Miller’s Marsh Pond, outside of Cherrystone, Washington
Hauling a dead body around isn’t easy. How could it be? There’s always the possibility that something can go wrong. An earnest young cop could flash his heart-racing blue lights, signal the figure behind the wheel to pull over, and step up to the driver’s side window. He sees a hand dangling from the neatly bound package. In such a situation, a handgun on the passenger seat can be the perfect solution.
And then, one body might become two.
A couple of teenagers without a place to go or even the money for a motel might choose the wrong spot to have sex. They select a place for its very seclusion, the same reasoning a body dumper would employ when choosing his locale. They see the man with a corpse but it’s too late to leave. Pulled from their steamed-up car, they scramble, crying and begging for their lives, to a gulley.
Pop. Pop. Skulls are pierced by the bullets from a practiced shot. Sweet.
And then, one body might become three.
The risk is always there, but at least one man knew, just then, that it also had its benefits. It brought a rush. Such jeopardy produced a kind of euphoria that was as real as the high he felt when the life oozed from the woman’s body. It was almost the same kind of charge that came when the light in the victim’s terror-filled eyes went flat and dead like the buttons on an old overcoat.
He looked to the west toward the pond, sheathed in ice. It looked like sheet metal in the light of a cloud-shrouded sky. The wind nipped at his face. If he’d remembered how hard it was to lug a dead body, he’d have moved his vehicle closer to the water’s edge. Dead weight had new meaning, for sure.
A car sped by on the highway. Even though it was a half mile away, he crouched slightly and watched as its beams gashed through wisps of fog. Ghost fog, he imagined, as he caught a glimpse of the swirling motion of heavy, cold air.
He’d packed up the woman’s body in a blue down-filled sleeping bag. A nice one. The killing had been done in haste, which of course was never a good idea. That didn’t bother him just then. He had more pragmatic concerns and they made him wince. He hated that he’d wasted a perfectly good sleeping bag when a ratty old blanket would have been just as serviceable. It had gotten to that point. The whole thing --- the murder, the body dump, the return to where it had all played out. All to make sure that nothing, no clues --- hair, blood, fibers --- could tie him to what he’d done.
It was all about convenience.
It was as if he was that Starbucks barista he’d seen absentmindedly pushing the buttons to make a latte for some woman who babbled incessantly about her busy life (“I’m not just a mom, I’m a lawyer, too”) and how she needed “a boost” to make it through the day. He no longer had any doubts about what he’d done or why he’d done it.
“I’m addicted, you know,” said the woman who reeked of coffee and baby wipes.
He smiled faintly, the cold air biting his handsome face.
Pushing buttons. Killing a woman. So easy. He was addicted, too.
He shook off the memory.
He widened his stance and braced himself; his feet slipped a little on the icy mud as he lifted her body from the back of his truck. As he heaved and flung her over his shoulder, he let out a soft groan. She’d seemed so much lighter in life. Wispy hair. Tiny hands with pretty pink nails with carefully applied white tips. Her ankles were so thin that he was sure they could wear the rings from a shower curtain.
A shower curtain would have been cheaper, he thought.
He moved toward the frozen water’s edge. A fortress of weather-ravaged cattails guarded the flat plain of ice, with the exception of the point of entry that he’d selected for what he had to do.
She’d left him no choice. It was that simple.
He flopped the heavy bag onto the hard ground and spoke. He was quiet, but his words cut through the chill of the night.
“Jeesh, bitch, couldn’t you have worked out some? Skipped the mochas? Called Jenny Craig?”
Considering her condition, she wasn’t even that fat. She was just dead. She was doing nothing to help him and that made him angry. He tried to roll her; however, the leather cord from the bag snagged a log.
“Damn it! You make nothing easy, do you?”
He pulled the hunting knife from his hip and slammed its blade into the cord.
Realizing he needed his insurance that she’d sink in the mud, he returned once more to the truck bed and procured a pair of heavy chains. A beat later, he was at her body, spinning the chains around her like a spider in a frigid night.
“Down you’ll go,” he said softly, a puff of vapor came with his breath. “Down, bitch, you’ll go.”
He steadied himself and pushed once more and the body rolled onto the ice. From the edge of the shore, he nudged it just far enough away so that he could crawl behind it, pushing it across, commando-style. He looked over his shoulder, back at the truck. Nothing. The wind blew over the ice and he figured he’d gone as far as he needed. He took the knife and started to pierce the ice. It was about a quarter-inch thick and it took some doing. Finally, a hole. He dragged the bag toward the opening and shoved it inside, the water making the bag heavier as it began to sink into the blackness below.
It was a perfect night. Snow was coming. Ice would form a frozen scab over the wound that had taken her body. The sleeping bag weighted with chains would sink into the ooze of the springtime thaw.
She’d never be found.
He’d be free.
He felt nothing for her. Just a little inconvenience that came with the territory of having to take her late at night when no one would see what he’d been doing. He felt the flush of exhilaration that came with a job well done. That mocha that he’d thought about sounded kind of good just then. He got into his vehicle and did what busy moms, dads, students, and killers do after a trying day.
He went for coffee.
It was five minutes to closing and both the young women in the coffee and pastry shop wished to God that no one else showed up so they could get out of there the second the big green clock hit the hour mark. The night had been as intermittent as the storm, customer-wise. A flurry of latte-sippers after eight, then nothing outside of a trio of high school kids who managed to stretch their coffee drinking into what seemed like a two-hour marathon. The women working the counter were authorized to give refills to customers at their discretion, but those teens weren’t getting another sip. The workers wanted to go home. Snow had fallen and it looked like it would be a total bitch to drive.
Then he came inside, just before the lights would be dimmed.
The young blonde behind the stainless-steel counter had a concerned look on her face. She was petite, with lively blue eyes and a kind of knowing countenance that comes from either personal tragedy or too many years of retail experience. She smiled at the man in front of her, looking him over for a cue of recognition. Face. Eyes. Shirt. Anything. He wasn’t a regular. He was handsome, trim, and had a killer smile, which seemed to be on autopilot as he entered the store. He wore a heavy navy blue coat, from one of those expensive outdoor recreation companies that specialized in outfitting men with outdoor dreams and office realities. His jeans were old-school 501s, stained wet and dark at the knees. He seemed vaguely familiar, as though they might have met somewhere, or had shopped at the same grocery store. But she knew she hadn’t seen him at the coffee shop. She was required to know every customer by first name --- if they came in more than twice. He must be passing through.
“You OK?” she asked. “You look hurt.” Her gaze landed just above his brow.
For a second, he didn’t quite track what she was saying. Hurt? Like feelings hurt? Hurt, like an injury?
“Huh? I’m OK,” he said. “Tall mocha please. Extra hot.”
She handed him a napkin. “You’ve got a cut on your head.”
Oh, that hurt.
He took the napkin and dabbed at the small wound. Blood bloomed between the paper fibers. It was too high up --- on his forehead --- so he couldn’t use the old “cut myself shaving” excuse.
Which he’d used at least once before.
“Must have scraped it on the darn tree,” he said, adding a quick smile, and gesturing toward his pickup truck. “Those noble firs are spiky. Been out all evening getting the perfect tree.”
That explained the dirty attire. Good one.
The girl was frothing the milk and the noise howled in the space of the coffee house. “And I thought I was rushing the season,” she said. “They made us put up this Christmas stuff Thanksgiving night.” She rolled her eyes and indicated a heap of faux gift boxes around a hot pink feather tree.
He shrugged. “Can I use your restroom?”
“Over there.” She handed him a key with an oversized foam core cutout of a coffee cup with REAL MEN DRINK MOCHAS emblazoned around the rim.
Once inside, he locked the door and turned on the faucet.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
His own interior monologue mocked him as he scrubbed away the crusted-on blood from his temple. She had hurt him. She goddamn made him bleed. She paid for it, of course. Nevertheless, why did she have to go and do that? What was the point, bitch?
He looked at his face in the mirror. Normally, when he did so, it brought an appreciative gaze from his own eyes. This time, his heart pumped a little faster. Not as fast as it had earlier that evening by the frozen pond, of course. But faster, nevertheless. The blood he saw at his left temple brought worry and a touch of fear. He knew it meant something that he hoped would never surface. That she, literally, would never surface. It was possible that his DNA was lodged underneath one of her prettily painted fingernails. How come he hadn’t thought of that? He could have chopped off her fingertips and fed them to the dog. He could have killed her faster to avoid that burst of adrenaline that gave her the upper hand for just one second.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
Water ran down the drain as he scrubbed his hands and pulled himself together. Though he hadn’t used it, he flushed the toilet. He’d been in there a long time.
Thinking. Cleaning. Worrying. But also reliving the triumph of what he’d accomplished in the flat, cold light of a snowy winter night in the middle of nowhere.
His drink was ready when he emerged from the restroom and slid the key at the girl. She was pretty. No denying that. Yet not his type. She had a tattoo on her wrist that appeared to be some kind of tropical flower, maybe a hibiscus. The tattoo artist who’d rendered the image was either a hack or a newbie. Either way, it was permanently a very bad tattoo. If her wrist was any indication, she likely had more of them wallpapering her young, lithe body. Probably some piercings, too.
The man liked his women a little more on the traditional side. More conservative. Pretty, like the coffee girl, but not so wild. Not so reckless with the beauty God had bestowed on them by virtue of His grace and their parents’genetics.
“Whip on this?” the girl asked.
“Oh, yes.” He smiled, set down five dollars pulled from a gold monogrammed money clip, and winked. “I love whip. Keep the change.”
The girl at the counter caught the eye of her coworker, a pudgy brunette who never flirted with customers. They watched as the man with the mocha got into his truck, turned the ignition, and drove away.
“Do you want some creepy with that mocha?” the brunette teased.
“No kidding. Make that a venti creepy.”
“Extra hot, though.”
The young women laughed. Both knew that the man, no matter how handsome or fit, was too old for them anyway. Besides, it was against company policy to even think about hooking up with a customer. The last one to do that got a week of corporate-sponsored ethics training and a new assignment repacking scones in a warehouse. Not worth it by a long shot.
As the truck backed out and pulled past the windows of the shop, the blonde walked to the door and turned the lock. Her coworker flipped the overhead lights and the store went dark. As they looked out at the moving truck, which was slightly shrouded with swirling snow, they noticed something that seemed a little strange. There was no Christmas tree in the truck bed.
It was empty.
“I thought he said he’d been out getting a tree,” the brunette said
“Jesus. It figures. Everything is a pickup line these days.”
The blonde rolled her eyes. “You got that right.”
Emily Kenyon was proud of her deep blue suit and the polished silver star of the sheriff’s office on her jacket, yet the idea of an A-line skirt in late November was more than her thin blood could take. Why wasn’t there a pants option? She was the first female sheriff for Cherrystone, but surely someone had thought that through before. It was an annoyance on chilly November days and thankfully she only had to wear the suit for official occasions that had more to do with public relations than law enforcement. Moreover, she had the sneaking suspicion the getup made her look like a flight attendant as much as anything.
That afternoon she had lunch with the Rotary Club to kick off the annual “Teddy Bears for Tots” fund-raiser, a statewide drive in which officers collected plush teddy bears for the littlest victims of crimes, accidents, and fires. Emily spoke for five minutes, shook the hands of several Rotary officers, and thanked them for the “teamwork that makes us great.”
The line felt hokey; even so the crowd applauded.
As she exited the restaurant banquet room, she knew that she needed a warmer coat than her old trench if she wanted to keep from freezing. She ran through her mental list of things that had to be done. She needed to get her roots touched up at the salon. She also had to do something with the turkey carcass that occupied the top shelf in her refrigerator following Thanksgiving with Jenna, her twenty-two-year-old daughter, Chris Collier, her boyfriend --- though she loathed the idea of a grown man being called a boyfriend --- and her friend, Olga Cerrino.
Her cell rang. It was Jason Howard, her deputy.
“Kenyon here,” she said.
“Hi, Sheriff. It’s Jason.”
That they even bothered to identify themselves was almost a joke between them. Only a dozen employees made up the Cherrystone Sheriff’s Department. It wasn’t the smallest law enforcement organization, but it certainly wasn’t in Washington State’s top ten. “We got a call from Jeanne Parkinson at the clerk’s office. She’s worried about an employee.”
Emily knew Jeanne. She worried about everything.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“An employee didn’t come to work today.”
Emily wanted to laugh, yet somehow she held it. “Is this what we’ve been reduced to? The attendance monitors for the county?”
“That’s what I thought, but this could be different. They’re worried that something might have happened to Mandy on her way to work.”
“Yeah. She’s pregnant, you know.”
“I know. She’s due any day, isn’t she?” Emily checked her teeth in the rearview mirror of her Kelly green county-
issued Crown Vic. Spinach salad was never a good choice for a luncheon. Why didn’t caterers understand that spinach leaves gripped teeth like Velcro?
“Mitch says when he left for work, she was already gone.”
Mitch was Mitch Crawford, Mandy’s husband.
“I’m not far from there,” Emily said. “I’ll stop by and follow her route to the office.”
“Need the address?”
“I know where everyone in Cherrystone lives. That’s how exciting my life is.”
“Gotcha, Sheriff. We’re in the same boat.”
She almost said something about the Titanic, but thought better of it. Jason Howard was her subordinate and admitting to him that they were both in dead-end jobs was counterproductive. The fact was that adrenaline junkies would die a slow death in Cherrystone. Nothing earth-shattering happened in Cherrystone. No murder in five years. There had been three rapes, twenty-eight burglaries/robberies, eighty-three assaults, and a couple hundred drug busts, mostly for meth --- the scourge of small towns and rural communities across the West.
No one had to tell Emily who Mandy’s husband was. Mitch Crawford was a good eight to ten years younger than she, but the Crawford family was well known for having the region’s car dealership. Cherrystone was certainly out of the way, with Spokane being its nearest major city. Mitch’s father, Eddie, however, had shown a knack for marketing that turned the car lot into a destination. He’d fly people into Spokane from Seattle or Portland, pick them up in a limo, and make sure they returned home in one of his cars. He ran ads on TV and radio, and was inducted into the Marketing Hall of Fame in Reno, Nevada. When he died, Mitch took over.
The car lot wasn’t looking so sprightly these days. Mitch Crawford, it seemed, was no Eddie Crawford.
Mitch and Mandy lived in a hopelessly hokey development crafted for those who think showing off their money is the better part of having any. Their address was in the ridiculously named Bristol Estates --- ridiculous because Cherrystone was nowhere near England, and the only thing English about the town was that most people spoke the language.
When Emily arrived, she showed her badge and a guard opened the gate. Bristol Estates was a small development with only fourteen homes on “equestrian lots” built with garish architectural embellishments. Each home had a “carriage” house for their cars and a turret that presumably fed fantasies for the would-be princes, Rapunzels, and Lance-lots.
Emily parked the Crown Vic behind Mitch’s German-made sedan and wondered why Cherrystone’s biggest car dealer didn’t drive a Ford like all his customers.
The leaded glass front door swung open.
“Emily,” Mitch called out. “Sorry you’ve been dragged into this.”
He was better looking than she’d remembered. He had broad shoulders, a strong, handsome jawline, and hair cut short in the way that men sometimes do when it is thinning. He was far too vain for a comb-over. He wore a Ralph Lauren sweater and slacks that looked a little too matchymatchy, as though he’d purchased them without the help of a woman who knew what really looked good on a man. A gold chain that hearkened back to his dealership origins was nestled in his manscaped chest hair. He’d tried to leapfrog from his car dealership lineage, but the gold jewelry, the bad taste, and a whiff of Calvin Klein’s Obsession were clues that he’d not made it as far as he’d liked. Despite the grand house. Or maybe, because of it.
“Dragged? It’s my job,” she said.
“I know. Just seems silly. I’m sure Mandy just went out shopping.”
“How come you’re home?”
“Oh, just had to zip home for some stuff I need at work.”
He cracked the door open a little more, but still didn’t come outside or offer Emily to come in out of the cold air.
“She was supposed to be at work,” she said.
“Oh, no. She’d taken the day off. She had some things to get for the baby.”
Emily stepped a little closer, craning her neck to see what, if anything was behind him. “They were expecting her at the clerk’s office.”
Mitch looked unconcerned. “Signals crossed, I think. I’m not saying this to sound like a Neanderthal, but you know, she’s pregnant. She’s not exactly dotting all the i’s and crossing the t’s these days.”
Emily let the remark fly by. He was being a Neanderthal, but something was drawing her attention more than his words --- the overpowering odor of bleach.
“Can I come in?” she asked, a calming smile on her face. “Have a look around?”
He looked at her warily.
“Sure. I was doing a little cleaning. I’m done now.”
“Smells like bleach,” she said.
Mitch offered a kind of lifeless smile that seemed more for effect than for the conveyance of any warmth or charm. “Nothing works better for cleaning.”
“I know,” she said, thinking at the same time that nothing obliterates blood and other body fluids better than bleach, too.
Mitch led Emily into the kitchen. Atop the black granite counter, Emily noticed a plastic bucket with soapy water. A mop was catawampus on the floor. Mitch followed her gaze, and picked it up.
“Trying to clean up, you know, baby coming soon, and the help has the day off.”
Emily surveyed the room, wondering if the help was his missing wife or a maid service with an 800 number. “Sure,” she said. She noticed a cappuccino machine that had to be commercial grade, a wine refrigerator, a walk-in Sub-Zero refrigerator, and a range with more burners than the nicest restaurant in Cherrystone.
“Nice kitchen,” she said.
He pulled his sweater sleeves up to his elbows, bunching up the fabric in soft folds. Cashmere. “We like nice things. Mandy and I.”
Mitch kept his body between Emily and the rest of the house. It was clear that he’d invited her in, but only so far.
“Can I see the bedroom? You know, to be safe. I might see something that you’ve missed.”
Mitch put his hand out, a gesture that meant to push her back --- though she was already at arm’s length.
“I’d rather not,” he said. “Mandy didn’t make the bed and she’d die if you saw the way we lived. She thinks so much of you.”
“She’s a nice girl. But I don’t mind.”
“But I do. I mean, Mandy would.”
With his dark brown, penetrating eyes, Mitch stared at Emily for a second, maybe two.
Dead air. Emily resisted the urge to fill the empty space. Let him. Let him say something he’d regret.
Finally Mitch spoke.
“I hate to do this, but I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” He started for the front door, and Emily followed. Past the kitchen, through the living room, down the hallway with its art gallery vibe --- mostly modern, though she spotted a Thomas Kinkade painting of an English cottage dipped in pink roses and candlelight.
“Mandy likes that kind of crap,” he said. “Mall art. Jeesh.”
This guy was too much. His wife didn’t show up for work and he was throwing her taste in art under the bus. Emily figured that Mitch Crawford was all about pretension, keeping up appearances. Control.
“What about your wife?” she asked. “Where is she?”
“What about her? I told you she was shopping in Spokane.” His tone was impatient and he tried to reel it back in. “You know, for baby things.”
“You hadn’t told me where. Where in Spokane?”
He escorted Emily toward the door. “Riverside Mall, downtown. Better stores than the valley mall.” He held open the door.
“All right,” she said. “Tell Mandy to call the department when she gets in.”
Before Emily finished her sentence, he’d already shut the door and turned the dead bolt.
Emily parked the cruiser in the SHERIFF spot in front of the terra-cotta facade of the City and County Safety Building, and walked to her office overlooking Main Street. Each time she passed the “Wall of Fame” --- portraits of the sixteen men and the lone woman who’d served as sheriff --- she felt a wince of pain. It had been two years since Brian Kiplinger succumbed to a heart attack, an event that not only broke the hearts of all who worked there, but put Emily in line for the job as the sheriff. She’d never wanted to be the damn sheriff; moreover, she never wanted to work for anyone but Kip. She was appointed interim sheriff and the following year she won the election by a whopping 88 percent majority. That she ran unopposed probably did more for her landslide victory than unbridled support from a hometown electorate. A woman sheriff was a bit of a novelty, to say the least.
“How was lunch?” The voice belonged to Gloria Bergstrom, the office dispatcher and, really, the glue that held the whole place together. She was in her midsixties, had steel-gray hair that she kept short and stylish, and never showed up for work without four-inch heels. There was good reason for that: in stocking feet, Gloria was only five feet tall.
“An inch shorter and I could have been a Munchkin in another life,” she joked whenever anyone made mention of her stature.
Emily smiled at Gloria. “Lunch was fine. Lots of promises of support. You know, working together, making a difference. The word will get out that those teddy bears are important to the kids.”
“Did you track down Mandy? The women from the clerk’s office have called twice.”
Emily shook her head and pulled off an earring that hurt like hell and picked up the phone. She pushed the speed-dial code for the clerk’s office.
“Nope, her husband says she went shopping --- ” She cut herself off and turned her gaze from Gloria to focus on the phone call she was making. “Jeanne? Emily. I did a drive-by of the Crawford place and Mr. Personality said Mandy took the day off to go shopping for baby things in Spokane.”
“She did no such thing,” Jeanne said in her fluty voice. “She never would do that to us here. She is our best employee.”
“Maybe she left a message with someone else that she was sick or something?”
“No. There’s no way she would do that. You see, Emily, today we were having a baby shower for her. It wasn’t exactly a surprise. She even picked out the cake.”
“I see,” Emily said, her mind flashing on the house she’d just toured. There wasn’t a thing out of place. Not only was Mitch Crawford a social climber who’d rejected his middle-class roots for the accoutrements of a rich lifestyle, he was a self-absorbed ass. A lot of husbands were. She’d had one of those herself. “Was anything going on between Mandy and her husband? Was she angry at him?”
“No, not that I know of. She was focused on the baby. That’s all she wanted.”
Emily nodded. “All right. I’ll check with Mitch this evening to make sure she came home.”
“Emily, one more thing.”
“What is it?” She held her breath as if Jeanne was about to reveal some critical clue about why Mandy Crawford might skip work. Maybe she was mad at someone. Maybe Mitch had been beating her up.
“Can you send someone over here to get some of this cake? No one here feels much like celebrating.”
Emily let out a sigh. “Of course,” she said. She hung up the phone and went down the hall to find her deputy. He was at his desk surfing a Web site for ski conditions in Idaho. He clicked his mouse to close the window.
“Jason? Can you find someone to go over to the clerk’s office? Jeanne has something she wants to give us.”
“Right on it, Sheriff.”
Emily smiled as her deputy leaped to his feet and started for the door.
Jason Howard was always hoping that something would happen around Cherrystone. What no one knew just then was it already had.
It was half past six and already dark. The snow-threatening cloud cover was a snug lid over the town. Despite the elements, the Bryant-Thompsons were still out stringing lights to outline every architectural detail of their two-story Victorian across the street from Emily’s charming but more modest home. The Bryant-Thompsons --- Trevor and Mason --- were one of those couples who insisted that it wasn’t Christmassy if it wasn’t over-the-top. Way over the top. No bush was left unadorned, no skeletal tree left without a coating of little white lights. This year, Emily thought as she waved at the two men on ladders, she wasn’t going to give into her halfhearted attempt at trying to keep up with them. There was no point in it. She was doing a lighted wreath outside her front door and an artificial tree in the front window. That’s it.
She let herself inside and reached for her phone. The house was quiet. Jenna, home from her job consulting for a sorority’s national office, was in the shower.
Emily left her number with Mitch Crawford, but he hadn’t called back. She pressed redial and it went to his voice mail a second time. She went toward the kitchen, dropping her shoes by the back door and her purse on the stainless-steel island. She dialed the Crawford dealership next. A young woman answered.
“Mr. Crawford went home an hour ago, Sheriff Kenyon,” she said. “He didn’t say if he was stopping anywhere. You should be able to reach him there. Is everything OK?”
“We’re worried about his wife, that’s all.”
“Oh, nothing to worry about. She’s fine. I’m pretty sure she called in here and he talked to her.”
Emily felt a surge of relief. She thanked her, swung open the refrigerator, and looked at the foil-wrapped turkey.
Mandy Crawford is fine. I’m in trouble here. What do I do with this thing? I can’t make soup for twenty!
She retrieved a large kettle from the rack over the island and started filling it with water. She wrestled with the turkey carcass, snapping the bones and cramming it into the pot. Two cups of mirepoix, a cup of rice, and some salt and pepper, and she was done.
It wasn’t going to be the best turkey soup anyone ever made, but there would be a lot of it.
“Hi, honey,” Emily said as Jenna came into view, a ratty old robin’s egg blue robe wrapped around her slender body. “Maybe Santa will bring you a new robe.”
Jenna twisted her hair into a knot on her head and wrapped a thin, white towel around it.
“Only if I’m good.” She smiled at her mother.
Emily held the image of her daughter in her mind’s eye. She had a lithe figure that thankfully proved at twenty-two that she had her mother’s good genes, and not her dad’s. She had perfect teeth --- without the utter sameness of a row of orthodontia-manufactured smiles. And she was smart.
“I thought you might have left for your father’s,” Emily said, stirring the kettle.
Jenna took a seat on a bar stool next to the island that held the Viking range Emily had splurged on when she remodeled the kitchen, a project as complicated as a murder investigation. “I’m going in the morning. How could I miss your famous turkey soup?”
Her change in plans had nothing to do with turkey soup, of course. Jenna, having been away at college and now traveling with the sorority job, had a new perspective about the most important relationship she’d ever had --- the one with her mother. Certainly there had been the silly fights over boys, but that was long ago. The worries about who she was with and when she’d be home had abated. The talk about whether she should go to law school or find something that didn’t keep her so close to the dregs of society had waned.
“Like me, Jenna,” Emily once said as the two of them toured the Cascade campus when Jenna was eighteen. “Don’t be like me. Some jobs come with a high price. I know.”
Jenna watched her mother as she turned the peppermill over the bubbling soup pot. She wanted to burst forth with the words: “Mom, I love you. Mom, you’ve always been there for me.”
Instead, Jenna teased her.
“The soup looks a little watery.”
Emily made a face and reached for the yellow box of cornstarch. “I can fix that,” she said.
“You can fix anything, Mom.”
Neither mother nor daughter had a care in the world just then. Neither noticed that a pair of eyes had fastened onto them... onto their every move.
He had come for her.
His warm breath mixed with the cold air outside the big white Victorian. White puffs of vapor rose above him where he stood watching the scene through the backyard windows. He almost heard their laughter as the mother and daughter passed from one room to another, enjoying their lives.
Yes, they had lives.
He’d stalked her online. That was easy enough, of course. She’d left a trail all over the Internet --- Web sites, blogs, e-mails. He knew so much about her --- her shoe size, her best friend’s flailing love life, her plans for life after Cascade University. Seeing her in the flesh was the necessary step. A precursor to the plans that were forming like a disease, for which he alone held the cure.
He aimed a penlight at the photo of the three young women, all blond, all pretty.
Yes, it was her.
The girls were posed in front of a Greek revival mansion that had been their home away from home. It was summertime. They wore shorts and strappy tank tops and flip-flops. No cares. Just bright, shiny futures. They were blue-eyed Barbies, with perfect plastic skin and figures that only a doll maker could conjure.
He focused on their smiles. Their obvious joy was like an ice pick to his gut.
“I’ll wipe that smile off her face,” he thought looking at the girl in the center. “She’s the reason. She’s the leader.”
He told himself when he first got on the airplane in California that it was only to see her, to confront her. He wanted to tell her that her stupid decision had catastrophic results.
“Better be more careful next time,” he’d planned to say. “Some one else might not be as reasonable as I am.”
His interior monologue made him grin as he stood outside in the cold, watching. Waiting. Thinking of what she’d done. What they all had done.
He’d known the kind of pain that few endure. He was proud that he’d sequestered all of that. In the past, he’d done his share of handing out hurt like it was an appetizer to be enjoyed by the recipient. One little poisonous bite at a time was all he needed to find relief from his pain. One gulp. All of that had been a long time ago. But something was stirring inside and he knew that the girl in the center of the photo had become a kind of lightning rod for his anger.
He wrestled with it. Fought it hard. That night as he watched her from across the street, he knew that in the end, he’d have no choice. He’d argue it in his head over and over, and ultimately the dark part of him, the part hidden from all who thought they knew him, was about to become unleashed... again.
He looked down at the photo one more time and knew Jenna Kenyon would be the last to die.
It was 8:05 A.M., the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, and the Cherrystone Sheriff’s Department smelled of donuts and coffee. Gloria had brought in a dozen from the bakery across the street, as she did at least five times a month. The donuts were good --- sugary, greasy, and lighter than air, of course --- making them nearly impossible to resist. Only one person in the department seemed to care about the net result of too many donuts on a cop’s waistline. Emily, of course. At least bagels were a somewhat healthy choice. Why not bagels? Emily knew that her own willpower to stay away from the donuts was a better solution than making a directive that Gloria stop bringing them in.
Although past forty, Emily Kenyon wasn’t ready to “give up” and let the forces of nature and donuts take over her body.
She barely had time to acknowledge the donuts with her usual “Gloria, you shouldn’t have!” before being accosted by Jeanne Parkinson, the county clerk.
“Emily,” Jeanne said, her breath short and her hands fluttering. “Mandy’s still not at work.”
Emily glanced at the wall clock. “It’s only ten past the hour.” She peeled off her coat, gloves, and scarf. Her cheeks were bright pink from the walk from her cruiser to the back door. It was the coldest day of the year, just 18 degrees. The crusty berms of snow on the sidewalk had frozen solid. The sky had cleared.
“It doesn’t make any difference,” Jeanne said. “Mandy always came five minutes early. She missed her baby shower yesterday and she’s still not here. I tell you, something’s wrong. She’s missing.”
“Who’s missing?” It was Jason Howard, donut in hand, sugar on his upper lip.
“We don’t know who’s missing,” Emily said. “Or rather, if anyone is missing at all.”
“She’s missing,” Jeanne said. “I know it. I couldn’t sleep a wink last night.”
“We’re jumping to conclusions here. I talked to a girl from Mitch Crawford’s dealership. Mitch had talked with Mandy a little while before I called.”
Jeanne brightened a little. She had all the charm of a concrete block, but now and then allowed a trace of human emotion to wash over her face. It was clear that Jeanne the county clerk was very fond of Amanda Crawford.
“Where is she?” she asked. “What did he say?”
Emily felt a surge of embarrassment. “I guess I misspoke. I don’t know what she said to him. I didn’t talk to Mitch. I talked with his customer service manager.”
She knew immediately that her response sounded lame. Yet at the time, it was good enough. She followed procedure. She only swung by the Crawfords’ house as a courtesy to those who’d called in worried about Mandy not showing up for work. For all intents and purposes, Mandy was, in fact, off shopping in Spokane. That’s what her husband said. He ought to know. She wasn’t a missing person. There was nothing more to be done. Mandy Crawford hadn’t hit the twenty-four-hour mark that would mobilize law enforcement from Cherrystone to Spokane.
Jeanne stepped a little closer, not threateningly so --- just close enough to let Emily know she was very, very concerned. She was a tall woman with sea-green eyes under overplucked and overarched brows. Not pretty, but swathed in stylish earth-tone Jones New York clothes, she did the best she could with what she had. She’d won the county clerk job fifteen years prior and had no intention of ever giving it up. She had a particular type of toughness that belied the kind of sweetheart she could be. This morning she was almost in tears.
“Look, Emily, I know this girl. She’s in big trouble.” As she looked around the room, each person --- Gloria the dispatcher, Jason the deputy, and Emily the sheriff --- had a pretty good idea of what was coming next. None would be disappointed.
“She’s dead, I’ll bet. Her husband didn’t want kids. Didn’t want Mandy once she got pregnant. It was as if she ceased to exist from the moment she came back from the doctor with what she thought was great news. Joyful news. I’ll bet the son of a bitch killed her.”
“I didn’t realize that he didn’t want kids,” Emily said. She turned to Jason. “You and I are going over there in five minutes.”
She didn’t have to say where.
Emily Kenyon parked and she and Jason went up the cobbled walkway ringed in pyramidal shrubbery to the front door of the house at 21 Larkspur. Emily hadn’t noticed on her first visit there, but there were some scratches at the base of the door. The Crawfords must have a dog, she thought, as she rang the bell and looked around. The neighborhood was serene, devoid of any activity. In fact, the whole “gated community” seemed out of whack. Why would anyone want to live in a place with a guard posted out front? Especially in Cherrystone, of all places.
Nothing. No answer. No dog barking. No Mitch.
Jason offered to circle the house, and Emily nodded.
She rang once more. Again, nothing.
“All clear back there,” Jason said coming around the south side of the house. “Nice digs. Big pool back there.”
“The inside’s not too shabby, either,” she said. “Let’s head over to the dealership.”
It was after 9:00 A.M. when they arrived, and the sharks in the form of a crew of young men were already circling the car lot, looking for the first bite of the morning. Their pasted-on smiles fell when they noticed it was the sheriff getting out of her hopelessly uncool behemoth of a car. No trade-in here. No getting a ninety-year-old into a car he doesn’t need. Christmas music piped over the car lot. It was José Feliciano signing “Feliz Navidad.” A little peppy for the hour, and certainly wrong for the reason for the visit.
“Mitch around?” Emily asked, as she and Jason approached the dealership’s snowflake-adorned glass front doors.
“Yup,” said a young man in dark green parka over a suit jacket and tie. “He’s in his office.”
A young woman’s voice went out over the loudspeaker. “Eggnog lattes for all customers on the lot right now. Come inside and shake off the chill. It’s our treat!”
Jason followed Emily inside and they walked past three cars festooned with gigantic bows of silver and gold ribbon. One arrow pointed to the manager’s office, another to the service department. A young woman in a Santa hat smiled from her desk.
“Hi, Mrs. Kenyon! I’m Darla! I went to high school with Jenna!”
Every sentence was punctuated with an overkill of enthusiasm. Emily remembered Darla had been a cheerleader.
“Oh, hi, Darla. Didn’t recognize you with your hat.” Emily smiled warmly. “Nice to see you.” She indicated the door behind her horseshoe-shaped desk. “Is he in?”
“Sure is! How’s Jenna doing?”
“She’s fine. She’s back from Tennessee for the holidays. She’s at her father’s in Seattle right now. Did you know she was working for her sorority?”
“Yeah. Cool. I heard that. I still want to go to college, but, you know, being a single mom hasn’t made the timing for that so good right now.” She pointed to a picture of a little boy on the credenza behind her.
Emily studied the little boy’s photo, and suddenly felt sorry for Darla. The timing of the pregnancy, of course, was what had been out of whack. College first. Then a job. Married next. Baby last. That’s what she told Jenna over and over, and so far, it seemed that the mantra had sunk in.
Mitch Crawford poked his head out of his office. He appeared irritated.
“Enough of the photo,” he said. “I thought you’d never get here.”
Darla looked hurt and embarrassed, and it was apparent that the man who took his father’s job was absolutely nothing like the man who’d built the dealership on brains and undeniable charm. Mitch was devoid of any of that.
Emily turned toward Mitch. “Would have been nice if you’d called us, if you’ve been waiting for us to show up.”
“I did call. Earlier.” He let out an annoyed sigh and commanded Darla --- without saying a word --- to sit down and get back to work. She did.
It was a peculiar conversation, and Emily made note of its strangeness. None of Mitch Crawford’s words were about his concern for Mandy, which was the reason they were there. He seemed more bothered by how he’d been inconvenienced by the sheriff and her deputy not being there earlier.
But they’d come because of Jeanne Parkinson’s apprehension. Not because he called anyone.
“Look,” he said, “the end of the month is a hectic time around here. We’ve got sales goals to hit.”
“Of course. I have a goal, too,” she said measuring her words. “It involves finding your wife.”
Mitch toned down his conspicuous irritation. His eyes meandered from the sheriff to the deputy. “I understand. I’m busy. I’m sure she’ll turn up.”
Emily wanted to smack the guy and she was pretty sure, judging by the way Jason looked at him in contempt, he’d have told the review board that he’d seen nothing happen.
“I’ll try to move this along. Can we sit down?” Emily asked, taking one of two visitor’s chairs in an office that resembled more a trophy case of his father’s achievements than anything Mitch Crawford had done. Number 1 Dealership in the Northwest, Grande Champion for Auto World’s Contest of Excellence, and other over-the-top plaques that make no sense to anyone outside the auto-sales industry.
“I talked to one of your employees last night,” Emily said, removing her coat. “She said you’d talked with Mandy.”
Mitch’s eyes were alternately fastened on Emily, then on Jason. It was like a Ping-Pong match.
“No, I didn’t. Must be a misunderstanding. I told the crew I was worried about her. Wanted to see if her car ran into a patch of black ice or something. I drove the highway all the way to Spokane and nothing. Not a trace.”
Jason glanced at her, but Emily ignored him. She made another mental note to tell him not to do that again. The best reaction when you want someone to keep talking is no reaction.
Darla, who was listening to every word, popped her head into the office.
“Mrs. Kenyon --- I mean Sheriff Kenyon, I can clear up the phone call thingy. I told Tracee Connors, the night receptionist, that Mr. Crawford wanted to talk to his wife. She screwed up.”
Mitch glared at Darla. “Not the first time around here, that’s for sure.”
Darla went back to her desk, her face red.
“Let’s take a moment here,” Emily said, turning back to Mitch. “We need to locate your wife. So let’s calmly review what you’ve told us to see if we’ve missed anything.”
Mitch slid into his leather office chair and swiveled toward the window. “Right. We need to find Mandy. She could be hurt. The baby could be in trouble.”
“That’s right. So, like I said, let’s go over what you remember.”
“That morning she told me she was going to take Toby out for a walk, then she was going to Spokane.”
“OK, what was she driving?”
“Her car, a silver Camry, 2003.”
It seemed odd to Emily that a car dealer had his wife driving an older car, not to mention one that was neither make nor model sold at his dealership. Jason wrote down the plate number.
“Why was she going to Spokane?”
“She said she was sure the baby was going to come early and she wanted one last chance to get some things she’d been wanting.”
“OK, good. That’s a detail we didn’t have. But what about the baby shower at work?”
Mitch stared, blank-eyed. “Maybe she screwed up the date? That would be just like her.”
The remark caught Emily by surprise. It seemed cold, harsh. He didn’t know where his wife was, and Mitch Crawford was happy to disparage her. Either Mandy was a ditz or her husband didn’t care much for her.
“Where did she shop for the baby?” Emily asked. “Do you know?”
“Baby Gap and Chelsea’s.”
Emily narrowed her brow. It was a name she hadn’t heard of, and she figured it was because she hadn’t been asked to a baby shower in three years. And, well, her own baby days were long behind her with Jenna out of college and on her own.
“It’s an overpriced boutique on the first floor of the Riverside Square,” Mitch said. “I don’t know why she wanted to buy that crap. It’s just a baby, for Christ’s sake. A baby doesn’t know what the hell it’s wearing. But Mandy knows how to spend the dough. She’s not the Walmart type.”
Jason took notes while Emily focused on getting all the information she needed.
“OK. Now, about the morning walk with Toby.” She stopped herself for a moment. She recalled the scratched door at the Crawford house and how silent the place had been when she’d come by the day before. “Where is Toby?”
“Good question. I haven’t seen him since yesterday when I left for work.”
“Doesn’t that concern you?” Jason asked, for the first time inserting himself into the conversation.
Mitch looked at the young deputy. They weren’t that far apart in age, but it was clear that Mitch regarded Jason Howard as someone well beneath his station in life.
“No, as a matter of fact, it doesn’t. The dog gets out all the time and runs up and down the street. If I had a dollar for every time I had to go out and call for him in the middle of the night, I could close this dealership and retire. Trust me, Toby will be home tonight. He’ll be hungry.”
“So what happened next?” Emily asked. “Did Mandy take Toby for a walk?”
Mitch shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess so. I wasn’t there. One of us has to work, you know.”
Emily wanted to say something about how Mandy did have a job. And about how if Mitch had been half as good a man as his father, his dealership wouldn’t be hemorrhaging customers. Instead, she smiled.
Anything to keep him talking.
“Did Mandy phone you? Text you? Contact you in any way yesterday? After you --- you saw her last?”
He shook his head. “No. We’re not like those couples who have to check in with an ‘I love you’ every five minutes.”
“Look, I know you’re here to find my wife, but I get the vibe from you that you don’t like me. I don’t care. You don’t have to like me to find her, now do you?”
Jason piped up. “You’re right. We don’t have to like you.”
Emily glanced at Jason. She let a slight smile break across her face. “But, yes, we will find her.”
“Good. Now, if you need me to sign some paperwork for the missing persons report or whatever, let’s do it. I made a list of her friends. Here.”
He shoved a piece of paper at Emily. It held the names of friends and family members. Many of the names were familiar to her. Three were from the county clerk’s office.
“If you turn up anything, call Darla. She knows how to find me.”
As they walked past a sullen Darla, Emily turned to Jason and, in a very low voice, said what both of them were thinking.
“This guy’s really broken up that his wife is missing, isn’t he?”
“Yeah, crying a river.”
Excerpted from HEART OF ICE © Copyright 2011 by Gregg Olsen. Reprinted with permission by Pinnacle. All rights reserved.
Heart of Ice