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"Idiot," Labeck muttered. He unlocked a door marked Authorized Personnel Only and hustled me into a long, narrow room lined with electronics panels that looked complicated enough to launch an intercontinental missile. A dozen television sets, each tuned to a different station, flickered on another wall, apparently Action 13's way of checking up on the compet.i.tion.
Peter Polifka grinned from one of the screens, delivering a report that must have been taped earlier that day. He was standing in front of a suburban school. Bright yellow buses were disgorging kids.
" . . . It's back to school time all over southeast Wisconsin," Polifka cheerily intoned. "I'm here at Ha.s.senpfeffer Elementary School in Elm Grove, where kids are saying good-bye summer, h.e.l.lo school year. New teachers, new cla.s.smates, new pencils, new notebooks. But the best thing-" He held out a box of Crayolas, the 128 pack. "-is the brand-new crayons. Mmm, love that waxy smell. Some things never change."
What an in-depth report! Edward R. Murrow would have been jealous.
"So, back to you, Lori." Polifka giggled, as though he'd had one too many hits of crayon wax.
" . . . for escaped convict Mazie Maguire." The NBC station was leading their news with the ever-popular escape story. Marshal Irving Katz appeared on-screen at a press conference. He did not look happy. "We believe that the fugitive may be hiding somewhere within a twenty-mile radius of the Lautenbacher farm," he said.
Very good, Irving, just keep on chasing those wild geese. I smiled.
"However," he went on, "we have strong reasons to believe that Ms. Maguire was aided by a person in a vehicle. Citizens who choose to transport, hide, or in any way a.s.sist an escaped felon should be warned that they will face obstruction of justice charges."
I wasn't smiling anymore.
Labeck snapped off the NBC channel. "Where's the nanny tape?" he asked.
I took it out of the toolbox and handed it to him. Labeck popped it into an elaborate computer that transmitted images to a large wall screen.
"This is the NSRT," Labeck said. "It has a two hundred fifty times resolution. Ordinarily zooming in that close would blur everything to a dot matrix, but it has an override to provide focus. It can check for light-dark tonal contrast, filter out extraneous sounds, and do a one one-thousandth of a second breakdown for running speed."
"Uh-huh." I hadn't understood a single syllable.
"The FBI has a program like this, except not as good." He tore his eyes away from the electronic gizmos and looked at me. "Tell me your lawyer had this film a.n.a.lyzed before the trial."
"Technology was not his strong suit. I don't think he could tell a DVD player from a waffle iron."
"What was his strong suit?"
"Oh, Sterling was pink-skinned and white-haired and dignified looking. He came from an old, reputable law firm. I figured that just the fact he'd taken my case lent me credibility." Sitting next to Sterling Habenmacher at the defense table, I'd felt protected, even cosseted. He patted my hand a lot. He told me not to worry. He smelled like pumpkin pie spice. He billed at a thousand dollars an hour. It hadn't occurred to me until much later, when I was sitting in a cell at Taycheedah, that Sterling Habenmacher hadn't for a single moment believed that I actually was innocent.
The prosecution had been required to share the evidence they planned to present with the defense, which included the nanny cam tape. Sterling hadn't even watched the tape; he'd spent an entire day of the trial wrangling with the judge and prosecution, explaining why the tape should be excluded as evidence. Despite all Sterling's objections, the judge had ruled that the tape would indeed be entered as evidence. The fact that we'd tried to suppress it worked against us; the video was all the more powerful when it finally was shown to the jury.
"No," I said. "The film wasn't a.n.a.lyzed."
Labeck shook his head in disgust. He pressed a b.u.t.ton and the video began to play.
"So that's your house," Labeck said. "Your husband's office?"
I nodded. Seeing the familiar room was a jolt. "The people who owned the house were named Subramatti," I said. "They were both cardiac surgeons and worked long days at the hospital, so they had a nanny caring for their kids. They turned the first floor library into a playroom, with kids' books on the lower shelves and medical texts on the top. The spy cam was hidden inside a book with a hole drilled in its spine."
When we'd moved into the house, Kip had immediately claimed the playroom as his office. Office, what a joke! Kip wasn't the type to lug home a briefcase full of contracts. He kept Scotch in the file drawer and used his computer to surf for p.o.r.n. He hadn't bothered to toss out the medical journals; maybe he felt the ponderous volumes lent his office a certain cla.s.siness. Since neither Kip nor I were top-shelf dusters-or bottom-shelf dusters for that matter-we never discovered the camera, hidden behind a copy of Liver Flukes and Hookworms.
I turned my attention back to the screen, back to the day my husband had been murdered. Kip is at his desk, back turned, the top of his head visible over the high-backed leather swivel chair. One bare elbow juts out and you can just make out a swatch of short-sleeved s.h.i.+rt. He's on our landline phone, the cord stretched between desk and chair. His voice is a low, indistinct murmur. What light there is in the room comes from the lamp atop his desk and from the computer screen.
A door opens. Off-camera, but the sound is audible. A woman walks into the room. Her back is to the camera so her face is hidden. She has dark, shoulder-length hair, a long-sleeved, floor-length nightgown, and bare feet. She's wearing rubber gloves, the kind you use to wash dishes. Kip doesn't hear her come in. Now the gun in the woman's right hand becomes visible. The woman walks up to Kip, raises the gun, fires a single shot. Kip slumps and falls against the desk lamp, which crashes to the floor, dousing the light. The room goes black.
Someone pounded on the door and I jumped. I'd been four years in the past, watching my husband being murdered. I mentally regeared to the present: Channel 13, the NSRT, Labeck.
"Radon," Labeck hissed. I snapped on my mask, s.n.a.t.c.hed up a television remote control, and began running it along the tiles, hoping that radon was the kind of substance that loitered around floors. Labeck cracked the door. There was a familiar yapping noise.
"This thing yours?" a man growled. I caught a glimpse of Bob, Labeck's cameraman buddy. He shoved m.u.f.fin into Labeck's arms. "I need to use the van. This little b.u.g.g.e.r almost took my arm off when I lifted his crate. Want me to step on it for you?"
Labeck shrugged. "Tempting, but no. I'm dog-sitting for a friend."
"How much you want to bet your friend never comes back for it?" Bob said.
He left, chortling. Labeck closed the door and dropped m.u.f.fin, who instantly made a beeline for me, snarling like a small grizzly. He lunged for my ankles, but I held up a warning hand. Apparently remembering the spanking, he abruptly halted and started yapping at me, a high-pitched sound in the same irritating tone as a dental drill.
"Shut him up," Labeck said.
"You shut him up!"
"Shut up!" we yelled in unison, but m.u.f.fin kept barking.
"Here's the plan," Labeck said. "We feed him. If he's eating, he's not barking. I'll get something in the cafeteria. Don't open the door to anyone."
Duh. After he left, I tried to grab m.u.f.fin, but he danced just out of reach, barking so hard there were times when all four feet were off the floor.
"Let's play fetch!" I said with feigned enthusiasm. "Fetch? I throw something and you chase it. Doesn't that sound like fun?"
I didn't have a ball or a stick. I took off my shoe-actually Labeck's old shoe, still wet from Vanessa's bathtub-and tossed it across the room. m.u.f.fin was after it in a flash. He picked it up in his mouth, swaggered around with it for a minute, but then didn't seem to know what to do with it. He dropped it and started barking again. I bent to retrieve the shoe. m.u.f.fin immediately s.n.a.t.c.hed up the toe end. I yanked on the heel end. We each tugged, m.u.f.fin growling fiercely, but now he just seemed to be play-acting. Was it possible the wretched creature was having fun? Did Vanessa ever play games with her dogs? Or was their social life pretty much limited to Attack, Kill?
m.u.f.fin was actually kind of cute, I noticed for the first time. His fur was soft gray, his underbelly white. He had a teddy bear head-wide and round, with black b.u.t.ton eyes and whiskers like bristle brushes. His teeth were white and needle-sharp. Vanessa probably filed them to points every night. Although he only weighed about as much a large cuc.u.mber, he was surprisingly strong; muscles rippled beneath his fur.
There was a knock on the door. "Open up," Labeck called in a low voice. In full bay, m.u.f.fin raced over to the door. I had to hold him by the collar while I opened the door wide enough for Labeck to slide through. He came in and set a paper sack down atop a desk. Demonstrating a surprising agility, m.u.f.fin sprang up onto a stool, then onto the desk, poking his snout into the bag.
"No!" Labeck said sharply, shoving him away, setting him on the floor. m.u.f.fin coiled himself to spring again. Labeck tossed him a ham sandwich. Accustomed to eating out of an embossed porcelain bowl, m.u.f.fin happily scarfed the sandwich off the tile floor. Labeck gave me dibs on the remaining sandwiches. I picked egg salad; he had tuna and lettuce. He'd even remembered pickles, bless him-large, juicy, sliced dills. We sat on swivel chairs, eating and was.h.i.+ng down the sandwiches with chocolate milk while Labeck replayed the video.
"Who knew that camera was in the room?" Labeck asked.
"Well, I didn't. Neither did Kip. He would have wanted to-" I stopped, reddening.
"Do home p.o.r.no?"
"Did Vanessa know it was there?"
"Vanessa knew everything. Somehow she got hold of our house keys and made copies. She'd come over to snoop when we were gone, go through our bathroom cabinets, check what we were using for birth control, look through our mail. She must have discovered the nanny cam while she was poking around one day, because she told the police to check it right after Kip's body was discovered."
Labeck scowled at m.u.f.fin, who'd snorked down his own sandwich and was now looking up at us, growling, demanding another one. "The nanny cam was a low-tech cheapie," he said. "Its time-dating feature wasn't even activated, the focus is fuzzy, and everything looks completely amateurish. Probably the owners installed the camera themselves."
That would fit with what I knew of the Subramattis, who were so cheap they'd dug their rosebushes out of the lawn and taken them along when they moved. They would have begrudged the few bucks it required to install a professional surveillance system.
"I think they had the camera plugged into an outlet so it would continuously charge," Labeck said. "The videotape was magnetic and the recorder mechanism was motion-sensitive, so it only turned on when something triggered its sensors. Theoretically, you could record for years. Who else knew about the nanny cam?"
"Vanessa might have told some of her friends. And of course the Subramattis knew, but they moved to California."
"If it's not you in that video, then who is it?"
I nudged away m.u.f.fin, who was climbing my leg trying to get at my sandwich. "The jury could never get past that. If it wasn't me, who was it-my evil twin? It even occurred to me that Vanessa might be a shape s.h.i.+fter or something-but no matter how much she hated me, she would never have hurt Kip."
"What about whatshername? The carrot-chomping debutante?"
"Prentice? Why would she want to kill Kip? She was probably going to be the next Mrs. Vonnerjohn. Anyway, she had an alibi for that night. I forget exactly what-she was shaving her celery sticks or flogging the servants or something like that."
Once the tabloids had gotten hold of the story, they'd run with it in their teeth, vilifying Prentice as The Other Woman, the scheming rich girl who'd broken up my happy marriage. True, Mazie Maguire had shot her husband in cold blood, a very bad thing to do, but Prentice Stodgemore had been carrying on with a married man! I'd received the sympathy vote by a wide margin while Prentice, relentlessly pursued by the media, had been forced to sneak around town in a head scarf and sungla.s.ses.
"Enemies?" Labeck asked.
I shook my head. "My lawyer hired a detective agency to investigate that angle."
"What about the people your husband worked with? Maybe he stole someone's
"Kip never did any work, so he probably never stepped on anyone's toes."
"How'd he keep his job?"
"Nepotism at its most flagrant."
"Maybe someone at the company was cooking the books, doing insider trading?"
"I don't think Kip would have picked up on that. He didn't know a debenture from a denture."
Labeck polished off his sandwich and stuffed the wrappings back in the bag, then returned to the video and started doing some complicated slicing and dicing on the computer. Finis.h.i.+ng my own sandwich, I crammed the extra lunch napkins up my pants legs to absorb the bathwater. When I turned out my sodden pants pockets, the baggie of money fell out. I'd forgotten about it.
I pulled out the bills. The bag had leaked and the money was soggy.
I flipped through the cash, my spirits going as damp as the bills. A measly tenner and some singles, wrapped around a square of stiff, glossy paper. It was a snapshot, I saw, rolled to fit inside the bills. I picked it up and studied it.
The photo looked as though it had been taken with a cheap flashcube camera back in the pre-digital days. A boy of about fifteen and a man sat side by side on a sofa. Some of the color had leached out of the photo, but it was possible to see that the boy was dark-Mexican or Puerto Rican-and the man was white, maybe in his thirties, with shoulder-length blond hair too yellow to be natural. He was s.h.i.+rtless, wearing Hawaiian print shorts and nothing else. He was slumped across the couch, one arm around the boy, one arm flung up to half-conceal his face. Impossible to tell his eye color; they were the devilish red produced by cheap flash. No telling where the photo had been taken-it was an anonymous, dingy room with liquor bottles lined up on a windowsill.
The back of the photo had a scrawled name, Luis, and a phone number in what looked like Kip's handwriting. I turned the photo over again. Was the boy in the snapshot Luis? He wore only navy running shorts with striped sides, the kind of shorts that double as swim trunks for poor kids. He had unruly black hair, an undercut jaw, and the scrawny arms and legs of a kid who'd grown up hungry. The man, by contrast, was beefy and muscular, with a bit of a belly.
The man looked vaguely familiar. Something niggled at the back of my mind.
"Hey-check this out!" Labeck sounded excited. He pointed at the screen. He'd rolled the videotape back to the beginning, to where Kip is sitting in his office. He zoomed in on the computer sitting on Kip's desk, then zoomed again, angling in on the bottom corner of the monitor. The date and time numbers went big and blurred, then jumped into focus.
"Notice the date?" Labeck asked.
But Kip had been killed on September twenty-fifth.
I stared at the numbers. "Probably a glitch in the time-setting program."
"That can be tested for, if we can get hold of his computer. But here's something even weirder. Watch." He rewound. Black screen, then Kip appeared, sitting in his office. Labeck stopped the video. "What did you see?"
I shrugged. "Nothing."
"Exactly! The camera was motion-sensitive, right? It started recording when it sensed movement. But there's just a long black stretch of . . . two minutes forty seconds in real time before the murder takes place. Why didn't the camera start recording when Kip entered the room and sat down? This video is like a movie set, where somebody yells Action and the camera starts rolling. Where's the day-to-day stuff that went on in that room? Where's the film of the last owners, the ones who installed the nanny cam in the first place?"
He fast-forwarded. The woman in the nightgown walked in, shot Kip again. The lamp tipped, plunging the room into darkness. "Now, afterward you see everything that happened. You see the tape activate when the bug guys enter the room. Here's you, running into the room, still wearing your pajamas. Here's where the EMTs arrive, here's the police. Everything gets recorded right up to the point where-"
Vanessa arrives, starts shrieking, flings herself on Kip's body, jabs a finger toward the video camera. A police officer climbs up on a chair and reaches toward the camera, his face growing large in the lens. A hand blurs the screen, there's a somersault of images, then everything goes black as the camera is shut off.
"And check this out!" Labeck rewound to where the woman in the nightgown entered the room. Zooming in, he froze the image on her feet. "Those are the ugliest female feet I've ever seen."
I had to agree. They had big, misshapen toes and tufty hairs on the knuckles.
"I've seen your feet," Labeck said. "Those are not your feet."
"That's not the rest of me, either." I was starting to feel excited.
"Is that your nightgown?"
"Yeah. But I never wore it. My cousin gave it to me for Christmas. I wrote her a gushy thank-you, then I stuffed it away in a closet."
Labeck banged his fist down on the table. I jumped. m.u.f.fin growled. "I can't believe you were convicted on the basis of this piece of s.h.i.+t!"
The door rattled, m.u.f.fin set up a frenzied yapping, and Bob called from outside the door. "You jerkin' off in there or what, Labeck? g.a.n.g.b.a.n.ger shootout at Twenty-ninth and Center-gotta roll."
"Be right out," Labeck called.
Turning to me, he dug in his pants pocket, handed me a set of keys. "I've got to go. Take my car-it's the blue Volks in the lot-and drive back to my place. Straight back."
He gripped my upper arms, made me look at him. "Mazie, are you listening?"
Mazie. So now we were on a first-name basis?
"Wait at my place. Keep the door locked. Don't try to drive to Illinois or run around hunting for clues or act on whatever other harebrained impulses occur to you."
This brought out my Miss Orange Jumpsuit scowl.
He released his grip. "I can trust you, right?"