Titus was closer to it. He plucked Draven’s cell phone off the dresser. Seeing Deputy Martinez’s name for the caller ID sent adrenalin rushing through his veins. He answered the phone with a clipped, “Hello,” which was the best he could do when he knew bad news was coming. There’d be no other reason for Martinez to call.
“This is Deputy Martinez. Is this—”
“Titus,” Deputy Martinez repeated.
Draven cupped Titus’s cheek. “It’s going to be okay,” he whispered.
Titus hoped Draven was right.
“I’m going to put you on speaker so Draven can hear this,” Titus said.
“I wanted to let you know that I don’t think Joel started the fire at Mr. Costille’s residence. Joel was arrested last night in Michigan for assaulting another man, someone he’d apparently hooked up with. From what the detective I spoke with said, Joel’s been in Michigan for several days.”
“How many days?” Draven asked. “Was he ever in Texas?”
“Yes, from what I’ve been able to trace, he was, but…” Deputy Martinez sighed. “I’m trying to get flight records, but Detective Adams—in Michigan-- said he thinks Joel’s parents are covering his tracks. They aren’t cooperating and have a lawyer snarling at Detective Adams any time he tries to gather evidence.”
“Their boy can do no wrong,” Titus mumbled, backing toward the bed.
“They’re not doing him any favors,” Martinez said. “There’s something else. It might upset you more.”
“Shit.” Titus was glad Draven was there, guiding him down to sit on the bed.
“What is it?” Draven asked, taking a seat beside him.
Martinez sighed. “The guy he assaulted, he looks similar to you, Titus. Detective Adams emailed me a photo of him. There’s a clear resemblance. Adams said the victim told him Joel called him by your name.”
Titus felt ill. He pressed a hand against his queasy stomach. “But he isn’t here. In Texas. He wasn’t here yesterday.”
“Not for the past few days,” Martinez said. “I’m working on finding out just how long he’s been out of the state, but I just learned that he was in Michigan about an hour ago. I’ve been on the phone and emailing back and forth with Detective Adams. He also thinks Joel’s parents will bail him out.”
“They will if they can.” Titus knew that much. “He’s violating his parole, though, isn’t he?”
“Yeah, but if the victim backs out…” Martinez trailed off.
Titus rubbed his eyes, hoping to push back tears he didn’t want to shed. “That could happen. Joel’s parents offered me money not to prosecute him.”
“Did you turn them in to the police for that?” Martinez asked.
“No. I didn’t have any proof, and they had their lawyer in the room when they did it. My word would have been useless against the three of them,” Titus said. “And in the end, I don’t think it would have made a difference. A lot of people saw Joel. His parents wanted me to say it was a one-time thing, and I wouldn’t.”
“He didn’t get a long enough sentence.” Draven glared at the phone like it had personally failed in that task.
“We do the best we can, then the sentencing is out of our hands,” Martinez replied. “I just wanted to let y’all know about this since it means someone else had to start the fire. Unless he paid someone to do it.”
“I wouldn’t put it past him,” Titus admitted. “And getting arrested… that seems an extreme way to prove he wasn’t here, but Joel isn’t reasonable.”
“Is there anyone else who’d have set the fire?” Martinez cursed. “Shit. I guess that’s not information I need, unless it ties in to what happened here. I’m still waiting on prints; if it turns out that Joel’s aren’t among them, that doesn’t mean he didn’t do it. He could have worn gloves. But, is there a chance it could have been someone else?”
Titus and Draven exchanged glances. “No one I can think of,” Titus answered, because even if Andres was magically—supernaturally—alive, would he have known about Titus then? And how would Titus explain Andres to Deputy Martinez? He couldn’t.
“I don’t believe in coincidences,” Martinez was saying. “It could be two different people harassing y’all, or it could be one person. Could be someone we haven’t looked into or that you don’t even know, Titus. People can be hateful and justify it to themselves in ways no rational being ever would.”
Titus agreed and after a few more minutes, Deputy Martinez ended the call. Titus set the phone on the nightstand and slumped over, his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. “I don’t understand. I thought Joel was here.”
Draven slid a hand up and down his back. “We don’t know that he didn’t have a hand in what happened.”
“We don’t know…” Titus sat up and leaned against Draven. “We don’t know anything, yet I’m sure Joel broke into and vandalized my house. I’d been terrified I led him here, but now, knowing it wasn’t him…I’m more terrified. If it wasn’t him-- but he could have hired someone, but the guy, the one who looked like Andres, would he do that? Why would he? How? What’s--”
Titus took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, then he did it again.
If he didn’t stop, he was going to think himself into a panic attack.
Draven pulled him close and held him, and though no words were spoken, listening to Draven’s heartbeat calmed Titus down.