TIME SPIKE – snippet 36:
She keyed her way into the infirmary, hesitated, then left the door unlocked. If one of the prisoners decided to join Collins, she had just let him in. And that could be bad. But she might need a quick way out, and an unlocked door could be the difference between instant death and a chance at escape.
The baby was still wailing and she could hear several women screaming at Collins to let them out. That meant they were locked in one of the holding cells. The crash of metal on floor told her not all the women were locked away. One of them was in the examining room with Collins.
That would be Casey Fisher, she thought. She was the youngest and the prettiest, except for Elaine Brown—and given Collins, Marie didn’t think he’d be attracted to a black woman. He hid it pretty well, but she was sure the man was a bigot on top of everything else.
Marie pulled out the pistol and made her way toward the room. When the women saw her they stopped yelling. Then Elaine Brown, quick-witted, began screaming with a renewed vigor. The others realized what she was doing and why, and joined her. Marie made a motion of turning a key. Caldwell shook her head and pointed toward the examining room.
Okay, they couldn’t give her any help. All she could hope for was surprise.
She approached the door carefully. It wasn’t closed, which meant she could see inside. It also meant she could be seen, but neither Collins nor Fisher was in sight. The sounds had moved to the storage area and were slowing down. Fisher was losing.
Marie increased her pace. She took four steps to the entry, turned right, and peeked around the corner. Collins didn’t see her. As she’d expected from the noise, he was pre-occupied. Casey was on her back, on the floor, with a bruise on her cheek. Probably put there by the butt of the pistol Collins still had in his right hand. He was grinning and unfastening the belt to her pants with his left hand.
Marie drew her head back out of sight.
How should she handle it? A gunshot would draw attention.
Casey screamed. Collins cursed.
She didn’t see where she had any choice. It would be insane to try to subdue Collins with blows. He was almost twice as big as she was.
Marie slipped into the room and stepped up to the two figures struggling on the floor. She’d been well trained in the procedure to follow. Aim your gun—shout halt or I’ll shoot—give the prisoner time to respond—he will—he does not want to die—
None of which had any relevance.
Collins spotted her at the last moment. His head started to come up. That was good because it meant Casey was well out of the line of fire. Marie’s pistol was six inches from his skull when she fired. Collins spilled over, flat, with just his leg still on top of Fisher.
Marie was so angry that she almost fired another shot—or three or four or five—at the body lying on the floor. Barely, she managed to restrain herself.
First, Collins was dead anyway. No doubt about it. She was an excellent shot, she’d fired at point blank range, and her pistol was .40 caliber. Half his brains looked to be scattered across the floor and there was blood splattered everywhere on that side of the room. One of his eyes had come out of the socket, connected to the skull only by the optic nerve, and his hair was smoldering around the entry wound.
Secondly—most importantly—she knew people reacted differently to one loud sound than they did to a series. One loud sound… could be anything. Two or three or four would be recognized as gunshots.
After a few seconds, she sighed, thumbed the decocking lever and reholstered the gun.
“You all right?” she asked Fisher.
Casey’s head was turned, her eyes on Collins’ corpse. “Are you sure he’s dead?”
“Are you kidding?”
Casey choked. Half-sob; half-laugh. “Okay, stupid question. God, that’s the most horrible looking thing I’ve ever been so glad to see.”
“Barbara, can you give the baby something so it won’t cry?”
The LPN shook her head. “We don’t have anything like that.”
Marie nodded. She hadn’t really been all that hopeful, but she had to ask.
“All right. Kathleen, you keep that baby of yours quiet. No matter what you have to do, don’t let him cry until you hit the woods.” She handed Barbara the crude map she had drawn on the back of a used work order. “When you get to the river, go upstream, about a four hour walk. Well, four hours if you’re in good shape and making good time. You’ll probably need longer. You’ll come to a hilly area that’s covered in strange-looking stones. Most of them are taller than you. Look for one that has a tree growing out of it. The tree isn’t all that big, maybe six feet tall. About ten yards directly west of it will be a small cave. The opening is only about half the size of that tree I’m talking about. It’ll be a tight squeeze getting in, but once inside, you’ll have plenty of room. There’s enough shrubbery and fallen branches in the area that you should be able to disguise the entrance.”
She rubbed her head, sure there was something else she needed to say but couldn’t figure it out what it was. She looked at the map once more, trying to think. Then she knew.
“Use the moon’s new position as your directional guide. Figure it’s dead east and moving west. It doesn’t. But that’s the guide for the map.”
“Okay,” Barbara said. “We’ll do that. But after we get to the cave, how long do we wait for you?”
“I don’t know. Give me at least a day. Um. Better make it two days.”
Lylah Caldwell was frowning. “Elaine and Kathleen aren’t in shape for this. They’re both wide open.” The RN pointed to the area on the paper Marie had indicated was forested. “They’ll get an infection sure as hell.”
“Lylah,” Kathleen hissed, “are you crazy? I’d a lot rather get an infection from tramping through the woods than catch what we would from a prisoner gang rape. If we lived through it at all.”
“Same goes for me,” said Brown.
“That’s not what I meant. I meant we needed to take some antibiotics along, that’s all. I know we can’t stay here.”
The six women and one baby came to a halt just inside the administration building. What had once been an area that was always staffed with a minimum of three C.O.s, was now empty. The glass doors leading to the outside were unguarded. The small guard shack that sat a dozen yards from the edge of the parking lot was empty.
Marie nodded toward the outside. “I want you to run, don’t walk, to the edge of the woods. Take off, and don’t look back. And don’t wait for one another in plain sight. Get inside the brush, then you can wait.”
“I’m not going to make it,” Elaine Brown whispered, tears welling in her dark eyes. “I thought maybe I could, but I can’t.” She leaned against the wall. Even in the dim light the women clustered around her could see the beads of sweat on her face.
“You have to,” Marie hissed. “You have no choice.”
Brown closed her eyes. With her teeth clenched tight she said, “You have no idea how much pain I’m in, girl. I can’t go on. Period.” The C.O. pulled up her blouse, exposing the bandages on her abdomen. There was fresh blood seeping through. “The walking is tearing everything loose. There’s no way I can make it through a long hike in the woods.”
“Oh, hell,” Barbara Ray whispered. “Marie, she’s right. We’re going to have to slow down.” The LPN looked at the others. “Better yet, you guys get going. I’ll stay with Elaine. We’ll catch up with you.”
Brown shook her head. “No. You go with Lylah and Kathleen. They’re going to need help with the baby. And you can’t stay with me. One person might be able to hide. Two won’t. Marie, get them out of here. I need to drag my sorry ass off someplace safe, and I don’t have time for a debate.”
Marie nodded. She knew what the woman wasn’t saying, and she agreed with her. Elaine didn’t think she had a snowball’s chance in hell, anyway, so there was no reason for Barbara Ray to throw away her chance at living.
Barbara looked like she was going to argue, but didn’t. Instead she took the baby from Kathleen and started toward the doors. “Don’t tell anyone where you hide. If we get caught, we can’t tell what we don’t know.”