Ten minutes had passed since Julia heard the lock on the front door click into place. She didn’t need to watch the clock, she counted the seconds down in her head.
The time had finally come. This was the moment she had been rehearsing for the past ten months. Today was the day Julia Cox was going to escape.
Julia walked calmly through the windowless apartment to the laundry room and stepped on the hamper next to the washing machine. She reached towards the loose ceiling panel and pushed it open until she had enough room for her hand to grab the thick, manila envelope. The envelope contained $2,435. That was the amount of money she had been able to save from skimming loose change from around the house and from Ron’s pockets when she did his laundry. Ron’s drinking had increased steadily over the past year, and he’d grown sloppy with his money. He hadn’t yet missed the couple of dollars Julia was able to take here and there.
Once the laundry room was put back into place, Julia stuck the envelope in the maroon shoulder bag hanging on the inside of the closet door. She used this bag as a purse once a week to go to the grocery store with Ron’s shopping list. It was the only time Julia was permitted to leave the premises.
After putting on her black leather jacket and securing her shoulder bag, Julia moved to the bedroom. In Ron’s closet, behind the golf clubs he never used, was a wall safe. Julia recited the combination in her head and nervously held her breath, as she waited for the lock to click open. When it did, her body relaxed for just a minute as the relief set in. He hadn’t changed the combination. She discovered the numbers a couple of months ago written down on scrap of paper in Ron’s wallet.
Julia pushed the various documents displaying bank account information and other monetary assets out of her way, there was only one thing in there she wanted. All the way in the back of the safe, in the far right corner, was the familiar rectangular object that had been sitting in there for years. She grabbed the small plastic rectangle and smiled. Julia was finally holding her driver’s license. Ron had taken it away from her the day she moved into his home six years ago.
She placed the driver’s license in the small pocket that lined her purse and zipped it shut. There was one more thing she needed.
The hall that lead from the master bedroom to the kitchen was painted a garish shade of turquoise. The color scheme of the underground apartment clashed from room to room. The bathroom Julia passed on her left was a honeydew melon green. The brightly colored walls that made up the rooms of her underground prison were truly an assault on the senses.
Julia headed to the kitchen and opened the cabinet next to the sink. Behind the various spices and condiments was an old Folgers House coffee canister with the words “Don’t Open” written in a black sharpie. Julia grabbed the tin and popped the lid open. She grabbed the small, blue glass bottle with her right hand, wrapped it in some paper towels, put it in a zip-locked bag, and placed it carefully in her purse. She placed the now empty coffee canister back in its spot in the cabinet.
The adrenaline began to pump through her veins, as Julia was getting ready to implement phase two of her plan. There had been no dress rehearsal for this part.
Julia opened the front door of the apartment and closed it behind her. She walked up two flights of stairs into a dark hallway, which led to the ground level. Once she reached the door to the outside world, her trembling hand reached for the knob and turned it slowly. The door opened, and her eyes adjusted to the daylight. She walked onto the sidewalk and released the door, hearing it automatically lock as it closed behind her.
There was no turning back now.
Julia turned to her left and began walking down the sidewalk of a residential neighborhood on Chicago’s north side. She walked in the direction of the grocery store she visited weekly. If Ron caught up to her at this point, she could have pretended she was confused and thought he wanted her to do the shopping today. Julia held her breath as she neared the store. She picked up speed, passing the entrance and headed in the direction of the “L” station.
The sidewalk became more crowded, and the residential neighborhood switched to a commercial area. She walked with purpose and kept looking straight ahead of her, ignoring the never before seen storefronts with colorful displays. She was focused on the next step of her journey. Julia was relying completely on her sense of hearing. She had never been to this “L” station before. She had only heard the sounds of trains stopping and starting on her walks to the grocery store.
Julia spotted the station entrance that read “Red Line” and walked up the wooden stairs that led to the platforms. She purchased a ticket in the kiosk just as a train was pulling in. The doors opened, and Julia walked with a crowd of people to board the train heading downtown.
Holding onto the metal pole near the sliding doors of the train, Julia looked around to see if Ron had followed her. She did not see him or smell him among the passengers in her train car. She looked down at her free hand and realized it was shaking. She was trying to stay calm and keep her nerves in check, but she couldn’t control her shaking hand.
Night after night of dreaming about this moment, Julia couldn’t believe it was actually happening.
As the train got closer to the heart of downtown Chicago, more passengers began to board the train. Julia exited the train at the Lake Street station and headed east. Even though she wasn’t familiar with the layout of the city, it was easy to figure out which direction was which because Lake Michigan was east. Julia could smell the water from miles away thanks to her heightened Wolfen senses.
It was March in Chicago, and the air was crisp and cool, but Julia was hot underneath her leather jacket. The adrenaline was making her sweat. Afraid to stand out in a crowd of people adorned in hats and gloves, Julia kept her jacket on.
She walked into the Walgreens at Lake Street and Michigan Avenue, which was crawling with tourists. She raced around the store and picked out a plain black sweatshirt, a black baseball cap, and four hundred dollars worth of Visa prepaid credit cards. Julia paid for the items in cash and tucked the receipt in the front pocket of her jeans so she could tally her remaining money at a later time. She took off her leather jacket and stuffed it in her shoulder bag and then put on the sweatshirt. After pulling her long brown hair under her black baseball cap, she headed back to Michigan Avenue.
A line of cabs formed in front of a large hotel, and Julia dashed inside the nearest one. The cab driver had been reading a magazine while waiting for a customer.
“Where to miss?” he asked, looking in the rearview mirror.
“Greyhound bus terminal,” Julia replied, as the driver pulled away from the curb.
Seated in the backseat of the cab, Julia watched through the window as the city whizzed by her. It was a beautiful place with tree-lined streets, magnificent skyscrapers, and a lake that looked like an ocean. But Julia hoped to never return to this city again.
As the cab approached the Greyhound bus terminal, Julia paid the cab driver. After looking around her, Julia breathed in deep and closed her eyes to smell if Ron was near. He was not.
Julia walked into the terminal and approached the ticketing booths. It was her plan to look for the most exhausted, uninterested cashier she could find. Luckily, they all fit that description.
“Good morning. I’d like a ticket to Missoula, Montana, please,” Julia said to the woman at the ticketing booth. The woman looked up at Julia with cold eyes and an unpleasant scowl.
“That will be $252 if you want to catch the Milwaukee bus that leaves in ten minutes. Otherwise you’ll have to wait until 10:30 tonight, and the ticket price goes up to $279,” she told Julia after looking up the information on her computer screen.
“I’ll take the Milwaukee connection,” Julia said, as she fumbled in her purse with a shaky hand, trying to retrieve the money for the ticket.
“It leaves from Gate A. How will you be paying?”
“Cash,” Julia said, as she handed the money, mostly dollar bills, to the cashier, who was clearly annoyed at having to count the thick wad.
“I’ll need to a photo ID,” the cashier said without looking up from her counting. Julia placed her driver’s license in the small hole in the cashier’s plexi-glass window. The cashier flicked a quick glance at the license before continuing to count the money. Julia snatched the license quickly and put it back in her purse before breathing a huge sigh of relief.
The woman had not noticed the driver’s license was expired.
When Julia was handed her ticket and itinerary, she darted to Gate A. Taking a quick glance at the large clock that hung from the terminal ceiling, Julia estimated that if the day was turning out to be a typical Saturday, Ron would just be heading home from Arlington Park racetrack, probably completely hammered.
Julia handed her ticket to the conductor and boarded the Milwaukee bound bus. She picked a seat directly behind the bus driver so she could see every person who boarded. When the final “all aboard” was called, the bus door closed, and she could feel the wheels beneath her begin to turn, Julia sank back into her seat. She hugged her purse in her lap and looked out of the window as the city of Chicago sailed passed her. Tears of relief fell from her eyes as the realization of her successful escape was beginning to set in.
The bus was close to half full. As the adrenaline began to die down, the familiar pangs of fear crept back into Julia’s head. What if Ron hadn’t gone to the racetrack today and instead came home early and saw Julia leave? What if he followed her all the way to the bus in his car and was on the highway following her now? Maybe…
Before anyone on the bus could notice the gold beams shooting from Julia’s eyes, she leapt out of her seat and headed to the back of the bus to enter the small bathroom. There was barely enough room to turn around in the cramped space, but Julia aimed her face directly over the toilet as she proceeded in throwing up. When she was done, she washed her face and hands in the small sink. She looked at her reflection in the scratched mirror and reached into her purse to hold the zip locked bag.
It was over. It was all over. She had her freedom, and she would die before she ever gave it up again.
After Julia dried her face with a rough paper towel, she headed back to her seat at the front of the bus. Once seated, she looked down at the itinerary the cashier had given her. The trip ahead would last thirty-three hours and make twenty-three stops, but Missoula was not her final destination. After escaping from the man who held her captive for the last six years, the only place the young Wolfen woman could think of going to seek safety was Black Paw, Montana.