Authors: Audrey Claire
Tags: #Mystery: Paranormal - North Carolina
“She had an overdose of hydrocodone in her system, enough to stop her heart. We checked the scene where she was found and scoured the park. We’re still going through the garbage, but I’m pretty sure, we won’t find the bottle where the medicine came from.”
I swallowed. “Meaning?”
“Meaning the killer took it with him when he left Sadie for dead.”
I began to worry Clark might think I had some reason to kill Sadie, especially after the argument we had in the park, but he dismissed it as soon as I brought it up. “A twenty-year-old dispute over a pie-baking contest does not interest me, Libby. I want to know what information Sadie had someone killed her to keep hidden.”
“You think it’s because of what she was going to tell the mayor? Did she ever find her?”
“No.” He ground his teeth. “If she had, my job might have been simpler.”
“I wondered why it would happen in such a public place.”
“Desperation, maybe,” he speculated. “He was running out of time. The fewer people who knew his secret, the better.”
My words came tumbling out before I realized what I intended to say. “If she had been less eager to get the mayor’s attention and just told you when she stopped at our blanket, she might be alive today.”
Clark’s gaze went out of focus. “Pride before a fall…”
A knock on the door distracted us both from our musings. “Chief, Ken Barnett is here,” Bart, one of the officers, called through the door. I expected Clark to shout about being disturbed, but he paled. I recalled how Ken’s face looked when he sobbed over his grandmother’s body, and I felt sorry for Clark having to inform the young man about what happened.
I stood up to leave, but Clark reached across his desk to touch my hand. I drew away and saw hurt in his face. “Stay?” he asked. Color rushed into his cheeks.
“Sure.” I sat down again, and Clark called for Ken to come in.
Ken’s clothes were so rumpled, I had the feeling he had slept in them. Then again, red-rimmed and swollen, his eyes looked like he hadn’t slept much the night before. He fell into the seat Clark indicated and refused the offer of coffee. I looked at Clark and saw that he was at loss. He didn’t know how to deal with a sixteen-year-old in the capacity that he had to today, and I wasn’t much help.
“Did you hear from your parents yet?” Clark asked, and I sat forward, hoping to hear they were on the way.
“No. I left a message at the inn where they were staying, but they’re hiking in the highlands. My dad didn’t answer his cell phone.”
“Scotland?” Clark asked, and Ken nodded.
Poor Ken, dealing with this madness, and his parents enjoying a vacation without him. Anger rose in me at their decision to leave him without a sure way to get in touch with them. Sure, he might be sixteen, but he was still a child.
Clark stood and rubbed his neck. He walked to the window, peered out, and then turned back. “Look, I’m going to be straight with you. I think you can handle it.”
I studied Ken. He didn’t look like he could handle anything to me. “Clark—”
“I suspect your grandmother was murdered.”
Ken surged to his feet, knocking his chair over. Tears sprung to his eyes and splashed down his cheeks. “No, no, no. It can’t be. I…”
I hurried to his side and tried to hug him, but he pushed me away. He didn’t want to be comforted like a baby. I felt his pain and saw it in every movement. My throat closed, and I mumbled words of encouragement even as they sounded hollow to me. Ken didn’t seem to hear either way. Clark bypassed the empty words of comfort. He stood solid and quiet, waiting until Ken drew his emotions under control. The young man wiped his face and stood straighter.
“Thanks for telling me. I don’t know anything about…um…”
“I’m going to keep the body for a couple days. Maybe we will hear from your parents by then. They can decide after that.”
“Yeah.” I heard relief in Ken’s tone, and then he looked at me. Was he blaming me just like so many others? I figured the ones who accused me just wanted to stir trouble, but did Ken believe it as well? He had rejected my offer of comfort and backed away from me. When he turned to leave Clark’s office, I made a decision. I mumbled an excuse to Clark and ran out after Ken. I caught him on the front sidewalk outside the station.
“Ken, wait,” I called.
He looked back at me, anger tightening his lips. “What do you want?”
“I wanted to tell you…” How selfish it seemed to assert right now that I wasn’t to blame. “I wanted to say if you need anything, please let me know.”
“Can you find my parents?” he snapped.
“Just leave me alone.”
I refused to give up and stepped closer to him. I started to touch his arm but changed my mind. “Can you think of anyone who might want to hurt her?”
He didn’t bother to answer but turned away, stuffed his hands into his pockets, and strode down the street. I felt bad for Ken and…guilty, which was ridiculous because I couldn’t afford to carry any more guilt right now. I shouldered a heaping pile for Clark on a daily basis, and sometimes it still got me down.
Forgetting where I was and that I might be overseen, I was just about to wink out when a voice stopped me. I turned to find a sixtyish woman with silver hair standing before me, Mrs. Mary Cavendish, secretary of the Ladies in Summit’s Relief Association.
“Excuse me?” I asked. “What did you say?”
She pursed her lips, the skin around them wrinkling like she’d just sucked a lemon. “I said why are you leaving the police station?”
I blinked at her. “I don’t understand.”
Two spots of color stood out on her cheeks, and I couldn’t be sure if their roundness was artificial or natural. Mrs. Cavendish wagged a finger at me, stepping closer. “You should be locked up, shouldn’t you? After all, Sadie is dead. I heard the truth myself, that she was murdered. Why haven’t the police arrested you?”
Bernie the taxi driver drew up just as Sadie spoke her last sentence, and he hopped out to hurry up to us. “Shh, Mrs. Cavendish, you know Libby wouldn’t do something like that. Now come along. I’ll take you home.”
Mrs. Cavendish resisted. “I’m Sadie’s friend, and I demand justice.” She looked past me, and I turned to see Bart exiting the station. “Bart, do your job!”
He frowned. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Cavendish, but right now we don’t have evidence against Libby Grace to arrest her.”
“You’re sorry?” I quipped. “You sound like you wish you did. If everyone thinks I killed Sadie, then I might as well figure out who really did.”
Bart’s nostrils flared, and he pinned me with a look of such dislike, I took a step back. “You stay out of police business.”
“I have a right to clear my name,” I insisted. He would not intimidate me if it meant my freedom.
Bart mumbled something under his breath, but I wasn’t sure I’d heard right so I didn’t comment. Still it sounded like he’d said, “Some people think they are free to do whatever they want just because they’re dating the chief of police.”
I preferred to think I misheard and dismissed his irritability and dislike. As far as I knew Bart had never been unkind to me. He, like all the others in the station, had greeted me pleasantly whenever I visited the station or saw them around town. I was also pretty sure Clark’s men knew of his attraction to me, after I noticed it myself. No one had complained or seemed to think it was a bad idea on Clark’s part.
Before I could think of anything else to say to Bart, he strode away to his squad car. I turned to find Bernie assisting Mrs. Cavendish into the taxi and jogged over to them. “Mrs. Cavendish,” I called. She looked up at me with some impatience, but I didn’t let it deter me. “Can you think of anyone who might want to harm Sadie? I mean…” No one liked her, but I doubted anyone wanted her dead. “Someone who hated her.
didn’t hate her by the way.”
The older woman dropped into the backseat of the taxi and swung her feet inside. She stared straight ahead, and I prepared to walk away thinking she wouldn’t answer. “No one hated Sadie. I admit she was inordinately nosey, and sometimes it got on my nerves to the point that I snapped at her a time or two, but she was not spiteful in gleaning information. Do you understand?”
I didn’t. Sadie had deliberately twisted facts to suit whatever she wanted. She had even told the police she had seen me running from the scene of George Walsh’s murder. If that wasn’t spiteful, then what was it?
I figured I wouldn’t get anything useful from Mrs. Cavendish and thanked her for her time. After Bernie pulled off from the curb and they turned the corner, I scanned my surroundings. No one appeared to be nearby, but I didn’t take chances. I strolled down Main Street two blocks and came across Sadie’s consignment shop. She hardly ever opened it, and today a handwritten sign hung on the door that read Closed Until Further Notice. I continued farther along the street until I came to Gatsky’s Restaurant then crossed Main Street to get to the hardware store. I would put in a few hours work until it was time to pick up Jake from school.
“Hm, this looks like something,” Monica said, bent before the monitor of my four year old computer. “A missing person report in Charlotte.”
I hovered but then felt an energy surge. The monitor’s screen blinked, and Monica shooed me away. I sighed and settled on the opposite side of the room. Monica pulled a notepad closer to her and jotted down information from the recent article. I thought about how many days we had been going through this routine. Having limited funds and resources, we scoured the Internet for news reports or any other related information about missing persons. We hoped somehow we would stumble on a clue to where my body could be. I had also begun going from house to house, searching, something I despised because I hated invading people’s privacy. I felt like I was no different than Luis, who had done so with cameras.
Of course my search took longer with less results than the Internet simply because I came across things I didn’t want to see and feared seeing again if I continued. I needed this type of limbo to cease, and no other choice presented itself.
“Monica, what about the one week you gave me?” I hesitated to bring up the subject, but I needed to know she wasn’t planning on calling Mason, my ex-husband, to pick up Jake. “We’re well past the time limit you gave me for figuring out what happened to me.”
Monica stabbed a key over and over and growled under her breath. “This thing stinks. I should have brought my laptop over.”
“You didn’t want to risk me killing it like I killed the phone.”
“Twice,” Monica reminded me.
“Did you hear my question?”
My friend spun around in the chair and offered me a sad smile. “We’re going to figure out what happened. Don’t worry. And Jake isn’t suffering from what I can see. You’re even dating a cop.”
“One time doesn’t constitute ‘dating.’”
“Semantics. Point is, we’re living a mostly normal life. The library and the restaurant are good with letting me arrange my schedule around Jake’s pickup and drop-off times, so we’re okay.”
“It’s so inconvenient for you. I’m sorry.”
“We’re family. We make sacrifices for each other, right? Besides, you saved my life. I owe you big time.”
That didn’t make me feel better. “Number one, it was my meddling that caused Luis to come after us. Two, I didn’t save you. Ian did.”
Monica grinned. “I’m convinced he came to save you—and me by default. So it was still because of you.”
“I get that a lot,” she teased. “I’m okay with it.”
We shared a chuckle, which felt good for me. Without Monica I could do none of this, and I appreciated her. “Okay, so what did you find out?”
She held up the notepad and waved it. “We have a phone number. Let’s check it.”
“You check it.” While Monica dialed, I wandered over to the window and pulled the curtain aside. Just in time to see the mail lady drive up in her truck, I waved, and she smiled and waved back. A sigh escaped me. Monica was right. This did feel normal. I watched as the carrier opened my mailbox. She frowned and reached into the box to pull out an envelope. After checking it over, she held it up for me to see and shook her head. I understood she meant no one should place unstamped mail into the mailbox. Most people probably didn’t know, but it was illegal to place unstamped mail in mailboxes. The law wasn’t generally enforced, but it did exist.
After the carrier left, I headed outside to see who had decided to leave me such a present. I did get the occasional flyer with coupons for Gatsky’s and some for the Piggly Wiggly, but other than that, it was just bills. As I approached the mailbox, for some reason, I started to get nervous. I tugged the little door open and stared into the dark hole. Okay, my mailbox wasn’t that deep, but it did feel like a cavern into another world at that moment.
The envelope in question sat atop the others, my name clearly written in block letters and nothing else. No return address, not hint as to who had sent it. I pulled it and the pile out, hoping to find a clue inside, but something told me as I ran a thumb along the flap that this was not an ordinary letter.
A single page came out in my hand, and I unfolded it. In the same large script, was written,
I know what you are.
The page slipped from numb fingers, and I scrambled to grab it as a breeze picked it up to carry across my lawn. When I reached for it, my hand passed through, and I realized I had dropped all the other mail as well, but they lay in a pile, unaffected by the wind.
Okay, calm down, Libby. Someone is just playing a joke.
I looked down at myself. I was still fully visible, and I figured out that I had not wanted to touch the letter a second time, so I couldn’t. Ian had taught me a lot of my existence balanced on my will, such as if I willed to go somewhere, I appeared there. When I didn’t will to touch the letter, my hand dematerialized.
“Hey, what are you doing out here?” Monica called from the doorway.
I paused, crouched over the letter. “This.”
I was almost too scared to touch the letter again, but I forced myself to. Monica scooped up the rest of the mail, and we went inside. I dropped the odd note on the table, and we both stood over it. As soon as Monica took in the message, she gasped and slapped a hand over her mouth.