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The Escape Diaries Part 7

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"Not after I found out he was bonking Miss Upper Crust."

"The other woman."

This was good. Talking to the bad guy was good. Rule number two for staying alive in the clutches of a potential psycho killer: Get him to see you as a person. The more he learned about you, the harder it would be for him to carve out your heart and stick it in the freezer between the microwave burritos and the Klondike bars. So I prattled on, Mazie the motormouth.

"It wouldn't have been so bad if he'd picked someone predictable-a lingerie model or yoga instructor. Instead he went for Prentice Stodgemore. G.o.d-even her name was boring. We'd see her at parties. I'd be pigging out on the angels on horseback-"

"The what?"



"Oysters wrapped in bacon." Probably Jeffrey Dahmer didn't know his appetizers either. "But Prentice would be nibbling from a baggie of carrot sticks she brought along. I guess she was terrified she might blimp up to a size two."

Labeck looked startled. "Is there such a thing?"

I tried to imagine what it must be like belonging to a gender that never worried about fitting into its pants.

"Trust me on that. Anyway, Kip started seeing Miss Trust Fund when they both served on some charity board. I guess wiping out illiteracy or saving the rain forests wasn't easy, because Kip and Prentice were forced to meet for a lot of 'working lunches.' I found out later that what they were working at was s.c.r.e.w.i.n.g each other silly."

It was hard picturing anyone doing the deed with Prentice, though. Those collarbones would rip you to shreds. I toweled my wet hair with a corner of the bath sheet. "Maybe it was her money that revved Kip's engines. Oldy, moldy money. Shake her family tree and the DuPonts and Vanderbilts start falling out."

"What about you? No silver spoons in your family?"

"Nope. We eat with our hands."

Labeck cracked a grin.

Hmm.

"I think Kip was attracted to me at first because I was different from the women he usually dated. Maybe he married me to spite his mother-to prove she didn't control him. But she had the last laugh. When he married me, she cut off his allowance."

"You're kidding, right? The guy was what-thirty years old and he's still getting an allowance?"

I spoke through a frenzy of crumbs. "Kip was thirty-two when we got married. And Vanessa-that's his mother's name-had always footed his bills. When Mommy Dearest turned off the money faucet, Kip blamed me for it. He still had his nickel-and-dime trust fund and his salary, but it wasn't enough."

"What did your husband do for a living?"

"He worked for his uncle's company, Brenner Brewing. He was a VP in some department where he couldn't do much harm. But his wages were being garnisheed. Kip didn't tell me this before we got married, but he'd invested a big chunk in real estate just before that whole bubble burst. He ended up owing his creditors a lot of money. They got a court order to take what he owed out of his wages. But Kip didn't understand the concept of cutting back. He was spending way more than we could afford, and the bills were piling up. He even-"

I stopped, feeling a flush creep from hairline to neck.

"Come on, just between us girls here."

"Kip only made a small down payment on my engagement ring. But he didn't keep up the monthly payments, so . . ."

"The Mafia came and chopped off your finger?"

Even after five years the memory still stung. "I had to return the ring to the jeweler."

Taking a deep breath, I continued. "Kip and I starting fighting a lot. I'd cry, he'd walk out. I'd grovel and Kip would sort of-well, you know how you peel off a puppy who's trying to crawl up your leg? I thought we were just going through a rough patch. The marital advice experts all say that's normal in the first couple of years. So I tried seducing Kip back into my arms. I starved myself, tried different makeup, new hair colors, new lingerie . . ."

"Did it work?"

"Kip liked the lingerie. He liked the s.e.x. Only he wasn't . . ."

There. The man I thought I'd married was no longer present. Maybe he'd never been there in the first place. Maybe I'd been so dazzled by the man I'd created in my mind that I'd never seen the shallowness at the core of Kip's personality.

The two-minute warning signal on the microwave pinged.

"I found out that Kip was seeing Miss Junior League, but I didn't have the guts to confront him. We started avoiding each other. This wasn't hard since our schedules were so different. Kip stayed out late most nights and slept late in the morning. I was out of bed and driving to work by the crack of dawn."

"Wait-you were married to one of the Vonnerjohn heirs and you still worked?"

"How else were we going to make our mortgage payments? I taught high school music. Which is a d.a.m.n tough job-I was ready to crawl into bed by ten o'clock every night. Kip and I communicated by notes."

Each note a little more hostile.

Buy toilet paper.

Your mother wants you to call her back.

Keep your G.o.dd.a.m.n pantyhose out of the sink.

Refill the ice cube trays! In case you haven't noticed, we don't have a butler!

Third notice from the security company. Pay the bill, for Christ's sake!!

Turn the kitchen faucet all the way off. Water dripped all over the floor last night.

F. U.

"Instead of telling me face-to-face he wanted a divorce, Kip stuck the divorce papers on the refrigerator with a s...o...b.. Doo magnet. And attached to that was a legal notice requesting that I quit the premises within thirty days."

Labeck took out the pizza, set it on the counter and started slicing it. "You were being kicked out of your own house?"

"Yes. Even though we'd used my money to make the down payment."

We'd bought a two-story colonial in Whitefish Bay, a pricey Milwaukee suburb. It was a step down status-wise from Vanessa's River Hills neighborhood, where the homeowners mulched their flowerbeds with thousand-dollar bills and even the garbage collectors had PhDs. Still, Whitefish Bay was an expensive neighborhood. Somebody should have thrown a bucket of ice water in my face and told me I was biting off too much house, but I was in the throes of first love and wouldn't be talked out of my rose-covered cottage fantasy.

Unfortunately, the reality of keeping up a house and yard soon dampened the warm glow of new home ownership. "I was the one who mowed the lawn, cleaned out the gutters, and caulked the windows," I told Labeck. "All the maintenance work Kip never learned growing up as a poor little rich boy. I started to feel resentful. He'd spend his weekends whacking golf b.a.l.l.s while I spent mine whacking crabgra.s.s. It turned out that the house had problems I couldn't fix-the roof needed replacing, we had a centipede infestation, and the bas.e.m.e.nt walls were cracking."

So was our marriage. The bloom was definitely off the rose by our second year of wedlock, and I had learned to my bitter regret that caveat emptor ought to apply not just to picking out a long-distance carrier or a Blu-ray TV but to choosing a spouse. "A week after he served me with divorce papers, Kip was shot to death."

"Bad timing."

"For him or for me?"

"Both, I guess. What happened?"

"I don't know. I slept through the whole thing. I'd just gotten up and was about to step into the shower when I heard someone yelling downstairs."

Labeck set the pizza on the table. Mozzarella, mushrooms, olives, peppers-all my favorites. I took a slice, tried to eat, discovered a raw knot the size of a tennis ball lodged in my throat.

I tried to swallow the knot, blinked back tears. "It was the Bug-Off guys, the exterminators. I'd forgotten they were coming that morning. They'd found the house unlocked and the burglar alarm disarmed. Actually it hadn't worked for months, since we'd stopped paying the bill. So they let themselves in, hauled in their equipment, and headed toward the bas.e.m.e.nt. One of them happened to glance into Kip's office and noticed red splotches on the rug. He took a couple steps into the room and saw Kip's body. I ran downstairs when I heard him yelling. And I saw him. Kip, I mean. Lying on the floor next to his desk. His head was . . ."

Do not picture it.

Labeck opened a cupboard and pulled out a bottle. Bushmills Irish whiskey. He uncapped it, poured a slug into a gla.s.s and handed it to me. "Mange-toi du pain blanc."

I puzzled it out, using my rusted French. "Eat your white bread?"

"My grandma used to say that. It means things are only going to get worse, so you should enjoy what's in front of you."

That was a really good saying, I decided, tossing back the whiskey in one gulp. It burned all the way down to my tailbone. Steam may actually have puffed from my ears.

Labeck's mouth quirked. "Not much of a drinker, are you?"

"Nuh-uh," I rasped. "The bar at Taycheedah doesn't stock my favorite pinot."

"Going back to the scene of the crime, you said the cops showed up?"

The whiskey had dissolved the tennis ball. "One of the Bug-Offs must have phoned because the police and an ambulance showed up within seconds. Kip's mother arrived a few minutes later. I swear that woman has ESP. The police tried to keep her from seeing Kip, but she pushed past them, threw herself on Kip's body, howled, tore her hair, screamed like a banshee. Then she pointed at me and shrieked, 'She did it! She murdered my son!' Until then the police officers had been nice, bringing me coffee, making me sit down, talking in soothing voices. I think they figured Kip's murder for a break-in gone bad. But now they started looking at me all squinty-eyed. When they searched the house, they found my nightgown hidden in the bas.e.m.e.nt. It was spattered with blood-Kip's blood-they did DNA tests on it later. They also found the gun that had been used to kill him, stuck away in a vent. It was Kip's own gun, the one from his nightstand. Then Vanessa started screeching about the nanny cam. I never even knew it existed."

"But your mother-in-law did?"

"Vanessa has a contract with the devil. Vanessa knows everything. The video camera was hidden on a shelf, left behind by the people who'd sold us their house."

He frowned. "They wanted to spy on you?"

"No. I think they just forgot it when they moved. Probably they used it to spy on their kids' nanny, see whether she was smoking dope on the job. Kip's office used to be their kids' playroom."

Labeck's eyes sharpened. "a.n.a.log or digital?"

"What, the nanny cam? a.n.a.log, I think." I was on shaky ground here. Handed a camera, I could barely tell the lens from the focus, and all my photos were striped with fingers.

"What brand?"

"How do I know? I only caught a glimpse of it before the police whisked it into an evidence bag. It was big and clunky. My parents had one like it years ago. You had to load in a cartridge of film."

"What size cartridge?"

"About the size of a pack of pocket tissue. Black, hard plastic, with spoolie things."

"Spoolie things." Labeck ran a hand through his hair, giving me a disgusted look. "You make a lousy detective. How many minutes on the tape?"

"I don't know. Hours, I think. It was motion-sensitive, it only turned itself on when-"

"I know what motion-sensitive means." He thought for a moment, then snapped his fingers. "You're talking about a camcorder."

"That's what I said."

"No, you didn't. So now it makes sense. Modern spy cams transmit to a computer, even a cellphone. Using a camcorder is really old technology."

"Yeah. When I spy on my nannies, my technology will be up-to-date."

Labeck shoved the pizza toward me. "Eat," he said.

The pizza was piping hot and burned my tongue, but I didn't care. I chewed and gobbled and stuffed. My stomach swooned in grat.i.tude. Labeck sat down across from me, still watchful, but at least relaxed enough to eat. I focused on my pizza. This was probably the last decent meal I'd ever have, then it was back to macaroni and cheese minus the cheese in the prison cafeteria. I washed it down with the last of my ginger ale, then helped myself to another slug of Bushmills. The stuff grew on you. It reminded me of one of my dad's old jokes: Why did G.o.d invent whiskey? To keep the Irish from taking over the world.

Labeck poured himself a slug of Bushmills, too, which put me on red alert again. Liquor brought out whatever violent tendencies lurked inside a man. Just because a guy feeds you doesn't mean he's not going to kill you.

"I've been following your escape," Labeck said. "When I heard you'd been caught at that farm outside Campbellsport, Bob and I hightailed it over there. I was filming from the hill above the farm when I spotted you diving into the sunflowers. So I drove the camera van over where I thought you might come out and left the doors hanging open."

"You live-trapped me?"

He nodded. "The second I got in the truck and smelled the daisies, I knew you were there. If the police had stopped me, I would have claimed I didn't know you were stowed away."

"You still haven't told me why you didn't turn me in." I folded my arms and narrowed my eyes at him. Labeck folded his own arms and tilted his chair back. We engaged in a staring contest.

Labeck lost. He broke eye contact and shifted his gaze to the refrigerator.

"I was at your trial," he finally mumbled.

Well, now we were getting somewhere.

"Working for a local cable station back then, filming. It was a weird trial. Nothing seemed to fit together. You just didn't strike me as the kind of woman who'd kill her husband in cold blood, then hide the murder weapon in her bas.e.m.e.nt. Although you did come across as too dumb to know how to shoot a gun. That I believed."

"Well, the jury sure didn't. The prosecutor sliced me to smithereens on cross-exam and I got all fl.u.s.tered. My lawyer warned me not to testify, but I didn't listen to him."

He snorted. "Your lawyer was Sterling Habenmacher, right? No wonder you were convicted."

"Sterling's very respected. He was personally recommended to me by Senator Brenner."

"Brenner? This just keeps getting better and better. How do you know Brenner?"

"He's Kip's first cousin. And he happens to be a close friend."

"Politicians don't have close friends. They have a.s.s-kissers. Look, you want some advice?"

"No."

"Get yourself a new lawyer. Just close your eyes and point to a random name in the attorneys section of the phone book. Then have your new lawyer negotiate the terms of your surrender."

Surrender, Dorothy. The words painted across the sky by the Wicked Witch of the West.

I knew Labeck was right. I had to give myself up. It was the smart thing to do. It might even be fairly painless. Maybe the warden wouldn't come down too hard on me if she knew I had some big-shot barracuda backing me. Except that I couldn't afford a barracuda. I couldn't even afford a minnow.

So surrender. That was my choice. I had no money, no car, and no one to help me. My brothers might be willing to hide me for a few days, but they lived two hundred miles away and there was no way to get to them. I had to face it: my escape had been a disaster from the second I'd jumped the fence.

So what had kept me going? Why had I slogged through swamps and cornfields, stolen a car, nearly gotten myself blasted to smithereens by the toilet police, and risked breaking my neck jumping out of a barn when I could have given myself up a dozen times?

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The Escape Diaries Part 7 summary

You're reading The Escape Diaries. This manga has been translated by Updating. Author(s): Juliet Rosetti. Already has 483 views.

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