“More or less,” I say. “Tell them I love them, will you?”
“Sure.” He hesitates for a few seconds, and then he yawns. It’s contagious, and I do, too, and realize how exhausted I am, again. “You’re not okay, Gwen. I can tell.”
“I’m okay enough.”
“You coming back soon?”
“I don’t know,” I tell him softly. “I’m trying.”
When I hang up, I find my chest is tight, my throat sore with unshed tears.
Eight long ER hours later, Sam’s injuries have been confirmed as cracked ribs and a minor concussion. I’ve been warned my head will hurt like a son of a bitch for about a day (and it already does, despite a generous application of over-the-counter painkillers). By the time Sam’s ribs have been wrapped and we’ve been relieved of payments we can’t afford, we find three beefy white men in uniform waiting for us in the hallway. They’re virtually identical, all with the blocky build of guys whose glory days came as high school linebackers; they’ve all got buzz cuts and tans that end at their collars and cuffs. Mike Lustig, in his FBI body armor and badge and blackness, stands apart, leaning against the wall with his arms folded. In the better light here, he has a long, friendly sort of face, one that seems prone to breaking into ironic smiles more than angry frowns.
Can’t say the same for the Georgia bulldogs. They all look impassive at best, outright antagonistic at worst.
“Mr. Cade? Mrs. Royal?”
“It’s Ms.,” I automatically correct, and then I take in that he’s called me by my old name. “Not Royal. My name is Gwen Proctor.”
“My info says Gina Royal,” the spokesman says, with a grim little twist of his lips that I don’t mistake for a smile. “You come with me, Miz.”
I glance at Mike Lustig. He shrugs. “I got no dog in this fight,” he says. “Go on.”
Sam and I exchange a quick look, and I nod to let him know it’s fine. I don’t know if it’s fine, but there’s no point, and no benefit, to staging a war here in the hallway. I walk with the officer around the corner to a quiet waiting room, and he gestures me to a corner seat. It’s the farthest one from the exit, but I automatically calculate the ways out, just for practice. Agent Lustig hasn’t followed us.
Interestingly, the officer excuses himself almost immediately and shuts the door. I check my watch and start counting. I expect he’ll let me cool my heels for at least an hour. It’s standard technique. The more off balance and tired a subject is, the better the chances of a slipup.
Georgia’s playbook clearly says two hours are the optimum, because it’s nearly three when the officer returns. He squeezes himself into the chair next to me, too close for comfort. I imagine he means to intimidate. It just annoys me. If he really knows who I am, then surely he understands I have a whole different scale of intimidation. He smells like sweat and smoke, which means he was up at the cabin, or what’s left of it. There’s a small stained area on his left sleeve that looks like old blood, and now that I’ve seen it, I can’t quite look away. Did he get it helping someone? Or punching someone? Though sometimes, you have to punch one person to help another.
“So,” I say to him, “Officer—”
“Officer Turner, was calling me by a dead name a power play, or just a mistake?”
He leans back with a creak of plastic, and he considers me with the expressionless eyes of someone who’s been in law enforcement for years. He’s considering which approach to take: bully, or country-boy charm. Neither will work, but it’s a little interesting to watch his internal debate.
He decides to go with country-boy charm, and when he speaks again, his voice is warmer, with a touch more drawl, and he’s even managed a bashful smile. “I admit, ma’am, I thought that might throw you off balance. I apologize if I upset you. Mind if we start over?”
“Sure,” I tell him, with a smile every bit as false. “What can I do for you, Officer Turner?”
“I just need you to start from the beginning and tell me how you came to be up there around that cabin, ma’am. How you got the idea to go up there, what happened, that sort of thing.”
I sigh. “I don’t suppose I could coax a cup of coffee out of you for it, could I?”
He falls for it, though only to the extent of going to the hallway, motioning to someone, and presumably ordering up my caffeine. He’s all smiles when he comes back. I summon up one in answer, though I’m not feeling it. “Now,” he says, settling in again, “you were saying?”
I toy with just answering I wasn’t, and asking for a lawyer; I’m still not sure I don’t really need one. The evidence can read a lot of ways, and neither Sam nor I planned on having to answer these questions. So I say, “Mind if I ask one question first?”
He considers, then nods. “Go ahead.”
“Did you find any bodies in there?”
More considering, and then a slow shake of his head. “Can’t rightly say. So what exactly brought you up to that cabin, Ms. Proctor?” He’s allowed to lie to me, of course. It’s a time-honored tradition in interrogations, although I haven’t yet been advised of my rights. Which is telling.
I stick to my story, the first part of which is true: that we were hoping to discover some information about someone who was helping my ex-husband evade capture. That gets an eyebrow raise, but no comment. It’s exactly what Sam’s going to say. We’ve already determined that truth is our best defense, up to a point . . . any other explanation is going to invite suspicion, with my obviously sinister ex in the background. I tell him about the open door and how we cautiously ventured inside. Just as I rehearsed it.
“And what did you find?”
“Nothing,” I lie, easy as breathing. I’m not giving up what we brought out of there. “We didn’t have time.”
“You just . . . went on in?”
“The door was open,” I say blandly. “We thought he might have been hurt or in trouble.”
“Never crossed your mind a guy like that might shoot you dead for walking in on him?”
I shrug. Don’t answer. Stupidity isn’t a crime. He has nothing to coax out of that, except the fact that both Sam and I were armed, of course. But legally. Trespassing is a thin charge, at best. He won’t bother, unless he thinks he can pin something bigger on top of it.
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