Things to do in Freehold

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Chapter Nineteen:

Sue Mackenzie (Afternoon of September 9, 1994)

Shortly after receiving no information from Louise, I decided to call up Amelie for some instead. We’ve hung out a couple of times since meeting and each time I would have to contain myself so that I wouldn’t be stuck, annoying her with my morbid curiosity. Although, this time had been different. This time I was sleep-deprived and hungry for some goddamn answers. Solving this case had made me a whole new level of obsessed.

“Ugh, you’re still on that?” I could hear her judgment through the gas station payphone, but at this point, I didn’t care. “Alright,” she sighed. “Come on over; I’ll bust out the daiquiris.”

The Romanos had lived on the outskirts of town, in a beautiful cream-colored house with forest green shutters. It was neither big nor small, just right for a family of three. Behind the house, itself was a large green shed, where Amelie would usually be found, sculpting her latest masterpiece.

That was another thing that made Amelie stand out from the rest of the housewives I’d met in the past: she actually had a part-time job, selling her artwork. It had been a full-time job, back in the ’80s, when she still lived in Brooklyn, New York. However, when she fell for a Jersey boy and got pregnant with Zack, she knew she had to leave that lime life behind and settle down.

“Hello, Dear, just finishing up this hand real quick,” she explained as she noticed me, walking up to her studio. She had been working on what looked to be a statue of a woman with half of her body, dressed in battle armor; the other, in a pantsuit, ready for court. “I left your drink on the table over there. I’ll be right with you.”

I walked up the four steps, onto the deck that had been painted that same dark, cool-toned pine that accented the rest of the home. I sat down at the outdoor table and slurped up my blue raspberry daiquiri through a rather festive silly straw as I waited for Amelie to finish up.

“So who’s the client?” I asked her as she hauled her exhausted self up the steps, wiping down her freshly cleaned hands on her jeans to dry them.

“Some lawyer for rape and domestic abuse victims,” she answered, now sitting across from me. “She said she wanted something that would be both empowering and comforting to the clients as soon as they walked into her office.”

“Hm, I see, well, that’ll definitely get the point across.”

“So what brings you here, Kid? What about Joey Grace don’t you already know by now,” Amelie asked, seconds before taking a sip of her frozen, fruit-infused rum.

“You said that Joey had a trial scheduled the day after he committed suicide. Which means he must have been convicted beforehand?” I questioned.

“Right,” she agreed, nodding her head.

“But, from what I’ve researched, there was no physical evidence pointing towards him, so why was he arrested, of all people?” I wondered.

“Right, so, most of the information regarding his arrest was purely circumstantial,” Amelie began. “Such as the fact that he knew all of the victims, he had no alibi, or at least, not a very good one. There was also that fight between him and Amy the day before she went missing.”

“Yeah, I read about that, though, it didn’t really say what it was about,” I mentioned.

“Tina didn’t tell you about it? Well, it was a screamfest, the whole town could hear them going at it,” Amelie exclaimed. “I guess, supposedly Adeline wasn’t invited to Piper’s birthday party, due to sending her brother to his death and all that. This, of course, sent Joey into a frenzy. He started banging on all of the doors and windows, shouting Amy’s name from the street and demanding that she come outside. The man looked like a drunken lunatic.”

“Wow,” I said as I went to take another sip of my drink.

“Right?” Amelie laughed. “And then there was also that thing that happened with Olivia, his wife. Rest in peace, her beautiful soul. She was the only sane one out of that entire family.”

“How did she die?”

“First responders claimed that it was an accident, her falling down the stairs, but I have reason to believe she was pushed,” Amelie accused.

“By Joey?”

“Of course by Joey. She was in the process of leaving him when it happened, you know?” she explained. “Yep, she had gotten tired of his bullshit and was about to back move in with her folks, taking young Adeline with her.”

“Okay, but even still, you can’t take someone to trial on purely circumstantial evidence.”

“Oh, he wasn’t,” she began. “What got him was the blood. Ace found one of Joey’s old hammers, sitting in his shed, covered in dried up McNealy blood.” Sasha and Tia McNealy, a.k.a Victims 3 and 4.

“It’s weird how none of this was in any of the papers I read earlier,” I commented.

“That damn reporter, Carrie Thompson still has hope for his innocence. I can see why she’s not TV anymore. She still claims to this day that he was ‘too good of a father’ to bring any harm to his own, let alone anyone else’s daughter,” Amelie chuckled at how ridiculous that sounded. “Just say you’ve been wanting to nail the guy since your divorce fell through and go. There’s no need to create some big conspiracy. Speaking of, some of her equally crazed readers will even go as far as to say that it wasn’t suicide, that the real killer murdered him. Can you believe that?”

I didn’t want to, but deep down, I had been considering the possibility. Even with the piece of evidence I was starving for being served to me on a silver platter, I still had the gut feeling of something being off with this accusation. “What would even make them think of something like that?” I asked, reaching for my drink, once again.

“They say it’s the suicide note that gives it away. Something about the handwriting being too neat to be Joey’s, or any male’s for that matter,” Amelie lifted up her silly straw and stirred the little bit of strawberry daiquiri she had left.

“So what, they’re saying it was a woman who was the real killer?”

“Hey, it’s the 90s, isn’t it? Women can easily be serial killers,” Amelie joked. “Although, if you ask me, I’d say maybe the guy just wanted a readable and coherent suicide letter, so he used his best penmenship.”

Amelie then went on a small rant about gender roles and sexism. I didn’t hear much of it, due to being stuck within my own mind. The idea of Joey not being responsible for those gruesome murders left a bad taste in my mouth. That meant that the real killer was still roaming free. But who? Who else could be a possible suspect? Who else knew all of the victims and wanted to see them gone? Who would want to frame Joey? Who else had access to his shed?

“Hi, Sweetie, how was school today?” Amelie interrupted my train of thought by greeting her son, who of which had just rode home on his bike. I had met Zack once or twice before. He wasn’t a kid of many words, but Patrick seemed to like him and that was all that mattered to me.

“Fine,” he answered his mother, after parking his bike against the side of the shed. He then climbed up the four steps and was about to head inside, before Amelie stopped him.

“You remember Sue, right? Patrick’s mom?” she asked, motioning him with her eyes to be polite and say “hello.”

Instead, Zack just gave a friendly smile and continued to enter the house. It was good enough for me; I wasn’t about to force someone else’s kid to use their words. However, Amelie had given him one of those motherly, yet harsh, glares, as if she was planning on whooping his ass as soon as she didn’t have any company. It actually made me think twice about leaving.

“That reminds me, I should be heading back. Don’t want to leave Jacob and Pat alone together for too long; it can get a little heated between the two of them,” I explained as I went to slurp down the very last bit of my daiquiri. “Thank you for the drinks. You gave me a lot to think about,” I said to Amelie just before turning my back to her and heading for my car.

“Anytime, Kid,” she replied.

I gave her one last goodbye wave before getting into my vehicle. She did give me a lot to think over. C’mon Sue, think. Who else would want these teenage girls and their mothers dead? If not Joey, then who? I looked over at my copies of all the newspaper articles I found, sitting in a stack on the passenger’s side. Highlighted in a bright yellow hue, the names, and ages of the as well as their relation to Joey. That’s when I saw her name and it had finally hit me. Like a ton of bricks, it hit me. Her, of course! Why couldn’t I see it earlier? It’s so obvious! But why frame him— her own father?

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