Long Bright River

Then she follows me upstairs. She sits down on the sofa and takes a book out of her purse.

I go to the closet and reach toward the top shelf, toward the lockbox where I keep my weapon, a department-issued Glock with a five-inch handle. I’ve never had any desire for an alternate personal weapon before today. Today, I wish for something smaller, more compact, something I could easily carry undetected.

Instead, I’ll have to put on my duty belt and fit the bulky weapon into it. I have a jacket big enough to conceal the whole thing, but it still feels cumbersome.

* * *

Back in the living room, Mrs. Mahon looks up from her book.

—Mrs. Mahon, I say, don’t open the door for anyone.

—I never do, says Mrs. Mahon.

—Not even the police, I say.

Mrs. Mahon looks suddenly worried. What’s going on? she says.

—I’m trying to figure that out, I say.

* * *

    I pull out of our driveway so quickly that the tires on Mrs. Mahon’s Kia squeal. It does, indeed, have good pickup. I have to remind myself that I’m not on duty, not in a cruiser. The last thing I need is to be pulled over. I slow to a more reasonable speed.

At this time of night, going slightly above the speed limit, it only takes me half an hour to get to Truman’s house in Mount Airy.

I park on his street, half a block from his house, and quietly get out of the car.

It’s eleven at night now. Most of the houses are dark. Truman’s is still light inside, though, and from the street I can see his bookshelves and the many volumes they contain. I don’t see Truman. I walk unseen to his porch.

Tiptoeing now, I ascend the stairs and look through a window. Both Truman and his mother are in the lit-up living room, Truman reading, his mother dozing in her armchair.

I look hard at him. He seems very interested in whatever he’s reading: I can’t get a look. He’s prone on the couch, barefoot, and with one foot he scratches the other.

He says something to his mother that I can’t make out. Maybe Go to bed, Ma. Wake up, time for bed.

Then his gaze shifts from his mother to the window. For a second, it seems like he’s looking right at me. I drop to the ground. I huddle there, my back against the wall of the house. But the front door doesn’t open, and finally my breathing slows down.

Eventually, I creep back down the steps, staying low. I head to Mrs. Mahon’s car. Get inside.

From this vantage point, I watch the house.

Five minutes go by. Ten. Then, at last, Truman rises from the sofa. In the window, he is silhouetted by the lamp behind him. He walks across the room. There is still, I notice, a slight hitch in his step.

That’s when the first glimmer of doubt settles into my stomach. And a question occurs to me that, perhaps, I should have been asking all along. Was the attack that sent Truman out on disability random, as he led everyone to believe?

Or was his assailant motivated by something else?

More questions occur to me, one after another.

Was he telling me the truth about visiting Dock? He went to find him twice, and each time reported back to me about his day. But I have no evidence, in fact, that either of these visits actually happened.

Was any of it true?

* * *

Abruptly, the lights in Truman’s house go off.

It’s then that a final thought occurs to me, sickly. One that I can’t push aside. It was Truman who first suggested to me that Simon might be the culprit. Standing on the other side of his house, in the backyard, he asked me to make that leap with him. And then he left me hanging out to dry when Mike DiPaolo told me I was crazy.

* * *

It’s getting cold now. I can see my breath. Every so often, I turn the car on, run the heat, and then shut it off again. I turn on the radio.

My goal: to stay awake until Truman Dawes leaves his house. And then to follow him, just as I followed Simon, at Truman’s urging.

At 7:30, I wake up with a jolt. I’m freezing, so cold that I can’t feel my fingers or toes. I rub my hands together quickly. I will my stiff joints to move. I turn the key in the ignition and let it run for a while, waiting for it to warm up.

Truman’s car, I am glad to see, is still in his driveway.

Slowly, the blood returns to my hands and feet, throbbing as it does. The car is warm enough to blast the heat now, and I do.

I check my phone. No messages, no calls.

I know I’m going to be hungry soon, and I also have to use the bathroom. I look at Truman’s house, calculating. There’s a Wawa only five minutes from here. If I go, there’s a chance I might lose him, but I might have a long day ahead of me, and I doubt I can hold it.

Impulsively, I pull out and head for the convenience store, still going just a little too fast.

* * *

When I get back to Truman’s street a little before eight—bladder relieved, water and coffee and breakfast and lunch obtained—his car is backing out of his driveway. I pull over, nervous that he’s going to drive right by me and see me in the car. But he drives in the opposite direction, and after a few beats, I pull out and follow him.

Mrs. Mahon’s Kia is a very forgettable white sedan, nothing that will look familiar to Truman. I wish again that I had some undercover training. Without it, I do my best to drive on instinct: following him a couple of car lengths behind, praying that I hit the same lights he does. Once, I run a red to keep up with him. A nearby driver honks incredulously, flips me off. Sorry, I mouth.

* * *

Truman follows Germantown Avenue southeast for several miles. All roads, I think, lead to Kensington. I know where we’re headed, and I’m not surprised, but a feeling of dread is growing inside me.

I don’t want to know the truth.

He makes no stops. He drives slowly, ambling, not rushing. It takes all of my willpower to do the same, to refrain from passing him. Truman used to make fun of me for being a speed demon, for driving recklessly, when we were in the car together.

When he gets to Allegheny, he turns left. So do I. He follows Allegheny east, and then parks abruptly just before Kensington Ave.

I pass him and park slightly ahead. I watch him in my rearview, now, and then my side mirrors, not turning around.

He gets out of his car.

He’s walking slowly, maybe because of his knee. He turns a corner onto Kensington.

Only when he’s out of sight do I jump out of Mrs. Mahon’s car and run in the direction of the Ave. I don’t want to lose sight of him.

I’m relieved to see the back of Truman when I turn the same corner he did, but now I’m too close on his heels. My jacket has a hood, and I pull it up over my head and lean against a wall for a minute, trying to put some distance between the two of us while not looking suspicious. I’m probably failing.

I glance at Truman sideways as he slowly recedes. A hundred feet away from me, he turns left and opens the door of a shop. Before going in, he glances to his right and left, and then disappears out of sight. And at last I realize where we are, where Truman is going.

The window display in Mr. Wright’s shop hasn’t changed in the slightest since we first went in. The little sign that says Supplies is still tipped over on its side. The same plastic dolls gaze at me, dead-eyed; the same dusty plates and bowls and cutlery are arranged the same way on the same rack. The display is so crowded that I can’t, in fact, see the inside of the store, and for this reason I’m now standing outside, at a loss for what to do.

If I follow him in, I might show my hand too early. He’ll have the chance to invent some excuse about why he’s in Kensington.

If I wait until he comes back out, I could risk missing important information, miss seeing some transaction that I should be aware of.

I make a deal with myself: I’ll wait ten minutes. If he’s not out again in ten minutes, I tell myself that I’ll go in.

I position myself thirty feet away from the front door, then check my phone for the time. I put it back in my pocket. Start counting.

* * *

Less than half the time I allotted myself goes by before Truman emerges. Now, he’s dragging something behind him.

It’s a large black suitcase on wheels.

From the way he’s maneuvering it, it looks like there’s something heavy inside it.

He walks south along the Ave and I begin again to follow him. This time, he turns left on Cambria, and he walks another few hundred feet before turning down an alley I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered before. There’s no foot traffic on these small streets, and I fear that Truman’s going to turn around at any moment and see me a hundred feet behind him. I try to walk as quietly as I can. I try to float, so that he doesn’t hear my footsteps.

When I get to the alley Truman turned down, I don’t see him. But I hear something: the banging of a door.