Chapter 33

-  TROM THE MOMENT MARK JUMPED INTO THE CAR AND HID on the floor, Reggie became an accomplice to his escape. But, unless he murdered someone before they were caught, it was doubtful her crime would be punishable by incarceration. She was thinking more along the lines of community service, perhaps a bit of restitution, and forty years of probation. Hell, she'd give them all the probation they wanted. It would be her first ofFense. She, and her lawyer, could make a strong argument that the kid was being hunted by the Mafia, and he was all alone, and, well, dammit, somebody had to do something! She couldn't worry about legal niceties when her client was out there begging for help. Maybe she could pull strings and keep her license to practice.

She paid the parking guard fifty cents, and refused eye contact. She had circled through the lot one time. The guard was in another world. Mark was rolled into a tight coil somewhere in the darkness under the dashboard, and he remained there until she turned on Union and headed for the river.

"Is it safe now?" he asked nervously.

"I think so." He sprang into the seat, and surveyed the landscape. The digital clock gave the time as twelve-fifty. The six lanes of Union Avenue were deserted. She drove three blocks, catching red lights at each one, while waiting for Mark to speak.

"So where are we going?" she finally asked.

"The Alamo." "The Alamo?" she repeated without a trace of a smile.

He shook his head. Adults could be so dumb at times. "It's a joke, Reggie." "Sorry." "I take it you haven't seen Pee-Wee's Big Adventure." "Is that a movie?" "Forget it. Just forget it." They waited for another red light.

"I like your car better," he said, rubbing his hand along the Accord's console and taking a sudden interest in the radio.

"That's good, Mark. This street is about to stop at the river, and I think we should discuss exactly where it is you want to go." "Well, right now, I just want to leave Memphis, okay? I really don't care where we go, I just want to get out of Dodge." "And once we leave Memphis, where might we be going? A destination would be nice." "Let's cross the bridge by the Pyramid, okay?" "Fair enough. You want to go to Arkansas?" "Why not? Yeah, sure, let's go to Arkansas." "Fair enough." With that decision out of the way, he leaned forwara and carefully inspected the radio. He pushed a button, turned a knob, and Reggie braced for a loud burst of rap or heavy metal. He made adjustments with both hands. Just a kid with a new toy. He should be home in a warm bed, and he should sleep late since it's Saturday. And fresh from bed he should watch cartoons, then, still in pajamas, play Nintendo with all its buttons and gadgets, much like he was doing right then with the radio. The Four Tops finished a song.

"You listen to oldies?" she asked, genuinely surprised.

"Sometimes. I thought you'd like it. It's almost one o'clock in the morning, not the best time for the loud stuff, you know." "Why do you think I like oldies?" "Well, Reggie, to be perfectly honest, I can't see you at a rap concert. And besides, the radio in your car was on this station last time I rode in it." Union Avenue stopped at the river, and they sat at another red light. A police car stopped next to them, and the cop behind the wheel frowned at Mark.

"Don't look at him," Reggie scolded.

The light changed, and she turned right onto Riverside Drive. The cop followed. "Don't turn around," she said under her breath. "Just act normal." "Damn, Reggie, why is he following us?" "I have no idea. Just be cool." ''He recognized me. My face has been plastered all over the newspapers this week, and the cop recognized me. This is just great, Reggie. We make our big escape, and ten minutes later the cops nail us." "Be quiet, Mark. I'm trying to drive and watch him at the same time." He eased downward, sliding slowly until his butt was on the edge of the seat and his head was just above the door handle. "What's he doing?" he whispered.

Her eyes darted back and forth from the mirror to the street. "Just following. No, wait. Here he comes." The police car eased by them, then sped away. "He's gone," she said, and Mark breathed again.

They entered 1-40 at the downtown ramp, and were on the bridge over the Mississippi River. He gazed at the brightly lit Pyramid to the right, then spun around to admire the Memphis skyline fading in the distance. He stared in awe, as if he'd never seen it before. Reggie wondered if the poor child had ever left Memphis.

An Elvis song started. "You like Elvis?" he asked.

"Mark, believe it or not, when I was a teenager growing up in Memphis, a bunch of us girls would ride over to Elvis's house on Sundays and watch him play touch football. This was before he was really famous, and he still lived at home with his parents in a nice little house. He went to Humes High School, which is now Northside." "I live in north Memphis. At least I did. I don't know where I live now." "We'd go to his concerts, and we'd see him hanging out around town. He was just an average guy, at first, then things changed. He got so famous he couldn't live a normal life." "Just like me, Reggie," he said with sudden smile. "Think of it. Me and Elvis. Pictures on the front page. Photographers everywhere. All sorts of people looking for us. It's tough being famous." "Yeah, and wait till tomorrow, in the Sunday paper. I can see the headlines now, big, bold lettersSWAY ESCAPES." it s great! And they'll have my smiling face on the front page again with cops all around me like I'm some kind of serial killer. And those same cops will sound so stupid trying to explain how an eleven-year-old kid escaped from jail. I wonder if I'm the youngest kid to ever escape from jail." "Probably." "I do feel sorry for Doreen, though. Do you think she'll get in trouble?" "Was she on duty?" "No. It was Telda and Denny. Wouldn't bother me if they got fired." "Doreen's probably okay. She's been there a long time." "I faked her out, you know. I started acting like I was going into shock, just fading away to la-la land as Romey called it. Every time she checked on me, I acted weirder and weirder; quit talking to her, just stared at the ceiling and groaned. She knows all about Ricky, and she became convinced it was happening to me too. Yesterday, she brought in a medic from the jail, and he examined me. Said I was fine. But Doreen was worried. I guess I used her." "How'd you get out?" "Played like I was in shock, you know. I worked up a good sweat running around my little cell, then curled up in a ball and sucked my thumb. It scared them so bad, they called the ambulance. I knew if I could make it to St. Peter's, I was home free. That place is a zoo." "And you just disappeared?" "They had me on this stretcher, and when they turned their backs I got up and, yeah, just disappeared.

Look, Reggie, there were people dying right and left, so no one was concerned with me. It was easy." They were over the bridge and into Arkansas. The highway was flat and lined on both sides by truck stops and motels. He turned to admire the Memphis skyline once more, but it was gone.

"What are you looking for?" she asked.

"Memphis. I like to look at the tall buildings downtown. A teacher told me once that people actually live in those tall buildings. It's hard to believe." "Why is it hard to believe?" "I saw a movie once about this little rich kid who lived in a tall building in a city, and he roamed around the streets just having a great time. He knew the cops by their first names. He stopped taxis when he wanted to go somewhere. And at night, he'd sit on the balcony and watch the streets below. I've always thought that would be a wonderful way to live. No cheap house trailers. No trashy neighbors. No pickups parked in the street in front of your house." "You can have it, Mark. It's yours, if you want it." He gave her a long look. "How?" "Right now the FBI will give you whatever you want. You can live in a tall building in a big city, or you can live in a cabin in the mountains. You pick the place." "I've been thinking about that." "You can live on a beach and play in the ocean, or you can live in Orlando and go to Disney World every day." "That'd be okay for Ricky. I'm too old. I've heard the tickets are too expensive." "You'd probably get a lifetime pass if you asked for yuu ana your mom can get anything you want." "Yeah, but, Reggie, who wants it if you're afraid of your shadow. For three nights now, I've had nightmares about these people, Reggie. I don't want to be scared for the rest of my life. They'll get me one day, I know they will." "So what do you do, Mark?" "I don't know, but I've been thinking real hard about something." "I'm listening." "One good thing about jail is that it allows you to think a lot." He placed one foot on one knee and wrapped his fingers around it. "Think about this, Reggie. What if Romey told me a lie? He was drunk, taking pills, out of his mind. Maybe he was just talking to hear himself talk. I was there, remember. The man was crazy. Said all sorts of weird things, and at first I believed all of it. I was scared to death, and I wasn't thinking clearly. My head was hurting where he'd slapped me. But now, well, I'm not so sure. All week I've been remembering crazy stuff he said and did, and maybe I was too eager to believe everything." She was driving exactly fifty-five mil. es per hour and hanging on every word. She had no idea where he was going with this, and she had no idea where the car was going either.

"But I couldn't take a chance, right? I mean, what if I'd told the cops everything and they found the body right where Romey said? Everybody's happy but the Mafia, and who knows what would happen to me. And what if I'd told the cops everything, but Romey was lying and they found no body. I'm off the hook, right, because in reality I didn't know anything at all. What a joKer, mat J^omey. cut it was too big ot a risk." He paused for a half mile. The Beach Boys sang "California Girls." "So I've had a brainstorm." By now, she could almost feel this brainstorm. Her heart stopped and she managed to keep the wheels between the white lines of the right lane. "And what might that be?" she asked nervously.

"I think we should see if Romey was lying or not." She cleared her dry throat. "You mean, go find the body." "That's right." She wanted to laugh at this innocent humor of a hyperactive mind, but at the moment she didn't have the strength. "You must be kidding." "Well, let's talk about it. You and I are both expected to be in New Orleans Monday morning, right?" "I guess. I haven't seen a subpoena." "But I'm your client, and I've got a subpoena. So even if they didn't give you one, you'd still have to go with me, right?" "That's true." "And now we're on the run, right? Just you and me, Bonnie and Clyde, running from the cops." "I guess you could say that." "Where's the last place they'd look for us? Think about it, Reggie. Where's the last place in the world they'd expect us to run to?" "New Orleans." "Right. Now, I don't know anything about hiding out, but since you're dodging a subpoena and you're a lawyer and all, and you deal with criminals all tne time, i ngure you could get us to New Orleans and no one would know it. Right?" "I suppose so." She was beginning to agree with him, and she was shocked by her own words.

"And if you can get us to New Orleans, then we'll find Romey's house." "Why Romey's house?" "That's where the body's supposed to be." This was the last thing in the world she wanted to know. She slowly removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes. A slight ache was forming between her temples, and it would only get worse.

Romey's house? The home of Jerome Clifford, deceased? He had said this very slowly, and she had heard it very slowly. She glared at taillights in front of them but there was nothing but a red blur. Romey's house? The victim of the murder was buried at the home of the accused's lawyer. This was beyond bizarre. Her mind raced wildly in circles asking itself a hundred questions and answering none of them. She glanced in the mirror, and was suddenly aware that he was staring at her with a curious smile.

"Now you know, Reggie," he said.

"But how, why-" "Don't ask, because I don't know. It's crazy, isn't it? That's why I think Romey could've made it up. A crazy mind created this weird story about the body being at his house." "So, you don't think it's really there?" she asked, seeking reassurance.

"We won't know until we look. If it's not there, I'm off the hook and life returns to normal." "But what if it's there?" "We'll worry about that when we find it." "I don't like your brainstorm." "Why not?" "Look, Mark, son, client, friend, if you think I'm going to New Orleans to dig up a dead body, then you're crazy." "Of course I'm crazy. Me and Ricky, just a couple of nut cases." "I won't do it." "Why not, Reggie?" "It's much too dangerous, Mark. It's insane, and it could get us killed. I won't go, and I can't let you do it." "Why is it dangerous?" "Well, it's just dangerous. I don't know." "Think about it, Reggie. We check on the body, okay. Then if it's not where Romey said, I'm home free. We'll tell the cops to drop everything against us, and in return I'll tell them what I know. And since I don't know where the body really is, the Mafia couldn't care less about me. We walk." We walk. Too much television. "And if we find the body?" "Good question. Think about this slowly, Reggie. Try and think like a kid. If we find the body, and then you call the FBI and tell them you know exactly where it is because you've seen it with your own eyes, then they'll give us anything we want." "And what exactly do you want?" "Probably Australia. A nice house, plenty of money for my mother. New car. Maybe some plastic surgery. I saw that once in a movie. They rearranged this guy's entire face. He was dog ugly to start with, and he snitched on some drug dealers just so he could get a new face. Looked like a movie star when it was over. About two years later, the drug dealers gave him another new face." "You're serious?" "About the movie?" "No, about Australia." "Maybe." He paused and looked out the window. "Maybe." They listened to the radio and didn't speak for several miles. Traffic was light. Memphis was farther away.

"Let's make a deal," he said, looking out his window.

"Maybe." "Let's go to New Orleans." "I'm not digging for a body." "Okay, okay. But let's go there. No one will expect us. We'll talk about the body when we get there." "We've already talked about it." "Just go to New Orleans, okay?". The highway intersected another one, and they were on top of an overpass. She pointed to her right. Ten miles away, the Memphis skyline glowed and flickered under a half-moon. "Wow," he said in awe. "It's beautiful." Neither of them could know that it would be his last look at Memphis.

THEY STOPPED IN FORREST CITY, ARKANSAS, FOR GAS AND snacks. Reggie paid for cupcakes, a large coffee, and a Sprite, while Mark hid on the floor. Minutes, later, they were back on the interstate headed for Little Rock.

Steam poured from the paper cup as she drove and watched him inhale four cupcakes. He ate like a kidcrumbs on his pants and in the seat, cream filling on his fingers, which he licked as if he hadn't seen food in a month. It was almost two-thirty. The road was empty except for convoys of tractor-trailer rigs. She set the cruise control on sixty-five.

"Do you think they're chasing us yet?" he asked, finishing the last cupcake and opening the Sprite. There was a certain excitement in his voice.

"I doubt it. I'm sure the police are searching the hospital, but why would they suspect we're together?" "I'm worried about Mom. I called her, you know, before I called you. Told her about the escape, and that I was hiding in the hospital. She got real mad. But I think I convinced her I'm safe. I hope they don't give her a hard time." "They won't. But she'll worry herself sick." "I know. I don't mean to be cruel, but I think she can handle it. Look at what she's already been through. My mom's pretty tough." "I'll tell Glint to call her later today." "Are you going to tell Glint where we're going?" "I'm not sure where we're going." He thought about this as two trucks roared by and the Honda veered to the right.

"What would you do, Reggie?" "For starters, I don't think I would have escaped." "That's a lie." "I beg your pardon." "Sure it is. You're dodging a subpoena, aren't you? I'm doing the same thing. So what's the difference? You don't want to face the grand jury. I don't want to face the grand jury, so here we are on the run. We're in the same boat, Reggie." "There's only one difference. You were in jail, and you escaped. That's a crime." "I was in a jail for juveniles, and juveniles do not commit crimes. Isn't that what you told me? Juveniles are rowdy, or delinquent, or in need of supervision, but juveniles do not commit crimes. Right?" "If you say so. But it was wrong to escape." "It's done. I can't undo it. It's wrong for you to dodge the law too, isn't it?" "Absolutely not. There's no crime in avoiding a subpoena. I was doing fine until I picked you up." "Then stop the car and let me out." "Oh sure. Please be serious, Mark." "I am serious." "Right. And what'll you do when you get out?" "Oh, I don't know. I'll go as far as I can, and if I get caught then I'll just go into shock and they'll send me back to Memphis. I'll claim I was crazy, and they'll never know you were involved. Just stop anytime you feel like it, and I'll get out." He leaned forward and punched the Seek button on the radio. For five miles they listened to Conway Twitty and Tammy Wynette.

"I hate country music," she said, and he turned it off.

"Can I ask you something?" she said.

"Sure." "Suppose we go to New Orleans and find the body. And, according to your plan, we then cut a deal with the FBI and you go into their witness protection plan. You, Dianne, and Ricky then fly off into the sunset to Australia or wherever, right?" "I guess." "Then, why not cut a deal and tell them now?" "Now you're thinking, Reggie," he said patronizingly, as if she'd finally awakened and was beginning to see the light.

"Thank you so much," she said.

"It took me a while to figure it out. The answer is easy. I don't completely trust the FBI. Do you?" "Not completely." "And I'm not willing to give them what they want until me, my mother, and my brother are already far away. You're a good lawyer, Reggie, and you wouldn't allow your client to take any chances, would you?" "Go on." "Before I tell these clowns anything, I want to make sure we are safely put away somewhere. It'll take some time to move Ricky. If I told them now, the bad guys might find out before we can disappear. It's too risky." "But what if you told them now, and they didn't find the body? What if Clifford was, as you say, jok-ing?" "I would never know, would I? I'd be undercover somewhere, getting a nose job, changing my name to Tommy or something, and all of it would be for nothing. It makes more sense to know now, Reggie, if Ro-mey told me the truth." She shook her bewildered head. "I'm not sure I follow you." "I'm not sure I follow me, either. But one thing is for certain: I'm not going to New Orleans with the U. S. marshals. I'm not going to face the grand jury on Monday and refuse to answer questions so they can throw my little butt in jail down there." "Good point. So how do we spend our weekend?" "How far is it to New Orleans?" "Five or six hours." "Let's go. We can always chicken out once we get there." "How much trouble will it be to find the body?" "Probably not much." "Can I ask where it is at Clifford's house?" "Well, it's not hanging in a tree or lying in the bushes. It'll take a little work." "This is completely crazy, Mark." "I know. It's been a bad week."