N Is For Noose Page 47

’’A woman?’’

’’Yes ma'am. I'm almost sure.’’

’’And she was facing you?’’

’’That's right, but she veered off about then. This was shortly before I passed so I didn't get a good look at her, just a fleeting impression. She was bundled up pretty good. If it hadn't been for Tom and trying to get help for him, I'd have cruised back in her direction in case she needed help.’’

’’Is it unusual to see someone walking out there?’’

’’Yes ma'am. At least, I thought it was,at the time. This was miles from anywhere and there's very little in the way of houses out there, except for one subdivision. She could have been out for a jog, but she didn't seem dressed for that, and in the dark? I doubt it. Anyway, it struck me as odd. I guess in my mind I was thinking she might have got mad at her boyfriend and taken off on foot. I didn't see another vehicle so I don't think it was a flat tire or anything like that.’’

’’And this was no one you knew?’’

’’I really couldn't say. It was nobody I recognized under the circumstance. Like I said, I didn't think much about it and later it slipped my mind entirely. I don't even know what made me think of it. Just the fact that you asked.’’

I thought about it for a moment. ’’How far away was she from the truck when you saw her?’’

’’It couldn't have been a quarter of a mile because I could see Tom's hazard lights blinking in the distance.’’

’’Do you think she was with him?’’

’’I suppose it's possible,’’ he said. ’’If he was having chest pains, she might have been on her way to find help.’’

’’Why not flag you down?’’

’’Beats me. I don't know what to make of it,’’ he said.

’’I'd like to see the spot where Tom's truck was parked,’’ I said. ’’Could you maybe take me out there later?’’

’’Sure, I'd be happy to, but the place isn't hard to find. It's maybe a mile in that direction. You look for a couple big boulders near a pine with the top sheared off. Thing was struck by lightning in a big storm last year. Just keep an eye out. You can't miss it. It's on the right-hand side.’’


He glanced toward one of the tables near the front of the cafe. ’’My breakfast is here. You have any more questions, give me a call.’’

I watched him move away. Hatch and Macon stood together near the cash register, waiting for Nancy to take their money. My conversation with James hadn't gone unnoticed, though both men made a big display of their disinterest. Rafer returned, entering the cafe without the technician, whom I assumed was busy at the cabin with his little brushes and powders. Rafer eased into the seat, saying, ’’Sorry about that. I told him we'd join him as soon as we finished here.’’

When we reached the cabin after breakfast, the door was standing open. I could see smudges of powder along the outside edges of the sills. Rafer introduced me to the fingerprint technician, who rolled a set of my prints for elimination purposes. Later, he'd ink a set of Cecilia's prints, along with the prints of any cleaning or maintenance workers. He could have saved himself the trouble. The cabin yielded nothing in the way of evidence: no useful prints on the window glass, nothing on the hardware, no footprints in the damp earth leading to or from the cabin.

The interior seemed dank, the bed still lumpy with the pillows I'd tucked under the pile of blankets. The place was drab. It was cold. The digital clock was blinking, which meant there'd been another power failure. The adrenaline had seeped slowly out of me like gray water down a clogged drain. I felt like crap. A rivulet of revulsion trickled over me and I was embarrassed anew at the inadequacies of my attempt to defend myself. Anxiety whispered at the base of my spine, a feathery reminder of how vulnerable I was. A memory burbled up. I was five years old again, bruised and bloodied after the wreck that killed my parents. I'd forgotten the physical pain because the wrenching emotional loss had always taken precedence.

While Rafer and the tech conferred outside, talking in low tones, I hauled out my duffel and began to pack my things. I went into the bathroom, gathered up my toiletries, and tossed them in the bottom of the bag. I didn't hear Rafer come in, but I was suddenly aware of him standing in the doorway. ’’You're taking off?’’ he asked.

’’I'd be crazy to stay here.’’

’’I agree with you on that, but I didn't think you were finished with your investigation.’’

’’That remains to be seen.’’

His gaze rested on me with concern. ’’You want to talk?’’

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