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Earlier that evening, while patrolman Bob Hanson was still cruising the streets near Lincoln High and just more than an hour before his bullets ripped out the life of Toby Barnes, Francine Walters sat down on her living room sofa. She pulled the TV tray closer as the six o'clock Eyewitness News came on. While the lead-in music played, she polished off the scotch at the bottom of her glass.
`Good evening, everyone,' said anchorwoman Chris Donner. `At the top of our news, investigators continue to probe last night's grisly murder of seventeen-year-old Maxwell Chidi, a student at Lincoln High in the nearby valley community of Bixby. The body of the black youth was discovered in the newly completed Memorial Stadium by ...
`Mark my words,' Francine said, `that boy was up to no good. He probably had it coming.'
`Shit,' Lisa muttered.
Francine snapped her head toward the girl. `What? What did you say?'
Lisa glared at her from the rocking chair. `I said that's shit. You don't know what you're talking about.'
'I know good and well what I'm talking about, young lady, and don't you dare speak to me that way. What's gotten into you? You haven't been fit to live with ever since you climbed out of bed this morning.'
The anger seemed to melt out of Lisa's stare. She opened her mouth as if to say something, then closed it again. Her lips mashed themselves together. Their corners trembled. Her chin, dimpled and discolored with the effort of thrusting up her lower lip, began to shake. Hereyes filled with tears. 'Lisa?'
'Just leave me alone.' She scooted back her rocking chair. But not far enough. As she got up, her thighs bumped the edge of her dinner tray. Not hard, but the collision jostled the tray and capsized her glass, which tumbled over the edge, flinging out its contents of ice cubes and water. The glass hit the carpet with a soft thump.
'Now see what you've done!' Francine snapped.
Letting out an anguished sob, the girl ran from the room.
What the hell's the matter with her? Francine wondered. Damn it!
Carefully, she moved her own tray aside. As she stood, she heard a door slam shut. It sounded too near to be Lisa's bedroom door. Probably the bathroom, just off the foyer.
She stepped past Lisa's tray and picked up the glass. Squatting, she gathered ice cubes off the beige carpet. Thank God it was only water, she thought. She dropped the cubes into the glass, if Lisa'd been drinking milk or Pepsi . . . and you can thank your lucky stars her lasagna didn't end up on the floor.
Francine set the glass on the tray, then went looking for Lisa. She felt hot and squirmy inside. God, how she hated this kind of thing.
But this episode didn't seem like one of her daughter's typical tantrums. Something more serious. Maybe something to do with the death of that black kid.
I shouldn't have smarted off about it, she thought.
Just as she'd suspected, the bathroom door was shut.
'Leave me alone.' From the girl's high, shaky voice, Francine knew she was still crying.
'Are you OK?'
'I'm sorry I lost my temper, honey. Come on out, now, all right? You have to be at the Foxworth's in less than an hour.' 'I can't.'
'They're counting on you. Come on out and finish your dinner.'
Seconds later, the lock pinged and the door swung open. Lisa's face was red, her eyes bloodshot, her face gleaming with streams of tears. Sobbing, she rubbed her runny nose with a Kleenex.
Seeing the girl this way, Francine felt her own throat tighten. Her eyes burned as they filled with tears. `What is it?' she asked.
`Oh, Mom!' She lurched forward, threw her arms around Francine and hugged her fiercely. She gasped for air. Spasms jerked her body. `I loved him,' she blurted. `I loved him so bad and they killed him.'
Denise Gunderson, done with her cheeseburger, folded the paper plate in half and dropped it into the waste container. She took a chocolate chip cookie from the freezer side of the refrigerator. Munching on it, cupping a hand under her chin in case of crumbs, she wandered into the front room.
`And what have we here?' she asked, her voice muffled by the mouthful of cookie.
She knew what she had here: a plastic bag containing the three video tapes she'd rented that afternoon. But whenever she was alone in the house, she liked to talk to herself, it broke the silence.
She sat on the floor and crossed her legs. She poked the remains of the cookie into her mouth, then brushed her fingers against the leg of her sweatpants. The noise of her teeth crunching the frozen cookie sounded a lot louder than the soft whispery rustle made by the bag as she spread it open. She took out the tapes and examined their titles. She had Watchers, Near Dark, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Shaking her head, she laughed softly and muttered, `Fine, wholesome family entertainment.'
But Tom would love them. He'd probably seen them already, but that wouldn't faze him at all.
`Now, if you've just got the guts to call him.'
The clock on the VCR showed 6:11 p.m.
If you're going to call him, Denise thought, you'd better do it now. Before he goes out somewhere.
Trying to ignore the unpleasant pounding of her heart, she got to her feet. She walked back into the kitchen and stared at the wall phone.
She felt awfully shaky. Drops of sweat slid down her sides.
`Oh, man,' she muttered.
If Mom and Dad find out I had him over ...
They had one hard and fast rule: no boys in the house when we're not home. So far, Denise had never broken the rule. She'd been tempted, but the fear of being caught (even innocently watching television with the guy) had always prevailed.
Tonight, however, there was no chance of her parents walking in. They were spending the night with friends in Tiburon, which was a two-hour drive from Bixby. They'd phoned at 5:30 just to make sure nothing was amiss. And Dad, who loathed driving at night, was not about to head for home before daylight. Their actual plan was to leave Tiburon in mid-afternoon.
Still, something could go wrong. A neighbor might spot Tom coming or going. His car might break down in the driveway, immovable, stuck there till Mom and Dad showed up. An earthquake might hit, trapping Tom in the house with her. `Or caving in our beans,' she said, and chuckled. `Screw it, call him up.'
She rubbed her clammy hands on her sweatpants. She took a deep breath. Then she reached for the phone and its sudden clamor rammed her breath out.
It's Tom, she thought. He must be psychic.
She lifted the receiver. `Hello?'
`Is this Denise?'
Not him. A woman's voice, vaguely familiar. `Yes, it is.'
`This is Lynn Foxworth. You sat for us a few months ago?'
`Sure.' Oh, no, she thought. But she forced herself to sound cheery as she said, `Kara's mother.'
`I really hate to bother you with this, it's such short notice. I just feel horrible, even asking. And please, if you already have plans for tonight, that's fine, maybe you can suggest someone else. But we're in an awful bind. We have seven o'clock dinner reservations, and I just this minute got off the phone with Francine Walters. Lisa's mom? Lisa it was all arranged for her to sit for us, but, I don't know, Francine was awfully upset. It seems she just found out that Lisa was with that murdered boy last night. There was a dance after the game? Anyway, Lisa apparently has some idea about who did it, and Francine's rushing her right over to the police department. Apparently she's afraid that, you know, somebody might try something with Lisa. To keep her from talking? Scary stuff. I guess it's just as well she isn't coming here. Not if killers might be after her, or something. Can you believe it? Anyway, now we're stuck without a sitter and I'm really at my wits' end but I thought, if you don't already have plans. Kara really likes you, and I know you only did it as a special favor last time because of your folks, but ... can you help us out?'
Denise wished she'd let the phone keep ringing.
`I sort of had a date,' she said.
`Well, he could come over here. God, what am I saying? I'd certainly never suggest such a thing to someone like Lisa, but ... I know how trustworthy you are. It might not be much fun for your friend, but it'd certainly be OK with us. We've got all kinds of good snacks, soft drinks.'
This, Denise thought, is one desperate woman.
`We shouldn't be very late. Maybe ten or eleven?'
`Well, I don't know about having my boyfriend there, but I'll come over. What time do you want me?'
`We should leave the house no later than ten till seven, so any time before that.'
Denise glanced at the kitchen clock. Six-fourteen.
`If you haven't eaten yet ...'
`No, I just finished.'
`I was going to say you could eat here, but ... Oh, Denise, you're a lifesaver. I can't tell you. This is great.'
`Glad to help. I'll see you in a while.'
`Would you like John to pick you up?'
`No, that's not necessary. But thanks.'
`Oh, don't thank me. You're a lifesaver, you really are.'
`I'd better get ready to go.'
`Right, right. Great. We'll see you in a few minutes.'
Denise hung up.
She thought about the rented movies. She thought about Tom. She felt cheated and sad.
`It's not the end of the world,' she muttered.
Maybe a blessing in disguise, she thought as she headed for her room to change clothes. Keeps me from breaking the `house rule.' Keeps me and Tom from being together for hours, alone in the house, and maybe things would've gotten out of hand.
Maybe I wanted things to get out of hand.
God's way of saving me from temptation.
Or giving me the shaft.
Patterson, manning the front desk, leaned forward and smirked when Trevor Hudson entered the station. `When are you gonna get a life, Hudson?'
`I just couldn't stay away,' Trev said. `I know how you pine for me.'
`Your ass and my face, pal.'
`If you say so.' Trev made his way past the end of the counter, smiled a greeting to Lucy, and was almost to his desk when Patterson turned around, frowning.
`I meant that the other way around.'
`Oh? OK.' He pulled out his swivel chair and sat down.
`I mean it, though. This is Saturday night, man. Date night, you know? You oughta be out somewhere getting lowdown and hairy.'
`I'd rather be here with you,' he said, and winked at the burly sergeant.
Lucy, at the dispatcher station off in the corner, looked over her shoulder grinning. `You'd better watch what you say, Trev, or you'll have Patty sitting on your lap.'
`Sit on mine, honey,' Patterson told her. `Better still, on my face.'
`Don't you wish,' she said, then turned away as a call came in.
Trev slid open his top drawer. He took out a coupon for a dollar off a family size pizza at O'Casey's, dug his wallet out of a seat pocket of his jeans, and folded the coupon. As he tucked it into his wallet, he shook his head at the absurdity of dropping by here for a dollar-off coupon.
Nothing absurd about it, he told himself. He had to drive right past the station, anyway, on his way to O'Casey's. And a buck is a buck.
But his stomach fluttered a bit as he stuffed the wallet back into his pocket and he knew that his real reason for picking up the coupon had less to do with thrift than with procrastination.
A delaying tactic.
Maureen might not even be there. This is Saturday, and she'd been on the job each time Trev had gone there during the past week. It only stood to reason that she wouldn't work every night.
On the other hand, the dinner hour on a Saturday evening is probably O'Casey's busiest time. And it's a family business. She'd come to town for Mary's funeral, three weeks ago, and turned up waiting on customers when the pizzaria reopened. According to her brother, she was staying with Liam and planned to remain indefinitely, taking care of her father and helping out with the business.
So it didn't make sense for Maureen to take off Saturday night.
She would be there, all right.
And Trev planned to do more, this time, than exchange a few friendly words with her and gape at her while she made visits to other tables. He planned to ask her out. And he wasn't sure he had the nerve.
She likes me, he thought. I know she does.
It was more than her cheerful, wise-cracking banter. She talked to all the customers that way. But she didn't look at the others the way she looked at Trev. When her eyes met his, their gaze seemed to sink into him as if searching deep inside, looking for something, wondering about him, and they seemed to hold a soft challenge.
She wants me to ask her out. And she's wondering why I haven't, yet. Wondering what's wrong.
I've got to do it, Trev thought. Tonight. Now.
But he remained at his desk, staring past the deserted desks toward the door of the interrogation room.
Come on, he told himself. Get up and go. Do it.
`You all of a sudden into meditation?' Patterson asked.
Trev looked around at him. `Just thinking,' he said. `Try it, sometime.'
`Try eating dirt,' Patterson said. And was about to say more, but someone apparently entered the station just then, so he turned to the front.
Trev looked at the wall clock. Six twenty-five.
He'd been going into O'Casey's at eight, midway through his shift. If he showed up this early, Maureen might not be on duty yet. Maybe he should wait a couple of hours.
Don't be such a damn chicken!
He rolled back his chair. As he started to rise, he heard footsteps behind him. He stood and turned around. Patterson was striding toward him, a serious look on his face. In a hushed voice, he said, `Since you're here anyway, maybe you'd like to handle this.'
Trev saw two females, an adult and a teenaged girl, at the other side of the reception window. `I was just on my way out.'
`It's about the Chidi case. You're more up on it than me.'
`Well, I was there last night.'
`The girl knew Chidi. Sounds like they were going together.'
`OK, I'll talk to them.'
What the hell, he thought, I was looking for an excuse. And this might be a break. Shouldn't take long, and Maureen might not be there yet, anyway.
`You won't regret it,' Patterson said, then rolled his eyes upward and pursed his lips. `Couple of knockouts. Maybe you'll get lucky.' Resuming a solemn expression, he turned away. He headed toward the women and said, `Officer Hudson will see you. If you'd like to step in.' He nodded toward the opening at the far end of the counter.
Trev met them there. He sized them up quickly, decided he didn't much like what he saw, and gave them a smile that he hoped was reassuring. `Thanks for coming by. I'm Trevor Hudson.'
The older woman, probably the girl's mother, narrowed her eyes as if she expected Trev to give her shit and rather hoped he might try. `Francine Walters,' she said. Her raspy voice was as hard as her looks. She appeared to be about forty, but Trev had seen this type before, and they always appeared older than their years. Her hair was bleached blond. She needed to do the roots. Too much eye makeup. Lipstick too bright. A lean, drawn face with wrinkle lines in the wrong places. It was a face that hadn't smiled much, that spent too much time scowling or giving off sarcastic smirks. `This is Lisa,' she said.
The girl didn't look up. Her head was lowered, her shoulders slumped. Her hair was the same silvery blond as her mother's, but her roots didn't show.
`Come on back here,' Trev said, `and we'll talk.'
He led the way toward the interrogation room. `We don't want to end up on the news,' Francine said to his back. `We don't want it all over town.'
He opened the door and held it for them.
`Is that understood?' Francine asked.
`We'll try to keep it between the three of us,' Trev said.
The girl gave him a wary glance as she stepped by. She'd been crying, and her face looked freshly scrubbed. Trev imagined that she might be a beautiful young woman if she ever smiled. She was shorter than her mother, but had the same build hips and breasts that seemed too prominent for her otherwise slim figure. She probably kept the high school girls in a constant state of envy and the boys in heat.
She wore a pullover sweater that might have fit her a couple of years ago. She'd probably bought it too small, just as she'd probably bought the blue jeans pre-faded and pre-slashed. The legs of her jeans, fashionably ripped and frayed, made it look as if she'd been attacked by a knife-wielding midget.
A cloying odor of perfume swept past Trev as she stepped through the doorway.
A more exotic perfume followed Francine. Not as sweet, dark and wanton, mixed with odors of whiskey and stale smoke.
Trev stepped into the room. `Please, sit down. Could I get you some coffee? We've got a soda machine, Lisa. Would you like a Pepsi or ...?'
`Can we just get on with it?' Francine asked.
Nodding, he closed the door. Through the glass, he saw Patterson leer at him, pump his fist, and mouth something that looked like `Va va va voom.'
Thinks he's doing me a favor, sending me in with these two. Knockouts. Right.
I could be sitting at O'Casey's, right now. I could be talking to Maureen.
He turned to the women. They were seated facing the table, their backs to him. He stepped behind them. He picked up a legal pad from a stack at the end of the table, then swung a chair out past the corner and sat down. He wanted to keep it informal. He didn't want the table in the way. He told himself that it had nothing to do with wanting a better view of Patterson's knockouts. He crossed one leg, rested the legal pad against his upthrust knee, and said to Lisa, `I understand that you knew Maxwell Chidi.'
`Yeah,' she said. She glanced at him, then looked the other way to check on her mother who was nearly hidden from Trev's view on her far side. She then did just what he expected. She scooted her chair away from the table, far back until it bumped the window sill and she no longer separated Trev from her mother.
Then both women turned their chairs toward him.
`They were going together,' Francine said. `I didn't know a thing about it. The last I heard, she was still going with Buddy Gilbert.'
Trev plucked a ballpoint from his shirt pocket and wrote down the name. `How long were you seeing Maxwell?' he asked the girl.
`A couple of weeks,' she said without looking at him. Her eyes were fixed on the knee of her jeans, where she was fingering her skin through a ragged slit. There were more gashes higher up.
`She just kept me totally in the dark,' Francine said, taking a pack of cigarettes from her purse. `If I'd known, I would've put a quick stop to it. You'd better believe it.' She shook out a cigarette. Tapping its filter against the table, she said, `It's not that I'm a bigot or anything.'
`Sure you aren't,' Lisa muttered.
`That's right, I'm not.' Glaring at the back of her daughter's head, she jabbed the cigarette into a corner of her mouth and fired it with a Bic. `But I think I've been around awhile longer than you, young lady, and I think I know a few things you don't.' The cigarette jerked up and down as she talked. Lisa kept fiddling with the tear at her knee. `One thing I know is a girl like you starts going around with a black guy, it means trouble. And I was right, wasn't I? Wasn't I?'
`I guess,' Lisa murmured.
`You guess. The boy's dead, isn't he?'
`Think he'd be dead if he didn't start going with you?'
`Lisa,' Trev said, `do you know who murdered him?'
`Tell the man what you told me.'
She glanced up at Trev, then frowned at the rip in her jeans, `I think it might've been Buddy and his friends.'
`Buddy Gilbert,' Trev said.
`Yeah. See, he didn't like it when `I broke up with him. Then there was the dance after the game last night. In the gym? Buddy came in with his friends. They were all drunk, you know? Buddy tried to cut in and dance with me and I told him, you know, to get lost. And he started ... He got real nasty. He called Maxwell ... like every name in the book. You know?' She raised her eyes to Trev as if curious to see his reactions. `Nigger, coon, jigaboo, spade, spear-chucker, jungle bunny. That kind of thing? And he got really crude about how black people are supposed to have bigger dicks?'
`Jesus, Lisa!' her mother snapped.
`Well, he did. Like that was why I dumped him for Maxwell.'
`You don't have to announce it to the goddamn world!'
`It's all right,' Trev told the girl. `What happened then?'
`Well, Maxwell just stood there and didn't say anything, and Mr Sherman he s the vice principal? he came over and kicked Buddy and his friends out.'
`Do you know the names of Buddy's friends?'
`Sure. Doug Haines and Lou Nicholson.'
Lou didn't want to be here. He wished he were in his own home, in bed with the pillow covering his face. But when Buddy calls and says come over, you come over.
Hell, maybe it was better not to be home. Here, at least, he wasn't alone. There were sure to be some wild times, what with the five of them together and Doug's folks over at the club. And the booze. One way or another, maybe he'd be able to forget about last night. At least for a while.
And then, as if his hopes were being answered, he did forget about last night. Because Sheila, his girl, chose that moment to sit down across Buddy's lap. She bounced on it playfully an fingered his left ear. `How are we supposed to have a party when you haven't got a gal?'
`Who says I haven't got a gal? Buddy rubbed his hand over the back of her sweatshirt.
They're just kidding around, Lou told himself, But he suddenly felt hot and squirmy inside.
Sheila smiled over her shoulder at him and said, `I think my fella's getting jealous.'
Lou shrugged. `Who, me?' Stupid! He wanted to grab her by the neck and throw her off Buddy's lap.
Facing Buddy again, she slipped her fingers through his hair. `I guess Lou doesn't mind.'
`Who's talking about you?' Buddy grabbed a handful at the back of her sweatshirt. When he let go, Lou