Un Lampo di Bianco: Chapter 9

9
For the second morning in a row, Tony awoke to the sound of knocking. These knocks were louder and more urgent than K.J.'s had been and they were accompanied by cries of, “Police, Mr. Lang. Open up.”

Tony quickly shrugged on some clothes and went to see what the commotion was about. Through the peephole, he spied a uniformed officer, possibly the same one who drove him home the night of the murder.

“What’s this all about?” Tony asked after opening the door.

“Sir, you’re going to have to come with me down to the station,” the officer said. “We’ve received a credible threat on your life.”

Tony searched the man’s face for some hint that this might all be a joke and, finding none, allowed his own jaw to fall slack.

“Jesus Christ,” he muttered. His stomach clenched and he was thankful that it was empty.

By the time they reached the patrol car, Tony’s mind had begun to clear and his panic subsided. Based on what he learned yesterday, this could just be Jackson overreacting or Jackson angling to keep him away from the university. He wouldn’t put it past the man.

“Tell me something,” Tony said. “Did Detective Jackson send for me?”

“Yes, that’s right,” the officer replied.

“So Avis arranged a pick-up. I thought only Enterprise did that.”

The patrolman either didn’t get the joke or didn’t find it funny enough to laugh.

At the station, Tony was shepherded into a second-floor conference room. It was a friendlier space than the interrogation room. Padded rolling chairs surrounded an oval-shaped table. A bureau housed carafes of coffee and ice water, in addition to the requisite donuts. It was a stark contrast to what Tony thought of when he pictured police stations: cluttered cubicles and crowded holding cells.

As expected, Jackson and K.J. were seated at the table.

“So you got one too?” K.J. asked.

“One what?” said Tony.

Jackson presented him with a clear plastic evidence bag. Inside the bag was a white envelope and its former contents. STAY AWAY OR YOU’RE NEXT, a typewritten note cautioned. Scotch-taped to the bottom of the note was a scrap of white fabric that had been stained red. It could have been wine, Tony thought, but he knew it wasn’t wine or ketchup or anything besides human blood.

“Someone left this for K.J. at the paper,” Jackson explained. He was calm again, but serious. “We found an identical note slipped halfway under your door.”

“Any idea…”

“Donald Niccoldi is dead,” Jackson continued. “The blood-soaked scraps were cut from an undershirt he was wearing at the time of the murder. We believe whoever killed him sent the threatening notes. We believe the same person or persons killed Amy Holden.”

“Good God!” Tony exclaimed.

“By law, we’re allowed to detain you for up to 24 hours without charge. That’s exactly what I’m going to do, at least until I can get a material witness order. We’ll try to keep you comfortable and we’ll try to resolve this as quickly as we can, but in the meantime, you aren’t going anywhere. Believe me when I tell you, Mr. Lang, that this is for your own good.”

The debriefing complete, Jackson rose to exit. Tony was too dumbfounded to say anything to him on his way out. Had he just been arrested?

“I….” he said, sinking deeply into a chair. “How in the hell did this happen?”

K.J. yawned. She had at least been able to dress for work before Jackson brought her in. “Beats me,” she said.

“You seem to be taking this awfully well.”

She took a deep breath. “Avis and I had it out earlier,” she explained. “I told him he couldn’t do this. I said I’d sick my editor on him. I threatened him with bad press, with lawsuits. Want to guess how that turned out?”

Tony could only shake his head.

“I’m sure that I’ll thank him for this someday,” K.J. said. “But right now, I’m pissed.”

“I’m the one who got dragged out of bed this morning,” Tony reminded her.

“Oh, I can top that,” K.J. said, grinning sardonically. “I did a little digging and found out that Daria Francesco, Valence’s widow, returned to the area a few years ago. She runs some fancy private daycare out in the country. I called over there and asked for her. Whoever I was talking to hung up as soon as I mentioned the paper. I think if I could get through to her if I dropped by. If I wasn’t in a fucking police station.”

“Maybe I should take a run at her,” Tony suggested.

K.J. gave him a sympathetic pat on the head. “Get some coffee, hun,” she said. “You must really be out of it. See, in case you didn’t notice, you’re in a police station too.”

“They can’t really hold us for a whole day, can they?” Tony asked.

“Sure can,” K.J. replied. “I think I’ll be out before then. My editor’s probably on the phone right now, pleading his case to the chief. It’s you I’m worried about. You’re the one who saw the killer. If Jackson gets that material witness order signed, you’re stuck.”

She looked around the room wide-eyed and craned her neck toward the doorway. A uniformed officer stood sentry just outside the door. Tony wondered if it was the same cop who drove him. He wondered how badly the officer must have screwed up to draw this for an assignment.
“We have to get you out of here,” K.J. said in a low whisper.

“How?” Tony whispered back. “Like you said, I’m in a fucking police station.”

“I’ll create a distraction,” K.J. suggested, pushing a sheet of paper into his hand. “You get out of here and go see Simon’s widow. There’s the address.”

Tony shrugged. It sounded harebrained and risky, but he was out of options. He watched as K.J. walked to the doorway and sidled up to their guard, temporarily blocking his field of vision.

“Excuse me,” she said. “Where’s your bathroom?”

“Down the hall to your left,” the officer replied. “If you aren’t back in ten minutes, I’m going to send a female officer in after you. Just so you know.”

“Aren’t you worried I’ll climb out a window?” K.J. asked.

“We’re on the second floor, ma’am,” the officer replied. “You look like you know better.”

While they talked, Tony crept out of the room and began walking down the hall in the opposite direction. His heart was racing, but he willed himself not to panic. Eyes forward, he thought. Look like you belong.

Somehow, he made it out. There was foot traffic in the hallway, but nobody stopped him. He took the stairway down and strolled out the front door. The front desk receptionist even wished him a nice day. Jackson would undoubtedly be furious when he found out, but Tony tried to put that out of his mind. He had other business to attend to.