If I Run, page 18
Lights flood all around me, blinding me. I drop back on my haunches, hands in the air.
“Drop your weapons!”
“I don’t have any weapons,” I say.
I’m surrounded. I’ve done it now. I drop the crowbar. Someone grabs me, throws me down. My ear grinds into the dirt. As they cuff me, I shout, “It’s Laura Daly! She’s in the basement. I talked to her. She told me—!”
No one’s listening. They drag me to the car, my hand dripping with blood where I cut it. They shove me into the backseat.
I tell them again when they get me to the police station. They pull my driver’s license out of my purse, which they’ve retrieved from my car. I wonder where my car is now. Did they drive it here or did they leave it on the Dotsons’ street? I wonder if they’ll realize that Grace Newland doesn’t exist, that she’s a dead girl and I’ve stolen her identity.
This is the worst that could happen, I think. Then I correct myself. The worst that could happen is that Laura Daly is never found, that Frank Dotson keeps her trapped in that basement. The worst that could happen is that she had a little hope only to have it dashed. When they tell Frank Dotson that his house was broken into, he could kill her just to dispose of the evidence.
I’ve got to get out of here, if only to stop that. “I’m telling you,” I say in a quivering voice. “Laura Daly, the girl who’s been missing for two years, is in that house. Why won’t you listen?”
“If that’s true, why didn’t you call the police?” the detective asks me.
“Because the police never listen,” I say. “This is the perfect example. I’m the person trying to rescue her, and I’m sitting in handcuffs instead of him! Will you at least go check? Get a search warrant. Go in his house. I’m telling you, she’s there in the basement. She has a baby. I talked to her!”
“She told you she was Laura Daly?”
“Yes! How many times do I have to tell you? Please,” I say. “What if I’m telling the truth? You could save a girl’s life!”
They keep questioning me about who I am, where I came from, and I try to remember the details I memorized about Grace Newland. I tell them I work at the cell repair store, where I live, that I know Miss Lucy and Sandra Daly. I try to get them off the subject of my identity, but they keep questioning me about how many houses I’ve broken in to lately, what I was trying to get, where I’m keeping the stolen goods. I know it’s just a matter of time before they realize I’m not who I say I am, that I’m really Casey Cox, wanted for murder in Shreveport, Louisiana. That I’m not a petty thief. I’m a fugitive, on the run and hiding.
Finally, they book me, and I see a judge who sets my bond. I have to come up with a thousand dollars. I use my one phone call to call Miss Lucy. Instead of telling her I’m under arrest, I start with the most important thing. “I know where Laura is,” I say.
Miss Lucy sucks in a breath. “What?”
“I found her,” I say. “She’s in Frank Dotson’s basement. I think she has a baby.”
Miss Lucy is frozen in silence. Seconds pass. “Did you tell the police?”
“Yes, but I got arrested trying to break in to help her, and I’m in jail.”
“I need your help,” I cry. “I need you to post bond for me. A thousand dollars. I have it. I’ll pay you back the minute I get out.”
“Honey! Of course I will, but . . . you told the police about Laura?”
“Yes, but they won’t listen. You have to make them. She’s alive!”
I hear her voice break as sobs rise up. “Oh, dear God, could it be?”
“It is! I promise, Miss Lucy.” My words rattle rapid-fire. “He’s going to do something to her. He can’t let them find her. He’ll be desperate now that he knows someone is on to him.”
I hear her talking to Sandra, her voice muffled. “Grace, we’ll be there in a few minutes.”
I know I can count on it. I hang up the phone and look down at my cut hand.
“You need stitches,” the trustee behind the counter says.
“I don’t care about that,” I whisper.
She disappears into a back room and comes out with a first-aid kit. “Here, you need a bandage, at least. Are they bailing you out?”
“Then get them to take you to a hospital.”
“No,” I say. “I’m fine. The bandage will be enough. It’s not a deep cut.”
She wraps my hand, and the small kindness makes me burst into tears.
As I wait for Miss Lucy and Sandra, I realize I have a lot to be thankful for. Apparently the local police haven’t searched deeply enough into my identity to find out that the girl I purport to be is actually dead. Maybe it’s a big burglary night, and they just haven’t had time. Now that they know I’m here in Shady Grove, I have to leave. But I can’t leave Laura to die. If they don’t find her, I have to go back, even if it means I get caught. Even if it means I go down for murder. Even if it means I die.
I’m waiting in my car at Sandra’s and Miss Lucy’s when they get home. They’ve been sitting in a police cruiser, watching as police search the Dotson house. I’ve been waiting here, practically unable to breathe.
But I know the minute they get out of their car that they have bad news. Sandra bursts into tears when she sees me.
I get out and walk toward them. “Didn’t they find her?”
“No.” She looks so forlorn that it breaks my heart.
“Well, did they look in the basement?”
Miss Lucy’s eyes are red and swollen, but she’s holding it together now. “They searched everywhere. There was no baby and no Laura. They questioned his wife, who they said is mentally ill. Maybe it was her you heard.”
“No, she was with him! She was at the bar with her husband. They can confirm that. It wasn’t her I talked to. It was Laura. She told me so!”
“She wasn’t there, Grace.”
Sandra sounds irritated with me, and I don’t blame her. To get her hopes up like that, to think once again that she might have her daughter back, only to be disappointed . . .
But I know what I heard. “He moved her, then. He knew they were going to come. After the police took me . . . before the search warrant . . . Just because she wasn’t there when they searched doesn’t mean she never was.”
She’s looking at me now as if I’m the one who’s mentally ill, and I know she’s questioning what voices I might hear in my head. I feel sick. They’re never going to believe me. Laura’s never going to be rescued.
“Sandra, I’m not making this up.”
“What good does it do if I believe you?” Sandra asks. “It doesn’t make any difference at all!” She runs into her house, but Miss Lucy stays outside.
“Come here,” she says.
I go into her arms. She feels like my mom used to feel, before she fell apart. I weep against her shoulder, and she weeps against mine.
“I’m so sorry,” I say through my sobs. “But I know she was there. I can’t explain why they didn’t find her, but she was there.”
“I believe you, sweetheart,” Miss Lucy says. “I know you meant well.”
The second sentence negates the first. I pull away from her, wipe my face and my nose. I just want to go home. I want to crawl into bed and bury myself under the covers. I want to cry alone.
I want to give this family some peace, if that’s even possible.
I walk away, leaving Miss Lucy in the driveway. “Honey, are you going to be all right?” she asks.
“I’m fine,” I say as I get in my car.
“You won’t do anything dangerous, will you?”
I don’t answer her. I just get in, lock my doors, and drive home. When I get to my apartment, I don’t even bother to turn on the lights. I drop my purse and keys on the floor and climb in bed, clothes and all. I don’t care if I never see daylight again.
Keegan’s phone call comes as I’m merging off I-75 onto Highway 280. I hope my disgust for him doesn’t show in my voice.
“Guess what I just found out,” Keegan says, his voice gleeful. “Casey’s alias—Grace Newland—is really the name of a dead girl who lived in Oklahoma City and died two years ago. So it occurs to me . . . What if Casey had something to do with her death?”
“She didn’t,” I say. “I’ve already looked into that. The death certificate said she died of natural causes. Her family still has a Facebook page up for her. I went back to the time of her death. It was cancer. There are pictures of her without hair, in the hospital, fighting for her life.”
Keegan sounds disappointed. “Well, guess you’re a step ahead of me.”
I can tell he doesn’t like it a bit. “It wasn’t that hard,” I say, then quickly add, “You have a lot more to do than I do.”
When I hang up, I pray he will stay a few steps behind until I can find Casey.
I’ve sent out a second e-mail to every sheriff ’s department and police department in Georgia, along with her picture, asking if they’ve seen this girl going by the name of Grace Newland. So far, I’ve gotten only negative responses. No one who’s replied has seen her.
I finish my search of towns along Highway 280, which goes into Alabama, and one of the exits is at just the place where Casey got online in Auburn.
For the next couple of days I focus my efforts in the towns along that corridor, but still nothing. Casey seems to be off the grid. Even the social security Administration doesn’t show her getting a job anywhere or applying for a credit card, even under her alias.
I still haven’t heard back from all of the police and sheriff ’s departments. Some of the more rural or smaller towns have small, laid-back departments that probably don’t rely that much on technology, so maybe they haven’t checked their e-mail. If I don’t hear from them in the next couple of days, I’ll follow up with phone calls.
I’m getting discouraged when I get a call from the Shady Grove Police Department. “We got your e-mail,” a man who introduces himself as Sergeant Baxter tells me. “Sorry we didn’t get back to you earlier. We’re a little shorthanded and no one saw it until just now.”
“Have you got something?” I ask him.
“Yes, as a matter of fact. Grace Newland does live here in Shady Grove.”
I almost run off the road, so I pull over into a parking lot. “You’re sure?”
“Yes. Dead sure. Picture matches. We arrested her on another charge a couple days ago. She bonded out. If we’d known she was wanted for murder . . .”
“What charge?” I ask, grabbing paper to write all this down.
“Breaking and entering. We could go pick her up, though. We have her address, her car model and tag, her place of employment . . .”
Jackpot! He reads those out to me, and I write them all down. “Tell me about this charge. What did she do?”
Baxter is matter-of-fact. “She was caught breaking in to a basement window of a man named Frank Dotson.”
“Did she steal anything?”
“No, she didn’t actually get in. Her story was that Dotson was holding a girl there who’s been missing for two years.”
“Her name’s Laura Daly. Pretty, blonde fourteen-year-old who was kidnapped after a youth group meeting. People from all over the state turned out to search for her. Never found her.”
“Nothing. The case is still open, of course, but we haven’t had any solid leads in over a year and a half.”
“Until now.” I think about this for a moment. For Casey to risk being found, she must really believe the girl is there. She’s managed to outwit the police—and me—until now. Something compelling had to happen to make her take that risk.
Or maybe she really is a hardened criminal stealing to get by. “Did you check out her story?” I ask.
“Sure we did. We searched the Dotson house that very night. There wasn’t anybody there other than him and his wife. Wife is a known alcoholic. Grace Newland—or Casey, if that’s her real name—told us she talked to Laura through a boarded-up window in the basement. She said Laura identified herself. But we’re guessing that it was the wife messing with her. Either that, or Casey’s delusional.”
The Casey I’ve been learning about is not delusional. Not one of her friends hinted at that, and they would have, because that would have helped explain why she might have committed murder.
“Did you search the basement?”
“Yes. Just like anybody else’s basement. Shelves and shelves of junk. Sad thing is that this girl knows the Daly family, and she got them all worked up. Convinced them she’d found Laura, told them she heard a baby crying. So they’re thinking not only have they found their missing girl, but that she’s got a child. They were devastated when we didn’t find her there. They believed Casey. Still do, probably. It’s torture for them.”
“How does she know them? Did they ever mention that?”
“No, that didn’t come up.”
I try to imagine who they are to her. Did she come here because she knew them, when she avoided every other connection in her life? Or did she meet them after she got here?
“Can I talk to them? The Dalys?”
“Sure, I don’t think it would hurt. They need to understand that they’re dealing with a psychopath.”
I almost defend her, but I think better of it. He gives me their address. I want to ask for Dotson’s address, but I figure I can come up with that on my own.
“So do you want us to bring her back in? We could make an arrest tonight.”
I can’t believe I’m hesitating. I imagine police cars descending on her apartment complex, drawing the neighbors’ attention. Casey coming to the door in her pajamas, being handcuffed and frisked, then paraded out in front of everyone.
I don’t want that to happen. I still don’t think she’s a killer.
“No,” I say, knowing I might regret what is surely a lapse in judgment. “I have to be careful about tipping her off. She’s really slippery. I want to case her apartment and make sure she’s there. Once I’m sure, I’ll call you guys to help me make the arrest.”
I can tell the sergeant is disappointed. “Okay, we’ll stand down for now. I hope you don’t intend to wait. Word flies like wildfire around this town. If one person knows you’re asking about her, she’ll probably hear about it.”
“I won’t wait,” I say. “I’m on it.”
“Do you think she’s armed and dangerous?”
I hesitate again. “Was she the other night?”
“No. Not armed at all, except for a crowbar and two screwdrivers. She was adamant that we listen to her about Laura Daly. It was really disappointing to find out she was wrong. We all want to find that girl.”
When I click off the phone, I sit in my car for a long moment. I’ve got her. She’s right there, less than an hour away. I’m about to meet the girl who’s occupied my thoughts for days.
If I only knew what to do with her.
It’s dark and there’s no light on in Casey’s apartment, and a search of the parking lot doesn’t turn up her white Kia. Still, I go to the door and knock on it lightly, but I hear nothing inside. Casey must not be home.
Instead of waiting, I head to the Daly house. If they’re among her only friends in town, they might know her hangouts. When I knock on the door, an older woman answers. “Hello,” she says with a sweet smile. She reminds me of my grandmother.
“Hi,” I say, “I’m Dylan Roberts. I’m looking for Sandra Daly.”
“She’s my daughter,” the woman says. “I’m Lucy. Come on in and I’ll get her.”
I wait just inside the door. Two kids sit in front of the TV. One’s doing homework, a binder and textbook in his lap. The other one’s got headphones on and is playing a video game. When they loo
I hear footsteps coming down the stairs, and a younger woman—Sandra, no doubt—approaches me cautiously. Her eyes are red and puffy, and dark circles underlie them.
“Is this about Laura?”
In an instant I’m aware that unannounced visitors to this home may look like messengers of the worst news of her life. “Sort of, but I don’t have any new information about her,” I say quickly. “Is there somewhere private we can talk?”
She leads me into the kitchen, where she offers me a chair at the table. “What is it, then?” she asks as she sits down. Miss Lucy takes the chair next to her.
I start over, looking from Sandra to her mother. “I’m Dylan Roberts, a private investigator working with the Shreveport, Louisiana, Police Department.”
Sandra’s hand comes to her chest. “Shreveport? Do you think Laura is there?”
“No, ma’am,” I say quickly. “I’m looking for someone else. Grace Newland.”
“Grace?” Sandra asks. “What about her?”
“I was hoping you could tell me where she is. I went by her apartment tonight, but she’s not home.”
Sandra frowns at her mother, then looks back at me. “I don’t understand. Why would you come here?”
“The police department told me you’re friends. Since it was urgent, they gave me your address. I’m working on a case involving a woman named Casey Cox. We’ve learned she’s here, going by the name of Grace Newland.”
Lucy’s mouth falls open. “No, you must have the wrong person.”
“The Shady Grove police identified her from the pictures. She was arrested the other night.”
Lucy’s and Sandra’s astonished gazes lock. Sandra turns back to me. “Why are you looking for her?” she asks.
I don’t want to tell them that she’s wanted for murder, so I skirt the issue. “She’s wanted for questioning on some things in Shreveport. If you could just tell me where she hangs out, who she might be with . . .”
Lucy gets up suddenly, all traces of her sweetness gone. “I know who you are,” she says.
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