Get Miles Away
A Jackson Donne Mystery
by David White
Also available as an audio download.
......"You're a what?"
Beth Deegan said, brushing hair out of her face. Maybe she was
covering a giggle.
...... "A private investigator."
......"No. You aren't."
...... I didn't say anything.
...... "Jackson Donne. Your
name sounds so familiar. Where have I heard it?"
...... I took a sip of my Starbucks
coffee. I was drinking regular and Beth had a mocha frappe something.
When we planned on a date, I figured the regulars at the Olde
Towne Tavern would scare her off.
...... I had my back to the window
with a clear view of the counter. Beth faced me, staring at the
door. I could feel the cold coming off the window on my neck.
It was probably snowing out. The forecast had said it would,
but I hadn't looked. All my attention was on Beth.
...... Her green eyes widened.
She remembered something. "That thing at Liberty State Park
a few months ago. It was in the paper. That was you? Oh, my God.
I can't even imagine . . ."
...... I asked, "How was
...... She took the hint. "It's
Friday. I didn't have class today. I was working on a paper,
...... Beth was a Graduate Student
at Rutgers and a TA for an undergraduate Communications class.
I had met her while I was listening to a lecture on social communications
and liars. It wasn't anything I hadn't known, but meeting her
made it worthwhile. I asked her if she wanted to get coffee sometime,
and she agreed.
...... "Did you finish?"
...... "Not yet. But I have
all weekend." She stirred her coffer gazing out the window.
For a moment she looked like Jeanne. I chased the thought from
...... "What can you do
with a Master's in Communications?" I asked.
...... "Hopefully work in
radio, in the city."
...... Direction. I liked that.
...... Behind me the door swung
open, and Beth jumped in her seat. She looked up at a couple
of girls in sorority jackets giggling their way through the door.
Then she looked back to me.
...... "What's wrong?"
...... "No. It's nothing.
I'm just . . . nervous, I guess." She smiled, but her eyes
went toward the door again.
...... "Don't worry. Just
pretend I'm a professor." I took a sip of coffee, deadpanned.
She looked back to me, her smile a little more genuine.
...... "So," she asked,
"what's your favorite movie?"
...... I smiled. "Um. Raiders
of the Lost Ark."
...... "Raiders? Get
out of here!"
...... "I love that movie.
It's classic. I can still remember seeing it when I was like
five or six on our first VCR. When he comes out of the cave and
that guy has all the arrows in the back. Scared me." She
was grinning now. Whatever made her jump was gone.
...... "My favorite lines
are in that movie. 'You throw me the idol, I throw you the whip.'"
...... "'Truck? What truck?'"
...... We laughed.
...... "Okay," she
said. "We both like the same movie. Let's go for double
jeopardy. Favorite band."
...... "The Stones."
...... She frowned. "The
...... "How can you not
like the Stones?" I asked.
...... "Look at Keith Richards.
A man like that should not be successful at anything. He's like
the MacGyver of heroin. Can get it in his system with an inner
tube and some duct tape."
...... "Hey. Don't mess
with Keith. The man has no soul and will probably never die,
but he can play a mean guitar."
...... She laughed. Then, squinting
out the window, said, "It never did this in California."
...... "You're from California?"
...... "Yeah, this is my
first year out here."
...... "How do you like
...... "It's crowded, and
it's snowing. In fact, I don't want to be walking home in heels,
knee deep in snow."
...... I was hoping she stick
around a while. I tried to cover my regret. "Let me just
finish my coffee, and we'll be off."
...... Beth said she was renting
a second floor of a house on Hamilton Ave, but she didn't say
much else until we were almost there. I didn't mind. I enjoyed
the snow, a lazy drift that didn't get in the way. At one point,
I had my arm around her, but when we had to rush across Easton
Ave, she moved out of my reach. As if something had caught her
eye and worried her, she picked up the pace.
...... "This is it,"
she said. A small, two-family house painted a fading yellow.
"I live upstairs."
...... The first floor of the
home was unlit.
...... "Friday night. No
...... "No, a couple of
undergrads rent the downstairs. They go home every weekend."
...... She paused.
...... "I wanted to ask
you all night," she said.
...... "Ask me what?"
...... "You're a private
investigator, you get all this press coverage, and people know
about it, but you've spent the past three Wednesdays sitting
in the back of Scott Hall, listening to lectures on communications.
Why? You're not registered; I checked. You following someone?"
...... "Then why? Why go?"
...... "I don't know. I
find it relaxing. I thought I'd come one day and listen to a
lecture, just hang out. I always liked the atmosphere on campus,
and I wanted to see what a class was like. At the first one I
noticed you, so I kept coming back."
...... She smiled. "Didn't
you get a degree?"
...... "No. I only spent
a year at Villanova."
...... "How come?"
...... "I don't know. First
time free from the parents, I learned that sleep and smoking
weed were more interesting than sitting in a lecture." I
paused, hoping for a reaction. It didn't come. "I kind of
regret it now."
...... "So, go back."
...... "I'm a little old."
...... "Hmm. I'm twenty-five,
so you're what? Twenty-seven?"
...... "You can go back.
You should." She looked at the ground then back up at me
and hugged herself dramatically. "Cold. I'm going to go
inside now. Call me?"
...... "Of course. This
...... "Yeah. We'll have
to do this again."
...... "You got it. How
about dinner on Monday?"
...... Beth smiled. She pulled
a Palm Pilot from her purse. "I can book it in here. You'll
be on my agenda."
...... "Are those things
...... She considered it for
a second, then shrugged.
...... She poked at the screen
with one of those high-tech pencils, and studied the display
intently. I liked the way her lip curled in concentration. I
hadn't seen anyone do that since high school
...... "I have one,"
she said, "but barely know how to use it. Everyone in the
communications department has one. You have to fit in."
She raised it next to her face and posed. "And it's fashionable.
Look. It's blue."
...... "Very cool."
...... She kissed me on the cheek,
said, "I'll talk to you soon," and went inside. I walked
back to my apartment, smiling in the snow.
...... It was dark in the holding
cell, and I couldn't see the cop on duty. I didn't have my gun,
or a jacket. I was lucky I had a belt and the laces in my bloodstained
shoes. Saturday night and the snow had stopped, but the brick
walls weren't heated and the winter chill leaked in. I rested
on the small cot, staring at some undergrad puking in the lone
toilet in the cell.
...... I didn't want this kid
dehydrating on me, but the guard was nowhere to be found. My
night became sitting, listening to the kid, trying to keep stomach
from turning. I had more important things to think about anyway.
...... Like how I ended up in
this holding cell. And if Beth was all I thought she was.
...... After walking Beth home,
I watched the end of the Rutgers basketball game on cable. Normally,
I'd pop the cap on a beer, but tonight I didn't need one. Rutgers
pulled it out in overtime, and as the analysts were going over
their player of the game, my phone rang. I picked it up and there
was talking before I even said hello.
...... "Jackson! Jackson?"
Beth was out of breath.
...... "I'm here. What's
wrong?" My hand gripped the receiver tight.
...... She took a breath. "C-can
you come over? I'll explain when you get here."
...... "Are you going to
be okay? I need to know you'll be all right."
...... "Yeah. I just need
...... "I'll be there in
...... Hanging up, it took me
a second to collect my thoughts. What could have happened? I
went to my drawer and found my Glock. It was new, never used.
I put it in a holster under my leather jacket. I think I ran
all the way to Hamilton.
...... Beth was leaning against
the doorjamb watching the street. She hugged herself, and gave
me half a smile while I climbed the stairs to her. Her eyes were
dark and wet. Her face was flushed even in the cold air. As soon
as I was close enough, she threw her arms around me. The hug
lasted a while. Neither of us spoke. As much as I tried not to,
my mind drifted to Jeanne.
...... Beth stepped back and
gestured me in, holding the door open. We climbed brown-carpeted
stairs to the second floor. She had a small apartment, with a
kitchen, a living room, bath and bedroom. It wasn't fancy, painted
light beige. An old radiator sizzled in the corner. The furniture
was secondhand. A plaid couch rested against the wall facing
the windows and a TV. I wanted to sit Beth on the couch and hold
her while we talked, but she had already set up camp on the floor:
glass of wine, a few open books. I sat on the couch.
...... She rubbed her face. "I
don't know where to start," she said.
...... "Go easy. From when
I left until you called me."
...... "There's a little
more to it than that. Do you want a drink?" She drained
the wine glass.
...... "I'll pass. Beth,
what's the matter?"
...... "I told you I was
from California tonight."
...... "You said you went
to Fresno State."
...... "I commuted. I lived
...... She shuddered at my voice,
the frustration I was starting to feel. But I was worried.
...... "I had a boyfriend
out there," she said. "Sean Bannon. A nice Irish boy,
just like my father wanted. We went out for about five years.
When I got into grad school, I left him. Christ, I left everything.
My father, my mother, I just wanted to start over. The East Coast
is about as close to starting over as I could get, right? I need
...... She got up and went to
the kitchen with her wineglass. I sat for a second and then followed
...... The kitchen was a dark
shade of blue, its white tile floors scrubbed spotless, cleaner
than the snow outside. A refrigerator across the room had a few
takeout menus and a picture held in place by various magnets.
I couldn't make out who was in the picture. The only signs that
Beth lived here were two dishes in the sink waiting to be washed.
...... Beth opened the fridge
and pulled a bottle of Chardonnay. She shook it at me, offering
me some. I declined. She poured a full glass and drank it quickly.
She poured another glass.
...... "Shit. I should be
able to handle this myself. But here I am, calling you, drinking.
God, what happened to me?"
...... "Beth, please. I
can't help if you don't tell me what happened."
...... She glared at me, and
took another sip. "I don't need your help. I don't want
...... "Yet you called me."
...... She finished her wine.
I stepped across the room and stopped her before she could pour
...... "I'm scared. Okay?
I'm just scared that's all." She sighed. "When I left
Sean, he didn't take it well. He had my email address and would
send me at least ten messages a week."
...... "What did he say?"
Interrupting with questions. The private investigator in me started
to do business.
...... "Every once in a
while I'd write him back, just so he knew I was alive. You know,
trying to let him down easy. He-he's not the kind of guy you
let go cold turkey.
...... "Why not?"
...... She ignored the question.
"It started out okay, he'd email me and say he missed me.
Wanted to send me cards. Wanted my address. My parents don't
even know my address."
...... "You don't talk to
your parents?" I took the bottle from her, corked it, and
put it back in the fridge, on its side.
...... She leaned back against
the counter, her foot kicking at a cabinet behind her. "I
started over," she said. "I just wanted to get miles
away from everything."
...... Out the window the snow
was sticking now, the roads becoming worse. They'd have to send
the plows out soon, or New Brunswick was going to have a mess
on its hands.
...... Beth put her hand on my
shoulder. I could feel her breath on my neck. We watched the
snow together. Just a typical winter Friday.
...... "At Christmas, I
got an email from Sean. He still wanted my address, just to send
me a card. I didn't think much of it. With all my papers, TAing,
and Christmas shopping for my friends here, I just sent it along.
I guess that's how he knew . . ."
...... Turning toward her, I
asked, "Knew what?"
...... "He was here. Before.
He saw us together. He came to see me. Said he loved me. Wanted
to know who you were. He didn't look right. Disheveled, and tired.
Had this look in his eyes."
...... "Did he threaten
you? Did he hurt you?"
...... "He just stood there
and said he loved me over and over. If he wanted to scare me,
it worked. I told him I was gonna call the cops, had my cell
phone out. He backed off, and I came in and called you. The big
private investigator. To come help me. Help me. You couldn't
even save that guy at Liberty State. What are you going to do
...... That stopped me. "How
much did you have to drink?" Just talking about Sean had
twisted her in knots.
...... "What the hell do
...... I took a deep breath and
said, "Why don't you get some sleep? I'll stay here on the
couch, make sure he doesn't come back. We can talk more in the
...... "I don't want to
sleep. I don't want this to be happening. I don't-" She
finally broke. Shaking and crying, she fell against my shoulder.
I held her for a minute, then took her to her room.
...... When she was sleeping
soundly, I went back into the living room and sat for a while,
thinking about everything Beth said. The movie fan I drank coffee
with was gone and in her place was a scared, angry woman.
...... I went downstairs, out
onto the porch. About two inches of snow on the ground and still
falling. We hadn't gotten any significant snowfall in Jersey
yet, and it was already February. The first snowfall of the year
is always an event. Good thing tomorrow was Saturday or the drivers
at rush hour would be in a panic.
...... He came around the corner softly. I heard the crunching of the snow under his feet too late. I turned toward the sound and saw a guy about my age staring at me. He was tall and lanky. He was shivering. The jacket looked pretty thin not anyone's idea of a winter coat. At least not anyone local.
...... "I haven't ever seen
snow," he said. He reached out his hand, letting some flakes
fall into it. "I mean I've seen flurries and TV shots of
blizzards, but this is a pretty good storm. It's really coming
down. How do people get around in this stuff?"
...... "Slowly," I
...... He reached into his pocket
and pulled a pack of Marlboros. He took one, offered the pack
to me. I refused. He took a few seconds to get the lighter going,
but finally did. He took a long drag, let it out through his
...... "Yeah. I guess you
have to be careful." He stood at the base of the stairs
leading to the porch.
...... "I'd say so,"
...... "She upstairs?"
...... "Liz. She upstairs?
I'd like to talk to her."
...... "You Sean?"
...... "Yeah." He smiled,
took the stairs, and shook my hand. "You the new guy?"
...... I kept quiet. Part for
effect and part because I didn't know the answer to that.
...... "Yeah, you are,"
Sean said. "I saw you guys tonight at the Starbucks, sharing
your coffee. Two lovebirds. You like her?"
...... Like we were in seventh
...... "Listen, maybe you
...... "Just let me talk
...... "I don't think so."
...... "You really do like
her, don't you?" When I didn't answer, he continued. "Let
me tell you something about Liz. She's cool to you, but man,
once you start to like her. I mean love her. Once you start to
love her, she packs up and leaves. That's it. Leaves you high
...... "It's time you get
out of here."
...... He shivered. "That's
not going to happen with me. I'm not going anywhere without her.
You think she's going to stay with you? Just let me talk to her.
She loves me and I love her. That's all I know. I just have to
remind her of that."
...... "Beth's not going
to see you tonight."
...... "Beth? She calls
herself Beth now? Oh that's cute." He laughed. "Elizabeth."
...... The porch light illuminated
his face. He was clean-shaven--a fresh job, complete with new
nicks--with dark eyes, and even darker circles under them. His
hair was brown, and covered with flakes of snow. He had a small
scar on his right cheek.
...... "Go home, Sean. Back
to California. She doesn't want to see you."
...... "How do you know
what she wants? She gave me her address for a reason."
...... "So you could send
her a Christmas card. And if you're really lucky, she'll send
you a fruitcake."
...... He rolled his eyes. "She
doesn't even know what she wants. That's why I have to talk to
her. You think she'll talk to you? Man, has she told you about
her father? There's a lot you don't, and won't know. She's like
that. She won't tell you nothing. It'll piss you off. Pissed
me off, but I could deal with that for her. That's what she wanted.
I'm the only one who knew what she wanted. You sure don't."
...... He tried to move past
me. I stepped in front of him, smiling my kindest smile.
...... "Oops," I said.
"Excuse me." I let my jacket hang open and the Glock
show at my waist. A little extreme, but it was one in the morning,
and I was tired. And getting pretty angry myself.
...... He took a deep breath.
Steadied himself. "Heh." He smiled. "All right,
tough guy. I'll leave. But you aren't going to be with her. If
I can't have her, she'll be alone."
...... He took another look at
the Glock. It was shiny and clean and the streetlights gleamed
off of it.
...... "Let me tell you
a story," he whispered, backing off a step. "There
was this guy at a job she had, couple of year ago. He was her
manager, a few years older than us. Your age maybe.
...... "Anyway, this guy?
He hit on her a couple of times, took her into the stock room
and tried to grope her. She said no. He didn't do nothing when
she said no again, but she came home and told me. Well, I went
and talked to him."
...... He looked one more time
at the gun. His smile was gone, his eyes raised to meet mine,
"If you know what I mean."
...... Winking at me, he turned
and trudged back into the snow. I could have shot him right then
...... Back inside, I sat on
the couch. Sometime before morning I fell asleep.
...... When I opened my eyes,
Beth was looking out the window, her back to me. She wore jeans
and a thick turtleneck sweater. She must have heard me move a
bit, because she turned to face me. She had a mug in her hands.
She gave me a shy smile.
...... "Good morning. There's
some coffee in the kitchen," she said.
...... I got up, rubbed my face,
and fixed myself a cup, cream and sugar. When I came back into
the room, she had turned toward the window again.
...... "I want to apologize
for last night," she said.
...... "You don't have to."
...... "No. I'm sorry for
what I said. I was scared and angry and had too much to drink.
I had no right."
...... "It's ok."
...... I wanted to hug her, just
touch her. With everything that was happening, I was afraid it
was all going too fast. Getting too involved, with her, and her
situation. I started to reach out to her and stopped myself.
...... She said, "The snow
is really pretty. Like the world's been whitewashed. I didn't
get to see much snow out in California."
...... "Sean said the same
...... She whirled around, some
coffee spilling out of her mug. "You saw Sean?"
...... "Yeah. I went down
to the porch last night after you fell asleep, and he came up
to talk to me."
...... "What did he say
...... "He called you Liz.
He wanted to talk to you."
...... "I hate that name.
Before last night, I hadn't been called Liz since college."
...... "Why did you leave
...... "I don't know. It
was time to get away. Prove that I could make it on my own."
...... I thought about asking
about her employer that Sean mentioned, but didn't want to upset
her more. I smiled instead, trying to break the tension. "Like
Mary Tyler Moore?"
...... "You're cute when
you're worried." She stepped toward me, putting the coffee
cup down on to the coffee table. "Thank you for your help.
I feel like I need to apologize again."
...... "You don't."
...... "Then I want to say
thank you. Hold me for a little while."
...... Everything about her reminded
me of Jeanne. She was soft and comfortable in my arms. Part of
me really liked having her so close. I didn't know much about
Beth, but I wanted to share a lot more than a hug. I needed her,
and she needed my help. It was hard to tell where one stopped
and the other started.
...... I leaned in and kissed
her hard on the mouth. She resisted for a second, but then relented,
opening her mouth, tongue meeting mine. Her left hand slid up
the back of my neck, and started to play with my hair.
...... We broke for a second
as I pulled the sweater over her head, and then kissed her neck.
She sighed, almost groaning. Under the sweater, she had on a
cotton t-shirt. I started to pull that from the waist of her
jeans. My hands ran across her stomach, feeling a small hardened
patch of skin, like a scar, as I went along.
...... She pulled away, breathing
...... "Wait," she
said. "Wait." She covered the scar with her hand.
...... "I can't. I just
keep thinking of Sean."
...... I tensed, not sure whether
to be angry or understanding.
...... "You want to take
a break? Go home, get a shower?" she asked.
...... Debating my emotions,
I settled for, "I don't want to leave you alone here."
...... "He won't come back.
You probably scared him off."
...... "Didn't seem very
scared to me."
...... "But he went away.
I'll lock my door. I just need some time to get him out of my
...... "Are you sure?"
...... "Yes. Meet me for
dinner tonight. My treat."
...... I agreed. She gave me
a quick peck on the lips goodbye.
...... I took a nap in my own
bed, showered and shaved, then went to my office. There were
bills to sort, but I couldn't really keep my mind on them for
very long. I didn't think Sean would stay away from Beth. I thought
back to the lecture where I first saw Beth. Liars tended to back
away from people they spoke to. They touched their faces, fidgeted,
and found it hard to make eye contact. Sean didn't do any of
these things. He was confident in what he was saying; he believed
it. And that scared me.
...... In the early afternoon,
I called my lawyer, Lester Russell. He picked up, sounding like
he had a cold.
...... "Yeah, what is it?"
...... "Having a good day,
...... "There's snow everywhere,
it's Saturday, I have a cold, and I'm in my office. What do you
...... "I need a favor."
...... "Of course you do.
Can't talk to the New Brunswick Police, they hate you. So who
gets lucky enough to hear from you every time you need something?
...... "Can you look up
a guy in the Fresno area?"
...... "Yeah. Name's Sean
...... "What do you want
...... I twirled a pencil in
my hand. "Any outstanding warrants. If he's been arrested
...... "Why don't you call?"
...... "You're the one who
always brags that he has contacts everywhere, Lester."
...... "All right. I'll
see what I can do. I'm going to charge you for this."
...... "I figured as much."
...... "You're a real worthwhile
client, you know that? Every time I turn around, you need a favor."
...... "I haven't had to
bring you into court much."
...... "Well maybe you should
start. Go get arrested for something."
...... "I'll work on that."
...... "I call you back
if I have something." He sneezed again as he hung up.
...... The phone rang immediately
after I put it down. It was Beth.
...... "He's outside."
...... "What? Are you okay?
I'll be there in-"
...... "No, I'm okay. Don't
come over yet. He rang the bell once and I didn't answer. Now
I can see him from my window. He's across the street. Just standing
there, looking up at the house."
...... I took a breath. I started
to speak, but Beth cut me off again.
...... "Come tonight, around
six. If he's still there, just walk past him, don't say anything.
If he comes to talk, I'll deal with him. Okay?"
...... "Promise me."
...... "I promise."
...... Two hours, I thought,
...... The air was cold that
night. Any snow that had melted was forming into ice. Cars still
moved slowly down the street, and plows were still dropping rock
salt. I was careful getting to Beth's, waiting for all traffic
to pass before I crossed streets. Six o'clock and Sean Bannon
was still standing across the street.
...... He wore a thick coat,
zipped to the neck, and a wool hat. He had his hands shoved in
his pockets. I tucked my head down and kept walking, right onto
Beth's porch, wondering if he was watching me. I wanted to tear
his limbs off. One day I'd learn to follow my instincts.
...... Beth answered her door
and we went upstairs. Joni Mitchell was playing on her stereo.
...... "Where do you want
to go eat?" I asked, not taking off my jacket. I still had
my gun on.
...... "How about we just
order Chinese? Stay in?" She sat on her couch.
...... I looked at her. "I'll
talk to him."
...... "No. I'll handle
...... "By letting him stand
out there and stare at you? So you can do nothing but sit inside
your home and order food?"
...... "I'll handle it!
Can't we just have a nice romantic evening in? Just relax?"
...... "Are you really going
to be able to relax with him outside?"
...... As I spoke, the doorbell
rang. I went to the window and looked out. Sean wasn't standing
across the street anymore.
...... I turned to Beth. She
eyed me, her mouth half open. Her hands visibly shook.
...... "Well, it's not the
delivery guy," I said. "It's Sean. If you want to handle
it, now's your chance."
...... "I-I don't . . ."
She looked away from me.
...... "Otherwise, I will.
I think there's more to it than just you. I think he may have
hurt someone. A man you worked with a few years ago. Sean said
this guy came on to you?"
...... That didn't stop her,
it was almost as if she didn't hear it. "Sean hit me. Okay?
He hit me. Just once. When I told him I didn't want to see him
anymore. When I told him I was leaving. He got angry. And he
hit me. So I'm scared. But I can do this. I can go down there
and tell him to go away." She wasn't making eye contact
with me. She touched her face. Tears shimmered in her hazel eyes.
"If I don't handle this myself, I'll feel . . ." She
wiped her eyes. "I'll feel like a failure."
...... "Talk to him on your
porch. I'll go down with you. I won't say a word. I just want
to be there."
...... She mustered a smile back.
The doorbell rang again. "Okay. Let's go."
...... As we walked down the
stairs, Joni continued to sing. "I wish I had a river I
could skate away on."
...... She opened the door, and
I could see Sean smile. She stepped out with him. I stepped out
too. The air was cold and bitter. I could smell someone frying
onions. I took a step away and leaned against the wall of the
...... "Hey, baby,"
Sean said. "What's the tough guy doing here? I just want
to talk to you. He can go back upstairs. And then when we're
done, you can go tell him to go home."
...... I wanted to cross my arms
and look tough, but I didn't move. I watched.
...... "He stays here or
we don't talk." Beth had her arms crossed, hugging herself.
...... "Liz. Liz, we don't
have to . . ."
...... "Don't call me that.
No one calls me Liz anymore."
...... Sean looked at me. Then
back to Beth. "Why not? It is such a pretty name. It fits
you. Like Liz Taylor. You're beautiful. Why would you change
...... "I needed to start
over. I wanted to be a new person."
...... "Start over? Why?
We had such a good thing going, Liz."
...... "Call me Beth. Please."
...... Sean clenched his bare
fists. I tensed a bit. A breeze blew, and some snow from the
ground came with it.
...... "Okay. Beth. We had
a good thing going."
...... "We did, Sean. We
did for a little while. But I had to go."
...... "Why? You always
do this. Every time something was the matter and I'd ask you
what was wrong, you wouldn't answer. You kept everything to yourself.
And then you just decide to apply to grad school without telling
anyone. You packed up and left. I loved you and you left me,
barely saying a word."
...... "I'm sorry, but I
...... "Why? Why did you
leave me? Because of your father? Was that it?"
...... "Don't bring him
up. Don't do this. Just go away. You have to realize it's over."
...... "It's not over. We
have a good thing going." Sean was pleading. His eyes were
wide and desperate.
...... "Have? No we don't.
We don't have anything going. There is no Sean and Liz anymore.
Go back home." Beth backed up a step.
...... Sean looked over Beth's
shoulder at me.
...... "Five years! And
I could always tell when she talked to her father. She just looked
tired and hurt. And I'd ask her to tell me what was wrong. That
I could help her. And she wouldn't tell me. And then she leaves.
No explanation why. She just leaves me."
...... "I loved her. I still
love her." He looked back at Beth. "I love you. Come
back with me. Come back to California. We'll make it work. You
won't have to talk to him. Ever."
...... "Stop it! Stop! I
made my decision! I don't want to be with you! I like it here.
Can't you just be happy for me? Can't you just be happy and move
on with your life? Go home, Sean. Find someone else." Beth
was crying hard. Her shoulders were shaking. I wanted nothing
more than to hug her and take her upstairs. "It's over between
us! It has been over. And there is no chance-zero-of us ever
getting back together! I don't love you anymore!"
...... Sean stood still for a
moment. He put his hand in his pocket and came back out with
a knife. He spun Beth around efficiently, pulling her close to
him. He pressed the knife against her throat.
...... "Jackson!" she
...... I pulled the Glock, clicking
the safety off. It had been so long since I'd pulled a gun with
the intention of using it, it felt heavier than I remembered.
But I was not going to be a bystander.
...... "Let her go, Sean."
...... "I told you. If she's
not with me, she's not with anyone." He looked down toward
Beth. "Well, Liz. Guess you'd better choose."
...... "I-I," she said.
She couldn't move, he had his left arm wrapped around her waist
and arms. She couldn't handle this one.
...... "She made her choice,
Sean. Let her go." I aimed the gun as best I could.
...... He didn't speak, just
pressed the knife harder into Beth's neck. The skin broke, as
blood flowed over the blade. I'd reacted enough, watched things
happen without doing anything. If I waited any longer Beth would
be dead. I pulled the trigger.
...... There was blood everywhere.
Beth was screaming, crying. I tried to hug her, to pick her up
and hold her, but she clawed herself away from me. She lay on
the floor crying for some time. Sean lay on his back, eyes lifeless,
looking away from the both of us. His leg twitched.
...... "You shot him! You
shot Sean!" Beth's voice was high pitched, matching the
sirens I could hear in the background.
...... My legs felt weak. I'd
never shot anyone before. Even when I was a cop, I'd only pulled
my gun three times.
...... The cops got there in
what seemed like record time. Two of them trained their weapons
on me. I put the gun down and raised my hands, yelling, "My
name is Jackson Donne. I am a New Jersey private investigator.
I have ID." Cops don't like me very much, so telling them
who I was probably wasn't the best idea. Beth kept screaming.
...... One of the cops asked
her what happened.
...... "He shot Sean,"
was all she said.
...... The cuffs were slapped
on me, and hours later I was in a holding cell.
...... All night, freezing my
ass off, all I could hear was Beth's voice accusing me, angry
with me. I had no choice but to shoot. But the cops wouldn't
buy that, and Beth didn't help me. My brain raced and I shivered.
The kid had stopped puking, now sleeping it off on a cot across
...... In those moments of consciousness
somewhere before sleep, it seems the brain relaxes and the pieces
of a puzzle begin to fall into place. Why didn't she tell the
police that it was all in self-defense? She could have been panicking.
Someone was shot in front of her, someone she did care about
at some point. But there was something more. Sean had hit her.
He was hunting her down, following her, watching her. My gut
was saying she set me up. She wanted to get rid of Sean for good,
and she saw an opportunity with me.
...... I tossed and turned and
couldn't figure out which was the truth. Or maybe I didn't want
...... Monday morning I went
to court. Lester Russell did his best, pointing out the knife
and the cuts on Beth's throat the police had mentioned in their
report. He had also dug up an old warrant or two and an arrest
sheet on Sean Bannon. Apparently, he was arrested for assaulting
a man in a bar a year ago. No word on anyone who disappeared
after talking to Bannon.
...... Beth wasn't at my hearing,
and her statement wasn't read. Apparently, the police didn't
get her to say anything other than I shot Sean.
...... Lester got The Olde Towne
Tavern to take up a collection for my bail.
...... After the hearing, Lester
said to me, "I wasn't serious about getting arrested."
...... "Hey, you got me
off. It's good for business."
...... I was set free that afternoon,
hitting the Tavern and buying everyone a round.
...... I didn't talk to Beth
for a week. She didn't call me. And I still had my doubts.
...... Finally, I sat in the
back of the Scott Hall, listening to another lecture on lying,
and face-to-face communication. She probably saw me come in,
because she didn't make the rounds of the audience like she usually
did as the professor talked. She just leaned against the stage,
...... The lecture was dismissed
an hour later. I got up as the students woke up and filed out.
I made my way against the traffic toward her. She caught my eye
and looked away. I leaned against the stage next to her.
...... "I'm not clear on
every thing. I don't understand all of it," I said.
...... "What do you mean?"
...... "Sean mentioned your
father. What did he have to do with this?"
...... Her cheeks burned red.
...... "Sean brought it
up. I went to jail. I want to know everything." Hard as
I tried, I couldn't bring any compassion into my voice.
...... "My father didn't
think I was good enough at anything. He never gave me any credit.
He didn't think I'd survive undergrad, let alone grad school.
Part of why I left without telling him where I was going. It's
stupid, but it bothered me. I don't want to talk about it anymore."
...... "That's not enough,"
I said. "There's something more."
...... She spoke through clenched
teeth, her cheeks growing red. "I shouldn't have to tell
...... "I'm tired of all
this," I said.
...... She let the silence grow
for a second. Then said, "I knew what Sean was capable of.
He beat up that guy I worked with for coming on to me. He was
protective. That's just the way I thought he was. I told him
I was thinking of leaving, of going to away for school. I told
him it was because of my father. Sean flipped out when he first
heard it. He didn't believe me. He went and caught my father
coming out of work and broke his arm.
...... "That's when I decided
to leave for sure. And when I told Sean, he hit me. I was gone
a week later."
...... She stared at me, as if
trying to find something in my expression.
...... "One more thing I
have to ask," I said. "Did you want me to kill Sean?
Is that what all of this was about?"
...... She was quiet, still looking
at me. She couldn't have planned it all from the beginning. She
didn't know I was a private investigator until I told her in
Starbucks. But she could have started planning right then.
...... "No," she said,
turning her head. "How can you ask me that? How dare you
ask me that?" Her eyes wouldn't connect with mine.
...... "Go to hell,"
...... Looking around, tears
in her eyes, she gathered her stuff and stormed out into the
...... The lecture hall was as
empty as I felt inside. Walking out, I thought about what she
said more than a week ago. On my way back to my office, I picked
up an application to Rutgers.
...... Two weeks later, I returned
to my office after a day of following a doctor suspected of insurance
fraud. The light on my phone was blinking signaling a voice mail.
I listened to it.
...... "Jackson, it's Beth.
I'm not really sure what to say. But I hope to see you again.
I, uh, had a really good time at Starbucks. You were a fun date."
She laughed quietly into the phone. "That was stupid."
A pause. I guess she was searching for words. "It's your
job to know. I understand you had to ask. But can you imagine
what it was like to hear those questions?
...... "All I wanted was
to come here, get my Masters, and work for a radio station in
New York. That's all. Anything else was bonus. Last Friday, I
thought you were a bonus. But my life kept coming back and biting
...... "I know you were
trying to help. I believe you helped me. Can we try again?"
There was another brief pause, and the message ended. Leaving
it up to me to call back.
...... I replayed everything
in my head. And I still came to the same conclusions. I deleted
...... I thought about getting
a beer from the fridge, but instead pulled the half-completed
Rutgers application from my desk drawer. I opened it and found
a pen. Maybe one day I'd be able stop doing what I was doing,
and find some direction for myself.
Copyright (c) 2003 by David White.
is the Derringer Award-winning author of the Jackson Donne series.
His stories and reviews have appeared in both Thrilling Detective
and Hand Held Crime. He resides in New Jersey. He'd love
to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org
or via his website.
Like what you've read? Head here
for more Thrilling Detective Fiction!
Please direct further comments and
inquiries about submissions to the fiction
editor, or check out this page.
"And I'll tell you right out that I'm a
man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk."
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