The red dot lingered a bit too long on my left breast or I wouldn’t have seen it in the morning sun. In one awkward movement, I jumped, ducked, and rolled, ending under the bench where I’d sat a moment ago. A shot rang out, hitting the concrete seat above my head.
“Breathe, Kate, breathe. You’re a detective, you can handle this,” I told myself.
My heart beat in my ears. I took a deep breath to calm down. Jeez, I needed to move. The closest tree looked about thirty yards away. The laser sight danced around my knee and lower leg, the only part of me not squished out of sight. As small as I am, I couldn’t maneuver any further under the seat.
Someone ran toward me from behind. The laser dot disappeared.
Ryan Meade ducked down behind me. “It’s me. Let’s get out of here.”
No longer afraid, I let him help me. Together we ran to the nearest tree.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
I tried to catch my breath and still answer him. “Someone shot at me.”
I saw the look of concern on his face.
“Any idea who or why?” he asked.
“No. How far are we from your house?”
“It’s a quarter of a mile at the most. Think you can make it?”
“I’m not hurt, just scared.”
Another shot rang out. It hit the tree below my left hand. The bark exploded and nicked me below my left eye. Whoever the shooter turned out to be, they either didn’t want to kill me or couldn’t handle the gun.
Ryan took my hand, and we ran full speed. His stride doubled mine so he half-dragged and pulled me along with him. We zigzagged from tree to bush until we got to the house.
About twenty yards from the garage door, it began to open. He dived under the open door so hard I landed on top of him. He lowered the door. “Did you call the police?”
“No, I was too busy trying to live.”
“I need to set the alarms and lock the doors.”
I had let my body go limp on top of him. Unless I moved, he wasn’t going anywhere. I rolled over on my back, into an empty space and concentrated on calming down. Ryan went into the house. A few minutes later, he walked back into the garage and sat cross-legged on the floor to catch his breath. I moved over and sat up to lean on the truck behind me. “Why were you in the garden?” he asked.
“At three-fifteen this morning, I received a message from Lizzy. It said to meet her in your garden at eight a.m. The message was marked urgent. I waited an hour and a half, during which time, I called, texted, and left umpteen messages. I didn’t get an answer. I just started to leave when someone shot at me. Why were you there?”
He looked amused. “It’s my backyard. I run the jogging path every morning.”
Meade Park was a public garden owned by the Meade Family Trust, which Ryan inherited when his parents died. The park was about forty-five acres. You could enter from Forest Park on the North or Ryan could get to it from his back yard on the south. It was the biggest tract of privately owned land within the St. Louis city limits.
“Well, Lizzy’s not the type to make you worry unnecessarily. Any idea what’s up?”
“No, I thought I’d find out this morning when I met with her. You spend more time with her than I do. When did you last speak to her?”
Ryan rubbed his hand over his handsome square jaw. “A couple of days ago. She’s having a showing at my gallery downtown. We met for dinner to finalize the arrangements. She seemed fine. We were together for hours. I sure didn’t pick up on anything.”
“Did you see anyone on your run?”
“No. Most people don’t know about the jogging path and those who do prefer Forest Park. This area is pretty isolated.”
Ryan, Lizzy, and I had been friends since we attended Northwestern, in Chicago together. Ryan, the orphaned rich kid who treated us like family; Lizzy, the art prodigy; and me, the woman who intended to clean up the streets of St. Louis single-handedly. Funny how things work out.
Of the original nine friends, there were seven left. My husband, Michael, died three years ago and Roomy Martin, two years ago. Ryan remained close to all of us, but he and Lizzy and he and I spent a lot of time together. Lizzy and I shared a room for three years in college, but we were as different as Alaska and Hawaii.
Hearing my name brought me back. “Huh. Oh, I’m sorry, just trying to figure it all out.”
“It’s time you called the police.”
“I’ll call Roger Simon.” Roger and I worked together when I wore a shield. He said he’d take the rookie when I came on the force. For the next six years, we fought crime, rescued people, and locked up the bad guys.
Roger came quietly, no sirens or flashing lights to announce his arrival. We walked him and a couple of his CSI crew back to the garden. His men spread out. Roger stayed with Ryan and me to take our statements.
“So your friend emailed you at three this morning?” Roger fished his notebook out of his jacket.
“She sent a text.”
“Do you still have that? I’d like to see it.”
I showed it to him. Ryan walked around, stood behind him, and read over his shoulder. When he handed the phone back, he gave me the same speech I had given scared parents and grieving spouses a thousand times when I worked with him.
“Kate, it amounts to this: Anyone over the age of eighteen has a right to go anywhere they want with anyone they wish, and they are not obligated to tell anyone about it.”
“I know, if they haven’t shown up in forty-eight hours the family can report them missing. At that time, they go in a stack with the hundreds of missing persons reports filed every month. Then a detective, who is already overworked, gets the case. Did I cover it all?” I said.
I found the entire process depressing and counterproductive. To find a missing person, you needed to do it fast. The longer they were missing, the slimmer the chance of finding them unharmed.
Roger’s men found two .243 casings about two hundred yards from the bench I sat on, and found a slug in the tree we were hiding behind. A .243 was a common hunting rifle with a range of almost a mile if you could figure the angle of the bullet drop, which most decent hunters could. Not much hunting in the city, so this rifle represented something entirely different.
I kept scanning my body for the little red dot. The sun rode high in the sky now, and a laser sight wouldn’t do anyone much good. It didn’t make me feel any better.
Roger tried to ease the fact that he couldn’t help by giving us advice. “There aren’t many options right now. You can check her apartment and usual hangouts, find out who she saw and talked to. If she hasn’t shown in forty-eight hours, I’ll put someone on the case. If you turn something up to make me think this a criminal case, call me. If she turns up, call me. Otherwise, I’ll talk to you on Saturday. Feel free to use any of my resources you might need.
“As far as who shot at you, it’s hard to tell. We’re in one of the best neighborhoods in the city, but it is only two blocks from one of the worst. It might just be random and have nothing to do with your friend or you. Maybe you looked like a victim sitting alone in a park without a soul around. You know better, Kate.”
I refused to let him make me feel like a helpless girl. I gave him my best flat-eyed stare--chin on chest, head down, eyes up, unblinking and unfriendly.
“I’d better head to the office. I’m sure my partner is ready to call out the national guard. Oh, but she couldn’t do that for forty-eight hours, could she?”I turned on my heel and headed to my car. I left it in the parking lot near the handball courts in Forest Park. I immediately felt bad about how I treated Roger. After all, he didn’t make the rules.
Ryan fell into step beside me. “Wait up, I’ll walk with you. Today I’ll drop by the gallery. Maybe someone has heard from Lizzy, or better yet, seen her. If I learn anything, I’ll call you.”
“Thanks.” I didn’t have anything to say. In times of stress, I liked to be alone to think. Sometimes things I didn’t realize happened in the moment came to me in the quiet of my office or the car. I felt bad again. After all, Ryan saved my life less than an hour ago. I could, at least, be civil.
We reached the parking lot, and I looked around. The place didn’t have a parking space left. People were driving around in circles waiting for someone to leave. Was one of them the shooter?
Ryan broke into my thoughts. “Kate, are you going to ignore me forever? Am I only going to have your attention on days you’re being shot at?”
“I’m sorry, Ryan, it isn’t you. You know that, don’t you?”
“Yes, but it doesn’t make it any easier,” he answered.
“Time, Ryan, I need time.”
© 2017 by Susan Keene