echa la cookie."
I admit I was tempted. But that wasn't the plan.
It was time for Phase Three of Operation Payback.
I untangled myself from Labeck and spoke to Rico. "Get Eddie over here. The two of you are going to walk me over to the man in the dark suit."
"No way, Maze-that guy's a porker."
"He's Irving Katz. He's a federal porker. You and Eddie are going to turn me in to him."
I'd insisted on just one thing in our whole scheme: surrendering myself to Irving Katz, the only person I trusted to be immune from Brenner contamination.
I stood on tiptoes and kissed Rico's baby-faced cheek. "You and Eddie are going to split the fifty thousand reward. It's for college. Use it for anything else and I'll break out of prison again and beat your pimply little b.u.t.ts."
Escape tip #33: It's not what you know; it's who's on your side.
That's life. You've got the smoking gun, the wreckage of a dozen once-human bodies, and the Real Murderer-and you're still the one who goes to jail.
The prison staff punished me for daring to escape. I'd made them look foolish, eluded capture for a week, and drained the money the warden had earmarked for redecorating her office. I was hauled back to Taycheedah the night of the museum ma.s.sacre, given an ice pack for my bruised shoulder, a bandage for my ear, and an aspirin for my throbbing head. Then they shoved me into Rehabilitative Seclusion. In the old, unenlightened days, Rehabilitative Seclusion was called Solitary Confinement, but we live in more humane times and the euphemisms are more sophisticated nowadays.
Different name, same game.
No mingling with the other inmates-the staff didn't want me made into a hero. No exercise period, television, books, or newspapers. The cell was eight by ten feet, windowless, virtually airless, furnished only with a bunk and a toilet. Meals were delivered through a hole in the cell door. I wasn't restricted to bread and water, but RS is a long way from the kitchens and the food was always cold by the time it got to my cell. I refused to eat most of it anyway, on the theory that the staff had probably spit in it.
I wasn't physically abused, but my female guards were cruel in that quietly vicious way only women can manage.
Where's your Mazie-mania now, b.i.t.c.h?
I seen you on TV, prancing around practically naked.
You still stink like cow c.r.a.p!
I let it all float over my head. When you've been buried alive, almost electrocuted, practically incinerated, and nearly brained with a horse hock, everything else shrinks to mere inconvenience. I ached all over. My mosquito bites itched. My sliced hand throbbed. My shoulder was turning the reddish purple of grape jelly.
And I missed Bonaparte Labeck with an ache that was as much physical as emotional.
Pacing the closetlike confines of my cell, I worried about the men, boys, and dog in my life, marveling over their courage in helping me, wondering how much trouble they were in, and praying that m.u.f.fin hadn't been returned to Vanessa.
If there were any justice in the world, Vanessa would be here in Taycheedah, wearing a neon orange jumpsuit and fending off the advances of Mona the Mon.o.brow. She and I could swap beauty tips: Pumice that dry, flaking skin off your heels with recreation yard dirt. Condition your dull, lanky hair with Crisco oil swiped from the kitchens.
And what about Bear? Had he survived? Dead was good, but second best would be shackled hand and foot in a cell with a dozen other drug-dealing, pedophile murderers.
I was sitting up on my bunk, sc.r.a.ping the margarine off my lunch bread to use as elbow moisturizer, when a guard unlocked my cell door and Winnifred Stuckey, the a.s.sistant Warden, strode in. She was a tall, stoop-shouldered woman with scraggly orange hair sc.r.a.ped back by a plastic headband. "C'mere, you," she ordered, crooking her index finger.
I followed Stuckey down miles of corridors. An inmate was listlessly mopping a floor in the E wing hallway, her dreadlocks swinging into her face as she worked. She looked up dully, but when she saw me, her face suddenly brightened.
"Mazie Maguire!" she said. "Hey, Maze-how you doing?" She fist-b.u.mped me.
I b.u.mped back, realizing as we touched how much I'd missed simple human contact. Annoyed, Stuckey ordered the inmate back to work. But word grapevined up and down the hallways; prison news travels even faster than Twitter. By the time I was hustled down the next hallway, women's faces were pressed up against cell windows. Whistles, cheers, war whoops.
"Way to go, girl!" That was Tina Sanchez, beaming ear to ear. I hoped we'd be rea.s.signed as cellmates.
"Nice work, babes!" A double thumbs-up from Vicki Jean the Boosting Queen.
"I wormed the warden's computer for you," Vonda the Virus informed me.
"Don't sign anything without an attorney present!" Liza Loonsfoot, jailhouse lawyer.
Winnifred Stuckey, who now looked as though she were chewing a giant wad of aluminum foil, opened a door and shoved me into a room. I blinked. The room was filled with bright daylight. I was in the Unrestricted Visitors Room, which meant there was no security gla.s.s between inmates and visitors. You could sit and talk on the kind of furniture they have in motels where the television is chained to the wall.
A man was standing at the window on the far side of the room, looking out onto the grounds. He turned when I came in and walked toward me. It was U.S. Marshal Irving Katz.
"Miss Maguire." He held out his hand and I shook it, surprised. Last time I'd seen him, the night I'd turned myself in to his custody, he'd been stiff, cool, and still royally p.i.s.sed at having had to chase me all over the state for six days. Now he was relaxed and smiling. He looked like a guy who'd picked a ticket up off the sidewalk and discovered he'd won the Powerball. He'd ditched the suit and was wearing khakis and a black knit shirt with a U.S. Marshal's Office logo on the chest. I was starting to like the Zorro mustache.
As a favor to him, I decided to stay downwind. I hadn't been allowed a shower, shampoo, or change of underwear since I'd been thrown into RS. I was wearing paper slippers and a moss green gown designed along the lines of those Snuggle-sack blankets advertised on late-night television.
The sharp dark eyes skimmed over me. If there really was such a thing as X-ray vision, Irving Katz had it.
"I'd like to speak privately with Miss Maguire," Katz said, turning to Stuckey.
She bristled. "It's against the rules. She's an escape risk."
"I'll take responsibility for her."
Stuckey left, muttering about regulations, and Katz turned to me. "You're not going to try to escape, are you?"
"I never rule it out."
Katz laughed. It made him look younger. "It wouldn't be very smart, considering how close you are to being released."
My heart started thumping wildly. I tried to calm down, reminding myself that close could mean anything from weeks to years. Wrangles over jurisdiction, delays on legal technicalities, Brenner money jingling into the right palms . . .
"Released? Seriously? I've been in RS, n.o.body's told me anything, I don't even know what day it is." My words tumbled out in an angry torrent. "Is Ben Labeck all right? And Rico and Eddie? What happened to-"
"It's September fifteenth. Your friends are fine. Mister Labeck has been a constant thorn in the warden's side and a pain in my own posterior. He's been here every day, raising h.e.l.l and demanding to see you."
"He was here? Ben Labeck was here?"
"He's practically staging a sit-in in the warden's office. I wouldn't be surprised if he tries to parachute in next time."
I could feel myself flushing scarlet. Labeck was such a dope! He ought to be getting on with his life, finding a nice girl who knew a hundred different ways to cook with maple syrup. I might be stuck in prison for years. But the thought that he was trying to see me, that he still cared for me, filled me with such a fierce, giddy joy that I actually felt dizzy.
"Maybe you better sit down." Katz looked slightly alarmed.
I shakily lowered myself onto the visitors room sofa, which was upholstered in a bristly, barf-colored fabric that scratched the backs of my thighs.
"So what else do you want to know?" Katz asked, settling himself across from me in a torn vinyl armchair.
"What about Brenner? Is he dead?"
Katz came as close to squirming as was possible for someone with his self-control.
"Not dead. He's on an island in the Caribbean."
"He's in the Caribbean?" I could feel my eyes about to shoot out of their sockets.
"The night of the museum gala-"
"The night he tried to kill me, you mean. I should have jammed that stick up his-"
"I did not hear you say what you just said." Katz shot me a warning glance, a reminder that our conversation was probably being taped. "Brenner was taken to a local hospital, suffering from a concussion and other injuries. During the night, members of his staff had him airlifted to Washington. Senatorial privilege. From there he was flown to St. Andrew's in the Caribbean."
"Don't tell me. The place has no extradition." I kicked the plastic coffee table, sending it shooting across the floor. Katz eyed me warily, probably worried that I was going to start throwing things.
I made myself calm down. I wasn't sure I wanted to know the answer to the next question, but I felt compelled to ask. "What about Vanessa Vonnerjohn?"
"She hired a shrink, got herself declared mentally unstable, and was committed to a private mental health facility. For the time being at least, she's immune from prosecution."
Bear was on a Caribbean island and Vanessa was cozily nestled in a facility where the straitjackets were probably designed by Ralph Lauren. Where's the justice, Atticus?
"Okay, that's the bad news," Katz said. "Now here's the good. We've got Hemmings and Lor in custody."
"Brenner's heavies. They've been talking."
I listened while Katz shared what he'd learned from the thugs. Labeck and I already had figured out some of it, but Katz, with his Justice Department creds, had been able to dredge up every last detail. Brenner had been producing rohypnol in the Mexican lab twelve years ago. Luis had covertly photographed the operation, perhaps with an eye toward blackmailing his employer. But when Brenner gave Miguel Ruiz the overdose of rohypnol that killed him, Luis had sworn revenge. He'd stolen the disk containing Bear's records, then had melted away into the streets, vowing to someday find Bear, kill him, and reveal his criminal activities. Five years ago, Luis had managed to slip into the United States, blending into Milwaukee's Mexican community. Bear had proved difficult to get at, and months had pa.s.sed before one of Luis's friends had tipped him off that the senator planned to attend a wedding at a suburban club. Wearing a borrowed waiter's jacket that night, carrying the cheap revolver he'd bought, Luis had bided his time, waiting for his chance to blow Brenner's brains into the chopped liver.
But Luis was not at heart a killer. All night long he'd sneaked drinks from the free bar, trying to work up the courage required for venganza. Finally he'd s.n.a.t.c.hed his gun from its hiding place and staggered out shouting about killing the gabancho Brenner.
"Why didn't the security goons rush over and nab Luis?" I asked.
"They were up front in the dining area, keeping an eye on all the big shots. None of the wedding guests realized there'd been a disturbance. A couple of the other waiters wrestled Luis's gun away. He collapsed and started crying, babbling about his brother. That's when your husband came out of the staff restroom."
"Kip was using the waiters' toilet?"
"He wasn't alone. He and one of the bridesmaids were . . . uhh . . ." Katz cleared his throat, looking embarra.s.sed.
"I get the picture." Kip Vonnerjohn, what a prince. Cheating on the woman he was cheating on me with. That concept couldn't even be expressed in a simple sentence.
"The bridesmaid left first and rejoined the guests, while Kip stayed in the toilet, smoking a cigarette. When he came out, he heard Luis's drunken rant about Brenner, the pederasto de nino, the pruductor de la droga. So he volunteered to drive Luis home."
"Mr. Nice Guy."
"Yeah. We learned most of this over the last couple of days, tracking down the waiters who worked that wedding, getting them to talk, but the rest of this is surmise. Probably Luis, in his drunken state, showed Kip his photos and told him about Brenner's illegal activities back in Mexico. Kip would have immediately seen the possibilities for blackmail. Even the slightest breath of scandal can torpedo a politician's career, and the Luis stuff was huge-I mean go-to-prison huge."
"So Kip proceeded to blackmail Bear."
Katz nodded. "For big bucks. We've been following a paper trail on this. Kip set up an offsh.o.r.e account and made the senator wire money into it, but he was playing a dangerous game. Brenner is not a person to mess with."
I shuddered, recalling how Bear had drugged me, buried me, and sent his thugs to murder me. "So Bear had to have Kip eliminated, right? Did you find out how he faked the nanny cam tape?"
Katz started pacing the room, hands jammed in pockets. "Lor told us what happened. He helped Brenner with the whole operation. They picked a night when your house was empty. Kip had once given Brenner a house key. Brenner also knew about the nanny cam because your mother-in-law had mentioned it to him. He took out the old tape and put in a new one. Lor played you, Mazie. The guy is short, skinny, and narrow-shouldered. Wearing a wig and your nightgown, he could pa.s.s for you from the back."
Jeez, thanks, I thought.
"Brenner sat at the desk, pretending to be Kip, while Lor shot a blank at him-bang-bang you're dead! Brenner knocked over the lamp as he fell. In the dark, he removed the tape-"
"Wait-why did he need to remove the tape?"
"Because it would look funny if Kip is dead one minute, then bounces into the room ten minutes later."
"Three nights later, he and Lor returned and hid in your garage. Kip pulled in around two in the morning. Brenner shot him with his own gun, which he'd stolen earlier. He and Lor wrapped Kip's body in a tarp, dragged it into his office and set up the murder scene there. They smeared Kip's blood on your nightgown, then hid it and the gun in your bas.e.m.e.nt."
"But weren't Lor's prints on the gun?"
"He wore gloves. Remember, in the fake video, the woman is wearing plastic gloves, so naturally no prints would be on the gun. After that, Brenner reinserted the fake murder tape into the camera and turned it back on."
"I can't believe I slept through all that."
Katz gazed out the window. He looked as though he was sitting on a smile. "According to Ben Labeck, you're quite a heavy sleeper."
I could feel a flush working its way across my face. "You've talked to Labeck, then."
"We had a long, off-the-record chat. He agreed to turn over the disk containing the records of Brenner's drug activities in exchange for immunity from prosecution for himself and the rest of your crew."