Sandini grinned and gave Zack a jaunty thumbs up instead of a more conspicuous solemn handshake. "Stop worrying about me and get going."

Zack nodded, turned, then turned back. "Sandini?" he said solemnly.

"Yeah, Zack?"

"I'm going to miss you."

"Yeah, I know."

"Give Mama my love. Tell your sisters they'll always be my favorite leading ladies," Zack added, then he turned and walked quickly away.

The grocery store was on the corner with a recessed entrance on the street facing the building Hadley was in and another one facing a side street. Forcing himself not to deviate from the plan, Zack walked into the main entrance. In case Hadley should be watching from the building, which he occasionally did, he lingered just inside the doors, unnoticed, and counted slowly to thirty.

Five minutes later, he was several blocks away, his prison jacket tucked under his arm, walking swiftly toward his first destination—the men's room in the Phillips 66 Station on Court Street. His heart beating with suspense and dread, he crossed Court Street on a red light, dashing between a taxi and tow truck that had slowed to make a right turn, then he saw what he was looking for—a nondescript black coupe parked halfway down the block, with Illinois license plates. The car was still there, even though he was two days late getting to it.

With his head bent and his hands in his pockets, he slowed his pace to normal. The snow was beginning to fall in earnest as he strode past the red Corvette pulled up at the gas pumps, heading directly for the men's room at the side of the station. He grasped the door knob and twisted it. It was locked! Resisting the urge to ram his shoulder into the door and try to break it down, he grabbed the knob and rattled it hard. An angry male voice shouted from inside, "Keep your pants on, buster. I'll be out in a minute."

The occupant of the men's room finally emerged several minutes later, yanked open the door, looked around at the empty area outside the building, and then headed for the red Corvette at the pumps. Behind him, Zack moved out from the cover of the dumpster, went into the men's room, and carefully locked the door behind him, all his attention fastened on the overflowing trash can inside it. If anyone had emptied it in the last two days, his luck had just run out.

Grabbing it he turned it over. A few paper towels and beer cans came loose. He shook it again and loosened a deluge of refuse, and then—from the very bottom—two nylon duffel bags tumbled out onto the grimy linoleum floor with a satisfying thud. He yanked open the first bag with one hand and started unbuttoning his prison shirt with his other. That bag yielded up a pair of jeans in his size, a nondescript black sweater, an ordinary denim jacket, boots in his size, and a pair of aviator sunglasses. The other bag contained a map of Colorado with his route highlighted in red, a typewritten list of directions to his ultimate destination—a secluded house deep in the Colorado mountains—two thick, brown envelopes, a .45-calibre automatic pistol, a box of shells, a switchblade, and a set of car keys that he knew would fit into the ignition of the black coupe across the street. The switchblade surprised him. Evidently, Sandini didn't think the well-dressed, escaped convict should be without one.

Mentally ticking off the precious seconds, Zack stripped off his clothes, pulled on the new ones, then he stuffed the old ones into one of the duffel bags and refilled the trash can with the debris from the floor. Vanishing, without leaving a trace or clue about how he'd done it, was vital to his future safety. He opened the thick envelopes and checked the contents: The first contained $25,000 in unmarked twenty-dollar bills and a passport in the name of Alan Aldrich; the second contained an assortment of prepaid airline tickets to various cities, some of them in the name of Alan Aldrich, others in different names that he could use when and if the authorities discovered the alias he was using. Showing his face at an airport was a risk Zack had to avoid taking until things cooled down. Right now, he was pinning most of his hopes on a plan that he had conceived and directed as best he could from a prison cell, using the expensive expertise of some of Sandini's contacts who'd supposedly hired someone who could be mistaken for Zack—a man who was waiting in a Detroit hotel for Zack's phone call. Once he got it, he would rent a car in the name of Benedict Jones and cross the border into Canada at Windsor later tonight.

If the police fell for the scam, then the massive manhunt they were bound to unleash would be centered in Canada, not here, leaving Zack able to head for Mexico and then South America when the search for him lost some of its momentum.

Privately, Zack had grave doubts the diversion would work for long or that he'd ever reach his first destination before he was killed. But none of that mattered right now. At the moment, all that mattered was that he was temporarily free and that he was practically on his way to the Texas–Oklahoma border, ninety miles to the north. If he made it that far without being apprehended, he might be able to make it across the narrow Oklahoma Panhandle, a distance of only thirty-five miles, to the Colorado border. In Colorado, somewhere high in the mountains, was his first destination—a secluded house deep in the woods that, he had long ago been assured, he could use for a "hideaway" whenever he wished.

Between now and then, all he had to worry about was crossing the borders of two states, getting to the safety of that house without being observed by anyone, and, once there, controlling his impatience while he waited until the initial furor over his escape died down so that he could embark on the second stage of his plan.

He picked up the pistol, rammed a full clip into it, checked the safety, and put the gun in his jacket pocket along with a fistful of twenty-dollar bills, then he grabbed the duffel bags and car keys and opened the door. He was going to make it, he was on his way.

He rounded the corner of the building and stepped off the curb, heading toward his car, then he stopped dead, momentarily unable to believe his eyes. The tow truck he'd passed when he crossed the street on his way toward the service station a few minutes ago was pulling away. Hanging from its winch was a black coupe with Illinois plates.

For several seconds, Zack stood there, immobilized, watching it sway through traffic. Behind him, he heard one of the gas station attendants shout to the other, "I told you that car'd been abandoned. It's been sitting there for three days."

Their voices snapped Zack's brain out of its temporary paralysis. He could either go back into the men's room, change into his prison clothes, leave everything behind, and try to reschedule everything for another time or he could improvise now. The choice was really no choice at all. He wasn't going back to prison; he'd rather be dead. Once he remembered that, he did the only thing he could think of—he dashed toward the corner, looking for the only other sure means of getting out of town. A bus was coming down the street. After snatching a discarded newspaper from a trash container, he flagged the bus down and climbed aboard. Holding the newspaper in front of his face as if intent on an article, he made his way down the aisle, past a horde of college students chattering about the next football game, to the back of the bus. For twenty agonizingly slow minutes, the bus lumbered through traffic, belching out fumes and passengers at nearly every corner, then it swung to the right onto a highway that led toward the interstate. By the time the interstate came into view, the passengers had thinned down to a half-dozen rowdy college students, and all of those got up to leave when what seemed to be a favorite beer joint/roadhouse came into view.


Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
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