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Authors: Anne McAneny

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BOOK: Raveled
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“You can’t tell me you don’t think about the gaps in that evening’s events.”

“Oh my God.” He sat back in his chair, almost banging his head against the wood. “So you are here trying to exonerate your dad? Isn’t that a bit predictable?”

I flicked my eyebrows at him playfully. “Wouldn’t you be disappointed if I were only here to
chat about the good times?”


Unlike you, I don’t live that night over and over in my nightmares. I was only sixteen. I took the narrative as presented by the prosecution and didn’t question it. The same narrative your father was convicted upon, I might add.”

“By a jury of Lavitte residents
who were more excited to be seen in the jury box than to think about the details of the case.”

“Jury of peers. That’s all any of us can ask for.”

“You didn’t see Bobby that entire day or night, at least according to your statement to the police.”


What? Do you have the files or something?”

“Seems weird because he made a phone call from my father’s garage when he dropped his car off.”

“I didn’t know about that. Guess I was too preoccupied with him being dead.”

“Can’t imagine who he’d call if it wasn’t you or Jasper.”

“He had parents. He had other friends. How the hell would I know who he called? I was painting all day.”

“Yes.
So your statement said.” I decided to toss in a wild fish, maybe get him a little hot under the collar. Besides, the cold blackness of his emotional mood ring was growing tedious. “So you were pretty close to Shelby Anderson, right?”

“No!
What? What’s wrong with you? You didn’t get that from any statement. I didn’t even know her. She was a little kid as far as I was concerned. Thirteen, fourteen years old. I was close with Bobby, though, and whatever he did to your dad, he didn’t deserve to be assassinated.”


Someone’s been marinating in the DC stew for a while, Smitty. Down here in li’l ol’ Lavitte, we just call it
shot
or
killed
.”

“By your dad!” He lurched
up from his chair, leaving a few threads from his jeans on the splintering wood. “How can you be so glib?”


Classic defense mechanisms,” I said. “Would think you’d recognize them.”

“You
need to go,” he said. “Fact is, you never should’ve come back. Not like anyone in Lavitte was pining for your return.”

I
sat back in my chair and took a bite of a cookie, sending an unequivocal signal that I planned to stay a while. “If you let me ask you a couple straightforward questions, I’ll leave you alone.”

He sighed
as he weighed the pros and cons of dealing with me now or being ambushed later. The little gears in his brain toiled away as the smoke streamed from his pasty ears. He sat back down with a thud, the base of the chair scraping a greenish line into the white.

“Did you, Jasper, and
Bobby ever break into my dad’s garage?”

He answered robotically.
“Bobby did. One time. A couple weeks before the shooting. Jasper and I waited outside as lookouts while Bobby broke the window and stole some tools. I don’t know why. He never used them to fix anything.”

“So just the one time?”

“Just the one.”


What was Bobby up to the night he was killed?”


No idea. I never saw him that night. Or that day. Neither did Jasper.”

I hadn’t asked about Jasper. Why was he covering Jasper’s ass?

“Kind of unusual, right?” I said. “For you guys not to see each other on a Friday night in the summer? The three of you were joined at the hip, especially that August. Saw you all the time when I was riding my bike.”

He glanced toward the street. Even his
profile looked like a common ad for those silhouette cutouts they offered at amusement parks. He watched a car go by, following it with his whole head until he reached me again.

“If I recall, Jasper had summer school
that day ‘cuz he refused to do homework for the inane Miss Dawber, as he used to call her. Then he had to take care of his mom. I was here helping my dad. I remember how humid it was ‘cuz it seemed like the paint wouldn’t dry, let alone stick to the wood.”

Was I having déjà vu? Smitty had quoted
almost directly from the statement he’d given the police sixteen years ago. Had it been so drilled into him that it had seared his brain? He went to it now like an old muscle memory reflex.

“What about that night?
” I asked. “After summer school and while the paint was drying?”

Smitty’s eyes glazed over.
“I didn’t see Bobby. His car had broken down so he couldn’t get up to his usual hijinks. Don’t know where he was. Jasper and I hung out, walked around town and the high school track some. We ended the night at Jasper’s trailer, watched some TV, and then I went home. His mom will vouch for that.”

The
mechanical recitation, as if he were a time-traveler reading a teleprompter, creeped me out, especially that last bit about Jasper’s sickly mom. He spoke as if she were still alive.

“His mom
died,” I said. “Six years ago.”

Smitty shook his head, a necessary adjustment when stepping out of a time capsule. “What?
Yeah, I mean, she vouched for it back then. How would I know she died anyway?”

“The obit was printed here.
Your mom seems to keep up with that sort of thing. Didn’t she tell you?”

“I don’t remember.” He swiveled his head to watch another car go by, unduly fascinated by the mundane.

“You and Jasper don’t stay in touch then?”


We don’t stay in touch.” His answer came back at me with no conscious thought behind it.

“Do you
honestly believe my dad killed Bobby?”

“Y
es.” Smitty leveled a hard, deliberate stare in my direction, the kind you give a mugger if he’s threatening your family and you’re deciding which limb to break first. “Tied him up and shot him like a common hog. He should’ve just let him go. If he’d…”

Smitty pressed his lips together hard, his whole face taut.

“If he’d what?”


If he’d let him go.”

“No, you were going to
—”

“Do you
have anything else, Allison?”

“Where
do you theorize Bobby was before he got shot? No one’s ever said and you must have an idea.”

“Tied up in your Dad’s garage,
begging for his life. Could’ve been there the whole night for all anyone knows.”

The thought of it almost made me laugh. My dad’s violence
had come in occasional, emotional bursts, usually over the powerless. A lot like his own dad had treated his mom, from what I’d garnered as a nosey kid eavesdropping on my parents’ occasional hushed conversations. The idea of my small father lording power over the 6’2” Bobby Kettrick, and methodically doling out threats before capping it all off with a bullet to the heart… it was like expecting the Unabomber to do something spontaneous.


Do you even realize,” I said, “that half of what you’re spouting off is the same, memorized statements you gave to the police sixteen years ago?”

“Who do you think you are?” he said, leaning forward in his chair. “You come to my house and insult me
? You? The offspring of a psycho who tore this town apart. Whose brother is an imprisoned drunk, whose mother can’t remember what year it is, and who’s made nothing of herself except dressing like a slut behind a bar for tips.”

So Smitty was better informed than he’d let on
, his earlier questions nothing but tests. But even his tirades came out in a near monotone. Go ahead, Smitty, get it out. Maybe something useful will fall from your thin-lipped mouth.

“I’ll tell you what,” he continued in what passed as a highly emotional state for him, “even if your dad didn’t do everything they accused him of, he deserved what he got. And everyone in this town kn
ows it. You and your family are the only clueless ones left. Why don’t you take your mom and get out?”


What do you mean that my dad may not have done everything they accused him of? Are you talking about Shelby?”

Smitty closed his eyes
and tried to calm himself with an uncomfortably long, yoga-type breath. When he rejoined the conscious, he gazed out to the street. No passing car this time. He settled for a hawk making a beeline for the cluster of oaks in the distance. It circled back, its target safe, and landed on the roof of the restaurant across the street.


Obviously, nothing’s going to get you to leave.” He stood up. “I’m going inside now. I’d appreciate it if you’re not here when my family comes out.”


Because there was no possible reason my dad would have killed Shelby Anderson, was there?”

Smitty
leaned down on the arm of my chair and spoke through a clenched jaw. “I couldn’t get inside your dad’s head if I wanted to. Maybe he had the hots for her. Maybe he liked ‘em young. He ever try anything with you?”

Nice spin, but predictable.
I sat up.

“So you don’t think the police were just trying to close off a case early? Pile on my dad so they could check it off their log?”

“Your dad shot Bobby. Maybe he had Shelby tied up in there, too. Who the hell knows? She didn’t weigh much. Wouldn’t have been hard for your dad to stick her in a truck, drive her to Licking Dog Creek and dump her body. Why don’t you ask him? Oh, that’s right, you can’t.”

He
spun around and strode towards the front door. I saw a shadow back away from it and knew Mrs. Smith had gotten an earful.

“Thanks for your time
, Smitty. Great to see you. By the way, is Jasper coming to the reunion?”

H
e whirled around, his face frozen. “You have no reason to talk to him. He’ll tell you exactly what I’ve told you.”

That’s what I was afraid of. A little too exactly.

“Eh, you’re probably right,” I said, knowing my forced offhandedness wasn’t likely to sell.


From what I hear, he’s kind of lost it,” Smitty volunteered, his tone lighter now that I’d stood to leave. “Talking in circles. Can’t separate fact from fiction anymore.”

Now it was Smitty’s offhandedness that
wasn’t selling.

“Where
is he these days?”

Smitty shrugged. “
I don’t know. Oregon, last I heard.”

Oregon, my ass
, Smitty. You may have graduated at the top of your class. You might have a job that requires a daily retinal scan to park your car. But inside, you’re the same, stupid kid who chose to hang around with Bobby Kettrick, jerkoff extraordinaire, because you thought his cool would rub off on you. It didn’t. Why did you lie back then? Why are you lying now—and how do you know Shelby Anderson didn’t weigh that much?

Chapter
10

 

Bobby… sixteen years ago

 

“Hey, Bobby, where’s your car today?”

The voice cut the thick air like a
wasp buzzing too close to Bobby’s head. He didn’t feel like dealing with this bimbo right now. He was hotter than red coal and the smell of that dead possum a hundred yards back had glued itself to the inside of his nostrils. He’d been stuck without his car for a few hours already, and his loser friends were so lame they were either spoon-feeding their half-dead mothers or doing Tom Sawyer shit for their dads.

He stopped and turned towards
the big, rectangular rock where the source of the voice had planted her ass. A redheaded, freckle-faced girl, from that big family that lived near The Willows Trailer Park. Her pink and green bike lay on the ground next to her and she sucked on the remnants of a red lollipop.

The girl stuck her tongue out
, let it hang in the sweltering air, then used it to do another quick swipe of the candy. “Is it red yet, or still pink? My tongue, I mean.”

Bobby was glad he’d turned
to look. Maybe this girl could offer a way to pass the time until Smitty and Jasper showed up. She’d grown some nice tits over the winter. They pushed apart the fabric between the buttons of her shirt and, with the sweat dripping down her pale chest, created a vertical stack of warm, wet invitations. The tails of her white top were tied at the bottom, revealing a deep, round belly button and a small scar above her right hip. Her face wasn’t half-bad either. Some acne dotted her chin, and her legs bulged out of her jean shorts more than he liked, but a nice rack usually came with extra chunk in other places. He could certainly make do with her for a few hours. What was her name again? Sheila? Shelly? Sheena? Shit, she’d mention it soon enough if he got her talking.

He flashed
the teeth. “Still pink. You’re gonna have to keep sucking.”

She giggled, returned the lollipop to her mouth
, and tossed some pebbles from the rock to the ground.

“What are you up to today?” Bobby said.

“I’m sooo bored. Kara and Becky are at the beach, and Tiff and Leigh Ann are grounded for sneaking some beers the other night. I had to get out of the house. Hotter in there ‘n it is out here. And my mom was like, ‘Shelby, go out and find something to do, or else you can start scrubbing that kitchen floor, girl.’”

So
her name was Shelby. Bobby let her ramble on the way girls did whenever he was around. When she finally shut up, he said, “I made something today at the big barn on the Hesters’ property. It’s pretty cool. You wanna see?”

“Me?”

Who the fuck else would he be talking to? “Sure,” he said. “Why not you?”

“I don’t know,”
she said, her green eyes wide. “I don’t even know what it is and besides, I didn’t even think you knew my name, really.”

“Of course I do, Shelby.

She
giggled at the sound of her name coming out of Bobby Kettrick’s mouth.

He laid it on thick.
“I’ve noticed you around school.”

“You have? But I’m only gonna be a freshman.”

“Yeah, but you came to the football games last year, right?” he said.

She plucked the
sucker from between her lips and left her mouth gaping where the candy had previously occupied it. “You picked me out of the crowd even with all that gear on your head?”


Hard not to notice you with all that nice red hair.”

She
smiled and ran her fingers through the heavy mop of crimson that reached the middle of her back. “It gets so frizzy in the summer, I can’t stand it.” She planted the lollipop firmly between her cheek and teeth as she twisted her hair up into a bun, tucking the end in to create a ball of fuzz almost as big as her head. “Makes me hot, too.”

“You need to cool off,” Bobby said. “How ‘bout I go into town and get us some beer
to take back to the barn? You drink?”

She looked at the ground for only a quick second before spitting out her answer.
“Of course I drink, Bobby Kettrick. I’m no prude.”

He definitely didn’t think she was a prude. He knew for a fact she’d let Kyle Thompson feel her up in the boys’ bathroom last year at the
high school. Little did Kyle know he shoulda held out a few more months and he’d have had more to work with.

“Wait here. I’ll be back in
twenty minutes and then we’ll walk to the barn.”

“Wanna borrow my bike?”

Bobby glanced at the rusty bike with its remnants of plastic tassels hanging from the handlebars. It looked too small even for the five-foot Shelby. Probably got it for Christmas years ago. Although Bobby considered himself cool enough to pull off being seen on a girl’s bike, he knew he couldn’t ride it and carry beer at the same time.

“Nah. Just wait here.”

“Ya never did tell me where your car was.”

“Does it matter?”
he said dismissively, as if she should feel lucky to have encountered him, with or without a vehicle. As he took the first few steps towards town, he gave her a quick glance back. “And when I get back, you make sure that tongue is good and red.”

“Oh my God, Bobby!”

As Shelby sucked for all she was worth, Bobby sauntered into Lavitte proper to steal beer from Westerling General Store. Bobby and Jasper usually pulled off the heist together, but he could do it on his own if none of the employees was smoking in the alleyway. Every Friday afternoon, Westerling’s was shorthanded, so he and Jasper would get one of the red, plastic carts and fill it with water pistols and cheap T-shirts, anything to hide the beer they put in on aisle 6. Then they’d wheel around to the snack foods in the last aisle. When no one was around, Jasper would climb up a couple shelves until he could reach the window behind the gallon-size peanut jars on the top and unlock the window from the inside. Bobby would then hand Jasper the beer to place next to the window. After returning all the other crap to the wrong places, they’d buy a pack of gum and head to the alley. Jasper would climb onto Bobby’s shoulders, open the window, snatch the beer, and they were good for another Friday.

At his new height
of over six feet, Bobby was pretty sure he could maneuver the beer back there by himself, and if he stood on a couple crates in the alley, he’d definitely be able to retrieve it. But once he entered the store under the greeting jingle of the year-round Christmas bells, he tossed his plans out the window. This would be as easy as convincing Mrs. Abernathy to change his grade on last year’s science final by promising her a touchdown in September. There, behind the Westerling’s checkout counter, all by herself, was a bony, awkward girl with a drawn-out face and stringy, dark hair. She’d had a crush on him since third grade, maybe even kindergarten. All these years later, he should’ve learned her name, but damned if he could come up with it. He walked right up to her, looked at her name tag, and blurted, “Hey, Amber. Thank God it’s you.”

If humans could melt, Amber would
have been a puddle of blush and bother right then. Her eager smile revealed new braces to which she was still adjusting. “Hey, Bobby. How are you?” She wiped away the spit that landed on the counter.

“I like your braces
,” he said. “Gonna look real nice when those come off. You always had the prettiest smile in middle school.”

“Ohmigod,” she said, hiding her mouth with her hand. “Stop it.”

“Hey listen,” he said, leaning forward and letting his hand linger within a couple inches of hers, “I need to get some beer. You think you could let me slip out of here with some if I buy something else?”

The conflict
between panic and desire made Amber want to pee and puke at the same time. Amber never cheated on tests, never spoke back to her parents, and never received attention from handsome boys. And this was Bobby Kettrick, no less. She gave him a weak nod and then put her considerable General Store intellect to good use. She rested on her elbows, her shirt falling forward to reveal measly mosquito bite breasts. She whispered, “Buy one of them Styrofoam coolers we got in the back. You put some beer in it and no one’ll ever know. I won’t ring it up, okay?”

Bobby
reached out and touched her bony arm. “It’ll be our secret, Amber. You’re the best.”

Amber figured she could up and die right about then ‘cuz life wouldn’t ever get any better.

Sauntering out of Westerling’s a few minutes later with his new cooler, three six-packs of beer, and another item he’d stolen on a whim, Bobby waved good-bye to the last girl he’d ever see, save for the one that would wind up dead a few hours later.

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