Yes, it’s important to check on the girlfriend. But Maura has been waiting long enough. The lab is on hold, which is doing no good. I send a text to Maura that I’ll be right over and shift into gear.
The winds shake the car as I drive down the gravel road, past the cliffs and the tall cedars standing like staunch soldiers protecting the mansion. With the rain whipping their branches, it’s almost as if they are rushing me away.
There’s something about this case that is beyond me. Maura says she’s stumped. She says she needs me to determine something. Why me? She’s the expert.
I almost miss it, but my headlights reflect on the hubcaps of a car tucked under a bluff on the side of the road. It’s a long car, like a limo, and the quick glimpse I get of a broad-shouldered person in the back tells me it’s the banker, no doubt.
What business does he have hiding?
But it’s no crime to wait, and it’s no crime to wait in the dark, so I leave him to his own suspicious waiting and drive toward the main road. Maura’s cryptic message is more pressing. But now I’m certain I’ll interview him, and I call the station to ask for his home address.
Oh, man! I slam on my brakes. My phone slips out of my hands and onto the passenger side floor.
Someone is standing in the middle of the road, waving their hands. A tall man. I slow down and he comes over to my passenger window. I roll down the window, when next thing I know, the guy has jumped into my front seat… and I’m looking down the five-inch barrel of a .44 Magnum.
“What are you doing, son? Put that away. I’m a police officer.”
He looks out the back window, eyes wide, and rests the gun onto his lap, still pointing at me. “Just drive.”
I advance to the main road and stop. I glance at the gun; its safety’s still on.
“Look, just put the gun in the back seat and I’ll forget this happened. Tell me what you need. But if you keep that on your lap, things will not be pretty.”
“Keep moving, please. I can’t be seen.”
I turn toward the police station, since he doesn’t seem to care which way I’m going.
“I’ll keep you safe. Just put your gun in the back or this is abduction. You can’t slip out of kidnapping a police officer.”
“Please. Drop your gun in the back and we can talk.”
He grits his teeth and tosses it back.
“Fine. Now let’s talk. Who’s after you?”
“Briggston.” The banker. I peek in my rear view mirror. Had he turned around and followed us?
“Why do you think he’s after you?”
“He was hiding there, in the dark, waiting for me.”
“And who are you?”
“I’m Nick Black.”
“Black? William Black is your…”
“He’s my father.”
This man looks almost the same age as Brooke. “Were you at the scene of the crime?”
“Yes. I saw you, but slipped out when the crime scene investigators showed up. They know I know so I hid. But I’ve been waiting for you since then. I need to tell you who killed my brother.”
Someone knows. “Okay. I’ll take a statement. Can you reach my phone? It’s on the floor.”
He reaches down to get my phone and my windshield explodes.
My hands pull left, and through the rain the flash of oncoming headlights zoom toward me with the cacophony of horns. I swerve back to the right, barely avoiding cars on this side.
Thump! Nick’s head smashes against the side window, then drops forward.
Was he shot? I can’t tell, but have to keep my eyes on the road, so can’t determine for sure.
They shot from the front. Are they still there? My wipers scrape against the flecks of glass, blocking me from seeing anything ahead of me.
Nick never got my phone, and it’s still on the floor, somewhere. I have to take the risk.
I pull to the side of the road, put the car into park, then reach for the floor. My seatbelt blocks me. As I unfasten it, I hear a squeal of tires in front of me. I feel around on the floor, finally making purchase on my phone.
I strap my belt again, then pull Nick’s face toward me.
He’s not shot. At least there’s no blood. I feel his pulse and feel something going on in there, so I pull my gearshift back to drive, squinting through the cracked glass web in front of me.
I press quick-dial and as soon as I hear a voice, I yell, “Carmon fifteen, Carmon fifteen, this is Selma Eddie two. Shots fired on the police.” I give my location. Out of my left window I see a car slow down as it passes. Reaching out through the driver’s window is a long barrel rifle. I press on my gas and swerve to wreck their aim. The bullet shatters my back window.
Out of the side mirror I see their lights behind me u-turned. They’re coming.
I glance at Nick. He wasn’t kidding. Someone’s after him. I punch it through a red light, barely avoiding a semi in cross traffic. But while the semi blocks me, I swerve right, down an alleyway.
Zooming two blocks, I pull left down yet another road and shoot into a parking garage. I tear up the spiral ramp and park as soon as I can.
Nick slumps forward when I stop.
I call the station again, giving details and my location, asking for an ambulance.
Holy mackerel. What was that?
“Nick?” I shake his shoulder, but he still doesn’t awaken.
My heart is racing and I can hardly think straight. Who would have shot at the police? Who would have shot at Nick? Someone who knows what Nick knows. Which means the murderer knows Nick is talking to me. And something else.
I strain my brain, trying to remember.
Right. Mr. Briggston.
The car that shot at me wasn’t a limo. But it knew to shoot at me.
A squad car pulls up behind me with a beep of its siren, and paramedics jump out of the back. The ambulance can’t make it into the garage, so they check on Nick then carry him in a stretcher down the ramp.
I refuse to leave his side. Nick Black is the only real clue I have in this case, and people want him dead.
I ride in the ambulance to Center City Hospital. As we drive up, my eyes caress the window where my Sophie is. I can’t see it from this side, but another window holds my other love.
I shake away the thought.
The paramedics pull him out and I call in for a security detail. When they arrive, I ensure they know the importance of this witness and I hasten down to the morgue.
“Finally!” Maura hugs me, and I almost lose it from the tension and the worry.
“What’s wrong, Tim?”
Maura has known me my entire life. When I was born, she was the first to hold me, even before my mother. My mother was like that, and Maura was the kind of big sister who mothered me my whole life. And today, Maura is the only one I can depend on. For everything.
“I found a witness, and we got shot off the road. I lost my windshield and back window, and the witness is unconscious now. Anyhow, what’s up with Noah’s case?”
She pats my face. Her wink tells me she knows I’m done talking about the shooting and is glad I’m okay.
Maura grabs hold of the handle of one of the freezer racks and pulls it open, then pulls back a covering, exposing Noah’s face.
His eyes are shut, and he lies stiff and cold and alone.
“He’s on ice already?”
“You have no idea, Tim.”
A sheet covers where she has opened his chest and she pulls his arm out from under it.
“You remember the burn you noted on his arm?”
“It goes from his upper arm to his wrist, like a burning fire rolled down his arm. Evenly, equally, same temperature, same frequency, everything.”
“I did smell sulphur when I came in the house.”
She laughs. “If only it were that easy, little brother. Look in here.” Maura prods open the vertical opening on the inside of his arm and my jaw opens involuntarily.
I lean closer. “What are all those white bits in there? Is it some sort of parasite? Worms? No. What are they?”
She sighs and closes him up, pushing the drawer in.
“Those little bits, Tim, are his ulna, radius, and humerus, shattered to pieces.” She sticks an xray onto the light board, which confirms it. “I cannot fathom what would cause this.”
“Did it kill him?”
“Yes. And no. He died of a simultaneous heart attack and stroke, most likely from the pain… or… from some other side-effect of the thing that did this to his arm. Whatever did it blew out his pupils. I have him on ice because the effect has not stopped. It is still moving in him. An MRI of his brain stimulated that thing, shattering his skull bones in a similar pattern.”
I recall that. “Poor kid.” The words are followed by the realization that his parents will soon hear about that excruciating death.
“But what caused it?”
“I have never seen such a thing before. I don’t know what to say. A toxicology report shows nothing biological, least not that we know of.”
“So what are you going to write for cause of death?”
“Primary is heart attack and stroke, secondary is the burn.”
“Why is the lab held up?”
“Right. You need to talk with Stacy about details. But we can’t confirm this is either murder or suicide. Until we figure this out, it remains suspicious circumstances.”
“Nothing I’ve found can explain this, either, if that’s what you’re asking.” I think of the disappearing bathrobe tie and shake my head. What kind of case do we have?
“God willing we figure it out. Thanks, sis.” I draw in a deep breath—and then immediately regret it, since I forgot about the odor of the morgue.
“You going to see Sophie, as long as you’re here?” she asks at the door.
“I want to. But it’s almost impossible to leave her. And I need to finish up on this case. There’s too much we don’t understand.”
“Did you tell her about Mercy yet?”
I shake my head.
“She can take it. It’s more comforting than her thinking her mother doesn’t care.”
“I’m not sure. It might scare her too much. I don’t want her thinking about death and dying.”
“You don’t think she’s thinking about it already? She’s in the cancer wing, for goodness’ sake.”
“I know. It just doesn’t seem fair for a six-year-old.”
“You know, nothing’s fair. But the only fair thing about life is that unfairness hits us all equally.”
“And this world is not our home, Tim. Facing death helps you remember your priorities.”
I agree with her, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
My phone beeps again. Five messages from Jamie Lewis’s murder scene.
“I gotta go,” I hug her goodbye and walk to the elevator.
I’m in the basement.
I can go to ground level, Floor 1, and get on with my investigation: check in on Nick Black in ER, investigate Jamie Lewis’s crime scene, then have a much-needed tete a tete with Mr. Briggston.
My finger hovers over floor 5: or I can swing by to see Sophie.
Which button should I push?
Copyright 2021, Darlene N. Böcek