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Authors: William Casey Moreton

Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Thriller

The Stranger Beside You (5 page)

BOOK: The Stranger Beside You
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I called the principle at home.  Mr. Hogan answered on the first ring.  I was glad I didn’t wake him.  I’m in my mid-thirties, and he still makes me feel like I’m eleven.  I told him I would be taking a personal day and I could feel him frowning at me.  My excuse was vague.

“It’s a family emergency,” I said.

“Very well.”  His tone was cold.  “Can we expect to see you tomorrow, then?”

“I don’t know, but I hope to let you know by this afternoon, if that’s all right.”

“The sooner the better, Mrs. Nelson.”  He would never call me Brynn.

“Thank you for understanding.”

I took the cell phone upstairs and turned on the shower.  I needed to wash away the night.  The bathroom filled with steam.  I stood with my face to the spray and let the cascade of warmth clear my mind, if only for a few minutes.  I toweled off and glanced at myself in the mirror.  My eyes were red.  I needed sleep, but more than that I needed coffee.  My bloodstream was crying out for Starbucks.

I dressed in fresh denim jeans and a black T-shirt.  My overnight bag was stuffed in a crowded corner of my closet.  It smelled of our most recent vacation, a family trip to Orlando last August.  It took a moment of patience to work the zipper open.  I folded a change of clothes and tossed them in the bag along with the digital camera and my spiral notepad. 

There was no great plan to spend a night away from the house.  The overnight bag was for emergency use only.  The kids were out of the house and Tom was in jail, so I didn’t know what to expect.  Given the current state of things, I had no intention of spending a second night in my home alone.  I double-checked all the doors and windows and I went out through the front and triple-checked the lock on the front door for the sake of my own sanity.  Yes, make no mistake, it was definitely locked.  Then I dropped the overnight bag onto the backseat of the Volvo and headed for Manhattan.

•  •  •

The man with the beard watched Brynn Nelson lock the house and put her bag in the Volvo.  He logged it all in his journal, careful to note the time.  She was a beautiful woman, he thought.  The Volvo turned out of the drive and disappeared from view.  He opened a separate application on his laptop computer.  Suddenly a map appeared onscreen.  The map displayed hundreds of meandering lines representing streets.  He made a few keystrokes and like magic a red dot materialized, moving slowly along one of the meandering lines.  The red dot was Brynn Nelson’s Volvo.  He had attached a small battery-powered transmitter to the undercarriage of her car a few days after locking Rosemary Gladwell in the basement.  He had followed Brynn on many occasions, logging her movements, eavesdropping in on her conversations and he had done the same with her husband.  This was not a one-man operation, but the man with the beard had been responsible for much of the legwork.

The man with the beard closed the drapes and put the telescope away.  He gathered his laptop under his arm then he locked the bedroom door and went downstairs.  There was much to do.  It was going to be a busy day.

 

 

 

7

 

Special Agent Chapman met Clive in a corridor outside the door to the morgue.  There was a brief, wordless moment.

“I’ll warn you, it’s not pretty,” Chapman said.

“What is it?”

“Let’s just do this.”

Clive followed him through the door.  They were greeted by a small man in a white lab coat and rimless glasses.  Clive had never seen the man before but Chapman addressed him by name.  There were a couple of bodies on metal tables under sheets.  The place reeked of antiseptic and poorly ventilated air.  Clive felt a chill shiver up his legs to his spine.  The room had row upon row of metal drawers built into the walls.  

“This is the one,” the man said.

Chapman nodded at him.  “Open it, Dallas.”

The morgue supervisor grabbed the stainless steel handle and heaved it open.

“Could you give us a minute?” Chapman asked.

“No problem,” Dallas said.  “Give me a shout when you’re done.”

Both Chapman and Clive stood staring down at the bag.

When they were at last alone, Chapman said, “I guess what they say is true.”

“About what?”

“That you can’t outrun your sins.”

“Tell me what’s in there.”

“Human remains.”

“Tom Nelson?” Clive felt a catch in his throat.  “Is Tom in there?”

Chapman stood with both hands deep in the pockets of his slacks.  The cocky grin from earlier that morning had faded, perhaps because the thrill of the hunt was over.  A federal agent lived for the thrill of the pursuit.  It could be like a drug, but this time the high had been short-lived.  He glanced at the toes of his shoes, then at the dull glare the light from the overhead fluorescent tubes made on the body bag, then he met Clive’s stare.

“One of my agents was escorting him out for transport to lockup.  Your client jumped him, then he jumped the cop driving the black and white.  It happened fast.  I guess he caught them both on their heels, saw an opening and took it.  They were only on the ground for a few seconds, but that was enough.  He took off on foot.  My agent recovered and gave chase.  They pursued on foot for several blocks before your client ran down into the subway, jumped the barrier, and headed down the length of the platform.”

“Did they shoot him?”

“Shots were fired.”

“And?”

“They failed to take him down.”

“He escaped?”

“He jumped down onto the track, ran into a tunnel, and my agent and the cop lost sight of him.  It was only a few seconds later when they heard the train.”

Clive’s stomach tightened.

Chapman continued, “We’ve got the track shut down over there while forensics does their thing.  I’ve been down there already.  Let me tell you, it’s a mess.”

“What’s in the bag?” Clive demanded.

“Parts, basically,” Chapman answered.  “As much of him as they were able to collect and scoop up.  They’ll find more, but it’s pretty dark down there.  It will take time to scrape all the blood and guts off the bottom of the train.  We had to give the driver of that train some meds to calm him down.  It takes time to get over something like that.  My guess is he’ll be pretty messed up for a while.”

The color had drained from Clive’s face.  “Dear God…” he sighed.

“Your boy screwed up.”

Clive couldn’t imagine breaking the news to Brynn.

“What a nightmare.”

“It’s called karma,” Chapman said.

“Open the bag.”

“Have you had breakfast?”

“Open the bag.”

“Seriously, Rozzell, it’s a bucket of guts in there.  You might recognize his clothes from what he was wearing last night, but that’s about it.  Everything was sliced and diced by that train.  Half my team was puking down in that tunnel this morning.”

“Open the damn bag.”

Chapman shrugged.  “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Clive took a deep breath and listened to the crisp buzz of the zipper.

Chapman stared up at the lawyer.

Clive took a good hard look at the remains in the bag.  “Zip it up,” he said, his throat tightening.  “I’ve seen enough.”  Then he turned away, wishing he had heeded Chapman’s advice.

•  •  •

Marcus and Sadie Jones were living the American dream.  They had come a long way in life.  They were African Americans who had both started out with nothing and had built a small empire in what seemed like only a few short years.

Marcus was born in the projects in Brooklyn.  His life had begun like the oldest and saddest of clichés:  his father, an unemployable womanizer, had stepped out one night to get a pack of cigarettes and never came back.  His mother soon chose heroin as her self-imposed prison of choice and died when Marcus was five.

He passed through a dozen foster homes, each one worse than the last.  It would have been easy for him to become a statistic but he didn’t.  His teachers encouraged him and he excelled in school.  He had the looks and the brains, and most importantly, the ambition to go far.  He breezed through Harvard, then on to the Wharton School of Business.  Armed with a business plan, a small loan, and the know-how to get things rolling, he opened his first fitness shop.  The advertising budget was tiny, but word of mouth built like a steamroller, and business boomed.  Within eighteen months, MJ Power Fitness, Inc. had expanded to three locations.  They sold workout equipment and nutritional supplements and offered personal fitness training.

Marcus had already banked his first million when he met Sadie.  By the time the first kid arrived, they had built the house of their dreams and drove expensive cars.  They now owned and operated fifty locations in three states, and MJ Power Fitness, Inc. was worth a fortune.  But Marcus never let himself forget his roots.  He had clawed his way up from the bottom, and he was never going back.  He slept four hours a night, kept himself in perfect physical condition, worked eighteen-hour days, six days a week and never complained.  He was living the dream and loving every second of it.

Marcus had a billion-watt smile that never left his face, and that smile was on full display when he flipped on the lights in the Jones household shortly after sunrise on Tuesday.  The housekeeper was cooking breakfast and the house smelled marvelous.

“Rise and shine!” Marcus bellowed as he flung the bedroom doors open and rattled the beds, flushing sleepy-eyed children from under their sheets.

“You’re burning daylight, you rug rats!”

This was the morning ritual, and the Nelson boys had slept over enough times to be familiar with it.  Josh had bunked with Marcus Jr., and Ashton with his best pal, Little Dante.  The only girl in the family, Marcus’s princess, Jewel, had her own room down the hall.  She was the last of the slumbering crew to receive the parental bugle blast.  Marcus dropped to his knees at her beside and enveloped her eleven-year-old body in his massive arms and assaulted her neck and face with silly kisses. 

Jewel protested, “Daddy, stop!”

When all the kids were up and getting dressed and making the slow migration through the house to the kitchen table, Marcus detoured to the master bedroom to check on his wife.

Sadie was in the master bathroom, leaning over the marble counter, putting makeup on.  Marcus padded silently across the massive expanse of the bedroom and hid right outside the bathroom door to spy on her.  She was still wearing the silk negligee from last night.

She saw him in the mirror.  “Like what you see, baby?” 

He walked in and kissed the back of her neck.

 “Be a good boy,” she said.

“You don’t make it easy to be a good boy.”

He brushed her hair to one side and nibbled her ear.

“Are you worried about Tom?”

“Yes, he’ll be fine.”

“Brynn looked so scared.”

He nodded.  “She certainly did.”

“I can’t blame her.”

“What would you do if we ever got a knock on the door like that?”

He watched her eyes.  Her gaze drifted away.

“I don’t even want to think about that,” she said.

Marcus gave each of the kids a high-five on his way to the coffee maker.  He stood at the kitchen counter and looked at Josh and Ashton.  His thoughts immediately went to their father.  He couldn’t imagine what it felt like to spend a night in jail.  The chaotic scene from the night before blinked into his mind.

 “How are you guys holding up?”

Josh glanced around at him and shrugged.  “Fine.”

Ashton nodded, his mouth full of toast.

Marcus smiled.  “Good.  The school bus leaves in five minutes.”

The school was Marcus’s Hummer.  It was a big, black SUV that wasted gas and hogged the road.  Marcus loved it.  He backed out of the garage.  All five kids flooded out of the house and onto the driveway.  The sky was blazing with the colors of morning and the sun hit the windshield of the Hummer.  Marcus dropped his visor and put on his wraparound sunglasses.

“Everybody loaded?”

A chorus of high-pitched yes’s came at him like a gale off the ocean.

“Everybody buckled up?”

The chorus went up an octave.

“Then let’s get this party started.”

Marcus glanced in the rearview mirror at his precious cargo, then dropped the transmission into gear and backed into the street. 

From a window on the second floor, Sadie watched them leave.

“Be careful,” she whispered.

 

 

 

8

 

The drive into Manhattan in daylight was the polar opposite of what it had been at 1 a.m.  I hit the morning rush and traffic was bumper to bumper.  The radio was on and I listened to drive-time news as I stared at the back of the car in front of me.  My coffee was wedged in the cup holder in the center console.  Sometimes I wondered what would happen to modern American life between dawn and 10 a.m. if Starbucks vanished.  Talk about road rage.  I found my cell phone and dialed Clive Rozzell.  The call went directly to his voice mail.  Then I called Sadie.

“Where are you at, girl?” she said immediately.

“In my car.”

“In New York?”

“On my way.”

“Have you spoken to Tom?”

“No.”

“What about Clive?  Has he called?”

“No.  I tried him just now, but it went to voice mail.”

“Marcus has the kids.  He’ll drop them at school on his way to work.  Do you want me to meet you somewhere?”

“I’m fine.”

“I couldn’t sleep after you dropped me off.”

“That makes two of us.  Someone broke into the house.”

“You’re kidding!”

“I wish.”

“Oh my God!  Did you see who it was?  Did they try to hurt you?”

“No and no.  The house was a mess when I got home.  I thought the feds had tossed the place looking for evidence against Tom, so I napped on the sofa a few minutes and then I heard somebody stomping around in the attic.  Whoever it was opened the garage door and ran away into the night.”

“You’re giving me goose bumps.”

“Yeah, it was frightening.”

“Did you call the police?”

“They came out and walked around in the yard, asked a few questions and told me to lock the doors.”

BOOK: The Stranger Beside You
3.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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