Read The Stranger Beside You Online

Authors: William Casey Moreton

Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Thriller

The Stranger Beside You (20 page)

BOOK: The Stranger Beside You
11.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“I’m not sure I like your tone, pal.”

“Don’t take it personal.  It’s just that I find the whole scenario rather interesting.”

“Yeah, well, move on.  The guy is dead.  I filed my report.  It’s all there in black and white.  End of story.”

“You have a partner?”

“Of course.”

“What’s his name?”

“Oglesby.”

“Where was Oglesby when this was going down?”

Karpowicz leaned back in his chair.  “How the hell should I know?”

“He wasn’t with you?  You were there on your own?”

Karpowicz stared across the table at him long and hard. 

“Where exactly are you going with this, pal?”

“Where was your partner?”

No response.

“I think you ditched him for an hour or two so he wouldn’t be around for what you knew was about to happen.”

The color was slowly draining from the cop’s face.

“How much did they pay you?  A thousand bucks?  Two thousand?”

“Who do you think you’re talking to?”

“They paid you to make it look real, to let Nelson throw you around a little, didn’t they?”

Karpowicz stood.  “I’m out of here!”

“You and Welsh had it choreographed.”

“Get lost, pal!”  Karpowicz stormed away from the table and shoved open the door.

Price rose from his chair and left a five-dollar tip on the table.  He was in no great hurry.  He didn’t need to be.  He stepped outside and turned into an alley that ran behind the diner.  Finch and Woz were there.  Finch had Karpowicz by the throat.  The cop couldn’t breath.  Price approached casually.  He walked right up until he was nose to nose with the cop.

“Who called you?  Was it Welsh?  Did he set the whole thing up?  Was he the one who paid you?”

Karpowicz flailed, but the struggle was brief.  His eyes were wide, shining white in the shadows of the alley.  Finally, he shook his head.

“It wasn’t Welsh?” Price said.  “Then who was it?  Who arranged for you to be the one to pick up Nelson in the cruiser at Federal Plaza?”

When Karpowicz spoke, it came out as a squeak. 

“It was Armstrong, the redhead.  She’s the one who paid me.”

Price processed the information, then turned away.  “Kill him,” he said.

•  •  •

The last twenty miles of the trip took them through dense, dark forested land.  The road was a narrow two-lane that wound through thousands of acres of pristine, unmolested national forest.  The Ford minivan slowed at the top of a rise and turned onto a gravel lane.  A half-mile later the gravel ended at a cul-de-sac and Marcus killed the lights and turned off the engine. 

Marcus pushed open his door and climbed out.  Birds of the night called to one another from treetops.  A subtle breeze moved among the branches.  The cabin sat in total darkness.

Three of the five children were asleep.  Marcus Jr. and Josh had occupied themselves with an iPad for much of the drive into the wilderness.  Josh yawned as he unbuckled his seatbelt and dropped to the crushed gravel of the cul-de-sac.  He cocked his head and looked around, unimpressed by the serenity of Mother Nature. 

“This place gives me the creeps,” Marcus Jr. said.

Sadie unlatched Little Dante from his car seat and cradled him in her arms.  He nuzzled his face against her neck.  She went up the steps to the porch.  It was dark inside.  The owner had passed along instructions on how to find the key.  Marcus unlocked the front door and made a quick pass through the cabin, flipping on lights as he surveyed the rooms.  The floor was wall-to-wall hardwood, covered here and there by area rugs.  The boards creaked underfoot.  It was balmy inside.  The air conditioner was a window unit that sputtered and groaned when he twisted the dial to turn it on.  The filter smelled like moss.

Marcus made several trips to the car, ferrying in luggage and supplies.  Then he locked down the minivan for the night and stepped into the edge of the woods and shined a flashlight into the surrounding vegetation.  There was not a neighbor within view.  The cabin was as isolated as he could hope for.  The flashlight was in one hand, his gun in the other. 

He stood on the porch for several minutes.  No one knew where to look for them.  Marcus had paid cash for two weeks and had made the reservation under an alias.  There was no way of knowing if they’d need the entire two weeks.  He was taking this one step at a time.  He had never dreamed this would really happen, that it would come to this, that they would be forced to flee their home and run for their lives.  They had made it out alive, but this was where his careful planning ended.  He had relied on Tom to think of a way out of this mess, but now he was on his own.  He hoped Brynn was okay, but his own wife and the kids were his top priority.  He couldn’t risk contacting her right now.  They would lay low and wait.  In a few days maybe they would cross the border into Canada and keep heading north.  He leaned against a tree and vomited on the ground, then wiped his mouth with his sleeve. 

Marcus looked in through the front window of the cabin.  He moved his head to the left and shielded his eyes from the glare of the porch light.  His wife was seated at the kitchen table with her head bowed, her face in her hands, and he could tell she was crying.

He tucked the gun into his pants and went inside and locked the door.  He sat beside his wife at the table and touched her arm.  She put her head on his shoulder and they spoke in hushed tones and listened to the pleasant sounds of the boys giggling in the next room.

“I want our life back,” she whispered, streaks of mascara on her cheeks.  “I don’t want to die.”

“It won’t come to that,” he promised.  “I won’t let it.” 

But she wasn’t sure she believed him anymore.

 

 

 

35

 

I awoke and staggered to the door and turned on a light.  Todd and Ramón were asleep on the floor, spooning beneath a thin blanket.  I checked my watch.  It was nearly 6:30 a.m.

“Rise and shine, ladies.”

Neither one of them opened their eyes.  Todd hitched an arm up and pulled the blanket over their heads.

“Nope, sorry,” I said.  “Everybody out of the sack.”

“Light hurts my eyes,” Todd groaned.

“You’re a queer, not a vampire.”

“I don’t like you anymore.”

“You are breaking my heart into a million pieces, but I’ll survive.  Now, get up before I have to get the hose.”

Ramón sat up with his legs crossed.  “I don’t do mornings,” he grumbled.

“Just think of this as a very late night.”

“I’m not laughing,” Todd said from under the blanket.

“I need to be at JFK an hour ago,” I told them.

 Todd pulled the blanket down and glared at me, his hair resembling a car wreck with many victims.  “You’re a witch, aren’t you?  So just wiggle your nose and you’ll be magically transported.” 

I called the house again.  No new messages.  Then I dialed Marcus and Sadie at home.  There was no answer so I tried their cells and it went straight to voice mail.  I didn’t know what to say so I didn’t leave a message.

I rode in the back of the van again as milky morning light slanted in through the unwashed windows.  I tugged at the hood of my sweatshirt, using it as a visor against the retina-searing glare. 

“I need meds,” Todd moaned from the front seat.  “Lots of little blue pills, and some pink ones, those are my favorites.”

I decided to take the bait.  “What are the pink ones?”

“Who knows and who cares?”

I was thinking about the email Aaron McFadden had showed me.  I wanted to know who had sent it.  TandD141717 was still out there somewhere, and he knew more than he was telling.  Then a random thought occurred to me.  I pulled out my disposable cell and dialed Clive Rozzell.  Two minutes later I was holding on the line for Special Agent Chapman.  When he answered I made no attempt at pleasant conversation.

“The emails with the photo of my husband with Daphne Fleming and telling you where to find her body, did they come from [email protected]?”

There was silence on the line for a long beat.

“How in the hell did you know that?”

That was all I needed to hear.  I ended the call.  The mystery man attached to [email protected] had just gotten even more mysterious.  I wanted to know how was he connected to Tom’s death. 

I felt the van accelerate beneath me and I braced with my foot so I wouldn’t slide.

“Where’d you learn to drive, anyway?” I said.

“Xbox.”

“Good to know.”

“Keep it down back there, I’m trying to concentrate.”

The Manhattan skyline shifted back and forth in the windows at the back of the van.  I felt us slow as traffic congested near the airport.  I tilted my head to see between the seats and watched one of the first big 737’s of the day lift off the ground and angle into the sky and out of view. 

•  •  •

The driver of the Plymouth was careful to remain safely out of sight.  There was no reason to get in a hurry.  Signs on the highway directed the route to JFK.  The Plymouth changed lanes and drifted onto an exit.  The VW van blinked in and out of view.  Brynn Nelson was being delivered to the departures drop-off as expected.  Big airliners screamed by overhead.  The Plymouth with the botched paint job veered into a turn lane and trailed another driver into the long-term lot.

There was no rush.  Brynn Nelson’s every move had been predicted well in advance.

•  •  •

Ramón stopped at the curb to let us out.  The flow of traffic seemed to crowd in around us.  Todd launched out of his seat and hauled up on the handle and pushed open the sliding door.  We went through the automatic doors, dodging around an elderly couple pulling enough luggage to sink the Titanic. 

We stood and stared up at the big board of flight numbers and departure times.  There was an American Eagle flight at 7:59 a.m.  It would board in about forty minutes.  That would be perfect if I could manage to grab a ticket, get through security and make it to the gate in time.  It would definitely come right down to the wire though.  I was struck by the thought that it might not be wise to pay with a credit card because I had no way of knowing who might be paying attention to my various accounts. 

I turned to Todd.  “Can you float me a loan?”

“You’re getting on my last nerve, baby cakes.”

“Don’t make me beg.”

“I love it when you beg.”

“No, you love it when
Ramón
begs.”

He twisted his face into a smirk.  “Okay, no arguments there.”

“You know I’m good for it.  I just need to be careful about leaving a paper trail.”

“Just don’t run off and get yourself killed.”

The clerk handed me my ticket and boarding pass and I grabbed Todd by the arm and we ran.  By the time we reached the gate, the flight was already boarding.

Todd hugged my neck.  “You’re a crazy woman.”

“Maybe.”

“Definitely.”

“I should be back by tonight.”

“We can pick you up.”

I shook my head.  “Don’t worry about it.  I’ll catch a cab.”

“Be careful.”

“What’s the worst that could happen?”

“Don’t even kid about that.”

“If anyone asks, you don’t know where I am.”

“Go.”

I kissed his cheek and got in line and glanced back once as I entered the jetway.  Todd spotted me and waved.  A stranger in a hat and sunglasses walked past him and joined the end of the line, someone I couldn’t immediately place but who struck me as oddly and vaguely familiar.  Then I turned and went down the ramp and boarded the plane.  It wasn’t until a flight attendant had closed and locked the door and the plane had backed away from the gate and began to taxi across the tarmac that it hit me.  A chill shivered down my spine.  I knew where I had seen that face before.

 

 

 

36

 

He was the guy from the Plymouth, the driver in the hat and sunglasses I had seen only briefly as I changed lanes on the Long Island Expressway.  No doubt about it. 

My ticket was for a window seat, but both seats beside me were blessedly empty so I took the aisle.  I was near the back in coach.  A businessman in a gray suit was seated directly in front of me and he was three hundred pounds if he was an ounce.  He was as wide as a small tractor and he already had his laptop out, crunching the tiny keys with his fat fingers.

I hadn’t seen the man from the Plymouth come aboard.  There had been just the one brief glimpse of him as he joined the queue. 

I strained to catch a glimpse of his hat near the front of the cabin, but couldn’t see anybody.  The engines roared as they throttled up for takeoff.  The cabin vibrated as we started to move.

We left the ground without incident.  A few minutes later we leveled off at cruising altitude and a stewardess announced that we were free to unbuckle and roam around the cabin. 

I had a decision to make.  Did I want to take a walk and try to find that guy?  And if I did find him and confronted him about why he was following me, what good would that do?  At least the likelihood of him harming me on the plane was slim.  If he assaulted me or killed me, there was nowhere for him to go.  The pilots would call ahead and law enforcement would be waiting the instant the plane touched the ground.  I didn’t think he would risk that.

I unfastened my seatbelt but didn’t move.

The flight staff came around with drinks and snacks.  I folded my tray down and filled a plastic cup with Diet Coke.  Wisps of cloud trailed by in the distance.  The sky appeared watery blue. 

I stared at the back of the seat in front of me and I debated long and hard until I came to the decision that I would not confront the man from the Plymouth.  I couldn’t see anything good coming from it.  I took a tiny sip of Diet Coke and watched beads of condensation trickle down one side of the plastic cup. 

The big man in front of me lumbered out of his seat and stood in the aisle, his gut bulging against his shirt.  Nice view.  He reached up and shifted some items around in the overhead compartment.  He was breathing hard from the exertion.  I glanced past him and saw the man in the hat and sunglasses coming down the aisle.  It took only a second to confirm that he was the man from the Plymouth, and he was staring right at me.

BOOK: The Stranger Beside You
11.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Tsunami Blue by Gayle Ann Williams
Echoes of Lies by Jo Bannister
Her Last Whisper by Karen Robards
Ashes to Ashes by Nathaniel Fincham
Love Bites by Quinn, Cari
The Aurora Stone by G.S Tucker