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Authors: Simone St. James

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BOOK: Murder Road
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“Okay,” he said. “Okay.”

CHAPTER FIVE

The two uniformed cops who came to pick us up at seven didn’t seem too concerned that we might be murderers. They also seemed pleasantly surprised that we were still here, as if they’d thought we’d make a break for it and run away. I wasn’t sure how we’d do that, since we had no car and didn’t even know exactly where we were. There had supposedly been a police car staked out outside all night. And there was no way in hell I was going to go hitchhiking on Atticus Line.

Rose let the cops in. She was wearing a nightgown that covered her from its high ruffled collar to her feet, a bathrobe, and a pinched look that said she hated all of us. Her hair stuck up on one side, and her eyes were hostile behind her glasses. She’d plunked down some coffee, two pieces of toast, and a couple of hard-boiled eggs on her kitchen table when we came out of our room, and she’d silently dared us to complain.

The kitchen was decorated just as badly as the bedroom: shelves lined with figurines, little china bowls, jars, dusty fabric flowers, wooden carvings, dangling beads. A crocheted piece of fabric in a frame on the wall told us that
Home and hearth are where the heart is
. A clock with a face decorated with roses ticked loudly next to it, and on the shelf below that, a china clown grasped a clutch of balloons in his hand, a sad smile on his face. Princess Diana was in here, too: a framed photo of her smiling hung above the stove, and a painted portrait of Charles and Diana hung in the living room. It looked like Rose was a Diana fanatic. She had copied Diana’s haircut, though the rest of her didn’t look like Diana at all.

We ate everything Rose gave us, even though my stomach was in knots. I stared at Princess Diana and swallowed. You have to eat, especially when things get bad. Having a full stomach gives you a better chance to think.

“Don’t look so put out, Rose,” one of the cops said as he helped himself to a cup of her coffee. “These two are your only customers.”

“Think I’ll get paid?” Rose’s voice was unpleasant, like a violin that was badly tuned.

“Sure you will,” the other cop said. “Just send a bill to Detective Quentin.”

That shut her up. It shut the other cop up, too. I looked at Eddie as I drained my coffee. The look he gave me back said,
Here we go.

As we stood to leave, Eddie reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out his worn leather wallet. He laid a twenty on the table. “Thank you for breakfast, ma’am,” he said.

She gaped at him as we followed the two cops from the room. I didn’t watch her do it, but I knew she took the twenty.

Everyone always underestimated my husband. Everyone but me.


They put us in a police cruiser, in the back seat like a pair of criminals. There was a net partition separating us from the two cops in the front. The doors of the back seat had no handles or window rollers. It smelled vaguely sour back here, and Eddie had to crouch with his knees up in the small space.

“You have a good night at Rose’s?” This was the cop who had teased Rose and taken some of her coffee. He was in the front passenger seat, and he glanced back at us, grinning.

“Shut up, Kyle,” the cop driving the car said. Gravel crunched under our tires as he pulled out of Rose’s unpaved driveway.

“What? I’m just asking.” Kyle looked back at us again. He had dark hair combed back beneath his policeman’s cap and a wide, square face that was hard despite his smirking expression. “You guys have sweet dreams, or what? Are you sure you didn’t hear anything going bump in the night?”

“Don’t listen to him,” the other cop said.

“I’m not saying the place is haunted.” Kyle put on a fake-solemn expression. “Not at all. But you might want to think twice before you sleep too deep at Rose’s. Someone should have warned her husband before he ended up dead in her backyard. He’d been a cop for twenty years. He was lying there when one of the neighbors saw him from an upstairs window and called the police. Rose was a few feet away, busy digging in the garden, like she was about to bury him.”

“Jesus, Kyle,” the other cop said, annoyed now. Then, to us: “Ignore him. Rose didn’t murder her husband. He died of a heart attack.”

“That’s what you think,” Kyle said. “There’s a reason no one ever stays there.”

So Rose was a widow. The thought barely flitted through my mind. I was busy looking out the window at the town passing by in the summer-morning light. The shadows were harsh already, as if the day was going to be scorching hot.

It was probably the biggest town in this area, a hub for all of the vacation spots farther out on the shores of the lake. There were big old houses, some of them advertising vacation rooms to rent. A main street featured a canvas banner strung above it, advertising the annual Summer Fun Fair happening in a few weeks. There were swimwear shops and diners, corner pubs and B and Bs that were probably more expensive—and nicer—than Rose’s. There was an empty parking lot with a sign that advertised the farmers market every Saturday. More signs advertised boat storage and fishing tackle repair. I wondered how far we were from the Five Pines Resort, from the little cabin Eddie and I were supposed to be staying in right now.

Another police cruiser passed us, going the other way, and the two cops up front lifted their hands to the cops driving it.

“Where are we going?” Eddie asked, ignoring the continued banter about whether Rose was a murderer and her house was haunted.

“You’re going to meet the detectives,” Kyle said. He seemed to be the talkative one. He gave us a grin that was supposed to be
humorous but was hard and mean instead. “Then you’re going to take them on a little tour. Show them where you killed that girl.”

“We didn’t kill anyone.” I shouldn’t have fallen for it—I knew better. But the words still came out of me.

Kyle shrugged. “If you did it, you can be sure Quentin will get it out of you. He’s good at that.”

It was supposed to sound sinister, I was sure, as if Detective Quentin in his warm-up suit was the gestapo. All it did was remind me to be on my guard. I fished in my purse for my sunglasses and put them on, wishing I’d had time before breakfast to talk to Eddie about what our plan was. I thought about the girl Eddie thought he’d seen in the truck bed. I thought about the truck’s lights in our rear window, growing bigger and brighter as it gained on us.

I’m sorry. He’s coming.

Rhonda Jean was dead.

I swallowed hard, glad that my sunglasses covered my eyes. I was supposed to be on my honeymoon, and instead I had a dead girl to deal with. My mother would laugh if she knew.

I looked over at Eddie. He was wearing a navy blue T-shirt and his clean jeans. He looked at me, unperturbed by the sunglasses, and touched his finger to my chin, ran it gently along my jawline.

“Those cops we passed going the other way,” he said softly, not caring that the two police up front could hear. “They were going back to Rose’s to search our luggage.”

The cops went silent. Even Kyle.

I frowned. Eddie was right. Why else would a police car be heading back in the direction of Rose’s? It made me angry, even
though there would be nothing for them to find. Our bloody clothes from last night. My bathing suit. Eddie’s jogging shorts and sneakers. Some sunscreen. My tampons and my birth control pills. Eddie’s swim trunks and the pills he took when he couldn’t sleep.

We were just two people on our honeymoon, and the police would see that from our luggage. And still, it made me mad.

Eddie dropped his finger from my jaw and took out his own sunglasses, a pair of aviators he’d had since the army. When he put them on, I couldn’t see my husband anymore—just the man who had spent fourteen months in Iraq, doing God knew what.

Then the car stopped, and the cops let us out to meet with Detective Quentin.

CHAPTER SIX

For a lot of reasons, one of my most vivid memories was of the summer I was twelve. I remembered bright sunlight glinting off windshields on the highway and the feel of old grit under my bare feet. I remembered the sugary frozen ices I had to eat fast before they melted and rubbery sticks of flavorless chewing gum that sometimes were the only meal I would get. I remembered tying my greasy hair back with my last, precious hair elastic, feeling it tear the strands and pull at my sweaty scalp. And I remembered my mother, wearing faded, tight jeans, her permed blond waves falling past her shoulders, her eyes hidden behind white-rimmed sunglasses. I remembered that no matter how hot it was, her grip on my arm was always cold.

Every year, without fail, when the cicadas started screaming and the pavement got hot beneath the soles of my sandals, I remembered that summer. It had changed my life. It had made me
who I was, April Delray, the pretty girl who was an expert in moving through life unnoticed when she wanted to. Until Eddie had noticed me.

I told him about that summer on our fourth date, as we sat on the run-down sofa in his apartment. He’d cooked for me on that date—spaghetti and meatballs, a meal I later learned he considered the best in his repertoire. It was the first time he’d cooked for me, the first time I’d been to his apartment. Normally, the big question of a date like this—to end up in bed or not?—would have hung over us, but with Eddie I didn’t obsess about it. Instead, I told him the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

We’d already eaten the spaghetti and washed the dishes. I watched a muscle in Eddie’s jaw tick as I spoke, and I watched his handsome eyes darken with shadows.

When I’d finished, he’d taken my hand and kissed the back of it without saying a word. I had felt his breath on my skin. His big hand had encompassed mine.

My heart had cracked when he did that, and my heart never cracked. Not for anyone, ever.

Now the memory of that summer was crossed with the memory of Eddie kissing my hand in his kitchen. I wondered if that was how marriage worked, if the memories you made with the person you married started taking over the ones that had come before, like a radio station that fades out on the dial as another one comes in.

As it happened, we didn’t go to bed together that night—that came later. Sitting on his sofa, my stomach full of spaghetti and meatballs, I’d still had the idea that Eddie Carter was too nice for
me to sleep with. I was still in the well-worn habit of assuming I’d live my life all alone. I’d had no idea I was already falling.

Now we stepped out of the back of the police cruiser. The sun was blazing hot already, the sky burning blue, the wind nothing but a tired breath. Sweat trickled beneath my shirt between my shoulder blades.

We were in the parking lot of a grocery store that hadn’t opened yet, and to my surprise, I realized I knew where I was for the first time since last night. We were next to the turnoff Eddie and I had taken from Atticus Line into town, when we’d been speeding away from the truck behind us.

There were two other cars in the parking lot besides the cruiser we had pulled up in, one of them another police cruiser, one of them an unmarked car. The cars were all parked with their noses together, like the circle of an old wagon train. Kyle and the other cop who had driven us stood by Eddie and me. Two other uniforms had exited the other cruiser, and I realized that one of them was Officer Syed from last night. He looked at Eddie and me, then looked away.

The third car was a Cutlass, and standing alongside it were Detectives Quentin and Beam. Quentin had traded his warm-up suit for a pair of suit pants and a dress shirt unbuttoned at the throat, with no jacket and no tie. Like the warm-up suit, the look was casual, yet it was strangely formal on him. Beam was in a full suit, and he already looked sweaty and a little bit mad.

“Thank you, Officers,” Quentin said to Kyle and his partner. “You may go.”

Kyle’s fake-jovial face went hard, but he didn’t argue. His
partner was already turning back toward their car. Kyle looked at Eddie and me; his type could never resist a parting shot. “Have fun, kids,” he said. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

“You may go,” Detective Quentin repeated, and in that moment I could see that Kyle hated him. I could also see that Quentin didn’t care.

The two cops got back in their cruiser and left.

Detective Beam, meanwhile, had pulled out a map and unfolded it over the hood of the Cutlass. He smoothed the squares of folds out, pinning the edges as the hot, faint breeze worked under the paper. Detective Quentin gestured for us to come closer.

“Mr. Carter,” he said to Eddie. “You were driving last night, correct?”

“Yes,” Eddie said.

“Please show me the route you took.”

Eddie stood over the map, looking down at it through his sunglasses. “Here,” he said, pointing to the paper. “We were on the interstate. I remember passing a sign for Greendale. I must have turned off somewhere around here.” He pointed.

“You don’t recall exactly where?” Quentin asked.

“It was dark and late. We were lost.”

Quentin nodded. “Why did you exit the interstate?”

“I thought I was going the right way.”

“There’s no sign that says anything about Five Pines Resort, which you say is where you were going.” Quentin’s expression was blank, impossible to read, even though he wasn’t wearing sunglasses. “So why did you exit?”

“I thought I was going the right way,” Eddie said again.

“Based on what? Have you been to this area before?”

“No.” Eddie stood back from the map. “Have other people died? Is that what this is about?”

Detective Beam said, “What makes you say that?”

Eddie looked pointedly at the police surrounding us. “Just a hunch.”

“Mr. Carter.” Detective Quentin’s voice was calm. “You and your wife are suspects in that young woman’s death until I am satisfied and say that you are not. Is that clear?”

I looked over at Officer Syed and the other uniformed officer. The other officer looked to be about twenty, blond-haired and blue-eyed, and he was checking me out without bothering to hide it. I was wearing cutoff jean shorts, sneakers, and a blue-and-white nautical striped T-shirt with a wide boatneck that almost touched my shoulders. I’d packed for a honeymoon on the beach, not a police interrogation. The blond cop was checking out my legs.

I ignored him and looked at Officer Syed. To my surprise, he was also watching me, though his look wasn’t lascivious. He gave me the briefest shake of his head, invisible to everyone but me.

What did that mean? Was he telling me to stay quiet? That he didn’t believe I’d killed Rhonda Jean? That he did believe it?

“Who was she?” Eddie asked. “Rhonda Jean. Was she a local girl? Did you find her family?”

“I’d appreciate it if you’d get in the car,” Detective Quentin said, ignoring the question. “We’re going to the place where you exited the interstate, and you and your wife are going to walk me and Detective Beam through what happened last night. The faster I get my answers, Mr. Carter, the faster we can all go home.”


Quentin was lying. We weren’t going home—at least, not today. The police still had our car, and they were going through our luggage. We’d shown up with a murdered girl in our back seat. We weren’t going anywhere.

It wasn’t legal and it wasn’t fair, but the system wasn’t fair. People like Eddie and me didn’t get to call up a team of high-priced lawyers and make a dream team. We got to rely on our wits instead. I hoped Eddie would follow my lead, because I had the feeling I had more experience with the police than he did.

At least the back seat of the Cutlass had door handles. The air-conditioning did its best in the hot air. We drove as a two-car convoy, with Detective Beam driving the Cutlass, Detective Quentin in the passenger seat, and the two uniforms in their cruiser behind us.

“Nice weather for a honeymoon,” Detective Quentin said. “How long have you two known each other?”

I wasn’t answering that, and neither was Eddie. This wasn’t a social trip. Eddie took my hand in his silently, grasped it. I opened my hand, feeling the powerful warmth of his grip, running my thumb over one of his big knuckles. We would get through this. We would.

“You should probably answer our questions,” Detective Beam said from the driver’s seat.

“We don’t need to,” I said. “I’m sure you already know all about us.”

“I couldn’t find much information,” Detective Quentin admitted mildly. “I didn’t have a lot of time. The car is in Mr. Carter’s name and registered to your address. Mr. Carter did military service from which he was discharged at the beginning of this year.”

Quentin had an oddly formal way of speaking, calm and
without inflection. It should have been soothing, but instead, the more he spoke, the more wary of him I became.

“You, Mrs. Carter,” Quentin continued. “Or should I call you Miss Delray?”

“Mrs. Carter,” I said, and Eddie squeezed my hand.

“All right, Mrs. Carter. You don’t have much of an official record of anything. You have a driver’s license and that’s about it. You’re something of a ghost.”

A ghost. He thought I was a ghost. He had no idea. “I live a quiet life,” I said. “Not everyone commits crime all the time.”

“That makes you very admirable.” Quentin’s tone was hard to decipher, but I thought perhaps he didn’t believe me. “A young lady who lives a simple life and finds a decent man to marry. You don’t see that often these days.”

If there had been something heavy in the back seat, I would have been tempted to smash the back of his smug head with it. But I curled the fingers of my free hand and took a breath. I knew he was trying to goad me. It was what I would do if I were him.

In this moment, he suspected me of murder. More than one, if my guess was correct. A woman who would stab a hitchhiker—or watch her husband stab her—and then take her to the hospital would have to be what my mother used to call a Prime Bitch. Detective Quentin wanted to know if I was a Prime Bitch or not. The fastest way to find out was to make me mad. It was a game of one-upmanship, pure and simple.

I stared out the window and didn’t take the bait, though I wanted to.

“How many other people have been killed?” Eddie asked.

“You’re persistent, Mr. Carter,” Quentin replied.

“You must have called the Five Pines Resort, at least,” Eddie said, ignoring him. “You wouldn’t be very good cops if you didn’t.”

Detective Beam looked at Detective Quentin, but Quentin was staring straight ahead. “Of course we called them,” Beam said, annoyed. “They verified you have a reservation.”

“Then why don’t you believe we were going there?”

“Because I’ve never heard of the Five Pines Resort, and when we looked it up, we discovered it’s miles west of here, on Lake Michigan. You were going in the wrong direction, Mr. Carter.”

Eddie scratched his chin. “So let me get this straight. April and I got married in Ann Arbor—which you can also verify—and made reservations for our honeymoon. We did all of this with the purpose of coming to a deserted road in the middle of the night, where we somehow knew a young lady would be, and killed her. Then, instead of driving off and getting away with it—because no one would ever know it was us—we drove her to the hospital. That was our plan?”

“We’re close to the interstate now,” was Quentin’s only reply.

I was looking out the window, trying to recognize the landscape. I thought it looked familiar in daylight, but I couldn’t be sure. It had all been so strange last night—the light we’d seen in the trees, the dark road. The scratchy country music. The leaves stirring behind Rhonda Jean when I’d rolled down the window to talk to her. The fact that Eddie hadn’t wanted me to get out of the car. Had we really been going the wrong way?

Detective Beam made a turn, and then we were on the interstate, which was nearly deserted at this time of morning on a weekday. The sun was all the way up now, heating the blacktop. Beam picked up speed.

The detectives were silent, the tension thick in the car. Eddie and I had stopped for a hamburger, I remembered. But that must have been much earlier. Wasn’t it?

“Up here,” Eddie said, his voice calm, his expression flat behind his sunglasses. “We made the turnoff up here.”

“There’s no sign,” Detective Beam pointed out.

“We didn’t have the map out. I thought this was the right direction.”

“And yet,” Quentin said, “we found an unfolded map on the floor of your car.”

“That was after we realized we were lost,” Eddie said. “April took out the map.”

Beam made the turnoff, and the noise of the interstate vanished quickly behind us. We were on a two-lane road lined with trees, and everything clicked into place. I remembered this.

Detective Beam slowed the car as Detective Quentin said, “Please point out where you found the young woman last night.”

Eddie was silent. We cruised slowly down the road, the harsh sunlight dappling between the leaves overhead. I remembered how dark it had been, except for that one strange light that we couldn’t explain. It should have been a less frightening place in daylight, but it wasn’t. There were no other cars, no wind, no houses, no sign of life. I had the sudden urge to tell Beam to go faster.

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