AS SHE CLIMBED INTO THE VAN, the warm air hit Grace like a punch.
Her fingers and toes throbbed painfully as her circulation began to return. It was good to be off the road, but she knew she could trust no one. How long till the news of her escape became public knowledge? Hours? A day at most. Perhaps it was on the radio already? They would issue a new Photofit...
"Where you headed?"
It was a good question. Where was she headed?
Grace looked at the compass on the dashboard. "North."
Her "plan," if you could call it that, was to meet up with Davey Buccola in three weeks' time. They had a rendezvous arranged in Manhattan - Times Square. It was Davey who had convinced Grace not to go after John Merrivale as soon as she got out. "Don't risk blowing your cover till we know all there is to know." Davey was convinced he was close to proving who had killed Lenny. "Just a few more weeks. Trust me." He'd proposed both the time and the place of their meeting. His theory was that Times Square was so public, so obvious, no one would think to look for Grace there. "Even if someone were to recognize you, they'll assume they made a mistake. And hopefully by then, they won't recognize you. You'll have had time to work on how you look."
Grace would have liked to meet sooner, but Davey was adamant. "Not till I have more to tell you. Till I'm certain. Every meeting's a risk. We need to make it count."
In the meantime, Grace would find a safe place to lie low, get her head together and, of course, start working on a decent disguise. She already looked completely different from the woman America remembered from her trial. No one who knew Grace in her glory days as the queen of Wall Street would have recognized her now. The broken nose, the dull complexion, the short, lank hair and pain-deadened eyes; they would all help protect her in the first few hours and days. But ultimately, Grace knew, they wouldn't be enough. She would have to keep changing, daily, weekly, like a chameleon.
It wasn't just her looks that had to evolve. I'll have to change on the inside, too. Successful con artists, like successful actors, learned how to become someone else. They projected a confidence, a believability, that worked better than any mask or wig or hair dye. Grace had repeated the mantra endlessly in the days leading up to her escape:
Grace Brookstein is dead.
My name is Lizzie Woolley.
I'm a twenty-eight-year-old architect from Wisconsin.
The driver's voice brought Grace back to reality. "How far north?"
"I only ask because you ain't got no case or nothing. And you look like you're dressed for Florida." He chuckled. Grace noticed the way he stared at her bare legs. Instinctively she crossed them, pulling her skirt lower.
"I left in a hurry. My...my sister's been taken ill."
It was such an obvious lie, Grace blushed. The driver didn't seem to notice. "What's your name, sweetheart?"
"Pretty name. You're a real pretty girl, Lizzie. I guess you already know that, huh?"
Grace pulled at the top of her blouse, looking for another button to do up, but there wasn't one. This guy was giving her the creeps.
Without warning, he swerved to the side of the road, bringing the van to a sudden halt. Grace jumped.
"Sorry. I gotta take a leak." Unclicking his seat belt, he jumped out.
Grace watched him disappear behind the back of the van. Her mind was racing.
Should I get out? Run? No, that was crazy. She needed a ride and she'd gotten one. She'd let him take her fifty miles or so, then get out near a small town somewhere. I can't afford to get spooked by every guy who hits on me. That's what men do, right? He's okay.
Two minutes later, the driver returned. He was carrying a thermos and a Tupperware container full of sandwiches. He must have gotten them from the back of the van.
Grace's stomach gave an audible rumble. She was starving.
He turned on the ignition and pulled back onto the road. "Well, go on, then, Lizzie. Knock yourself out. I already ate, but my wife always packs me extra."
So he's married. Instantly, Grace relaxed.
"Thank you. Thank you very much."
She started to eat.
GRACE WOKE UP IN THE BACK of the van with her face pressed to the floor. Her wool skirt had been pushed up around her hips and her panties yanked down around her ankles. The driver was on top of her. His hand was between her legs.
"That's right, Lizzie. Nice and wide now. Open up for Daddy."
Grace groaned. She tried to move, but her body felt as if it were made of lead. With the added weight of the driver on top of her, it was impossible. With his free hand he forced his swollen penis inside her.
"No!" Grace didn't know if she'd said the word aloud or in her head. It made no difference. The man kept thrusting, deeper, harder. There was nothing frenzied about his movements, though. He was taking things slow. Enjoying himself. Grace felt his hands move upward, clawing under her bra until he found her breasts.
"How about those titties?" He was whispering in her ear, taunting her. Grace could feel the prickle of his mustache against her cheek. "You awake now, Lizzie, are you? I feel you stirring down there." Another thrust. "How does it feel, baby? Is it good to get fucked? I'll bet it is. Well, don't worry, Lizzie. We got all night."
He continued to rape her. Unable to move, Grace tried to think. He must have drugged me. The flask. He must have slipped something into the tea. She wondered how late it was and where they were now. Were they still near Bedford, or had hours passed? She couldn't hear any traffic.
We're probably somewhere secluded. Woodland. Where no one will hear me scream.
What would he do when he'd finished with her? Throw her out into the woods? Kill her? Slowly the thick fog in Grace's head began to clear. In his eagerness to get inside her, the driver had left her clothes on, even her shoes.
His movements were getting faster now as he built to a climax. Grace gritted her teeth, waiting for him to come, but he suddenly stopped, pulling out of her and flipping her over onto her back like a rag doll. Looking up at his face, into those flat Asian eyes dancing with sadistic pleasure, Grace knew: He's going to kill me.
The rape was just foreplay.
"Open your mouth," he ordered her.
Grace lifted her legs in the air, spreading them wide then wrapping them around his back, pulling him back inside her. "Make me." She gazed into his eyes, her pupils dilating with excitement.
He smiled. "Well, well, well. So you do like it, little Lizzie. Even better. This is going to be quite an evening."
He started fucking her again, faster this time. Grace tightened her grip around his waist. Inside her left shoe she began to move her toes till she could feel Cora's stiletto.
"Yeah! That's it, baby!"
Grace felt the muscles stiffen across his shoulders and back. He started to ejaculate, then suddenly pulled out of her. Holding his grotesque, twitching penis in one hand, he knelt over her, pulling her mouth open with his other hand. Grace felt the hot spray of his semen on her tongue, down her throat. She gagged. He was laughing, closing his eyes, lost in sexual pleasure. This is it. This is my chance. Arching her back, with one single, fluid movement, Grace pulled off her shoe, grabbed the knife, flicked it open and plunged it between his shoulder blades.
For a split second the driver remained kneeling, a look of shock and bewilderment on his face. Then he fell forward, silently, the blade still stuck in his back like the key in a windup toy. It took all of Grace's strength to wriggle out from under him and remove the knife. Blood spurted from the wound like water from a faucet.
Grace rolled him onto his side. He was trying to talk to her, mouthing words, but all Grace could hear was a bloody gurgle. She kicked him hard in the crotch. He already looked incapacitated but you could never be too sure. After rifling his pockets for cash and anything else of value, she hurriedly pulled on her underwear and straightened her clothes, making sure she still had Karen's "survival package" of documents. Then she went around to the front of the van and took the car keys, as well as the thick, lumberjack jacket the man had been wearing when he picked her up.
Walking back to the rear of the van, Grace opened the door. The driver was still alive, but barely. Underneath him the pool of blood was growing bigger, like a deep red puddle. When he saw the knife in Grace's hand, his eyes widened.
"No!" he gurgled. "Please..."
Her intention had been to finish the job. To drive the knife in to his heart, in and in and in and in, like his sick, rapist's dick, until he was dead. But watching him beg for mercy, hearing him plead so pathetically for his life, Grace changed her mind.
Why let him die quickly? He doesn't deserve it.
I'll leave the bastard where he is. Let him bleed to death, slowly and alone.
Grace flipped the blade shut, turned and ran.
IT WAS TWO HOURS BEFORE GRACE reached the outskirts of the nearest small town. The road signs proclaimed it to be Richardsville in Putnam County. Dawn was breaking, a faint strand of burnt-orange light forcing its way through the black night sky. At intervals during her long walk, she'd heard the distinct, insectlike whirring of choppers overhead. They're hunting for me already. She wondered if they'd found the van driver? If they were close? Adrenaline coursed through her bruised body, along with a torrent of other, conflicting emotions: Disgust. Terror. Pain. Rage. She'd been raped. She could still feel the evil man inside her, hurting her, violating her. She had also just killed a man. Thinking about the fear he would feel as the life drained out of him, alone in those dreadful woods, Grace recognized another, unfamiliar emotion in the maelstrom: hatred. She was not sorry for what she'd done. But all her feelings and thoughts were eclipsed by one, overriding sensation: exhaustion.
She needed to sleep.
The Up All Night Motel looked like something out of the opening credits of a horror movie. Out front, a flickering, cracked neon sign promised LUXURY INDIVIDUAL BATHROOMS and COLOR TV IN EVERY ROOM! Inside, the oldest man Grace had ever seen snored quietly at the reception desk. His gnarled face was crisscrossed with lines and his body looked ancient and shrunken. He reminded Grace of someone. Yoda.
He jerked awake.
"I'd like a room, please."
Yoda looked Grace up and down. She felt her stomach turn to water. Does he recognize me? She was so nervous she was sure her teeth were chattering, though she could conceivably pass that off as cold. She'd tried to make her voice sound firm and authoritative when she asked for the room, but it came out a frightened quaver. Can he see I've been attacked? Can he smell that bastard on me? Maybe I shouldn't stay here? I should keep moving. But she knew she was too exhausted to go on.
The old man, however, seemed more irritated than interested by her presence. After a long pause he grumbled, "Foller me," and led her down a long, cheerless corridor. At the end was a numberless white door. "This do for ya?"
There was a single bed, made up with cheap, polyester sheets, floral curtains and a coffee-colored carpet splattered with miscellaneous stains. In the far corner, a tiny television was nailed to the wall. Next to it, the door to the "luxury individual bathroom" stood open, revealing a luxury individual toilet with no seat or lid and a luxury individual shower with mold growing between the tiles.
"This is fine. How much do I owe you?"
"How long you stayin'?"
"I'm not sure." Suddenly conscious of her disheveled appearance and the fact that she had no luggage with her, Grace blurted out, "I had a fight with my boyfriend. I left in kind of a hurry."
Yoda shrugged, bored.
"Twenty dollars for tonight."
Grace pressed a bill into his hand and he left. Locking the door behind him, Grace drew the curtains closed. She took off all her clothes and walked into the bathroom. Only then did she sink to her knees, lean over the toilet and vomit. When her stomach was empty, she stood up and stepped into the shower. Under the weak, lukewarm jets of water, she scrubbed at herself with the used bar of soap until her skin bled. She could still feel the man's filthy hands on her breasts, his revolting, rapist's seed on her face, in her mouth. There'd been two bottles of drinking water in the back of the van that she'd used to clean herself up as best she could a few hours ago, so as not to arouse suspicion. On the long walk here she had forced herself to focus on the shower awaiting her, on being clean. But she knew now she would never be clean again.
Drying herself off, she retched again, but there was nothing left inside her to throw up. She moved into the bedroom and sank down on the bed. It was warm in the room. Leaning back against the cheap foam pillow, Grace flicked on the TV. Her own face stared back at her. Or rather, her face as it had once been, long, long ago.
So it's public already. At least they're using an old picture. I'll have to do something about a disguise first thing in the morning, before they release a new one.
The newscaster was talking.
"In breaking news, Grace Brookstein is reported to have absconded from a maximum-security correctional facility in upstate New York. Brookstein, widow of the billionaire con man Leonard Brookstein..."
The report went on but Grace didn't hear it. She felt more tired than she could ever remember. It had been the longest twenty-four hours of her life. Sleep caressed her like the softest of cashmere blankets. She closed her eyes and let it take her.
GAVIN WILLIAMS WAS SCREAMING.
"Are you blind? This is it! The breakthrough we've been praying for. Grace will lead us straight to the money!"
Gavin Williams, Harry Bain and John Merrivale were having a working breakfast at Quorum's old offices. It was the morning after Grace's escape and the news was all over the TV and newspapers.
Harry Bain shook his head. "I doubt that. Even assuming she knows where it is..."
"She knows where it is."
"Even if she does, she won't get that far. She's got the entire NYPD looking for her. My guess is she'll be back behind bars by nightfall. Either that or some trigger-happy cop will have shot her."
"No! We can't let that happen!" It was unlike Williams to lose control, but he looked close to tears. "Grace Brookstein remains the key to this case. We must take control. We must insist the NYPD hand the investigation over to the bureau."
Harry Bain laughed. "Oh, yeah. I'll insist. I'm sure the chief of police will love that."
Gavin Williams looked to John Merrivale for support. But of course John just stared at his shoes, like the coward that he was. Furious, Williams got up and stormed out.
Merrivale said, "I know it's not my p-place to say so. But I think perhaps the stress of this case is becoming too much for Agent Williams."
Harry Bain agreed. "You're right. I'm having him transferred. Grace Brookstein has become an obsession. It's clouding his judgment. Her escape is a distraction, and we can't afford distractions."
John Merrivale breathed a sigh of relief.
He wouldn't rest completely easily until Grace was captured. Or, better yet, shot. News of her escape had shaken him deeply. But today's meeting was reassuring. With Gavin Williams out of the picture, it would be even easier to lead Bain and his men in the wrong direction. Eventually they'd run out of energy, or money, or both, and call off the investigation. Then finally he would be free. Free to leave New York, to leave Caroline. A life without chains! In the end it would all be worth it.
"D-do you really think they'll find her quickly?"
Harry Bain said, "I'm sure of it. She's Grace Brookstein, for God's sake. Where's she gonna hide?"
IN HER DREAMS GRACE HEARD KNOCKING, faint but rapid and insistent, like a woodpecker in the distance. The noise grew louder, closer. She woke up.
There's someone at the door!
Jumping out of bed, she grabbed her switchblade and wrapped the bedsheet around her, stumbling toward the sound in the darkness.
"Who is it?"
Yoda. Grace put down the knife and opened the door a crack.
"You stayin' another night?"
The light from the corridor was blinding. Grace blinked.
"I said, you stayin' another night? It's noon. Changeover's twelve thirty. You ain't staying, you gotta vacate the room by then."
"Oh. No. I'm staying."
Grace pulled a second bill out of the wad Karen had given her and handed it to the old man. He took it wordlessly, scuttling back to his reception desk like a decrepit beetle.
Twelve o'clock! Jesus. I must have been out like a light. Grace opened the curtains, then closed them again. Far too bright. Splashing cold water on her face, she pulled on her clothes - they stank of that bastard but they were all she had. She would buy new ones today. The TV was still on from last night. Grace turned up the volume. This time the news report was on the economy. But a few moments later her face was back on-screen again, this time a mug shot from the day they brought her to Bedford. It still looks nothing like me.
The anchorwoman was talking. "With Grace Brookstein now missing for over seventeen hours, the police appear to have no concrete leads. With me is Detective Mitchell Connors of the NYPD, the man leading the investigation into Brookstein's escape. Detective, people are already saying that you and your men are running out of ideas. Do you feel that's a fair statement?"
An attractive blond cop responded by video link.
"No, Nancy, I don't believe it is. We're pursuing a number of different avenues. This investigation is only hours old. It's our belief that the prisoner will be apprehended swiftly and we're working toward that conclusion."
Grace studied the cop's face. Detective Mitchell Connors looked like he'd been sketched by a cartoonist at Marvel Comics, all square jaw and steady, blue-eyed gaze. Physically he reminded Grace of a rougher-around-the-edges version of her brother-in-law Jack Warner. But his expression was nothing like Jack's. If anything, it was more like Lenny's. It's his eyes. He has kind eyes.
He was still talking. "Grace Brookstein and her husband brought extraordinary suffering to thousands of people, particularly here in New York. Believe me, Nancy, no one wants to see this convicted felon back behind bars more than I do. Make no mistake. We will find her."
Grace switched off the television.
Detective Connors might have kind eyes, but he's my enemy.
She mustn't forget it.
THAT AFTERNOON, GRACE WALKED INTO TOWN. It was all she could do to stop her teeth from chattering, knowing that her face was all over the news, that at any moment, someone might recognize her and turn her in to the authorities. But she couldn't hide out at the motel forever. She needed supplies, and she needed to get out of Richardsville. Karen and Cora had both warned her of the dangers of staying in one place too long.
With the van driver's bulky jacket pulled tightly around her, Grace kept her head down as she walked the aisles of a Walmart. At the checkout, her heart was pounding so violently she thought she might faint. Happily the sullen teenager manning the register seemed more interested in the chip on one of her acrylic nails than in the nervous customer or her purchases.
"Eighty-eight dollazs yer total; cash 'r credit?"
The girl didn't even look up.
By the time Grace returned to her room at the Up All Night, it was almost four P.M. Locking the door, she emptied her Walmart bags onto the bed: hair dye, scissors, makeup, disinfectant, underwear, a three-pack of Haines T-shirts, jeans, a beanie hat, and a gray carry-all gym bag.
She got to work.
THE OLD MAN AT THE RECEPTION desk studied the picture in his newspaper. His eyes weren't what they used to be.
Could it be?
This girl's nose was different. And the hair. Still, there was definitely a resemblance. And she had arrived in the middle of the night, with no suitcase. He looked at the paper again. The cop on the TV said to report anything suspicious, no matter how trivial.
The old man picked up the phone.
GRACE LOOKED AT HERSELF IN THE cracked bathroom mirror. Except it wasn't herself. It was someone else, the first of her four new identities. Lizzie Woolley.
Carefully cleaning up all traces of dye and picking every lock of severed hair off the floor, Grace dropped them into the empty Walmart bag along with the discarded bottle of Nice 'n Easy and her old clothes, tied the bag by the handles and stuffed it into her carry-all. She dressed quickly. The clean clothes felt wonderful. For a moment Grace thought back to her old life and smiled. She could never have imagined back then that the day would come when a pair of Walmart jeans would feel like the last word in luxury! She'd already spent two-thirds of the cash Karen and Cora had given her. Pretty soon she would have to make e-mail contact with Karen's mysterious "friend" and ask for more. Cora had assured her that getting cash from Western Union was anonymous and easy. All you had to do was show up at one of their hundreds of thousands of locations, show your (fake) ID and take the money. "It's how every illegal immigrant in this country makes rent, honey. It's their business not to ask questions." Even so, Grace hoped she wouldn't have to do it too often.
She'd checked the bus timetable earlier. The next bus to the city left at 6:15 P.M.
Plenty of time.
THE OLD MAN KNOCKED ON THE DOOR.
No answer. Officer McInley, Richardsville's finest - Richardsville's only - looked pissed. "I thought you said she was definitely here?"
Officer McInley knew the minute Old Man Murdoch called that it'd be some stupid-ass wild-goose chase. Grace Brookstein, staying at the Up All Night? Yeah, right. She was probably sharing a room with Kermit the Frog and Herman Munster. Everyone in Richardsville knew that Murdoch had lost his marbles years ago.
"She's here, all right? Saw her come in wi' my own two eyes and she ain't come out again. Muz be sleepin'."
Unhooking the master key from his belt loop, the old man unlocked the door.
The room was empty. Not just empty but pristine. The bed was made, the surfaces wiped clean. It looked as if no one had stayed there in weeks.
Officer McInley rolled his eyes.
"She wuz here, I tell ya! Last two nights. I swear to God. Musta 'scaped out the winda."
"Uh-huh." On a flying monkey. "Well, if you see her again, you be sure and let us know."