The sun was blinding, a brilliant white washing out the sky to the palest of blues. The noise in the yard was almost as sharp, voices and crunching footsteps and the occasional whisper of furtiveness rolling into one big, cacophonous ball. Faith closed her eyes and ears to both as she did her pull-ups on the high bar. Block them out. Forget they’re there. She was probably the only woman in the place who dared to turn her back on the other inmates. Half the block thought she was stupid; the other half said crazy. Everyone agreed to leave her the fuck alone.
Sweat began to trickle down her back, itching along a path she would have to drop to the ground to reach. Even though it was April, California was already heating up, and it carried with it the promise of another hellish summer, ready to bake the prisoners within their cells. Faith’s mental countdown on her pull-ups never wavered. She didn’t have time to think about that kind of shit. It wasn’t like there was anything she could do about it anyway. And if maybe it kept the block a little edgy for the next few months, that was fine with her. It was when things got settled that she really started to worry.
It cut through her concentration, but Faith never stopped moving. All she did was open her eyes.
One of the guards, the one everybody called Ethel because her last name was Mertz, stood a few feet away. Her wide, lined face was void of emotion, but there was something different about her beady little eyes. Maybe it was the way she was looking at Faith. Whatever it was, it turned on whatever little Slayer switch she had inside her, making her ready for action.
“Off the bar,” Ethel ordered. “I’m taking you in.”
Faith did five more pull-ups before complying. “Always knew you had the hots for me,” she commented, deliberately putting a sway in her ass as she marched past the guard.
Nobody said a word as they crossed the yard, both ignoring the frequent glances and subsequent whispers that followed them. Stepping out of the sunshine and into the dark hallway should have been a bigger relief than it was, but when Faith turned to head back to her cell, Ethel grabbed her arm and pulled her in the opposite direction.
“I got a visitor?” Faith asked, extricating herself almost immediately. Most of the guards respected her enough not to lay a hand on her. Ethel didn’t give a shit about anybody but herself.
“You could say that,” came the terse reply.
Their heels clicked on the tiled floor for another hundred feet before they came to a set of security doors Faith didn’t recognize. She didn’t have time to try and figure it out before Ethel was pulling out her keycard from where it hung inside her shirt and scanning it through. Inside the thick metal, something clicked, and the door swung open.
Ethel stepped out of her way. “Go on,” she instructed, jerking her head toward the opening. “I’ve got more important things to do with my time than babysitting an ex-con.”
Faith was halfway through before she realized what Ethel had said. By the time she whirled to ask what the hell was going on, the door was already swinging shut.
“Doesn’t look like they even gave you a chance to clean up first,” someone drawled behind her.
The familiar voice made her skin crawl, but Faith didn’t react in surprise as she was sure he expected. She took her time to turn around and face him, stuffing her hands deep inside the pockets of her jumpsuit in order to keep from hitting the man, and when their eyes met, neither looked away.
“Could say the same about you,” she replied, her voice even. “What’s the matter? Lose your corner office?”
Lindsey McDonald smiled. “More like, picked it up and threw it at them.” He paused to consider his words, and it gave her a few seconds to pick up on more fresh details. Worn Levi’s. The untucked shirt. He wasn’t even wearing the fancy watch he’d liked so much. It actually made him look more his age and less like a little boy playing dress-up. She decided she liked it. Comparatively speaking. “Sounds a little like your style, doesn’t it?”
“I don’t do that any more.”
His smile never faded. “Of course not. Model prisoner. Excellent reviews. Made my job a hell of a lot easier.”
“Newsflash, hotshot. You’re not my lawyer.”
“Technically, I’m not anybody’s lawyer right now.” Stepping up to the table separating them, Lindsey slid the folder he held in his hand toward her. “But I did do one last thing before I quit.”
Without taking her eyes off him, Faith reached and picked up the folder, flipping it open before finally looking away. It only took a few seconds to recognize the release form on top of the thick stack of papers, with the warden’s slanted signature scrawled across the bottom.
“What is this?” she demanded.
“Your walking papers,” he replied.
“That’s not possible. I’ve got another twenty years in this joint.”
“It’s possible for a Wolfram & Hart attorney.”
She flipped through the paperwork, looking for something – anything – that would reveal this for the trick it was. Most of it went over her head, and always, she kept coming back to the top one, the one with her name and the details of her release right there in black and white.
“I told you once I could get you off,” Lindsey said.
Her stomach churned. Fighting the impulse to throw the file at him, Faith tossed it onto the table instead, glaring at him as she retreated to the door.
“Nice try,” she said. “But I’m not killing Angel.”
“Nobody’s asking you to.”
“Don’t fuck with me. That was the original deal.”
“I’m not. And I’m well aware of what our original arrangement was.” Lindsey pushed the file back toward her. “This doesn’t have anything to do with him.”
He said it with such conviction that she wavered for a minute before remembering that it was his fucking job to sound convincing. “I’ve seen your little world,” she said, turning her back on him to start banging on the door for Ethel to come back and get her. “Everything you do is about Angel.”
For nearly a minute, the only sound in the room was that of her knocking. “You can do that ‘til the cows come home,” Lindsey said. He only had to raise his voice a little; for some reason, it reached her ears almost effortlessly. “It’s not going to change a thing. You’re a free woman, Faith. The only way you’re getting out of here is through the front door.”
This time when she turned around, there was a duffel bag on the table with the file, and Lindsey had backed toward the other exit out of the room. His smile was gone, his normally bright eyes shadowed and solemn.
“Consider it calling us square,” he added. “Feels like a day of fresh starts to me.”
“Maybe I owe you.”
“Maybe you should try answering that again.”
“Look…” His head ducked for a moment, his thoughts obviously awhirl as he formulated his words. “Whether you believe me or not, Faith, there aren’t any strings attached to this. It’s my fault you’re in here, and I’m just…clearing old debts. That’s all.”
“Your fault? No offense, slugger, but I seem to remember dragging my own ass into the cops. I think I’d know if your hand was down there, too.”
Lindsey shrugged. “It was only a matter of time. I had already gone to Kate Lockley to tell her Angel was harboring a fugitive. And who do you think handled all the legalities to make sure you were prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law? In the end, I got exactly what I wanted. You out of my hair and my position in the firm secure.”
She frowned at his last statement. “And you’re not worried this’ll fuck things over with you with the bosses? Got a death wish I don’t know about?”
“I told you. I quit. Why should I care what the fuck they think any more?”
She wondered what Angel made of this whole situation, but refrained from voicing the question aloud. Instead, she stepped back to the table and picked up the duffel, flapping it open to see what this little surprise contained. Her eyes widened at the sight of the new clothes, price tags still attached.
“Prison rags don’t suit you,” Lindsey said. Turning, he opened the door to leave. “Good luck on the outside. And try not to kill anybody this time.” He shot her an impish grin. “Or at least, try not to get caught.”
Faith was left with a stiff pair of jeans and more questions than she had answers.
Story of her life.
* * *
Then she saw the old truck parked in front of the gates. Some of her good mood fled.
With her jaw set, Faith turned on her heel to walk in the opposite direction. It was away from the nearest town, but she had been on her own too long not to know that there was always another spot on the map to hang up her boots. If she got lucky, she’d find somebody to hitch a ride with along the way, somebody who wouldn’t expect a blowjob in the backseat as payment. Not that it would be the first time she traded sex for a ride. She had only hoped those days were behind her.
The truck came to life, and she heard the crunch of gravel as it turned around and headed toward her. She kept her eyes in front of her as it slowed to a near crawl at her side, and they continued like that for another hundred feet.
“I get you out of jail and you won’t even talk to me?” Lindsey joked.
“Knew this was too fucking good to be true,” she muttered.
The sun hurt her eyes. First chance she got, Faith was buying sunglasses.
“Where do you think you’re heading?” Lindsey tried this time.
“Anywhere but here.”
“And you plan on walking the entire way?”
“Should’ve thought about that before you bought me these fancy new boots,” she shot back.
“At least let me give you a ride. You’ll wear those boots out if you don’t.”
She came to a halt, her hair flicking over her shoulder as she turned toward the stopping truck. “What the fuck are you doing?” Faith demanded. “You looking for gratitude or something for springing me? Well, thank you, Mr. McDonald, for putting this threat to society back on the streets. I’m sure the world is ready to get on its knees and give you exactly what you’re looking for for that little gift.” She sucked her middle finger into her mouth and then pulled it out with a wet plop, flipping it in his direction before starting to walk again.
He didn’t follow in the truck. He got out and came after her. The one smart thing he did was stay more than an arms’ length away.
“The nearest town in that direction is twenty-four miles,” he said. “And I know for a fact that all you have to your name are the clothes and make-up I brought, a book Angel gave you that you’ve never even opened, and eighteen dollars and twenty-two cents. You’ve never been stupid, Faith. Don’t start now.”
The old Faith would’ve stopped, beat the shit out of Lindsey, and stolen his wallet and keys to his truck in order to get by.
The new Faith wanted to, too.
The difference between them was the tiny voice in the back of new Faith’s head asking, Where are you gonna go? Back out in that darkness?
She kept walking, one foot in front of the other, the loose grit of the road’s shoulder loud beneath her heels.
His steps continued for a few feet before finally slowing to a halt. “You were right,” Lindsey called out. “I did have an ulterior motive.”
That did the trick.
It was a relief to turn her back on the sun. “I’m guessing by how long it took you to admit it, instant gratification isn’t your thing,” she said. “A girl could get excited about that if you were trying to fuck her instead of fuck with her.”
“As tempting as that is…” He dared to take a step closer. “I need somebody to watch my back for a few weeks. I was hoping I could talk you into taking the job.”
“If you’re running from Angel—“
“I told you. This doesn’t have anything to do with Angel. This has to do with me walking away from the most powerful law firm in this dimension. In every dimension. People don’t do that. Not to live long enough to tell the tale, that is. Especially when they owe them a so-called debt.”
It wasn’t what she had expected, but then again, when she’d woken up that morning, she hadn’t expected to be walking free by lunchtime. “Why’d you quit then?” she asked. “Wouldn’t it be easier to stick around?”
“You tell me. Why’d you turn yourself in? Strong, resourceful girl like you…wouldn’t it have been easier to keep on running?”
His earlier words came back to her, specifically the ones about fresh starts. They made a lot more sense now.
Faith looked over her shoulder, squinting into the sunlight at the shimmering stretch of concrete disappearing into the horizon. “I’ll let you give me a lift to the nearest town,” she said when she turned back to him. She didn’t wait for a response, just brushed past him and headed for his beat-up truck. “You’ve got that long to convince me you’re not full of shit.”
Personally, she didn’t think he could do it. But a ride was a ride, and Lindsey McDonald was right about one thing.
She wasn’t stupid.
And at least she wouldn’t have to blow him to cover gas.