One False Move Page 67

Myron rose. “Excuse me.”

Tiles said, “What the hell!”

“I need to converse with my associate for a moment. I’ll be right back.”

Myron and Win ducked into a corner. Tiles lowered his eyebrows to half-mast and put his fists on his hips. Win stared back for a moment. Tiles kept up the scowl. Win put his thumbs in his ears, stuck out his tongue, wiggled his fingers. Tiles did not follow suit.

Win spoke softly and quickly. “According to Norm, Brenda received a call at practice. She took the call and ran out. The team bus waited awhile, but Brenda ended up being a no-show. When the bus left, an assistant coach waited with her car. The coach is still at the practice site. That’s all Norm knew. I then called Arthur Bradford. He knew about the search warrant. He claimed that by the time you two made your arrangement vis-a-vis protecting Brenda, the warrant had been acted upon and the gun had been found. He has since contacted some friends in high places, and they have agreed to move very slowly on Ms. Slaughter.”

Myron nodded. That explained the semidiplomacy going on here. McLaughlin and Tiles clearly wanted to arrest her, but the higher-ups were holding them back. “Anything else?”

“Arthur was very concerned about Brenda’s disappearance.”

“I bet.”

“He wants you to call him immediately.”

“Well, we don’t always get what we want,” Myron said. He glanced back at the two detectives. “Okay, I got to clear out of here.”

“You have a thought?”

“The detective from Livingston. A guy named Wickner. He almost cracked at the Little League field.”

“And you think perhaps he’ll crack this time?”

Myron nodded. “He’ll crack.”

“Would you like me to come along?”

“No, I’ll handle it. I need you to stay here. McLaughlin and Tiles can’t legally hold me, but they might try. Stall them for me.”

Win almost smiled. “No problem.”

“See also if you can find the guy who answered the phone at the practice. Whoever called Brenda might have identified themselves. Maybe one of her teammates or coaches saw something.”

“I’ll look into it.” Win handed Myron the ripped hundred and his car keys. He motioned toward his cell phone. “Keep the line open.”

Myron did not bother with good-byes. He suddenly bounded out of the room. He heard Tiles call after him, “Stop! Son of a—” Tiles started running after him. Win stepped in front of him, blocking his path. “What the f—” Tiles never finished the expletive. Myron continued to run. Win closed the door. Tiles would not get out.

Once out on the street, Myron tossed the bill to the waiting cop and hopped into the Jag. Eli Wickner’s lake house was listed in directory assistance. Myron dialed the number. Wickner answered on the first ring.

“Brenda Slaughter is missing,” Myron told him.

Silence.

“We need to talk, Eli.”

“Yes,” the retired detective said. “I think we do.”

The ride took an hour. Night had firmly set in by now, and the lake area seemed extra dark, the way lake areas often do. There were no streetlights. Myron slowed the car. Old Lake Drive was narrow and only partially paved. At the end of the road his headlights crossed a wooden sign shaped like a fish. The sign said THE WICKNERS. Wickners. Myron remembered Mrs. Wickner. She had overseen the food stand at the Little League field. Her scmiblond hair had been overtreated to the point where it resembled hay, her laugh a constant, deep throttle. Lung cancer had claimed her ten years ago. Eli Wickner had retired to this cabin alone.

Myron pulled into the driveway. His tires chewed the gravel. Lights came on, probably by motion detector. Myron stopped the car and stepped into the still night. The cabin was what was often called saltbox. Nice. And right on the water. There were boats in the dock. Myron listened for the sound of the lapping water, but there was none. The lake was incredibly calm, as if someone had put a glass top on it for night protection. Scattered lights shone off the glacial surface, still and without deviation. The moon dangled like a loose earring. Bats stood along a tree branch like the Queen’s Guards in miniature.

Myron hurried to the front door. Lamps were on inside, but Myron saw no movement. He knocked on the door. No answer. He knocked again. Then he felt the shotgun barrel against the back of his skull.

“Don’t turn around,” Eli said.

Myron didn’t.

“You armed?”

“Yes.”

“Assume the position. And don’t make me shoot you, Myron. You’ve always been a good kid.”

“There’s no need for the gun, Eli.” It was a dumb thing to say, of course, but he had not said it for Wickner’s benefit. Win was listening in on the other end. Myron did some quick calculating. It had taken him an hour to get here. It would take Win maybe half that.

He needed to stall.

As Wickner patted him down, Myron smelled alcohol. Not a good sign. He debated making a move, but this was an experienced cop, and he was, per Wickner’s request, in the position. Hard to do much from there.

Wickner found Myron’s gun immediately. He emptied the bullets onto the ground and pocketed the gun.

“Open the door,” Wickner said.

Myron turned the knob. Wickner gave him a little nudge. Myron stepped inside. And his heart dropped to his knees. Fear constricted his throat, making it very hard to breathe. The room was decorated as one might expect a fishing cabin to be decorated: taxidermy catches above a fireplace, wood-paneled walls, a wet bar, cozy chairs, firewood piled high, a worn semishag carpet of beige. What wasn’t expected, of course, were the dark red boot prints slashing a path through the beige.

Blood. Fresh blood that filled the room with a smell like wet rust.

Myron turned to look at Eli Wickner. Wickner kept his distance. The shotgun was leveled at Myron’s chest. Easiest target. Wickner’s eyes were open a bit too wide and even more red-rimmed than at the Little League field. His skin was like parchment paper. Spider veins had nestled into his right cheek. There may have been spider veins on his left cheek too, but it was hard to tell with the spray of blood on it.

“You?”

Wickner remained silent.

“What’s going on, Eli?”

“Walk into the back room,” Wickner said.

“You don’t want to do this.”

“I know that, Myron. Now just turn around and start walking.”

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