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If I Live

If I Live

by Terri Blackstock


Learn More | Meet Terri Blackstock

Chapter One

Casey

Fried rice isn’t worth dying for.

I never should have come inside. I should have stuck with fast food so I could use the drive-thru, ordered into the box, and gotten my food through a window. But I needed to use the restroom and wash my face after hours on the road, and I was sick to death of burgers, fries and salads. I stopped at a Chinese restaurant nestled within this shopping center, figuring not many diners would be here this time of day. The lights are usually dim in Chinese places, so with my long brown wig on and the glasses I'm wearing to hide my eyes, I thought I could pull it off.

There's a table full of college-aged students in a circular booth in the corner, and I noticed when one of them saw me, then whispered to her friend, and now everyone at the table is staring at me. One of them is on the phone.

I try to look unalarmed, and amble out the front door without my food. The waitress runs after me. "Food almost ready!"

"I'll be right back," I say, though I have no intention of returning.

get out the door and walk up the sidewalk. I reach for a door rail to the anchor store there, and glance back. Two of the girls have darted out of the restaurant and are talking animatedly on their phones. I glance toward my car. I can't get back to it now. If they see me get into it, the police will all know what I'm driving, and I'll have to get another one. I'm running too low on cash. I couldn't have gotten this one without Dylan's help.

I go into the department store and look around to see where I might be able to hide. I head to the back corner of the store to the fitting room, and push into it. I find an empty dressing room with a door that locks. I go in and sit there for a minute, my mind racing through options.

I know they are. Any minute now the police will be here and I'll be arrested. My heart pounds and the sutures on my shoulder feel like they're ripping. I wonder if they're getting infected. I readjust my sling, but then I realize that's a dead give-away. I take it off and stuff it into my bag.

I also pull off my wig and pull my dyed black hair up into a pony tail. I find my baseball cap in my bag and pull it on, pony tail through the back, and take off my glasses. I shrug off my outer blouse, leaving only a tank top beneath it. I shove my sun glasses on and consider myself in the mirror. I do look different than I did five minutes ago.

I hang my purse strap over my good shoulder, then pile the clothes hanging in the dressing room over my arm as a prop. Never mind that they don't fit me or look like anyone in my generation would wear them. I just need to look like a normal shopper until I can get out the back door.

I venture out of the dressing room, holding my wounded arm close to my ribs, and feigning interest in a sale rack, I glance around for the girls. I don't see them, so I look out the front window. I see a blue light flashing. They're here.

I head toward the back, hoping I can find a door somewhere. There's a swinging door with a sign that says "Employees Only," and I drop the clothes hanging over my arm and push into the back room. There are boxes and racks of clothing there, a broom closet and a mop bucket, and an employee bathroom. I keep going and see a back door for deliveries.

I push through it and look both ways up the alley. There's no police car here yet. No one is out here.

I cross the alley and walk through a patch of woods that takes me uphill, until I have a view of the parking lot. I sit on a stump behind a copse of trees, watching the group of college kids talking to the cops and taking selfies with police cars in the background. This will make it all over social media within twenty minutes. Cable news will pick it up, and then network news. This town is ruined for me now. I have to leave.

I walk through the trees to the other side of the woods, but it comes out in a bad area. There are men loitering on corners, and lightly clad women approaching cars stalled in traffic.

I see a white girl with a blonde, curly wig on, the span of which is bigger than her small shoulders. I've had black hair, brunette, blonde ... I've had a red wig, a blonde wig, a brown wig. None of them have had frizzy curls. No one would be looking for that.

I walk down the hill through the trees, and wait for the girl to come back to the cracked sidewalk. "Excuse me," I say. "Can I talk to you?"

She looks like she's too busy for me, so I add, "There's money in it."

I have her attention now, so she turns to me. "What is it, honey?"

"I like your hair. Is it a wig?"

"Yeah," she says, touching it. "Thanks."

"I wondered if I could buy it off of you."

The woman laughs. "What? You want to buy my hair?"

"I'll give you two hundred cash."

She hesitates. "Four."

"Two fifty."

She huffs. "I paid a lot for it. I'm not just giving it away."

"Okay," I say, digging for my wallet. "I have three hundred on me. That's it."

She sees my other wig in my bag. "What, do you collect wigs or something?"

"Yeah, it's kind of my thing. I'm an actress."

She grins and takes it off, revealing short-cropped brown hair with blonde highlights. She could be a soccer mom with that look. She ruffles it so it doesn't look so flattened, and reaches for the cash.

"I really liked this wig," she says.

"Surely you can get another one for a lot less, right?"

"I wouldn't sell it if I couldn't."

"Thanks," I say. "I really appreciate it."

I take the wig and stuff it into my purse, which is full to the brim, and I go back into the woods. I dust it off, inside and out, then put it on. It feels big and floppy. I look into my phone and see that it doesn't really look that bad. I actually kind of like it. With my sun glasses on, I don't think anyone would guess it was me.

I walk back through the woods and sit down for a while, wishing I could have gotten my food before I had to run. I'm starving, but it's going to be a while before I can eat.

A couple of hours pass, and I need to use the facilities again. I go back through the woods to where the wig lady worked the street, and see a convenience store with barred windows. I go in and try the bathroom door, but it's locked, so I have to ask for a key. They have a TV on behind the register, and I already see my face and the footage of me in the restaurant. They're warning people that I'm in the area, and that I may be armed and dangerous.

The cashier doesn't even look at me. She hands me the key and I hurry to the ladies’ room. I take a mental inventory of what they'll know from security video in the restaurant. My purse, for sure. It's big and black and nondescript, but I unload everything into the sink, turn it inside out so that the plaid lining is on the outside, and put everything back. I look down at my shoes. They're gray sneakers. Surely those won't stand out anymore than my jeans will.

I only realize then that the bandage on my shoulder is visible with my tank top without the shirt I was wearing over it. What am I going to do?

I don't have another shirt to put on.

Someone knocks on the door, and I yell out, "Almost finished!"

I look in the mirror again and sigh, then pull out the shirt I took off earlier, roll it up, and drape it over my wounded shoulder. It's just a blue chambray blouse. Maybe they won't notice.

I hear more sirens, see blue lights flashing in the glass in the window above my head. Are they still looking for me?

I'm sweating as I open the door and step out. The woman waiting shoots inside after me, and I thrust the key at her.

The cashiers are still distracted with the police cars driving by and the news of drama in the area. I see a rack of t-shirts, so I grab one and a pack of peanut butter crackers, and clear my throat. They glance at the stuff instead of at me. "This all?"

"Yes," I say.

They ring me up, give me a receipt. I throw the t-shirt over my shoulder too, and go outside. I go to the side of the building and pull the t-shirt on over my tank, and throw away my blouse and the long brown wig.

At least now if they search me, there won't be immediate evidence that I'm the one who was seen in the restaurant.

I go back through the woods, longing to get to my car. The police cars are gone from the shopping center for now. Have they quit looking for me?

I walk down the hill and around the stores to the front parking lot, and without hesitating, head purposefully to my car. I get in and don't even look around before I pull out of my space.

I see one police car across the parking lot, but his lights are off. I don't see the driver anywhere outside. I pull out of the lot and into traffic, and drive away.

Finally, when I'm far enough away, I let myself breathe.

Chapter Two

Dylan

My car is still sitting in Dallas, right where Casey left it before she was shot by a child molester. Dex drops me off at it and I glance around for some sign of Keegan and Rollins, the detectives determined to kill Casey before she exposes them, but I don't see them. The car is parked on the street behind the house where Casey got shot. There were no police cars at the molester’s house. In fact, it looked as if no one was home. The truck in the back yard that would have proven some of their crimes had been moved. I hope the police towed it to their lab.

I get my car and head to the cell phone store to buy a new phone and reactivate the number of the one I duct taped to the belly of an eighteen wheeler. Keegan is probably ballistic if he's been trying to get in touch with me, but I'll tell him that I've been chasing Casey. He likely won't believe me, but maybe Chief Gates will.

I fight the urge to call Casey on her burner phone or send her an e-mail. Right now I just need to keep my contact with her as infrequent as possible to give her a chance to get farther away. I know they were tracking me on my phone before, but getting rid of it may not have solved the whole problem. I can't give them the opportunity to trace Casey again.

When I'm back in my car, I do what they might expect and give Keegan a call. He picks up on the first ring.

"Where are you, Dylan?"

"I'm in Dallas," I say. "My phone broke, and I was so busy going after Casey that I didn't have a chance to get it fixed."

"I noticed that," he says, not hiding the irritation in his voice. "You missed all the fun."

"I was there before you were," I say, because I know that he knows it already. "I showed up right after the gunshot and I took off after her. When I didn't find her, I went to the hospitals, checked every one, showing her picture around, seeing if she had checked in for that gunshot wound."

He hesitates a moment. "We traced it to a gas station," Keegan says. "She was in the bathroom, but she was gone before we got there. But the blood trail ended. She must have patched it up or had somebody come and pick her up."

"I don't know," I say. "She seems like a loner. I doubt she has friends who would break the law to rescue her."

"I wouldn't put anything past her," he says. "I wouldn't put anything past you. Maybe you're the one who helped her."

The muscles in my neck tense, and I feel a headache coming up the back of my head. "I didn't let her escape," I say. "I told you I was looking for her."

"So why did they think you were me?" he demands to know. "Those people that shot her."

"I didn't tell them I was you," I say. "I just showed up and they acted like they'd been expecting me. So what's the deal with those people?"

"They were arrested by Dallas police," Keegan says. "Can you believe that? The people help us get close to her and now they're hampering an investigation by arresting them for some kind of child abuse."

Some kind of child abuse? Does he mean the molestation of a seven-year-old girl? And possibly the murder of the person they accused falsely? "So they're in jail?" I ask. "All of them?"

"Yes. They got some kind of report that they had been trading their daughter for drugs or something. So automatically they're sunk as witnesses, because their credibility is ruined. I'm gonna have to use other witnesses when I finally catch her. But I've got lots of them. People she worked with, people who knew that she was involved with that guy Cole Whittington who ran off a cliff, people who rented a room to her."

I don't bother telling him that Casey had nothing to do with Cole's death. Casey was trying to keep the man alive.

Knowing my acting skills aren't what they should be if I'm going to keep lying to him, I quickly tell him a few things more I plan to do to find Casey, and he accepts that. He sounds eager to get off the phone too. He doesn't really want or need my help. If he finds her he wants to be alone with only Rollins, so they can do whatever they want to her. Then he can claim that she tried to flee prosecution and he had to shoot her.

When I get off the phone, I try to decide what I would be doing if I were honestly chasing her. I think I would probably go pay a visit to the Dallas Police Detective again, see what they can tell me about Casey's charges, the Trendalls' arrest, where little Ava is. If nothing else, I can at least put Casey's fears to rest.

Chapter Three

Casey

I don’t even know what town I’m in, but I stop and check in to an off-brand motel and change my bandage. The TV plays while I try to nap, the news channel cycling the latest alerts every fifteen minutes or so, in every possible variation. First, they tell what that news item is, then they play a video of it, then they talk to their guest about it, then they play other clips related to it. Fifteen minutes later, they say it again, assembling a panel of guests to discuss it, and that takes longer. Then fifteen minutes after that, they do it again, this time reading off tweets other newsmakers have tweeted about it.

It gets old.

I've dozed when a new breaking alert pulls me awake.

... Possible indictment for Casey Cox. Let's listen in to the District Attorney of Caddo Parish in Shreveport.

I sit up and squint at the screen, then grab the remote and turn it up. The camera locks onto the man standing at the bank of microphones. I've seen him before, in some election, or on the news talking about me. I'm not sure where. We've already missed his opening sentences.

"We have just completed a grand jury investigation into Casey Cox's part in the murder of Brent Pace in May. Our grand jury has returned an indictment of Ms. Cox, who went missing just after the murder.”

I let out a rush of air as though someone has punched me in the gut. I knew this would happen, but now I’ve gone from fleeing arrest to fleeing a felony indictment.

“We believe Ms. Cox went to visit Mr. Pace during her lunch break on that day, and that, when he answered the door, she stabbed him multiple times.”

I’m not shocked that they believe this. I saw the brutality of his murder, after all. But how could anyone think I could do such a heinous thing to my closest friend? The thought makes me sick.

“She went into the house as he lay bleeding, and she left footprints, fingerprints, and other physical DNA. She then took the knife back to her car, where it was later found, along with Mr. Pace's blood which was apparently on her hands as she started her ignition and opened and closed her door. The blood trail continued at her apartment, as she tracked it up the stairs to her place of residence. She changed clothes and fled in a taxi to the bus station, where she took a bus to Durant, Oklahoma, with some stops in between, and later to Atlanta, Georgia, then to Shady Grove where she lived for some time."

It's chilling to hear him tracing my steps like this.

"Many of you are aware of Ms. Cox's actions in Shady Grove, but I would caution you to consider the brutality of the murder she committed before doing what she did there. After the events in Shady Grove, which are not relevant to the Pace murder, she fled again to Dallas, Texas. Most recently, she was sighted in Dallas, but she evaded capture once again. We believe that Casey Cox is armed and dangerous, and that she is particularly good at disguising her appearance. Her eyes are particularly notable, however, so we advise citizens to go by the shape of her eyes and not the hair or make-up she might be wearing. She is five feet five inches tall, about 120 pounds.”

I touch my frizzy wig and look in the mirror. “We advise citizens who see Ms. Cox to contact the police at once and not try to capture or follow her on their own. She may be armed and dangerous.”

I sigh. I don’t own a gun or even a knife. I don’t even have a pair of nail clippers. “Finally, Miss Cox, if you're listening, we advise you to turn yourself in to the police department closest to wherever you are, because continuing to evade the law will make it worse for you. We will find you, and when we do, we will see that justice is done."

How much worse can it be than being killed before I can talk? I shiver at the way he's addressing me, and I fight the urge to turn off the news. He cannot see me, I tell myself. He can't trace my television signal. He's just trying to get into my head.

I back against the wall across from the TV and stand with my back to it as the reporters ask questions.

"Was Casey Cox involved in the death of Cole Whittington in Dallas, Texas?"

"That death is under investigation. I can't comment on that case at this time."

I groan. They know the Trendalls did that. The truck is ample evidence. "Have there been other deaths that are being investigated, in places where Casey Cox has been?"

"Again, I'm only here to comment on the Brent Pace case."

“That would be no,” I bite out.

"Have you been able to isolate a motive in the death of Brent Pace? Witnesses say they were close friends, and we know he did call her that morning and may have invited her to come over on her lunch break. Do you know yet if they'd had a fight or anything that might have prompted such violence?"

"We haven't yet found the exact motive."

“What about the timeline?” one of the local Shreveport anchors asks. “The ME said Pace was killed at least a couple of hours earlier than Cox’s lunch hour.”

“That was an approximation.”

“But could it be possible that someone else killed him, since we know Cox had been at work all morning?”

I catch my breath, relieved that at least one person is questioning my guilt. I’ll have to remember her.

“Cox fled. The murder weapon was in her car.” He turns to the next reporter’s question, as if that settles that.

The murder weapon was planted in my car. To this day, I have never seen it.

"Friends describe Ms. Cox as being a kind and stable person. Some of her actions in Shady Grove and also in Dallas seem to bear that out. She rescued a kidnapped girl and her child, she allegedly talked a man down from committing suicide … How certain are you that she's capable of this?"

I look to see who it is asking that, but the camera doesn't show him. The voice is familiar though. I think he's one of the reporters on Channel 12.

"As I said, her DNA is at the crime scene, the knife was found in her car, Mr. Pace's blood was on her car and in her apartment."

"But some are saying that she may have just found the body, that if she'd murdered him she would have at least tried to cover it up."

“If she wasn't the one who did it, why wouldn't she have called 911 to report finding his body? Instead, she fled and has evaded capture ever since. That's all for now," he says, backing away from the microphone.

"How does the indictment change things?" someone yells out. "It doesn't put you any closer to finding her."

"Until now she was a person of interest in a murder. Now she's the main suspect, and the indictment charges her with a Class A felony. Fleeing from prosecution is a Class E Felony. Thank you, everyone."

The DA leaves the podium and walks away as people shout more questions at him.

I slide down the wall until I'm sitting on the floor. My phone begins to ring, and I pull it out of my pocket and see that it's Dylan. Of course it's him. Who else could it be? No one else has this number.

It occurs to me that he's in trouble, too, now that I'm indicted. His helping an indicted person fleeing prosecution automatically moves him into another category of crime. I don't want him to get in trouble too. I can't talk to him.

I let the phone ring to voicemail. He doesn't leave a message, but sends a text instead. You've been indicted. Have you seen the news?

I don't answer.

Are you ok?

I turn the phone off, and take the battery out. I have to sever the link between us before it gets him killed or imprisoned. Enough people with ties to me have had catastrophic consequences. I have to end this.

It would be so easy just to turn myself in. I could walk into the police station here, or the TV station. I could let them arrest me.

But then Keegan and Rollins would show up to extradite me, and I would probably wind up dead.

It's insane, how trapped I am. Until I was twelve, there was never a time in my life when I thought anything could happen that couldn't be solved. Life had a way of working out. Justice prevailed. There were people like my dad who made sure of that.

But then I found my dad dead, and lies blended into truth. What was up turned down, what was in went out, what made no sense was suddenly assumed. Evil people were believed over a stupid twelve year old girl, traumatized by her father's selfishness.

I lived with it for ten years, until I shared it all with Brent. He went after it like a hound with a ham, and it cost him his life. All it took was curiosity for him to get sucked into this vortex of my alternate universe, where nothing was as it should be.

I go to put my battery and phone in my purse, and my image in the mirror startles me, as if someone I don't know has stepped out of the mirror.

I pull off the wig and climb into bed, pull the threadbare blankets up over my head. I don't want to turn myself in, and I don't want to kill myself.

But I do wish I would just die in my sleep.

Chapter Four

Casey

I still haven't answered Dylan's call, and now I see that he’s left me emails at our secret account, where we each have alias usernames so we can communicate.

"You're killing me here. I don't know if you're okay. I need to talk to you. I know you've heard about the indictment. I'm going to lose it if you don't call me back. Anytime, day or night. If you don't, I'm probably going to go ahead and turn everything we've got over to the DA. At least it'll be a way to stop where all this is heading.

"We need to strategize. I've learned some new things about our nemesis. Please call me. I can't sleep."

I squeeze my eyes shut and let the tears drip like mud down my face. I hate the make-up that runs when I cry. I hate the wig that bobs when I walk. I hate that I've lost so much weight that my pants are too big, but I can't go shopping to buy more.

I'm getting to the point that I almost don't care what happens to me. But I do want to see Keegan and Rollins pay for their sins. They have to pay, otherwise all of this--my father's death, my friend's death, and the last few months of living like a frightened criminal--are all a waste. None of it will mean anything.

I have to make the decision whether to turn myself in apart from any input from Dylan. My only hesitation at this point is that I don't want Dylan to be implicated. I have to make sure he isn't.


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