The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.

Eden Ahbez, "Nature Boy" (1948)

Tác giả: Sidney Sheldon
Thể loại: Tiểu Thuyết
Biên tập: Bach Ly Bang
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Language: English
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Chapter 10
ou're going to lose your governess tomorrow," Warden Brannigan announced to his wife.
Sue Ellen Brannigan looked up in surprise. "Why? Judy's very good with Amy."
"I know, but her sentence is up. She's being released in the morning."
They were having breakfast in the comfortable cottage that was one of the perquisites of Warden Brannigan's job. Other benefits included a cook, a maid, a chauffeur, and a governess for their daughter, Amy, who was almost five. All the servants were trusties. When Sue Ellen Brannigan had arrived there five years earlier, she had been nervous about living on the grounds of the penitentiary, and even more apprehensive about having a house full of servants,who were all convicted criminals.
"How do you know they won't rob us and cut our throats in the middle of the night?" she had demanded.
"If they do," Warden Brannigan had promised, "I'll put them on report."
He had persuaded his wife, without convincing her, but Sue Ellen's fears had proved groundless. The trusties were anxious to make a good impression and cut their time down as much as possible, so they were very conscientious.
"I was just getting comfortable with the idea of leaving Amy in Judy's care," Mrs. Brannigan complained. She wished Judy well, but she did not want her to leave. Who knew what kind of woman would be Amy's next governess? There were so many horror stories about the terrible things strangers did to children.
"Do you have anyone in particular in mind to replace Judy, George?"
The warden had given it considerable thought. There were a dozen trusties suitable for the job of taking care of their daughter. But he had not been able to get Tracy Whitney out of his mind. There was something about her case that he found deeply disturbing. He had been a professional criminologist for fifteen years, and he prided himself that one of his strengths was his ability to assess prisoners. Some of the convicts in his care were hardened criminals, others were in prison because they had committed crimes of passion or succumbed to a momentary temptation, but it seemed to Warden Brannigan that Tracy Whitney belonged in neither category. He had not been swayed by her protests of innocence, for that was standard operating procedure for all convicts. What bothered him was the people who had conspired to send Tracy Whitney to prison. The warden had been appointed by a New Orleans civic commission headed by the governor of the state, and although he steadfastly refused to become involved in politics, he was aware of all the players. Joe Romano was Mafia, a runner for Anthony Orsatti. Perry Pope, the attorney who had defended Tracy Whitney, was on their payroll, and so was Judge Henry Lawrence. Tracy Whitney's conviction had a decidedly rank odor to it.
Now Warden Brannigan made his decision. He said to his wife, "Yes. I do have someone in mind."
o O o
There was an alcove in the prison kitchen with a small Formica-topped dining table and four chairs, the only place where it was possible to have a reasonable amount of privacy. Ernestine Littlechap and Tracy were seated there, drinking coffee during their ten-minute break.
"I think it's about time you tol' me what your big hurry is to bust outta here," Ernestine suggested.
Tracy hesitated. Could she trust Ernestine? She had no choice. "There--- there are some people who did things to my family and me. I've got to get out to pay them back."
"Yeah? What'd they do?"
Tracy's words came out slowly, each one a drop of pain. "They killed my mother."
"Who's they?"
"I don't think the names would mean anything to you. Joe Romano, Perry Pope, a judge named Henry Lawrence; Anthony Orsatti---"
Ernestine was staring at her with her mouth open. "Jesus H. Christ! You puttin' me on, girl?"
Tracy was surprised. "You've heard of them?"
"Heard of 'em! Who hasn't heard of 'em? Nothin' goes down in New Or-fuckin'-leans unless Orsatti or Romano says so. You can't mess with them. They'll blow you away like smoke."
Tracy said tonelessly, "They've already blown me away."
Ernestine looked around to make sure they could not be overheard. "You're either crazy or you're the dumbest broad I've ever met. Talk about the untouchables!" She shook her head. "Forget about 'em. Fast!"
"No. I can't. I have to break out of here. Can it be done?"
Ernestine was silent for a long time. When she finally spoke, she said, "We'll talk in the yard."
o O o
They were in the yard, off in a corner by themselves.
"There've been twelve bust-outs from this joint," Ernestine said. "Two of the prisoners were shot and killed. The other ten were caught and brought back." Tracy made no comment. "The tower's manned twenty-four hours by guards with machine guns, and they're mean sons of bitches. If anyone escapes, it costs the guards their jobs, so they'd just as soon kill you as look at you. There's barbed wire all around the prison, and if you get through that and past the machine guns, they got hound dogs that can track a mosquito's fart. There's a National Guard station a few miles away, and when a prisoner escapes from here they send up helicopters with guns and searchlights. Nobody gives a shit if they bring you back dead or alive, girl. They figure dead is better. It discourages anyone else with plans."
"But people still try," Tracy said stubbornly.
"The ones who broke out had help from the outside--- friends who smuggled in guns and money and clothes. They had getaway cars waltin' for 'em." She paused for effect. "And they still got caught."
"They won't catch me," Tracy swore.
A matron was approaching. She called out to Tracy, "Warden Brannigan wants you. On the double."
o O o
"We need someone to take care of our young daughter," Warden Brannigan said. "It's a voluntary job. You don't have to take it if you don't wish to."
Someone to take care of our young daughter. Tracy's mind was racing. This might make her escape easier. Working in the warden's house, she could probably learn a great deal more about the prison setup.
"Yes," Tracy said. "I'd like to take the job."
George Brannigan was pleased. He had an odd, unreasonable feeling that he owed this woman something. "Good. It pays sixty cents an hour. The money will be put in your account at the end of each month."
Prisoners were not allowed to handle cash, and all monies accumulated were handed over upon the prisoner's release.
l won't be here at the end of the month, Tracy thought, but aloud she said, "That will be fine."
"You can start in the morning. The head matron will give you the details."
"Thank you, Warden."
He looked at Tracy and was tempted to say something more. He was not quite sure what. Instead, he said, "That's all."
o O o
When Tracy broke the news to Ernestine, the black woman said thoughtfully, "That means they gonna make you a trusty. You'll get the run of the prison. That might make bustin' out a little easier."
"How do I do it?" Tracy asked.
"You got three choices, but they're all risky. The first way is a sneak-out. You use chewin' gum one night to jam the locks on your cell door and the corridor doors. You sneak outside to the yard, throw a blanket over the barbed wire, and you're off and runnin'."
With dogs and helicopters after her. Tracy could feel the bullets from the guns of the guards tearing into her. She shuddered. "What are the other ways?"
"The second way's a breakout. That's where you use a gun and take a hostage with you. If they catch you, they'll give you a deuce with a nickel tail." She saw Tracy's puzzled expression. "That's another two to five years on your sentence."
"And the third way?"
"A walkaway. That's for trusties who are out on a work detail. Once you're out in the open, girl, you jest keep movin'."
Tracy thought about that. Without money and a car and a place to hide out, she would have no chance. "They'd find out I was gone at the next head count and come looking for me."
Ernestine sighed. "There ain't no perfect escape plan, girl. That's why no one's ever made it outta this place."
I will, Tracy vowed. I will.
o O o
The morning Tracy was taken to Warden Brannigan's home marked her fifth month as a prisoner. She was nervous about meeting the warden's wife and child, for she wanted this job desperately. It was going to be her key to freedom.
Tracy walked into the large, pleasant kitchen and sat down. She could feel the perspiration bead and roll down from her underarms. A woman clad in a muted rose-colored housecoat appeared in the doorway.
She said, "Good morning."
"Good morning."
The woman started to sit, changed her mind, and stood. Sue Ellen Brannigan was a pleasant-faced blonde in her middle thirties, with a vague, distracted manner. She was thin and hyper, never quite sure how to treat the convict servants. Should she thank them for doing their jobs, or just give them orders? Should she be friendly, or treat them like prisoners? Sue Ellen still had not gotten used to the idea of living in the midst of drug addicts and thieves and killers.
"I'm Mrs. Brannigan," she rattled on. "Amy is almost five years old, and you know how active they are at that age. I'm afraid she has to be watched all the time." She glanced at Tracy's left hand. There was no wedding ring there, but these days, of course, that meant nothing. Particularly with the lower classes, Sue Ellen thought. She paused and asked delicately, "Do you have children?"
Tracy thought of her unborn baby. "No."
"I see." Sue Ellen was confused by this young woman. She was not at all what she had expected. There was something almost elegant about her. "I'll bring Amy in." She hurried out of the room.
Tracy looked around. It was a fairly large cottage, neat and attractively furnished. It seemed to Tracy that it had been years since she had been in anyone's home. That was all part of the other world, the world outside.
Sue Ellen came back into the room holding the hand of a young girl. "Amy, this is---" Did one call a prisoner by her first or last name? She compromised. "This is Tracy Whitney."
"Hi," Amy said. She had her mother's thinness and deepset, intelligent hazel eyes. She was not a pretty child, but there was an open friendliness about her that was touching.
I won't let her touch me.
"Are you going to be my new nanny?"
"Well, I'm going to help your mother look after you."
"Judy went out on parole, did you know that? Are you going out on parole, too?"
No, Tracy thought. She said, "I'm going to be here for a long while, Amy."
"That's good," Sue Ellen said brightly. She colored in embarrassment and bit her lip. "I mean---" She whirled around the kitchen and started explaining Tracy's duties to her. "You'll have your meals with Amy. You can prepare breakfast for her and play with her in the morning. The cook will make lunch here. After lunch, Amy has a nap, and in the afternoon she likes walking around the grounds of the farm. I think it's so good for a child to see growing things, don't you?"
The farm was on the other side of the main prison, and the twenty acres, planted with vegetables and fruit trees, were tended by trusties. There was a large artificial lake used for irrigation, surrounded by a stone wall that rose above it.
o O o
The next five days were almost like a new life for Tracy. Under different circumstances, she would have enjoyed getting away from the bleak prison walls, free to walk around the farm and breathe the fresh country air, but all she could think about was escaping. When she was not on duty with Amy, she was required to report back to the prison. Each night Tracy was locked in her cell, but in the daytime she had the illusion of freedom. After breakfast in the prison kitchen, she walked over to the warden's cottage and made breakfast for Amy. Tracy had learned a good deal about cooking from Charles, and she was tempted by the varieties of foodstuffs on the warden's shelves, but Amy preferred a simple breakfast of oatmeal or cereal with fruit. Afterward, Tracy would play games with the little girl or read to her. Without thinking. Tracy began teaching Amy the games her mother had played with her.
Amy loved puppets. Tracy tried to copy Shari Lewis's Lamb Chop for her from one of the warden's old socks, but it turned out looking like a cross between a fox and a duck. "I think it's beautiful," Amy said loyally.
Tracy made the puppet speak with different accents: French, Italian, German, and the one Amy adored the most, Paulita's Mexican lilt. Tracy would watch the pleasure oft the child's face and think, I won't become involved. She's just my means of getting out of this place.
After Amy's afternoon nap, the two of them would take long walks, and Tracy saw to it that they covered areas of the prison grounds she had not seen before. She carefully observed every exit and entrance and how the guard towers were manned and noted when the shifts changed. It became obvious to her that none of the escape plans she had discussed with Ernestine would work.
"Has anyone ever tried to escape by hiding in one of the service trucks that deliver things to the prison? I've seen milk trucks and food---"
"Forget it," Ernestine said flatly. "Every vehicle comin' in and goin' out of the gate is searched."
o O o
At breakfast one morning, Amy said, "I love you, Tracy. Will you be my mother?"
The words sent a pang through Tracy. "One mother is enough. You don't need two."
"Yes, I do. My friend Sally Ann's father got married again, and Sally Ann has two mothers."
"You're not Sally Ann," Tracy said curtly. "Finish your breakfast."
Amy was looking at her with hurt eyes. "I'm not hungry anymore."
"All right. I'll read to you, then."
As Tracy started to read, she felt Amy's soft little hand on hers.
"Can I sit on your lap?"
"No." Get your affection from your own family, Tracy thought. You don't belong to me. Nothing belongs to me.
o O o
The easy days away from the routine of the prison somehow made the nights worse. Tracy loathed returning to her cell, hated being caged in like an animal. She was still unable to get used to the screams that came from nearby cells in the uncaring darkness. She would grit her teeth until her jaws ached. One night at a time, she promised herself. I can stand one night at a time.
She slept little, for her mind was busy planning. Step one was to escape. Step two was to deal with Joe Romano, Perry Pope, Judge Henry Lawrence, and Anthony Orsatti. Step three was Charles. But that was too painful even to think about yet. I'll handle that when the time comes, she told herself.
o O o
It was becoming impossible to stay out of the way of Big Bertha. Tracy was sure the huge Swede was having her spied upon. If Tracy went to the recreation room, Big Bertha would show up a few minutes later, and when Tracy went out to the yard, Big Bertha would appear shortly afterward.
One day Big Bertha walked up to Tracy and said, "You're looking beautiful today, littbarn. I can't wait for us to get together."
"Stay away from me," Tracy warned.
The amazon grinned. "Or what? Your black bitch is gettin' out. I'm arrangin' to have you transferred to my cell."
Tracy stared at her.
Big Bertha nodded. "I can do it, honey. Believe it."
Tracy knew then her time was running out. She had to escape before Ernestine was released.
o O o
Amy's favorite walk was through the meadow, rainbowed with colorful wildflowers. The huge artificial lake was nearby, surrounded by a low concrete wall with a long drop to the deep water.
"Let's go swimming," Amy pleaded. "Please, let's, Tracy?"
"It's not for swimming," Tracy said. "They use the water for irrigation." The sight of the cold, forbidding-looking lake made her shiver.
Her father was carrying her into the ocean on his shoulders, and when she cried out, her father said, Don't be a baby, Tracy, and he dropped her into the cold water, and when the water closed over her head she panicked and began to choke....
o O o
When the news came, it was a shock, even though Tracy had expected it.
"I'm gettin' outta here a week from Sattiday," Ernestine said.
The words sent a cold chill through Tracy. She had not told Ernestine about her conversation with Big Bertha. Ernestine would not be here to help her. Big Bertha probably had enough influence to have Tracy transferred to her cell. The only way Tracy could avoid it would be to talk to the warden, and she knew that if she did that, she was as good as dead. Every convict in the prison would turn on her. You gotta fight, fuck; or hit the fence. Well, she was going to hit the fence.
She and Ernestine went over the escape possibilities again. None of them was satisfactory.
"You ain't got no car, and you ain't got no one on the outside to he'p you. You're gonna get caught, sure as hell, and then you'll be worse off. You'd be better doin' cool time and flnishin' out your gig."
But Tracy knew there would be no cool time. Not with Big Bertha after her. The thought of what the giant bull-dyke had in mind for her made her physically ill.
o O o
It was Saturday morning, seven days before Ernestine's release. Sue Ellen Brannigan had taken Amy into New Orleans for the weekend, and Tracy was at work in the prison kitchen.
"How's the nursemaid job goin'?" Ernestine asked.
"All right."
"I seen that little girl. She seems real sweet."
"She's okay." Her tone was indifferent.
"I'll sure be glad to get outta here. I'll tell you one thing, I ain't never comin' back to this joint. If there's anythin' Al or me kin do for you on the outside---"
"Coming through," a male voice called out.
Tracy turned. A laundryman was pushing a huge cart piled to the top with soiled uniforms and linens. Tracy watched, puzzled, as he headed for the exit.
"What I was sayin' was if me and Al can do anythin' for you--- you know--- send you things or---"
"Ernie, what's a laundry truck doing here? The prison has its own laundry."
"Oh, that's for the guards," Ernestine laughed. "They used to send their uniforms to the prison laundry, but all the buttons managed to get ripped off, sleeves were torn, obscene notes were sewn inside, shirts were shrunk, and the material got mysteriously slashed. Ain't that a fuckin' shame, Miss Scarlett? Now the guards gotta send their stuff to an outside laundry." Ernestine laughed her Butterfly McQueen imitation.
Tracy was no longer listening. She knew how she was going to escape.
If Tomorrow Comes If Tomorrow Comes - Sidney Sheldon If Tomorrow Comes