7,244
23.12.2018

With Carly curled in her lap, Phoebe rocked and stroked as she used to when Carly was a baby. She knew what it was like to lose a father, to be told he was gone and never coming back. The hitch and jolt of it, the impossibility of the concept of death and forever to a child. But she didn't know, couldn't know, what it was to lose a father she'd never really had. Or to lose anyone to such sudden and stunning violence.

No matter how she'd softened or edited the details, it was still horrible. And those details would eke through, like fetid water through a crack in a wall-widening little by little from the whispers of neighbors, the blasts on television, the questions from other children at school. There was no shoring it all up, blocking it all out. So it was best, always best, to be as honest as possible.

"Did it hurt?" Carly asked her.

"I don't know. I just don't know. I hope not."

"How come he had to die here when he didn't live here?"

"I'm not sure. I'm going to try to find out."

Carly nestled in closer. "Is it bad I didn't love him?"

"No, baby." Phoebe could only hold tighter. "No."

"I didn't love him, but I didn't wish he would die."

"I know. Me, too. I know."

"Poppy's granddad died, and she went to the funeral, where he was dead in a big box. Do I have to go to the funeral?"

"No. I don't know if there's going to be one, or where or when. We weren't… it's not up to us. If I find out and you want to go-"

"I don't. Is that okay? Please, I don't want to."

"That's fine." The quick fear in Carly's voice had Phoebe rocking again. "You're not to worry about that, sweetie."

"What if he hurts you? The man who hurt Roy, what if-"

"I'm not going to let that happen. Carly-"

"The other man hurt you. He hurt your face and your arm." Tears trembled now as Carly rubbed her hands on Phoebe's cheeks. "What if he comes back and hurts you again, or he kills you like Roy got killed? Mama."

"He's not going to come back and hurt me. The police are going to make sure he doesn't. Isn't that what I do, Carly? You have to trust me to take care of you and Gran and Ava, and myself. Even Carter and Josie. We're going to be careful. Don't cry now, listen to me. Listen, okay? We're going to be so careful," Phoebe said gently. "We're going to have police right outside the house for a while, even inside if it makes you feel safer."

"If he comes into the house, will they shoot him with their guns? Will you?"

Oh, well, God. "He won't get into the house. But if he did, we'd do whatever we had to do to be safe. I promise you. We're all going to be careful, right? So you'll remember everything I told you about talking to strangers, and getting into someone's car-even going near the car. No matter what they say to you, no matter what they tell you. What do you do instead of going near the car?"

"I yell no as loud as I can and I run away."

"That's exactly right. We're all going to be fine, baby, because I'm going to find out who did this to Roy. Then he's going to go to prison. And he'll never get out again."

"Will you find out soon?"

"I'm going to try. And Uncle Dave's going to try. All the police I work with? They're all going to try."

Satisfied, comforted, Carly laid her head back on Phoebe's breast. "Are you sad, Mama?"

"I am. I am sad."

"Are you scared?"

Truth, Phoebe thought-but simple truth. "I'm scared enough to be careful, and to work really hard to find out why this happened. You know what happens when I work really hard?"

The smallest hint of a smile curved Carly's lips. "You get the job done."

"That's exactly right." She gathered Carly close, spoke almost to herself. "That's exactly right."

She got the call, and had to go. It was difficult, more difficult than she'd prepared herself for to leave her family. Cops on the door, she reminded herself. But none of those cops was her. She'd consider the control issue some other time, Phoebe told herself. But right at the moment, she wished that she could split herself into two parts, and that one of them could stand watch over the house and everyone in it.

She hated, too, that she'd had to ask Carter and Josie to move in temporarily. It was safer, and more efficient to have the people she considered most at risk under one roof.

But it was still a hell of a thing to ask a couple who were basically still on their honeymoon.

Yet they'd come. There was little, she knew, Carter wouldn't do for her. And less yet, Phoebe thought, he wouldn't do to make sure his wife was safe and sound.

And still, come morning, they'd all have to go on-to some extent-with their lives. To work, to the market, to the bank. She'd keep Carly home from school-just a day or two of indulgence thereuntil she was confident her daughter could be protected outside the house.

For now, she went downstairs to tell her family she had to leave.

And was surprised to see Duncan huddled in the parlor with Carter and Josie. She'd assumed he went home after she took Carly upstairs to tell her about her father.

They stopped talking when she stepped in, and every eye turned to her.

"Plots, plans?" she said, in a halfhearted attempt to keep it light. "Duncan, I didn't realize you were still here."

"Thought I'd hang around awhile. How's the kid?"

"She's a tough little bird. She'll be okay. She went down the back way to see my mother in the kitchen. Carter, Jo… Lousy situation, that's about all I can say. I have a number I'd like both of you to log into your cell phones. Direct line to the precinct, and a situation room set up for your protection. Anything, anything at all strikes you as off, you call it. Duncan, I'd appreciate it if you'd log in the number, too."

"Do you really think this lunatic would try to hurt one of us?" Josie asked her.

"I'm not going to take the chance." Stress, Phoebe noted, around

Josie's usually cheerful eyes. Death threats weren't the norm for a hospice nurse who marries a schoolteacher. "You're on a case now, right?"

"Yeah. I'm taking the seven-to-four shift, cancer patient. Private home on Bull Street."

"Good, close to my cop shop. If you could write down all the particulars, all the names-the other nurses, the people in the house, your routine, it'll be helpful. Same for you, Carter-your class schedule, meetings, everything. Duncan-"

"I'm probably a little less structured, schedule-wise."

"Have you considered private security? Just temporarily."

"I'm not having some hulk walking two steps behind me. My house is covered; I've taken care of it. You've got enough to worry about. I'll worry about me."

"I'm not egotistic enough to say this is happening because of me.

It's not. But I'm pissed enough-and I'm good enough-to say I'm going to find out who's trying to get to me through the people in my life.

And doing that is one of the reasons I have to go."

"You're going out?" Carter moved forward immediately to take her arm. "Phoebe, the point is he's trying to get to you. Herding us up elim inates his being able to hurt any of us. And gives him more reason to go straight at you."

"If and when, I'll be ready. Carter, I've got a child who needs me.

I don't intend to be careless or stupid. Dave's coming by to pick me up, and I'm going into the station house, where I'll be surrounded by other cops."

"Being surrounded by cops didn't stop one of them from sending you to the hospital," Josie pointed out.

"No, and I won't be that easy a mark again. Arnie Meeks is the reason I need to go in. He's being brought in for questioning. I need to be there. I need you to stay here, to keep everything as calm and normal as possible." She touched Carter's cheek. "Roy wasn't prepared. Why should he have been? But we are. And we're going to get through this. It's what we do, isn't it? Get through."

"Mama's scared to death."

"I know." Nothing could be done about it. "I'm counting on you.

And I'm resting easier on that count having a nurse in residence. You're taking a lot of weight off me, Josie."

"We'll be fine," Josie assured her. "We were just talking about what we could do to keep things as normal as possible. Food, games, music. Business," she added with a quick smile at Duncan.

"I thought Essie and I could come up with a business plan."

"Good. That's good. Keep them busy, will you? And when they ask, tell them I'm with Dave. I'll be back soon. Duncan, maybe you could walk me out."

"Sure."

She waited until they were on the veranda. "It has to be said," she began. "You'd be smarter, safer and certainly saner if you went home, kept your distance. Not only from me, but from my family."

He nodded as he studied the lovely tree-lined street. "Didn't help Roy much, did it?"

"No." Blunt help, she discovered. Straight to the point. "You have the resources to go anywhere, and for any length of time. You could get out of Savannah for a while, and those resources would also ensure no one outside your inner circle had to know where you are."

"Cut and run."

"It's not running, and you'll still have your balls in Tahiti or wherever."

"Easy to say when you don't have any balls-so to speak-in the first place. I'm not going to Tahiti. Savannah's my home, and I have projects in the works I'm not prepared-okay, not willing-to put on hold. And I'm not ditching the redheads to go drink mai tais. But you knew that."

"Deduced that," she corrected. "Still, it had to be said. I also have every confidence you'll take care of yourself, but that doesn't mean I won't worry-and you knew that. So I need to ask you to check in, every two hours. A quick call, a text message, I don't care how you check in, but I need you to do it."

"I can agree to that, if it's reciprocal."

She lifted her eyebrows. "You want me to check in with you?" Brows still lifted, she flipped back her jacket where her badge was clipped to her waistband.

"Yeah, real pretty. I call you, two hours later you call me, two hours later, back to me. That's how it works."

She tapped her fingers on her badge as she studied him. "You might be good in my line of work. That's agreed. Here." She handed him a piece of paper. "Emergency number's on there. If you could make sure everyone inside has it on both cells and the house line, I'd appreciate it." She turned, scanned the street, the trees, the cars, over to the park.

"He could be watching the house. He could be anywhere."

"Let's give him something to look at." He pulled her close, covered her mouth with his.

As he started to ease her back, she wrapped her arms tight for one hard embrace. "Don't take any chances. Zero chances. If it even seems like it might somehow be related to taking a chance, don't."

"Yoo-hoo!"

Phoebe's nerves were stretched tightly enough that even recognizing Lorelei Tiffany's voice, she laid a hand on the butt of her weapon.

But her tone was easy when she turned and waved. "Hey there, Miz Tiffany."

"Don't you two make a picture! That's a handsome man you got there, Phoebe. Few years ago, I'd've stolen him right out from under you."

Decked in daffodil yellow, with little Maximillian Dufree coordinating with leash, collar and bow tie, Mrs. Tiffany sent Duncan a flirtatious smile.

"Ma'am. When the woman's as delicious as you, I'd be the one doing the stealing."

Mrs. Tiffany let loose a girlish giggle. "Oh, you! Better keep a hold of that one, Phoebe. Maximillian Dufree and I are about to take a turn in the park, if y'all like to join us."

"I wish we could."

"Don't blame you. I'd find something more energetic than dogwalking to do if I had a handsome man like that around. Bye now."

"Normal," Phoebe murmured when the pair clipped off. "There's still a lot of normal in the world."

"Savannah's a world where a dog in a yellow bow tie's pretty normal. I saw that hairless dog humping a pink toy poodle across the way a while back. I guess that's normal, too."

"For Maximillian Dufree, it is. The pink poodle would be Lady Delovely, who carelessly seduces Maximillian Dufree-despite his lack of essential equipment-and all the other dogs-including several females of her acquaintance-with wanton regularity."

She watched Mrs. Tiffany, in bright yellow glory, breeze into the park. "I wish we could do something as nice and normal as walk in the park and watch a couple of silly-looking dogs."

Duncan ran a hand down Phoebe's arm when Dave's car pulled in. "You take care, Phoebe. We'll get down to some normal of our own real soon."

"Counting on it." She took one last look at him, one last look at the house, and walked down to Dave's car.

"Everybody okay?" Dave asked her. "Holding."

"Mr. Lucky appears to be sticking."

She glanced back, saw Duncan still standing on the veranda. "He does. I think that's one of the things he's good at. He's good at sticking. So are you," she added. "You stuck by my whole family, all these years. Which makes you a target, Dave. You're as close to me as any of my family, a hell of a lot closer to me than Roy was." o

"I'm taking precautions." He took one hand off the wheel to pat hers. "Be sure." She shifted toward him. "You've been my father since

I was twelve. The one I looked up to, depended on and, in a lot of ways, the one I've tried to emulate. If he knows me, and he must, he knows that."

This time his hand squeezed hers. "I've been proud of you since before I ever met you face-to-face. Fact is, I love you like my own. I'm not going to let him use me to hurt you. All right?"

"Yes. Yes. All right." She took in a breath, let it go. "Why did they bring Arnie in? I thought they were going to question him informally at home."

"They did, or attempted to, then hauled him in when he took a swing at one of the detectives. Little bastard put his own ass in the sling."

"Short fuse," Phoebe replied. "The man who killed Roy has a long one. Long and cold. Arnie Meeks doesn't fit the profile, Dave."

"Maybe not. Could be he has a friend or family member who does. Let's put it through the process, Phoebe. One step, then the next." He hadn't asked for a lawyer. That was to prove he was a hard-ass, Phoebe concluded as she studied Arnie through the one-way glass. It was also monumentally stupid. He'd been a cop long enough to know better, but he wanted to show that he could tough it out, this was no big deal.

He wore a gray T-shirt and jeans, scuffed Nike low-tops and a surly expression. He hadn't shaved, so there was a rough stubble on his face that suited the look in his eye. The screw-you-all look.

He'd hurt and humiliated her, laid in wait for her and violated her.

She understood the knot squeezed in her sternum was a normal, natural reaction to that, to standing here looking at the man who'd bound and beaten and stripped her.

But she couldn't loosen it.

"You don't have to do this." Dave put a hand on her shoulder, gave it a quick squeeze.

"Yes, I do."

"You've already faced him down once, Phoebe. There's nothing to prove."

"I have to do this. I have to see him while they question him." Look in his eyes, listen to his voice. "It's the only way I'll know, that I can be sure, if he's the one who killed Roy. Or if he knows who did."

"I'm going to say what has to be said. You don't owe Roy anything."

"Maybe not. But I owe it to Carly. I'll be fine."

Fine might have been an exaggeration, but she got through and that was good enough. She watched Sykes and Liz double-team him, work him around, and poke and prod at Arnie's non-answers. All three knew how to play the game, she thought. But Arnie was outnumbered, outmatched. "Can't deny you've got it in for Lieutenant MacNamara," Sykes said casually.

"Old news."

"A man pounds on a woman that way, it never gets old. The kind of man who does that?" Sykes stopped, shook his head. "On my gauge he's low enough to do anything."

"Oughta have your gauge checked."

"Tell you what mine says, Arnie." Liz circled around to speak from behind him. "It says you're a fucking coward. The kind of sick son-ofabitching coward who'd blow some helpless bastard to pieces. Did it make you feel big? Make you feel important to take him out?"

"I didn't even know the asshole. I told you. I never touched the bastard. Why would I? Seems to me he had the good sense to dump that know-it-all bitch. I'da bought him a drink if I'd met him."

"He was nothing to you, right?" Liz leaned in. "Nothing but a tool you could use to fuck with the lieutenant."

"I don't need to fuck with her. Like I said, old news."

"How do you like playing rent-a-cop for a bunch of yuppies in

Calvin Klein suits, tourists in flip-flops, Arnie? Bet that never gets old." Arnie's face darkened-anger, Phoebe thought, and more. Embarrassment. "It's temporary."

"Oh yeah? You think your daddy's going to get you back on the job?" Drumming the flats of his hands on his own belly, Sykes let out a hoot. "Pig's eye, Arnie, and you know it. You're done, broke the family chain. Some bitch cost me my badge, I'd sure as hell want payback. Why don't you tell us where you were last night, Arnie? Where you were from ten to three in the morning?"

"I toldyou. I was home, with my wife."

"Stupid to lie, don't you think? Doesn't show a bright light." Sykes tapped his temple. "Especially when the wife's not too happy with you to begin with." Sykes pushed through the file in front of him. "Her statement says she doesn't know when you got home, but you weren't there when she went to bed at eleven."

"She's wrong." After a shrug, Arnie tipped his head back to study the ceiling. "I was down in the den, fell asleep watching TV."

"She locked up, Arnie. She did the walk-through before she went up to bed. If you were there, snoozing in front of the tube, where was your car?"

"She didn't see it. She's pissed at me, sure. Just giving me a hard time."

"He's lying," Phoebe stated. "He's lying about being home. And he's nervous."

"She can't place you on the day of the Johnson shooting either. Too bad."

"It was my day off, goddamn it." Anger punched through the shaky nonchalance. "I was running errands. I had things to do."

"Yeah, things to do," Liz agreed. "Like set yourself up in an apartment window and shoot an unarmed man, a surrendering teenager."

"Fuck that. Fuck this. Fuck you. I'm not getting screwed on this because that bitch MacNamara wants more blood. She's got you bowing and scraping and doing whatever she wants. I wanted to kill anybody, you can bet your ass it'd be her."

"Killing her ex in front of her, that's a handy way to shove it in her face. Killing Johnson after she'd spent hours talking him down, that's rubbing it in." Sykes shot out his index finger like the barrel of a gun. "You've got a twenty-two pistol, Arnie. You shouldn't have left the slug in that dumb rabbit."

"What? What rabbit? What the fuck are you talking about?"

"He's not lying about that." Phoebe shook her head. "He doesn't know what they're talking about."

"Once we match the bullet and the gun, we'll have ourselves stalking and harassment charges. Breaks your probation. You'll do time. You'll go inside. No way your daddy's going to be able to dig you out this time."

"Leave my father out of this."

"You won't," Liz tossed back. "You'll be calling Daddy for help any minute. We'll match the bullets from the rabbit. Then there's the dead snake, the dead rat. Upped it from the doll you mutilated and left for her. I'm betting you upped it from wildlife to Roy Squire."

"I don't know anything about any damn dead rabbit."

"The doll," Phoebe said quietly, even as Sykes narrowed his eyes. "You know something about the doll, don't you? You got sweatier over the doll."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Messed up the doll like you'd planned to mess up the lieutenant," Sykes continued. "Rang her bell one night and left it outside her door. Then the dead rat, then right up to Roy Squire. Yeah, smells like pattern to me."

"That's bullshit. Maybe I tossed a doll by her house, so what? That was weeks ago, and I haven't gone near her place since. I haven't gone near MacNamara since…"

"Since you beat her in the stairwell?" Sykes finished. "Since you put a fucking bag over her head and stripped her down? You don't have any friends here, Arnie. Nobody wants to help you, so you keep lying. Makes me warm inside. You keep right on lying your way into a cage, and this time there's going to be a hotshot on the other side. There's a needle waiting for you, you sack of shit."

"You're out of your goddamn mind." Arnie was sheet white now, and running sweat. "I didn't kill anybody. I didn't shoot any damn rabbit either."

"We got motive, means, opportunity. Yeah, keep lying, fuckhead. You know how the DA loves it when a coward killer whines and lies. He'll go for the needle, no question."

"I didn't know the son of a bitch. I haven't been to Hilton Head where you said he lives. You can't put me there."

"Give us time. I was never happy, were you, Liz, with the way this asshole skated after messing with the lieutenant?"

"Me, I wanted to see him get some serious tuning on that. This time…"

"She's behind it." Arnie swiped the back of his hand over his mouth. "You know damn well. Trying to set me up, that's what she's doing. I saw the damn doll at a yard sale, just used it to give her something to think about. I didn't kill anyone, I haven't been to goddamn Hilton

Head. She's trying to fuck me over. She can go to hell. I wasn't anywhere near Bonaventure last night."

"Where were you, Arnie? Prove it, and make this go away."

"I got me a girlfriend, okay? My wife's not giving me any support, or any sex, or anything else. So I've got someone who will. I was with her last night at her place. And I was banging her until after two in the morning."

"Name." Liz shoved a notebook across the table. "Address. We'll ask her how much she got banged."

"She's got a husband, okay? He was up at Myrtle Beach playing golf for a few days, so we used her place. You've got to let me talk to her first, tell her this is serious shit so she won't blow it off. Her husband finds out, he'll knock her around. She has to know you're not going to use her name."

"Let you talk to her first, prime her?" Sykes snorted out derision. "Not going to happen, Arnie. You're telling the truth, we'll keep her out of it. Sounds like you deserve each other."

"My wife's already talking divorce, and all because MacNamara-"

"Oh yeah, all this is MacNamara's fault. Sure. She tricked you into busting her up just so you'd get tossed off the job. Write the name down, Arnie."

"She's an exec at Terrance, Inc. You go see her there, not at her place. You go talk to her at her office. You have to give me the courtesy of being discreet."

Sykes's eyes were hard as stone. "You lost the right to courtesy from anyone here when you jumped Lieutenant MacNamara in that stairwell.

You remember that, asshole. Ain't nobody on your side. You want to save yourself, you write down the name. Otherwise, you're going in on assaulting an officer and you're staying in until we put all these ducks in a row."

As he wrote, Phoebe turned to Dave.

"It wasn't him. He's a pig, and he's stupid with it. He didn't kill Charles Johnson or Roy. He hasn't got the stones or the smarts." She turned back to the glass. "He'd really like to hurt me. He'd still like to make me pay. But he wouldn't understand that killing that boy, that killing Roy, hurts me, that it makes me pay. He doesn't understand me at all. Whoever did those things does."

"We'll check out the woman, see if the alibi holds."

"Yeah. I'm going home. I'll start going through the files. He'll be in there. He's in there somewhere."

As Phoebe stepped out of observation, Liz slipped out of the interview room. "I was just coming back to talk to you. Got a minute?"

"Sure."

"Let's, ah…" Liz glanced over, gestured toward the women's room. "Take it in here."

When they were inside, Liz leaned back on a sink. "Hard for you, watching that. Watching him. The glass isn't much of a barrier."

"Yeah, it was, and no, it's not. But it had to be done."

"He's not the guy, Phoebe."

"No, he's not the guy. You and Bull did good in there. His alibi's going to check out, and we'll be able to eliminate that avenue."

"How are you holding up?"

"Truth? I have no idea." Phoebe ran her hands over her face, back into her hair. "I've got my family holed up inside the house like a group of hostages. No choice. Whoever did this to Roy has made us all hostages, and I don't know the terms. I don't know what he wants or why. I can't negotiate their safety if I don't know the terms."

"You want to go grab some coffee?" As she asked, Liz tipped back her watch to check the time. "I can take thirty while Bull wraps up."

"I look that bad?"

"You look like you could use a cup of coffee and a friend."

"I could, but I need to get home. Pull out the linchpin, the wheel slips off. Right now, for my family, I'd be the linchpin. Could you let me know if and when his alibi's confirmed?"

"No problem."

Phoebe opened the door, shut it again. "I wish it was him. Wish it was that son of a bitch. Roy's dead, can't change that. Part of me wishes it was Meeks so it would be over and done, and I'd know my family's safe. But there's another part, Liz, just as active, just as sharp, that wishes it was him so he'd go down. All the way down. And not for Roy, not in the guts, you know? So he'd go down for every minute inside that stairwell. I thought I'd come to terms with the way all that shook out, with the payment made. But standing in there, looking at him? I haven't come to terms with it."

"Understandable."

"Is it?"

"Scales are only balanced when your gut tells you they are. You may have to accept the payment. You don't have to like it."

"I don't." Something loosened in her chest because she'd been able to say it, to spew it out to someone who understood. "I don't like it one damn bit. He should do a little time helpless and terrified, then maybe…" Phoebe shook her head. "Problem for another day. I think I have enough others to fill the plate for now."

"You should give some thought to talking to the counselor."

"I will. Really. I need to get through this first." She managed a smile. "That was better than coffee. Thanks for the ear, Liz."

"I got two when you need another."