Black rock bay, p.13

Black Rock Bay, page 13

 

Black Rock Bay
 



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  She didn’t stand yet, didn’t trust the couch not to betray her. So she listened, her muscles poised to spring into action, her head tilted to pick up on any movement from the hallway.

  It was another twenty seconds of silence before there was a rustle of fabric against fabric. If Izzy hadn’t been paying attention, the noise would have blended and melted into the static of wind and house and breathing.

  But now that she could pinpoint it, the person’s steps weren’t hard to follow. They paused at the bottom of the stairs, just outside the den. Izzy waited. If they started up the steps, she’d have to act. Mia and Edie were vulnerable, unaware.

  Whoever it was continued down the hallway, though. Toward the kitchen. Where all the information on the case was lying about, unprotected.

  Izzy pushed to her feet, keeping pressure on the couch with her free hand so that she could better control the groan of relaxing metal.

  She’d lost track of the intruder now, the sound of a stranger in the house once again fading into nothingness. Izzy spared a thought toward Mia’s insomnia and wondered if she was upstairs staring at the ceiling. Then she put Mia out of her head. If Izzy didn’t move quickly, the person could get whatever they came for and leave before she even left the den.

  The combination of shock and fear had given her nighttime vision a kick, and the once-blurred shapes scattered throughout the room became chairs and side tables that she skirted around with ease. Blood rushed against the thin membrane of her eardrums, and she spared a precious second calming her pulse. If she couldn’t hear, she’d be useless.

  Then, counting down from three, she stepped into the hallway. She didn’t know the house well enough yet to be confident about what spots to avoid, but smooth, easy strides were better than hesitant tiptoes, so she was at the kitchen doorway in seconds.

  She paused, her back plastered to the wall, her shoulder pressed into the crook. Her weapon was a solid presence against her sweatpants-clad thigh, and she slid the safety off. The click was loud, ripping apart the silence.

  But she could hear the intruder again, and they didn’t pause. The unmistakable sound of a body moving, the rub of arm against hip, the scuff of shoe on tile, the inhales, the exhales. Izzy tracked it all.

  When the intruder stepped toward the sink, away from the back door, Izzy knew it was time.

  She wished she could close her eyes, center herself once more, but she didn’t want to blow her night vision.

  Instead, she took a breath, brought her gun up, and stepped into the kitchen. “Hands up,” Izzy said, her voice deliberately loud enough to catch Mia’s attention if she was awake. “Nice and slow.”

  The intruder went rigid, shoulders locking up.

  Izzy’s eyes swept down to the person’s grip. Shit, shit, shit. A weapon. She couldn’t tell if it was a knife or a gun, and she didn’t want to fumble on the wall for the light switch.

  “Put your fucking hands in the air,” she said, using her deepest register. Details were seeping in past her initial fight response. Slim, swallowed by a black sweatshirt, with the hood up. Stance was wide, ready to run. She knew exactly what that little head tilt toward the back door meant. The person was going for it.

  “Don’t make me tell you again,” Izzy said, and this time she shifted into their path. “Drop your weapon. Put your hands in the air.”

  She kept the directives steady, not letting any of the words slide toward panic. She wasn’t, anyway. Panicking. This part wasn’t new to her. Scumbags with more firepower than brains were a dime a dozen in vice.

  A door opened upstairs; they could both hear it through the thin ceiling. And the distraction was a window of opportunity that the intruder immediately seized.

  The person lunged, but not toward the door like Izzy had been expecting. The shift in direction surprised her enough that she was slow to follow, and the mistake cost her.

  When the intruder whirled, the flashlight blinded Izzy, the white brightness slamming into her retinas so that she couldn’t make out anything other than a silhouette.

  Mother fu—she threw her hand up, leaving her grip on her gun unsteady. It didn’t matter. She couldn’t shoot if she couldn’t fucking see.

  Izzy ducked low, then shifted as if heading right. At the last second, she spun left, ditching the flashlight’s beam in the process. She tried to draw a bead on the intruder again, but her night vision was shot—the person nothing but a shape crouched over the table.

  The reporter’s notebooks. She and Mia had left them there, out for anyone to find. Stupid.

  At the sound of Mia’s footfalls on the stairs, the intruder grabbed one of the journals before knocking the rest to the floor, clearly headed toward the door now.

  Izzy started moving, yelling, though she didn’t know what she was saying. Anything to get the person to stop just long enough for Mia to get there, so the odds would once again be in Izzy’s favor.

  It wasn’t until Izzy reached out blindly, going for an arm as the intruder threw open the door, that she remembered the gun.

  While it was true she couldn’t shoot without seeing properly, that didn’t mean the intruder couldn’t.

  As the frigid air rushed into the kitchen, she stumbled forward, still determined.

  There was a crack, and then hot pain slicing across her shoulder, her fingers still grasping for someone who was no longer there.

  Izzy stuffed her knuckles in her mouth as Mia poured alcohol into the shallow wound just below Izzy’s shoulder cuff. Her teeth dug indents into the flesh of her fingers, but she didn’t flinch while the burn unfurled tendrils along her arm.

  “Shit,” she hissed finally when she trusted herself with words again. Mia was slapping tape on the gauzy bandage, a thin line of rust-red blood running along its center.

  “You were lucky,” Mia said softly, though there was no need to drop her voice. Edie was awake and standing by the sink, watching the scene with a narrowed gaze. “It barely grazed you.”

  “If I were lucky, we’d have the bastard in handcuffs right now.” Izzy shook her head. “What I was was sloppy.”

  “You should have come and got me.”

  There was only a slight scolding in her tone, not nearly what Izzy deserved. It had been stupid to confront the intruder without backup. For a moment, she wished she was alone so she could press the heel of her palm into the wound, bask in the pain of her mistake. Instead, she rolled her shoulders.

  “Whoever it was, they got a journal.”

  Mia paused, her hands hanging limply. “They? There was more than one?”

  “No. I just couldn’t tell if it was a guy or a . . .” Izzy thought about it. “Could have been female. They were slight enough.”

  “So you saw enough to rule out some people?”

  Nodding, Izzy prodded at the white bandage. Mia had been right. She had been lucky. The wound was only a smidge deeper than a scratch. “Wasn’t one of the big guys.”

  There was a beat of silence. “Not Cash then?”

  Mia had managed to be casual in asking the question, but that almost gave it away more than anything. Too close, Izzy’s mind took the opportunity to remind her.

  “Nope.” Izzy shook her head. “Not the doc, either. Or the bartender.”

  “What about the two guys who pulled the vic from the bay?”

  Izzy squinted, trying to call up their body types. “Too tall, too fat,” she finally concluded.

  Another moment passed, Mia’s fingers tapping against the table as she stared out the window. Then she stilled. “Ellen?”

  Slim. Swallowed by a black hoodie. Izzy layered the waitress’s compact frame onto her memory of that first impression in the darkened kitchen. “Yeah. Could have been.”

  “Okay,” Mia said, her eyes going to the notebooks scattered on the floor. “Any chance you’d recognize which one he took?”

  “Actually, yeah.” She pushed to her feet, the blood rush sending her head spinning. “But I’m not sure how helpful it will be
. It seemed more of a desperate Hail Mary than an actual attempt to steal it.”

  She reached for her own notes, where she’d been cataloging which interviews were in which of the notebooks—her anal soul giving the number of each corresponding journal to the initials. There had been five in total.

  “Was it the one with Cash? And Earl?”

  Izzy didn’t answer at first. She went through her logs, twice, before humming low in her throat. “No. It was the one with Lacey Bell.”

  Mia sighed, tipping her face up to the ceiling. “Shit.” Her expression was composed, though, when she dropped her chin once more. “Actually, it’s perfect. We’ll go see her in the morning.”

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  MIA

  It was still dark when Mia rapped her knuckles against the doorframe of the den. Izzy was a lump of limbs and blankets on the couch, and she burrowed in deeper at the sound.

  Her injured arm hung off the cushions, her fingertips dragging along the carpet. Mia had fed her some ibuprofen last night, but by this morning Izzy was sure to be in pain.

  If Mia had felt like being kind, she would have let Izzy sleep. But her legs throbbed with the need to go, find, hunt. There was someone on the island who was comfortable shooting at cops, and whether that person was their killer or not, they needed to be stopped.

  Mia just foolishly, so foolishly, wished doing that wouldn’t have led them to Lacey Bell’s doorstep.

  There was no pretending she hadn’t been avoiding her. Lacey was a reminder of that night, of that summer, of Monroe and Asher, and everything Mia desperately wanted to forget.

  But she’d put it off as long as she could.

  Mia knocked against the wood again, louder this time, and Izzy lifted her head, her messy pink hair a neon beacon. “Jesus, is it even dawn yet, Hart?”

  It was, but only just. “I have coffee made,” Mia said instead of answering.

  By the time Mia returned with a thermos for Izzy, the woman had managed to slip on real clothes and was attempting to tie up her boots with one hand.

  “Does it hurt?” Mia asked, but didn’t offer to help. And something told her Izzy wasn’t eager to go to Sammy to have him check it out, either.

  Protocol dictated that they report the injury. Mia had tried that morning using the landline, and the call had gone straight to voice mail. She’d hung up without leaving a message. If Murdoch tried calling them back and got nothing but an empty house or static on their cell phones, she’d probably send in the Coast Guard to rescue them. Better to wait to explain the situation when she actually picked up.

  Izzy huffed, straightening and eyeing the mess that was her laces. “Nah. Just a scratch.”

  Mia nodded, and then they settled into silence until they were outside, crossing the backyard, disturbing the pristine blanket of white.

  This was Mia’s favorite part of the day. The snow was still pure in most places, the dinginess of real life turning only some of the fringes gray. The sky was an inky purple that faded into pink and gold. The air was crisp, almost renewed from the night before. It was peaceful.

  But Mia liked this time best because it came. Every night when her blood went hot and her skin itched and her mind crawled in circles over shards of glass, she knew, knew if she hung on, that morning would come.

  Fresh and clean and cool.

  She breathed it in, she breathed it out.

  There was something romantic about insomnia for people who slept. It was late-night diners and unchecked conversations without inhibitions. It was creativity sparked and the beautiful melancholy of fatigue. Bruises beneath eyes, but a wisdom gained from extra hours of being awake.

  Living it was anything but romantic. Still, she thought maybe she was able to appreciate the bright hope of morning more than other people. Certainly, more than Izzy, who was muttering obscenities beneath her breath beside Mia.

  The curses stopped only when they rounded the small shed in the backyard.

  “We’re going on that?”

  Mia patted the handlebars of the snowmobile. It was an old model, one Mama had bought when Mia was just a girl. But the thing worked. It would get them to the Bell mansion more quickly than trudging through the woods, and she didn’t want to take a car out on the unplowed roads leading out to the cliffs.

  Izzy stared at the machine with confusion that evolved slowly into horror. Her eyes were wide, her pupils dilated, and if Mia had been in the mood, she would have laughed. Izzy looked more scared of riding it than she had after being shot at last night.

  “It’s going to be okay,” Mia finally said.

  Izzy swiveled her jaw, then nodded, still not saying anything.

  Mia tried not to smile as she swung a leg over the seat and then patted the cushion behind her.

  “You’re going to want to hold on,” she said. Izzy hesitated only a moment longer, seemingly talking herself into something, and then climbed on. Once her fingers curled around Mia’s hips, Mia revved the engine and maneuvered them toward the forest.

  Because Mia was driving slow, it took double the amount of time it should have to break through the tree line on the north end of the island. When they did, the Bell mansion came into view, standing on the cliffs, commanding attention in the midst of the barren, windswept expanse. Where the lighthouse was quiet resilience, the Bell mansion challenged the encroaching sea below, laughed at the dangerous waves that licked at the rocks.

  Some islanders had called it gaudy just loud enough for the Bells to hear, but Mia found that it always knocked the breath from her lungs on first view. When she’d been younger, the mansion had reminded her of a life fancier than anything possible on the two square miles of land that was St. Lucy’s.

  The purr of the snowmobile rumbled to a stop as she parked by the fountain in the center of the drive. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

  Izzy shook her head. “Never again. My ass is officially frozen.”

  “Never again.” Mia let a beat pass. “Well, until we have to go back.”

  “You’re straight up mean, is what you are,” Izzy said, backing away from the machine. Then she turned to take in the mansion, whistling low and long as she did. “Moneybags.”

  “You have no idea,” Mia said. Moneybags barely scratched the surface of the Bells’ wealth. “Come on.”

  Ringing the bell seemed like the smarter option than the knocker—a better chance for Lacey to hear. Mia pressed it, then waited. After a few minutes, she pressed it once more, refusing to feel guilty at the early hour.

  “If you dragged me out here . . .” But Izzy’s threat was cut off before it had a chance to fully land.

  Lacey Bell stood in the doorway, her eyes wide, her hand still gripping the heavy wood.

  The woman was dressed in an oversize lilac sweater with rolled-up sleeves and black leggings that had roses winding up over her knees and thighs. The blade-thin ridge of her collarbone hinted at a still-slim frame under the loose fabric.

  Her black, glossy hair was cut into a bob with bangs that slashed across her forehead in a choppy, asymmetrical line. Where her face had once been angular, it was now soft, filled out with age, making her prettier than she had ever been before. Rows of chunky rings sat heavy on her fingers, and a waterfall of pearls cascaded from gold hooks that dragged on her earlobes. Her lips were slicked red with gloss and her lashes were sooty with mascara, despite it being maybe seven in the morning.

  There was a moment before recognition hit that Lacey’s face remained neutral and pleasant, if a bit surprised at the early visitors, a polite smile plastered on.

  But then her eyes met Mia’s, and any color that had been left in her porcelain-white face bled out, her arm coming up across her body as if to shield herself from a blow. “Mia Hart.”

  Mia didn’t know what she’d expected. But it hadn’t been fear. Maybe Lacey really was their intruder.

  “Lacey.” Mia nodded, and neither of them moved to hug or even shake hands. They’d known each other only a
few months. They were nothing more than strangers with a shared tragedy.

  “I heard you were back,” Lacey finally said, though she didn’t move to invite them in. Her voice was delicate, cultured, unlike the harsh accent of those who had grown up on St. Lucy’s.

  “In town,” Mia corrected. Back sounded too permanent.

  Lacey’s lips tipped up as if she immediately understood. Could relate despite being back on the island herself. “Of course. Apologies.”

  They stood there for so long that Mia knew she was going to have to force the issue. “Can we come inside?”

  “I’m sorry, yes, please.” Lacey said it like it had been an oversight and moved so they could step out of the cold. “I was having coffee in the kitchen?”

  Without waiting for a response to something that wasn’t really even a question, Lacey turned and led the way across the marble tile of the entryway, her socked feet sliding just a bit against the polished floor.

  Mia trailed behind her, Izzy bringing up the rear. “That was a chandelier,” Izzy muttered. “In the freaking entryway.”

  All of the decorations in the mansion were ostentatious, but Mia had been there enough times that summer to get used to it.

  There were new additions, of course.

  Large, dark paintings hanging without frames followed them on their way back to the kitchen. None of them were actual pictures; rather, they were simply black and gray and white splashed on canvas, all the same style. Mia wondered if they were Lacey’s.

  She stopped by one. It was midnight black at the center, deep blue swirling from there. Something about it made Mia’s body tip forward, a tug beneath her belly button, as if she could be swallowed by the yawning abyss. The desire to sink into it eased only when Izzy bumped her shoulder, her eyebrows lifted. “Are they hers?”

  A signature scrawled in white at the corner popped against the darker colors. “Looks like.”

 
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