Sharp’s back shifted against the rough surface of the holding cell’s putty-coloured, concrete-block walls. Above, the ceiling was cracked and crusted here and there with clusters of black mould, tinging the cell’s trapped, cold air .
She shivered and shifted on the metal bench that skirted the interior of the cell. She was sore and tired and her face ached. Her lip was still swollen, and her cheek was an uneven swirl of purple and green.
In a corner of the cell, another woman was sitting with her knees pulled up against her chest. She looked just as miserable as Sharp. When Sharp had entered the cell, the woman, in her 30s — though it was hard to tell with the thick makeup — hadn’t even looked up.
Sharp closed her eyes. She needed to block out her current predicament and focus her mind. She needed to come up with a plan. A few minutes later, she was asleep.
It was almost 4 am when she jerked awake, flinching from a burst of nausea that worsened when she remembered where she was, and why.
The other woman was standing at the bars. Her face pushed between them.
“Guard. Guard? Guard!” She gasped out into the corridor. She tried a few more times but nothing changed; no one came rushing down the corridor ready to offer assistance. No one was interested in her case. No one cared about the two women locked up in a cell in the basement of Police Services Station B.
Sharp’s forehead creased in despair. Why had she told the truth to Lee? Certainly, that was her first mistake. She admitted that she’d broken into 141 Fulgrove. The first-floor tenant had ID’d her, and the third-floor woman — Wilbur, wasn’t it? Sharp thought back to the DYMO-taped name tag next to the column of buzzers. The woman had seen her running down the fire escape and across the front lawn, and driving away in her K-car. Whatever way she looked at it, the evidence was overwhelming — and wrapped up with a tidy, little bow of admission.
Sharp hit her fist hard against the metal bench but all she got for her troubles was a spike of pain up her arm — and an annoyed cellmate.
The woman looked up at her through groggy eyes and said, “I’m trying to sleep here.”
“Sorry,” Sharp answered, rubbing her sore hand. “I just wish I could get out of here. Why doesn’t anyone come to check on us? Lee was only going to do some paperwork. It’s been hours.”
“Forget it!” The woman shot back. “You’re stuck here until they say you aren’t and that’s all there is to it.” She closed her eyes and repositioned herself for sleep, then added, “The only way out of this place is in your mind.” She rolled against the wall, away from Sharp.
Maybe that works for you, Sharp thought, but I’m hurt. I need a doctor. I have to get out of here. There has to be a way! She jumped up and ran over to the metal grid that separated her from the building’s basement corridor — and freedom.
Down the hall, Sharp spied a cop sitting at a desk, and sipping something — probably coffee — from a white, Styrofoam cup. He was hunched over in his chair, head bent over a book — or a magazine, she couldn’t tell which. Sharp stared at him, bit her lip, and thought for a minute. Then her shoulders sagged and she returned to her seat. Her cellmate was right; there was no way out.
A moment later, Sharp was stretched out on the metal bench with her eyes closed, fast asleep.
Then air shifted. Sharp’s nose twitched. Perfume? Her eyes shot open.
“Huh?” Sharp sat bolt-upright and knocked her head against the concrete wall. “Oh —,” she winced in pain.
Claire was standing in front of her. Her blonde hair was pulled away from her face and she was wearing a pale sweater and skirt, just visible under an open dark coat.
“. . . Claire?” Sharp rubbed her eyes.
“We have to get out of here,” Claire said quietly.
“But you’re supposed to be — dead.”
“Do I look dead?” Claire walked quickly toward the bars.
“No — you look great. As a matter of fact.”
Claire wrapped her smooth fingers around the bars.
“It’s locked. I tried opening it earlier,” Sharp said as Claire gently slid the steel door aside.
“Well, it was — locked. Anyway. Earlier.” Sharp stepped quickly after her. She cast a glance behind her, remembering her cellmate.
The woman was gone.
Sharp looked around.
So was Claire.
“Wait a minute. Where did everyone go?” Sharp ran down the hall. It was empty. No Claire, no cop — not even his desk. Sharp rounded the corner — another long corridor faced her. At intervals, doors broke up the long, putty-coloured walls. Sharp walked quickly down the corridor.
“Claire?” Sharp came to a stop, panting, and turned around. The corridor was empty behind her and ran on as far as she could see. In front of her, a door stood closed. She ran over to it and pulled it open. Another empty corridor rolled out in front of her. She swung around and faced a wall; the doorway she had just passed through was gone.
Sharp was breathing fast. She looked down the corridor, up at the featureless ceiling, and then ahead again.
That’s when she saw the person — a tiny figure standing in the middle of the corridor.
It looked like a woman, too.
A smile broke out on Sharp’s face. She started walking. Then she accelerated into a trot. The figure was getting larger. Sharp was running now. It was Claire! The dark coat, the heels. “Claire?” Sharp said, “I thought I’d lost you.” Sharp ran up to her and put her hand on her shoulder just as Claire swung around.
But the woman staring back at Sharp wasn’t Claire. All the proportions were wrong. This woman was too tall, her shoulders were too wide, and her heels were way too big. This woman wasn’t a woman at all! It was man — with a goatee. He was rubbing it, too, his lips tilted in a sideways grin. Light glinted off a gold ring stuck on his finger.
“Huh?” Sharp sat bolt-upright, again knocking her head against the concrete wall. “Oh!” she winced in pain.
Sharp dragged herself over to the bars.
“Help me, someone, please? I think I need a doctor. I think — I think I’m going crazy,” Sharp said, through gasps of breath. She eyed the desk where she’d seen the cop reading, earlier, but it was empty now. “Help, anyone!” Sharp shouted with all the energy she had left. She slumped against the bars and silence filled in around her . . .
But it wasn’t completely silent.
Footsteps — clumping heavy boots — were getting louder, closer.
Sharp peered into the corridor and saw him as he stepped around the corner. It was Minetta.
Not looking at her, he stuck a key in the cell door and slid it aside.
“You’re free to go,” he said.
He jerked his head. “Move it, already!”
Sharp snapped out of it and rushed through the cell door and into the corridor.
“But what happened? I mean — I thought I was being charged?”
The door clanged shut behind her. “I was told to release you. Now get lost before I change my mind,” he said, yawning. His face was grey from lack of sleep; he wasn’t interested in a conversation.
“Sure, sure,” Sharp nodded quickly. She looked around, saw an exit sign, and started walking.
A moment later, she was running.
*Image credit: Anurakpong/iStock/Thinkstock