Authors: Ryne Douglas Pearson
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Police Procedurals, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Murder, #Thrillers, #Suspense & Thrillers
“God, he’s a hoot,” Vicky Allenton said, taking the glass of soda from in front of PJ and sipping quick at it. She smacked her lips sourly and put the glass back. “Yech. Diet?”
“I need to talk to you,” PJ said again.
Vicky Allenton stood, whipped the white apron around her pink uniform, and turned her back to her daughter. “Tie me up, will you honey. I’ve got a five thirty shift tonight.”
PJ did the apron ends into a tight bow. “Mom, when can I get a new jacket?”
“When can I stop working two jobs?” Vicky Allenton replied jokingly.
“I’m serious, mom.”
Vicky Allenton went to the counter, reached into her purse, and found her pack of cigarettes. She lit one on the gas stove and eyed her daughter. “Doesn’t it fit anymore?”
“It doesn’t keep you warm?”
“It’s wearing out, mom.”
Vicky Allenton blew smoke and leaned hipshot against the counter. Above her left breast, sewn in red, it said ‘
. “When I was growing up we used things
they wore out.”
“I know, but...”
“Honey, not right now. Your brother needs the next size up in shoes. I can’t afford both.” Vicky smiled at her daughter. “I’m sorry.”
PJ studied the tabletop and nodded.
Vicky took her purse from the counter, kissing her daughter on top of her head on the way, and headed into the living room. “Heat up those enchiladas for dinner, okay. Be nice to Bobby. My baby, baby, baby. Bye bye.”
Wet smooches drifted in from the living room, TV music, boats cutting wakes in a place PJ could only imagine, and the door shutting as her mother left for
Happy Jacks Grill
PJ looked at the phone on the wall, then unfolded the slip of note paper and stared at Joey’s number. She’d printed the name Paula Jean Travers over and over around it.
Bobby laughed at something in the living room. From the floor above the sound of Mrs. Kirk yelling at her five children pierced the ceiling, just before the unmistakable slap of a palm across a little cheek. A shriek, then a familiar wail. Again Bobby laughed.
PJ’s eyes played over the kitchen, gouged Formica counters, sallow curtains on the window that looked over the rail spur. Dogs fought over scraps down there when the weather was good. When it wasn’t they left town, or died. Somehow, though, the old mutts always found their way back when it got warm.
This is my life
, PJ thought. Maybe not forever, but for now it was. The problem was, now felt like it was never going to end.
She looked once more at Joey’s number, and her silly school girl dream penned neatly around it, then crumpled it into a ball and tossed it into the trash.
* * *
The flatbed tow truck, its ass angled at the ground, dragged Mary Austin’s battered Jeep Cherokee onto its bed as the six o’clock freight blew its horn a half mile away.
Joel Bauer said something to the tow truck driver before joining Dooley at the front of a Bartlett P.D. cruiser. “I wonder what the deductible is for this. Welcome to our friendly town.”
“You need me anymore?” Dooley asked impatiently. He was descending rapidly into a foul mood, and he knew it. His eyes followed the flatbed as it pulled out of the lot.
“Sarge got your statement,” Joel said. “It’s a long drive home. There’s a Motel 6 up on Roman.”
Dooley glanced at the two women comforting Chuck Edmond’s intended victim. “I hate strange beds. So you’re done with me?”
Before Joel’s nod was a second old, Dooley was walking away.
“Excuse me,” Dooley said upon reaching the gathering. He smiled at each of the women, then at Mary, sitting half in, half out of the passenger seat of a Suburban. “I haven’t had a chance to introduce myself.”
“Saving my life erases any breach of etiquette, Detective Ashe,” Mary said.
“So you know.”
Veta Nelson raised her hand. “I filled her in.”
“How are you?” Dooley asked Mary.
She held a hand out flat. A slight tremor moved it. “Not bad. I’ve been better.”
“I think they’re done with you,” Dooley said. “It’s cold out here and you obviously need a ride home...”
Veta Nelson looked to Mary. “I’d be glad to.”
“You’re already half in my car,” Nan Jakowitz pointed out.
Mary considered the offers. “I have the feeling Detective Ashe would prefer I go with him.”
“I have no preference,” Dooley lied. He didn’t want to push the issue, and he certainly could understand her not wanting to get into a question and answer session after what had happened, but he also didn’t want his first day in Bartlett to be a complete waste. If nothing else, simply driving Mary Austin home would serve as a way to break the ice. There’d be much to ask her in the coming days, not all of it pleasant.
Mary doubted his sincerity with a
look. “I live in Holly Village. It’s a good half hour drive.”
“I have a long drive home,” Dooley said. “I wouldn’t mind company for part of it.”
“All right,” Mary said.
Dooley took her bag on his shoulder. Little blocks of glass dripped from it to the pavement. Veta Nelson and Nan Jakowitz walked with Mary to the detective’s car.
Following Mary’s directions, Dooley stayed on Roman Boulevard toward the interstate, passed under the six lanes of humming concrete, and turned onto Crestline Drive. It began to drizzle as the road started climbing toward the clouds.
“You’re from Seattle,” Mary said as the road began to bend around the corners cut into Cougar Mountain.
“Across the sound, actually. Port Townsend.” The Blazer leaned hard through a tight uphill turn.
“It gets icy here quick once the sun goes down.”
Dooley got the message. “Sorry.”
Oncoming lights washed across the windshield as a thousand dazzling sparkles that came and went with each sweep of the wipers.
“This is completely out of your way,” Mary said. “Company or no company.”
“I really don’t mind.”
The whiz of rubber testing wet pavement hummed through the floorboard. “These are all-weather tires?”
“Sorry.” Dooley tapped the brake, slowing more. “Too much excitement for one day?”
Mary looked long at him, at his profile, the plain nose and simple cut of his jaw. Wholly unremarkable. “Your hair was shorter in the pictures in the papers.”
“That was a while ago.”
“Dooley Ashe,” Mary said, sampling the name. “Where do the Dooley Ashe’s of the world hail from?”
“And before that?”
“Ireland,” he answered, feigning his best brogue. “The land of boiled cuisine.”
“Dooley Ashe,” Mary said again, then simplistically, “The expert in kids who kill kids.”
Dooley sniffed a laugh, one not spurred by humor. “So the tabloids said.”
“And apparently so Detective Bauer believes.”
“You don’t like him,” Dooley said, guessing, though he believed rightly.
“He thinks my kids killed their classmate.”
Mary frowned at Dooley’s profile. “Do they make you all from the same stuff? Liquid suspicion? Ask any teacher about their class and they’ll call them ‘my kids’. And, no, I don’t dislike Detective Bauer. I don’t know him. Just like he doesn’t know my kids.”
Tall, straight pines converged on the two lane road, drawing close to its edge, their limbs reaching over the twisting ribbon of asphalt. The drizzle eased and fog trickled up the slope and over the yellow center line as they drove further up the mountain. Soon the road was a creamy flow that peeled away in the Blazer’s wake.
Dooley slowed still more and glanced very briefly at his passenger. “You don’t dislike me either, do you?”
“You know my kids even less than Detective Bauer, and you believe the same as he; that they killed Guy Edmond.”
“I don’t believe that yet.”
“Yet...” Mary shook her head. “You suspect it right now, though, correct?”
“I’m troubled by the evidence. I would think you would be, too.”
Mary looked out the passenger window, at the blur of rough granite. “I know them. They could never do what either of you think, or believe, or suspect. They’re not capable of it.”
“And you know them well enough to say that. Halloween is next week, so they’ve been in school for six, seven weeks now?”
“This year,” Mary said. “Windhaven started something last year, keeping classes together for two grades. Same children, same teacher. I’ve known these kids for more than a year now. Seven hours a day we’re together. Five days a week. Some of them came to summer school with me. So, yes, Detective Ashe, I feel that I know them pretty well.
the expert on
Dooley swallowed. It would have been nice if Joel Bauer had put
little bit of information in the file. “The Edmonds blame you.”
“I’ve been so informed previously. You met the Edmond clan, then?”
“All but Chuck until this afternoon.”
“I’m the devil, according to the gospel of Nate Edmond. The rest of the district administration isn’t held in much higher esteem.” Mary mocked a pleased grin. “I am the worst, still.”
“They say that you—”
“Picked on their little angel,” Mary completed the familiar theme. “Detective Ashe, the closest Guy Edmond ever came to being an angel is now.”
A harsh, telling silence walled Dooley.
“That was an awful thing to say,” Mary admitted. She stared forward and drew her arms across her chest.
“What did he do that was so terrible?” Dooley asked after a moment.
“I don’t want to speak ill of him right now,” Mary said.
Then the basics would have to do, Dooley decided. “How long was he in your class?”
“He started this school year. The six or seven weeks you spoke of.”
Dooley braked steadily and guided the Blazer through a tight hairpin, and almost immediately through another. When they came out of the compressed ‘S’ the trees on either side of the road thinned and revealed a spreading plateau and a white capped peak glowing through splintering clouds. An oval of artificial radiance bulged where the road crested a rise in the distance.
“Guy was thirteen,” Dooley observed. “That’s a little old for sixth grade.”
“He was in sixth grade at another school last year,” Mary explained. “He didn’t pass. His parents threw a fit and had him moved to Windhaven. Before that he failed fourth grade in another state. That’s when his family moved to Bartlett.”
“He was two years older than the other kids in your class?”
“Older and bigger,” Mary said.
The Blazer crested the rise and passed a sign welcoming all to Holly Village. The lights of a cozy, sedate town center dotted the landscape ahead.
Mary nodded. “It is. Although if you want anything more than milk or light bulbs it means a drive down to Bartlett.”
“That seems like a fair trade for tranquility,” Dooley commented.
“Take a right at the stop sign,” Mary directed him. “Then left on the first street.”
Dooley followed her directions and turned on a street called Dunwood, with houses spaced generously on either side. Up on the left a county sheriff’s car was nestled up to the curb.
“Not again,” Mary said, her eyes closing slowly.
She nodded and put a hand over her mouth.
Dooley slowed, easing alongside the sheriff’s car. He and the deputy lowered their windows together.
“You Detective Ashe?” the deputy asked. A paper cup of coffee steamed in his hand.
“Yeah. What’s the story?”
“We got a call from Bartlett P.D. requesting some protection for the evening. A Detective Bauer said you have the lady who lives here?”
Dooley looked to Mary. “It might not be a bad idea.”
After just a few seconds contemplation Mary leaned so she could see past Dooley and said, “Thank you.”
The deputy sipped at his coffee and raised his window. Dooley swung left into the driveway and put the Blazer in park. “What did you mean before? About ‘not again’?”
Mary pointed at the garage door ahead, its bright white paint job scarred by ugly gray streaks that strained to cover much darker marks beneath.
Dooley flicked the brights on, squinted at the sight, decided there were letters beneath the shroud of mismatched paint, and tried to sound the word out. “What is that? Bicth? What’s ‘bicth’?”
“Bicth is me,” Mary said. “I’m the Antichrist and a
. Chuck swings a bat better than he spells.”
“When did that happen?”
“Saturday night sometime.” Mary considered her escort, her inquisitor, with telling eyes. “Detective Ashe, Chuck is the best of the Edmond brood.”
“And the worst?”
Mary stared mute at Dooley. After a few seconds she smiled blandly. “That was me biting my tongue.”
“No speaking ill...”
“I have the feeling you’ll be asking me about it again.”
“Another feeling,” Dooley said. “You’re two for two so far.”
Mary opened the door and stepped from the Blazer. She slung her bag and asked, “When can I expect the third degree?”
“Tomorrow. I’ll be sitting in on your class. Call it the first degree.”
“Observation only,” Dooley explained. “I do have authorization.”
“Of course you do. Well, Detective Ashe, I guess you’ll get a chance to see just how homicidal my kids are.” Mary plastered a fake smile on her face, closed the door, and walked through the high-beams’ harsh light to her front door.
Dooley flicked the brights off and backed out of the driveway, sure that he had just made it quite difficult for Mary Austin not to dislike him.
Tuesday came raw, a frost glistening on the swath of browning grass in front of Windhaven Elementary. Bryce and Joey neared the main gate, chasing their breath with each step. Neither saw Jeff jogging up quick behind.
“Hey. Guys. Did you hear?”
Joey walked and squinted at Jeff, the morning sun intense in the clear distance. “Hear what?”
“After school yesterday, Guy’s older brother, Chuck, tried to kill Miss Austin.” Jeff’s head bobbed in emphasis. “He tried to cut her up with a machete.”