Black Rock Bay, page 10
“Christ.” Izzy held her hand to her heart, leaning into the melodrama. It took only a beat longer for Mia to realize what the interruption must have been.
“The reporter’s phone,” she said, pushing to her feet. Izzy was behind her in an instant as they hovered over it.
Mia had plugged it into a charger when they’d returned to the house, even though she hadn’t been hopeful that they’d be able to get anything useful.
The ding had been a calendar notification. They could see the banner bright against the default lock screen.
Quinn Thomas. 4 Baker Street. 12:00 p.m.
“Wasn’t that . . . ?”
“The seaplane pilot, yes,” Mia finished for Izzy.
“Twist was planning on leaving today.”
Mia nodded absently, chewing on her thumbnail as she kept reading over the notification like it would tell her something new. “Probably.”
“Or it was an interview,” Izzy suggested. “And whatever he was researching had to do with her.”
The Bell mansion. The lighthouse. A figure under a busted streetlight. Mia doubted any of this had to do with Quinn.
She didn’t answer. Instead, she idly tapped the home button, not expecting anything. But the lock screen disappeared and she was in.
“What . . . ?” Izzy’s exhale behind her was just as surprised. “He didn’t have it locked? Who doesn’t keep their phone locked?”
Everything on the phone was neat, tidy. Barren, almost. There was nothing personalized about it—the background the default photo everyone got out of the box, the apps the ones that came with the phone. Mia’s eyes touched on each of the little squares, lingered as if the simple images would offer a clue that she knew they wouldn’t.
The absence of social media apps didn’t surprise her given Twist’s lack of a digital footprint, but what did was that his camera roll was empty. As were his email and text messages.
Scrubbed. The whole thing had been scrubbed.
In frustration, Mia swiped to the second panel, expecting the screen to bounce back as it did when there was nothing else on the phone. Instead, it slid over, then settled, a seemingly empty screen on first glance. Except, there, tucked against the bottom-right corner, subtle enough to be missed unless someone was looking for it, was an image of an old-fashioned voice recorder.
The reporter’s notes. Her pulse ticked up as she thumbed into the app.
Like with the rest of the phone, there was little there. Just one recording.
“This was under the bed?” Mia asked Izzy without looking up.
“Yeah, mostly,” Izzy said. “Pushed out of sight.”
Mia could picture a desperate hand hiding the phone so it would be found later, just as Izzy had suggested back in the cabin. If Twist’s death had been suicide and he was trying to communicate with them, would he have really taken the chance that it could be overlooked?
Murder or suicide? Put one more mark in the former’s column. It was a tally that was getting harder to ignore. She was beginning to think that eventually it would just be denial to call this anything other than homicide.
“Who doesn’t keep their phone locked?” Mia repeated Izzy’s question slowly, looking up from the screen. “Someone who wants their notes to be found.”
Her thumb was steady as she pressed play.
The message was short, just three words—a lit match that burned out just as quick.
“It wasn’t suicide.”
The voice pressed into all the spaces in the kitchen. It was high and thin, the vowels cutting short.
Mia closed her eyes and hit the play button again. “It wasn’t suicide.” The words crawled along her skin, sticking to the sweat slicked into the grooves of her palms, slipping into her nostrils as they flared with her uneven breathing.
She hit play again. And then again.
Each time, that quick flame, then gone, replaced with silence.
After the initial rush, as her pulse settled, she listened to the voice, the way the message was thrown out, careless and easy, like it didn’t really matter. There was no fear threaded through it, no urgency beyond a quick note to himself.
“Is he . . . ? Is he talking about himself, do you think?” Izzy asked, when Mia’s finger hovered over the play icon once more.
“It wasn’t suicide.”
The message so closely echoed her thoughts it made her light-headed. But . . .
“I don’t think so. Not about himself. Listen.” Mia watched Izzy’s face as the voice once more tumbled out of the little speaker. Izzy tugged at her pursed bottom lip, but the rest of her was held taut, her eyes unfocused beyond Mia’s shoulder.
“He’s calm,” Izzy finally said, her gaze returning to Mia’s. “Doesn’t sound like he was under duress.”
“Probably not,” Mia agreed. So why was the message left on the phone? Why was the device unlocked in the first place? “I wonder if he erased the rest.”
Izzy dropped her hand and ran her palm along her jeans. “That would be odd, don’t you think?”
“Yeah. Why would he get rid of all his notes in the middle of his investigation?” It would be odd. To do all that work. Interviews, thoughts, impressions. All gone. “Or maybe he wasn’t the one who deleted them.”
“The killer then?” Izzy shifted so she was leaning back against the counter. Mia didn’t move from where she hovered above the phone, her irrational side nervous that they would be locked out if she took one wrong step. “If he was murdered, that is.”
It wasn’t suicide. Mia almost repeated the words out loud, but she wanted to hold on to doubt a little longer.
“I don’t think a potential killer would have done it,” she said. Why would they leave a message like that on the phone yet delete the rest of the voice memos? There was no other indication that the person was trying to get caught. “Maybe Twist was getting scared. He deleted the more incriminating recordings in case the killer found the phone and checked it.”
Izzy ran a hand through her hair. “That was a risk. By deleting the rest of them, he put a spotlight on that one.”
“For us then,” Mia said. “Maybe it was worth chancing someone else finding it. Worth it to get his message to us, I mean.”
They both stared at the phone as it did absolutely nothing in Mia’s hand. Then Izzy cleared her throat. “So. Was he talking about Asher and Monroe?”
Mia gripped the counter to keep from touching her wrist, where she knew she would find her rapid pulse. They were barreling toward something she wasn’t even sure her brain was ready to process. Would the inevitable conclusion be more darkness?
“I’ll poke around in the phone,” Mia said, instead of answering, because she was worried it would come out yes. “You take the journals.”
There was a pause, and Mia didn’t look over. Her knuckles ached, and she slowly unpeeled her fingers from the slightly sticky corner, conscious of every small movement.
“Sure, will do,” Izzy finally said, easily, though Mia could tell she wanted to talk more.
Mia lifted her gaze to the window overlooking the tiny backyard that bled into the forest beyond. Mama’s home was at the top of the small incline that sloped gradually back down into the port. There were no more houses behind theirs, just woods and snow. Silence where in the summer there would be birdsong.
The soles of her feet could still feel the press of knobby roots and misplaced stones as she and Asher and Cash played cowboys and robbers in the warmer months. In the winter, they’d had epic wars: their ammo of choice, ice-glazed snowballs; their enemies, the handful of kids home on college break.
The memories were tinted sepia and softened at the corners, like old photographs of someone else’s life. She didn’t look at these often, but when she did, she was careful, reverent, pulling them out, caressing the smiles, the laughs, the flushed cheeks and giddy glances. Her thoughts always lingered on Asher for a beat longer, searching for an emptiness in his eyes that she may have missed when she was y
But then the memory would blink, shiver, move on to the next. And once again, she would have missed any signs.
The pain beneath her breastbone screamed, and she pressed the heel of her palm to the spot, though it wouldn’t help. She hadn’t eaten almost anything since she’d stepped off the ferry, and yet she was on her fourth cup of coffee for the day.
She tucked her fingertips into the pocket of her jeans for the chalky tablet she’d stashed there, popping it between her teeth with her back to Izzy.
Her eyes were on the trees as she snapped the tablet in two between her teeth as quietly as possible.
Although the phone had been mostly wiped clean, whoever had deleted the emails and text messages had missed something. The call history was still there.
Most of calls were just random strings of numbers, not used enough to warrant a contact name. There were a few who had earned one—Peter. Bram. Marlie.
Peter’s showed up the most frequently. In fact, the last outgoing call had been to him on the day after Robert Twist had arrived on St. Lucy’s. But they all seemed to be missed calls or only a few seconds in length that could have been a voice mail.
Mia wasn’t sure if it meant anything, but she made a mental note to have a trace done on the number.
She kept scrolling as she asked Izzy, “Did you find anything useful?”
Izzy looked up from where she was working on the notebooks. The journals were small, holding only a few interviews each, and Izzy was combing through them to create a rough timeline of whom Twist had talked to and when.
“Initials.” Izzy held up a scrap of paper. “You can probably help with those.”
Wordlessly, Mia held out her hand for Izzy’s notes. She scanned the combinations of letters and could pick out CB and EB—Cash and his father, Earl—and JR right next to them.
Jimmy Roarke. Likely.
Sammy had mentioned Jimmy chasing the reporter off from the lighthouse.
“These initials—they were all close to each other?” Mia asked, tapping the grouping.
Izzy flipped through the notebook she’d been working through, humming softly when she stopped on a page. “Yup. A couple pages’ worth of gibberish for all of them.”
Can’t say I ever talked to the man.
That’s what Cash had said when she’d asked about the reporter. Why lie? When, with a little digging, Mia was sure she could have proven otherwise through gossip alone.
Why lie? She shook her head even as the question burrowed in, latched on.
Lying was a way of life more than anything else for people on St. Lucy’s. Unlike the mainland, where kids were taught not to fib, island children learned a different lesson. Truth wasn’t a moral high ground; there were no brownie points awarded for honesty. Rather, they were taught to hoard secrets tight, earning pats on the head for any time they were tempted to tell stories but kept them locked up instead.
Once, when she’d been little, Asher and she had built a fort in his parents’ living room beneath sheets that smelled of smoke and lilacs. They’d cuddled as children did, their whispers tangling together way past their bedtime, and Mia had told him about her parents fighting, the terrible words they’d flung at each other when she was supposed to be asleep.
Asher had listened with big eyes. The next day everyone on the island knew about the Harts’ problems. Mia hadn’t been able to sit down for a week from the smacks Mama had landed on her behind.
She hadn’t even been mad at Asher when he’d apologized, his chipmunk cheeks tear streaked and pale after realizing she’d been spanked. She hadn’t been mad because she’d known it had been her fault for not lying when he’d asked for her secrets.
Lying had always been their language, their code, their shibboleth. Had she so easily forgotten the patterns of it? They didn’t communicate with what they said but rather with what they kept hidden. It was in the pauses, the unspoken words, that the truth could always be found.
Can’t say I ever talked to the man.
She didn’t want to think about exactly what Cash had been saying in the spaces between his lies.
The alarm on the phone went off again. Quinn Thomas. 4 Baker Street. 12:00 p.m.
It was fifteen minutes until noon now, and Izzy glanced out the window before turning to Mia with a raised brow. “Is it safe to go out?”
Mia pushed to her feet and crossed to the sink. There were still flakes falling—Izzy could see that from the table—but they were large and powdery, gentle instead of the hail of an hour earlier.
“Yeah, let’s go,” Mia said, and Izzy refrained from groaning at the idea of the cold despite the fact that she was getting itchy just sitting in the kitchen, staring at notebooks full of words she couldn’t decipher.
They moved quickly through the process of layering up, and after they were both satisfied most of their skin was covered, they pushed through the door. The icy air sought all the cracks in their defenses: the slips of skin exposed by a rucked-up sleeve, the moisture in their eyes, the gaps between their scarves and the napes of their necks.
“Don’t you have to lock the door?” Izzy yelled. The wind had picked up even from that morning’s trek to the cabin. If Twist had been alive to make his appointment, there was no way Quinn Thomas would have flown out in this weather.
“We don’t lock doors,” Mia shouted back, starting toward the sidewalk that would lead them into town, even though it was buried.
“It’s almost like you didn’t just have someone murdered on your tiny arctic island,” Izzy mumbled, the words loud against the pocket of silence between gusts. “You know . . . and with the killer still probably running around, locking doors would just be foolish.”
“Your sarcasm would be more effective if I could hear it,” Mia tossed back over her shoulder. “And we don’t know it was murder.”
Izzy rolled her eyes, but it was in vain as Mia had already started down the hill. Any attempt at a witty comeback was curtailed by the wind.
They didn’t attempt any more conversation as they worked their way past the houses down toward the shops that lined the two streets right off the docks. Quinn’s glorified tourist stand with a door was next to the ferry ticket booth.
A small bell chimed as Mia and Izzy walked in.
Izzy didn’t bother stripping down beyond her scarf. The office was set to a temperature that favored a low heating bill over human comfort.
The space was long and narrow, just wide enough for the desk that took up three-fourths of the floor toward the back of the shop. A woman with frizzy brown hair held down by a purple hat glanced up at the sound of their heavy boots on her carpet. Her face was pointy, her lips thin. Thick eyebrows pulled together as she looked down at her desk and then back at them. “Ferry office is next door.”
“Quinn Thomas?” Mia asked.
There was a pause, a consideration. As if even confirming who she was would be some kind of admission. “Who’s asking?”
“Lord,” Izzy drawled out under her breath.
Quinn’s attention was locked on Mia, though, recognition flickering across her face. “Mia? Mia Hart?”
Mia nodded, just once. “Yes.”
The suspicion melted to be replaced by a surprising smile that changed the woman’s face from odd to pretty. “Man, it’s been ages.”
The warmth of the welcome faded. “Ah, if you’re trying to get off the island, can’t do it. Storm’s not done yet. Sorry.”
“No, we’re here for a little bit.” Mia stepped closer to the desk, and Quinn gestured for her to sit. Izzy followed suit. There were maps papering the walls, some obviously antiques, others the kind you could pick up at a gas station, the yellows and pinks and purples denoting different islands. The one hanging closest to them had come unstuck at one of the corners, and Izzy pressed her fingers to the loose bit, trying to smooth it down.
“Ah, well then, what brings you in here?” Quinn asked the ques
“Actually, your noon appointment does. Robert Twist,” Mia said. “I’m with the mainland police department. We’re investigating his death.”
There wasn’t even a second of surprise. Word really did get around quick.
“Don’t know what I can tell you.” Quinn shrugged, her fingers toying with the ledger she had open on her desk. Izzy watched Mia watching them. The woman had a thing about hands. Said they gave away secrets every time. Izzy was starting to think Mia knew enough about hiding that she could easily recognize it in others. “Didn’t even know the guy. Just talked to him a couple times about some trips.”
“That’s all I want to know,” Mia said, her tone friendly, mellow. “Was he planning on flying back to the mainland today?”
“No. He was headed toward San Sebastian.”
Izzy wanted to ask, but just as she was deciding if she could interrupt without causing too much disturbance, Mia tilted her head toward her. “An island about ten miles north of here.” Then she refocused on Quinn. “Was it one-way?”
So he’d been leaving. Island-hopping maybe? Chasing his story across the small juts of land that dotted Black Rock Bay. Did that mean he wasn’t focused only on the suicide-pact story?
“When did he book it? The ticket,” Izzy asked.
Mia hummed, a quiet approval of the question.
Quinn’s eye squinted as if trying to remember, but then she shook her head and pulled out a big journal. Her finger ran along one of the open pages, before stopping and tapping in place. “Looks like Friday. The one before he disappeared.”
So he’d booked a one-way plane ticket two days before his death.
They all sat with that for a beat.
“Can you just . . . ?” Mia paused. “What was your impression of him?”
“The reporter?” Quinn’s eyes darted over to Izzy, then back to Mia. “I don’t know, he was kind of squirrelly, wasn’t he?”
Izzy laughed, an uncontrolled bark. “So we’ve been told.”
The interruption actually earned her a small smile from Quinn. “He was just going around getting in people’s business.”