Elsie was half-way through her third piece of pizza when her mind finally registered something her mother had said. She set the slice back on her plate. “Mom. You said that the train stopped whistling after the crash.”
“Yes.” She shuddered. “I didn’t like the silence it left behind. I hurried on home.”
“You didn’t go to see—”
She gave her daughter The Look. “Have I ever been a rubbernecker?”
“Exactly. I headed on home.” Clarice grabbed another piece. “Mm? What are you thinking?”
Elsie picked the pepperoni off her pizza and ate the pieces of meat one at a time. “Nothing.”
“Uh-huh. I feel a thick cloud of tension floating above your head.”
“Mom. It’s nothing. It’s nothing.”
“And saying it twice makes it double nothing?” She tapped her lips as she considered that concept. “A double nothing would be a double negative which would make it a positive which makes it something.”
Elsie ate her last pepperoni. “I’m going for a walk.”
“I’ll come with you.” said Hildreth.
“No. I need some alone time.”
He frowned. “Why?”
She pushed back her seat and stood. “I just do.” She kissed her mom on the head. “I’ll be right back. Love you.”
“Stay out of trouble. I don’t want to have to bail you out of jail again.”
“Again?” asked Hildreth.
“Oh? She didn’t tell you about her stint in the slammer? My goodness! Scoot on over here, handsome, and I’ll tell you all of the bloody details.”
Hildreth scooted over to her.
“It happened when she was only five years old…”
Elsie quietly slipped away from them and left.
Elsie followed the sirens’ call at a nervous but steady gait.
Groups of other curiosity seekers walked with her and tried to make conversation.
Elsie didn’t even hear them.
Her mind twisted and tangled with a series of fears and doubts and What If’s that could all be narrowed down to one word.
I’m being ridiculous. He had nothing to do with it. He doesn’t even have a car. Even if he did, why would he go on a wild ride like that through town?
It doesn’t make sense.
She followed the crowd down a couple of blocks all the way up to a blocked intersection. Five cops stood guard at the barrier. None of them looked particularly inclined to let anyone through.
Elsie walked up to the closest guard – a redhead with a woe is me expression on his face. He looked at her and heaved out a sigh ripe with misery. “I can’t let anyone through. So, don’t ask. Just go away.”
The other members of the crowd tried extra hard to peek and peer ahead at the disaster.
“What happened here?”
“Some greasy dweeb thought it would be awesome fun to joy ride through town and stick his stinky Jeep on the train tracks and…ehhh. I don’t feel like talking about it. It just makes me mad. Go away, little lady, and take your cadre with you.”
“Did something happen to the train?”
“Did something happen? Lady. A car was sitting in its path. What do you think happened?”
“Ooo.” said a goth guy next to Elsie. “Were there bodies everywhere?”
The rest of the group stopped rubbernecking to give him deeply scandalized looks.
“I’m not at liberty nor am I interested enough to say. Go back to your lives, people. We cops have this allll under control.”
“Did they see who did it?” asked Elsie. “Did they catch him?”
“He was some punk in a gray hoodie. And no, we didn’t catch him.”
One of his fellow cops glared at him. “You’re not supposed to be divulging this information to the general public. Not yet, anyway.”
“Yeah? You wanna make a big federal case about it? Huh? Do ya, Chuck?”
“What? You’re still here? Lady, I told you to go away.”
“Did they see his face?”
“I don’t know. Probably.”
She scowled. “Is there anyone here I can talk to who knows more about this case than you?”
“Yeah, plenty of anyones. Am I going to pull them away from their investigations just to satisfy your curiosity? No.”
“This is more than curiosity. This is—”
“Look. If you’re with the press, you’ll have to go take a seat. My guys are kind of busy right now.” He turned to intercept a border crosser.
“But I need to know!”
He didn’t even respond.