Sue Mackenzie (Late morning of September 6, 1994)
Amelie and I were getting our toe nails painted while she told me all about Joey Grace and the Freehold Massacre. She said that all of the victims had been found, buried in places all around town.
“Wait, if they had all been buried, how did the police find them?” I asked her.
“The McNealys’ bullmastiff dug them up when sniffing around the backyard, looking for one of his lost bones. I guess he found more than he bargained for,” she joked, making herself giggle. “The rest of the victims were found with the help of Joey’s suicide note, supposedly. That’s what Ace says.”
Ace, Amelie’s husband, had been Freehold’s sheriff and would sometimes bring work home with him to involuntarily share with his snooping wife. Now, naturally, this allowed Amelie to know every scandalous and incriminating thing Freehold’s residents had to offer.
“He wrote his entire confession in that damn letter,” she went on.
“I didn’t realize he had killed himself,” I noted, in almost complete shock.
“Bastard took the easy way out,” Amelie scoffed as she stuck her cigarette in a nearby ashtray. “It was the night before his trial, too. I guess the son of a bitch would rather burn in hell than rot in prison.”
Suddenly, I could hear a raspy, old woman’s voice, yelling from outside. The women in the salon, including myself, turned to look out the window to see who it was. There, I could see a fairly tall, grey-haired woman, dressed in all black with barely any skin showing. She had been yelling at a young man on a skateboard, in the parking lot, for doing God knows what. I realize that, more often than not, skaters like him had been up to no good, but I could’ve sworn the poor boy was about to burst into tears. The old woman then gave a cold scowl to the women staring through the window, making them all turn back around.
“Who is that?” I asked Amelie.
“The bitch that birthed the son of a bitch,” she uttered.
“That’s Joey Grace’s mother?” I actually wasn’t as surprised as my reaction suggested. No wonder the man was so messed up in the head if that was the woman who raised him.
“Her name’s Louise, but we like to call her the wicked witch of the east,” Adriene chuckled. Tammy, being Adriene’s shadow, giggled along with her.
“I still don’t understand how she can show her face around here, especially after what her son did,” Tina finally spoke out about the subject.
“Well, I mean, it’s not as if she’s her son’s crimes,” I explained, giving Louise the benefit of the doubt. “Plus, his suicide must’ve been hard on her. Regardless of how awful of a person he was, she still lost her kid.”
The entire salon then looked at me as if a sewer rat had been gnawing on my face. Thankfully, Amelie had saved me from embarrassment by agreeing with me. “You are so right, Sue, we shouldn’t be so hard on her. Especially since she now has that dreadful Adeline to raise.”
“Adeline?” I asked, waddling like a penguin over to the UV light to dry my toes.
“Joey’s recently orphaned daughter,” Adriene told me. “A spoiled brat, that one is.”
“Devil child,” Tammy agreed, of course.
“Is she really that bad?” I defended, once again. I don’t know what it was, but for some reason, this family, who I had never met before, had me feeling sympathetic for them.
“Oh, Sue, you are so sweet and naive, it’s nauseating,” Amelie began. “There was this one time, about three years back when she was still friends with Adriene’s little girl—”
“So glad Priscilla got over that phase,” Adriene interrupted.
“She brought a joint to school and tried to get Priscilla to smoke it right in front of the Principal so that she could say it was her weed,” Amelie continued. “Would’ve gotten Priscilla expelled if it hadn’t been her first offense.”
“Why would Adeline want to do that to a friend?” I asked.
“Because Priscilla was, is, a straight ‘A’ student with multiple friends and boys with crushes on her. She’s the person Adeline dreams of being and that threatens her fragile ego,” Adriene exclaimed.
Both Amelie and I glanced at each other and rolled our eyes. “So Adeline tried to get your daughter expelled out of jealousy?” I asked, suspiciously. I had a strong feeling that “jealousy” was not Adeline’s reasoning behind this cruel act.
“They probably had some petty argument beforehand that made Adeline throw a fit,” Amelie said, starting on a new cigarette. “Honestly, I blame Joey for spoiling her at such an early age. Now, if Adeline does not get her way, anyone and everyone must pay,” she smirked as she drew the cigarette away from her umber lips. “The damn kid has me speaking in rhymes now.”
“Wish I could say that was the last time she tried to frame someone for something they didn’t do,” Adriene said, handing me an old newspaper from two and a half years ago. It had been opened to the crime page, which at the top, in big, bold letters, read: LOCAL TEEN CHARGED WITH POSSESSION OF CHILD PORNOGRAPHY. “But it wasn’t.”
The ladies went on to explain to me that the local teen, Tommy Russo, had been Amy Russo’s eighteen-year-old son. He died in prison, not even a month after that article had been released. They convicted him on the count of some old pictures of Adeline, at age fourteen, the police had found stored in his closet. Apparently, they were taken as she was getting dressed in the girls’ locker room, after the showers. Adeline told the cops that she had no idea he had taken pictures of her until much later and claimed that he had been stalking her for months beforehand.
“Tommy may have flirted with the girl a bit, but it was only to feed into her little schoolgirl crush,” Tammy explained without needing Adriene’s permission this time, surprisingly. “He would’ve never actually looked at her that way. He was a much better kid than that.”
“Sue, you mentioned earlier that you had a boy attending Freehold High this year as well. That right?” Amelie asked as she walked over to dry her own nails.
“That’s right,” I confirmed. “Jacob. He’s a junior.”
“Well, let’s pray Adeline doesn’t get a hold of him,” Amelie smirked. “That girl will eat him alive.”
Soon after that informative discussion, it had been time for Tina and I to go back to our homes. As we were leaving the salon, Amelie decided to catch up with us to give me her unlisted phone number.
“If ever want to hang out again or by chance get the heebee jeebees from staying in that house for too long, just dial that number, alright?” she said, handing me an old receipt with the seven digits written on the top of it.
“Thanks,” I responded as I accepted it from her. “Hey, do you actually think Adeline would make something like that up? I mean, I know you guys said that she’s a pathological liar, but still, that’s a pretty serious accusation to make out of pettiness.”
“I don’t know if she made it up or not, but it would not surprise me if Joey had actually been the one to take those photos,” she replied.
“What do you mean?” I asked, now concerned for Adeline’s well-being.
“Believe me, if you saw the way he treated her, you’d know exactly what I was talking about,” she explained. “They were close, wickedly close.”
With that mortifying thought stuck in my mind, Tina and I then waved our final goodbyes as we drove out of the shopping center. “Amelie seems nice,” I told Tina, indirectly.
“If you say so,” Tina responded as she made her way back onto the freeway. “You know, we’ve spent all this time talking about Joey and his messed-up family, I haven’t gotten to know much about yours.”
“What would you like to know?” I asked, not really in the mood to be opening up about myself.
“Well, let’s see here. You already told me about your kids, so let’s talk about you and your husband. What does he do for a living? What did you do before you became a stay-at-home wife?”
“Jeff is a lawyer and I used to be a homicide detective. That’s actually how we met. He was the attorney for one of the suspects I was interrogating.”
“Well, no wonder you’re so fascinated by Joey,” Tina smiled. “What made you stop?”
“About ten years ago, months before Patrick was even born, I was held at gunpoint in a hostage situation,” I began. “And if I had not put my vest on beforehand, I would’ve been shot directly in the heart and died.”
“Oh shit,” Tina uttered under her breath. “Sorry, go on.” I did not mind, though. I actually enjoyed it when women like Tina would break character by saying something vulgar, such as “shit.” It was strangely comforting.
“I saw my life flash before my very eyes and realized just how dangerous the job was. I couldn’t do it anymore; I had to think about what was best for my family,” I confessed.
“For what it’s worth, I feel a hell of a lot safer, knowing I have you as a neighbor, Sue,” she said, smiling at me, as she drove us back home. I’ll admit, I had misjudged the woman too quickly. It may have just been because she had lost a long-time friend, but Tina was kind at heart and had a sense of empathy, which is more than what those other women at the salon could.