Josie woke to an incessant dinging, her head foggy and thick, like someone had stuffed gauze into her eye sockets and cotton into her mouth. Dry-heaving over the side of the bed, she spied the digital clock. She’d slept past noon. The last time that had happened she was in college. The sound came rapid fire now, the headache behind her eyes pulsing in time with it. She rolled over and tried to sit up on the edge of the bed. Huge mistake. She tried to think back to a time in her life when her body hurt this badly, and she couldn’t think of one. A dull ache spread across her lower back and the throbbing in her leg was a like a drumbeat. Items flew from her nightstand drawer as she searched desperately for the ibuprofen. She tried taking them dry like she always did, but the pills turned to a bitter paste in her mouth.
A quick scan of the room didn’t turn up her cell phone. Next to her pillow lay a bottle of tequila, a finger of amber liquid still in the bottom. She used it to wash the painkillers down and stood gingerly.
Then a familiar voice. It was muffled, but she could just make out the words. “Goddamn it, Jo! I know you’re in there.”
Only Ray ever called her Jo. She let him machine-gun her doorbell and holler until his throat was raw as she took her time getting down the stairs. The door swung open and blinding sunlight flooded her foyer. Ray was just a blurred, headless blob in her light-stung vision. She put a hand to her head. Her hair was matted on one side. She must look like hell.
“Is Luke here?” he asked.
She blinked, trying to bring him into focus. “What do you think?”
“I think you look like shit. Are you sick?” He sniffed the air
recoiled. “Tequila? Really, Jo?”
She sighed. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could remain standing, the pain in her body was so intense, but she didn’t want to invite him in. She didn’t want him in her sanctuary. “I’m not the one with the drinking problem, Ray,” she muttered, knowing it would sting. “What do you want?”
As her eyes adjusted she saw that he held his hat in both hands, squeezing. He always looked like this now—hat in both hands, like some kind of supplicant. Like he was going to beg her for something. He said, “Misty told me what happened last night.”
She squinted at him. “So?”
“You can’t treat her like that, Jo.” “Fuck you.”
“You’re lucky she isn’t pressing charges,” he said. “Oh, please.”
“I’m serious. Just leave her alone. I’m the one who cheated.” “Yeah, I guess you’re right. She’s just a garden-variety whore.” A muscle in his jaw quivered. “Jo,” he cautioned.
Josie rolled her eyes. “Ray, I didn’t do anything to her. I was just walking down the aisle.”
He gave her a skeptical look. He was coming into focus now, and she could see how terrible he really looked. A patchy beard had grown in on his face. His eyes were glassy, with large bags beneath them. His blue Denton PD uniform hung off him. “She said you pushed her.”
“I might have bumped into her.” “Jo, really.”
“Oh, come on, Ray. How can a woman who can take so much pounding be so sensitive about me bumping into her? She’s not made of glass, for Chrissake.”
He closed his eyes, white knuckling the hat in his hands. She could see him silently counting to ten.
“We can keep arguing about this,” she added, “but you’re never going to be right. Why are you really here?”
His eyes popped open. He sighed loudly. “You know how you said to shake down all the registered sex offenders in the area?”
A spiral of excitement shot up through Josie. “You found Isabelle Coleman?”
“No. Not Coleman. A different girl. We didn’t—we didn’t realize she was missing. She was marked as a runaway.”
She knew what he was going to say
before he even said it, but she let
him speak anyway.
“Her name is June Spencer.”