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CHAPTER THREE: Josie

Josie sat in the back of an ambulance, an unused ice pack in her hand. Too many places on her body hurt. She needed a body pillow filled with ice, not just a pack. Someone had called 911, and they had responded immediately. She counted three Denton cruisers and two state police cars. Evidently, the shootout had started on the interstate and ended when the Escalade had left the highway and crashed at the Stop and Go. The staties had scoured the interstate for miles in each direction, scouting out each exit as they went, but there was no sign of any other bullet- riddled vehicle. No one could say who the men in the Escalade were exchanging gunfire with.

Josie watched her colleagues process the scene. Two of the men she knew, but not well. The third man, Dusty Branson, had been Ray’s best friend since elementary school. He had been Josie’s friend as well until her marriage collapsed. Now she found it difficult to be in the same space as him. As expected, the Denton officers looked exhausted and bewildered, but moved with purpose and determination: taking witness statements, erecting tarps around the SUV, taking photographs and marking the evidence scattered throughout the scene.

“Don’t come over. Don’t come over,” Josie muttered under her breath as she watched Dusty saunter from the back of the Escalade toward her.

As he came closer, he pulled a notebook from his pocket and flipped it to a blank page. He met her eyes only briefly. She was happy when he looked away. She had never liked his dark, beady eyes, like two pieces of glittering coal. He pushed a hand through his oily brown hair and she felt a small surge of joy to see the premature gray strands at his roots. He wasn’t even thirty yet.

“So, you saw this?” he said. “Yeah,” she replied.

His pen poised over the blank page. She concentrated on a small stain on the left side of his uniform shirt, just below his rib cage. It looked like coffee. He scribbled as she spoke, his pen freezing just as she told him about Dirk Spencer’s final word before he slipped into unconsciousness.

“You should write that down,” she said pointedly. “It’s important.”

He looked up at her. The smirk he gave her caused a swell in her stomach. “You don’t know that it’s important,” he told her.

“The guy was barely hanging on to life, Dusty. Why would he say the name if it wasn’t important? If this Ramona person wasn’t important?”

He used the tip of the pen to scratch his temple. “So what? It’s probably just his wife or daughter’s name.”

“Maybe,” she said, but the whisper of the name kept running loops in her head. She waited for Dusty to write the name down. “Just check it out, okay?”

“You don’t get to tell me what to do anymore,” he told her, closing his notebook and pocketing it.

She bit back her first response, her hands itching to shove him. But shoving him would involve actually touching him, and few things repulsed her more than making physical contact with Dusty Branson. Instead, she spat, “Yeah, but that doesn’t relieve you of your obligation to do your job, now does it?”

She held his flinty gaze until he looked away. “I gotta work,” he said, and meandered away like he had nothing to do at all.

Luckily, no one inside the Stop and Go had been seriously injured. One of the officers had turned the car’s engine off but its alarm continued in an angry, rhythmic series of honks that grated on her frayed nerves.

“Jo. Jesus Christ.”

It was Ray, in full uniform, except for his hat. He climbed into the ambulance with her and got close enough to pull her to him, but at the last minute decided to keep his distance. They hadn’t touched in almost a year. Part of her was relieved to see him and grateful that he had shown up to check on her, but the other part of her shivered at the thought. She never thought she’d feel that way; Ray had been a fixture in her life since middle school. They were friends long before they became high school sweethearts. He had always been good-looking in a sweet, boy-next-door kind of way with his thick, tousled blond hair, blue eyes and athletic body. She’d always been secretly pleased that he was hers. Women were drawn to him. They didn’t know he had issues.

“You okay?” he asked, taking a seat on the bench across from her. His gaze raked over her, searching for injuries.

“Yeah,” she said. “Just banged up.”

He nodded toward her leg. “That looks pretty bad.” “It’s just a brush burn.”

“Listen, Jo, about earlier. I’m sorry I snapped at you. This Coleman case has us all on edge. I didn’t mean—”

A low voice boomed from the outside of the ambulance. “Josie, there you are!”

Luke appeared, also in full uniform. This was going to be awkward.

No matter how many times she saw him in his state police gray, Josie was always struck by how imposing he looked, and she knew Ray would be feeling it too as Luke pulled off his cap and bent to climb into the ambulance.

He was the opposite of Ray in almost every way, which was why she enjoyed him so much, she supposed. As a statie, Luke had to keep his black hair high and tight, shaved close to his head on the sides with a short cap of hair on the top. His face, clean and shaven, was smooth against her cheek when he leaned in to kiss her. He ignored Ray as he folded himself down beside her and slung an arm across her back.

“Are you okay?” he asked. She smiled. “Yes, I’m fine.”

She sensed Ray’s scowl before she even looked at him. An hour ago she’d been flaunting their engagement over the phone with Ray, and yet Luke’s display of affection in front of him made her uncomfortable. It shouldn’t—she hated that it did—but she wasn’t able to stop herself. He hated Luke. She knew that he made him feel inferior; he was taller, broader, in better shape. He was even hung better, although she had never told Ray. She was saving that one for a day when he really got under her skin.

She patted Luke’s hand and, after assuring him once more that she was fine, said, “Can I have a minute alone with Ray?”

A muscle in Luke’s jaw ticked, but he smiled, kissed her softly on the lips and said, “Sure.”

He made sure to bump Ray’s shoulder on his way out of the ambulance. Ray watched him go, looking both satisfied and wary. “Are you really going to marry that guy?” he asked.

She sighed and pressed the ice pack, now melted, against her left shoulder. “I’m not talking about this again.”

“Then why did you want to be alone?”

“Because I want to know why Isabelle Coleman’s history teacher was in the passenger seat of that Escalade out there.”

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Written by Amazing Thing Admin

professional blogger writer

CHAPTER TWO: breath

CHAPTER FOUR: Ray