“Where the hell have you been?” Damien jogged over to me when I reached the bottom of the hill. “I’ve been running around the woods aimlessly for half an hour looking for you.”
“Sorry, I was…” I glanced back up the hill at the rundown house. I was what? Flirting with an innocent civilian? Not exactly. I hadn’t been flirting. I was simply questioning her. And she definitely wasn’t innocent. That woman was hiding something. I’d bet my badge on it. Not that such a bet would mean much...I was about to lose my badge anyway.
“You were what?” His breath was ragged from running.
I didn’t want to talk to him about the woman I had just met. He’d ask me too many prying questions and joke around about why it took me so long to question her. Besides, she was clearly married. And my number one suspect. I just wasn’t sure why neither fact made her less appealing to me. “Aw, Torres, were you worried about me?” I patted his shoulder and kept walking through the woods.
He caught back up to me. “No. These woods just give me the creeps. And it doesn’t help that there’s an escaped psychopath somewhere in the vicinity. Seriously, don’t take off like that.”
I could have kept teasing him about being worried. But I was glad someone had my back. Because no one else in this town did. “I’ll tell you next time I’m about to follow a lead.” I ducked under a branch.
“A lead? What lead? You weren’t even briefed yet.”
“A neighbor saw the woman who lived in the house run into the woods. I thought I might be able to catch her.”
He tugged the zipper on his coat higher. “No wonder I got the creeps walking out here by myself. One crazy woman on the loose is bad enough. But two? Let’s get the hell out of here.” He picked up his pace.
“What do you mean two? Are there two suspects?”
“Nah, I was just referring to Violet. I’d stay out of these woods due to her alone.”
“Sometimes I forget you’re not a local. The crazy woman on the hill.” He gestured behind us.
The crazy woman on the hill? I glanced over my shoulder at the hill, but I could barely see it in the darkness. “You mean the one who lives in that dilapidated house?”
“Don’t tell me you met her?”
“I thought she might be the arsonist. There were footprints leading from the crime scene practically to her doorstep.”
Damien laughed. “She rarely leaves her house. Pretty sure she’s scared of germs or something. She’s a total nut-bag but not an arsonist.”
“Are you sure it’s not the same person? Her hair was wet. Maybe she had just dyed it. She fit Sally’s description otherwise and…”
“Who the hell is Sally?”
“That nosy neighbor at the crime scene.”
He shook his head. “And you believed the observations of a bored housewife?”
“Sally was a very credible source.” She wasn’t. She was exactly how Damien described her, only more of the gossipy variety. She had been fishing for information more than offering anything valuable. I was pretty sure she was already spreading rumors of Benjamin Harlow being a polygamist.
“Well I’m a more credible source than your new friend. And you’re barking up the wrong tree with Violet.”
“But she lied about seeing something. I think if we go back and question her again she’ll…”
“No need. We’re off the case.”
I stopped on the edge of the woods. “What do you mean we’re off the case? I already have a lead.”
Damien kept walking back toward my car. “There are no leads. Not for us anyway. I did what you wanted, we get to go have that drink now.”
“Well undo it. I really think we should go question…”
“Fine. I didn’t technically get us off the case. The captain said we no longer have proper clearance. It turned into some next level shit. The FBI will be here soon.”
Jesus. The FBI? Solving this case wouldn’t just save my career. It would set it on a much better trajectory. We passed the crime scene where the fire was finally being contained. I didn’t want to let this go. I had more questions to ask the cops and neighbors. I scanned the marred yellow caution tape that Sally had been fighting earlier, but she was nowhere in sight. The case had been so easily abandoned by everyone but me.
“Open the damn door, Tucker.” He knocked on the passengers’ side window of my car.
I pulled the keys out of my pocket and unlocked it. Damien had more information than he was letting on. He had been chatting with the captain for as long as I was running around in the woods. He had to have found out a lot about the case before we were called off it. I didn’t have much of a choice but to take him up on his offer of drinks now. I had already cracked this case wide open, I just needed a few more details. The more Damien drank, the more he’d talk.
“So you’re scared of Violet because she has obsessive-compulsive disorder?” I asked. Damien was three beers in while I was still nursing my first. It was the perfect time to pry more information out of him.
“I never said that I was scared of her. And I have no idea what her freaking diagnosis is. I said the woods give me the creeps because they're filled with crazy women.”
I should have been getting details about the case. But for some reason my mind had decided to focus on Violet. It had nothing to do with her beauty and everything to do with the fact that she was guilty. At least, that’s what I was telling myself. I needed to know more about her to figure out the perfect plan before showing up on her property again tomorrow morning. “OCD isn’t exactly creepy.”
“It’s not about the OCD. It’s everything else. It’s about the fact that she used to be so normal and then lost her mind and decided to isolate herself from the world.”
I took a sip of my beer and waited for him to continue. I knew that he would. Once he got going on a story it was hard to stop him, even if the story was terribly boring and I desperately wanted it to end. But I was dying to hear more of this one.
He leaned forward slightly and dropped his voice. “She was a few years younger than me in school. I saw her around and she wasn’t crazy then. She was normal. Popular even. I was away in college when it happened, but apparently her whole family abandoned her. Just went poof in the night. Her boyfriend too. They left her all alone, flew to the opposite ends of the country just to get away from her. And that’s when the crazy came out. At least when it started to show to everyone else apparently. Her family probably ditched her because they already knew she was a loon.”
“So you just heard about this? You weren’t there when any of it happened?” He was as bad as nosy Sally. Rumors weren’t facts. He knew that.
“Sure, rumors spread like hotcakes. But these ones are true, I’m telling you. I mean, if the woman is sane, why does she live out in the middle of the woods in that rundown shack?”
It wasn’t a shack. The house would have been beautiful in its prime. I couldn’t exactly argue with the rundown part though. It had been the first thing I’d noticed about the place. “Well if she was alone it would be crazy. But she’s not.” I remembered how defensive she got when I implied that she shouldn’t be out in the woods alone. “She’s married, right?”
He rose both eyebrows and laughed. “Married? Are you kidding? Who would marry that whack-job?”
I took another sip of my beer. So it had been another lie. She was alone in that house. Why had she been so quick to lie to me? The question had been turning around in my head for the past hour, always leading toward one conclusion. She was hiding something. “Maybe she’s out there because she’s trying to run from something she did.”
“Not this again. We’re off the case, man.”
“Just hear me out. What if we solved the case instead of the FBI? We could do no wrong after something like that.”
He just stared at me.
“All we have to do is go question Violet again and…”
“You have the hots for her.”
I laughed. “No, definitely not.”
He slowly shook his head. “You’re smitten.”
“Who uses the word smitten? I’m not smitten.”
A huge smile spread over his face. “She was hot. I haven’t seen her in years, but I remember her being at least an eight.”
She was a ten, hands down. If Damien didn’t see that, he was blind. But the captain and Violet certainly didn’t look anything alike. Damien tended to go after curvy, powerful women who he pretended he knew how to handle. Violet wasn’t like that. She seemed…delicate. Like a violet actually. A lying, timid yet audacious, sexy as sin violet. I shrugged away the thought. “I’m not attracted to her. But speaking of women…how did your chat with the captain go?”
“Great. Pretty sure she's going to say yes to a date any day now.”
Keep dreaming. “So what did she say about the case?”
“That two cops were killed in the explosion, which is why we had to rush over there. Everyone thought there was also a civilian in critical condition. He left in an ambulance before we arrived on the scene, but they IDed him at the hospital while I was on the phone. He’s actually some hotshot agent from out of town that’s part of an ongoing investigation.”
“Yup, that’s the one.”
“Is he going to be okay?”
Damien shrugged. “It didn’t sound good. He’s in critical condition. I doubt he’ll make it through the night.”
Damn. I was really hoping to question him about everything. He’d even be able to ID Violet if she was the one that had been living in the house. But that theory was pretty much out the window. If everyone knew about the crazy lady on the hill, surely Sally would have known. She would have just said Violet had done it and then gone home. That wasn’t it. I was missing something.
What I needed was a good night’s sleep so I could sort through the details with a fresh perspective. All I could focus on right now was that there were two cops down. And that Benjamin guy would be a third soon enough. This case was big, just like I had suspected. Any more information Damien could give me would be helpful. “So…what’s the ongoing investigation?”
“That’s all I know. The case was ours for less than ten minutes.”
“Did you hear anything else about Benjamin? It was strange…Sally knew him. But she said his last name was Jones instead of Harlow.”
“Maybe I was wrong about you having the hots for Violet. Clearly you have a thing for Sally. What’s she look like?”
Frumpy and twice my age. “I’m not interested in Sally or Violet. I’m interested in solving the case.”
“How about the two dimes at 10 o’clock?”
I didn’t even turn to look. “Aren’t you trying to score with the captain?”
“Yeah but big fish take time. I’m just looking for tonight, not the long haul.”
“I’m going to pass.”
“Suit yourself. I’ll see you in the morning.” He grabbed his beer and headed over to the table behind me.
I sighed and pulled out my wallet. Damien had barely given me any information. I was going to have to solve this thing on my own. And on my own time because I was already on thin ice at work.
END OF CHAPTER 4
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