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The One Who Watches

The Knox and Sheppard Mysteries, Book #4

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Chapter 1

“Where’s the witness?” Grace called down the hill to Officer Malone as she slipped every few steps down the wet asphalt, past the glowing orange pylons, struggling to maintain balance.

“Mac’s with her at the bottom!” Malone shouted as a second news truck pulled up to the yellow line of police tape he had secured.

Malone lifted it for Grace, and she thanked him, striding past an empty ambulance. The steep road leveled off; the grisly sight at the bottom of the curve churned her stomach, giving her pause.

A hot red sports car lay upside down, crunched around a pine tree, before the edge of a steep escarpment. Two firemen with cutters and spreaders worked at prying open the door on the passenger’s side.

“Hey.” Mac stepped away from the young woman trembling by her car, her clothing soaked, and her dark, wet hair stuck to her face. He met Grace in front of the wreck. “One person, the driver, and he didn’t make it.” He nodded over his shoulder. “She witnessed the whole thing and called it in. Lockwood’s on her way.”

“Do we have an I.D. on him?”

“From his plates. Tyler Gibbons. Twenty-eight. Tall Pines resident. Lives less than a kilometer from here, over on Acorn Court.”

“That’s a decent neighbourhood.”

“It is.”

“Stay with her.” Grace shoved her hands in her pockets, staring at the car. “I’ll be there to question her in a moment.”

Mac stepped aside as Grace approached one of the firefighters standing by.

“Ma’am.” He nodded to her. “Cooper Watkins.”

“Detective Grace Sheppard. How was the vic when you got here?”

“He was still alive,” Jack Holden huffed, stepping beside her. His presence was calm and somehow comforting in contrast to the brutal wreck ahead. “He was in a lot of pain, but he was crunched in there too far. We couldn’t…”

“Jack.” Grace nodded. “Were you among the first to arrive? Did you speak with him?”

“I was, but he wasn’t talking much.” Jack cleared his throat as another firefighter joined them. “He said he tried. Didn’t elaborate.”

“We’re almost ready for extraction,” another fireman called to them.

“Okay, we need to wait. They’ll need to take pictures.” Jack nodded to Grace and Cooper before walking back to the car.

“The road conditions are terrible,” Cooper said. “Maybe he tried to slow down before the turn, but he hydroplaned?”

I wouldn’t have been called out if that were the case.

Grace turned back, trying to examine any skid marks, but couldn’t make anything out across the wet pavement. A paramedic wrapped the witness in a blanket, and as he stepped away, Grace approached.

“I’m Detective Grace Sheppard. What’s your name?”

“Mindy.” Her voice trembled as she pulled the blanket closed over her chest.

“Can you tell me what happened here?”

“I was driving home from work in Amherst, and this red sports car was behind me since I got off the bridge. He was swerving and speeding, trying to pass everyone ahead, but no one was really letting him in. When we turned off Main Street, he cut me off. It rained after that, and I thought I’d better slow down and keep my distance from him, but we kept going in the same direction, and he wasn’t speeding anymore. I caught up to him after we turned onto Blackrock up there, and at the top of the hill, at the stop sign, he stopped—for a really long time—almost in the middle of the intersection.”

Grace frowned. “Did he slide to a stop, or?”

“I don’t think so. It was like he wasn’t paying attention, maybe?”

Maybe he was intoxicated.

“So he just slowed down but didn’t stop until he was almost in the middle of the intersection?”

“Right. I wanted to pass him right then, but it was raining, and he was already so erratic. You know, guys like that in a red sports car. I didn’t want to upset him. It must have been a full minute later, and no one had come up behind me, or gone through the intersection, so I pulled up and tried to get around him into the other lane, and when I drove up beside him, he turned to me. He looked at me like he’d just woken up or something. It was really strange. Then he—he just drove and didn’t stop until…”

“He stepped on the gas right then, didn’t let you go ahead.” Grace frowned. “How fast was he going?”

“Just a little faster than normal at first, but he built up momentum down the hill.”

“Was he swerving like before?”

She shook her head.

“Did he turn at the bottom to take the corner?”

She shook her head.

“Mindy, what do you think happened?”

“I don’t know,” she whispered, her chin quivering. “His brake lights came on about halfway down, but the car kept building up speed.”

“So, he tried to brake?”

“Yes.” Mindy turned to Mac. “Can I please go home?” She shivered with the blanket around her, squinting at them through the mist of rain.

“Officer MacIntyre will take your number and take you home.” Grace nodded to her. “Come back for your car in the morning, okay? Thank you for your help, and if you think of anything else, please call me.”

She gave Mindy her business card, and Mac opened the door for her. After closing it, he turned to Grace.

“I’ll be back soon.” He dropped his formal tone and added warmth to his voice as he looked to her for approval.

“Okay. See if there’s anything else she can tell us right now. I think it was more than just the crash that was disturbing to her. It was how he drove, how he stopped in the middle of the intersection, and the way he looked at her before going down and braking without stopping.”

Mac nodded and walked around the car.

“Hey,” Grace called, adding warmth to her own voice. “Drive safe.”

Mac gave her a tight-lipped smile before getting in the car, keeping his sparkling eyes on her. She watched them drive down the hill as Jack approached.

“We got him out,” he said. “He was wearing a Bluetooth headset. Might have been talking to someone.”

“I’ll look into that.” Grace turned to where Tyler Gibbons’ body lay waiting to be collected by the Chief M.E. Raven Lockwood. “Anything else you could see?”

“That’s all for now.”

“Thanks, Jack.” Grace shoved her hands in her coat pockets and turned away, looking back up the steep road.

I need his cell phone records. If someone was speaking with him before or while he drove down the hill, they might be able to explain what happened.

He might have been trying to explain it…

“Jack?” she called, turning to him. “What did he say, exactly?”

“I tried.” Jack’s somber expression broke into one of curiosity as he searched Grace’s eyes. “That’s all. Just—I tried.”

 

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