The Escape Artist
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by Teel James Glenn
Description: The Escape Artist is a "How-will-he-get-out-of-it" Thriller, with a touch of the supernatural, gangsters, Houdini's Ghost, Japanese killers, Voodoo, a love triangle and six (count 'em: six) impossible death traps that challenge Timothy Locke, the pacifist/loner hero of the book. On the eve of the millennium, someone tries to kill Locke during an escape from between the Twin Towers. In hunting the assassin, he is drawn into the world of voodoo from his past and a conspiracy that goes back to his time as a prisoner in Vietnam. The book is solidly in the Eric Van Lusbader/Robert Ludlum tradition, with the action scenes, the stage magic and the voodoo sequences meticulously researched by an author who had literally written the book on action scenes!
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: November 2009
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [277 KB]
Reading time: 165-231 min.
"Timothy Locke is an escape artist who is being stalked by an unknown enemy for something out of the past. On his most recent escape attempt, a killer will be waiting. If you have a vivid imagination this is a tale that will give you goosebumps more than once. Imagine yourself locked in a box and trying to escape it as it dangles from a line over a city street far below, and a killer comes flying in.
This tale has great contrast in characters who represent good and evil with lives in the balance. Talented author Teel James Glenn has crafted an original suspense tale to please any reader looking for something new in a reading experience. There's a little something for every reader in this tale, suspense, mystery, romance blended to form an interesting read. Enjoy. I did." Anne K. Edwards, mysteryfiction.net
Chapter 1: Nightmare
How many mountains, how many rivers
Are still to be crossed before I gain
The land where loneliness comes to an end?
Today as ever, I travel on.
Locke woke up screaming.
The rat nibbled at the rope again; it always did this.
For a moment his breathing raced ahead of his reason and he was in the tunnels again. He became aware of a rustling next to him and he heard the girl's voice.
"Hey, Tim, are you all right?" He turned toward her. "You're sweating." She ran a hand along his forehead and the contact brought everything into sharp focus.
He was in his own bed, beneath his own sheets: not the tunnels. The rats were only--
"Memory," he whispered.
"What did you say?" she asked.
He looked at her, trying to remember her name. Joan? Joanne? He thought hard. He had picked her up in a bar on Irving. They had a late supper at Anthony's near Eighteenth and then walked a block north to Locke's town house and his bed. She was an art student with wild red hair, pale freckled skin, and classically shaped breasts that were just the right size. Joanna was her name.
"I--I uh, I had a nightmare, Joanna," he said. His voice shook even after his body had stopped. "I'm sorry I woke you." He threw off the sheet and sat up, reaching for his cigarettes on the nightstand.
"My ceremonial pack." He lit one, and offered another to the girl who was watching him intently.
"No thanks," she said. "Didn't I read--" She stopped herself when he shot a glance at her. "I just meant--" She stopped again and drew the covers tight about her.
"I usually don't," he said. He drew on the cigarette and stood. "The fan magazines were right. It's just that before a major escape that I--break training." He stood, staring at the moonlight that streamed in from the French windows, oblivious to the girl.
* * * *
Standing naked, bathed by moonlight, Timothy Locke was almost beautiful. Joanna stared at him and realized for the first time how he could have risen from obscurity to national fame in less than five years. His presence was almost preternatural.
He stood a well proportioned tautly muscled two meters, his features chiseled and handsome, framed by blue-black hair with just a hint of grey combed back from his forehead in a dramatic sweep. A single streak of white flared through the mane, like the foam crest of a wave. In his left ear lobe was a silver post earring.
Physically, he was striking, but it was his cool grey eyes and the something deeper that they reflected that commanded notice. They were like the calm surface of a deep pool of water. There was vast turbulence just below, but the glassy surface only cast back altered reflections of the viewer.
Locke moved. He reached for a silk dressing gown flung near the foot of the canopied bed, the muscles beneath his alabaster skin rippling. The action startled Joanna who had become lost in his presence. He donned the robe and walked to the louvered doors, opening them to admit more moonlight.
She let her eyes linger on his back, drift down past his narrow waist to how the robe hung teasingly over the muscular buttocks she remembered gripping with explosive passion. How could I have not known it was him? Joanna had let him pick her up because she thought he was intriguing. And he had been a good lover; considerate, passionate and inventive. She shuddered when her body remembered him poised above her, eyes aflame, breath gasped, nostrils flaring like some wild animal she had momentarily captured with some magic spell.
Had she known that he was Timothy Locke, the spiritual descendant of Houdini, and the man who on the next Monday was to risk his life suspended a quarter mile above the earth in a straitjacket--she would have stayed away. Maybe there was too much depth behind those eyes.
Locke reached his left hand above him and grasped the lintel of the doorframe, leaning forward onto the balcony and into the moonlight. The light glinted off the bracelet around his wrist. The bracelet was silver and fashioned into the form of a single handcuff. He'd told her there was no key.
"Tim?" Her voice was barely a whisper. "Can I ask you a question?" He turned his head to look at her with warmth in his smile. It was almost apologetic.
"Sure, Joanna." The two made eye contact and then he turned back to stare out at Gramercy Park and watch the lifeless late Friday street.
"Well," she sat up straighter in the bed, "I don't want to pry, but why do you wear that handcuff?" She tried to avoid staring at him.
"Why?" His voice was distant. Joanna stared down at the bearskin rugs stretched across the flagstone floor. An epee, fencer's padded vest and wire mask reflected the moonlight.
She felt her chest tighten.
"Is it important for you to know?" He lit a match and the yellow flare gave him a carved-in-wood look. He flipped the used match out to the balcony, following it with his gaze.
There was movement in the park. An English Setter, big for a city dog, jumped and capered with its master at the edge of the park. Its brown coat glowed golden. From its neck to its master's wrist a silver chain scintillated in the lamplight. Joanna watched the dog beyond Locke who must have 'felt' her silence behind him.
"Is it important?" He turned his head to look at her. Joanna nodded and he turned back to the window.
"All right," he said, "I'll tell you. But answer a question for me first."
She slid from beneath the sheets near the nightstand, picked up her glasses and watch.
"If I can." The watch said two thirty.
"Why did you come back here with me?" he asked her. He lit his third cigarette.
Joanna stood and looked at herself in the inside window beyond the antique four poster. Her back was to Locke. It was like looking at a naked ghost. On the other side of the glass she could faintly glimpse the spiral staircase going down to Locke's second floor living room, and up to his work area. Behind her phantom-white temptress form she could see the fireplace, the crossed swords, the rose wood panels and Locke superimposed. She felt sandwiched between the two realities of his existence. It scared her.
"I don't really know," she said, watching the false him in the glass. "Fascination? Or maybe I could see some of the hurt in your eyes, Tim; the kind of hurt that wouldn't let you hurt back." In the glass, Locke nodded.
"Fair enough. But I'll have to start a long time ago to tell you about the cuff. Go back to Chu Lai before--when everything was hospital white or further back to the tunnels--all black pajamas and brown dirt."
She watched him as he bit into his cigarette, spit it out and lit another. "I was drafted from my father's locksmith shop and somehow, despite my being so tall, ended up in that green and red mess, in a heavy combat zone. But we just tried to stay alive, and if one of the guys did 'buy the farm' we'd sit around in the bunkers and smoke ourselves back home. Funny thing, even then I knew somehow I would end up here, doing what I'm doing. It was as if it was all set out and I just had to make it happen."
Joanna moved away from the bed and crossed the room to the dresser. She picked up her bracelet and snapped it on. "Go ahead, Tim, you still haven't said why." She slipped her rings on her fingers and watched as Locke fixed his gaze out the window and his grip on the lintel tightened. "It was the tunnels," he said. His voice had a chilling quality to it, one that at once frightened Joanna and made her want to hold him close and tell him it was all right.
It was the voice of someone recalling a nightmare.
"The Viet Cong overran our reconnaissance patrol a week before the U.S. pulled out--and killed everyone but me. Seven guys. My helmet saved me; it deflected the bullet. When I came around I was tied up and lying face down on the dirt."
She could see his left arm shaking and she knew his knuckles were white.
"I was never more scared in my life." Locke looked down at his cigarette pack.
Joanna could see that he had crushed it. She stood transfixed as he swallowed hard, fighting down dark emotions, his coldly neutral voice frightening her. It seemed to her it was as if he were at the bottom of a well and someone was whispering to him from the cruel sunlight.
"I thought I was blind and paralyzed at first," he continued, "and there was a damp closed-in smell all around me. I thought I was buried alive. I started to scream! Somebody kicked me in the ass so hard I saw red." He laughed until tears stained his cheeks.
Behind him, Joanna pulled on her t-shirt and reached for her jeans, her eyes fixed on him.
"I was never so glad for pain," he said. "Even pain is feeling. Then I realized I was blindfolded. And I knew from the coffin smell that I was in one of Victor Charlie's tunnels. Did you ever see a picture of one of V. C.'s tunnels?" He paused long enough to let a distant shiver through his form. "They're not dark like you imagine, because they have a system of periscope holes with mirrors that reflect in light. And they try to hide all the packed in humanity smells with incense; they burn punks along the wall every twenty feet or so. The V. C.'s had been digging them for thirty years and we'd dropped four million tons of bombs on them. Some of those tunnels are miles long--whole cities."
She stood and donned her light jacket. She watched his back, again studying the jumps and spasms of the corded muscle beneath the robe.
"That is where the cuff comes from," he said, "and the rats. That's what the nightmare was." The words tumbled out of him and she imagined him lying helpless at the bottom of the well, listening. The dam of his memories had sprung a leak and it grew with pressure from within. "They moved us around a lot for the first two months, keeping us disoriented, kept changing our groups up so we felt isolated. Finally, we ended up in this one complex for a long time."
"There was one guard who used to turn a big profit on rat races--real rat races. He would take one of us POW's and put the rat's food, a piece of meat, or a bowl of rice on our chests. We'd always be tied with our hands behind our backs and we'd always be bare-chested. That's how I finally escaped. One of the rats got out of its cage when no one was around and went for my ropes; the meat juice was still on them."
Locke clutched at his chest and tightly shut his eyes. It seemed to her that he could still feel the irritation of the ropes again. She found herself imagining the warmth of the small body, the wetness of the snout. Her stomach convulsed and she wanted to reach out to him, but stopped herself.
"I wear the cuff because I have to know I can get out of it. That I can pick it and free myself from it any time. It eats at you like a hungry rat. Every elevator could be sealed. Every car is locked to keep you in. It's not exactly claustrophobia. It's the need to know I can get out--" Joanna reached out to encircle him with her arms and his eyes flew open and he started.
"Tim," she said, feeling his sudden start. "Cindy, my roommate, is expecting me; we're going to her sister's in Auburn, but I can call her--" She fixed her eyes on his and tried to read an answer. "If you want me to stay."
Locke's eyes refused to admit her to their depths, reflecting only her image.
"Thank you, Joanna," he said. "But I only have two days left to prepare before I have to be in top form at the Trade Center." His voice stayed neutral and he stepped away from her, breaking her hold on him. "I have to test and check the equipment." He stood looking at her while she tried to read him.
"I left my number on the night table." She made a motion to leave.
"I remembered from before." He recited her number, letting his mouth soften into a smile. She smiled back.
"Use it, Timothy," she said. He made no move for a farewell embrace. "I'll find my way out." She walked for the corridor, past the bed, and her thoughts went to the fact that there were no doors or locks anywhere in the two floors she had seen. Half-way down the hall she turned to look back to where he still stood framed by moonlight.
"Take care Monday, Tim." She saw him nod and noted the half step his shadowed form took toward her. Then he halted, almost as if a rope had jerked him back.
Locke turned to the window, lit up one of his crushed cigarettes. She knew he was watching the English Setter frolic at the end of its silver chain, enjoying its illusion of freedom. Joanna heard Locke sob quietly.
"One escape at a time," she whispered. "One at a time, Tim." She waved goodbye to his back and hurried down the stairs.
* * * *