If i run, p.6

If I Run, page 6

 

If I Run
 


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  There is still plenty of dried blood on the floor where it bled out of him. I’m sweating now, and my heart hammers in a weak staccato beat. I force myself to think like a cop. I study the blood splatter on the wall. There are drops on the bottom quadrant of the wall close to the stairs, but I see a couple circled closer to the door, suggesting that the first time he was stabbed may have been as the person came in. Risking Keegan’s wrath, I take quick pictures on my phone. He doesn’t stop me, probably because his body’s not in these shots. The stab wound across his carotid artery was too high for Casey to have landed easily, since Brent was considerably taller than her.

  I see the small footprints in the blood on the floor and stairs. Looks like a knee print right next to his body, then shoe prints. One of the prints slides, as if she slipped but caught herself. She certainly wasn’t trying to cover her tracks.

  I take a picture of those prints, though I know they’re among the ones I’ve already gotten. Keegan doesn’t stop me this time either.

  When I’ve gotten enough, I step into the dining room that his mother clearly decorated. I have to hand it to her. It’s masculine, but still with her slightly feminine touch.

  From there, I go into the kitchen. “It’s spotless.”

  “Yeah, not a dish out. Word is he ate out a lot. Didn’t do a lot of cooking. Few dirty glasses in the dishwasher.”

  “Can I go upstairs?”

  “Yeah, just stay to the side of the stairs.”

  I don’t have to be told that. Though they’ve pretty much finished processing the scene, they wouldn’t still have it sealed if they didn’t think they might have to come back. I carefully walk up the stairs, noting that there’s no blood above where his body was found. Had he come down to answer the door? Had the killer charged him when he did?

  There are two bedrooms. I check the master first. One side of the king-sized bed is neatly made, but the side where he slept is rumpled and the covers are thrown back. He must have slept alone.

  I look around, see his watch on the dresser, some change, his phone charger plugged into the wall. I step into his bathroom. It’s clean, and his razor is on the sink, next to a bar of soap and some mouthwash. A few of his other items are on the vanity, and in the shower are the usual items, including a washcloth now dried to the consistency of cardboard.

  No sign that the killer came up here after the murder. I glance into the guest room. The bed is made and there are no personal items on the tables or dresser.

  When I go back down, I circle through the living room. There they are—the beanbags we used to sit in. Though the room is decorated with masculine comfort—he didn’t let his mother get too fussy with the decorations in here—he still has those beanbags in front of the TV screen. The newest-model game console sits on the media cabinet.

  I look around, trying to figure out if the killer came in here at all. There’s no blood on the floor, no bloody prints on the door casing. “What all did they log? Was there a computer? Any papers out? Bills? Letters?”

  “Yes. There was a stack of bills on the kitchen counter that we took in. We got his laptop and a desktop computer. His phone.”

  “Can I get a copy of the evidence log?”

  Keegan gets that look again. “No, you can’t.” He checks his watch. “We’d better get moving if we’re going by the girl’s apartment.”

  I decide not to fight. I’ll just go through the evidence clerk at the department, and through Mr. Pace, I’ll get the chief to approve my access to what I need.

  I do a quick run-through of the house one more time, taking more pictures.

  When I’m back in the car, I’m silent in the backseat as I try to work through what must have happened. He was upstairs alone, and he heard the doorbell. He trotted down the stairs to answer it. The person—Casey Cox?—stepped inside and stabbed him. With the wound under his ribs, maybe she hit him first, then when he doubled over, she could have gotten his neck. He would have stumbled back, fallen to the bottom three stairs. Otherwise, the stab wounds to his chest seemed too high if she was only five-three. Brent was an inch taller than me, at least six feet.

  I think about the amount of blood she slipped in. For that to happen, she had to have gone in, kept stabbing, and stayed there for at least a few minutes. She didn’t just stab and run.

  Why would she do that? A person who had purchased a knife to kill him, who was planning before she rang the doorbell to stab him, who had the knife poised as he opened the door. Wouldn’t she kill him, then take off before she had time to step in the blood? Why would she wait for it to pool on the floor, then kneel next to him and walk through it?

  His wallet was still upstairs on his dresser, so it wasn’t theft. It wasn’t likely that he had anything of value on him since he’d probably just come from upstairs.

  “Have you considered that someone else could have done the stabbing, then this girl discovered him?” I say aloud, though I’m still just thinking it through.

  “Then why wouldn’t she call the police?” Keegan asks. “Why would she run? She did a number of things consistent with guilt.”

  “How long had they been seeing each other?”

  “We’ve interviewed a number of their friends,” Rollins says. “They all say they weren’t officially dating, that they were just close friends.”

  “Any history of fighting?”

  “No one had ever seen them fight.”

  “What about the girl? Any history of mental illness?”

  There’s a pause, then Keegan glances back at me. “The girl . . . Casey . . . discovered her father’s body after his suicide when she was twelve. I knew the guy. He was on the force. Nice guy, nobody had a clue he was depressed or anything like that. Anyway, she was probably traumatized by that. Had therapy for a couple of years as a kid.”

  I lean up. “Wait. So you know this girl?”

  Keegan shakes his head. “No, I don’t know her. I mean, I interviewed her back then, after it happened, but she was just a kid. She was a mess. But I haven’t seen her in thirteen years or so.”

  I make a mental note to learn everything I can about that suicide. “Was she on medication?”

  “Not that we can tell.”

  “Any priors?”

  “None. Not even a traffic ticket.”

  “So why would a person like that snap and stab a friend to death?”

  Keegan laughs then. “Who knows why anybody murders? My guess is she’s been mental all these years and it just now manifested itself. Maybe Brent had another girlfriend and she lost it. We’re digging in to all that.”

  There’s more, I think. I need to talk to her friends myself. I need to learn about her relationship with Brent, how long they’d known each other, what kinds of things they did together, how close they were. How she did relationships. Was she transparent and easy to get to know, or aloof and hard to crack?

  Were there signs that she could be homicidal? Did she have PTSD symptoms that made her react illogically and wildly to situations that didn’t warrant it? Did certain things trigger flashbacks to her discovery of her dead father?

  I suppose if she had an extreme case of PTSD, coupled with other mental disorders, it’s possible. But it doesn’t seem likely. I’ve been that person who reacted violently to someone waking me from a deep sleep, and I occasionally vomit or break out in a heavy sweat when I hear a loud noise. But I can’t imagine selecting a knife, driving to someone’s house, and stabbing him. That’s premeditated, not a reaction to a mental trigger.

  Wouldn’t there be subtle signs that she had this in her?

  We arrive at her building, a big old house apparently divided into six apartments. Hers is sealed with crime scene tape, like Brent’s. Keegan has the key, so he opens it and we duck under the tape.

  The apartment is small and relatively neat. She’s lived here long enough to make it homey. She has decorated the walls with art and family pictures, but no pictures of herself. The kitchen and living room are combined;
an area rug marks the living area where she has a couch and two easy chairs.

  I see a check on the Formica counter. “What’s this?”

  “Rent check,” Keegan says. “Dated the day of the murder.”

  “She left rent before she skipped town?”

  He points to a note she left under the check. “Read that.”

  I move the check and see the note written in a neat script. Short and sweet. “Mr. Criswell, you can give my stuff to Goodwill if my mother doesn’t come to get it in the next few days.”

  “So she wrote it after the murder and before she left town. Probably didn’t want to alert him she was leaving before she was on her way.”

  “She knew we’d be here,” Keegan says. “She didn’t even try to clean up after herself.”

  He points to the bloody print on her floor, with a marker next to it indicating what number it is on the evidence log. I take a picture of it, then study the pattern. “Do we know the kind of shoe that is yet?”

  “Yeah, Skechers. Same exact pattern as the ones at the crime scene.”

  “Did she call anyone before she left?”

  “Just a cab. Got out of Dodge fast as she could. Took the next bus out as far as we can tell.”

  “So she might not have had friends in Durant? It might have just been a random trip to evade authorities?”

  “The bus left around two,” Keegan says. “Body wasn’t discovered until nine that night.”

  “What was the time of death?”

  “Around ten a.m.”

  I do the math. “So there were four hours between the murder and the bus? Weren’t there other buses out earlier than that?”

  “Yes, but we don’t think she got to the station before about one.”

  “Why? What would she have been doing in the meantime? She didn’t bother to clean up the crime scene or her apartment.”

  “Maybe she was driving around trying to figure out what to do.”

  “Where’s her car?” I ask.

  “At the lab. It was found in a hotel parking lot downtown. It has bloody footprints, too, blood on the door handles, inside and out on the driver’s side.”

  I try to imagine what a person who’d planned a murder might do afterward. If she had gone over to Brent’s to kill him . . . if she’d lunged at him just inside the front door . . . if she had inflicted those wounds and made sure he was dead . . . wouldn’t she have had a plan for escaping more quickly afterward?

  As I walk through her apartment, my mind works through the puzzle. It doesn’t fit together. I mentally pull it apart as I stand in her bedroom, then put it back together another way. If she wasn’t the one who killed him . . . if she had discovered him a couple hours after his death, then rushed home to get some things and leave . . .

  I’m not sure which makes more sense, but I don’t want to leave any stones unturned.

  “Where does she work?” I ask as I move through her rooms.

  “Insurance company. She does clerical work. Coworkers say she never said a word about leaving, and no sign of snapping like this. She left Friday for lunch and never came back.”

  Her bedroom is relatively neat. She has a style, one my sister would call shabby chic, but her furniture pieces fit nicely together, and the decor on the walls, the curtains, the arrangement of pictures and knickknacks on her shelves all seem comfortable and warm.

  But killers can have nice homes, too, so that means nothing.

  Still, as I look around, I don’t see signs of her being a homicidal maniac, someone who could stab a man to death.

  “The CSIs logged her computer?”

  “Yes.”

  “Would it be possible for me to get a copy of her hard drive? I’d like to see if there are clues to her whereabouts in her e-mails.”

  “I told you, she’s in Durant.”

  “But you said you weren’t absolutely sure. And if she is, where in Durant? Her e-mails could help.”

  Keegan looks at his partner. “I’ll have to check on that. Our lab works on its own timetable, and getting them to hurry with things is like pulling teeth.”

  “If they don’t want to give me the whole hard drive, they could just give me her e-mail. If it’s a server I can get to online, just the login info will do.”

  “I’ll see. Doubtful we can get it done before you leave town.”

  “Maybe if I talk to them?”

  Keegan gives an irritated laugh. I’ve overstepped again, but I hold my ground. Either I’m going to do this job right or I’m not. “If she’s already left Durant when I get there, I’ll need to know where to go next. Her e-mails could give me clues.”

  Rollins speaks up. “I’ll talk to the lab, see what we can do.”

  “Good,” I say. “I can read them on the plane.” I take pictures of every wall of her apartment, every footprint the CSIs have marked, every surface, every framed picture. Keegan doesn’t balk. Then I turn back to them. “Can I see her car before I go?”

  Keegan checks his watch again. “I really think you need to get to the airport, Dylan. It’s getting late.”

  He’s right, but I’ve already learned things about her from being here. Like the fact that she doesn’t seem to be a narcissist. She’s in a few group photos she left behind, but mostly her pictures are of others. And she took care to pay her rent before she left. That tells me she has enough empathy for her landlord to suggest that she’s probably not a psychopath.

  I walk to a shelf and point out a photo with several people in it. “That picture there, it’s Brent, isn’t it?”

  Keegan squints and goes toward it. “Yeah, I guess it is. The CSIs didn’t log that. There were several other pictures of him that they did log.”

  “So she has pictures of him all over her house. It just doesn’t make sense that she would show up at his house with a knife in her hand if she cared a lot about him.”

  “She was obviously a mental case obsessed with him.” Keegan taps his watch again. “You need to get to the airport soon, Dylan.”

  I look back at the place, wishing I could stay longer. I’d like to sit in her easy chair and see what she sees each night when she’s alone. I’d like to go through her drawers and cabinets, see what clues I might find there.

  But the longer it takes me to get to Durant, the more time she’ll have to hit the road again. Reluctantly, I follow them back out.

  When we get to the bottom floor, her landlord steps out of the door marked “Manager.” He’s an older man with a hearing aid in his ear, and he has a grieved look on his face. “Have you found Casey yet?” he asks.

  “Not yet,” Keegan says. “You haven’t heard from her, have you?”

  “No. I would let you know.”

  “We’ll be unsealing the apartment in a few days,” Keegan says. “You’ll be able to clean it up and rent it out—and cash that check she left.”

  “I don’t care about that,” he says. “I’m just worried about her.” His eyes mist over. “She’s a good girl, that Casey. Sweet. Always thinking of others. She could never have done what they’re saying.”

  I take it all in, thinking that I might call him later and pick his brain.

  “Thank you, Mr. Criswell. We’ll be in touch when we unseal the apartment. Please do call us if you hear from her.”

  As we get in the car, I look up at Casey’s second-floor windows, wishing I had time to interview the neighbors, the people at nearby stores, the employees she worked with, her boss. It would be helpful to know their experiences with Casey.

  My adrenaline pumps as we head to the airport, and I feel a sense of purpose again. It feels good. I haven’t felt it since I was discharged.

  Part of me hopes I’ll find her right away, and of course, I’ll do all I can to make that happen. But the other part would like to stretch it out. I’d love nothing better than to be right in the middle of this case, with full access to everything regarding Brent’s murder.

  For now, I’ll do my part, one puzzle piece at a time.
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  11

  CASEY

  What Miss Lucy said—that she killed her husband—seems even more shocking than what police will say I did. I gape at her. “You what?”

  “It was self-defense. He was drunk and was beating my baby girl. She was only seven. When I tried to stop him, he came at me. I went to the bedroom and grabbed his hunting rifle and . . . shot him.”

  I’m stunned, and I can’t think of anything to say.

  “I don’t know why I told you that,” she says. “I never talk about that to anybody. You must think I’m terrible.”

  “No, no,” I say quickly. “Did the police come?”

  “Yes, I called them the minute it was over. They saw Sandra’s injuries—and mine—and it was pretty clear what happened.”

  “Did they give you a hard time?” I ask.

  “Tried to at first, but the grand jury wouldn’t indict me. He went too far.”

  “That’s terrible.”

  She shakes her head, as if shaking herself out of her thoughts. “I don’t know why I told you that,” she tells me again. “Maybe it’s just leaving Durant that has me going back in time. That town was good to me for the most part.”

  “Did you ever marry again?”

  “No. After that, I was happy to live alone with my daughter. It’s a hard thing, taking a life, even if he deserved it. Took me years to get over it. But the Lord was a good husband to me.”

  I can’t imagine the Lord being real enough to someone to be considered a husband. If I had been a religious person and wound up with a violent husband who I had to kill to save my child, I might blame God.

  “I guess the reason I told you is to encourage you if you’re leaving for the same reason, honey.”

  She thinks my escape-worthy “situation” was an abusive marriage. I feel a pang of guilt that her compassion for me forced her to confide such a painful story. “I wasn’t married,” I say, as if that eases it somewhat.

 
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