N Is For Noose Page 98


Hours seemed to go by.

I could hear the second hand on the kitchen clock tick each passing second in turn.

Outside, I heard the squeal of brakes, and then a car door slammed shut. I turned and stared at the front door. What if it was someone else? What if it was them? The door flew open and I could see Brant in his civilian clothes. He moved toward me with all the comforting bulk of a battleship. I put a hand out and he took it.

’’Jesus, you look awful. How'd the guy get in?’’

I pointed to my room and then found myself following as he moved purposefully down the hall in that direction. His assessment was brief, the most cursory of glances. He turned away from the guest room and toured the rest of the house methodically, looking in every closet, every nook and cranny. He went down to the basement. I waited at the top of the stairs, one hand plucking at the other. My injured fingers held a particular fascination for me-clumsy and swollen. Where was my gun? How could I defend myself when I'd left the knife on the counter?

Brant returned to the kitchen. I followed him like a duckling. I could tell by his tone he was trying to control himself. Something in his manner conveyed the seriousness of the situation. ’’Did he get the notebook?’’

I found myself grinding my teeth. ’’Who?’’

’’The guy who broke in,’’ he said sharply.

’’It was in my bag,’’ I said. ’’Is that what he was after?’’

’’Of course,’’ Brant said. ’’I can't think why else he'd risk it. Tell me exactly what you did today. What time did you leave and how long were you gone?’’

I felt burbling and incoherent, spilling out the story of my rebuff, the refusal of the gas station attendants to do business with me, my subsequent stop at the Rainbow to talk to Nancy. I told him I'd run into Rafer and Vick, that I'd talked to Cecilia and Barrett. My brain was moving at twice the speed of my lips, making me feel sluggish and stupid. Brant, god bless him, seemed to follow the staccato pace of the narrative, filling in the blanks when an occasional word came up missing. What was wrong with me? I knew I'd felt like this before-this scared-this powerless-this out of it...

Brant was staring at me. ’’You actually talked to him?’’

What was he talking about? ’’Who?’’ I sounded like an owl.

’’Rafer.’’

What had I asked? What had he said before this? What did Rafer have to do with anything? ’’What?’’

’’Rafer. At the Rainbow.’’

’’Yes. I ran into him at the Rainbow.’’

’’I know that. You told me. I'm asking you if you talked to him,’’ he said, with exaggerated patience.

’’Sure.’’

’’You talked to him?!’’ His voice had risen with alarm. I could see the question mark and the exclamation point hurtling through the air at me. ’’I brought him up to date,’’ I said. My voice was delayed, like something in an echo chamber. Words in balloons bumped together above my head, images like projectiles flying off in all directions.

’’I told you to wait 'til I could check it out. Who do you think started all the rumors?’’

’’Who?’’

Brant took me by the shoulders and gave me a little shake. He seemed angry, his fingers biting into my shoulders. ’’Kinsey, wake up and pay attention. This is serious,’’ he said.

’’You're not saying it was him?’’

’’Of course, it was him. Who else could it be? Think about it, dummy.’’

’’Think about what?’’ I asked, confused. The immediacy of his discomposure was contagious. I was relying on him for help, but his anxiety was pushing mine into the danger zone.

His voice pounded on, pleading and cajoling, wheedling. ’’You told Mom it was someone in law enforcement. Do you honestly think my father would have lost even one night's sleep if it was anyone but Rafer? Rafer was his best friend. The two of them had worked together for years and years. Dad thought Rafer was one of the finest cops who ever lived. Now he finds out he killed two guys? Jeez. He must have shit himself when he understood what was going on. Didn't he write this down? Isn't this in his notes?’’

His words were like streamers, blowing above his head.

I heard snapping, like flags. ’’The notes are in code. I can't read them.’’

’’Where? Can you show me? Maybe I can crack it.’’

’’In there. You think he was on the verge of talking to Internal Affairs?’’

’’Of course! The decision couldn't have been easy, but even as loyal as he was to Rafer, the department came first. He must have been praying for a way out, hoping he was wrong.’’

My brain worked lickety-cut. It was my mouth that fumbled, thoughts crashing against my teeth like rocks. I had to clamp my jaw shut, barely moving my lips. ’’I talked to Barrett. She was with Tom in the truck just before he died,’’ I said.


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