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Authors: G. M. Ford

No Man's Land

BOOK: No Man's Land
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NO MAN’S LAND
G.M. FORD
A Frank Corso Novel

Better to sink in boundless deeps,
than float on vulgar shoals.

—Herman Melville.

Mardi and a Voyage Thither.

1

“As of this moment, we are holding
one hundred sixty three hostages. Starting at eighteen hundred
tonight, I’m going to shoot one of them every six hours until Frank
Corso is delivered to me.” The hand held camera shimmied, but the
voice never lost its tone of command and the hooded black eyes never
wavered. The picture rolled once, then the screen went blank.
Governor James Blaine looked back over his shoulder at Warden Elias
Romero. An unasked question hung in the air like artillery smoke.

“His name is Timothy Driver,”
Romero said. “He’s a transfer from the State of Washington. Doing
life without . . . for double aggravated murder.”

A glimmer of recognition slid across
the governor’s pouchy face. “The navy guy? The captain?”

“Yes sir,” said Romero. “Driver
used to be a Trident submarine captain.” Romero cleared his throat.
“Came home a little early from a cruise. Found his wife flying
united with some local guy. Lost it. Got himself a gun and offed them
both, right there in his own bed. Blinded another inmate and stabbed
a guard during his first week in a Washington prison. The con was a
big player in the Aryan Brotherhood. The guard was an old hand . . .
popular G.M. Ford with the staff. Washington figured it wasn’t safe
to keep Driver around their system anymore . . . so they shipped him
to us.”

The governor jammed his hands into
his suit pants pockets.

“How the hell could something like
this happen?” he demanded.

“Meza Azul is supposed to be—”
He stopped himself. “As I recall, the design was supposed to
prevent something like this from ever taking place.”

“Yes sir . . . it was.” Romero
pointed to the bank of surveillance monitors nearly covering the
south wall of the security office. The screens were blank and black.
Romero cleared his throat.

“We’ve got the last minute and
forty-five seconds of tape before Driver turned the security system
off. It’s quite—”

“Let me see it,” the governor
interrupted.

Romero crossed the room, jabbed at
several buttons and stood aside, allowing the governor to belly up to
the monitor. White static filled the large central screen.

“It’s quite graphic,” Romero
warned.

“I’m a big boy,” the governor
assured him.

The picture appeared. Shot from
above. Somebody in a guard’s uniform putting an electronic key into
what appeared to be an elevator door. The figure pocketed the key and
bounced his eyes around all four walls before removing something from
his inside jacket pocket and turning his back on the camera for a
full thirty seconds.

“It’s Driver in a guard’s
uniform,” Romero said. On-screen, Driver had straightened up and
was poking his index finger at the keyboard on the wall as Romero
narrated. “He just used a security key in the elevator to the
control module, then . . .” He raised his hands in despair. “And
then somehow or other he disabled the fingerprint recognition
technology.”

“Say again.”

Romero reached around the governor
and pushed the STOP button.

“On any given day, only five men
have access to the central elevator. The pod operator, who you’re
about to see in a minute, and the four senior duty officers.” He
dropped his hands to his sides. “Driver found some way around it.”
He moved quickly to the console. The figure started to move again
“Look. He’s punching in the security code.”

On-screen, the door slid open. Driver
stepped inside and momentarily disappeared. Blaine’s face was red
now. “How in God’s name did a prisoner get hold of any of that?”
the governor sputtered. “A uniform”— he waved a large
liver-spotted hand—“the security code. How could . . .”

Romero merely shook his head,
refusing to speculate. He stuck to the facts.

The picture cut to the interior of
the elevator, where the man in blue stood calmly in the center of the
car, hands folded in front of him, bored expression on his face.

“Driver had an appointment for a
medical checkup. We’re guessing he somehow overpowered the team we
sent for him.”

Romero shrugged and swallowed hard.
“Somehow or other, he must have . . .” Romero searched for a
word. “. . . he must have
induced
the guard sergeant to part
with the security code.”

“And the fingerprint
identification?”

“No idea.”

The two men passed nervous glances as
the picture cut to the interior of the control module, where an
African-American man in a starched white shirt swiveled his chair,
turning to face the elevator door just in time for the man in blue to
step inside and point to the bank of security monitors. “Check
sixty-three,” he said in a command voice.

Without a word, the man in white
turned his back on the closing elevator door and began running his
fingers over his keyboard. Whatever was supposed to appear on monitor
sixty-three would remain forever a mystery as Driver looped what
appeared to be a length of thin wire around the other man’s neck,
made a sudden twist at the nape and began to pull with sufficient
force to lift the man in white from the chair. His fingers clawed at
his throat and his eyes tried to burst from their sockets, as
rivulets of blood began to pour down over the white Randall
Corporation shirt and he began to convulse, his legs beating time on
the hard stone floor, his open mouth spewing . . .

James Blaine turned his face away.
While the governor was busy retaining his lunch, Romero reached
around him and pushed the STOP button. Silence filled the room like
dirty water.

“This wasn’t supposed to be
possible,” James Blaine choked out.

Elias Romero kept his face as hard as
stone. “Yes sir,” was all he dared to say.

The governor was right. From day one,
Meza Azul, Arizona, had been designed to hold the worst collection of
criminals in the United States. Worse yet, the prison was the
centerpiece of an entire community whose very existence owed itself
to the twin notions that Meza Azul was one hundred percent
escape-proof and that incarceration could be a highly profitable
enterprise. Unlike many of its predecessors, MA, as the residents
liked to call it, had not started life as one of those quaint little
mining communities, wedged high among the jagged
sandstone-and-granite spires of the nearby San Cristobel Mountains or
as one of those dust-covered stage stops masquerading as ghost towns
down on the valley floor.

No . . . the privatization of the
Arizona Department of Corrections had led to a complete rethinking
regarding the placement and staffing of new prisons. While the state
had preferred to use the opportunity to revitalize one of these
long-dead towns, private enterprise had quickly recognized the folly
of this approach. First and foremost, to take on an existing town was
to take on its residents, many of whom, it was sad to say, were ill
suited to the rigors of employment in a modern maximum security
prison. While the initial report to the state attorney general had
used such terms as
trainability
and
technological
recidivism
to describe the problem with the locals, it was
generally understood that what they meant was that the kind of folks
who chose to shrink from progress, the kind of iconoclasts who stayed
behind when the circus moved on were generally either too smart, too
stupid or too lazy to be of any use to a dynamic new enterprise such
as the Randall Corporation had in mind. Of course they couldn’t
come right out and say something like that, so they couched their
recommendations in more positive terms such as
family friendly
and
self-containment
, and thus Meza Azul, Arizona, had been
created.

Truckers along I-506 swore the
facility had been born overnight, cut from a single piece of cloth
and dropped whole onto the desert floor, prison, houses, school, post
office, golf course, movie theater, swimming pool, palm trees and
all. Bada bing. Gone today. Here tomorrow. Welcome to the
twenty-first century.

For the past seven and a half years,
the State of Arizona’s cut from the Meza Azul Correctional Facility
had been the difference between profit and loss, between surplus and
deficit, and was regularly mentioned by the governor as being
emblematic of the imaginative fiscal policy with which he had brought
the state back from the precipice of financial ruin.

James Blaine had no doubts. Spin
doctors be damned. No way he could distance himself from Meza Azul.
This was his baby, and the longer it went on, the worse it was going
to be for his chances of reelection.

“What now?” the governor
demanded.

“We’ve got FBI negotiators on the
way.” Romero checked his watch. “They should be here by six
tonight.” His big brown eyes rolled over the governor. Waiting. Not
wanting to be the one who asked the question. Ten seconds passed
before the question asked itself.

“You think we can handle this on
our own?” Blaine asked. Romero shrugged. “Probably not.”

“We’ve got over eighty State
Patrol officers on the scene right now.”

“Driver’s opened two hundred
forty of the cells. Mostly in Cellblock D. The Bikers. Maybe some of
the Mexican Mafia too. We had to put some of the Hispanic overflow in
with the Bikers.”

The Bikers owned the south half of D
Building. The African American Congress had the north half. The
Mexican Mafia and the skinhead Nazis shared B Building. The Bikers
would have preferred to live with the Mexicans, but there was no way
you could put the Nazis and the Africans in together. The Mexicans
hated the Nazis, thought they were the biggest scum-sucking maggots
on the planet. They’d have rather lived with either the Africans or
the Bikers, but there was no way you could put the Nazis in with the
Bikers. In addition to seeing the Nazis as mutants and as a disgrace
to the white race, the Bikers also hated them for horning in on the
methamphetamine business, both inside and outside the walls, and,
most of all, they hated the skinheads for besmirching their much
beloved Nazi insignia. The governor winced and ran a hand over his
face. Before he could speak, Romero went on. “They’ve got hold of
the armory,”

he said.

“Which means what?”

Romero had to force the words out of
his mouth. “Which means they’ve got access to every kind of
automatic weapon available on the planet.” He hesitated. Took a
deep breath. “And about three million rounds of ammunition.”

James Blaine ran a hand through his
hair and turned away. He could feel how thin his hair had become in
recent years. He’d once had
presidential hair
. That’s what
they’d called it,
presidential hair
.

A knock sounded on the door. Neither
man spoke. The door opened a crack. Romero’s executive assistant,
Iris Cruz, looked from the warden to the governor and back. She was
thirty, twelve years Romero’s junior, her once hourglass figure
turning into something more like a time clock. They’d been sleeping
together for the past nineteen months. Ever since Iris’s husband,
Esteban, had tired of his life in America and returned to Mexico.
Esteban’s shadow was still in the yard when Romero made his
intentions clear. He’d wanted to for a long time, but had resisted.
Iris had known from the beginning. Women knew these kind of things.
Just like they knew when a man was never going to leave his skinny
wife like he’d been claiming he was going to do all these months.
Sometimes a woman would block it out for a while, but she knew. She
always knew.

“I got that book you wanted,” she
said, without making eye contact.

Romero crossed the room in four quick
strides, plucked the book from Cruz’s manicured fingers and closed
the door. He stood for a moment looking down at the book’s cover,
then flipped it over and glanced at the picture on the back before
opening the back cover and reading the flap copy.

“What have we got?” the governor
wanted to know.

“It’s a book by Frank Corso.”
He held up the cover so Blaine could see.
Red as a Rose: A Story
of Passion
. “It’s the book he wrote about Driver.”

The governor started his way. “Says
this Corso guy lives on a boat somewhere in the Seattle area,”
Romero said.

“Call Seattle,” Blaine said. “Get
this Corso guy on the way.”

He blew out a huge breath. “I’m
calling out the National Guard.”

2

With an ease often mistaken for
arrogance, Melanie Harris allowed her eyes to follow the focus light
along the overhead camera track until her gaze came to rest on number
four an instant before the light turned green and the camera began to
roll. “
This
is Melanie Harris for
American Manhunt
.
Join us again next week
when
American Manhunt
once
again turns up the heat on the
criminal plague permeating our
nation.”
She picked up a sheet of folded paper from the desk in
front of her. While it would have been more efficient to have
included the copy on the electronic prompter, Melanie preferred to
use the closing notes as a prop, lending, she thought, an air of
spontaneity to a segment of the show that could, without careful
tending, become a parody of itself. She handled the page with only
the tips of her fingers, as if it were hot off the wire. She then
tilted the page outward, as if to show the viewers at home. “
As
of this week,
American Manhunt
and our millions of viewers at
home are responsible for the arrest
and successful prosecution
of nine hundred and seventy-nine dangerous criminals.”
She
offered a twisted smile. “
Nine hundred
seventy-nine
felons . . . murderess, rapists, carjackers and thieves
who no
longer walk the streets preying on innocent citizens . . .
No
Man’s Land
thanks to the efforts of people like you.”
She
pointed at the camera. “
Until next week,”
she intoned. The
red light went out. She got to her feet. A trio of technicians
stepped forward with the speed and precision of a NASCAR team,
flipping switches, sliding slides, turning knobs, disconnecting her
from the collection of electronics she wore during a taping.

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