In the last installment, Ella meets Detective Ferguson in his precinct office. The interview includes all her odd experiences in the neighborhood and disturbing incidents in the unit next door to her apartment. After calming herself at a pizza place, she returns home and puzzles over another strange sight.
I’d forgotten to tell Detective Ferguson about the runners’ pack passing my building earlier that morning. Now that I was home again, I planned to call him, but first I needed something to cut my thirst from the salty pizza. I changed into a sweatshirt and pants and went to my window with a tall, sweating glass of water in hand. The sound of evenly beating footsteps caught my ear. There they were again, the same pack of runners I’d seen that morning, but rounding the corner onto my street from Pine Glen. Was this leg the end of their circuit? That would have been an hours-long run. I assumed they were training for a marathon and nearly turned away from the window when a strange sight pulled me back.
Their lead runner was barking commands, just as he had earlier in the day. His build and manner reminded me of Falk, the dog catcher, but dressed in a singlet, shorts, and runner’s tights he looked more like a Marvel Comics superhero. Anyway, it was the last runner who caught my eye.
Joe, our building handyman, was at the rear of the pack, several yards behind the next runner. He was slowing to a walk. After a few more steps, he bent over with hands on his knees. He was gasping. The runners stopped. Their leader doubled back, on the far side of the pack. Trees hid him from view until he reached Joe and slapped him hard on the back. I almost dropped my water glass. It was Falk. I recognized his red hair and deep-set eyes.
Falk sprinted back to the front while bellowing some gibberish. All the runners pressed forward, elbows raised to chest height, necks extended. They sped off. Joe resumed jogging and caught up. Hiding behind my window frame, I watched the pack pass, but was surprised to see Joe break away. He ran behind a house down the street, through its backyard, and down the alley toward Pine Glen.
My thoughts went every which way. Wasn’t Falk supposed to be working? What was he doing at that hour with those runners? Did he have the day off? Why were Falk and Joe in the same pack? The other day, when he inspected 2A, Falk claimed he didn’t know Joe. Who were all those runners and why was their gait so weird?
A call to Ferguson—I had to reach him. He would help me figure this out. I phoned the precinct station and asked for him. The policewoman I had met before my appointment that morning answered my call. I told her I had some vital information to add to my report. She said Detective Ferguson had left the station soon after our meeting and had not returned yet.
“Well, I suppose I could give that information to another officer. Which detective would have access to the file?”
“Detective Pinscher, but he’s not here, either. Does Detective Ferguson have your phone number? He will text you when he gets back. You know, I should take your number anyway, just in case.”
After giving her my contact information and thanking her, I ended the call. Restless, I walked to the window again and put my phone on the sill. A little gray cat, my “Miss Kitty,” was crossing the street, her tail rigid and parallel to the pavement. She looked like a cat on a mission. She trotted past the apartment building across the street and into the gangway leading to the alley where I’d seen Joe.
My ringing phone rattled against the wooden sill. Hoping it was Ferguson, I looked at the caller ID. It was only Dave Straybill.
“Hey, Ella, Just calling to see how you are. I was going to walk you to the police station this morning, but I didn’t hear from you and I was worried.”
“Oh, thanks, Dave. I’m sorry. I was so obsessed with the interview, I just forgot.”
“But you did meet with Ferguson?”
“Oh, yes. He is nice, as you said. Respectful. A good listener. Anyway, it went well. Hey, can I ask you a question?”
“Sure. What’s up?”
“Have you ever noticed a strange runners group on our street? About 6:30 every morning?”
Dave took his time to answer. “No, that’s way too early for me. My coffee is set to brew at 7:30 at the earliest.” He laughed. “Anyway, what’s so strange about a bunch of runners around here?”
I felt uneasy for a moment. How well did I know Dave? How would he take this next bit? Squelching my doubts, I said, “Both that Animal Control officer and our handyman Joe are in the group and they run like dogs paddling in a pool.”
“Nah, can’t be. Joe? He’s not the type. He’s in terrible shape. Wait, I don’t understand. Did you say the Animal Control guy, Falk?”
“I did; but I saw Joe drop out and head for Pine Glen. I…well…”
“You were going to check it out?”
“Yeah, I was.”
Dave chided me for putting myself at risk, but said he’d walk over to Pine Glen with me if I was determined to go there. I wasn’t sure about his offer, but I had to trust some one besides Detective Ferguson. “Give me a few minutes, Dave. This time I won’t forget to knock.”
Dave laughed again. “Good. Can King come along?”
“Absolutely. See you soon.”
I put my phone in my deepest cargo pants pocket and went to the bathroom for a quick pee and a lipstick repair.
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