Jacob stared ahead, into the dark like peering dragons lair. Two faint red taillights shined back at him like the eyes of a dragon staring out of a dark cave. Out here the absence of street lights or the glow of a city allowed the stars to be seen. Although he couldn’t remember the last time he had seen so many stars, the only lights Jacob focused on were the two red ones that shown in front of him. The only thing he could think about was that the dragon slayers rarely came home.
He had noticed the rusty late 1980’s model Ford Econoline cargo van at the abandoned factory and saw the music equipment laying in the back and assumed it to be Charles’s van. If he knew he was being followed he wasn’t trying to loose Jacob. The lights stayed at a safe distance and Jacob didn’t have to adjust his speed or make any unexpected turns, he seemed to be heading right back into town.
What was Charles doing? They had sat in the factory for about an hour after Jacob was forced to make his visit a short one. No more than forty minutes after he left he saw Piper return with Bash and Gordy, who’s blue jeans had been cut up to the gunshot wound which had been wrapped in a large white bandage. After about twenty minutes Charles got in his van and left the factory.
Something, he wasn’t sure what, but something told Jacob to follow Charles. His actions at the factory had struck Jacob as odd. He wasn’t like them, the rough and tough hard gang-bangers. They had ended up out in the middle of nowhere but after climbing the recently thawed pine tree lined road and topping a hill he looked down onto the small city of Pine Bluff as it lay between the bluffs and Mighty Mississippi.
Charles reached the bottom of the hill when he hit his blinker. Jacob wondered what he could possibly be doing. There didn’t seem to be anything on this road, unless there was an exit that Jacob had missed the sign for he would be pulling to the side of the road. Had he spotted Jacob following him?
He watched as the van sputtered off onto the shoulder of the road, then he saw it. What Charles was stopping for. A car was parked on the shoulder, sitting there with its lights off. The large white SUV sat there in silence. Had Charles not decided to stop Jacob thought he might have drove right past it, never even noticing it sitting there.
But now he didn’t know what to do, his gut told him to stop, he can’t be spotted, but his years of training told him that he had to be as inconspicuous as possible and keep driving.
As he neared the van and the SUV his heart began to race and his stomach tied in knots. He kept both hands on the wheel and his face ahead, focused on the road. But his eyes where cocked to the side, making it possible to see the occupants of the car.
As he passed the SUV and Charles standing at its door, he saw writing. Writing that he recognized all to well to be that of the police. It was a sheriffs department vehicle. Out of instinct Jacob craned his neck in an attempt to try to see who was driving, but Charles’s body blocked the window and his only opportunity to see what was going on inside that police car.
After he crossed fifty-five and entered Pine Bluff he knew that he had most likely lost Charles. What was going on? What made a gang-banger stop to talk to a police officer out on an old country road in the middle of the night? He had only one answer that made sense and he didn’t really want to think about it.
That seemed to be the problem with most small town drug enforcement practices these days. They all seemed to be crooked. He had seen it a hundred times, even in the city it happened. Money made a lot of people do things they may not have normally done. And in these economic times he figured it was even harder to resist the temptation.
His phone vibrated in his pocket as he reached the hotel parking lot. He pulled it out of his pocket looked at the caller ID.
“Hello,” he said.
“Excuse me, Kelsey. I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“I’m at my hotel.”
“Good. I saw you drive by. Charles called me and said you were following him around.”
What? How had he been spotted?
“I really don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Sure you do, you thought to accuse him and his brother of murdering a little girl for some retaliation act because her dad owes them some money. Really, Jacob, this isn’t the city. People don’t do that kind of stuff here.”
“Really? People do that kind of stuff everywhere.” The one thing that he had learned over the years is that most of the murders he had seen had been for two major reasons, love or money and it really didn’t matter who got in the way. If they couldn’t have gotten to Jerry they might have taken the opportunity with Haley.
“Not here Jacob.”
“How did he have your number? He call 911 or you personally, Kelsey.”
“Let’s say I know him from Blue’s. I told you he was my favorite band. We have hung out.”
“Kelsey, they are drug dealers and pimps.”
“There is no proof of that and Charles is different.” Jacob had to agree with her on this point. He didn’t tell her but that was the reason he was following him. He had saw something in the mans eyes that was different from his brothers.
“So your sleeping with him, huh?”
“Maybe I did, what does it matter?”
“It doesn’t, just that you may be a little bias.” It was a trick to try to see what she may reveal, get her mad enough and she might reveal a card she is holding close to her chest.
“I’m an officer of the law, Jacob, but I’m a friend first. I may be bias but if he has done something wrong, which there is no evidence of, I would be the first to pick him up-” She stopped there, cutting herself off. “Also I thought I told you to stay at the bar.”
He could hear her anger. “I waited for quite a while and you never came back, I thought that you had forgotten about me.”
“Of course I didn’t forget, I want to see you first thing in the morning at the station. And I’m giving you a formal warning, if I don’t see you there by nine am there will be a warrant for your arrest.”
“On what grounds?”
She thought for a minute, “Illegal possession of a firearm. Don’t fuck with me Nathan, I mean it.”
Now for the question that he hoped she would answer.
“What’s Haley’s cause of death?”
“If its any of your business, We can’t determine that, she went to Saint Louis for an autopsy.”
There were only a handful of numbers that Jacob knew by heart, Rachel’s, his parents before they passed and Peter Harwood. Peter had been the best man at Jacob’s wedding, his wing man after the divorce and his right hand man during the Andy Stafford kidnapping case. It was the case that tore his career and his marriage apart. Peter had watched it all unravel, and never said one judgmental word to him, even though all the things that had happened to him were far less than what he deserved. And Jacob knew he could never repay the debt that he owed Peter.
That’s what made calling him that much harder. He knew the things it would do to Peter if he called him. But he saw no other option. His stomach tightened and retched with pain when he heard the first ring. He had opted to call Peter’s cell phone rather than the medical examiners office where he worked. He figured it would be less likely that his call could be traced. But as he heard the phone ring and ring until the voice mail picked up he began to grow concerned that his friend wouldn’t pick up to the unknown number. After two more attempts Jacob stood at the brink of giving up.
“Hello,” the rough baritone voice answered. Pete always reminded Jacob of the guy who played in The Green Mile. His six foot seven, three hundred pound stature, and deep voice showed his high testosterone level but Pete’s lovable demeanor made him a teddy bear. He loved and cared for everyone he met and truly had no enemies. More like Lenny from Of Mice and Men, only not slow.
“Hello, old friend.”
The baritone voice was silent. Only breathing filled the line between them for what seemed like two full minutes.
“You M-efer,” Pete rarely cursed and he liked to use abbreviations to make his point. “Your toe tag is down at my morgue right now. I’m actually with the chief and two other police officers now. They wanna know how exactly you died.”
“What did you tell them?”
“I didn’t tell them it was a heroin overdose and that it was the gunshot wound to the neck.”
“You really ef-ed me on this one, ‘friend’.” He was angry and Jacob sat silent. “I had my suspicions that it wasn’t you but I wasn’t sure.”
“You are now.”
“Yes I guess I am,” he stopped for a moment and Jacob could hear talking in the background and metal and glass clinging together. Although he was unable to make out the chatter he was certain he knew what was going on. “What am I supposed to tell the police, Jacob?”
“Just tell ‘em it was me.”
“What about the dead man?”
“I assumed his identity. No one will miss him, I checked. He had no family, no one even reported the man missing.”
“That doesn’t make it right, Jacob.”
He agreed but right now he wished he was eating as well. He thought back and couldn’t remember the last time he had fed himself. But as quickly as the hunger came it was gone, he knew he had other things to do at the moment.
“Listen, Pete, I have a favor to ask of you.”
“Like you haven’t asked enough of me over the years? I’m done helping you Jacob. As far as I’m concerned that is you on my table.”
Just as he was about to hang up the phone and go back to his lovely dinner with the chief, Jacob yelled into the phone. “Its not for me, its for a girl.”
“A fifteen year old girl-” he paused. He knew that Pete would finally be done judging him. “She was murdered and I need to find her killer?”
Another deep sigh filled the space between them. Then Jacob waited through the silence and wondered if Pete had hung up the phone. He looked down at the screen and saw that the timer continued ticking, the line was still open.
“What do you need?”
Thank god. He didn‘t sound as though he was judging. Pete knew his friend too well. “You should be getting her body within a couple hours. She is being sent to you from Pine Bluff Missouri.”
“Okay,” he said. Jacob could tell he was making mental notes.
“She is a fifteen year old Caucasian female, roughly five six, small frame. She will be highly decomposed.”
“She was murdered in a park here. Her father hired me to find her, but we found her body.”
“I need to know everything you tell the police. Estimated time of death, cause of death, tox screen. Everything you got.”
“What are you going to do?”
Truth was Jacob didn’t have an answer for that yet. But he was sure something would come to him.