Thirty and a Half Excuses Page 19

When I opened the front door, Mason’s worried face filled the opening. Flashing lights filled the street behind him. “Are you okay?”

I nodded. “Yeah. I’m fine.”

He looked over my shoulder, hesitating. “Can I come in?”

“Of course,” I answered, stepping backward to let him in.

He led me to the sofa. “Sit down and tell me everything that happened.”

I sank into the cushions while he sat in the overstuffed chair next to me. “I took Muffy for a walk, and we went farther than I’d planned. So it was gettin’ dark when we started for home. When we passed Miss Dorothy’s house, Muffy jerked the leash out of my hand and ran behind her house.” Muffy jumped onto the sofa and pressed her body against my thigh, resting her chin on my leg. “Miss Dorothy’s laundry was still hanging on her clothesline so I couldn’t see Muffy, but I heard her growling. I was in the middle of a bunch of sheets and house dresses when someone burst through and knocked me down and fell on top of me. I don’t think he meant to attack me. He was just tryin’ to get away. But he landed on me, and Muffy thought he was trying to hurt me, so she bit him. He threw Muffy to the side, got up, and took off. Thank goodness, she stayed with me.”

Mason listened intently, showing no obvious reaction. “And then you came home and called me?”

I nodded.

“Why didn’t you call the police?”

“You very well know why. The same reason I called you this afternoon: They hate me. And not only do they hate me, but they usually try to pin whatever’s going wrong in this town on me.”

He leaned forward, resting his arms on his legs, his brow wrinkled in confusion. “Rose, you didn’t do anything wrong. How could they pin this on you?”

I shrugged. “How could they pin the break-in of my house on me? Surely you can see why I don’t trust them.”

He sighed, looking guilty. “That was a different situation. You were a suspect in your mother’s death. There’s no reason to think you were involved in anything this time.”

I wasn’t so sure.

“Did you get a good look at the guy?”

I shook my head. “No, it was dark, and he caught me by surprise.”

“Can you describe him? Was he short or tall? Did you see his hair color or any distinguishing features?”

I sighed. “Not really. He was dressed in a black long-sleeved shirt and jeans, and he was kind of hunched over when he ran toward me, so I couldn’t tell how tall he was. But he was bigger than me when he landed on top of me.” I closed my eyes trying to remember what I’d seen. “It all happened so fast. Just about the only other thing I remember seeing was a knit hat covering his head.”

Mason’s hand covered my knee, and I opened my eyes in surprise. “It’s okay. But you might remember more as it all settles in. Do you feel up to going over there with me?”

I hesitated. “I guess.”

“It’s perfectly safe.”

I knew that. Only a fool would stick around with all the commotion going on outside, even if it was the Henryetta police. The police were the reason I didn’t want to go. I was being ridiculous, and I knew it. But knowing something and feeling something are two entirely different things. Still, I wasn’t going to live my life cowering in fear. I’d left those days behind me, and I wasn’t about to pick up old habits now.

I stood. “Let’s get this over with.”

“I’ll be with you the entire time.”

His statement gave me more comfort than I’d expected it would. But he’d been the one to save me in July when Jimmy DeWade had tried to kill me, and he’d offered me comfort then too. Especially when Joe wasn’t giving it to me.

Muffy wasn’t happy that I left her behind. Mason walked next to me, keeping a polite distance. I showed him where I was standing when Muffy took off and retraced my steps. The backyard was lit up this time, and Detective Taylor and Officer Ernie were there, snooping around the back of the house.

When they saw me, Detective Taylor approached with a notebook. “What exactly did you see?”

I swallowed my resistance and told him everything I’d told Mason.

“Did you notice what direction he went?” the detective asked.

Shaking my head, I looked behind me, getting a face-full of a sheet. “No, I was more worried about Muffy after he threw her off.” I peeked through a gap in the housedresses. A couple had fallen off the line, either in the attacker’s flight or after the police’s arrival. Ernie was checking out the back door. “Was he trying to get into Miss Dorothy’s house?” I asked.

Taylor puffed out his chest. “We’re looking into that right now.”

Ernie glanced over his shoulder. “It looks like he had just gotten the door pried open before he was interrupted.” He narrowed his eyes at me.

Mason stared at the back door before glancing back at me. “I’ll walk you home, Rose.”

“I’m perfectly capable of walking home. It wasn’t like he was after me. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“That seems to happen to you an awful lot,” Mason muttered.

“Tell me about it.”

Neighbors had gathered on the sidewalk when I walked to the front of the house. Miss Mildred was front and center again, looking just as worried as she had earlier in the day. It had to be upsetting to an eighty-two-year-old woman to find her neighbor and friend dead, and then discover the police had been called to her house again. Heidi Joy and Miss Opal were there too, and there were some new faces in the crowd—the younger couple who lived down at the other end of the street and worked during the day and Thomas. He leaned against his muscle car with crossed arms, watching the commotion impassively.

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