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Time to Kill
By Brian Freemantle
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2006 Brian Freemantle
All rights reserved.
Jack Mason woke abruptly but without stirring, instantly aware of where he was. Knowing, too, that it was precisely 5 a.m. because he'd rigidly trained himself to awaken at that time every morning, as he had rigidly trained himself in so many other ways, in so many other things. He remained unmoving – further training – alert to the penitentiary sounds around him, listening for the unfamiliar. There was nothing but the all too familiar metal clatter and groans and snores and occasional cries from sleeping, snuffling men. Mason came down from the top bunk in one fluid, coordinated movement, landing soundlessly, animal-like, on the balls of his feet, intent upon the lower bunk. Peter Chambers slept on, undisturbed.
Mason didn't need the subdued lighting from the permanent outside illumination that silhouetted the cell bars, finding them from instinct after so long. Shrugging his back comfortably against the bars he reached up, finding the reinforcing cross strut just as easily, and slowly raised his legs until his body made the perfect L-shape for the first of the daily cell exercises. Having achieved the L-position, he held it, supported only by his hands and arms, for the self-imposed and calculated five minutes before lowering his feet to the floor. He repeated that initial process for over a full thirty minutes, without any of the stress or strain he'd suffered when he'd first initiated the exercise, many years ago. After that he performed the customary 100 press-ups using both arms, before switching to fifty on just his left arm and fifty on his right. Turning on to his back he completed 100 sit-ups using only his stomach muscles, not securing his feet or supporting his head between locked hands. There was not the slightest discomfort.
'You know what I've waited years to see? But know now that I never will.' Mason gave no reaction to Chambers' sudden question from the semi-darkness of the lower bunk; never to be surprised was something else which he had coached himself.
'Seeing you cramp up, not being able to go through one of your routines.'
'It'll never happen.'
'You really think you can keep it up when you get out?'
Mason rocked back and forth only once for the momentum to bring himself upright, without using his hands. 'Of course I will.' But making himself ready – invincible – wouldn't any longer be the priority. There'd be only one priority then. Finding Dimitri Sobell. To take, as agonizingly as possible, everything from the Russian, as Sobell had taken everything from him. Only after inflicting every imaginable hurt and loss would he finally kill Sobell, as badly and as painfully as it was possible for anyone to suffer before dying. Other training had been to study every conceivable torture to prepare himself for every option. His favourite, taken from Truman Capote's A Handcarved Coffin, would be to plant an amphetamine-crazed rattlesnake in the man's car, hoping that Ann would be in the vehicle, too.
'We gonna keep in touch?'
Like hell we're going to keep in touch, thought Mason. From what he'd gauged from Chambers' innuendos – sometimes coming close to outright boasts – there had been at least three million dollars more than the court had identified and traced of the twenty-million-dollar computer fraud for which Chambers had been sentenced to twenty years, matching that of his own, thankfully reduced to fifteen, as Chambers had been, for exemplary model prisoner behaviour. Mason had long ago earmarked that three million dollars to be his retirement pension: Chambers was the last on Mason's untraceable disposal list. 'We've already agreed that we will.'
'I'm never sure you mean it.'
'Stop sounding like a petulant gay.'
'Don't call me that! You know I'm not gay!'
'That's what everyone else thinks.'
Chambers wasn't gay and even if he had been there wouldn't have been any attraction, despite sex – very much and very often heterosexual sex – being the basic cause of Mason's downfall. Mason hadn't known about the outstanding three million dollars when he'd first cultivated Chambers. He'd initially sought out the former bank official to learn, as he had learned, the computer expertise with which the man had stolen the twenty million, although for reasons quite different from Chambers. 'Now you are sounding like a petulant gay.'
There was a brief silence from the still dark cavern of the lower bunk, before Chambers said: 'You gonna stay around here, in Pennsylvania, when you get out?'
'I don't need any reminders of this place,' said Mason, who'd served his sentence in White Deer Penitentiary.
'Where you going to go?'
'I haven't decided yet.' Because I don't know where Dimitri Sobell is, buried under a new name within the Witness Protection Programme, fucking the brains out of my ex-wife, Mason thought, trying to resist the easy anger. It was time he put the electronic traps in place to discover that.
'So how we gonna keep in touch?'
'You tell me where you're going to be, when you get out. And I'll look you up. I gotta look for work. Set myself up in a place somewhere.' Like so much – virtually everything in Jack Mason's life, in fact – that was a lie. There was eight hundred thousand Russian-supplied dollars in the safe deposit box his former, inefficient CIA employers had failed to locate during their investigation into his spying for Moscow. In addition, there was another interest-earning $200,000 from the estate of his mother, who had died five years after he was jailed, unaware, because of her advanced Alzheimer's disease, of his crime or that he was in jail. Those who thought they had investigated him so thoroughly were unaware of the real treasures that were being held for his release among his mother's stored effects to which his unwitting lawyer literally held the key. But it was essential to plead needful poverty if he was ever to get close to Chambers' even greater secret financial fortune.
At last Chambers swung his legs out of the cavern, emerging into the half light. Despite the prison diet he was a fat-bodied, soft man with pale-blue eyes and receding hair whose sexuality it was easy to doubt. 'We could go into business together.'
'Combining our expertise, yours from the CIA, mine from how to make money work.'
'Which brings us to the great big question,' lured Mason. 'With what?'
'A great big question you don't have to worry yourself about,' smirked the other man predictably.
'I'll put some thought to it,' promised Mason, impatient with the too often repeated conversation, glad of the sound further down the landing of a baton being noisily rattled along the cell bars.
'Howitt,' identified Chambers, unnecessarily.
Frank Howitt was the senior prison guard on the landing who always disturbed the convicts this way, a full thirty minutes before the wake-up bell. He didn't do it against the bars of Mason's cell, though. Howitt was a huge man, maybe 6 feet 4 inches and at least 250 pounds, his belly sagged over his inadequate uniform belt, his face mottled red from untreated blood pressure and booze.
'How you lovebirds doing?'
'Good, thank you, Mr Howitt,' replied Chambers, meekly.
'How about you, Mason?'
'Good.' The absence of any subservience was obvious.
'That's what you've got to be, very, very good so you don't fuck everything up during what little time you've got left here.'
'That's not going to happen.'
'You sure about that?'
'I'm sure about that,' mocked Mason.
It was Howitt who looked away first from the eyeballing. 'You're listed to see the warden today.'
'Better make sure you've got all your answers ready, as well.'
'You think you've got the answers to everything, Mason?'
'Enough to get by.'
'I've never agreed with remission, for guys who did what you did. I think motherfuckers like you should get that very special goodbye needle.' Executions in Pennsylvania were by lethal injection.
'You told me already, too many times.'
'So I'm telling you again.'
'Suit yourself.' Mason very positively, dismissively, turned his back on the man.
'You're not out yet, Mason.'
The former intelligence agent continued to ignore the obese chief officer, embarking on another self-invented exercise routine that involved his falling forward to take his full weight against the wall on his outstretched arms, to alternate on each, then to push himself fully upright before falling forward again.
'You be careful – very, very careful,' threatened Howitt, at last rippling his baton back and forth against the cell bars louder now than on any other cell, noisily enough to make Chambers wince.
'He's right, Jack,' said the cell mate. 'You're not out yet. He's bastard enough to catch you on some infringement to screw everything up.'
'Bastard enough but not clever enough,' dismissed Mason, breathing easily, normally, without interrupting the exercise. 'He's more frightened of me than I am of him.'
Because there had been no suggestion at his trial that Mason was dangerous or that his dealings with Russia at the height of the Cold War had involved violence, he had served his entire sentence at Pennsylvania's White Deer Penitentiary, arriving on the very same day as Howitt. Mason recognized the man from that initial day as the bully he had become over the years, intimidating everyone but Mason. The simple reason for that exception was that the first time Howitt threatened him Mason confronted the man very closely, their faces almost touching, and said, 'Fuck with me and I'll kill you. And you know that I will.' Howitt had known it, as everyone else over the years had come to know without Mason once having to prove it. Mason, an attentive pupil, had acquired the convincing psychology at the CIA's academy at Quantico.
'He's got authority on his side,' insisted Chambers.
'Forget it,' said Mason. He was sick to his stomach at the thought of how long he was going to have to spend outside jail with the man, until he got his hands on the three million dollars. He was, Mason decided, going to earn every cent.
They were both ready for the automatic release and retraction of their cell door, filing out with their towels and shaving packs. The twelve prisoners further back along the corridor stopped, giving Mason time and space to emerge and the four already ahead on the landing obediently stood aside for the man, with Chambers close alongside, to be in the first group into the shower room. Four more men waited against the shower wall, unchallenged by the three inside guards, leaving the usual two stalls empty for Mason and his cell mate. Mason took his time undressing, knowing everyone would be looking at his muscle-hardened body because everyone always did, and didn't hurry inside the shower, either. Two shaving basins were empty for them when they emerged. There was a gap for them at the head of the mess hall breakfast queue and two spaces at the table Mason preferred, in a corner.
'I'm going to miss this special protection,' confessed Chambers, whose release wasn't scheduled for another six months.
You probably are, thought Mason: you're going to get shit when I'm not here to protect you. 'I'll spread the word for you to be left alone.' He had three million bucks to protect, after all.
'You're going to find things a lot different outside, after fifteen years,' warned the warden, a white-haired, stick-thin career prison governor named Hubert Harrison.
'I'm sure I am, sir, although I've tried to keep up to date as much as possible,' said Mason. The warden had for a long time been the only man in the penitentiary to whom Mason showed any respect, although that was kept to the barest minimum.
'I know you have, Mason. I wish everyone here accepted their punishment as objectively as you've done, 'fessed up to the wrong and shown the determination you've demonstrated to rehabilitate.'
'Thank you, sir.'
'You got any firmed-up plans?'
If only you knew, thought Mason. 'Nothing positive. I've enjoyed running the library for these last few years. Might try something involving books.' He smiled. 'Although I don't mean trying to write one. Maybe something involving distribution, where I can utilize what I've learned about computers while I've been here.'
'From what I hear you could go into competition with Bill Gates and Microsoft.'
'I'm not that good.' Mason knew he was assessed to be very good indeed according to his legitimate instructors. A year earlier, using the illegal expertise he'd learned from the bank fraudster, Mason had embedded deep within his prison personnel records a 'Trojan Horse', a hacker's bug with its password and access code known only to himself in which the entire traffic in and out of those records was automatically duplicated and from which he could access everything that had preceded it, from the very moment of his sentencing. Using either the penitentiary's rehab computer training room or the dedicated station in the library in which he'd been assigned as chief librarian for the last six years, he'd taken his time to read every report, assessment or recommendation about himself. Before today's meeting with Harrison he'd gone into his Trojan Horse looking for the records of the automatic warning which he knew, from his CIA experience, was sent to everyone supposedly hidden forever in a Witness Protection Programme, of the imminent release of a felon for whose imprisonment they were responsible. He had been concerned at not finding it, as he'd failed to do every day over the preceding month. Mason had expected to find it – and everything else he needed to discover about the new life and identity of Dimitri Sobell – long before now. A change of routine was an unsettling uncertainty.
'We should hear the parole arrangement by next week. Of course, you'll be attached to DC, your last city of domicile.'
'Yes,' accepted Mason. He'd already read the exchanges between Harrison and the parole authorities and knew his exemplary record was going to cut him as much slack as he could expect. The parole restrictions were still going to be a potential irritation, although he'd already thought of some evasions.
'They could give you a steer about accommodation, if you intend to stay there.'
'I'm not sure that I do,' said Mason. 'Ann's divorced me for the Russian. And got the proceeds from the sale of our old house.'
'Thought about where you might resettle?'
'California is where the computer industry is,' Mason said, smiling. 'And the winters are warmer there than on the East Coast.'
'And that physique you've developed will look good on Venice Beach,' smiled the warden, in return.
'I did wrong,' said Mason. 'Very wrong. When I arrived here I made myself a personal promise, not to let my body or my mind atrophy.'
'You didn't do either,' acknowledged Harrison, a reform-dedicated penologist. 'Wherever you choose to live and whatever you decide to do, I know you'll be successful.'
'I'm absolutely determined to be,' said Mason, a remark entirely for his own benefit.CHAPTER 2
So long and so well had Daniel Slater adjusted to his new life and identity that he rarely consciously thought of his previous existence. One of the few exceptions were weekends like this, when he and Ann took David into the Ridge and Valley Appalachians of Maryland to camp and for Slater to teach their son the survival tradecraft he'd learned from his geology professor father in the harshness of his native Siberia. The recollection only brought nostalgia for his father. Slater didn't miss Russia, didn't miss anything about his first twenty-six years as Dimitri Sobell, so perfect did he consider everything to be as Daniel Slater.
'Not one mistake so far,' said Ann, who'd automatically learned the backwoodsman techniques as Slater had taught them to their son.
Excerpted from Time to Kill by Brian Freemantle. Copyright © 2006 Brian Freemantle. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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