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A woman, imprisoned for manslaughter, disappears without a trace during transport between states and it's all up to Dana to find her. Sheila Ford traveled to Tennessee planning to commit an act of pre-meditated murder on her husband. Her lone shot at him misses and kills his lover instead. After pleading guilty to a manslaughter charge, she's locked away in a Tennessee prison for women. Everyone back home in Ohio wrote her off. She wasn't eligible for a parole hearing for seven years. When Jennifer Coventry calls begging Sheriff Mel Crane to bring her ailing mother home to Ohio to serve out the rest of her sentence in the county jail, close to home, Mel is reluctant but gives in. The only problem is, she's so short staffed and can't send a deputy to do the transport. She deputizes Dana to do the duties. Dana planned to go to Tennessee anyway, to look at a vacation cabin for herself and Mel. A little detour over to Nashville to connect with Sheila and the ambulance transporting her to Ohio won't be hard, she thought…until everything that could go wrong does, ending up with Sheila disappearing during a rest stop. A multi-state manhunt is on to find the escaped convict and return her to prison, but the circumstances of her disappearance go far deeper than anyone could have imagined. This book is great together with Books 1-10 of The Morelville Mysteries series but it can also be read as a stand-alone mystery.
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The Morelville Mysteries – Book 11
Jug Run Press, USA
Copyright © 2018
All rights reserved: No part of this publication may be replicated, redistributed or given away in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without prior written consent of the author or the publisher except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages for review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are actual places used in an entirely fictitious manner and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, organizations, or persons, living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.
Chapter 1 - Taking a Prisoner
Chapter 2 - All Fouled Up
Chapter 3 - Break Time
Chapter 4 - Gone
Chapter 5 - Mel
Chapter 6 - Arrested
Chapter 7 - It’s All On Dana
Chapter 8 - Jailing
Chapter 9 - Cops and Docs
Chapter 10 - Walls
Chapter 11 - Family Fun Day
Chapter 12 - Cousins
Chapter 13 - Dig Deep
Chapter 14 - Church People
Chapter 15 - Caretaker
Chapter 16 - Stealth
Chapter 17 - Liability
Chapter 18 - CYA
Chapter 19 - Stakeout
Chapter 20 - Prodigal Daughter
Chapter 21 - Friends
Chapter 22 - Turkey Day
Chapter 23 - Kin Folk
Chapter 24 - Prime Suspect
Chapter 25 - Intervention
Chapter 26 - Ford Family Tree
Chapter 27 - Aloaloa
Chapter 28 - Rutledge Revisited
Chapter 29 - Appearances
Chapter 30 - Raid
Chapter 31 - 2nd Home
Chapter 32 - Decisions
About the Author
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Also Written by the Author
Thursday morning, November 19th
Tennessee Prison for Women
Dana shuddered. It had been a long time since she’d been inside the gates of a prison and so deep in its bowels.
“Any weapons Deputy?” the CO in front of her asked, his voice deep and no nonsense.
“Of course. My service weapon.” She patted the pistol strapped to her side, a remnant from her days with Customs and Border Protection. “Do you need to see it? The guards at the gate already had me take it off once and let them look it over.”
He ignored her tone and eyed her up and down. “Anything else?”
“Like a back-up? No, not this trip.” She was already frustrated with their process. She wanted to pick up her charge and be on her way.
“Initial here and sign here,” the warden said as he pointed at the transfer form. He handed Dana the clipboard.
She skimmed down through the transfer instructions and then initialed and signed where he’d told her too. As she handed the clipboard back, she asked, “How much longer is it going to be?”
“We were expecting you. We’ve already moved her into pre-release holding and the transport squad was on standby at their station about ten minutes away. We called them when you were processing through, so they should be enroute. You can be on the road within a half hour.”
“Great. Can you point me to where this ambulance will arrive? I want to check things over before you bring her out.”
“No can do,” the Warden said. “Once she’s brought in here, you’re responsible for her. If you go out there, we can’t let you back in here without transporting you half way around the building and going through all of the entry procedures again.”
“Okay, fine,” Dana said. I don’t feel fine. Not comfortable with this at all...
Fifteen minutes later, Sheila Ford was wheeled into the release area in a prison wheelchair.
The warden pointed at the chair, “That stays here,” he informed both of them, before Dana could even address the woman sitting in it.
“Can you wheel me out in it, at least?” Sheila pleaded, looking between the man who’d been her jailer for nearly a year and Dana. “I’m too weak to walk more than a few steps at a time.”
“Can the ambulance crew bring a gurney in here?” Dana asked.
“No, that would require all of the same processing you had to go through, but,” he conceded, “I’ll let you take the chair outside as long as you agree to leave it.” He waved a hand toward the monitors a corrections officer was keeping an eye on. “We’ll be watching. I’ll have the maintenance staff retrieve it as soon as we ascertain that you’ve passed through the gates.”
All this fuss over a cheap wheelchair, Dana thought. You’d think the damn thing was made of gold.
She introduced herself to Sheila Ford. “I’m Dana Rossi, Ms. Ford. You may remember me.”
With the question of the wheelchair settled, Ford took the time to look her up and down, like everyone else she’d encountered since entering the prison walls had. “I remember you all right, but I thought your name was ‘Crane’ now?”
Her body may be breaking down but there’s nothing wrong with her mind or her mouth. “It’s Rossi-Crane. Professionally, I use Rossi.”
“I see. And what profession are you in, these days? Still snooping around in other people’s business?”
Dana bristled at that, but before she could frame a response, the warden interrupted. “Ladies, I hate to break this up but, I have other matters to attend to. How about you get going and continue your discussion on the way to Ohio?”
“Sure,” Dana replied. She really wanted to smack the arrogance right out of the man.
“We’ll express her files up there today so you don’t have to take those with you,” he went on, oblivious to her irritation.
She gave him a nod then, to Sheila, she asked, “Ready?” Without waiting for an answer, Dana scooted around behind the wheelchair to push her out of the release area.
They were buzzed through two sets of steel doors. After the second, they entered a small courtyard. An ambulance moved toward them, through a series of sally port gates in the perimeter fencing.
Perfect timing. Dana smiled to herself.
As the last gate slid back and the vehicle came closer, she stopped smiling and became concerned. She could see a driver but no one else. There better be an EMT or a paramedic in the back!
Both women watched as the driver got out and approached them. No one else did. He looks barely legal, Dana thought.
“Officer Rossi? Mrs. Ford?” the young man read their names off a form and then nodded toward them. “I’m Caleb Lighty. I’ll be your driver today.” He glanced over Sheila in her orange prison jumpsuit and then looked quickly away from her.
“And who else is with you Caleb?” Dana asked. “Tell them to show themselves.”
He shook his head and toed the dirt a little. “No one ma’am. We are, uh...shorthanded, I guess you could say, today. Theo, the paramedic that was supposed to go with us, called in sick, then there was a big pileup out on I-24. Our units were the closest so everyone available responded to that.”
What the hell? “You’re not even a paramedic?”
“EMT ma’am. I’m working on getting my fire card and I’m going to school for my paramedic too, so I can get on full-time with Nashville.”
Fat lot of good it does us right now. “Look, Caleb, this isn’t going to work. Ms. Ford needs attended to all along the way. I’m just the escort. I have no medical training other than basic first aid. Your company needs to get a trained paramedic, an RN...someone licensed, over here pronto.”
His eyes grew wide. “Here?”
“No, down the street a half mile! Of course, here!”
“I’m sorry ma’am but it’s...it’s a bit of work to get through all the security and such here. I don’t think they’re going to let anyone else through there.” He jerked a finger over his shoulder toward the gates he’d passed through. “Not without a whole lotta’ paperwork.”
“It’ll be fine,” Sheila interrupted. “You two can just help me up in there and then strap me to a gurney. I’ll probably sleep the whole way, anyway.”
Ignoring the suggestion for the moment, Dana turned back toward the building and looked up along the walls until she spotted a camera. With both arms raised over her head, she waved at it and called out, “We need some assistance out here.” After a couple of long minutes of silence, she tried again and then waited a few more minutes. There was still no response. She thought about taking out her cell phone and calling Mel but then she remembered they’d made her turn her phone off and they’d said calls would be jammed from inside the prison compound.
“It’s chilly out here,” Sheila complained, despite the sixty-five-degree temperature. It hadn’t been much warmer in the building. “Can we at least get in the ambulance?”
Dana gave in and began to wheel Sheila toward the back of the vehicle. Caleb rushed ahead of them to unlock and open the doors.
“Once we’re through these gates,” Dana told him, “I want you on your radio to your dispatcher. Tell them we’re coming in to pick up a paramedic. This,” she waggled a finger between the two of them, “isn’t going to work.”
“What do I do, Mel? They’re insisting they’ve got no one else available today that can go on a long trip,” Dana whispered into her cell from just outside the ambulance. “And, because she’s a prisoner, they won’t even let me bring her inside.”
“Tell me about it!”
“And that warden just let her go?”
“Well, that’s the thing. He didn’t exactly know the way they had it set up, or,” Dana started thinking out loud, “maybe he did know, and he wanted to be done with her so bad, he set me up.”
Mel sighed and rubbed at her temples. “It sounds like she’s our problem now. Man, it’s going to be a hell of a day.”
“What else is going on?”
“They’re arraigning Dale Walters this afternoon, but we just got an avalanche of phone records in that may...well, you know.”
“Prove something different?” Dana asked and then answered her own question. “Yeah, I get that.”
“Do you want me to try and make some calls? Maybe the Tennessee Department of Corrections will step up.”
Dana tried to stifle a scoffing sound and ended up coughing into her phone. “I don’t know what to do. This Caleb guy says he’s authorized to drive, stay overnight in Ohio and then drive back down here tomorrow but he isn’t even a paramedic; he’s just an EMT. What if something happens to her on the way up there, Mel? What did they tell you was really wrong with her? I mean, I was under the impression it wasn’t just a mobility issue.”
“I admit, I didn’t ask for details. I’m sorry.”
Dana couldn’t be mad. She knew Mel had a lot on her plate.
Mel continued, “It’s your call. I can call Tennessee and ask them where they want you to drop her off or you can go ahead and bring her up here with just the driver. If you do that, just make sure you take the Interstates, so you can get to hospitals quickly and so State Patrol in Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio can get to you as fast as possible.”
“Yeah. You’re right. We’re not going to get anywhere with the Tennessee folks. That chance passed us by when we rolled through the last sally port.”
“Well, now that that’s settled, I hate to cut you short, but I want to help my folks go through this stuff and then get over to the courthouse. I’ll stay here tonight until you get here with her, so I can see her settled in. Please be careful.”
“I love you.”
“I love you too Mel.” With that, she hung up, walked around to the driver’s side door and said to Caleb, “Let’s get a move on. We’re wasting daylight.” It was something her father-in-law Jesse said all the time. She smiled to herself and climbed in the back.
At least I can sit in the chair the paramedic would have used...
Dana felt the squad slowing. She looked through the window between the back and the cab, at Caleb. He was headed down a ramp, off the interstate. She figured they were in Kentucky, but she didn’t know where.
She glanced at her watch. 1:55. They’d been on the road for nearly three hours. Caleb probably needs a break.
She looked over at Sheila as she stretched her own legs out in front of her. The older woman was still asleep. She had been for at least an hour. Once they were on their way, she hadn’t needed any assistance or made any demands. She’d said, before she drifted off, “First decent bed I’ve had in eight months.” Her lack of medical need was a relief to Dana.
When the vehicle lurched to a stop, she peeked up front again. They were at the bottom of a ramp.
Caleb’s voice came over the intercom. “I need a quick break...use the facilities.”
She pressed the button and replied. “No problem. Me too.”
“The Pilot Center up here will have handicapped access. Do you think she’ll need to...ah, to go?”
“Just a minute.”
Dana let go of the button and called softly to Sheila. “Rest stop, Ms. Ford.” There was no response. She touched her shoulder lightly and called to her again, “Ms. Ford? We’re stopping at a rest stop.”
Sheila stirred and muttered she was fine then seemed to settle right back into slumber.
As Caleb turned off the ramp and then into the travel center lot, Dana thought about what to do. She was glad Ford didn’t need to exit the vehicle, but she wasn’t sure if she should leave her either. She felt for her cuffs at the small of her back.
“Hate to do this, but nature calls,” she said in a low tone, close to the other woman’s ear. She picked up Sheila’s left wrist and snapped a cuff around it then snapped the other around the frame of the gurney. Sheila tugged lightly at the restraint once and then stopped. She didn’t bother to open her eyes.
“Where are we?” Dana asked Caleb.
He ran a hand through his high and tight haircut. “Just off of I-65; the Sonora Exit is what the sign said. We’re just south of Elizabethtown, according to the map on the GPS.”
Dana wrinkled her nose. “We lost a lot of time working out around the back-up from that pile-up in Nashville.” Mel’s not going to be happy.
“I...I was hoping to get north of Louisville before...well, before I needed to stop. That’s about half way. Sorry. Couldn’t...ah, wait.”
Dana realized what he meant. “Go...go. I’m sorry. I’ll wait back here with her and go myself when you get back.”
Caleb tipped his head in her direction then locked the back of the ambulance. “We can both go. She can’t get out of there.” He turned and went on his way.
Dana debated what to do, but now that she was up and moving around, she realized she really did need to use the facilities herself. She tested the door. Locked. Nodding to herself she set off to find the ladies room.
Dana regained consciousness on the floor, in a handicapped stall. Her head throbbed. A goose egg had already formed at the back, above the nape of her neck.
She felt for her pistol. It was still in the holster.
She tried to stand but couldn’t. The floor was wet, and she was still weak from her fall. Shuddering at the thought, she put her hands down on the toilet seat and levered herself off the floor. She reached out for the handrail on the other side of the commode and hung onto it until the dizziness passed.
She took a couple of deep breaths and instantly regretted it. The smells of industrial strength sanitizer mixed with the expected scents of a public bathroom overwhelmed her in her barely functioning state. A wave of nausea washed over her.
After pulling the collar of her shirt up over her nose, she took a few more shallow breaths. Feeling a bit steadier, she lowered the shirt again, drew her pistol and exited the stall, being careful to look around before stepping out into the open.
The restroom appeared vacant. She checked the other stalls to be sure and then went as quickly as she could manage, to the door.
When she stepped out into the hallway, she found Caleb standing there, waiting for her.
“Where’s Ms. Ford?”
“What do you mean? She’s in the back of the ambulance.”
“No.” He shook his head. “She’s not. I thought maybe she had to go after all and you...”
Dana’s head spun. She brushed past him and staggered toward the lot and the vehicle.
“Are you all right? What about Ms. Ford?” He called after her. “She’s really not in the restroom?”
Dana reached the back of the ambulance and pulled the door handle. The door opened. She shuddered as she looked inside. The gurney was empty. One cuff was still attached to the side rail. The other, previously around Sheila’s left wrist, hung empty.
Whirling, almost losing her balance in her still addled state, she called to Caleb who was still several yards away, “Who unlocked this?”
He stopped and spread his hands and called back, “I thought you did.”
“I don’t have a key. You locked it once I was out!” She moved away from the ambulance toward him, leaving the door hanging open.
The driver stopped walking and leaned back away from her as she drew closer to him, fuming. “We have to find her! We have to find her now!”
Other people were stopping and staring.
Caleb’s face was ashen. His lip trembled as he asked, “She escaped?”
Dana stepped away from him and scanned the lot and all that she could see beyond it. “Go back in the building and find the Pilot manager. Get him or her to call 911 and then get him out here now!”
“What...what are you going to do?”
“I’m going to get on your radio up there and get the highway patrol out here, the State Police...whatever Kentucky has. Hell, the FBI. Everybody.” She waved an arm around. “We have to block off this lot. We can’t let any of these people leave. Someone here had to see something!”
The words were no sooner out than Dana realized the near impossibility of that task. A car pulled into the empty slot to the right of the ambulance and two people climbed into the one parked on the other side at the same time. She jumped out toward the passenger side of the car when she heard it start and called to the woman sitting on that side and the man in the driver’s seat, begging them not to leave.
“Please,” she began, when the woman cracked open her window, “did you see a woman dressed in orange scrubs around here? She would have gotten out of this ambulance.”
The woman shook her head no, as the male driver leaned across her and said, “She didn’t see nothin’ and she ain’t getting involved.” Dana peered into their tiny car. Two small overnight bags and a coat were all that were there.
The driver sat upright and gunned the engine. “She’s a prisoner,” Dana yelled, over the noise. “If you saw something and don’t report it, you could be charged for obstructing justice or...” She had to jump back as he put the car in gear and pulled away.
The first trooper with the Kentucky State Police was on the scene within minutes of her radioed distress call. He immediately called in reinforcements, then had a local Sheriff’s deputy block the main exit so no one could leave.
More State Troopers responded from several miles around and began a canvass of the area around the rest stop.
Dana continued trying to question people. Most, she found, had arrived at the rest stop after they did, and no one claimed to have seen anything. Exasperated, she walked toward the last 18-wheeler in a long row, one she hadn’t yet seen a Trooper approach.
A man opened the cab door on the driver’s side and climbed down. “Saw you coming. What’s going on? Why is everyone being held here?”
Dana pointed toward the ambulance more than a hundred yards away. “We were transporting a prisoner from Tennessee to Ohio, a woman in her fifties in an orange prison jumpsuit. She’s gone missing from the back of the ambulance. Have you seen anyone come out of it besides me and the driver?”
The truck driver stared off at the squad for several seconds and slowly shook his head. “Driver a woman?”
“I saw a woman over that way in dark pants, light shirt with a jacket on that was navy blue...pretty dark blue.” He flung a hand in the general direction of the squad. “Thought she came out of the Pilot building though.”
Dana rubbed the tender spot at the back of her head. She had a sketchy memory of someone she passed as she went into the Pilot Center that was dressed like that. The woman had smiled at Dana but didn’t speak. “What did she look like?”
“A little overweight, I’d guess you’d say. Short hair, from what I could tell at this distance. Not very tall. Couldn’t tell you her age, though.”
Dana controlled another shudder. “Did you see where she went?”
“Up the row here, toward another semi. Dark blue cab, silver trailer.”
“She got in?”
He nodded. “On the passenger side, I’m pretty sure.”
“Any markings at all on it?”
“Sorry. Not that I noticed and, before you ask, I didn’t catch any kind of a plate number on it either.”
She glanced out toward the freeway. She could see the northbound ramp but not the southbound one. She pointed toward the ramp that was in view. “Did you see if they went north?”
“Nope. Didn’t watch them that long.”
Dana glanced around. Troopers were starting to mill about, out of places to search. She worried what he’d told her was a dead end, but since it was her only lead, she hustled back to the squad.
Caleb stood by the driver’s side door, using a cell phone to talk to his dispatcher. She reached around him and yanked the door open then commanded him to give her the keys.
He lowered the phone and pulled the keys out of his pocket as he asked, “What for?”
“I’m going after Sheila!”
“You can’t drive this ma’am.”
“Watch me!” She snatched the keys away. “If you’re coming along, you better get in.”
Moments later, as the squad rumbled to life and he was only half way in on the passenger side, she told him, “Give me lights and sirens so I can get past the local yokel blocking the exit up there.”
“Won’t he know that we’re the ones that lost the lady and...”
“Just do it!”
Caleb did as he was told. His phone was still in his hand. He realized he’d never hung up with his dispatcher and raised it to his ear. ‘What’s going on? Are you rolling? Who’s that talking to you?’ she was asking. Scared, he disconnected the call and dropped the phone into the center console.
Dana squeezed the ambulance through the space behind the patrol car blocking most of the exit from the travel center. She was a couple of feet into the grass and prayed that the ground was firm.
She took a wild stab and turned down the northbound on ramp. On the highway, she laid on the gas. The sound in the cab with the siren screaming overhead was deafening. “You can turn that thing off now!”
When it was quiet, she told him, “Radio your dispatcher if you feel like you need to, and tell her whatever you want to tell her.”
He reached toward it but then drew his hand back again. “I don’t know what to say to her that won’t get me in any more trouble than I already am.”
Dana sped around a car that wasn’t paying attention to her lights.
Caleb grabbed one of the ‘Oh Shit’ handles. “Slow down. You’re breaking the law, driving this thing over the speed limit!”
She shot him a look. “Seriously? We’re in pursuit of an escaped felon.”
He gave in. “Maybe we need to turn the siren back on then, so people just get out of the way.”
“I’m ordering you to stop your pursuit and stand down,” a lieutenant with the Kentucky State Police called out over the radio. “We have officers northbound and southbound looking for the truck Thomas Harrington gave a description of.”
Harrington? Must be the truck driver. It took them another fifteen minutes to get to him? “She’s my prisoner Lieutenant. What would you do, in my situation?”
“I’d do as I’m told Deputy, so stand down. Go back to the Pilot Center and let us handle the manhunt. I have a forensics team on the way there to go over that vehicle you’re in with a fine-tooth comb. Do I have to remind you that it’s a crime scene?”
“Something just doesn’t
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