Authors: Simone St. James
“Parties? Boys? Movies? Cathy and Victoria cared about those things, I bet. Betty, too, maybe.” She tapped the article sitting between them. “Her body was dumped at the Sun Down Motel.”
Alma’s voice was tight. “It wasn’t the Sun Down Motel. Not then.”
“No, it was a construction site. He killed her and dumped her body on a dirt heap at a construction site.”
“It was years ago.”
Maybe, but Betty is still there. She’s still at the Sun Down. I’ve seen her, because she never left.
She’s still there, and she’s telling me to run.
Betty had been twenty-four. Unmarried with no boyfriends, no enemies, no wild habits. Gone from her own house in the middle of a Saturday, never seen alive again. Betty’s parents were still grieving, still looking. “We just want to know who would do such a thing,” Betty’s father was quoted in the article as saying. “We can’t understand it. I suppose it won’t help in the end. But we just want to know.”
The photo of Betty was of the woman she’d seen at the Sun Down. Her hair was tied back and there was a smile on her face for the camera, but it was her.
“What does ‘violated’ mean?” Viv asked again.
Alma shook her head. “You should drop this, honey. These are dark things. They aren’t good for you.”
“Dark things are
things,” Viv said. She’d sat reading articles in the Fell library, her stomach sick. She’d gone home and wept soundlessly on her bed, the sobs coming as drowning gasps, thinking about the woman in the flowered dress, how she was still there where her body was dumped, as if she couldn’t leave. “Listen,” she said to Alma yet again. They were both due on shift in ten minutes. “The last person to see Betty alive was a neighbor who saw what she thought was a traveling salesman knock on Betty’s door. She opened the door and let him in.” Her blood pounded so hard in her temples that she heard her own voice like an echo. “There’s a traveling salesman who comes to the motel. He uses fake names every time he checks in.”
That made Alma go still for a minute as she thought it over—but only for a minute. “So you’ve seen a traveling salesman, and you think it could be Betty’s killer?”
“A traveling salesman who comes to the Sun Down, where her body was left. And doesn’t say who he is.”
“Okay.” Alma looked at her watch. “Look, I’ll tell you what: Get me something, anything I can look up, and I’ll look it up for you. Hell, no one gives a shit what I do on my shift anyway. Next time this guy comes in, get me something. Try to get a name, make and model of car, a license plate, the company where he works, anything. Chat him up a bit. Be nice, but be careful. You’re a good-looking girl and not everyone is as nice as you are.”
“I know.” She knew that now.
“Okay then, we have a deal. I have to go to work now. See you later, Vivian. And if nothing comes of this—please drop it. If not for yourself, then for me.”
Viv nodded, though she knew she would never drop it. It was in her blood now. She gathered her papers and notebook and went to work.
There was no one in the office again, though the lights were on and the door was unlocked. She put on her uniform vest and sat at the desk.
Next time this guy comes in, get me something.
She hadn’t told Alma about the ghosts. About the woman in the flowered dress. About the fact that every time the traveling salesman checked in, the motel woke up and became a kind of waking nightmare.
As if the Sun Down didn’t like him at all.
Next time this guy comes in, get me something.
Maybe it was nothing. It was probably nothing, and she was just a stupid girl who didn’t know what she was talking about.
“Betty?” she said aloud into the silence.
There was no answer. But when she breathed in, Viv caught a faint trace of fresh cigarette smoke.
What does “violated” mean?
The man in the car, his hand on her thigh.
What does “violated” mean?
Get me something.
Betty, then Cathy, then Victoria. Three women murdered in Fell in the past few years. Their bodies dumped like trash. Even if one of them was solved, that still left two whose murderer was still out there. The salesman was the only lead she could think of, the only place to start.
She had a problem: She didn’t know when the salesman would come again. She was stuck for however long, until he chose to check in. If he chose to check in ever again.
When he was here before, he’d left no trace of who he was. Except . . .
Viv thought it over and smiled to herself.
Maybe she wasn’t stuck after all.
Fell, New York
Libraries were my places. I was that girl who maxed out her library card every week, starting with
The Witch of Blackbird Pond
and moving up from there. I could kill an hour by wandering into an unfamiliar part of the Dewey Decimal System and checking it out. Computers, card catalogs, microfiches—I could navigate them all.
So the Fell Central Library was immediately familiar. It was set in the middle of downtown in a building that was large-ish and supposed to be prestigious based on its fake marble and columns. Inside it was musty and boxy, a huge cube with high windows and open stairs to the upper level. I bypassed the circulation desk on the main floor and headed for the back of the building, taking a guess at where the media archives room would be. I passed a few retirees, a thirty-year-old woman obviously studying feverishly for an exam, and a handful of students my age who probably went to Fell’s tiny college. They likely assumed I was one of them, since I was wearing jeans, my lace-up boots, and a sweater under a waist-length jacket, my hair in its usual ponytail.
I hefted my messenger bag and wandered the stacks. The back of the library was pleasantly dusty and dim, far from the windows and full of empty corners. It suited my exhaustion, since it was four o’clock in the
afternoon—the middle of the night for me. I’d had to rouse myself from bed to get to the library while it was still open. I hadn’t had the heart to wake Heather and drag her with me since she slept so rarely, and was still asleep in our apartment.
I had to go upstairs to find what I wanted, but it was indeed at the back of the library: a glass door with the words
FELL ARCHIVE ROOM
on them. Inside the room I had the place to myself—just me, a couple of computer terminals, a few long tables, and a few shelves of books and magazines. I didn’t even bother asking a librarian; I just sat down.
Twenty minutes later I’d figured out the archive system. It was time to learn about Fell.
I started with the obvious searches:
Viv Delaney, Viv Delaney missing, Sun Down Motel.
I’d only ever had the two articles I’d found in my mother’s belongings, those two scraps of newsprint, but in Fell’s database there was another article that mostly repeated the same information I already had, as well as one more titled
WHO WAS VIVIAN DELANEY? Local girl’s disappearance leaves questions behind.
I entered my credit card number and hit Print on that one.
Sun Down Motel
search gave me different results. I narrowed the search parameters to 1980–1983 and didn’t get many hits, so I expanded the years and then deleted the parameters entirely. What I got from that was, in its bits and pieces of glory, a chronological history of the Sun Down Motel.
It was built in 1978 on a plot of land called Cotton’s Land because it had belonged to a farmer named Cotton before he sold out. It opened in early 1979—still the cold season, before the tourist season began. There wasn’t much fanfare about its opening except for a photo of the motel, taken from just past the sign on the edge of Number Six Road. In front of the motel stood a woman, a man, and a young boy, their hands on his shoulders. The caption read:
Janice and Carl McNamara, with their son Christopher, in front of their new motel, called the Sun Down. The motel is now open for business and features a pool, cable TV, and rooms at twenty dollars per night.
I looked closer at the little boy, recognizing Chris, the depressed guy who had hired me.
Frankly, I hate this place. I come out here as little as possible. Every memory I have of this place is bad.
I looked at the photo for another minute. The Sun Down, on that day in early 1979, looked exactly like it did when I’d worked there last night—same doors, same fixtures, same sign. Except for Carl’s big collar, Chris’s gingham shirt, and Janice’s ultra-high-waisted pants—which were coming back in style anyway—I
in this picture. Even the motel office sign behind Carl’s shoulder was the same one I saw every night. The parking lot was empty, the trees tall and dark in the backdrop. There was something creepy and comforting at the same time about the familiarity, as if Carl and Janice had never died, as if Chris hadn’t grown up miserable and wishing the motel had never existed. As if the woman in the flowered dress could open one of the room doors and step out to the railing, asking politely when the pool would open.
I printed the photo and flipped to the next mentions. The Sun Down hadn’t done well, even from the first—there was a marijuana bust there in December 1979, and a runaway girl was found there with her boyfriend in February 1980.
I scrolled to an article in July 1980 and froze.
BOY DIES IN TRAGIC POOL ACCIDENT
, the headline read. It was buried in the back of the paper on July 13, 1980, two paragraphs in the “Local News” section. William Dandridge, known as Billy, age nine, had been staying at the Sun Down with his parents—they were driving to Florida—when he’d hit his head on the side of the pool. He’d been in the hospital for four days, his brain slowly swelling and dying, before he’d finally gone. His parents refused to speak to the press. When asked if the motel was going to hire a lifeguard, Janice McNamara had only said, “No. I think we’ll just close the pool.”
I stared at the monitor, my eyes going dry behind my glasses. That boy—I had seen him. Sitting on the motel’s second level, his hand against the panel as he leaned forward. I’d watched him run away.
It was him. And now I knew who he was.
“Excuse me,” a voice said at my shoulder. “Is this yours?”
I turned to find a man holding a stack of papers out to me. He was about my age, with soft golden brown hair worn a little long and brown eyes. He wore a black sweater and jeans, and behind him I could see a jacket and backpack on a table. I hadn’t even heard him come in.
I looked at the papers. It was the stack of articles I’d printed out—they were likely sitting in the printer on the other side of the room. The article on top was the headline that read
WHO WAS VIVIAN DELANEY?
“Thanks,” I said, taking the stack of pages from him.
“Did you figure it out?” he asked. His voice was low but not quite a whisper. This was a library, but so far we were alone in this room.
“Figure what out?” I asked him.
He pointed to the headline. “Who was Vivian Delaney?” he said. “I have to admit, I kind of want to know.”
I looked up at him again. I wasn’t used to seeing guys in daylight anymore, I realized. I scrambled to recall how people who weren’t me or Heather spoke to each other in the middle of the day. “She disappeared in 1982,” I told the man. “No one ever found her.”
“No shit,” the guy said. “She disappeared from Fell?”
“From the Sun Down Motel. She was working a night shift there.”
“I know that place.” He pulled up a chair and sat on it next to me, then seemed to remember himself. “I’m Callum MacRae, by the way,” he said, holding out his hand.
“Carly,” I said, shaking it. Now that I was level with him I could see that he had even features, dark brown eyes set beneath symmetrical brows, a perfect nose and cheekbones, a good chin. Something about him radiated class—the sweater, maybe, which I could now see was far from cheap and fit him to every seam. Or the easy way he took over and leaned in, like it was his right. Or the crisp way he smelled, like he’d put expensive cologne on a day or two ago, its tang just barely discernible. It was a nice package, and he gave me a smile, but I still kept my guard up. I’d spent
time in college, and he was an inch too far into my space. If this guy was a creeper, I’d have no problem making a scene.
“Sorry,” Callum said, though his tone said he wasn’t really. “I’m interrupting you. But I’m a geek when it comes to the history of Fell. Are you at FCCE? Doing a project?”
I was tired and stupid for a second. “What’s FCCE?”
He smiled again, more widely. “I guess you aren’t a student, then. It’s the Fell College of Classical Education.”
Oh. Right. “No, I don’t go there. Do you?”
“Not really,” Callum said. “Sort of. My mother is one of the profs there, so technically I get to go for free. It’s a perk they have for their profs. I try to go, but to be honest I don’t make it there very often.” He shrugged. “It’s boring, at least to me. I find this more interesting.” He tapped my pages. “I guess it’s a stupid question to ask if you’re doing a project, since you’re looking up Fell newspapers from 1982 and not Chaucer or something. I was just surprised to see someone in here. The only person who ever hangs out in this room is me.”
I looked around. “You hang out in the archive room of the Fell Library?”
“It sounds weird, I know. But they haven’t digitized the
before 2014. I guess you know that, since you’re here. You can’t get older issues online.”
“I know.” It was a big part of the reason for this whole adventure, actually. I had wanted to come to Fell to read the archives, a century ago when I was a seminormal Illinois girl with a weird reading hobby and a skeleton in the family closet.
“There were two other Fell papers,” Callum continued. His face had lit up, and I knew that whatever this was, it was his thing. “The
Upstate New York Journal
was daily, the
folded in 1980, the
in 1994. Neither of them are digitized, either, and they’re full of amazing stuff. A lot of those two aren’t even in the microfiches here. They’re all paper issues in the stacks,
if you can believe it. And I know I’m totally boring you, but I’m going somewhere with this, I promise.” He smiled again, and I felt myself smiling back. “The library doesn’t have the budget for the digitization project. When I heard that, I decided to do it myself. As a volunteer.”
My eyebrows rose. “Wow. You come in here every day and digitize papers? For free?”
“Yeah, I have permission. It’s not costing the library anything except for the scanner they bought and the computer they let me use. The librarians all know my mother because she’s an FCCE prof. They know I want to do this. So here I am.”
“But why?” I asked him. “Shouldn’t you be in school or something?” I cringed inwardly, because I sounded exactly like my mother. “I didn’t mean that the way it came out. I meant that if you really like this kind of thing, you could go to journalism school. Or intern at a paper.”
“I could do that,” Callum admitted, “but then I’d have to write about what they assign me and not what I want.”
I sighed and adjusted my glasses on the bridge of my nose. “I get that, actually.”
“I thought you would, because you’re here, too. Sitting in the archives room alone, just like I do.” He leaned forward. “This is Fell. Did you know that when they dug to make the parking lot of the Sav-Mart on Meller Street, they found six bodies? All children, all two hundred years old. That was in 1991. It wasn’t a graveyard—there was just a pit with six kids in it, all dead of typhoid. There weren’t even any coffins. Someone just dug a hole and put them in.”
“Holy shit,” I said. “Were they siblings?”
Callum held up a finger. “No,” he said, relishing the moment. “Not siblings. They were Europeans, too. So what happened? If there was an outbreak, there’s no record of it. Fell has a graveyard that dates back to 1756 and has European settlers in it. So why weren’t these kids there? Who just dumped them in a hole and ran? No one knows. I found the story in the
when I was digitizing last week. They wrote one story,
that’s it. It’s the craziest thing. Just ‘someone found the bodies of six kids, no one knows why they’re there. Also, it’s going to rain this weekend.’ That’s what I mean about Fell.”
“Yeah, I’m getting the idea,” I said.
“You’re not a local, I can tell.” Callum leaned back in his chair. “Fell attracts weird types. People who are a bit morbid. No offense.”
“None taken.” I gestured to the article on the table between us. “Viv Delaney was my aunt. My mother was her only sibling, and she’s dead now. I want to find out what happened, because she deserves some kind of justice. But nothing’s going the way I thought it would.”
He didn’t ask what that meant. He just nodded. “Okay, then. You’re not getting the full story on this microfiche. Let’s find some of the papers from 1982.”
Three hours later, Heather and I were sitting in our apartment, me on the sofa and her cross-legged on the floor. The coffee table was covered in printouts and photocopies, my spiral notebook sat open and scrawled in, and both of our laptops were open.
“This is a bonanza,” she said. “I’ve always done my true-crime stalking on the Internet. I guess the Fell archives room is the place to be.”
“I know.” I wrapped a blanket over my lap. Not all of the articles I’d pulled were about Viv; in fact, very few of them were. Her disappearance was a blip in the life of Fell, just another thing that happened in 1982. “Here’s what I don’t understand,” I said, picking up an article. Viv’s photo looked back at me from the page, a picture I hadn’t seen before. She was alone. Her shoulders were turned from the camera but she was looking back as if someone had called her name, her chin tilted down. The photo was slightly blurry, as if taken from a distance, but it was still clearly her. The other photos had been posed snapshots of Viv smiling, but in this picture her expression was serious, her mouth in a firm line, her brows slashes above her eyes, which were focused on something with deadly intensity. She wore a blue sweater with a handbag over her shoulder, and
her bangs were flipped with a curling iron, her hair cut just above her shoulders. No matter how fuzzy the photo or how dated the hairstyle, Viv had been a pretty young woman. “The articles don’t mention a search for her. Literally nothing. It seems like the cops asked around, put a few articles in the paper, and didn’t try much else.”
“Maybe we should talk to cops,” Heather said. She held up a piece of paper. “This article quotes Edward Parey, chief of Fell PD. Let’s see if he’s still alive.”