(Note: This novel contains critical ENEMIES FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC
"plot spoilers,"so consider reading that book before plunging into this sequel.)
The bathroom was lined in yellow tiles, cracked in places, but the porcelain tub was long and deep, a throwback to another era in government housing. Under the single window, there was a shelf built on top of an old steam radiator. Fresh denim pants and a clean blue work shirt were neatly folded on top. Ranya closed the door behind her, but there was no interior lock. Behind the frosted glass window, Ranya could see stout burglar bars.
She wondered how many young detainees the forty-something deputy warden had brought to her house for a bath and some coerced "afternoon delight." She thought of the detainees she had seen working in admin, they were mostly all young and pretty. Instead of a violent gang attack in the barracks, the warden was using the promise of a hot bath and a transfer to easy duty to achieve the same result. The deputy warden held all the cards; she probably succeeded at seduction every time she tried, given the temptation of the warm tub?
Whatever was going to happen, there was no point in missing the rare opportunity to take a hot bath, and use real shampoo on her dirty shoulder-length hair. Ranya ran the water, pouring in fragrant liquid bubble bath, and then checked herself in the mirror over the sink. There were no mirrors in D-Camp, not even stainless steel ones. She saw the faint lines around her hazel eyes; her skin was tight and drawn. She was grateful that her nose was almost imperceptibly askew, where it had been punched the night of her attack. None of this mattered. Beauty had held little added advantage in D-Camp, unless being leered at by guards and administrators was counted as an advantage. Well, today at least, it seemed to be the key to getting her out of the fields?and into a hot bath.
On top of the blue uniform were neat stacks of underwear, white socks, and a new cotton prison bra. A new pair of blue canvas prison-issue sneakers, with laces, was on the floor beneath the clothes. It figured that Linssen would have access to all of her sizes. Ranya pushed off her dirty prison-issue sneakers, which were held together with a single plastic wire tie in the middle, instead of proper laces. She piled her dirty clothes into a corner and slipped into the bath, and pulled the rubber band from her ponytail, letting her grimy brunette hair spill across her back and into the water.
It was the first time her body had felt the silky envelopment of hot water in longer than she could remember. Then she recalled another warm bath, shared with Brad Fallon in the little cabin by the river a lifetime ago? Ranya slid down until her hair was entirely submerged. She lay still for several minutes, enjoying the exquisite pleasure of the warm bubble bath, guessing what was coming next, not knowing how she would react when it inevitably happened. In D-Camp, a single warm bath with perfumed soap and aromatic shampoo held more seduction value, she thought, than a trip to a luxury resort in Hawaii might hold for girls who were free.
So Ranya wasn't at all surprised by the light knock on the door.
Starr Linssen entered the bathroom wearing a beige terrycloth bathrobe, carrying two goblets of chilled blush wine. She sat on the edge of the tub and handed a glass to Ranya. "I'm so glad to be able to get you out of the fields, you deserve much better than that." She looked directly into Ranya's eyes. Ranya drew her knees up to her chest in the bubbly water, and set her wine glass in the corner of the tub behind her. Linssen put her feet into the bath by the silver spigot and slipped off her robe, then slid smoothly into the bath facing Ranya, smiling warmly.
Besides the sun and moon tattoos on the sides of her neck, she had large stars tattooed on her breasts, centered on her nipples. Ranya caught herself glancing at them, unsure where to look, since she was even more uncomfortable returning Linssen's smile, a smile made more inviting by freshly applied frost-pink lip gloss.
"I know, I know, a mistake from my youth," said the warden, referring to her tattoos. "But what can I do? It seemed like a good idea at the time..." She forced a breezy laugh. "But they're a part of me now. Do you hate them? You don't have any tattoos--that was so smart of you."
"I don't mind them--I really don't care one way or the other. Warden Linssen, in your truck--"
"Ranya, please...call me Starr."
"In your truck, Starr, in your truck you said you had news for me, good news."
"I do, but why don't we get to...know each other better first? We have all afternoon. I signed out early for the day, and I put you down for 'special duties.' Oh Ranya, this camp is so harsh, I hate it so much! We need to find our pleasures where we can... We can talk...later. You know, you have such beautiful eyes...like amber sprinkled with tiny emeralds..." Linssen's crossed shins rested against Ranya's feet. She slid her hands underwater and began to caress Ranya's legs, while smiling at her and leaning closer, her lips parted.
Ranya struggled to suppress her distaste, to disguise it. Over the years, many of the female detainees had paired off, finding solace in something closer than mere companionship. But not Ranya Bardiwell. "I'm sorry, I can't relax--my mind is going a mile a minute--I'm trying to guess what your good news is! Tell me the news first, and then I'm sure I'll relax, and then..."
"Oh, I can relax you Ranya; I'm very, very good at it."
"Yes, I can see that you are...but please, tell me what you know! I can't stand not knowing, I'm just dying to know!" Not only had Ranya not made a phone call or received a letter in five years, there were no radios or televisions in D-Camp.
"Well, I suppose?" The assistant warden's fingernails were tracing lines up and down Ranya's calves and brushing her thighs, as she locked her eyes onto Ranya's. "I found out about your son--that's the good news!"
"My son! Oh my God, my son! Tell me; please tell me everything you know about my son!"
"I thought you'd be pleased! Well, he's fine, doing fine, perfectly healthy I suppose...I mean, there's no medical record on him to speak of. He's just great--he's a healthy, happy five year old boy." Linssen smiled at Ranya, and attempted to take her hands into her own, but Ranya jerked them back. The last time she had shared a bath with another person, it had been with Brad, in the lost cabin, on the little river island in Virginia. Poor Brad... Now, sex was being forced on her in another tub, and by a federal officer no less! The contrast between the two encounters battered her sensibilities. Yet as long as there was a chance of finding out about her son...
"But where is he? Who's taking care of him? You have to tell me everything, you can't just tell me he's 'fine' and let it go at that! Don't tease me. Where is he? Please, please tell me!"
"Oh Ranya, what good will it do to know? Let it go? From the records I've found, he's being raised by a terrific family, top notch. Isn't that enough?"
"No, it's not enough!" Ranya pushed all the way back in the tub, her arms wrapped around her upraised knees, her chin down upon them.
Linssen stroked Ranya's wet hair, but Ranya shook off her touch. "Well. Hmmm. Oh, all right, I suppose." The warden sighed, resigned. "Your son is living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His name is Brian Garabanda. His parents are federal employees."
"His parents? His parents?" Ranya looked up, imploring.
"He was adopted, Ranya. Of course, he was adopted."
"But...but I never gave up my rights! I never agreed to this! How could they?"
"Oh Ranya, be realistic. You wouldn't want him living in foster homes. Trust me, I know? He's in a fine home, and his parents are wonderful people, I'm sure."
"You said they were federal employees. What kind of federal employees?"
"What difference does it make?"
"I just want to know!"
Linssen exhaled audibly. "Oh, I guess it doesn't matter. Brian's father is an FBI Special Agent. He works out of the Albuquerque Field Office. Actually, he's a Supervisor. His name is Alexandro Garabanda. A very fine man, I'm sure. The FBI is the top..."
"His...father...is FBI? Oh my God! Is this true? An FBI agent is raising my son? An FBI agent...is his father? His father? How can that be true? I suppose I should be grateful, but..."
"Ranya, it's for the best! How could you possibly raise him, in here? There are no children in here, there couldn't be, you're an intelligent adult, you have to understand that! Brian is being raised by federal agents--just think of all of the advantages that will give him, as he grows up! Plus, think about his future, when he's grown. He won't carry the stigma of...a traitor...a domestic enemy. He'll grow up with all of the rights and freedoms of any law-abiding American citizen! I mean--"
"But an FBI agent! My son is being raised by federal agents? That's twisting the knife! You have to be kidding, this is just a joke, this can't be true, can it? It's just not fair, it's not right!"
"But they can give him everything, and what can you offer him, in here? Nothing. Ranya, please be realistic, and think of what's best for your son. The FBI--" Linssen reached again to take Ranya's hands in hers, to calm her, to sooth her.
Ranya looked up and flung her own hands apart, casting off the warden's offered comforting gesture. Her five years of smoldering frustration over not knowing the fate of her son had at last been settled, but the hollow aching pain was instantly replaced by a rolling wave of burning anger. Five years of seething resentment crystallized into blind rage. Her hands, strong and callused from the fields, shot to Linssen's throat. Her long fingers encircled the warden's neck as Ranya exploded forward, propelling the warden backward in shocked surprise.
Linssen's mouth was wide open in amazement as her own hands sought Ranya's wrists beneath her chin, when the back of her head slammed down on the protruding bathtub faucet. Then Ranya was over her, straddling her, still shaking and choking her, Linssen's terrified blue eyes disappearing beneath the fragrant bubbles.
"The FBI! The FBI! You feds, you feds think you own the whole world and everything in it! Steal a baby? Why not! Take five years of my life? Who cares! National Security, right? Right! You own everything, don't you? Well, that's it! That's it! Enough! Too much! No more! No more! And I'm not a traitor! I'm not a traitor, damn you!" Ranya continued strangling Linssen under water, with all of her 130 pounds bearing down on the helpless warden's throat, crushing her larynx.
Whether it was after one minute or much longer, she would never know, but eventually Ranya comprehended that Starr Linssen was not struggling, was not moving at all. No carotid artery pulse surged through her neck against Ranya's pressing thumbs. No desperate fingers clawed at her wrists. When this fatal realization finally struck, Ranya bolted upright and shot out of the tub to escape the warden's limp body. She dropped and sat Indian-style, naked and wet on the throw rug in the center of the bathroom floor, staring at the warden's legs, which were partially exposed above the bubbles. Linssen's slick breasts formed two star-tipped islands surrounded by sudsy foam.
Now she couldn't go back. There was absolutely no going back to D-camp. There was no explaining away the death of Deputy Warden Starr Linssen, in her own house.
But now she also had a new idea tugging at her, at last she had a real reason to try to escape, regardless of the odds. Assuming that Linssen had been telling the truth, Ranya finally knew where her son was! She had a name to search for, and she knew his "father" was an FBI agent in Albuquerque, and that was enough. If she could escape from D-Camp, and make it to New Mexico...if she could do that, she could find her son, and rescue him from his kidnappers!
Ranya knew that Starr Linssen had planned to spend several intimate hours with her, which meant she probably had these hours to make her escape. It was Friday afternoon, and if Linssen had signed out for the day, then perhaps her presence wouldn't even be missed before Monday morning. She had the advantage of time, a few hours at least.
Starr Linssen was roughly her size, it occurred to her. She pushed down the lever under the silver faucet, and the tub began to drain. Gradually Linssen's face came back into view as the bubbles disappeared. Ranya studied the dead woman's slick black hair, just a bit gray at the roots. She opened the medicine cabinet, then looked under the sink, and found an unopened package of black L'oreal hair dye. It could be done, maybe. It was possible! Anyway, what else could she do? What choice did she have? She knew where her son was living, she knew his new name, and she knew who had stolen him from her life!