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They shared a chuckle, then Fred turned serious again. “Men I talked to said they knew better than to mess with Coburn, which wasn’t a problem, because he came and went without even a nod for anybody.”

“Girlfriends?”

“None that anybody knew of.”

“Boyfriends?”

“None that anybody knew of.”

“You search his apartment?”

“Thoroughly. It’s a one-room efficiency on the east side of town, and not a damn thing in it to give us a clue. Work clothes in the closet. Chicken pot pies in the freezer. The man lived like a monk. One thumbed copy of Sports Illustrated on the coffee table. A TV, but no cable hookup. Nothing personal in the whole damn place. No notepad, calendar, address book. Zilch.”

“Computer?”

“No.”

“What about his phone?”

Fred had found a cell phone at the murder scene and had determined that it didn’t belong to any of the bullet-riddled bodies. “Recent calls, one to that lousy Chinese food place that delivers in town, and one came in to him from a telemarketer.”

“That’s it? Two calls?”

“In thirty-six hours.”

“Well, damn.” Doral swatted at a biting fly.

“We’re checking out the other calls in his log. See who the numbers belong to. But right now, we know nothing about Lee Coburn except that he’s out here somewhere, and that we’re gonna catch shit if we don’t find him.” Lowering his voice, Fred added, “And I’d just as soon return him in a body bag as in handcuffs. Best thing for us? We’d find his lifeless body floating in a bayou.”

“Townsfolk wouldn’t complain. Marset was highly thought of. Practically the freaking prince of Tambour.”

Sam Marset had been the owner of the Royale Trucking Company, president of the Rotary Club, an elder at St. Boniface Catholic Church, an Eagle Scout, a Mason. He had chaired various boards and was usually grand marshal of the town’s Mardi Gras parade. He had been a pillar of the community whom folks had admired and liked.

He was now a corpse with a bullet hole in his head, and, as if that one hadn’t been enough to kill him, another had been fired into his chest for extra measure. The other six shooting victims probably wouldn’t be missed much, but Marset’s murder had warranted a televised press conference earlier that morning. It had been covered by numerous community newspapers from the coastal region of the state, and all of the major New Orleans television stations were represented.

Fred had presided, flanked at the microphone by city officials, including his twin. The New Orleans P.D. had loaned Tambour police a sketch artist, who’d rendered a drawing of Coburn based on descriptions provided by neighbors: Caucasian male around six feet three inches tall, average weight, athletic build, black hair, blue eyes, thirty-four years of age according to his employee records.

Fred had concluded the press conference by filling television screens with the drawing and warning locals that Coburn was believed still to be in the area and should be considered armed and dangerous.

“You laid it on pretty thick,” Doral said now, referring to Fred’s closing remarks. “No matter how slippery Lee Coburn is, everybody’s going to be after his hide. I don’t think he has a prayer of escaping the area.”

Fred looked at his brother and raised one eyebrow. “You mean that honestly, or is that wishful thinking?”

Before Doral could reply, Fred’s cell phone rang. He glanced at the caller ID and smiled across at his brother. “Tom VanAllen. FBI to the rescue.”

Chapter 3

Coburn gradually backed away from the woman, but even then, her fear of him was palpable. Good. He needed her to be afraid. Fear would inspire cooperation. “They’re searching for you,” she said.

“Behind every tree.”

“Police, state troopers, volunteers. Dogs.”

“I heard them yelping early this morning.”

“They’ll catch you.”

“They haven’t yet.”

“You should keep running.”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Mrs. Gillette?”

Her expression became even more stark with fear, so the significance of his knowing her name hadn’t escaped her. He hadn’t randomly selected her house in which to take refuge. It—she—had been a destination.

“Mommy, the kitty went into the bushes and won’t come out.”

Coburn’s back was to the door, but he’d heard the little girl come in from outside, had heard the soles of her sandals slapping against the hardwood floor as she approached the kitchen. But he didn’t turn toward her. His gaze remained fixed on the kid’s mother.

Her face had turned as white as chalk. Her lips looked practically bloodless as her eyes sawed back and forth between him and the kid. But Coburn gave her credit for keeping her voice light and cheerful. “That’s what kitties do, Em. They hide.”

“How come?”

“The kitty doesn’t know you, so maybe he’s afraid.”

“That’s silly.”

“Yes, it is. Very silly.” She shifted her gaze back to Coburn and added meaningfully, “He should know you won’t do anything.”

Okay, he wasn’t dense. He got the message. “If you do,” he said softly, “he’ll scratch, and it will hurt.” Holding her frightened stare, he slid the pistol into the waistband of his jeans and tugged the hem of his T-shirt over it, then turned around. The kid was staring up at him with blatant curiosity.

“Does your boo-boo hurt?”

“My what?”

She pointed to his head. He reached up and touched congealed blood. “No, it doesn’t hurt.”

He stepped around her as he crossed to the table. Ever since coming into the kitchen, his mouth had been watering from the aroma of freshly baked cake. He stripped away the paper cup of a cupcake and bit off half of it, then ravenously crammed the rest of it into his mouth and reached for another. He hadn’t eaten since noon yesterday, and he’d been slogging through the swamp all night. He was starving.

“You didn’t wash,” the kid said.

He swallowed the cupcake practically whole. “What?”

“You’re supposed to wash your hands before you eat.”

“Oh yeah?” He peeled the paper off the second cupcake and took a huge bite.

The kid nodded solemnly. “It’s the rule.”

He shot a look at the woman, who had moved up behind her daughter and placed protective hands on her shoulders. “I don’t always go by the rules,” he said. Keeping an eye on them, he went to the fridge, opened it, and took out a plastic bottle of milk. He thumbed off the cap and tilted the bottle toward his mouth, drinking from it in gulps.

“Mommy, he’s drinking from—”

“I know, darling. But it’s okay just this once. He’s very thirsty.”

The kid watched in fascination as he drank at least a third of the milk before stopping to take a breath. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and replaced the bottle in the fridge.

The kid wrinkled her nose. “Your clothes are dirty and stinky.”

“I fell in the creek.”

Her eyes widened. “On accident?”

“Sorta.”

“Did you have wings on?”

“Wings?”

“Can you do a face float?”

Clueless, he looked at the mother. She said, “She learned to do a face float in swim class.”

“I still have to wear my wings,” the little girl said, “but I got a gold star on my fertisicate.”

Nervously, the mother turned her around and ushered her toward the doorway into the living room. “I think it’s time for Dora. Why don’t you go watch while I talk to… to our company.”

The child dug her heels in. “You said I could lick the bowl.”

The mother hesitated, then took a rubber spatula from the bowl of frosting and handed it down to her. She took it happily and said to him, “Don’t eat any more cupcakes. There s’pposed to be for the birthday party.” Then she skipped out of the room.

     

 

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