Wednesday, 4:42 p.m.
VARICK LUCAS COULD hardly contain his excitement. He’d worked long and hard, finally landing a job in the prison auto shop. It took his mind away from life inside a federal penitentiary and allowed him time to formulate a plan.
Today, that plan would come to fruition and his hard work was about to pay off. In spades.
He glanced across the floor of the large workshop. The screw leaned against the wall in his usual spot, his arms folded, glaring at him. He was a cowboy, fresh out of training, and cowboys always wanted to show how tough they were. But he had a surprise coming. Lucas grinned at him and waved before turning his attention back to the grinder.
“It’s all ready.”
Lucas glanced up at the speaker and gave a short nod. “Got the tank in place?”
“Yup. We’re all set to go.”
“It better not fall off. I only got one shot at this.”
“Don’t worry. I know what I’m doing. It’s totally secure and could take a pounding, if necessary, and never break loose.”
Lucas switched off the grinder and straightened his back. As the machine hummed to a stop, he squinted thoughtfully at Rabbit. After this was all over, Rabbit would get the hole—and worse—for his part in this, but he was already doing an all day sentence—life—and had nothing to lose. Lucas didn’t really care what happened to his accomplice. Anyway, Rabbit could never have survived without him. He’d kept his scrawny little cellmate in line by threatening to withdraw his protection. He owed Lucas his life and now Rabbit was about to pay. The warden would be heading to his cushy home in a few minutes and would need his SUV.
Rabbit wiped his greasy hands on a cloth and tossed it onto the workbench. “Let’s do this.”
Lucas nodded. “Ready,” he said, and gave Rabbit a push, shouting, “Get out of my face.”
Rabbit stumbled and regained his balance. He drew back and took a wild swing, catching Lucas on the side of the head.
Lucas spat out a string of curses and sprang forward, bearing his opponent down. They wrestled on the floor, each trying to get the best of the other.
The screw shouted and hustled their way, anxious to break up the fight as he fumbled to pull the baton from his belt. The cowboy didn’t see the thin wire stretched a few inches above the floor, and he didn’t feel the meticulously fashioned metal arrow pierce his skull as the spring which held it let loose. He was too dead to care.
The scuffle, which had started so quickly, was over. Varick Lucas smiled grimly as he stood and brushed off his orange jumpsuit. “Good job, Rabbit,” he said, as he gave his partner a hand up. “That went rather well, wouldn’t you say?”
“Very smooth,” Rabbit said. He glanced at the screw’s body. Blood pooled on the immaculate floor, small streams breaking away and trickling dark-red liquid across the concrete. He turned back and shook Varick’s hand. “Good luck. You’d better get moving.”
Rabbit turned his attention to the fresh corpse. Lucas watched him drag the body out of sight behind a pile of tires, and then sprinkle sawdust over the puddle of blood. It would hide the stain for now, and the screw’s body wouldn’t be found until this was over and he was long gone.
He turned his attention to the SUV. Phase two.
He scrambled to the vehicle, swung up the cargo area door and peeled back the carpeting. He pulled up on a small ring and a makeshift trapdoor swung open. It led into the now empty gas tank, barely large enough to hold him, but it was carefully tested, and if he lay in a fetal position, the newly customized 31-gallon tank in the warden’s SUV would more than suffice.
He climbed into the cargo area, eased into the tank, and curled up. The remains of the fuel made him choke and he cursed Rabbit for not wiping it dry. But that was the least of his worries. Would they have enough gasoline? Rabbit had rerouted the fuel line into a eight-liter tank fastened underneath the vehicle, large enough to hold the tank unit and a small amount of gas, enough to get him safely away.
He chuckled to himself. He’d been in this hellhole for almost five years and now was the day of reckoning. A day of rejoicing—for him at least—but not so much for anyone else. Certainly not for Rabbit.
His accomplice returned, the body disposed of, and as Lucas looked up, his fellow conspirator gave him the thumbs-up before closing the trapdoor. The carpet slapped in place, the rear door slammed, and Lucas lay still in the darkness.
It was all up to Rabbit now. They’d rehearsed this carefully and tried to imagine all possibilities. Rabbit had better not screw up or he’d have more to worry about than just the wrath of the law.
In a few minutes, he heard voices. As planned, Rabbit had summoned another guard to advise him the vehicle was ready. Lucas strained to hear.
“He’s gone to wash up. The screw’s with him.”
Silence a moment. If Anderson got suspicious, they had a back-up plan. It meant Anderson would also die and things could get messy and rather uncertain. Not an optimum situation, and one he hoped to avoid.
Lucas breathed easier as Anderson asked, “Where’re the keys?”
Footsteps shuffled and faded. The front door opened, then slammed shut and the vehicle came to life. The engine sputtered. Lucas held his breath until the motor roared and ran smoothly.
The large garage door rumbled open, the transmission clunked near his head, and the SUV backed up. It jerked to a stop, pulled ahead, and stopped again. The engine continued to purr as the driver side door opened and closed. The garage door whined shut; he was halfway home.
Lucas adjusted his position to relieve the pressure on his leg. The tank creaked under his weight, but held.
The warden’s voice. “Thanks, Anderson.”
Anderson grunted something.
A door slammed and the SUV pulled ahead, then stopped. A gate rattled and the vehicle leaped forward and jerked to a halt. A second gate opened and the engine roared. Tires whined under his head as they picked up speed.
They were on the highway. He was going to make it. He had made it.
Phase three. Coming up.
Rabbit had timed it right. The engine of the SUV sputtered and died after what Lucas estimated to be a good two miles from the prison compound. Perfect.
He eased up on the trapdoor and squinted as the evening sun seeped through the crack. He carefully worked his way onto his back, tensed his muscles, and heaved up with his feet. The trapdoor burst open, the carpet flipped back, and Lucas climbed from the tank.
Warden Henry Parker sat wide-eyed behind the steering wheel, half-twisted in his seat, his mouth hanging open. Then one hand fumbled for the door handle, the other reaching for his pistol as Lucas dove from the cargo area into the back seat and wrapped his strong hands around the neck of the helpless warden.
The warden gasped for breath as he forced out the words, “Let me go.”
“Can’t do that. You’re my ticket out of here.”
“Who’s doing the begging now, Warden?”
Parker’s eyes bulged as he fought for breath, clawing at the fingers that dug into his throat. The gun fell to his lap and slipped to the floor. His feet kicked wildly at nothing as his attacker held on.
“I am. I’m begging you. I’ll let you go,” the warden barely managed to say. “Just don’t hurt me and I’ll let you go.”
“Sorry. No deal.”
“Please.” The warden gave a last gasp, and then became still, unconscious but alive.
Lucas released his grip and slipped between the seats into the front of the vehicle. He retrieved the pistol from the floor, cocked it, and finished the job. The hole through the warden’s head assured he would never breathe again. The bullet shattered the side window bringing a spray of blood and human tissue with it.
Varick Lucas chuckled. He had four notches in his belt already. What’s one more?
And now, to get out of here.
He scrambled to open the passenger door and stepped onto the gravel shoulder. He spat out the foul taste of gasoline, then took a deep breath and went around the front of the vehicle and opened the driver side door. Shards of bloodstained glass sprinkled to the ground at his feet. He kicked them aside, dragged the warden’s body out, and removed the shirt, pants, jacket and shoes from the corpse. The jacket was spattered with blood from the unfortunate incident, so he tossed it aside and changed into the rest. The clothes hung loose, some blood on the shirt, but they would do for now. The shoes fit him to perfection.
The warden’s wallet held a couple hundred in bills. That should tide him over until he could round up some more cash. He left the credit cards and tossed the wallet onto the ground beside the body.
He gazed thoughtfully at the warden’s remains a few moments, then turned his back, crossed the road, and climbed down into the ditch.
Leaving Parker’s half-naked body on the side of the road beside the SUV, he hopped the fence and jogged across the open field toward the trees. He knew of a town a couple of miles away and he could use some food, fresh clothes, and transportation as far away from here as possible.
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