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Authors: Curt Autry

Tags: #FICTION / Mystery & Detective / General

The Reunion (10 page)

BOOK: The Reunion
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17

The stares had become unnerving. At the student union, in the library, even at the gym, people would make eye contact then quickly turn away. At first Hudson would return their gaze and then check to see if his fly was open or shoe untied, but he knew why they stared. Hudson had gone from ordinary professor, to campus celebrity, to someone people whispered about. After a week, the isolation grew into despair.

There was no way in hell that he could have been the target. If he was, they certainly wouldn't have gone to such elaborate means.
I'm easy to find and keep regular office hours,
he reasoned. If somebody wanted him, bombs wouldn't have been necessary. That mind-set convinced Hudson to nix the offer of twenty-four-hour protection. Still, the campus rent-a-cops seemed to follow him around campus, driving the professor to the quiet confines of his beach house.

And while faculty and students seemed to be avoiding him, the tabloid press never let up. Reporters pestered him at all hours of the day and night. A psychic in Chicago called to say the murders were linked to billions in hidden Nazi gold. An elderly man in Louisiana believed the survivors were war criminals and deserved what they got. But the call that morning from Carolyn caught his attention. He hit the replay button on his machine to hear her strong, confident voice one more time. He reluctantly told the FBI agent he would give her an hour, but now his curiosity had been piqued. He started dialing.

“Hello?” said the female voice.

“Is this Ms. Baker?”

“Yes it is.”

“This is Derek Hudson returning your call.”

“Yes, thank you. Agent Dunlevy gave me your name and number and suggested I call before our appointment this afternoon.”

“Actually, I've been expecting you. In fact, I ran back to campus and loaded up my trunk with notes from my conversations with your father. I was surprised I had so much; I stuffed my gym bag full. I thought you'd probably like to see them.”

“I would,” she replied excitedly. “I'm trying to find out as much as I can.”

Hudson paused. “I must tell you, it came as a very big surprise when Agent Dunlevy brought up your name. Dr. Baerwaldt never mentioned anything about a family.”

Carolyn's grip on the phone tightened. “Quite frankly, I didn't know he was my father until about three weeks ago. It's a long story, Dr. Hudson. I'd appreciate your indulgence. I promise to explain when we meet.”

“I look forward to it, Ms. Baker. I'll see you in about two hours, okay?”

***

As usual, the soft but steady hum of the car had lulled Kenny into a deep sleep five minutes into the trip. Carolyn was thankful for the quiet; the roads in and around Wrightsville Beach were very confusing. High season was still a few weeks away, yet the tourists were starting to fill the restaurants and shops. Traffic was brisk.

Shell Island Village didn't seem like a planned unit development someone on an educator's salary could afford. Scotch Bonnet Court was the last street in the neighborhood. All of the homes with the prestigious address bordered on opulent and had breathtaking ocean views.

There were no numbers on the mailboxes, but the Key West-style beach house was just as he'd described. It was tall and narrow, with a green metal roof and a rough cedar exterior painted a light gray. It stood high off the ground on thick wooden pilings. A two-car garage had been constructed underneath. A black Saab convertible with the top down was parked inside.

Carolyn climbed out of the Explorer, leaving Kenny buckled in his car seat and the engine still running. She wanted to confirm she was at the right house before lugging in a sleeping child and all the required paraphernalia.

As she moved toward the front door something underneath the house caught her eye. It was dusk and the garage was blanketed in the shadows. Still, it appeared someone was sitting at the wheel of the car.
That's not right. Nobody sits alone in the dark,
she told herself.

She stopped and faintly called out, “Hello? Anybody there?”

No answer. She approached the car, her chest tightening with each step. She sucked in a deep breath and held it for a moment. She immediately recognized him from television. Dr. Hudson leaned face forward, his brow pushed against the steering column. Blood dripped from a six-inch gash in his throat.

Carolyn suppressed the urge to scream, but there was no way to stop the churning wave of nausea from taking hold. For a moment, she stared at the waxy figure, unable to breathe. She backed away from the car and retched, spilling the contents of her stomach onto the concrete floor. Oddly, something Hudson had said on the phone was playing back loudly in her head: “Loaded up the trunk…stuffed my gym bag full.”

Carolyn moved around to the passenger side of the vehicle and opened the door, frantically scanning the dash and floorboard for a trunk release. Her heart was pumping so furiously that it was difficult for her mind to focus. There were two latches: a gas cap release and a trunk latch. She popped the lever and scurried to the back of the car. Sweat socks and a few rumpled tee shirts were balled up in a dirty laundry pile. But there it was, on the spare tire, a navy-blue gym bag. She snatched it, leaving the trunk open as she took off toward the rental car in a full sprint.

She was confused, and shaking so hard it took a full minute to find the automatic door lock. Her eyes instinctively darted to the back seat where Kenny was still curled up with his stuffed Barney.

Just as she tried to coax the gearshift into reverse, a diminutive man with dark wavy hair appeared on the front porch. There was determination on his face as he darted toward her down the tall wooden steps of the beach house.

“Come on! Come on!” she screamed at the Explorer, grinding the transmission into gear. Just then, the Explorer's oversized wheels dug into the gravel driveway and started to spin. “Go, damn it!” she shrieked.

The man stopped at the base of the stairs and flashed her a menacing grin, apparently resigned to the fact he couldn't catch the vehicle in time.

The noise startled Kenny. The baby sensed his mother's fear and began to howl.

18

Joey closed his eyes for a second. His breath was coming in a quick succession of gasps, as if he had been running. “Shit, shit, shit,” he repeated as he stretched the seatbelt across his chest and locked it in place. There was no mistaking it, eye contact had been made. He had few options now. Whoever she was, she had to die.

He eased the stolen Oldsmobile onto the main road, both fists tightly clenching the wheel. His hands sweated inside the latex surgical gloves he wore during the murder. Which way? How would he ever find her? She had at least a good five-minute head start. Then it clicked—the police might be able to help.

Joey fished through the glove box for the tiny Nokia cell phone he had lifted from the professor's desk. He punched in the three digits and took a deep breath as it started to ring.

“911.”

“You've got to get somebody out here right away!” he screamed in a manic burst of intensity. “My friend's been murdered!”

“Who's been murdered, sir?” the dispatcher asked calmly.

“Derek, Derek Hudson. Christ, I can't believe someone would do this.”

“Where are you, sir?”

“Um, I don't know.”

The dispassionate voice grew more alarmed. “I need you to calm down and give me an address.”

“Shell Island Village. I think it's Scotch Bonnet Court. I don't know the number.”

“Are you there at the scene?”

“No, I'm driving after her! I'm on my mobile phone.”

“Driving after who?”

“The bitch who killed him! Haven't you been listening? I saw a woman driving away real fast as I pulled up. God! I think she had a kid in the back seat! It's a sport utility, a red Ford Explorer—no, burgundy maybe,” he said, trying to sound disoriented. “She cut his throat! Oh shit, I can't believe it!”

“Sir, I need your name and exact loca…”

Joey smiled as he punched the end button. He rolled down the window and tossed the phone into a clump of tall beach grass.

***

Carolyn's eyes were wet and swollen, blurring her vision. She had to wipe them just to make out the road. She was driving, but didn't know where. Somehow she had made it back to I-40. Tears dripped from her chin as she reached one hand back to gently pat the child's leg. “It's okay, baby,” she said in the calmest voice she could muster.

The cooing didn't quiet Kenny, but she knew a taste of juice would. She blindly groped the back seat floorboard for Kenny's bottle while trying to keep an eye on the road. Just out of reach, she could feel the tip of the rubber nipple wedged under the seat. The Ford momentarily swerved as she extended to grab it. The brief but jarring motion startled the baby into short-lived silence. A few seconds later, he was happily sucking on his bottle.

***

It was that sudden veer across the center line that caught the state trooper's eye. The patrolman never did pay much attention to the incessant squawking on the City of Wilmington frequency. Still, he vaguely remembered something about a Ford Explorer. Had the dispatcher said red?

“Unit one-bravo-six to Wilmington dispatch.”

“Go ahead, six.”

“In pursuit of a late-model Ford Explorer, North Carolina tag KVS-5968, that's KVS-5968.”

Before dispatch could respond, another unit in the field broke in. “Henry, is there a woman at the wheel, possibly a kid in the back?”

The trooper immediately recognized the voice as Chief Frank Tobin. Every time business took him to the Wilmington cop-shop the chief made it a point to come over and shoot the breeze. He was one of the good guys.

“I'm pretty far back in traffic, Frank, but I can pull up closer. Stand by.”

“Don't let on that you're there just yet.”

“Ten-four.”

The trooper stayed in the left lane, slowly easing through traffic, but not at a speed that would attract attention. When he was about four car lengths away, he slipped in behind a white Chevy Suburban.

“One-bravo-six to Frank.”

“Go ahead.”

“There's a blonde at the wheel and definitely a child safety seat behind the driver. I can't tell if there's a baby in it though.”

“Where are you?”

“I'm on I-40, mile marker twelve.”

Soon the radio was buzzing. Chief Tobin moved his resources like pieces across a chessboard, all from his unmarked Chrysler. He directed two city units to race up an access road that paralleled the highway. At his command, they would move onto the interstate. His goal was to position the highway patrolman behind the suspect vehicle and his two city units ahead of her.

“Units nine and fourteen, what's your twenty?”

“This is unit nine, chief. Fourteen's right behind me. We're at about mile marker nineteen.”

“Are you ahead of her yet?”

“Yes sir, by about two miles.”

“How far until the next on ramp?”

“About another mile.”

“Okay, haul your tails onto I-40,” the chief ordered. All police radio protocol had now been dropped. “Henry, you still with me?”

“Go ahead, Frank.”

“I'm gonna need you to be my lead man on this one. I've got a dead man that's had his throat cut from ear to ear, and a witness thinks he saw this little gal fleeing the scene.”

“Gotcha.”

“Now here's what we're gonna do,” the chief coolly stated. “Nine, fourteen, you boys on the highway yet?”

“Yes sir,” replied the officer.

“Alright. Slow it down. Nine, I want you to eventually be alongside her. Fourteen will stay at least a quarter mile ahead in case she's dumb enough to run. Henry, you're gonna pull her.”

“Can do,” he said on the radio.

“Priority one is to get that baby out of the car. I've already sent Social Services that way. I don't know if the kid is a hostage. Now, you boys go easy, ya hear!” he ordered, almost shouting. “I need everyone in one piece. The victim was apparently workin' with the feds, so if we fuck up the FBI is gonna be crawlin' up my ass.”

Chief Tobin heard two squelch clicks. It was Henry's way of acknowledging the message, but also an unspoken cue to shut up. He threw the mike down on the seat next to him and gunned his squad car in their general direction. Either way, the situation was now out of his hands.

Carolyn didn't even notice the police cruiser in her rear view mirror until the blue lights started to flash. Her eyes instinctively darted to the speedometer, but she knew that wasn't the reason she was being pulled over. She eased onto the shoulder, but instead of feeling anxious the blue light that washed over her from the squad car had a calming effect. Carolyn could feel her pulse rate slow. She was safe now.

“Step out of the vehicle,” said the jarring voice on the bullhorn.

The menacing tone puzzled her, but she wasn't about to refuse. She looked back at Kenny, again asleep, his little head slumped against the side of the padded infant carrier, the bottle now in his lap. She had one foot on the pavement when she noticed the approaching officer with his pistol drawn.

Carolyn's heart was pounding now. “What is this?”

“Miss, turn and face the car please,” the officer demanded. His gun remained raised in her direction.

“Why? What are you doing?” she pleaded.

When Carolyn ignored his request, the policeman holstered his weapon and, in one quick motion, was upon her. He firmly gripped her arm and flipped her around, pulling her wrists together behind her back. He then roughly slapped on the cuffs.

She didn't see the second policeman sneaking around the back of the car until he was right beside her, at the driver's side passenger door. He opened it and started unbuckling Kenny from the car seat.

“Leave him alone!” she yelled. “It's okay, Kenny. Mommy's right here,” she said reassuringly. “What the hell is wrong with you people? Take me out of these cuffs right now and let me hold my baby!”

“You need to calm down, lady!” The officer firmly grabbed her by one arm and led her toward the police cruiser. “The baby will be fine. They'll look after him. I've got to read you your rights. You're under arrest.”

Twenty minutes later, the police cruiser pulled up to the loading dock behind the Wilmington police station. An army of both television and newspaper photographers were huddled by the steel door. The local stations had been listening to the scanner traffic during the car chase. Within minutes of Carolyn's arrest, the media had all the doors at the lock-up well covered. A single uniformed officer stood in front of them. His job was crowd control—to keep a path clear from the car to the door.

It was now obvious to Carolyn that these assholes intended to parade her past the horde of news vultures like some prized catch. Still shackled, her mind went blank for a moment. Concerns about the baby, herself, and the violence she had witnessed earlier in the day were replaced by seething anger.

The rear door opened. “Come on, let's go,” the arresting officer ordered.

“Not until you make those cameras go away. This is a big mistake. I don't want my picture taken.”

The officer smiled. “Freedom of the press, lady.”

She returned his snide little grin. “Okay, you can walk me past them if you want to. But I promise you'll regret it.”

The officer chuckled. “I'll take my chances,” he replied.

He took her arm again. This time Carolyn offered no resistance as he led her out of the car. She fought the urge to cover her face; instead, she held her head high and defiantly stared directly at the cameras.

The reporters started shouting questions the minute her foot touched the pavement. “Did you kill Professor Hudson?”

“I didn't kill anybody, but I saw who did!” she yelled back. “These idiots won't listen. I'm sure by now they've let him get away!”

The patrolman shot her a wounded look as he brusquely pulled at her arm. He was now dragging her faster toward the door. “Everybody back up! Come on, guys, give us some room,” he hollered at the press.

As the heavy jail door slammed behind them Carolyn turned and smirked at the officer. “I always keep my promise.”

BOOK: The Reunion
8.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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