If i run, p.9

If I Run, page 9

 

If I Run
 


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  I swallow. “I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years, since my deployment with the army. What was their relationship like?”

  She sniffs hard. “They were close friends, she said. But I think he was in love with her. Casey had a hard time letting people get close to her. I mean, she has all these close friends, but I don’t remember her ever letting anything go beyond friendship with a guy.”

  “She’s twenty-five. Why do you think that is?”

  “She’s broken.” The words are hard for her. “You wouldn’t know it. She doesn’t seem broken, but she is. I think Brent knew it. He cared about her. I could see it.”

  I think about the Brent I knew. Though girls always gravitated to him, he was generally slow to make his move. Still, I can’t picture him as a puppy dog, following a girl who ultimately murdered him. He wasn’t stupid like that.

  “Do you know if she’s all right?” she asks. “If she’s even alive?”

  The question surprises me. “Yes, we’ve been tracking her. She was most recently in Durant, Oklahoma, but she seems to be on the move again.”

  “Why would she go there? We don’t have any family there. None at all. What is she thinking?”

  “That’s what I was hoping you could tell me.”

  She shakes her head. “Casey’s the smartest girl I know. She thinks things through. Whatever she’s doing, she has a good reason.”

  I ask her if I can see the room where Casey grew up. She takes me down a five-foot-wide passage through the kitchen. More stuff, piled above her head. The things are duplicates of each other stacked in even numbers, grouped according to likeness. Despite the hoarding, the house smells clean.

  When we reach Casey’s childhood room, I see that it’s another storage area. The room is painted lavender, and there are colorful handmade flowers, faded now—three feet wide, at least—hanging on the walls. There are family pictures on her walls from before her dad died. He’s in every one. The house looks uncluttered in the pictures. So the hoarding started after his death too.

  A phrase from high school physics pops into my head. For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. The vacuum in Mrs. Cox’s life from her husband’s death resulted in her hoarding stuff to try to fill that hole. The death in Casey’s past may have led to another death.

  I leave without any new clues, but I know Casey a little better than I did.

  15

  CASEY

  My sister’s call comes Thursday, two days after I sent her the phone. It scares me to death when it rings. I fumble to answer it.

  “Hello?”

  “Casey, I’m so glad to hear your voice,” Hannah blurts. “Are you all right?”

  “Yeah, I’m fine. Did your in-laws ask questions about the package?”

  “No, I recognized your handwriting. I told them it was something I ordered for Jeff.”

  “You’re not at home or in your car, are you? The police could be listening.”

  “No, I’m walking at the park. Casey, what happened with Brent?”

  I sigh. “They got to him. He had proof about Dad’s murder, and they found out.” My voice catches. “If he hadn’t been digging to help me, he’d be alive.”

  “You found his body?”

  “Yes. He told me to come over on my lunch hour and see what he’d dug up. When I got there . . .” My voice trails off. “I panicked. Just knew I’d have to leave town, that everything was about to go wrong and nobody would listen.”

  “Casey, listen to me,” Hannah says. “Brent sent you a package.”

  I’m silent for a moment as my mind races back to my phone conversation with him that morning. “Yeah, he told me he did, that he sent me his evidence just as a backup in case anything went wrong. But I figured they’d intercepted that already.”

  “They didn’t. I tried going to your apartment, but it was sealed. Then your landlord came out and handed me the package. I guess it didn’t occur to him to give it to the police. He said, ‘If you talk to Casey, tell her I’m praying for her. I know she didn’t do what they’re saying.’ ”

  Tears come to my eyes. Good old Mr. Criswell. I love that man. “What’s in it?” I ask.

  “It’s a thumb drive. It must have the evidence.”

  “I need it,” I tell her.

  “I could see what’s on it and e-mail the files to you.”

  “No, I don’t want the files on your computer. It’s dangerous. I want you playing dumb so they don’t see you as a threat. You don’t even need to see those files. Can you just FedEx it to me here?”

  She says she will, and I get a catch in my stomach before giving her my hotel address. I don’t want to stay here this long, but at some point I’m going to have to risk it. This is important. “Send it to my hotel under the name of Grace Newland. But don’t try to reach me here after that. I’ll leave the minute I get the package tomorrow.”

  “How will I pay for it? Don’t I need a credit card or something? Won’t they be watching my accounts?”

  “Don’t use your real name. Pay cash.”

  “What if they’re watching me and follow me to the FedEx place?”

  I think about that for a moment. I don’t want my sister getting into trouble, being labeled an accessory to murder. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s too risky.”

  “I have an idea,” she says. Her voice bumps with each step. “I’ll send your package under a fake name, but I’ll FedEx something to my friend Liz in New York at the same time. Then if they follow me there and they check to see what I was shipping, they’ll find that.”

  I try to imagine that scenario. Hannah getting out of her car at FedEx with one package in her hand and another one tucked in her bag. She goes in, mails both things with cash. Cops go in, ask what Hannah Boon shipped, and they find the one thing with her name and return address on it.

  “What if the clerk remembers that you shipped two packages?”

  “The clerks at FedEx are always busy,” she says. “It’ll be okay. You have to see what’s on this drive so you can prove who really killed Brent.”

  “And Dad. Listen, Hannah. If anyone drags up Dad’s case and asks you about it, you keep telling them you agree with police that it was a suicide. As long as they think you’ve bought into that, you won’t be a threat to them.”

  “But what about Mom?”

  “I don’t think she threatens them. They can just write her off as being mentally ill. Besides, if I told her not to say something, she’d have no choice but to say it over and over.”

  “Casey, I’m scared for you.”

  I don’t tell her I’m scared too. “How is Mom?”

  “Petrified. She’s been crying since you left, repeating her rituals over and over. She went shopping, bought a carload of stuff, from cat litter to all these broken lamps at some thrift store that she claims she’s gonna fix.”

  “All in pairs?”

  “Of course. Soon she won’t even have a path to her bedroom.”

  “Is she taking her meds?”

  “I think so. I’m trying to get her to go to her shrink and get them adjusted, but you know how she is.”

  “Tell her I’m fine,” I say. “I’ll land on my feet. That’s what we do in this family, right?”

  Hannah’s voice is weak. “Sometimes.”

  “Tell her this will all be sorted out as soon as I figure out a way through it. The system is still as messed up as it was when Dad died. I can’t trust it.”

  “Casey, Brent’s family hired a private investigator to look for you. He talked to Mom.”

  I squeeze my eyes shut. “How can they think I did this? I know they didn’t know me well, but they should trust Brent’s judgment in friends.”

  I can hear her sniffing. Her voice grows more distant. “I gave the press an old picture of you. You don’t look like that anymore.”

  “I know, I saw that. Thank you.”

  “Where will you go?” she asks.

  “It’s better if you don’t know,
” I say.

  “Do I need to destroy this phone?”

  I wish I knew more about how they work. “It’s probably okay for now. Just keep it hidden. I won’t call you, but I might text. Keep it silenced.”

  My big sister is smart. I know she’ll do what I say. “I love you, sis. Please be careful.”

  I hold the line for a moment too long, then tell her I love her, too, and hang up. I stare at the phone, then take out the battery, drop the phone on the floor, and smash it under my heel.

  My connection to my life is broken again.

  The package from my sister arrives at my Atlanta hotel at nine thirty the next morning. I already have my car loaded, and I sit in the driver’s seat waiting for the FedEx truck. The moment the truck drives away, I go in and retrieve my package, addressed to Grace Newland.

  After checking out, I go to the nearest mall and sit in the parking lot. I fire up my computer, then plug in the thumb drive. There’s only one folder.

  When I open it, I see a list of files. I click on one that says “Cox Case File.” Up come pages of documents that Brent scanned into his computer. Somehow he’d gotten the entire file on my father’s death, the evidence logged at the scene after I found him, my own written and video testimony, the autopsy report, then the sudden declaration that it was a suicide, the end of the investigation. I go back to the list of files, see a video marked “Sara Meadows.” I don’t know who that is, so I click on the file.

  “This is Brent Pace,” my friend says off-camera. My hand comes up to my mouth at the sound of his voice, pain twisting in my throat. “I’m interviewing Sara Meadows, employed with the Shreveport Police Department. She was a clerk in the evidence room at the time of Andrew Cox’s death and still works there. Ms. Meadows, you said you were good friends with Officer Cox in the years leading up to his death.”

  “Yes,” she says in a weak voice. “He was a good man. A very good man. He loved his family and his daughters, and he would never have killed himself. Never. It was all a lie.”

  “Do you know why it was ruled suicide?”

  “I think the investigators were covering up,” she says. “I’ve lived with this for thirteen years, kept my mouth shut, but it’s not right. I have stage-four cancer now, and I want to tell what I know.”

  “What do you want us to know?” Brent asks gently.

  “That Officer Cox had evidence that several of the detectives on the force were taking bribes and extorting money from people. People I would call mafia, though when I said that to him, he said that I’d read too many books. It was a kind of organized crime that extorted money from businesses and harassed people into paying. There were some deaths when people fought back, and the findings of those homicides weren’t consistent with the evidence logged. Andy was looking in to some of the things these guys had bought with the money, paid cash for, and put under different names so they wouldn’t be caught. After a couple of weeks, he came back to me, really shaken at what he’d found. Within three weeks, he was dead.”

  I can’t believe Brent got this interview. No wonder he was so excited when he called me that morning. He must have just talked to her. “So you think he was murdered to keep him from reporting that?”

  “What do you think?”

  Brent pauses. “Did you tell anyone at the police department?”

  I hold my breath during a long pause, then finally she says, “No, I was afraid. I thought they’d kill me too. But I made note of the evidence that came in, the stuff that was disregarded, like blood evidence from unidentified people. After the CSIs logged the evidence, the lead investigators determined what was relevant. The rest was pushed aside. It always worked out that they were the ones investigating these deaths. After Andy’s death, the CSIs logged pictures of Andy’s hands with injuries, indicating that he’d struggled, that there was an altercation. Those blood samples need to be compared to those detectives who worked that case. But all that was covered up.”

  I feel the blood rush from my face. I told them, over and over . . .

  My father’s dead image flashes into my mind. The rope around his neck, the way his body swayed when I touched it . . . the blood under his fingernails, on his hands . . . the smear on the carpet.

  I’d told them he must have been fighting someone, that he had scratches on his arms, that his lip was busted. But that was never mentioned in the media. It just went away, like I’d never said it. But I know what I saw.

  “Why would they have logged that as evidence if they were trying to cover it up?” Brent asks.

  “I think most of the CSIs are good guys,” Sara says. “They did their jobs. I’m sure the killers had cleaned up the scenes as much as they could, but they couldn’t hide everything. If the CSIs logged something that implicated the detectives, they just quashed it.”

  “My friend Casey Cox is the one who found her father dead,” Brent says. “She never thought it was a suicide.”

  “I know!” the woman says, and veins protrude on her temple. “It was horrible, them leaving him for his daughter to find. You’d have to be a sociopath to do that. To traumatize that girl that way. Andy adored her. He never would have let that happen. He was found hanging from the fan in his living room. He would have known Casey would be the next one home.”

  I wipe away a tear that has found its way to my cheek, then clasp my hands to still them.

  “So you don’t think the CSIs are involved?” Brent asks.

  “I didn’t until one of them was killed in a single-vehicle accident . . . just out of the blue. Other one retired and left the state.”

  “So let me get this straight,” Brent says. “The detectives who covered up . . .”

  “The only ones I know for sure are Gordon Keegan and Sy Rollins.”

  I cover my face, so grateful that someone has uttered the unspeakable.

  “Were you able to keep any of the evidence?” Brent asks her.

  “The whole case file. I’ve hidden it all these years. I made a copy for you.”

  When the recording ends, I close it and go back to the documents. I click on the evidence list. My stomach churns as I review what they took from my house.

  The list is incomplete. Dad’s laptop was removed, but it’s not shown here. The file box in Dad’s office at home was taken, and it doesn’t appear on the list. His car was searched, which doesn’t even make sense if they thought it was a suicide, but none of that shows up on the list.

  I go back to the autopsy report, which my mother never let me see when I was twelve. I study it, trying to make sense of the medical lingo. Brent has highlighted one statement. “Bleeding on brain consistent with blunt head trauma, though primary cause of death was asphyxiation from hanging.”

  In the margin of this report is Brent’s handwriting: “Wouldn’t that indicate that there was an altercation before he was hanged?”

  I frown and read on. The medical examiner drew no conclusion about that. I wonder why not. Wouldn’t that be obvious to anyone with a scalpel?

  I remember seeing the blood in various places around the room. A smudge on the carpet, a dragged fingerprint on the wall . . . They’d been wiped clean the next time I went into the house.

  Next in the stack of documents is a list of possessions Gordon Keegan has been seen using during his time off. A sailboat, a motorcycle, an RV that probably cost over $100,000, all owned by a company named MNO Enterprises. Brent includes pictures of Keegan using them like they’re his. He’s taken his family and his brother’s family on annual trips to Hawaii—Brent has pictures from Keegan’s niece’s Facebook page—and has also gone to Europe several times. My dad was never able to do or buy those things on a cop’s salary. I wonder how the department never realized this.

  The other cops involved have lists of toys and trips, too, also owned by MNO. Brent didn’t leave it at that. He tracked down MNO Enterprises. It’s owned by a company called Tidewater Realty in Grand Cayman. Classic money laundering. Brent did a lot of snooping around. Leave i
t to a journalist to have the kind of curiosity that would lead to his death.

  I feel sick that he did this for me. Yes, he was sniffing for a great story he could break, but mostly he knew that the whole thing ate me from the inside out. He wanted me to have resolution. But word must have gotten to Keegan and Rollins that he was digging around.

  Now they’ve gotten him too.

  Thoughts of Brent’s crime scene nauseate me more. When I found Brent, I didn’t look for his computer or the documents he said he was going to give me that day. I just felt for a pulse, did CPR, tried to rouse him. But his body was already cold. When I finally realized he was gone, I stumbled out, numb from shock and fear.

  In case there’s a God, I thank him for giving Brent the wisdom to put a flash drive in the mail to me before he saw me, just in case anything happened. He knew what he was dealing with.

  I sit in my car and weep as time ticks by. There’s nothing I can do about all this. I don’t know who at the police department is clean. This evidence could acquit me, or it could lead to my death. And if I die, they’ll keep getting away with it. More will die, and more will be traumatized and abused.

  Somehow I have to expose them, but if I get caught, they’ll confiscate all my evidence and destroy it. And they’ll get away with it anyway.

  I’m not brave. I don’t want to go to jail for something I didn’t do. Worse, I don’t want to be murdered like Brent and my father. I don’t want my family butchered to make a statement. Mom, Hannah, my sweet little Emma.

  I have to stay hidden for now. I look on Google Maps and see the towns north of Atlanta, west, south. Part of me longs to go where Miss Lucy lives. I need friends, and she makes me feel anchored somehow.

  There’s no reason for anyone to look for me in Shady Grove, and that’s as good a reason to go there as any. I type in the town and get the directions, then pull back onto the road.

  As I drive out of town, I wipe the tears from my face. “Daddy and Brent,” I whisper. “I’m going to prove what happened to you. I just need a little more strength.” But they can’t hear me, and anything they had the power to give me is already mine. They can’t give me anything more.

 
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