The Border Part Three (4 page)

“Meet me tonight,” he continued. “We’ll go to another town and just hang out for a few hours, and then maybe we can get a motel room.” He waited for an answer. “Like the old days, you know? When things were simpler.”

She stared at him for a moment, but it was clear from her expression that she was slowly weakening. “Okay,” she said finally, with just a hint of a smile. “I’ll meet you, but I want dinner. Actual dinner, without a scrap of cardboard in sight.”

“Sure. Actual dinner.”

“No cardboard?”

“No cardboard.”

“With wine?”

“With wine.”

“Huh.” She paused. “You know something, Bob Hague? You can actually be kinda impressive on those rare occasions when you get your finger out of your ass.”

“Thank you,” he replied. “I think.”

“Pick me up at six?”

“Sure, and maybe -”

“Tell them it’s a yes!” Tom said suddenly, appearing back in the doorway with a grin.

Candy turned to him. “What?”

“The Offenden file,” he continued. “Tell them we’re going ahead with the contract. Tell them I’ve made my decision.”

“Already? I thought you wanted -”

“I’ve made my decision,” he said again, giving her a wink, “and it’s final, so go call them already.” Reaching out, he patted her on the shoulder. “Reel ‘em in, Candy.”

“Of course,” she replied, glancing briefly at Bob before hurrying back to her desk.

“See?” Tom said, giving Bob a thumbs-up. “What did I tell you? Tough decisions become so much easier when your mind is clear.”

III

 

“I’m going to get lunch with Jack,” Jane said as she grabbed her coat. “You want me to bring you anything back later?”

Heading to the door, she stopped and looked back at Alex, who was apparently staring so intensely at the screen of his computer that he hadn’t heard her at all. In fact, he’d been staring at the screen for most of the morning, which was unusual for him; he usually couldn’t stop talking, especially when they had a big case on their hands.

“Boss? Lunch?”

“Huh?” He turned to her. “What about it?”

“Do you want me to bring you some back?”

“Why would you do that?” Checking his watch, he seemed surprised. “Oh. Jesus, is that the time already?” He paused. “No, I’m fine. But while you’re out, could you pick up some internet wires?”

She stared at him. “Some
what
, Sir?”

“I’ve been thinking about it,” he continued, “and I want internet wires. None of this wireless stuff, I want actual, physical wires that keep everything contained. In fact, I don’t want there to be wireless internet anywhere in town if we can avoid it.”

“I…” She paused. “I’m not sure where one purchases internet wires, Sir.”

“Find out. Look it up.”

“On the internet?”

“I don’t know. I guess. And find out how I can protect myself.”

“From what, Sir?”

“From the wireless internet,” he continued. “It’s like a soup of electricity in the air all around us, beaming things from one computer to another. I think maybe…” He looked around for a moment. “I think maybe that’s part of the problem.”

“I’m not sure there’s -”

“What if someone over there,” he added, pointing to the far side of the room, “in the next building, is looking at unwholesome material? What if, for example, he’s looking at pornographic images on the other side of that wall?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “What if he is?”

“Well, it’s beaming everywhere, isn’t it?” he continued. “Those images are beaming wirelessly to his computer, so there’s, like, a miasma of this unwholesome pornography in the air all around us. I’ve been reading about the technology, Jane, and the range of those signals is staggering. Plus, they can get through walls! Do you realize what that means?”

“I’m not sure where you’re headed with this,” she replied cautiously.

“There’s pornography all around us. Literally, floating through the air.” Holding out a hand, he waved it in front of his face, as if he was disturbing smoke. “Right there. Pornography. And other things too. Good things, bad things, all mixed together. I realized it the other day when I was looking out at the town. Everything looked so peaceful, so calm, but I got to thinking about whether there are other things in Bowley, things lurking beneath the surface. That’s when I realized, it’s not
beneath
the surface, it’s in the air.”

“It is, Sir?”

He nodded. “It can penetrate bone, too, so of course it gets into our heads.”

“It does?”

“And I know they say it can’t affect our thoughts or anything like that, but do they really know how it works? Have there been any long-term studies?”

“I don’t know, Sir.”

He shook his head. “None that have convinced me. All the awful things that people see and hear on the internet, those things drift through the wireless cloud and sometimes they drift into our brains. How do we know that, in some way, our minds aren’t picking up on them?”

“Well, um…”

“Investigate hats,” he added.

“Hats, Sir?”

“Protective head equipment,” he continued. “Something that would isolate our minds from the internet as it floats around us.”

“What would those hats be made out of?” she asked. “Tin foil, maybe?”

“Maybe,” he replied. “I don’t know. Find out for me, won’t you?”

“I’ll get onto it after lunch,” she told him, heading to the door. “Just… Don’t worry about it too much while I’m out of the office, Sir. I’m sure we can do some research and maybe calm some of your worries.”

“I’m not worried,” he replied, “I’m just concerned.” Looking around the office, he almost seemed to be looking for some faint hint of the internet, perhaps a few wisps of smoke. “I just don’t want people beaming pornography and other unsavory things into or through my head. I’m worried it explains a lot about the way the world is headed.”

***

“Seriously?” Jack asked a short while later, as she and Jane sat on a bench in the town square, eating their lunch on a calm, sunny afternoon. “He thinks the internet is beaming porn into his head?”

“I’ll talk him out of it,” she replied, taking a bite of her sandwich before holding up the front page of the morning’s local paper. “Right now, I’m more interested in this latest story about the Mel Armitage murder. It’s got your byline.”

“What else do you think I’m gonna put on the front-page?” he asked. “It’s only been three days, Jane. This is the biggest story to hit Bowley since… Well, since the last time someone was murdered here, nine whole years ago. People want to know what’s really going on.”

“But this part,” Jane continued, frowning as she read one of the paragraphs, “about the murder weapon… You describe it as a serrated knife about five inches long.”

He took another bite of his sandwich. “So?” he asked with his mouth full. “Wasn’t it?”

“Sure, but…” She stared at him for a moment. “We never released that information to the public, so how did you know?”

“It must have been in one of the reports.”

“No, Jack, it wasn’t.”

“Then you must have mentioned it.”

She shook her head.

“You must have done.” He smiled. “Unless I’m secretly the killer and that’s how I know.”

“There are only two ways you could have known the details of the murder weapon,” she told him. “One is if you accessed the main police computers, which I’m pretty sure you didn’t do. The other is…”

Taking another bite, he waited for her to continue. “What?” he asked, again with his mouth full.

“My phone,” she said, with clear tension in her voice. “I emailed some files to myself. If you’d checked my phone, you could have found them.”

“I didn’t check your phone.”

She stared at him, as if she was searching his expression for some hint of a lie.

“I didn’t check your phone,” he said again. “Jesus, Jane, what kind of person do you think I am? It never even occurred to me to do that, I wouldn’t invade your privacy like that.”

“Then how did you know these details?”

“You must have mentioned it one time when we talked.”

“No.”

“It slipped out. What’s the big deal?”

“It didn’t slip out,” she said firmly. “I’m not an idiot, Jack. I know what I can and can’t tell members of the public.”

“I’m not a member of the public,” he replied, “I’m your husband. And I just so happen to be the editor of that paper, but first and foremost I’m your husband. I don’t go rooting around in your phone.”

“Then how -”

“Maybe Alex told me,” he continued. “Maybe I guessed. To be honest, I don’t remember. The past few days have been a blur anyway, do you have any idea how much copy I’ve had to file?” He stared at her for a moment, before looking at the paper in her hands. “Obviously I’m a genius and I guessed the truth, but one thing I can promise you is that I have never,
ever
gone snooping through your phone. Frankly, I’m a little offended that you’d even think that’s a possibility.”

“Sorry,” she muttered, glancing across the square, “I just -”

Stopping suddenly, she realized there was a figure in the distance, standing in the shadows of the alley that ran down the side of the pharmacy. She squinted slightly, and finally she saw that her initial suspicion was correct.

Caitlin.

“What’s up?” Jack asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Not a ghost,” she replied, getting to her feet. “At least, I don’t think so. Sorry, I have some errands to run before I go back to the office. Do you mind if we skip the rest of lunch?”

“Is this because you still think -”

“I don’t still think anything,” she told him, leaning down and kissing the top of his head. “I’m sorry I got so suspicious. Obviously I must have mentioned the weapon after all.”

“I’m glad we settled that one,” he replied with a sigh.

Grabbing her bag, Jane made her way across the square, heading straight for the spot where Caitlin was loitering. There weren’t many people about, but she was quite certain that Jack would be watching her until she got out of his line of sight, so she headed down the alley and ignored Caitlin, walking straight past her and making her way toward the parking lot at the back.

“Hey,” Caitlin said after a moment, following her. “Are you ignoring me just because I’m an expression of your subconscious mind?”

“Hang on,” Jane muttered.

“That
is
what you think of me, isn’t it?” Caitlin continued. “I’m just an illusion, a figment of your imagination? I thought you’d decided there’s no way I can be a ghost.”

“I just need to get out of sight,” Jane replied, slipping around the corner and then stopping to look around. Fortunately, there was no sign of anyone, so she turned to Caitlin. For a moment, the deathly pall of the girl’s skin sent a shiver up Jane’s spine, but she forced herself to stay calm. “What do you want?” she asked.

“I don’t know. What do you think I want? Revenge? Justice?”

“Obviously…” She paused. “Obviously you’re here to help me realize something. My subconscious mind has noticed something and this is how it’s being expressed to my conscious mind.”

“That makes you sound quite mad.”

“So what is it?”

“Am I supposed to make it easy for you?”

Checking her watch, Jane tried to keep from letting her annoyance show. “I have to get back soon.”

“Do you believe your husband?” Caitlin asked with a faint smile. “Do you think you did something so monumentally stupid and unprofessional as blabbing about the knife that was used to kill Mel? Or do you think he took a peek at your phone?”

“I think…” Looking over her shoulder, Jane checked once again that no-one could see her. “I think I’m standing in a parking lot,” she added finally, turning back to Caitlin, “talking to myself. If anyone sees me or hears me, they’ll think I’ve lost my mind.”

“Maybe you have,” Caitlin replied. “Or maybe this is the most sane way to work through things. You didn’t blab to Jack, that’s all just a load of rubbish. You know full well that you’re far too professional to do anything like that. He looked in your phone.”

“I can’t be sure of that.”

“You know it’s true. Deep down, you know he took a look while you were showering, or during the night. If you still won’t accept it, plant some false details on there tonight and wait to see if they show up in the paper.”

“I’m not setting a trap for my husband.”

“Not even to clear his name?”

“Is that why you’re here? To taunt me?”

“I don’t know. You’re the one who conjured me up out of thin air, you must have had a reason. The real Caitlin Somers has been dead for nine years, remember? Her body’s moldering in the ground, and her mind… Well, depending on your belief system, her mind either ceased to exist, or she moved on to the afterlife.” She paused, as if she was waiting for Jane’s reaction. “Or are you starting to have doubts? Are you starting to think that maybe I might be a ghost after all?”

Jane shook her head.

“Good,” Caitlin continued, “because that would be crazy.” She paused again. “You need to recognize the fact that the simplest explanation is almost always the right one.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means you’re in danger of over-complicating things. Meanwhile, the guy who killed Mel Armitage is still around somewhere.”

“Unless Alex is right and it was just someone passing through.”

“You don’t believe that for a second.”

Jane paused. “No, I don’t.”

“He’ll kill again, you know,” Caitlin continued. “That’s the other reason I came to see you today. He’s not done yet. I promise you, he’ll kill again.” She looked up at the clear blue sky. “The stars ordain it.”

“The stars?” Jane looked up for a moment. “The stars don’t have anything to do with it. No-one else is going to die, because Alex and I are going to -”

Looking back at Caitlin, she realized that the girl was gone.

***

“You didn’t get these from me,” Doctor Tomlin whispered as he slid an envelope over to Jack. “Remember, I could lose my license if people find out what I’m doing, and the next medical examiner might not be so willing to cooperate with the press.”

“I’m not going to tell anyone,” Jack replied, glancing at the bar to make sure Greg wasn’t watching, before taking some cash from his pocket and slipping it to Tomlin. “I appreciate this, man. The police have been no use at all.”

“Isn’t your wife half the local police force?” Tomlin asked.

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