Seeing old friends isn't always a good thing.
Not many people run the trails along Riverside Drive after the sun goes down, one of the reasons Detective Kenny Elliot chose to do so, but another runner occupied the trail, and her silhouette bounced quickly toward him.
A sluggish wind blew across the Arkansas River, carrying an odor of decaying marine life, and suddenly a mood of darkness that had little to do with lack of sunlight engulfed Elliot's senses.
Elliot stepped off the pathway to avoid colliding with the runner, but in an unanticipated move, she came to a stop as well, and though she remained on the path she turned toward Elliot.
They stood only a few feet apart, and even in the small amount of light that filtered in from different sources, Elliot recognized her. She looked exactly as he remembered her. She'd often described herself as being half Native American and half Irish. She tossed her hair back, revealing her silver and turquoise earrings.
Elliot wiped perspiration from his forehead. She'd worn them the last time he'd seen her. When he broke the silence by forcing out one word, it came out as more of a question than a declaration. "Laura?"
With a sad look on her face, she seemed about to speak, but instead she turned away and resumed her run.
Elliot watched as she put distance between them. He was a cop, trained to know the difference between imagination and concrete detail, and yet, like a dream that fades upon awakening, he was already having trouble believing what he'd witnessed. He'd never been able to read Laura. As if she'd had some sort of defense up, everything about her was fuzzy. He was about to go after her when his phone went off. He didn't know the number, but he answered it anyway.
The caller sounded apprehensive, unsure he'd done the right thing. "Elliot? That you?"
The voice danced around Elliot's memory, but he couldn't place it. Happened all the time in his line of work. "Do I know you?"
"Sure you do. Come on, it's me, Gerald."
"You know, as in Stanley Gerald."
The name jolted Elliot back a few years. He glanced over his shoulder to see if the runner was still there, but she was not. "You've got to be kidding me?"
"I wish I were, but something's come up. I thought you should know about it."
A dull pain formed in Elliot's stomach. He stepped back onto the trail and began a steady walk back to his vehicle. "What is it?"
After a pause he said, "Do you remember Laura Bradford?"
Elliot's mouth went dry. It had been Laura Bradford he'd just seen on the running trail. He reached for the water bottle attached to his waist. Laura Bradford had disappeared during his and Gerald's senior year at Oklahoma State. Gerald had been a suspect. "What about her?"
As if reading Elliot's mind, Gerald said, "I didn't have anything to do with it. I was in love with her, Elliot. I always imagined we'd be together. And for all these years since, it's like she's been there all along, just beneath the surface, but now. . . ."
Elliot pressed the phone against his ear. "What are you trying to say?"
"She's back. I've seen her."
Elliot took another swallow of water. He wondered what the odds were of seeing an old acquaintance you had thought dead, and getting a phone call from her boyfriend saying that he, too, had seen her. "Maybe it was just somebody who looked like her."
"You don't understand. I didn't just see someone similar, strolling along the sidewalk, or notice a familiar face in a crowd. She was in my car, Elliot. I glanced over and there she was, sitting beside me, staring at me with those dark eyes, like an answer to a prayer."
Elliot closed his eyes, trying to make sense of it all. He wondered if Gerald was pulling some type of sick prank. He didn't believe it, though. He'd questioned plenty of people in his time, developing a feel for whether or not they were being straight with him. Gerald was telling the truth, as he knew it. "What happened next?"
"I'm not sure. I mean, it's complicated."
Elliot reached his truck in the parking lot. It didn't seem wise to tell Gerald about his own encounter with Laura, not until he knew more about what was happening. "What do you mean you're not sure? What's going on, Gerald?"
"There's a lot you don't know. It's why I called. I mean, you're with the police, right? We need to talk."
Elliot started the truck. He wasn't sure how Gerald knew he was a cop, but his voice carried an underlying current of urgency he couldn't ignore. "What did you have in mind?"
"How about breakfast?"
He and Gerald and the ghost of Laura. The thought conjured up images of a strange dinner date at Eskimo Joe's, a bar and grill in Stillwater near the college, something Elliot had not consciously tried to forget, but had certainly shoved to the back of his mind. "Sure."
"Are you familiar with The Savoy?"
Elliot thought about the small restaurant on Sheridan Road. "I know where it is."
"I'll be sitting at the table in the southwest corner of the southern section. Ten o'clock, okay?"
"That'll be fine. And it's good to hear from you, Gerald. You caught me off guard, that's all."
"Off guard? You and me both, Elliot."
Captain William Dombrowski leaned against the doorway to his office and watched Detective Elliot walk past, head down, something on his mind, the way he got when he worked a case that mattered to him. No, that wasn't putting it right. All of Elliot's cases mattered to him. But certain cases commanded his attention on a different level.
Elliot had more levels and layers than anyone Dombrowski had ever met. A hard guy to figure, keeping to himself for the most part. If you were looking for the life of the party in Elliot, you'd be looking in the wrong place, but if you were in the field and needed someone to watch your back, he was your man. You couldn't do better. Saying Elliot had a strong survival instinct was an understatement. What he possessed was a come-out-on-top, win-at-all-cost monitoring system that was humbling to say the least.
Dombrowski shook his head. The Zimmerman case came to mind. It'd been quintessential Elliot from the start. Dombrowski often wondered if anyone else could have solved it, but it always got him to thinking, wondering exactly how Elliot had pulled it off. He didn't like going down that road.
Elliot tried another search engine and another set of parameters related to Laura Bradford. He got a few hits, but nothing matched what he was looking for. Later, Dombrowski came out of his office and stopped at Elliot's cube. "What's up?" Dombrowski asked.
Elliot leaned back in his chair and swiveled around. He considered saying he'd received a strange phone call last night and he was looking for answers, trying to make sense of it, but it would come out sounding ridiculous. And Dombrowski hadn't asked him what he was doing, what he was working on. "Just trying to get some work done."
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about," Dombrowski said. "You seem preoccupied. Everything all right?"
Something was bothering Dombrowski, but he was tiptoeing around the issue. "I'm fine," Elliot said.
"How's your son doing?"
Dombrowski was making small talk. Something was definitely wrong. "He's doing well, playing football this year."
"I guess it was pretty tough on you," Dombrowski said, "finding out . . . ."
Elliot had just learned a few months ago he had a son, that he was a father. The captain didn't finish the sentence, but Elliot knew what he meant. A surprise of such magnitude wasn't easy to deal with. Carmen had kept it from him, but he didn't blame her. There was a lot more to it. They'd been separated in high school, both of them ending up thinking the other didn't care. A twist of fate and a murder investigation had brought them back in touch a few months ago. It was then that Carmen had told him. "Yeah," he said.
The captain gave Elliot a pat on the back. "We'll talk later."
Elliot noticed an email from Buddy Wheeler, an assistant coach at Oklahoma State who still kept in touch. He'd sent some humorous football related photos. Elliot replied to the email and logged off the computer. Dombrowski was acting strange. The last thing Elliot needed was a problem at work. He had enough to worry about already. As usual when he was under stress, he thought of Carmen, a source of comfort. He'd hoped they might patch things up, maybe even get back together, but it didn't look promising. He pushed back from his desk and stood. His trip down memory lane had faded his appetite, but he'd promised Gerald he'd be there. He left the office and headed for 61st and Sheridan.
Bob Avey is the author of the Detective Elliot mystery series,
which includes, Twisted Perception (2006), and Beneath a Buried
House (2008). In addition, he has published various short stories
and non-fiction articles. He lives with his wife and son in
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma where he works as an accountant in the
When he's not writing, reading, or researching crime, and crime scene investigation, he spends his time roaming through ghost towns searching for echoes from the past. Through his writing, which he describes as a blend of literary and genre, he explores the intricacies and extremities of human nature.
Bob is a member of The Tulsa NightWriters, The Oklahoma Writers Federation (active board member for 2006), The Oklahoma Mystery Writers, and Mystery Writers of America.
Find out more at: http://www.bobavey.com