Just One Look

Chapter 17


Grace stared at the headline. "He was murdered?" Cora nodded.
"Bob Dodd was shot in the head in front of his wife. Gangland style, they called it, whatever that means."
"They catch who did it?"
"When was he murdered?"
"Yeah, when?"
"Four days after Jack called him."
Cora moved back toward the computer. Grace considered the date.
"It couldn't have been Jack."
"Uh huh."
"It would be impossible. Jack hasn't traveled out of the state in more than a month."
"You say so."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing, Grace. I'm on your side, okay? I don't think Jack killed anybody either, but c'mon, let's get a grip here."
"Meaning stop with the 'hasn't traveled out of state' nonsense. New Hampshire is hardly California. You can drive up in four hours. You can fly up in one."
Grace rubbed her eyes.
"Something else," Cora went on. "I know why he's listed as Bob, not Robert."
"He's a reporter. That's his byline. Bob Dodd. Google listed one hundred and twenty-six hits on his name over the past three years for the New Hampshire Post. The obituary called him-where's the line?-'a hard-nosed investigative reporter, famous for his controversial exposes'-like the New Hampshire mob rubbed him out to keep him quiet."
"And you don't think that's the case?"
"Who knows? But skimming through his articles, I'd say Bob Dodd was more like an 'On Your Side' reporter, you know-he finds dishwasher repairmen scamming old ladies, wedding photographers who bail out with the deposit, that sorta thing."
"He could have pissed someone off."
Cora's tone was flat. "Yup, could have. And, what, you think it's a coincidence-Jack calling the guy before he died?"
"No, there's no coincidence here." Grace tried to process what she was hearing. "Hold up."
"That photograph. There were five people in it. Two women, three men. This is a long shot..."
Cora was already typing. "But maybe Bob Dodd is one of them?"
"There are image search engines, right?"
"Already there."
Her fingers flew, her cursor pointed, her mouse slid. There were two pages, a total of twelve picture hits for Bob Dodd. The first page featured a hunter with the same name living out in Wisconsin. On the second page-the eleventh hit-they found a table photograph taken at a charity function in Bristol, New Hampshire.
Bob Dodd, a reporter for the New Hampshire Post, was the first face on the left.
They didn't need to study it closely. Bob Dodd was African-American. Everyone in the mystery photograph was white.
Grace frowned. "There still has to be a connection."
"Let me see if I can dig up a bio on him. Maybe they went to college together or something."
There was a gentle rapping at the front door. Grace and Cora looked at each other. "Late," Cora said.
The knocking came again, still soft. There was a doorbell. Whoever was there had chosen not to use it. Must know she had kids. Grace rose and Cora followed. At the door she flicked on the outside light and peered out the window on the side of the door. She should have been more surprised, but Grace guessed that maybe she was beyond that.
"Who's that?" Cora asked.
"The man who changed my life," Grace said softly.
She opened the door. Jimmy X stood on the stoop looking down.
Wu had to smile.
That woman. As soon as he saw those siren lights, he put it together. Her ingenuity was both admirable and grating.
No time for that.
What to do...?
Jack Lawson was tied up in the trunk. Wu realized now that he should have fled the moment he saw that hide-a-key. Another mistake. How many more could he afford?
Minimize the damage. That was the key here. There was no way to prevent it all-the damage, that is. He would be hurt here. It would cost him. His fingerprints were in the house. The woman next door had probably already given the police a description. Sykes, alive or dead, would be found. There was nothing he could do about that either.
Conclusion: If he was caught, he would go to jail for a very long time.
The police cruiser pulled into the driveway.
Wu snapped into survival mode. He hurried downstairs. Through the window he saw the cruiser glide to a stop. It was dark out now, but the street was well lit. A tall black man in full uniform came out. He put on his police cap. His gun remained in his holster.
That was good.
The black police officer was barely on the walk when Wu opened the front door and smiled widely. "Something I can do for you, Officer?"
He did not draw his weapon. Wu had counted on that. This was a family neighborhood in the great American expanse known as the suburbs. A Ho-Ho-Kus police officer probably responds to several hundred possible burglaries during his career. Most, if not all, were false alarms.
"We got a call about a possible break-in," the officer said.
Wu frowned, feigning confusion. He took a step outside but kept his distance. Not yet, he thought. Be nonthreatening. Wu's moves were intentionally laconic, setting a slow pace. "Wait, I know. I forgot my key. Someone probably saw me going in through the back."
"You live here, Mr...?"
"Chang," Wu said. "Yes, I do. Oh, but it's not my house, if that's what you mean. It belongs to my partner, Frederick Sykes."
Now Wu risked another step.
"I see," the officer said. "And Mr. Sykes is...?"
"May I see him please?"
"Sure, come on in." Wu turned his back to the officer and yelled up the stairs. "Freddy? Freddy, throw something on. The police are here."
Wu did not have to turn around. He knew the tall black man was moving up behind him. He was only five yards away now. Wu stepped back into the house. He held the door open and gave the officer what he thought was an effeminate smile. The officer-his name tag read Richardson -moved toward the door.
When he was only a yard away, Wu uncoiled.
Office Richardson had hesitated, perhaps sensing something, but it was too late. The blow, aimed for the center of his gut, was a palm strike. Richardson folded in half like a deck chair. Wu moved closer. He wanted to disable. He did not want to kill.
An injured policeman produces heat. A dead policeman raises the temperature tenfold.
The cop was doubled over. Wu hit him behind the legs. Richardson dropped to his knees. Wu used a pressure point technique. He dug the knuckles of his index fingers into both sides of Richardson 's head, up and into the ear cavity under the cartilage, an area known as Triple Warmer 17. You need to get the right angle. Go full strength and you could kill someone. You needed precision here.
Richardson 's eyes went white. Wu released the hold. Richardson dropped like a marionette with its strings cut.
The knockout would not last long. Wu took the handcuffs from the man's belt and cuffed his wrist to the stairwell. He ripped the radio from his shoulder.
Wu considered the woman next door. She'd be watching.
She would surely call the police again. He wondered about that, but there was no time. If he tried to attack, she would see him and lock the door. It would take too long. His best bet was to use time and surprise here. He hurried to the garage and got into Jack Lawson's minivan. He checked the cargo area in the back.
Jack Lawson was there.
Wu moved to the driver's seat now. He had a plan.
Charlaine had a bad feeling the moment she saw the policeman step out of the car.
For one thing, he was alone. She had assumed that there would be two of them, partners, again from TV-Starsky and Hutch, Adam-12, Briscoe and Green. She realized now that she had made a mistake. Her call had been too casual. She should have claimed to see something menacing, something frightening, so that they would have arrived more wary and prepared. Instead she had simply come across as a nosey neighbor, a dotty woman who had nothing better to do but call the cops for any little thing.
The policeman's body language too was all wrong. He sauntered toward the door, slack and casual, not a care in the world. Charlaine couldn't see the front door from where she was, only the driveway. When the officer disappeared from view, Charlaine felt her stomach drop.
She considered shouting out a warning. The problem was-and this might sound strange-the new Pella windows they had installed last year. They opened vertically, with a hand crank. By the time she slid open both locks and cranked the handle, well, the officer would already be out of sight. And really, what could she yell? What kind of warning? What in the end did she really know?
So she waited.
Mike was in the house. He was downstairs in the den, watching the Yankees on the YES Network. The divided night. They never watched TV together anymore. The way he flipped the remote was maddening. They liked different shows. But really, she didn't think that was it. She could watch anything. Still Mike took the den; she had the bedroom. They both watched alone, in the dark. Again she didn't know when that had started. The children weren't home tonight-Mike's brother had taken them to the movies-but when they were, they stayed in their own rooms. Charlaine tried to limit the Web surf time, but it was impossible. In her youth, friends talked on the phone for hours. Now they instant-messaged and lord-knew-what over the Internet.
This was what her family became-four separate entities in the dark, interacting with one another only when necessary.
She saw the light go on in the Sykes garage. Through the window, the one covered with flimsy lace, Charlaine could see a shadow. Movement. In the garage. Why? There would be no need for the police officer to be in there. She reached for the phone and dialed 911, even as she began to head for the stairs.
"I called you a little while ago," she told the 911 operator.
"About a break-in at my neighbor's house."
"An officer is responding."
"Yeah, I know that. I saw him pull up."
Silence. She felt like a dope.
"I think something might have happened."
"What did you see?"
"I think he may have been attacked. Your officer. Please send someone quickly."
She hung up. The more she'd explain, the stupider it would sound.
The familiar churning noise started up. Charlaine knew what it was. Freddy's electric garage door. The man had done something to the cop. He was going to escape.
And that was when Charlaine decided to do something truly stupid.
She thought back to those wicked-witch-thin heroines, the ones with the mind-scooped stupidity, and wondered if any of them, even the most brain dead, had ever done something so colossally stupid. She doubted it. She knew that when she looked back on the choice she was about to make-assuming she survived it-she would laugh and maybe, just maybe, have a little more respect for the protagonists who enter dark homes in just their bra and panties.
Here was the thing: The Asian guy was about to escape. He had hurt Freddy. He had hurt a cop; she was sure of it. By the time the cops responded, he would be gone. They wouldn't find him. It would be too late.
And if he got away, then what?
He had seen her. She knew that. At the window. He had probably already figured out that she was the one who called the police. Freddy could be dead. So too the cop. Who was the only witness left?
He would come back for her, wouldn't he? And even if he didn't, even he decided to let her be, well, at best, she would live in fear. She'd be jumpy in the night. She'd look for him in crowds during the days. Maybe he would simply want revenge. Maybe he would go after Mike or the kids...
She could not let that happen. She had to stop him now.
Wanting to prevent his escape was all fine and good, but let's stay real here. What could she do? They didn't own a gun. She couldn't just run outside and jump on his back and try to claw his eyes. No, she had to be cleverer than that.
She had to follow him.
On the surface it sounded ridiculous, but add it up. If he got away, the result would be fear. Pure, unadulterated, probably unending terror until he was captured, which might be never. Charlaine had seen the man's face. She had seen his eyes. She couldn't live with that.
Following him-running a tail, as they say on TV-made sense, when you considered the alternatives. She would follow him in her car. She would keep her distance. She would have the cell phone. She would be able to tell the police where he was. The plan did not involve following him long, just until the police could take over. Right now, if she didn't act, she knew what would happen: The police would arrive; the Asian man would be gone.
There was no alternative.
The more she thought about it, the less nutsy it sounded. She'd be in a moving car. She'd stay comfortably behind him. She'd be on her cell phone with a 911 operator.
Wasn't that safer than letting him go?
She ran downstairs.
It was Mike. He stood there, in the kitchen, standing over the sink eating peanut-butter crackers. She stopped for a second. His eyes probed her face in a way only he could, in a way only he ever had. She fell back to her days at Vanderbilt, when they first fell in love. The way he looked at her then, the way he looked at her now. He was skinnier back then and so handsome. But the look, the eyes, they were the same.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"I need"-she stopped, caught her breath-"I need to go somewhere."
His eyes. Probing. She remembered the first time she ever saw him, that sunny day at Centennial Park in Nashville. How far had they come? Mike still saw. He still saw her in a way that no one else ever had. For a moment Charlaine could not move. She thought that she might cry. Mike dropped the crackers into the sink and started toward her.
"I'll drive," Mike said.