Black Rock Bay, page 12
At one time in her life, it had nearly driven her mad. Now she was used to it. The not eating was new, though. She tried to pinpoint when it had started, and her stubborn mind supplied a time window around the same week she’d first seen Robert Twist lurking in the shadows outside the office.
“We need to talk to Lacey,” Mia finally said. Did you kill them? “And Earl Bishop. Jimmy Roarke, too.”
Listing them helped. It grounded her in the investigation that she still didn’t feel like she had a grip on.
Did you kill them?
“He was the one who took me home that night,” Mia said, quietly.
Izzy cocked her head. “Who?”
“Earl,” Mia said.
“What exactly was Cash’s father doing at the lighthouse?”
“It wasn’t strange,” Mia said. It wasn’t. Not if you understood what life on St. Lucy’s was like. “He was the mayor. We don’t have cops. Someone had to handle the scene.”
“Right,” Izzy said, the word drawn out enough so that it was obvious that she still found it strange. Or at least noteworthy. Mia wouldn’t argue with the latter. “And he didn’t call your mother to come out and get you?”
“No, he took me home, then went back to the lighthouse, I think,” Mia said. “Everything is a little piecemeal. Like, I remember drinking hot chocolate at the table at home in the kitchen. The marshmallows were those giant kind that barely fit into a mug.” Mia paused. “Weird, right? Hot chocolate in the summer. But I know I drank it.”
A beat of heavy silence followed, and Mia knew Izzy understood.
Then Izzy shifted. “So the only things you know about that night, then, were filled in by your mama?”
“For the most part,” Mia said.
“And those details were given to her by Earl Bishop?” Izzy asked, slowly.
“Yes,” Mia said.
“So the only details we have about that night were provided by the man who was the last person our new victim talked to before he died?”
It hadn’t quite occurred to Mia to put it that way. But once Izzy said it, she couldn’t believe she’d missed that fact. “By the time I was in a position to request the incident report, I had stopped wanting to even think about St. Lucy’s.”
“But the police did come out?”
“From Rockport, yes.” Mia said. “They were gone a day later. Ruled it all suicide.”
Izzy muttered something under her breath, but Mia shrugged.
“Quacks like a duck, right?” Mia said. “There was no reason to investigate further.” She paused. “There’s no real reason to now, either.”
There was mutiny in Izzy’s expression. She so obviously was building a theory, one that linked the suicide pact with Robert Twist’s death. But Mia wasn’t sure they had enough information to do that yet. There could be a million and one reasons why someone on the island would want to kill a nosy reporter.
However, one thing they both probably now agreed on?
“I think we can start approaching Twist’s death as a homicide,” Mia said, even if it was a bit reluctant. She’d been slowly watching her chance of getting off the island quickly fade with each interview.
Izzy rocked back on her heels. “Yeah, I think so.” Her eyes narrowed on Mia’s face, then she clicked her tongue and pointed. “It was the plane ticket, huh?”
Among other things. “Yes.”
“Same,” Izzy agreed.
It wasn’t unheard of for someone to make plans for the future and then kill themselves anyway. The thoughts could have been triggered by any number of things. But he’d bought a ticket to San Sebastian. His cabin was messy, as if he’d been stepping out for an evening. There was no suicide note. Those weren’t the actions of a man about to end his life.
In fact, the only thing that made it seem like a suicide was the bullet trajectory. And that could be easily faked.
Beyond that, there was the fact that Earl Bishop was the last man he’d talked to before he’d disappeared. There was the fact that Cash Bishop kept coming up. So did Jimmy Roarke, Earl’s best friend. There was the fact that a lot of people on this island would go a long way to protect the Bishop family.
But that was conjecture.
“Hey, where was Cash that night?” Izzy asked. “Why wasn’t he there with you guys? If the four of you were all buddy-buddy.”
“Says he got in trouble, wasn’t allowed out,” Mia said, knowing her voice lacked conviction.
“You don’t believe him.”
“It’s not out of the realm of possibility. His dad was strict with him.” Mia shrugged. “But we went out the night before—it was our six-month anniversary.” So silly, now that she thought about it. He’d packed a picnic with candles and unbearable sparkling wine that they’d drunk out of red Solo cups. It was hard to fathom that she’d ever been so young, so in love.
“Was he allowed out for a special occasion?” Izzy pressed. “Or does that mean whatever kept him away from the lighthouse happened the day of?”
Mia shook her head. “Earl Bishop didn’t care about our anniversary.”
Izzy was staring at the door where Ellen had disappeared, but it didn’t seem like she was actually looking at it. Her mind was somewhere else. Mia waited.
Finally, Izzy turned to her. “What did he do?”
“He didn’t say,” Mia said slowly, but she was following where Izzy was going. There were only so many things Cash could have gotten up to in daylight hours that would have been bad enough for him to be grounded that night.
“So either something pretty extreme happened or . . .”
Mia swallowed. “Or he’s lying about not being there.”
They mayor’s office was tucked into the back of the rec hall, one of the more sprawling buildings on the island. The venue had been the host to weddings, school dances, graduations—almost any and all events that needed space to accommodate a good chunk of the population. But when the place wasn’t being used for a celebration, it was a wide-open basketball court.
Mia’s and Izzy’s boots clicked against the polished wood as they crossed toward where a door was marked MAYOR CASH BISHOP.
A slip of a woman sat behind the scarred oak desk in the little waiting room, her light brown hair pulled tight back into a severe bun, gold-rimmed glasses perched on a small, upturned nose. She was so indistinct in appearance that she all but disappeared into the rose-patterned wallpaper behind her.
She hadn’t changed much since high school.
“Dot, right?” Mia asked. She used to be Dorothy Sherman, though the ring on her hand hinted that might be outdated information. Dot had been a year older than Mia and the rest of them, which normally wouldn’t have made a difference to whether they’d hung out. But Dot had never been friendly. Not mean, either. Just more interested in books than people.
“Hi, Mia.” The frostiness in the greeting had Mia reconsidering that impression.
“Is Cash in? We’d like to ask him a few questions.”
“He’s on a phone call right now. You’ll have to wait.” Dot gestured toward the cushioned chairs. And, yes, she was definitely not pleased with Mia.
“I take it you two weren’t friends,” Izzy muttered as they settled in next to a tableful of tattered Us Weeklys and People magazines, all with movie stars who were big about five years earlier.
“Actually, no. But I wouldn’t have said we didn’t like each other.” Although, who knew anymore.
As a detective who worked primarily on cold cases, she knew recall was a crapshoot in the best situations. People put a lot more faith in what they supposedly remembered, thinking of it as verbatim what happened. But that’s not how it worked. Where there were gaps, the brain took a best guess: emotions twisted events; random details like a certain smell stayed while other major ones faded away. And all that was if you actually wanted to remember something.
Mia, on the other hand, had spent more than fifteen years desperately trying to forget.
By an unspoken agreement that Mia wasn’t the best person to be doing the questioning here, Izzy stood up and stretched, then turned to look at a high-tides poster on the wall. After a few seconds, she sidled toward the coffee table that was loaded down with pictures of fishing boats. Then meandered across the room to check out the art near the door. It was all very casual and restless. Careless. If you didn’t know Izzy.
Dot was barely watching her until Izzy leaned a hip against the woman’s desk.
“You work here full time?” Izzy dropped the question like she was just bored, killing the minutes they had to wait.
Dot’s eyes narrowed behind those thick glasses. “Yes.”
“You like it?”
When Dot glanced over, Mia picked up a Highlights magazine to look busy, smiling at dried and crumbling crayon residue from years past.
“Kind of slow now, huh? Is it usually like this?”
“Not always.” Dot sounded reluctant to depart from her monosyllabic civility. “Can get busy.”
“Did Robert Twist ever come in with an appointment?”
Dot wasn’t an idiot. There was a beat of silence, and then: “You can direct your questions to the mayor, Detective.”
Shut down. It had been worth the try.
But Izzy wasn’t deterred. “Sorry, sorry.” She held her palms up, all it was an innocent mistake, ma’am. Then she picked up a pen, started fiddling with it. “You’ve been working here long?”
“Nearly a decade.”
“Cash has been mayor all that time?” Izzy asked.
“No, only a few years,” Dot corrected, warming to Izzy again. It was one of Izzy’s gifts, usually. When they weren’t on an island where no one would acknowledge her, she could get anyone chatting, even when they didn’t want to be spilling any information. There was a warmth to her that people couldn’t resist. Even Mia had fallen prey to the charm several times. “Earl Bishop, his father, hired me.”
“Oh man, which one is the harder boss?” There it was again. Nudge, nudge, I’m one of you, tell me everything you know without realizing you’re doing it.
“They’re different,” Dot said slowly. “Cash has his own style, but Earl is—was—a perfectionist.”
“I’m sorry, I thought Earl was still alive,” Izzy said delicately, latching onto the tense change that had caused Mia’s own pulse to catch. Mia gave up the pretense of flipping idly through the children’s magazine and turned her full attention on Dot.
The woman’s mouth parted several times without saying anything. Then, just as she started to speak, the door to Cash’s office swung open.
Cash was shrugging into a thick overcoat as he stepped into the waiting room. Mia’s stomach rolled, a mix of disappointment and anger and sadness churning there.
He wanted to avoid them. He was hiding something.
“Sorry, Mia, an emergency cropped up at the Rogerses’ place.” Cash had put on his best distressed face, but he wouldn’t meet her eyes when he said it. “There’s a shotgun involved. I gotta get over there.”
Mia stood. “Do you need backup?”
“No, no.” He waved with the hand he wasn’t using to yank open the outer door. “It’s just old Stan again. You know him. Probably forgot to take his meds. But I should . . .”
He didn’t even finish the sentence before he was out the door. They were left staring at his back as he jogged across the empty court, only stopping to kick a stray basketball out of the way.
Mia watched him until he’d disappeared, and stood there long after.
Behind Mia, Dot and Izzy continued talking, a few stray bits working their way into Mia’s conscious, like that Dot had married the owner of the hardware store and had three kids, all boys. But most of it was smothered by the one question that kept getting louder every time she saw Cash—What wasn’t he telling her?
She turned around, suddenly enough that the conversation behind her dropped off midsentence. “What were you going to say about Earl?” There was no grace to the question, none of her legendary interview skills on display. Her hand shook slightly, and she shoved it in the pocket of the jacket she’d never taken off.
“Oh.” Dot looked between them. But Izzy’s easy presence had done its job to thaw some of the iciness. “He was diagnosed with dementia a few years back. It’s pretty bad.”
It came like a blow, even more so than his death would have.
She didn’t want to think it but couldn’t help the fleeting sympathy. Dementia wasn’t pretty, and to watch Earl Bishop deteriorate must have been rough for Cash, who had idolized him always.
Mia found Izzy watching her when she opened her eyes, and she realized what it could mean for the case.
Patients with dementia tended to live a lot in the past. Short-term memory was often interrupted, but the long-term—that was just there to pull from.
Which meant there was a possibility that the reporter might have talked to an Earl Bishop who thought he was living in the time period right after Asher’s and Monroe’s deaths.
And maybe, if that was the case, they were dealing with the fallout from that.
Izzy tilted her head toward the door, a clear question if Mia was ready or if she wanted to stick around. Mia nodded once, but as they both moved to make their goodbyes to Dot, Mia paused.
It was curiosity and the fact that they’d already probably gotten from Dot all that she was willing to give up that made Mia ask the question. It was a cold, vague fear that made her hesitate. But still . . . “Why don’t you like me?”
Izzy made a little surprised sound next to Mia, but Mia didn’t look away from Dot. The woman blinked at her, curled in, but then straightened as if chastising herself for backing down.
“You were horrible to me. In school. You and that . . . that Bell girl.” She spit the words, her chin quivering with either anger or the urge to cry.
“What?” That cold, vague fear turned jagged, shards of ice slicing into the sun-tinted warmth of those summer days.
“I mean”—Dot’s lower lip trembled—“you were fine until the summer before you left.” She looked away, shrugged, her face pale. “Once you and Cash started dating, though . . .”
“What did I do?”
With squinting, suspicious eyes, Dot studied her. “You don’t even remember, do you? I was that insignificant to your little clique.”
Mia was helpless. “I’m sorry. I don’t . . .”
“You all . . . you all convinced me . . .” Years-old bitterness turned Dot’s voice ugly, small, wobbly. “You know what? The details don’t matter. I humiliated myself. And you just laughed. All of you just laughed.”
Mia’s brain rebelled. Even when prodded, she couldn’t pull up the memory of whatever Dot was hinting at. But Mia had never thought of herself or the others as cruel. Maybe careless in the way teenagers were. Never cruel, though.
“I’m sorry,” Mia whispered, left with nothing else to say. Dot was blinking too fast, far too fast, and Mia didn’t want to subject her to the embarrassment of crying in front of them. She apologized quietly one more time and then walked out the door.
“That doesn’t sound like you,” Izzy said under her breath once they made it halfway across the basketball court.
Mia thought of that picture in the hallway, summer days and loose limbs, their little group wrapped up in each other. So young, so foolish.
But the moment was only a snapshot, unable to capture the darkness that must have lurked beyond the parameters of the frame. Jealousy, pettiness, all the angst that came with stupid, pointless puppy love. A mean streak, if Dot were to be believed.
And why would the woman lie?
That doesn’t sound like you. Izzy had thrown it out, offhand, like those questions she’d asked Dot. The thing was, it was just as pur
Mia stared at the clouds rolling in, slow and steady. This storm that wouldn’t relent, that felt as never ending as their time on the island.
“You don’t know me well enough to say that.”
A spring dug into the space just to the right of Izzy’s shoulder blade, the tip of the coil pressing up against her spine. She shifted and the couch moaned, the protest too loud in the silence that had settled into the house.
Izzy and Mia hadn’t had much time in the afternoon before the snowfall became prohibitive. They’d managed to knock on a few doors, but with little result. Yeah, the reporter had been in town; yeah, he’d been asking questions about suicide. Yeah, Mia’s name came up. Usually, then, whomever they were interviewing would either not be able to meet Mia’s eyes or would stare at her, hungry for her reaction.
It had left Izzy slightly nauseated, and she almost welcomed the relief of secluding themselves into the relative safety of Edie Hart’s kitchen to tear through journals they couldn’t even understand.
Izzy bent her knee up now, her heel dipping into the space between the cushions. The move revealed more metal lurking beneath the thin fabric, this time at her hip.
Giving up on the promise of sleep, she sat up fully, blinking hard to get the indistinct blobs in the room to come into focus as furniture instead of monsters. Moonlight slid over the carpet but wasn’t bright enough to fully banish the darkness.
She yawned and then reached for her phone where it was plugged into the wall outlet. Only when she was opening her email did she hear it—a footfall against a stubborn spot on the floor.
Then it was quiet again. This time the hush was different, though, more of a pause than the natural creaks and groans of the night.
If the person had been Mia, they wouldn’t have frozen, and Izzy would be able to hear her move toward the kitchen or the bathroom. But there was nothing. Just that one high-pitched whine of settling wood.
Izzy dropped her phone on the couch beside her and reached for the gun she’d kept tucked underneath on the floor. Her fingertips curled easily around the grip, and she breathed out through her nose, controlling the relief that slipped through her from the weight of the weapon.