Thirty-One and a Half Regrets Page 41

As we got out of the car, the unmarked car pulled into the space next to the chief deputy’s. One of the motel doors swung open and a man in a police uniform stepped out. Chief Deputy Dimler walked me to the doorway. “Rose, this is Officer Sprout with the Henryetta Police Department, and he’s going to take care of you for now.”

Officer Sprout looked like he was fresh out of high school. He had short, light-brown hair; brown eyes; and a face full of freckles. But he offered me a warm smile, which I desperately needed. “Nice to meet you, ma’am.”

And then it hit me. “Wait!” I spun to face Jeff. “I thought the sheriff’s department was going to protect me.”

The deputy at least had the courtesy to grimace. “That phone call I took was telling me that the Henryetta police won the custody battle for you. Since the incident occurred in city limits, they claim it’s theirs.”

“But…” Why in the world would the Henryetta police want to look after me?

“If you need anything, tell Officer Sprout. He’ll see to it.”

I nodded, but I was less than confident about this whole mess. I suspected I’d be a lot safer hiding somewhere on my own.

Some unnamable emotion flickered over Jeff’s face. “Rose, I suspect you probably think I’m a prick after our conversation about Mason and now this, but I assure you that it’s not personal.” He lowered his voice. “And while you might not feel very safe right now, I promise that you are. I’m doing everything in my power to get you transferred back to the sheriff’s department. But for now, just sit tight.”

Rather than answering, I walked over the threshold, leaving the two law enforcement officers murmuring to each other in the doorway. I took a minute to examine my temporary new home. Two double beds covered in nasty jewel-toned polyester bedspreads filled the room. The décor was completed by an old television chained to the dresser on the opposite wall, and a wooden chair with a vinyl seat in a corner by the window. Giant dancing pickles with faces, top hats, and stick arms and legs resembling the Planter’s Mr. Peanut adorned artwork that hung over each bed. The door to the bathroom stood ajar, giving me a glimpse of a yellow laminate counter, only I was fairly certain it hadn’t been yellow when it was new forty years ago. The floor was covered in a stained brown carpet I had no intention of standing on barefoot.

After Jeff left, I found myself alone with the barely legal boy who’d been charged with guarding my life.

Officer Sprout motioned to one of the beds and the TV. “I know it’s not much, but it’s remote, so there’s little chance of him finding you here. Do you want to turn the TV on?”

I looked toward the back of the room. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep from breaking down. “I need to go to the bathroom.” The words sounded strangled.

His eyebrows lifted. “Oh. Okay.”

I hurried into the one private place left to me, shutting and locking the door behind me. I turned on the sink faucet, sat on the yellow stained toilet, and started to cry. Once I let the dam break, I couldn’t stop my tears. My shoulders shook as I tried to keep the officer from hearing me.

Daniel Crocker scared the bejiggers out of me. I had no delusions that we’d have a polite “let’s get reacquainted” chat if he found me. I was sure he’d make me wish for death long before he granted it. And I had serious doubts that the officer outside my door could protect me. Crocker’s men were hardened criminals. There wouldn’t even be a contest if they showed up. My only hope was that the motel was really remote and secretive enough that Crocker was captured before he found me.

But it also occurred to me that as far as I knew, no one other than Jeff, the deputy in the unmarked car, and Officer Sprout knew where I was. If Crocker’s men showed up and killed or kidnapped Officer Sprout, the sheriff’s office wouldn’t even know I was missing for hours.

I gasped for breath when the officer knocked on the door. “Ms. Gardner? Are you okay in there?”

I jumped up and turned off the water before opening the door.

When the officer caught sight of my tear-streaked, reddened face, his mouth fell open like it was on a hinge. I pushed past him and grabbed the phone on the nightstand.

“Ms. Gardner,” he said, following me. “You can’t call anyone.”

I sank into one of the beds, the receiver cradled against my shoulder. “I need to call Mason.” I wouldn’t ask him to come, but I at least needed him to know where I was. And I needed to hear his voice telling me everything was going to be okay.

“You can’t do that. I have orders that you aren’t allowed to call anyone. Especially him.”

“Please.” I wasn’t ashamed to beg. “I just need to talk to him for a minute.”

His eyes filled with sympathy. “I’m sorry.”

I was still holding the receiver in my hand. Would he really stop me? “Are you going to shoot me if I try it?” I started pressing in Mason’s number. “Or are you going to wrestle the phone out of my hand?”

He stood between the beds, his thumbs hanging inside his belt. He looked remarkably relaxed considering he’d been ordered not to let me call anyone. As soon as I finished entering Mason’s phone number, I realized why. The phone was dead. I put the receiver down and started to cry again.

Officer Sprout’s face twisted with horror. “I’m sorry! I didn’t make the rule. We always use this room because the phone is broken. I hear that witnesses tryin’ to make a call isn’t uncommon.”

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