There was no one in the car, and none of the shops were open. The Lexus was parked in front of "Il Forno", an Italian-themed bakery. I slammed my car into reverse and backed into the alley, my heart racing.
"Just go home," I whispered to myself. "Check him out tomorrow." Even as I said it, though, I was reaching to pat the Glock 22 nestled in the shoulder holster under my left arm. It was a nervous habit. "There's no good way to get close to him."
I had to calm down for a minute and get everything sorted out in my head. What did I know about this guy? He reported that a mother and daughter were missing, pretending to be the husband and father. He may have impersonated a police officer. He got Simon Sayer's name from me and visited his apartment. That's it.
"That's not so bad." I thought. "What else?"
There might really be a mother and a daughter missing. There's reason to believe that the girl is with Simon. Perhaps they're both with him. "So, then, who's Johnny?"
If Johnny was a kidnapper, he'd be crazy to walk into the police station. "Maybe he is crazy," I argued. "What else?"
This place, Il Forno, might be his place of business. He's here after hours. Maybe he's the owner? Maybe he's a baker?
These thoughts went around and around in my head, but I got nowhere. Logically, I could see no reason not to drive over there, knock on the door, and confront the man for what I had on him. I was armed, and I had no reason to assume he was dangerous.
Except I had this feeling, this damnable feeling.
"I'll wait until tomorrow," I decided finally. I exhaled in relief and, stepping on the brake, I shifted into drive. I pulled slowly out of the alley and turned right. I let the car idle and rolled slowly up to the Lexus, looking to my right into the window of the bakery. Johnny was inside, alright, behind the counter. He was looking down as though reading. The lights were on inside, and it was dark out here in the parking lot, so I was pretty sure he couldn't see me. I watched him for a minute, wondering what he was doing.
Then he looked up. My heart jumped into my throat. He stared right at me. "Can he see who I am?" I wondered. I kept expecting him to move, but he just stared at me, a blank look on his face. I swallowed hard and turned the wheel. I pulled in beside the Lexus. He didn't move. Patting my left side again, just to be sure, I killed the car and opened the door. He just stared.
"How do I play this?" I was thinking. "I could pretend I still think he's the father. I could tell him I followed him from Simon's place, that I was there checking it out."
As I approached the entrance, I saw a sign on the door. "Temporarily Closed For Remodeling," it said. When I got to the door, I tapped on the glass, nodding in greeting. He stared for a few seconds longer, and then walked slowly from behind the counter. He turned the bolt on the door, but didn't open it. He just took a few steps back.
Dread pressed down on me and screamed in my ear as a I reached for the door, but I felt driven to go in. I swallowed hard again and tried to put on my typical, confident demeanor.
"Hello," I said. "May I come in."
"Officer Hall," he said cooly. "Of course."
"Actually, it's detective," I said, "but it's a common mistake."
"There's a difference?" he asked.
"It's not important," I replied.
"How did you find me?" It was a strange question, almost like a confession. He was betraying himself.
'Well, here goes,' I thought. "I followed you from Simon Sayer's apartment, to be honest," I said.
He wasn't sure how to take that, but the possibility that he might not be caught dawned on him. "Why?" he asked.
"When I saw you leaving there, I wanted to talk to you about what I found out today," I said. We were both treading lightly, and we both knew it.
"What did you find out?"
'Not much,' I thought. "We found Simon's car," I started, but I decided it wasn't wise to say too much.
"Where?" He seemed genuinely interested.
I paused. I wasn't sure how to respond, and he noticed this. I had fallen silent, and the silence spoke loudly to both of us as we stared unwaveringly at each other. Fianlly I said, "Filing a report under a false identity is illegal, sir."
He remained silentand looked down at the floor.
"Who are you?"
Still, he remained silent.
"If you have reason to think those two ladies are in danger, we can deal with that, but you have to be honest with us," I said. "And you can't run around town playing detective."
He looked up at me.
"Who are you?" I asked again.
He started to speak, but he also started to move, heading back behind the counter. "I'm a friend of the family," he said. "I am worried about Darla and Amy, but I didn't think anyone would listen to me."
"Please, just stay put," I said. Instinctively, I reached over and patted my left side.
"I have a business card. It's got my name and number," he kept moving.
I wondered if he could hear my heart pounding. I could feel it and hear it. My breathing became shallow. "Sir," I said, "please come back out here."
Then, everything went into slow motion. His head turned slightly and quickly to glance at me, and I could see that his eyes were wide. My breath caught in my throat as my hand plunged into my jacket for the grip of the Glock. He bolted very quickly for the open door behind the counter. "Freeze," I heard myself scream as my right hand drew the pistol across my chest and, as I'd been trained, held it back to my right shoulder, barrel pointed slightly forward and upward, ready to aim and shoot at need. He was already going through the door as I rounded the end of the counter to chase him. I could hear him scrambling in the back room as I slid up beside the door, back to the wall, the door on my right.
'Call for backup!' my mind was screaming. 'Call for backup!' "Sir," I yelled out, "I am armed." I was breathing so quickly I felt myself hyperventilating. "You're making this much worse than it needs to be. Just be sensible and walk out here slowly with your hands where I can see them." 'Call for backup!'
"It's okay, detective." It was another voice, deep, with a thick accent. It sounded African. "My friend is just afraid."
"Both of you, come out here now," I yelled. I heard steps approaching the door, and I stepped back and lowered my pistol slightly toward to opening. "I don't want this to get out of hand."
"I agree with you, detective," said the African voice. An old black man, tall and thin, stepped into the doorway. His hands were open in front of him. "We do not want trouble, detective," he said, smiling. "Please, we will cooperate."
"He needs to come back out here," I said.
"He is just right here," he said, looking over to his left. "He is frightened." He began to back into the back room, making sure to stay where I could see him.
I slid over toward the door, my pistol straight out in front of me now. I took a step back so I could see in. The African stepped backwards too, giving me room. I inched in toward the door, rotating around to see back into the room to my right.
I never even got a shot off. The force of Johnny's bullet tore through my left cheek and knocked me back a few feet into the wall.
"For glory," said the African somberly as I slid down the bloody wall, but I was already too dead to hear him.