Friday evening seemed to move in slow motion. Hoss arrived at about four with a plate of Christmas cookies his mother had baked.
“Christmas in July?” Josie asked.
“She was nervous and wanted to do something,” Hoss said, shrugging his shoulders. “It’s all the anticipation, like something big is going to happen. Almost like Christmas Eve.”
“Hardly.” Josie’s hand went automatically to the blue folder on her desk. Inside was a copy of the fictional story Juan had written as a student at Holy Family Academy in Chicago. The dark comedy about a tortured boy who wreaked havoc on his high school was similar to Stephen King’s “Carrie.” Juan’s story started with the boy, wearing strips of ammunition across his chest like a stereotypical Mexican bandito, accosting a couple in the school parking lot, two guns blazing from his hip. It was just a story, but horrifying.
Juan arrived a few minutes after Hoss, and Josie strained to hear every word he said as he checked his messages and returned phone calls. She’d already asked who called him to the murder scenes in the middle of the night, but he would only say a sheriff’s department employee.
Duke thought she was over-reacting. He suggested she simply ask Juan about the fictional story, but she couldn’t figure out how to bring it up.
A few minutes after five, Juan took a notebook and headed out to make the rounds of the Jordan City Police and Cade County Sheriff’s departments. It was the usual beginning of the Friday night shift, going through stacks of reports looking for something worth reporting. If he found something big—an auto accident or a burglary—he’d have to find a police officer to fill in the blanks and track down the victim for a comment. Then he’d return to the office to write the stories and make calls to the smaller community police stations to see if they had something to report.
Josie watched through the window as Juan got into his compact car and drove away. Then she gathered her things to leave.
“I’ll be back around eleven, just to check in.”
“OK.” Hoss said. He didn’t need any explanation. He knew Josie planned to keep an eye on Juan that night. When Josie returned, Hoss wasn’t surprised that Duke was with her, or that Duke smelled of bourbon. Hoss knew more than he said.
“So, how’s everything been going?” Josie asked.
“All’s well, Peter Pan. Haven’t heard from Captain Hook tonight,” Hoss replied. “Even the phones have stopped ringing.”
Juan was at his desk, making calls to track down information on a man who had been injured earlier that day on a riding lawnmower. He seemed caught up in minutia and unaware that Josie had arrived.
“Lots of little stuff,” Hoss said, throwing down a page proof of police briefs. “Hasn’t been much chatter on the police scanner, either. It’s eerie.”
“A watched pot never boils,” Duke said.
“Yeah, I think all this publicity has scared him off,” Juan said, hanging up the phone and quickly catching up to the conversation. Josie watched Juan work, and he seemed like any young reporter dealing with a half dozen minor stories. Always just one more call, check the address, look up a word in the dictionary.
After a half hour, Duke and Josie left and moved her little green Escort into a dark corner of the employee lot. About midnight, after all the night’s stories were finished, Juan left. Josie pulled out behind him without turning on the headlights.
“I feel like a high school kid following a girl I have a crush on,” Duke said. He was in the passenger seat sipping bourbon and water from a tall, insulated jug.
“I feel terrible,” Josie said. “But I would feel a lot worse if there’s another murder tonight and Juan just miraculously shows up at the scene. I have to know he’s not involved.”
Duke and Josie followed as Juan pulled into a fast food drive-through lane. They parked in a darkened area until he had made it through the line and drove away. They followed as he wound through Murray Park, quiet and deserted at this hour. Finally, he headed to the south side of Jordan, parked, and went inside a
neighborhood bar neither of them had noticed before. Josie circled the building looking for a good vantage point from which to watch the front door, the side door, and Juan’s car.
“Have you been on stakeouts before?” Duke asked, adding more bourbon to his weakening drink.
“No,” Josie laughed. “But I had crushes in high school.”
“Oh, that reminds me. Malcolm Jones was paroled in May.”
“I’m afraid to ask what that has to do with high school.”
“Well, I called the high school and they gave me the phone numbers of the people planning the reunion, and . . . oh, never mind. I just thought you’d be interested. I checked him out on the Illinois sex offender’s list, and it looks like he’s living in a halfway house in Chicago.”
“Well, Jordan doesn’t need any more sex offenders at the moment.”
Josie and Duke shared an easy banter for more than an hour, Josie sipping a Coke from the cooler she had brought and Duke polishing off the rest of the bottle of bourbon. His speech was taking on that foggy, not really there quality, and Josie wondered why she had brought him along.
At about one a.m., after Josie was sure Hoss had put the paper to bed, she walked to a nearby phone booth and called him.
“All quiet here. How ’bout there?”
At about one thirty, a rap on the window made Josie jump.
“Hey, ya got any change?” a gangly black man asked. “For the phone.”
Josie was too shaken to speak
“Yeah, sure,” Duke said reaching into his pocket and handing over four quarters for the dollar the man offered.
“Oh, my gosh,” Josie said as she watched the man walk across the street to the pay phone. “I just realized we’re sitting here, in a parked car, looking for a guy who kills people in parked cars.”
“That’s one way to be the first on the scene.”
Finally Josie spotted Juan among the patrons who were leaving as the bar was closing at 2. Instead of going to his car, however, he
and another patron headed right toward the corner where Josie was parked.
“Oh, shit,” Josie said, ducking down and pulling Duke down as well.
“Dingo drizzle!” Duke said a little louder than necessary.
“Shhh, he’ll see us.”
“I thought we were supposed to see him,” Duke replied with childlike logic. “How are we going to see where he is from down here?”
Josie could hear Juan talking and laughing as the two walked past their car. Duke sat up slowly, and then said. “Hey, I think I know that guy.”
“Of course you know him,” Josie whispered. “That’s Juan.”
“No, I mean the other guy,” Duke said. “He works at the sheriff’s department. He’s a dispatcher, I think.”
“The source.” Josie sat up quickly. The two men had stopped under a street light behind Josie’s car. Peeking over the seat she had a good view of both of them.
“Can you catch what—” Josie stopped in mid-sentence as Juan reached up and kissed the man full on the mouth. They held a long embrace.
“Well, I’ll be . . . .” Duke mumbled.
“Oh, no.” Josie slid back down in her seat. “Don’t look,” she said, pulling on Duke.
“What do you mean? It’s just getting interesting.”
“But we shouldn’t be spying on his private life.”
“What? I thought this was your idea!”
“Not this. This is his business. It’s not our business. We shouldn’t know about his private life. I don’t want to know. Oh, God, I don’t want to know.”
After what seemed like forever, but was only a minute or so, an engine started behind them, and Duke sat up in time to see that both men were in the car that drove away.
“Hey, hurry up. Aren’t you going to follow them?”
“No! Are you crazy?”
“Well, maybe he’s going to kill him. Or maybe they are in it together or—”
“Just shut up, OK?” Josie said. “This was a bad idea.”
All the way back to her house, Josie chastised herself.
“Why am I so suspicious? What would make me spy on one of my reporters?” Duke chuckled. Josie was still blaming herself when she pulled into her driveway, but Duke hadn’t commented for several miles. He was sound asleep.
“That’s just like a man,” Josie mumbled, giving Duke’s arm a shake. “Listen, I really need you tonight. I need somebody to tell me I’m not as stupid as I think I am. Come on, Dukakis!”
When Duke barely stirred, Josie continued talking out loud to no one. “What was I thinking? So he was the first on the scene twice last weekend. He didn’t cover the quarry murder at all; that was Nick and you. And Juan was busy covering the refinery explosion on the night the sisters died.” Josie shook Duke’s arm again, but he slept on.
“Damn you, Duke! Why do you drink so much? Is there some awful secret you are trying to forget? You don’t have to hide your call from Sharon, you know. I heard you talking to her. I have ears in the back of my head. It comes with motherhood.”
Josie noticed how sweet and innocent Duke looked as he slept. She brushed his tousled hair out of his eyes.
“Our week is almost up, you know. I’m going to pick up Kevin on Sunday, and Sharon will be back soon, too. What’s going to happen to us? Is there any ‘us’? Damn it, Dukakis. How dare you drink yourself into a stupor and leave me with all these tough problems!”
Josie reached across Duke and unlatched his door, then began pushing on him with both hands.
“Come on, you crazy Greek. There’s a parked-car-killer out there somewhere tonight, and we need to get out of this one before we have to write our own obits!”