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Authors: William Casey Moreton

Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Thriller

The Stranger Beside You (3 page)

BOOK: The Stranger Beside You
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I opened my eyes and scribbled wildly.  Those words were the weirdest thing to ever come out of his mouth.   It sounded like gibberish.  Standing next to him, looking down into his eyes, it had felt like standing next to a total stranger. 

I put the pad away.  I was buzzing from the wine.  I paced until the exhaustion hit me like a wall, then staggered back to the sofa and put my legs up.  With a pillow under my head, I did my best impression of a relaxed mother of two with her husband in prison.  My eyes fluttered and eventually settled shut.  My breathing mellowed.  I could feel my heart thumping.  Sometime around four in the morning I drifted off.

•  •  •

Tom and I met a few months before I graduated college.  He was a couple of years older than me and had already begun his career in banking when we were introduced by a mutual friend named Karly.  The attraction was instantaneous.  Karly owns an upscale boutique in Manhattan and knows nearly every celebrity in the city.  She’s cool and hip and edgy, rude and crude, and knows more gossip than all the tabloids combined.  We love her to death. 

Tom was already a big shot banker on Wall Street and I was finishing up my teaching degree at Columbia when we fell madly in love.  It was a short courtship, all of nine months before he popped the question.  We went for a long walk on a late spring day and took our lunch to Central Park.  Tom brought a blanket and we lounged on the grass.  My memory is of a sunny, cloudless, perfect afternoon spent with the man of my dreams.  I remember the secure embrace of his arms and the twinkle of Manhattan’s skyline surrounding us and feeling such joy and contentment I thought my heart might burst.  Most of all, I remember him bringing out that small Tiffany’s box, opening it right there before my eyes, and the way the diamond ring glistened.  Admittedly, everything for those next few minutes is a bit of a blur.  I vaguely remember him asking me to marry him, and I vaguely remember saying yes.  My legs felt like Jell-O as we walked hand-in-hand back through midtown to his apartment.  I felt like the luckiest woman in the world, and that feeling has never changed.

My husband is a brilliant man.  Smart, funny, warm, loving, caring, and sensitive.  You get the picture.  He volunteers down at a local soup kitchen once a month.  He’s in great shape and does those 5K charity runs a couple of times a year.  He gives blood and is always hauling clothes and shoes and stuff like that down to the Goodwill store.  It’s almost enough to make you sick, but it all comes from the heart.  That’s why it’s impossible to conceive that he would murder someone. 

I slept for a short time on the couch.  It was a fitful sleep, crazy dreams spinning through my head.  Maybe it was the wine, or the exhaustion, or the insanity of the feds and the arrest and the whole murder nonsense, or better yet, a combo of all of the above. 

I woke up when I heard someone walking through the house.

•  •  •

“How long have you been cheating on your wife?”

Tom Nelson stared down at the table.  He was tired of being asked the same repetitive questions over and over.  Special Agent Chapman was leading the interrogation.  He was the only fed in the room, but Tom knew the others were watching and listening.

“That’s a ridiculous question and I’ve advised my client not to answer it,” Clive Rozzell said.  “All you’re doing is wasting our time.”

Chapman shrugged, unfazed.  His dark suit coat looked crisp and his tie had a perfect Windsor, even at this insane hour.  He still looked fresh, polished, and professional.  “Okay, moving on,” he said.

Clive glanced at his watch and sighed.  Then he glanced at Tom.  Tom continued staring at the table.  Clive and Tom had been friends for years, and Clive had never seen him like this. 

“Tell me about your relationship with Daphne Fleming.”  A smug grin stretched across Chapman’s face.  He reclined his back against a wall, crossing his long arms over his chest.  The question had rolled off his lips in an almost singsongy manner. 

Clive scribbled something on his yellow legal pad, his eyes focused on his client with laser-like intensity.

“Who was she?” Clive asked.  The question was for Chapman.

Chapman waited a beat before answering, hoping for Tom to give something away with a change in posture or a shift of his eyes.  “Daphne Fleming was a Special Agent with the FBI.  A few weeks ago she was found floating face-down in a body of water a few miles from here.”

Both Chapman and Clive kept focus on Tom.

Tom gave them nothing. 

“How does this involve my client?” Clive asked.

“We believe he was sleeping with her.”

Tom stared indifferently at the cheap laminate surface of the table.

“That’s a huge accusation,” Clive said.

“Indeed.”

“I’d like to see you prove it.”

The smug grin widened.  “We have enough evidence against Mr. Nelson to prove that not only was he sleeping with her, but that he killed her and attempted to dispose of the body.  He, of course, did a terrible job of the latter, and thus is seated before us this fine morning.”

Clive made a small flourish with both hands.  “It’s time to put up or shut up.  Shows us what you’ve got.”

Chapman pursed his lips.  He leaned away from the wall, then he offered a small nod.  “As you wish,” he said.

He approached the table where Tom and Clive were seated.  He reached inside his coat and removed a manila envelope.  He placed it gently on the tabletop and pushed it directly in front of Tom Nelson.

“Merry Christmas,” he said with a devious twinkle in his eyes.

Tom didn’t flinch a muscle.  He offered no reaction at all.  Clive eyed the envelope with suspicion.  He stared at it hard for a tense moment, then pinched one corner between two fingers and inched it to the edge of the table.  He unfastened the clasp, folded open the flap, and poured the contents out onto the table.  A single eight-by-ten color photograph slid out onto the laminate surface.

Clive picked it up and studied it.

The photo was of Tom Nelson kissing a woman, and the woman was not Brynn Nelson.  She was someone Clive had never seen before.  There was a digital timestamp imbedded on the back dated one month ago.

Chapman could hardly contain his delight.  “I never get tired of looking at that.”

There was no denying what the photo showed.  They were somewhere on a city sidewalk, embracing, kissing deep and hard.  This was no peck on the cheek.  No, this was clearly a snapshot of two lovers sharing a candid moment, unaware of a camera lens lurking nearby.

Clive felt the bottom drop out of his stomach.  He wanted to groan, to punch his friend Tom Nelson hard in the face, to beat the crap out of him for putting his picturesque marriage at risk by stepping out on his wife.  But he held back and pushed it down and remained poised and cool, because that’s what a good defense lawyer was built to do, and he was the best in the business.

“Doesn’t prove anything,” Clive said.

Chapman snorted.  “That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  I’d suggest you tell your client to fasten his seatbelt, because from this moment forward it’s going to be a very bumpy ride.”

Clive stared at Tom.

Tom was staring at the two-way glass.

“It’s time for him to enjoy his first night behind bars,” Chapman said, showing plenty of blazingly white teeth.  “The first of many.”

Clive flung his legal pad into his briefcase and slammed it shut.  He glared down at his client.  “I’ll be back in the morning.  You and I are going to have a long talk.”

Tom remained blank as Clive left the room.

Chapman summoned Special Agent Welsh into the room.

“Take this piece of garbage to a cell.”

Welsh grabbed Tom by the arm.  Tom’s hands were cuffed in front of him.  They stepped into an elevator and the door whispered shut.  The federal agent and his prisoner rode down in silence.

When the door opened, Welsh escorted him down a long corridor and pushed open an exterior door.  Tom felt the evening air on his face.  An NYPD cruiser was waiting at the curb with a uniformed cop standing next to the car with its back door open. 

“Get in,” Welsh ordered.

Tom approached the car and turned sideways to duck inside.  At the last second, he made a quick movement, jerked his body to one side and kicked his leg out, catching Welsh hard in the chest with the heel of his shoe.  The shot knocked the federal agent to the ground.  The cop was in his late forties, with a noticeable paunch straining against his belt, and was too slow to react.  Tom charged at him.  He used the chain connecting the handcuffs as a weapon, hooking it around the cop’s throat.  The officer struggled but Tom was too strong.

The cop couldn’t breathe.  He struggled to peel away Tom’s grasp.  It was wasted effort and he wheezed and gagged, desperate for breath.  Tom forced him onto his back on the hood of the black and white as the cop’s face began to lose color.

Suddenly, Tom released him and stepped away.

The cop clutched at his throat, coughing and gagging. 

Tom spotted Welsh, still dazed from the surprise attack, struggling to get to his feet.  Tom realized this would be his one and only window of opportunity and he wasn’t going to waste it.  He dodged around the hood of the black and white and darted across the street. 

Traffic was moving in both directions but he didn’t wait for an opening.  He simply ran, moving like a quarterback on the final play of the championship game.  Car horns blared, headlights washing over him.   Tires shrieked as drivers hit their brakes and swerved to miss him.  He heard shouts but didn’t dare turn to look.  He vaguely recognized one of the voices as that of Special Agent Welsh.  The other he had to guess was the overweight cop.  He sidestepped between a pair of yellow taxis, like a dance move from when he was a teenager.  When he finally made it to the opposite side of the street, he hurled himself down the sidewalk as fast as his legs would carry him, then he ducked into the first available alley.

Suddenly there were footsteps in the distance behind him.  They were heavy footsteps in feverish pursuit.  Sweat ran down his face.  There was no time to let up, no time to hesitate.  The alley opened onto another street.  He made a hard left and kept moving.  The sounds of the pursuing footsteps were drawing closer, gaining ground.  He made the decision to cross traffic again, and he ducked down behind a parked car and glanced over the hood.  Welsh sprinted, dashing between cars through oncoming traffic.  The cop was lagging behind, probably on the verge of dropping dead from cardiac arrest.

Tom exploded up from behind the car, reaching down deep for strength and speed.  Welsh spotted him again and shouted for him to stop.  Tom kept waiting for the dreaded bang of a gun being fired, but none came.  It was probably too dangerous with other pedestrians in such close proximity.  He knew he couldn’t keep up this pace for much longer.  His legs were on fire.  His lungs were heaving, begging for oxygen he couldn’t provide.  Finally, he spotted hope up ahead.  It was an entrance to the subway. 

He ran down the stairs, nearly tripping over his own feet and crashing down on the cement, but kept his footing and hurled his body onward.  No time for tickets or turnstiles as he vaulted the barrier, hitting the ground hard and rolling for five or six feet.  The impact with the cement was brutal, jarring his body from head to toe.  His teeth rattled.  But there was no time to listen to the pain.  He used the momentum of the fall to spring back to his feet.  He dared yet another glance back at his pursuers.  Welsh emerged at the bottom of the stairs at the entrance to the subway.  Tom saw clearly now that his gun was drawn and he expected to hear a gunshot cracking the air at any second.

Tom sprinted down the platform.  Only two or three passengers stood awaiting the next train, and Tom rushed past them, half blinded by sweat in his eyes. 

There was a loud and authoritative shout.

“Stop!  FBI!”

Not a chance.  Tom kept his head down and ran, though there wasn’t much juice left in his legs.  His gas tank was almost empty.  Then he heard the gunshot.

The people on the platform screamed and scattered, diving for cover.  Tom instinctively ducked his head.  When he did, he tripped over his own feet and lost control.  His shackled arms flailed as he spun.  The next thing he knew he was falling. 

He had fallen off the platform and landed beside the subway track.  Through the sting of sweat he caught a glimpse of Welsh and the cop fast approaching.  It felt like he’d broken something in the fall, but he had to continue to ignore the pleading messages his body was sending to his brain.

Back on his feet, he decided against climbing back onto the platform, instead he headed toward the train tunnel some fifty feet ahead.  The tunnel was a black void.  He realized that sooner or later a train would come speeding down the track and he might have no room to get out of the way, but there was no turning back now.  Welsh would shoot him.

So he hurled himself headlong into the blackness, swallowed whole by the mouth of the tunnel.  As he did, he heard another gunshot, followed by the rumble of a train coming his way.

 

 

 

4

 

I was in the fetal position on the sofa with my eyes open.  More footsteps.  I held my breath.  My pulse was going crazy.  There were knives in a drawer in the kitchen, and my first impulse was to run in there and grab one in each hand.  Then I thought about Tom’s safe in the bedroom closet upstairs.  He owned some kind of handgun, a big nickel-plated thing that scared me just to look at, let alone hold in my hands, let alone imagine firing it at someone.  But someone was in the house and I had to deal with that.

Both the cordless phone and my cell were on the coffee table a couple feet from my head.  Like I’ve said, 911 is a girl’s best friend, but I resisted, because let’s face it, my nerves were on edge.  I was running on adrenaline, wired from fatigue and dizzy from the stress.  It was very possible the sounds I’d heard were a product of a very paranoia-fueled imagination.  A few hours earlier my home had been filled with strangers – federal agents, sure – but strangers nonetheless, roaming room to room, uninvited.  Add to that the fact that the front door had been left unlocked while I was in the city.  So I resisted reaching for a phone to dial the cops.

BOOK: The Stranger Beside You
8.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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