Lizzie Fowler, the prison warden’s daughter, is alone in their home inside the prison walls. The angry inmates riot, burn the shops and invade the house, threatening Lizzie’s life. She manages to live, but the constant fear, the horrible nightmares and her self-induced isolation make living unbearable.
Dan Moriarty drives his father’s car to the prison, amidst havoc in the small town of Auburn, New York, to pick Lizzie up for the big community picnic. But three escaped inmates take over the car and force Dan to help them leave the area. Finally escaped, Dan is angry, angry at everyone in the world, angry with the coach for not letting him practice football, and angry at himself for not helping Lizzie.
Lizzie and Dan, separately and alone, use every resource available to survive. But they can’t forget the terror, the helplessness. Would living be survival? Do they really want that survival?
“Whoa! We would never…”
“Oh yes you would,” she interrupted. “The last time one of you threatened you had a room just for him inside the prison.” The three keepers laughed but squirmed in their seats. “I’ll never have a boyfriend if you keep that up.” She smiled back at them.
Keeper Jamison unlocked the first gate for her to go through. “Things are a little too quiet today. I think I’ll walk you to the door of your quarters.”
One of the other keepers said, “It’s too hot for them to cause trouble.”
Mr. Jamison waved at the gate keeper, enclosed in his own steel room, to close the first gate behind them, then open the next gate. He guided Lizzie with his big hand gently on her back out the door of the prison and across the manicured lawn to the door of the warden’s house. The large house, connected to and situated at the southwest corner of the Administration Building, faced Wall Street, albeit with stone walls in between.
Inside, she walked across the foyer and up the stairs to her room. After she changed clothes, she walked over to her parents’ room and looked from the window down at the “yard”—where the inmates were allowed recreation—still thinking about Mr. Jamison’s concerns. They were quiet—everyone milling around in constant motion. She couldn’t help but think of a hornet’s nest, with all the hornets crawling around, bumping into each other, their wings vibrating in anticipation of sudden flight. Usually, some of the inmates threw a ball around or into the basketball hoops.
But today they were doing nothing. She didn’t blame them. It was too hot.
More comfortable out of her stockings and in her knickers and blouse, she ambled down to the kitchen for some lunch. She found the deviled eggs and salad Mom had left for her and was eating when the doorbell sounded. She jumped and then laughed at her skittishness. Dan wasn’t due until about two o’clock, but maybe he finished mowing his parents’ lawn early. She glanced at the round kitchen clock with its bright yellow rim. One o’clock.
At the door, the prisoner’s gray outfit at first startled her. Still skittery, she noted.
“Mr. Turner!” The trusty who mowed their lawn and pruned their flowers along the front walk stood there. The vest of his gray prison uniform was unbuttoned, and she could see the three honor stripes on his left sleeve. He looked both ways over his shoulders, his face gleaming with sweat.
Barely above a whisper, he said, “Miss Lizzie, I have to hurry. I don’t want the other men to see me here, but you gotta get out of here fast. That’s all I can say.” He looked all around again. “Go to that picnic with your parents—right now!” He turned around and darted down the stairs to the warden’s well-tended front yard. In seconds, he was allowed to pass through another barred gate into the inmates’ yard and blended with all the silent hornets there.
Lizzie frowned. She went back to the kitchen and popped an egg into her mouth, munching on it as she went up to her parents’ room. She checked the inmates’ yard again. Nothing had changed. They were still moving around, but she noticed some of them would quickly say something to another and then continue to saunter or shove on. She decided the heat was making everyone edgy, even her. Besides, Dan was on his way.
He would be here soon, so she went back in the kitchen, turned on the small fan, and read her Zane Grey book, Riders of the Purple Sage. With the fan on her face as she sipped an orange pop fresh from the cold icebox, she almost got comfortable. Especially in the middle of her book. She loved Zane Grey.
Suddenly, shouting erupted and distracted her. She glanced at the clock. One-thirty. More shouting. Lots of it. She tried to look out the kitchen window but couldn’t get a clear view of the prison yard. She turned to run upstairs when the whir of the fan stopped.
“Oh brother! Don’t you give up on me now.” She turned the switch off and then on again. Nothing. Disgusted, she hurried up to her parents’ room to look out onto the yard. Just as she pulled back the curtain to their window, a group of prisoners surrounded some keepers who had rushed into the yard. The inmates wielded heavy sticks, and soon a couple of them wrenched the Blackie clubs from the keepers and were hitting them, over and over. Blood spurted out from one keeper, like a fountain spray. Lizzie gagged and tried to swallow the bile in her throat, the taste of the deviled egg mixed in with it.
She scanned the rest of the yard. Another cluster of prisoners separated Mr. Donnelley from his fellow keepers and circled around him. One inmate had a bottle with clear liquid in it that he threw into Donnelley’s face. The keeper yelled in pain and covered his eyes with his hands. Lizzie watched, unable to move. Her heart pounded in her ears—swoosh-swoosh-swoosh-swoosh—until she realized the prisoners were running toward the arsenal with keys dangling from their hands. Keys they must have taken from the still screaming Mr. Donnelley.