It took two slow circles through downtown Denton for Josie to find the restaurant she was looking for. Sandman’s Bar and Grill. She and Luke had eaten there once; it was one of the first places they had gone publicly. The inside was just as she remembered it—and just as it had appeared in the photo on Dirk Spencer’s fridge. It was dimly lit, with a long bar, its wood lacquered and shiny, taking up one wall. Across from it were two dozen tables for two, some of which had been pushed together for parties of four or more. The walls were red brick adorned with signs for beer that had long since been discontinued. Falstaff, Meister Brau, Rheingold.
It was after lunch but before happy hour, and the place only had a few patrons. Josie limped up to the bar, her leg pulsating steadily with pain in time with the ache in her back. She needed more ibuprofen. The bartender was young, probably just twenty-one, and his attention was riveted to one of the large televisions hanging on the wall behind the bar. It showed Trinity Payne—Josie couldn’t escape the woman—this time in front of the Stop and Go. There was no sound, but the bartender watched with intense concentration. Josie wondered if he was more interested in the shooting or Trinity.
The sound of her dragging her stool closer to the bar drew his attention. He gave her a fake, practiced smile and asked what he could get her. She was going to say nothing, but the pain in her body was getting so bad a shot of something sounded perfect right about then. “Two shots of Wild Turkey,” she said.
He looked behind her and then toward the door.
She smiled tightly. “They’re both for me. It’s been a long day.”
His smile faltered
for a moment but he recovered quickly. “No problem.”
She waited until he had returned with the shot glasses and liquor before she asked, “Do you guys have anyone working here named Ramona? A waitress?”
There was no recognition. His pasted-on smile gave way to genuine confusion. “No one by that name,” he said. “What’s she look like?”
Josie pulled out her cell phone, located the photo she’d taken of Dirk Spencer and his ex-girlfriend, zoomed in on the woman and showed him.
“Oh, that’s Solange,” he said easily. “She’s on tonight. Should be here in about a half hour if you want to wait. I can—” he stopped speaking abruptly, as if just realizing that maybe he shouldn’t be giving out so much information without knowing who Josie was or what she wanted.
“Don’t worry. I’m a police officer,” Josie offered. “But that’s not really why I’m here. I’m off duty. She’s not in any trouble, I just need to talk to her about something.”
He looked doubtful, and she prayed he wouldn’t ask for her credentials. After a moment he shrugged and said, “Okay. Can I get you anything else?”
She smiled. “Just a soda.”
As promised, Solange arrived about twenty minutes later, following the bartender from the back and looking concerned. When she saw Josie, she smiled awkwardly. Her hands fidgeted with her green apron as she tied it around her waist. She came around the bar and offered her hand. “Hey, aren’t you the lady cop that was on the news—”
“Detective Josie Quinn, yes. I’m not working right now.” “You’re suspended.”
Solange’s face had closed off, her lips pressed into a straight line. “What is this about?”
“Do you know anyone named Ramona?”
No flicker of recognition at all. Solange’s expression didn’t change. “No.”
Josie sighed. “This morning there was a shooting on the interstate that ended when an Escalade crashed into the Stop and Go.”
Solange crossed her arms over her chest. “I saw it on the news.
What’s it got to do with me?”
“No one from the police department has been by to speak with you yet?” Josie asked.
“Dirk Spencer was a passenger in the
Escalade,” Josie said.
Solange’s hand flew to her mouth, her eyes wide with shock. Stumbling backward, she found a stool and half-sat, half-leaned on it. “Oh my God,” she said. “Is he—is he…?”
“As far as I know he’s still alive,” Josie said. “He was life-flighted to Geisinger Medical Center. From what I understand, his injuries are very serious. I don’t know what your relationship is, or was, but you may want to go see him.”
The woman gathered her composure, her face closing back down. She smoothed the apron down over her waist and legs. “We haven’t been together for almost two years. We broke up.”
“There was no answer at Mr. Spencer’s house,” Josie said carefully. “Does he have any other family or anyone we should notify?”
“I thought you were on suspension,” Solange said pointedly.
“I am,” Josie admitted. “I’m not here because I’m a police officer. I mean, I am, but I’m not. I’m here because I was there this morning. I was almost killed when that Escalade crashed.” Josie lifted her shirt slightly and turned so Solange could see the bruising already darkening the left side of her body. “Before Mr. Spencer lost consciousness, he said the name ‘Ramona.’ Does that mean anything to you?”
Solange shook her head. “No. I don’t know anyone by that name. Neither does he. At least, not that I’m aware of. Maybe he met someone since we broke up.”
The thought didn’t seem to sit well with Solange.
Josie said, “I’m sure you’re aware that with the Isabelle Coleman abduction, the department is stretched. I recognized Mr. Spencer from the local high school, and since I was there, and the last person he spoke to before he passed out, I thought maybe I’d talk to his next of kin personally.”
It wasn’t warm in the restaurant, but Solange started fanning herself with one hand. Her eyes looked everywhere but at Josie. “Oh well, he has no next of kin here. He has a sister in Philadelphia, Lara, but they don’t talk much. She’s… she’s always in a lot of trouble, you know, like with the law. He has a niece, June. She was living with him, but she ran away over a year ago and no one’s seen her since.”
“How old is June?” Josie asked.
Solange shrugged. “I’m not sure. By now she’s sixteen or seventeen.
You’ll never find her though.” “Why do you say that?”
Another shrug. “Because Dirk looked. Believe me, he looked. That girl doesn’t want to be found.”