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Was that just Sunday that passed us by in a flurry of strange and unrelated tasks? Why yes. Hello, Monday. Hello, October, even. (And Happy Birthday to Drein, whom I haven’t seen in lo these many years, but somehow always seem to remember on the first of October.) But enough prattling. On to the story…

Kudzu, A Novel

Chapter 18

When the guard opened the door, she was holding towels for them. She passed them out to the women as they exited the shower. Something about the prisoners made her suspicious. They were uncharacteristically silent: none of the normal locker room banter. They were up to something. She counted the women again, and kept an eye on them as she reached for the shower room door to pull it shut.

Her hand waved in thin air; the door handle was further than she’d thought. When she looked, the door had swung wide open, and she found herself looking down the barrel of a gun. Beyond the gun was a man. She tried to look at his face, but her eyes wouldn’t leave the gun. She swallowed, and held very still.

“No sound, please,” Sir Reginald said. “I apologize for this intrusion, and for the unpleasant circumstances of our meeting. I assure you that I intend you no harm. I merely intend to make a… a small withdrawal.”

Kevyn came up behind her. “I thought you were going to overpower her, not talk her to…” She caught sight of the gun.

Trust me, he had said. Though obviously he didn’t thoroughly trust them, to omit mentioning he had a gun.

“I see,” she said.

“Good,” Sir Reginald said. He smiled apologetically at the guard. “I’m afraid we haven’t been properly introduced. My name is Reggie.”

“Um. Murphy,” the guard said. She hesitated, then gave her first name.

“Nee-av?” Sir Reginald repeated it phonetically. “You don’t perchance spell that in the traditional Gaelic form, do you?”

Murphy blushed. She hated her name. “My parents were stupid.”

“Stupid? Nonsense. Niamh is a lovely name. It means radiance—”

“Focus,” Kevyn growled. “Escape now, flirt later.”

“What? I wasn’t flirting. I—”

“You have a fucking gun?” Erica shoved Kevyn aside. She gripped the guard, Murphy, by the hair, twining fingers under the blonde ponytail and pulling her head back sharply. Murphy grimaced in pain.

“I’ll be taking that,” Erica said.

Grump shifted the gun, slightly. “You will not,” he said. “You will release Ms. Murphy forthwith, and you will go dry yourself off. You don’t want to catch a chill, do you?”

Unlike the guard, Erica had no problem looking past the gun that was now trained on her to glare daggers at Sir Reginald.

“Forthwith means ‘without delay,'” Grump said.

“Yeah, right. Of course. I don’t have anywhere to conceal the damned thing. But after we get clothes…”

Murphy looked substantially relieved. Clearly Erica posed an actual and substantial danger.

Kevyn took Erica’s place behind the guard. She spoke in a hoarse whisper. “Jesus, this is fucked up. Do you have any idea how much danger we’re in, especially now that you have a gun?”

“Not nearly as dangerous as the situation that prompted me to spend over six quid to buy said implement in the first place. Ms. Murphy, I apologize profusely, but I fear I must ask you to remove your clothing. Please give them to Kevyn, who is of a size with you.”

At Sir Reginald’s bidding, the guard removed her clothing. Kevyn did her best to mute the cheers and jeers that spilled from the other prisoners. He took the elastic band that held her ponytail and told her to get in the shower.

“Wet your hair,” he said. “and get it all tangled. You’ll wear it hanging in front of your face when we walk out of here.”

~

Tricking the other two guards was not difficult. Still breathing heavily through a post-coital haze, they didn’t realize their error until it was too late. Kevyn got Murphy’s uniform. The second female guard’s clothing went to a woman who had been imprisoned only a week before Kevyn, while the male’s uniform went to Kimberly, the only one of them whose body filled them, and did not, as Sir Reginald put it, make the wearer “look like an orphan.”

Erica had been incensed, but Sir Reginald insisted, and so, Sir Reginald being the one with the gun, Erica grumblingly conceded. “The longer you have been here, the more likely that someone will recognize you as an impostor. The only logical people to wear the uniforms are those who have been here the least amount of time.”

Sir Reginald fumbled in his pockets until he found something resembling a badge, which he clipped onto his suspenders.

Calina Ford, Private Insextigator fan club giveaway,” he said, to Kevyn’s raised eyebrow. “Mid twenty-first century late-night television show. Quite clever, really, and I’m not just saying that because one Sir Reginald F. Grump wrote two episodes. In the show, Calina’s badge held no end of fantastic surprises. This one only has a camera and an STD testing kit. For when you need to go undercover, so to speak.”

They left the two guards bound and gagged in the shower room, and, with Niamh Murphy in tow, the three faux guards and Sir Reginald escorted the prisoners back to their cells to get dressed. Murphy ended up with Kevyn’s clothes, an orange jumpsuit with Kevyn’s prisoner number stitched on the back. Grump followed Murphy into Kevyn’s cell.

“Where’s the laundry?” he asked. She told him. “Ground floor,” he repeated. “Good. And under that?”

“The basement. There’s a furnace room, and rooms full of food and linens and everything else. Supplies.”

“And below that?”

Murphy shrugged. “Probably rock.”

“Hm. That’ll take some doing.” Grump frowned, then handed her zip-tie cufflinks. “Put these on, please, in front of you.”

Once dressed, they made their way through the cell block toward the main entrance. They had, all of them knew, to make it past several layers of security before they would see the light of day. The question remained as to whether they could successfully bluff their way past them.

“Give this up,” Murphy said. “You can’t get out this way. You’ll get caught, and then end up with more time on your sentence, especially if someone gets hurt. And someone will get hurt.”

“Oh ye of little faith,” Sir Reginald said.

Murphy lowered her voice. “And if that bitch Erica gets out? She’s a killer, and after you embarrassed her in front of the others, I wouldn’t be surprised if your name isn’t on her list.”

“Undoubtedly, it is. But she’s been put away for life, if I’m not correct, so I have little to worry about.”

As they approached the first locked door barring their escape, Sir Reginald told Kevyn to stick close to their captive. He made his way through the women until he reached Erica.

Covering the action from sight with his body, he slipped the revolver out of his pocket and pressed it into Erica’s hand.

“Take it,” he whispered, and she did.

Sir Reginald took a large step back. “Gun!” he shouted. “She’s got a gun!”

Erica stared at him, then raised the gun. “You fucking bastard! You are so fucking dead!”

He ran, slaloming through the other prisoners until he reached Kevyn and their captive guard. All around them panic erupted. He grabbed Kevyn and Murphy by the wrists. “Run,” he suggested.

Alarms rang out, and guards and prisoners scurried.

They ran through the halls of the prison until they reached the laundry. The door was unlocked, and the room was empty; all the prisoners were being rushed back to their cells for lockdown.

“I hope I live long enough to have done this,” Grump said. He scanned the walls, looking for something…

Down the hall, the sound of boots on linoleum rang out. They were running out of time.

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