Trina sat with the police officer who had come to the gas station; she had called the police after escaping the group of women on the road.
“They surrounded the car?” the police officer asked, her pen poised over the notepad on the counter. “Did they hurt you?”
“No,” Trina assured her. “They were just all … standing there. They didn’t move, or say anything, or blink. They just stood there, until I drove away, and then I saw behind me that they had all made a circle around the cop.”
“Did you see the officer’s name badge?” the officer asked. “Or the number on the car?”
Trina shook her head. “No,” she said. “He had just gotten out of the car to come to my window. And then all the women showed up, out of nowhere. And he told me to come here and get help.”
The officer had sent a separate car down the road where Trina had been pulled over, where she had left the poor policeman behind at the mercy of the strange group of identically dressed, long-haired women. Why would they all dress the same? she wondered. Why would they all look alike? It seemed, in the dark, as though it was the same woman, copied seven or eight times. Suddenly she felt a little less spooked – maybe it was some kind of projector, some kind of elaborate hoax. Maybe the policeman would be okay, and everyone would have a good laugh about it.
A panic-stricken voice crackled over the officer’s radio. “Jordan!” the voice shouted. “Tony’s out here! He’s … he’s dead. He – it looks like he was strangled.”
The officer’s eyes had opened wide. “What do you mean, dead?” she barked into the radio. “Did you see anybody else?”
“No,” the voice replied. “But there are lots of footprints here – mud prints, or … or maybe blood. It’s hard to tell in the dark.”
The officer started issuing urgent instructions into the radio, about back-up, and keeping people clear of the crime-scene, and scouring the area for the women Trina had reported. She glanced piercingly at Trina. “You’ll need to stay with me,” she commanded, obviously considering Trina a suspect in the death of the other officer.
“O-okay,” Trina agreed. She thought about the officer who had pulled her over, about how she had left him there – at his instruction! – to be killed by those women. I’m sorry, she thought, tears in her eyes. She sat quietly for a long while, until the officer was ready to escort her to the police station for questioning.
* * *
Officer Tony Prescott’s dash-cam recording exonerated Trina, but she was required to spend some hours answering endless questions. All around her, the police station was frantic with unusual activity; it was a small town, after all, and crimes like this just didn’t happen. The dash-cam recording had captured the women, a total of nine women all wearing the same floral dress and the same dark hair swept down over their faces. But at the point when the women had surrounded Officer Prescott, the recording had cut out, showing only static for a few moments and clearing up only after the women had vanished.
“Do you recognize the women?” Jordan asked. “From before tonight, I mean.”
“No,” Trina said, shaking her head.
“I do,” a voice said behind her. “That looks like Madeleine Jackson.” The owner of the voice was one of the detectives; he sat down at the table next to Trina and peered at the dash-cam footage.
“Who?” Jordan asked. “That name isn’t familiar to me.”
“She disappeared about a year ago,” the detective explained. “She had been driving over here from Silton to see a friend, and she never showed up.”
“Silton?” Jordan repeated. “She probably would have been on that same road.” She shook her head, frowning. “But if she’s been missing for a year, then how did she end up there tonight? And who are the other women?”
“Maybe it’s some kind of projector,” Trina offered. “Some kind of trick.”
“But why?” Jordan wanted to know. “Why would anyone want to kill Tony?”
More time went by, and Trina felt like she had answered every question at least three times. It was now after sunrise, and even though the detective had given her all the coffee she could ask for, it wasn’t really helping her stay awake at this point. But even though she was increasingly exhausted, she also wanted to be here, following everything the police were finding out about what had happened to Officer Prescott. Surely someone, especially now that the darkness was fading, had found some trace besides muddy footprints of the women. Despite her best efforts, though, she found herself starting to doze off.
“Jordan!” the detective called loudly, startling Trina awake. “I got something!”
“So do I,” Jordan said, coming over to the detective’s desk. “They found another body in the ravine, about half a mile from the road where Tony died. It’s been there a while.”
“A while?” the detective asked. “How long is a ‘while’?”
“It’s almost just bones,” Jordan said. She scowled. “These women who killed Tony,” she said. “They’re dressed like a woman who’s been in the ravine forever. Why? If they knew about the woman in the ravine, why didn’t they report it? Unless they killed her too.” She squinted at the detective. “Do you think it’s your Madeleine Jackson?”
“It could be,” he answered. “I got a call a few weeks ago about a body found under a tree twenty miles up the highway; we thought it might be Madeleine, but it turned out to be a girl from Colorado Springs who was driving through on her way to college – a girl named Tamara Lengle.” He gestured toward his phone. “Tamara had a tuft of hair clutched in her hand; they just let me know they found a match for the hair.” He paused as though he didn’t particularly want to say what he had learned. “It was Tony,” he said finally.
“What was Tony?” Jordan asked. “You – you don’t mean Tony’s hair was on this Tamara girl?”
The detective nodded. “They matched the DNA,” he said. “Tony’s was on file.” He sighed, glanced at Trina who still sat quietly on a nearby bench, and leaned closer to Jordan. “What if he killed Madeleine, too?” he asked in a low voice. “What if that’s why whoever killed him tried to look like Madeleine? Like … revenge?”
Jordan didn’t waste any time being shocked at what she was hearing. “Why not just turn him in?” she asked. “If they thought he had killed these women?”
“Maybe it was Madeleine,” Trina said softly. Her eyes were swimming with tears. “Maybe she … maybe she saved my life tonight.” The woman – all the women – had come out of nowhere. The video had gone to static – wasn’t that one of those things that meant it was a ghost? Wouldn’t that explain why there were so many copies of the same woman?
She looked at Jordan and the detective. They were looking back at her with a mixture of disbelief and nervousness, as though they shared the thoughts she had spoken aloud but didn’t want to acknowledge it. “I think you need to get some sleep,” Jordan said after a moment. She rubbed her forehead. “I think I do too.”
The detective nodded. “We do,” he said. He glanced again at his phone. “But the whole thing just got a lot more complicated. And I’m not sure how to feel about Tony.”
“Yeah,” Jordan agreed. “Me either.” She sighed. “We investigate Tony’s involvement with this Tamara girl,” she decided. “We investigate these remains from the ravine. We investigate Tony’s murder. We do all those things. And you,” she added, giving a small half-smile to Trina. “Can go home and get some rest, and if we have more questions, we’ll get in touch with you.”
Trina blinked away her tears. “Okay,” she said, climbing stiffly to her feet. “But … but I really do think Madeleine saved me tonight.” She drained the cup of coffee the detective had given her, pulled her purse strap over her shoulder, and made her way silently out of the police station.
She thought about the policeman – Tony – and how he had pulled her over on such a deserted road, so late at night. How he had leaned so close into her car window. How frightened he was, even though he had a gun, when he saw the woman in front of the car. He must have recognized her – recognized Madeleine, that he had left dead in a ravine.
Thank you, Madeleine, Trina thought. I’m pretty sure you saved my life last night.