If I Run, page 15
“You won’t be. I know you can’t see these incremental changes, but I do.”
On our way out, I tell her I’m going to be traveling. “Call me if you need me,” she says. “Make an appointment when you get back. Don’t disappear on me, Dylan.”
I hope I don’t disappear on myself.
I sleep in the next day and watch an Everybody Loves Raymond marathon, useless and without purpose. My head aches and I have that oppressive, smothering feeling again that makes me want to end it all.
I spend most of the day arguing with myself, mentally citing reasons to live versus reasons I shouldn’t. Then I spend hours hating myself for my self-pity.
I get my Bible and read the books of 1 and 2 Samuel and remember that my condition is not unique. When David escaped Saul’s spears, he probably had a little PTSD himself. He managed to survive living in a cave while he dealt with that betrayal. He derailed his life a couple of times and always paid dearly, but he survived.
I can survive too.
By the time I reach the midnight hour, when life looks its most hopeless, I choose hope. I manage to sleep through the night.
In the morning, I decide that I’m worthless in this quest for Casey Cox. I don’t know where she is, and every lead takes me to a dead end, or worse. Maybe I’ll just quit.
At ten o’clock I go for a jog, forcing myself to run at least a mile. It will stimulate endorphins that I badly need. I drag myself around the neighborhood, sweating through my clothes, and can’t wait to circle back to my apartment. The mailman is at the boxes when I get back, so I wait for him to leave, then check my own box.
Bills, junk mail, and one small box from some cell phone company. I haven’t ordered anything, but it’s definitely addressed to me.
I take it up to my apartment where Everybody Loves Raymond is still playing. I flick on the light and get a bottled water. As I’m drinking, I pick up the small package. I check the address again. It says it’s from Atlanta and the postmark matches. I frown as I peel off the tape and open the box.
It’s a thumb drive lodged between two wads of paper.
My breath catches. Could this be from Casey?
I grab my laptop from the kitchen counter, sink down on my couch, and jab the thumb drive into the USB port. I finish off my water as the computer detects the new device and it shows up on the screen. I click on the thumb drive. There’s a folder named “Cox Files.”
Unbelievable. Who sent this? Sara Meadows before she died? No, she barely knew my name. Keegan? Maybe he finally answered my request. But he wouldn’t have sent it from Atlanta. My heart trips. It has to be from Casey.
I click on it and see a list of files. Some are documents, some audio clips, and there’s one video named “Sara Meadows.”
I click on the video, wait as it loads, then it pops up on my screen. Ms. Meadows has on the blouse she was wearing in the video Keegan was watching yesterday. This must be the same video.
“This is Brent Pace.” My heart stumbles as I hear my friend’s voice. “I’m interviewing Sara Meadows, employed with the Shreveport Police Department. She was a clerk in the evidence room at the time of Andrew Cox’s death—and still works there. Ms. Meadows, you said you were good friends with Officer Cox in the years leading up to his death.”
My mouth falls open as I watch the video. She tells of the suspicions she had about some of the cops in the department. “There were some deaths when people fought back, and the findings of those homicides weren’t consistent with the evidence logged. Andy was looking into some of the things these guys had bought with the money, paid cash for, and put under different names so they wouldn’t be caught. After a couple of weeks, he came back to me, really shaken at what he’d found. Within three weeks, he was dead.”
Brent asks her what I would have asked. “Did you tell anyone at the police department?”
“No, I was afraid. I thought they’d kill me too,” she says. “But I made note of the evidence that came in, the stuff that was disregarded, like blood evidence from unidentified people. After the CSIs logged the evidence, the lead investigators determined what was relevant. The rest was pushed aside. It always worked out that they were the ones investigating these deaths.”
Investigators on murder cases? Detectives? What is she saying? I listen as she goes on, then Brent asks her the same thing that’s on my mind.
“Why would they have logged that as evidence if they were trying to cover it up?”
“The crime scene investigators logged it,” Ms. Meadows says. “I think most of the CSIs are good guys. They did their jobs. I’m sure the killers had cleaned up the scenes as much as they could, but they couldn’t hide everything. If the CSIs logged something that implicated the detectives, they just quashed it.”
She describes how Casey found her father, and her thoughts on the kind of person who could leave that kind of scene for a twelve-year-old girl to find. Yes, she must have been traumatized—not to mention changed forever—by something like that.
“So you don’t think the CSIs are involved?” Brent asks.
“I didn’t until one of them was killed in a single-vehicle accident . . . just out of the blue. Other one retired and left the state.”
“So let me get this straight,” Brent says. “The detectives who covered up . . .”
“The only ones I know for sure are Gordon Keegan and Sy Rollins.”
I lean back, both hands on my head. I stare at the video, stunned, unable to hear anything else.
Let’s say she’s right. If Keegan and Rollins are dirty, what does that mean? Did they manipulate the evidence in Brent’s murder? Did they kill Brent? Did they kill Ms. Meadows?
I grab the remote and turn off the TV. Then I back up the video and force myself to focus.
She tells him she made a copy of the evidence logged in. Did she give it to Brent? I finish the video, then go back to the files and look for that evidence. Yes, there it is. The file named “Evidence Log.”
So this is why Keegan didn’t want to share the file with me. Too much didn’t add up.
I feel the energy seeping back into my veins, my muscles, my bones. It’s more than endorphins from running. It’s purpose.
This doesn’t tell me whether Casey killed Brent, but it does raise questions about his death. And her sending me the thumb drive tells me that she wants me to know the truth.
On the other hand, she’s extremely smart. She could be manipulating me.
But no one I’ve talked to has called her manipulative. They’ve all been consistent in their love for her. And I talked to Sara Meadows myself. She was cautious . . . afraid . . . and she wanted to talk.
I feel sick that the old woman who made it this far with such a burning secret died for it in the end. Brent may have died for that same secret. Was Miss Sara killed because Keegan learned I’d spoken to her yesterday? Or did he decide to target her right after he saw the video? Was cancer taking too long to kill her?
It feels like I just crawled through the fallout of another IED. I have to be careful. Suddenly I feel paranoid. Someone might be listening to my calls, even to the things I say in my apartment. The paranoia doesn’t feel like PTSD. It feels like realism. I have to get a message to Hannah with an e-mail address that Keegan isn’t watching. It’s imperative that I talk to Casey.
If all this is true, and Keegan and his cohorts are involved, then he doesn’t want Casey to stand trial. He wants her dead.
Isn’t that what Hannah warned?
I have to get out of here. I decide to go back to Atlanta. Casey’s most likely within driving distance of there, at least. I have to keep an open mind and proceed with caution. I still can’t be sure she’s not a psychopathic killer.
The psychopath is either my source or my target. I have to figure out which.
Brent’s thumb drive tucked into my sweaty palm, I count the days in my head and try to figure o
Fear leaves me paralyzed. What if sending it to him was the wrong thing? Thirteen years have gone by. Why would he believe me? Those corrupt cops got away with their crimes. They won. And now another person I loved is gone.
Since I can’t control Dylan’s reaction to the thumb drive, I force myself to switch my focus to checking out Frank Dotson and pursuing the lead on Laura Daly. But even in her case, I’m basically paralyzed. It’s not like I can go to the police and get them to listen. All they’ll say is that the man was probably interested in the case because she’s a local girl who lived near him and that lots of women have cameo necklaces. Besides, I can’t risk calling attention to myself.
I told you I was a coward. Still, I can’t get it out of my mind. Finally, I find Frank Dotson’s address on Google Maps and figure out that his house and the Dalys’ are just two blocks apart. Maybe that is the reason Frank Dotson was hyperinterested in her case. But he stood there and lied to me. Wouldn’t he have said, “Oh yeah, the family who lost that girl,” if he didn’t have something to hide?
I do a Google search on “Frank Dotson, Shady Grove, Georgia.” Nothing comes up. I change “Frank” to “Francis.” Several links appear on my screen.
Most are from People Search or Whitepages.com, but the fourth one that comes up is a paragraph from the police blotter that appeared in a Shady Grove newspaper.
Police were dispatched to the home of Francis Dotson, 185 Candrell Road, Sunday after a report of domestic violence. His wife, Arelle, reported injuries to her face and ribs. He was arrested and charged with assault and domestic abuse.
The report doesn’t tell whether he was found guilty or served time, or if that marriage stayed intact. I scan the list for more articles or police blotters. I find another one, dated two years later. Again, his wife, Arelle Dotson, had reported a beating, and once again he was arrested.
So he has a violent history. I wonder if the police even considered him when Laura disappeared.
I decide to drive by his house. I change my appearance by tying a bandana on my head and wearing sunglasses. When I drive by the first time, I see a small house with grass that hasn’t been mowed in some time. All the drapes and blinds are closed. There’s no second story, but there does seem to be a basement.
I drive around the block until I’m directly behind the house and try to see through to the Dotsons’ backyard. The back has a privacy fence, so I can’t see much.
I drive by again, wishing I could catch someone outside. I know it would be ridiculous to think Laura would come bopping out, but maybe he does still have a wife. There was a woman in the pictures on his phone. I didn’t see a divorce record in my search, but I’m not sure that I would. It looks as if nobody’s home. There’s no car in the single-bay carport.
As I drive away, I call Miss Lucy and shoot the breeze for a few minutes. Finally, I ask her what’s on my mind. “Do you or Sandra know a guy named Frank Dotson?”
“I don’t,” Miss Lucy says. She puts her hand over the phone, and I hear her muffled voice asking Sandra. “Yes, she knows him,” she says. “She says he lives around the block. Why, honey?”
“He came in the store a couple of days ago. I just wondered.” I don’t tell her that he claimed to not know their family.
“So have you found a place to live yet?” Miss Lucy asks.
“No, not yet, but I’ve made a few calls and I’m waiting for calls back.”
“The offer is still open for you to rent Sandra’s garage apartment. We’d love to have you.”
The offer is tempting, but I will not pull Miss Lucy or Sandra into my mess. Even if I spend just one night there, that could make them accessories, harboring a fugitive. “Thanks, Miss Lucy. That’s really sweet, but I need more room.”
I don’t really. I could easily live in a one-room apartment over someone’s garage, but I prefer to rent from an apartment complex where no one is putting their life on the line by trusting me.
Someone beeps in, and I know it must be one of the landlords. I extract myself from the call and take it. There’s an apartment available in my price range, not far from where I work. I tell the landlord I’ll come look at it now.
Maybe on the way back I’ll drive by Frank Dotson’s house again.
I look at the apartment and decide it’ll do, so I put down a deposit and tell the landlord I’ll move in immediately. I’ll have to buy furniture, but I don’t need much. A mattress, a chair, and a small TV will do. On my way home I drive past the Dotsons’, park on the road perpendicular to their street, and watch their house for a while, hoping someone will come out. With its overgrown yard and peeling paint, the house looks like a condemned building in the midst of the neat little neighborhood, probably bringing property values down. Every window in the house has drapes closed, and the windows in the basement are boarded up.
I wonder why anyone would do that.
I’m getting ready to leave when the side door opens. I slide down in my seat as Frank and a woman come out. It’s the woman from the pictures. Her hair is yellow, the color you get from bad at-home dye jobs. Dark roots are visible even from here, and not in a good way. I decide to see where they go. I stay down until they pass, then I turn around and follow them.
They lead me to a bar on West 36th Street in a seedy part of town that I didn’t know was here. I guess every town has one. I don’t feel like going in, so I sit there for a moment, waiting for them to come back out, but it could be a while. Then it occurs to me that I could go to their door while they’re not home and see if I can hear anything in the house. The moment the thought occurs to me, the reasoning part of my brain screams out that it’s ridiculous and risky. I’m already wanted for murder. Do I want to add trespassing to the mix?
But I can’t stop thinking about Laura Daly. What if my hunch is right? What if she’s really being hidden in that house somewhere, and no one’s bothered to check? I could simply go to the door. That’s not against the law, after all. So I get up my nerve and drive over there. I park across the street, walk up the cracked driveway, and step onto the porch. There’s an old urn there with a dead plant that smells rank, as if the water has festered. I step around it, trying to see through the window, but it’s covered.
I ring the bell. There’s no sound of a dog barking or anyone’s footsteps. Then I knock, loudly enough for anyone in the house to hear. When there’s only silence, I walk to the side of the house, to the door I saw them coming out of, and I look at the basement window just above the ground, the window that’s boarded up. I can’t help myself. I stoop next to it and rap on the boards.
And I hear something.
A baby crying.
I catch my breath. Frank Dotson seems too old to have a child, and his wife doesn’t look to be of childbearing age either. But I remember seeing a towheaded baby in his pictures. Maybe it’s a grandchild, or they could have someone living with them. I quickly head back to my car, nervous that someone might look out and see me as I drive away.
On my way home, I call Sandra Daly at work. She picks up on the second ring. “Hey, Grace,” she says. “What’s up?”
“I just wanted to tell you I found a place to live,” I say, trying to keep my voice upbeat. “I thought I’d check with you to make sure it’s a good place.”
“Oh, really? Where?”
I tell her, and she seems to think it’s a decent choice. “I’m gonna move in tonight,” I say. “I’m really excited about it.” We chat about a couple more things, then I finally bring him up.
“Did your mother tell you that I ran in to one of your neighbors the other day?”
“Yeah,” she says. “Frank Dotson, right?”
“Yes, do you know him well?”
“Well, not really, but he did help us search for Laura when she went missing. He came to several of the volunteer days. I k
“Does he have children?” The question comes out of left field, and I hope it doesn’t make her ask questions. Not yet anyway.
“I don’t think so, but I guess it’s possible. I have a friend who lives a couple of houses down from him. I can ask her. Why?”
I quickly try to come up with something. “I just had to go by his house to take something he left at the store, and nobody was home, or it didn’t seem like they were. There was no car in the driveway and nobody came to the door. But I heard a baby crying. He seems too old to have a baby.”
Sandra doesn’t seem that interested. “Maybe it was the TV.”
“Yeah, maybe. Sounded like a real baby, though. Would you ask your friend if there’s a baby living in his home? A grandchild, maybe? I just don’t like the feeling that a baby might have been left alone in there.”
She laughs. “I’m sure he wouldn’t leave a baby alone. Maybe he has houseguests who were afraid to answer the door.”
“I’ll ask her, though.”
I know she’s wondering why I’m so interested. “Some things he said just kind of creeped me out.”
Suddenly, Sandra gets quiet. “Grace, is this about Laura?”
I close my eyes. “No, no, not at all. I was just thinking there was something not right about him, and the thought of a baby living in his house . . .”
Sandra gets very quiet. Finally, I decide that I’ve done enough damage. “Look, I’m almost at Gran’s Porch. I need to go. I’ve gotta pack up.”
When she hangs up, I pull into the parking lot at the motel, turn off my car, and lean my head back on the seat. What am I doing? I must be crazy. The truth is, I’m probably much creepier than Frank Dotson. If Sandra knew she was dealing with a murder suspect, it would be me she feared, not him.
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