​​​​​​​​​​​​​Missing Page
           THE ALTERNATE SAFE WORD OF SANCTUARY

                   may be ordered at Amazon and Kindle

                                          click here
         
       http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00C6MG8BK  
 ​
    
                                            CHAPTER ONE
    
                            SWAGGERING INTO SANCTUARY

    
    “You know the rules, don’t you?” The question was routine and a counselor asked it on the average of 3,235 times a year.
    “Yeah. No dope, no booze, no cigarettes. I can sleep around, but I can’t get knocked up.”
    The pleasant expression evaporated from the counselor’s face. His eyebrows became a question mark. “You brought in some excess baggage though. That bramble bush you’re carrying around has thorns.”
    “You trying to be funny?”
    He shrugged. “I’m required to be patient, courteous and helpful. Humor isn’t mentioned in the manual.” 
    “Then cut it out.” Her eyes were those of an owl spooked by daylight. “Let’s get this over with.”
    “Most of our customers are in a more receptive mood after they’ve ridden that bus to Sanctuary.”
     “I’m not most people.”
     “That’s obvious. Do you want to tell me who you are?”
     “The regulations are firm on the fact that I don’t have to tell you a damn thing.” Her protest was delivered with the air of a lawyer protecting his client. “Anyone can go to Sanctuary any damn time they please, stay as long as it suits their fancy and leave when they damn well please with no stupid questions asked.”
     “That’s correct. But even newborn babies are tagged with a name. What shall I put down? Jane Doe?”
    “Put down . . .” She hesitated and for a moment her face softened. “Hell, put down Evangeline. What difference does it make?”
     “Why did you come here?”
    She bristled again. “Sneaky, aren’t you? That’s none of your damn business.”
     “O.K., don’t bite. I’ll have to admit that I’m curious. You’re forcing me to gaze into the crystal ball for my information. Would you like for your friendly fortune teller to reveal the past?”
     “No.”
    He ignored her reply. “You’re probably twenty-five. That bronze hair floating around your face has been washed and brushed with a hundred strokes every night. Which means that you take pride in your appearance. Your teeth and skin indicate you’ve never lacked proper nutrition. You’re deliberately trying to be sloppy in that jumpsuit, which is two sizes too large for you . . . but it can’t hide the fact that you have a well-stacked body.” 
    His assessment continued to be solemn. “All of this adds up to a family who cared enough to feed you vitamins, a home with a roof that didn’t leak and boyfriends who probably suggest marriage among their other propositions. You’re acting like a rowdy, but there’s a reason. I’m wondering if you’re here on assignment – maybe to write an expose about the cruelly mistreated inmates you think you’re going to find.”
    A smile almost appeared, but she shook it away. “Take your nose out of the tea leaves, buster. You’re a million miles away from base, so forget it.”
     “You’re picking a tough row to hoe, Evangeline. It’s kinda depressing to fight everyone else and yourself, too.” His voice was soft and smooth. “I’m here to balance out the see-saw. Need a crying towel? I furnish fluffy ones. Sinking for the third time? Our lifeguards teach you to swim while they tow you in to shore. You name it – we’ve got the answer.” He paused a second before gravely adding, “If you need a man to shack up with, I’ll offer my services.”
    Evangeline sat straight and stiff. “It won’t work.”
    “Pardon?”
    “You’re playin' the game of psyching me out. It won’t work. You expect me to rant and rave. Then I’m supposed to burst into tears and land in your arms sobbing out the mystery of my life. That trick is green with mold. Get up to date.”
    She leaned forward, plopped her elbows on his desk and put her chin in her hands. It was as though she was now conducting the interview. “While we’re doing the analyzing bit, try looking at yourself in the mirror. This two-bit counseling job you’re doing is for eager beaver college graduates with crispy new diplomas. Now that you’ve reached the ripe age of thirty-seven and a half, you feel fear in your bones because you haven’t climbed very far up that ladder of success.
    “Your hair is coming in gray around the edges. You’re getting panicky. Youth is where the action is. So you test your charm every chance you get, checking to see if you’ve still got the ol’ magic that gives the whirly feeling. Only this time you’re left with the bluff. Now let’s finish up this bull shit so the jailer can lock me in my cage.”
    A flush darkened the skin of the man on the other side of the desk. He swallowed, glared and arose from his chair. He managed a crooked grin. “That was a kick straight to the balls. But maybe I punched low, too.” He feigned an exaggerated limp around the desk and held out his hand. “You’ve smeared me all over the floor. Shall we call a truce?”
    She accepted the handshake with a hesitation. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to be crude. But you’ve been doing your damnedest to be a true blue bastard.”
    “Apologies offered. And I’m going to make it up to you.” He opened a cupboard and Evangeline could see built-in refrigerator and liquor bottles. “What’s your choice?”
    “No more tricks?”
    “There might be. Care to gamble?”
    “Sure. Make mine bourbon and coke. Tell me, do you always put on this same act?”
    He answered “Nope” as he reached for the ice cubes. “Only in desperation.” He opened another cabinet that revealed an array of cookies and toys. “Tools for every occasion. These are to keep the kids out of my hair so I can reach Mom and Dad. Forbidden, too, of course. Someday I'll rewrite the manual.”
    “And the supreme sacrifice?”
    “Rare as snow in Phoenix, Arizona in July. But redheaded tigers bring out the cat taming urge in me.”
    She thumped the glass he had given her onto the desk with a splash. “The crap’s too deep in here for me. Which way’s my cell?”
    He laughed. “No cells or jailers in Sanctuary. The only bars that cross your window are the ones you weld in place.”
    “Do I have to hold up two fingers to ask permission to leave your presence?”
    “You tempt a man to rape you just to wipe the supercilious look off your puss.” He stood over her with so much exasperation showing in his face that she wondered if she had gone too far. “But I’ll be magnanimous and make a final offer. If you mouth your way into a situation you can’t win, holler for me – Steve Erickson. I’ll be here.”
    “Don’t worry about me. I’ll make out. Worry about yourself.”
    She walked from the office with a deliberate swing to her hips and a tremor inside. Relief at clearing the first hurdle was foremost. But a watchdog within her warned: Take it easy, gal. That was a damn poor beginning. Tread softly or you’ll never find Tim.
    
    The trip to the walled city had shaken Evangeline. The vibrations of her jostling, squirming shipmates on the nauseous voyage had been grating and harsh. From the newborn to the near-grave, the residue of mankind aboard the Greyhound bus were shrunken with a burden-carrying stoop and tattooed with the scars of worry. Whimpering babies had been clutched by threadbare mothers.  Sallow-faced youngsters had clung to battered toys. Resignation was stamped on the features of the gnarled oldsters, who had accepted their last journey with muteness. An occasional wild one, beaten but not tamed, had traveled to exile with caged animal cunning. The smell of fear, week-old sweat and urine soaked diapers had strangled the senses.
    Evangeline had rejected the pull of the clan of haunted spirits and drawn her soul deep inside to avoid being absorbed. The hopelessness had hung pale and moist in the air, setting up an aura of despair which threatened to encompass and drag her into its midst.
    A vision had come to her of Charon rowing his charges across the river Styx and terror had invaded and almost conquered. Would her guts be gouged from her as the courage had been cut from the other fugitives? Once entombed, would she have the strength to take the return path? Had Tim become a victim to the whirlpool of passiveness? She made a determined vow to battle the web that reached out to entangle her. There mustn’t be any quarter given in her rescue efforts.
    The bus had screeched to a halt under the arched columns that marked the only entrance to Sanctuary. A game of follow the leader had begun. The refugees, after groping their way to the exit of the bus, were herded into a spacious hall and channeled into surrounding offices for the sign-in process.
    
    The quivering caused by the clash with the counselor was beginning to subside and a measure of confidence surged back. Resolutely tossing away the panic, she pulled her cloak of determination tightly around her shoulders. The officials of Sanctuary were only people, not devils or gods, but dyed-in-the-wool sons-of-bitches like elsewhere on the face of the earth. These people were tin soldiers to be knocked aside when they got in her path. She would take her prize from under their noses and ride right over any attempt to stop her.
    After leaving Steve Erickson’s office, a green-clad guide said, “That way, Miss” and she marched along the corridor to the open doors of a filled auditorium. As she moved down the aisle searching for a seat, distressed faces – in shades of black, brown, red, yellow and white – turned in her direction and then shifted their gaze.
    Poor bastards, she thought. They’ve fallen into the trap and are feeling the pinch of its claws. They’re even more suspicious than I am about what’s going to happen next.
    She saw a vacant space and started toward it. There were two empty seats, one on each side of the two women sitting in isolation among the crowd.
    As she looked closer, she understood why. These two didn’t belong either. They were as out of place as tulips in a potato patch. There was the suggestion of confidence in the set of their heads, a defiance of fate in their bearing.
    “Hey, Red, here’s a spot,” and the younger of the two patted the vacant place next to her.
    Evangeline bumped her way through the row of feet and knees. “Thanks,” she said as she sat down. That should take care of the courtesies and she stared ahead as a signal that the conversation was over.
    The girl was not willing to be ignored. “Golly, isn’t this place gruesome? I didn’t expect it to be quite so bad.”
    Slowly Evangeline turned to face her and asked, “What did you expect? Paradise?”
    Lips trembled, eyes blinked. She was probably eighteen and when she pouted, she looked younger. Black hair flowed straight and sleek down her back, a contrast to the canary yellow pants suit. With a perky nose, satin-dark skin, wide brown eyes and a small but faultless figure, she would have been a suitable candidate for Miss America.
    She answered, “Oh, I don’t know. The picture was kinda vague. But all the literature said this place was like a second chance, that we could start all over. I thought people would be happy about that. They all act like they’re on the way to their own funeral.”
    “So you got fooled.” Evangeline shrugged a shoulder. “You must have led a sheltered life if you still believe in fairy tales.”
    The woman on the other side spoke. “Would you mind talking later? I’d like to hear what kind of a line they’re going to give us.”
    A stout woman had appeared on the stage and was rapping a gavel for attention. A squeaky speech of instructions commenced: Tonight the newcomers would be lodged in transitory quarters, the single men and women in dormitories, the families in apartments. Tomorrow the agenda would include physicals and birth control shots. Living quarters would be assigned. Information would be given for open hours for the dining halls, obtaining food and clothing and the locations of schools, religious and recreational facilities.
    Evangeline allowed the gist of the message to flow into her consciousness, but underneath a bee was buzzing: Can’t get tangled up with these two, they’d slow me down. Mustn’t get tangled up at all. Shouldn’t have butted heads with that counselor but, dammit, these people with a little power take advantage if you don’t set them straight first.
    When the address came to a close, the dark girl said, “I’m Hilda. This is Florence, she told me where to go when I got lost outside. Do you think we could stick together for the night? I’ve got a little bit of the willies.”
    Evangeline threw in quickly, “Sorry, there are some people I need to find.”
    Florence added, “It’s everyone for himself around here. Hilda might as well get used to that.”
    The older woman wore a coiffure of golden hair which had been fashioned in the elite of beauty parlors. She could pass for forty-five, subtracting about ten well preserved years from her actual age. Not one extra pound had been allowed to accumulate and the expensive black dress was tight enough to have shown them she had been there. Long lashes, too long not to be fake, surrounded blue eyes. Evangeline wondered why her face was familiar.
    The bulk of the crowd had flowed out of the room and they were the cabooses on the train.
    A uniformed sentry approached, “Ladies, we’ve had more newcomers today than usual. The dorms will be full. We’ll have to settle you in one of the regular apartments. If you will follow me, please.”
    “You lost that round,” Florence commented to Evangeline.
    Evangeline had to laugh. Florence was obviously the kind that didn’t give two hoots in hell for whether the courtesies were observed or not. Well, that certainly saved a lot of time when you were in a hurry.
    The guard led them on a wigwag trail through the administration building to the parking lot in the back. Here, Evangeline had her first view of the fabled city.
    Rows and rows of twenty-story buildings had been planted and now grew skywards in front of her. Nature’s paint pot had been borrowed for the color scheme and the parade of rectangular Alps bloomed harmoniously. Boulevards of grass, dotted with foreign orange trees, pushed the buildings apart so that the Arizona sun could warm the earth. Overhead walkways connected with roofs and palm fronds waved jauntily above sundecks. Cement had become bulky ladies dressed in gay finery and wearing their best bonnets.
    The guard drew their attention to a man walking briskly from the rear exit. “That’s Mr. Erickson. He’s the Director, the big boss of the place.”
    “Mr. Erickson is the Director?” asked Evangeline. “I thought he was a counselor.”
    Oh, he does some counseling when he’s in that kind of a mood. You might see him anyplace, anywhere. He likes to get around. Manages the place in a kinda unusual fashion, kinda like it was all his. Sometimes he goes to one of the halls and dishes out in the chow line. 
    “Or he will sub for one of the teachers. The kids are crazy ‘bout him.”
    “What about older people? Are they crazy about him, too?”
    “Most of them like him pretty good, but there’s a few that call him a stinker and worse. Depends on whether or not they’ve bumped heads with him. Knots on heads sometimes take a while to heal. And it’s usually the other guy that ends up with the knot. Anyhow, I’ve never noticed any bumps on the Director’s noggin. He can take care of hisself.”
    The man whom Evangeline had encountered as a counselor came over to them. “Are you taking these ladies on a tour already, John?”
     “No sir. We’re plum out of dorm space, so taking them over to building blue-thirty-three for the night.”
     “Very good, I’ll drive them over for you. Miss Evangeline and I are old friends.”
     “No, we’re not.”
     “All right, we’re new friends, then.”
      “You’re the Director and I’m an inmate. Why the big secret over your identity? Are you trying to make a fool out of me?”
    “I had to keep us even, didn’t I?” His grin betrayed mischievousness.  “Now, if you would introduce me to your companions?”
    Evangeline fumed through the introductions, which were acknowledged with a handshake and a complimentary comment for each by the Director. He led them to a near-by open-air zip cart and placed Evangeline in the front seat. Driving down the boulevard, ignoring the agitation of the girl by his side, he began a dignified commentary. Dignified, that is, except for certain roguish remarks, which he emphasized for Evangeline’s benefit.
    “Each residential building has living quarters from the second through the top floor. There’s a community lounge on the ground floor for recreation – ping pong, bridge, game tables and sometimes even a stray fortune teller drops in.”
    “Why don’t you stick to your job and leave us alone?”
    “This is my job. I’m sure you’re interested in food. If you are, every fourth building has a dining hall, no caviar or cocktails, but a little serving of humble crow, if you could swallow it, might not hurt the appetite.”
    “That’s what you’d like for me to eat, isn’t it? I’ll starve first.”
    “Try listening, instead of hollering, and you won’t have to. Food and clothing depots are spaced so that there’s one within three blocks of your residence, no matter where you live. The color of the building is the code. Yellow means a dining hall. You’re stationed in a blue, which puts a food commissary on the main floor. If you want to concoct any meals in your kitchen this evening, pick out whatever appeals to you. The administration office is the only gray building – that’s to match the hair of old fogies like me.” 
    “So you’re going to get back at me because you’re the Director and I didn’t bow down?”
    “No, Evangeline, I’m not going to ‘get back at you.’ You’re going to wake up eventually and find that you’re lashing out at the wrong people. I can’t help you until you quit punching at me.” 
    “No one asked for your help.”
    “That’s true. So I’ll end the spiel and let you get the rest of your indoctrination tomorrow. Here’s your home for the night. According to the key, you have suite number seven eleven. I’ll let you explore it by yourselves.”
    Evangeline muttered through clenched teeth, “Thanks for the ride.”
    “It was my pleasure.” He racked the zip cart around with the recklessness of a teenager showing off for his girl.
    As they rode the elevator to the seventh floor, Hilda asked, “Golly, do you know the Director?”
    “I met the bastard once before and that makes two times too many.”
    “I wouldn’t mind meeting him twice. I wouldn’t mind at all. He looks sexy.”
    “You can have my share of him.”
    Florence spoke. “He’s an expert at radiating the charisma bit . . . an operator who works at getting your pants off by trilling a tune. He’s working on Evangeline now. She’s going to be a fool if she trusts any birds of happiness that come from his hands. There’s only going to be one out of a thousand girls who’s going to hear true talk. The rest will get a double tongued version that they’re going to translate the wrong way.”
    “How did you figure all that out?” Hilda asked. “We were only with him ten minutes.”
    “Ten seconds is enough.  I know men. That’s been my business.”
    “So this is our place,” Evangeline said.
    The living room was sparsely furnished with couch, three brown cushioned armchairs and green speckled linoleum on the floor. Materials had been selected for durability with no pretense of adornment. Further exploration revealed a kitchenette with basic equipment and a bedroom containing a chest of drawers and twin beds covered by blankets instead of bedspreads.
    “Beats a cheap motel,” Florence commented. “And I don’t see any bugs. I’ve slept in worse.”
    “We could fix it up real cute,” Hilda said. “I could paint a mural of trees on a wall. There’s a dozen ways we could make this place cozy.”
    Florence let an exasperated sigh escape. “Good Lord, you’re acting like a mockingbird in heat – can’t wait to build a nest. If you expect me to sit in a rocking chair and crochet a few pillows for you – forget it.”
    Hilda switched her pleas to Evangeline. “Can we pretty it up, please?”
    “Sure. I’ll order the shag carpeting and velvet drapes in the morning.”
    Florence stopped the banter. “You’re jumping the gun. This is only temporary. Tomorrow’s a different story.”
    She added in a slow growl, “Tomorrow will always solve the problem.” The bitterness was evident in her voice. “In the meantime, I’m going downstairs to that fabulous commissary and check the food situation. Probably a poor grade of horsemeat but that won’t be any worse than the slop we’re going to have thrown at us in the mess hall.”
    After she left, Hilda’s eyes filled with tears. “Why are you two acting so miserable? Why don’t you like me? I shouldn’t have come here with you.”
    “You didn’t have any choice, Hilda,” she answered gently, but she longed for the dormitory instead. There would have been privacy among so many. She also longed to pick up a lamp and smash it against a wall in defiance of Steve Erickson. But her longings were not this girl’s fault. This girl hadn’t done anything to hurt her. A tinge of shame prompted her reply. “Don’t take our moods personally, Hilda. All of us have our problems and right now they’re weighing us down.”
    “Florence doesn’t look too bad off. What could be eating her?”
    “Do you read the newspapers?”
    “Sometimes.”
    “Remember seeing her picture in the news a couple of months ago?”
    “No, I don’t think so.”
    With another’s troubles for comparison maybe Hilda would stop feeling sorry for herself. “I didn’t recognize her until she let out the remark about knowing men. That rang a bell. She ran a high priced cat house. Her mistake was in allowing the girls to bring the dope in. Some joker died from an overdose. She claimed she was innocent, that the girls broke her rules. Her story didn’t hold water and our friend, the madam, got a stiff prison sentence out of the deal.”
    Hilda bounced with excitement. “Golly, what’s she doing here?”
    “I’d guess she jumped bail. Or maybe escaped with the blessing of a few higher-ups. I don’t remember any follow up in the papers, so there was probably some green changing hands.”
    “That’s not fair. She shouldn’t get away with that. We should catch her and turn her in. Maybe there’s a reward.”
    Oh hell, she’d done it now. Why did this kid have to be so damn dumb? Why couldn’t she realize there wasn’t any sense in kicking a dog that had already been kicked? Kick the shit out of them if they were growling – even if they had plastered on a smile to hide the threat, like that Erickson – but don’t stomp them when they were already down.
    Evangeline was scolding herself as well as Hilda. “Don’t talk like that! Don’t even think like that! I made a mistake in mentioning her history. And it will be damn poor manners on your part to ever repeat this.”
    Evangeline continued firmly. “She is caught – caught like a fly in the spider’s web. Someone on the outside wanted her out of the way. She’s knowledgeable enough to blackmail for Sanctuary instead of prison. With that sentence hanging over her head, she’s caught here for a long time.”
    The conversation was interrupted by the return of Florence. “Here’s the loot, my friends. Coffee isn’t forbidden, praise be. You have a choice of a can of beef stew or chicken and noodles. So we who are condemned can eat a hearty meal.”
    
    

    
    
    
    
    
    
    

    
    
    
    
    
    CHAPTER TWO
    
    
    UNLIKELY FRIENDSHIPS
    UNEXPECTED PITFALLS
    
    
    
    The hospital scene was a dismal one. Waiting their turn for the routine physical, the three women fidgeted in line with others who had arrived the previous day. Baths, clean clothes and a couple of solid meals had raised the spirits of the children to a rambunctious level but had done little to erase the apprehensiveness of their parents.
    The night’s sleep had eased some of Evangeline’s jitters. Yesterday had been bad, she had panicked and overreacted to the pressure of wanting Tim so badly. This morning she had awakened to the joy of actually being here, of managing to skim through yesterday’s flak and landing behind the lines. The mission had begun and she was eager to probe a little deeper into enemy territory.
    Hilda and Florence had been bickering since breakfast, though, like two kids who were fretful because the storm blowing outside had kept them cooped up in the house. As soon as they had some new toys to keep them occupied, they w
        The Alternate Safe World of Sanctuary

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00C6MG8BK  
 
    
    CHAPTER ONE
    
    SWAGGERING INTO SANCTUARY
    
    “You know the rules, don’t you?” The question was routine and a counselor asked it on the average of 3,235 times a year.
    “Yeah. No dope, no booze, no cigarettes. I can sleep around, but I can’t get knocked up.”
    The pleasant expression evaporated from the counselor’s face. His eyebrows became a question mark. “You brought in some excess baggage though. That bramble bush you’re carrying around has thorns.”
    “You trying to be funny?”
    He shrugged. “I’m required to be patient, courteous and helpful. Humor isn’t mentioned in the manual.” 
    “Then cut it out.” Her eyes were those of an owl spooked by daylight. “Let’s get this over with.”
    “Most of our customers are in a more receptive mood after they’ve ridden that bus to Sanctuary.”
     “I’m not most people.”
     “That’s obvious. Do you want to tell me who you are?”
     “The regulations are firm on the fact that I don’t have to tell you a damn thing.” Her protest was delivered with the air 
       

of a lawyer protesting his client. “Anyone can go to Sanctuary any damn time they please, stay as long as it suits their fancy and leave when they damn well please with no stupid questions asked.”
     “That’s correct. But even newborn babies are tagged with a name. What shall I put down? Jane Doe?”
    “Put down . . .” She hesitated and for a moment her face softened. “Hell, put down Evangeline. What difference does it make?”
     “Why did you come here?”
    She bristled again. “Sneaky, aren’t you? That’s none of your damn business.”
     “O.K., don’t bite. I’ll have to admit that I’m curious. You’re forcing me to gaze into the crystal ball for my information. Would you like for your friendly fortune teller to reveal the past?”
     “No.”
    He ignored her reply. “You’re probably twenty-five. That bronze hair floating around your face has been washed and brushed with a hundred strokes every night. Which means that you take pride in your appearance. Your teeth and skin indicate you’ve never lacked proper nutrition. You’re deliberately trying to be sloppy in that jumpsuit, which is two sizes too large for you . . . but it can’t hide the fact that you have a well-stacked body.” 
    His assessment continued to be solemn. “All of this adds up to a family who cared enough to feed you vitamins, a home with a roof that didn’t leak and boyfriends who probably suggest marriage among their other propositions. You’re acting like a rowdy, but there’s a reason. I’m wondering if you’re here on assignment – maybe to write an expose about the cruelly mistreated inmates you think you’re going to find.”
    A smile almost appeared, but she shook it away. “Take your nose out of the tea leaves, buster. You’re a million miles away from base, so forget it.”
     “You’re picking a tough row to hoe, Evangeline. It’s kinda depressing to fight everyone else and yourself, too.” His voice was soft and smooth. “I’m here to balance out the see-saw. Need a crying towel? I furnish fluffy ones. Sinking for the third time? Our lifeguards teach you to swim while they tow you in to shore. You name it – we’ve got the answer.” He paused a second before gravely adding, “If you need a man to shack up with, I’ll offer my services.”
    Evangeline sat straight and stiff. “It won’t work.”
    “Pardon?”
    “You’re playin' the game of psyching me out. It won’t work. You expect me to rant and rave. Then I’m supposed to burst into tears and land in your arms sobbing out the mystery of my life. That trick is green with mold. Get up to date.”
    She leaned forward, plopped her elbows on his desk and put her chin in her hands. It was as though she was now conducting the interview. “While we’re doing the analyzing bit, try looking at yourself in the mirror. This two-bit counseling job you’re doing is for eager beaver college graduates with crispy new diplomas. Now that you’ve reached the ripe age of thirty-seven and a half, you feel fear in your bones because you haven’t climbed very far up that ladder of success.
    “Your hair is coming in gray around the edges. You’re getting panicky. Youth is where the action is. So you test your charm every chance you get, checking to see if you’ve still got the ol’ magic that gives the whirly feeling. Only this time you’re left with the bluff. Now let’s finish up this bull shit so the jailer can lock me in my cage.”
    A flush darkened the skin of the man on the other side of the desk. He swallowed, glared and arose from his chair. He managed a crooked grin. “That was a kick straight to the balls. But maybe I punched low, too.” He feigned an exaggerated limp around the desk and held out his hand. “You’ve smeared me all over the floor. Shall we call a truce?”
    She accepted the handshake with a hesitation. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to be crude. But you’ve been doing your damnedest to be a true blue bastard.”
    “Apologies offered. And I’m going to make it up to you.” He opened a cupboard and Evangeline could see built-in refrigerator and liquor bottles. “What’s your choice?”
    “No more tricks?”
    “There might be. Care to gamble?”
    “Sure. Make mine bourbon and coke. Tell me, do you always put on this same act?”
    He answered “Nope” as he reached for the ice cubes. “Only in desperation.” He opened another cabinet that revealed an array of cookies and toys. “Tools for every occasion. These are to keep the kids out of my hair so I can reach Mom and Dad. Forbidden, too, of course. Someday I'll rewrite the manual.”
    “And the supreme sacrifice?”
    “Rare as snow in Phoenix, Arizona in July. But redheaded tigers bring out the cat taming urge in me.”
    She thumped the glass he had given her onto the desk with a splash. “The crap’s too deep in here for me. Which way’s my cell?”
    He laughed. “No cells or jailers in Sanctuary. The only bars that cross your window are the ones you weld in place.”
    “Do I have to hold up two fingers to ask permission to leave your presence?”
    “You tempt a man to rape you just to wipe the supercilious look off your puss.” He stood over her with so much exasperation showing in his face that she wondered if she had gone too far. “But I’ll be magnanimous and make a final offer. If you mouth your way into a situation you can’t win, holler for me – Steve Erickson. I’ll be here.”
    “Don’t worry about me. I’ll make out. Worry about yourself.”
    She walked from the office with a deliberate swing to her hips and a tremor inside. Relief at clearing the first hurdle was foremost. But a watchdog within her warned: Take it easy, gal. That was a damn poor beginning. Tread softly or you’ll never find Tim.
    
    The trip to the walled city had shaken Evangeline. The vibrations of her jostling, squirming shipmates on the nauseous voyage had been grating and harsh. From the newborn to the near-grave, the residue of mankind aboard the Greyhound bus were shrunken with a burden-carrying stoop and tattooed with the scars of worry. Whimpering babies had been clutched by threadbare mothers.  Sallow-faced youngsters had clung to battered toys. Resignation was stamped on the features of the gnarled oldsters, who had accepted their last journey with muteness. An occasional wild one, beaten but not tamed, had traveled to exile with caged animal cunning. The smell of fear, week-old sweat and urine soaked diapers had strangled the senses.
    Evangeline had rejected the pull of the clan of haunted spirits and drawn her soul deep inside to avoid being absorbed. The hopelessness had hung pale and moist in the air, setting up an aura of despair which threatened to encompass and drag her into its midst.
    A vision had come to her of Charon rowing his charges across the river Styx and terror had invaded and almost conquered. Would her guts be gouged from her as the courage had been cut from the other fugitives? Once entombed, would she have the strength to take the return path? Had Tim become a victim to the whirlpool of passiveness? She made a determined vow to battle the web that reached out to entangle her. There mustn’t be any quarter given in her rescue efforts.
    The bus had screeched to a halt under the arched columns that marked the only entrance to Sanctuary. A game of follow the leader had begun. The refugees, after groping their way to the exit of the bus, were herded into a spacious hall and channeled into surrounding offices for the sign-in process.
    
    The quivering caused by the clash with the counselor was beginning to subside and a measure of confidence surged back. Resolutely tossing away the panic, she pulled her cloak of determination tightly around her shoulders. The officials of Sanctuary were only people, not devils or gods, but dyed-in-the-wool sons-of-bitches like elsewhere on the face of the earth. These people were tin soldiers to be knocked aside when they got in her path. She would take her prize from under their noses and ride right over any attempt to stop her.
    After leaving Steve Erickson’s office, a green-clad guide said, “That way, Miss” and she marched along the corridor to the open doors of a filled auditorium. As she moved down the aisle searching for a seat, distressed faces – in shades of black, brown, red, yellow and white – turned in her direction and then shifted their gaze.
    Poor bastards, she thought. They’ve fallen into the trap and are feeling the pinch of its claws. They’re even more suspicious than I am about what’s going to happen next.
    She saw a vacant space and started toward it. There were two empty seats, one on each side of the two women sitting in isolation among the crowd.
    As she looked closer, she understood why. These two didn’t belong either. They were as out of place as tulips in a potato patch. There was the suggestion of confidence in the set of their heads, a defiance of fate in their bearing.
    “Hey, Red, here’s a spot,” and the younger of the two patted the vacant place next to her.
    Evangeline bumped her way through the row of feet and knees. “Thanks,” she said as she sat down. That should take care of the courtesies and she stared ahead as a signal that the conversation was over.
    The girl was not willing to be ignored. “Golly, isn’t this place gruesome? I didn’t expect it to be quite so bad.”
    Slowly Evangeline turned to face her and asked, “What did you expect? Paradise?”
    Lips trembled, eyes blinked. She was probably eighteen and when she pouted, she looked younger. Black hair flowed straight and sleek down her back, a contrast to the canary yellow pants suit. With a perky nose, satin-dark skin, wide brown eyes and a small but faultless figure, she would have been a suitable candidate for Miss America.
    She answered, “Oh, I don’t know. The picture was kinda vague. But all the literature said this place was like a second chance, that we could start all over. I thought people would be happy about that. They all act like they’re on the way to their own funeral.”
    “So you got fooled.” Evangeline shrugged a shoulder. “You must have led a sheltered life if you still believe in fairy tales.”
    The woman on the other side spoke. “Would you mind talking later? I’d like to hear what kind of a line they’re going to give us.”
    A stout woman had appeared on the stage and was rapping a gavel for attention. A squeaky speech of instructions commenced: Tonight the newcomers would be lodged in transitory quarters, the single men and women in dormitories, the families in apartments. Tomorrow the agenda would include physicals and birth control shots. Living quarters would be assigned. Information would be given for open hours for the dining halls, obtaining food and clothing and the locations of schools, religious and recreational facilities.
    Evangeline allowed the gist of the message to flow into her consciousness, but underneath a bee was buzzing: Can’t get tangled up with these two, they’d slow me down. Mustn’t get tangled up at all. Shouldn’t have butted heads with that counselor but, dammit, these people with a little power take advantage if you don’t set them straight first.
    When the address came to a close, the dark girl said, “I’m Hilda. This is Florence, she told me where to go when I got lost outside. Do you think we could stick together for the night? I’ve got a little bit of the willies.”
    Evangeline threw in quickly, “Sorry, there are some people I need to find.”
    Florence added, “It’s everyone for himself around here. Hilda might as well get used to that.”
    The older woman wore a coiffure of golden hair which had been fashioned in the elite of beauty parlors. She could pass for forty-five, subtracting about ten well preserved years from her actual age. Not one extra pound had been allowed to accumulate and the expensive black dress was tight enough to have shown them she had been there. Long lashes, too long not to be fake, surrounded blue eyes. Evangeline wondered why her face was familiar.
    The bulk of the crowd had flowed out of the room and they were the cabooses on the train.
    A uniformed sentry approached, “Ladies, we’ve had more newcomers today than usual. The dorms will be full. We’ll have to settle you in one of the regular apartments. If you will follow me, please.”
    “You lost that round,” Florence commented to Evangeline.
    Evangeline had to laugh. Florence was obviously the kind that didn’t give two hoots in hell for whether the courtesies were observed or not. Well, that certainly saved a lot of time when you were in a hurry.
    The guard led them on a wigwag trail through the administration building to the parking lot in the back. Here, Evangeline had her first view of the fabled city.
    Rows and rows of twenty-story buildings had been planted and now grew skywards in front of her. Nature’s paint pot had been borrowed for the color scheme and the parade of rectangular Alps bloomed harmoniously. Boulevards of grass, dotted with foreign orange trees, pushed the buildings apart so that the Arizona sun could warm the earth. Overhead walkways connected with roofs and palm fronds waved jauntily above sundecks. Cement had become bulky ladies dressed in gay finery and wearing their best bonnets.
    The guard drew their attention to a man walking briskly from the rear exit. “That’s Mr. Erickson. He’s the Director, the big boss of the place.”
    “Mr. Erickson is the Director?” asked Evangeline. “I thought he was a counselor.”
    Oh, he does some counseling when he’s in that kind of a mood. You might see him anyplace, anywhere. He likes to get around. Manages the place in a kinda unusual fashion, kinda like it was all his. Sometimes he goes to one of the halls and dishes out in the chow line. 
    “Or he will sub for one of the teachers. The kids are crazy ‘bout him.”
    “What about older people? Are they crazy about him, too?”
    “Most of them like him pretty good, but there’s a few that call him a stinker and worse. Depends on whether or not they’ve bumped heads with him. Knots on heads sometimes take a while to heal. And it’s usually the other guy that ends up with the knot. Anyhow, I’ve never noticed any bumps on the Director’s noggin. He can take care of hisself.”
    The man whom Evangeline had encountered as a counselor came over to them. “Are you taking these ladies on a tour already, John?”
     “No sir. We’re plum out of dorm space, so taking them over to building blue-thirty-three for the night.”
     “Very good, I’ll drive them over for you. Miss Evangeline and I are old friends.”
     “No, we’re not.”
     “All right, we’re new friends, then.”
      “You’re the Director and I’m an inmate. Why the big secret over your identity? Are you trying to make a fool out of me?”
    “I had to keep us even, didn’t I?” His grin betrayed mischievousness.  “Now, if you would introduce me to your companions?”
    Evangeline fumed through the introductions, which were acknowledged with a handshake and a complimentary comment for each by the Director. He led them to a near-by open-air zip cart and placed Evangeline in the front seat. Driving down the boulevard, ignoring the agitation of the girl by his side, he began a dignified commentary. Dignified, that is, except for certain roguish remarks, which he emphasized for Evangeline’s benefit.
    “Each residential building has living quarters from the second through the top floor. There’s a community lounge on the ground floor for recreation – ping pong, bridge, game tables and sometimes even a stray fortune teller drops in.”
    “Why don’t you stick to your job and leave us alone?”
    “This is my job. I’m sure you’re interested in food. If you are, every fourth building has a dining hall, no caviar or cocktails, but a little serving of humble crow, if you could swallow it, might not hurt the appetite.”
    “That’s what you’d like for me to eat, isn’t it? I’ll starve first.”
    “Try listening, instead of hollering, and you won’t have to. Food and clothing depots are spaced so that there’s one within three blocks of your residence, no matter where you live. The color of the building is the code. Yellow means a dining hall. You’re stationed in a blue, which puts a food commissary on the main floor. If you want to concoct any meals in your kitchen this evening, pick out whatever appeals to you. The administration office is the only gray building – that’s to match the hair of old fogies like me.” 
    “So you’re going to get back at me because you’re the Director and I didn’t bow down?”
    “No, Evangeline, I’m not going to ‘get back at you.’ You’re going to wake up eventually and find that you’re lashing out at the wrong people. I can’t help you until you quit punching at me.” 
    “No one asked for your help.”
    “That’s true. So I’ll end the spiel and let you get the rest of your indoctrination tomorrow. Here’s your home for the night. According to the key, you have suite number seven eleven. I’ll let you explore it by yourselves.”
    Evangeline muttered through clenched teeth, “Thanks for the ride.”
    “It was my pleasure.” He racked the zip cart around with the recklessness of a teenager showing off for his girl.
    As they rode the elevator to the seventh floor, Hilda asked, “Golly, do you know the Director?”
    “I met the bastard once before and that makes two times too many.”
    “I wouldn’t mind meeting him twice. I wouldn’t mind at all. He looks sexy.”
    “You can have my share of him.”
    Florence spoke. “He’s an expert at radiating the charisma bit . . . an operator who works at getting your pants off by trilling a tune. He’s working on Evangeline now. She’s going to be a fool if she trusts any birds of happiness that come from his hands. There’s only going to be one out of a thousand girls who’s going to hear true talk. The rest will get a double tongued version that they’re going to translate the wrong way.”
    “How did you figure all that out?” Hilda asked. “We were only with him ten minutes.”
    “Ten seconds is enough.  I know men. That’s been my business.”
    “So this is our place,” Evangeline said.
    The living room was sparsely furnished with couch, three brown cushioned armchairs and green speckled linoleum on the floor. Materials had been selected for durability with no pretense of adornment. Further exploration revealed a kitchenette with basic equipment and a bedroom containing a chest of drawers and twin beds covered by blankets instead of bedspreads.
    “Beats a cheap motel,” Florence commented. “And I don’t see any bugs. I’ve slept in worse.”
    “We could fix it up real cute,” Hilda said. “I could paint a mural of trees on a wall. There’s a dozen ways we could make this place cozy.”
    Florence let an exasperated sigh escape. “Good Lord, you’re acting like a mockingbird in heat – can’t wait to build a nest. If you expect me to sit in a rocking chair and crochet a few pillows for you – forget it.”
    Hilda switched her pleas to Evangeline. “Can we pretty it up, please?”
    “Sure. I’ll order the shag carpeting and velvet drapes in the morning.”
    Florence stopped the banter. “You’re jumping the gun. This is only temporary. Tomorrow’s a different story.”
    She added in a slow growl, “Tomorrow will always solve the problem.” The bitterness was evident in her voice. “In the meantime, I’m going downstairs to that fabulous commissary and check the food situation. Probably a poor grade of horsemeat but that won’t be any worse than the slop we’re going to have thrown at us in the mess hall.”
    After she left, Hilda’s eyes filled with tears. “Why are you two acting so miserable? Why don’t you like me? I shouldn’t have come here with you.”
    “You didn’t have any choice, Hilda,” she answered gently, but she longed for the dormitory instead. There would have been privacy among so many. She also longed to pick up a lamp and smash it against a wall in defiance of Steve Erickson. But her longings were not this girl’s fault. This girl hadn’t done anything to hurt her. A tinge of shame prompted her reply. “Don’t take our moods personally, Hilda. All of us have our problems and right now they’re weighing us down.”
    “Florence doesn’t look too bad off. What could be eating her?”
    “Do you read the newspapers?”
    “Sometimes.”
    “Remember seeing her picture in the news a couple of months ago?”
    “No, I don’t think so.”
    With another’s troubles for comparison maybe Hilda would stop feeling sorry for herself. “I didn’t recognize her until she let out the remark about knowing men. That rang a bell. She ran a high priced cat house. Her mistake was in allowing the girls to bring the dope in. Some joker died from an overdose. She claimed she was innocent, that the girls broke her rules. Her story didn’t hold water and our friend, the madam, got a stiff prison sentence out of the deal.”
    Hilda bounced with excitement. “Golly, what’s she doing here?”
    “I’d guess she jumped bail. Or maybe escaped with the blessing of a few higher-ups. I don’t remember any follow up in the papers, so there was probably some green changing hands.”
    “That’s not fair. She shouldn’t get away with that. We should catch her and turn her in. Maybe there’s a reward.”
    Oh hell, she’d done it now. Why did this kid have to be so damn dumb? Why couldn’t she realize there wasn’t any sense in kicking a dog that had already been kicked? Kick the shit out of them if they were growling – even if they had plastered on a smile to hide the threat, like that Erickson – but don’t stomp them when they were already down.
    Evangeline was scolding herself as well as Hilda. “Don’t talk like that! Don’t even think like that! I made a mistake in mentioning her history. And it will be damn poor manners on your part to ever repeat this.”
    Evangeline continued firmly. “She is caught – caught like a fly in the spider’s web. Someone on the outside wanted her out of the way. She’s knowledgeable enough to blackmail for Sanctuary instead of prison. With that sentence hanging over her head, she’s caught here for a long time.”
    The conversation was interrupted by the return of Florence. “Here’s the loot, my friends. Coffee isn’t forbidden, praise be. You have a choice of a can of beef stew or chicken and noodles. So we who are condemned can eat a hearty meal.”
    
    

    
    
    
    
    
    
    

    
    
    
    
    
    CHAPTER TWO
    
    
    UNLIKELY FRIENDSHIPS
    UNEXPECTED PITFALLS
    
    
    
    The hospital scene was a dismal one. Waiting their turn for the routine physical, the three women fidgeted in line with others who had arrived the previous day. Baths, clean clothes and a couple of solid meals had raised the spirits of the children to a rambunctious level but had done little to erase the apprehensiveness of their parents.
    The night’s sleep had eased some of Evangeline’s jitters. Yesterday had been bad, she had panicked and overreacted to the pressure of wanting Tim so badly. This morning she had awakened to the joy of actually being here, of managing to skim through yesterday’s flak and landing behind the lines. The mission had begun and she was eager to probe a little deeper into enemy territory.
    Hilda and Florence had been bickering since breakfast, though, like two kids who were fretful because the storm blowing outside had kept them cooped up in the house. As soon as they had some new toys to keep them occupied, they would settle down.
    Hilda was urging in an undertone to Evangeline, “When they hand out apartment numbers, don’t let them split us up. Let’s insist on rooming together. It won’t be quite as gruesome that way.”
    Florence, overhearing, turned to face them. “Hate to be the bitch that keeps deflating your balloon, little chum, but you insist on ignoring your status around here. If we haven’t got a legal mate, we get privacy. You’re going to get dumped in a single efficiency, like it or not.”
    “I don’t see why we can’t have roommates,” she complained.
    “Good Lord, Hilda, figure it out for yourself. Surely you’re not that simple.”
    Hilda bridled, “I resent that.”
    Evangeline intervened for the sake of quiet. “They can’t let this become a homo colony, Hilda. That’s why there’s no bunking together except for family style.”