Highway 72, Central Florida, 2002
It gave Garvey the creeps, transferring somebody like Daniel Danielle. The sick bastard had been convicted of killing three women, but some estimates had his total at more than a hundred.
They were the women who lived alone and let their guards down because the sicko could be a charmer as a man or a woman. Single women who disappeared and were missed by no one. Those were the kinds of women Daniel Danielle sought and tortured and destroyed.
Nicholson was seated next to Garvey. Like Garvey, he was a big man in a brown uniform. Their job was to transfer Daniel Danielle to a new, and so far secret, maximum- security state prison near Belle Glade, on the other side of the state from Sarasota. It was in Sarasota where Danielle Daniel (he had been dressed as a woman then) had been arrested while crouched over the body of one of his victims, and later convicted. The evidence was overwhelming. As a “calling card” and a taunt, he had put his previous victim’s panties on his present victim, panties he had apparently worn to the murder. He was damned by his DNA.
Daniel was all the more dangerous because he was smart as hell. Degrees from Vassar and Harvard, and a fellowship at Oxford. Getting away with murder should have been a piece of cake, like the rest of his life. But it hadn’t been. When his appeals were exhausted, he would be executed.
No one was visible on State Highway 72. This part of Florida was flat and undeveloped, mostly green vistas streaked with brown. Cattle country, though cattle were seldom glimpsed from the road except off in the distance. Wind and dust country for sure. Dust devils could be seen taking shape and dissipating on both sides of the road. Miles away, larger wannabe tornados threatened and whirled but didn’t quite take form.
The latest weather report said the jet stream had shifted. Hurricane Sophia, closing in on Florida’s east coast, now had a predicted path to the south, though not as far south as the dusty white van rocketing along the highway. Taking time to replace a broken fan belt ten miles beyond Arcadia had slowed them down. They were still okay, if the hurricane stayed north. If it didn’t, they might be driving right into it.
Now and then a car passed going the other way, with a Doppler change of pitch as the boxy van rocked in the vehicle’s wake. Off to the east there were more dust devils, more swirling cloud formations. The insistent internal voice Garvey often heard when some part of his mind knew something bad was about to happen wouldn’t shut up.
Suddenly it began to rain. Hard. Garvey switched on the headlights. Hail the size of marbles started smacking and bouncing off the van’s windshield and stubby hood.
“Maybe we oughta go back,” Nicholson said. “See if we can outrun whatever’s headed our way.”
“Orders are to deliver the prisoners.” Garvey drove faster. The hail slammed harder against the windshield, as if hurled by a giant hand.
The prisoner chained in the back of the van with Daniel Danielle was a young man with lots of muscles and tattoos under his orange prison jumpsuit. He was scarred with old acne and had a face like chipped stone, with a crooked nose and narrow, mean eyes. He was easy to take for a hardened ex-con, but he was actually an undercover cop named Chad Bingham, there for insurance if something weird happened and Daniel Danielle made trouble.
Bingham would rather have been someplace else. He had a wife and two kids. And a job.
The easy part of the job was just sitting there sulking and pretending he was someone else. But the way things were going, he was afraid the hard part was on its way.
The hail kept coming. Nicholson was on the edge of being downright scared. Even if it didn’t make landfall nearby, Sophia might spawn tornados. Hurricanes also sometimes unexpectedly changed course. He reached out and turned on the radio, but got nothing but static this far out in the flatlands, away from most civilization.
Garvey could see his partner was getting antsy so he tried to raise Sarasota on the police band. The result was more static. He tried Belle Glade and got the same response.
“Storm’s interfering with reception,” he said, looking into Nicholson’s wide blue eyes. He had never seen the man this rattled.
“Try your cell phone,” Nicholson said in a tight voice.
Nicholson tried his own cell phone but didn’t get a signal.
Both men jumped as a violent thumping began under the van.
“We ran over a branch or something that blew onto the road,” Garvey said.
“Pull over and let’s drag it out.”
“Not in this weather,” Garvey said. “That hail will beat us to death.”
“What the hell was that?” Nicholson asked, as a huge, many-armed form crossed the road ahead of them, like an image in a dream.
“Looked like a tree,” Garvey said.
“There aren’t many trees around here.”
“It’s not around here anymore,” Garvey said, as the wind rocked the van.
The van suddenly became easy to steer. Garvey realized that was because he was no longer steering it. The wind had lifted it off the road.
They were sideways now, plowing up dirt and grass. Then the van bounced and they were airborne again.
“What the shit are you doing?” Nicholson screamed.
“Sitting here just like you.”
The van leaned left, leaned right, and Garvey knew they were going to turn over.
“Hold tight,” he yelled, checking to make sure both of them had their seat belts fastened.
The wind howled. Steel screamed. They were upside down. Garvey could hear Nicholson shouting beside him, but couldn’t make out what he was saying because of the din.
The van skidded a long way on its roof and then began to spin. Garvey felt his head bouncing against the side window.
Bulletproof glass came off in sharp-edged, milky strips, and he was staring at the ground. With a violent lurch, the van was upright again, then back on its roof. Garvey realized that as addled as his brain had become, his right foot was still jammed hard against the brake pedal.
The van stopped. Hanging upside down, Garvey looked out the glassless window and saw that they were wedged against one of the rare trees Nicholson had mentioned. He looked over and saw that Nicholson was dazed and wild-eyed. And beyond Nicholson, out the window . . .
“Looks like a kind of low ridge over there,” he shouted at Nicholson. “We gotta get outta the van, see if we can burrow down outta the wind.”
“Everywhere!” Nicholson yelled. “Wind’s everywhere!”
Garvey unhitched both safety belts, causing the weight of his body to compress onto his internal injuries. Ignoring the pain, he leaned hard to his right, against Nicholson, and kicked at the bent and battered door. It opened a few inches. The next time it opened, the wind helped it by wrenching it off one of its hinges and flattening it against the side of the van.
“Wind’s dying down a little,” he lied to Nicholson, and then was astounded to notice that it was true. The roaring had gone from sounding like a freight train to sounding like a thousand lonely and desperate wolves. A hurricane- spawned tornado, Garvey guessed. Moving away, he hoped.
He wormed and wriggled out of the van. The hail had stopped, but rain was still driven sideways by the wind. Garvey was sore all over. Later he’d have to take inventory to see if he was badly injured. With great effort he could stand, leaning into the wind. Nicholson was near him, on hands and knees, his head bowed to Sophia’s ferocity.
The overturned van’s rear doors were still closed, though the roof was crushed and the wire-reinforced glass was gone from the back windows. A pair of orange-clad legs and black prison shoes extended from one of the windows, and a voice was screaming.
Inside the back of the van, Chad Bingham was cut and bleeding from the long shard of glass in Daniel Danielle’s hand. Daniel was bleeding himself, from cuts made by sharp glass or metal. Bingham’s scalp was laid open and his face was covered with blood. In the wild tumble of the van, Daniel Danielle had managed to wrench the .25-caliber handgun from where it was taped to Bingham’s ankle. Bingham, with his outside-the-walls complexion, hadn’t fooled Daniel for a second.
Daniel held the small handgun against Bingham’s throat. Bingham’s legs were twisted backward, under him. The steel rail both men had been cuffed to had broken at the weld. They were free, though their wrists were still cuffed.
It was Daniel’s legs protruding from the van’s window. Both men knew the gun had hollow-point bullets and would kill easily and messily at close range. Daniel dropped the shard of glass, then used the hand without the gun and rubbed some of Bingham’s blood over his own face and into his hair. Both men had prison haircuts. Bloodied up as they were, they could be mistaken for each other. Daniel needed only a moment of mistaken identity, and he would act.
He dug the gun’s barrel into Bingham’s throat. “Yell that I’m dead, and you want outta here. Do it if you want to live,” he said to Bingham. “Don’t do as I say, and bullets start slamming around your insides.”
Bingham’s eyes rolled with fear. He knew Daniel’s reputation, and knew the killer had earned it.
“It’s me!” he yelled. “It’s Bingham. Daniel’s dead. Get me the hell outta here!”
All the time he was yelling, Daniel was kicking with his free lower legs.
It seemed a lot of time passed. He jabbed again into Bingham’s neck with the gun barrel. “Hey!” Bingham yelled, “Help!” While Daniel kicked.
Finally Daniel felt strong hands encircle his ankles, exert pressure. Pulling, pulling. As his body began to slide out of the van he stared into Bingham’s eyes and kept the gun pointed directly at his testicles. Bingham didn’t make a sound.
And then Daniel was free—like a cork out of a bottle.
“Thanks!” he kept repeating, as he faced into the wind and gained his feet.
“You guys okay?”
Garvey shut up when he realized the mistake they’d made.
Daniel stepped close and shot him in the forehead.
Nicholson wheeled to run and Daniel shot him twice in the back of the neck. He fell and the wind rolled him a few feet and then lost interest. Daniel bent low into the wind and made his way back to the van. Bingham was still inside, curled up and playing dead. Daniel shot him in the testicles and Bingham began to wail. Daniel knew no one would hear even if they were nearby.
Still cuffed, he began his search for keys.
Five minutes later Bingham watched through the van’s distorted rear window as a limping Daniel Danielle disappeared into the rain and wind.
Within minutes the hurricane sweeping across the state hit the area in earnest.
Chad Bingham would later testify in his hospital bed that Daniel almost certainly died from his wounds or from Hurricane Sophia. There was no way he could have survived out in the open as he’d been, without any nearby shelter.
It was Bingham who died from his wounds.