“We just want to bring you into town and ask you a few questions.”
“Why?” Denise demanded, finally out of the handcuffs but shoved deep into the back seat of a police cruiser. “What have I done?”
“You match the description of a woman reported at the scenes of recent vandalism to cars leading to crashes and … fatalities.”
You match the description of my ex-husband, but you don’t see me slapping you in cuffs. Then she paused, let things filter deeper, connections forming with her past. Had he said she matched the description? Matching description…. Her eyes darted as she sorted through details from the black plastic upholstery of the back seat. It couldn’t be. She shook her head again, and again, the road cruising by underneath her, the wind noise penetrating, letting her know how close she was getting to the truth. Once they reached his department–
Her head cocked to one side, sheer force jerking her shoulder as the car swerved across a lane. She bumped against the door, not remaining there, sliding away, loose. Eyes wide, she stared ahead, unblinking, un-breathing.
The trooper dropped hand over hand along the steering wheel as he tried to bring the car back under control, but it refused to respond. He clenched and wedged the wheel as far as it would turn, fighting against the car’s current direction.
She spotted it, the median and the cement blocks dividing the interstate. The car, its passengers, was set on a collision course. She curled up in the back seat and clamped her eyes down, locked her body closed.
A front tire landed in a rut tracking parallel to the median, and the dirt depression forced a turn of the wheel. They were no longer head-on with the divider; the car was turning away–
The fender rammed the cement and sparks squeezed out as the car’s velocity converted to friction, torn metal.
She flinched against the screeching as her body leaned forward, momentum slowly dying. Braced from meeting the backseat, her elbows locked as she frantically searched for bearings.
They had stopped. The length of the car on the driver’s side hugged the divider while the trooper’s slumped form hugged the wheel.
Before she could help him, she focused on her limbs working her arms and stamping her feet. She seemed in one piece, felt no shooting pains, and hadn’t seen any flowing crimson.
She recalled the trooper and hurried to check his condition. He showed no streaming blood either. If anything was broken, she couldn’t ask; he was unconscious, but his breathing seemed easy.
Her thoughts flew. Help would be coming. She’d be in the backseat, in the custody of the law. She wouldn’t do any good from there. It hadn’t been her. Maybe this crash would be proof enough—Thank God no one was killed. She wouldn’t tell them anything, couldn’t, because she had to be wrong. But she had someone she needed to check on….
She looked to the passenger door. It had to be locked on the inside. What about the glass? Thoughts still clouded with the drive to get out, to protect someone who had to be wrongfully accused, she braced her arms against the seat cushion and leaned back, prepping to give the whole door a kick–anything might give after the crash. She figured it might need a few good rounds.
The door disappeared. A familiar arm, flexed to extreme tension, extended across the opening. The head dipped down, Richard’s face came into view. He was breathing hard and his face was wide open, spelling full-on anxiety. Relief quickly took its place when he spotted her conscious and in one piece.
“Are you okay?”
“I think so.”
He nodded. “Wait here,” he puffed, still catching his breath.
He opened the front door and leaned across the passenger seat to inspect Frank, turning the face until she saw a long gash had been torn across his forehead. Richard grabbed the CB handset and reported the crash.
She didn’t hear a word; focused on escape, on saving someone other than herself, someone dear enough to her the person was nearly a part of her. She pushed off the lower step of the car like a starting block and pieces of gravel flew up with each foot pounding the ground. She ran on with her head turned back, watching for that perfect break in traffic to cross and get hidden in the woods. There it was. She stopped and crouched. One more step touched the ground; the next was kicking at air.
She’d been lifted into arms. The broad chest and demanding voice matched Richard’s. His heart was a high-speed pump under her ear, thumping louder than the blood pressure in her eardrums.
“What are you doing?” he repeated, thundering, “What are you thinking!”
She jerked away from his chest and pushed with all her strength. “Let me go.”
“But I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it.” Her face collapsed into his chest as tears tracked a course down her face.
He softened his next statement, “I know. You were with me the whole day and his patrol car wouldn’t have lasted long with that control arm and knuckle loose.” He tugged back riotous strands of hair from her wet face. “You don’t need to run. I’m your alibi.”
She nodded. “Yeah, you are.” If only there were two of you. She met his intense, deep blue gaze. “Will you put me down?”
He lowered her feet. She slid down, finding the ground a little unsteady. He kept a hand on her lower back. She turned and looked up into his face, questions wanting to pour out, but then he lifted his other hand, moving near her face, and she felt time shorten. She couldn’t be here. She bolted.
In a few strides, he scooped her up. She struggled against his steely arms, nearing to scream but help wasn’t what she wanted.
“So why are you still running?” Frustration roughened his tone.
She wasn’t afraid of him; she didn’t have to tell him anything, explain herself. Still, she was trapped, in his arms, had to tell him something, and get him to let her go. Being here wasn’t helping anyone. Her eyes flitted about without focus.
“What lie are you concocting?” he asked.
“I can’t tell you the truth. Not specifics anyway. There might be … I could be … related. But I’ll never give what they’re after!” She clutched at his shirt, desperate. He needed to understand. “I can’t.”
His chest deflated under her hands as he released a frustrated breath. After searching her face, taking a quick inhale, he asked, “So what do we do now?”
“We? No, no we. You go back to your truck and I’ll find my own way. You shouldn’t be involved in this.”
“Yeah, right,” he replied and turned back. “You’re coming with me.”
“What? No. Let me down. You know I didn’t do it.”
She kicked her legs and grabbed his shirt, tearing stitches.
“Would you settle down? You’re not getting turned in … yet. I’m taking you up the road. We have to get away from here at least.”
When he reached the patrol car, he leaned in and grabbed something. The officer had started to stir, but his eyes were still crushed shut in pain.
Once Richard deposited her into the passenger seat of his truck, she heard a click and felt cold metal against her wrists.
“You didn’t,” she said.
“Don’t have much of a choice. You didn’t leave me one. There’s no other way to keep you from opening the door and me having to chase you down again.”
Her darkened glare was lost on him as he closed the door and walked around the front of the truck. Behind the steering wheel, he leaned over her and grabbed the seat belt. She heard it click, but her eyes did not watch. She stared at the dusty, black-textured plastic of the floor. His arm had felt like stronger protection than her seat belt had, but she tried not think about it and instead ended up remembering what it was like to be held by him, when he scooped her up off the road. Some of her pain had been shut out. Somehow, he had given her something else to think about, in those vivid blue eyes, firmly set mouth. Her brow furrowed as he returned to the steering wheel and started the truck.
He pulled away from the median as sirens lit up the horizon behind them.