Wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast.
The malice in Colonel Mitchems eyes clung to Julia Mahoneys brain with the intensity of a raw, red canker sore. She realized hed kill her if Alexander ordered him to do it. Hed probably take pleasure in it. She sat at the edge of her bed in the West Wing of Alexander Graham Rossweilds Tennessee mansion in a mindless, autistic-like state until a noise from the hallway snapped her out of it.
Somebodys coming! She leaned forward and strained to listen, her eyes darting from the ornate glass doorknob to the sliver of light below. Shadows flickered under the door and then they were gone. Good. she crooned. Theyre not coming for meat least not yet. She believed that Alexander wanted her dead. Why else would Mitchem lock me in? she reasoned.
A door slammed from somewhere above and more footsteps came her way. It seemed to go on foreverthis endless marathon of muffled voices and shuffling footsteps. She returned to her mindless rocking and moaned as she snugged the thick coverlet tightly around her. She was exhausted. Eventually, the convulsive shivers ended and Julia was lulled into the blissful oblivion of a deep sleep. She began to dream then, and found herself cradled within the protective embrace of a benevolent giant who was saving her from her enemys clutches. Unfortunately, Julia Mahoney, the scientist, could never completely surrender to a dream. The only giant she knew was Alexanders pride and joy, SanFidel, Incorporated, and he definitely was not kindly toward anyone even remotely perceived as a threat to it.
JULIA WOKE UP SOBBING. She wondered if she would be killed and dumped on some remote hillside in Tennessee like useless residue from one of SanFidels failed experiments, but luckily, that thought provoked a burst of anger. Useless residue? Im not useless . . . my formula worked! Its going to make them millions!
Julia crawled out of her warm cocoon. She would escape but her only chance would be tonight. She thought, Theyll settle down sooner or later. She looked around. I need a tool or a weapon or somethingbut what? She peeked under the bed. Nothing darnit. Well, maybe theres something in the closet. She stopped to listen for activity in the hall, then eased the closet door open. A quick glance revealed a tidy spacealmost empty, but not quite. At her feet was a neatly stacked pile of metal. A fire ladder? Perfect! She picked it up, momentarily surprised by the weight of it, and tiptoed toward the window. She felt almost giddy as her slender fingers tore at the plastic ties that bound the rungs together. Thank God for Alexanders morbid fear of fire! I bet all of the rooms have one of these tucked away somewhere!
Julias excitement almost dissolved when she peered out of the window. Oh, God. Its so far downI cant do this! A tear trickled down her cheek and she turned away, ready to slink back to the bed, but the sudden unbidden memory of Mitchems cold eyes quickly renewed her determination. She just couldnt let him win.
AT 3:00 AM JULIA TUGGED AT THE WINDOW. It seemed as if it would never budge, but it finally did openwith a vengeance. When she lowered the ladder, it clattered dully against the thick granite exterior of the mansion. Her mind shrieked, Oh no! What if somebody heard that! She peered out of the window, but she could not see a thing. The patio was virtually swallowed by the shadow of the West Wing. Paralyzed by fear, Julia clung to the rungs of the ladder. She forced herself to take deep, rhythmic breaths. It helped, but a guilty barrage of questions echoed through her brain. Why didnt I tell Martin about this when he called the other day? Why didnt I tell him to watch for the package I sent? Why didnt I?
Julia felt sickened at the thought of Alexanders unethical team and what they might do with her formula. Ruthless pigs! Why couldnt they be more like Martin? Sobs of regret gurgled in her throat and the ladder renewed its jittery dance as she forced herself to continue the treacherous climb downward.
Julia dropped to the patio after one last attempt to look around, unaware of the opal button that had pulled loose to settle between the milky white slabs at her feet. She pressed herself against the abutting stonewall as she struggled to catch her breath. She felt glad she had finally sent her reports to Dr. Martin Bascomb. The thick manila envelope that she had mailed to the world-renowned botanist contained enough evidence to stop Alexander and all of SanFidels schemers. Martin will know how to expose these miserable criminals. Martin always does the right thing.
JULIA EMERGED FROM THE SHADOWS, comforted by the belief that her report was in the right hands, excited to realize she had escaped unharmed. Without a single glance backwards, she galloped gracelessly toward her car, across the damp expanse of grass . . . right into full view of surveillance camera number four.
MARTIN BASCOMB STILL looked grim when Millicent bustled into his study. My goodness, she thought. Ive got to cheer him up! Millicent was a trusted housekeeper and friend. She was fiercely loyal to her employer and extremely proud of his reputation as one of the worlds leading botanists.