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Females are not all that impressed when males flex their biceps, fan out their tails, or pound their chests. What makes us take leave of our senses is seeing a guy clumsily holding a baby in his arms or sucking his thumb after he's blasted it with a hammer or squirming in embarra.s.sment because he's just discovered his girlfriend is allergic to the bouquet of daisies he's brought her. We can't resist a guy making an adorable dope of himself.
Kip and I shared our first kiss on that emergency room cot.
We saw each other nearly every day for the rest of the summer. Dates with Kip were always adventures. We went sailing in his boat. Golfed on elaborate, expensive courses. Walked on the beach and played catch-me-if-you-can with the surf. Hiked in state parks. Took the train to Chicago and toured the Shedd Aquarium. Went to a lot of parties.
We never discussed money. Although I a.s.sumed that Kip was well-off, I didn't a.s.sociate Kip with the Vonnerjohns. It wasn't until our ninth date that I learned Kip's great-grandfather had been Yost Vonnerjohn, the Dutch immigrant who'd started the plumbing company now known around the world for bathroom fixtures. It wasn't until our twelfth date that he told me that he was first cousin to Stanford Brenner, who was running for United States Senate.
We went to the zoo on our fourteenth date. Kip produced a box of animal crackers from his jacket pocket and handed it to me. The box was already open and I figured he'd been nibbling on the crackers, which seemed odd; Kip wasn't the animal crackers type. We stopped to watch the giraffes while I munched on the crackers, Kip watching me from the corners of his eyes. I ate a bear with a broken leg, a headless zebra, and a blob that was either a horse or a hippo. Then my scrabbling fingers touched a piece of paper. I pulled it out and saw that it was a note in Kip's handwriting. It said: I'm crackers about you. Will you marry me? Taped to the back of the paper was a ten-carat diamond ring.
Who could have resisted a setup like that? Not schmaltzy, love-starved Mazie Maguire. For the first time in my life I wasn't being cautious and timid. I was being wild and adventurous. I was following my heart. That's what I told myself and that's what I allowed myself to believe. Of course I said yes. I wanted to marry Kip Vonnerjohn; I wanted to share his life and toothbrush and head colds; I wanted to have his babies. I was head over heels, giddy-gaga-dumba.s.s in love with him.
If my parents had been there, they would have warned me that fourteen dates is not enough time to get to know someone. Kip and I knew each other's favorite songs, most embarra.s.sing moment from junior high school, and favorite s.e.xual positions, but we hadn't asked the big questions. Such as: Does this person keep his promises? Nor had we delved into the smaller questions: joint accounts or separate? Open presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas day? Who controls the air-conditioning? We didn't delve into them because we were too busy delving into each other. Kip, nearly nine years older than I, was the first guy I'd been with who knew his way around a woman's body. As s.e.xually inexperienced as I was, I equated o.r.g.a.s.ms with love.
I should have seen the warning signs. They were there, as clear as a ragged-edge mole exhibiting the seven warning signs of melanoma: the fact that Kip kept putting off introducing me to his mother. That he took off work whenever he felt like it and spent money like a sailor on sh.o.r.e leave. That his eyes glazed over when I brought up politics or social issues or anything more complicated than the latest celebrity scandal.
Recent studies have shown that the human brain doesn't fully develop until age twenty-eight. I had just turned twenty-four. That's as good an explanation as any to explain the stupidity of my decision. Driven by l.u.s.t, blinded by hero worship, and too immature to know better, I plunged into matrimony.
Escape tip #6:.
If it's crazy but it works, it ain't crazy.
Wanda's van came with all the bells and whistles. It had satellite radio, GPS, and television sets mounted above the front and back seats. Given the hyperactivity level of Wanda's kids, it seemed a good idea to have some brain-numbing entertainment available in the rear seats, but the driver-mounted set was worrisome. Do you want Wanda Kronenwetter watching Dancing with the Stars while she's hurtling toward you at seventy miles an hour?
Wanda's pimped-out van, with its Kung Fu Panda suction-cupped to the windows, wasn't exactly inconspicuous. She'd probably reported the van stolen by now. I'd been driving it for more than an hour and was already pushing my luck. I needed to ditch it, and soon.
A road sign loomed. SHEBOYGAN 16 MILES. VONNERJOHN 4 MILES.
Of course! This was where Atticus had been guiding me all along. Suddenly I knew exactly where I could dump the van and pick up a new set of wheels. Taking the next exit, I turned onto a secondary road and drove into the town of Vonnerjohn, hoping nothing had changed since I'd last been here about five years ago.
Three guesses who the town is named for. This is the holy of holies-the site where the first Vonnerjohn plumbing factory was erected over a century ago. The small brick cottages that were once workers' housing have been converted to shops, galleries, and restaurants, but the town's main attraction is the old plumbing factory. It's now the Vonnerjohn Design Center, a showroom for company products. Weird as it sounds, the place is a tourist mecca, drawing thousands of visitors a week.
I drove into the center's parking lot, a sea of expensive vans and SUVs, perfect protective coloration for Wanda's van. With luck it would remain unnoticed here among the other oversized gas hogs until the lot emptied late that afternoon. Meanwhile, I needed to borrow another car.
Borrow sounds so much more polite than steal.
Ransacking the litter on the floor of the van, I dredged up a pair of cheap sungla.s.ses, two plastic barrettes, three Band-Aids, a lipstick-not in my shade, but soothing on my gnawed-to-shreds lips-and a packet of Easy-pleasy condoms in glow-in-the-dark colors. Why, Wanda Kronenwetter, you vixen! I jammed everything into my pants pockets, promising Atticus that I was keeping track and would someday repay Wanda for everything I'd stolen.
Leaving the keys in the ignition, I eased out of my French frysmelling cave of safety. I left the doors unlocked, debating whether to lipstick a Please Steal Me note on the window to attract the attention of car thieves, thus sending Marshal Katz on a wild goose chase while I tootled off in a . . .
In a what? Slinking around the parking lot, trying to appear to be a rich ditz who couldn't remember whether she'd driven the Porsche or the Lexus today, I wrenched at door after door. No go-every vehicle was locked up tight and n.o.body had left their keys in the ignition. People ought to be more trusting.
A silver BMW with Illinois plates zipped into a nearby parking s.p.a.ce. Two women and a boy emerged. The women looked like sisters-both tall, thin, and blond, wearing designer jeans. The boy, about nine, was in his own world, earbuds clamped to ears, jiving to music the rest of us couldn't hear.
Leave the keys in the ignition, I silently willed the driver. She didn't. She took them out and chirped the doors locked with her remote. Maybe I could pull another Wanda-filch the keys from the woman's purse. I followed the trio into the building, keeping a few lengths behind, hoping the tourists would be too engrossed in toilet fixings to recognize the escaped felon in their midst.
The Vonnerjohn Design Center is a cross between a plumbing fixtures store and Potty World: The Adventure. Hundreds of mock-up bathrooms are displayed on the wide balconies surrounding the ground floor. These are bathrooms that have taken a header off the Architectural Digest diving board of reality. These are bathrooms that don't have panty hose hanging over towel racks, sc.u.mmy shower doors, nostril clippings in the sinks, toothpaste-spattered mirrors; nappies soaking in diaper pails, plug-in room deodorizers, or dog-eared copies of Jokes for the John sitting on the tank tops.
These are bathrooms from a planet where humans do not dwell. On this planet, sofas, lamps, and bookcases all coexist happily in the bathroom, which is the size of a two-car garage.
On this planet there is a geisha house bathroom with a gushing waterfall for a shower, polished pebble floors, and a grove of live bamboo trees.
There is an Aztec temple bathroom with a tub like an altar perched atop a marble platform and where, instead of a priest slicing your heart out of your chest, vibrating water jets ma.s.sage your vertebrae.
There is a men's gym bathroom with a weight bag suspended from the ceiling and boxing gloves strung up on the wall.
There is a Jetsons-style bathroom with a television in the ceiling and a shower cubicle with nozzles in places that would come in handy if you ever had to bathe a giant squid.
Today being a Sat.u.r.day, the design center was swarming with sightseers. I spied my prey near a display of whirlpool baths that arced jets of spray like dueling water pistols. The woman's expensive handbag was carelessly slung over her shoulder, with her cellphone nearly falling out of a side pocket. This dame wouldn't last a day in prison.
Feeling like a stalker, I prowled closer until I was near enough to Ms. Illinois Plates to smell her expensive perfume. She and Sis moved to the edge of the balcony, with its dramatic view of the center's most famous feature-The Great Wall of Potties.
Two stories high, floor to ceiling, row upon row, column upon column, hung toilets in a rainbow of blush pinks, dusty blues, sea-foam greens, and harvest golds. Bizarre yet strangely compelling; this display gave new meaning to the expression off the wall. It was the Kodak moment of the tour; everyone wanted their picture taken with the Great Wall as backdrop.
Illinois Plates was fumbling with her camera. She didn't notice as I b.u.mped against her purse, pretending to be checking out the Great Wall. My right hand spidered toward her cellphone pocket, where she'd stuffed her car keys.
"Hey!" Her kid suddenly wheeled around and eyeballed me. Two thousand dollars' worth of orthodontic wire on his teeth and he was decked out like a street thug, his pants artfully ripped, his shoes unlaced, his T-shirt sagging to his knees. He held up the electronic gadget he'd been playing with, which appeared capable of sending e-mail, running television programs, and launching the s.p.a.ce Shuttle. I didn't know what it was. Spend a few years locked away and you come out feeling like Rip Van Winkle. The gizmo was tuned to a local news station running the ever-popular escaped convict story.
"It's her," the kid shrilled. "The serial killer! The axe murderer!"
Everyone on the balcony swiveled around to gape. I stood there frozen, forcing a smile and trying to look like an innocent tourist.
"The escaped convict!" The little twerp jabbed his finger at me. "Mazie Maguire."
"I am not!" I snapped.
The kid's mother whirled around. "It is her." She gasped, yanking the boy to her bosom.
He wrenched away, twitching with excitement. "She was sneaking up on us!" he screeched. "I saw her. I bet she was going to stab us." He eyed me with greedy curiosity. "How many people did you kill?" he asked.
More people swarmed around, jostling for position. "OhmyG.o.d!" shrieked a woman. "It's her! The one who shot a guard and broke out of prison!" She thrust a pen and a ripped-out bank deposit slip at me. "Quick-sign it-before they throw you back in the can!"
A gray-haired woman with a walker elbowed her. "Wait your turn, toots. I was here first. Now sign this to Junior and don't forget to date it-"
I felt a sharp tug at the back of my neck. Spinning around, I caught the little creep hacking at my hair with a Swiss Army knife.
"I'm gonna sell it on eBay!" he crowed, holding up a swatch of my hair. "Bet I get a million bucks."
I grabbed for the knife, but he danced away. "When they catch you, you're gonna get the electric chair. Z-z-z-zt!"
"Wisconsin doesn't have the electric chair!" I was itching to smack that smirk off his self-satisfied little face.
"Then they'll hang you!" He mimed a noose, bugging his eyes and lolling his tongue.
I jerked my head around, trying to find an escape route, but the crowd was edging in on me, cellphones held up like villagers brandishing crosses at a vampire.
"What's going on?"
A security guard shouldered his way through the crowd, his shoulder patch identifying him as a member of the Safe'n'Sound Security Squad. Blond, clean-cut, and b.u.t.t-chinned, here was Dudley Do-Right, keeping the toilets of America safe for democracy.
"That there is Mazie Maguire," the elderly woman informed him. "The one who machine-gunned two guards and busted out of prison in an armored truck."
The guard stared at me, flinty-eyed. "Hold it right there, lady. Let's see some identification." His hand twitched toward his weapon, which was the size of an elephant gun. Why would you need a gun that size in this place? To keep the little kids from peeing in the pretend toilets? I edged away as he advanced, but the autograph hounds hemmed me in. Couldn't go forward. Couldn't go left or right.
Trapped! This was where it all ended. I could almost feel the cold metal cuffs clamping onto my wrists.
But something odd was happening. The crowd wasn't parting to let the guard through. If I hadn't known better I would have sworn they were deliberately obstructing him, the gray-haired woman whomping her walker down on his foot, another woman tugging on his arm, asking him to show her the way to the ladies' room. Nudging the knife-wielding brat aside, I forced my way to the balcony rail, looked over, and saw that there was a twelve-foot drop to the floor below.
I put one leg over the railing, then froze in place, a.s.sailed once again by the height virus: clammy palms, queasy stomach, the sensation of being needled by a million wasps. My brothers had attempted to cure my fear of heights the way the Navy cures water-phobics: by dumping them in a pool, sink or swim. My brothers dumped me off roofs. There was an art to it: I would cling to the roof edge by my fingertips, crying and whining, until my brothers stomped on my knuckles. If I survived the jump, my brothers rewarded me with bubble gum.
The therapy didn't take. Heights still literally made me sick.
I put the other leg over the railing, teetering on tiptoes on the narrow lip of ledge. The guard dived at me. I jumped.
She lands! She scores a perfect two-point landing without breaking either ankle!
Above, Mr. Law and Order jerked his gun out of its holster and ripped off a shot. Twitchy with nerves, he shot high. A huge chip of porcelain zinged off a toilet seat attached to the Great Wall and razored across my upper arm.
Jesus! This guy was nuts. What was he using for ammo-cannonb.a.l.l.s? Luckily he couldn't shoot for s.h.i.t; his next shot hit a pink toilet on the top row. It tore loose from its anchor bolts and plummeted into the toilet below, which ripped loose in turn, knocking against the bowls next to it. The goon kept blasting away as though he was saving the fake bathrooms from raving hordes of Taliban.
Suddenly there was an ominous creak, followed by the sound of a million bolts ripping loose. And then the entire wall of toilets avalanched down, the higher ones knocking into the lower ones in a thunderous chain reaction of shattering porcelain. The toilets smashed to the floor and exploded, jagged chunks of china spraying through the air like shrapnel. A black toilet bowl thumped down behind me like a bomb as I hurtled toward the fire exit.
Every tourist in the building had the same idea. Screaming and hysterical, they stampeded through the doors and scrambled out into the parking lot. I ran along with them, zigzagging between careening cars. The lot was fenced in by hedges and there were only two exits. I sprinted for the closest one, but just as I reached it, a patrol car squealed to a halt directly in my path. Two local cops heaved themselves out and eyeballed the scene. This was where the cops bellowed The jig is up, Maguire! and made me flatten myself against a car.
Then I remembered a scene in The Fugitive. Pursued through a building by the marshal, Richard Kimble is halted by security guards. He yells to them that there's a guy with a drawn gun behind him. The guards tackle the marshal while Richard Kimble once again skips away, leaving a thick layer of egg over the faces of his pursuers.
"There's a man with a gun!" I yelled, pointing toward the building.
The cops' heads swiveled toward the design center. At that moment Mr. Safe'n'Sound burst out, waving his weapon.
"Stop her!" he bellowed at the cops, but he might as well have yelled Columbine! The cops, in an act of stupendous courage or courageous stupidity, launched themselves at him. The last I saw they were going at it hand-to-hand, writhing around on the blacktop, all of them cursing at the tops of their lungs.
Swerving around the patrol car, I took off running. The trouble with this town was its size. I ran out of Vonnerjohn in about thirty seconds and found myself on its designer golf course, Whistling Creek. Once-back in my other life-Kip and I had played nine holes here. The greens fee had been three hundred dollars plus one kidney per person-but of course that had included the cart rental. I plunged onto the course. The blood from my cut dribbled down onto the manicured gra.s.s, laying out a nice, easy trail for the bloodhounds to follow.
Escape tip #7:.
Corn: it's not just for flakes anymore.
You know the scene in North by Northwest where Cary Grant ducks into a cornfield to avoid getting machine-gunned by the guys chasing him in an airplane? As it turned out, cornfields do make excellent cover. The ta.s.seled-out corn, ten feet tall, closed over me like a rain forest canopy. Even someone in a helicopter hovering two feet over the field couldn't have spotted me beneath the lattice of leaves.
I figured I had a small window of time before the cops realized they'd let the notorious murderess slip through their fingers. After that it would be open season on Mazie Maguire. In the meantime, I was using every precious second, pounding through the cornfields that bordered the village, trying not to shriek when I crashed through the sticky webs strung up between rows by fat spiders.
The corn rows ran ruler-straight for miles. When I ran out of corn I commando-crawled through fields or duckwalked through pastures. I slogged on through the blistering heat of midday. I walked until my lungs felt as though they'd been skewered with barbecue forks and my feet felt like they'd been pressed to hot coals. I waded through streams because that was how Cool Hand Luke had thrown the bloodhounds off his trail. So far I hadn't actually heard any dogs, but there were helicopters, two of the pesky things buzzing back and forth, sometimes flying so low I could feel the wash of their rotors.
I drank stream water, too thirsty to worry about any malign organisms lurking in it. I wrenched off a cob of corn and gnawed on the kernels, but they sat like sharp-edged pebbles in my stomach and I was soon nostalgic for the Kronenwetter jelly beans. I worked generally south, detouring if I came out on a road and spotted patrol cars with gimlet-eyed cops raking the ground with binoculars. Miraculously, I wasn't spotted.
When it got dark, the helicopters went away. I kept walking, wondering how far I'd come. What felt like a trip to the south pole was probably only about seven or eight miles. My legs cramped. I had bugs on my teeth. My face felt radioactive with sunburn. My stomach b.i.t.c.hed and moaned. The corn that had been my friendly protector by day turned menacing by night, the leaves rustling as though they were telling secrets. The spiderwebs between the rows, now damp with dew, felt even creepier. I kept whirling around, certain I heard stealthy footsteps behind me. Somehow I'd wandered into Stephen King territory. I didn't want to be out here in the dark, feeling alone and unloved.
Why didn't I just give myself up? All I'd accomplished was to make myself miserable. I had bug bites the size of gopher mounds and E. coli bacteria in my guts. What was the point? Eventually I'd be caught anyway.
I'm confident my team and I will have her in custody by the end of the day.
Irving Katz's sharp-angled face rose up before me. He was still out there hunting me; I could feel him. He was smart, determined, and undoubtedly using all the tools at his disposal: body heat sensors, night-vision goggles, and topographical maps showing every ridge, rivulet, and rabbit hole within a thirty-mile radius. The net was probably tightening around me at this very moment.
Something inside, a small streak of perverse pride, reared up. However steep the odds against me, I wasn't going to let that arrogant city slicker meet his deadline. He was not going to have me in custody by the end of the day. Tomorrow, most likely. But not today. Tapping into some hidden reservoir of energy, I slogged on.
I found myself trampling through an unfamiliar crop, each footstep spuming a spicy fragrance. It was like stamping through a giant packet of drawer sachet. Lavender! This was a lavender field! A cozy farmhouse sat at the edge of the field, its mailbox identifying the place as belonging to The Kucksdorfs. I could see the Kucksdorfs through a lighted bedroom window-a mother and three little Kucksdorfs. The kids were in their pajamas, bouncing on the bed, carrying on with the kind of monkeyshines kids typically use to delay bedtime. A man-probably Papa Kucksdorf-entered the room carrying a book. The kids scrambled over, arranging themselves around him on the bed, elbowing one another for better spots.
I nearly burst into tears. Twenty years folded back. It was the Maguire farmhouse and my dad was telling my brothers and me a bedtime story. Unlike my mom, who preferred to read us cla.s.sics like Robin Hood and Treasure Island, Dad spun stories out of his imagination, tales in which the Maguire kids hunted buried treasure, sword-fought with pirates, and vanquished dragons.
My parents gave me that rarest of experiences: a happy childhood. We lived on a dairy farm outside a small town called Quail Hollow. It was a wonderful place to grow up. There were always kittens to cuddle, piglets to raise, eggs to gather. No kids my age lived nearby so I spent a lot of time with my older brothers, Brendan and Jimmy, playing football, falling out of trees, and building soapbox cars out of lawn mower wheels and sc.r.a.p lumber. When my brothers weren't attempting to kill me, they taught me the lessons that would serve me well throughout life: never tattle, never whine, and never get caught.
Never get caught, dummy! Standing here with my nose pressed to the Kucksdorfs' windows like the Little Match Girl, I was practically begging Katz to swoop in and nab me. I forced myself to move on.
Cornfield. Cornfield. Another cornfield. A full moon rose, silvering the night, making it easier to navigate. A farm loomed just ahead. Barn, silo, sheds, house, everything run-down and ramshackle. No lights shone from the house. No dogs barked. Maybe n.o.body lived here. Creeping cautiously around the farmyard, I found the unlocked door of a shed and let myself in. Dark inside, fragrant with the smell of hay. As my eyes gradually adjusted to the darkness I could make out haylofts above a wooden floor.
Leave now, you moron! This was my brain.
Feed me: stomach.
Not one step farther: feet.
Feet won. My legs Jell-O-ed out from under me and abruptly I was sprawled atop a heap of loose hay. I explained to my brain that I was just resting and would move on in a minute. My sweat dried, leaving me clammy and shivering. I untied the hoodie from around my waist, intending to pull it on, but that required too much effort. I let it drift over my chest like a blanket.
I'd changed my outfit nine times the day Kip took me to meet his mother. I was trying to strike exactly the right note between too casual (jeans and T-shirt) and trying too hard (heels and little black dress).
"What should I wear?" I asked the Sunday afternoon Kip was presenting me to the queen.
"Nothing," he whispered, reaching for my bra hooks. "I'll phone her and say we're going to be late-something has come up." He pressed himself against my back, demonstrating exactly what it was that had come up.
Which explained why we were an hour late when we arrived at Kip's mother's place. Vanessa Vonnerjohn extended her hand and greeted me politely, but her cold pale eyes skimmed over me like a strip search, taking in the J. C. Penney skirt, the Younkers shoes, the Target belt. She didn't miss the bagged-around-the-ankles pantyhose, the hastily brushed hair, the post-s.e.x eyes.
Vanessa's mouth clamped in a rictus of a smile, but there was no mistaking her silent message: s.l.u.t! The whole thing sailed right over Kip's clueless male senses; this was a woman-to-woman thing, as primitive as two female wolves bristling their ruffs, sniffing each other's b.u.t.ts, and baring their teeth.
Kip's mother had never held a job. This was a waste of talent because-aside from the fact that she was totally f.u.c.ked-up-bonkers-fruit-loops-she had a shrewd instinct for money management and formidable executive abilities. If she'd aimed her cutthroat capabilities at bond trading or negotiating hostile takeovers, she would probably have ended up as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board instead of a cookie-baking nut job.
As soon as Kip was old enough to date she'd begun tossing eligible females at him-girls from good families, who'd gone to the right schools, who knew how to dress, who had their own trust funds. Kip had escorted eleven different debutantes to their coming-out cotillions one year, a duty he'd agreed to only because Vanessa threatened to cut up his credit cards.
In college Kip threw off his mother's yoke and went wild. He drank, he partied, he was the life of his fraternity. Handsome and well-connected, he exuded the air of glamour that clings to college guys who have an unending supply of booze, dope, and dough for spring breaks to the Keys.
Kip's baccha.n.a.l continued even after he graduated and started working for his mother's family, the Brenners, who owned one of the largest breweries in the Midwest. He moved back to Milwaukee, bought a share in a downtown condo, and began a life devoted to good times, his job a minor inconvenience that rarely interfered with his sports or skirt-chasing. This continued for about ten years, Kip happily mired in perpetual adolescence, his indulgent mother picking up his credit card bills when he overspent. A couple of times Kip got so close to the altar he almost felt the brush of bridal tulle around his neck, but he managed to weasel out in time.
Then he met me-naive, wet-behind-the-ears Mazie Maguire-so starry-eyed I foolishly believed that forsaking all others meant that Kip and I would be faithful to each other until death did us part. Whereas Kip's take on the concept was more like: I won't have s.e.x with another woman in your actual presence. But that was the future, still unbaked, and during our engagement period, which lasted a mere two months, there's at least a one-in-ten chance that Kip was monogamous.
Vanessa's plans for her son had not included his wedding a n.o.body, a girl who didn't even have the decency to bring a stock portfolio to the marriage. But she was outwardly cordial that first day we met. We sat around her sunroom, sipping tea and nibbling at a plate of thin, b.u.t.tery wafers Vanessa told me she'd baked herself. Kip snagged all the cookies-s.e.x always made him ravenous-and slumped down in his chair, looking completely bored, but I kept alert, on my guard.
"So, Millie," Vanessa said.