If i run, p.5

If I Run, page 5

 

If I Run
 


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  “Jim and Elise,” Elise says again. “Say yes, Dylan. We know you loved Brent. We know you were good at your job. We trust you to do everything possible to find this girl who took Brent away from us.”

  I think through my schedule. I have a shrink appointment Thursday, a group therapy Friday, a Bible study on Sunday, and a job interview with UPS—as a deliverer—sometime next week. I don’t want to deliver packages, though. I want to be a cop.

  “I can write you a check right now,” Jim says. “We can get you a chartered flight to Durant today. I’ve talked to a pilot friend of mine, and he can fly you there at four o’clock this afternoon. Commercial flights don’t fly in there, but they do have a small private airport. That was the soonest I could get you out.”

  I look at Keegan and his partner. “If I agree to this, I’ll need to go over the evidence you have. I want to see the crime scene. The pictures.” My stomach pitches at the thought of seeing my friend murdered, but I’ve seen dead friends before. “I want everything you have on the girl. I’d like to interview her family before I leave.”

  “No, that would tip them off that you’re looking for her,” Jim says. “I don’t want them warning her.”

  “Do you have their phones tapped? Their computers, e-mail, Facebook?”

  Keegan nods. “The DA gave us a warrant for that within a couple hours after Brent was found. She hasn’t contacted them, from what we can tell.”

  “Can you do it, Dylan?” Jim asks.

  I think for just a moment. How can I say no? This is Brent we’re talking about. “Sure, I can do this. What do you want me to do when I find her?”

  “Contact local police and have them go with you to arrest her,” Keegan says. “We’ll have her extradited here.”

  I look at my watch. It’s 11:00 a.m. “Do you have time to go over everything with me?” I ask Keegan.

  “Sure,” he says. “Let’s get started right now. We’ll meet at the department.”

  Elise gets tears in her eyes as she stands up with me. She hugs me and touches my face again, as if she hopes I’ll morph into her son. “I feel secure knowing you’re on the case, Dylan. Let’s get justice for our boy.”

  As I follow the two detectives out, I sincerely hope that I don’t let these people down.

  9

  CASEY

  I go back to the hotel and get on their computer and look up a Google Earth picture of the Amtrak station. There’s a hotel a block from it. I can get a cab to drop me off there in case he’s questioned later.

  I catch a cab out front and ask the driver to take me to a convenience store and wait for me. I get a few snack items for my trip and a baseball cap. I don’t think I’ve ever worn one in my life, but it seems like the prudent thing to do if I’m going to walk through an Amtrak station where there will be cameras. I get back into the taxi and ask the driver to take me to the hotel. I’ll walk the rest of the way to the train station.

  This cabbie is quiet, not at all interested in me. I’m grateful. When we arrive, I pay him and go into the lobby, use the restroom, then walk down to the station.

  I quickly spot security cameras at every corner and over the ticket counter. I keep my head down, shielded by my cap, and examine the schedule. There are trains leaving every hour. The next one is going to Houston. I see security guards at the doorways, and I glance at those cameras again.

  This won’t work. If I buy a ticket here and someone’s watching for me, they’ll know exactly where I’m going, even if I get off at a stop along the way. Security cameras will catch me wherever I disembark.

  But Greyhound doesn’t have a bus station in Durant. If they did, we wouldn’t have filled up at a gas station, would we?

  A frazzled woman with three kids walks past me, and I tap her shoulder. She turns.

  “Excuse me, do you live in Durant?”

  She nods and grabs her preschooler’s hand. “Yes.”

  “I was wondering—is there a bus station here? Like Greyhound or something?”

  “Not Greyhound, but there is a Trailways,” she says. “It’s three blocks over from here, I think.”

  I thank her, compliment her kids, then head out the door. As I walk in the direction she pointed, I hope she’s not one of those directionally challenged people who doesn’t know north from west. I head in the direction she sent me, and in three blocks, I see the station.

  Bus stations aren’t usually high tech or secure, probably because they don’t serve as many people and have to keep their costs down. I go in, bill of my baseball cap down, and study their schedule on a TV screen on the wall. There’s a bus going to Chicago, one to Atlanta, and one back the way I’ve come, going through Shreveport and down to New Orleans, all in the next three hours. I think for a minute. Where are they most likely to think I’d go?

  I have an aunt who lives in Belleville, Illinois, so they would probably expect me to go toward Chicago. Cousins in Texas and Louisiana, so they’d probably check out the stops on the way to New Orleans.

  I have some relatives in Alabama, but I hardly know them. Risking going east, I choose Atlanta. I don’t have to wind up there. I can start there and decide whether to get off along the way or go even farther. The main thing is that I’ll be tucked away while I travel.

  I go to the window, buy the Atlanta ticket. It doesn’t leave for two hours, so I have time to kill. I long for my phone or my computer. I’ll buy one when I get where I’m going, but not yet. The fewer clues I leave, the better.

  I have the sudden urge to call Brent and tell him about the driver’s license and social security card, and the brusque man at Pedro’s Place turning nice on me. But Brent’s not there.

  My eyes burn, but I know crying will call attention to me, so I go back into the bathroom. I wash my face in the sink, wipe my eyes, then realize how dirty the bathroom is. I have nothing to do, so I pull out some paper towels and wipe the counter, pick up the stray wads of paper towels around the floor, pull out the garbage bag and tie it up. I find a roll of new bags at the bottom of each trash can and reline them.

  I leave the bags of garbage against the wall for the janitor to find. Maybe it’ll brighten his day.

  When I was a little girl, I was a Brownie for about two years, and there was a story in the handbook about a stressed-out mom of two bratty girls whose house was a mess, and when she got up one morning, the house was spotless. No one could solve the mystery of who’d cleaned the house, and it happened several days in a row. At the end of the story, you learn that it was her bratty children who’d done it. They weren’t such brats after all.

  A plump woman comes in while I’m cleaning, and she opens a stall, sees that the toilet is stopped up, then comes back to me. “Ma’am, this one over here is clogged.”

  I smile at her. “I don’t work here. I’d fix it if I knew how, but . . .”

  She seems embarrassed. “I’m so sorry. I thought you did. You were cleaning.”

  “Yeah, just burning off some energy.”

  “Well, isn’t that nice?” She chooses another stall. I quickly wash my hands and decide to get out of here before she memorizes my face.

  They say no good deed goes unpunished, and that’s never been more true than in my case. I blend back into the travelers and wait it out as unobtrusively as I can.

  I’m one of the first on the bus, so I choose two rows in front of the bathroom. I want to be far enough back that no one notices me, but not at the absolute rear, in case I want to lean my seat back a little. I’m hoping the bathroom smell won’t reach to this row.

  As the bus fills up, every row is taken, but people are still getting on. I put my earbuds in, again not attached to anything, and sit in the aisle seat with my eyes closed. If I don’t make eye contact with anyone, maybe no one will want to sit with me.

  But that’s too much to expect. I open my eyes when I sense someone stopping at my row. It’s the woman I spoke to in the bathroom, the one who saw me cleaning. She smiles down at me apologetically.
I’m sorry to wake you up, honey. Do you mind me sharing with you?”

  I don’t want to make her feel bad, so I mumble, “Of course not,” and scoot over, sliding my bag with me. I put my feet on it since there’s no leg room.

  The woman is about the age my grandma would be if she’d lived. The long trip is probably going to be hard on her. She has a sweet expression on her face, every line etched into her leathery skin indicating that it came from smiling.

  “My name’s Lucy,” she says.

  “Hi, Miss Lucy. I’m . . .” I stumble on my name. “Grace.”

  “Beautiful name,” she says. “I had a sister named Grace. She passed away three years ago. Heart attack, but she had a good life.”

  “I’m sorry,” I say. “It must be hard to lose a sister.”

  She nods. “Yes, but there are worse things.”

  I can’t read whether she wants to tell me what those worse things are, but I have a few clues in my own life. “Are you going to visit family in Atlanta?” I ask her.

  “Not Atlanta, really. My daughter, who lives in Shady Grove, is picking me up there. I’m going to live with her and my grandchildren.”

  “Oh, that’s nice,” I say. “How many grandchildren do you have?”

  Her smile fades. “I have three, a girl and two boys. Ten, twelve . . . and sixteen.” Her voice catches when she says sixteen. She looks away, her expression melancholy. I sense that she doesn’t want to talk anymore, so I lean my head against the window and look out.

  The bus driver gets on, and we pull out of the Trailways lot. Miss Lucy seems lost in her thoughts, and when I glance at her, her eyes are sad as she looks out the window at the town she has probably called home for most of her life. It occurs to me that she’s saying good-bye like I had to, maybe for the last time, if she’s going to live with her daughter. I feel guilty that I didn’t let her have the window seat, but I thought I was doing her a favor by letting her have the aisle.

  I fall asleep for real, finally satisfied that no one’s going to kick the door in and cuff me. But my sleep is fitful, and I dream terrible snippets of dreams. Blood . . . stab wounds . . . skin the color of death . . . the sinking certainty that Brent’s gone forever.

  I wake up in a jolt, damp with sweat. Miss Lucy isn’t there. I look around the bus to see if she’s changed seats, but I don’t see her. Her bag is still there, under the seat. In a moment she returns from the bathroom, slips back in. “Oh, you’re awake. I hope I didn’t wake you when I got up.”

  I try to smile. “No, not at all.”

  She stands again to let me out to go to the bathroom, keeps standing until I get back so I can slide in.

  “So are you going to see family in Atlanta?” she asks, parroting the question I’ve already asked her.

  I think of making something up, but I don’t have the energy to lie. “No, ma’am,” I say. “I don’t know anybody there.”

  “A job?” she asks.

  “Not yet.” I know I’m going to have to explain something. “I’m kind of leaving a bad situation. Just want to go somewhere new and start over.”

  She nods as if that makes all the sense in the world, as if I just used secret code. “I had an abusive husband when I was your age,” she says, lowering her voice. “Violent, violent man. Back then, you didn’t just up and leave when you weren’t happy in your marriage. But when he turned on my daughter, I had no choice.”

  “Did you divorce him?” I ask.

  “No,” she says with a ragged sigh. “I killed him.”

  10

  DYLAN

  I learned in the army to pack fast and light, so it doesn’t take me long today. I throw the things I’ll need for a day or two into my bag, then hurry to the police station where Keegan and his partner are waiting for me. As they pull out the crime scene photos and lay them out like cards on the warped conference table, I have to pull back for a moment, close my eyes, and remind myself that I am not here as Brent’s friend. I’m here as a criminal investigator.

  My brain shifts gears as I study the photos. “His body is lying on the bottom three stairs,” I say. “Looks like he fell backward when he was stabbed.”

  “Right,” Keegan says.

  “So did the girl have a key? Was there any sign of forced entry?”

  “No sign of forced entry; we don’t know if she had a key or not. She might have rung the bell. They could have been talking at the bottom of the stairs. Or maybe she’d been there for a while and had just come downstairs with him when they got into a fight.”

  I’m quiet for a moment, studying the other pictures and the stab wounds on his body. The stabs are vicious and calculated, not just hastily thrown jabs in a fit of anger.

  “How big is the girl?”

  “About five three, hundred fifteen pounds.”

  Quiet again, I study the cuts. They weren’t just jabbed, they were also pulled, causing the most amount of lethal damage. “Do we know how deep the cuts were? How wide?”

  “We don’t have the autopsy report yet.”

  “Can I call the ME and talk to him?”

  Keegan looks at his partner, clearly irritated. Maybe I’m overstepping my bounds.

  “If you have time before your flight, sure, but I don’t know how that will help you find the girl.”

  “What about motive?” I ask. “Were they dating? Was it a fight?”

  “That’s what we think so far,” Keegan says. “But you know what? We don’t need a motive. We have the murder weapon.”

  My eyebrows go up. “You found the knife?”

  “In her car,” Keegan says.

  “She didn’t even try to dispose of it?” I ask.

  “Apparently not. She just got out of town as fast as she could.”

  “What kind was it?”

  Rollins speaks up. “Deer Hunter Stiletto with a five-inch blade.”

  I frown, thinking. That doesn’t sound like something a woman would own, so more than likely she bought it just to kill Brent.

  Keegan pulls a picture of the knife out of the stack, lays it on top. I study it and the rest of the photos. “I’m not sure of Louisiana’s statutes on chain of custody of crime scene photos, but can you give me copies?”

  Keegan stares at me. “Why?”

  “So I can study them. I’ll need to refer to them later.”

  “For what?” Keegan asks. “Dylan, you’re tasked with finding her. That’s all. Not with any other part of the investigation. And the last thing we need is for these to show up on Facebook. These are sensitive photots, and I don’t want his family seeing them.”

  Heat rushes to my face. “You don’t have much faith in me if you think I’m so unprofessional that I’d upload these to social media and show his parents . . .” I stop and modulate my voice. “I was a cop, Detective. Not some moron with a gun. If I’m part of this investigation, I want to do it right.”

  Keegan doesn’t look convinced.

  “I’m only hoping to get inside Casey Cox’s head,” I say as I point to one of the pictures. “The angle of these knife wounds can tell me a lot about her state of mind. The location of Brent’s body gives us clues to what was going on minutes before. If I can piece these things together, I’ll be able to think like she thinks. That’s how I work.”

  Keegan’s eyes narrow. “Just bring her back, Dylan.”

  I note a period at the end of his sentence, so I give up and change the subject. “I’d like to see Casey’s place before I leave. It might give me clues about her intentions.”

  “Right,” Keegan says. “I’ll take you there now if you want.”

  I look at the photos again, taking in all I can. I want to know more about Brent’s house. I haven’t been there since he moved in, and I need to have a sense of the scale of the place. I check my watch. “I have plenty of time before I have to be at the airport. I’d like to go by the crime scene too. Is the house still sealed?”

  “Yeah, but we’ve already processed the scene,” Keegan says
, opening another file. “We’ve logged all the evidence against the girl. We have a rock-solid case. Her DNA is all over the place. Shoe prints, fingerprints, the weapon . . . She did it.”

  “Again, I just want to get into her head,” I say. “If she’s determined to stay hidden, I need to get a step or two ahead of her.”

  Rollins, Keegan’s partner, nods. “Sure, we can take you by there. Which do you want to do first?”

  “Crime scene,” I say. “Then her place.”

  “My guess is you’ll find her tonight and have her back here by morning,” Keegan says.

  “Hope so.” But I know how these things go. If she’s fighting for her life, she won’t make it easy for us.

  We take the short drive to the crime scene. As we approach the small Victorian house, I can’t help wondering if Brent’s mother found the house and bought it for him. It looks like her. I imagine her coming to him all excited. “I’ve found the perfect house for you. You’ll love it. Come on, sweetie, you have to see it right now.”

  Brent was like any other guy I know. As long as he had a TV, a game console, and a mattress—not necessarily on a bed frame—he was good. But his mother had loftier ideas for him. I can’t picture him house shopping with a real estate agent. No, he would have let his mother do that for him.

  My mind flashes back to his bedroom in that big house when he was growing up. His mother had paid a decorator big bucks to design the perfect boy’s room. It was painted deep purple and had gold curtains—LSU colors—and his bedspread was an LSU tailgating blanket. His choice.

  We had beanbags thrown on the floor in front of his TV, where we spent long hours playing video games. He had a small fridge in his room that his mother stocked with Gatorade and Coke. We spent most of the time on the floor, though there were high-end easy chairs.

  I wonder if he still has those beanbags.

  Had. I correct myself and force my brain back into gear. I’m not a grieving friend. I’m an investigator.

  I follow the two detectives to Brent’s door, slip on the blue shoe covers and gloves they offer me, and when they unlock it, I duck under the tape across the door keeping people out. The stairs where he was found are in the foyer, just five feet from the front door.

 
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