The Harrowing Tree

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Chapter Twelve

TWELVE

It was late, well after midnight when Tanner Driscoll woke to a knocking at his door. He’d been sleeping soundly—possibly more soundly than he could recall ever sleeping before—when the sound startled him awake. It wasn’t a simple tap-tap-tap, either, but a pounding against his screen door, which emitted a clang-clang-clang-clang that seemed to shake the whole house.

Tanner scratched his bare stomach and slipped on a pair of shorts before heading downstairs. He peered through the small glass window, and when he saw it was Jeannie and Mark, he opened the door wide and ushered them inside, out of the cold.

“What the devil is going on?”

“They caught him,” Jeannie quickly said.

And Mark, just as fast, added, “We think.”

“No, it has to be him,” Jeannie said, giving him a look, breathing warmth into her cold, cupped fingers. “There were two of them. One a woman. Do you think it was a team effort?”

Tanner shook his head. “Please,” he said, running a tired hand through his hair, and down over his face. “Slow down and explain.”

Jeannie took his arms and shook him. “They caught Kerry’s killer!”

“We think,” Mark added again.

“We just saw them,” Jeannie said. “The police had them cuffed and everything. They’re in the station right now!”

Tanner looked past her, towards the door, now shut, almost as though he could see right through it, straight across the town common, up the steps of the police station to the second floor. Where the killer now stayed.

“Are you sure?”

Jeannie shook her head. “A double arrest in Bellriver? What else could it be?”

“We’re heading over there now to find out. Grab your boots. Come on, come on!” urged Jeannie, pushing him back towards the stairs.

Tanner went, and with each step, he could feel the sleep slowly leaving him.

Kerry’s killer. Could they really have caught him?

Mercer was still trembling when he pushed Sullivan Harris, despite his considerable size, up against the wall.

Andi forced two chairs together back-to-back, one on each side of the large pole in the back of the station, and the Chief, still bleeding from one ear, threw the young woman into one of the seats.

“Bring him over,” Andi said, and Mercer did, but not before giving him one last shove up against the wall, hard enough to bruise the hulking mass’s face.

Mercer sat Harris down in the opposite chair with his back to the woman’s, and with Andi’s help, they cuffed them to the pole with their hands twisted behind their backs.

“We’ll leave them here tonight,” Hastings said, blood seeping from the gash in her left ear where the third bullet had grazed her. “Maybe they’ll feel like talking in the morning.” She looked at them. “It does get pretty cold here over night. People tend to get very chatty.”

“This isn’t right, chief,” Sully said. “I didn’t kill that girl!”

Mercer plopped the bag of prescription drugs down on one of the desks, along with an entire package of cocaine, which made a considerable bang where it hit the surface.

“Maybe not,” he said, “but we have enough to keep you on this alone.”

Sully’s head hung. “Fine. Yes. Charge me with possession of drugs. I’m guilty, sure. But I didn’t kill that girl!”

“What about her?” Andi nudged her head towards the silent woman. “Right now, my money’s more on her.”

But the woman simply stared straight ahead, like she was in a trance. Unblinking and silent.

So was Mercer’s, when it came down to it.

His entire body was alive with nervous energy. He could feel it coursing through him, from the moment he’d heard the first gunshot split the night, and long after he’d seen the chief standing there, alive, blood pooling from the side of her head.

They’d entered, guns drawn at the ready, just in time to see Chief Hastings clobber the woman with a backhand to her face. Sullivan Harris had simply stood there, dumbfounded.

“Kerry was your plaything, wasn’t she?” Andi asked Harris. “For a while, at least. You were having an affair.”

“Not an affair.”

“No?” Mercer asked. “That’s not what it sounds like to me?”

“You been talking to my wife?” He scoffed, smiling—but there was no humor in it. “I didn’t share my bed once until I signed those divorce papers, you can be sure of that. And besides, what Kerry and I had was brief.”

Andi’s eyes widened. “So, there was something there.”

“I was her supplier,” he said. “I don’t like to mix business with pleasure often.” He offered a shrug, then tried to cut a glance back over his shoulder at the woman behind him. “Present company included.”

Chief Hastings lowered herself down to the young woman’s height. “I want to hear from you, more than anything.” She tapped the girl’s knee, and she flinched. “After all, it takes a lot for a sane woman to shoot a cop. And you pulled that trigger three times, young miss. Which tells me you weren’t aiming to wound. So, I want to know why.”

The woman, about twenty-three, by the looks of it, Andi supposed, scrunched up her face and stared straight ahead, and the chief leaned back, as if certain the girl wasn’t going to say anything—and then she did.

“I didn’t know her.”

“Kerry?” Mercer asked, crossing his arms.

Slowly, she nodded. “I knew of her. What she was to this town. Even that she’d shared some time with Sully.”

That was putting it lightly, Andi thought.

“But I didn’t kill her.”

Andi leaned back against the dusk, now covered in drugs. “What’s your name, girl?”

“Petra,” she said.

The chief started. “Petra Munson? Giles Munson’s girl?”

She nodded. “You know my dad?”

“Little Verne’s big brother,” Hastings said, nodding. “Whole town knows him.”

Petra hung her head.

“Petra Munson,” Mercer said. “Aren’t you engaged to one of the Wicker boys? The one who works construction in the summers and the snowplow in the winter?”

Slowly, she nodded. “Neffy Wicker.”

Andi stared. “Neffy?”

“Little Verne’s future nephew,” Mercer explained. “He’s been considered part of the Munson clan for most of his life, especially by Little Verne. So, the nickname just stuck.”

Hastings turned on the faucet of the small sink in the rear of the room and washed away some of the blood while they spoke. Mercer motioned to Andi to grab the first aid kit off the wall and she did so, pulling out cotton balls and bandages for the chief.

And then Petra’s bright blue eyes popped up and found their way to Mercer’s. “I didn’t cheat on my Neffy, or nothin. I was just in it for the drugs, that’s all. Never once did I . . .” Her eyebrows raised and waggled. “Well, you know,” she finished, and tried her best to aim a pointed look at Sully.

Mercer did know, and he was relieved—if she was telling the truth.

“I thought Munson’s daughter was a good kid,” Hastings said, dabbing at her ear with a cotton ball. “Going to Yale.”

Petra sent her a dark look. “I can still be smart and enjoy a dip in the ol’ candy jar,” she said, and tipped her head towards the drugs.

Mercer shook his head. “If you were smart, you wouldn’t have taken to drugs in the first place.”

Petra rolled her eyes. “Whatever. I still didn’t kill that girl.”

“Then why shoot?” Andi asked. “Why the gun?”

And Petra fell silent.

Mercer nudged Sully’s foot. “Feel like talking?”

His face was drawn, but the man, looking up into Mercer’s face, slowly nodded. “I’ve been getting these threatening voice mails from an unknown number. And lately, whenever I leave the house, a car has begun to follow me. Can’t even make it to the bank in Hilltown without seeing it.”

The chief turned puzzled eyes on Andi and Mercer.

“What kind of car?”

“That’s the thing,” Sully said. “It’s always different.”

“And you’re sure they’re following you?” asked Andi.

Harris nodded his large head. “Whoever it is used one of those voice-changer things. Can’t tell if it’s a man or not. But somehow, they’ve gotten the numbers of my buyers. Started threatening them, too.”

“Have any enemies?” Chief Hastings asked.

“Sure,” said Sully. “Can’t deal drugs without knocking a few heads along the way. But I haven’t pissed anyone off enough to make them do this.” He tried to move his hands and stopped when he remembered he was chained to the pole. “I gave Petra that gun. I was afraid if I had it that I might use it. Didn’t really think, in giving it to her,” he said, “that she would really have cause to use it.”

“That why you answered the door with a lamp?”

He shrugged. “Wasn’t looking to kill anyone. But when I heard that knock come at the door, so late at night . . . I don’t know. I panicked, I guess.”

“Don’t get too many late visitors, I take it?” Mercer asked.

“None.” Sully shook his head.

Petra looked at the chief, craning her head. “What if the person on the phone is the one who killed Kerry?”

Mercer chewed this over. They already knew they couldn’t jump to assumptions that Kerry’s dealer was her killer. Mercer had seen the photos; there was a man in the image—probably Sully—but there was also that matter of who took the picture. Who killed Kerry.

And Mercer suddenly had a sinking feeling that their killer was still very much at large.

“But why target you?” Hastings asked, almost to herself. Then she walked into her office and returned a few moments later with a clear plastic bag. Reaching in, she pulled out the owl statue that had been left beside Kerry’s body. “Recognize this?”

“Yeah,” Sully said, not at all surprised. “I carve those by the dozen. People all over town have them.”

Hastings watched him. “This was found beside the body.”

“What?” Sully’s eyes had grown three times as wide. “No. No, no, no. You have to believe me, it’s not mine. I mean I carved it, yes. But it’s not mine—I didn’t leave it there! I . . . I didn’t.”

And, something inside of Mercer—to his displeasure—actually believed the man.

He wanted it to be over. Wanted this to be their man. But he couldn’t look past the fact that the guy sitting before him, chained to that pole, did not, despite his hulking mass, seem like a killer.

“Do you keep a record of who you sell these too?”

“No,” Harris said. “And it wouldn’t matter, anyway. I was robbed a few months ago. Someone broke the lock on our barn and took some stuff.”

“How much stuff?” Hastings looked interested now.

“Only a few. There were some of owls, some of faces I’d carved into blocks of wood. Some with small designs. I don’t know. I don’t know.”

It came as somewhat of a surprise that this man—this behemoth of a man—was an artist.

Just then, they heard the downstairs door of the station open and close.

“Hello?” came a call, and Andi was relieved to find that it was just Jeannie Fellows.

“Darcy, go see what’s up with Ms. Fellows.”

Andi nodded, though she was reluctant to leave, lest their perps reveal anything significant. “Will do.”

She raced down the steps to find Jeannie, Mark and Tanner all standing in the entryway. Tanner, she noticed, wore blue, fuzzy flannel slippers that were now coated in snow.

“Couldn’t find any shoes?” she immediately asked.

Tanner groaned, still half asleep. “These didn’t involve any effort to put on.”

Andi supposed she could understand that.

“What’s up? It’s pretty late, guys.”

“Did you catch him?”

“Catch who?” But Andi knew who, and realization spread across her face. “No. At least,” she said, glancing back up the stairs, “I thought we had. But I . . . I honestly don’t think so anymore.”

Jeannie’s face fell—no, it seemed like all of her, every single part, fell all at once, caving inward, drooping low.

“But we’re getting there,” Andi assured her. “We’re getting closer.”

And that seemed to be enough for Jeannie, who nodded and motioned towards the door. “We’ll go then. Just, uh, keep us posted. Please.” And Mark put his hands on her shoulders, holding her close. Tanner, though, just studied the floor, deep in thought.

“I will.” Andi opened the door and they trudged out into the night. The snow had stopped, and now it blanketed everything; where the moon touched down, everything seemed to shimmer and glow, throwing the light right back up into the night.

Andi turned, but Mercer and Chief Hastings were making their way down the steps.

Mercer asked, “What did they want?”

“To know if we caught him. The person who killed Kerry.”

Hastings squinted. “And you said?”

“No. And that’s it.”

“Good. Simple.” The chief nodded. “We’re done for the night. I’m going to spend the evening in my office so I can keep an eye on those two. I’ll put in a call to Hilltown, get us a team down here first thing in the morning to help us go over Sullivan Harris’s home. But you,” she said, turning warm eyes on Andi, “I want you to go home and take tomorrow to rest.”

Andi shook her head, ready to protest, but Hastings put up a hand. “You will do as I say, Darcy, or you won’t be allowed to continue on this case.”

She said nothing, but stood there, mouth agape.

“Now, I don’t think Sully is our guy.”

“Me either,” Mercer said.

Andi shook her head in agreement.

“But if someone is after Mr. Harris now, we need to keep an eye on him. Keep him close.”

“What if he was the target all along?” Mercer asked.

The Chief stared straight ahead, at the door, the small window in its face, and all of Bellriver beyond. “Then Harris is in danger. Which is more of a reason to keep him here, locked up.”

She nodded. “Get some rest, you two. It’s been a long day.”

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