If i run, p.8

If I Run, page 8


If I Run

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  “There,” I say. “That may be her.”

  He stops the playback and enlarges her face. It’s grainy, but I can see a girl with brown hair. It’s the same glasses, the same duffel bag, the same purse. Yes, that’s her. I get him to print a picture and I copy the moment of video to my thumb drive again.

  “She hasn’t used her phone since she went missing,” I say. “Can you tell me if she used her room phone for anything?”

  He checks, then shakes his head. “Nope. She didn’t.”

  I think for a moment. She would have wanted to get online, maybe check the news in Shreveport, in order to figure out her next move. “Do you have a business center with computers?”

  “Yes, sir, it’s downstairs.”

  He leads me to that room, closed in with glass doors. He swipes his card and opens the door. There are two computers and a printer. I check the browser history on both computers. One person has checked an airline website in the last twenty-four hours. Someone else has checked Amtrak. Just before Amtrak, someone clicked on the newspaper in Shreveport. That must be her. I check the article, see that it’s about Brent’s death. Yes, she wanted to see if they’d connected her to the murder yet.

  Before that, she clicked on a Facebook page. I click on that and see the profile of some guy in Shreveport. I write his name down and see that he had the link to that article. He defends her in his status update. He’s clearly a friend of hers.

  I go back to the Amtrak page and print that out. If she took a train, she could be anywhere by now. But Amtrak stations do have security. It’ll be hard to pick her out of a crowd, but maybe I can find her.

  I thank the manager, who’s stayed with me the whole time, as if this is his project. He walks taller as we return to the front. I know he’ll have a story to tell his family today, especially if Casey is apprehended.

  When I get to my car, I send the pictures and videos of her to Keegan in Shreveport, then I call the Durant police and follow up with copies to them. Maybe they’ll locate her before I do. I sit in the car for a moment, trying to think like Casey.

  There are fast food restaurants within walking distance, but it’s late and they’re closed. I make a note to come back to them in the morning if I can’t locate her through Amtrak. I’ll also circle around to the cab service—the only one in town—and find the drivers who took her places. But first I head to the train station, praying she hasn’t left town yet.



  By the next morning, when our bus finally pulls into Atlanta after all the stops along the way, I feel I’ve known Miss Lucy all my life. I don’t want to leave her. She’s my only friend in this dark new world.

  We shuffle off the bus and walk into the terminal, and a cheer goes up as Miss Lucy sees her family—two grandchildren and her daughter—holding a sign that says “Welcome Home, Grandma!” I can’t help smiling for her as she bursts into tears and runs to give hugs. I go to the information desk and ask where I can get a cab. But Miss Lucy runs over, takes my arm, and says, “Come over here, hon. I want you to meet my family.”

  She introduces me to her daughter. There are lines on Sandra’s face and the glint of sorrow in her eyes, and I wonder what else her daughter’s disappearance has taken from her.

  But she’s kind to me. “Sounds like you helped take care of Mom on the way here.”

  I shake my head. “She didn’t need any taking care of. She’s good company.”

  “Mom tells me you’re getting out of a bad relationship and you’re looking for a place to start over. You should really come to Shady Grove. You’d like our little town.”

  I don’t correct her about the bad relationship, and I tell her that I’ll think about it. They give me their phone numbers and tell me they’ll have me over for dinner if I come. I have to say, I like the thought of that.

  I ask the cabdriver to take me to a used car lot in Atlanta. I figure my first order of business should be buying a car. I don’t have much to spend, but if I’m lucky, two or three thousand dollars will buy me something halfway reliable. I’m taken to a used car dealership that’s open till eight. I find a used Kia with hail damage, but it seems to run well. This model is supposed to get good gas mileage. I do a Carfax check on it and there’s no record of it ever being wrecked. I dicker down to three thousand dollars cash. It takes a couple of hours to get the whole thing worked out and get the car detailed—something the dealership insists on—but finally I drive off the lot, feeling freer already.

  I head to a drugstore and buy a padded envelope and a temporary phone, then drive to another store ten miles away and buy another phone. I repeat the process with a third store. Once I saw an episode of 24 where they traced a guy based on the consecutive serial numbers on several phones he’d bought at the same time. I don’t know if that’s even possible, but in case it is, the serial numbers (wherever they are) on mine won’t be consecutive. I activate all three with the minutes I bought for each, then sit in the car, staring through the windshield, wondering how I can get one of them to my sister without police intercepting it. It’s risky, but I need to talk to her. Eventually it hits me that she goes often to her in-laws’ house since her father-in-law is sick with COPD. In fact, once when she was hiding a birthday gift from her husband, she had it sent there. They probably wouldn’t think it strange to have something addressed to her delivered there. I address the padded envelope to her, c/o her in-laws. For the return address, I put Jack’s Sporting Goods with a fake address in Seattle. I hope they won’t notice the postmark.

  I write a quick note. “Hannah, don’t tell anyone about this. When you’re alone, call me on the number in the contact list. Don’t do it at home or near your real cell phone. They might be listening.”

  I take a deep breath, wishing I believed in prayer. It would come in handy now.

  I close the package and line up the stamps on it, then drop it in the first mailbox I find. I figure it’ll take two or three days to get to her, then maybe another day or so for her to actually receive the package. Any faster way might draw too much attention. I can’t wait to talk to her.

  My next stop is the Best Buy store at Cumberland Mall. I pick out a small laptop, pay cash again, and walk out with it. I feel like my life is coming back together, though my funds are dwindling.

  From there I drive to a hotel way across town from the bus station and check in with my new ID and cash.



  It’s Tuesday morning by the time I talk to the cabdriver who drove Casey from her hotel, and it’s clear to me that she went to the Amtrak station yesterday. But after reviewing the camera footage and finding her among the travelers, I see that she got directions from someone who pointed north. So I drive north from the train station and find a Trailways bus station.

  There were several buses going out around the time Casey may have been there, but no one at the ticket counter remembers her. The place doesn’t have security video. She could have gone north, east, or south. Following any of these buses randomly will be a wild-goose chase.

  I finally admit to myself that she’s gone and I missed her.

  What would I do if I were in her shoes? Since she’d had to leave her computer behind, she would probably want to get a new one. I go to some of the computer stores in Durant, ask if anyone has seen her. I strike out, so I go to the public library. I hit pay dirt right away.

  “Yes, she was here the day before yesterday,” the librarian on duty tells me. “She was using our computer. I remember her because she stopped a guy from viewing porn in front of a child.”

  She tells me about the girl who yanked the man’s cord and threatened to call his wife. I find that perplexing. Does she compartmentalize her life so that she can murder a guy one day and defend a child’s innocence the next? How does that work?

  The librarian lets me watch the video footage of that hour in the computer room. I try to figure out what Casey had up on her computer screen, but the picture is grain
y. When I check the computer she used, I see the same Facebook page and the Shreveport newspaper again. It tells me nothing about where she’s gone.

  I don’t like defeat, but I finally book my flight home. I need to collect more information about her. There are other ways of figuring out where she went.

  Since the charter flight is so expensive and I’m not in a rush, I book a commercial flight home, but I have to drive to Dallas to catch it. I’ll return my rental car there.

  When I’m almost to the Dallas airport, I call Keegan and give him the bad news.

  “How did she get past you?” he asks, clearly ticked off.

  “She didn’t get past me,” I say, aware that I sound defensive. “She had already left by the time I got here. She’s smart. She’s staying off the grid and covering all her bases. She changed hotels, paid with cash, didn’t talk to many people.”

  “She’s a twenty-five-year-old girl who has never plotted out a crime before. How would she know how to stay so far under the radar?”

  “Her dad was a cop, right? Maybe she picked up some things from him. Or maybe she reads a lot.”

  Keegan doesn’t like my explanations. “Just come home, and we’ll take it from here.”

  I don’t say it, but I have no intention of disappointing the Paces. I hang up and pull my car into the rental return lane. I’ve cut it close, and I get to the terminal just in time to board. On the flight home, I try to regroup. First I’ll talk to the Paces, make sure they want me to continue. If they do, I’ll go visit Casey’s mother and sister. I’ll talk to her friends. I’ll find out what Brent had been like lately, what mood Casey had been in. What was on her computer at work.

  I’ll keep on with the investigation and find this girl who killed my friend. She won’t get away with it on my watch.

  “We want you to keep looking, Dylan.” Jim Pace’s voice is raspy and hoarse the next morning. Elise has never looked worse, and I wonder if she’s eating and sleeping.

  “Police Chief Gates is our friend,” Elise says, “and even he has admitted that he doesn’t have the manpower to find her. You’re our best hope.”

  Keegan doesn’t like it, but with the police chief bending over backward to help the Paces, he doesn’t have much choice. They all agree I’ll stay on the case.

  As soon as I’ve gotten the all clear, I go to Casey’s mother’s house. There are members of the media on the street out front, cameramen armed with their equipment. I pull into the driveway.

  When I get out, two reporters yell out at me. “Who are you?”

  “Nobody,” I say as I walk to the door. The reporters have to stay back at the street or risk charges of trespassing.

  At first, no one answers the door, and I feel self-conscious standing there, knowing the bloodhounds are watching. If Mrs. Cox is home, she probably thinks I’m another reporter.

  “Mrs. Cox,” I say through the door. “I’m an investigator working with the Shreveport police. I need to talk to you.”

  I hear the dead bolt turning once, twice . . . four times before the door opens. The house inside is dark, but I see a few inches’ width of a small woman. “I’ve already talked to police,” she says, then she silently mouths the words she just spoke.

  I try to look unthreatening. In jeans and a plain gray T-shirt, I hope I do. I hold up my credentials. “I know, but I have a few more questions. Can I come in for a minute?”

  She hesitates.

  “I just don’t want any of this overheard,” I whisper, gesturing to the reporters. “No need to give them more than they’ve got already.”

  She considers that, then opens the door a little wider. It isn’t until I step inside that I realize she couldn’t open it any wider because there’s junk stacked behind the door.

  “I’m sorry for the mess,” she says. “I was just cleaning up.”

  I look around at the ceiling-high mound of stuff and doubt that’s true. This place would take weeks to clean out. She points me to one of the only pieces of furniture not covered with her hoard. It’s a recliner. As I sit, she pulls a folding chair out of a stack, then digs for a second one, which she sets up next to it.

  “I’m sorry,” I say, getting back up. “Did you want me to sit there?”

  “No,” she says. “You’re fine there. I just like even numbers.” She mouths that last sentence again, then looks at a digital clock on the table, next to six more that aren’t powered on. Her eyes linger on the numbers.

  Maybe she has an appointment. “Mrs. Cox, I won’t keep you long.”

  I make out a couch under all the debris, but it’s stacked three feet high with boxes. On the boxes I see pictures of blenders and Crock-Pots. I also notice a stack of new clothes with price tags and an open rubber bin containing flowerpots. There are at least two of every color.

  “I’m sorry for the mess,” she says again. “I was just cleaning.”

  OCD, I think. Mrs. Cox has a bad case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. She’s a small, attractive woman who doesn’t look like the type to live in a nightmare like this. She’s wearing floral capri pants and a pullover blouse, lime green. She’s around fifty and looks like one of those women who tries, not like those who’ve given up at her age. She has makeup on and has done her hair, but her eyes are bloodshot and red, and there are dark circles under them. I can see that her daughter’s troubles are taking their toll on her, and she already had problems.

  “Casey didn’t do it,” she says suddenly. “You don’t know her. Ask any of her friends, anybody who’s ever known her. She’s a good and compassionate girl. She would never hurt anyone, least of all Brent.” As she silently repeats that, she turns to the clock again. I look at the readout. I’ve investigated people with OCD before, and they often get fixated on numbers. She might be adding them up in her head, checking for odd numbers, or something like that.

  “Do you have any theories about what happened?” I ask in a gentle voice, trying to distract her. “Why she would run away if she’s innocent?”

  Casey’s mother turns from the clock. She gets up and touches a picture of Casey, dusts it with a swipe of her hand, touches it again twice. “You have to understand Casey. When she was twelve . . .” Her voice trails off.

  “I know about your husband’s death,” I say, not wanting to make her say it.

  She stands and picks up the stack of clothes, moves it to the other side of the room, as if that’s where it belongs. “Whatever they told you, my husband didn’t kill himself. He was murdered. Casey knew it, and we all knew it.”

  I frown, wondering what I’ve missed. “But the coroner’s report, the autopsy, the police findings . . . they all point to suicide.”

  She sits back down. “Of course they do. But those are lies. If you’re a good cop, then examine the evidence. Don’t just accept the report.”

  “I’m not a cop,” I say as she mouths. “I’m a private investigator consulting with the police department.”

  She sighs. “Of course. If you were a cop, you wouldn’t be asking questions about Andy.”

  I think for a moment about what she said. Her husband was a cop. She must know the culture. “So what do you think your husband’s death has to do with Casey leaving? Are you saying she was traumatized? Disturbed? Did the event cause depression in her? Anxiety?”

  Her mother’s eyes brim with tears. “Everything has everything to do with everything.”

  The phrase takes me aback. “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand.”

  Her face takes on an empty, haunted look, but she keeps talking. “Casey was traumatized.” She gets up and touches each box on her couch. “She was never the same. Oh, there were parts of her that were. Her personality couldn’t be quashed. But there were times when you could see the ghost in her eyes.”

  She picks at the tape on the blender box and opens it. “I should’ve helped her more. She was so young. There were days when I thought it was a suicide and I was so mad at Andy that I couldn’t think. But it never made sense.

  “Suicide never does,” I say.

  “It wasn’t suicide,” she repeats. “Those thoughts came in my weakest days, when I just wanted it all to end.” She turns to me now, checking her face with her fingertips. “I have OCD, Detective.”

  I don’t tell her I know.

  “I kept picturing his hanging himself over and over, trying to work it out in my head, but Casey kept saying there was blood . . .”

  I can’t imagine what this woman has been through. “Is that when your OCD started?”

  “No,” she says. “I had things before . . . rituals, they call them . . . but they weren’t . . . disruptive. It got worse after Andy died.” Her lips move again.

  I picture her dealing with that madness while her daughter needed help herself.

  “Casey kept telling me that the police covered things up, that the newspapers had the wrong information, that he was murdered. No one listened to her. I didn’t listen. She was just a traumatized kid and that scene kept playing in my mind like it really happened. For so long I didn’t listen.”

  “Do you think Brent’s death had anything to do with Andy’s death?”

  She grows very still for a minute. “Maybe, but not the way you think. Casey must have found Brent, but she didn’t kill him.”

  “Did she tell you that?”

  “No,” she says, then repeats it with her lips. “I haven’t seen my daughter in over a week. Haven’t talked to her either. I’d give anything for a phone call. To know she’s all right.”

  I can see by the glisten in her eyes that she means it. Maybe I shouldn’t, but I believe her. “Brent was a childhood friend of mine. We met in kindergarten and grew up together.”

  Her face twists as tears escape her eyes. She pulls two tissues out of a box and wipes her eyes. “I’m so sorry. It’s your loss too.”

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