Home > Escape Clause (Virgil Flowers #9)

Escape Clause (Virgil Flowers #9)
Author: John Sandford




Peck popped a Xanax, screwed the cap back on the pill tube, peered over the top of the bush and through the chain-link fence, and in a hoarse whisper, asked, “You see the other one?”

   The big man with the rifle whispered, “Right by that tree, above the first one. She’s looking down at him.”

   “Get her.”

   The big man rested the muzzle of the rifle in the V of one of the chain links, pulled the trigger: the rifle made a pop sound, not much louder than a hand clap. They waited, staring into the darkness, then Peck said, “Ah, you dumb shit, you missed her. You missed her. She should be down, but she’s not. She’s moving.”

   “Might have hit that brush, deflected the shot . . .”

   “She’s moving out in the open. Reload,” Peck said.

   “I’m doing it. Get off my back, will ya?”

   “Can you see her now?” Peck asked. “She’s getting curious about why the guy’s just lying there.”


   “Got her. Saw it hit,” the big man said.

   “Sure she’s down? We don’t want to make a mistake.”

   “She’s going down now . . .” the big man whispered. “I’m pretty sure.”

   Peck could smell the nicotine and tar on the other man’s breath. The big guy was addicted to Akhtamar Black Flames and almost always had one stuck to his lower lip, but not now. Peck reached out and slapped him on the back of the head and said, “I don’t want to hear that ‘pretty sure.’ You know what happens if you’re wrong? We’re dead men.”

   “You fuckin’ slap me again and I’ll stick the gun butt up your ass and twist it sideways.”

   A small man, crouched on the other side of the rifleman, said, “I saw them get hit. I saw it, man. Both of them. But who knows if it was enough?”

   They all went silent for a moment, squinting into the dark. Two bodies lay in the short grass, unmoving. The fence was twenty feet high and stouter than a normal chain link—a prison fence. With no sign of movement on the other side, Peck said, “Hamlet: cut the fence.”

   “What if they’re faking?” The small guy had half circles under his eyes, so dark they looked like broken blue poker chips.

   “You’re the one who said they got hit,” Peck said. The soapy touch of Xanax was slipping into his brain.

   The small guy said, “Maybe we oughta split. I’m not feeling so sure about this.”

   “We’re here. It’s done. Cut the fuckin’ fence,” Peck said.


   Hamlet’s side-cutters made a grunt sound as he snipped each piece of wire. Grunt-grunt-grunt. They’d come well equipped: they wore rubber kitchen gloves and black clothing and trucker hats and, in addition to the gun, had brought a roll of black duct tape they’d use to put the fence back together when they left.

   Hamlet was cutting a wide oval in the fence, leaving it hinged on one side. He’d gotten halfway around the oval when the big man, Hayk, hissed and touched his brother’s arm and whispered, “Someone’s coming.”

   They sank into the brush and Hayk moved the muzzle of the rifle around until it pointed out at the perimeter road. Twenty seconds later, a man in a gray uniform ambled along the road, looking at nothing in particular, talking to himself.

   When he was directly opposite them, forty feet away, they heard him say, “I told him not to give her the money. She’ll blow it on herself. That’s what she’ll do, and you know it. It won’t get to your mom. She doesn’t care about your mom. . . .”

   Peck realized that the security guard was wearing an earpiece and was talking into a cell phone. He lost the thread of what the man was saying as he disappeared around the curve of the frontage road. When the guard was well out of earshot, Hamlet whispered, “I think he had a gun.”

   “No, he didn’t—I checked that out,” Peck said.

   “Not in the middle of the night.”

   “The guards are not armed,” Peck said.

   Hayk said, “Ham, keep cutting. We’re almost there.”

   Hamlet went back to cutting and, two minutes later, pulled open the cut curve of fencing, like a gate.

   Peck said, “Go on. Crawl through there.”

   “Why don’t you crawl there?” Hamlet asked.

   Peck had no immediate answer for that, and the Xanax now had a good grip on him, so he said, “All right, I will. Hold the fence.” Hamlet pulled the fence farther back. When Peck was through, he turned to Hayk and said, “Give me the gun.”

   “Not loaded.”

   “That’s okay, I’m gonna use it as a poker.”

   Hayk handed him the gun and Peck crawled fifteen feet to the first body and poked it with the gun’s muzzle. No reaction. That was a good thing. The other body was ten feet farther on. He poked that one, too, got no response.

   He turned around and whispered, “We’re good.”

   “Told ya,” Hamlet said, too loud.

   Peck whispered, “Shut up, you fuckin’ moron. Get the dollies in here.”


   Hayk pushed the dollies through the hole in the fence and rolled them over to the bodies. The dollies were the kind used by garden shops, with a flat bed and wide soft wheels.

   “Goddamn, heavier than hell,” Hayk said, as they lifted the first body onto a dolly. They couldn’t see much farther than fifteen or twenty feet away, and the moon didn’t help: it sat right on the western horizon and splashed a silvery light off the trees around them. The contrast made it hard to discern shapes and movement.

   “Gonna have to push them through the fence one at a time, right out to the perimeter,” Peck said. Despite the Xanax, he was sweating heavily, not from the hot summer night, but from fear. He could smell the stink of it on himself.

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