"What's this all about?" Lyle Carrew asked the guard who was unlocking his cell.
"They wanna talk to you. That's all they told me."
Carrew wheeled out of the cell and started down the walk ahead of the guard. The guard knew better than to try to push the chair for Carrew, even down those four tricky stairs at the end. The guy let it be known he did things for himself, so that's the way it would be.
They arrived at the warden's office ten minutes later. The warden's secretary was close to seventy-five now, and looked at every prisoner, no matter his crime, with the same scolding expression, as if they were naughty boys up to no good.
"Go ahead in," she told Carrew. "And you behave yourself. Warden left instructions that everyone cooperate fully with that man in there. Governor's office and all."
"Okay, Mrs. Simpson," the black inmate said, opening the door and wheeling into the warden's office.
The man behind the warden's desk was not the warden, just as Mrs. Simpson had indicated. He was a tall thin man in a cheap, ill-fitting suit.
Although he looked to be in his late thirties, his hair was pure white. The dark brown eyes contrasted with the white hair and fair skin to give him an intense look. He sucked on a pipe, puffing bitter smoke into the air as Carrew rolled closer. "Come in, Mr. Carrew." He spoke with a lavish Southern accent, smiling around the stem of his pipe. "Preciate your coming in here and talking with me like this."
"What do you want, Colonel Sanders?"
The man looked confused for a moment, then chuckled.
"Oh, yes, Colonel Sanders. The white hair. Very funny." He chuckled again. "I'm Jacob Frye from the governor's office, Mr. Carrew. The governor's a little concerned about what's gone on here in the past twenty-four hours. Four prisoners murdered, one guard with his head bashed in who claims he didn't see nothin'. Another prisoner escapes." He spread his hands as if hopelessly confused. "What am I to think?"
"Damon Blue was your cellmate."
"True." "He had a run-in with one of the murdered prisoners, Bertrand Stovell, also called Rodeo. Over another prisoner, uh..." He checked the open file folder on the desk. "Some kid, Dodge Reed."
"I don't know anything about that."
"You were there in the yard when it happened."
Carrew shrugged. "Big yard."
The man stood up, sighed with frustration. "The governor doesn't want some kind of Attica thing going on down here, not this close to election. We've had enough bad publicity about our prison system. Now if there are problems, let's hear about them. Let's talk reforms. If it's a racial thing, let's rap, work out the details. Just tell me what you know about Damon Blue. Who helped him escape?"
Carrew laughed. ""Let's rap that. Where you been, man, this is the eighties. You've been reading outdated books about the jargon of black Americans. Can you dig it, bro?"
The man shook his head sternly, picking at a loose thread on his jacket sleeve. "I'm sorry if you find my concern amusing, Mr. Carrew. Most of the men in here don't have the luxury of being able to get out to a comfortable university professorship. A university funded, I might point out, by state money. Money controlled to some degree by the governor."
"Are you threatening to have me fired, Mr. Frye?"
The man laughed softly, circling around the desk, walking behind Carrew's wheelchair. Carrew didn't bother turning around to look at the white-haired man. "No, no, Mr. Carrew. The governor never makes threats. It was merely a civics lesson, nothing more, I assure you." A moment of silence as Carrew felt the man's presence directly behind him. "The governor believes much more in the carrot than the stick."
"Ah, a bribe."
"An offering. One hand washing the other. Charges dropped, record cleared."
"And you want what?"
"About Damon Blue."
"Yes. And his relationship with Dodge Reed."
Carrew shook his head. "I don't know anything. He was my cellmate for a couple days. Kept to himself."
"That's all?" he said, stepping around to face Carrew, those brown eyes burning under the white hair. "That's all you intend to tell me?"
"That's all," Carrew said.
The man looked at his watch, sighed again. "I believe you, Mr. Carrew. And it's getting too late to keep trying."
There was something in the man's voice that startled Carrew. The rich Southern accent was gone, the tone flat, the speech precise. He was picking at the thread on his sleeve button again when Carrew saw the button pop off and thread emerge from the sleeve into a foot-long wire with a button on the other end.
Suddenly the tall man was behind him, the metal strand looped around his neck.
The handicapped black tried to get his hand up to protect his throat, but the tall man was too fast. The wire pinned the tip of Carrew's middle finger against his own throat as the garrote bit deep into the nail. He could feel his pulse thrashing wildly in his neck. He dropped his free hand to grope for the shank hidden in his chair. But the pressure of the tightening wire kept him off balance.
He felt the wire sawing through his finger, slicing into the sides of his neck. Finally, in a burst of strength from the tall man, the thin wire severed the tip of the finger, freeing Carrew's hand, but allowing the wire to sink into his throat. He grabbed at the wire, fingernails clawing to get at it. He stretched his hands back, clamped them around the tall man's wrists, trying to break the grip. He couldn't. His own strength was ebbing. He could feel the warm blood dripping down his throat as if he'd dribbled on himself while drinking coffee. His hands fell to his sides helpless. Long bony fingers grasped his chin and the back of his head and he knew what was coming next even as he felt the sudden pressure of hands pushing and pulling in opposite directions, heard his vertebrae cracking as his neck broke and he slumped into his wheelchair and into death.
Zavlin unwound the wire from Carrew's neck, stuffed it into his pocket. He'd found out all he could here. He figured his forged papers would be good for an hour before suspicions might arise.
The hour was almost up. It had been a risk, but he had to make sure about this Damon Blue, be certain no one had learned anything from Dodge Reed. The black man, Carrew, knew something, but it would have taken too long to force him to talk. He was too tough. Better to kill him, make sure he didn't tell anyone else whatever he found out.
Zavlin checked his watch again. He had almost ruined everything by his misuse of the black jargon. He was a master at accents, languages, dialects. But there were a few he still had trouble with, especially the black street talk. It changed too quickly, always adding new words, altering the meanings of existing ones.
He popped the contact lens out of his right eye. The tinted lens had changed the color from blue to brown, but he didn't like keeping it in too long. It irritated his eye. He blinked rapidly and put it back in. Then he left the room, telling the ancient secretary and the guard outside the door that he wanted to get some documents from his car and would return. They weren't to disturb the prisoner, but if he attempted to make a phone call, they were to monitor it. The old crone seemed to get some pleasure from that possibility.
Ten minutes later, Zavlin was driving through Atlanta to meet the three KGB assassins he'd sent for. By now they should already be in position. The prison van carrying Dodge Reed was only a few minutes behind him. Just as he'd planned.