Sue Mackenzie (Morning of September 6, 1994)
With the boys off at school and Jeff starting at his new law firm, I had begun to feel quite gloomy, sitting alone in this creepy house, with nothing to do. If someone had told me a couple of months ago that I’d be living in what was once a crime scene, I would’ve told them to seek some professional help. Yet, here I was, sitting at the dining table, not even twenty feet away from where a mother and her child had been buried.
As I clutched my second cup of coffee and peered through the sliding glass door to view the backyard, my mind started to wander. Why did he kill them? What was his sick game here? I thought. It was then that my mind had wandered to an even darker, more horrific place. How did he kill them? Did he kill them before or after burying them? Were they buried alive? How much of a struggle was there? I had to get out of this goddamn house.
While heading out for a quick drive, I ran into one of the next-door neighbors. Actually, it was more so she ran into me, on purpose, as if she had been waiting, on her porch, for me to leave my house. “Hello, you must be the new neighbor,” she shouted from her yard as she waved me down. As soon as I made the mistake of waving back, she had speed-walked her way over to me. She then introduced herself as Tina Baker. “Sorry for not rolling out the welcome wagon sooner. Eddie and I were visiting some relatives by the time you had moved in.”
Eddie Baker had been Tina’s husband and had owned his own pastry shop, downtown, called, “Baker’s Bakery.” He must’ve felt so clever coming up with that. Together, they shared one kid named Brian, who had been the same age as Jacob.
“My oldest, Jacob, is actually sixteen, too,” I told her.
“Does he go to Freehold High? I only ask because Brian, I love him, but that boy is just dying for some human interaction. All he does, these days, is lock himself in his room and read comic books all day.”
“My son does the same, only, instead of comic books, he’ll just blast his loud grunge music,” I explained, which made Tina bust out laughing. I could smell the mimosa on her breath.
Apparently, she had been a stay-at-home mom as well. Except, I could already tell that she’d been one of those housewives I tended to despise, the kind that set women back a good thirty years or so. To put things in perspective, I cook and clean because of the conscious career path I decided on a few years back. Tina, on the other hand, cooked and cleaned because she was brought up into believing that’s what women were meant to do. It’s a generational disease that has yet to find a cure.
I had gotten pretty good at spotting this type of housewife because they were all the same. They always had their hair perfectly curled with not a grey strand in sight, makeup done even if they were only going as far as their mailbox, and always seemed to dress in a lot of florals. Essentially, they looked as if they had just stepped out of a 1950’s ad, selling vacuums. Also, to top it all off, they had this certain politeness to them that was so obviously insincere and frankly, passive-aggressive.
“Well, if you aren’t busy right now, I was just about to head out to get my nails done. You could tag along; it’d be my treat,” Tina proposed.
I honestly did not want to spend the day with this woman. However, it did give me the opportunity to figure out what went on inside my new house. Who better to tell me the gory details than the next-door neighbor, who I’m sure has gossiped about just about everyone in Freehold? I asked myself before partaking in Tina’s offer.
While sitting in the passenger’s seat of her Ford Mustang, I decided to come right out with it. “So did you know the family that lived there before us?”
The atmosphere in the car suddenly became colder. Tina’s fake smile began to fade. For once in the woman’s life, she was almost completely silent, until, finally, she hesitantly answered. “Amy had been my best friend since high school.”
“I’m so sorry,” I apologized. Great, now I’m the nosey bitch. “I didn’t mean to open any old wounds. It’s just that―.”
“No, it’s okay, no need to explain yourself,” she said, attempting to not choke on her own words. “I was sure that your realtor would’ve already told you about the tragedy that went on there by now. If not her, then someone else in this godforsaken town. It was only a matter of time before the question came up on this little trip of ours.” Tina went on to tell me about the night of the two murders and how she didn’t think any of the screams she heard until it was too late. “It was the night before Piper’s fourteenth birthday, so I figured Amy had maybe surprised her with an early gift. I thought she could’ve been screaming out of excitement. If I knew then what I know, though, I don’t know, maybe I could’ve stopped him.”
“There was nothing you could’ve done. Anything you could’ve done would’ve just put yourself at risk. Believe me, sometimes it’s best not to play the hero.”
Tina had smiled, genuinely this time, at me shortly before pulling into a shopping center parking lot. She then found a parking space right in front of Wanda’s Hair Salon and Spa. As we got out of the car, I asked where Mr. Russo had been in the midst of all this. She then clarified for me that Ivan Russo had been on a business trip the night of and had come home the morning after. “He had made the initial missing persons police report, right after he had found Amy’s bloody handprint on the wall. Poor guy hasn’t been back to town since they found the bodies.”
“Is that Tina Baker I see?” I heard a woman call out just as she was about to head into the salon. The mystery woman had been a pretty little blonde and another fellow housewife named Adriene Ricci. I tried to remember where I heard that name before, then it hit me: she had been married to Patrick’s Principal, Walter Ricci. I remembered this because she was at orientation, handing out brownies when I had mistook her to be his daughter. Jeff and I shared a laugh about this the entire car ride home. Although, it does leave me a little bit concerned, knowing that my son’s Principal is sleazeball dating and marrying women half his age. I guess it could’ve been worse though, at least she was well into her early twenties by the time they met.
Adriene had carpooled with a couple of other wives named Tammy Bianchi and Amelie Romano. There was not much to say about Tammy except that she tried extremely hard to be Adriene’s best friend. She tended to either smile or nod in agreement with everything Adriene had ever said, whatever the subject was. Amelie, on the other hand, caught my interest almost immediately. Mainly because she had been the only woman of color in, not only the group but the entire shopping center for that matter. Her bronze skin stood out amongst all of the porcelain. She wore a long-sleeve chartreuse top, paired with somewhat baggy plaid trousers. Also, unlike the other ladies, Amelie had been a lot more blunt and frankly, kind of an asshole at times. I could tell that this made her secretly despised by the other women. It just made me like her even more.
“You alright, hun? You look like you haven’t slept in days,” she said, within the first thirty seconds of us being introduced to one another.
“Could you blame her?” Tina asked as we all walked into Wanda’s. “Her and her family had just moved into the old Russo house.”
Suddenly, I could feel all of the women in the room turned their heads to stare at me. It had been uncomfortably silent. Finally, Amelie had decided to put her two cents in. “Please tell me that you, at least, got a good deal on it,” she smirked as she took a drag from her cigarette. I could already tell we were going to get along great.