City of the Lost Page 81

So I have nothing on Lang, but I need to take another run at him, because he’s my best suspect, and I don’t foresee getting more leverage soon. The problem is that Lang avoided serious charges for years. He knows I’m fishing, and I don’t manage to do anything except scare and intimidate him. Which is a start, at least.

I leave Lang’s and pick up an admirer of my own. It’s Jen. She follows me for three houses before yelling a racial epithet, because that’s just the kind of girl she is. Apparently, this particular insult is supposed to get my attention, and when it doesn’t, she jogs up alongside me and says, “I was talking to you.”

“Oh?” I look at everyone else on the street. “Right. You were. How can I help you today, Jen?”

“It’s how I can help you, detective.” Jen says it the way street thugs say cop.

“Okay,” I say, as if I don’t notice her tone. “Do you want to go back to the station and talk?”

“Considering what my tip is? Not a chance.” She steps too close for comfort, but I stand my ground. “I heard you talking to Pierre.”

She means she heard Lang yelling at me. My side of the conversation was a little more discreet.

“You want to find Abbygail’s secret admirer?” she says. “He’s sitting in your cop shop.” When I hesitate, she says, “Um, your boss?” She backs up and eyes me. “Unless the rumours are true and Dalton’s more than your boss, in which case this tip sure as hell won’t go anywhere.”

I resist the urge to deny the rumours—she wouldn’t listen. “If you have reason to believe Sheriff Dalton was interested in Abbygail—”

“I have more than ‘reason to believe.’ After Abbygail’s birthday party, Petra and I saw them getting hot and heavy behind the community hall.” My shock must show, because she sneers. “Sweet on the sheriff, are you, detective? How predictable. All you so-called educated women—you, the doctor—think you’re so smart and yet you all fall for that hick. And who did he have his eye on? The teen hooker who thought he shit solid gold. That’s what men want. Not a woman they can talk to. A dumb little girl who’ll worship the ground they walk on.”

“You say Petra—”

“Yes, your new pal Petra saw it. Go talk to her, since you obviously won’t believe me.”

“Can you tell me exactly what you saw?” I ask as calmly as I can.

“After the party broke up, Dalton and Abbygail were k-i-s-s-i-n-g behind the community hall. Which apparently was more his idea than hers, because after we walked away, I heard arguing. Abbygail was pissed off and the good sheriff was in full-on defence mode. If she’d been in trouble, I would have interfered, no matter what you might think of me. The situation was under control, though. She was giving him a dressing-down, and he’d backed off, so I left them to it.”

Petra works part-time in the general store. It’s exactly what it sounds like—the place to buy pretty much everything you need. “Need” being the operative word. This isn’t the place for luxury items. At least half the store is second-hand goods. Everything in Rockton is valuable for as long as it can be recycled. I find Petra sorting a stack of clothing into what can go immediately on the shelves and what the seamstresses need to repair first. When she sees my expression, she sticks on the “Back in Five” sign and ushers me into the backroom.

“I need to ask you something,” I say as she shuts the door.

“I can see that. What’s up?”

“It’s about Dalton and Abbygail.”

She goes still, and I know it’s true. I suspected it was—Jen wouldn’t dare invoke Petra’s name in a lie. But I did hope that maybe Jen presumed I’d never actually investigate, and she just wanted to stir up shit. Now I see the truth in Petra’s face. And it hurts. On so many levels, it hurts.

“Jen told me,” I say.

Petra lowers herself onto a crate.

“Abbygail’s party,” I say. “Behind the community hall. Jen says you two saw them kissing.”

She squeezes her eyes shut for a moment. “I’m sorry. I’d decided it wasn’t worth mentioning. But after her death … I was trying to figure out how to tell you.”

“Not worth mentioning? That the local sheriff was seen making out with a girl who went missing a few days later?”

“Making out? No, it was a kiss behind the community hall. Probably a drunken one. Between a young sheriff and a girl who was deeply infatuated with him. A momentary lapse in judgment for Eric.”

“Did you hear the argument?”

“What argument?”

I tell her and she says, “I didn’t hear anything. Yes, I left the party with Jen that evening. We aren’t good buddies, but I understand there’s more to her than the stone-cold bitch you see. She has issues. Lots of them. That doesn’t mean she isn’t a bitch. Or an addict.Or a part-time prostitute. It also means she lies.”

“You think she’s lying about the fight?”

“Maybe not outright, but I’d strongly consider the possibility that her hatred of Eric colours her interpretation. Think about it. If Abbygail had a crush on Eric, is she really going to tell him off for kissing her? Isn’t it more likely that Eric realized it was a mistake, backed off, and she got angry? Embarrassed?”

“Just because she had a crush doesn’t necessarily mean she’d welcome an advance.”

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