If i run, p.3

If I Run, page 3

 

If I Run
 


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  Someone appears at the glass door with their key card, so I quickly close out of that screen. I’ll have to look it up again later.

  I go back to my room and peel off a hundred-dollar bill to put in my pocket, and I still have some cash in my purse, but I divide the rest into two even stacks and put them into my boots.

  Carrying my duffel bag, I walk blocks to the Amtrak station. On the way, I have to pass a man standing on a street corner. A drug dealer, maybe. He watches me as I approach. I fight the urge to cross the street and avoid him. In fact, it occurs to me that he can help me.

  I slow as I come to him, and lift my chin like I’m not afraid. “How are you?”

  He seems surprised at the question, his dreadlocks hanging heavy in the wind. “Just fine,” he says, stretching the word fine out a little too long.

  “I was just wondering if you could tell me, is there anyone around here who could help me get a driver’s license?”

  He narrows his eyes. “Tried the DMV?”

  “Not a legal one.” I feel the heat on my cheeks.

  He nods, taking his time answering. “I might know somebody. Give me your number. I’ll call you.”

  “I don’t have a number,” I say.

  He nods again, as if he gets the fact that I’m trying to stay under the radar. “What’s it worth to you?”

  I pull out twenty dollars.

  “Naw, that won’t do it.”

  “Am I paying you for the license or the information?”

  “The info, but it’s worth something. How do I know you ain’t a cop?”

  “How do I know you’re not?” I say.

  He laughs then, and I notice molars are missing at the back of his mouth. “Sixty bucks’ll get you to the right place.”

  I feel in my pocket for two more bills, pull them out.

  He takes the money. “There’s a diner on West Cedar Street. Pedro’s Place, near the Taco Casa. Go up there and tell the dude behind the counter D.J. sent you. Tell him you’re trying to find yourself.”

  Trying to find myself. I guess that’s appropriate.

  “Okay, thanks.”

  As I move away, he calls out, “You want any comfort, come back. I’ll be here.”

  I need comfort; I know I do. But drugs have never been the answer.

  Survival is all the comfort I can have for now.

  5

  CASEY

  Not having transportation is getting old. I walk the two miles to West Cedar Street after asking a convenience store clerk for directions. It seems I’ll never come to Pedro’s Place. Was Dreadlock Guy just yanking my chain? It seemed too easy, and I’d expected to jump through more hoops. But it’s not over yet.

  By the time I finally see the neon sign, the money stacks in my boots are rubbing blisters. I step into the restaurant, grateful for the air-conditioning. “Help you?” a man who looks Hispanic asks.

  I go to the counter and lean across it. “D.J. sent me. I’m trying to find myself.”

  The man looks me over as though in disbelief that I could need a new identity. After a moment, he turns away. “You want a menu?”

  His turning away throws me. “What? No.”

  “We serve food here,” he says in a heavy accent. “You want food, I get you a menu.”

  My heart races. “No, he said this was the place . . . where I could find myself.”

  The man looks like he could spit nails. “You know this D.J. person?”

  “No. I just met him. I asked him for help.”

  “Because he look so upstanding?”

  I feel like I’ve been caught at something I haven’t done yet. “No, because he didn’t.”

  The honesty makes him stare again.

  “I have money,” I say quietly. “I can pay.”

  He keeps sizing me up, and I wonder if he thinks I’m a cop, like D.J. suggested. I suddenly feel exposed, as if he knows that my hair is recently dyed and my eyebrows are tinted, that I usually wear contacts and eyeliner, that I’m a fugitive from Shreveport police. But how could he know?

  This is a mistake. I wave him off. “Never mind. I . . . changed my mind.”

  He lets me walk to the door, but just before I go out, he comes up behind me and whispers, “Back door. I meet you there and let you in.”

  Despite all my trouble to get here, now I’m not sure this is a good idea. Is he going to take me back there and make me wish I’d never met D.J.? I already do.

  Still, I go—because I need a driver’s license, and I have no other options. Running from the law makes you do surprising things.

  My brave girl.

  I go around back and wait at the door—my heart thumping in my chest—and finally he opens it. He looks both ways, then lets me in. I step inside. The room is more brightly lit than the dining room up front. A white cloth is duct-taped to the wall, and a camera is set up on a tripod.

  “What do you need?” he asks.

  “A new driver’s license.”

  “Why?”

  “Because . . . I need to start over.” My voice rasps and grows weak.

  “Your age?”

  “Twenty-five,” I say.

  He goes through a stack of papers on his desk, stops at one, and pulls it out. “I have a twenty-five-year-old here, but it’s a man.”

  “No,” I say. “Has to be a woman.” If this weren’t so serious, I would laugh. “Also, I’d rather it wasn’t somebody who could be hurt by this. Like, I don’t want to steal anybody’s identity. I just want a made-up name so I can get a place to live and stuff.”

  “You plan to work?”

  “Yes, of course.”

  “Then you need social security card too.” He flips through the pile, pulls another paper out. “Here . . . a twenty-six-year-old girl who died. Real person.”

  I catch my breath. “What did she die of?”

  He looks at me like I’m an idiot. “I don’t know what she die of. That is not my job.”

  “But . . . her family. If they find out someone’s using her name . . .”

  “Do you want new identity or not?”

  I think about it for a moment. I don’t like it, but what can I do? I have to start over somewhere, and if I don’t have a social security number, I can’t get a job.

  “What’s her name?”

  “Grace Newland. Caucasion. Should work.”

  I can’t get my mind off her death. “When did she die?”

  “Two years ago, in Oklahoma City. You want or no? I have business to run.”

  I feel in some way like I was complicit in her death. “Can I see her picture?”

  He is impatient. “I don’t have her picture, lady. I will put your picture on the license. Your height and weight.”

  I stand there a moment, thinking through all the things a girl my age could have died from. A car accident? A disease? Foul play? I feel a sudden surge of grief, and tears burst to my eyes. “She died so young.”

  The man shakes his head like I’m a lost cause. He taps his watch.

  “Okay,” I say finally. “I’ll be Grace Newland.”

  He moves me roughly in front of the backdrop cloth, snaps my picture. I don’t have the chance to fake a smile. “Okay, it will be ready tomorrow morning.”

  “What? No, I need it now. I’m leaving town today.”

  “Too bad,” he says. “I make tonight, have ready tomorrow. Take it or leave it.”

  I let out a long sigh, but like everything else, this is out of my control. “Okay, I’ll take it.”

  “Five hundred dollar now, cash only. Other five tomorrow.”

  I nod, but I don’t want to reach into my boot and show him my cash. “Do you have a bathroom I could use first?”

  He points me to the one the employees use in the back, with cement walls and a bucket of dirty mop water in the corner. I go in and lock the door, pull off one boot, and count out five bills. Quickly, I put the boot back on.

  The bills are damp and warm when I hand them to him, but he
doesn’t complain. He counts them, checks the digital picture in the camera one more time, then tells me to come back at seven thirty in the morning.

  I leave Pedro’s Place wondering if that was Pedro himself, or if Pedro is his alias. I feel a little bit hopeful that I’ve made one decision that will move me along this road. I hope he didn’t just rob me. What will I do if he doesn’t give me what I paid for? It’s not like I can report him.

  I remember passing a Holiday Inn Express on the way here, so I head back the way I came and stop in to get another room. One more night, and then I’ll be on my way. I have to decide where I’ll go.

  I check in with cash again—using another name I come up with on the fly. I don’t want to use Grace Newland yet because, if they track me here, I can’t leave any clues about who I’ll be from tomorrow on.

  I look out the window of my room and spot a library a block away. I wonder if they have a computer I can use.

  At the library, the air conditioner makes the place seem fresh and cool, and I find comfort in the smell of the books. I walk around, getting the lay of the land so I won’t have to ask directions. I find the small computer room near the front door. There’s a sign that says I need a pass to use the computer, so I go to the busiest clerk behind the desk and ask for one. She doesn’t look at me, just hands me a small card.

  I go into the computer room and glance around. There are twelve computers, four on each wall, and several people are staring at their monitors. A man sits at one in front of a screen of pornography. I quickly look away, but I can hear the offensive sounds.

  I go to an empty chair and open the browser. I hesitate to get on Facebook, but the need to know what’s going on with Brent’s body compels me. The computer is old and takes a long time to load. When it finally gets to Facebook, the login screen comes up. I can’t use my own account, so I create a new one. I think about my screen name. I don’t want to use Grace Newland, so I look around for a random word I can use. I see a sign that says, “Please don’t leave children unattended.”

  Unattended. That word is as good as any, so I create the username with a random number beside it. It hasn’t been taken, so I create a password and sign in as Un Attended.

  A new profile page comes up, and Facebook prompts me to tell it every little thing about myself.

  I’m wanted for murder and my hobbies are reading, traveling, and walking along the beach at sunset.

  I give myself a much less interesting bio, then I go to my friend Carl’s page. He’s one of those who posts every thought that comes to his head, a picture of every meal he eats, every book he reads, every song he listens to, every item he buys.

  He also accepts every friend request he gets without checking who they are. He was never popular in high school, so he sees having a large number of friends on Facebook as some kind of affirmation. Why pop his bubble?

  Surely if he’s heard about Brent’s death, he’ll be talking about it. He keeps his posts public, so I’m able to see that he’s posted articles about me. My heart jolts. I scroll down to the first one, which links to the newspaper article dated yesterday. In his comment about the article, he has written: “I’m shocked and devastated by my friend Brent’s death, but I can tell you without any hesitation that my friend Casey did not kill him!”

  The words bring tears to my eyes. “Thanks, Carl,” I whisper, smiling at his defense of me. I click on the article.

  Brent Pace, 30, was found murdered in his home at 231 Ringbow Avenue last night at 9:00 p.m. Sources at the Shreveport Police Department say that he was stabbed six times and had been dead for several hours before he was found. Police are searching for Casey Cox, a friend of Brent’s who may have information about the case. When asked if Cox was being considered as a suspect, police spokesman Joe McDonald said that she is a “person of interest.”

  The picture they’ve used of me is an old one that doesn’t look much like me. I wonder where they got it. Did my mother or sister deliberately give them the one that least resembled me? Gratitude brings more tears, but I wipe them away so they won’t draw attention to me. I know my well-meaning friends will be posting recent photos soon if they haven’t already. Everybody will want to be part of the drama.

  Behind me, a woman speaks to the man with the porn. “Sir, could you please use headphones or turn down the volume?”

  He ignores her and keeps the volume where it is. The woman gets up and storms out.

  I go back to Carl’s page and click on the next article. It’s a link to a video of this morning’s local news broadcast of the same story. I don’t want anyone to hear it, so I don’t click on it.

  A mother and a little girl about eight years old come in, and the mother parks the child next to me. She pulls up a YouTube channel she must have created for the girl. “Mommy’ll be right out here if you need me,” she says.

  The little girl deftly clicks on the first video. It’s something to do with a litter of kittens. I glance at the man whose monitor is visible if the child glances to her left. He’s still viewing his smut, and the sounds grow even louder.

  I slide my chair back and get up, lean over his computer. I jerk the power cord out of the back of the CPU. His display goes black and the sounds stop.

  “What are you doing?” he says.

  “An act of common decency.” I wind the cord around my hand so he can’t have it back. “There’s a child in here.”

  “You can’t do that. I can watch anything I want to on this computer.”

  “Fine,” I say, going back to my chair. “Watch it.”

  He looks around at the other computers. The other users look uneasily at him, but some of them stifle smiles.

  He bolts out, probably to report me, and some of the users turn to congratulate me. I don’t answer, just focus on my screen. But when the man comes back with the librarian, I look for a wedding ring on his hand. Yes, there is one.

  The woman checks his computer as if he hasn’t already told her what happened. Next to me, the little girl giggles at a talking dog.

  “She stole the power cord right off the computer,” he says loudly. “Next, she’ll steal the monitor and the CPU.”

  I can’t escape the irony that librarians have the stereotype of being plain-Jane, wholesome bookworms whose favorite word is Shhhh, but now some of them are tasked with defending sleazy phlegm-wads’ rights to view porn in public places. I hope that’s not the case here.

  I hand her the cord. “His computer was malfunctioning,” I say. “I know his wife, and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have been viewing porn deliberately.”

  The librarian blushes and turns back to the man. “Actually, sir, we have a policy prohibiting the viewing of obscene material.”

  The man looks suddenly embarrassed. Maybe he does have a conscience . . . or a healthy fear of his wife. He looks at me for too long, as if trying to decide if I really know her. He clearly decides not to chance it, then gives up and storms out.

  The librarian thanks me and plugs the cord back in, then erases the history so his last website won’t pop up accidentally for any eight-year-olds looking for puppies.

  I realize how risky my actions have been. I should leave now. I’ve been seen, and people might remember me if they see me on the news. Why do I keep doing things that call attention to myself?

  I wonder if the librarian, when she hears about me, will be more shocked that a fugitive was in the library than she was that a man was viewing porn in plain sight with a child present.

  I shut down my browser, then step out of the room. I see the little girl’s mother at a table, books open as she takes notes. She must be a student.

  “Excuse me,” I say. “There are people who watch pornography on the computers in there. You might want to stay with your daughter.”

  The woman looks shocked, and she gets up right away. “Right now? Did she see it?”

  “No, I don’t think so. But I thought you should know that it happens.”

  She grabs up he
r books and notebook and hurries to the computer room. “Thank you. I didn’t realize . . .”

  “I know. Who would think?”

  I leave then and walk back to the Holiday Inn, wondering if someone has already spotted me and called the police. Why didn’t I just stay in my room?

  By now the police probably know I bought a ticket to Tulsa. They’ve probably checked every bus station stop between Shreveport and there. Would they also check the places we stopped to fill up for gas? Would Durant even be on their radar?

  I stop at a McDonald’s before going back to the hotel, get some food, and take it to my room to eat. My stomach rumbles at the first bite. I force some of it down, but I don’t have much appetite.

  I imagine how devastated Brent’s mother must be. She must have so many questions.

  Though I’m utterly exhausted, I have trouble sleeping. Dreams slash me, nightmares of finding Brent dead . . . the smell of death, the look on his face, the heart-stop of reality, the fear. His face morphs into my father’s face, the smear of my father’s blood on the floor . . .

  Some people spring into action when they’re in shock. I freeze for way too long. After I found Brent, when I could finally move, I stumbled around, tracking footprints and DNA all over the place.

  Of course I’m a person of interest. Why wouldn’t I be?

  I hope the man at Pedro’s Place doesn’t let me down tomorrow. I’m ready to move on. I just wish it were as easy as putting a dead stranger’s ID in my wallet.

  6

  DYLAN

  I’m Dylan Roberts,” I say, extending my hand to Brent’s distant relative who stands at the door of the church. “I went to school with Brent. I think I met you at his graduation party.”

  “Yeah, I remember you,” the dude says. “You two were pretty tight growing up. Heard you were in Afghanistan.”

  “Twice,” I say. “Once in Iraq. Home now.”

  “Three deployments. What branch?”

  “Army,” I say.

  “Still serving?”

  I shake my head, though my Adam’s apple feels trapped. “No, I’d had enough.”

 
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