It only took a few minutes for Josie to google an address for Dirk Spencer. His house was on top of a mountain in a development called Briar Lane. The small collection of modular homes could only be reached by one of the long, narrow rural roads that snaked from Denton proper out into the thick forests surrounding it. Josie actually passed the Coleman driveway on her way out there; the two lay along the same road. A large yellow mailbox with hand-painted cardinals on it stood alone on the shoulder of the road where the mouth of the small one-lane driveway that snaked its way through the woods to the Colemans’ home started. She expected to see crime scene tape, a cruiser, or another WYEP news van parked at the turn-off, but it was deserted.
Like most of the new developments in Denton, all the houses in Briar Lane looked the same. They came in three colors: tan, gray, and white. Some of the residents had added a little character with landscaping and lawn ornaments. Dirk Spencer’s house was gray and nondescript. He hadn’t bothered to add any distinguishing touches. If Josie didn’t know any better, she would think the house was unoccupied.
She parked out front even though the driveway was empty. She had no idea who else lived there, if he had a wife who might arrive at any moment. She didn’t want to be blocked in. She knocked on the door a few times and then rang the doorbell, but no one came to the door. No sounds came from the house at all. No barking dogs or cats in the windows. She peeked in through the gauzy curtains and she saw furniture, but nothing inside moved.
he’s not home.”
A woman’s voice
came from behind
her. Josie turned to see a white-haired woman at the end of the driveway.
She wore a camouflage-green raincoat even though it wasn’t raining, and
held a cane in one hand. She smiled at Josie. “You missed him. Someone
picked him up this morning in a big car.”
So, Spencer had gone willingly with the men in the Escalade. “You saw him leave?” she asked the woman.
“Well, yeah. That big old truck was parked out here, same place you parked. They beeped twice. That’s what made me come to the window. Dirk came running out a few minutes later, hopped right in.”
He’d been expecting them. He must have left his own car in the garage.
“It’s probably best you missed him with all that fighting between you two. Did you forget where he keeps the spare key?”
It was only then that Josie realized the woman was mistaking her for someone else. Someone who knew Dirk Spencer quite well. Before she could answer, the woman hobbled up the driveway, picked up a round, palm-sized stone from beside the porch steps and shook it until a small flap opened up along its surface and a shiny key fell out. Quickly, Josie stooped and snatched the key from the ground. “Thanks,” she said.
Another smile. Up close, the woman’s face was lined with wrinkles and she had the kind of look that people get when they can’t really hear what someone is saying but are too embarrassed to admit it, so they simply smile and nod along.
“You colored your hair,” the woman said.
Josie returned her smile but said nothing. Later, if her unsanctioned visit to Dirk Spencer’s house became an issue, she could say truthfully that she had not encouraged the woman.
“The darker color looks good on you,” the woman added. When Josie didn’t respond, the woman said, “It’s a shame it didn’t work out with you two. He really loves you.”
The corners of Josie’s mouth tightened. “Oh well, that’s nice of you to say.”
“You still work at that restaurant in town?” “Uh, no,” Josie replied.
The woman stared at her for a long moment, eyes narrowing, like she was trying to puzzle something out. Josie waited, a cold sweat gathering on her top lip; the woman had realized her mistake, surely. But then she smiled again, her eyes going blank once more. She turned and began shuffling back down the driveway to the street. “I’ll leave you to it,” she said over her shoulder.
She wanted to stop her
and ask if she knew where she might find someone named Ramona, but she stopped
herself. What if Spencer’s ex was Ramona?
Josie waved and watched the old lady move slowly down
the block before she turned and tried the key in the lock.
The living room had two mismatched couches with blankets thrown over their backs. Bookcases dominated one wall, and the tomes that didn’t fit there were stacked on end tables. A blue sweatshirt was thrown carelessly over one of the couch arms. The local newspaper—an edition from three days earlier—lay spread out across the coffee table, open at one of the first features they had done on the disappearance of Isabelle Coleman. Beside that was a coffee mug, its dregs congealing in the bottom in a thick brown goo.
In the kitchen was a sink filled with unwashed dishes. Crumbs dotted the countertops. A butter knife lay next to the chrome-colored toaster, sheathed in a coating of dried-up butter. A cell phone charger was plugged into the wall next to the toaster, its cord dangling over the side of the countertop. Josie made a mental note to try to find out what, if anything, was found on Spencer’s cell phone. On the fridge were photographs affixed with magnets from various places Spencer had obviously been: New York City, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Hershey Park, and San Francisco. In most of the photos Spencer smiled happily into the camera, alongside a woman with long brown hair and blue eyes. Other than having long hair, she didn’t really resemble Josie. She was probably a few years older, early thirties maybe. This, Josie assumed, was the ex-girlfriend. In one photo she wore a green apron and stood in front of a bar in a restaurant that Josie vaguely recognized.
Mixed in with the photos of the ex-girlfriend were photos of Dirk with a different woman and a teenage girl. This woman was older, maybe mid-forties, thicker around the middle with brittle, sandy-colored hair and dark eyes. The teenager looked like a combination of the two of them, only her skin was more olive-colored. Her hair was dark, like Dirk’s.
this was Spencer’s
family. Perhaps he was divorced.
She wondered where this woman and teenage girl were now. Someone would
have to notify his next of kin if he didn’t make it; someone had probably
already been in touch as it seemed likely he wouldn’t make it another day. She
used her cell phone to snap a few pictures of the photos on Spencer’s fridge and checked the upstairs. The
queen-size bed in the master bedroom was unmade. Down the hall from that, the
other bedroom had a neatly made twin bed in it with a dust-covered nightstand
and dresser, but the room had no adornments. It didn’t look lived in at all. Nothing of interest. Josie made her way back toward the
front door, careful not to disturb anything. On the porch, she closed the door and turned the key to lock it.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
Josie froze at the sound of Trinity’s voice. Her right hand was still turning the key, her stomach somewhere around her ankles. This was not good. She sucked in a deep breath, shored herself up and turned, trying to look put out and annoyed. “What are you doing here?” she countered.
Trinity still wore the same puffy blue coat she’d had on that morning; a black, knee-length A-line skirt peeked from beneath it, followed by long, toned legs in thin stockings and finished with four-inch heels. At least Josie didn’t have to worry about Trinity chasing her down, not in those shoes.
Josie’s gaze drifted back to Trinity’s face. As always, she was struck by the similarities. The two women weren’t related—Trinity had grown up a few towns away in relative wealth, raised in a two-parent home, while Josie had been raised by a single mother who never quite found her way out of abject poverty—but they both had long, jet-black hair, porcelain skin, and striking blue eyes with long lashes. Josie’s fingers reached up and pulled her hair forward, making sure it covered the long, jagged scar that ran down the side of her right cheek. It was the most striking difference between them. Josie had always been grateful the scar was close to her ear so that if she wore her hair down with some concealer, it was barely noticeable.
Trinity pointed to her own chest. “Me? I’m working a story. A story that just got a whole lot more interesting now that I’ve found a suspended cop breaking into a shooting victim’s house.”
Josie looked beyond her to the street but the WYEP van was not in sight. She knew from experience that sometimes Trinity purposely had the cameraman park the van around the corner so that the people she wanted to talk to wouldn’t get spooked by it and scatter. Trinity was as sneaky as she was desperate. Two years earlier she had been on the fast track to a major morning news show when a bad source gave her a false story. She went on air with it. Later, when it came out that the entire story was a lie, she had taken the fall. The scandal made national headlines. Disgraced, she had returned to central Pennsylvania and landed a job as a roving reporter for the small news station that covered the central part of the state. Josie suspected Trinity was looking for the story that would put her back in the good graces of the major markets and the viewing public. She wasn’t going to find it here, Josie thought.
“I wasn’t breaking in,” Josie said, pulling the key out of the lock and
waving it in Trinity’s face. “You know Dirk Spencer?”
“Sort of,” Josie answered. She moved to walk past Trinity, but she moved with her.
“Either you know him, or you don’t. So, which is it? I know you’re not here on official police business.”
“Get out of my way,” Josie said. “I don’t have to talk to you.”
A cell phone appeared, as if by magic, in Trinity’s hand. Her eyes narrowed. “Do you want to wait here while I call your chief and ask him why I found the detective he suspended coming out of Dirk Spencer’s house hours after he was nearly killed in a gang-related shootout on the interstate?”
Josie stared into her smug, overly made-up face with ice in her eyes. She could have slapped her, but that was exactly the sort of thing that had gotten her in trouble in the first place. She wondered how much force she could use to push Trinity out of her way before it became assault. Trinity’s cameraman was probably hidden somewhere behind the rhododendron across the street, taping this entire exchange. There was no shoving her way out of this, so she got right to the point. “What do you want?”
Slowly, Trinity lowered her cell phone. “I want a comment about the woman you assaulted. Tell me your side of the story.”
Josie sighed. “You know I can’t talk about that, not while the investigation is pending.”
Trinity rolled her eyes. “That’s public relations bullshit. Don’t you want your side of the story told?”
Josie didn’t. She had no desire to hash the whole thing out in any type of public forum. What she really wanted was to move on with her life. Get back to work and find Isabelle Coleman, or find out why Dirk Spencer had been shot. She said, “It doesn’t matter what I want. I can’t discuss it.”
Trinity placed a well-manicured hand on her hip. “What about this morning? You were a witness. Surely you can talk about that?”
“If I talk to you about this morning, will you back off?”
Trinity bit her lower lip briefly. “Until the investigation into your excessive force charge is complete. I can’t promise you anything once that happens. Our viewers will want to know what happened.”
“I’m not going on camera.” “Then I’m not backing off.”
“Giving you an on-camera interview
isn’t necessarily a decision I can
make on my own. I have superiors to answer to, you know that.”
Trinity said, “I have superiors too. They’re going to want an interview. So, what’s it going to be? Am I calling your chief right now or are we going to have a conversation about this morning?”
Josie was furious with herself for getting caught at Dirk Spencer’s house. There was no explanation that would satisfy her chief, so she lied. “Fine. I’ll give you an exclusive on the excessive force thing once the investigation is over. But I do not go on camera today. I’ll talk to you about this morning, but you never saw me here.”
Josie thought she saw the tiniest flicker of satisfaction pass over Trinity’s face. “You have a deal.”