Author Jennifer Echols shares an extract of her novel Going Too Far.
He stared at me, and my heart turned over. After last night riding around with my window rolled down in the cold, he’d wised up. He wore his leather cop jacket, which made him look that much more sharp and dangerous. His dark eyes pierced me, but the glow from the downtown streetlights softened his strong jaw and those sensitive lips. And his whole body was bathed in red as the warning lights from the railroad crossing blinked on, off, on, off, on.
Off, for good. The train was gone.
He looked ahead, into the empty street. “Where would you go?” he asked the suspect. Then he turned back to me. “Help me search for the Kia in parking lots as we pass. Sometimes they’re that stupid.”
Oh sure. I would search parking lots on the way to our destination. I knew exactly where we were going.
Sure enough, a few miles later he turned off the main road and onto the dirt road to the bridge.
“We’re driving down here again?” I exclaimed. We’d already visited the bridge at the beginning of the shift.
He unhooked the CB from the dashboard and handed it to me without taking his eyes off the road. “If you ever feel threatened, press this button to call Lois. She’ll send another car to save you from me.” He sounded almost hurt.
“I don’t feel threatened. It’s just that a criminal isn’t going to hide where there’s only one way out and you’re blocking it. Criminals don’t trap themselves.”
He continued down the road anyway, and I thought harder about what he’d said. Threatened? Yes, the thought of him taking advantage of me had flashed across my mind when he first arrested me at the bridge, and last night. But that was before I knew him. It hadn’t crossed my mind tonight.
It had crossed his.
And he was wearing cologne.
“How did I end up with you?” I asked.
He turned to me, wide – eyed. “What?” The car lunged over a rock, and he put his eyes back on the road.
“Why am I riding in your police car instead of the ambulance or the fire truck? Did y’all draw straws, and you were the lucky winner? I’ll bet everyone was hoping for Tiffany, but alas.”
I half expected him to look all shiny and new at the mention of Tiffany. Or to protest too much, giving himself away.
He didn’t answer.
“I picked you,” he said quietly.
I swallowed. It probably didn’t mean anything. At least, not what I wanted it to.
“Why’d you pick me? So you could get me alone on Hot Date 911? I’m telling Angie.”
“No, I’m not coming on to you at all,” he said, voice rising. “I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. No.”
“Right!” I snapped. I didn’t want to snap. I never really thought he liked me for real. It was just that he made the idea sound loathsome. “How could I suggest something so ridiculous? You wouldn’t be attracted to a loudmouthed blue – haired girl. Of course, Eric is. Of course, Eric is charged with multiple felonies.”
“I’m not sure I’d call that an attraction,” he said. “From the way you talk about him, he’s not much of a boyfriend. He’s more of a john.”
I counted to ten silently. I had enough self- control to keep from punching the police. By eight, I could hear the jealousy in his voice.
He was jealous.
That was no excuse. I swiped my notebook out of the floorboard and wrote he’s not much of a boyfriend—he’s more of a John.
“You called me a prostitute.”
“I realize now I shouldn’t have put it—”
“Thanks, Officer After.”
“It’s just because your relationship with him seems to be nothing but sex—”
“So why can’t—”
“—if you think he wouldn’t even save you from an oncoming train.”
“So why can’t I be the john?” I asked.
“You can be the john.”
“Why can’t he be the prostitute, and I can be the john?”
“You can be the john. God!” He stopped the car in the clearing with a jerk. The headlights shone across the gravel but didn’t quite touch the end of the bridge.
He turned to me with his arms crossed on his chest. Which of course he should not have done, because I knew exactly what that meant. He felt vulnerable.
“Look,” he said, “I didn’t mean to get into all this. Let’s not even joke about the idea that I picked a suspect to hook up with. I mean, here we are, driving around all night alone in the dark, and I have a gun and handcuffs.”
What he was trying to get across is how threatening this situation should have been for me. But I didn’t see it that way. I got chills in the darkness at the thought of him coming on to me. Granted, I was allergic to handcuffs, and I didn’t want to be threatened with a gun. But the whole scenario smacked of some X – rated leather – heavy adult movie, and suddenly I very much wanted to be an adult. With Johnafter.
I couldn’t see his eyes clearly in the darkness, only the lower half of his face. He bit his bottom lip gently. Vulnerable.
“Why did you pick me?” I asked.
“You remind me of someone.”
“With blue hair?” I laughed. “Who?”
“No. You know that story you asked me about the first night? Those kids getting killed on the bridge?”
I nodded at the freight train I knew was about to hit me.
“Kids think it’s a ghost story,” he said, “but adults still remember it as a tragedy.”
“How do you remember it?”
“Both ways.” He sighed through his nose, this time a long, slow sigh. “You remind me of that girl who died. She was a lot older than me, but she lived in my neighborhood. You have the same eyes.”
I blinked. My eyes were blue. Probably they were accentuated by my blue hair. I hadn’t checked. I knew green hair hadn’t done much for them.
I felt a low rumble in the floorboard of the car, stronger than the car’s engine. Automatically now, I turned to the tracks and saw the white circle of headlight. The train had traveled through town and reached the bridge.
John continued. “Both of you have the same idea that you need some bad boy to show you life. You know he’ll get you in trouble, and you don’t care. You’d follow him anywhere.” He shouted above the train’s horn, which was excruciatingly loud through my open window. “And the worst part is, you won’t admit that to yourself. A boy will be your downfall.”
“Oh.” I tried the door handle. “Let me out.” I slapped the door with the flat of my hand. “Let me out, John, I swear to God!” I started to climb through the window at the same time I tried the handle again. The door swung open over the gravel, and I fell on my ass on the sharp rocks.
I thought I heard John call to me over the noise filling the clearing, but I just ran, away from him, toward the train.
The captain of the state championship high school track team caught me by the arm in two seconds. “Meg, come on. We’re supposed to be looking for that Kia. We don’t have time for this.”
I pulled my arm away. “We don’t have time for me to be completely creeped out that I’m riding around with you because I remind you of a dead girl. But we have time to drive down a dirt road and make sure the bridge is still here.” I whirled around and gestured into the dark where I assumed the bridge was. “Well, I’ll be damned. It’s still here. It hasn’t lifted up its girders and waded downstream.”
“You don’t know me. You don’t know anything about me. You see me once, trespassing, stoned, which I might add is somewhat out of character for me no matter what you choose to think, and you decide you have me all figured out? Graduating from the police academy does not qualify you as a psychiatrist.”
“Was it your idea to go up on that bridge?”
“It wasn’t that other girl’s idea, either.”
The train passed, but this time I didn’t turn to watch its taillights disappear into the trees. I was locked in a stubborn stare with Johnafter’s dark eyes.
The racket of wheels clacking on the rails lifted, leaving only the low hum of the police car underneath. This deep in the forest, tree frogs should have been screaming in the trees, but it was only March. They hadn’t woken up yet.
“If I could—” he started, then realized how loud his voice sounded. He cleared his throat and said quietly, “If I could save just one person, just you, all this would be worth it.”
“All what would be worth it? Carting me around for a week? Or being a cop in the first place?”
There was more gentle lip-biting. He crossed his arms and looked toward the railroad tracks. He wanted to melt into the shadows, I knew, but too bad. He was standing in the beam of the police car headlights, as brightly lit as if he were number one in a police lineup.
“John, did you become a cop just so you can save people from the bridge?”
“It’s not that simple,” he told the tracks.
“That’s screwed up, John.”
He turned back to me.
“It’s not that simple,” he said again, through his teeth.
This was really a problem for him. I took in the whole picture of him, dark eyes, scowl, crossed arms.
Then I thought about what I must look like in the headlights’ beam. I had crossed my arms at some point without knowing it. I looked the same as John, but with the blue eyes of a dead girl.
We stood there by the bridge, at this impasse, for what seemed like a long time.
Finally I took a deep breath and uncrossed my arms with effort, letting them hang by my sides. I felt naked. “The Kia knows you’re looking for him and you’re probably working all night. He plans to hide out somewhere until morning, then blend into the rush hour traffic headed to Birmingham. In the meantime, he knows you’re the only one chasing him. He figures he’s not that important. So he’ll pick a hiding place that has two ways out, like I said.”
John uncrossed his arms. “For instance?”
“The quarry. The airport. Behind the rental storage buildings.”
He nodded at the car. “Let’s go.”
On the bumpy drive back to the main road, I tried to gauge whether we were on speaking terms again, or whether we were going to spend the rest of the night plus three more in this uncomfortable silence. I tried it out. “Why are you bothering? He dumped the shit out the window fifteen minutes ago.”
“Even if I caught him with something, it wouldn’t stick. Usually doesn’t. Or he’d be out in six months. I just like to scare them.”
Right before he pulled onto the main road, he turned up the radio, probably so he wouldn’t have to talk to me again. He still bit his lip gently. But by the time we reached the dirt road through the woods that eventually would snake behind the storage buildings, he’d recovered. With a glance at me, he said, “You know an awful lot about hiding from cops.”
“I don’t make daily drug buys, if that’s what you’re thinking. I go parking.”
He grinned, showing his dimples.
“Don’t act like you’re above it,” I laughed. “Next weekend, I’d better not find you in all my parking places.”
“I don’t need to go parking anymore. I have an apartment.”
“That’s right. I forget you’re the big nineteen.”
I had assumed he still lived with his parents. Now I wondered what it would be like to make out (or more) in a boy’s apartment. No cops to sneak up on you. No parents to walk in on you.
Who liked me only because I reminded him of a dead girl. So, never mind.
He cut the headlights, and the car crept to the edge of a cliff. Below us, we could see the roof of the Kia behind the storage buildings.
“If you drive down there,” I said, “he’ll just escape the other way. That’s what he’s counting on. You have to walk down there, point your gun at him, and yell at him in that charming way you have.”
John radioed to Lois and opened the door. As he got out, he tossed at me, “You have a brilliant criminal mind.”
“Thanks, I think.”
I watched him walk down the road through the forest with his hand on his gun. The floodlights over the storage buildings hummed low.