"I DIDN'T WANT TO talk about this in front of Thad," Ruth said.
She sipped her iced latte and gazed at the Cadyville River. We were sitting on a park bench beside the river after stopping in at Beans R Us to get drinks. The afternoon sun was warm on our faces, and the sound of moving water had the usual soporific effect. I'd been patient, waiting until she was ready to tell me what had happened that night.
Now I prompted, "You, Chris, Irene, and Jake met to discuss something to do with CRAC."
Her eyes slewed my way, gauging what I already knew. Looking back at the sunlight sparkling on water, she nodded. "Yes" Another sip of latte.
Carefully erasing judgment from my voice, I asked, "You had a meeting about the co-op the night before Scott's funeral?"
"Must have been something pretty important."
"There was a problem that needed to be solved. We discussed it and decided what to do."
"You're being very vague." Frustration leaked out of my voice. I didn't like the way this conversation was going, didn't like it at all. Dread settled into my gut.
I hesitated, then pushed forward. "What else happened that night? After the meeting."
A long silence, and then a bracing breath. "Jake left first. A few minutes later I left."
Why, oh why, had Ruth provided a false alibi for Chris? With great effort I kept my mouth shut and let her continue.
"I went home," she said.
"And then you left again."
Slowly she nodded. But she didn't speak.
Turning to look at me, she said, "Because Chris needed me. She insisted she wanted to be alone, but shortly after I got home, she called. Wanted me to come back. Irene had been getting ready to leave, but then Chris broke down, and she agreed to stay for awhile longer. So I drove back to Chris' house, and we spent two more hours with her, talking some, but mostly listening as she talked about Scott."
That wasn't so bad. I shook my head. "You lied about being with Chris all evening. I don't want that to come back on you. Why did you do it?"
"Right off the bat, that Detective Lane decided Chris had killed Ariel. I knew she hadn't. Irene knew she hadn't. Any gap in our story, and that detective would have arrested that poor woman for something she didn't do."
Relief breezed through me. "You have to tell the police the truth. Tell Barr if you don't want to talk to Detective Lane "
She stood and walked to the garbage can placed a few feet away from the bench. Tossed in her empty latte cup. Came back and stood beside me, looking down.
"No! Ruth, this is murder. It's a small detail, you going home and coming back, and it probably doesn't affect a thing. But you need to tell them, anyway."
Resignation weighed her features, her shoulders, as she turned away. "I know, Sophie Mae. I know."
"Where are you going?"
"No," she said. "I need to think."
Not knowing what else to do, I let her go.
Ruth's compassion for Chris was going to get her in trouble. But what had really happened wasn't that big of a deal.