N Is For Noose Page 76

’’It wasn't talk at all. He thought someone took an unauthorized look at his notes.’’

’’But his notebook is missing.’’

’’Well, it wasn't back then.’’

’’Who did he suspect? Did he ever mention a name?’’ ’’Someone he worked with. And that's my guess, by the way, not something he said to me directly. Why else would it bother him if it wasn't someone betraying the department?’’

I felt myself grow still. I flashed on the officers I'd met in Nota Lake: Rafer LaMott;Tom's brother Macon;Hatch Brine;James Tennyson;Earlene's husband, Wayne. Even Deputy Carey Badger who'd taken my report on the night of the assault. The list seemed to go on and on and all of them were connected with the Nota Lake Sheriff's Department or the CHP. At the back of my mind, I'd been flirting with a possibility I'd scarcely dared to admit. What I'd been harboring was the suspicion that my attacker had been trained at a police academy. I'd been resisting the notion, but I could feel it begin to take root in my imagination. He'd taken me down with an efficiency I'd been taught once upon a time myself. Whether he was currently employed in some branch of law enforcement, I couldn't be sure, but the very idea left me feeling cold. ’’Are you telling me one of Tom's colleagues was involved in a double homicide?’’

’’I think that was his suspicion and it was tearing him apart. Again, this wasn't something he said. This is my best guess.’’

This time I was silent for a moment. ’’I should have seen that. How stupid of me. Shit.’’

’’What will you do now?’’

’’Beats the hell out of me. What would you suggest?’’

’’Why not talk to someone in Internal Affairs?’’

’’And say what? I'm certainly willing to give them anything I have, but at this point, it's all speculation, isn't it?’’

’’Well, yes. I guess that's one reason I didn't call myself. I've got nothing concrete. Maybe if you talk to Pinkie's daughter up there, it will clarify the situation.’’

’’Meanwhile alerting the guy that I'm breathing down his neck,’’ I said.

’’But you can't do this on your own.’’

’’Who'm I gonna call? The Nota Lake Sheriff's Department?’’

’’I'm not sure I'd do that,’’ she said, laughing for once.

’’Yeah, well if I figure it out, I'll let you know,’’ I said. ’’Any other comments or advice while we're on the subject?’’

She thought about it briefly. ’’Well, one thing... though you may have already thought about this. It must have been general knowledge Tom was working on this case, so once he dropped dead, the guy must have thought he was home free.’’

’’And now I come along. Bad break,’’ I said. ’’Of course, the guy can't be sure how much information Tom passed to his superiors.’’

’’Exactly. If it's not in his reports, it might still be in circulation somewhere, especially with his notes gone. You'd better hope you get to 'em before someone else does.’’

’’Maybe the guy already has them in his possession.’’

’’Then why's he afraid of you? You're only dangerous if you have the notes,’’ she said.

I thought about the search of Tom's den. ’’You're right.’’

’’I'd proceed with care.’’

’’Trust me,’’ I said. ’’One more question while I have you on the line. Were you ever in Nota Lake yourself?’’

’’Are you kidding? Tom was too nervous to see me there.’’

I replaced the receiver, distracted. My anxiety level was rising ominously, like a toilet on the verge of overflowing. The fear was like something damp and heavy sinking into my bones. I have a thing about authority figures, specifically police officers in uniform, probably dating from that first encounter while I was trapped in the wreckage of my parents'VW at the age of five. I can still remember the horror and the relief of being rescued by those big guys with their guns and nightsticks. Still, the sense of jeopardy and pain also attached to that image. At five, I wasn't capable of separating the two. In terms of confusion and loss, what I'd experienced was irrevocably bound up with the sight of men in uniform. As a child, I'd been taught the police were my pals, people to turn to if you were lost or afraid. At the same time, I knew police had the power to put you in jail, which made them fearful to contemplate if you were sometimes as ’’bad’’ as I was. In retrospect, I can see that I'd applied to the police academy, in part, to ally myself with the very folks I feared. Being on the side of the law was, no doubt, my attempt to cope with that old anxiety. Most of the officers I'd known since had been decent, caring people, which made it all the more alarming to think that one might have crossed the line. I couldn't think when anything had frightened me quite as much as the idea of going up against this guy, but what could I do? If I quit this one, then what? The next time I got scared, was I going to quit that job, too?

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