Sunday, February 23, 2020

Chapter 9
Rusty Hough Bader

Diana locked up her apartment and followed Vincent to the Tunnels. As their feet moved in perfect time together, Diana had another one of those thoughts about couples. The phone call she received that Kanin snapped out of the induced haze with the right amount of medical attention was a source of satisfaction. He was stiff and sore, but once the prison cameras confirmed the misdeed, he was carried by ambulance to St. Vincent Medical Center and registered under ‘Keith Chandler.’  

What a comfort to know that whatever peril overwhelmed them, that Kanin and Olivia were loved and supported by their community. That’s what the Tunnels were all about.

As moisture dripped from pipes and mice scurried in the shadows, Vincent reached out to Diana’s shoulder and stopped. “You are thinking loudly tonight. Perhaps when we get this next task out of the way, you’ll catch your remaining vacation and truly come down for more than forty-eight hours?”

The way Vincent ‘planted’ ideas in her hard head was priceless. Did he do this to everyone? “That’s a whale of an idea. I could bring down the fabric ends, and the ladies could help be perforate my fingertips while we quilt.” She waited for his reply, he knew she was a horrible seamstress and a worse quilter.

He tilted his head closer to her and shook it, his indigo eyes shining with good humor. “Or, you bring another crate of fresh fruit and vegetables, a case of lemons for lemonade and you can make the lemonade while Mary and her quilting circle complete the job.” His booted foot stepped out to resume their walk when Mouse skirted the wall and came up in front of Vincent, his finger to his lips.

Mouse produced a rolled note. “Mitch has gathered a crew from the men’s shelter. The trucks are leaving from 30th street and First Avenue, near the men’s shelter one in the morning. Jamie has gone above to leave a message on Joe’s answering machine.”

Diana’s stricken look registered with Vincent. With this current ‘all hands on deck,’ Jamie was going to get Joe on the phone. Diana shook her head, withdrew her pen, and wrote. ‘Get me to Jamie.’

With an athletic sprint, Diana got above to find Jamie slinking back sadly toward the Tunnel opening. Diana ran to her and caught Jamie’s face in both hands. “Did Joe grill you?”

Jamie shrugged and shook her head. “When he answered his phone, I froze.”

“And?” Diana shuffled from foot to foot, waving to speed up Jamie’s response.

“When I breathed a little too much, Mr. Maxwell asked me if I was one of Catherine’s friends. I didn’t say yes or no, but then he asked, ‘Do you know anything about the murder case I’m working on with Diana Bennett?’ I mumbled, didn’t really give him an answer.” Diana wiped anxiously at her face. “But I said, Mitch… trucks loading at 30th street and First Avenue, by one in the morning.” Jamie’s face blushed bright red. “I don’t think he traced the call, I used the phone near the Metropolitan Museum.” Jamie looked around the park and caught Diana’s hand to run them toward the access at Belvedere Castle.

Before Jamie could drag Diana below, she raised a halting hand. “Jamie, let Vincent know, I’ve had to stay up top. Please have him talk to Olivia. I’ll be below as soon as possible.”

Diana took the subway stairs two at a time, wary of every pair of eyes on her. By the time she came up the steps and around the corner, Greg stood at a cruiser strapping on gear. “Bennett, when I think of you, I think of a Dali painting. You’re here, you’re there, you just pop up. We got the word…The men’s shelter.”

“The men’s shelter….” The two of them spoke at the same time.

Joe Maxwell assembled the plainclothes officers dressed like produce deliverymen. “We’re advancing on Denton dressed as the food pantry delivery at midnight. Intel has them bringing goods up and out through the shelter loading dock. DeRosa and Sons Produce has loaned us a truck. We’ll back up, block them in, and let the party commence.”

Hiding her wealth of red hair under a chunky rib knit hat, Diana layered a flannel shirt over her vest. She made every attempt to bulk up and look as masculine as possible. Mitch was ruthless, just ruthless enough to hold a gun to her head and force her brothers in blue to bargain with him. Mitch could pound sand.

Diana checked her weapon, added additional clips to her belt, and climbed into the truck. If only cell phones were smaller. If only Vincent had one. If only, if only, if only.

As the produce truck hunkered in traffic, an uncommon sound overshadowed their tense breathing. Joe looked up and out the driver’s side window. “Helicopter, imagine that at this hour.”

Greg rolled down his window and gawked at the Bell Helicopter, gliding over them. “Awe, just what we need – they’ll get antsy thinking we’re after them.” Greg shook his head at their fourth member as Diana sat in the truck's jump seat moving her pocket rosary as she said her prayers. She prayer for Kanin and Olivia, Vincent and his subterranean family, and mostly, that Mitch would be handled with force necessary to keep him incarcerated.  

Before Joe turned the corner, a second helicopter approached from the other direction. They appeared to hover and then one broke out ahead, in the direction of the men’s shelter.

With the loading dock in sight, Joe pulled over and turned out the headlights as both helicopters hovered. Six black Chevy Tahoes screamed around the corners and converged on Mitch’s crew. It could have been a broadway production with all the coordinated lights and sounds. “This is the FBI Joint Task Force on interstate crime. Drop your weapons. Hands up. Lay on the ground.”

One of the smaller thieves shoved a handgun deeper into his jeans and bolted back into the shelter. Within seconds two combat suited FBI Agents escorted the man down to the street.

Mitch glowered as he wrapped an arm around one of his crew. The kid was barely eighteen from the scruffy hair on the boy’s chin. “These guys can do time, but I’m not rolling over.” He dragged the boy back into the shelter offices, and a throng of agents followed.

“How did this happen?” Joe threw up a hand. “I thought I had four people… and it’s suddenly training day.” The four climbed out of the produce truck and crept toward agents. As the swarm of criminals got rounded up by the mass of agents, Joe flashed his credentials at the agent in charge. Diana smiled at the athletic, dark-haired woman nodding and talking with Joe as she issued hand gestures as directions to her team.

***

Mitch tossed the kid to the sidewalk as he kicked open the hatch and dropped into the Tunnels. Leave it to the damn Helpers Catherine gathered. Vincent’s ‘Catherine’ may be gone, but all those do-gooders still kept their eyes open for him. Like he was their special project. He knew he was close to the East River Esplanade. All he had to do was run along the scaffolding over the water pipes. With this weather this season, the current beneath him was fierce. Stay on the grates. And when he got to his destination, there would be some rowboats there, he could cut and run and hide in Brooklyn.

As Mitch wrestled the latch on the metal door, he felt he was not alone. The echo was familiar. The rustling of a leather cloak, the near silence of soft leather-soled boots and the gentle vibration of his greatest adversary’s breathing.

Vincent's velvet fog of a voice implored. “Mitch.”

The criminal walked to the intersection of two scaffolds, the better to escape. “Don’t you have a kid to take care of? Why do you always have to butt into everyone else’s business?” Mitch’s brows drew to an affronted frown.

Vincent’s cape brushing the scaffolding as he took slow strides toward Mitch. “Don’t you believe that as a parent, I owe my son the example of being a law-abiding citizen?”

Mitch hunkered, goading Vincent to charge him in the hopes he could get his weight under Vincent to toss him over the scaffolding railings into the rushing waters emptying into the East River.

“Oh, Jeeze. Give it up. What’s it to you if I leave town?”

“Fortunately, Kanin will have a full recovery and be home within the week. However, there have been deaths surrounding your escapades. You need to be handed over to the authorities.”

Mitch audaciously stepped right outside of Vincent’s reach and postured. “So now, you’re too good to be the enforcer. Are you going to be the one to escort me back to Jose Maxwell?” Mitch broke into posturing and pumping his fists at Vincent, looking for his leonine friend’s switch.

“Mitch, As long as people use violence to combat violence, we will always have violence. I’m going to step aside, I will follow you back to where Joe and Diana are waiting.” Vincent held out his clawed hand and moved to give Mitch space to pass.

Mitch built a head of steam and head down charged Vincent. With his customary grace, Vincent leapt to the railing and pulled himself up to the next level of scaffolding. Jumping and swinging at Vincent’s cape, Mitch’s foot rolled, and gravity did its job.

Holding on to the tail of Vincent’s cape, Mitch bellowed. “Are you gonna let me die, pull me up!”

Vincent peered down as Mitch grabbed for the scaffolding. The combined weight of the two men caused the scaffolding to sway. Vincent bent at the knees and steadied himself. The new from his vantage point was damning. The water rushed over coarse boulders as it undulated on its circuitous route to the East River. “Stay still, but hold on, we have to stop the platform’s swaying.”

“That’s easy for you, cat man.” The stress and strain in Mitch’s bravado showed.

“I’m going to step down to the platform, can you grab anything solid?” Vincent asked as he prepared to lower himself. “When I drop down, you will be too far to grab something. Find something, Mitch. Help me help you.”

There was cussing, and curses and Vincent watched as Mitch’s cramping fingers slipped from his cape. In the quiet silent seconds before Mitch’s screams echoed, Vincent closed his eyes, and every interaction with Mitch played in double time. Vincent stood paralyzed between the railing and the platform. If he could turn off the switch on that projector, he would. All Vincent could do was close his eyes as he dropped to the platform. Mitch was gone.

***

The diner around the corner from the shelter was shoulder to shoulder, tight with agents and NYPD. Diana sat in a booth with two other agents, going through the motions of the blue line comradery. Tonight was different. She knew Mitch’s ruthlessness. She knew the Tunnel’s vulnerability.

The agent in charge of the raid swirled sugar into her china mug. “My Cousin Chris was livid about this Mitch character. Once we pulled the crimes, we saw this was a job for us. I feel like such a failure, getting everyone but him.” Diana nodded mutely as she saw Mouse standing outside the diner, raising his brows and jerking his head around the corner.

“Would you excuse me for just a second?” Diana peeled two dollars out of her pocket and left the packed diner before anyone could miss her.

Mouse scooted around the corner and cautiously looked around before he spoke. “Vincent is home. He sent me. William is making him tea and even a brownie. Vincent is upset about Mitch and the water.”

“Mitch and the water? What happened?” Diana held out a buttered biscuit in a paper napkin.

“For Arthur or Mouse?” The young man’s eyes lit up at the warm flaky treat.

“You tell me what happened, and I’ll bring a sack of them back to you.” Diana leaned against the building wall.

“Mitch came after Vincent. Vincent jumped. Mitch fell. Lots of sharp rocks and angry current. Mitch is gone.”

Diana sought Mouse’s gaze. “Dead gone?”

Mouse nodded silently as he pinched off the first bite of biscuit. “If you bring more of these.” He held up the biscuit. “Bring more butter, please?”

Diana covered her face with both hands for a second. She promised she’d be down by tomorrow evening and returned to her brothers and sisters in blue.

***

Before Vincent could make his way to Diana’s roof, she unplugged her telephone, set the lights on timers, and hefted her backpack over her shoulder. She was taking three days to absolutely nothing but let Vincent read to her under the falls. Temptation nearly had the best of her as she walked to Lin’s Asian restaurant for three orders of steamed dumplings, pork spareribs and shrimp toast.  If she bribed the right people, they would keep it a secret for the first day and she’d get to play chess with Father without distractions.

Carefully climbing down the ladder to the Tunnel world Diana’s breath hitched when two strong hands caught her around the waist and dropped her several ladder rungs to the packed earth.

“Do I smell a victory dinner?” Vincent gestured to carry the shopping bag of delicacies.

“Yes, you do. In exchange for three days of peace and quiet.” His smile was sublime as his lips curled, and his blue eyes joined in the celebration.

Walking beside him. Talking about things as simple as the fattest steamed dumplings. This was exactly what she needed.

*****


Saturday, February 22, 2020

Chapter 8
Beth

Diana rode to Sing Sing with Greg early the next morning. She had a suspicion of what they’d find when “Mitch Denton” was unwrapped, but she wanted to investigate all possibilities before moving forward. Greg thankfully made little conversation on the drive over, keeping his thoughts to himself while they sat in traffic. To his credit, Lucas Greensdale was there early as well- wan and looking for exhausted than Diana thought possible in a 13-hour span of time, but present. He quietly walked them to his office and closed the door behind them.

“I just want to thank you again for telling me about Chris yesterday,” His composure wavered for a moment, and he dropped his gaze and slid a hand through his hair. When he looked back up at them, his expression was set in grim determination. “I take it you want to talk to Mitch Denton as soon as possible.”

Diana nodded, “That’s our aim here.”

“Yes, well, I’m afraid the relief nurse never showed up for his shift this morning, so it may be a few hours before I can get a medical professional skilled enough to remove those bandages without causing further harm. Denton may be a convicted criminal, but everyone here deserves humane treatment.”

Greg covered his derisive snort with a cough, and Diana resisted the urge to roll her eyes at him. It was so obvious to her that Lucas was withdrawing behind this professional veneer as a way of compartmentalizing his grief.

“Let me be frank,” she said firmly, “There’s a very high likelihood that’s not Mitch Denton in your hospital wing, no matter what your records say.” 
She raised a hand to forestall Lucas, who had opened his mouth to interrupt. “No defensive wounds on his hands, a positive ID of him several days ago in the Bronx, and a strong correlation between the robbery locations and his known childhood haunts.” She felt Greg’s confused stare but kept her own eyes on Lucas.

Lucas’ expression got darker. “You’re implying a prisoner at Sing Sing just walked out without anyone stopping him, without leaving a paperwork trail, without guards even noticing?”

Diana chose not to mention that it had happened before, that a psychotic serial killer with a penchant for killing families had walked free of Sing Sing not too far in the past. That would be a low blow for a man in grieving, whose most heinous offense was a less-than-ideal focus on paperwork. Instead, she shrugged again. “Then let’s go prove me wrong.”
Lucas stood and, with a frosty glance at both of them, walked to the hospital wing.

“So, does the relief nurse often run late?” Greg’s tone was casual, but the tension in his shoulders and clipped pace told Diana he had the same suspicions she did. The 210 attracted unusually observant detectives, and he was no exception.

Lucas let out a tight breath. “No. As far as I know, he’s always been very professional.”

As they stepped into the hospital wing, the monitor of Denton’s vital signs sent hypnotic soft pings along his heartbeat. Diana didn’t hesitate in stepping to the beside of the bandaged man, though both Lucas and Greg slowed as they got closer. For good measure, she picked up and inspected his knuckles again. No bruising, no contusions, no lacerations. She motioned at the IV drop in his arm.

“Any idea what that is?”

As Lucas bent to retrieve the patient clipboard, she swiftly slid a hunk of bandage up. The skin below was unmarred, though chapped and pale. Greg stepped to the side, more effectively blocking Lucas’ view of the bed, as Diana shoved another section of bandage up, trading gentleness with efficiency.

“Hey!” Lucas stepped forward to stop Diana. She didn’t need to remove them all for the three to see clearly that the man in the hospital bed was definitely not Mitch Denton. Greg made a small noise of triumph, no doubt relieved that his positive ID of Denton in the surveillance footage was accurate. But Diana felt her stomach sink. The man in the bed was Kanin Evans.

“On second thought, better get that medical professional in here after all, and find out what kind of induced coma this man has been put into. And how to safely bring him out of it.”

Lucas, paler than ever and twitching with shock, rage, or perhaps both, nodded curtly.


As they walked to the car, Greg was practically bouncing. He had a few choice words about Denton and his miraculous disappearing act, none of which any cop would say to their mother. He sounded like a kid at Christmas.

“OK, OK,” she said, just to calm him down, “So it was Denton in the footage. That explains the robberies, but what about Chris? We still don’t understand why he was murdered.”

Greg had the grace to look a little bit ashamed as he climbed into the driver’s side of his car. “Sorry, Bennet. Maybe Chris saw something he shouldn’t? Something that would’ve axed Denton’s steady little crime gig?”

Diana didn’t reply but crawled into her head as they drove back to the precinct. She wanted to stick to Occam’s Razor. Deton certainly had the means and opportunity--every Central Park jogger was a target for something. And he could’ve hidden in, and escaped through, the tunnels after shooting Chris. But the motive was still murky. And Chris was a cop--he wouldn’t have willingly gone down on his knees at the sight of a gun-waving small-time crook. No matter how small fry Denton was, he had to have known that killing a cop would bring down a hail of NYPD on him. He’d been clever in covering his escape, leaving a tangle of question marks here at Sing Sing that Lucas was going to have to unravel. Given the mysterious disappearance of his relief nurse and his assistant, Diana, was certain there’d be a trail of breadcrumbs leading straight to Denton… wherever he was.


Vincent tapped softly on the glass of Diana’s loft apartment. She was in soft pants and an oversized sweater, as usual, staring fixedly at a corkboard with string, tacked-up notes, and grainy video stills. She startled at his second knock, whirling to face him. With a wry smirk, she walked over and let him in.

“Sorry, Vincent--this one’s been nagging at me.”

Vincent smiled sadly at her. He supposed her brief vacation in the tunnels might be the only break from work she ever allowed herself to take. “I was coming to check on your progress with things. How can I help?”

Diana sighed. “It went as we thought. Mitch Denton isn’t in Sing Sing. In fact, he left a body double- Kanin Evans, in some kind of medical coma.”
Vincent couldn’t hide his surprise. “Kanin? Is he OK?”

“They think so. It’s been a game of telephone all day between the office and the prison. Last I heard, they’re bringing Kanin out of it slowly and safely, and he’ll be questioned about his role in all of this tomorrow. Then released by Saturday.”

“Surely you don’t think…”

“No, and I don’t think anyone else believes it, either. A man who’s been a model prisoner, about to get out, he lets himself go through that? But we’ve got to dot the i’s and all that.”

Vincent nodded. “Olivia will be relieved to hear he’s all right and coming home soon.”

Diana nodded. “I almost wish he was involved, just so we could better understand Denton.”

Vincent watched her in silence for a moment, her focus making her forehead tighten, and her lips purse ever so slightly. Her intensity could be unnerving, but he never doubted her compassion or her loyalty. Still, part of him wanted to smooth a hand over her brow and relax the muscles there, to massage that tension from her shoulders, to see her happy and entirely present in the current moment. Inwardly, he shook his head at himself. Here the tunnel community was under threat again, this time from one of their own, and he was considering fanciful moments with Diana. Maybe he needed a vacation, as well.

Oblivious to the regard of the man beside her, Diana tugged on her ponytail.

“How he’s getting the goods is obvious. In fact, we could probably narrow down his next target to one of these three areas where there are tunnel entrances near electronics storage warehouses. We could catch him in the act, except….”

“Except the officers would find the tunnels and search them, looking for further evidence of Mitch’s misdeeds. And find us.”

Diana turned her wry smile on him. “I don’t suppose you could construct any of those decoy, fake walls… or, hell, real ones… in the next 12 hours or so?”

Vincent’s chuckle rumbled like a purr. “Only if we allowed Mouse near explosives. Never again.”

“So the tunnels are out. And so is setting up an ambush inside those warehouses. There isn’t a decent place to hide in those concrete boxes, and the best we’d get him for is a B&E if we can’t catch him moving the goods off-site. Plus, Tigger, er, Chris.”

Vincent reached over and squeezed her shoulder gently. Diana’s answering smile was tinged with sadness. Normally, it was her world that was a threat to his, not a product of his world becoming a threat to hers. 
He was too wise to try to fix it—the actions of Mitch Denton were laid squarely on the shoulders of Mitch Denton—but he would’ve done much to see her smile be full of the sass and conviction he admired about her.
Diana’s gaze unfocused as she crawled inside the mind and motives of a criminal Vincent barely remembered as a boy. Softly, she started mapping his life.

“I grew up eight years in the tunnels, but I deserved better. Got into small crimes as a teenager, theft, misdemeanors, petty stuff. Got the attention of some bigger fish. I was a runner, then an enforcer, but I wanted to be more. Always trying for those connections. I killed to get what I deserved. Got hung out to dry for it. Did time, made allies. Maybe a network, inside and out of it, despite the Family washing their hands of me. I’m smarter than everyone, enough to cover my escape and start making cash again. I find a fence for electronics, use the tunnels to move the goods- they betrayed me, so now I betray them. I want them to be found, broken up. I know they won’t hurt me to stop me. I use their own system against them, clearing my path, coordinating with my allies….”

Her eyes snapped up to Vincent, nearly luminescent in their intensity.
“Who was there when you were boys together?”

Vincent sighed softly. “It was a long time ago, Diana. Me, Devin. Pascal, of course. Mitch. Rennie, Joel, and Ike. Others came and went. I’ve thought about it, but…” Vincent shrugged, helpless to provide more details. He’d led a very full life, despite it being confined underground, and he couldn’t possibly hold onto every memory.

“So, where are they these days?”

Vincent had to cast his mind back to the many conversations he’d had with Father, who always seemed to pick up news and gossip along the Helpers network. Many had left them and gone on to lead lives varying in purpose and happiness. Some came back, more broken. Some joined the Helpers network, to keep ties with loved ones below. A few never braved the world above.

“Ike passed away in his early twenties. A drunk driving accident, I believe.” Too young, he thought, far too young.

Diana was writing Rennie and Joel on her corkboard.

“Those… I’m sorry, Diana, I don’t know.”

“Would Father?”

Vincent chuckled “It seems, the older he gets, the more he knows everything. If he doesn’t know what became of them, he’ll know who to ask about it.”

Diana was already slipping on her tennis shoes and an oversized coat. “Vincent, I know it’s late, but will you take me Below tonight? The sooner we catch Denton, the safer everyone’ll be.”

“Of course.”



Friday, February 21, 2020

Chapter 7     
Stace Burroughs

Greg was talking with the administrator as they walked in the office, sort of catching up really. Didn’t realize it was going to be an acquaintance of Joe’s and Hugh’s from their college days. Small world and seemed to get weirdly smaller every day.

Diana heard a ruffled voice and agitated demeanor that caught her attention. Glancing around smartly, it looked like nobody else had noticed. She flipped through the file in her hands as Greg and the Warden talked inside the doorway. Shuffling through papers, she glanced over to try to get a good look, try to see who the source was. An employee was talking to the receptionist who looked like he was off shift. Something about him seemed off. The secretary seemed ambivalent. Hmmnn.
“… Mr. Greensdale… and this is Detective Bennett, “ Diana’s attention was interrupted as Hughs introduced her to the wiry prison administrator. He seemed dapper for a prison complex employee, and young for an administrator. Good for him.

She nodded and shook his hand firmly. “Sorry about the short notice.”  She adjusted her files and glanced over- whoever it was with the secretary was gone. “It seems we have a positive video identification of a prisoner that should be under wraps here for a quarter.”

“Well, if they’re carrying out a sentence here, then they are most assuredly still here. We haven’t had a bonafied prisoner escape since 1986,” insisted Greensdale, smiling matter-of-factly.

Greg Hughs shifted to face the administrator. “We were observing the surveillance video and got a positive unexpectedly from an officer walking by.”
“I’m sure you’re more than welcome to investigate.”  He straightened his shirt proudly. “But I am telling you that we have all our inmates accounted for, detective.”

“Sorry for my tardiness!” A voice called through the door as a large man stepped inside.
“You’re more than welcome to be present for the headcount yourself, detectives. Feel free to ask your questions and talk with the personnel.” Announced the burly warden as he entered from his adjoining office. “Warden Smithwick.” He stowed his hat under his arm. “All our inmates are accounted for, but we are happy to help.”
“Detectives Bennett and Hughs.”  They nodded and shook his hand. “Glad for the humoring and assistance,” affirmed Greg. 

It would remain to be seen, but so far, Diana felt like both Smithwick and Greensdale were genuine and legitimate. Granted, that didn’t mean that their suspect was actually here. So who was? Did he have a doppelgänger?
“We will be around for the headcount and I’ve got a list of personnel I need to talk to.” Diana shuffled through papers. “I also have a couple-few inmates we will need to question as well, if that could be arranged.”

“Certainly.” Greensdale stood tall and nodded. “I will start that process, if you’ll excuse me. Gentlemen. Lady.”

“Aaaaand….” Began Greg as he was handed the second folder from the short stack Bennet was glancing over. “….do you mind if we get a coffee while we go over the details with you?”
“Yes! By all means!” Exclaimed Smithwick before he hurriedly motioned them away from the door they had started walking towards. “Let’s have a chat and I’ll French press you a coffee- the coffee from the machine is horrible.”

The two detectives glanced at each other and nodded. “Sure.” 
Their decision was not one they regretted. It certainly beat robo-coffee. The coffee he made was comparable to what Diana made on the weekends. Definitely much better than station coffee. Both detectives divulged as little detail as possible between sips while they took turns chatting up Warden Smithwick about what they were looking for. They still weren’t sure who the inside man was. The devil is always in the details—but either the administrator and warden were in on it, or these two really had no idea Mitch was gone. At the very least, it’d have to be someone who had access to those offices, the computer, and opportunity.

When Greensdale came back, Smithwick instructed him to show the detectives around and assist them, within reason and regulations. He produced some hard files that Greg started to thumb through and Diana started sifting through computer records. She wished Chris was here. He was phenomenal at this kind of thing. He would already have been done with all of this. After a couple of hours of sorting through records, the logbooks and all the red tape seemed to be in order. Everything looked all covered and aligned. Although they both noticed some odd things here and there. They’d have to compare notes later. Diana was going to jot down notes for future reference and thought against it. No point prematurely tipping their hand. Mental note that the records seem very slightly inconsistent. The superficial headcount came back conflicting, but affirmative. All hands on deck. Supposedly Denton was here. They’d have to go and do their own headcount, it looked like.
What nobody here knew, is that Greg would recognize Mitch immediately, so they had that going for them. She kept sifting. Records stated he was recently in solitary for a while for fighting and then back in the general populace. According to the logbook, he was in some manner of altercation earlier today and had been taken to the hospital wing.

“Greg, look at this,” Diana pointed to the screen.

“Looks like he’s been taken to the infirmary to be patched up,” Greg smirked. “Let’s see what  Mr. Denton has to say.”

“I’m also going to see if any of our possible contacts can help us with information.

Diana got walked over to Mr. Greensdale’s office. “We’d like a word with an  inmate, Mitch Denton, over in the infirmary if that’s possible.”

“Infirmary?” Greensdale hitched up his sleeves and started typing. “Oh, I see. Yes. I’ll have my assistant, Thompson, show you over.” He motioned over, turning his head to see a dark office. “Ah. Well, I’d have my assistant help you with that.” He looked at his watch. “But apparently l lost track of the time—his shift ended a couple hours ago. No matter, I’ll take you over- I can finish reviewing this release paperwork later.”

She’d almost forgotten. Olivia wanted to talk to her about Kanin. He was supposed to be at this facility, too. She wished she’d remembered to talk to Olivia before she’d gotten sucked back into the precinct. Maybe she could check on Kanin while she was here. He wouldn’t have known Mitch, but who knows, he might have heard something.

“Also, if we could talk to a few other inmates—a Kanin Evans and a Jonathan Sawyer, for starters—that’d be great.”

“No problem. Follow me.”

After a couple hours of them talking to inmates, she didn’t feel they were much further ahead than when they started. Sawyer and some of the others turned out to be less than cooperative. Although it was apparent that Sawyer was still licking Mitch’s boots. On the other hand, Evans was released a few hours ago. So much for talking to Kanin about Mitch, but Olivia would be excited. Greensdale seemed a little surprised he hadn’t remembered reading and reviewing that paperwork in the preceding couple of days. The administrator, while friendly and helpful, was a bit distracted. Frankly, his cheerful, dandy personality and the coffee are the highlights of this trip
so far.

When they finally got to the infirmary, Greensdale led them down some corridors to a secure, windowed room. He introduced them to the medic and excused himself briefly to the men’s room. There was a man whose face was entirely bandaged. They were led over to the open door where, in a smaller room, a masked nurse was giving a man intravenous fluids. He saw the detectives approaching as the administrator walked on. He quickly finished hanging up the IV, closed the door to the patient room behind him, and met them in the greater staging area.

“We’re here to speak to Denton. Is that Denton?” asked Hughs.

“Yes, it is, who’s asking?”

“Detectives Bennett and Hughs”

“One of the guards said that Denton mouthed off to the wrong guy and got his face rearranged—broken jaw, face burned, I think?” He shrugged and nodded towards the door. “Might have a concussion even. One of the interns already bandaged him, and I’m taking over now.”

“So how long ago was that?” asked Bennett as she slowly looked around.

“Couple hours ago or so?” He flipped a couple pages, looked around, and flipped back and replied. “Couple hours ago, it looks like.”

“So much for asking him any questions,” retorted Greg angrily.

“I mean, you can go look at him, but you’ll have to wait to talk to him ‘till he comes to.”  Shrugging, the nurse walked over to the computer desk and started typing. “Even if he wanted to talk—and I’m sure he doesn’t—he certainly can’t.”

Diana walked around the room, toward Denton’s window. She studied the figure there and tried to see everything there was to see. His hands and clothes were remarkably unmarred and unmarked for someone who just been fighting and got the tar beat out of them. There was no way all these things just happened to occur right before they got there. She felt Greg’s presence as he stood next to her and peered through the glass.  He pursed his lips and looked sideways at Bennett.
Good, it isn’t just me.

It was about that time that Greensdale joined them again. While still cheerful, his demeanor seemed like it had a slightly upset undercurrent in general to Diana. As though he were trying to act as if he wasn’t upset. He looked over at Denton and seemed to hold thinly veiled surprise.

“I suppose I wasn't expecting him to be this banged up,” commented Mr. Greensdale, “I am so sorry detectives, I didn’t mean to waste your time.”
“Not at all,” Bennett answered before Hughs could reply or retort. She glanced back at Denton and the nurse tending to him. “Can we use your phone before we’re shown out? Gotta let the Cap know that everything looks like it checks out.”

“Certainly. The Warden is unavailable at the moment if you have anything. But he might be able to be of assistance before you two skedaddle.” He opened the door for the three of them. Diana did notice that he kept stealing glances at her, and it seemed to happen more so now than when they first arrived. It wasn’t what she’d call obvious, but she noticed it because it’s what she did. Hmmm.
“Can we get a coffee on the way back up?” asked Greg.


“Well, the machine on the way back isn’t so bad,” the administrator sighed. “I mean, it’s not the Warden Smithwick’s, but it’s decent.”


They sipped coffee on the way back upstairs to the Warden and administrator offices. Greensdale was right, it was just decent coffee. It seemed like the longest walk back as Diana kept observing and taking mental notes and trying to sort what she’d already noticed. She looked forward to being able to jot down her notes away from what might be prying eyes. Hughs tried to make small talk with Greensdale. Current events, sports, and the like. They finally reached the offices, and Hughs started making some calls and getting things lined up for tomorrow.

Diana turned to Greensdale. “Keep it under wraps that we’ll be back tomorrow to see if we can get those bandages removed so we can talk to Mitch. He certainly didn't beat himself up.”

Lucan nodded and Diana elaborated. “Looks like we’ve just added to who we’re looking for, with all the weird admin inconsistencies and now this. I think someone is trying to pull a fast one and I don’t want to tip our hand.”

Greg walked back in the room, snickering to himself. With a wide grin, he motioned to Bennett. “HA! There’s no problem. The Cap said your mamma called, Detective Diana.” Hughs said with a chuckle. “She’s checking up on you, since this incident with Chris the other day.”

Greensdale’s mouth dropped open and he strode over and quietly shut the door to his office. He put his back to the window and faced them, eyes wide.

“Oh my god. Bennett. Diana. Bennett.”  He paused. “You’re the Diana Bennett. I’ve heard so much about—it’s such an honor to get to meet you. Even if it’s here.”

“What… what are you talking about?!” Diana puzzled. 

“My name is Lucas,” he quickly exchanged glances with both of them. His demeanor because less formal. “Lucas… I’m... Luke… Chris’… I’m Christopher Warner’s… his you know… friend.” Lucas bumbled awkwardly as his put-together demeanor sort of fractured.
Hughs and Bennett exchanged the same shocked glances.

“I—I’m worried. I haven’t heard… he hasn’t called… I… I’m sorry… I don’t know…”

Greg Hughs went pale; he also looked vaguely uncomfortable. But Lucas wasn’t looking at Greg, he was looking at Diana.

Jesus. Her eyes widened. They didn’t call him? Good god, he doesn't effing KNOW.
She could just imagine. Diana was so caught off-guard that her blue eyes misted up against her will. The look on her face said everything before she could stop it.

“No… Oh, please, no…” Lucas’ green eyes were now burning with tears. He gritted his teeth to breathe deep and stifle the shock and grief welling up in him. “I knew it. I knew something was wrong.”

Luke! Of course, they didn’t tell him. Why am I surprised? 
He’s not on their radar. He’s not the someone they tell when a person is murdered. They call guys’ girlfriends. Wives. Parents. Siblings. Family. But Chris had a boyfriend. Apparently, nobody called to tell his loved one. For Pete’s sake.

“I’m sorry, Lucas.” Diana hesitantly stepped closer to him. “I am so sorry—I didn’t know that was you,” she clenched her jaw and blinked angrily.

“Of course.” He paused, fighting a wave of angry grief. He bit his lip and paused for a moment to try again to regain his composure. Greg uneasily shifted again.

“I just got back from a family reunion, and there was no message from Chris.” He shot a look at both detectives. “We talk all the time. One way or another, Chris always calls.” Lucas’ voice cracked, fighting back tears and emotion. “I know about you because I’ve heard so much about you, Diana—he admired you so much.” His voice cracked, fumbling with what to do with his hands.

Chris is literally why we’re here. That is what this is all about.” Diana gently grasped his hands in hers. “We will be coming back and we are *going* to get the guy that did this.”  Diana turned Lucas’ hand over put her card in it. “Please, call me if you remember anything that you think might help.”
“Okay.”  Lucas nodded. “I think for right now, I’m going home.” He walked over and opened the top drawer of his desk and handed Diana a card. “On second thought, my cousin’s. I’m not sure I want to be by myself right now. Call me if I am not here- you have my cell- and you may have whatever help I can give.”
He paused a moment. “Could you both walk out with me?”

“Yes,” volunteered Greg.

***

When they got in the confines of Greg’s car, the detectives hurriedly started chatting about what they’d independently found. They compared notes on what they had noticed that was weird at the penn: the inconsistencies in various records; weird things with the laundry; the infirmary; the chow hall. Nothing they could immediately connect the dots on. Except that some the authorizations were signed off by the administrator, when they knew he wasn’t onsite. And the timing for that debacle that landed “Mitch” in the infirmary was suspect. Neither of them thought that was Mitch. That wasn’t the look of someone who was trying to avoid a beating or one was beat and bandaged up. That was a body for passing a head count—they were both almost certain of it. But they’d need a court order to ensure everything was on the up and up on their end before moving forward.

Diana pulled out the mobile phone case from under the seat and plunked the magnetic antenna on the roof. Must have be a briefing going on, so she left a message about getting a head start of the paperwork for the court order.  For part of the way back they sat in relative silence, save for the faint tune of Top 40 radio. It felt like it was a longer drive on the way back to the precinct. They were both in their own thoughts when the silence was broken.

“That wasn’t right,” blurted Hughs.
“What wasn’t right?” replied Diana.
“I mean, I don’t know what I think about Chris and Lucas and all that, right? Lucas seems OK. Chris was a good guy. This feels—I mean, how did nobody call him? Lucas that is.”
Diana held her tongue. She could tell he was still ruminating on a train of thought.
”It’s bad enough people hear it from a complete stranger… but nothing at all, how is that okay?!” Hughs really felt like he was struggling for words.
Diana glanced over at Greg. “He didn’t have a girlfriend, or wife, nobody thought that maybe he’s got a loved one that isn’t one of those, that should be called.”
“You’d have thought that Chris’ family…?”
“Greg, what are the odds they’d have called if they did know?” Diana offered. “Maybe someone at the precinct didn’t think, or just didn’t.”

That was hard. They sat in such a heavy silence the rest of the way back. Things neither of them usually had any reason to think about. Until they did. They both felt a little guilty because they both knew—they all knew—Chris had a loved one. Didn’t they? You could hardly not know. Someone would call you—that is what usually happened. That’s just what is supposed to happen. Maybe next time they’d ask. This would be the last time there wasn’t a call.

When they got back to the precinct, and it was back to paperwork and briefings getting everyone up to speed on where they were at the moment. Everyone got the info needed to roll out the next day. The court orders would be in Hughs’ hot little hands in the morning and a few guys would be available to assist in the unexpected search of Mitch’s cell block and unwrapping of the mystery Mitch. Either it was a stooge or some poor sap who is doing it against his will. Maybe it was time for them to do a little swapping of their own.

It was late when Diana finally got back to her loft and got her board all sorted out and updated. Seemed like forever, she was adding notes and streams of thought into her work digest while it was still fresh in her mind, for later reference. She’d sent word for Vincent and was anxious for his arrival. Bennett was just hastily putting her thoughts about Chris and Lucas into her personal journal when she heard the familiar tapping on the loft window.
“What have you found?” asked Vincent. “Pascal and I were able to determine that the criminals we seek are all probably old friends of Mitch who were tunnel dwellers or helpers at one time.

It was Pascal who brought it to my attention that the code the criminals use is a crude form of what we had when he and I were boys.” Vincent had a nostalgic gleam in his eye for a brief moment. 
The form we use now is evolved from that original stock but changed to better suit our modern needs.”

Vincent furrowed his brow.
But why would former dwellers or helpers work for Mitch? Even if they moved on, why now?

Desperation? Some helpers are in abject poverty. Maybe he’s blackmailing them?” Diana commented. How were you two able to hypothesize that they were Mitch’s friends?”

“Maybe. We help as much as we can. But as long as there is great wealth, there is great
poverty. Also, some lived below of necessity and resented needing to be below.”

“Did you ever resent it?”

Vincent paused. “Sometimes.” He looked out over the city. “I’ve seen it as a blessing. I’ve seen it feel like a curse. Now, I believe it simply exists and is, the rest is you.”
Diana walked inside the security of her loft with Vincent close behind. “Well, this is certainly an inside job—I can’t prove it yet, but I’m certain that Mitch has a body double on the inside, which is why nobody knows he’s gone.”

She’d almost forgotten. Diana spun around. “Vincent! I almost forgot—how is Olivia doing? Is she relieved and excited that Kanin is finally home?”
Vincent blinked and stared. “Olivia hasn’t heard from Kanin in over a week—usually, he writes weekly and his letter never arrived.”

“What? Greg and I both saw the early release papers in the computer and hard copies in the files.” Diana’s face fell. That was one of the things that had odd discrepancies. “So, he has not been here?”
“I swear to you, we have not seen him. Olivia was worried something was wrong when she didn’t hear from him. She came to Father and me.” Vincent paced back and forth. “The last letter she received, he was trying to 'lay low’ because he was so close to being released—I meant to ask for your help when you arrived home.”

“Well, that answers my questions with more questions.” 

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Chapter 6
Denise (Cece)

Her board hasnt had as many unrelated images in quite a while, and yet the longer she studied it, the more it made sense. On one half, crime scene photos of partially empty warehouses, a hand-drawn map of marked tunnel entrances, information from Vincent. Chalk outlines of one warehouse security guard. On the other half, photos of Mitch Denton, a fuzzy still photo of a man on the street near the warehouses. No one had made much of a van at the edge of the photo of each appearance of mystery” man.

Go ahead, Bennett, call him Mitch.” She had read his sheet with a lot of head shaking and mental eye-rolling. Its a wonder you havent been sent up for a long stretch before.

She could hear Vincent as he explained, Mitchs father sent him to live with us below to provide a stable influence while he worked long hours in the railyard of Grand Central Station. Father did not appreciate his defiance and daring. He resented the limitations life below sometimes created. Material possessions the children of his school above had that we could not always scavenge appeared to frustrate him. My brother Devin, a daredevil himself, would eschew his clandestine escapes where some of the other boys would go along.”

Diana had not met Vincents older brother, but from the few stories Vincent had shared, there was little that his daring sibling had not tried. However, he had not participated in some of Mitchs more larcenous activities such as bullying a solitary kid in the park waiting to be picked up for change or outright stealing their cab fare. She could just imagine Fathers pique and understandable ire at the insensitivity and greed of young Mister Denton.

Thing is youre a loner, but you dont act alone.” She spoke aloud to the photo on the wall.

She stalked, stocking footed to her desk, pulled out the bottom drawer, and placed the phone with deliberation on the desktop. The cord followed, which she plugged into the wall and then the phone base. It immediately began rigging.

Yeh?” She answered.

Diana, this is Keeghan.” Keeghan, the lieutenant in her squad, was also their tech liaison. The guy loved the latest technology toys. I was able to track some of the stolen electronics. It seems as if the Fence was given a sales sample. This stuff is going out of the country.”

Bennett frowned. How do you know?”

My source says that the guy who contacted him started negotiating price and then suddenly quit. Told my source that he could keep the sample. 
Kind of insinuated that my guy should keep his mouth shut, or there would be trouble.”

Did your guy explain how he was introduced?”

Thats the thing, Bennett. He didnt have to. He knew the guy from the joint; from Sing- Sing! They did a nickel together.”

Diana held the phone to her ear, tore a post-it from the pad on her end table, and scribbled a name and location on the cubed sheet. Uh, thanks, Keeghan. Ill be in touch.”

She hung up, then hurriedly dialed a number from memory.

District Attorney Maxwell's office,” answered a pleasant female voice.

Can I speak to the D.A.? This is Diana Bennett.”

Yes, of course, detective. Hold, please!”

There was a click followed by ubiquitous music played on all government phone systems, loud and forgettable versions of some forgettable tune.

Joe Maxwell.

Hey, Joe. Diana. Can you get me in to meet the administrator of Sing-Sing without going through the usual channels?”

Ive been working on it. What have you come up with, Diana?”
It's looking more and more like all roads lead to Sing Sing.”

***

Vincent took eight measured steps from one end of his chamber to young Jacob’s area and back. Generally, he didn't like to pace in front of his young son; it stimulated him, so he found it hard to settle for a nap or to sleep throughout the night. So, if Vincent had to pry something loose from his memory, he generally waited until his son was in the nursery or deeply asleep late at night.

This time he had been drafted into service. Jacob wrapped himself around his fathers tree-trunk leg, kept up the constant chant of Up, Daddy, up!” Daddy obediently lifted his leg high like a carousel ride back and forth across their chamber, one part of his soul soothed by his sons chortles of glee as tried to recall the names of Mitch Dentons childhood partners in crime. Who but a former resident from Below would know pipe code, albeit an older variation?

He felt a tug at his shin, looked down into his sons puzzled expression.
More up?” He inquired — a hopeful query.

Vincent reached down, caught the boy under the arms, a lifted him above his head, settling his slender weight upon his shoulders. Not tonight. It is approaching dinner time. If we arrive early enough, perhaps William will agree to an extra cookie for dessert.”

Jacob wrapped his arms around his fathers head, planting a juicy smack on his ear and cooed, Yes, please. Tank you.”

 Vincent gave each chubby well-insulated leg a gentle squeeze.

***

Vincent carried his bowl and Jacobs mug, while his son, watching every step carefully, carried his own bowl of chili (William hadnt filled it to the rim) to his seat beside Father. His proud parent was beaming when he and his meal arrived at their destination without sloshing one drop. He lowered his bulk gently beside his son, he and Father sandwiching the boy between them.

While Jacob dug with all earnestness into his bowl, happily feeding himself, Vincent asked between bites, Father, do you recall if any of Mitchs friends still reside here.”

Father looked up, cocked his head, peering up at Vincent. I have tried to recall since we heard his name in relation to what happened after the robbery and Kipper being shot. I spoke with Pascal earlier. He and your brother knew his cohorts better than I. Pascal informed me he would check his journal about dating newer pipe code. I believe we can say they would have to have been someone living here around the time Devin left us.”

He drummed his knuckles on the tabletop. Some years, I remember faces so clearly, but the year Devin disappeared has become a blur.”
Olivia glided up their table and perched on the bench facing Vincent. 
Vincent, have you had a chance to talk with Diana or anyone about Kanins release.”

We knew it was to be soon, my dear. Were you given a release date?” Father inquired gently.

 Olivia shook her head. I was getting letters every week but not this week. Nothing. He wrote last week like always. He did write how he was feeling; what was going on. But also wrote he was trying to stay to himself because he was too close to his release date.”

Olivia, you know the mail delivery, especially here, can be irregular,” Father said gently, encouragingly.

The younger woman wrung her hands and then forced them to remain still in her lap. Father, something is wrong. Isnt it?”

Father reached across and patted a hand. Vincent placed his hand on top of both smaller hands.

We do not know that anything is wrong with Kanin, and until we do, we will behave as if his release date will arrive soon,” Vincent said calmly, ignoring the tingling sensation in the back of his mind.

***

"Okay, tell me again why were wasting time playing musical cells?”

Ours is not to… whatever. The office hands out instructions; we follow instructions.”

The guards stepped to a cell. Stand back, turn around. Place your hands behind you.”

The individual complied, surprise apparent in his expression.

Well have your cell cleaned out. You are going to a new block. Lets go.”
Kanin walked between the guards, all the while feeling that he was getting into something deeper than he had reckoned. Marched further into the depths of the prison and away from freedom.

The trustee assigned to clean out the cell hadnt been included in the relocation plan, so he did what he always did. He bagged everything in a large trash bag. Any written material that had a name on it was dumped inside. He marked the exterior K. Evans. He looked beneath the mattress, and in all the usual hiding places.

Guess this guy didnt own nothin,” He muttered.

He tied a knot in the trash bag and slogged down the long block to the checkpoint where he was admitted into a kind of waiting area filled with small cubes in which similar bags of confiscated materials were stored. The guard, looking bored, accepted the bag and shoved it into an empty rectangle.

At the same time, Greg Hughs rang Dianas bell looking the building over as if assessing the structure in comparison to its resident. The jury was out.

Yeah, who is it?”

Greg Hughs.”

Ill be down in a second.”

The elevator doors parted a minute later, and Diana strolled out, hardly pausing to allow for them to open, stalked across the sidewalk, and into the plain blue Chevy sedan clutching a haphazardly stuffed file folder.

Joe talked to the administrator directly. He got the warden in on the call, so no one outside of his office knows were coming.

So, we just show up and ask for the administrator?” asked Diana.

Thats what Joe said. When the D.A. of Manhattan calls, people, even prison wardens listen, Bennett.”

Okay. Im not complaining. Were getting closer, but I cant help feeling that theres a piece of this puzzle is missing.”

Greg stole a glance at his colleague. You mean, how does this connect to Chris’ death?”

Yeah, exactly!”

***

Vincent sat cross-legged on the floor of the pipe chamber while Pascal signaled all quiet.

Temporarily, Father had asked the community to observe all quiet on the pipes from sundown to early morning. So far, at least, there had been no unauthorized communications on their system.

Pascal sat beside his friend, looking confused. It's hard to believe that one of us, even if they dont live Below anymore, would use our system against us.”

Father reminded me that not everyone that lived Below considered themselves one of our community. Remember the outsiders.”

Yes, but Vincent, they were wild, savages. They hadnt lived among us. They werent our friends; or anyone’s.”

True.”

The two men sat in silence for a while.

I spent the evening reminiscing in my journal regarding the changes in pipe signals. The last major change was when I added the location abbreviations after my father died.” Pascal added fondly. He didnt like abbreviations much; said they were cheating.”

Vincent snorted in amusement, remembering Pascal, the Elder.

I noticed the abbreviations for locations, dont match the ones we normally use. Its as if they didnt know our current use. This group, whoever they are, use street abbreviations from above.”

When were the shorter codes instituted?” Asked Vincent, trying to hear over the hammering of his heart. At last, they were coming to some answers.

It would have been about fifteen years, at the most, Vincent.”

Vincent calculated mentally, stood quickly. Two years after Devin left. Which of Mitchs friends remained after his father took him to live above?”

Pascal shook his head. Couldnt have been too many, Vincent. He didnt really have many friends. Most of the kids were afraid of him.”

I was one of them,” Vincent admitted.

Pascal studied the larger man carefully. I heard you snarl at him once.” He admitted quietly.

Vincent ducked his head, chuckling. That time I was angered more than frightened. He had seen Devins scars and decided against taking the chance that I would not do the same to him.”

I remember one boy who didnt live below for very long. He and Mitch were pretty close while he lived here. His mother found them a place out of the city. I seem to remember she got a little claustrophobic.” Pascal shrugged. That reaction happened to a few adults after living Below for a period of time.

I do not remember the boy, her son.” Said Vincent, staring upward as if to see the image in the cavern above.

He was older. Not by much and didnt stay long.” Explained Pascal. 
Maybe you werent around him enough. But he and Mitch seemed to hit off right away. Winslow and I noticed they were always laughing and poking fun at others, hiding in corners, and always scheming to get out of chores. Mitch didnt get caught by the adults, usually, but John- no, Johnathan Sawyer, I think. He would take Mitchs punishment and his own.”

Would he know enough Pipe-code, I wonder,” murmured Vincent.

He was Below long enough to learn the basics.” Replied the other man firmly.

***

Thompson was checking out from his shift when he noticed at least one cop heading for the wardens office. As calmly as he could manage, he approached the administrators secretary and bent over her partition with a smile. We got company today, Laura?”

Distracted, Laura looked up from typing, removed her headphones, and said, What?”

He pointed to the closing door of the office and repeated his question, Company?”

Laura shook her head in the negative. Dont know. I think theyre friends of the administrator.” She put her headphones back in and resumed her typing.

Thompson backed away from the office, slammed his hand against the wall, and almost ran to the employeeslocker room. With calm deliberation he did not feel, Thompson, cleared out his locker dumping everything into his duffle. Examined his frightened expression in the mirror and knew he could not go home.

Cant call Mitch. Hell, hed probably tell me to clean up the records. Hes on his own, he thought.

Thompson sweated through the security check at the exit. The guards checked his duffle.

What are you doing, Thompson, moving?” asked one.

Ha, ha. Got tired of looking at all this junk. Was stinkinup my locker,” he managed.

Zipping the duffle closed, he swung it over his shoulder and walked to the gate, hoping his shaking knees held until the bus arrived.


His luck held, for once. The local pulled up to the stop outside of the visitors entrance, and he hopped on, sitting in the back. He didnt draw a deep breath until the bus crossed the county line.