Escape: (A Short Story)
It was the last South American country that had no extradition treaty. Neither with North America nor Western Europe. It had an even longer history than Brazil, as a haven for international rogues and cutthroats, terrorists, Nazis, and bandits of all stripes.
It was a mildly sunny, cool and breezy day. Our concern takes us to a resort, approaching the southeastern edge of the country, attended by gloriously swarthy, heroically servile young men and women.
Two salt-n-pepper-haired men, dressed for yachting, were sitting at a small, round table overhung by a massive umbrella. They were drinking tall, fruity drinks and snacking from a bowl of white chocolate-covered dried fruit.
They took it all in: the white sand under their toes; the pretty palm trees; the gentle, cool breezes; and the pretty young boys and girls everywhere.
They summoned one of those pretty young things over, to order coffee and brandy and some of their top brand cigars.
M said to R, "So how'd you get away?" After R had escaped prison in Trenton, New Jersey.
R said, "It wasn't too hard."
The coffee, brandy, and cigars arrived.
R unwrapped a cigar. This was the smell of freedom. He passed it under his nose and inhaled. Ah, still the best their was: Cuban!
At any rate, with the aid of comrades one can only find in prison---(in his own case for multiple counts of aggravated assault and extortion)---R had removed himself from the cold, gray, industrial, city block-long tomb for the living dead; to hell with "zombies"! The details of that extraction are not for the faint of heart and, thankfully for you, my good man, need not detain us here.
For they were not the most interesting part of his escape.
Events had been so arranged that it had been a minimum of eight hours, before anyone of consequence knew that R had broke prison. Therefore he had time. He hadn't needed to rush. You make mistakes when you rush.
When you break prison, you need cash. R had a roll on him, he'd made from selling dope to other prisoners.
Having completed the first phase and earned some much needed rest for the wicked, he had a cab drop him at a motel on Route 17. The flea trap wasn't too bad; free cable and most of the heat worked.
New clothes would be nice. He needed to get rid of his super max chic. His cab driver had been wearing a leather and, more importantly, concealing coat --- really one of those Walker, Texas Ranger duster jackets.
R had offered to buy it from him. He didn't want to go into, even a flea trap motel looking like a... well... convict.
"How bad do you want it?" the cab driver said.
"How much you want for it?" R said.
"Tell you what," the cabbie said. "I won't sell it to you but I will give it to you, if you do something for me."
R spent time in his motel room drinking whisky to wash the taste out of his mouth. He brushed his teeth and gargled with it.
He considered himself a tough guy; and had enjoyed a well-earned reputation as such. But he had been to the Super Max in Trenton. The simple fact is: In Super Max everybody makes... compromises. No matter how hard you are, you will find yourself compromised and compromising.
Everybody compromises in Super Max. Everybody!
Best not to think about that now. Try to put it behind him. "Behind him." Bad choice of words.
Okay, so in the alley, where R had bartered his... services in exchange for the cabbie's Walker, Texas Ranger-type duster jacket, he had seen a suitcase. Apparently thrown out as junk. Just sitting next to the dumpster. Since it wasn't too beat-up looking, R grabbed it.
Anyway, he bustled into the motel, clutching the suitcase and holding the top collar of his coat with his other hand.
You know... as if he had been bustling about, in a rush to get too much done in too little time. Trying to look like some kind of business associate, who, maybe had "missed his connecting flight" somewhere or other.
He deliberately shivered, emphasizing the cold. And intimating that something had happened to his hat, which was no longer on his head.
And.. and... and... when he had been accosted by a homeless person, and he, out of the goodness of his heart, had given the guy twenty dollars, his cellphone had fallen out of his pocket onto the sidewalk, to bad effect.
Our friend did not want to insult the proprietor of the flea trap...uh, 'motel.' But, all out of sorts as he was, he had lost contact with the people he was meeting; and he had lost the name of and forgotten the name of the four-star hotel he was supposed to meet them at; because a suite, fit for a powerful executive like himself had been reserved for him.
However, he put on an industrious smile. The proprietor's flea trap was also a very fine establishment, he was sure.
After that song and dance, one of the first things he did, up in the room, was to rinse his mouth out with the whisky.
R said to M, "You know, I was influenced in my approach by a fable story I had heard or read once as a little child. I don't remember the name of it or what it was about. But I seem to recall a central character moving through the village and as he went along, he very gradually changed his appearance. He'd go along a while and then snag a pair of shoes from somewhere, nice shoes. He'd go along a little while longer and then snag a pair of trousers."
M said, "Nice trousers, right?"
R said, "The point is that he gradually changed his whole appearance over the course of several miles. When he was finished, he looked like a completely different person than the one he looked like at the start of his sojourn. Does that make sense?"
"Sure," M said, "clothes make the man."
"With each piece, he bumped himself up in perceived socioeconomic class," R said. "I had time. I didn't have to rush. You should never rush if you don't have to. When you rush, you make mistakes."
"You don't remember the name of that fable story, do you?" R said.
"Doesn't ring a bell," M said.
"I was also influenced by an old, black and white, Rod Serling episode of Twilight Zone. I'm not sure, but I think it was called 'Dead Man's Shoes' or something like that. I'm not sure. But a homeless guy finds a pair of fancy shoes, which turn out to have been the shoes of a dead gangster. The homeless guy puts on the shoes and its like the spirit of the dead gangster comes over him and he just, sort of walks into the gangster's former life. The gangster's girl and all his associates are looking at this guy like 'Who the hell are you?' but the spirit of the dead gangster give the bum this charisma and they accept him."
M said, "I think it is called 'Dead Man's Shoes' or something."
R said, "Something like that, right?"
"I think so."
"Anyway, you ever seen the movie, 'The Usual Suspects' with, uh... Kevin Spacey... Chaz Palmintierri... and... Stephen Baldwin," R said.
"You know I have."
"Well, you remember the very last scene? Kevin Spacey's character was this crippled con artist; but he was really this arch criminal overlord named Kaiser Sozhay, pretending to be a cripple con artist," R said.
M said, "Yeah, at first when he's let out of the police station, he walks in that twisted up way he had, cause he was supposed to be a cripple. Then his walking and posture gradually straighten out."
"Gradually becoming a different person," R said.
"That was a good movie," M said. "Underrated."
Anyway, he left the motel with his Walker, Texas Ranger duster and suitcase, and walked to a strip mall, which proved to be on the same side of the highway as the flea trap.
There, he bought a pair of brown loafers from a dollar store; which were not the cutting edge of fashion but a definite upgrade from his Super Max issue. And then at a convenience store, that was like a Seven Eleven but wasn't really a Seven Eleven, he bought a cheap, functional cellphone and a pay-as-you-go card.
He called a cab from the convenience store and asked the cabbie to take him to a hotel in a slightly better neighborhood.
He had enough money to do this. Good thing he had been an industrious pusher and dealer in the joint.
He checked into a Holiday Inn: moving up in the world! By this time his beard was gone and his mustache trimmed. The tangled brown mop that had previously adorned his head had been cut away to something short of a military crew cut.
He had brushed his teeth with Colgate and flossed and had rinsed his mouth out with Scope. And he had taken the trouble to give his pearly whites extra dazzle with Crest whitening strips. And he was smiling. In that professional, middle management sort of way.
He slept soundly and had the Holiday Inn breakfast. After that he went to a department store and bought khaki slacks and a white long sleeved shirt. He also bought some long underwear because it was winter and 'baby!' it was cold outside.
He found a car rental place and used the car to drive around like he belonged in the area. He was a traveling businessman-type who had come to this place deliberately. He had things to do and business to conduct; but in his spare time he would do what people like him did in their spare time: driving around in his rental car, glad to be here, glad to be anywhere he could drum up more business for the business-type establishment he worked for.
He made sure to be seen reading the newspapers and drinking coffee, as he ate his Holiday Inn breakfasts. He made himself be seen and overheard making make believe phone calls to lovingly check in with a nonexistent wife and kids.
He went to places like House of Pancakes, Olive Garden, and Sizzler for lunch and dinner. And relentless feigning normality, he went to a sports bar to drink beer and watch sports with multitudes of other people and eat onion rings and cheese fries.
By the time he called a car service---no mere taxi this time---he was looking like a true businessman on the rise, with his patent leather winged-tipped shoes, dress slacks, his tie clips and cuff links, and his silk shirts.
It was time to go to a better neighborhood. He had been singing the theme song from the Jeffersons sitcom in his head. The one about "Moving on up, moving on up to the Eastside, to the dee-luxe apartment in the sky-I-I-I." And how "we finally got a piece of the pie-I-I-I."
When R settled himself in the back, the driver---in his toy suit---said, "Where to, sir?"
He opened his eyes and said, "To the Eastside, my man. To the Eastside."
He was installed in a very nice hotel in New York City. The Eastside. He looked more like the kind of businessman who was the self-propelled type, a leader, one who commanded and was accustomed to other obeying. He had shed that earnest, traveling salesman look back at the Holiday Inn in Paramus, New Jersey.
He was the kind of man, now, who commanded his secretary to: bring him the Peterson file; bring him coffee; hold all his calls; set up a squash date with Bill in accounting; send his wife flowers for one occasion or another; and get him opera tickets.
He was the kind of man who tended to his appearance with the utmost metrosexual devotion. He got manicures, spa treatments of various sorts, deep-tissue massages, and steam baths. In an effort to cleanse, scrub, exfoliate the Trenton Super Max out of his being.
He was no longer that person, the one who had had to make humiliating compromises in the joint. The one who, not so long ago, had had to demean himself in order to get a Walker, Texas Ranger duster from a cabbie, so that he could cover up his prison clothes.
Sometimes, just for the hell of it, he rode the subway. With his shirtsleeves rolled up, jacket slung over a shoulder, and a rolled up Wall Street Journal tucked under the other arm, he looked like any other broker-warrior headed into go another round with the New York Stock Exchange.
Late one Sunday morning he was on a midtown bus, drinking coffee and eating a bagel; which he should not have been doing on a public conveyance. But people are hesitant to contradict men of the socioeconomic class he seemed to be occupying. He was also reading the metro section of the newspaper.
The article was about him, his escape from the Trenton Super Max. His picture was right there as big as life. The notorious arch-fiend, considered armed and extremely dangerous.
The old woman sitting next to him said, "Wicked looking creature, isn't he?"
He looked at her.
She pointed to the picture and shivered, as though she caught a chill. "Wicked."
He gave a mock shudder himself. "He certainly is." It occurred to him that it might not be a bad idea to get some subtle plastic surgery done in the near future.
He put it out of his mind and flipped through the rest of the news to see what else was going on in the world. He was on his way to the Museum of Modern Art, to see what they had to offer a soul hungry for high culture.
After the museum he took a yoga class to re-center his chi, treated himself to a manicure and a cucumber facial peel treatment, and a Turkish bath. He made theater and dinner reservations for two.
He got himself a high-priced courtesan to keep him company for the evening. She was tall, long-limbed, athletically built, and graceful. She was a good conversationalist and at least good at pretending she was interested in what he had to say.
After the theater, some Broadway show that was "all the rave," they had dinner at a five-star restaurant.
His lamb was wonderful.
Her salmon was marvelous.
The Sauvignon Blanc was to die for.
For desert his Baked Alaska was Heavenly.
Her cherries jubilee was divine.
They knew this because they kept tasting each other's food throughout the meal.
If only they had known each other at another time and place, he thought. They could have really been something.
After dinner the proceedings shifted to a more privately intimate, libidinously satisfying denouement. And that was that.
Before he had gotten too deep into his New York adventures, he had replaced his Seven Eleven cellphone with one of those ping pong racket-sized Smartphones. No pay-as-you-go plan this time. This time he paid for full service for two years.
He paid for it with an anonymous credit card he swiped from an anonymous pedestrian. R had started his criminal career, after all, as a pickpocket.
He had contacted M down in South America. M told him that all was in readiness for the two of them to take the reigns of a hotel-gambling empire. All opposition had been circumvented, coopted, and crushed.
There were no more enemies in sight. And the government down there knew how to work with business, encourage it.
M assured him that all the rough stuff had been gotten out of the way; and they would, heretofore, operate on strictly the right side of the letter of the law. And grow very rich in the process, live like princes.
R got on a plane for his destination. In First Class he had dinner: the salmon meal with a very nice Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.
R took out his wallet and showed M the driver's license of the identity of the man he'd stolen.
"The resemblance is there," M said.
"That's why I chose him."
"Where is he now?"
"Last time I saw him," R said, "... he was in the bathroom at LaGuardia Airport."
Thirty seconds of solemn silence.
M fished out a picture of an sixty-something woman in a red dress with her long, full hair pulled up. "Who's the babe?"
"I don't know," R said, "the picture came with the wallet."
At that the two monsters laughed.