It was definitely a man. Those shoulders were too broad to be a woman’s.
And the bastard was coming this way.
Lane leveled his gun at his target, holding the weapon steady with two hands as he straight-armed the autoloader. As he kept himself perfectly motionless, he waited for the trespasser to funnel down that pathway and come up this set of side steps.
He waited . . .
. . . and waited . . .
. . . and thought of his extremely estranged, soon-to-be ex-wife, Chantal. Maybe this was a private detective sent by her, coming to get some dirt on the financial scandal at the BBC, some information on how bad the bankruptcy was, some angle that she could use against him as they ground their non-existent relationship into dust.
Or perhaps Edward had broken out of jail and was coming home.
Doubtful on that one.
The trespasser made a last turn and then was coming right for Lane. But his head was down, a baseball cap pulled low.
Lane kept tight until he was absolutely sure he could hit the chest. Then he squeezed the trigger halfway, the red laser sight slicing through the night and forming a little dancing spot right where the guy’s heart was.
Lane spoke up, loud and clear. “I really don’t care if I kill you.”
The man stopped so quick, his feet skipped on the brick. And those hands popped up like whoever it was had mattress springs in their armpits.
Lane frowned as he finally saw the face. “What are you doing out here?”
Washington County Jail, Downtown Charlemont
Moonlight entered the jail cell through a barred window, the shaft of creamy light getting sliced into five sections before it tripped on the lip of a stainless-steel sink and fell in a sprawl to the concrete floor. Outside, the night was humid, which accounted for the murky quality of the illumination. Inside the cell, it was no-season-whatsoever, the walls and floor and heavy solid door painted in shades of incarceration gray, the air stale and smelling of metal and disinfectant.
Edward Bradford Baldwine sat all the way back on the bunk, the more mangled of his two legs cocked at the strange angle that provided a modicum of relief, the thin mattress offering little to no padding under the bones of his withered lower body.
This was not the first time he had been held in custody, but at least now it was not against his will. He had volunteered himself for this; he had confessed to the murder of his father and thus placed himself in this lockdown. He was also not the only prisoner, in contrast to his previous experience, the sounds of snoring, coughing, and the occasional moan reaching his ears in spite of that reinforced door.
A muffled thump and corresponding echo made him think of his thoroughbred breeding farm, the Red & Black. All of these men in their single compartments were like his mares in their stalls—restless, churning, even at night. Perhaps especially after dark.
Pushing his palms into the mattress, he relieved the pressure points on his seat for as long as he could. Too soon, he was forced to resettle himself, his upper body no stronger than his lower was, the background chatter of physical discomfort something he had grown well familiar with.
As he glanced around the cell, with its concrete block walls and its polished concrete floor, that stainless-steel sink and toilet, the barred and chicken-wired window, he thought of Easterly’s splendor. The basement of his family’s mansion was kitted out with greater luxury than these lodgings, especially that wine cellar, which was like an English study that had fallen through the floor above and landed on the bedrock of the hill.
For no particular reason—well, other than the obvious one, which was that he had nothing better to do and no chance of sleeping—he thought of a story he had read years ago, about a young boy who had grown up in a cardboard box. In fact, hadn’t there been a TV show about a character who’d been similarly tortured . . .
Wait, what had he been going on about?
His mind, doughy and sluggish, tried to catch the tail of the cognition.
Oh . . . right. The kid in the cardboard box. So the boy had actually been fairly un-traumatized when he’d been rescued. It wasn’t until he’d discovered that other kids hadn’t been subjected to that kind of abuse that he’d gotten upset.
Moral of the story? When you were being raised in a given environment, and that was all you ever knew, the lack of comparison and contrast meant the oddities of your existence were invisible and unknowable. Life in his family and at Easterly had been utterly normal to him. He’d assumed that everyone lived on an estate with seventy people working on it. That Rolls-Royces were just cars. That presidents and dignitaries and folks on TV and in movies coming to your parents’ parties was merely an as-you-do.
The fact that the vast majority of people at Charlemont Country Day and then the University of Virginia had been of similar social and financial stature had not challenged his bias. And after his graduation? His perspective hadn’t evolved because he’d been so distracted trying to get up to speed in the family business.
He’d also taken for granted that everybody was hated by their father.
Of course, his two brothers and his sister hadn’t been despised as much as he had been, but sufficient animus had been shown toward them as well that his construct and conclusions had remained unchallenged. And the beatings and the cold condemnations had come only behind closed doors. So when he had been out and about and seeing fathers acting in a civil way around their offspring? He’d just assumed that it was for show, a privacy curtain’s worth of social subterfuge drawn in place to hide the far darker reality.
As it was in the Bradford household.
The eye opening had finally come after he had progressed up the management levels at the BBC to a position where he discovered his father wasn’t just a shitty sire but also a poor businessman. And then he’d made the mistake of confronting William Baldwine.
Two months later, Edward had gone down to South America on a routine matter and been kidnapped. His father had refused to pay the ransom, and as a result, things had been done to Edward. Partially because his captors had been frustrated, partially because they had been bored.
But mostly because his father had told them to kill him.
That was when he decided that William was in fact an evil man who had done bad things all of his life and hurt many, many people, in many, many different ways in the process.
Fortunately for Edward, an unexpected rescuer had materialized in the jungle, and Edward had been first airlifted to a U.S. Army base and then eventually returned home to U.S. soil, landing here in Charlemont like a battered package that had gotten mauled and delayed while going through customs.
As memories of re-learning how to walk and go up stairs and feed and clean himself threatened to break down the door to Edward’s mental castle, he reflected on how much he missed his alcohol.
On a night like tonight, when all he had was insomnia and his cannibalistic brain for company? He would have killed for a blackout.
In the aftermath of his initial, more medically intensive period of recovery, liquor had been the sustainer for him as he was weaned off the opiates. Then, as further days and nights had dragged on, the numbness and the relief he reliably enjoyed thanks to liquor, those little floating vacations on the good ship Lolli-booze, became the only respite from his mind and his body. Quitting that cirrhotic hobby had been necessary, though.
As soon as it had become clear that he was headed to prison, he knew he’d needed to detox and the first seventy-two hours had been hell. Actually, things were still hard, and not just because of his psychological crutch being gone. He felt even more weak in his body, and though the trembling in his hands and feet was improving, the shaking was not yet over its torment of his fine motor skills and sense of balance.
Glancing down at his loose orange prison pants, he remembered his old life, his former body, his previous mind. He had been so whole back then, preparing himself to take over the Bradford Bourbon Company after his father retired, making strategic business decisions, blowing off steam playing racquetball and tennis.
Like the kid in the cardboard box, it had never dawned on him that there was another kind of life waiting for him. A different existence. A change coming around the corner that would take him to a new consciousness.
Unlike the boy in the box, however, his life had gotten worse, at least by nearly all objective measurements. And that was even before his actions had put him in here with a toilet that had nothing to offer but a cold rim to take a seat on.