Penned In – Lynn Cahoon

Angie Turner closed the cooler that had held the salads and sandwiches the team had made for the outing. Their quarterly out of office meeting had turned into an adventure this time. With Matt Young doing the planning, they were sitting on picnic tables near the Boise Foothills and getting ready to be locked in the Old Idaho Penitentiary for the night. The good news was everyone had been able to arrange their schedules so they could participate. Of course, it helped that for their team building activities, The County Seat not only covered the out of pocket costs, but also paid an hourly wage. So basically, she’d be paying her staff to sleep this time. She glanced around the table at her kitchen family. Matt was chatting up Hope Anderson who’d transitioned this summer from dishwasher to full-time prep cook. From the way the team was teasing her, Angie assumed Hope would always be considered the little sister. At least until they’d hired a new full-time dishwasher. Estebe Blackstone, Felicia Williams, and Nancy Gowan were huddled around the other end of the table comparing notes on the new pumpkin salad that was in review to go onto the menu next month. And Ian McNeal, her boyfriend, was strolling back to the table with Dom, who had needed to be walked before they were locked into the jail grounds. According to the woman who’d set up their tour, Dom was welcome and they even had an inside courtyard where he could do his business. Provided Angie cleaned up after him, of course. Dom was over a year old now and she thought he was still growing.

He hadn’t gained any height, but he looked like he’d been lifting weights lately. Having a Saint Bernard as a pet wasn’t the easiest path, but Angie wouldn’t change her decision for anything. She looked up as Ian paused next to her, letting Dom lay his head on her lap. Ian gave her a quick kiss, then sat down, looping the leash over his arm. Dom laid on the grass next to the table keeping an eye on Angie’s plate. “He was a good boy. Which meant I had to stop by the rest rooms and wash up afterwards. You could have gotten a toy terrier.” “Who wouldn’t have been Dom. He’s my sweet boy.

” Angie took a bite of the grilled chicken wrap they’d made up that morning. With the chopped peppers in the mix, the flavor profile was out of this world good. “Besides, I would have taken him. You didn’t have to volunteer.” “I know. But I like helping. Especially since you let me crash the staff team building. I haven’t even taken a tour of this place yet. I can’t believe they’re letting us stay the night. You do know that it’s haunted, right?” He sipped his iced tea, watching her reaction.

“Of course, it is. Especially around Halloween, right?” Angie pointed over toward the Foothills. “And back there is a tree that moves from one side of the fence to the other when spooks are out and about.” Ian smiled and focused on his own plate. “I take it you’re not a believer?” “I don’t know. I guess I’ve never seen anything otherworldly, so I choose to believe in the here and now.” Nancy sat down by her. “I have. I’ve seen a real, live ghost.” “Oxymoron, but okay, I’ll bite.

What’s the story?” Angie turned to her chef and studied the typically serious Nancy. A woman paused at the table. The woman’s long brown hair was pulled back into a librarian bun. She was dressed in a guard uniform and as she squared her feet, she took in the table. Picking up a sandwich from the pile in the middle of the table, she sniffed it, then took a bite. “Good evening. I’m one of your jailers, Bridget Murphey. You can call me Officer Murphey. I hope you enjoyed your last meal because we’re opening the doors soon and you won’t be getting anything this fancy once you’re inside.” “Are we staying near the haunted cells?” Matt raised his hand like he was in school.

The officer glanced his way, then ignored his question. “You’ll have to leave your belongings in the lockers in the lobby area. Don’t worry, we don’t have thieves around, well, not in that part of the jail that is.” She laughed at her own joke and took another bite of the sandwich. “You are permitted a camera, but not a cell phone. Which you should have been informed of when you were sentenced to attend this lockdown. You will be given a uniform shirt and a blanket for your comfort. The prison can get chilly at night. Some say it’s because of the restless spirits in the building.” “I told you so.

” Matt crowed to Hope. She slapped his arm. “Children, please.” Angie turned back to Officer Murphey. “Can we bring in our cooler with sodas or will that be provided? I need to make sure I have water available for Dom.” “Your dog will be provided water from the tap. No fancy bottled water for any of you.” She smiled down at Dom who slapped his tail against the table in greeting. “You may get a second blanket for him though. Any other questions?” Matt raised his hand again.

“Will we see all of the prison?” “Your tour will include all of the safe areas. You will not be shown the cemetery. That is part of the botanical gardens.” She glanced around at us one last time. “Any important questions?” “Man, she doesn’t like you.” Estebe fake whispered to Matt. “Are you sure you’re not acquainted with our new jailer?” Angie saw Officer Murphey’s mouth twitch but to her credit, she stayed in character. “Okay then. There will be four staff on site tonight. We’re down from six, so you need to behave or you’ll be sent to solitary on the first offense.

” Matt looked like he was about to say something but the officer’s glare stopped him. “We have fourteen new residents joining us tonight, but just because your group is the largest sector of those, don’t think you’ll be getting any special treatment.” She pointed to the stone front of the building and the large wooden doors. “Meet us there in thirty minutes without your picnic baskets. If you’re not there, you’ll be left outside and no one wants to be left outside alone on a night like this.” Since the weather was a balmy warm October Idaho evening, and they were in an upscale section of Boise where the nearby houses sold in the seven figures, Angie figured she was talking about the fact they were almost at Halloween. She waited until the woman began the act again with the small group at the next table before she turned to her group. “Ready for a haunted house tour? I think they’re really going to play up the haunting angle tonight.” “I don’t like ghosts.” Hope said as she moved just a little closer to Matt.

“I do.” Matt didn’t notice her movement. He was taking pictures of the outside of the building. “Man, I hate giving up my cell. My camera on the phone is way better than this digital I have.” Estebe held up his camera with a set of lenses and a carrying case. “You need to buy a real camera, not rely on a device that does everything badly.” “My phone is the newest model. I bet the pictures I take kill yours.” He snapped several pictures of the table, then of the outside of the prison.

“I’m a master at this.” “Except for the fact that you can’t take it inside the prison, I might take you up on that bet.” Estebe patted his camera case. “I guess I’ll have to share my pictures with the group so we can all have memories of this exciting outing. Thanks for setting it up.” Matt started to say something, then swallowed his words. He’d lost the battle, everyone at the table could see that. But if he moderated his response, he might come back harder another day to win the war. Angie rolled her eyes at Ian who just laughed. “They’re your children, not mine.

” “And that’s exactly what they are – children.” She glanced around the table. “If everyone’s finished eating, let’s pack up the coolers. Put them in my vehicle and I’ll stop at the shop and clean up in the morning.” “Hold it,” Felicia called out. She pointed to the dark SUV at the end of the parking lot. “Just put everything into Estebe’s Hummer. He has to drop me off at my apartment anyway so I might as well take care of the cleanup. That way Angie can just go straight home without coming into River Vista.” “You don’t have to,” Angie started but Felicia shook her head.

After throwing away her paper plate, she walked over and stood next to Angie. “I know I don’t have to, but I am a full partner, right?” When Angie nodded, Felicia continued. “Then that means I clean up at times too. Besides, you’ll probably need to hurry home to feed Precious and Mabel.” “Actually, Erica’s coming from across the street for tonight and tomorrow morning’s feedings, so I’m good. But I’ll let you clean up. Especially since Estebe and I cooked.” With many hands, the dinner mess was cleaned up in no time. Ian stood next to her, looking at the prison. “It’s formidable.

Can you believe that most of it was built with prison labor? No construction crews here.” “They hauled a lot of rock in from the river for that front.” Angie glanced at the other buildings. “Most of these are made out of rock. That’s crazy.” “It kept the prisoners in. Although if I was incarcerated and forced to build my own jail, I might just build some secret escape hatch, just in case my parole didn’t come through when I needed it.” Ian pointed to the door that was opening. “Looks like the fun is beginning.” Four people in guard uniforms walked through the front door.

They waved everyone closer. One of the guards was the young woman who’d come by their table earlier. The other three looked so much alike, Angie wondered if they were related. Hope stood by her side. She glanced up at Angie with a small smile on her face. “I hope this isn’t scary. I hate scary movies. I’d triple hate being in one.” Angie put one hand on Hope’s shoulder and squeezed. “It’s team building, not scream building.

Relax, it’s just a play. A theater of sorts. Everyone’s just playing a role.” As they walked to the four guards who were motioning them inside, Hope sighed. “That’s what I’m afraid of. I don’t want to play a role in this crazy play. I just want to get out alive with my friends by my side.” Angie felt the change in temperature as soon as she walked through the doors. The stone walls kept the building cool, even in deep summer. Which tended to last for less than a week.

Goosebumps prickled her arms. “Isn’t this the coolest?” Matt asked. Hope shook her head. “This is crazy, that’s what it is. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Hope looked like she was about to bolt. Angie met Estebe’s gaze and he nodded, stepping closer to the young woman. “Just stay by me. Nothing is going to hurt you. I won’t let it.

” She smiled up at him. “That’s kind of you, but I’m not afraid of real people.” He held up a St. Christopher’s medal. “My mama told me as long as I wore this, nothing on earth or heaven or hell could get me. I have faith. I know you do as well, so let’s just focus on our faith and have fun with our friends.” “In the lion’s den.” Hope shook her head. “You’re right.

I’m being a baby. Let’s get this party started.” A male guard stood on a podium. “Go ahead and grab a locker. The keys are on lanyards so you can keep them close at hand. Just in case you need a quick getaway.” Another guard jumped up on the platform. “Just don’t be thinking you’re actually going to get out of here. You’re ours until we release you in the morning. No whining, no back talk, and especially, no crying.

I hate crybabies.” Hope’s eyes widened as she stepped closer to Estebe. Even Matt swallowed a bit as he watched the guard slap a night stick in his hand. “Visit a prison, it will be fun, they said,” Felicia muttered loud enough for the group to hear. Angie smothered a laugh as the prison guard stared at their group.

.

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