Stay Close

Page 19


“I do.”
“So the guy warned his buddy, ‘You don’t want to open that big ol’ can of crazy.’”
Broome liked that. “And that’s what you did with Stewart?”
“Like I said, he seemed pretty cool at first. But he became obsessed. Some men do, I guess. I’d always managed to joke my way out of it. But not with him. Look, I read all the articles after he vanished about what a great family guy he was, the loving wife he nursed through cancer, the young kids. And working where I was, I had seen it all. I didn’t judge the married men who came in to blow off a little steam or look for… whatever. Three-quarters of the guys in the club were married. I don’t even think they’re hypocrites—a man can love his wife and still want some side action, can’t he?”
Broome shrugged. “I guess he can.”
“But Stewart Green wasn’t like that. He was violent. He was crazy. I just didn’t know how much.”
Broome crossed his legs. What she was telling him about the beating and violence—it sounded a lot like Tawny’s description of Carlton Flynn. Another connection maybe?
“So what happened?” he asked.
For the first time, Cassie looked uneasy. She glanced over at Harry Sutton. Harry had his hands resting on his belly, his fingers interlocked. He gave her a nod. She looked down at her hands.
“Do you know the old iron-ore ruins by Wharton?”
Broome did. It was maybe eight, ten miles from Atlantic City—the start of the Pine Barrens.
“I used to go there sometimes. After work or whenever I needed just to unwind.”
Unwind, Broome thought, managing to keep his face blank. A lie. Her first? He couldn’t be sure. He was about to follow up with the obvious question: Why were you really there? But for now he left it alone.
“So one night—well, my last night in this town—I was up in the park by the ruins. I was pretty distracted, I guess. Stewart was getting out of control, and I really didn’t know how to handle it. I had tried everything to get him to back off.”
Broome asked her the same question he had asked Tawny. “Didn’t you have a boyfriend or anything?”
Something crossed her face. “No.”
Another lie?
“Someone you could go to for help? How about Rudy or a friend at the club?”
“Look, that wasn’t the way we worked. Or I worked. I took care of myself. People might suspect I was in over my head, but I was a big girl. I could handle it.”
She looked down.
“What happened, Cassie?”
“It’s odd. Hearing someone call me that. Cassie.”
“Would you prefer Maygin?”
She smiled. “You found that out, huh? No. Stay with Cassie.”
“Okay. You’re stalling, Cassie.”
“I know,” she said. She took a deep breath and dived back in. “I’d started to become desperate for a way to get rid of Stewart, so two days earlier, I dropped the big atom bomb on him. Or I threatened to. I mean, I would never go through with it. But just the threat, I figured, would be enough.”
Broome had a pretty good idea where she was going with this, but he waited.
“So anyway, yeah, I told Stewart that if he didn’t leave me alone, I was going to tell his wife. I would never have really done it. I mean, once that bomb is dropped, the radioactivity will blow back in your face. But like I said, the threat is usually enough.”
“But not in this case,” Broome said.
“No.” She smiled again, but there was no playfulness there now. “To paraphrase that guy giving the warning, I underestimated what would happen when I opened that big ol’ can of crazy.”
Broome looked over at Harry Sutton. Sutton was leaning forward, his face full of concern.
“What did happen when you made the threat?” Broome asked.
Tears came to her eyes. She blinked them away. Her voice, when she found it, was soft. “It was bad.”
“You could have come to me,” Broome said.
She said nothing.
“You could have. Before you threatened the bomb.”
“And what exactly would you have done, Detective?”
He said nothing.
“You cops always defend us working girls against the real citizens.”
“That’s not fair, Cassie. If he hurt you, you could have told me.”
She shook her head. “Maybe, maybe not. But you don’t get it. He was stone-cold crazy. He said if I breathed a word, he’d use a blowtorch on me and make me tell him where my friends lived and then he’d go find them and kill them too. And I believed him. After what I saw in his eyes—after what he did to me—I believed every word.”
Broome let it sit a moment. Then he asked, “So what did you do?”
“I decided that maybe I should go away for a while. You know, just disappear for a month or two. He’d get tired of me, move on with his life, go back to his wife, whatever. But even that was scary. I didn’t know what he’d do if I just left without his permission.”
She stopped. Broome gave her a moment. Then he prompted her a bit.
“You said you were at the park?”
She nodded.
“Where at the park?”
Broome waited. When she’d first entered the room—heck, when Broome thought back to what she’d been like in her younger days—there was a calmness about her, a confidence. It was gone now. She looked down at her hands, wringing them in her lap.
“So I was on this path,” she said. “It was dark out. I was alone. And then I heard something up ahead. Coming from behind the bush.”
She stopped and put her head down. Broome tried to get her back on track with a softball: “What did it sound like?”
“A rustling,” she said. “Like maybe there was an animal. But then the sound grew louder. And I heard someone—a person—cry out.”
Again she stopped and looked away.
“What did you do next?” Broome asked.
“I was unarmed. I was alone. I mean, what could I do?” She looked at him as though she expected an answer. When he didn’t give one she said, “At first I just reacted. I started to turn away, but something happened that made me pull up.”
“Everything went quiet. Like someone had flicked a switch. Total silence. I waited for a few seconds. But there was nothing. The only thing I could hear now was my own breathing. I pressed up against this big rock and slowly moved around it—toward where I heard the noises before. I finally turned the corner, and he was there.”