Read Teresa Watson Online

Authors: Death Stalks the Law

Teresa Watson (9 page)

I wanted to smack him in the head for assigning us to the weakest area, but on the other hand, I didn’t really want to run into Debra, so I kept quiet. I’d have a talk with him later about his chauvinistic attitude.

“What about me?” Jake asked.

“You aren’t that familiar with the area, so you won’t be much help to us out there. But you can stay here and be our home base. Each group will check in after they clear a farm, and you can check them off the list.” Owen left the office for a minute and came back with a walkie talkie. “You’ll be able to stay in touch with Jake with this,” he said, handing it to me, “and you’ll be able to get in touch with me if you find something. If you do find her, don’t do anything stupid. Just stay a safe distance away and call for help.”

I gave him a mock salute. “Aye aye, Captain.”

“I’m serious, Lizzie. I don’t need to give her any more hostages. That will just make the situation more volatile. If she feels cornered, she might kill T.J.”

“I get it,” I said, standing up to leave.

“Besides, if anything happens to Trixie, my mother will kill me.”

“And I’ll haunt you for the rest of your life if I get killed,” Trixie told me.

I rolled my eyes at her and headed for the door. Jake stopped me. “Promise me you’ll be careful,” he said quietly. “I would like a chance to get to know the person you’ve become.”

I felt goose bumps pop up on my arms. “I’ll be fine,” I assured him.

Weren’t those the last words of Custer before he went to Little Big Horn?

 

Two hours and five farms later, I was tired, hungry and frustrated. The other groups weren’t having much luck, either. “Now I know why they call off searches when it gets dark,” I groused.

“Quit complaining. What’s the next place?”

I looked at the map. “Looks like the old Fitzsimmons place.”

Five minutes later, we came to the turn off. “Are those skidmarks?” Trixie said.

As she stopped, I got out and looked at the road in front of her headlights. Sure enough, there were some black tire marks. Someone must have missed the turn, slammed it in reverse, and turned down the road. But I had no clue whether they were fresh or not.

“What do you think we should do?” I said as I got back in the car.

“We keep going. For all we know, those have been here for years.”

“Those look like fresh marks in the dirt, though.”

“It doesn’t mean it’s her,” Trixie said as she headed down the dirt road.

At this point, I was trying to convince myself that this was a good idea. But something told me to run the other way. Unfortunately, I wasn’t driving, so I couldn’t listen to that little voice.

Trixie turned the headlights off and drove the last quarter mile in the dark, pulling off two hundred yards from the driveway. “You still want to do this?” she asked.

“T.J. may be a jerk, but we can’t let Debra kill him, if that is what she has planned.”

“You don’t know that for sure.”

I shook my head. “No, I don’t, but we can’t let her hurt him, now can we?”

“Definitely not.”

We got out of the car. Trixie popped the trunk, rummaged around, and pulled out a crowbar and a baseball bat. “Do I even want to know why you are carrying these things around in your car?”

“I had a date with a minor leaguer a few days ago. We went to the batting cage to work on his swing.”

“Uh-huh,” I replied, not believing her for a minute. “Give me the crowbar. I can manage with one hand.”

I slipped my cell phone out of my purse, which I put in the trunk. Turning the phone on silent mode, I slipped it into my pocket and gave Trixie the walkie talkie. At that moment, I was happy about having a broken arm, because it meant that I was dressed in comfortable clothes: jeans, t-shirt, and tennis shoes. Trixie, who hadn’t bothered to go home and change even after I told her she should, was dressed in a skirt, blouse and heels. “How are you going to walk around in those shoes?”

She pulled out a pair of tennis shoes from the trunk. “I’m prepared for anything.”

At this point, I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had a mini-fridge back there. “You take the house, I’ll take the barn.”

“Are you sure you want to split up?”

 “This is a long shot,” I said. “I don’t see any lights on and there aren’t any vehicles in sight.”

“That doesn’t mean she isn’t here,” Trixie pointed out. “Those tire tracks could be a month old, for all we know.”

“I know. If one of us gets caught, the other one can go for help.”

“How are you going to drive a stick shift with a broken arm?”

“I don’t know,” I snapped. “I’ll figure it out. Let’s just get this over with, okay?”

Trixie headed left toward the house, and I went right toward the barn. When we were kids, Mr. Fitzsimmons used to have dances in the old barn during the summer, and hay rides in the winter. His wife had died early in their marriage during childbirth, and he had never remarried. The kids in town, in a way, became his foster kids. His door was always open to us if we needed to talk, or if we just wanted to hang out. When he died about ten years ago, the Methodist church in town was packed, inside and out, with adults who had spent time at his place as kids. The procession to the cemetery took forty-five minutes. I still miss him.

But in the dark, the old barn didn’t look as inviting as it did when I was a teenager. It looked dark and menacing. The urge to turn and run became stronger, but I ignored it and kept going.

I knew there was a side door on the backside of the barn, so I quietly made my way over to it. I tripped a couple of times over some rotting wood, and I really wished I had a flashlight. Pulling my phone out, I used the glow from the screen to pick my way to the door, hoping that Debra wasn’t around to see it.

The side door was slightly ajar, which caused me to hesitate. I switched my phone to my right hand, which was a bit awkward to do because of the cast. I opened the door just a little bit, waiting for the inevitable squeak, and breathed a sigh of relief when it didn’t happen. Slipping inside, it took a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. There were a couple of windows in the barn, but that didn’t help much since trees surrounded three sides of the barn, making it impossible for moonlight to get in.

I heard movement to my left, which caused me to stop in my tracks. It sounded like scratching. Please don’t let it be mice, I silently prayed. I moved toward the sound, which became more frenzied the closer I got. Taking a chance, I touched my phone screen and held it out in front of me. I saw a pair of feet.

Oh man, this was not good.

I moved closer, the light shining on someone’s bound legs, then a torso, and finally T.J.’s bruised face. I pulled the gag out of his mouth. “Are you alright?”

“Does it look like I’m alright? What are you doing here?”

“I came out here to relive old memories. What do you think I’m doing here?”

“You shouldn’t have come,” he said.

“Ok, I’ll just leave you here then,” I said, standing up to leave.

“No, wait. I’m sorry. You’re the last person I expected to see, all things considering.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not about to leave you in the hands of a crazy woman, even if you are a jerk. Just give me a minute to get you out of these ropes.” It took a few minutes, but I finally got them undone. “Is anything broken?” I asked as he struggled to his feet.

“My ribs are a bit sore, and my face hurts, but I think I’m ok. We need to get out of here before she comes back.”

I felt something cold at the base of my skull, followed by a click.

This definitely was not good.

 

 

Chapter Twenty

“Hello, Aunt Debra,” I said.

“Lizzie, this is an unexpected surprise,” she said. “What are you doing here?” She kept the gun trained on us as she moved slightly to her right. Suddenly, the barn got a little brighter as she turned on a lamp.

“Looking for him.”

“I thought I told you he wasn’t someone you could trust.”

“You did. I know who he is.”

“And yet, you came out here anyway.” I nodded. “Such useless sentimentality,” she sighed.

“I’m just an old softie, what can I say?”

“Good thing I’m not,” she replied. She grabbed my left arm and pulled me back so I was standing beside her. “I still plan to kill you, Agent Roosevelt, but not in front of my niece.” She released my arm. “Get out of here, Lizzie. This doesn’t concern you.”

“Yes, it does,” I said. “You’re doing this because they have been using me to find you.”

“I’m doing this because their little manhunt is making it extremely difficult to move around and do my job.”

“And what is your job, Aunt Debra?”

“People hire me to take care of their little problems, and they pay me quite handsomely for it, too.”

“So you’re a murderer.”

“Oh my dear, I don’t always kill people. I have very good persuasive skills, and I make the most of them. Those I can’t persuade, well…” she shrugged.

“You know killing him isn’t going to help your situation.”

“I know.”

“So why do it?”

“It amuses me.”

“Lady, you need a hobby,” T.J. said.

“Do you really want to upset a woman with a gun?” she replied.

“T.J., shut up,” I told him.

“See? Even my niece doesn’t want to listen to you anymore,” Debra laughed. “Go on, Lizzie, get out of here. Let me take care of this, and I’ll be on my way.”

I quickly stepped between T.J. and the gun. “I can’t let you hurt him.”

“You can’t be serious. After all he has done, the way he has been using you for months, and you’re going to defend him?”

“I can’t just shut off my feelings for him like a switch, Aunt Debra. He’s a kind and caring man. He was just doing his job.”

“You still care about me?” T.J. said from behind me.

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean I forgive you.”

“Do you love me?”

“I don’t know,” I said, turning slightly so I could see his face. “You really screwed up, T.J. all those long talks we had about honesty and trust, only to find out you hadn’t been truthful with me from the beginning.”

“I never lied about my feelings for you.”

“But that doesn’t change what you did!”

“No, it doesn’t,” Debra said. I turned my attention back to her. “Has he told you about Coogan yet?” I shook my head. “Coogan was one of his contacts. But your boyfriend here wasn’t his only client.”

“I know he was Dale’s contact.”

She laughed. “Dale thought that if he could get an interview with me, it would get him that Pulitzer he missed out on all those years ago. ‘Interview with a Killer’. What a title.”

“Did Dale know about T.J.?”

“Not a clue. All these people working at cross purposes. It was funny to watch them running around like little ants, trying to find that one crumb that would lead them to me. And you, my dear niece, were that one crumb.”

I made a mental note to give Dale a swift kick in the you-know-what the next time I saw him. “How did you get Dorothy Gordon to go after Coogan?”

“Ah, sweet, gullible Dorothy. After I found out about Dale, I became friends with her family, and convinced them to let me go visit her. After a few chats, I told her about Dale and Coogan. She still harbored some ill will toward Coogan because of the death of her daughter, so it didn’t take much to push her buttons. I was waiting for her a couple of miles from the sanitarium. How do you think she got here? She certainly didn’t walk.”

“After Dorothy killed Coogan, you put his body in the trunk of Dale’s car, didn’t you?”

“Very good! I figured that stupid sheriff would pin the murder on Dale. It’s a shame it didn’t work out that way.”

“And if you take out T.J., Hopkins, and Owen, you can just disappear into the wind.”

“Correct. I have enough money saved up to retire to some quiet little island somewhere with no extradition agreement with the U.S. In fact,” she said, checking her watch, “my flight leaves in three hours, so I really need to get busy here. Just walk away, Lizzie.”

I stood my ground. “You can’t let me go, either. I know everything now. I’m just as much of a liability as T.J. is.”

“Lizzie, what are you doing?” T.J. said behind me.

“Be quiet,” I hissed.

“If you think I’m going to let him go to keep from killing you, you’ve got a lot to learn, kid,” Debra said. “If I have to shoot you to get to him, I will.”

A loud crash from the side door distracted her, and I lunged for the gun. There was just one small problem with that.

Her finger was still on the trigger.

 

 

Chapter Twenty-One

I felt a burning sensation in my left thigh when the gun went off, but I didn’t stop to look for a wound. Jerking the gun had caused her to lose her balance, giving T.J. the opportunity to run around me and tackle her to the ground. It seemed weapons were not her only form of self-defense, however. She popped him right in the jaw, and threw him to the side before jumping to her feet.

Trixie chose that moment to whack Debra in the head with the baseball bat. She dropped like a stone. “Is she dead?”

T.J. crawled over and checked for a pulse. “No, she’s still alive. Nice swing, by the way.”

“I had a good teacher,” she replied, winking at me.

I dropped to my knees, the gun still in my hand. “I thought you were never going to hit her. What took you so long?”

“You think it’s easy to sneak into a barn without anyone hearing you?”

“Yes, actually, I do.”

I heard someone running outside as T.J. tied up Debra. “Did you call someone?”

“Owen. When you didn’t show up at the car after ten minutes, I called him on the walkie talkie.”

He came in with his gun drawn. “You’re a little late. The party’s over,” I said.

“Holy cow, you caught her?” he said, looking down at Debra.

“No,” T.J. said, “they caught her.”

“We all did,” I corrected him. That was when I felt something wet running down my leg. I put my hand on my left thigh, removed it, and saw blood. “Um, folks, I’m pretty sure this isn’t a good thing.”

“Dang it, Lizzie!” T.J. said, sliding behind me. He pulled me toward him while Owen and Trixie straightened out my legs.

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