Dan Matlock stepped out into the real world again. Somewhere behind him, the guard who had opened the door shouted ‘See you soon,’ but Matlock was already walking away from jail.
There was no-one waiting for him.
He wasn’t expecting Joe to be there. Not really. But it might have been nice. Would have made things simpler.
Lindum County Hospital is opposite the city’s prison.
Matlock crossed the road without looking left or right. It was early. He’d have heard something if there was any traffic.
The car park on the far side of the road was a third full. Six-to-two workers, overnighting bedside vigilants, keen bean suits.
Scant remnants of a hedge led to a muddy incline down to the tarmac. Matlock scanned till he found the right kind of car. Something old, something uncomplicated.
A once-red hatchback, its paint faded to a blush. No-one around. Matlock put the bag with his belongings from the prison tight up to the driver’s side window. He punched through the bag to quell the noise and to not get cut.
The glass gave way like it wanted to.
Matlock chucked the bag onto the passenger front seat. He snapped the plastic trim away from under the steering column, and found the right wires. Some tricks you never unlearn. The car coughed into life. The radio lit up; local news chatter.
Okay. Deep breath. It had been two years since Matlock had sat behind the wheel of a motor. Last time he’d done so, he had killed the wrong man.
He swept away the worst of the glass into the passenger foot-well, then wound what was left of the window right down. It’d pass a glancing inspection.
Matlock pulled off towards the car park exit. An early morning smoker - IV stand and dressing gown – lurked far enough from the sliding main doors to deter a jobsworth coming out to grumble something about this being a smoke-free site. Matlock passed the patient, turned right towards the main road.
He slowed to give way at the car park exit, even though there was no road traffic coming in either direction.
He could turn right. Back to where it had all gone wrong.
Where it might be worse than ever, and waiting for him, fists balled.
Or he could turn left, make his way through Lindum city centre, and be out of the county within half an hour. Put the last two years and more behind him. Family, lost loves, the lot of it. Head west, as if chased by the racing sun. Make up a name. Fall into something or other somewhere else. Shed his old skin.
Was that ever really an option?
Matlock didn’t indicate. Turned right.
A recess between the front seats. Loose change and the stubby roll-ends of mints. Three, maybe four quid there in coins. Enough for a coffee. There was a drive-in McDonalds on the way out of town.
Most of a tank of fuel. He’d have to ditch the car sooner rather than later, but he wasn’t going far. Less than thirty miles. And just one stop on the way. Two, if you counted picking up the hot drink.
Matlock pulled off the A158 onto a side road. Then onto a farm track; tilled land on one side, thickish woodland on the other. He parked. Got out of the car, bringing his coffee with him.
A rummage in the glove compartment had yielded a screwdriver. The sort with multiple changeable ends fitted into the handle. The sort of tool an amateur would buy. Nevertheless, Matlock selected a flat blade and clicked it into the shaft of the driver. It locked into place with a satisfying magnetic pull.
Matlock turned to the rear of the vehicle. He put the coffee down. He slipped the blade into the lock of the hatchback and gave a shove and a twist. The lock surrendered.
He’d hoped for a toolbox, maybe a snow shovel. An ice scraper even. It was that time of year. Something to dig with. The boot space felt like it had scarcely ever been troubled. Clean carpet. A plastic tub of detergents and cloths. The distant tang of cleanliness. Matlock shut the boot, and took the screwdriver and the coffee into the woods.
It was still dark under the canopy. Matlock gave it a few minutes for his eyes to adjust. There was a path, marked occasionally with wooden signs for ramblers, that he followed for fifty yards or so. Twice there had been signs of activity: a stamped-out fire circle; a little clearing, the trees thereabouts garlanded with used condoms and cigarette ends. He carried on until he found the right spot. A turn into the thicker undergrowth.
His secret stash. An insurance policy. Sometimes it pays to be cautious.
An all but imperceptible bump in the ground. That was where Matlock started working. First with the screwdriver to loosen the compacted earth, then with his hands.
It took less time to dig it up than it had to bury it in the first place.
Matlock lifted it out. A freezer bag; the sort with a zip-lock. Inside the bag, a metal tin. It had held toffees originally, some ill-advised holiday gift from a previous life. Still, the tin had turned out useful more than once.
Deep breath. The container popped its lid on demand. Another zip-lock bag. The money was all there inside, just as it had been when he had buried it. And under the money, the other thing. This, Matlock slipped into a pocket without checking.
Matlock had done his research, and had chosen the denomination which had most recently been updated, design-wise. This gave the notes the longest storage life possible. There was enough here to get started again. Not Caribbean island-style, but enough.
White sands weren’t quite what Matlock had in mind.
He poured away the last of the now-cold coffee. He dropped the takeaway beaker into the hole he’d scraped out, and kicked the mound of loose soil back over. He pressed the earth back into place with his shoe, and headed back to the car.
Safe in the vehicle, Matlock retrieved the unchecked packet. He unwrapped it. A revolver. A .38 Ruger Speed Six.
The Ruger is a small gun with a short barrel, designed for concealment. A back-up gun.
There were five live cartridges left.
If it came to it, Matlock reckoned, five would be plenty.