Home > Little Lies(10)

Little Lies(10)
Heather Gudenkauf

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” a frightened voice says. “It’s just me, it’s Jonah.” I stop struggling and peer through the darkness, but the night is starless and the light from the streetlamps is too weak.

“Jonah?” I say breathlessly.

“It’s me,” he says disconsolately. It’s then that I recognize his voice. Jonah, always so sad sounding. I used to call him Eeyore after the melancholy donkey from the Winnie the Pooh stories.

“What are you doing? You scared me to death,” I exclaim.

“I’m sorry,” he says hoarsely. And I can tell that he is near tears. “I had to talk to you. The police think I had something to do with that girl’s death.”

I think of what I learned about Apollo and Artemis slaying others to protect Leto. In some twisted way, did Jonah think he was protecting the memory of his mother, maybe protecting Mason by killing Marissa? I’m tempted to ask, Did you? Did you kill Marissa? But I stay silent. I don’t want him to run away.

“I know her. Knew her,” he amends. “But barely. I told her mother that. I told her I barely knew her, that Nichols was who she hung out with. I told her I didn’t know anything about Marissa taking drugs, but she didn’t believe that either. I didn’t hurt her. The police think I did, but I swear I didn’t.”

“Why do you think that, Jonah?” I ask softly. “I’m sure the police are talking to everyone who knew Marissa.”

“Because I saw her that night. I saw her! But I didn’t kill her.”

“What time did you see her? Where?” I ask, trying to keep my voice even and calm.

“At the park, just before. Just before it must have happened.”

“You were in the park? You and Marissa were in the park?”

“Not together.” Jonah sniffs loudly. “Yeah, she was in the park and she was buying.”

“Buying? You mean she was buying drugs? From who? Jonah, you have to talk to the police. You could help them find who really did this to her.”

“No,” he says resolutely. “I can’t. They won’t believe me. They think I did it. Because of my mom,” his voice cracks. “Because of the way my mom died, they will think I did the same thing.”

“No,” I say, but it comes out weakly because that’s exactly what crossed Joe’s mind.

“I could never do that. Never.”

“I know, Jonah, I know,” I say soothingly. “I could go with you. We could go talk to the police together.”

“No,” he says and reaches for the door.

“Wait!” I exclaim. “I can help you.”

“I just wanted to tell you. I wanted you to know...” Jonah says as he pushes the door open and the overhead light goes on. Jonah looks so much younger than his eighteen years, but he has seen more than most have in a lifetime. His eyes are wild and wide, a trapped animal.

“I know,” I say, looking at him levelly. “I believe you.” Before he is completely out of the van a thought strikes me and I ask, “Why would she be out in the park without her shoes?” Jonah’s eyes fill with confusion and then he is gone.

On weak legs I climb out of the van and scan the street trying to see what direction he ran off to. He’s disappeared into the night. “Be careful,” I whisper after him. “Be safe.”

I don’t want to alarm my mother or the kids. I take gulps of fresh wintry air and try to compose myself before going into the house. After a few moments I know what I need to do. With a heavy heart I pull my phone out of my purse and call Joe. It’s not that I’m sure that Jonah could have done this. I don’t believe he has. I’m more afraid that Jonah will get himself into more trouble by running away.

“Missed me already, huh?” Joe asks by way of greeting.

“Joe, listen,” I begin, “Jonah was here.”

Instantly, Joe becomes serious. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” I say impatiently. “He’s scared to death. He said he saw Marissa in the park the night of the murder. She was buying drugs.”

“Did he say who she was buying from?”

“No, listen. I’m trying to tell you Jonah didn’t know about Marissa’s bare feet. He’s not running because he killed her, but because he’s afraid of you. Or maybe he’s afraid of the person that did kill her. He mentioned a guy named Nichols or maybe Nicholas, I don’t know. The drug dealer maybe. He must have seen him, too.”

There is silence on the line. After a moment Joe says, “I have to send a car out looking for him.”

“I know, but treat him like what he is—a witness, not a suspect.”

“Fair enough,” Joe says with a sigh. “Thanks for calling me, Ellen. I know that wasn’t easy for you.”

“Will you call me if you find him? Joe, he’s so scared I’m afraid he might do something desperate.”

Joe promises to call me the minute Jonah is found and I promise to call him back if Jonah tries to contact me again. When I turn the key and push open the front door, I find my mother sitting on the couch rocking a dozing Avery. The house is silent, all the toys have been stowed away, the kitchen is spotless. My mother is amazing.

She puts a finger to her lips and murmurs, “She’s almost asleep.”

“I don’t know how you do it.” I gingerly sit down next to her, trying not to startle Avery. “You make it look so easy.” She blushes with pleasure and waves the compliment away.

“It’s getting late,” I say, looking at the clock on the wall. There’s a murderer out there somewhere and I don’t want to send my mother off to fend for herself. “Why don’t you just spend the night?”

“It’s not that late. Besides, I can’t leave Dolly home alone all night.” I know better than to argue with my mother. Dolly is her ancient dog, a German shorthaired pointer that has become her best friend since my father passed away. I lay Avery in her crib and walk my mother out to her car. Once she pulls away I scan the street looking for any sign of Jonah, alternately hoping that the police have safely picked him up and that he’s escaped somewhere far away.

Once in the house I check on the kids one more time; each is curled beneath their covers, sleeping soundly. I’m tempted to climb into my own bed, but I know that until Jonah is found safely, sleep will not come. I pad down the stairs, pausing to turn up the thermostat a few degrees and return to my spot in front of the computer. First, I pull up my email and send a note to my colleague, Christina Gordon, at the Sioux City Department of Human Services with an inquiry about Marissa Newkirk, and for good measure add my cell phone number, telling her she can call me at any time, day or night, to just please call.

Next, I do another online search, looking for any other cases that even remotely resemble the deaths of Nell, Marissa and Devin Fallon. Nothing. I’m tempted to call Joe to see if there has been any sign of Jonah. I run our brief encounter over and over in my head. So Jonah knew Marissa—so did a lot of people. Jonah insisted that he barely knew Marissa, even told Marissa’s mother that. I sit up straight. When did Jonah and Judith talk? Must have been when Judith couldn’t get in contact with her daughter and drove from Sioux City to her apartment. Jonah also mentioned someone named Nicholas or Nichols.

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