The shackles around Anna’s ankles drag against the cement floor with every shuffle she takes, sounding like an anchor unwinding towards the sea floor. A guard opens the door and motions her into the room that’s a few feet larger than her cell, where she finds a redheaded man in a suit waiting at the steel table for her with a notebook and recorder in front of him. It’s not the white, black, and khaki combo the warden wears each day.
“Ms. Henderson. Sit, please,” he says, although they both know the please is for manners, not because it’s an option.
Anna’s guard draws back the chair for her, and pushes it in as soon as her backside has met the hard plastic. In the two-way mirror on the wall in front of her, she catches her reflection. Even though the night of raids has made her look more of a mess than usual—with the purple and blue ringed eyes of sleep deprivation, and the several strands of blonde hair that have unleashed themselves from her ponytail—she doesn’t look scared of this man.
If anything, he should be afraid of her. She’s the one who has the information they want. She has the upper hand—or as much of one she can have when she can only move her hands a foot apart. They don’t act as if they recognize this, though, as they leave her chained with little care for her comfort.
“Ms. Henderson, my name is Special Agent Winslow with the Detroit Bureau of the FBI.” He picks up a black wallet and flips it open to flash a gold badge that he quickly lays back on the tabletop. “As you well know, two of your fellow inmates—Madison Schmitz and Taylor Giancarlo—did not return to their cells after rec time, and we have not been able to locate them since. I am wondering if you would know anything about that.”
She knows that for them, each minute counts, and every second they’re scrambling is another Madison and Taylor are able to get further into the miles of wilderness that surround the prison (which, really is a stupid place to put people who will take any cover to escape their punishment, in Anna’s opinion). If she draws this out long enough, maybe they’ll be desperate enough to give her anything she wants.
“Why would I know anything?” she asks.
“Well, you do live in the cell across from them and we’ve been told by the guards that you have a very hot and cold relationship with the two of them,” Winslow says, mimicking her position, but leaving his hand outstretched against the table’s metal edge. “Is that accurate?”
Did they begin as friends and migrate into enemies and sometimes to return to friendship—even if it was fleeting? “For the most part, yes. But that doesn’t mean I know anything.”
“You may know details that could seem unimportant to you but could be pivotal to this case. How about we just pick your brain?” he suggests.
“I’d hope you make an exception for the authorities,” he replies without an ounce of sarcasm, although Anna definitely would’ve injected it.
She snorts. “The people who got me here? Why should I help them?”
“I believe you’re here because you—” He opens the manila folder and bows his head over the page. “—Robbed three banks around Ann Arbor 5 years ago.”
She bites back the sigh sitting heavy in the back of her throat. “I didn’t do the actual robbery.” She had only waited in the car while Mel filled bags with bills and then drove away when he had at least one foot inside the car.
He nods and looks back down at the paper. “Sorry. You’re here because you’re an accomplice to robbery. As for why you should help us,” with the lift of a finger, he closes the folder. “They broke the law and they should be held accountable. You’re here. You’re abiding by the law. Don’t you think they should do the same?”
No, she thinks.
Isn’t that what’s she angling for here, after all? Freedom from the bars surrounding her and the clothes that still irritate her skin after more than 40 months here? “But, isn’t it also morally questionable to hurt people I care about?”
Because the information she has would hurt them. She’s gathered enough whispers from across the catwalk and during cleaning duty to piece together a patchwork of their plan. Steal guards’ clothes from laundry. Chisel out space around the vent in the broken-down bathroom stall over a period of months, so at some point they can shimmy into the duct system. Climb down the water pipe and somehow get out the gate. Catch a series of buses until they’re over the Canadian border with new identities sent in by some lover or another.
“I was told that you once tackled Madison in the commissary,” Winslow says.
That’s true. “That was months ago.” And by months, she means three, which is enough time for her to act like all wounds had healed. Never did it become more than the act. “It’s just, if I tell you anything, I’m the one who has to live with it, and I need to be able to justify it.”
He cocks his head. “‘Justify it?’”
“Yeah,” she says. “There needs to be a big enough reason for doing it that I feel comfortable sharing what I know.”
The side of his mouth raises, the only crack in his poker face, and she knows that they’re on the same page. “I thought you didn’t want to do anything morally questionable.”
“The shade must depend on the person,” he says, his tone teetering on the slim edge of professionalism and condescension. “We figured you may be resistant to talking, so we do have some options for you. First: you don’t talk to us, and if we learn that you have something that could’ve helped us in this, we file charges against you as an accomplice, which you know well comes with jail time. Second: if you tell us information that does help, you can have this deal.” He opens up the folder to a new page and slides it across the shiny surface to her. Anna lifts her hands onto the tabletop, the chain swinging against it. She pulls the paper closer by her fingertips, and reads the sentence inked on it.
Five seconds pass—or 10, or 30—before she rests against the chair and nudges the folder back towards him. “Where do you want me to start?”