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Authors: CJ Lyons

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BOOK: Black Sheep
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“Girl trouble. Gotcha covered—I have an ex-wife and more ex-girlfriends than I can
count. You name it, I’ve been there. She pregnant?”

“No, sir.” Bernie shifted in the hard wooden chair. Last thing he wanted was a discussion
of his sex life—a topic the club members were always way too interested in for his
taste, setting him up on blind “dates” with hookers and biker groupies, usually the
ugly ones. Getting him laid was a constant joke among the Reapers.

“She cheating on you?”

“No. Nothing like that.” She didn’t even know Bernie existed. Much less that he was
risking his life to save hers. But he couldn’t explain any of that to Goose, not with
the enforcer sitting there, tatts rippling down his bare arms, those dark blue eyes
of his reading Bernie like a billboard.

“Can’t be that bad of trouble then,” Goose said, taking another swallow of bourbon,
staring at Bernie appraisingly as he raised the bottle.

Bernie wilted under the other biker’s glance, slid free from the chair and the inquisition,
and stood. “You’re right. I’ll figure it out. Thanks.”

He shuffled away, pushing the broom before him with random strokes, and escaped to
the stockroom. Leaning back against the closed door, sweat poured from him so fast
his shirt felt gritty. He took off his leather vest, tugged his shirt over his head,
used it to mop his chest dry again, and stood there shivering under the naked lightbulb.
A foul, metallic taste filled his mouth and he gulped two more Tums.

How much longer could he keep this up before he screwed up and got him and Lena killed?

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

The glass walls made privacy impossible, giving Caitlyn no choice but to shove her
emotions aside until her work here was finished.

One thing about the Butner staff, they were damn efficient. Twenty minutes later Hale’s
body had been taken away. Then two men in suits and several high-ranking officers
in crisp white Bureau of Prisons shirts toured the crime scene, leaving one man in
a suit behind. Now, a mere eighty minutes after a man had been brutally murdered,
the lockdown was lifted and two inmates wearing protective gear were finishing cleaning
up the blood and decontaminating the area. Just in time for visitation.

Maybe these BOP guys should be running things in DC,
Caitlyn thought as she paced the circumference of the interview room for the two
hundred and eleventh time. She hated being caged up like this, hated her every move
being watched, no contact with anyone except an anonymous guard who’d spoken to her
earlier, making sure she was okay and letting her know she’d have to wait for a Special
Investigations Services investigator to interview her before she’d be released.

Like she was a damn prisoner. While the real ones were going on with their day as
if nothing had happened.

Beyond the glass the inmates finished cleaning and left. A few minutes later the first
of the family members arrived, children scattering across the large room, racing to
the play area, women nodding at one another, chatting as they arranged themselves
around the tables to wait for their men. They seemed to all know one another, at least
the ones with children did, even though they spanned different ethnicities and, from
their attire, crossed the socioeconomic spectrum. A handful of the women were alone
and dressed more provocatively, pushing the boundaries of the prison-mandated dress
code. These gathered at tables on the far side of the room, away from the play area,
the targets of scornful glares from the wives and mothers.

Caitlyn felt like she was looking at a scene trapped inside a snow globe. Better yet,
a fish tank where adversarial species had been mixed. She couldn’t hear anything,
but the women’s body language said enough. On one side of the silent war were devoted
family and loved ones soldiering through. The other, cheap entertainment who’d never
stick for the long haul.

And then there was Caitlyn. Obviously establishment, obviously law enforcement. A
common enemy.

Observing the women and children helped to calm Caitlyn’s adrenaline rush. The initial
shock and frustration at being unable to save Eli faded to irritation. And curiosity.
She still had questions—more questions than ever.

The door behind her finally opened, bringing with it the smell of coffee brewed too
long and a man’s citrusy aftershave. She didn’t turn, wanting to keep the SIS investigator
off balance and gaining her the chance to observe him via his reflection. Finally,
the glass walls were good for something.

He was the same man who’d documented the crime scene an hour ago. Not quite six feet,
broad shoulders that strained the seams of his navy suit, late forties, brown hair
with a shimmer of gray, wedding band plain, sensible. When he turned to sit she spotted
a tear along the side seam of his jacket. Same kind of tear she was constantly mending
in her own blazers—suit coats weren’t designed to accommodate service weapons. But
prison officers didn’t routinely carry weapons.

“Anytime you’re ready, Special Agent Tierney.” Slight accent. Not New York, more Midwest.
“I’m Investigator Boone. I’ll be taking your statement about this morning’s events.”

Events? She buried her disdain at the euphemism for murder. “You were a detective
in Chicago before joining the Bureau of Prisons?”

“Milwaukee. Put in my twenty, retired, but the city went broke along with my pension,
so decided to move south and go to work for the BOP.”

“Your wife must like that you’re off the streets, working regular hours.”

He reached for his coffee cup, turning away from her. “She died. Breast cancer. Three
years ago.”

Three years ago. About the same time he’d retired, judging from his age. She pictured
that: a lifetime together, dreaming about what you’d do once retirement freed you,
only to have the day come with no one left to share those dreams with. She’d bet the
wife’s passing had more to do with his new position than money worries.

Hard for cops to give it up. Especially when there was no one to give it up for.

Maybe Paul was right. Better to get out now, before it was too late.

She brushed the thought aside as she turned to face Boone. He slid the second coffee
cup in her direction, gestured to the empty seat across from him. Let the games begin.

Caitlyn sat down and quickly led Boone through everything she’d seen. She finished
with a question of her own. “What happened to the guard in the monitor room?”

Boone shifted in his seat before conceding the lead to her. Trying to gain her confidence,
no doubt. “Sudden attack of gastric distress. He’s in the hospital getting an IV now.”

She remembered the two inmates joking with the guard in the hallway. The cup of coffee
in his hand. “Poisoned.”

“Probably. I’m not a believer in coincidences.”

“And the guard at the visitation station?”

He blew out his breath in a short exhalation, quickly cut off. “Him I’m looking into.
Says he was sucker-punched, knocked out.”

“Helluva long time to be incapacitated by a punch.”

“Outside of movies or TV, yeah. Docs are checking him out as well.”

“And the two doers?”

“Both lifers, nothing to lose, everything to prove. Funny thing is”—he leaned forward—“Hale
had no beef with any cars. Everyone liked him, even the Indians and Neo-Nazis.”

“Cars” being a group of prisoners who hung out together, she translated. Usually joined
by commonality from life before incarceration, like gang members or former mobsters,
sometimes by the length of their sentence or the crimes they committed.

“And,” he continued, “those two Surenos were just transferred in from California.
They didn’t even know Hale.”

She thought about that as the women in the visitation hall gathered their children
and stood at attention. The doors to the inmate side of the hall opened and inmates
began to filter in, pausing to scan the room for their loved ones.

“You all sure took care of things fast.” She gestured to the family reunions beyond
the window.

“Warden’s idea. Figured we got the two killers, on video no less, no reason to keep
everyone on lockdown, risk getting folks agitated.” He looked down his nose at his
coffee. “Warden’s a pro-gressive.” His derisive tone split the word in two.

“And you’re not.”

“I want to know why the hell a guy with twenty-five years in without a scratch ends
up being targeted for a hit two minutes before he’s due to have a sit-down with a
fed.”

So he agreed. It was a hit. By who? And why? If Hale knew something, he’d been silent
for twenty-five years; why kill him now? It had to have something to do with Lena’s
disappearance. Was it a warning to her? Or those who held her, if she had been taken?
Or just tying up loose ends?

“I wish I knew,” she told Boone. “You find out, let me know.”

He scrutinized her, not buying her dumb act. Too bad it wasn’t an act. “You know he
tried to kill himself a few days ago. Overdosed on OxyContin. Any ideas about why?”

She shrugged. Remained silent.

“I think he was trying to send a message to someone. Someone afraid of what he knew.
Tell them,
Hey, I’ll die before I squeal.
Something like that.”

“Could be.”

“Could be. But then why the change of heart? Why ask to talk to you—I checked, he
asked for you specifically. Hale had nothing to do with any federal cases you’d be
working on. Unless he heard something here. Maybe he was ratting out another con?”

She stuck with the truth. “I have no idea what information he wanted to pass on. Did
you ask his cellmate? Or the others on the block?”

“Of course we asked. No one’s saying nothing. And now you’re telling me this is all
a fluke, some kind of crazy coincidence he got shived on his way to talking to you?”
His stare was piercing, trying to break past her facade of nonchalance. A facade easy
to maintain because she really did know nothing helpful.

“I don’t know.” She stood. “Sorry I can’t be of more help.”

He sat, finished his coffee, in no hurry. Finally got up and led the way to the door,
pushed the call button. A rush of relief greeted her as it buzzed open and she crossed
the threshold, free of confinement. She’d make a piss-poor prisoner.

“I don’t suppose there’s any way I could take a look at his personal belongings?”
she asked casually.

“Funny thing,” he replied, matching her tone. Two cops bullshitting each other and
both knowing it. “Before he left the infirmary he wrote a will. Naming you sole beneficiary
of his personal documents. We already got them boxed up—confiscated and inspected
everything in his cell after he tried to OD a few days ago. Almost like he knew he
was gonna die. Got an explanation for that, Agent Tierney?”

“I wish I did, Investigator Boone.”

*   *   *

Lena had no idea if it was day or night. The drugs they’d given her had finally worn
off, leaving her feeling heavy-headed and bleary, as if her mind was seeing the world
through a haze of Vaseline. She was afraid to sleep, afraid she’d miss a chance to
escape, afraid of being alone in the dark, vulnerable.

Not that she could sleep even if she wanted to. The thumping she’d heard earlier had
returned, coming from different directions. First beyond the door, then overhead,
then the side wall. Sometimes it sounded like footsteps, sometimes like fists.

One thing the noise had done: It had oriented her. She’d thought the rear wall was
the outside wall but the way the sound changed when it hit the side wall, that had
to be an exterior wall. And it didn’t sound very thick, either.

Which meant, God willing, there was a way out of this hell.

She sent up a quick prayer of gratitude and went to work. The water bottles were too
flimsy; the Ensure ones were made of sturdier plastic. She scraped the mouth of one
bottle against the plywood subflooring, trying to sharpen it as much as possible.
Then she positioned it against the base of the wall, lay down on the floor, braced
her back against the opposite wall, and drove the bottle in with her foot. The bottle
stuck, impaled to the drywall.

She scrambled back onto her hands and knees, leveraging the bottle against the wall.
A fist-sized chunk fell. It wasn’t drywall, she saw. Beneath a dozen coats of paint
was some kind of plaster threaded with long, dark filaments. Horsehair. Which meant
it was really old. Supporting it from behind was wire like you’d use for a chicken
coop stretched between thin pieces of wood lathing.

Repositioning the mouth of the bottle against the side of the hole, she gouged out
more of the plaster. Behind the chicken wire and lathing was yellowed newspaper serving
as insulation. She stretched two fingers between a wire loop and snagged a sheet,
pulled it free. When she smoothed it open across the floor, she saw the date on it
was 1932.

It was slow going removing the paper but she didn’t have the strength or leverage
to yank the wire out, so the best she could do was to stretch a few loops as wide
as possible. Once she had the paper out she could see the outside wall: wood siding,
unpainted on this side.

She waved her hand over the hole and was delighted to see skinny rays of sunlight
making their way in from the outside. A sense of hope surged through her. As she strained
to pry the wire apart she began to sing one of her mom’s favorite hymns: “Praise to
Thee, Thou Great Creator.”

Her fingers were raw, stinging with tiny cuts from the wire, but finally she was able
to make a gap large enough to put her entire hand through. She wanted to take a look
while the hole inside her prison cell was still small enough to hide. Once she enlarged
it, she was committed to escaping as quickly as possible, before the men returned,
and that meant waiting until dark.

Please, God, let this work, she prayed as she inserted one of the plastic bottles
into the hole she’d so painfully created and wedged it between a gap in the overlapping
siding. It was just long enough that the bottom of the bottle extended through the
hole. She braced herself once more and kicked it as hard as she could.

BOOK: Black Sheep
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ads

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