A Novel By: Amy Auer
Mother nature and all her cruel beauty was without a doubt forthcoming. What were only moments ago fluffy white clouds were now multiple shades of gray dancing mysteriously in the heavens, churning like witches brew; each wicked swirl more menacing than the last.
It was nearly two months ago in August that century old oaks and extreme maples were heavily clothed in brilliant foliage. Now raped of shield and color they were nothing more than skeletal statues waving teasingly, while silent breaths of bone chilled air leisurely passed through each naked limb.
Erin Talbot poured herself a second cup of coffee and took a seat at the battered desk. She had just opened the front cover of a new book she had brought with her to read. Just as she was settling down the shrill ring of the phone sounded, startling her. Somewhat annoyed at being disturbed, she forcefully grabbed the receiver and spoke into it.
"911 What is your emergency?" She barked.
Only silence answered.
"911 Do you have an emergency? She repeated.
Hearing what could have been the sound of muffled breathing or static, she could suddenly feel her heart begin to race. "You're going to have to speak up." She continued. "I can't hear you." After waiting only a few seconds she tried again, this time with a much louder voice. "Hello...Is anyone there? I cannot hear you. Please speak up if you have an emergency!" She pleaded.
It was then that she heard it. That...that muffled sound again.
What the hell is it?
At nineteen years old, it was nearing her one year anniversary on the job. She had dark hair and hazel eyes. At five foot six inches tall she had an average build; large chest and even larger hips. The job itself was rather tedious, but the money was substantial. In what time she'd been employed by the Laurel Ridge Police Department, she could count on her fingers and toes the number of emergency phone calls she had actually taken...Sixteen! Most calls that came in were typical bar fights--fist flying, tables turned upright, glasses soaring through the air. If it was a really bad night you might get a domestic disturbance. Mostly the job was nothing more than making coffee, picking up lunch, and reading a good novel.
"H...e...l...p..." The voice was barely a whisper yet she knew it was a female; prayerfully pleading for help. Panic immediately set in causing her heart to crash land into the soles of her feet. Her heart raced like a thoroughbred fighting to be the first across the finish line.
Amazingly the whole twenty minute training course came flooding back to her. "Ma'am please stay on the line. Help is on the way." Instinctively she grabbed the outdated radio and immediately spoke in authority. "All units in the vicinity of Laurel Ridge please respond to an unidentified 911 at Twenty-Six Maple Creek. The moment she announced the address out loud she knew whose house it was and her heart took a crashing dive. "I repeat...all units in the vicinity of Laurel Ridge please respond to 26 Maple Creek."
"Ma'am can you tell me what happened?" From the sound of her voice it was obvious she would soon pass out...or worse!
"I...I've...been...stabbed..." She muttered.
"Stay with me till help arrives." Erin begged.
"Ma'am stay with me. Help should be there any minute."
"Ma'am...Can you hear me? Please talk to me!"
After what seemed like hours, Erin could finally hear the muffled sounds of multiple sirens. Silently she prayed they were not too late...yet could tell by the voice on the other end that they were.
Officer Tom Randolph was the first to respond. After breaking a small pane of glass in the front door to enter, he opened the door and stepped inside, immediately eyeing evidence of foul play. Large streaks of blood were visible in the hallway, as though the victim had been dragged. He followed the trail of blood which led him upstairs into a large bedroom where he immediately saw the body of what appeared to be an adult female, a large pool of blood surrounding her. Quickly he responded by placing a hand to the side of her neck. He let out a held up breath of air after feeling the blur of a faint pulse.
In the meantime paramedics arrived, as well as several officers on duty and the room began to flood with help.
"I need an IV of ringers STAT!" Nick Meyer ordered. The blood loss was massive he noticed and knew it would be a miracle if she survived for another ten minutes.
"Can you hear me?" A volunteer EMT asked, holding her hand. "Stay with us...you going to be okay." He lied. From experience, he knew he had to somehow brighten her spirits even if he knew it would do no good. She had multiple stab wounds as well as defensive wounds to both hands. A large gash was displayed across her neck, allowing anyone who looked, to see the contents inside.
"Do you know who did this to you?" Officer Randolph asked.
"M...my..." The simple syllables took her last drop of energy and immediately she slipped into the soothing darkness that awaited her.
"We're losing her!" Nick shouted at once. CPR was quickly administered with no apparent luck.
"Wanna call it?" Sloan Michael's--one of the responding officers--eventually said.
Without looking up Nick Meyer continued chest compressions and quick breaths. "I need a defibrillator...Now!" He screamed.
"Stay with me." He silently pleaded.
Nick Meyer had been a paramedic for seventeen years. At forty-five he was happily married and had four kids to prove it. Although several gray hairs were nicely arranged throughout his hair, his well chisled body had given off the appearance of looking ten years younger.
He placed the defibrillator on either side of her body.
"Clear!" He shouted.
The jolt that entered her body made the lifeless form jerk from the instant shock.
After several more attempts, Nick Meyer looked at his watch and mournfully decided to call it.
"Time of death...2:47pm."
Before stepping away from the body he despairingly looked into her lifeless eyes then carefully covered her with a single bed sheet.
"Anyone know who she is?" He heard someone say.
"Yeah," Nick said hesitantly over his shoulder.
"She's the Sheriff's wife...Kasey Laurel. He regretted it the moment he said it.
Knowing there was nothing more that he could do, he silently left the room. Everyone was too busy to notice the single tear that slid down his cheek.
"Anyone know where the Sheriff is?" He heard someone shout. He didn't bother sticking around to hear the answer. His job here was finished.
He descended down the lengthy staircase and into the long hallway, wiping away the now, unstoppable tears. The moment he stepped out onto the front porch he noticed Sheriff Gil Laurel step out of his patrol car and run towards the house.
"Kasey!" His scream was feral and Nick new it would be useless to try and stop him.
Sheriff Gil Laurel raced down the long hallway and up the extended staircase into the master bedroom. He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the crumpled body of his wife sprawled on the bed, bathed in a sea of blood.
"Kasey!" He ran to her side sobbing. A powerful arm stopped him before he was able to kneel down beside her.
"Come on Gil, you don't need to be here right now." Detective Sloan Michaels said.
"Get your fucking hands off of me Michaels!" He shouted and broke free from the powerful grip.
Knowing he was unable to touch her, Gil looked at her butchered body for the last time.
Her naked body lay face up in bed, perfectly still and nearly unrecognizable. Her long Auburn colored hair was mussed from several repeated attempts of failed CPR. Multiple stab wounds were evident over most of her already cooling flesh, and her face had been mutilated...sliced from left to right, right to left; as though someone were trying to erase her external beauty. Her vivid green eyes were wide open, vacantly staring at the ceiling...a cold look or terror covered them like contact lenses. Blood was spattered across a good portion of the interior walls as well as on the delicate molding on the bedroom door, and the cream colored carpet was now splashed in crimson.
"Dear God Kasey...who did this to you?" He said out loud. He desperately wanted to wipe the loose strands of hair away from her face. "And why were you here...in this house?"
Sloan Michaels walked to where Gil was standing and placed a friendly hand on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry." He consoled.
"Get your fucking hands off of me!" Gil spun around in a fury and grabbed Sloan by the shirt. "I want to know who did this to my wife!" He screamed.
"We will." Sloan promised. "We will."
The pain in his chest was unbearable and he thought he might collapse from it. He determined he would not cry another single tear, for Kasey he knew he had to be strong. He would find out who did this to her if it was the last thing he ever did. She was his wife dammit and he was suppose to protect her! It was only last week that she had told him she felt like she was being followed.
Dear God, why hadn't he listened to her?
And what was she doing here...in this house?
In the meantime, a group of Death Investigators that had been called in from Lexington had arrived and crime scene tape was secured around the perimeter to keep any unauthorized people from entering and destroying any evidence. Several hours later after numerous pictures had been taken and what little evidence they were able to find was collected, Kasey Laurel's hands were carefully placed in brown paper bags and her body was removed from the scene.
As much as he hated the thought, Gil knew that this case was too personal for him and he would not be allowed to be involved. At least not legally. He thought.
What he hated even more was the fact that Sloan Michaels would be in charge of the investigation.
When everyone, including Sheriff Laurel had finally left, it was Sloan Michaels that stayed behind. He would stay all night he'd decided just to make sure the crime scene was not disturbed. Alone, he decided to check the house for a second time just to be sure that nothing had been overlooked. While he was busy searching the third floor of the house he heard the sound of creaking floorboards below and immediately knew he wasn't alone.
"Goddamn you Gil!" He cursed and silently crept back down the spiral stairs.
The bedroom was a bloody mess. He didn't want to be here but he knew he had no choice. Quickly and silently he searched the bedroom as though he were desperate to find something. He searched through dresser drawers that hadn't been used in decades and looked in the set of closets along the east side wall, where outdated clothes still hung. He had already been there too long he knew, and he had to leave before he was caught. God knew he didn't want to have to explain himself. As a final attempt he reached his hand under the mattress where Kasey had recently lain and immediately felt it. Letting out a gasp of breath he quickly pulled the object out from under the mattress and without looking at it stuck it inside his coat pocket. He immediately left the room and descended down the stairs.
Sloan Michaels stood wide-eyed inside the door across the hall from the crime scene silently watching. His mouth gaped open the moment he saw Nick Meyer quickly disappear down the staircase..
What the hell did he take from under the mattress?
And why the hell didn't I stop him?
Although the weather was chilled and evening was closing in, the funeral had been beautiful. Gil had chosen a simple oak casket with a spray of carnations, gerberas, gladioli, white roses--Kasey's favorite--and soft foliages. Mounds of flower arrangements were neatly arranged around the stunning photograph of Kasey that was on display for remembrance, as well as around the casket itself.
The service was simple and gently spoken. And when it concluded the small group of Kasey's mourners met back at Mavis Laurel's cottage for dinner and drinks. The winter tourists that had dutifully come to pay their respects, simply went their own way when the service had ended. They had done what was rightfully expected of them.
Two large platters of fried chicken decorated a linen clothed table along with numerous bowls filled with mashed potatoes, collard greens, baked beans, and steaming, oven fresh rolls.
Sloan Michaels was there as well as Gil Laurel, Nick Meyer, and a few of the other paramedics who had so desperately tried to save Kasey's life. There were a few police officers that had been friends of Kasey and Gil's that were also there along with Erin Talbot, who had only met Kasey a few times but called her a friend.
"Thank you mama." Gil said softly. After indulging in a bite of chicken leg, he bent slightly to kiss Mavis on the cheek. In return she reached up and caressed his cheek. "The service was beautiful, but you need to make sure you eat plenty of food dear. You need to keep up your strength."
"It's nice to see you again Mavis." Sloan interrupted, taking her in his arms. "I only wish it were under better circumstances." He added.
"I know." She said quickly, ending the embrace. She began walking towards Nick Meyer. Even from across the room she could see that he was deeply absorbed in a conversation with Erin Talbot.
Kasey's parents had both died in a car crash when she was only seven years old. With no family to take care of her she had been tossed back and forth between the system like a yo-yo, going from foster home to foster home--some good and some not so good--until she turned the legal age of eighteen. At that time she had been tossed into the street like a helpless puppy to fend for herself.
Lucky for her she was tossed right into the arms of Gil Laurel.
Six months later they were married at the Chapel Pine Church in Laurel Ridge.
The moments he saw her approaching, Nick ended his conversation with Erin and turned to greet her.
"Am I interrupting something?" Mavis asked
"No ma'am. Just so hard to believe this is really happening. Erin and I were just talking about who could have done such a horrible thing."
"Well, now is not the time or the place for you to be discussing who did it." She said poking a finger into his chest. "The police will figure it out soon enough, I'm sure."
"I'm sure you're right Ms. Laurel."
"Thank you for such a lovely dinner ma'am, but I really need to be going now." Nick said. Mavis could suddenly hear the tension in his voice.
"Where's your wife at Nick? Surely I thought she'd be joining you tonight." Mavis could see the color drain from his face.
"She's not feeling well," he quickly said "But she sends her deepest sympathy."
"Oh I'm sorry, I almost forgot she never did care too much for Kasey did she? So I guess there is no reason that she would be here tonight is there Nick?"
"Am I interrupting anything mama?" Gil cut in. He instantly realized the tension between the two and couldn't help but wonder why.
"Of course not dear, Nick here was just telling me that Masey was a little under the weather and that's why she wasn't able to be here tonight."
"I hope it's nothing too serious." Gil said.
"Probably just a stomach flu." Nick extended his hand towards Gil. "But I better be going now to see that she is okay. Take care of yourself Gil." After they shook hands Nick turned to face Mavis. "Ma'am" He simply said tilting his head to say goodbye, then walked towards the front door and disappeared into the night air.
"Want to tell me what's really going on here mama? The tensions so thick in the air right now, you could cut through it with a knife."
"Nothing for you to worry about dear." Mavis said kissing his cheek. "Did you get enough to eat?"
"Good, now get back to your guests. I'm going to go say hello to Erin...if I can find her." She said looking around the living room. "Have you seen her dear?"
"She already left mama."
"What!" She scolded. "When did she leave?" The sudden anger in her voice disturbed Gil but he knew better than to interfere. If mama wanted to tell him about it she would.
What isn't she telling me?
"Right after you broke up her conversation with Nick." He just as angrily bit back--instantly sorry that he did--and left the room in a hurry to do as he had been instructed to do...go see to his guests.
By now the only person that was left lingering in the kitchen was Sloan Michaels, who was hungrily biting into a fourth piece of chicken.
"I've never had fried chicken quite like your mama's" He smiled.
"Cut the crap Sloan!" Gil said and reached into the icebox for a chilled Budweiser.
"Yeah I'll take one. Thanks for asking." Sloan said sarcastically.
"You two quit your bickering! You sound like two juvenile delinquents." Mavis said walking into the kitchen. "I'll take one too dear." She smiled. "Then we will all sit down at the table like civilized adults."
Gil gave her a strange look.
Mavis cleared off the table while Gil took three chilled Budweisers from the icebox. He set the bottles on the table and took a seat at the rectangular table. He twisted off the cap and took a long swallow.
"Well what?" Sloan said also taking a long swallow of the icy brew.
"What the fuck Sloan!" Gil shouted, slamming the beer bottle down on the table.
"Watch your mouth before I wash it out with soap!" Mavis jumped up from the table clearly disgusted at the choice word he had chosen.
"You just buried your wife today." She reached down and held a firm grip on to his chin, as though he were three years old again being scolded for doing something wrong. "You should at least have the decency to stop the damn feuding between the two of you.!" She let go with a forceful shove.
"Now then Sloan," She turned her head away from Gil, clearly disgusted in his manners, and looked into Sloan's face smiling. "I think what my son was trying to ask you is if you have any leads yet on Kasey's murder?"
"I'm sorry Mavis, but it hasn't even been a week. We don't even have any lab tests back yet. And that's really all I can say. I'm sorry...really I am. Sloan reached for her hands to comfort them, only to be pushed away.
"Very well then." Mavis took a sip of her beer, suddenly cringing at the bitter taste of it. God how long has it been? She silently asked herself. Ten years, two months and four days. She took another swallow of the brownish liquid, suddenly enjoying the taste again.
Mavis Laurel was sixty-six years old. Most people would say she was still as stunning as she was when she was forty. She kept her now-thinning hair a pale shade of blond, but instead of wearing it down as she had when she was younger, it was wound tight in a bun on top of her head. Her fragile skin was flawless and her makeup near perfection. She took a third swallow of beer.
"I'll have another." She said after setting the empty bottle in front of Gil.
"Yes ma'am." He swiped the empty bottle with his hand and scooted his chair from the table.
"Your going to have to do better than that Sloan Michaels!" She suddenly scolded.
"Look Mavis," He started, somewhat irritated. "There is nothing to tell you that you don't already know." After several seconds of tortured silence he finally said "I still have a few people I need to question again. Honest that's all there is to say."
"Hows come I don't believe you?" She asked him. "And where's my beer Gil?"
"Right here mama." Gil hurried back to the table and twisted the cap off for her. He set the bottle in front of her then turned around and walked back to the kitchen sink where he stared out into the black of night.
"Because your impatient." Sloan teased after Gil had left.
"Listen Mavis, I really need to be going...I've still got a lot of work to do tonight." He got up from the kitchen table and immediately bent down and kissed her on top of her head. "We should have the fingerprint analysis back any
day now, on the two champagne glasses...I promise you'll be the first to know what I find out." He said as he walked out the door.
Dear God, how can I tell her that her nephew--Nick Meyer--is the prime suspect? And how can I tell her that I watched him walk out of the crime scene with a key piece of evidence and not do a damn thing about it.?
"What the hell did you take from under the mattress Nick?" He questioned out loud.
Detective Sloan Michaels got into his car shaking his head, and in silence drove away.
Mavis Laurel got up from the kitchen table and walked to the back door. She looked out and watched his tail lights disappear around the corner then immediately turned her attention to Gil.
Before she was able to say anything Gil spun around.
"Mama." He said in a whisper.
"I know something has been troubling you son." Mavis said. "Well...ever since Kasey's murder that is...Its time to get it off your chest dear."
"Have you heard from Annie?" Gil asked, suddenly changing the subject.
"You know your sister can't be here right now. She'll be here in a week or two."
"Mama...'' He started again.
"Get on with it!" She ordered.
"They're gonna find my fingerprints on those champagne glasses mama...mine and Kasey's." He blurted out.
"What!" Mavis jumped from the table as though she had just been shot with a pellet gun.
"What in the hell are you talking about? Didn't I tell you not to go into that house!" She screamed. "That Goddamn house killed your father and your grandfather...and now Kasey." She was unable to stop the tears that began to flow.
"That house didn't kill anyone mama. Grandpa hanged himself and daddy fell from the roof. Besides I haven't been in that house for...well since daddy's accident." He promised.
. Just the look in her eye made him cringe. "I swear mama."
"If you haven't been in that house, then why would your fingerprints be on those glasses.?"
"Kasey and I had a glass of champagne earlier that day." He began explaining. "Well, Kasey had cider and I had champagne. Those were the only two glasses that were left in that set. I don't know how they ended up in grandpa's house. Kasey must have taken them there."
"Why would Kasey have taken those glasses there, she didn't have a key to that house.?" Mavis interrupted. "Besides she had no business being over there."
"I don't know mama."
"Gil...was Kasey having an affair?" She suddenly asked.
"Good God mama!" He shrieked. "Of course she wasn't having an affair." A puzzled look instantly crossed his face. Does mama know something? He nervously wondered. "How could you be so cruel and ask such a thing? My God mama, Kasey had told me she was pregnant." An instant look of shock covered Mavis' face.
Thankful for the interruption when the phone rang, Gil immediately scooted his chair from the kitchen table and got up to leave. "I gotta go mama." He simply said and walked towards the back door.
She had no choice but to let him leave.
"Hello." He could hear her the faint shrill of her voice in the distance as he walked down the steps onto the stone paved walkway.
Shaking his head, he wanted to scream at the top of his lungs.
Dear God why do I let her do this to me? Every time I'm around that woman I feel like I am ten years old again! Disturbed by his own behavior he got in his car and drove away.
Even though it was getting late--10:30pm according to the clock on the dashboard--Gil drove past his own driveway and reluctantly decided the make the longer drive out to his Grandpa's house. He reached forward and turned the knob on the radio. Nervously he searched for anything that would diminish the anxiety he was suddenly feeling. Besides last week, it had been nearly twenty years since he'd been here. And he damn sure didn't want to be here now.
He had to find out what happened to Kasey. And why she was sneaking to his grandpa's house...and with who. He knew he didn't have much time. It was only a matter of days before Sloan came looking for him. He didn't know how but Gil knew they would find only his and Kasey's fingerprints on those glasses...no one else's. And sheriff or not, he would be the number one suspect.
He pulled into the gravel driveway and drove the distance to the house then parked his car in front of the massive structure of eerie abandonment. Nervously he exited the car and stood staring at the looming house before him in the darkness. He didn't like Grandpa's house when he was a little boy and he sure didn't like it now.
The house was the largest on the street and well hidden in a mountain of vast forest. It was a sprawling three story brick building with towers on either side hauntingly clawing their way to the sky. Staring at it bathed in full moonlight sent a shiver of chills up his spine. Clearly it spooked him. Even though the ravel of crime scene tape had recently been removed, the house he thought still had a look of horror to it.
Cautiously he made his way up the walkway. He reached his hand through the broken pane of glass, unlocked the front door and stepped into the foyer. He flipped on the light switch illuminating the large entrance.
As much as his mama hated this house he never could understand why she still kept all the utilities running and the yards blooming.
For over ten years now, Mavis Laurel had kept up what her husband had started. She'd had someone come in on a weekly basis to dust and polish and wax. She wanted the house to remain as it had ages ago, just as her husband did. She'd also hired gardeners to come onto the property twice a month to mow the manicured lawn and keep up with the lavish gardens.
Just as he always did when he stepped inside the house, Gil felt like he had been tossed back into history...to a time when even he didn't exist. He could feel the icy chill seeping from the walls...trapping him, the instant he stepped inside. But this time he immediately realized...was different.
Even as a little boy he'd always known the house was haunted. Whenever he would sleep over at his grandpas he would always be awakened by strange noises in the middle of the night. But when he would race down the hallway to grandpa's room the noises would suddenly disappear and he would be reassured it was just a bad dream that had waken him. There were no such things as ghosts, grandpa would always say. Even at six years old, Gil had known better. He knew there were such things as ghosts. He had seen one on more than one occasion.
Gil stood in the open foyer listening to the utter silence, suddenly afraid. He tried desperately to pick up the sounds of the soothing music he'd always heard whenever he came here. This time though, there was no music...only the stillness of the night. His pulse began to quicken and his heart raced. He could feel the silence threatening him and within seconds his body was dancing with goosebumps. The fear that was deep inside him kept him planted where he stood. He was unable to move.
"Behind You!" The unknown voice shredded the eerie silence of the night, sending Gil to his knees; instinctively covering his head with both arms for protection. As quick as the warning sounded he was breathlessly slammed back to the threatening silence that only moments ago encircled him.
He wasn't sure how long he had remained on the floor, out of breath when the terrifying, familiar scream pierced the near-midnight hour. It shattered him to the depths of his soul, gripping him so tight it nearly suffocated him. Kasey's horrific screams broke him. In a flash Gil raced down the hallway and up the stairwell chasing Kasey's final fury. He ran into the master bedroom at the top of the stairs and saw Kasey sprawled on the bed, drenched in a pool of her own blood. He could see her looking into the familiar eyes of her killer one last time before the knife made a final plunge into her chest.
Gil threw himself on top of Kasey's body, and from experience knew she wouldn't be there...only an empty mattress would greet him.
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