Shelter in place, p.37
Shelter in Place,
As they left, Dylan and the dogs in the lead, Simone carried dishes inside. She’d keep busy, she thought, try not to think too much, just clear the picnic table, load the dishwasher, and wait.
Because what was coming wasn’t good news.
Five minutes passed, then ten, then fifteen before she heard him coming back.
She got out a cold beer, offered it to him when he came in.
“I sent them on. Essie knows there’s trouble, and I know you’ll want to talk to her about it. But I need you to tell me. It’s not island trouble, not from the way you looked at Essie.”
“No, not island trouble.” He took a chug from the beer. “I didn’t want Dylan to hear my end of the conversation.”
“I know. Now he’s playing on the beach. Was it Agent Jacoby?”
“Yeah.” He could work his way up to it. “They found the car Hobart was driving when they spotted her in Louisville. She’d changed the plates, busted it up some. The idiot who found it decided to claim it as his own, did some half-assed bodywork. They found it when the Staties stopped him for speeding—and driving while stoned as it turned out. And hauling a batch of opioids. He did some basic bullshitting. Not my car, man. I just borrowed it.”
“I don’t know where those drugs came from,” Simone finished.
“Yeah, except he had some of said drugs in his pocket. Anyway, before they had all that nailed down, they found Hobart’s prints and the rental agreement with the alias she’d used in the mall down there in the glove box. It came out he’d found the car, busted up and abandoned. Which led to them finding another guy who’d sold her a junk Ford for cash and no worries about paperwork.”
“Now they have a description of that car.”
“She won’t still have it. They’re trying to run that down.”
“That’s not all.”
“No.” He brushed her arm as he wandered to the glass doors. “No, that’s not all. I told you they tracked the card she sent me to where she mailed it.”
“And they were able to track her to where she’d stayed in Coral Gables. That helped track her to Atlanta and the flight to Portland.”
“A little late for McMullen, but yeah. Got the name she used to book the cabin.”
“When they had that sighting in Louisville, verified the name she used to charge those purchases at the mall, the car and tag. You said that was good, good work. You said she’s making mistakes.”
“Yeah.” He turned back. “That didn’t stop her from killing Tracey Lieberman.”
Simone braced a hand on the counter, then sat. “Where, how?”
“Near Elkins, West Virginia. Lieberman worked as a guide. National forest right there. She was in the theater with her mother, her aunt, her cousin. She was fourteen then. She got married last year. Back then she was Tracey Mulder.”
“God. I knew her—a little. She was a year behind us, but she and Mi were in gymnastics together. I knew her.”
He came over to sit beside her. “Her mother was killed that night. She shielded Tracey with her own body. And still Tracey took hits in both legs. Her aunt and her cousin, minor injuries, but Tracey’s were severe. They weren’t sure she’d walk again without assistance, or without a profound limp. She’d never be competitive in gymnastics again. She got a lot of press.”
“And Hobart targets that.”
“Yeah. She got more, even as the story faded off some, because she didn’t give up. She had all the surgeries, and didn’t give up. She did years of PT, and caught the attention of a couple of medalists from the U.S. gymnastics team. They gave her a gold medal for courage. More press.
“She not only walked again, on her own, but at twenty completed her first 5K marathon, and came in fifth. More press. A couple years later, a 25K, third place, and she dedicated the race to her mom.”
“She did some motivational speaking, went to work for the Park Service, moved to Elkins for the job. Got married. McMullen, among others, did a splash on her. Pictures of her after a marathon, looking healthy, more of her in her wedding dress, with the gold medal in her bouquet.”
“She’s everything that Hobart detests. She made strength and heart and endurance out of tragedy and pain.”
“And got the gold—a kind of symbol of wealth and fame.”
“Social media?” Simone asked.
“She was active on a couple of sites for runners. She had two of her own, a public page, about the national forest, the trails, photos, anecdotes. And a private one with her personal stuff.”
“But it’s never really private, is it?”
Reed turned the bottle, shook his head. “All it takes is basic hacking or finding a way to have the page owner let you in. Either way, Hobart knew enough to track her on her early morning runs. She ran every day, not always the same route, but she ran every morning. Hobart’s known to be a runner.”
“She could run one of the routes a couple of times, let Tracey see her, get used to seeing her. Even strike up a conversation.”
“Easy enough,” he agreed. “She was killed this morning between six-thirty and eight-thirty. A bullet in each leg, one in the head.”
“The legs.” It burned in Simone’s heart. “Hobart wanted to destroy her before she killed her.”
“Take out her legs again,” Reed agreed. “Bring back that pain and terror. The feds will track back to where she lived in that area, how long, what she drove.”
“But she’ll be gone, and driving something else.”
“That’s her pattern, but every piece of information counts. It adds up. It should add up,” he muttered.
“Was Tracey on your, I guess I’d call it a watch list?”
“I had her, but … She didn’t really benefit financially, she didn’t get media hero status out of the incident itself. She didn’t affect the outcome. I had her, but we weren’t focused there.”
He shoved up to pace. “Damn it, she drove out of Florida after Devlon, flew out of Atlanta, back to Portland to snatch McMullen, held her in a cabin in the White Mountains, miles east of here, for hours.”
The admirable calm’s slipping, she noted. So she’d be calm for him. “She’d never abducted and held anyone before.”
“She wanted more than a straight kill with McMullen. She wanted attention. The tripod, the lights, makeup traces, and a reporter? She did a video, had to.”
“God, she taped killing McMullen?”
“That might’ve been bonus footage. She wanted the interview, it’s what makes sense. She booked the cabin, had supplies for a full week, but killed McMullen within twenty-four of the snatch. She couldn’t hold on to it, couldn’t maintain for longer.”
To keep her hands busy, Simone dealt with more dishes. “What does that tell you?”
“She’s breaking down. She’s sure as hell breaking down. It tells me she needed to talk, to tell somebody—on the record—how goddamn smart she is, tell them what she’s done and why.”
Simone turned back to him. “She’s isolated, has been all of her life really. A lot by choice, but isolated and playing roles.”
“That’s exactly right.”
“I haven’t been, not really, because I had CiCi and Mi—but I pulled away from my family, and some of that was them pulling away from me. I played a role for a year, to try to please my parents, and ended up making myself sick and miserable before I stopped.”
“What role?” He dragged himself out of his frustration over Hobart, looked at Simone. “You never told me about that.”
“A long time ago—college time. The business major, corporate suit, date-the-fortunate-son-like-the-parents-want role. It’s awful to try to be what you’re not. She does that all the time, has done it all the time.”
“Except with her brother. She could be herself with him.”
“First her parents took him away from her, then we—because it’s all of us to her, isn’t it? Then we killed him. Now she’s alone, playing roles. You’re the only one a
“You’re on the money. She needed to make a statement, spend some time being herself. I bet she plays that recording over and over.”
Frustrated, disgusted, he dropped onto a stool at the kitchen peninsula. “But she’s still covering her tracks, and goddamn well. She leaves McMullen’s body in the cabin, calculating it won’t be found for a few days—and she’s right. Meanwhile, she takes McMullen’s car west into New Hampshire, changed the plates along the way, dumps it in the airport lot in Concord—her favorite ploy—and she’s in the wind again. They’ll backtrack her with the sighting in Louisville, and the murder in West Virginia, but we started looking west. Why come all the way back here, drive McMullen west, take the car west, if she was going to double back south?”
“Kentucky’s still west of Maine,” Simone pointed out.
“Yeah, we factored that in. Looking for a reason for her crossing into New Hampshire, then with the sighting, looking at the southwest. So I’m looking at this guy who moved to Arkansas a couple of years ago, another in Texas, and didn’t give West Virginia or Tracey much of a thought.”
“If you take one fraction of one degree of blame over this, I’ll be seriously pissed off at you.”
“Not blame, but … I don’t know the word for it. She doubled back again, and none of us saw it coming.”
“You’ll go over it with Essie later tonight. I’ll go home with CiCi.” She held up a hand before he objected. “From what I’ve seen of Hank, he’ll keep Dylan occupied. We’re all going to get out of the way, and you can go over it with Essie.”
He slid off the stool, drew her off hers, rested his forehead to hers. “You’re right. Let’s go walk on the beach.” He kissed her. “With friends and dogs and a wild and crazy kid.”
Simone went with him. She didn’t know where Elkins might be, but felt certain if she traced a northeast route on the map from Louisville, she’d find it.
* * *
Despite the pall of another murder, Reed saw Essie and her family off on the ferry early Monday morning after a good, happy weekend.
They glided away, waving, in a steady rain that had held off until just before dawn. He appreciated the timing—and now that he had lupines and tulips and other unidentified things popping up around his house, he appreciated the rain, too.
He and Essie had spent time in his office, the old partner rhythm still there. They agreed, unless she veered off course, her next area of interest should be the D.C. area.
They had a congressional aide, a victim’s advocate lawyer, a political reporter, and a couple who ran a women’s shelter—all within a fifty-mile radius.
Reed intended to pass their theories, conclusions, and newest list to Jacoby when he got to the station.
At his side, Barney whined as the ferry drifted away.
“They’ll be back. You did okay, pal. You even took a biscuit from the scary bearded man, even if you did run away from him afterward. Progress. Let’s go to work.”
He got in early, made coffee, sent the report he and Essie put together to Jacoby, settled down with the memos and incident reports on his desk.
A drunk and disorderly—Saturday night, off-islander, cited, sobered up, and fined. Somebody TP’d the Dobson house, also Saturday night. So much action!
As Richard Dobson taught math at the high school, and wasn’t known for the warm fuzzies or grading on a curve, the investigating officers—Matty and Cecil—suspected a student, possibly a student in danger of failing his class.
Marking period was nearly over, Reed calculated. He agreed with his officers’ conclusions.
A complaint about loud music and noise, also during the island madness of Saturday night. Responding officers—again Matty and Cecil—broke up a party comprised of a group of teenagers taking advantage of parents away for the weekend.
Underage drinking discovered.
Reed noted the party poopers arrived at twenty-two-thirty. And Dobson saw no sign of TP dripping from his trees when he let his dog out for a last tour at twenty-three hundred.
Dobson discovered same when he woke just before two hundred hours, answering his own call of nature, and glanced out the bathroom window.
Reed looked at Barney. “I deduce, my young apprentice, certain partygoers aren’t doing so well in algebra or trig—and I sympathize. I suspect some gathered again after the raid, got their supplies, and exacted their revenge.”
Normally, he’d let it go. It was just toilet paper, but he noted Dobson called in twice on Sunday demanding pursuit of the vandals. A memo informed him, Dobson had also complained to the mayor and wanted a response personally from the chief of police.
He noted from the schedule that Matty and Cecil were off, but the clarity of their report meant he didn’t need a sit-down.
He got up when he heard Donna come in.
“Chief. Nice weekend?”
“The rain held off, so that’s good enough.”
“I hear you. Donna, how much of a hard-ass is Dobson—the math teacher?”
“Ass as stony as his heart. My grandson’s studying his brain out of his ears, and barely making it in geometry. Dobson won’t accept extra credit, no retests, no nothing. This is about them rolling his yard?”
“I’d have bought the TP for them, that’s how I feel about it.”
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. I have to go talk to him.”
“Good luck with that,” Donna said, bitterly. “He won’t be satisfied until whoever did it is slapped in stocks.”
“We have stocks?”
“He probably has some in his garage. It wouldn’t surprise me.”
“Was your grandson at the party at the Walkers’ Saturday night?”
She pokered up. “Maybe.”
“Donna.” He gestured to her chair, took one of his own. “Nobody’s going to be put in stocks, drawn or quartered, tarred or feathered. Nobody’s going to be arrested. I’m damn sure not going to screw around with kids over something like this. But it’d help if I knew who was involved, so I could talk to them. I’ll handle Dobson.”
“I’m not ratting out my own flesh and blood.”
“Do you want me to take an oath he won’t get in trouble, and neither will anybody else?”
She yanked open a drawer, pulled out a King James Bible.
“Right hand on it, and swear.”
“Don’t you take the name of the Lord in vain when I’m holding the Bible.”
“Sorry.” He put his right hand on it. “I swear I’ll keep your grandson and the rest of them out of trouble regarding this matter.”
She nodded, put the book away. “He’s a good boy. He’s getting all A’s and B’s except for that one class. He’s already grounded for the party, and he deserved it.”
“He did. There was drinking.”
She pointed at him. “Are you going to sit there and tell me when you were coming up on eighteen or already hit it, fixing to graduate high school in a few weeks, you didn’t drink a beer or two?”
She yanked the drawer open again.
“Don’t bring that out here again. I’m not going to deny it. I bet he listens to you.”
“Everybody listens to me if they know what’s good for them.”
“Then you back me up with this. You have a talk with him later, tell him to avoid the drinking and the … mischief, to steer clear of Dobson outside of class, and Dobson’s house altogether.”
“I’ll do that.”
“Good. Who’s his best pal?”
“Damn it, Reed!”
“I took an oath, on the Bible.”
“Cecil’s brother, Mathias, and Jamie Walker.”
“Jamie Walker of the infamous party?”
“Don’t you let me down, Chief.”
As he and Barney walked to the school, Reed thought it good to be back to work.
He caught Dobson as the math teacher—briefcase in hand, sour expression in place—strode toward the main doors of the high school section of the building that also housed the middle and elementary.
At the moment, grouping the three levels, and the one-room kindergarten class, two hundred and twenty-seven students attended the Tranquility Island Education Complex.
“It’s about time,” Dobson snapped. “My taxes pay your salary.”
“That they do. Why don’t we talk inside, out of the wet?”
“You can’t bring that dog inside the school.”
“He’s deputized.” To solve it, Reed opened the doors, led Barney in.
“I expect better—”
“We can talk in your classroom, or the teacher’s lounge, whichever you prefer.” Or you can try to haul me into the principal’s office, Reed mused.
Dobson strode off. A little guy, Reed thought. Maybe five-seven, on the stocky side, and with a serious stick up his ass.
It might have been small as high schools went, but it smelled like school to Reed—commercial cleaner, tinged with the messy mix of jittery hormones and teenage boredom. Sounded like one as his wet sneakers slapped on the floor. Looked like one with its administrative offices straight to the left, and its facing walls of dull gray lockers.
“It’s a nice school,” Reed said conversationally. “I had a tour of it, along with the middle and elementary, over the winter.”
“Nice isn’t relevant. It’s a place for education and discipline.”
Though he felt like he’d regressed to high school, Reed rolled his eyes behind Dobson’s back as the man unlocked a classroom door.
“My time’s limited.”
“Then I’ll be as quick as I can. According to the incident report, you didn’t see anyone in your yard or around your house at the time you woke and saw the toilet paper in your trees.”
“At the time I saw the vandalism. It had already been done. If you can’t identify and apprehend a gang of vandals, you have no business in your office.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way. What did you do with the evidence?”
Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love / History & Fiction / Thrillers & Crime / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.7 out of 5 / Based on33 votes