Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
It was difficult for Jason Maxfield not to look over his shoulder. The feeling somebody was watching never seemed to go away, even though he’d been on the run now for over two months and had not had a single run-in with law enforcement after that first day when he’d escaped their grasp by mere seconds.
He had tasted freedom when he first inserted the key into his shackles on the prison transport bus, shrugged off his chains, and descended the stairs, liberated from restraint for the first time in seven years.
But that feeling was short-lived.
While his body was free, his mind was sealed up as if still behind bars.
Locked in the past.
Frozen with paranoia.
Tormented by unseen demons.
He did not feel free. Wherever he went, whatever he did, he was constantly aware of a voice in the back of his mind, telling him he needed to be on the lookout for somebody who might recognize him.
He was a hunted man.
Faceless strangers with badges plastered in capital case acronyms marched through his dreams whenever he tried to get a moment of sleep.
He paid little attention to where he went after fleeing Chicago. He just moved, going from one place to another like a man in a half-slumber, while his feelings of uneasiness metastasized.
It was nothing short of remarkable he’d come as far as he had. One step turned into another, and before long, he put miles between him and his place of escape. Every move should have increased his feeling of freedom, but it did the opposite.
So it was that he now found himself in Montana, hitchhiking across the state when he could, walking when he couldn’t. He didn’t have a plan or even a firm direction.
And that was the problem.
Why run if he did nothing with his freedom?
I should have just turned myself in, he thought, for the hundredth time. There would have been repercussions for his escape from custody and for the other things he’d done that day, but he wouldn’t have to fight the uncertainty that plagued his every move.
A beat-up Chevy truck approached from behind. It looked like it had been on its last legs for well over a decade, maybe two. It was bluish-green with a stripe that had probably been white originally but was now a dull gray. Jason stuck his thumb out without looking at the driver. Sixteen vehicles had passed in the last two hours, and not one had slowed.
The truck pulled to a stop ten feet ahead of him. A woman hopped out of the cab, looking him up and down.
“You want a ride?”
It took a moment for Jason to find his tongue. She was slender and well put together, a white cowboy hat was on her head, and she wore boots to match on her feet. Her blonde hair moved in the breeze as she gave him a cautious smile.
He was dust-covered and sunburned in places his ball cap and long sleeve shirt didn’t cover. He was conscious of his unkempt, ragged hair. He’d done his best to cut it a few weeks back with a dull blade in a gas station bathroom, but the attempt had not gone well. The poor excuse for a knife was tucked into his sock and secured by a string around his ankle. He would have kept it in his pocket if he had a way to keep the blade from rubbing against the fabric of his jeans. He kept a wad of bills he received from an elderly woman late one night after he helped her out of a tight situation in his other sock.
Jason inhaled sharply, seeking the words he wanted, but they wouldn’t form. They were on the tip of his tongue. He just couldn’t get them out.
He also hadn’t shaved in over two weeks.
I used to know what to do around a pretty girl.
Was it prison or divorce that messed that up?
Or was it just his poor hygiene?
“If you’re headed towards Billings.” His voice sounded far away, like it belonged to somebody else.
“I’ll be there in half an hour.”
Jason hesitated. The woman was the last person who should stop to pick up a vagabond such as himself. She was in her early thirties and stunning.
He would’ve wanted her to just keep going if she had been his daughter. Stopping in the middle of nowhere to give a strange man a lift was a dangerous thing to do.
But he didn’t have ulterior motives and could use a break from the harsh sun. It also wouldn’t hurt to close the distance to Billings before sunset.