“He put false information on his job application.”
“They didn’t check it out before they hired him?”
“An oversight I’m sure the human resources staff is regretting.”
“Why did he lie on his application, I wonder. To hide a police record?”
“That was the general consensus. But so far his fingerprints haven’t turned up any prior arrests.”
Janice frowned. “He’s probably one of those wackos who slips through the cracks of society until he does something like this. Then everybody takes notice. What I don’t get is why these nutcases go after innocent people. If he bore a grudge against the company, why didn’t he just wreck one of the trucks? Why go on a killing spree?”
When Tom had first met Janice, she’d been a feeling, compassionate human being who often championed the underdog. Over the years her tolerance level had steeply declined.
“Apparently Coburn doesn’t have the outward markings of a wacko,” he said.
“Wackos rarely do.”
Tom conceded her point with a tip of his head. “Coburn had recently been placed in charge of shipping manifests. Maybe he cracked under the pressure of new responsibility.”
“That’s plausible.” Her expression indicated that she knew something about cracking under pressure.
Tom took a canned drink from the fridge. “I’d better be off. Fred’s waiting on me. If you need me, call. I’ve always got my cell phone.”
“We’ll be fine.”
“I turned Lanny when I cleaned him, so you don’t have to do that for a while.”
“Don’t worry about us, Tom. Go. Do your job. I’ll handle things till you get home, whenever it is.”
He hesitated, wishing he could think of something to say that would brighten her day, wishing there was something to say. But he knew there wasn’t, so he trudged from his house with the overgrown lawn, feeling the burden of their lives weighing heavily on his shoulders because he didn’t know how to make it better.
He felt no more confident about improving the situation in Tambour.
Honor retrieved the sealed rubber box from under her bed.
Coburn replaced the mattress, then, without ceremony, dumped the contents of the storage box onto her snowy white comforter and began pawing through Eddie’s personal effects.
First to attract his attention were Eddie’s diplomas from high school, LSU, and the police academy. He removed the first from its leather folder and searched the folder itself. But when he ripped away the moire lining, Honor protested, “There’s no need to do that!”
“I think there is.”
“I’m saving those documents for Emily.”
“I’m not doing anything to the documents.”
“Nothing’s hidden behind the lining.”
“Not in this one.” He tossed the first aside and reached for another, subjecting it to the same vandalism. When he was done with them, he examined Eddie’s wristwatch.
“Pretty tricked-out watch.”
“I gave it to him for Christmas.”
“Where’d you buy it?”
“What difference does it make?”
“A local store?”
“I ordered it online. It’s a knockoff of a fancy one.”
“How much did it cost?”
“Around three hundred dollars.”
“Do you want to see the receipt?”
“No, but you’ve contradicted yourself. You said you didn’t use the computer for personal business.”
Wearily she sighed. “I’ve ordered things.”
“I never knew him to.”
He held her stare, then let it go and moved on to Eddie’s death certificate. “Broken neck?”
“He died instantly. Or so I was told.”
She hoped he’d died immediately and hadn’t suffered. The medical examiner had told Stan and her that even if he had survived the neck injury, he probably would have died of his extensive internal injuries before reaching the hospital.
After perusing the death certificate, Coburn thumbed through the guest book for the funeral service.
“Whatever you’re looking for isn’t in there.” It was breaking her heart to see items that were precious only to her handled by a man with blood on his hands, literally and figuratively.
She was especially incensed when he picked up Eddie’s wedding ring. It had been on Eddie’s finger from the day they’d stood at the altar and exchanged their vows until she’d been called to the morgue to identify his body.
Holding the ring close, Coburn read the inscription inside. “Ah. What’s this?”
“Our wedding date and initials.”
He read the engraving again, then bounced the ring in his palm as he regarded it thoughtfully. Finally he looked up at her and, after a moment, extended his hand. She held out hers. He dropped the ring into her palm and her fingers closed around it.
“I don’t need it anymore. I memorized the engraving.”
He went through Eddie’s wallet several times, then actually turned the leather inside out. It produced nothing except expired credit cards, Eddie’s driver’s license—he examined the laminate to make sure it was sealed all the way around—and Social Security card. There were pictures of her and Emily that had been trimmed to fit the clear plastic sleeves.
He picked up the empty key ring and dangled it in front of her face. “A key ring without keys?”
“I took off the house key and hid it outside in case I ever lock us out. The keys to the squad car and Eddie’s locker were returned to the police department.”
“Do you have a safe deposit box?”
“Would you tell me if you did?”
“If it guaranteed Emily’s safety, I’d drive you to the bank. But I don’t have a safe deposit box.”
He continued to examine and question her about each article arrayed on her comforter, which he’d soiled with his muddy clothes. But it was an exercise in futility as she’d known it would be. “You’re wasting your time, Mr. Coburn. Whatever you’re looking for isn’t here.”
“It’s here. I just haven’t found it yet. And you can drop the ‘mister.’ Just plain Coburn will do.”
He came off the bed, planted his hands on his hips, and made a tight circle as he looked around the room. She had hoped he would quickly find whatever it was he was after, then leave without harming either Emily or her. But the fruitlessness of his search was beginning to frustrate him, and that didn’t bode well. She feared that she and Emily would become the scapegoats for his mounting frustration.
“Bank statements, tax records. Where’s all that?”
Afraid not to cooperate, she pointed overhead. “Storage boxes in the attic.”
“Where’s the access?”
“In the hall.”
He dragged her along behind him as he left the bedroom. Reaching high above his head for the slender rope, he pulled down the trapdoor, then unfolded the sectioned ladder and motioned to her. “Up you go.”
“I’m not leaving you down here alone with your daughter.”
“I’m not going to run away.”
“That’s right. I’m going to see that you don’t.”
To protest his logic would be futile, so she started up the ladder, acutely aware of her exposed legs and the view he was getting of her backside. She climbed as quickly as possible and was actually glad to be stepping up into the attic, when it had always been a place she would rather avoid. She associated attics with cobwebs and rodents. And attics were sad places, dark depositories where the cast-off articles of one’s life were sent to molder.
She yanked the string on the bare bulb in the ceiling. The file storage boxes were right where she knew they would be. She picked up the first one by the open slots in its sides. Coburn waited in the narrow opening to take it from her and carry it down. They repeated the procedure until all had been removed from the attic.