Big Sky Siren (continued)

BigSkySiren3C

Tony held up his I.D. “Are you Mac Ryan?”

Mac leaned out the door to read the ID. “Yeah. What do you want?”

“I have a few questions to ask you. Is it okay if I come in?” Tony placed his I.D in his pocket.

Mac blinked his eyes in rapid succession and shook his head, as though trying to wake up a bit more. “Is Keeva okay? What happened?”

“A couple of teenagers were attacked tonight, and you were seen jogging in the area. I’m talking to anyone who might have seen anything.”

Mac hesitated and this time stared at Tony, unblinking. “Why are you bothering me? I didn’t see anyone.” He started to push the door shut but Tony stopped it with his foot.

“Let me make this clear,” Tony had expected the resistance but it irritated him just the same, “this isn’t a pick-and-choose scenario.” He placed his hand on the edge of the door, pushing it open a little more. “If you want to make it difficult, I can always make you a person of interest. Then you get to have this conversation at the station.”

They both stood there staring. Tony hoped Mac would become cooperative. Then he saw Mac’s facial muscles relax and heard him release a breath. Tony loosened his grip on the door.

Mac stepped back, giving Tony room to step in. He cleared some clothes and threw them on the couch, motioning for Tony to sit in the place he cleared. He plopped himself opposite Tony. The place looked like any single man’s apartment, furniture not too new, a pizza box with a few old slices in it, laying open on the coffee table. There was an empty beer bottle and several empty soda cans scattered on the same table.

He pulled out the pictures of Madison and Todd, placing them on the table in front of Mac. He watched him look, tilt his head, and then he could see the recognition. Okay, time for truth or dare.

“Yeah, I have seen them before, but not tonight.” He handed the pictures back to Tony. “Were they attacked at the Guardian?”

“You mean the old fire tower that looks over downtown?”

Mac nodded.

Tony considered Mac’s revelation and the Guardian’s close proximity to the attack. “No, it was a few blocks away. Why do you mention it?”

“A few nights ago I was doing sprints up Cruse Avenue and decided to push myself and sprinted up the hill to the Guardian, and they were up there.” Mac rubbed his hands together.

Tony noted the nervous action and it triggered new concerns. Mac had recognized them quickly. It would have been dark at the Guardian at night and he would not have had a good look at them. Had he seen them other times? Tony wondered how often and why they’d been out so late.

“Like I was saying, these kids were attacked. The boy brutally, and we believe, if he hadn’t been stopped, the girl would have been next.”

Mac lifted his shoulders and splayed his hands, “Why would anyone attack a couple of kids?” Mac’s eyes searched Tony’s for an answer.

A hollowness filled Tony’s stomach. There was no good answer for what had happened to Todd. “Maybe if we knew why, we might be able to figure out who did it. What were Todd and Madison, that’s their names, by the way, what were they doing when you saw them at the Guardian?”

“When I first saw them they were pretty hot and heavy, but became scared shitless when they saw me. I told them they’d better go since it was kind of late for them to be out.” Mac shifted on the couch. “I left and figured they left a few minutes after me.”

Tony crossed an ankle over his knee and sat up straighter. The lack of sleep and the lumpy chair had begun to take their toll on him and he missed the comfortable bed he had vacated over three hours ago. The non-stop investigating of a violent crime often pushed the detectives to exhaustion, and he disliked not being on his A-game. He sucked in a breath reviving himself. “What time were you out last night?

Mac closed his eyes, moving his head back and forth as though doing mental calculations and then he looked at Tony, “I can’t tell you what time I left, but I know I got home around 11:30 to 11:45. I’m guessing I was out running about two hours.”

Granted, Mac’s timeline didn’t match the attack, but he could be lying. “Anyone see you come home?”

“Yes, my neighbor, she’s a nurse and just got home from her shift. We waved, she went inside and I stood outside stretching for a few minutes.”

With the apartment only a few blocks away, would he have had time to run back out? Keeva would have recognized her own brother. Still, he needed facts and right now he had none. Tony would check with the neighbor, but now he was beginning to feel like Jimmy had sent him on a wild goose chase. The idiot.

“Why were you out so late?”

Tony didn’t know if Mac would be of help, but he was trying to put the pieces of a thousand-piece puzzle together, and he felt like he had too many missing ones. He had a crime that appeared senseless, witnesses unable to describe the perpetrator, and his only suspect, appeared innocent. Each piece he could gather had the potential to bring him closer to solving the puzzle.

Mac kept his focus on the floor, but began speaking. “I run to the V.A. Cemetery.”

“Come again?” Tony asked. The response surprised him. Why would someone run to a cemetery in the middle of the night?

“It’s just where I go.” Mac flopped forward, his elbows on his knees and his head down. After a moment, he lifted his head and even though the room had little light, Tony could see Mac’s eyes were damp.  Mac took in a deep breath and exhaled. “The V.A. counselors told me to find a hobby, you know, something to do when I can’t sleep. The problem is the only thing I can do right now is run.”

“And you run to the V.A.? That’s quite a jog from here for that time of night.”

“I don’t know where else to go. Besides someone I lost is buried there, and I go to see him.” He dropped his head again and placed both hands across the back of his head.

Until now Mac’s name hadn’t meant anything to Tony, but he began to piece together things he remembered. About six months ago, the local paper had run an article about several local Marines stationed together in Afghanistan. An Improvised Explosive Device killed one of them. The picture under the headline had shown another Marine, in full dress, saluting over a grave. Mac had been that Marine. “The cemetery.” He stroked the bristles on his chin with his forefinger and thumb. “Wasn’t your friend killed in Afghanistan?” Tony knew the extremes PTSD drove people to, but now he wondered how far it drove Mac.

“That’s history and I don’t want to talk about it. What else do you need?” He sounded weary. “I’m tired and you interrupted one of the few nights of sleep I’ve had in a long time.” Mac lifted his head and pushed his fingers through the rebellious curls. “Enough about my sorry life.” His voice sounded steadier.

Tony took his cue and continued, “Like I was saying, those kids were attacked, the boy brutally. If you saw anything, now is the time to tell me.”

“How are they” Mac asked.

Tony let his question drop. He knew what he needed to know, for now. “Todd is being flown to Denver. He has some type of head trauma. Madison is fine, hysterical but not harmed thanks to your sister.”

“Keeva?” Mac pushed himself up a little straighter. “What does she have to do with this?”

“She was working and heard Madison screaming. She ran into the alley across from her café to help Madison, and the guy ran off.”

Mac’s face blanched. “What the hell was she thinking? He could’ve hurt her.”

Tony admired Mac’s protective instinct. He had the same relationship with his own sister. “I told her the same thing, but she’s okay. Keeva is the only witness we have besides Todd and Madison.” Drawing in a deep breath, he continued, “Madison is not able to remember much right now, and Todd is in a coma, so…”

Mac shook his head, “Damn her, she doesn’t think. I can’t believe she just ran into the alley.” His eyes widened. “Wait, you don’t think I had anything to do with hurting Todd and Madison, do you?” The creases that formed between Mac’s eyes expressed his annoyance. “Is that why you’re really here?”

Tony shook his head. “I need to know what you saw last night. I don’t know who hurt those kids though I intend to find out.” Mac’s behavior concerned him, but he doubted he committed a crime, at worst he had witnessed one. “If that means questioning everyone and anyone who could have seen something, I will.”

Mac lifted his head slightly off his hands, “Who told you they saw me running?”

Tony placed both feet on the floor and leaned forward. The evidence didn’t prove if the kids were targeted or attacked at random. Since people were creatures of habit, he doubted this had been the first time the attacker had been in the alley late at night. Maybe Mac had seen more than he realized on one of his runs. “From one of our officers,” he paused, “Jimmy Smith.” Tony saw the muscles in Mac’s jaw tense in response to the name. He wondered what history the men shared.

“I didn’t see anything unusual.” Mac rubbed one arm with the other hand. “I knew Jimmy in high school and he’s always been an ass. But why would he think I wouldn’t call the police if I saw something suspicious?”

Tony suddenly liked Mac a little better. Anyone who shared his opinion of Smith was a good enough guy, and he smiled at Mac’s comment. “How about telling me what you saw, or didn’t see and I’ll decide what is relevant and what isn’t?”

“Damn it. That’s just it. I didn’t see or do anything.” He balled his fists and closed his eyes for a moment. “The run to the VA is just short of ten miles. I add a few blocks to round it out and tonight I ran up to Last Chance Gulch and around the café. I saw Keeva’s light on upstairs.” He leaned back on the couch. “She gets pissed and gives me grief when I run late at night so I just headed back without stopping there. I saw Jimmy right before I turned down Last Chance Gulch. He was parked on the corner of Last Chance and 12th Avenue.”

Tony rested his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands together. He wanted Mac to continue focusing on the teens and any encounters he might have had with them. “When I showed you those pictures, how did you recognize Todd and Madison if you only saw them for a few minutes in the dark?”

“I never said that was the only time I saw them.” Mac stood and walked over to the refrigerator, pulling out two bottles of water. “When I mentioned the fire tower, you asked about seeing them there. I met them once before and talked to them a bit. Mostly Todd, but it was Madison who started it all.”

A sense of elation lifted Tony and he felt his instincts about Mac’s knowledge would pay off. “Do you remember what day and around what time you first saw them? And where?” Tony stopped himself from asking too many questions so Mac could process the ones he asked.

Mac held the door open as though thinking. The two water bottles dangled from one hand, the refrigerator still open. “Oh, shit, Madison must have been right.” The refrigerator door inched to a close when Mac let it go and moved away.

Mac handed Tony a bottle of water and stepped back to lean against the apartment’s small kitchen counter. “I saw them a few weeks back. They were turning off Helena Avenue, near Jackson Street.” His voice lowered. “Crap, I can’t believe this is happening.”

Something in the way Mac lowered his voice, as though ready to reveal something new, lessened a piece of Tony’s tension. The pressure that had gripped his muscles all night began to loosen. “Mac, if you know something, now is the time to talk.” Lifting the dew-covered bottle, he swallowed some of the cold water.

“I didn’t think much of it at the time, but Madison thought someone had followed them.” Mac shook his head and blew out a breath. “About two weeks ago,” he paused, “I was jogging down Helena Avenue, adding in the few extra blocks. I saw them walking when they stopped me.”  He tapped the bottle against his chin and a red mark grew against his pale skin. “Well, Madison stopped me. Todd kept telling her to let it go. At that time I had never seen them before, and at first worried they were up to no good.” He stilled. “But Madison seemed pretty scared. She said she thought some guy was following them. Todd insisted he hadn’t seen anyone and that she was just nervous.”

Stepping back to the chair, Mac folded his long frame into the low chair. Tony admired the younger man’s agility. “Man, this is awful.” He continued. “She asked me to stand and wait until Todd walked her to the door, then she wanted me to stay with Todd.” He shrugged. “You could tell he was embarrassed. I told him it was fine and that I could use some company for the end of the run, so I waited.”

Tony read Mac’s sincerity, but something about Madison stopping a stranger didn’t fit. Speaking to a different stranger because she was afraid of one stranger didn’t make sense. “Why you? For all they knew you were the one who had followed them?”

Mac nodded. “When Madison stopped me she asked if I was ‘the marine’ from the paper. I had just run under a street light and I guess she recognized me.”

He shifted, looking uncomfortable at the reminder and Tony guessed there was more than notoriety that bothered Mac about the article.

“When Todd got back he said he didn’t need a babysitter.” He shrugged. “Who can blame  him? I’d have balked, too. I reassured him about having some company.  He said he lived in Reeders Village. I had to go that far and was able to convince him I was chill with it.”

Tony waited while Mac paused, noticing how he took his time just like Keeva. They were similar not just in looks but in other ways. They kept the same odd hours and because of that habit, they were both involved in this mess. Thoughts of Keeva sent a warm rush through him. “Did you see anyone while you accompanied Todd?”

“No, that’s just it, I didn’t see anyone around.” His wide-eyed expression looked disbelieving at Tony. “Hell, I may be a Marine, but I’m not an ass. If I saw anybody who could have been a problem, I’d have called the cops.” He took a swallow of water. “Todd told me he didn’t think anyone had been following them, so I figured Madison imagined it.” Mac set his now-empty water bottle on the table. “Damn. I asked why he didn’t drive her home, or have his parents drive her and he said his parents didn’t care for Madison. They thought she was a bit wild for him, so he never told them he was with her. He’d wait until they went to bed and sneak out to meet her on the corner where she stopped me.”

Mac’s fingers intertwined, and he placed them palms out against his forehead. “God, I wish I would have knocked and woke them up.”

Tony felt sorry for Mac. Seems like he had enough troubles without the guilt of what had happened tonight. “Don’t beat yourself up. I think his parents ignored Todd’s behavior. It was their job to watch their son, not yours.” He moved to the edge of the chair. “He seems to be the golden kid that could do no wrong. His father told me he knew Todd was sneaking out. He thought it was the boys out partying.” Tony knew his own father would have knocked him into next Sunday if he’d caught him sneaking out. But he met quite a few fathers who thought it okay for their sons to break a few rules. “He said boys will be boys.” Tony rested his forearms across his legs.

“I forgot all about Madison’s concern. It didn’t even ping the radar until I began thinking about the night I met them.” Mac’s words slid out in a monotone.

Mac clenched his head with his interlaced hands. “Man, this is so fucked up. When I saw them again, I just told them to leave the fire tower. God, I wish I’d done more.”

“You helped. Now I can work with the idea someone might have targeted Todd and Madison specifically. I’ll talk to Madison and Keeva again tomorrow and see if they can recall more details.”

Pushing himself up to his feet, Tony stretched. It felt good to move. “Your information gave me a lot to work with. If you saw them, so did someone else. Even if Madison can’t remember much about last night, I bet she’ll remember what spooked her some of the previous nights.” Tony walked to the door and grabbed the handle. He turned back to Mac. “Sorry to have woken you. If you remember anything, call me no matter what the time.”

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