Read All the Blue-Eyed Angels Online

Authors: Jen Blood

Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Contemporary, #Thriller

All the Blue-Eyed Angels (8 page)

BOOK: All the Blue-Eyed Angels
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“You said nothing could ever be proven, but you seem pretty clear on the fact that Ashmont and the others were hiding something. Do you think there’s any chance he or one of the others started that fire?”

Flint shook his head without hesitation. “No—we know what happened, Ms. Solomon. Ashmont was hiding something, no question. They all were, but I’d say that had more to do with covering their own asses after making such a mess of things. The toxins in the blood, the isolation of the community, the fact that there were almost no survivors…” He hesitated, and I could tell he was thinking of my father. “Isaac Payson set that fire, as far as the Maine State Fire Marshal and the law is concerned. That’s why the case was closed. There were no questions left to answer.”

I thought of the secret stash of photos Noel Hammond had kept hidden all those years. The false alibi I had provided for my father. The padlock on the door. The cloaked man chasing us through the woods.

If he’d known the truth, I was confident that Sergeant Flint would find there were, in fact, no shortage of questions left to answer.

 

Chapter Seven

Nothing new came up at my next stop, meeting with the Maine State Medical Examiner. Because of the extensive damage to the remains and the way the crime scene had been corrupted by Ashmont and his cohorts—my mother included—there was some question as to who, exactly, the investigative team had unearthed after the fire. Identification of the bodies had been slow, and because so many of the members of the Payson Church had little in the way of medical records, there had been a lot of guesswork that went into the process. Thirty-four bodies were recovered, but only thirty had been identified conclusively. The remaining four—two women and two children—were anyone’s guess.

While this was less than confidence inspiring. I wasn’t surprised. Dr. Pratt, the Chief Medical Examiner, let me take copies of all the files she had, but based on what I’d learned so far, I didn’t expect them to reveal anything earth shattering. A dead body is a dead body is a dead body… Or so I thought at the time.

It was after four by the time I got back from Augusta. I debated going out to the island, but decided instead to set up shop at the
Trib
and start going through the box of files and photocopies I’d gotten from the Fire Marshal’s office. An uncharacteristically quiet Diggs set me up in a closet-sized office with Internet access and a boxy little window overlooking the harbor, and I went to work.

Since I’d already seen most of the official paperwork before, I focused on the investigators’ notes. There wasn’t that much to go on—they’d followed protocol, just as Flint had said. My father was a suspect early on, that much was clear, but the police apparently ruled him out thanks in large part to the alibi I’d provided.

Or maybe not. At the bottom of a file marked “Witness Statements,” I found a copy of handwritten notes dated August 28, 1990. My mother’s name was in the upper left corner, with mine written beneath it.

One word was written directly underneath, underlined twice:

Lying??

I stared at the page. The file belonged to Jim Abbott, a police detective I’d heard of before in researching the investigation. The notes were paper clipped to my mother’s official statement.

I called Sergeant Flint. Ten minutes on hold and a transfer to records later, and I had the phone number for Jim Abbott in my hot little hand. I could get used to this whole cooperating-with-the-press thing.

For the next several hours, I sat in my office and read reports and notes, looked at photographs, wrote down names. I borrowed Scotch tape from Diggs and began putting photos up on the walls: the barn before the fire, the barn after. The padlocked door. I taped the only photos I had of my father, Isaac, and several members of the Church just below the crime scene shots. I wrote down what I knew so far. It wasn’t much.

May, 1976—Isaac starts the Payson Church of Tomorrow

January, 1979—Dad joins the Church

August, 1990—Payson Church burns

Of course, I knew plenty beyond that, but no matter what I tried, I couldn’t make what I knew add up to the fire. I’d studied other cult suicides over the years: Jonestown, the Solar Temple, Waco… In each instance, there was always something in the dogma that gave a good idea of what the congregation had been thinking would happen when their numbers were up.

The Payson Church was a fundamentalist, Christian church. As such, they had a very clear view on suicide. Essentially: you do it, and you never make it to the pearly gates. I remembered the Paysons. They were all about those pearly gates.

I added another note to my timeline:

October, 1989—I leave Payson Isle.

I stared at the entry for a few seconds, then added one more word:

Why?

I tossed that question around without any major revelations until one o’clock that morning, when Diggs knocked on my door.

“Come on—we’re going home.”

“I’ll be there in a while. Go on without me.”

He didn’t budge. I looked up to find him standing with his arms crossed over his chest, leaning against the wall. My back and neck were tight, and my eyes stung from staring at a computer screen for far too long. Einstein was still peeved at having been left at home during my trek to Augusta earlier that day; being imprisoned in my tiny office for the remainder of the day hadn’t done much to get me back in his good graces.

I stretched, yawned, and closed my laptop.

“Did you have dinner?” I asked.

“We’ll make something when we get home,” he said, showing the first trace of a smile I’d seen since the night before. “Come on. Play your cards right, and you can have beer and chocolate for dessert.”

Diggs always has known the way to my heart.

◊◊◊◊◊

Juarez’s car wasn’t in the driveway when we pulled in that night.

“Matt took a turn for the worst this morning,” Diggs told me. “Jack said they were taking him back to Togus for a while.” The Maine veteran’s hospital. “Juarez’ll probably stay there tonight.”

I thought of how Old Man Perkins had looked in the woods the night before, stalking me and muttering psychotic epithets. Juarez might only be there overnight, but I was hoping they’d keep the Constable under lock and key for a while.

“So we’ve got the house to ourselves?”

He nodded. “You want a burger?”

“A burger burger, or a veggie burger?”

“I’ve got cow, I’ve got chicken, I’ve got eggplant.”

I went to the cupboard and got a couple of plates for the table. “Cow, please. You should have some, too. You look pale.”

“Thanks. I’m pale because I never see daylight anymore, not because I don’t eat cows. One of the dangers of working the desk.”

Once the food was cooking, he opened a beer for me and a sparkling water for himself, and leaned against the counter. Einstein was sitting at attention, veggie and cow burgers sizzling in separate fry pans on the stove.

“Sergeant Flint was great today—thanks for setting that up. He did everything but write the story.”

“Did you get an honorary pin?” he asked.

“How’d you know?”

“It’s because you’re cute. I never get a pin.”

“You’re cute.”

“I’m pretty sure I’m not Flint’s type.”

“Fair enough. I got notes from the original investigation. All the old files. Photos.”

“Any leads?”

“Can’t tell yet.”

We talked while he cooked, careful to keep things light. Once the food was done, we sat and ate in what was becoming an increasingly uncomfortable silence. The day was catching up to both of us. Halfway through the meal, I found it hard to keep my eyes open. I caught Diggs looking at me and sat up straighter.

“I’m more tired than I thought.”

“I noticed.” He hesitated. I had the feeling there was something he wanted to bring up, but wasn’t. I waited him out.

“I was thinking about the people you want to talk to—the families of the victims. I think that’s a good approach.”

“Thanks.” I took a bite of burger and wiped my mouth. And waited some more.

“It would probably be good to talk to somebody else, though. Someone who was actually, I don’t know, there. Someone who knew Isaac Payson and your father fairly well.”

“I’m not calling her, Diggs.”

“Why the hell not? She was there, Sol. She might not have talked to you about it before, but it’s been a long time.”

The clock on the microwave read quarter past two. I got up and took my plate to the sink, drinking the last of my beer on the way. Diggs followed.

“You don’t have to do it as her daughter—do it as a reporter. Any other story and this would be your lead interview.”

“My mother won’t be able to make the distinction, trust me. I’m not calling her. She wouldn’t answer my questions when I was a teenager, she wouldn’t say a word about any of it after Dad died, and now that she knows I’m writing a book on the subject, I’m pretty sure her response will be exactly the same: ‘No comment.’ ”

“What if you told her what you’ve found out? Tell her about the pictures you found. For Christ’s sake, tell her what you told me about the morning of the fire with Adam. Then maybe she’ll understand what you’ve been so obse—”

I stared at him for a long few seconds of silence. “You can say the word. It’s not like I haven’t heard it before.”

“Obsessed.” He said it quietly, without accusation. I was standing at the sink, Diggs’ body close enough that I could feel his heat. Diggs is tall—I forget how tall sometimes, but standing there in my bare feet in his kitchen, he seemed very big. And very male. He has broad shoulders and a mean right hook and I remembered, suddenly, what it had been like to kiss him all those years ago. Our eyes held for a breath, maybe two.

“You should get to bed. I’ll clean up here,” he said.

“You’re sure?”

He nodded, but he didn’t look all that sure to me. “Yeah. Go on—I’ll see you in the morning.”

I left him to his cleaning and retired to my room alone. Again.

 

Chapter Eight

The next day, I was at the office by ten with Einstein in tow, ready to tackle the list of contacts Diggs had given me the day before. The first half-dozen calls I made went straight to voicemail. I left a message, though it was unlikely that anyone in their right mind would call back, and contented myself with the knowledge that at least that first contact had been made.

The eighth call was to a man named Jed Colby, whose sister-in-law Cynthia had been a member of the Payson Church. She’d been quiet, self-contained, but I remembered her laugh and her smile; remembered that she’d worked with my father and me in the greenhouse. She’d had a son a little older than me—Will. I hated to think ill of the dead, but I remembered Will Colby as a mean little prick who’d taunted me and the rest of the kids on the island relentlessly while I was there.

Cynthia had been nice, though.

Jed answered on the second ring, with “Colby’s Garage.”

“Mr. Colby, my name is Erin Solomon. I’m doing a—”

“I know who you are,” he interrupted. “You wanna talk about the fire.” His voice was hard, his Maine accent thick even by Littlehope standards.

“Partially, yes—I actually have some questions about the last few weeks leading up to the fire. I know it might be tough to talk about, but it would be a big help.”

“Come on over,” he said, much to my surprise. “Gracie’s making sandwiches at eleven-thirty, you can come for lunch. You know where we are?”

I got directions, then spent the rest of the morning taking notes and making more calls. At eleven, I popped my head in to ask Diggs to keep an eye on Einstein while I was gone, left my car in the lot, and struck out on foot for Colby’s Garage.

It was a foggy day, the landscape painted in muted shades of grey. Half a dozen lobster boats were still moored in the harbor. The rest were hard at work, the drone of diesel engines an undercurrent to my thoughts as I walked. It was a half-mile along East Shore Ave—a ribbon of a road skirting the coastline—to get to Jed Colby’s place. The tulips were in bloom. New leaves were coming in on the elms and maples, crabapples and birches that lined the way. It was my first spring in Littlehope since I was a teenager, but walking the road that day it felt as though I’d never left.

Colby’s Garage was painted bright red, set back from an overgrown lawn with several cars parked on the grass and three pickups and a tow truck in the driveway. The cars on the lawn had seen better days, sporting mashed-in bumpers and missing doors, tireless rims and popped hoods with no engines to speak of.

A man was buried under the hood of one of the pickups, a greasy baseball cap tucked in the back pocket of his overalls. The Kinks were singing out L-O-L-A on the tinny speakers of an old boom box sitting beside the left tire, the man’s foot tapping in time to the music. A Basset hound lifted its head to blink red-rimmed eyes at me from his perch by the garage steps, but didn’t bother to move or even offer a halfhearted ‘woof.’

“Excuse me.”

The man eased himself out from under the hood like he’d known I was there all along. “Erin Solomon?”

“That’s right.”

“I’m Jed. Nice to meet you.” He wiped his hands on a soiled rag hanging over the side of the truck and shook my hand. “You hungry? Gracie’s got egg salad and fresh coffee inside. Come on in.”

The house was a single-story modular set back even farther on the lot, away from the garage. The lawn around the house was well-manicured, flowers just coming up along the front walk. The Basset got up on its short legs and waddled after us. Jed pulled a tricycle out of the driveway and set it up on the lawn, then kicked a couple of toy cars out of the way.

“I’m always telling them to keep their junk out of the way. Last week I run over my youngest’s favorite stuffed dog—she cried for two days. You’d think they’d learn, but half them Matchboxes are hers.”

I did some quick math. Jed had dark hair and a closely trimmed beard, with wrinkles at his pretty brown eyes. I knew Cynthia had been young when she had Will, but if she’d survived, she still would have been in her fifties Jed smiled at me once we were at the front door, as though reading my mind.

BOOK: All the Blue-Eyed Angels
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