N Is For Noose Page 28

I waited a full five minutes, though it felt like for ever. I studied the street on all sides, craning my head to scan the area behind, lest someone approach on foot. I was afraid to shut down my engine, worried I wouldn't be able to get the car started again. I squeezed my hands between my knees, trying to warm my icy fingers. The feeling of apprehension was as palpable as a fever, racking my frame. I caught a glimpse of headlights behind me again and when I checked the rearview mirror, I saw a vehicle come slowly around the corner. I made a sound in my throat and leaned on the horn. A howling blare filled the night. The second vehicle eased up beside me and I could see now that it was James Tennyson, the CHP officer, in his patrol car. He recognized my face and rolled down the window on the driver's side. ’’You okay?’’ he mouthed.

I pressed a button on the console and opened the window on the passenger side of my car.

’’Something I can help you with?’’ he asked.

’’Someone's been following me. I didn't know what else to do, but come here and honk.’’

’’Hang on,’’ he said. He spotted a parking place across the street and pulled his patrol car over to the stretch of empty curb. He left his vehicle running while he crossed the street. He walked around to my side of the car and hunkered so we could talk face-to-face. ’’What's the story?’’

I explained the situation, trying not to distort or exaggerate. I wasn't sure how to convince him of the alarm I'd felt, but he seemed to accept my account without any attempt to dismiss my panic as foolish or unwarranted. He was in his twenties by my guess and I suspected I'd seen more in the way of personal combat than he had. Still, he was a cop in uniform and the sight of him was reassuring. He was earnest, polite, with that fair unlined face and all the innocence of youth.

’’Well, I can see where that'd worry you. It seems creepy to me, too,’’ he said. ’’Might have been a guy sitting in the bar. Sometimes the fellows around here get kind of weird when they drink. Sounds like he was waiting for you to come out to the parking lot.’’

’’I thought so, too.’’

’’You didn't notice anybody in Tiny's staring at you?’’

’’Not at all,’’ I said.

’’Well, he probably didn't mean any harm, even if he scared you some.’’

’’What about the truck? There couldn't be that many black panel trucks in a town this size.’’

’’I haven't seen it, but I've been cruising the highway south of town. I was passing the intersection when I caught a glimpse of your headlights so I doubled back. Thought you might be having car trouble, but I wasn't sure.’’ He tilted his head in the direction of the police station. ’’They're locked up for the night. You want me to see you home? I'd be happy to.’’

’’Please,’’ I said.

He escorted me the six miles to the motel, driving ahead of me so I could keep my gaze fixed on the sight of his patrol car. There was no sign of the panel truck. Once at the Nota Lake Cabins, we parked side by side and he walked me to the cabin, waiting while I unlocked the door and flipped on the light inside. I intended to check the premises, but he held out an arm like the captain of the grade school safety patrol. ’’Let me do this.’’

’’Great. It's all yours,’’ I said.

I make no big deal about these things. I'm a strong, independent woman, not an idiot. I know when it's time to turn the task over to a cop;someone with a gun, a nightstick, a pair of handcuffs, and a paycheck. He did a cursory inspection while I followed close on his heels, feeling like a cartoon character with slightly quaking knees. If a mouse had jumped out, I'd have shrieked like a fool.

He glanced in the closet, behind the bathroom door. He moved the shower curtain aside, got down on his hands and knees and looked under the bed. He didn't seem any more impressed with the place than I'd been. ’’Never been inside one of these before. I believe I'd take a pass if it came right down to it. Doesn't Ms. Boden believe in heat?’’

’’I guess not.’’

He got to his feet and brushed the soot from his knees. ’’What kind of money does she get for this?’’

’’Thirty bucks a night.’’

’’That much?’’ He shook his head with amazement. He made sure the windows were secured. While I waited in the cabin, he made a circuit of the place outside, using his flashlight beam to cut through the dark. He came back to the door. ’’Looks clear to me.’’

’’Let's hope.’’

He let his gaze settle on my face. ’’I can take you somewhere else if you'd prefer. We got motels in the heart of town if you think you'd feel safer. You'd be warmer, too.’’

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