“Well, I won’t hurt you. I promise not to hurt you or your kid. But you gotta do everything I say. Okay? Have we got a deal?”
She might have derived some level of comfort from the promise, even if she didn’t believe it. But she suddenly realized who he was, and that sent a bolt of terror through her.
Breathlessly, she rasped, “You’re… You’re the man who shot all those people last night.”
Coburn. C-o-b-u-r-n. First name Lee, no known middle initial.”
Sergeant Fred Hawkins of the Tambour Police Department removed his hat and wiped sweat off his forehead. It had already gone greasy in the heat, and it wasn’t even nine o’clock yet. Mentally he cursed the heat index of coastal Louisiana. He’d lived here all his life, but one never got used to the sultry heat, and the older he got the more he minded it.
He was in a cell phone conversation with the sheriff of neighboring Terrebonne Parish, giving him the lowdown of last night’s mass murder. “Chances are that’s an alias, but it’s the name on his employee records and all that we have to go on at present. We lifted prints off his car… Yeah, that’s the damnedest thing. You’d think he would’ve sped away from the scene, but his car is still parked in the employee lot. Maybe he thought it would be spotted too easily. Or, I guess if you go and kill seven people in cold blood, you’re not thinking logically. Best we can tell, he fled the scene on foot.”
Fred paused to take a breath. “I’ve already put his prints into the national pipeline. I’m betting something will turn up. A guy like this has gotta have priors. Whatever we get on him will be passed along, but I’m not waiting on further info, so you shouldn’t either. Start looking for him A.S.A.P. You got my fax?… Good. Make copies and pass them out to your deputies for distribution.”
While the sheriff was assuring Fred of his department’s capacity for finding men at large, Fred nodded a greeting to his twin brother, Doral, who joined him where he was standing outside his patrol car.
It was parked on the shoulder of the two-lane state highway in a sliver of shade cast by a billboard sign advertising a gentleman’s club that was located near the New Orleans airport. Sixty-five miles to the exit. The coldest drinks. The hottest women. Totally nude.
All sounded good to Fred, but he forecast that it would be a while before he could seek entertainment. Not until Lee Coburn was accounted for.
“You heard right, Sheriff. Bloodiest crime scene I’ve ever had the misfortune of investigating. Full-scale execution. Sam Marset was shot in the back of the head at close range.”
The sheriff expressed his disgust over the viciousness of the crime, then signed off with his pledge to be in touch if the murderous psycho was spotted in his parish.
“Windbag could talk the horns off a billy goat,” Fred complained to his brother as he disconnected.
Doral extended him a Styrofoam cup. “You look like you could use a coffee.”
Impatiently Fred removed the lid from the cup and took a sip. His head jerked back in surprise.
Doral laughed. “Thought you could use a little pick-me-up, too.”
“We ain’t twins for nothing. Thanks.”
As Fred drank the liberally spiked coffee, he surveyed the line of patrol cars parked along the edge of the road. Dozens of uniformed officers from various agencies were milling around nearby, some talking on cell phones, others studying maps, most looking befuddled and intimidated by the job at hand.
“What a mess,” Doral said under his breath.
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
“As city manager, I came out to offer any help that I or the City of Tambour can provide.”
“As lead investigator on the case, I appreciate the city’s support,” Fred said drolly. “Now that the official bullshit is out of the way, tell me where you think he ran to.”
“You’re the cop, not me.”
“But you’re the best tracker for miles around.”
“Since Eddie was killed, maybe.”
“Well, Eddie ain’t here, so you’re it. You’re part bloodhound, too. You could find a flea on a pissant.”
“Yeah, but fleas ain’t as slippery as this guy.”
Doral had arrived dressed not as a city official, but as a hunter, fully expecting that his twin would recruit him to join the manhunt. He took off his dozer cap and fanned his face with it as he gazed toward the edge of the woods where those involved in the search were gathering.
“That slipperiness of his has got me worried.” Fred would admit that only to his brother. “We gotta catch this son of a bitch, Doral.”
“Like right effing now.”
Fred chugged the rest of his bourbon-laced coffee and tossed the empty cup onto the driver’s seat of his car. “You ready?”
“If you’re waiting on me, you’re backing up.”
The two joined the rest of the search party. As its appointed organizer, Fred gave the command. Officers fanned out and began picking their way through the tall grass toward the tree line that demarcated the dense forest. Trainers unleashed their search dogs.
They were commencing the search here because a motorist who’d been changing a flat on the side of the road late last night had seen a man running into the woods. He hadn’t thought anything about it until the mass slaying at the Royale Trucking Company warehouse was reported on the local news this morning. The estimated time of the shooting had roughly corresponded with the time he’d seen an individual—whom he couldn’t describe because he’d been too far away—disappearing into the woods on foot and in a hurry. He’d called the Tambour Police Department.
It wasn’t much for Fred and the others to go on, but since they didn’t have any other leads, here they were, trying to pick up a trail that would lead them to the alleged mass murderer, one Lee Coburn.
Doral kept his head down, studying the ground. “Is Coburn familiar with this territory?”
“Don’t know. Could know it as good as he knows the back of his hand, or could be he’s never even seen a swamp.”
“His employee application said his residence before Tambour was Orange, Texas. But I checked the address and it’s bogus.”
“So nobody knows for sure where he came from.”
“Nobody to ask,” Fred said dryly. “His coworkers on the loading dock are dead.”
“But he’s been in Tambour for thirteen months. He had to know somebody.”
“Nobody’s come forward.”
“Nobody would, though, would they?”
“Guess not. After last night, who’d want to claim him as a friend?”
“Bartender? Waitress? Somebody he traded with?”
“Officers are canvassing. A checker at Rouse’s who’d rung up his groceries a few times said he was pleasant enough, but definitely not a friendly sort. Said he always paid in cash. We ran his Social Security number through. No credit cards came up, no debts. No account in any town bank. He cashed his paychecks at one of those places that do that for a percentage.”
“The man didn’t want to leave a paper trail.”
“And he didn’t.”
Doral asked if Coburn’s neighbors had been interviewed.
“By me personally,” Fred replied. “Everybody in the apartment complex knew him by sight. Women thought he was attractive in that certain kind of way.”
“What certain kind of way?”
“Wished they could fuck him, but considered him bad news.”
“That’s a ‘way’?”
“Of course that’s a ‘way.’ ”
“Who told you that?”
“It’s just something I know.” He nudged his twin in the ribs. “ ’Course I understand women better than you do.”
“Piss up my other leg.”