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What had kept me going, I thought, popping a schnibble of mozzarella into my mouth, was anger. Anger over being convicted of a murder I hadn't committed. Anger over the fact that someone had murdered my husband and walked free. Anger at the friends and relatives who'd turned their backs on me. Now, clean, fed, and possibly safe for the moment, I brought out the idea that had been quietly percolating at the back of my mind from the moment that roof had come sailing out of the storm. I turned the idea over, studying its angles, letting it grow on me. What if I didn't give myself up? What if I tried to find the person who'd really killed Kip? It hadn't been a random murder. The weird video proved that. Who was the woman wearing my nightgown? How had she gotten hold of Kip's gun? Who benefited from Kip's death?
Naturally, I'd mulled over these questions hundreds of times over the past four years, sitting in my cell, but I'd never been able to come up with answers. Now I was only a few miles from my old house, and in a position to start looking for the murderer. Was I going to waste this opportunity?
Labeck had been watching me closely, as though he was following my train of thought. "You look beat," he said gruffly. "You can stay here tonight, get some sleep."
"Thank you," I said stiffly, grudging every syllable.
"Take my bed. I'll sleep on the couch."
The couch, right. I didn't trust this guy one inch. I was going to watch him like a hawk. I was not going to close a single eye all night.
Escape tip #12: Real women wear skivvies.
"Wake up-you've got to see this."
Someone was shaking me. I came groggily awake. It was morning. I was curled up against Labeck's pillow, wearing his pajamas, lying in his bed.
I stared blearily at the TV on the dresser. The Today news anchor was smirking into the camera and saying, ". . . and in small town Campbellsport, Wisconsin, the scene was the same. Dozens of fans lining the streets, chanting and holding up signs."
The camera cut to a street scene. Throngs of people were waving to a rolling camera van and yelling. "Go, Mazie, go!" Teenaged girls were jumping up and down in front of the camera, waving homemade signs: Run, Mazie, Run!
"It's called Mazie-mania, Sarah," said a young red-haired male reporter, "and it seems to have taken over the state."
The scene switched to a tavern. Guys on bar stools were watching the overhead TV, tuned to the scene where I dive out of the barn. They were whistling and pounding their beer mugs on the bar as though they were seeing the Packers trounce the Bears in the playoffs.
"Law enforcement authorities say they've never seen anything like it," the reporter continued excitedly. "Instead of helping police officers capture the wanted fugitive, local citizens seem to be rooting for her. Maguire, who escaped from prison on Friday night, has eluded capture for three days, stealing a car, causing an estimated hundred thousand dollars' worth of damage to a plumbing display room, and escaping through a cattle herd despite being pursued by a small army of law enforcement officers."
The camera switched to the street outside the tavern, focusing on a black SUV with federal plates and a forest of antennae. The door opened and Marshal Irving Katz emerged, looking grumpy. The film must have been shot yesterday, because he was wearing the clothes he'd had on at the farm. His pants were smeared with brown stuff. He used the curb pavement to sc.r.a.pe something off his shoe soles. "No comment," he snapped at the swarming news crews, before slamming into a coffee shop.
I laughed out loud.
Labeck switched to Good Morning America. Wanda Kronenwetter appeared on-screen, beaming and looking a world removed from Walmart-lipstick, new hairstyle, whitened teeth. "When I seen my van was gone, I figured some kids took it to go joyriding," Wanda said, nervously licking her lips. "Then the state patrol shows up and tells me Mazie Maguire stole it! First I freaked out, but then I figured what the heck. It's kind of an honor, sort of like being robbed by Bonnie and Clyde, you know? If you're watching this, Mazie, no hard feelings, aina?" She blew a kiss.
"Mazie-mania," Labeck groaned. He switched off the TV. He rubbed his neck, probably to demonstrate how painful sleeping on the sofa had been. He was wearing a T-shirt and fresh jeans. He'd shaved, showered, and slicked back his wet hair. He looked five years younger. "What is it with these people? What is it with me? I'm in deep s.h.i.t. I've aided and abetted a wanted fugitive."
"You have no one to blame but yourself. You kidnapped me."
"Well, you're lucky I did or you'd be back in prison by now."
I was hazy on the details of the previous night. So much for not closing a single eye. The Bushmills and the bath had turned me into a big, sleepy slug. I'd barely been conscious as I'd pulled on a pair of Labeck's pajamas and poured into his bed, asleep before my head hit the pillow. Dumb, dumb, dumb! Would Doctor Richard Kimble have been that trusting?
Labeck looked at me. "You're really a deep sleeper, you know that? You were out so deep I was worried you'd died. I actually held a mirror under your nose."
"I was tired. You try sleeping in trees and barns."
"I thought maybe you were faking. I thought you'd scram the second I fell asleep. Then it occurred to me that from my point of view, your sneaking out was the best thing that could happen." He went to his dresser and pulled out a wad of crumpled but clean underwear. "I tossed your undies in the incinerator. Wear these."
A wife-beater athletic shirt and a pair of tighty-whities.
Mazie Maguire, cross-dressing convicted murderess.
Labeck's dirty clothes, neatly hung on the floor, rang. He picked yesterday's jeans up, pulled out a cellphone, listened. "Yeah, I saw the Mazie-mania thing. Yeah, uh-huh, unbelievable. I'll have the truck back by noon."
He turned and faced me. He folded his arms across his chest. "I didn't sleep much last night. I kept thinking about that nanny cam. Something about the whole thing stinks. So here's the deal. You've got two hours to convince me you didn't kill your husband. After that you're on your own. Go find your precious Brenner, who'll turn you over to the cops faster than he can pocket a bribe. And if you tell the cops I helped you-"
"I'm not a rat." If prison teaches you anything, it's to keep your trap shut.
"Good. Get dressed."
"Not in front of you, perv."
"Honor system. We turn our backs."
Hah! Prison doesn't give you much respect for the honor system. But since I didn't have a lot of choice, I turned around. Then whipped around again to make sure Labeck was keeping his part of the deal. He was. Which was actually kind of ego-deflating.
"So you're saying the woman in the video wasn't you?" Labeck said.
"No. It looks like me from the back, but the face isn't visible because of the way the camera is angled." I took off the pajama top and pulled on Labeck's undershirt. No digging straps, no jabbing underwires, just soft, ribbed cotton. Men had it so good.
"I want to see that video. Not the c.r.a.p version that floated around the Web. What happened to the actual nanny tape?"
I thought for a moment. Did my lawyer have it? No-it hadn't been a defense item; it had been the DA's slam dunk. Maybe I could call the district attorney's office. Yeah, that would work. Come on down, Mazie-we'll hold the tape until you get here, heh, heh.
I pulled on the men's briefs. They felt weird-bulky and with flaps where I didn't need venting. "I think my mother-in-law must have the original tape," I said. "She made the prosecutors give back all Kip's personal items, even the b.l.o.o.d.y clothes and stuff."
"That's kind of-"
"Freaky? Macabre? Vanessa probably saved Kip's nail clippings and nose pickings. He was her baby, her reason for existence."
"What if you phoned her, asked if she had the tape?"
I shuddered. "I think Vanessa can send death rays over the phone wires. She kept sending me poisoned cookies when I was in prison."
Labeck was silent for a moment, apparently trying to decide whether I was serious. Then he said, "Sounds like that woman is knitting with only one needle."
Probably another old Canadian expression, I thought, adjusting the waistband of the briefs. If Vanessa had a knitting needle, she'd jab it in my eyeball.
"What if we show up on her doorstep? Where does she live?"
"On Lake Sh.o.r.e Drive. But there's no way anyone can get in that house. Her security system is better than Taycheedah's."
"Who else lives there?"
"Her housekeeper, Purvis Jackson. And a pack of dogs."
"Little runty dogs like furry piranhas."
"Hmm. This sounds like a job for the cable guys." He went to his closet, rummaged around in some cardboard boxes, then tossed me a navy twill shirt and matching pants.
I examined them. The shirt was a large, the pants were a medium, and they were wrinkled as elephant skin. The name Ben was embroidered in red thread on the shirt's flap pocket. "Who's Ben?"
"I moonlighted for a janitorial service a few years ago. That was my uniform."
So his name was Ben? I pulled on the pants and shirt. I rolled up the pants legs and shirt cuffs by a couple of miles and studied myself in the dresser mirror. The clothes looked like they'd fallen out of the sky and onto my body by mistake, but the excess shirt fabric camouflaged my b.u.mpy parts.
Labeck studied me, c.o.c.king his head. "Still needs something."
Foraging around in the closet again, he found a brimmed cap with a logo that was a cross between the Starbucks mermaid and the U.S. Mail eagle. ABCO Systems, it read, a name so generic it could have referred to a garbage pickup service or a search engine.
I poked through a desk organizer atop Labeck's dresser, fished out a rubber band, and used it to knot my hair into a ponytail, which I crammed under the cap.
"Practice walking," Labeck said.
Heaving an exasperated sigh, I walked across the bedroom to the window and back.
"You walk like a girl."
"Well, excuse me."
"Ram your hands in your pockets. Come down harder on your heels."
I tried it. I felt like a clodhopper. "How's this?"
"You look like a girl pretending to be a guy. Kind of bend your knees."
I tried to think like a guy. Did guys think? Maybe I ought to let my arms swing down to my knees? Scratch my crotch?
"Okay, that was amazingly awful," Labeck said. "Try sitting."
Tossing a stack of newspapers off the only chair in the room, I sat.
"For G.o.d's sake, don't cross your legs!"
I uncrossed them.
"Spread your legs."
I aimed an evil look at him.
Pink washed across his cheeks. "I mean, guys sit with their knees apart."
Widening my knees, I leaned forward. It made me feel a.s.sertive.
"I'm taking up enough s.p.a.ce for two people."
"That's the way guys think. This is my area. Get the h.e.l.l out of my way."
I stood up. I hulked across the room, remembering to bend my knees and come down hard on my heels.
Labeck closed his eyes and shook his head as though what he'd seen was painful. "It'll have to do. You've at least achieved Ru Paul."
Escape tip #13: Electricity and water don't mix.
"This is illegal."
"Said the convicted felon."
"Murder is one thing," I said. "Driving around displaying the logo of the world's biggest cable company is another. They're going to send you to Guantanamo."
"Haven't been caught yet," Labeck said with an annoying smirk.
Jailbreak, auto theft, toilet vandalism-now I'd have impersonating a cable repairman tacked onto my list of crimes. Labeck and I were heading north along Milwaukee's Lake Sh.o.r.e Drive in the Channel 13 camera van-except that the van no longer read Channel 13. A large vinyl sheet with the Cable King emblem was taped up over the station logo on the side of the truck. Artfully splayed wire dangled from the rear doors, obscuring the truck's license plate.
"How'd you get the fake sign, anyway?" I asked.
Labeck grinned. "It's not fake; it's real. I can't reveal my sources, being as how I'm a respected journalist and all-but that sign has gotten me and my crew into a lot of places we'd otherwise have been kicked out of. Everyone's got something wrong with their cable, so when Cable King shows up, we're greeted with hugs and kisses."
"That's downright sleazy."
He shrugged. "Sometimes we actually do fix their cable."
I sifted through the strata of junk sloshing around the van's floor-film canisters, old socks, road maps, crumpled beer cans-and fished out a pair of sungla.s.ses. I slid them on. Maybe Vanessa wouldn't recognize me. I'd just be the shrimpy a.s.sistant who handed the burly guy his wrenches.
Vanessa Vonnerjohn lived on Lake Sh.o.r.e Drive, Milwaukee's Mansion Row. Here, the Schlitzes, the Pabsts, the Millers, and the other beer barons had built their small-scale castles in the days of no income tax and indentured servants. The houses were set far back from the street on lawns large enough to support herds of polo ponies, so close to Lake Michigan that on windy days, spray from the waves drenched the back patios.
Vanessa had originally been a Brenner, a member of the Brenner brewing clan, a family whose fortune had been built on Milwaukee's most famous product. She'd grown up in the city, but had gone east to attend Radcliffe. Although she was a baby boomer, Vanessa had missed all the turbulence of the sixties. While her cla.s.smates were marching against the Vietnam War and burning their bras, Vanessa was collecting cashmere sweaters, dancing at charity b.a.l.l.s, and waiting around for a man from a Good Family to marry her.
She'd settled on Christopher Vonnerjohn. Brewery Fortune, meet Plumbing Fortune. Beer and toilets, was that a marriage made in heaven? Apparently not-the Vonnerjohns weren't quite up to snuff by the standards of Milwaukee's high society. Christopher Vonnerjohn was one of the toilet tyc.o.o.n's numerous grandchildren and had inherited a measly one-eighteenth of the plumbing pie. The home he'd purchased for his new bride was puny by North Sh.o.r.e standards, more a large house than a mansion: three stories, built of pale sandstone that turned gold in the light of the setting sun, with towering faux chimneys designed to give it a Jacobean appearance. Vanessa had always considered the house second-rate, but Kip told me he loved growing up there; it was perfect for rainy day hide-and-seek, with odd nooks and crannies and old wooden wardrobes that looked as though they might lead to Narnia.
I pointed out the Vonnerjohn driveway. We drove around to the service entrance at the rear of the house. "Vanessa will know she didn't call for cable repair," I said, suddenly panic-stricken as it sank in on me that we were actually going to go through with this.
"Nah-that's the beauty of being a cable guy. You can waltz into people's homes, tell 'em you might have to shut down service for a while, and they let you do it. People wait around for months, stay home from work, bend over backward just to please the cable company jerks. The hard part is when the poor schmucks trail along with you, explaining how the cable company screwed up their Internet or begging you to set the billing department straight."
"Now I feel even guiltier."
Labeck clamped his hat on his head. "Let's roll."
We got out and went around to the van's rear doors. Labeck started hauling stuff out. He handed me a spool of wire and an industrial-sized tape measure. "You're the scrub team," he said. "While I fool with the TV, you sneak around pretending you're checking the outlets. Only you're actually hunting for that video, right?"
"You're crazy, you know that?"
"Crazy like a fox," Labeck winked at me. "What's the worst that could happen? I'll get fired and you'll go back to prison for the rest of your life."
If I'd been shaking any harder I would have set off a seismograph. My hands were so numb I could barely grip the tools. Labeck hoisted a toolbox and a roll of orange cable, strode purposefully to the back door, and rang the bell. We waited, my stomach plunging to the soles of my clownishly-oversized sneakers. A minute ticked away. Then the door jerked open. It wasn't Vanessa, I saw to my relief, but Purvis Jackson, her housekeeper, blinking in the bright morning sunlight, wiping her hands on a towel. I fidgeted with the tape measure, keeping my head ducked so she wouldn't recognize me.