Jane’s captors are employees of the man who really killed Shelby’s wife. He believes he won’t be safe until Shelby is dead, and his men will do anything to force Jane to reveal Shelby’s hiding place. But Jane endures their torment, and is willing to die rather than betray Shelby. Jane manages to escape but she is alone, wounded, thousands of miles from home with no money and no identification, hunted by the police as well as her captors. She must rejoin Shelby, reach his sister before the hunters do, and get them both to safety.
In this unrelenting, breathtaking cross-country battle, Jane survives by relying on the traditions of her Seneca ancestors. When at last Jane turns to fight, her enemies face a cunning and ferocious warrior who has one weapon that they don’t.
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JAMES SHELBY in the white prison van looking out the tinted window. The tint was so dark it was hard to see out, and the grate on the inside that kept inmates from touching the glass made it worse. He was shackled to a ring welded to the side of the van, so he couldn't move around much.
Five prisoners were going to court this morning. Everyone in the California Institution for Men at Chino had already been tried and convicted, so they all knew the routines — how they should stand, how their facial muscles should be set, where their eyes should be aimed. Three of the five men were going to be tried for crimes they had committed before they'd gone to jail — one man whose DNA had been taken at his prison intake physical and later matched to the sample swabbed from a rape victim, another man who had turned up on three bank security tapes committing robberies, and a liquor store bandit whose gun had been matched to a killing.
The fourth man was shackled a few feet from the others on the opposite side of the van with Shelby. His name was McCorkin and he was the former cellmate of an embezzler. McCorkin was going to testify that the embezzler had been bragging about using the money to buy drugs for resale. This was McCorkin's fourth trip to court to testify against cellmates, all of whom seemed to tell him things they hadn't told anyone else.
He and Shelby were shackled away from the others because they were both considered informers. Shelby had not concealed the name of the man who had stabbed him in the back two months ago. Being seated with McCorkin had its advantages. None of the others wanted to say anything in his presence that he could use to get more privileges or a shorter sentence. They didn't want him to be aware of them, because his mere notice brought with it a risk of future prosecutions.
Shelby looked out at the road, and not at his companions. From the start he hadn't let his eyes rest on any of them, because they were volatile. And today they were more dangerous to him than ever, because all any of them had to do was notice that something was odd about him and say so. If they even joked with him about being different today, the guards would hear it. He knew the malice and perversity that had tangled the prisoners' minds. If they knew he was planning to escape, they'd be resentful that he wasn't freeing them, too. They would be envious that he had a plan, because they didn't. And the ones who considered him an informer would find it simple justice to snitch on him.
On the way into Los Angeles there were mountains, then dry-looking pastureland and a succession of telephone poles, and then a big highway with cars driven by bored civilians who saw the marshal's logo on the side of the van and the reinforcement of the side and back windows, and tried to see through the tinted glass. They wanted to see a sideshow, a few ferocious beasts whose ugly faces would give them chills, and maybe even more, the poor, sad bastards who didn't look mean or crazy. Shelby was one of those. If they could have seen him through the glass, they would have said he looked just like their brother or nephew or cousin — a man in his late twenties with light hair and a reasonably handsome face. There was some unholy fake sympathy in people that made them think, "There, but for the grace of God ..." and not mean it. The idea that they were the favored ones seemed to titillate them. They were not the ones inside the bars with the monsters and the freaks, and never would be.
The ride took another hour, and then the van pulled off the freeway at Grand Avenue, and went south to First Street and then up Broadway toward the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Courts Building. It was still early morning. Through the tinted glass Shelby could make out lots of people on the sidewalks of the court district. The lawyers all wore suits, mostly in shades between light gray and charcoal, with white shirts and neckties. The female city bureaucrats all wore pantsuits, and the males had dress pants and light-colored shirts and ties, and all of them wore plastic badges dangling on lanyards from their necks like jewelry. The jurors dressed more casually. Each of them had a red-and-white paper badge for jury duty stuck in a plastic holder with an alligator clip to hold it.
In the period of his life long before his troubles started, Shelby had lived for a year in Los Angeles. He'd served on a jury here, so he knew. They always started the day by herding a couple of hundred men and women into that small assembly room on the fifth floor. Then they waited, and at irregular intervals one of the clerks would come out of their office and read some juror numbers.
Benches lined the hallways of the court building, and they were always occupied by lawyers, their clients, witnesses, and the defendants' families. The first time he had seen the hallways, they had reminded him of the marketplaces in the Middle East, with people haggling and gossiping and scheming, their private conversations all out in the open, but unheard because there were too many people talking at once. Everyone had something pressing of his own to worry about at that moment — legal papers to look at and stories to repeat and get straight before going into the courtroom, or plea deals to evaluate before they were withdrawn.
The building was modern, with floors marked by rows of identical windows a person couldn't see into. The main entrance consisted of steps descending into a sunken patio. At the edge of the patio were glass doors leading into the building. The court building seemed worn. Everything had been walked on, rubbed, touched by human hands so many times that it was old while it was still new. Inside the tall glass doors was a security area that could have been transported from an airport. Long lines of people waited to put their belongings on conveyer belts that took them through X-ray machines, and then waited to walk through the arch of one of the three metal detectors.
Big, hard-eyed male cops and a few women cops operated the machines and funneled the mass of people into single-file lines and off into the rows of elevators on both sides of the lobby, first the ones for floors twelve through nineteen, and then the ones for floors two through eleven. During the past weeks Shelby had spent hours remembering every detail he could bring back.
Shelby prepared himself while the van pulled up behind the building and then into an underground garage. The van stopped. The guard yelled, "Listen up," and paused to hear the silence. "When you're unlocked, get out on the right side through the open door. Follow the man in front of you and line up in that order with your toes on the yellow line. Do not walk, do not move, until I tell you."
Shelby and the others got out and remained in line. They were all experts by now at hearing the order and following it without allowing it to linger in their minds to chafe. Following orders had become the only way forward in their lives.
The second guard got out with them and stood a few feet back, so they couldn't rush him without getting shot. The driver pulled the van ahead and around to an extra-long parking space reserved for the vehicles from the lockups. He came back and stood near his companion. "All right. We're going in through that door over there. When we're inside, you'll be given instructions and taken to a holding room. Walk."
The group of shackled prisoners walked ahead in single file to the door and then continued inside. The second guard handed a police officer a piece of paper, and he read it and handed it to another police officer at a desk, who used a pen to check something off against a list and wrote something down. All of the cops' faces were set in a wary distrust, making sure they were seeing the same things they'd seen ten thousand times before, and not something new.
The men were shackled to a railing that was attached to the wall in a holding room, in the same two groups. Shelby wondered where the black-haired woman was right now. He had listened closely to what she had told him during her visits to the California Institution for Men at Chino. She had told him where things were going to be and how he should reach them, but she'd never said where she was going to be or what she would do. Now he couldn't help wondering whether she hadn't told him because what she intended to do was insane, and she had been afraid he would lose his nerve. Maybe she had already set everything up before dawn, and had taken off, to be as far away as possible before things began to happen. She'd said only that she would give him a chance to free himself, and he had to be ready.
There was a television set on a metal stand high up in a corner, but it wasn't turned on. On the center of the wall was an electric clock. He and the others sat in silence for a long time watching it and waiting for something to happen, but nothing did. He began to worry again that he was not exuding the same air of bored emptiness that he had on other days, in prison. If he seemed nervous or unusually alert, one of the other inmates would know that he was hiding something. He half-closed his eyes and pretended to be dozing, but he tried to figure out where the guards were. About once an hour one of the sheriff's deputies in tan khaki shirts and green pants would come through the room as though he were taking a shortcut to somewhere else. Twice Shelby heard prisoners' names called over an intercom, but they must have been in other holding rooms.
At eleven thirty Shelby began to get nervous and agitated. The time was coming. Either it would happen soon, or it would not happen. There were a hundred reasons why it couldn't happen, and only one reason why it might — the woman's sheer mad certainty — but as long as that one reason wasn't dead, the tension in his chest kept growing. In a half hour he would be free or he'd be dead. Less than a half hour, now.
His eyes began to lose their ability to stay focused on one spot, because they weren't able to rest anywhere long enough. A cop came to the door and called out, "Shelby!"
"Yes, sir," Shelby said.
"There's an attorney waiting to speak with you. Stand up."
He stood and the cop unlocked his shackles from the rail on the wall and guided him out the door. Shelby took deep, even breaths. This was the start, and he was going to need to be sharp. The cop led him along the back hallway to the first open door, a room with a small window that started head-high with steel mesh over it. The cop ushered him in and closed the door behind them.
Seated at the table was the woman with black hair. Today she was dressed in a black suit, and she had draped a black raincoat over the table. The cop led Shelby to a chair across the table from her and began to shackle Shelby to the ring welded to the table.
The black-haired woman dropped something that sounded like a pen, and crouched to pick it up. For a moment Shelby and the guard lost sight of her under the table. The guard suddenly released Shelby's chain and stepped back. "Hey! What are you doing?" He reached for something on his belt and took a first step to go around the table toward her. Before he could make the turn, his legs bent at the knees and he pitched forward. He fell to the floor, and rolled over to get his radio off his belt, but she batted it out of his grasp with her hand, and it clattered across the floor.
She held up her other hand to show him a hypodermic needle she had used on his leg. "It's a low dose of anesthetic. It won't hurt you, and the effect will be gone in a little while. I'm sorry."
The cop stared at her with wide eyes, but he didn't seem to be able to move. In a few seconds his eyes closed. She said, "He'll be out for a half hour." She knelt; unbuckled the cop's utility belt with his gun, mace, and handcuffs and set it across the room in a corner; reached into his breast pocket to get his cell phone; and took the battery and put it with his other equipment.
Shelby saw that the cop hadn't managed to close the hasp to lock his chain to the ring, so he pulled it through and freed himself.
She took the key from the cop's limp hand and removed the chains from around Shelby's waist and between his ankles. "Take off the jumpsuit."
Shelby unzipped it and stepped out of it, then stood in his underwear feeling cold and vulnerable. The woman looked out the screened window and took off her suit pants, which had been rolled at the waist to conceal their length, and cinched with a belt at her hips. She took off her black stretch turtleneck and handed it to him. This left her in a pair of tight black pants and a fitted vest over her white blouse. The suit coat she had left inside her raincoat when she'd taken it off, she now extricated and handed to Shelby. He put it on, and it fit reasonably well. She put on her raincoat.
She turned to him again, and he felt the blue eyes sweeping down from his face to his feet.
"How do I look?" he asked.
"Not like a prisoner." She knelt again beside the cop, took off his black shoes, and handed them to Shelby so he could put them on. He kicked off his plastic sandals, stepped into the oversize shoes, and tied them as tightly as possible. The last thing she handed him was her briefcase. "Ready?"
He nodded. She unlocked the door with one of the keys from the cop's belt, and went out to the narrow, empty corridor. There were doors all along the left side that led to rooms like the one they'd just left, and one windowless steel door at the end with a clipboard hanging on it. The sheet on the clipboard listed Kristen Alvarez, but she took out a pen and added the name Gregory Campbell to the list with the same entry time as Kristen Alvarez. She looked at her watch and signed them both out. They stepped out into the main hallway of the building. As they walked, she and Shelby looked straight ahead and never met the eyes of passersby. Shelby noticed that any eyes passed over him and lingered on her. She was beautiful, tall and erect, and took long, purposeful strides. They made a turn and stepped through the exit door into the staircase.
They hurried down four floors without meeting anyone on the stairs, and then she stopped at a small glass door with a fire extinguisher inside. She opened the door, reached behind the extinguisher, and produced a red-and-white juror badge in a plastic holder and clipped it to Shelby's breast pocket. She looked at her watch. "We're on the fifth floor. Just go out into the hall near the jury room and sit on one of the benches. In three minutes it will be noon."
"How can I ever thank you?"
"You're not even out yet. Make sure you get one of the first elevators."
He nodded and went out into the fifth-floor hallway. In two and a half minutes the staff in the jury assembly room would let the two hundred or so bored prospective jurors go to lunch, and they'd all stream out to jam the hallway and the elevators and stairs. He walked toward the jury assembly room, but stopped outside the door and sat down on the bench by the wall closest to the elevator to wait.
JANE WHITEFIELD RAN DOWN THE stairwell the rest of the way toward the first floor, but just as she was reaching for the door handle to go out to the lobby, she heard a door a few floors up flung open, and she could hear the measured sound of leather-soled shoes on the metal stairs, and the murmur of voices — jurors. She almost smiled, but instead kept her face blank and serene as she stepped out into a narrow corridor to the back of the lobby near the elevators.
Then Jane saw the three men. Shelby's sister had given her photographs of them when she had come to Jane in Deganawida, New York, to ask for her help. "I took these during Jim's trial," she said. "These are the three who helped frame him. They bribed some witnesses to say that Jim had done violent things when he got mad at people, some to say they saw him sitting in the parking lot waiting for Susan to come home that night, and scared at least two other witnesses away so they couldn't be found in time for the trial."
The pictures had been taken from different angles: one photo of them taken as they were coming out of some public building together, one taken when they were getting into a car, and one taken through the open side window as they pulled away. The men were all about thirty to forty, with short, well-barbered hair, all wearing suits. They looked like lawyers or business clients arriving for a case.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Poison Flower"
Copyright © 2012 Thomas Perry.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
"Anyone who has read Perry knows the anticipatory pleasure that comes just from holding a new book with his name on the cover. Fans of Jane, last seen in Runner, will enjoy this elegantly written tale of pursuit and revenge." -Library Journal