“Shit, shit, shitshitshit!”
The sound of glass breaking behind me. The sound of a door being rammed in. Footfall, too many to count.
“NYPD! COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP!”
They don’t know where I am... I look up at the open window and jump, heave myself up silently. With one last look around at the apartment where I cut my teeth here in New York, I disappear down the fire escape. I know who I need to go to... I only hope it doesn’t put him in danger too.
I didn't wait as long as I should have done to go over there. I didn’t know if he’d be working, but I needed to take the chance that he was at home. I didn’t want to go straight into the lion’s mouth; I was panicking but if that’s what I needed to do, then that’s what I’d have to do. From the shadows, I watched the street surrounding the apartment block for about fifteen minutes, checking cars for movement, anyone who could be watching out for me... and cursed under my breath. Two unmarked cop cars were waiting, officers in full kit watching the front of the building.
I didn’t waste any time. I took the backstreets, running where I could, hopping onto a bus here and there to get myself across the city towards the one place a wanted felon shouldn’t ever go. I knew the precinct well, though, and the back door was almost always left unlocked. I took the chance, and it paid off – I slipped through, straight into the silent basement corridor of the station.
My next moves were improvised. I didn’t know if anyone would recognise me, so it was a pure gamble. I pulled a baseball cap out of my bag, rubbed my mascara down beneath my eyes, and mussed my usually pin-neat hair a bit. I didn’t look like myself, that was for sure. I took a deep breath in, slung my bag over my back, and pushed through into the bull pen, making straight for where witnesses and victims were kept. I only needed to see James.
Knowing this place worked in my favour. It was too busy for them to notice some grubby teen in a baggy hoodie and baseball cap. They were ten a penny, some surly young adult who’d seen something and had been brought in for questioning but not in an official capacity. Free to go, but please stay... Anyway – it worked in my favour, blah blah, because no-one paid me any attention. Busy Thursday afternoon, how could it?
“We didn’t get her. She slipped out of an open window. She’s on the streets.” The strong voice of Detective Peterson cut straight through the hum of noise. “We’ve got teams patrolling at all the subway stops around her apartment, all train stations are covered. We know she doesn’t have access to a car, so we’re not going with roadblocks just yet, but hire car places are under a BOLO.”
“Good job, Peterson,” said Sergeant Hope, folding his arms. “We’ll catch her. Don’t worry.”
“I sometimes wish they’d just walk right on in, you know?” My heart stopped. James’ voice, jovial as ever. He didn’t have a clue what had happened. “You got a lead on the Carson murder?”
“Yes. And -” began Hope, but a shout cut him off.
“I WANT TO SPEAK TO DETECTIVE SANCHEZ RIGHT NOW!” I let out the breath I was holding. It all kicked off, as it tended to – one of the family members of Valeria Carson, the woman who’d been brutally murdered (the blame for which was on me) had clearly lost it entirely. He grew violent, and in the ensuing chaos I grabbed hold of James and pulled him aside, into an empty corridor full of stockrooms.
“What the hell -”
“James, it’s me, but you can’t say a word – you have to help me – please, you have to help me!”
“Woah! Rose?! What’s going on?!” James held my shoulders. I couldn’t breathe.
“I’ve fucked up – they're trying to pin the Carson murder on me – please help me!”
“The Carson – what? Breathe – just breathe, okay? What’s happening?” I took a moment and leaned back against the wall. I didn’t have time to explain.
“The lead Peterson’s just mentioned? For the Carson murder? It’s me. I’m the lead. They’ve just raided my apartment this morning, but I got away. It’s not me, James. If they catch me, I'm done for – but they don’t know where I am. That’s what I have right now, they don’t know where I am.”
“How - how have they pinned the murder on you?!” I looked into his beautiful brown eyes, and all I saw was concern and disbelief. “They wouldn’t do that. You’ve worked here for how long, Rosie, there’s no way -”
“James, they think I’m a dirty cop because they ‘found’ incriminating evidence on my laptop. And I was close to the crime scene and didn’t report it.” I took a breath. “And I had a problem with Valeria Carson. I’ve got motive, I was near there when it happened with no alibi, and I have purchase history that lines up with the weapon used. Knives. I bought Alicia a new set of kitchen knives for her birthday, and because I can't produce them because I gave them to her already...” I trailed off. “Peterson and Sanchez already spoke to Alicia, and she confirmed that I gave her the knives, but they said one was missing. Alicia confirmed it, but I didn’t open them before I gave them to her because the wrapping was so beautiful.”
“Holy... shit... Rosie, this is bad.”
“Please, James, help me. I can’t go to prison – it's a life sentence. I won’t survive that!” I felt the panic rise again.
“I... what... alright, look. I’ll find out what Peterson and Sanchez have on the case, and I’ll figure out if something’s been planted. In the meantime, you need to get as far away from here as you possibly can.”
“I don’t have a car, James. And you heard what they said about rentals and the subways and train stations... I’m trapped.” I licked my lips. “James... I don’t want you to be in trouble for helping me. Do it right. I... I guess it’s a good thing we always kept our relationship quiet, huh?”
“I think you’re right. But if they have your laptop, then I might already be screwed.”
“No - I don’t contact you from it. Only my phone, which I have right here.” I pulled it from my pocket. “So unless they bug my phone... well, they can’t, can they?”
“Only if you use it. They can put a tag on your number... so destroy your SIM card.” He fished around in his pocket. “Take my car. It’s in the parking lot, not the garage. I’ll make up some quip about something or other, but you’re gonna get out of here, okay? I’ll do what I can. You have my number – when you get somewhere safe, call me.” I nodded. “And here – take some cash out somewhere in the city. Then go.” He pulled his wallet out and gave me his debit card. “PIN’s my birthday. They’ll have your accounts locked down.”
“James, I -”
“I love you, Rosie. And I know you didn’t do this... but they won’t believe that. Now, go.” I kissed him deeply, shaking. I didn’t want to let go, but the longer he spent away from all of it, the worse it would look. The noise in the bull pen was quieter now. I broke the kiss. “I’ll take you out of here as though I was questioning you, okay? Car, then cash. Then go.” I nodded again. I couldn’t speak. I held my hands over my mouth as James marched me through the still-crowded witness part of the bull pen, straight past the gaze of the other detectives, and towards the door.
“Detective Lyons? Who is that?” Sergeant Hope stopped us. I held my breath, but the panic escaped me. I burst into tears.
“It’s alright, ma’am, don’t worry – just an upset witness. Don’t, Serge, it’s tough enough as it is. She reported a crime for her friend and she’s scared, that’s all.”
“Alright... let her go. But then I need to speak to you in private, alright?” James must have nodded, but he squeezed my shoulder and pushed gently, so I knew to keep walking.
I never got to say a proper goodbye to him, but he did pat me on the back and promise me in a loud voice that they’d do all they could to put the situation right. They, being James, and the situation being me on the run for a murder I didn’t commit. I did as James told me, though, and I went first for his car, and then straight to an ATM on the outskirts of town. I took three hundred dollars, enough to cover me for food and what not, and I was going to keep his card, but I figured if I was caught with it – something that personal – it would link him to me. So I took another three hundred, made a transfer to my mom for six hundred dollars (the last thing I did with my phone), and then I broke my phone, made the ATM eat James’ debit card, hopped into his car and hit the roads before they could set up roadblocks.
I headed north, then west. I didn’t know where I was going. I figured my family would be tagged as possible hiding places, so I knew New York was out entirely. I considered heading over to Minnesota, to see my stepdad, but since he hated me, I doubted he’d be a good cover. I needed to do two things: first, get a message to my mom to let her know the six hundred dollars was for James, to cover him; and second, let James know where I was. At a remote gas station, I bought myself a burner phone and some food, fill the car full, put on a southern twang and commented about how cold it was up here for April. The guy seemed bored out of his skull, and didn’t say a word when I practically attacked him for the state of the temperature. Still, I dialled my mom’s work phone, and drove on.
“Hello, Wendy Morrison Weddings, how can I help?”
“Hi, Wendy, my name’s Rosanna Piccolini, and I’d just like to know if you have a moment to talk?”
“Of course I do!” I listened intently as my mom closed a door. “What can I do for you, Miss Piccolini?”
“Mom, it’s me, but I need you to pretend that you’re speaking to someone else, okay? Please, it’s important.”
“Okay, sure, I can do that.” She’d paused, but her voice remained the same. “Alright, are you okay? That sounded like it cost a lot!”
“I’m fine, mom.”
“Haha, don’t you worry about a thing – cats are always knocking things over! So, can you tell me some details about you? Where are you from? How long you’ve been together? How long you’ve lived in New York?”
“I’m on the road, currently. I don’t know where I’ll stop, but I’m keeping this number. I’ll call you. About the news – I don’t know if they’ve released it yet, but I didn’t do anything they said. I’ve been set up.” I told her quickly about the knives, and the raid on my apartment. She knew about James, thankfully. She permeated the conversation with vague noises, making some notes. “I need you to find a way to get the six hundred dollars I’ve transferred to you to James. He covered me to get out of here.”
“Oh, sweetheart.” That nearly broke me. “Well, I’ll do what I can for that. I pride myself on being the best in the business, but that’s why you rang, isn’t it? My next question is the dates you’re thinking of? Summer wedding, winter? Spring is usually lovely, but summer books quite quickly.”
“Are the police with you, mom?”
“Err, let me check that...” I waited while she flipped through her calendar. “Yes, that’s right. They are! They are, you’re not wrong. Normally the evenings are free, for obvious reasons, but I think it’ll start to pick up since it’s the season for it. Longer days, you know?”
“Right, so they’re spending more time with you since they announced they’re after me?”
“You know, it’s all over the news – the wedding news, that is, not that crazy stuff that’s happening in the world. It is indeed very popular, and we find that daytime and evening weddings are usually more popular. But the mornings are another safe bet.”
“Okay. I’ll call you in the morning next time. Mom, thank you... I wish I could have come to see you. Say goodbye.”
“Don’t you worry about it at all, sweetheart. These things are stressful enough as they are. I’ve pencilled you in for a couple of dates anyway, and if anything else happens, you just let me know. Okay?”
“You take good care of you, and good luck with all that mess.”
“I love you.”
“You too, sweetheart. Bye now.”
“Bye, mom.” I broke down as I drove along the empty highway. My heart couldn’t take it.
A month had passed, and I was deep into the middle of nowhere in Colorado, on the corn belt. I'd found a small backhouse which I’d rented from an elderly farmer and his wife, neither of them recognised me (but then, I’d lost weight, I was grubby, and I'd hacked my hair off in a gas station. I’d managed to called James, and he’d told me he had the money, that I was stupid, they’d been questioning my mom, and they’d roped him in on the case, since I was apparently close to him. He hadn’t said anything about our relationship, though, not until one of his neighbours had dropped him in it. The police had been there, and the neighbour – Nigel – had been leaning in the doorway, and had asked James how he felt that his little squeeze was wanted for a brutal murder. James had almost broken down, but had admitted that we’d slept together a couple of nights – no strings attached, and he sure as hell would go and wash his dick of murderer pussy (I’d had to laugh at that). It had cut him free, but it also meant that if I ever went back, we’d have to be clear on when our relationship actually started.
I called my mom a couple of times too – one time, she cut the call short because the police were there, and wanted to search her work phone. I told her unless they had a warrant for it, they couldn’t. And all the while, I waited anxiously for James and the precinct (those who didn’t believe I’d done it) to figure out who had actually done it. And there was no news at all.
I was on the run for four months before anything came through. James had been silent the entire time, because they’d found out about our relationship and he’d had to say that he’d broken up with me since the accusations. I was completely blind without him – even my mom knew very little. But then, as I was hanging my laundry out to dry late one afternoon, and a car pulled up. A man stepped out, one I didn’t recognise. My heart leapt into my mouth. I’d survived this long; if they had me now, I’d go down without a fair trial, since I’d run. Life imprisonment and no parole... no bail... nothing. I couldn’t do that.
“Rose Morrison?” the man’s face was unreadable. “I’m Detective Michael Shaw. May I come in?” He held out his badge. I led him into the house. This was it. “Miss Morrison… I never thought I’d be right about this.”
“You. Being here. They told me I was crazy. That’s why I’m here without my partner.”
“I was going to ask you about that.”
“I want to give you a chance. Come quietly, and they’ll hear you out.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Well…” he trailed off. My heart raced. “Let’s just say, I won’t kill you.” That meant he wouldn’t hesitate to shoot me nonfatally in the leg or something, take me to a hospital and call for backup. “But the evidence was all over your apartment when we did the raid.”
“You’re federal. You guys never did the raid.”
“So then you admit to knowing you were wanted before you ran?”
“I’ll admit to needing to get out of that damned city, sure. But federal cops don’t do precinct raids. You guys would have been called in when you couldn’t figure out who’d done it… and I guess… when you couldn’t find me.”
“Right you are, Miss Morrison.”
“Alright. Rose. Will you come with me?”
“Am I formally under arrest?” Detective Shaw nodded. I looked down. This was it. The end. But it didn’t have to be. It really should have been. But it didn’t have to be. I stood up slowly, and presented my wrists to him. Caught unawares, Detective Shaw’s guard was way down. He started reading my Miranda rights, and in one very swift, trained move, I had his gun out of his holster, pressed against his throat, my body behind him. He said nothing. I kept the gun trained on him, and shot him nonfatally in the leg for good measure.
“You’ll make it worse for yourself!”
“I know! But I didn’t do anything! I’ll come back when you’ve cleared my name.” I threw his gun back at him, wincing as it went off. And then I ran. I ran to his car, got in, and hit the road again.
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Alright, this screams for a sequel (if not whatever the writing equivalent of a mini-series is). The tension is driving me insane. Darnit! Anything involving the hero having to travel cross-country gets me every time. Will Rose end up in Siberia before she finally gets cleared of the charges? Will she make any new friends along the way? Will there be a hum-dinger of a twist right when I'm convinced I've got it all figured out? I would buy this without a second thought if I saw it in a book store.
Oohhhhh my friend you have a way of making me dance among the stars!! :D I absolutely could go for a sequel with this! I imagined Rose just running and running, eventually ending up back in NYC under a completely different alias (think different hair, different accent, style, etc) and she finds James and he tells her they've found the dirty cops who framed her... or have they? ;)