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CROSSED by Karin Tabke (1)

One

January

Baltimore City Courthouse

Sally port prisoner transfer section

Irony was one fickle, messed-up bitch, Angela thought. A year and a half ago she was the fair-haired darling of Charm City. Baltimore’s hottest get-the-hell-out-of-my-way-I’m-going-to-the-top cop. Today, in the icy rain that bit at her skin like shotgun spray, two female deputies escorted her, hobbled and cuffed, clad in prison orange, from her courthouse holding cell into the sally port.

The anger she’d kept tamped down since her assault, subsequent arrest, and trial—even when that asshole prosecutor had twisted the facts and her sergeant had trashed her on the witness stand—finally erupted. Yeah, she’d made it too damn easy for them. It was a given there was no honor among the criminals she’d spent most of her adult life putting behind bars. You never trusted them. Never turned your back and never gave them an opportunity to do you. Never had she thought her squad would betray her in such a vicious, public way as they had. If you couldn’t trust your partner, who the hell could you trust?

How the hell had she let this happen? She hadn’t let this happen. Her squad had sold her out. And what had happened afterward? She clenched her jaw, grinding her teeth. She was only human, and, in the end, justice had been served. The price? Her freedom.

Involuntarily, she jerked against the hands grasping her biceps and shivered as a harsh jag of frigid air slapped her in the face. She was going away for life with no chance of parole for at least two decades. Mild hysteria began to seep into her pores. Soon, it would sink deeper into her muscles, then her bones and her organs, before it ate her up. Her chest rose and fell in quick, harsh puffs. She felt like she was walking a gangplank, the shark-infested waters below swirling, churning—waiting.

Angela expelled a long breath into the cold air and watched it curl, then disappear when another harsh blast of air caught it, immediately turning it into nothingness. She refused to become nothing. She was tough. She could handle prison, even though she wasn’t going to get the preferential treatment she had received in the Women’s Detention Center here in the city. She was a trained professional. It was the damn cell, that eight-by-eight space that caused her more concern than a shank-carrying inmate who wanted some fresh meat for the night. Ange hated small spaces. As a little girl, her cousin had locked her in an old refrigerator in the abandoned field behind her house. She’d panicked, her screams for help unheard. She’d woken up in the arms of a policeman. He’d smiled and told her she was going to be OK. She’d known then what she wanted to be when she grew up.

Now she was going to prison and probably never coming out. She was glad her mother had died before Angela had been sentenced. Her dad? Long gone. He didn’t matter. How could he, when she and her mom had never mattered to him?

Angela balked, the muscles in her arms and neck tightening. The guards yanked her along, and this time she offered no resistance, not even when she heard a bus engine roar to life. Inhaling the cold air deeply into the warmth of her lungs, she exhaled it slowly, refusing to watch it disappear without a trace.

She blinked against the shards of rain, wanting, despite the foul weather, to stand in it rather then step on that bus. The bus to Jessup. The bus to the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women. The bus to hell.

Angela shook her head, forcing herself not to focus on what was ahead of her. But as one thought hijacked another, she came full circle, thinking what a cluster fuck her life had become. And there wasn’t a damn thing she could do to change it. Not now. Not ever.

“Giacomelli, I hope you have some friends over at Jessup. If you don’t, make some fast,” Deputy Alvarez said as she steered Angela toward the bus. “Those girls in Jessup are gonna want a piece of you the minute they find out you’re in the house.”

Angela’s head snapped back and she looked Alvarez straight in the eye, nearly tripping in the short shackles. Alvarez tightened her grip, as did the other guard. “They’ll have to get to me first,” Angela said. And she knew they would. Eventually.

“I can’t believe I’m hauling you off for murder one, Giacomelli,” Alvarez rambled. “I thought you were a lot smarter than that.”

“Yeah, well, walk a mile in my shoes.”

Alvarez shook her head and tsked tsked like Angela was some kid who’d gotten caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

“Fuck you, Alvarez.”

Smyth, the other guard, grunted and tightened her grip on Angela’s arm. “You think that mouth of yours is going to keep the boogeyman away?” Smyth shook her head. Pity radiated from her deep hazel eyes. “I’m scared for you, Giacomelli.”

“Don’t waste the energy, Smyth.” Angela threw her shoulders back, commanding herself to show no fear. Where she was going, the predators fed on fear. When word got out who she was and what she’d done, she’d be an instant target. And even though she’d be housed away from the general populace, they could still get to her. And she’d be ready.

She’d get no help from her ex-colleagues. Not after all the dirt that had come out during the trial. They were funny that way. Back in the day, when cops had been allowed to be cops and not PC pansies, the blue shield had protected its own even at a cost to the rank and file. Now? Every prick in the department walked the PC line. The thugs ruled the streets and the cops were screwed, with their hands tied behind their backs.

Just as she’d been totally screwed by that pimp, human trafficker, and all-around piece of shit, Carlos Montes. And her backup? Nowhere to be found. They should have been there, but they hadn’t been. When she’d gone after her sergeant and her partner for answers, they’d had none. And then the shit had really hit the fan. There was no love lost between ex-cop, now convicted felon Angela Giacomelli and BCPD.

Angela let out a long, pensive breath as a sudden wave of guilt, laced with self-directed anger, washed over her. Not for what she’d done. Not because she’d made it easy for them to send her to prison for the rest of her life. But that in the end, she had let down her mom, the only person who had loved her unconditionally. It was her only regret in life.

“C’mon,” Alvarez grumbled, yanking her along. Angela ignored her, keeping her steps deliberately slow, almost casual. She’d get on the damn bus when she got there: in her time. The guard leveled her black eyes on Angela and paused in her step, causing the other guard to yank her forward as if she’d been a rope in a tug-of-war. “You’re not my only prisoner, and just because you used to wear a uniform doesn’t give you special treatment.”

“Where’s the love, Juanita?”

“I got no love for felons.”

Angela smirked. “Yeah? What if that slimeball Montes sold your little girl to the highest bidder?”

Juanita shook her head, refusing to answer. But Angela saw the fury spark in her dark eyes. Alvarez could act like a holy roller, but in the end, she’d do what she had to do, badge or not. Just like Angela had.

“Don’t tell me when he skipped away free as a bird you’d be OK with that.”

“God will be his ultimate judge.”

“God works too slow for me.”

“He might work slow, but His vengeance is mighty. You’ll have lots of time to read all about Him where you’re going.”

“Great, can’t wait,” Angela muttered as she was pushed toward the correctional officer standing like a brick wall in front of the open doors to the prison transport. She met his piercing eyes, staring back unwaveringly. She took exception to the calculating glare in his eyes. “You have something to say to me, Officer?” Angela challenged.

A slow half smile twisted his lips. He towered over her five-foot-five-inch frame. Not many men intimidated her, but this one? Maybe. Just a little. He was broad and muscular, and there was something primal about him that made her very aware she was a woman. He looked around to make sure no one of significance was watching and leaned a little toward her. “What if I do?” he taunted.

“Get me out of this hardware and I’ll teach you to keep that mouth of yours shut.”

“End it, Giacomelli,” Alvarez said, pushing her forward. Angela stumbled, the hobble giving her barely a six-inch step, and slammed into the wall of the guard’s chest. He grabbed her shoulders to steady her. She jerked out of his grasp and hissed.

“Don’t touch me!”

Doing the opposite, he spun her around and slammed her, face-first, against the side of the bus. Pressing his big body against her, his fist bore into the small of her back. Angela gritted her teeth and closed her eyes, suddenly feeling suffocated and weak at the knees. Since her assault, she could not stand to be touched by anyone, especially a man.

“You have no rights, prisoner,” he softly said against her ear. “I’m bigger and badder than you, so you decide now how you want this to go down.”

“Let. Go. Of. Me,” she ground out.

“Are you going to play nice?”

“Let go and find out.”

He chuckled, but damned if he didn’t back off, yanking her with him. He spun her back around. Angela caught the surprised look on Alvarez’s and Smyth’s faces. While an unruly prisoner was often at the mercy of the guards, this type of conduct was what lawsuits were made of. Yet they did nothing to stop the guard’s behavior. She glanced at them with a sneer, then looked up at the brute. “So you get off roughing up helpless women?”

He threw his head back and laughed in genuine humor. “There is nothing helpless about you.”

Angela eyed him angrily. She never could stand being the brunt of someone’s humor, however innocently intended. One of her many character flaws.

Alvarez handed him the file folder she had been carrying. “Inmate 24-417-9327, Giacomelli, Angela, Celeste. She’s all yours, Officer”—she squinted at his name tag and looked back up at him—“Brinks. You’re new.”

“I’m filling in for Horner.” He took the file and grabbed Angela by the arm, his fingers biting deep and hard, forbidding resistance.

“Prick,” she hissed and preceded him up the narrow steps she could barely climb, the shackle chain was so short. She glared at the driver sitting in his cage and took umbrage at the soft shove Officer Brinks gave her, pushing her to the back of the bus.

Great. Right next to his cage at the very back of the box.

Once she was seated and locked down, Brinks stalked back to the front of the bus, where he brought in another prisoner, locking her in before going for another. By the time he was done, six other women were up front, while Angela got the preferred seating in the back.

She looked up and squinted against the struggling ray of sun that filtered through the gray clouds. She lowered her gaze and looked out the window to the concrete sally port. She’d stood in it many times, watching shackled criminals file into this very bus like cattle. Animals being hauled off to the big house. Off to do time for their crime. Too many of them came back, only to repeat the process. No lesson learned.

She would never know if it would be the same for her. It didn’t matter that she’d be up for parole in twenty. Her gut told her: Once she stepped through the prison gate, she wasn’t coming out.

She pushed back into the stiff, torn cushion. The panic that had seized her earlier began to snake up from her belly. She swallowed hard and took deep cleansing breaths. The bus smelled like piss and shit, and there was no air circulating. A short, harsh wave of nausea rolled through her. Her stomach tightened and a dry heave spasmed. Her back clenched in pain from the tightness and she tried to puke, but nothing, not even bile, came up. Closing her eyes, Angela hung her head between her knees, trying to get her bearings. She took a deep breath. The stench of the bus was too much.

She jerked up and fought another heave, but this time she did puke. She spit the yellow bile onto the floor next to a dried loogey. Turning her head, she wiped her mouth on the shoulder of her jumpsuit. Angela caught the contemptuous stare of one of the prisoners seated several rows ahead on her left. The woman spit, then grinned, showing off her four teeth. She made a smacking sound, then slurped, eyeing Angela up and down. “I haven’t had fresh meat like you in a long time.”

“I hope you like a little AIDS and a few cankers to go with it,” Angela said, staring down the Amazon.

Brinks coughed beside her where he was messing around with his equipment.

“Welcome to the club, sweet cheeks,” the woman said.

“Shut up and turn around, Pinski,” Brinks bit off.

The woman shot him a glare and turned, but not before she blew Angela a kiss.

“Stay out of my business,” Angela said to the guard.

He looked up from stowing away the files on each prisoner in a metal box in his cage. His deep green eyes glittered in amusement. “You’re going to need a friend where you’re going. You might want to think twice about being nice to me.”

Angela scowled, warning him off. “I don’t play well with others. Leave me alone.”

He ignored her and walked toward the front of the bus.

Closing her eyes, Angela leaned her head back on the hard headrest and took in several deep breaths, trying to get a handle on herself. She was scared. There, she’d admitted it, scared shitless actually, and no one, not one single person, gave a damn about where she was headed.

She kept her eyes closed when the automatic-locking, heavy-gauge metal door closed around the driver. The hiss of the air release from the bus doors, followed by the heavy cling of it locking them all in, jarred her drawn nerves.

This was it.

No more jail. No more court. No more, nothing. She was going away. To Prison. Angela wondered if she’d survive.

Heavy footsteps thudded toward her. Officer Friendly. The whoosh of air his body disturbed as he walked past her into his own cage brushed across her cheeks. His clean, citrusy scent was welcome in the dank stink of the bus. She kept her eyes closed. The sound of the jump seat creaking with his weight sitting upon it, followed by the lock and load click of his shotgun, triggered another wave of nausea. Fuck.

“All secure,” he miked to the driver.

Over the bus radio, the driver said, “Transport fifty-two, 10-49 Jessup Women’s Facility with seven on board, starting mileage, 24,766.”

“10-4, T-fifty-two, starting 24,766 at 1517 hours,” Dispatch cleared.

The bus lurched forward and so did Angela’s life.

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