Home > Thick as Thieves(11)

Thick as Thieves(11)
Author: Sandra Brown

His chin went back a notch. “What?”

“You heard me.”

“Yeah, I did.” Moving slowly, he raised his hands shoulder high and took several steps backward, away from her. A cleft formed between his eyebrows. “Someone’s been driving past your house?”

“Every night. Almost from the day I moved in. Even before I lost the baby.”

“Have you reported it?”

She shook her head.

“Why not?”

“At first I didn’t think much of it. I passed it off as curiosity-seekers. Then after the emergency in the supermarket, I didn’t want to send up a flare and call further attention to myself.”

He digested that, then said, “Have you made out what kind of car it is?”

She took a breath. “Is it you?”

“Why would I be driving past your house every night?”

“That’s not an answer. Is it you?”

“No.”

A simple denial. No embellishment. No telltale expression. Ergo, a perfect lie. A perfect liar. “Is lying another skill you honed while in juvenile detention?”

His jaw clenched.

She wasn’t going to be deterred by his apparent anger. “The marijuana was your first offense, but it wasn’t your last, was it?”

“No.”

Her breathing shallow, she asked, “What other crime did you commit?”

Chapter 6

That night in 2000—Ledge

Stopping along the roadside minutes after pulling off a burglary, to conduct a meeting with your accomplices, in a ditch no less, was just one of the reasons that this whole escapade of Rusty’s design was all kinds of ways fucked up.

During the planning stages, Rusty had charged Ledge with the task of driving them, and he had been okay with that. In fact, he wouldn’t have had it any other way. If escape became necessary, he figured he knew more back roads than the other three. He certainly trusted himself over any of them to keep a cooler head in a tight situation.

“It only makes sense for us to convene in the parking lot of your uncle’s bar,” Rusty had told him during one of only three covert meetings they’d had in advance of the burglary.

“It will be hopping on a holiday Saturday night. Cars and pickups will be coming and going from happy hour till after last call. Our cars won’t be noticed in the overflowing lot. You’re in and out of there all the time. Christ, you live there. So nobody will think twice about you leaving and returning an hour or so later.”

As Rusty had predicted, the theft itself had been incredibly easy to pull off. When Foster opened the vault, Rusty had exhaled a short laugh. “That’s a fucking lot of Easter bonnets and chocolate bunnies.”

They didn’t stand around congratulating one another, though. They’d hastily stuffed the banded bills into one large canvas bag provided by Foster. As they’d left with it, Ledge had halfway expected an ambush. At any given heartbeat, he’d feared spotlights hitting them, SWAT officers swarming, and a cop with a bullhorn shouting for them to drop facedown and place their hands behind their heads.

It hadn’t happened. Ledge had driven them away while the same mean-looking cat that had been eating from a pile of garbage when they’d arrived was still eating from it when they’d left. Not even he had scurried for cover behind the row of dumpsters behind the store.

But now, after having made a clean getaway with their haul, when they were halfway between Welch’s and the bar in the middle of freaking nowhere, Rusty told him to pull over.

“Pull over? What the hell for?” Ledge spoke for himself as well as for the two in the back seat, who shared his incredulity and were vocal about it.

“Just do it,” Rusty said, squelching their chorus of protests. “We need to lay some ground rules before we split up.”

The car was still rolling to a stop on the shoulder when Rusty opened the door and got out, taking the money bag into the ditch with him. The back of Ledge’s neck began prickling with apprehension, and it lasted the whole while they were huddled in that damn, stinking ditch. While pretending to be cool and unruffled, he’d kept a close eye on Rusty. Ledge wouldn’t put it past him to whip out a pistol and shoot the three of them right there.

As it turned out, he’d only wanted to assert his authority. The son of a bitch.

Strangely, though, Ledge felt even more uneasy now as they were climbing out of the ditch. Foster slipped, and Ledge had to lend him a helping hand. He didn’t like not having his hands free, and for a fleeting moment, it occurred to him that Foster’s bumbling might have been a ruse to distract him.

But all Foster did once he made it up the slope was to thank Ledge. Without further mishap, the four of them piled back into the car.

But the tension inside it was palpable. At least among three of them. Rusty appeared to be untroubled. Riding in the passenger seat, he whistled softly through his teeth and used his fingers against his knee to drum out a beat only he could hear.

They didn’t meet a single vehicle as they took the turnoff toward the lakeshore and Burnet’s. Ledge drove to the farthest, darkest edge of the parking lot where tree limbs were so low, the Spanish moss hanging from them brushed against the windshield.

He pulled to a stop but left the motor running. In an atmosphere of hostility and mistrust, he said, “Nobody followed us, but we’d better scatter quick.”

“I agree,” said Rusty. “I’ve said everything that needed saying.”

“You said more than needed saying.”

The complaint had been muttered, but Rusty heard it. “Hey, Ledge,” he said conversationally, “why do you think it is that Joe doesn’t do his drinking here? Why doesn’t he give your uncle Henry his business? Do you reckon he thinks nobody knows he’s an alky?”

The back door slammed hard enough to rock the car.

Angrily, Ledge said to Rusty, “Why not just lay off?”

“I didn’t mean any offense. Truly,” Rusty said with exaggerated earnestness. Then he looked into the back seat and changed his tone to a threatening one. “Foster, if you fuck up, we’re all fucked.”

“I won’t. I promise.” The accountant scrambled out and disappeared into the maze of vehicles.

Rusty opened the passenger door and pulled the canvas bag from the floorboard. He patted it affectionately and grinned across at Ledge. “Well, see you around, partner.”

Moving faster than Rusty could blink, Ledge’s right arm cut an arc across the console, his fingers locking around Rusty’s wrist like bands of iron. “Hear me, and hear me good, you prick. You had better hope that nothing bad happens to my uncle or this place, because if something does, I’m gonna assume you’re behind it, and I’ll come after you, and I will kill you.”

Knowing he’d made himself understood, he released Rusty as swiftly as he’d grabbed him. Rusty appeared too shocked, too afraid maybe, to move. Then he climbed out with the bag and closed the door.

Ledge put the car in gear and drove away, out of the parking lot.

Although he realized that his uncle and Don could use an extra pair of hands on such a busy night, he couldn’t face them just yet. They would know right away that something was bothering him, and when they probed him for a reason, he would have to lie, and they would detect that, too.

His getting caught smoking pot and having to go to detention had come as a disappointment to his uncle. But Henry had been unwavering in his support. They had weathered that dim chapter in Ledge’s life without Henry losing all faith in him.

So God forbid that Henry ever find out what he’d done tonight. Sick over the mere thought of that possibility, he headed back toward town and Crystal’s house. He could shelter there with her for a while. She didn’t require him to make conversation.

The squad car’s flashers didn’t come on until it was right on his tail, and the lights nearly blinded him, causing him to swerve toward the shoulder.

He braked hard and skidded to a stop in the gravel.

His heart began racing. His breathing turned choppy. Mentally chanting, No way they could know. No way they could know, he watched the two sheriff’s deputies in his side mirrors as they approached, one on each side of the car. He placed his hands on the steering wheel at ten and two.

The one who came to the driver’s side shone a flashlight in his face. “Hey there, Ledge.” He kept the beam of his flashlight on Ledge’s face, while the other, on the passenger side, swept his over the interior of the car. Ledge wondered if there was mud from the ditch on the floorboard. Shit!

“Keep your hands where I can see them, Ledge,” the deputy instructed. “Open the door slow, and get out.”

“What did you stop me for?”

“Get out,” he repeated.

Ledge did as ordered. “Why’d you stop me?”

“Assume the position.”

“You gotta be kidding.”

“Do I look like I’m kidding?”

“I wasn’t even speeding.”

“Assume the position!” the officer shouted.

Ledge turned and placed his hands on the roof of the car and set his feet wide apart. While the deputy was patting him down, the other was rifling through his glove box. “There’s nothing in there,” Ledge said.

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