Black rock bay, p.31

Black Rock Bay, page 31

 

Black Rock Bay
 



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  By the time they came to fetch her, Izzy had sunk to the ground, her forehead resting on the knees she’d pulled close to her chest. Her grease-heavy hair hung limp over her forehead, and she could see the paleness of her face, the shadows beneath her eyes, in the concern the nurse wore without any subtlety.

  “You can see her, hon,” the woman said, the wrinkles on her forehead deep and rigid, her voice softening to almost a whisper.

  Izzy stood on shaky legs, focusing on relief instead of the onslaught of self-loathing that had been battering not so gently at all her defenses.

  She blamed the whiplash of it all for her lack of brain-to-mouth filter when she walked into the room. “I said not to do anything stupid, you jerk.”

  Mia’s face was gray and drawn, her lips white at the edges. But still she laughed. “Sorry.”

  “I had a vest,” Izzy said, the guilt tugging at her with those talons. “I had a vest on, you idiot.”

  That brought color to Mia’s cheeks. “And I was supposed to know that how?”

  “I was supposed to step in front of you,” Izzy said. It wasn’t a real answer. She didn’t actually have one. “If it came down to it.”

  One corner of Mia’s lips pulled up. “Sorry to steal your thunder.”

  Dropping into the chair, Izzy couldn’t help but stare at the bandage that peeked out through Mia’s gown.

  “I’m sorry.” It was just a quiet apology, stripped bare of arguments and justification. It was what Izzy had to offer. “I’m so sorry.”

  Mia’s lips twitched, an almost but not quite sad smile. “I’m not sure I can say I would have acted differently if the roles had been reversed.”

  “Were you ridiculously pissed?” Izzy asked, trying to break the tension. She forced an easy grin, the one she wore often, the one that was now faked but still probably also appreciated.

  “Unbelievably so.” Mia laughed weakly, and Izzy was proud of herself until it triggered a coughing fit, Mia’s small body curling into itself as it heaved and bucked. Izzy was helpless to do much other than watch Mia’s oxygen levels drop. She was just about to call a nurse when Mia settled back against the pillows. “How long have I been out?”

  Izzy pressed her lips together. “A couple days.”

  Mia blinked but didn’t seem surprised. “Tell me what happened.”

  Izzy leaned forward, her arms braced on her thighs.

  “Did you get any of my texts?”

  “One.” Mia nodded. “The body in the bay was Peter, not Robert.”

  “Yeah, you were right about Peter being important to the case.”

  Mia shrugged. “Not how I expected.” She shifted on the bed, her eyes on her wrists. “I met Robert when I was being held.”

  “We picked him up. He didn’t put up a fight.”

  “No, he wouldn’t have,” Mia agreed, and when she looked up, the neutral mask was back. “Did he tell you anything?”

  Izzy chewed on her bottom lip, debating how much to tell Mia in her weakened state. If she were in that bed, though, she’d want to know everything.

  “All right, so this is what we’ve been able to piece together. Peter Hughes applied for the Bell artist residency over the summer. Just like we thought, he found Lacey’s”—Izzy didn’t want to say souvenirs, the memory of Mia’s hunched-over form still clear, so she couched it, knowing Mia would follow along—“collection of things that pointed to her penchant for . . .”

  “Killing people,” Mia supplied. “Or sort of killing people.”

  “Yeah.” They grimaced at each other. For a minute, it felt normal, like they were talking about any other case. “Anyway, he, understandably, flipped the hell out, booked it out of there. This part gets a little foggy, but it seems like he was going to try to report it to you? He must have heard stories about the suicide pact, and your name was in the little notebook Lacey kept with all the items.”

  “She cataloged them?”

  “Yeah.” Izzy sighed. It hadn’t been the most pleasant thing to go through that list. “Not a lot of detail besides name and cause of death.”

  Mia shivered beneath her thin hospital blanket, and Izzy knew it wasn’t from the cold. It was going to take them both a long time to forget those haunting eyes, the playful voice.

  “Anyway, Robert says Peter chickened out, thinking he didn’t have enough evidence.” At Mia’s eyebrow raise, an implicit question about what Izzy wasn’t saying, Izzy laughed. “Yeah, I think he’s full of bullshit. Robert probably just wanted to break a serial killer story himself. Probably saw a book deal in it or something.”

  “Why did Peter go back to the island?”

  “He was playing freaking Columbo, I swear to God.” Izzy shook her head. “Robert couldn’t make a trip to the island until December, and Peter was worried the evidence would get destroyed by then. By Lacey, obviously.”

  “It would be hard to break a serial killer story without any proof.”

  “Right.” Izzy nodded, acknowledging the truth of that. “But this time Peter wasn’t so lucky.”

  “Handed to her on a silver platter.” Mia sighed. “Jesus, she didn’t even have to work for that one.”

  “Nope,” Izzy agreed. “She held him for a bit, probably trying to decide what to do. I think the torture thing is new for her. There were two other deaths marked down in the notebook that we didn’t know about from her time on the mainland, but from a quick glance at the files, those women hadn’t been kidnapped like Peter.”

  “She was escalating, then.”

  “Seems like,” Izzy said. “Especially with the state Robert was in, for how short of a time he was held.”

  “Peter was her trigger.” Mia met Izzy’s eyes from across the room. They both knew the implications of that, what would have happened if Lacey had been left unchecked. She had never been violent quite like that before, but then had tortured two victims in the span of a few months. How many more would have died if they hadn’t stopped her?

  “So Robert starts getting worried,” Izzy continued. “He hadn’t heard from Peter in a while, but also sometimes the guy would get flaky like that, so he’s not ready to call in the cops quite yet.”

  Mia smiled, but it was small and tired. “I think you’re right about that book deal. He’ll probably still get one.”

  “I’m still thinking of charges for him,” Izzy muttered, and Mia shook her head.

  “He was in intense pain,” Mia said. “Turning on me was the only out he saw.”

  Izzy grumbled but dropped it. “Robert goes to the island, makes a big show about writing the isolation-suicide article. He figures it will make good B matter in the serial killer story anyway.”

  “Lacey figures everything out,” Mia filled in.

  “Yup. He seems to have thought he could withstand her persuasion, so he actively sought her out to talk to.” Izzy shook her head. “Then what followed was what you’d expect. Lacey kidnaps Robert, gets Peter to eat a gun, and then lobs him off the cliff.”

  “It was a risk, having Peter identified as Robert,” Mia said.

  It did seem like one, an unnecessary risk at that. So many things had gone wrong. But then Izzy thought about the way Lacey had smiled when she’d thought her plan was coming together. “Did she tell you why she did it?”

  “I think . . .” Mia’s eyes unfocused, her lips pulling back into something between disgust and pity. “Well, the logical reasoning was that she didn’t want the death tied to her immediately. She wanted to play us longer.”

  “If the body was identified as Peter, she would have been our main suspect because he’d just been her artist in residence,” Izzy followed. “The game wouldn’t have been nearly as fun for her.”

  “Yeah.”

  They sat with that for a minute before Izzy shifted. “You were going to say something else.”

  Mia bit her lip.

  “You said, ‘I think,’ but then switched gears,” Izzy pressed.

  Sighing, Mia looked back over at Izz
y. “You know, I asked her what her buttons were. The ones she said everyone had, the ones she could push to manipulate people.”

  The smile. The smugness that so clearly lived in the deep marrow of her bones. “I don’t even want to guess.”

  “She said . . .” Mia paused, the slow, steady beeping of the heart monitor filling the silence as she swallowed hard enough for her throat to ripple with it. “She said, ‘Boredom.’”

  The word sat sour and rotting against Izzy’s tongue as she repeated it. “Boredom.”

  “To be honest, I think part of the mixed identities was for, as they say, shits and giggles,” Mia said. “For the dramatics. The fact that I could recognize Peter was probably just icing on the cake.”

  Izzy shook her head, but not in disagreement. A bored sociopath on an island alone could tangle herself in all sorts of webs just to see if she could get free of them.

  “Actually, they might not have even sent me,” Mia said slowly. “Murdoch knew the broad facts of what happened when I was younger, knew the Bell family was involved. She might not have risked having me on the case if it was that closely tied to Lacey.”

  “So she calls up Sammy once the body is found . . . ,” Izzy said.

  Mia’s eyes were on the window, distant. “Sammy.”

  Sighing, Izzy scrubbed a hand over her face. “I’m sorry, he was definitely involved.”

  “I figured.”

  “Yeah.” Izzy tried to be gentle, though the blow probably paled in comparison to everything else Mia had found out. “Apparently, Lacey looked him up when he went to college on the mainland. He was kind of a part of your friend group, and she really seemed to fixate on you guys.”

  “Who would have guessed a budding sociopath would have been dropped like a lit match into our particular powder keg.”

  “You guys did not catch a break on that one,” Izzy agreed. “Anyway, they dated a bit a few years back, and then, uh, ‘reconnected’ over the summer.”

  “When Ellen said he started getting distant.”

  “Exactly.” Izzy sighed. “He seems a little baffled by his own behavior, to be honest.”

  The beeping from the heart monitor kicked up a notch. Neither of them acknowledged it.

  “I don’t get why he did it,” Mia said. “Why he’d agree to switch their IDs, why he’d go along with it at all?”

  “My guess?” Izzy debated actually saying it. She wondered how much of her was just trying to make Mia feel better about her friend. She wondered if it mattered that that was her motivation. When Mia nodded, she made her decision to continue. “For some reason he was in too deep with her to come clean to you completely, so he thought the best course of action to get you off the island was to kind of go along with her plan at first.”

  “How do you mean?”

  “Well,” Izzy said, drawing the word out, still piecing together the idea that, until she’d put voice to it, had been half-baked at best. “In his interrogation, he swore to us he was trying to protect you. Do you remember when we first saw the body?”

  “He leaned toward suicide,” Mia said. “When we asked. He leaned toward suicide.”

  “Right.” Izzy nodded. It had made her doubt him, doubt Mia, too. She hadn’t been wrong to do so, apparently. “I think in his own way he was just trying to close the case, get you out of there before it all went to hell.”

  Mia huffed out a breath. “Yeah, he did a shit job of that.”

  “Well, he was still dealing with Lacey.” Izzy wasn’t trying to defend him, wouldn’t ever try. But Izzy also couldn’t forget that, even if it had been for only a few moments, she herself had not been completely immune to Lacey’s manipulation. And Sammy had been exposed to it a lot longer. “Lacey really knew how to zero in on things, you know. People’s most vulnerable instincts.”

  Mia met her eyes, must have heard the self-recrimination in Izzy’s voice. “She played everyone. Not just you.”

  “Yeah,” Izzy said, but it didn’t feel like an agreement. She should have known better. That night at the bar, Lacey had orchestrated the whole scene. Drawing on the napkin, the smoking argument with the bartender, even, a ploy to cement Izzy as an ally. The flirting. The fear when the door slammed, the big eyes when she promised she wasn’t worth saving. Izzy could only imagine the ease with which she’d swayed anyone who hadn’t already been suspicious of everyone.

  “I’m not fishing for absolution,” Izzy said, even though it was something she wanted desperately. “But I can picture Lacey slowly putting thoughts in Robert’s head, you know? Before she took him. Maybe she even convinced him Peter was crazy.” Izzy paused. “Monroe’s pregnancy.”

  “Making Robert think Jimmy was the father,” Mia followed her easily. “There wasn’t anything in the interview about it. Jimmy said he didn’t say anything to make the reporter think that.”

  “It was Lacey,” Izzy agreed. Splicing reality and lies with impressive skill. Robert had been a testing ground for everyone who came after him.

  Mia shifted so that her cheek rested against the pillow. “Tell me.”

  And Izzy got it. “My plan.”

  Mia nodded.

  “I found Charles alive,” Izzy started. “Not doing well but . . . alive.”

  “I think I was surprised when Lacey told me that he was,” Mia said, blinking heavy lashes. “Knowing Lacey, I kind of expected him to be dead.”

  “Two parents, dead in mysterious accidents? It was probably too much, even for her.” Izzy shrugged. “I’m shocked she didn’t go through with her plan to frame Charles for Bix’s murder, though. The seeds were all there.”

  “Mmmm, I can help there,” Mia said. “Lacey filled me in when she was waiting for you to show up at the lighthouse. Apparently, she was going to get Cash to put the pieces together, have him go to the cops with all the evidence. That was what she was using him for.”

  “Lovely,” Izzy said, the sarcasm thick. “Anyway, Charles couldn’t say much, but it was enough to imply that it was another woman who had been involved with Bix’s death. It got me thinking about who was around then.”

  “Obviously Lacey.” Mia tipped her head down, a tired, half-hearted nod. “She was always there, wasn’t she? The night at the lighthouse, but before it, too. The beach, the picture. Just out of frame, but always there.”

  “Manipulative little . . .”

  “And you had to play her game.” Mia cut off Izzy’s tirade, watching her with an understanding Izzy wasn’t sure she deserved, considering their positions.

  “Couldn’t exactly go in guns blazing, could I?”

  “No evidence,” Mia said, her eyes slipping shut. “All you had was kidnapping. You wanted murder. Or attempted, at least.”

  “Quinn flew me back to the island earlier that day,” Izzy continued. “Asked her to keep quiet.”

  Mia hummed a small sound. “Did she tell someone? Lacey said something about sources.”

  “No. When I was ready, I took a gamble.”

  It took a second. “Ellen?”

  “She has things to hide,” Izzy said, looking up. “I figured that made her attractive to Lacey. And yet she’s also the type to sell her soul to the biggest threat. At that moment, it was me. So she told Lacey I’d just landed.”

  “Meanwhile, you had already called in Murdoch for backup.”

  “And tried to set up a semblance of a plan,” Izzy said. “I knew she had you. I was guessing she’d want me there in some way for her little scenario to work out. I just had to get everything in place for when she made the call.”

  Mia huffed out a little breath of air. “Brilliant.”

  Izzy straightened, her back hitting her chair. The praise sat awkwardly on her shoulders, ill fitting and uncomfortable. “It got you shot.” Even she could hear the flatness in her voice.

  “I don’t go down that easy,” Mia said.

  The fluorescent light over Mia flickered, then went dead, the whole room going softer with it, shadows slipping in where there
d been only harshness before. Mia licked dry, cracked lips, and Izzy knew she wanted to ask. Knew she wouldn’t.

  “I thought about believing her. About you,” Izzy said, the truth as her penance.

  “You thought about it,” Mia repeated without placing particular emphasis on any of the words.

  “She was good.” Izzy swallowed before plunging in. “And you’re still hiding something.”

  “I promised I’d tell you the truth,” Mia said, the weak smile accompanying it showing an awareness of the way she’d just dodged a question Izzy hadn’t even bothered asking.

  Izzy dropped it, because Izzy had made her point. And when it came down to it, she’d decided to trust Mia. “The doubt . . . it was only for a minute.”

  Mia slid a little farther down into the bed, her eyes staying closed longer each time she blinked. She’d be out soon. “She was good,” Mia parroted. A forgiveness, and gratitude, maybe. For letting her keep her secrets.

  Footsteps rushed by outside the door, and Mia waited for them to pass. “You got her, right?” The question was slurred, a last thought at the edge of sleep. This time when she went to blink, her eyes stayed closed.

  “Head shot right after she pulled the trigger,” Izzy said. She probed at that, a grubby finger nudging at the ripped edges of a wound to check just how deep it went. But there was only relief there. A monster had been taken out of the world. Maybe it wasn’t her place to play the judge and jury, but sometimes you had to live in the gray areas that provided the best net outcome for humanity.

  “Good,” Mia said, her face reflecting the same satisfaction. “She would have gotten out of it somehow.”

  The words were barely out before Mia slipped back into unconsciousness.

  Izzy sat guard a little longer, content to live in the space between the beeps.

  CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

  MIA

  Black Rock Bay, Maine

  Friday, February 22

 
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