TIME SPIKE – snippet 37:
Elaine Brown walked away as soon as Kathleen and the nurses were out the door. Neither Casey Fisher nor Marie Keehn looked in her direction. Barbara Ray’s comment about not knowing where the C.O. hid had struck a nerve, and neither of them wanted to be able to even guess where she would be holed up.
Instead, Marie and Casey watched the women work their way across the open ground. When they disappeared behind the trees and foliage, Marie whispered, “I really don’t like sending them off like that, with nothing to defend themselves with except one shotgun and three shells. They could run into some animal and…”
“Yeah, but we only had the three guns, and for what we have to do, we couldn’t afford to give them any more than that,” Casey said.
Marie nodded but didn’t feel any better. She knew exactly what type of animals the women could run into. And with some of them, their death wouldn’t be any easier than death at the hands of the men inside the prison. But out there, they had a chance. Inside the walls, they had nothing.
She drew her gun out of the holster. “You ready?”
“No, not really,” Casey said. “But I won’t be in an hour, either, and we better get started or the sun will catch us.”
They made their way to the back of C-block. There was a seldom used door leading to the furnace room that Marie figured wouldn’t be guarded. At least, she was hoping the prisoners were feeling safe enough they wouldn’t have felt the need to post sentries at every entrance.
They were in luck. No one was there.
They made their way down the deserted corridor leading to the holding area as fast as they could, being careful to walk on the balls of their feet. They didn’t want to have their heels clicking on the tile floor, announcing their presence. They came to the door that opened onto the cellblock, their hearts in their throats.
The view port was located dead center of the steel door, five and half feet off the floor. Casey was the taller of the two women and she stood only five feet, four inches tall. Marie dropped to one knee, lifting her other leg, giving Casey a platform to stand on.
Casey climbed up, looked, and then came down. “The place looks empty, except for our people in the cells,” she hissed. “Where are the prisoners? Why aren’t they guarding them?”
Marie shook her head. “I don’t know,” she whispered. “It doesn’t make sense. But we’ve got to go with it.”
She pulled the key ring she’d taken from Collins out of her pocket. Careful not to make any noise, she tried unlocking the door. She thought she’d picked the right key but she wasn’t positive. The last thing they needed was for her to spend a minute out here trying out every key on a big key ring.
It was a little awkward. She was using her left hand to work the key, since she had the pistol in her right. But at least she’d picked the right one. The lock turned. Using her left hand, still holding the key ring, she pushed the door open.
Nothing. No one.
Just in case someone was hiding behind the door, she pushed it all the way flat. Hard, with her pistol ready.
Nothing. No one. The cells were packed with captured guards and no one standing watch over them.
It was crazy, but she figured somebody leading the convicts—or somebody else they’d put in charge of the task—had screwed up somewhere. And she wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth.
“Well, shit,” said Butch Wesson, standing over the corpse of Terry Collins. “Looks like somebody else already did it for us.”
Carl Yeager frowned. He was one of the guards who’d been standing watch in C-block. Butch had ordered all three to follow him to the infirmary. They weren’t really needed at C-block, to watch over the captured guards, since the doors were solid and locked, and Butch had figured he might need some help. Collins was a big bastard, and as vicious as they come.
“Yeah, that’s great,” said Yeager. “But who?”
One of his companions, Eddie Trenton, had a jeer on his face. “Hell, I can think of thirty guys right off the top of my head with a score to settle with this shithead. Could have been any one of them, decided to take the opportunity.”
Butch wasn’t happy with that explanation. Sure, it could be true, but—
The third of the men he’d brought put his doubts into words. “Then what happened to the women?” demanded Gary Reading. “If it was just one guy, how’d he get all of them to go with him?”
“And what would he want with the old bitches anyway?” Yeager said. “Butch, something’s wrong.”
Wesson’s jaws tightened. He’d have to report this to Luff right away, and Luff was going to be pissed as all hell. The boss was still a little mad at him for messing up the Cook business a while back.
Marie ran to the cells packed tight with guards. She found the right key on her second try and started unlocking the gates. They swung open and the men and women poured out.
Nobody said anything. They knew they had to keep silent and they knew they had to move. Marie and Casey’s pistols were the only weapons they had.
Marie led them back the way she’d come. Joe Schuler brought up the rear. He and three other guards took turns helping to half-carry Keith Woeltje, with his bum knee.
Back down the hall, out the door, through the exercise yard, hugging the walls, staying in the shadows. Through the double set of gates leading to the administration building.
Through the admit center and past the x-ray machines. Through the set of double doors leading to the parking lot. Toward the guardhouse, the field and the woods beyond.
So far, the guards had been moving pretty slowly, since they were trying to keep quiet. But their discipline finally started fraying, seeing safety up ahead. Temporary safety, anyway. They started hurrying toward the woods; then, trotting; then, running.
Joe Schuler tried to restrain them, at first, hissing orders to keep quiet. But Marie didn’t really see any point to it. The terror they’d kept under tight control was breaking loose, and there’d be no holding them back.
And why bother, anyway? They’d make it to the trees long before any prisoner with a gun could get within shooting range, even if they were spotted. And, after that, who cared? Convicts could be dangerous as all hell inside the walls, even without guns. But Marie didn’t think more than a handful would be worth a damn in the wilderness.
So, she was running herself by the time she passed into the trees. So was Joe Schuler, insofar as he could run carrying Woeltje piggyback. Luckily, Keith wasn’t a big man, and Joe was both big and in excellent physical condition.
She stopped then, and looked back. The sun was just starting to come over the horizon. So far as she could tell, their escape had still gone unnoticed.
For a moment, she wondered where Elaine Brown was hiding. But there was no point in that. There hadn’t been time to rescue her anyway. Not without jeopardizing dozens of other people.
So, she just sent her a silent mental salute. Good luck, gutsy lady.
Elaine Brown turned the knob of the door to the basement slowly. She didn’t think there would be any prisoners inside the furnace area, but she couldn’t keep her hands from shaking, or her heart from racing. She had heard voices coming from the upper level of the administration building, so she had stayed on the lower levels, wandering in and out of rooms looking for someplace she’d be overlooked. The kitchen would get too much traffic; she hadn’t bothered to even look there for a place to hide. The payroll department seemed deserted enough, but with its fifteen floor-to-ceiling windows, every nook and cranny would be too well lit once the sun came up. The bathrooms didn’t have any windows, but they were still useless as a place to hide. That left her nowhere to go but the dirty, moldy, roach and spider infested basement.
And that door was kept locked. The only people who went down there on any sort of regular basis were the maintenance crew. She went into the small room they used as an office, hoping there’d be a spare key somewhere. A search through the drawers turned up a key ring with four keys, and to her relief the third key on the ring unlocked the door.
She entered the stairwell and closed the door behind her, then locked it again. She played her flashlight along the basement’s interior, and suppressed a groan. There were sixteen steps she had to climb down those stairs.
She shut off the light and shoved the flashlight into her hip pocket. Then she clutched the metal handrail with her right hand and applied pressure to her blood-soaked dressing with her left. She had a handful of butterfly strips and the supplies for one dressing change. Once she found herself a little cubbyhole, she would use the strips to stop the bleeding, apply what was left of the antibiotic salve to the wound and then cover the area with fresh bandages.
The C.O. gave a small whimper in anticipation of the pain, and began the long climb down.