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Authors: Mariah Stewart

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Dead Certain

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MARIAH STEWART

DEAD CERTAIN

BALLANTINE BOOKS • NEW YORK

For Saint Loretta the Divine—
with love and thanks.

“Judgment for an evil thing is many times delayed some day or two, some century or two, but it is sure as life, sure as death.”

—T
HOMAS
C
ARLYLE

PROLOGUE

February 2004

Jeez, but he hated this weather. Hated the way the sleet hissed against the window like a big old nasty snake. Hated the way the wind blew, sharp-edged and cold, across the courtyard behind the large stone building where the prison van had stopped to let its passengers out. They’d dropped awkwardly from the side door of the van as custody passed from the deputy sheriffs who’d ridden in with them to the ones who’d drawn courthouse duty that day, and the wind had bitten right through his jacket as if it had fangs.

Three other inmates had made the trip into court with him. A rangy kid who was all arms and legs, acne scars and attitude, a tall quiet man with long fingers and a steady stare, and the whackjob from the next cell block who called himself Dillinger, even though everyone in the prison knew his name was Waldo Scott. A rumor had floated through clandestine channels out at High Meadow, the county prison, that Waldo was going to try to escape this morning.

Vince Giordano was hoping the rumor was true, if for no other reason than to see how he did it and if he’d be successful. Life held so few true amusements these days.

Besides, the guys in his cell block had a pool going.

Giordano had put his money on the law, which was not necessarily a true assessment of his faith in the abilities of the local sheriff’s department. He’d been in and out of the courthouse for more days than he could count between hearings and pretrials, and then finally during the trial itself, followed by a round of appeals. All in all, he figured he’d spent, on average, almost one day in court for every five days he’d spent in High Meadow. He’d gotten to know most of the deputy sheriffs pretty well and hadn’t been much impressed with any of them. Barney Fifes, they called them back at the prison. Barney Fifes in dull olive green uniforms, and about as effective as the hapless television deputy.

But still, Giordano figured, Waldo didn’t stand a prayer of escaping for good. There just weren’t enough places to hide in the old building. The best Waldo could hope for, as Giordano had bet the guy in the next cell earlier that morning, was a few hours of sport while local law enforcement agencies hunted him down.

Giordano shifted in his seat in the small anteroom off courtroom number seven and awaited the arrival of his attorney. Harry Matusek had been expensive, but he’d lived up to his reputation as one of the county’s best criminal defense attorneys. Personally, Vince thought he’d been worth every penny and hadn’t regretted for a minute that he’d sold his house to finance his defense.

What did he need a house for, anyway? He had no family to speak of. He’d personally seen to that on one hot day in July going on three years now.

“Giordano?” The young deputy sheriff poked his head in the door.

Vince shifted only his eyes to look up. He’d seen someone do that in a movie once, and it had made a big impression on him, because it had made the actor appear sinister and cool. He mimicked the move as often as he could.

“There’s going to be a little delay this morning,” the deputy began, then turned his head as someone spoke to him from beyond the door, someone Vince could not see. “Ah, I’ll be right back. . . .” The door closed with a sharp click.

Vince leaned back against the hard chair, wondering what was going on out there in the hallway. There seemed to be a great deal of activity for so early in the morning. He strained to sit up as tall as his shackles would permit, trying to see what was happening.

Shouts. Running feet slapped the tile floor as they shot past the room. More shouts. More running feet.

Vince smiled. Old Waldo must have made his break. He wondered how long it would be before they’d catch him. He made a mental bet with himself that Waldo would be back in leg irons before noon. What that would do to Vince’s business in court that morning remained to be seen. On the one hand, he resented that Waldo’s little escapade was eating into his personal time. On the other, he applauded the defiance and initiative shown by the old man—Waldo was in his sixties—and thought that any chase he’d lead the locals on was bound to be a merry one. He decided he wouldn’t begrudge Waldo his bit of fun.

Vince was wondering idly if the deputies would shoot Waldo when they found him, when the door opened and a young man in irons much like Vince’s own was shown into the room by the deputy sheriff Vince always thought of as Deputy Dawg, due to his long face that reminded Vince of a basset hound.

“A little company for you this morning,” Deputy Dawg announced as he pointed to a chair along the wall, and the newcomer took it without a word. The guard promptly snapped the handcuffs to the metal arm.

“Don’t remember asking for company.” Vince did the eye thing again because he knew it always rattled Dawg a bit.

“Don’t remember asking if you cared.” Dawg closed the door behind him.

“What do you think is going on out there?” the young man whom Vince recognized from the trip in from the prison asked excitedly.

“What
is
going on out there?”

“Lots of cops.
Lots
of cops. A coupla different departments and some state troopers. People running every which way.”

“My guess is that someone might have escaped from custody.” Vince stroked his chin thoughtfully, thinking it made him look wise.

“Really? You think someone’s on the run? Someone from High Meadow?” The young man’s eyes widened even more.

“You were in the van this morning.”

The young man nodded.

“Me, too,” Vince told him. “Me and Waldo—the guy who, I suspect, is on the run out there—we were in max together. There was a rumor that he might decide to fly.”

Vince smiled. Not to make the boy—who couldn’t have been twenty years old—feel at ease, but to make him understand that he was in the presence of a
bad dude.
It gave Vince the only pleasure he’d had in days.

“You think he’ll get away with it?”

Vince pretended to ponder the question, but before he could speak, the door opened and another prisoner was ushered into the room.

“Here you go, boys,” another deputy sheriff said. “Got another roommate for you.”

The seated men watched as the prisoner shuffled in. Tall and slender, he looked to be in his mid-thirties. He wore his brown hair in a crew cut and had the air of one who was vastly amused. He’d been the fourth prisoner in the van earlier that morning. Vince recalled that he’d sat all the way in the back of the van and had not bothered to make eye contact with any of the others.

The deputy secured the new man’s cuffs to his chair before admonishing the prisoners to behave and reminding them as he left the room that a guard would be right outside the door. “He’s armed and he won’t hesitate for one second to bring you down if you so much as move.”

“A bit heavy-handed, wouldn’t you say?” the newcomer remarked lightly after the door shut.

“He’s just trying to scare us.” Giordano shrugged, then added his take on the marksmanship of the local sheriff’s department: “They ain’t that good.”

“Been here before?” the new man asked.

Giordano admitted that he’d spent a fair amount of time here.

The young man was beginning to get restless, squirming in his seat. “What d’ya suppose they’re doing out there?”

“I told you, they’re playing Where’s Waldo?” Giordano turned to the man seated near the windows. “Waldo Scott. He rode in the prison van with us this morning. He got himself free somehow and took off.” Giordano looked back at the younger guy. “Get it? Where’s Waldo?”

“No.” The young prisoner shook his head, and the two older men tried to explain about the guy in the books with the red-and-white-striped shirt or hat—neither seemed to remember quite which—who you had to follow from page to page and find in each picture.

The trio determined that the courthouse was now on lockdown while all available law enforcement personnel searched for the escapee. Which would explain why the three of them had been placed in a room together rather than in separate rooms with a guard at each door. All deputies would be needed to join in the search, and someone apparently felt that the three prisoners could safely share temporary quarters. None of the three had exhibited violent tendencies while incarcerated, and shackled as they were, none were likely to attempt to follow Waldo’s lead and make a break for it.

“What’re you in for?” Giordano asked, nodding toward the latest to join them.

“I was stopped for going through a stop sign—”

“Now there’s a manly crime,” Giordano scoffed, and made some crack about the need for the leg irons.

“—and it turns out there was an outstanding warrant for a guy with the same name. You?” the man asked.

“I’m in here pending appeal of a conviction,” Giordano told them.

The youngest of the three finally spoke up. “For what?”

“A domestic dispute,” Giordano said dryly.

The kid took the opportunity to whine about how he was supposed to have a trial today and how Waldo might be screwing things up for him. He was beginning to get on Giordano’s nerves.

“What are the charges?” the man with the crew cut asked the boy.

“Well, see, they’re saying that I stalked this girl. But I didn’t stalk nobody,” he protested. To Giordano’s ears, it was nothing but more whine, whine, whine. “She was my girl, you know? They got the whole thing wrong.”

“She must have complained about something for them to charge you with stalking,” the third man noted. “What did she tell the police?”

“She was confused. The cops made her lie.” The kid was protesting and rambling on about how the whole thing was a misunderstanding and growing more and more agitated all the time.

“What’s your name, son?”

Giordano could have gagged. Was this guy for real? Who gave a shit what the kid’s name was? Both of his “roommates” were starting to annoy him big-time, and he found himself grateful that by some stroke of luck, he’d never come in contact with either one of them before.

“Archer Lowell,” the kid was saying.

What the hell kind of name was Archer? Giordano mentally sneered. In his neighborhood, the guys were Vic and Frankie and Tony—maybe an occasional Vito or Ralphie—but Archer?

Please.

“I’m Curtis Channing,” the third man introduced himself.

“Well, Archie—” Giordano began.

“Don’t call me Archie,” the kid snapped. “Do not ever call me Archie.”

“Whoa, buddy. Chill.” Giordano tried to keep from grinning, understanding the need to keep the kid from bringing a potentially wary guard to the door. The shouts outside the door had continued, and it was clear that the search was ongoing. Some deputies’ nerves might be getting frayed about now, and Vince saw no reason to invite trouble. Better to placate the kid—as much as he hated to—if for no other reason than to keep him quiet. “No offense. No need to get all upset.”

“I hate the name Archie,” the kid grumbled.

Giordano wanted to laugh.
Smartest thing you’ve said since you came in here. . . .

Instead, he said, “Okay, then. You’re Archer, and I’m Vince Giordano. I was named for my uncle, Vincenzo, but I’m Vince, since Vincenzo and me don’t speak no more. Bastard testified against me in court. So much for blood being thicker than water.”

Bastard, indeed. Uncle Vinnie had taken the stand and sat right there, fifteen feet away from him, and wept as he told the judge and jury that he’d seen with his own eyes how his nephew Vincent had smacked his wife around, had smacked his kids around, and that he, Vincenzo, had taken no steps to stop him. A regret he’d take to his grave, he’d said.
Bastard.

Giordano looked up and realized that the kid, Archer, was staring at him.

“I know who you are,” the kid said in a hushed voice. “I saw you on all the news channels. I saw when you were arrested.”

“Yeah, well, I got a lot of press,” Giordano acknowledged, secretly pleased to have been recognized. He was, after all, a local celebrity of sorts. “The trial got a lot of airtime.”

Giordano could tell that Channing wanted to ask about that, but didn’t. Instead, they talked quietly about the lockdown and the amount of press that was outside to cover the day’s events. Channing, being closest to the window, could monitor the media activity on the courthouse lawn.

“I don’t think it’s fair that I should miss my trial just because they lost someone and can’t find him.” Lowell was whining again, and for two cents, Giordano would have taken him out, right then and there, had he been able to.

Giordano expressed his annoyance with a look that sent the kid shivering, and then told them, “I ain’t too happy about the delay, myself. We had a big day planned here. My attorney thinks he can get my conviction overturned.”

“What were you convicted of?” Channing asked.

“Shooting my wife, among other things.” Giordano watched Channing’s face for a reaction. There was none.

“Did you?” Channing raised one eyebrow only slightly.

Giordano smirked.

Channing appeared to take that for a silent admission.

“Why would they overturn your conviction?” Channing asked curiously.

“Because the cop who testified against me—the cop who provided all the evidence against me—lied, and everyone connected with the investigation knows that the cop lied.”
Smug little bastard. Thought he’d put a noose around my neck? He did me the biggest favor of my life, and the stupid shit will have to live with that the rest of his life—that his lies set me free.

“They can let you off for that? If somebody lies?” The kid was all ears now, his personal whine-fest over for the time being.

“Yup.”

“But don’t they just try you all over again?” Lowell asked.

“Nope. My lawyer says they don’t have enough untainted evidence to make a jaywalking conviction stick. First time around, the D.A. loaded the charges against me. Tried me for everything he could think of. All those charges were based on the testimony of this one cop. And he lied. Everything he said, all the shit he said at the trial, he made up. My attorney later proved it was all lies, and then the cop had to admit that he’d made it all up. They’re gonna have to let me out. My lawyer says any day now.”

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