The police chief looks down at his notebook for a moment before returning his gaze to the two men sitting across from him in the doctor’s lounge. They flatly refused to leave the hospital even though their wives are still unconscious. He could have pushed but the fact is they’re not suspected of any crimes. And it’s clear they’re both beside themselves with worry. So he bent the rules (one of the benefits of living in a small town), found a relatively quiet room, and had them give their statements separately. Not that it mattered, he thinks wryly. They said the same thing, practically word for word. If he had even the smallest bit of evidence to indicate they were more than just innocent tourists…
“So…your wives went for a walk and you stayed behind to watch the football game. When they didn’t come back you went looking for them and found them…” He pauses to check his notes again but not because he needs to refresh his memory. He’s found over the years that people tend to be uncomfortable with silences and often feel compelled to fill them, frequently revealing information they hadn’t meant to in the process. But no such luck with these two. He’s absolutely positive they’ve had experience speaking to the police before. And lying to them.
“You found them fighting off a wild animal. Mrs. Ford…” He looks at the older man. “Was on the ground unconscious and Mrs. Shepard…” His gaze moves to the younger man. “Was trying to protect her.” They look a lot alike despite the different last names, he notes absently, but that could just be because they’re wearing identical surgical scrub tops the nurses gave them to replace their blood soaked shirts.
“That’s right,” John responds, not bothering to hide the exhaustion in his voice. He’s tired of playing this cop’s games. All he wants is to get back to the caves, salt and burn the bodies, then return to Anna’s side.
The chief looks at him coolly. “Then the two of you were able to intervene. Unarmed. And drive the thing away. But you don’t know what kind of animal it was.” He manages to keep the disbelief out of his voice but just barely. Eight people mauled to death by this unknown animal, drained of blood entirely, and they expect him to believe they yelled “Boo!” and it ran for the hills? Leaving absolutely no trace behind?
Dean forces himself to remain relaxed. He knows what the cop’s trying to do and he can’t even blame him. He wishes they could tell the guy there won’t be any more missing people or dead bodies but there’s no way they can explain what’s been happening in his town. Not in a way that won’t earn them free trips to the loony bin anyway. Or the penitentiary, he adds, thinking of the mess still to clean up.
Enough, John thinks. There’s only one way they’re getting this guy off their scent…
“Look.” His voice seems loud in the stillness of the lounge. He rubs his hand over his face and sighs. Taking his cue from his dad Dean allows himself to slump against the back of the couch. “We…”
The chief’s senses go on high alert. Are they finally going to tell him the truth?
John sighs again and shakes his head. “I wasn’t sure about your local laws but…I did have a gun. I shot into the air and the thing ran off. Where we’re from it’s legal to carry a concealed weapon. I have a permit.” He looks embarrassed. “Frankly, I’m so used to havin’ the gun that I forgot to leave it behind when we came on vacation. My wife really got upset about that…” His voice trails off and he closes his eyes, not needing to fake the pain that wells in him as he thinks of Anna.
The chief studies their drawn faces, his police instincts telling him there’s still more to the story than they’re saying. But he also knows there’s no way he can force them to tell it. And it probably doesn’t matter anyway, he thinks grimly. Hell, he should thank them for at least confirming it is an animal that’s been killing tourists. He didn’t think it could be human but couldn’t rule out the possibility without proof.
Finally surrendering to the inevitable he hitches a smile onto his face and stands. The men rise with him. “Well, thank you for your time, Mr. Ford, Mr. Shepard. I will need you to sign your statements once they’re typed up but tomorrow’s soon enough for that.” His gaze pins John. “I’ll also need to see that weapon and the permit, Mr. Ford. Tomorrow.”
They nod but don’t say anything. His expression softens. He suddenly feels bad for treating them like suspects when they’re clearly the victims. It was just because they set off all his alarm bells. Getting paranoid in my old age, he thinks wryly. “When your wives recover enough to talk they can give their statements. The nurse will keep me updated. Until then my thoughts and prayers are with you all.”
They shake hands with the chief then watch him walk out of the room, closing the door quietly behind him. He doesn’t look back. John collapses onto the couch and blows out his breath. Dean stands rubbing his eyes. They’re a bit red from the tear gas and all he can think about now is Ladona. But the job’s not quite finished.After a few minutes John speaks quietly. “Let’s check on the women then get our supplies.” He heaves himself to his feet and they leave the room together.