Chapter 12

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MARK ASSUAGED HIS GUILT over the illegal purchase by remembering the look on Detective Owens’s face when he told him the case was closed, no matter what new evidence turned up or how much proof he uncovered. There was something going on. He didn’t know what it was, but it bothered him, a lot. Rapists go free on a technicality, murderers get slaps on the wrist because they had bad childhoods or they didn’t get to go to Disneyland, but hundreds of innocent people are murdered, and the authorities call it an accident.

He didn’t care if it was after eleven, he was going to get answers, one way or another.

* * *

AFTER TWENTY MINUTES ON the expressway, Mark made his way into what appeared to be a lower-class residential area. He looked again at the address he’d written down, making sure he didn’t miss the street he wanted.

East Bower Street.

He turned right onto a narrow car-lined road with tall apartment buildings on both sides. Seeing a sign marked, The Birches in the front of a large, brick complex, he pulled in and drove around to the back.

There it was. Building Eleven Forty-Seven, Apartment C.He pulled in a few doors down and shut off the engine. Even in the dim lighting, he could tell the red brick building had seen better times. Lights from scattered windows lit up the three-story complex like fireflies in a jar. He pushed the window button and rolled it down several inches. All was quiet in the apartment building, but not in his heart.

He swallowed. Now what?

He pulled the heavy case from the backseat, then set it on the passenger seat and opened it. After a quick glance at his surroundings, he loaded the gun until all nine rounds were in the magazine. After pumping it, he set it next to him on the passenger seat, opened the door, and met a blast of bitter cold wind.

Apartment C faced the street, so he had to round the corner on the second floor landing to get to it. The porch light was on. He hoped that meant someone was home. As he knocked, his mind raced with possibilities, most of which were not good. Before he could scroll through them all, he heard the lock release. The door cracked open and a nose peeked out underneath the chain lock.

“Who is it?” The voice sounded like a woman’s. It was weak and quivered when she spoke.

He ignored her question. “Sorry to bother you so late at night. I was wondering if Pat Rotter still lives here.” A wisp of thin, white hair fluttered into the opening, like a stray strand of cotton.

“Oh, I thought you were Pat.” She looked at him confused. “He’s out right now, but he should be back in a little bit. Do you want me to tell him you stopped by?”

“No, I’ll come back some other time.” He thanked her and hurried away before she could ask any more questions. He pulled up his collar around his neck and shuffled back around the building and down the metal stairs toward his BMW.

Getting back into his car, he turned on the heat full-blast and sat there, rubbing his gloved hands together and thinking about what to do next. He could wait. He didn’t want the old lady to warn Rotter that a strange man was looking for him. The guy might spook and run. He needed answers, and he needed them tonight.

* * *

AN HOUR PASSED. MARK listened to the radio and tapped his finger on the steering wheel in time with the music. It would be worth the wait if he got some answers. But how would he recognize Pat? And what could he tell him about the explosion?

He was just about to call it a night when he saw a car in his rearview mirror.

The crumpled compact slid on the ice and hit the curb as it bounced to a stop just a few spaces away. A kid in his twenties opened the door and stepped out. He was wearing a beanie cap and a thick winter coat. He pulled a backpack onto his shoulder and tried to lock his car door with the key, but the lock wasn’t cooperating. Mark studied the college-age youth as best he could in the dim light. Judging from the flat skater shoes, the baggy low-ride jeans and thick, messy hair, he figured the guy was more likely to be a skateboarder than a student. There was something familiar about him but Mark couldn’t quite place him.

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