If I Run, page 16
Dylan, my man!” Keegan’s upbeat phone voice shakes me up. Has he heard I was at Sara Meadows’ house when she was found? Will he wonder what I know? It chills me to know that he might’ve had something to do with all their deaths—Andy Cox’s, Brent Pace’s, and now Sara Meadows’—but I have to play it cool until I get the evidence I need.
“Hey,” I say. “What’s up?”
“I’ve got some news for you,” he says. “We’ve traced the people accessing Brent Pace’s friends’ Facebook pages from out of town. Turns out there’s someone who’s accessed all of them from two places—Atlanta and Auburn, Alabama. We’ve traced them back to servers in public libraries in both of those areas, and we think it’s probably Casey.”
I wonder if he’s blowing smoke, trying to send me on a wild-goose chase just to get me out of town and out of the way. But I have to consider that he might be telling the truth.
“Yeah, I know she was in Atlanta.”
“She’s somewhere within driving distance of those places. Smart girl. She probably wouldn’t access their Facebook pages from wherever she’s really hiding. Wherever it is, it’s probably a couple of hours from both places.”
“All right,” I say. “I’ll figure out the perimeters and see where they overlap.”
“I need you to go there,” Keegan says. “Go to the towns within that perimeter. Check to see if anybody’s seen her.”
If I trusted him, I’d ask why he hasn’t sent press releases to every news outlet in Georgia and Alabama, but I think I know why. He wouldn’t want another department to take her in. She might spill her guts, and the cops might listen.
A chill goes through me as I hang up. I get out a map, draw a circle with a radius of 150 miles from Auburn, another 150 miles from Atlanta, then I study the area where they intersect.
I decide to drive over in my own car, and I’ll stop at every police department in every town and every post office in that intersecting perimeter, showing Casey’s picture to see if anyone recognizes her. Since I doubt that I’ll sleep tonight anyway, I pack my car and head out. I’ll be there by morning.
The next day off I have, I drive across the Alabama state line to call my sister again. Since I texted her to warn her, she’s ready for me this time, waiting without her baby, far from her car or anything that might be wired. I can hear the wind. She must be outside again.
“What did you do with the information I gave you about Dylan Roberts?” she asks. “Did you contact him?”
I pause for a moment. “I’d rather not tell you anything,” I say. “If they interrogate you again, the less you know, the better.”
“Okay, but I hope you did,” she says. “The more I’ve thought about it, the more I think it’s the right thing to do.”
“Can we change the subject?” I ask.
“Sure,” she says. “What is it?”
“I’ve got a problem,” I say.
She laughs. “Besides being wanted for murder and having the real killers hunting you down?”
It’s not funny. I don’t know what to say.
“Sorry,” she says. “Tell me what’s going on.”
I sigh and tell her about Miss Lucy and how I met her. “So this woman has a granddaughter who’s missing. She’s been missing for two years. She’s sixteen now, if she’s still alive.”
“There’s no sign of her,” I tell Hannah. “There has never been a clue of what happened or where she might be. Only now I think I might know.”
Hannah sucks in a breath. “What do you mean, you think you might know?”
“Well, there’s this guy who came in the other day to where I work. He left his cell phone, and I looked at his photos. His wife had a necklace like Laura’s, and they had all these newspaper clippings of her.”
“The girl who went missing?”
“Yes,” I say. “It just gave me a creepy feeling. I mean, why would he save all that?”
“Casey, you need to stay out of this. You have your own problems. You shouldn’t be snooping through a man’s pictures.”
“I know, but there’s a girl missing. Her life is at stake. Her family mourns her every single day.”
“What did you do?” she asks, as if she already knows the answer and doesn’t like it.
I sigh. “Well, I went and knocked on the door when I knew he wasn’t home, just to see what I could hear.”
“You went to his door? Are you insane?”
“Just listen. I heard a baby crying.”
“A baby? I thought you said she was sixteen.”
“Remember those other girls who went missing and had babies? The ones in Ohio . . . and Jaycee Dugard? Maybe Laura’s had a baby too.”
“Casey, you’re jumping to conclusions! You need to stop this.”
I know she’s right.
Her voice has faded into a theatrical whisper. “If anybody sees you trespassing on his property, they’re going to call the police, and what happens if they print you and find out that you’re wanted for murder in Shreveport? This is dangerous!”
“I know,” I say, tears pushing to my eyes. I bring my hand to my mouth.
“Casey, I’m trying to help you. Listen to me. If you’re going to be that reckless, then you might as well just come home. All this is wasted if you wind up getting caught and killed anyway.”
I’m quiet for a moment. When I speak again, my voice is raspy. “It’s just . . . if I can’t be a hero in my own life, maybe I can be one in someone else’s.”
I can tell Hannah’s crying now. Her breathing sounds wet. “Casey, I know your heart goes out to this girl. I know you always want to help everybody, but if it’s true . . . if this guy is the one who kidnapped her . . . if he’s holding her in his basement, then he’s dangerous. I don’t want to know that you’re doing something so scary.”
“I’m not doing anything scary,” I say. “But if I don’t stand up for her, who will?”
“Go to the police!” she says.
“The police?” I ask. “You know I can’t do that.”
“Casey, not every cop in every town is dirty. We can’t think like that. The odds are that the ones there are honest, like Dad. The kind of people who get up every morning and know they’re putting their lives on the line. The kind who risk getting shot every time they pull someone over. The kind who do it anyway because they believe in justice.”
“I know that’s true. Most of them are good. But the corrupt ones seem so powerful.”
“You could send the local police an anonymous tip about the girl. Send them the evidence you have. They could look into it, then you don’t have to do anything else. For all you know, they might have already thought of this person and they might have a case file on him. This might be just what they need to push them into getting a search warrant.”
“He’s their neighbor,” I say. “I mean, if I were a cop, I would’ve already looked at all the neighbors. Right?”
“Laura’s mother says this man helped in the search. Dad used to say that happens a lot. The perpetrator often gets involved in the case. It’s a power trip for a sociopath.”
“But don’t you think the police know that? Don’t you think they checked on everybody who joined the search?”
“So send them what you have anonymously. You don’t have to tell them anything else. Just tell them that you know for a fact that he’s collecting articles about Laura Daly and has that necklace, that you saw a picture and then you saw the articles, and that you’ve heard a baby crying in his house.”
“I’ll think about it,” I say.
“Don’t just think about it, Casey. You can’t be a hero here. You’re going to get killed. Do I need to remind you that if they find you, it’s not just about prison? They want you dead. I don’t want to lose another family member. I feel like I’ve already
“You haven’t lost me,” I say. “I’m still here.”
“You won’t be if you do this. I’ll just stop getting calls from you one day, and I won’t know”—her voice catches—“Casey, I’m sorry about that girl, but there are other ways that you can help her, ways that don’t involve the police talking to you.”
When I hang up, I have to admit that part of my struggle is that I don’t want to do it. I’m a coward. That’s why I haven’t gone back to Shreveport and fought this charge. That’s why I haven’t told my side of the story to everyone. I don’t want to be locked up, and I don’t want to die.
I also don’t want another girl to be locked up, and now there may be a baby involved. The thought of it overwhelms me. As I drive home, I wish I had what it takes to save someone. Anyone. Even if it’s not me.
Despite my sister’s cautions to stay out of the Laura Daly case, I try every way I know to find out if Frank Dotson has any children or grandchildren who might’ve been in the house the day I knocked on the door. I realize I could be jumping to conclusions—no, not jumping, taking giant leaps. Just because I heard a baby doesn’t mean that he has Laura.
But one afternoon at work, my coworker Rachel mentions hanging out at the bar where I saw Dotson and his wife go.
“How often do you go there?” I ask.
She shrugs. “Two, three times a week. It’s just where my friends hang out. You should come sometime.”
“Maybe I will.” I try not to look too interested. “Do you know Frank Dotson and his wife?”
She nods as she opens the back of a phone to change out its battery. “Yeah, I know Frank. He’s a regular.”
“What kind of person is he?”
She looks up at me. “I don’t know. Keeps to himself, I guess. Why? You interested?”
“Um, no.” I chuckle. “I don’t know. He came in here the other day. Just seemed a little creepy.”
She laughs. “Yeah, creepy’s a good word. His wife is creepier. Sticks to him like glue, does everything he says, drinks a lot.”
“Do they have children?” I ask.
She shakes her head. “No, never had any. I don’t think they’re the parenting type.”
“So no grandkids . . . ?”
She laughs. “It’s hard to have grandkids when you don’t have kids.”
I have to give her that one. “So how long have they been married?”
“As long as I’ve known them,” she says. “But like I said, I don’t know them all that well. They’re big, heavy drinkers, and they fight a lot.”
I look at her. “In public?”
“Yeah, sometimes when Arelle gets a little too drunk, she starts mouthing off to him. He usually jerks her up and drags her out. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a little domestic abuse going on in that situation.”
I watch as she tosses the old battery. “Have you ever seen him be violent?” I ask.
“No, I haven’t seen it, but she’s come in with a black eye before, claimed she fell.”
“Has anyone ever intervened? At the bar, I mean.”
“No. He’s usually just cussing at her and trying to get her out the door so she’ll shut up.”
“What kind of stuff does she say when she’s mouthing off?”
“Who knows? You can hardly ever understand her. The last time it was about his eyes roaming and him flirting with a girl in the bar. Come to think of it, that’s always what it’s about. His wandering eyes.”
The thought makes me shudder. A customer comes in and I wait on her. When she’s gone, I turn back to Rachel. “Has that guy Frank ever come on to you?”
“Gross. No, I’ve never gotten that close to him. Has he hit on you? Is that why you’re asking?”
I evade the question as she waits on the next customer.
That afternoon as I drive home from work, I consider what I’ve learned. There is no offspring in that house, no baby to cry, no grandchild. So what does that mean? What I heard could have been a television, but it didn’t sound like one. For a moment I consider going to the police, telling them what I heard, what I saw in the pictures, asking them to do a welfare check to make sure there’s no baby there. And oh yes, while you’re there, look to see if that missing girl Laura Daly is in there.
But then I realize how crazy that would sound without any evidence. A newspaper article in the background of a picture, a necklace that anyone might have, the sound of a baby crying when I knocked on the boarded window. It wouldn’t convince anyone of anything, especially when Laura Daly isn’t known to have had a baby. And it might just call unnecessary attention to me—the trespasser, the one whose curiosity could get her killed.
I have to decide whether to help Laura or myself. It probably can’t be both.
The choice should be easy. I should simply do what’s right and try to rescue Laura. But being wanted for murder creates a delicate balance in my universe. Tipping to either side, even the slightest bit, could result in my being caught.
At first I convince myself that it’s not cowardly to ignore my gut on this. It’s survival. Giving up my ability to survive in order to rescue Laura, when I could be entirely wrong about her being in that house, is not wise.
Instead of spending time watching Frank Dotson’s house, I should be digging up all the evidence I need to make my case back home, so I can save myself when the time comes. I should be digging into Keegan’s and Rollins’s financial situations, proving they’re criminals masquerading as cops, proving that they killed my father and made it look like suicide, proving that they murdered Brent and set me up. I should be trying to figure out who else is in it with them.
But I’ve tried over the years to prove those things and have gotten nowhere. To expose them, I have to risk being found.
The idea of suicide surfaces again, but I quickly banish it. I don’t want anyone to say, “There, I told you those Coxes were suicidal. It’s in their blood. Like father, like daughter.” No, they’re never going to have more reason to believe my dad took his own life and left his twelve-year-old daughter to find him.
But if they find me and drag me back to Shreveport, death is inevitable anyway. I’ll never have the chance to talk.
Loneliness is a side effect of my reality. I need to talk to Hannah, just to tamp that loneliness a little. Though I’m tired and want to watch the Dotson house again tonight, I drive two hours out of town. I buy another disposable phone, activate it, and call my sister. I let it ring twice, long enough to register a “missed call.” Then I give her an hour to get away from any possible bugs in her house or car. I know this could all be for naught, because she has a child and a husband and can’t just leave whenever she wants. But when I call back, she answers.
“Hey,” she says.
“Where are you?” I ask.
“In the parking lot of Walgreens. I didn’t want to go anywhere after dark that wasn’t lit up.”
“Good. I’m sorry to get you out at night.”
“Are you all right?” she asks.
“Yes. I just wanted to hear your voice.”
“I’m glad you called,” she says. “Listen, I have a message for you.”
I draw a breath. “From who?”
“From Dylan Roberts.”
My heart jerks. “Hannah, you haven’t admitted we talk have you?”
“No, but if you sent him the thumb drive, it’s pretty obvious. Just listen. He sent a note to my in-laws’ house. The return address was another sporting goods place in Seattle, just like your package to me.”
I sigh. “Did they open it?”
“No, they think it’s something else for Jeff ’s birthday.”
“What does the note say?”
“It says, ‘Tell her to create a dummy e-mail address and contact me at this address. Urgent. My eyes are opening.’ ”
She reads out his e-mail address, and I write it down
“You’re smart. Do what you’re doing with me. Drive out of town. Go to a library and get online. Create an e-mail address. If it’s traced, it’ll be traced to the library, not to you.”
“What about him? How do I know he’s being smart? They could be watching him and intercept my e-mail.”
“I think he’s too smart for that. He knows how things work,” she says. “I think you should do it. I want you to know what he knows.”
“I’ll think about it,” I say. There’s a long pause, and I hear the wind on the line. I picture my sister standing in the parking lot at night alone. “You need to get back home.”
“Wait,” she says. “You haven’t done anything about that girl Laura, have you?”
“No. Not yet.”
“I’m begging you to stay off the radar,” she says. “Don’t mess this up trying to rescue someone else. It’s not worth it.”
I know my sister means well with those words, but as I drive back to Shady Grove, I have a lot of time to think. Laura Daly’s life isn’t worth my risk? If I’m the only one who has an inkling of where she might be, how dare I put it out of my mind? Now there might be two lives, instead of just one. Laura and a baby. What if they really are there?
I have trouble sleeping when I get back to my new apartment. I give up around four in the morning and get up and look out the window into the dark. The streetlight in front of my building is flickering, indecisive about whether to provide a safe glow for the road or snuff itself out entirely.
I don’t want to be snuffed out. I look up at the night sky, stars flickering. I ask God if I still have a function. Or have all my lies robbed me of my soul? Am I just a liar with a fake ID? Or does God see me as a living, breathing, compassionate girl who cares about Laura Daly?
For someone who doesn’t know if she believes in God, I’m sure aware of him a lot. I recognize that irony.
As the sun blanches the darkness from the sky, slowly brightening into day, I make my decision. I will save Laura Daly if I can, no matter what it means for me.
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