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The Paths We Take #36: The Only Way Out

Nov 5, 2018







We arrived at the fire tower just west of Beaverdam Road around 9:00 PM. The winter darkness coated the mountainside in a foreboding layer of black. We stood in the headlights as Detective Townsend handed me a small black pistol. It was the first time I’d held a handgun. The only other firearm I’d held was a .22 rifle that Sullivan received as a welcome-to-being-a-man (almost) present on his sixteenth birthday.

“That’s a 9mm, Glock 26. Just make sure you have it pointed in the right direction before you press the trigger,” Townsend laughed. “This isn’t Call of Duty; you’re not going to hit anything from a hundred yards out with it . . . It’s a baby Glock, so I figured it would suit you.”

I could see the blood staining the bandages on his right arm. He would be waiting for Luke and Claire at the fire tower. I would meet them in Philly after I left Donnelly’s. The plan wasn’t to use the gun; the plan was to walk straight out the front door, alone, after my appointment with Claire that I’d set up with Donnelly for 10:00 PM.

“Play it cool. Just go through the same motions as you would normally. If you usually shake Donnelly’s hand when you arrive, make sure to shake his hand,” Townsend explained. “Are you sure they won’t search you?”

“The only time they’ve searched anything is when I took my gym bag with spare clothes. They just looked in the bag.”

Detective Townsend nodded and then held out his hand to shake mine. “Call me when you leave Donnelly’s. Just go the same way you normally would when you leave in case they’re watching you.”

“You’re sure Claire usually takes a shower after you leave?” Luke asked.

“Pretty sure. If she doesn’t, it won’t matter. She’ll already be out.”

“It won’t matter for her necessarily, but it will matter for you. If you’re not through the gate before they find out she’s gone, you’ll be done.”

“I’ve got this . . . I can handle it.”

“I know you can, kid,” Luke said as he shook my hand. “I’ll be waiting for her.”

Luke disappeared on the trail that led up the mountain. Donnelly’s cabin was on the other side. If we’d timed it right, Luke would be at Donnelly’s shortly after I’d arrived. We went over the layout of the cabin earlier that afternoon. I told them everything that I could remember. I explained that the room overlooked the east side of the cabin on the second story. There was a ledge about five feet from the outer wall that dropped almost straight down until it hit the river.


. . .


There were four cars, about the same as usual, when I parked in the driveway at Donnelly’s compound. A blonde-haired man with a bandage above his right ear met me at the steps to the front door.

“I’ve got a ten o’clock appointment,” I told the man. “I’ve already paid.”

“Nikki’s not available tonight,” the blonde man spit out.

I felt my hands start to tremble and I felt the cool sweat on my back as I struggled to keep my face expressionless. The blonde man glared at me through icy blue eyes, but then took out his cell phone and held it to his ear.

“I’ve already paid. I set this up with Mr. Donnelly earlier today,” I stammered, despite my attempts to keep my voice steady and calm.

The man put a finger up to hush me like a school teacher would hush a belligerent student. “Some kid’s here for Nikki— Yes, sir,” he said as he put the cell phone back into his coat pocket. “Come on in.”

I stepped inside and waited for Donnelly. The blonde man stood by the fireplace as the light from the flames painted him a devious orange. Donnelly walked into the room and greeted me with a soft hand.

“Good to see you, Michael. Glad I could set this up for you tonight.”

“I really appreciate it. I know it was kind of last minute.” I stopped myself before saying anything else. I realized that my voice was shaking.

He walked with me up the stairs and left me at the door to the room. “Just let me know when you’re heading out,” Donnelly explained before leaving me. The back of my shirt was soaked with sweat under my coat. I stood in front of the door and smiled.

I went in and shut the door behind me. I figured I had about five minutes before Claire would walk through the door. I hurried into the bathroom, unlocked the window, and pulled it up to make sure that it would open. There was at least twenty feet from the window to the narrow ledge of rock below. The window was smaller than I’d remembered, but I hoped that it would work. I shut the window and rushed back to the edge of the bed just as the door opened.

Claire’s blonde hair was blocking her face as she limped into the room. She was looking at the floor as she inched her way towards the bed. The one they called Grampswas standing in the doorway glaring at me.

“You two have fun,” he smiled as he shut the door. Claire didn’t look up until she heard the door latch, but when she saw that it was me, a faint smile formed as she sat down beside me.

“Ready to go?”

Claire’s eyes beamed as she sat straight up and looked towards the door. She looked back at me and held her hands up in surrender.


I took my coat off and unzipped the liner. We had stuffed forty feet of thin climbing chord in between the liner and the shell. She looked at me in bewilderment as I took her hand and guided her to the bathroom. I wrapped the chord around the wooden crossbeam in the ceiling and knotted it several times.  I put my weight on the knot to make sure it would hold.

Claire opened the window and put her head through to look down. She pulled herself up just enough to squeeze her shoulders through and then eased back down to the bathroom floor inside.

“I think I can fit, but what about you?”

“I’m going back out the front door. They won’t know you’re gone until I’m through the gate,” I whispered. “Someone will be waiting for you when you get down, but you’ll have to head up the mountain and down the other side.”

She looked down at her arms and legs that were barely covered by the pink silk camisole and shorts she was wearing. Her foot was freshly bandaged, and she didn’t have any shoes with her.

“Luke will have a warm coat for you, but we didn’t think about boots . . . You’ll make it. This is the only way out.”

Claire nodded as she made her way back into the bedroom. She threw back the comforter and sheets on the bed to make it look as if it had been used. She took two of the pillowcases from the pillows on the bed. She put her injured foot inside one and wrapped the excess around like a bandage. She wrapped the other pillowcase around and knotted it tight around her ankle.

“Let’s give it another fifteen minutes before we turn the shower on,” I said as I looked at my watch.

We didn’t talk. Claire leaned her head against my shoulder as we sat there waiting. I wanted to tell her that I would run away with her. Maybe we’d go to Brazil or some other warm, exotic place. It didn’t matter to me. I just wanted a new life . . . just like she did.

It was time to go. I put my coat back on as she made her way into the bathroom. I heard the shower sputter to life as I rushed to help lift her out of the window. I lifted her up so that she could put her feet through first as she held onto the rope.

“Thank you, Michael.”

She put her lips to mine and then inched down the rope towards the rock below. I watched her for a few seconds before stepping out of the bathroom and shutting the door.

The thumping in my chest felt like it would tear through my coat. I opened the door to the bedroom. The blonde man was standing outside the door, blocking my path to the stairs.

“Have a nice time?”

“Perfect . . . as always,” I said, trying to walk past him, but he put his hand on my chest and pushed me back into the room.

“You two are just adorable together. Mr. Donnelly tells me that you’re in love with her. Can’t say that I blame you.”

I laughed, but the man looked past me towards the bathroom door.

“Claire, honey. Get out of the shower and come and talk with me and your new boyfriend,” the man yelled.

The room was silent except for the hiss of the shower. Mr. Donnelly stepped into the room and looked at the blonde man. His face was blank as he stared at the man who was making his way towards the bathroom door. I could hear the air fill and leave my lungs as I watched the man open the bathroom door.

He looked at the floor, but then spun around, put his hand to his side and came up with a black handgun. He walked towards me, pointed the barrel towards my chest, and then picked up speed.

I felt the Glock in my coat pocket. My hand slipped on the grip as I tried to pull the gun out. The air left my lungs as I felt a crushing blow to my chest. I lay on the floor, the gun still in my hand, but I couldn’t move my arm. The whole room seemed to echo with a loud ring. I felt liquid, like a warm bath pooling around me.

“What did you just do,” Donnelly screamed.

The voice blurred with the ringing. It felt like the liquid around me began to freeze. My body shook against the cold. I watched the blonde man point the gun at Donnelly, heard the thunderous crack, and watched as Donnelly crumpled to the ground.

My eyes were heavy. The room turned to white, like a heavy snow covered everything in an instant. Claire was looking down on me. She smiled and put her hand to her lips. I watched her lower her hand to my eyes, and then . . . everything went dark.


© Josiah A. Miller 2018. All Rights Reserved.