It has been a long and relentless pursuit, but now it is over. He is out there on the corner standing under the plane trees, waiting for me, and soon I must go out. And when I do he will kill me.
I have been trapped, trapped by my own memory, and by my own curiosity. Standing out there in the softly falling rain, he, too, knows this is an end, for I can no longer hope to escape.
There is no one to whom I can turn. The police? He is of the police, and who would believe the fantastic story I would have to tell? Who would believe the murderer they all have sought is there, on the police force, one of them.
Oddly enough, I have known all the time. From the very beginning the knowledge was in my mind, lying dormant there until a vague recollection startled it to life once more. I never thought of this thing, never dreamed it could be true until that day in the Hall of Justice when I met him face to face after so many years.
He must have been aware of danger. He saw my startled expression, saw my backward glance, and he must have remembered me. Of course, it was probable that he failed to realize that my mind had bridged the gap of years and was fitting the pieces into place. He may only have felt that if I remembered him, and then I might eventually talk of that night.
That might begin an investigation, and it was his great security that he was immune to investigation, that he could not, would not be suspected. He had never been suspected in connection with the murder of Mary Humbert because he, himself, was the officer in charge!
It was the murder of Mary Humbert that started me thinking, and that was two years ago. At the time it was only a sudden curiosity, a response to a casual reference to a detective who had picked up a stranded motorist on the night of the murder. He had picked her up not far from where the body was found.
It was my first reading of that line, lost in the discussion of identifying the body, that started me thinking. Suppose the detective were the criminal, and was afraid he had been seen nearby with the victim, that reference to the motorist would make him seem innocent. He would also have his story on record. Naturally, the comment was passed over and no one seemed to notice but myself.
He would not know how much I had guessed of what happened that night, but he would be afraid.. . . .
When the third of the killings took place, all women with similar features, my curiosity was aroused. Checking back through the files I found the name of the officer and determined to look him up. Then, busy with the multitude of harassing details that make up our modern and inconvenient life, I forgot again. I forgot until that day we came face to face in the corridor.
He was a tall, dark man in a tan suit, walking briskly along the hall with another man, yet instantly, I recognized him. It had been a decade and a half, and circumstances had changed for both of us. We had never liked each other in the old days, and several times were on the verge of blows, so I did not stop him. His real name I had never known, so I asked an officer standing nearby.
"That?" he said agreeably. "Why, that's Detective Lieutenant Lane, of homicide."
Lane turned then, and glanced back. He saw us staring after him and must have guessed the question I was asking.
Of course, he could not know that I had noticed that single line of reference to him in the account of the murder of Mary Humbert.
He would be thinking of that other time, of that night in the shack. He would not know how much I had guessed of what happened that night, but he would be afraid. His safety hung by so slender a thread that a thoughtless question might start someone in authority to wondering. That someone might check back, and then things would begin to fall into place.
We had been living in a shack on a muddy hillside above the harbor, a half dozen casuals of the waterfront, waiting for ships or for the winter to pass. He had come in one night with mud and blood on his clothes. He explained, and I was the only one in the shack that night, that there had been an accident and he had approached the victim to see if he could help just before the ambulance arrived.
Only the next day there was no account of an accident in the news ... but neither was there any story covering a murder.
When I lift my eyes I can see him standing there beneath the large leaved trees, standing in the shadows near the blotched white and tan of the tree trunks. Over his head the leaves are very thick and the rain is not heavy enough to penetrate to where he stands. The night is not cold, and he is dry there, and in these past weeks I have learned how patient he can become.
That he is a careful man I discovered not long since when I attempted to leave by the back door of the basement. He had broken a key in the lock. My telephone is out of order, too, so I can not call for help. There is no one in the house but myself. I am alone, and soon he may decide not to wait. He may cross the street and come up the steps to my door.
What could one more murder mean to him? How many had he killed in these past fifteen years? Had that girl, the one I eventually discovered he murdered that rainy night on the muddy hill above our shack, had she been the first? Or was she one more link in a long and bloody chain?
Yet, no matter how many persons he had killed, he had gone free. He had even worked himself into the job in Homicide. Probably much of the missing fifteen years had been spent right here on this police force. He would have friends, men who respected him and his work. He might have a wife and children. Only one man could give him away, and I was that man.
I am that man.
When I look across the street, he is still there. Yet the hour is growing late, and fewer cars are passing by. The house is empty. It will be very simple for him. He will say he wanted to question me, but I started to run. He ordered me to halt, then fired. He is a careful man, so no doubt he has evidence he can plant, a little dope or a gun, something of that nature.
My house stands alone. The street curves here, and across from me there is a large park surrounded by a high wrought iron fence. A walk runs outside that fence and it is shaded by the plane trees under which he waits.
To the left of the house is a deep, chaparral grown canyon with steep sides. To my right is a vacant lot, a building being demolished, a supermarket now closed and dark, and beyond several other dark, silent buildings.
Behind there is a large area that belongs to the city but remains unused. The building in which I wait
- End of Fragment -
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