Authors: Annie Solomon
Tags: #FIC027110, #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense, #Sheriffs, #General
“That supposed to be some kind of pep talk?”
“What? That you don’t think I killed anyone?”
“Did you?” The question came sharp and expectant, and Edie honored it by answering without hesitation.
She hmpfed. “What I thought. And what I said to Red last night. Gave him a real good talking to. He shouldn’t have caved like that. No guts, that man. Just wanted to let you know I’ll be working on him.”
“Thanks. I think. Not sure I want the job back.”
“Well, at least you’d be able to leave on your own terms. What about tonight? Guest of the city again?”
“No, Holt’s got me stashed—” She paused. Holt said no one knew where she was. Maybe it was better to keep it that way. “I’m good.”
“You sure? You let me know if things fall apart again.”
“Take care of yourself.”
“Count on it. And Lucy?”
“Thanks for calling.”
She chuckled. “You are welcome, missy. And don’t let these small-town harpies get you down.”
They disconnected, leaving Edie with a warm feeling. If Lucy believed her, maybe others did, too.
Clutching that small glimmer of light, she slipped on a pair of flip-flops. She was starving. Even the Waffle House sounded good. She grabbed some cash and the room key. Her hand was on the doorknob when the phone rang again. What now?
Again, the number was unfamiliar and so was the voice. “Miss Swann?”
“This is Bradley Cole, the late Fred Lyle’s attorney.”
Her hand around the phone clenched. The good feelings prompted by Lucy’s call vanished. In their wake Amy Lyle’s grief-fueled voice screeched in Edie’s head. “Murderer!” The slap newly stung her cheek.
“Look, I’m sorry for Mrs. Lyle,” she said stiffly, “but I can’t help her.” She clicked off. Shoved the phone in her pocket and slipped out of her room.
The phone rang again. She checked the ID. Cole and Tyrrell. She let it ring. Headed for the highway. Again, the phone rang. Annoyed, she answered. Maybe she hadn’t been clear enough.
“Look, leave me alone. I didn’t do anything to Mr. Lyle.”
“That’s not why I’m calling,” Bradley Cole rushed to say. “Don’t hang up. I promise it will be worth your while.”
She stopped under the motel sign. A letter was missing, leaving the sign to read “loverleaf.” She leaned against one of the signposts. “Is this about the will?”
Cole paused. “You know about the will?” He sounded shocked.
“I do now. Police chief mentioned it. Over and over. And over. Frankly, I still don’t know. Just that I’m mentioned. For some ungodly reason, probably. And to Miss Eden Swanford, may she burn in hell along with her crook of a father.”
“Actually, he left you a sizeable bequest.”
She straightened. “What?”
“Could you come to my office tomorrow to discuss it?”
“Wait a minute. He left money? To me?”
“Yes.” The single word contained a whole truckload of disapproval, which Edie ignored.
“But I didn’t know the man.”
“Evidently he knew you.”
She swallowed. “I don’t understand.”
“Everything is contingent on you not having anything to do with his death, of course.”
A flash of anger. “I told you—”
“We can discuss all of it when we meet. Tomorrow?”
“I don’t know.” She fingered the room key in her hand. “I don’t have wheels.”
“I can have a car pick you up. Behind Red McClure’s bar, is that correct? Say, ten o’clock?”
Someone had been talking about her, but their information was a good twenty-four hours out of date. “Not Red’s.”
“Fine. Wherever you prefer.” His voice was clipped and officious, and Edie couldn’t help bristling. She didn’t like being pushed and Bradley Cole was shoving her at warp speed.
“Look, things are a bit… up in the air at the moment. Can I call you?”
He paused a fraction of a second, but the tiny silence boomed with irritation. “Of course.” He gave her the number. “But do it soon. The family would like to close this up.”
Again, Amy Lyle’s face swam in front of Edie. She thought the other woman had been ranting that night at Red’s, not even aware of what she was saying. But now…
Edie stared down the highway in the direction of the Waffle House. Her belly grumbled at the thought of food, but dinner didn’t seem as appealing as it had a moment ago.
How much had Fred Lyle left her? And why? Hush money or blood money? Either way it came tainted.
She set off down the road. Dinner was an activity at least. She tramped the half-mile of blacktop, passing the ruins of Uncle Teddy’s Variety Mart and a two-pump gas station that looked as if it had been there since the invention of the automobile.
What she couldn’t do with a couple of thousand dollars. Buy a new clutch for her bike. A new pair of shit-kickers. Those mothers were expensive. Or maybe she’d throw it all into custom paint. One of those black-with-red flame jobs. Or red with black angels. She couldn’t help a mischievous grin. Then she could take whatever was left and hightail it out of hicksville.
If she wasn’t in jail.
She pushed open the door to the Waffle House. The smell of grease and food frying on a griddle hit her hard. She swung up to a seat at the counter. Nodded to the waitress and ordered a burger and fries. Coffee to wash down the grease.
Or she could use Fred Lyle’s bequest as part of a down payment on a broken-down shell of a house in the wilds of Redbud.
The thought churned the food inside her stomach. That was the second time in an hour she’d thought about settling down in Redbud. Dreaming was one thing, obsession was another.
She bit into her burger, determined to drown herself in bad food and obliterate anything else. She lingered over her coffee, stretching out the meal as long as she could. Nothing to look forward to but that motel room.
She paid her bill and headed out. Found herself on the highway going in toward town. She walked along the gravel edge, the occasional car buzzing by. Past the gas station and Uncle Teddy’s again. Past the Cloverleaf.
Behind her, a souped-up engine boomed, and she turned to see a ten-year-old Acura bearing down on her. It zoomed past, close enough to take the hair off her legs. She jumped back, gulping dust, lost her balance, heart jamming.
God damn it to hell!
Fear drying her mouth, she watched taillights disappear. Must be going a hundred miles an hour, easy. No Acura she knew of could handle the road that way. Special delivery for her? She swallowed. Or paranoia raging?
Jittery, she got to her feet. Brushed off the gravel from her hands and knees. Looked around and saw nothing. No one. But dark was setting in. Just in case someone was sending her a message, she should get back to the motel. She even saw herself doing it, scurrying back to hide like a defenseless mouse.
She might have continued on bravado alone, but she wasn’t stupid. She hugged the left side of the shoulder, staying as far from the road as possible. And she panned her surroundings making sure no one could pop up unannounced. Not a single other car rolled by. And the only creature she saw was a distant horse behind a fenced-in field.
Fifteen minutes later, the Hammerbilt sign lit up the horizon. She crossed the highway and stood against the wire fence that marked the outer edge of the plant property. Her hands clutching the metal, she peered in.
Across a flat expanse of grass and concrete, the factory complex stood stolid and unyielding. Lights around the property were just beginning to appear in the twilight. The compound dominated the skyline the way it dominated the town. And her own life. Years ago when she was too small to understand, something had happened in there. Something that had changed life forever.
Was her father really a thief? Hell of a legacy.
In the distance, a car exited the plant and headed her way. She stepped into the shadows, but even at a distance she could see this was no pimped-up street racer. Long and black with the windows darkened, the sedan looked official, as if it carried the Great Khan and his buddies. Two more cars followed, and the three proceeded past her toward town in a slow, pompous parade.
She’d heard there was a plant inspection on the horizon. Before her own notoriety, this assessment had vied with the black angels for the heavy chatter. These must be the VIPs, coming to judge the fitness of the town for further prosperity.
She leaned against the fence, suddenly tired. She’d come to Redbud to find the truth and set herself free. And now she was more entangled than ever. Suspected by some. Accused by others. Trapped. Literally.
She took her time returning to the motel. The sun finished setting and night crept into the sky. What was it about darkness that appealed to her? Things were muddled and unclear in the dark; any road seemed as likely as the next because all directions merged into one. Possibility dwelt at that fulcrum. In the dark, anything could happen.
But right now, nothing was happening. Nothing except the neon light of the “loverleaf” Motel, flashing its “vacancy” on and off. She walked under it, turned the corner to her room, inserted the key in the knob.
The door swung open.
Edie stood rooted. Stared at the mess inside. Blankets and sheets were strewn all over the floor. Her bags had been emptied, clothes, shoes, underwear scattered. The mattress was slashed down the middle, foam guts spilling into oceans of red. Blood everywhere. On the bed, the floor, her empty bags, her clothes. Blood dripped on the walls, oozed over the dresser.
And on the mirror above it, scrawled in red, was a message: “Die Killer.”
t’s paint,” Holt said. “Red paint.” He stooped down to the curb where Edie sat outside the motel room, tapping her foot impatiently. “It’s not blood.”
“That supposed to make me feel better?”
He’d come straight from the Butene place, the message Edie had left on his cell when he was inside ringing in his ears.
“There’s blood all over,” she’d repeated wildly.
He’d raced to the motel, calling Sam and ordering her out there. It seemed to take forever to get to his car. The drive felt like a week even at ninety miles an hour. Sure he’d find Edie dismembered, he was relieved to discover it was only her room that had been cut up. Though that was bad enough.
By the time he arrived, Sam had already secured the scene. She was inside now, taking pictures and prints. Leaving a scared and surly Edie to him.
“You said no one knew where I was,” she said.
That was the disturbing part. “No one did.”
“Someone did, Holt. Obviously. You must have told someone.”
“Only my dad. In case something happened to me.”
She paled. “Your dad?”
He frowned. “Yeah. My dad. Or do you think the former chief of Redbud came out here and did this?”
She opened her mouth. Clamped it shut.
“And the owner who I booked the room with. I doubt he’d vandalize his own room.”
“What about the Acura?”
He shook his head. “One of the local kids, thinks he’s James Dean. I’ll talk to him.”
A scrawny man with a thin mustache and a shirt hanging outside his pants came scurrying up. “Chief, about time. What are you going to do about this?”
Holt stood to greet him. “You Prewitt?”
The man nodded.
“Didn’t I say no one was to know Miss Swann was here?”
“Sure. I remember.” He glanced over at the open door of the motel room, where yellow tape blocked off the entry. “You know how much this is going to cost me?” He eyed Edie malevolently. “If I’d known it was her you wanted to stash, I wouldn’t have been so helpful.”
Holt glared. “What about employees? Maids, janitors, linen pickup.”
“It ain’t the Hilton, Chief,” Prewitt said. “I got a woman comes in once a week. A couple of guys to vacuum now and again in between. I didn’t tell a one of them. Swear it on a stack.”
“Just give their names to the deputy inside.”
Prewitt stalked off, and Holt turned back to Edie. “So what am I going to do with you now?”
“Nothing. I’m a big girl. I can do for myself.”
“Like you did last night?”