Read The 37th Hour Online

Authors: Jodi Compton

Tags: #Mystery, #Detective, #Mystery & Detective - Women Sleuths, #Minneapolis (Minn.), #Police, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction - Mystery, #Mystery & Detective - General, #General, #Suspense, #Women Sleuths, #Thrillers, #Missing persons, #Fiction

The 37th Hour (8 page)

How do you counsel your own mentor, be an authority to your authority figure? I had a sudden desire to go back to bed.

You’re her partner,
Shiloh had said.

I stepped into the kitchen instead, pulled up a chair, sat down with her. Genevieve looked at me with no great surprise, but there was a dark light in her eyes that I didn’t think I’d seen before. Then she said, “He’s back in Blue Earth.”

She meant Shorty. Royce Stewart.

“I know,” I said.

“I have a friend in the Dispatch office down there. She says he can be counted on to be at the bar every night. With his
friends.
How does a guy like that even have any friends?” Her speech wasn’t slurred, but there was a certain impreciseness in it, as though her gaze, her speech, and her thoughts weren’t entirely in line with each other.

“What do you think it is?” she demanded. “You think they don’t
know
he killed a teenage girl? Or that they just don’t care?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know.”

Genevieve lifted her glass and drank, a deeper draft than people usually take with hard liquor. “He walks home late at night, even though he lives outside of town, on the highway.”

“You told me this before. Remember?” I said.

And she had. It was understandable, her obsession with Stewart, but it made me uncomfortable.

“Let her talk about it,” Shiloh had counseled, shortly before I left. “She’ll probably work it out of her system and move on in her own time. Kamareia’s dead, he’s alive and free . . . she’s not going to come to grips with that overnight.”

But I had a more immediate concern.

“Gen,” I said, “it’s starting to worry me, the way you talk about him.”

She drank again, lowered the glass, and gave me a questioning look over the rim.

“You wouldn’t be thinking of paying him a visit, would you?”

“To do what?” Her face was open, as if she really didn’t know what I meant.

“To kill him.”
God, let me not be planting a seed in her mind that wasn’t there before.

“I turned in my service weapon up in the Cities.”

“And nothing is stopping you from buying one. Or getting one from a friend. There’re lots of guns in these parts.”

“He didn’t kill Kamareia with a gun,” Genevieve said softly. She refilled her glass.

“This is important, damn it. Don’t go flaky on me,” I said. “I need to know you wouldn’t go down there.”

She waited a moment before speaking. “I’ve had to counsel the survivors of murder victims. They don’t get retribution, even when we catch the guy who did it. There’s no death penalty in Minnesota.” She thought. “I probably wouldn’t get away with killing him, either.”

These were stock answers, and not entirely comforting.

“There’s such a thing as revenge,” I pointed out. “Call it closure, even.”

“Closure?” Genevieve said. “The hell with
closure.
I want my daughter back.”

“Okay,” I said. “I understand.” There was so much bitterness in her voice that I believed she was telling the truth: she didn’t want to kill Royce Stewart.

Genevieve looked at the empty space in front of me, as if just now realizing I hadn’t been drinking with her. “You want me to get you a glass?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “We should probably go back to bed.”

Genevieve ignored me and put her head down to rest her chin on her arms, which were folded on the table. “Are you and Shiloh going to have kids?”

“That’s, uh . . .” I was surprised into stammering, “. . . that’s a long time in the future.” The question reminded me of something, and in a moment my mind retrieved it: Ainsley Carter asking,
Do you have children, Detective Pribek?
“I’m sure we’ll have one,” I said.

“No,” Genevieve said, shaking her head emphatically as if she’d asked a yes-or-no question and I’d answered it incorrectly. “Don’t have one. Don’t
just
have one.” She hit the
s
a little too hard in
just.
“Have two. Or three. If you have just one child, and you lose her . . . it’s too much.”

“Oh, Gen,” I said, thinking,
Help me, Shiloh.
He would have known what to say.

“Make sure Shiloh agrees you guys are going to have more than one,” Gen went on. She reached out and pressed my arm hard, with an almost-proselytic fervor. “I know I’m not supposed to be saying this,” she said.

“Saying what?”

“I’m supposed to be saying that I’m glad I had Kam for the time I did. Like at the funeral, they don’t call it a funeral anymore when it’s a young person, they call it a ‘celebration of life.’ ” Her eyes were still dry, but clouded over somehow. “But if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have had a child at all. I wouldn’t have brought her into the world just to have this happen to her.”

“I think,” I said, struggling for the right words, “I think someday you’re going to feel differently about that. Maybe not right away. But someday.”

Genevieve lifted her head and took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and opened them again. She seemed clearer. “Someday is a long way away,” she said. She looked at the scotch bottle, found the cap, and screwed it back on. “But I know you mean well.”

“Listen,” I said. An idea was coalescing even as I spoke. “Shiloh’s going to be at Quantico for sixteen weeks. You could come back up to the Cities and we could be roommates. It might be easier than going straight back to your place.” I paused. “You wouldn’t have to go back to work right away. Just keep me company while Shiloh’s gone.”

Genevieve didn’t respond right away, and to close the deal, I said, “I know he’d like to see you before he leaves.”

For a moment I thought I had convinced her. Then she shook her head. “No,” she said. “I’m just not ready.”

I rose and she followed suit. “Well,” I said, “the offer’s going to stand.”

She put the scotch away, and instead of setting the glass in the sink the way people did with late-night dishes, she rinsed it and put it away in the cabinet. It was an action that suggested to me that drinking had become a common ritual that she was trying to hide from her sister and brother-in-law.

When we were back in bed, Genevieve dropped off to sleep almost immediately, aided undoubtedly by the whiskey. Not me. I was keyed up from our conversation. I closed my eyes, thinking surely my previous lassitude would return soon.

It didn’t. I lay awake for a long time in the narrow twin bed, breathing the Clorox scent of the sheets. The room had an old-fashioned digital clock, with white numbers that rolled over, and every ten minutes the first of the two minute placeholders rolled over with an audible click. There’d been a clock like that in the main room of the trailer I’d lived in as a child.

When 11:30 rolled over, lit from the side with an orange light, I sat up in bed and was nearly surprised to feel my feet reach the floor.

I’d lived too long in cities, gotten too used to a little light and a little noise at any hour. I hadn’t lived in a place like this since New Mexico. Beyond the sheer curtain I brushed aside with one hand was the country-dark sky I knew I’d see, richly spangled with stars despite the pale wash of light from a full moon. The last time I’d looked out a bedroom window to a sky like that, I’d never held a gun, I didn’t have any money of my own, had never had a lover to share my bed.

I lay down again, rolled over to lie on top of the pillow, wishing for Shiloh. If he were here, we could do something wicked and adult to hold this child’s feeling at bay.

In the distance I heard a train whistle. Probably a freight at this hour. This train was too far away for me to hear the three-part rhythm of its passing on the tracks, but the whistle blew again, a faint comforting sound of Minneapolis.

 

Genevieve agreed to go for a run with me in the morning, two easy miles. We returned to find Doug and Deborah getting ready to go out, to meet friends for a late Sunday breakfast. “There’s coffee on,” Deborah advised me, hurriedly, when Genevieve and I arrived in the kitchen, and its scent did fill the house.

In the kitchen, shortly before Deborah and Doug left, I managed to talk with both of them while Genevieve wasn’t in the kitchen.

“Listen,” I said carefully, “I was talking about something with Genevieve last night. . . . Do you keep any guns in the house?”

“Guns?” Doug said. “No. I don’t hunt.”

“Why?” Deborah asked.

“I’m just worried about Genevieve,” I said. “You live awfully close to Royce Stewart. And sometimes I wonder if she’s always thinking straight.”

Doug gave me an incredulous look. “You can’t seriously think—”

“No,” I said. “I’m probably just being paranoid. Goes with the job sometimes.”

Genevieve drifted back into the kitchen, and I fell silent. Deborah busied herself before the refrigerator, surveying its contents.

“Honey,” she told Doug, “I thought we had more Diet Coke than this. Don’t let me forget to stop on the way home, all right?”

While her husband was warming up their car in the garage, Deborah pulled me aside.

“Come upstairs with me for a minute,” she said.

I followed her up to their bedroom and watched as Deborah pushed aside the hanging clothes in her closet and took a small black purse from a peg in the back. Although the bag looked empty to me, with its sides caved slightly in, she handled it with delicacy. Sitting on the bed, she unzipped it and reached inside. Made curious by her caution, I moved closer.

She paused with her hand in the purse and looked up at me. “I guess Doug didn’t know I had this,” she said. “So I’m sure Genevieve doesn’t, either.”

She withdrew a small handgun from the bag, a .25 with cheap, bright plating.

“When I had my first teaching job in East St. Louis,” she said, “the school was in kind of a rough neighborhood. A friend who’d lived there all his life gave this to me. It’s not registered to me. . . . I don’t know who it’s registered to, actually.”

Deborah Lowe wore a white blouse and a black straight skirt, and her lips were limned tastefully with pale red lipstick. I marveled.

“Teacher’s got a Saturday-night special,” I said.

“I know, it’s awful. That’s why I wanted you to take it. It’s not necessarily because of Genevieve. I just want it gone, and I don’t know how to get rid of it.” She offered it to me.

Doug’s voice echoed up the stairs. “Deb! We’re burning daylight!” he yelled.

I took the little gun from her hand. “Sure,” I said. “I’ll take care of it.”

I stayed awhile with Genevieve after they had gone. I tried to interest her in department news and gossip, to the extent that I knew any. The truth was, I’d always counted on her for that sort of thing. She’d been my branch of the grapevine.

When I left, Genevieve followed me as far as the front porch. I stopped there and spoke to her. “If you ever want to talk, just give me a call. You know I’m up late.”

“I will,” she said quietly.

“You should think about coming back to work,” I added. “It might help you to be occupied. And we need you.”

“I know,” she said. “I’m trying.” But I could see in her eyes that she was in a dark place and a few rallying words from me weren’t going to help.

 

The first raindrops speckled my windshield only minutes after the house disappeared from my rearview mirror.

I thought I’d left in plenty of time to get back to the Cities. I should have known better. You should always expect bad luck on the road. Particularly when it rains.

The bad luck turned up twenty minutes north of Mankato. Traffic on the 169 slowed to a thick automotive sludge. Impatient, I turned down the radio, which suddenly seemed loud, and turned up the heat to keep the idling engine cool.

For twenty-five minutes, we all inched along. Finally, the cause came into view: a jackknifed truck in the road. Two highway patrol officers directed traffic around it. It didn’t look like an injury accident. Just a nuisance.

Past the obstruction, as the traffic broke up, I urged the Nova up to 87, ignoring the rain. I was going to have to really move if I wanted to catch Shiloh in time.

A little over an hour later, I turned into the long driveway outside our house. It was a quarter to one. Good, I thought, I was in time.

I made enough noise, banging the kitchen door open, that Shiloh would surely hear, wherever he was in the house. But the only answering noise was the ticking of the kitchen clock.

“Hey, Shiloh?”

Silence. Half the living room was visible from the kitchen, and unoccupied.

“Shit,” I said. I’d considered calling from the Lowes’ place to make it clear I’d be home in enough time to take him to the airport. Perhaps I should have done so.

It only took a moment to satisfy myself that he wasn’t home. But it seemed early yet. He shouldn’t have left already.

The house looked the same inside as it usually did, not really clean, not dirty, either. Shiloh had straightened up just a little. There were no dishes in the sink, and in the bedroom the bed was made, the Indian blanket pulled smooth.

I set my bag down on the bedroom floor and went out to the front of the house. In the front entryway, the hook where he hung his key ring was bare. His everyday jacket was gone as well. He’d erred on the side of caution and left without me.

There was no note.

Generally, Shiloh and I were well matched in our lack of sentimentality. But Shiloh’s abruptness, his lack of concern for convention, sometimes had the power to sting me a little. It did then.

“Well,” I said, aloud and alone. “Goodbye to you too, you son of a bitch.”

 

chapter 5

You always pay for time off
with extra time at work, either before or after. On Monday I went to work early, knowing I’d need time to make up for my personal days.

Vang wasn’t there when I got in, but he’d left reports on the recent disappearances on my desk.

None of them seemed out of the ordinary to me. They could be put in a few general categories: Tired of Being Married, Tired of Living Under My Parents’ Rules, or Too Absentminded to Tell Anyone I’m Leaving Town for a While.

Other books

Has Anyone Seen My Pants? by Sarah Colonna
Sting of the Scorpion by Carole Wilkinson
Random Victim by Michael A. Black
Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller
Rosamund by Bertrice Small
Solo Faces by James Salter
The Bad Beat by Tod Goldberg