Sneak Preview of
FLIGHT TO FOREVER – Tawny Lindholm Thriller #6
by Debbie Burke
Chapter 1 – Breakout
At three in the morning, Lou Belmonte backed his truck up to the tall, cedar security fence surrounding Mountain Manor Senior Living. He got out and pulled his old camouflage fatigue jacket open to slide a sledgehammer and a crowbar through loops in his tool belt. After lowering the tailgate, he clambered up into the bed. He grasped the top of the fence with leather-gloved hands and took a deep breath. Back in basic training, he could have sailed past this obstacle. Now, he needed all his strength to heave his seventy-five-year-old body over the top.
When he hit the ground inside the barricade, both knees buckled. Arrows of agony shot up his legs to his spine. He stifled a cry and leaned against the wooden wall to steady himself. It’s only pain. It ain’t gonna kill you.
Lou removed the combination flashlight-stun gun from its belt holster and shined the flashlight on the keypad that controlled the security gate. Between the crowbar and the sledge, he could dispatch the lock in seconds to escape.
In the dimly-lit, enclosed patio of the memory care wing, windows of the patient rooms faced colorful flower beds, curving walkways, and benches. All shades were drawn except one—Cameo’s room. He’d counted on that.
In fifty years of marriage, his wife rarely closed the drapes, even when he wandered around the house in his underwear, because covered windows always made her feel closed in. She loved wide-open vistas but now she was a prisoner in a fifteen by fifteen room with one window.
He crossed the courtyard to Cameo’s window, directed the beam through the glass to her form in the bed, and tapped softly.
She didn’t stir. All these years, she’d been a light sleeper, instantly awakened by the slightest noise, but now they kept her locked in and knocked out with the damn drugs.
He removed the hand towel stuffed in his waistband and wrapped it around the hammer head. One blow spidered the window. The towel only partially muffled the sharp cracking sound. Laminated safety glass remained intact. Three more blows to penetrate. With the hook of the crowbar, he tugged out slabs of glass until the opening was large enough for him to climb through.
Inside Cameo’s room, he crossed to the door and checked it. The feeble knob lock only prevented wandering residents from barging into other patients’ rooms. The staff all had keys. Still, the time it took for an aide to unlock the door would give him a few seconds’ warning.
He stood over the bed, clicked the flashlight to its low setting, and gazed down at his wife. Still so beautiful, soft silver curls, high cheekbones, full lips he never tired of kissing. She stirred and stretched one arm over her head.
Were those new bruises on her wrist? A week ago, when he visited, he’d noticed discoloration. That was right before two security guards dragged him away from her window.
“Baby,” he whispered, shaking her shoulder.
Blue eyes opened. She immediately smiled and raised her arms to him. “Lou!”
“Shh.” He put a finger to his lips. “Come on, let’s go.”
She bounced out of the bed, still almost as wiry and athletic as she’d been at fifteen. “Are we eloping?”
He nodded and holstered the flashlight-stun gun.
She clapped her hands and giggled. “Oh, how fun. Daddy will be so pissed off.”
He picked up her favorite red sweater from the foot of the bed, put it on over her flannel nightie, and slipped her feet into sneakers. Then he heard the telltale rattle of the doorknob, followed by the scrape of a key in the lock. The breaking glass must have set off a silent alarm.
The door swung open.
“What are you doing?”
Silhouetted in the light from the hall, Lou recognized the stout form of the night aide he always thought of as Bossy Brunhilde.
He drew the stun gun, in case. “Evening, Bossy Brunhilde.” Why not use the insulting nickname? He’d never see the bitch again after he and Cameo escaped.
Brunhilde bustled toward them. “You can’t be here. It’s not allowed. I’m calling security.”
Lou inclined his head. “Thank you for taking care of Cameo but we don’t need your help anymore. Good night.”
Brunhilde lurched forward, meaty hands extended to grab Cameo.
Had those rough hands caused the bruises on his wife’s wrists?
Lou blocked Brunhilde, pushed the stun gun into her forearm, and activated it. A sharp, sparking crackle.
The aide melted to the floor, stodgy legs folded under her broad hips.
“Ooh, firecrackers,” Cameo squealed.
Too bad but Brunhilde shouldn’t have grabbed for his wife.
Lou closed the door to the hall and relocked it. He snatched the employee badge clipped to Brunhilde’s uniform. That saved the time and noise of busting the gate lock.
Cameo tipped her head this way and that, studying the unconscious aide lying on the carpet. “What’s wrong with her?”
“Nothing, baby, she’s just taking a nap. Come on.” He grasped her soft hand and pulled her to the window. He crawled out first, swallowing groans as pain seized his back. She popped through behind him with far less effort. Her lithe body still worked even if her mind was gumbo.
They hurried along the garden pathway to the gate. Lou pressed Brunhilde’s badge against the sensor and the lock clicked open. He pushed Cameo out the gate ahead of him to the passenger side of the truck. Once she was inside, he closed the pickup door.
Before he reached the driver’s door, a flashlight beam lit him up.
“Hey, what are you doing?” a male voice yelled. Must be the damn security guard.
Lou pulled himself into the cab and started the engine. The guard’s light blinded him. Holding one hand up to block the beam, Lou yelled, “Move your ass!” He put the truck in gear and floored it.
A loud thud shook the truck. Lou kept going, veering out of the parking lot into the street. He glanced in the rearview mirror and spotted the guard staggering, then falling into a bed of petunias.
Dammit, Lou didn’t want to hurt anybody. “Son of a bitch should have gotten out of my way,” he muttered.
“Was that Daddy?”
Lou jerked to look at Cameo. “What?”
As the truck skidded around a corner, she smiled and scooted across the bench seat to sit close to him.
Just like when they were kids, before vehicles went to bucket seats.
Then he realized she still thought they were eloping, outrunning her father as they’d done fifty years before. “No, baby. Just some guy.”
His answer seemed to satisfy her. They rocked, bumping shoulders through wide turns, as he sped along the quiet residential streets of Kalispell, her in her nightie and him dressed in camouflage fatigues. He gunned it at the Montana Highway 35 junction and headed east toward the mountains, toward freedom.
“Where are we going, Lou?” Cameo asked.
He put his arm around her, cuddling her close. Yeah, bench seats were nice. “We’re going camping, honey.”
Tawny Lindholm blinked in pre-dawn gray, awakened by the doorbell ringing, followed by loud pounding.
She lay on her side in a warm spoon with Tillman Rosenbaum, his sinewy arm draped around her waist, a comfort she’d grown accustomed to during the year they’d been married.
“Who the hell is that?” Tillman’s deep baritone grumble sounded like an annoyed grizzly. He let her go, rolled over, and sat up.
Tawny clicked on the bedside lamp and glanced at the clock. “It’s only five-thirty.”
Tillman rose, all six feet seven inches of naked, lean, sexy male. “If it’s a goddamn client, I’m charging them triple.” Intrusions on precious home time rankled the workaholic lawyer.
She climbed out of their cozy nest. May mornings in Montana were still chilly. Her bare skin prickled into goosebumps from cold air coming through the open window. She closed it, slid her feet into sheepskin slippers, and put on the long fleece sleep shirt that, the night before, Tillman had taken off her and cast aside.
He whipped on sweatpants and moccasins and stomped bare-chested down the hardwood hall. Tawny followed him through the dining room and living room to the front door where the hammering continued. He checked the peephole then looked over his broad shoulder at Tawny. “Virgie.”
Tawny frowned. Her best friend. Something had to be terribly wrong.
He swung the heavy wooden door wide.
Dr. Virgie Belmonte stood on the steps, the porch light shining down on her slant-cut maroon hair. She wore a quilted jacket over black sweats she’d probably slept in. A bright flush of color painted her cheeks above the paper mask covering her nose and mouth. Redness in her brown eyes gave away that she’d been crying.
“What’s wrong, sweetie?” Tawny pushed past Tillman toward Virgie. “You don’t need the mask.”
Virgie stepped backward quickly and held up her hand. “No, stay back. I’m risky.” She gasped in deep breaths, as if she’d been running or sobbing hard. “Papa broke into the memory unit and busted out my mom. He used a stun gun on an aide and hit a security guard with his truck.”
Tawny’s heart wrenched. She longed to hug her distressed friend but couldn’t.
Virgie went on: “The administrator called me an hour ago, screaming that Papa tried to murder two of her employees. Then the police chief called me and demanded to know where Papa is. I said I have no idea. He told me I better not hold out on him because the charges are very serious. He threatened me about being an accessory, all kinds of crap. He said Papa’s in terrible trouble and I better turn him in.”
TO BE CONTINUED…..