Seconds Away Page 57

My mouth felt dry.

’’You forgot something, Mickey.’’

’’What\'s that?’’

’’If Rachel\'s mother shot herself, who shot Rachel?’’

So now we were down to it. I knew because in the end only one answer made sense. Our eyes met. I saw the pain there. No doubt in my mind anymore Mr. Caldwell had been there. He had seen his own daughter shot.

But he hadn\'t been the one to do it.

’’Your ex-wife,’’ I said, my voice barely a whisper. ’’Your ex-wife shot your daughter.’’

He didn\'t say anything. He didn\'t have to.

’’I don\'t know exactly how it played out. Rachel finds your gym bag and hides it. She tells her mother that she knows the truth now that she believes her. You come home later. You find your bag is missing. You\'re angry. You confront your ex-wife. That\'s what Rachel hears you two arguing. Your ex-wife whips out a gun. Rachel comes charging in the room. That was one of the things that bothered me. If Rachel was shot first, your ex-wife would never have stood still for the killer to press the gun against her head and fire like that.’’

’’So maybe Nora was shot first,’’ he said, but there was no conviction behind his voice.

’’No, sir. Rachel was clear. She didn\'t hear gunfire. She heard voices and came down the stairs. She burst into the room. Your ex-wife is holding the gun. I don\'t know what happens exactly. She panics, I guess. Or maybe she tries to shoot you, but her aim is off. Whatever, she hits her own daughter. Rachel falls to the floor. Your ex-wife can\'t believe what she\'s done. She\'s distraught. The gun is still in her hands . . .’’

I stopped. Chief Taylor parked the car, but so far, he hadn\'t gotten out.

’’Do I have it right?’’ I asked.

’’Close,’’ he said. He took a few breaths. ’’Nora didn\'t shoot and miss me. Yes, she had the gun out. Yes, she had it pointed in my direction. But when Rachel came in, she just . . . she just turned and fired. Just like that. I saw the blood spurt. I saw Rachel fall to the ground.’’ He closed his eyes, tried to gather himself. ’’I ran toward my daughter and tried to stop the bleeding. I didn\'t even look at Nora. Then I heard the gun go off again. I turned and . . . I guess in hindsight I wasn\'t surprised. Nora was deeply disturbed with suicidal tendencies anyway. Now she had shot her own daughter. In her mind, I\'m sure she thought Rachel was dead.’’

Chief Taylor got out of the car and started toward us.

I debated cutting my losses and breaking into a sprint right now. I knew enough. I knew now who shot Rachel. How would Chief Taylor react to my knowing the truth?

’’People know where I am,’’ I said. ’’They know the story.’’

’’I don\'t think that\'s true, Mickey. I don\'t think you had time to tell anyone the story. It doesn\'t matter anyway.’’ Mr. Caldwell looked up at me through wet eyes. ’’Are we done here?’’

’’Just about,’’ I said. ’’Your daughter was injured. Your wife had killed yourself. You didn\'t call nine-one-one at first, did you?’’

’’No,’’ he said. ’’I didn\'t.’’

’’You called Chief Taylor.’’

’’Yes.’’

’’So he\'d be first on the scene. So you could cover up the truth and try to pin it on a random break-in.’’

I didn\'t expect him to admit this, but Mr. Caldwell took a deep breath and then said, ’’Yes.’’

’’You were afraid people would learn the truth about you. That you were a drug dealer.’’

’’No.’’

Chief Taylor arrived. ’’Hello, Mickey,’’ he said.

I ignored him and kept my eyes on Mr. Caldwell. ’’What do you mean, no?’’

’’I mean, you\'re wrong. I wasn\'t worried about what people would learn about me. If it was all to protect me, why do you think Chief Taylor agreed to help?’’

’’He\'s on your payroll,’’ I said.

I saw the anger flash in Chief Taylor\'s eyes, but I didn\'t step back. ’’You think I\'m a crook?’’

’’Take it easy, Ed,’’ Caldwell said.

’’Did you just hear what he said?’’

’’It\'s understandable from his perspective. Just calm down. He doesn\'t get it yet.’’

Taylor glared at me.

He was right. I didn\'t get it. ’’What are you two talking about?’’

’’I\'m not a drug dealer, Mickey.’’

’’And I\'m not a cop on the take,’’ Taylor added.

Then, with the three of us standing there, I saw the truth. In fact, when I stopped and thought about it, maybe I had known the truth before we all arrived here. There was a reason I set up this meeting without telling Rachel or responding to her constant texts. Subconsciously or maybe not so subconsciously I didn\'t want her to know the truth yet either.

’’You covered it up,’’ I said, ’’to protect Rachel.’’

Taylor kept his head down. ’’I don\'t like the way you put that. Covered it up.’’

’’Mickey,’’ Mr. Caldwell said, stepping in front of Taylor, ’’have you ever noticed the burn mark on Rachel\'s arm?’’

’’Yes.’’

’’Do you know how she got it?’’

I shook my head.

’’Her mother did that to her with a clothing iron.’’

I didn\'t know what to say. I looked over at Chief Taylor. His head was back up now.

’’That was the final straw really. Rachel\'s mother was unbalanced for years. I tried to hold on to her as long as I could.’’ He blinked hard. ’’I loved Nora. When we first met . . .’’ His voice faded away. ’’But the illness robbed her of all that. You have heart disease, people understand. When the brain gets sick, well, it\'s almost impossible to comprehend. I lived in denial a long time. Friends warned me. Heck, Ed here warned me. They could see Nora was coming apart that she wasn\'t right. I tried to get her help, but she got worse and worse, and then one day, Nora thought she saw little bugs attacking her little girl. So she went after them with a steam iron set on high.’’

I swallowed. ’’Does Rachel remember?’’

’’Maybe. I don\'t know. She may have blocked on it. Anyway, I couldn\'t risk it anymore. So I finally sent Nora away. She didn\'t want to go, but we had a judge commit her. It was the hardest decision of my life. I talked to a lot of doctors. They all agreed. She was a danger to herself and to our child.’’

I felt my heart start coming up to my throat. Poor Rachel.

Mr. Caldwell smiled at me but there was no joy in it. ’’I tried to tell Rachel. I tried to explain. But she was too young. Maybe she still is. Sometimes she got it. Sometimes she didn\'t. I probably should have spent more time with her. I shouldn\'t have remarried so fast. Maybe that would have helped, I don\'t know. It doesn\'t matter now. The years passed. Rachel started to need someone. A hero. Someone who would love her unconditionally.’’


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