Even In Darkness--An American Murder Mystery Thriller (4 page)

BOOK: Even In Darkness--An American Murder Mystery Thriller
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‘Jesus,' Caro says.

‘I know.'

‘This is … it's—'

‘Terrifying. And it's got to be the same guy that sent the newspaper clippings to you.'

‘Do you have any idea who it might be?'

‘No. Of course not.' When I lie, I do it well.

‘Are you scared, Joy?'

‘I am so scared it's not funny. For you, and for me, and for Andee.'

‘Are you all by yourself?'

I look at my lap. ‘I have Leo.'

‘Leo?'

‘My dog.'

‘Oh. Right.'

‘And you? Are you and Andee alone? You're not … I mean, I know you're seeing someone special.'

‘Well, I still have Ruby.'

I smile. Ruby is a good dog. A big dog. A very
old
big dog.

‘Sanderson's still living up in Fayetteville. Because of the restaurant.'

‘Oh, yes, Sanderson. And he works in a restaurant?'

‘He owns it. I called and left him a message. He drives down a lot of nights.'

‘Good. That's good. Is he a good guy? Good to you and to Andee?' Dumb question. She does not answer. ‘I'm sorry, Caroline, I'm not trying to be nosy. But I've wanted to tell you for a long time that I hope you'll find a really great man to share your life with. Someone who will love you and Andee like you deserve to be loved. Who will be better for you than Joey was.' Someone, I am thinking, who is really big. And knows martial arts.

She still does not say anything.

‘I'm sorry it took me seven years to tell you that, Caroline.'

‘Thank you,' she says. Her voice is very small. ‘Sanderson
is
good to me. And he's nothing like—'

‘Like my son,' I say flatly.

‘I didn't mean—'

‘I understand. Look, I don't really know what to do about all of this, Caroline, but I'm not going to the police, at least not right away.'

‘I think you
should
, Mrs Miller. I'm not a big fan of the police, you know that, but this is way too big, way too creepy, for the two of us.'

Caroline is the kind of person who does the right thing – except maybe the day she bought the gun, though her position could be argued, and as a matter of fact I remember arguing with the prosecuting attorney about it in court. But afterwards, after she shot Joey, she did not run away. She called nine-one-one. And the police, not overly sympathetic to my blood-spattered five months pregnant daughter-in-law, put her under immediate arrest.

Now her life is OK. She has a new man. No doubt they will get married and he will be a wonderful father to my granddaughter, the child Joey did not live to see. And while I always knew this day would come, while I wish her well – I do, really – I'm wise enough to know how the world works. I'm afraid I will not be a welcome part of this family, that Andee and I will not be allowed to stay close.

And Andee I would love all on her own, but she is also everything good about my Joey. She looks like him and she has his laugh and his ears, and she is what he could have been without the dysfunctional demons that slipped so effortlessly into our lives.

‘I guess Andee's sound asleep,' I say, and I can hear the echo of hope in my voice.

‘She is,' Caro says.

I would not have let her wake my granddaughter, but there is a part of me that wants the choice, the comfort of knowing I am that important. She has called me ‘Nina' since she was a baby. A name she came up with herself. I want to hear her say my name, to talk a few minutes, to hear her voice.

‘What are you going to do?' Caro asks.

‘I honestly don't know. But stay close to your Sanderson, will you? Are
you
going to the police?'

She sighs. ‘Just thinking about it makes me hyperventilate. But I don't think we have a choice.'

She says
we
.
We
are in this together. It makes me feel a little less lonely, but I'd rather she and Andee were safe out of it.

‘It's late, Caro. Let's sleep on it and talk tomorrow. We're not going to solve it tonight.'

‘OK. Goodnight, Mrs Miller.'

‘Goodnight,' I say, but her voice is already distant and she hangs up before she hears me tell her to stay safe. She is a long way away, and getting further by the minute.

And I am so alone.

FIVE

I
do not go to the police. The police come to me. The noise they make, the jackhammer of fists at my front door, brings me awake in pure panic.

Leo is barking. It's been said that the roar of a lion can be heard eight miles away in the jungle. In the subdivision, the bark of my Leo can be heard for ten.

I look out the bedroom window and see nothing but my backyard, the grass waterlogged from the rain that started before I got Leo out for his late night wee wee, where the two of us, dry now, were spattered with the initial onslaught of fat cold drops. I pull jeans over the white boxer shorts I wore to bed, and slide a fisherman's sweater over my white cotton tee. I run down the stairs, unfastening the baby gate at the bottom that keeps Leo and his youthful habits of destructive chewing and nosiness out of the upstairs rooms of the house. I would pay extra for a Marsha-proof gate.

I think as I run down the stairs that this house is ridiculously big for me and that I have been living here as a penance. Maybe I've been too lazy to move. Maybe I have thought I didn't deserve to. Maybe I'm letting Carl punish me, for what happened fourteen years ago.

I see blue lights pulsing. The intermittent throb shines through the green damask curtains in the living room. I don't like these curtains either. They are overly formal, keep out too much light, gather too much dust.

Blue lights.

Leo is frantic, running from the door to me to the window, and the hair stands stiffly in a stripe down his back, fanning out over his lean shepherd rump. He is intense in the way of GSDs on the alert, and he is young enough to be unsure what it is he is supposed to do, but sure he is supposed to do something.

I love him dearly and wish he would shut up.

‘
Quiet
, Leo.'

He barks louder.

I hold his collar – it takes all my strength to keep him close – and with the other hand I open the front door. Now that it is too late, I realize I should have locked him in the bathroom off the hall
before
I opened the door. So far he has been determined to protect me from the garbage pickup men, the black lab one block over and baby strollers with wheels that rattle a certain way on the sidewalk. He does not feel I am in any danger from the occasional copperhead snake that wanders over from the creek across the road, and he's been known to nose them up in my direction, just like he does with the little grass snakes that like to slither through my yard. His intent is to play, theirs to slide confusedly my way for protection, and none of us are happy with the result.

I see a man and woman on my doorstep, both wearing business formal, and there is one uniformed officer at their back. I am aware that there may be more people out there in the front of my yard – I get the impression of more official vehicles than I can count on one hand, but Leo is on his hind legs, front ones paddling with the effort to break away from my grip and get down to the serious business of protecting me from the people trying to crowd through my door.

Both the man and the woman are talking to me; the woman, actually, is shouting, something about
the dog
, but my ears ring with the near painful volume of Leo's bark and I can't hear anything except
the dog … dammit
.

I wave at them, which can mean whatever it is they want it to mean, and put both hands on Leo's leather collar, which is stretching as much as leather can stretch. I drag him backward toward the bathroom. My wrists are already aching, as they have ached since I started leash training this dog, and pulling him along backward is a new trick that gives me a little bit of leverage as it tips him off balance. He flips sideways – that's a new one too, but we're right in front of the bathroom door now, and I shove him inside, telling him to hush, more a wish than a command, and shut him in. He continues to bark and scrabble his toenails against the door, and I know he is adding a new layer of nail tracks to join the other ones that travel up and down the panel of wood. More paint flecks on the floor. I can't see them, but I know they are there.

‘Leo. Quiet. Now.'

A small whimper then a sad yelp, and silence followed by a tremendous thud. Leo is lying down.

The man and woman in business suits and a deputy sheriff are in my living room. Different faces, but the same sort of crew that stood there seven years ago to the day.

‘The dog is safe,' I tell them, trying to catch my breath. I nod toward the bathroom door. ‘He's still in training, that's all.'

‘No kidding?' the woman says.

The sheriff nods in Leo's direction. His bullet-shaped head is shaved to a fine blondish crew, his uniform neatly ironed, and he affects the posture of the alpha male, shoulders square and confident.

‘I used to work K-9. Shepherds can be the best dogs in the world, but you need to get him in hand, ma'am. That one looks like he's not going to stop until he achieves world domination.'

‘You must be a dog whisperer. It's like you can read his mind.' This from the woman in her tight navy skirt and snug little blouse.

I don't like her.

The man in the suit, also navy, seems off balance, thanks, I think, to Leo. He seems less than patient with our chit chat.

‘Agent Russell Woods, FBI, and this is my partner, Agent Mavis Jones. And this is Deputy Sheriff Bernard Collins.'

I look at their official identifications, check names and faces against pictures, shake all the hands, while my heart beats faster and faster. I don't introduce myself. They know who I am, don't they?

‘Ma'am, you are Joy Miller?' Agent Woods says.

‘Yes, I'm Joy Miller. Is there some kind of trouble?'

Agent Mavis Jones narrows her eyes at me. ‘You tell us.'

‘Let me rephrase that, Agent Jones. What in the hell do you mean by beating on my door in the middle of the night and scaring me half to death?'

Agent Jones glares at me and it is Special Agent Woods who explains.

‘Mrs Miller, we're very sorry to disturb you, but we got a call from the Little Rock office in Arkansas …'

This. Cannot. No.

‘… regarding a Caroline Miller, age twenty-nine, and her daughter, Andee Miller, age seven.'

My ears are buzzing and my vision tunnels. I can see Agent Woods, his mouth is moving, but I cannot hear what he says. I am sliding away. There is no point to my life anymore. No point to me.

Someone is calling my name.
Joy. Joy Miller.
I am not sure I am standing up, but I'm not on the floor. Deputy Collins stands at my back, one arm around my waist, the terrible Agent Mavis Jones is talking talking talking and now I am sitting on the couch, and someone bends my head over my knees which makes my stomach jump and my vision go dark. It's like having fizz in your head. My nerve endings tingle like a toothache, and I take slow deep breaths like the voice tells me. Someone wraps me in something warm, a fringe of some material caresses my cheek. It is my fuzzy little pink throw that I bought myself for Christmas last year and keep on the couch even though it clashes with the maroon plaid loveseat my husband picked out years and years ago. I don't like the couch any more than I like the house, any more than I like the curtains, but the pink throw is soft, and that I do like. Especially now, because I am weirdly cold. Someone is rubbing my hands, and saying that they feel like ice.

It's OK to sit still, the voice says so, and I do for the longest time. After a while I smell coffee, the scent streaming in from my kitchen, and the female I don't like, she is beside me now. She hands me a mug of coffee. She's put it in the yellow mug, which used to be my favorite, but that was before I found the tall skinny lavender mugs on clearance at Target.

Mavis Jones' hands are trembling and she makes sure I have the mug safe in my grip before she lets it go. She is different now. Kindness under the hard edges. It's just a feeling I get, a connection from her to me. She has put half and half in my coffee, good for her, and sugar, lots of it, which I don't take but seems maybe like not such a bad idea. I have done that myself more times than I can count, gone into a strange kitchen and made hot coffee, filled the cup with hot liquid, sugar and cream. It is what you do when you are ministering to people who are going through a terrible trauma. Like a death in the family.

I take a sip. It is so hot, the coffee, but I am thirsty, my mouth is so dry it is painful, which I know is a sign of shock. So that's it, then. I'm in shock. I know all about shock from my previous life, helping people through the dark times that always seem to come up.

The coffee is good. Henry's Blend, Seattle's Best, the price will make you do a double take, I buy it at Kroger. Marsha leaves great battleship cans of Wal-Mart coffee on my kitchen counter tops, and I donate the Marsha-coffee to some lawyer friends downtown. They'll drink anything. I am a coffee snob. I can do a blind taste test and tell you the religious affiliation of the person who brewed the cup. God save us all from the Methodists.

My hand trembles and I put the yellow mug on the coffee table. There's a reason I shouldn't put it there. Something to do with Leo. But I don't see Leo, so I guess it's OK.

‘Tell me what happened,' I say. My voice sounds tinny and weird. I catch a glimpse of my face in the ornate, gold leaf mirror that hangs on the wall across from the sofa. I look the way I used to when I was a little girl and carsick, and could see my weirdly blanched skin in the rearview mirror. The décor in this living room is so Holiday Inn – every item the result of a long drawn out argument with my husband, who is now dead. He should have taken it with him. All the furniture. This house.

BOOK: Even In Darkness--An American Murder Mystery Thriller
7.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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