From the house, Worth walked to the GitGo on Center Street. He called a Husker Cab from the pay phone outside.
He used the name Tom Smith, kept the ball cap low, stood with his back to the security camera mounted outside the store.
Three blocks from Gwen’s apartment building, he got out of the cab and paid the driver in cash. He walked with his head down, hands in his pockets.
By the time he finally climbed the rear walkup back to Gwen’s apartment, it was after one in the morning. The trip home and back had taken fifty-one minutes; since he’d left the SaveMore with Gwen, an hour and a half had passed.
A long stretch. He could nudge the time in his reports, but not by much. He’d need to claim it had taken time to assess the situation. He’d claim the subject had required special handling.
At the least, he’d surely take some sort of informal reprimand for sloppy radio procedure. No matter what, he’d end up looking bad.
Ironically, given his record at this point, looking bad was practically its own explanation.
The fact that he’d left his post instead of turning the call over to a field unit presented potentially larger problems. But his detail was a joke, and everybody knew it. He hadn’t caught a call-worthy incident at the SaveMore in weeks. As long as nobody decided to rob the place at gunpoint in the next few hours, his initiative toward conducting a little actual police work related to his limited jurisdiction would likely be forgiven.
The clock was still his biggest problem for now. As soon as he changed back into uniform, he’d hit the radio. Car 300 to dispatch, en route to the ER at UNMC. He’d call in a description of the GTO.
Nothing in progress, no reason for other units to respond to the apartment. The thought of leaving the apartment in its current state kicked his stress levels into high gear, but he didn’t have time to deal with it now.
He’d have to come back. First thing in the morning, after finishing his shift. In broad daylight.
First things first.
On the third-floor landing, he sorted through keys until he found the one that opened the back door.
Gwen Mullen hadn’t entertained the possibility that she’d snapped until her dead boyfriend came home.
Seeing him felt like a punch in the chest. She understood that her mind was tricking her, but just for an instant, there he was. Looking like a sexy redneck. Like nothing had happened.
“Gwen,” he said, shattering the illusion.
She looked up into Matthew’s troubled eyes, feeling overwhelmed, flooded with relief and disappointment both. For the past hour, waiting alone in the empty apartment, she hadn’t been able to decide what she was feeling. Everything had changed.
“I’m going to change back into my gear,” he said. “And then we’ll go. Okay?”
“I wasn’t asking you for this,” she said. It was the truth. “I would never ask you to do this.”
He touched her face. The warmth of his hand felt comforting. “We’re going to fix it.”
She took a breath.
“I’ll just be a minute. Okay?”
Gwen felt herself nod.
She’d already decided that she didn’t like seeing Matthew wearing Russell’s clothes.
Little by little, cold morning light filtered up from the east, slowly revealing a gray slab sky.
Worth stopped by the SaveMore in his street clothes after coming off shift. He found Sorensen in the office doing paperwork; his own hand still ached from filling out the reports on Gwen. He was bone tired, and he had a hard bright headache. He didn’t feel like talking to anybody.
But he tapped the open door with a knuckle. “Morning.”
Sorensen raised his head. The night man didn’t look so fresh himself. Seeing Worth in the doorway, he took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes, and said, “How is she?”
Worth told him the truth. “It could be worse.”
He wanted to take a seat but he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to stand up again. He’d never felt so thoroughly drained. Every part of him seemed heavy.
“Does she have a place to go?” Sorensen settled his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose. “I know she doesn’t get along with her family.”
“She’s in the hospital,” Worth told him. “For now.”
“Clarkson UNMC,” Worth said. Right up the street. “When I left the ER, they were talking about keeping her a day or two.”
According to Gwen, the last beating had come more than twenty-four hours ago. According to the resident on duty, she was still urinating blood. Worth didn’t mention that to Sorensen.
He didn’t mention any number of things. He only said, “I’ve seen it worse.”
Sorensen clicked his pen. He didn’t seem satisfied, but Worth didn’t have anything else for him. “That’s the status at this point. I thought you’d like to know.”
“Yes,” Sorensen said. “Thank you. I do appreciate it.” He paused a moment, then added, “What about the…person who put her in the hospital?”
“We’re looking for him.”
“I hope you find him.”
Worth felt a quick slither in his gut. “I hope so, too.”
After another pause, Sorensen went back to the inch-thick blue-bar printout on the desk in front of him. “I hope you accidentally put him in the hospital.”
Worth couldn’t think of anything to say to that.
Eyes on his inventory sheets, pen making tick marks again, Sorensen said, “I’ll have Floral send her a basket. From everybody.”
Worth told him that sounded like a nice idea. Before walking out he kicked in a ten-dollar bill.
Down below, the SaveMore was jumping. Even for a Saturday morning, the place was a zoo. Customers clogged the aisles, wrangling carts, loading up on food and batteries, decimating the big new display of ice melt up front. Worth hadn’t caught the new weather predictions until he heard the guys talking in the locker room back at Deer Park.
A forty-percent chance for novelty flurries had become a national winter weather advisory overnight. Whiteout country from the Rockies to the Mississippi, and outside the leaves were still changing color. The whole town was scrambling. Battening the hatches.
Worth felt disconnected from all of it.
It had become a small pleasure, stopping by the store on his way home in the morning after work. The elaborate new HyVee on Center was closer, and there was a No Frills a block from the station house.
But he liked coming back to the SaveMore, off duty, in his own vehicle and clothes. Replenish the staples, pick up something for dinner later. It made him feel like anybody else.
This morning he only wanted out of there. Worth grabbed a basket from the first stack he passed and took a quick spin through Aisle 9. Cleaning products. Your sprays, your powders. Your bleach.
He picked up a little of everything he could use. Then he scanned the front and picked out a checker he’d never seen before.
On the way up, he saw a two-for-one special on heavy rubber dish gloves. Worth stopped and threw those in, too.
Tony Briggs kept an eye on the stairwell while Ray Salcedo picked the dead bolt and carded the latch.
The address they’d been given had brought them here: a crumbling, mossy brick three-flat off Jackson. The building had probably been a decent little property once, but decent had come and gone a while ago.
They’d cased the place before entering and hadn’t seen a sign of life in half an hour. No sounds coming through the doors inside the building, either. No televisions, morning coughs, fights, flushing toilets. Just a dusty warped staircase that groaned beneath them like it might collapse anytime.