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Authors: Simone St. James

Murder Road (3 page)

BOOK: Murder Road
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My name,” the man in the warm-up suit said as he sat in Officer Syed’s vacated chair, “is Detective Quentin. This is Detective Beam.”

I was making quick calculations. Two detectives had appeared in the backwoods of Michigan at three o’clock in the morning. And fast, too. Rhonda Jean must have died only minutes ago.

“I didn’t see your badge, sir,” I said to Quentin, my tone polite.

“True, you didn’t,” Quentin said as Beam, chairless, faded into the background and leaned against the wall. Beam, at least, looked like a man who had been roused from bed in the middle of the night and had put on whatever had been folded over the back of the nearest chair in the dark. Quentin didn’t even look tired.

“Do state police have detectives?” I asked, polite again.

Quentin didn’t blink. “What would you know, young woman, about the structural and hierarchical nature of the state police?”

I narrowed my eyes, squinting at him. “Nothing, I guess.”

“I see. And if I ran your name in my files, miss, what might I find?”

“Stop interrogating my wife,” Eddie broke in.

“Nothing,” I said, replying to Detective Quentin. It was true—he’d find nothing. My mother had made sure of it, and so had I.

“Hey,” Eddie said, leaning forward. He was getting angry. He angled himself so his army bulk was perfectly clear. “If you have a question, Detective, just ask it.”

Quentin turned his dark blue eyes to my husband, as if noticing him for the first time. He took in every detail about Eddie in silence, and then he said, “You’re obviously military. Which branch?”

“Army,” Eddie said.

“You served in Iraq?”

“Yes. Is that your question?”

“No, it is not. There is no knife in your car. Where is it? Did you throw it out the window?”

I could hear my mother’s advice in my head.
Don’t talk. Get a lawyer.
It didn’t matter that we were innocent—in fact, that made it even more important.

But Eddie and I couldn’t afford a lawyer, even if we knew one in this town. There was no chance we could get high-quality legal representation at three o’clock in the morning with no money to pay the bill.

“I don’t know where the knife is, because my wife and I didn’t murder that girl,” Eddie said, unfazed by Quentin’s question. “We found her at the side of the road and brought her to the hospital. Can we go now?”

Detective Quentin just stared at him with those uncanny eyes.
Behind him, Detective Beam was motionless, watching and listening. He only glanced briefly at Eddie and me. Then his gaze went back to Quentin and stayed there, fixed and blank.

“You cannot leave town,” Quentin said slowly, as if he was just now making a decision. “Not yet. We have some things to sort out here. We want to question you in daylight and have you show us where you picked this young girl up. Was it on Atticus Line that you found her?”

“What?” Eddie said.

“Atticus Line. The road.”

“I have no idea what road it was. We were lost.”

“I see,” Quentin said calmly. “These are the things we’re going to get to the bottom of, Mr. Carter. I’m going to have officers drive you to a place nearby where you can get a few hours’ rest. I’m afraid we’re obliged to keep your car for now.”

He was polite now, because he wanted us to do something. He wanted minimal argument.

We had no choice. I could see it, and so could Eddie.

“Fine, then,” Eddie said, speaking for both of us. “We’ll go.”

We were driven in a squad car to a neighborhood in the dark center of town. We were told that the house we pulled up to was a local bed-and-breakfast, and that we could have a room. We were given our suitcases from Eddie’s car. By then I was too exhausted to ask many questions.

The woman who came to the door was somewhere in her forties, with brownish-blond hair in a short haircut and glasses that took up most of her face.

“This is stupid,” she said without preamble to the officers who dropped us off. “You all can’t keep them yourself? They could be murderers.”

“Detective Quentin’s orders, Rose. Right now they’re just witnesses,” one of the cops replied, as if Eddie and I weren’t standing there.

Rose looked at our bloody clothes. “Sure. Witnesses. I get a call from Detective Quentin at three in the morning about witnesses.” She pointed behind her to a doorway off her dark, overdecorated living room. “Your bedroom’s in there. Bathroom is down the hall. Don’t get blood on my linens or I’ll bill you for it.”

“They’ll get picked up at seven,” one of the cops said. “In the meantime, there’ll be a squad car keeping watch outside.” He was saying this for our information as much as for hers. The message: Don’t run.

“A squad car with one of you sleeping in it, more like,” Rose said dismissively. “Like I wasn’t married to a policeman for ten years.”

Their bickering was giving me a headache. I picked up my suitcase and walked to the bedroom Rose had directed us to, Eddie following.

The bedroom was lined with shelves filled with decorations: figurines, dolls, pots of fabric flowers, doilies, china rabbits and cats. The curtains on the single window were sky blue and puffy, the bedding sky blue to match. The comforter was quilted with a fringe like the hem of a prom dress, and the throw pillows were covered in white lace. Above the headboard hung a gilt-framed photo of Princess Diana wearing a formal white dress, a crown placed in her hair.

Normally, Eddie and I would make jokes about a room like this, but not tonight. Within ten silent minutes we were changed, our bloody clothes dropped into a heap in the corner of the room. I got into the ridiculous bed and Eddie got in behind me, his chest against my back and his knees drawn up against the backs of mine. I remembered that we fit like this, that he was becoming achingly familiar to me.

“April,” he said softly against the back of my neck when we were settled. “We need to talk.”

If we hadn’t picked up Rhonda Jean, if we’d continued on, we’d be at the Five Pines right now, drifting off after our first round of official honeymoon sex.

But if we hadn’t picked up Rhonda Jean, she would have died by the side of the road. She wouldn’t have had anyone to hold her hand, even briefly. She’d be lying abandoned and unknown in the dark, alone. Going cold.

“I suppose we do,” I said to Eddie.

I wondered what he would bring up first. The fact that we were in trouble, maybe. The fact that a girl we didn’t know was dead. The fact that we hadn’t told anyone about the truck that followed us down Atticus Line. The fact that the police had said they were coming to pick us up again at seven o’clock, only a few hours away.

“Thank you for not telling them about the truck,” Eddie said.

“Okay. But I don’t know why.”

He was quiet for a long minute, breathing against my skin. “When we made the turnoff and it came up behind us—when it passed us—I saw something.”

His muscles were tense against me, hard as granite. He was holding his body perfectly still.

I remembered that he’d looked back as the truck passed, and when he’d turned back to the road he’d appeared shocked. “Did you see the driver?”

He lay tense and silent for another long beat, and then he let out a breath. “No. I don’t really know what I saw. Maybe nothing. You know that I see things sometimes.”

I put my hand over his on my waist, stroked the backs of his hard knuckles. “You used to. The doctors say that should go away with time.”

“Yeah, they said that. And it hasn’t happened in a while.”

He didn’t seem like he was going to continue, so I repeated, “Eddie. What did you see?”

“A girl.” His voice was so quiet that if he wasn’t right next to me, his breath against my ear, I wouldn’t have heard. “A girl with long hair, in the bed of the truck as it drove away.”

“In the truck bed?” I blinked in the darkness. “Was she lying down?”

“She was sitting up. Her hands gripping the side. She was a teenager, maybe. It was hard to tell because she was unclear, fading in and out. It’s hard to explain. She was . . .” He cleared his throat. “She was staring at us.”

Damn it. My mind raced. They’d prescribed medication for Eddie after his discharge, but he’d run out a long time ago. We’d hoped his problems were over. But a girl sitting in that speeding truck bed—was it possible? If she was real, why did Eddie think she was fading in and out?

“You think you really saw her?” I asked him.

“I don’t know.”

“Okay.” I kept my voice calm. I ran my fingers over his knuckles again. “It was just a shadow. There was no need to tell the police about that. But the truck—”

“I don’t want to tell them about the truck.”

“The truck was real, Eddie. I saw it.”

“So what?” His voice was rough. “We didn’t see who was driving. We didn’t see a make and model. We didn’t see a license plate. There’s nothing to tell.”

“It was chasing us.”

“Was it?”

I was quiet. The truck behind us had sped up—I had seen the lights get bigger. Hadn’t I? Rhonda Jean had said,
He’s coming.

But I hadn’t seen a girl in the truck bed, fading in and out and staring at us.

“Eddie,” I said, “they think we did it. If we saw someone else, someone who might have seen something or done something, we have to tell them. They think we’re murderers.”

He was still tense behind me. “That detective, Quentin. He’s going to ask questions if we tell him. He’s going to think I’m crazy. Then he’s going to dig into my records. And he’s going to dig into you, too.”

“He won’t find anything,” I said, though my heart was pounding a hard beat in my temples.

“Are you sure about that? Are you willing to bet everything on it?” When I didn’t answer, he continued, “He isn’t stupid, and he’s some kind of higher-up. I know a commanding officer when I see one. Quentin is a bigwig who comes to a hospital in the middle of nowhere at a moment’s notice at three o’clock in the morning. He
kicked out the local guy and took over within minutes.
What do you think that means?”

I pressed my fingers into my tired eye sockets. I didn’t want to contemplate it, but Eddie was right—I had to. “It means this isn’t the first time this has happened.”

“That officer, Syed, asked us if we picked up hitchhikers. It was his first question. He asked us about that road. And he wasn’t the one who called Quentin and his partner in—he was surprised when they showed up. April, we’ve walked into a situation here.”

I rubbed my eyes, thinking about other dead girls like Rhonda Jean. How many were there? What had happened to them? Eddie was right. When you looked at his past, when you looked at my past—if you looked closely—we weren’t as innocent as we seemed. If Detective Quentin was under pressure to find a murderer, he could make a case for pinning it on us if he wanted to. It depended on how determined he was.

“Do you have anything you want to tell me?” I asked Eddie.

“You mean, do I drive several hours out of Ann Arbor and kill hitchhikers in my spare time?”


“No, I don’t. Do you?”


“Okay, we’ve got that clear. But I keep thinking back. When we picked her up. When you saw she was bleeding.”

He paused so long, I had to prompt him. “What?”

“You weren’t scared,” he said. “You weren’t even shocked. You knew exactly what to do.”

I’d been horrified when I’d seen the blood on Rhonda Jean. I’d
felt grief and dread. And I
felt fear. But I’d also felt calm. Prepared, even.

“You weren’t scared, either,” I whispered.

“I’ve been in the army. I fought overseas. We got training—months of it. When you said Rhonda Jean was bleeding, my training and my experience kicked in. It was like I was back there.” He paused. “April, you work in a bowling alley. You don’t get training for that.”

His words were laid out the way you lay out plates when you’re setting the table. One after the other. Eddie noticed everything when it came to me.

I should have panicked at the time. A normal woman would have, I guessed. I should have screamed. Had I screamed? No, I didn’t think so. I hadn’t cried, either. Would a normal woman have cried? A woman who hadn’t lived through what I had?

Eddie was right. As far as Detective Quentin was concerned, I was April Delray, who would be April Carter as soon as she got the paperwork done when her honeymoon was over. I worked in a bowling alley and lived a quiet life. If there was one thing my mother had taught me, one hard lesson that had stood out among all of the others, it was that the police were never to be trusted—with anything.

I only planned to marry one man in my entire life if possible, and this man was the one. The man whose knees were crooked behind mine right this minute. I wasn’t going to let anything threaten that, and neither, I thought, was Eddie.

“Not every war is fought in Iraq,” I told him.

I heard the soft hush of his breath. “I know.”

Eddie knew me. He knew more of me than anyone else in the world ever had. But even Eddie didn’t know everything.

“We’ll come up with a plan tomorrow,” I said.

Eddie’s hand touched my hair, his big fingers letting the wisps of blond slide over them.

BOOK: Murder Road
12.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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