And Then She Was Gone, Pt 9 of 18

This is the ninth of eighteen installments of the serialized edition of And Then She Was Gone. If you are not current, you can find the archive of past installments here.
 
New installments will post every Tuesday and Thursday for the next six weeks on this blog and to the podcast feed as an epub for reading on your mobile devices. For those of you without a podcast client, you can download today’s installment in epub format here


 

 


 

The Story So Far

CORNERING NYA’S THERAPIST Serena Tam proved as unproductive for Lantham as it was irritating. Other than the sense that she believed Nya to be in serious trouble, Dr. Tam stuck to her professional ethics and said nothing of substance. Fortunately, Lantham spotted a Facebook post that alerted him to where he can find Nya’s friend (and fellow Antony’s Syndrome sufferer), Gina…

 

Chapter 10

9:30 PM, Sunday

PARKING WAS LESS OF A PROBLEM than I was expecting. The smallish vacant lot they’d converted for parking was only three quarters full. Gina’s last post had her sounding uncertain whether she was coming, but DMV had Gina driving a twenty-year-old white Corolla with vanity plates. Spotting it wasn’t difficult.

I got there in time to catch the last act from the bottleneck by the main exit of the little portable audience pavilion.

The last bit of Hamlet is a nice reliable blood bath, and the play’s FX guy took a page out of Monty Python to turn it into a blood shower.

When the play broke, I stood back and waited for Gina to come out. Three hundred faces filed past in the sodium light, but Gina’s shouldn’t have been difficult to pick out of the crowd, not with that signature look she and the other girls had.

But these weren’t the droids I was looking for. Not one of them.

I hot-footed it back to the parking lot, figuring I’d just missed her.

Her car was still there. Untouched. But she wasn’t anywhere in sight. Perhaps she’d snuck off with her date to play in the field?

A half hour of watching the car didn’t make it any more occupied, and there’s only so long you can stake out an empty public lot without the rent-a-cops wondering if you’re skulking.

Time was you could get away with anything if you stood in the corner and smoked, now it’s just another way to draw attention. Least I don’t have to smell like cigarettes in order to do my job—smelling good was a luxury I wouldn’t have had thirty years ago.

What the world gives you with one hand it rips out of your grasping fingers with another.

When the rent-a-cop made his rounds the third time he gave me the hairy eyeball. It was time to move. I hopped out of my car and walked past the Corolla, bumped into the side view mirror and dropped my phone.

When I bent over I grabbed a second phone from my pocket—a pre-paid cell with a GPS tracker and a rare-earth magnet on the back. I stuck it up inside the wheel-well and stood back up. I made a show of composing a terribly important text message as I walked back to the shanty arena that served as a theater.

There were still a few folks milling around, picking up the trash, loading out the valuables. Across the street behind the stage, folks had co-opted a piece of a two-square-mile vacant field and turned it into a bazaar complete with booths and tents, with pathways twisting and turning between them for no good reason, like the event organizers had gotten lost when it turned out they couldn’t actually see everything at once.

The warm late summer night had brought the whole town out and then some. A busker was juggling firebrands to liven up the post-thespian festivities. Some kid with pants that might have been covered with the reflective beads they use on roadsigns was walking along a path so far on the other side of the park that it looked like a pair of legs had decided to go out for a stroll without informing their torso or feet. Little kids and what looked like church groups dotted the field haphazardly like they’d been planted there years ago. No Gina though. No girls even the right age.

After a full circuit, I gave up the search. The place was too active to provide reliable cover for a pair of cavorting teenagers. Still, I flashed Gina’s picture around at some likely-looking groups, just in case.

The whole exercise netted me three bumps on the shins from groups of children running around like herds of wild buffalo playing tag, and not much else.

When I got back to the lot, my car was the only one left. The Corrola had gone.

I jumped into the Civic and headed out onto Bernal. At the convenience store a couple blocks west I pulled over and brought the tracker site up on my phone.

The Corolla was heading right back up to Danville.

680 North was nice and clear, and the Toyota only had three miles head start on me. I got it in my sights by Alcosta, passed it at Crow Canyon, then allowed myself to get trapped behind an idiot in the slow lane, tailgating too close to be able to pull around safely.

It passed me in the next lane, but Gina wasn’t driving it.

Jason Rawles was.

The Corolla peeled off the freeway at El Cerro, heading back up into the hills around Diablo. Gina’s reg had her living further south, so wherever Rawles was taking her car, he wasn’t returning it to her house.

I hung well back—didn’t want him to catch my headlights and realize he had a fan club. The tracker would lead me where I needed to go.

It stopped at a place halfway up Ackerman. Not well-lit. The house hid behind a pair of native scrub oaks and a half-dozen fruit trees. The Corolla was parked somewhere around back, according to the satellite.

I parked on a side street next to a black BMW and strolled around to the front of the house. Motion sensor lights in the driveway, but none on the access path running back to the gardening shed.

Snooping is part of the job description, but I’ll be damned if I knew what I was looking for. Best bet was Rawles had hauled Gina back here for a game of hide-the-carrot, but I didn’t believe it for a second. Something about the look on his face when I flashed by him on the freeway. Dark. I didn’t like it.

And where the hell were we anyway? Why bring her back here when he had a perfectly serviceable babe lair at home? And why the hell did he take her chintzy sedan instead of his sports car?

I dithered for about three minutes in front of the house, crouching just inside a layer of bushes so I wouldn’t get spotted by the neighborhood watch.

There was a wan light in the shed window. I could see it just above the side gate. Someone was moving around in there.

I didn’t quite have a clear line-of-sight. A new green minivan with dealer plates and a Boxster seemed to have met willy-nilly for a late night drink in the driveway. I had to lean over to get a better angle.

As quiet as this neighborhood was, I could hear…something. Two men, maybe. Arguing, but not shouting. Worth sneaking up for a better look.

There was enough cover to get to the gate without having to walk into the line-of-sight of any windows. The gate was standing open—no spring return, and the latch didn’t catch when it was last used, most likely by Rawles.

It would have had to be Rawles, or at least I thought so.

When I got to the window, though, it was covered in some kind of contact paper. No way to see anything clearly. Just the shadows and the voices.

Neither of them sounded like Rawles.

“…going to blow it. It’s a fucking animal, okay? Just an animal. We can’t let that wuss kid…” The first guy’s voice was authoritative, but whiny. Sounded like a guy used to giving orders, and equally used to having them ignored.

“That wuss kid saved your ass yesterday running interference.” The second voice was deeper. Smoother. An operator, whatever his line of work. “So sure, he’s a creep—I look like I really care about it too, don’t I?”

“Don’t you take that tone…”

“If it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t be getting any.”

“Without me you couldn’t get them…”

“Okay, okay, fine. It doesn’t matter anyway, dude. There’s only three more to go…”

“Two. There’s two more.”

“Okay, two more to go. Just keep the bitch on the hook for a few more days.”

“Right.” Someone pacing. Slowing down. Thinking something over. “But what are we gonna do about Mister Shiny Pants in there?”

“Let me take care of him. You just do your thing.”

“Right, okay.”

The shed door opened and spilled light onto the lawn just around the corner from me. If I didn’t move fast, and one of them came back through the gate, I was screwed.

There was a little alley about eighteen inches wide between the shed and the fence, looked clear in the moonlight. I ducked in, lowered my profile as much as I could.

Four seconds later, one of them pulled the gate open and walked through. His arm reaching up to the gate blocked his face from my view—he was wearing a tweed sportcoat, leather patches on the elbows. Way too heavy for this time of year.

He didn’t close the gate properly behind him—so much for the theory that Rawles came in this way. I peeked through the crosshatch trestle scrap that ran along the top of the fence in time to see the tweed shouldering its way into the Boxster.

The interior light gave me a flash of his face—angular, almost unpleasant, clean-shaven, with deep-set tortured eyes. Impossible to tell their color from here, but it didn’t matter.

I got the tags.

This bastard was mine, once I had a chance to look him up.

I slid my phone out of my pocket—good job I kept the screen locked by default—and pushed it around the corner. I used the screen’s glass like a mirror to check out the walkway. Nobody there.

I wiggled back into the clear and crept forward to the edge of the shed’s cover, but I didn’t see anyone in the back yard and no light spilled out from the house. Only the little path lanterns and the blue light from the pool gave enough to see by, and barely that.

I crept up to the point where the walkway opened up into the back yard, and could see a couple other outbuildings—looked like a small guest house attached to a pump house for the pool. If I snooped any further I risked getting caught by another motion sensor.

The other option was knocking on the front door, but thoughts of that fled my head as soon as they came in—I wasn’t a cop anymore. No authority. Any story I could come up with for knocking on an upscale ranchette in the middle of the night would blow up in my face if Rawles was still on site.

Time to beat a retreat.

Out the way I came in, along the short flagstone gardener’s path out of range of the sensor lights, back to the cubbyhole between the hedge and the scrub oak. I stopped there for a moment to see if I missed anything.

One car still parked in the driveway. I snapped a pic with my phone’s camera. Two lights on in the house, neither of them revealing. Whoever was in there wasn’t near the edge of the house, whatever was going on. I took a video scan to review later, just in case I missed anything. It had been a long day.

I was just about to wrap it up when I heard a bang, like something kicking a door in followed by what sounded like a flower pot smashing on the ground.

A woman’s scream tore out from the back yard. A second scream died away into gurgles.

“You want it rough? You want it rough!” Rawles’ voice from the back yard. “Fuck you! I’m out. Get your shit somewhere else!” Behind the house, a door slammed shut.

Twenty seconds later he stomped out the front door and down the driveway right toward my position. His metallic silver pants marked him out like a road sign in the dim light—that had been him at the park, and I missed it. Dammit, Lantham, get your eyes checked.

While I kicked myself he stomped past, then hooked a left onto the street. Nobody followed him.

As soon as he was out of view, I ran as quietly as I could manage back through the gate.

Still no one in the back yard. I checked the windows—no one watching that I could see. Which building would she be in?

The garage doors were closed—sound came from further away than that anyhow. Nobody was in the shed.

Away across on the other side of the pool, the door to what I took to be the guest house was open a smidge, and light leaked out in a long finger across the grass.

Staying as much in shadow as the random decorative light-pools would let me, I stalked through the yard, hid behind the corner of the outbuilding and looked through the windows.

All of them had rice-paper blinds obscuring the view.

I could hear labored, irregular breathing interrupted here and there with delirious mumbles from inside.

There was nothing else for it. I reached behind under my jacket and put my hand on the butt of my .357, took a deep breath, and rolled around the corner.

Kicking the door in, I came face-to-bloodied face with the object of my search.

It was Nya, laying on the ground in the midst of a shattered vase like Rawles didn’t have the stomach to finish posing her. Bikini soaked. Body and hair glistening with the slime of a badly-maintained hot tub.

Blood gobbed out of a crack in her forehead and a series of cuts down her left arm and on to the polished hardwood. She was barely breathing.

“Nya.” I smacked her lightly. Her face, blank and perpetually scrunched at the nose, lolled at me.

“Who’re you? Hehe. Whorrree you…” She giggled uncontrollably. Further smacks on her face only made her giggle more. Delirious? Judging by the track marks inside her thigh, more likely high.

The blood wasn’t stopping. I yanked my windbreaker off and wrapped it around her arm as best I could. It wouldn’t do much good. This girl needed gauze. Lots of it, and fast.

She was hot to the touch—maybe fever, maybe from the spa. Whatever it was, her body wouldn’t stay warm for much longer at the rate it was leaking red.

“Don’t go anywhere.”

“Go and find Gina, boy. Where’d your hair go?” For the record, I still have a full head of hair, and it’s all vintage Lantham, thank you very much. But she looked at me cock-eyed like what she said actually meant something.

I wasn’t going to find out if she bled to death all over the floor. I ran out the gate, up the driveway, down the block, and around the corner.

The hatchback on my Civic popped open by remote a half block before I grabbed the side of the car and swung round. First aid kit, right under the Mylar space blanket. I threw them both forward into the cab and slammed the hatchback shut, pulled my phone out and called 911.

“911, what is your emergency?”

“Injured 19 year old female.” I pulled the driver’s side door shut and jammed the key into the ignition. “Possible domestic abuse. She’s bleeding out. Send an ambulance to 4365 Ackerman Drive, Danville As soon as you can.” The engine cursed me for waking it up. I popped the clutch and screeched out first gear.

“Thank you sir I’m sending an ambulance. Don’t move her…”

“Lady, I’ve got my current EMT cert, you don’t have to tell me that, just get that ambulance here.” I swung around the corner and gunned it the last half block to the front of the house.

“Please stay on the line with me until they arrive.”

“Can’t do it.” I stopped the car and hung up, then twisted around to the back seat and grabbed the blanket and kit box.

My door was halfway open when I looked out the windshield.

Rawles stared right back at me from the end of my hood.

He smashed his fist down on the hood. Nice sized dent. I could hear my wallet wincing. “You want this, asshole?” He smacked his chest and stepped around to my side of the car. “Fuckin’ following me!”

I opened the latch but held the door closed, waited until he was almost next to me. Soon as his nuts were even with the handle, I slammed the door open.

Rawles saw it coming. Managed to dodge it.

The kid grabbed my hair and dragged me out. As soon as I cleared the door frame I grabbed his hand and yanked it to my mouth. I bit down, hard. He screamed and let go, but I didn’t let him go.

With my feet still in the car I held all my weight up off the ground on him, then jerked on the arm and twisted. He dove face-first over me onto the asphalt.

I rolled back and stumbled up to my feet, and just checked the urge to reach for the .357 in the small of my back. If I drew on this kid I’d spend at least the next twenty four hours in the tank while Danville’s finest ran my prints through every database in the state.

All while Nya might bleed to death.

Not that he gave me more than a second. He scrambled to something resembling standing and rounded on me with what he thought was a kung-fu kick. I hopped back and let his foot hit the rear quarterpanel. He cursed, stumbled, threw a punch at me before he’d recovered his balance. Swinging high for my face. I ducked and scooted back. The kid lost what was left of his balance and renewed his romance with the pavement.

“You done dancing, kid?”

He flailed around till he could grab onto my car and pulled himself up. His plastic surgeon was gonna love him—face looked like he thought doing makeup with blood and gravel was the next big thing for the nouveaux-riche.

“Who the hell do you think…”

**BLART—SQUAWK**

Floodlights blasted Rawles’s gravely cheeks ghost-white.

“Place your hands on the top of your head and kneel on the ground.”

My ears tried to crawl back inside my skull to hide in my head from Danville’s finest bullhorn operator. Right behind me, maybe ten feet away judging by the sound of the engine.

Fast response time. The community policing ballot measure must have passed with flying colors last year.

“Now! Both of you.”

I knew the drill. I interlaced my fingers on top of my head and dropped to my knees. The kid waited just long enough so that everyone would know he was only obeying because it suited him.

The cop’s rubber shoes scuffed out of the car and, as near as I could tell, stopped five feet behind me. His Mag Lite swept between my head and Rawles, checking to make sure we weren’t palming anything. Textbook.

The cop said: “What’s going on here?”

The kid flicked his eyes up to the cop and then back into the middle-distance, trying to find a good story.

I jumped out in front of him before his brain could get in gear. “Officer, I called dispatch. My name is Clarke Lantham. I’m a licensed private investigator. There’s a woman in the guest house back there,” I nodded at the garden gate, “bleeding to death.”

“Stand up, Mr. Lantham.” The cop shifted a few feet to my right—better cover on my dominant hand.

“Officer, I am obligated to inform you that I am carrying a legally concealed weapon in a waistband holster.”

Snap. The fastener around the cop’s gun butt flicked open.

“Mr. Lantham, please move to the rear of the vehicle.”

I rose to my feet and stepped around Rawles. I didn’t take my eyes off the kid for a minute—his face was twisted so tight it might shatter any second.

I circled around so I was facing the hatchback. The cop knew his stuff—stayed behind me out of arm’s reach the whole way.

“Lean forward over the car and place your hands, palms down, on the glass.”

I did what I was told, made sure I was far enough from the car that when I bent over it put me off balance. I stepped my feet shoulder-width apart and put my hands on the hatch, one by one.

I’d been this cop before—I wasn’t going to give him any excuse.

“Are you carrying any other weapons or sharp objects?”

“There’s a three-inch folding knife in my right hip pocket. My credentials and permit are in my left hip pocket.”

I heard him shift his belt behind me. If he was going by the book, that sound would be his right hand grabbing the gun grip. He patted down my top half first, making sure I didn’t have a second weapon more accessible, then took the .357 from the small of my back.

He swept over my crotch, legs, ankles, and thighs. Confident I was clear, he pulled my wallet out of my pocket and stepped back.

“Stand up.”

I pushed myself up to my feet, but didn’t turn around.

“Clarke Lantham, 83941 Pacific, Stockton.“

“Yes sir.”

“Your PI license is through Alameda County.”

“Yes sir. My office is in Oakland.” The ambulance lights rounded the corner three blocks away.

“Hell of a commute.”

“It’s where I can afford the rent.”

The cop snorted, then pointed his flashlight at the kid. “What’s your story?”

“This prick was hanging around in the bushes with a camera. When I told him to get lost, he told me he had pics of my girlfriend he’d sell to me, and if I didn’t pay him he’d put them up on the net.” Rawles pivoted so he could look the cop in the face, and took the full glare of the flashlight. Probably preferable to the floodlight.

“Look, officer,” I risked turning around to face him. Young guy, maybe twenty-five. No insignia, so just a patrolman. “There’s a woman in there bleeding to death. Arrest me if you have to, but we have to get in there.”

“All right, you got it. You’re under arrest on suspicion of extortion, trespassing, and aggravated assault.” I turned around and gave him my wrists—he Mirandized me as he cuffed me.

The ambulance trundled up and the EMTs jumped out.

The cop poked me in the back. “Lantham, where’s the girl?”

“Left of the garage, through the gate, across the yard in the guest house.”

“You, kid,” the cop said, “Stand up. Put your hands on the car.”

“Oh, man, this is fucked up.” Rawles did what he was told.

“You’re under arrest for aggravated assault.” Quick frisk—not a very good one. Missed at least four obvious spots, but he looked like a rookie, and he was hurrying because of me, so I didn’t hold it against him. “You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can be used against you in court.” He took one hand and pulled it behind Rawles back, then reached for the other one. “You have the right to an attorney and to speak to the attorney before any questioning.” The cop finished zip-tying his hands together. “If you cannot afford one, the court will appoint one for you. Do you understand these rights?”

“Yeah, yeah, I got it.”

“You know this house?”

“Shit yeah, it’s my buddy’s place.”

“He home?”

“No, man, he’s in Hawaii. I’m house sitting.”

“Lead the way.” The cop pulled Rawles off the car and shoved him in the direction of the house, then nodded to me. I followed Rawles in. The cop, whose name I still hadn’t gotten, followed us both in, leading the EMTs.

You don’t survive as long as I have without a pretty strong nose. The minute Rawles covered for anyone else being in the house, I smelled a dead, festering, rotting rat. When we got back to the guest house, the rice-paper blinds were open.

Someone had been in there.

I was now officially screwed.

The guest house was empty. No blood. No shards. Nothing out of place. No Nya. Just a slight smell of bleach, some drops on the floor. Could’ve been any abandoned living room.

Whoever did it had changed out the fixture’s bulb. The light was barely bright enough to see the edges of the room now.

The cop walked into the room. He squatted down and felt the floor. His eyes narrowed—either the smell and the dribbles had him suspicious, or he was trying to figure out what else he could charge me with. A quick shine under the futon couch with his flashlight did nothing to improve his expression.

I was going down for this one, at least for a few hours. Whoever this kid Rawles had found for a playmate was fast. But what the hell was the game?

A night in the clink while they tried to sort this out—if I was lucky and the prosecutor wasn’t up for re-election this year—and every minute, Nya was either farther away or more dead.

The cop turned to me. I could see his name tag now in the half-light from the substandard CF that had been screwed behind the ceiling’s fixture. Officer Randolph. “Some girl you’ve got here.”

“She was just here.” I didn’t put a lot into it. Trying to convince a cop to believe a PI’s story was about as useful as teaching a cat to play chess, at least when that cop hadn’t worked much with that PI before. I know. I used to be one—the cop, not the cat. Private snoops can be trusted to work angles and shade the truth right up to the limit of their professional obligations.

Kind of like I was about to do.

“Right. Lantham, step over to the bench.” He pointed past me to a little garden bench a few yards away. I backed over to it, but didn’t sit down. He said a couple low words to the EMTs, they nodded and started milling around like confused pigeons. Randolph yanked Rawles aside and interrogated him for a minute, then came over to me.

“The kid says you got porn pics of his girlfriend on your phone. Mind if I take a look?”

“Yeah, I mind.”

“He says she’s seventeen, that makes it kiddie porn. You can save yourself a lot of trouble right here.”

“Not without a warrant.”

“All right, if that’s how you want to play it.” He clapped a hand onto my shoulder and started to pull me out toward the car.

“Look, Officer, I came out here on a job. My client had some business with the owner of the house. Before I could get to the door I heard the kid yelling, and then the woman screamed and the kid ran out of here like he was scared of getting caught.” I rattled off a mostly-truthful account of the rest of it. He glanced sideways at Rawles, cooling his heels against the shed wall. “It was self defense.”

“He says you hit him with your gun.”

“It was in the holster. You came up behind me. Did I have time to put it back? Is there a bruise where I supposedly hit him?”

“Hmph. So what’s the kid’s problem with you?”

“I’ve been keeping an eye on him for my client. He’s probably worried I’m gonna rat him out for his herb business.” That got him. Randolph’s eyes peaked quick before he could cover it up. “Probably got some product on him right now.”

“And the pictures?”

“He’s pulling it out of his ass. Probably watched ‘America’s Most Wanted’ during dinner.”

“Mind if I take a look at the phone?”

“Not without a warrant.”

Now, here’s the problem with street cops: they’re used to getting their way with intimidation when the law isn’t on their side—they’re trained in extracting evidence without letting suspects know what they’re up to. With a detective it wouldn’t have been a problem—they know the score and deal with PIs all the time.

Randolph grabbed the handpiece for his walkie and hit the button. “Dispatch, this is Randolph, number 875. I’m gonna need a second patrol car in here to haul in suspects.”

“Ten-Four, 875, units are on their way,” said the dispatcher.

Last thing I needed just then was time in lockup. I nodded at the cop. “I’m sorry, but the last…”

“Shut up. Kid says his name is Rawles. That right?”

“Yeah.”

“Rawles! Get over here.”

The kid sauntered over. He was sure he’d nailed me.

Randolph looked him up and down. “Do you have anything in your pockets you want to tell me about?

“No.”

“Turn around and spread your legs.” Rawles did as he was told, after giving the cop a look that would have gotten him thrown to the ground in a less genteel jurisdiction. This cop was patient, but he wasn’t screwing around.

Randolph patted down Jason’s pockets and came out with a dime bag. He held it up to his flashlight. Its contents weren’t green. “Well, looks like we have a winner. Let’s add possession of methamphetamines to the list of charges. Now, you,” he nodded at me, “Out in front. You,” he poked Rawles in the back, “Follow him.”

I was already sitting in the rear seat of Randolph’s car working on a new set of wrist scars by the time backup arrived a couple minutes later. Randolph handed Rawles off to the other car and then got back into his own.

He waited until we were moving before he started into me, right on schedule. “Doesn’t have to go down this way, you know.”

“Yeah, it does. I show you files on my phone without a warrant and you can bring me up on breach of confidence. I’ll lose my license.”

“So help me out here. Who is this kid? What’s his deal?”

“Wish I knew. You want to bring him up for dealing, though, I’ve got notes and photos from yesterday. I’ll be happy to have him out of my way.” It wasn’t really true, but if Rawles was in lockup I could get him when I needed him. Until then, I had the house. And now two girls to find, instead of one.

Randolph didn’t say anything for about a half mile.

I wasn’t lying when I told him I couldn’t give him the phone. He wouldn’t have found anything after the deep-cleaning I gave the phone’s filesystem. I could retrieve the pictures from the crypto drive later if I needed them, but no search in the world would turn them—or the drive-up.

Would have been great, except the phone contained my notes. Unless I’m reporting a crime—which I wasn’t—I can’t show those to anyone without a court order. Breach of confidentiality is a misdemeanor, and I wasn’t in the market for a new apartment just now.

“You really think there’s a girl in trouble?” Officer Randolph pulled the car over.

“Yes.”

“Hell.” He shook his head and flipped the car around. After another block he said “You know, a snoop license doesn’t give you the right to sneak into other people’s houses.”

“Yeah, I read the manual. And I didn’t sneak into the house.” We both pretended, for the sake of argument, that I hadn’t actually been in the guest house. I might have just glimpsed her through the door.

“You need probable cause for that.”

“Well, actually probable cause is a law enforce…” I stopped. He bought it, but not enough. He was giving me a leash. “Yeah, you can’t go in without a warrant.”

“Yeah. I can’t.”

“All units in the area,” said the radio, “we have a seven car TA on 680 South. CHP requesting help for the next thirty minutes.”

Randolph grabbed his mouthpiece. “Dispatch, 875, I’m on the way.” He pulled the car to a stop.

“What, here?”

“You don’t want to walk,” he got out of the car, “I can always take you back to the station.”

“Forget it, I’ll take my chances.” Eleven at night. Perfect time to taking my life in my hands walking though dark parts unknown, with danger behind every corner—in an area where shoplifting can get the police chief’s panties in a bunch. Heroic.

Still, braving the mean streets of Danville seemed slightly less irritating than sitting handcuffed to a bench for six hours while someone roused a judge to force my phone’s password out of me.

I turned sideways on the hard plastic bench and stuck my cuffs out. Randolph opened the door and took his bracelets back, then backed me out of the cruiser.

“Don’t let me catch you brawling again.”

“No problem, Officer.” I rubbed the raw bands on my wrists where the cuffs had dug in.

“Good.” He drew my .357 from his pocket and handed it to me. I reflexively opened the cylinder to check the load.

“Have a nice walk.” Randolph ducked back into the cruiser and peeled out, all lights flashing.

 

It took me about ten minutes to get back to the Civic—still sitting right in front of the Ackerman Drive house. Nobody had touched it. Whoever’d been in there either wasn’t in there anymore, or they were laying low.

I poked around the perimeter for about five minutes, but didn’t dare go in. Not tonight. The lights were all out, and the place looked deserted, but I like my skin. If anyone was in there they’d be expecting it, and another call to the cops would be enough to get me a bunk for the night in the land of smelly roommates.

And it was looking like they’d all bugged out. The van was gone, and I couldn’t find any other cars around the place.

I’d be no good to anyone if I went in anyway. It was late. My stomach was busy trying to eat itself—it had been about six hours since that sherbet at Stanford. Low blood sugar means slow reactions—no good for an extralegal B&E.

There was the Porsche’s tag to look up, and I had enough to go on that I could stand a few hours of desk work and a couple hours sleep. After I got some food.

I was gonna have to ditch the Civic for the rest of the job. Gravity made me in it this afternoon, Rawles knew it now after nearly putting his fist through the hood, and if anyone was left in the house, I had to assume they’d look up the license number.

If they were kidnapping and shooting up girls, they might be willing to kill to cover their tracks. Might even have stuck a GPS track on the car. The more difficult it would be for them to spot me, the better.

And I had one other thing to do before I could get back to the office.

Dora.

End of Episode Nine

©2010 J. Daniel Sawyer, All Rights Reserved

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