“Is he...?” She fumbled and swallowed. “Did you arrest him?”
“Duane’s dead, Nell. I shot him.”
Absorbing that, she searched his face, seeing grief and relief and probably a hundred other things. “Have you ever had to kill anyone before?”
He shook his head.
“I’m sorry. Not,” she added fiercely, “that he’s dead, but that you had to do it. He was your friend.”
“I thought he was my friend. I still can’t believe—” His throat worked. “All those years. I’d have sworn he was a good cop, Nell.”
She held on tight to his hand, and realized he was holding her as tightly.
“He never should have been allowed to be involved in investigating your disappearance. As green as I was then, I wondered. But he wouldn’t take no from anybody.” He shook his head in disbelief. “I have no doubt he was the one who talked to your friend Emily, then made sure no one else ever heard a word about your boyfriend.”
“Beck was more of a friend,” she said softly. “A really good friend. We met by accident and he... I don’t know. Recognized something in me. I told him things I hadn’t told anyone else. Except my parents. You know that.” She waited for Colin’s nod; saw the muscles tighten in his jaw. “Beck thought I should go to authorities. If I wouldn’t do that, I could run away.”
“In the end, that’s what you had to do.” He paused. “You remember.”
She gave a tiny nod, not anxious to move any more than she could help. “Everything. Almost everything,” she amended. “The night before, Uncle Duane took me to a movie and then to his place for ice cream. He kissed me and rubbed up against me and then he pulled down his zipper and asked me to kiss him down there. Usually I just...closed my eyes and let him touch me. You know. But that time I freaked. I yanked away from him and ran outside. He followed me and drove me home. The whole way, he kept saying, ‘It’s just a different way of kissing, Maddie. Of loving.’ And then he said I shouldn’t tell my dad, because he’d be jealous that I was more loving with him than I was with Dad. ‘He’ll be angry at you, Maddie. If he believes you. He never does, does he?’” She tried to smile. “He was right. I tried anyway, as soon as Dad got home from work the next day. But he wouldn’t listen. He said, ‘You’re back to that again? Are you so desperate for attention?’”
Colin swore. “They were here tonight. Your parents. We talked. When you didn’t show up at their house this evening, your dad called. He told me you’d tried to tell him about Duane back then. He’d always wondered, he admitted. And he overheard your mother mentioning to Duane that you were coming for dinner.”
“That’s what he said, when he showed up. That he wanted to drive me to Mom and Dad’s. But he wasn’t invited, was he?”
“No, I got the impression from your father that the uneasiness has stuck with him. Enough so he didn’t want to put you and Duane together.”
So finally he had believed her. Maybe she ought to feel some sense of satisfaction, but she couldn’t. She’d needed her daddy then, and he had failed her.
“Duane came to dinner right after I had tried talking to Dad. I think maybe he guessed. I tried not even looking at him. The minute we were done, I excused myself and, instead of going upstairs, I got my bike out the side door of the garage. Beck and I had arranged to meet.”
“So you weren’t on your way to Emily’s.”
“No. I was thinking maybe I’d ask him to take me with him to the Hales. He kept insisting they’d help me.”
“But Duane saw you making your getaway and followed.”
“I guess he must have. Beck and I met near the river. He gave me his dad’s shirt because I was shivering. He was trying to take care of me.” She slid a shy glance at Colin. “He kissed me. It was the first time. He said as soon as I was old enough he’d marry me and then I wouldn’t have to be afraid of anyone.”
Colin bent down and brushed his mouth over hers, his tenderness like a salve on old wounds. Then he straightened and let her continue.
“Duane came out of nowhere. He was just...just there. He punched Beck and then he dragged him into the woods. I was screaming but there was nobody around. I heard a gunshot and saw him standing over Beck.” The scene was as vivid as when it happened. She felt the old horror and disbelief, the terror that he was going to kill her, too. “My bike was right there. I jumped on and pedaled as fast as I could. It wasn’t fast enough.”