I didn't have to wait too long. "Here's Johnny," I mumbled to myself when I saw him. It had only been a few minutes, so I figured he probably hadn't broken into Simon's apartment. He must have just knocked a few times and left when there was no answer. As he walked quickly down the stairs and headed for his car, I was anxiously trying to decide if I should stop him now or try to tail him. In all my years on the force, I had never tailed a car before, and I wasn't sure I could pul it off. I was in my own car, so there were no markings to give me away, but he might spot me if I stayed close enough to avoid losing him.
Before I came to a decision, he got into a black Lexus sedan. I grabbed my notepad and took down the license plate. At least, if I lost him, I could login to the network when I got home and possibly find out who he was. "Where are we going, Johnny?" I muttered as I watched him drive right past me and out toward the street, heading for Campo Drive. "I'm just a car on the road," I told myself, pulling out shortly after he left the driveway. "Nothing suspicious about that. He won't even notice as long as I hang back a little."
He went left on Campo a couple of blocks ahead. I sped up a little, panicking when I lost sight of him around the corner. When I got to the stop sign, though, I could still see him a block and a half away. Traffic wasn't too bad, so I turned left pretty quickly and kept my eyes on him. "Damn, I wish I had a computer with me." I thought about calling in his plates, but I was hesitant. The Sergeant had been pretty clear about this, and for good reason. As far as I knew, I was tailing a perfectly innocent citizen. Well, not perfectly innocent, I guess.
"Maybe he's just a friend who thought we wouldn't listen unless he was the husband," I argued with myself as he changed into the right lane up ahead.
"If he's just a friend, why did he pretend to be a cop with the neighbors?" I countered, getting into the right lane but staying over to the middle enough to see his left brake light around the car between us.
"You don't know that that was him," I continued. "He's not the only short guy in a suit in the city." The car between us put on its blinker and slowed down. "Damn," I whispered, not wanting to fall too far behind. I glanced into the mirror to see if I could pass on the left, but another car was right on my left bumper. The car ahead slowed to a crawl before turning into a shopping center on the right. "Come on," I growled, getting edgy.
Finally the car was out of the way. The Lexus was still up ahead, still in the right lane. There was no one between us now. I sped up a little to close the gap. "Not too close," I muttered, easing back after a block or so. As he was coming up on College Boulevard ahead he put on his right blinker. "Thank you," I thought. It meant he wasn't feeling suspicious at all.
"Are you a student, Johnny?" I asked aloud as he turned. In a few seconds I was up to the intersection with my right blinker on. Looking down to the right I could see that he had gotten very quickly into the left lane on College. "Shit," I thought, thinking I would lose him. I had to wait for two cars to pass before I could follow. I drummed my fingers anxiously on the steering wheel as I turned my head back and forth to watch the oncoming traffic and then to track him. The first car passed and Johnny's left blinker went on. The second car slowed as it got to Campo, but I wasn't sure if it would turn and it wasn't signaling. "Come on." My right knee began to bounce. I glanced again at Johnny and saw him turning left a about two blocks up College. I looked back to my left, and the second car was turning right. "Thanks for the signal, asshole," I yelled inside my car as I punched the gas and shot to the right and then over into the left lane.
I floored the gas for a block and a half, and arrived quickly at the place where it looked like he had turned left. There was no sign of the Lexus. "Shit!" I growled. I turned left and drove slowly up the road. There were no cross streets ahead, so, if he had turned down this way, he would have to have pulled into one of the driveways.
The neighborhood was mostly residential, a middle-income area on the edge of the nice neighborhood that surrounded the university. There were homes on the right side of the street and a couple of blocks of small business strips on the left side, with more houses after that. "He'd probably be going home at this hour," I thought, so I drove up looking into the driveways of the houses on the right. After a couple of blocks with no sign of the Lexus, I decided to turn back. "He couldn't have gotten this far," I thought. "He's either back this way somewhere or he didn't turn on this street."
The businesses were now on my right. There were two groups of shops. The closer one faced this street, whose name I had forgotten to get. There was a dry cleaners, a tax office and little deli. The deli was open, with a few cars in the front, but no Lexus. The next little strip of shops faced the street a block over. There was a parking area behind the strip with a driveway onto this street. There was an alley just wide enough to drive through on each side of the building that led to the front parking lot.
There were no cars in the back parking lot. I pulled in and drove slowly toward and then down the alley on the left side of the building. As I passed into the shadow of the building, I was suddenly overcome with a sick dread. I stopped the car. "What the hell?" I thought. My heart was pounding in my chest. "What are you doing here, Al?" I asked myself. "You can run the guy's plates in the morning."
With my foot on the brake, after checking to make sure the doors were locked, I closed my eyes and tried to breath deeply to calm myself. If there had been a rational explanation for the feeling I was feeling, it would have been easier to deal with. I was a rational guy. What I felt now, though, was just this terrible fear. It was the feeling that something was wrong, terribly wrong. It had started this morning as soon as I first saw Johnny or Louis or whatever the hell his name is, and it had been getting steadily worse all day.
"Maybe a dark alley isn't the best place to deal with this," I chuckled to myself. "Let's get the hell out of here." I just wanted to go home. No, not home. To a bar. I wanted to go somewhere where people were laughing and where there was plenty of happy noise and where everyone was who they said they were. "Fuck it," I said. "We'll run his plates tomorrow. I'm going to JJ's." I moved my foot from the brake to the gas and drove down the alley, heading for a beer and then home.
When I started to pull out of the alley, though, I saw the lone car parked in the darkened front lot.
"Hello, Johnny," I muttered through clenched teeth.