Melissa looked across the stark metal table at the Sheriff and waited. It was always like this, like some sort of ritual – first they put you in an severely under-decorated room all alone to let you stew, then after a suitable amount of time, sometimes twenty minutes, sometimes two hours, someone comes in and sits in the other chair and just looks at you, as if expecting you to just start blurting out your life story. Once, in St. Louis, she had only waited for two minutes before a detective came in with two cups of hot coffee. She still remembered him fondly as it was in the mid-teens outside when they picked her up.
Tonight she had the Sheriff of Greer County looking across at her with deep set hazel eyes. He had a cup of coffee in a ceramic mug with the words World’s Best Grandpa stenciled on the side. He offered nothing to her. He was business like in his bearing, as he settled into his seat. His chair, like her’s and the table, was bolted to the floor.
He flipped open a notebook and took a sliver pen from his shirt pocket. He twisted it to expose the nib. He looked at her for about a half a minute before taking the lead.
“Mary says you call yourself Melissa Chambers. Is that your name?”
“Funny, you having the same sir name as me.”
“It’s a small world.”
He wrote her name down on his pad. “I have Hank running that name through the data base now. Expect we’ll find anything?”
He raised an eyebrow at her candor.
“Really? And what might we find?”
“I’m not exactly sure what all makes it into your database, Sheriff Chambers, but I’m pretty sure the shoplifting charge form Cinci will be on it.”
She shook her head. “I’m an adult. I told Mary, I’m twenty-two.”
“You don’t look twenty-two.”
“Yeah, so I hear. Listen, I didn’t do anything wrong. Well, I was hitchhiking, but that’s no biggie.”
He nodded. “We don’t make a habit of locking up hitchers. We just need to do a few checks. Satisfy my curiosity.” He flipped the notebook a few pages and produced an ATM card. “This yours, is it?”
“I don’t pick up many hitchhikers with ATM cards.” He let the statement hang there.
“My mother gave it to me,” Melissa said. “She adds a little money now and then. It’s for emergencies.”
“So your mother knows you’re out here hitchhiking around all alone.”
“She doesn’t think that’s dangerous?”
Less dangerous than going home, Melissa thought, but she said, “She’d rather I settle down somewhere. Maybe I will, when I get there.”
“And where would that be?” he asked.
“I don’t know, but I’ll send you a postcard when I find it.”
“Cute.” He went back to the first page which was still empty save for her name. “So, where did you come from, Melissa Chambers?”
“I’m from Ansted, West Virginia—”
“I don’t mean originally, I mean where did you last come from? What did you do there?”
“Oh. Well, I worked for a while up Elk City way, at a little quick shop.”
“How long ago was that?” He wrote Elk City – quick shop on his pad.”
“I quit two days ago.”
She shrugged. “Just time to move on. Winter’s coming. I’m heading south.”
“Corpus Christi, maybe. I like the beach.”
He wrote down Corpus Christi.
“So how did you get here, to my lovely accommodations?” he asked.
She looked at him like he was stupid. “Ah, hitched.”
“Yes, I know. Mary said she picked you up just south of E 1400.”
“Good old Mary.”
“She’s our dispatcher, by the way,” he informed her.
She slumped back into her chair and rolled her eyes to the ceiling. “Figures.”
“She say’s you’re a nice girl,” the Sheriff added. “So from Elk City to E 1400… I assume you didn’t walk.”
“A good bit of it,” she said under her breath. “No. I did not walk. What is this shit? I hitched. Isn’t that obvious? I hitched from Elk City to Route 34 with some old man who said I reminded him of his granddaughter. From there I got a ride form two Mormons out to convert the world.”
“They have names?”
“Old man, no, not that I recall. The Mormons were Brian and Kevin. Nice guys. Never tried to hit on me. I switched rides at the R&R in Carter. Mormons are nice, but I can only take so much of ‘em. I got a ride from a guy said he was going south, as far as Mangum. Thought I was in luck, cover a lot of miles. Then all of a sudden he pulls over and tells me to get out. Scared the shit out of me.”
“Where was that?” He had written old man, Mormons – Brian Kevin, and RR in Carter on his pad.
“Freaking middle of nowhere. I was glad he tore out and didn’t get out, if you follow me?”
“He have a name?”
“Jason? No, Jacob. I don’t generally get last names from rides. I’m not really interested in them and if I’m lucky, they’re not really interested in me.”
He nodded, getting her drift. “What kind of car did he drive?”
“A souped up red Caprice. A real classic. He listened to better music than the Mormons, too.”
Jacob, and red Caprice went down on the pad.
“Can you be a little more specific on where he dropped you off?”
“What’s going on?”
“It was right at 283.”
He wrote down 283. “And he just left?”
“He did a U’y and headed up 283 like a house afire.”
“Any indication of why he dumped you?”
She spread her hands in a empty gesture and frowned. “Come on Sheriff, what the Hell is going on. He didn’t rob a bank or anything, did he?”
He cocked his head and regarded her closely for a moment. “Would it surprise you to hear that Jacob Landrow was found shot to death in his car this evening, just off Route 283?”
Melissa went cold as all the blood drained from her limbs. “Oh my God.”
“I think we’ll be keeping you overnight.”