Ella and her neighbor Dave shadow their apartment building handyman Joe to Pine Glen Street, site of the trash-burner murder Ella discovered accidentally. Now, another mutilated body is lying inside it. As blaring police sirens approach the site, Ella needs a hiding place. Joe appears at the door of a nearby frame cottage and invites her in.
“He’s gone, Dave. Dead. What are you doing?” An approaching police car siren silenced us.
Dave stowed his phone in a hip pocket and whispered, “Outside, Ella. Hurry.” We brushed debris from our clothes and hid behind the trash burner. “The siren. I never got to call my…it’s not important. Why’d they be coming here, I mean, now?” His eyes were so big. After looking around he pointed to the frame cottage. “Move, quick. To those back steps.”
We ran to the far side of the cottage and I crouched behind the steps’ concrete base. “Maybe they aren’t coming here. Maybe someone called in a mugging or something?” After all, no one would have alerted them to the murder before we discovered Ferguson.
Dave whispered, “Mugging? Unlikely. Except for those bodies in the incinerator, nothing ever happens around here.”
“Except the noises next door to me, and whatever attacked me in 2A, and that pack of runners.”
“Yeah, but that can all be explained.”
I wanted to shake him and say, Dave, believe me now; something bad has been happening around here. But I didn’t. Instead, I grabbed his sleeve as he moved away from the steps toward the alley. “Look,” he rasped, “I’m going to run for it. I can’t let the cops find me here. What about you?” He shook off my hand.
I didn’t know what to do. King and he ran down the alley. Dave wasn’t white. Other cops from the district, if they were like Pinscher, would have their own way of questioning him. But Ferguson wasn’t like Pinscher. Maybe there were other good guys in the force. I shook my head and looked where I was standing. I’d stay there just a bit and out of sight. They probably were responding to another 911. If not, I would wait, then dash home after they’d left.
I watched my neighbor and his dog speed down the alley until the first police cruiser pulled up. I crouched behind the stairs. My chest felt tight and I was breathing too quickly. I wished Dave were still with me. Would he go home or some place else? I stopped my anxious musings at the sound of a soft whistle over my head.
I looked around.
“Hey, up here.” At the top of the weathered stairs, Joe was standing in a darkened doorway. “Better come in…Mrs. Volkman. Before Pinscher spots you.”
I could just make out Detective Pinscher easing out of the car. I did not want to deal with him again. Turning to face Joe, I saw him go in and I followed.
So that’s how Red Riding Hood’s grandmother felt in the wolf’s belly. Joe was standing in shadow next to a kitchen sink. He waved his hand toward a metal folding chair. “Stay still,” he whispered as he watched the street. I kept blaming myself for not running home with Dave, but I wanted to know why the police arrived without our calling. Did Joe phone in the murder? Why would a runner with Falk’s pack do that? My head throbbed. I rubbed my neck and felt my pulse racing.
I crumpled into the chair Joe offered and looked around. The whole house was dark except for late afternoon light framing curtained windows. Joe’s hood covered most of his face but I stared at his long, tapered fingers in silhouette against the light. He had what I liked to call musician’s hands, able to reach with ease beyond a piano keyboard octave. His hoodie shaded his face, but his other hand, tightly knotted in a fist, betrayed his mood, which was, what? Anger, anxiety,—or murder.
Afraid to speak, I waved to get his attention and pulled my phone out of my purse, Opening the Notes app, I typed: what’s going on? He read it and, pushing his palm down, he shook his head as if to say, don’t ask me now. I relaxed a little. If Joe wanted to hurt me, he would have done so by now. I stiffened again. Or maybe not. Maybe while the police were near, they would hear my screams, so he was waiting until they left. I stood up and turned toward the door. Joe grabbed my sleeve and said in a low growl, “Sit!…Please. And be quiet. I won’t hurt you.” He looked out the window again after I sat down. We must have stayed like that for more than an hour, I, clutching the seat of my chair, Joe, peeking from behind the curtain.
At the trash-burner site, someone shouted and I jumped. Someone else was pulling a gurney, probably, across the gravel and another man’s deep voice—not like Pinscher’s oily tone at the station house—cut through the rest: “Watch it, Price. Keep it covered. Chaparro, check out the house.” Running footsteps crunched toward Joe’s cottage and up the front steps. Joe stepped back from the window and crouched next to me. Warning me with a finger to his hidden face, he dropped to his hands and knees and crawled toward the front door one room away. He braced his back against the door before Chaparro pounded it a few times. A big piece of furniture, hard to see in the gloom, sat in front of half the door, next to where Joe was sitting. Why had he started to barricade the place? Chaparro’s footsteps bounced down the stairs and he walked around the house. He beamed his flashlight a bit at the windows.
“No one home, sir,” he yelled. His superior must have called; and I could hear him running back to the site. Joe returned to the kitchen and peered out the window again. “They’re leaving,” he said and sank to the floor in front of me, his legs crossed like a first-grader.
“Okay, ” he sighed as he pushed the hood off his head. “It’s time we had a talk.”
His head was in shadow, thick, long curls silhouetted against the street-lit curtains, but his hands… “I should be going really.”
“No, you shouldn’t.”
Now the accumulation of all those little insults I’d been feeling since I met up with that nasty dog burst out. I raged, “Who are you? What do you want with me? You know something about 2A, don’t you.” I stood and backed my way to the kitchen door. “I just wanted to move into a nice, quiet place. Leave me alone.”
He stepped closer and put his hand on the door. “Please stay. We really have to talk.”
I went back to the chair and sat, leaning forward, with my hands on my knees. “Alright, whoever you are, talk.”