The Harrowing Tree

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Chapter Six

SIX

Can I get you anything?”

Chief Hastings offered a weak smile that fell away the moment her head was turned. “Nothing for me, Mr. Shumway.”

“Mark, please,” he told them. “Call me Mark.”

A nod from the chief.

At his stare, she nodded to Andi and said, “This is Anderson Darcy. I’m sure you’ve seen her around town these past few weeks. She’s our newest Officer.”

“Pleasure,” said Mark, and he offered his hand.

Andi couldn’t help but notice how it trembled. She took it and squeezed. “Glad to meet you,” she said. “And nothing for me, either. Thank you.”

Mark was average height, in his mid-to-late-thirties. His close-cropped short hair was thinning at the back, and he had a bit of a gut—it was no surprise, Andi regretted to admit, even to herself, that he was nearly forty and was only now getting married.

Still, he seemed kind enough. And nervous.

Andi kept a note of that.w

It wasn’t unheard of that cops incited fear in people. Especially when they showed up at your door with news of a missing person’s case. But this seemed different, to Andi.

Her eyes fell to his hands. His left was buried in his pocket, but the other, fisted down at his side, shook ever so slightly.

Chief Hastings said, “We’re here about Kerry Greaves. Though, I’m sure that much you’ve gathered.”

Mark could only nod.

“Is your wife around?”

“Jeannie’s across the street. At church. She should be back any minute now.”

As if on instinct, his eyes went to the door, now shut at their backs.

The chief nodded. “Mind if we take a look around?”

Mark offered a nervous grin and spread his hands. “Help yourselves.”

Andi looked around.

Jeannie’s home was not at all what Andi expected from the strong, almost looming brick building that bordered the town commons. Inside, all was open, rooms divided by narrow, doorless archways. Everything was made of wood—and smelled of wood, like a campfire.

Andi breathed it in. And never wanted to leave.

Their living room was wide, taking up, Andi suspected, most of the house. Through one arch and a small window of glider doors over an island, she could see their kitchen, all wooden cabinets and countertops. All wood floors, beams, and ceilings, rising up to support the brick exterior.

The living room was quaintly furnished with squishy couches and chairs spread out around the center. Andi wondered if Jeannie and her fiancé, Mark hosted guests a lot. From the neatness, she thought it must be true—and suddenly Andi thought of her own home, every inch covered by different stacks of boxes. Still packed.

She wanted this. Wanted a home, a place to go to when bad things happened.

When murders happened.

And Andi wanted someone to spend it with. But this town . . .

Bellriver is temporary, she told herself, echoing the promise she’d first made to the mirror the night she’d learned she’d gotten the job.

Through one arch, Andi saw a large bedroom, everything neat and well kept, the bed made. Floor clean. But where was Kerry’s room? Was she just as neat as people who’d taken her in?

As if reading her mind, Mark said, “Kerry’s room is upstairs. I’m sure you’ll want to have a look while we wait.” He sighed, ever so gently, and he nervously clasped his hands before him. Mark’s eyes darted towards the door.

“Thank you,” nodded the chief.

He showed them to a set of open wooden stairs leading up to an overhanging loft, that looked down on the open living room. On the stairs was a toolbox, overflowing with different sized screwdrivers, a drill, and some hammers.

“Doing some construction?” Andi motioned towards where the bag sat on the third step.

Mark nodded. “We’re adding a railing. My daughter she . . . I don’t want her to fall.”

Andi nodded. “Safe—”

“Is it bad?” Mark cut in, throwing down his hands.

The chief, half way up, stopped and looked back. “Pardon?”

“It’s bad, isn’t it, chief? Kerry . . . It’s not good news.”

Chief Hastings spun, staring back up the steps. “I think you already have your answer, Mark.”

And he did. Of course, he did.

But how bad was it?

Andi flashed the man a look of pity and started up after the chief.

They found Kerry’s bedroom at the far end of the loft. The only thing up there was a small sitting area, with a breakfast table, and a small, full-bathroom, as well as a linen closet against the opposite wall.

Kerry’s room was good sized.

And messy.

The bed was unmade, sheets on the floor. There was garbage on the floor, dishes scattered around the room. Makeup kits were laid out on the desk and the bureau, and what Andi took to be photography equipment littered the entire room. Different sized lenses, chargers. Cameras, cameras without lenses, tripods, lighting pads.

“Well, I guess we have our answer,” Andi said. “Kerry was a slob.”

“I would have been more surprised if she wasn’t.” The chief, chewing on the inside of her mouth, spun around the room. “I want to get a team in here. Comb over everything. See what they can find.”

Andi nodded. “Should I put in a call to Hilltown?”

The chief said, “Tell them to come this evening. We should have our test results by then.”

And maybe, just maybe, they might be a little bit closer to figuring out who killed Kerry Greaves.

Down below, Andi heard the door bang open. Voices.

She looked to the chief.

“Let’s go see if we can get some answers.”

“Dead?”

Mark stared at his wife as she, hands plastered to her face, covering her eyes, slid down their wall of kitchen cabinets and collapsed to the floor, her knees pressed to her chest.

He stood there, arms crossed, and leaned against the open archway between their living room, where Lizzie Hastings and her new officer had just told them the news, and their kitchen—their kitchen where, every morning, he woke up early just to ensure his future wife and Kerry, who’d become theirs, in a sense, had a healthy breakfast in them before they started the day.

Mark stared at the stove, at the spot he stood each morning when Kerry schlepped herself towards the coffee pot, communicating only through groans until at least her second cup had entered her system.

And now . . .

He felt a slight tremor go through him, and when Mark looked down, he realized his hands were shaking. He flattened them to his sides, then to the walls of the archway, but he couldn’t make them stop.

His mind kept replaying what had just occurred.

“What’s going on?” Jeannie had asked the moment she’d arrived with Tanner Driscoll on her arm.

Mark was glad to see Tanner with Jeannie. He was a good fellow, always had been, especially towards Jeannie.

Tanner worked remotely from home. Some telemarketing gig. (He always said, “I’m forty-three. Too old to start over somewhere new, and too young to retire.”) Whatever the job was, it meant that he was always home, and Mark was happy his fiancé had a friend so close at hand when he wasn’t around.

He seemed a good deal like everyone else that lived in Bellriver and its surrounding villages, Andi thought upon her first impression. He was somewhat smug looking, medium height, thin framed, with small, narrow eyes, but he always wore a grin. His hair was cropped close to his head, a darker shade of brown, like it was wet, and he had minimal facial hair, a thin mustache that wrapped down into a chin of stubble. What caught Andi’s eye, though, were his eyes—they were . . . different. Had an odd feel about them. Like there was something not quite right about them.

Mark was sitting on the couch, beside Chief Hastings, who now rose, and Mark’s daughter played in the corner of the room with some of Mark’s old train sets—he always brought them out whenever Kathy came to play.

“Come on,” Tanner said to Kathy, helping her to her feet. She was nearly six, a small little thing, Mark’s pride and joy. “Hey, kiddo, why don’t you go show your Uncle Tanner how you jump rope.”

“How long should I jump for?” was her question as he gently tugged her out of the room.

“Until I tell you to stop,” said Tanner, and the chief waited until he’d brought the small child through the screen door in the kitchen and out to the backyard beyond.

Jeannie was shaking. Her entire body felt like one long vibration.

“What is this?” She looked from Chief Hastings to the new officer. “What is going on?”

“It’s about Kerry,” said the chief.

Jeannie, tears welling in her eyes, nodded. “You found her, then.”

But she wasn’t there. Wasn’t with them.

“How could she be dead?” she asked Mark, long after they were gone. Sitting on their kitchen floor, slumped to the tiles, crumpling in on herself. “She was just here. Just . . . here.”

A part of their world. Their livelihoods.

“She was discovered around this time yesterday, out on Hollow Hill,” Chief Hastings had told them. “We know for certain foul play was involved. We’re still waiting on some results from the lab, so for right now all we can do is wait.”

“Wait.” Jeannie’s voice was cold, colorless. Just a void of sound, with no end and no beginning.

Mark shook his head. “But who would have done this?”

“We’re not sure—?”

“How can you not be sure?” snapped Jeannie.

If Chief Hastings was in any way affected by his fiancé’s tone, she didn’t show it.

“We believe that Kerry was going around with an older man. Do you know anyone that she might have had relations with? Or been in contact with?”

Mark’s eyes suddenly sprang up. “Her dealer?”

“Dealer?”

This question came, Mark thought, as if from nowhere and everywhere at once. He hadn’t heard the new officer speak until that moment, and yet her voice, while soft, was not gentle—it was calm, cool, collected. But certain.

“As in drug dealer?”

Mark looked at the younger woman and nodded.

“That’s why Kerry left in the first place,” Jeannie said, wiping at her face.

“Vicodin,” said Tanner, from where he stood in the doorway. No one had seen him reappear, and until that moment, Mark had forgotten their friend was there. With a look back at his friend, Tanner said, “We’re playing hide and go seek. Kathy’s just waiting for me to find her.”

Mark, feeling so far at a distance from the world, simply nodded.

Andi, though, found herself staring off at Tanner Driscoll—at a tattoo along the inside of elbow. At her stare, he pulled down his sleeves, but Andi thought she noticed two large eyes. Not human eyes, either.

“Kerry was in a car accident,” Jeannie continued, when the Chief’s gaze bounced around the room. She couldn’t help but look at young Officer Darcy, scribbling notes, and wondered what the girl was thinking. “This was back in Colorado. She lived there for a short time with a friend she’d grown up with.” Jeannie shook her head. “We knew when she’d first agreed to stay with Mark and I that she was still taking them—”

“Vicodin, you said?” asked Officer Darcy, looking at Jeannie for confirmation.

She nodded. “Vicodin. She only had a few left when she moved in . . .”

“But she’s been taking them this entire time,” finished Mark. “Apparently she’s got a guy in town. And, although Jeannie doesn’t want to see it—and however much I don’t want to believe it, Chief—I think that’s the real reason Kerry was in town.”

“She was addicted to pain killers.” Chief Hastings ran a hand over her mouth. “And she came to Bellriver to stay with you. But what reason did she give you for coming back here in the first place?”

Andi blinked. Was that all it took? A car accident—to end up on the path of addiction. One wrong turn of the wheel, two seconds too late on the brake. And then . . . this—the spiral, leading to . . . death.

Murder.

The word simply felt wrong, especially thinking back to that simple, sweet face of the young woman they’d found in that pasture.

The body.

Hastings thought about what Sean Greaves had said about Kerry returning for a job opportunity. But she needed to know if this was true, if they could confirm it.

Jeannie nodded, but it was Tanner who spoke.

“She told us she was thinking about accepting a photography job outside of Boston. It was with some travel company, I think. Would have allowed her to go anywhere, really.”

Andi’s ears perked up at this. “Basically, a free ticket out of Bellriver.”

“A free ticket to anywhere in the world, within reason,” said Tanner.

The chief asked, “Do you really believe she ever would have taken this job? That she really came to Bellriver for work?”

“Initially,” said Mark.

“And now?”

“Now . . . Now, I think she was lying to us. The whole time.” He crossed his arms and looked at his fiancé. “Jeannie confronted her about it and Kerry—”

“She left,” Jeannie absently said, staring straight ahead, but not really seeing anything at all.

“And if you ask me,” Mark told them, “I bet it was to be with her dealer.”

“Do you know who might have been giving her these pain killers?”

Mark shook his head.

The chief looked around the room, but Tanner and Jeannie said the same thing.

No one saw her with anyone suspicious. No one even realized Kerry had been acting strange until they wound her drawer of empty medicine bottles. But then things started to make sense, the mood swings, the sudden change in her demeanor, the way she would go from tired to instantly awake.

“Did Kerry have a car?” asked Officer Darcy, and the room suddenly looked to her. “This isn’t exactly a town where you just walk to your friend’s place, unless your friend lives around the town commons. So if Kerry’s dealer lived six miles away—”

“She’d need a car,” finished the chief, looking back at Andi with a small grin.

At this, Officer Darcy smiled—though she tried everything to hide it.

Mark shook his head. “Kerry knew everyone in town, though. All she needed to do was put in a call to a friend and they’d give her a lift.”

“Can you give us a few names? Maybe if we interview them, they can all agree on one location that they might have dropped Kerry.”

“Her dealer’s, you mean,” said Tanner.

Chief Hastings nodded. “Precisely.”

Jeannie got up then and went to a small desk in one corner of the room. She drew out a pen and old envelope, the only source of paper she could find in the moment and wrote out a small list of names. Then she showed it to Mark.

“Can you think of anymore?”

He nodded. “Biddy Erwin from down the street. She gave Kerry a ride a few times. Oh, and Ronnie Marten.”

Jeannie added the names and then, staring at the list, thought long and hard before handing it to Chief Hastings.

There were five names on the list.

“I know all of these people,” said the chief, holding up the envelope. “We’ll look into this as soon as possible and try to keep you in the loop.” She looked at Jeannie, then Mark, and finally at Tanner. “Do any of you know if this job was legit? Do you know the company name, who had told her about it?”

They all shook their heads no.

The chief nodded. “Then it looks like we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

But as the chief and her new officer rose to leave, Officer Darcy stopped in the doorway.

“Did Kerry like owls?”

The question seemed so out of the blue and so utterly random that, for a while, no one spoke.

Chief Hastings, having understood, nodded.

“A small statue of an owl was found placed beside Kerry’s body out on Hollow Hill. Any significance behind the statue might help us uncover who might have done this.”

But again, no one spoke. And just as easily as they’d come, the officers left, leaving Mark and Jeannie alone. Tanner had gone too, to take care of Kathy while Mark comforted his fiancé in private.

“Who could have done this?” asked Jeannie, speaking through the gaps in her fingers. “Even if Kerry was addicted to pain killers, why kill her?”

And why now?

In Officer Darcy’s truck, Chief Hastings wondered the very same thing.

Sitting in Andi’s truck, parked off to the side of the police station, where she always parked it, Chief Hastings looked over Andi’s notes.

“I have a question,” Andi said, staring straight ahead. She looked at the small pond in the center of the town commons.

“Good, Darcy. It’s always good to have questions in a case like this.”

Andi nodded. “If this man Kerry was with was married . . .”

She nodded at Andi. “Continue.”

“If this guy Mr. Greaves claims his daughter was sleeping with does, in fact, live in town—and if he was a drug dealer—”

“This is hypothetically speaking, if the two are the same people.”

“Yes.”

“Continue.”

“Then wouldn’t his wife mind that his new play thing came to stay?” After a moment, she apologized. “I don’t mean to be insensitive.”

“It comes with the territory,” came the chief, nodding.

“And wouldn’t his wife have a problem with her husband selling drugs?”

“That is if she knows about it.”

“True,” Andi said.

The chief nodded. “But you bring up a good point.”

She stopped to think.

“Maybe we’re looking too deeply into this. It’s possible the man could be divorced,” Hastings said.

“Then why wear the ring?”

“All right, separated and sleazy,” said the chief. “While his wife is away—”

“The cats come out to play.”

Hastings turned her gaze on the new trainee, who stared back, eager, hopeful. “That’s not exactly where I was going with that, but . ..” she sighed. “Why the hell not.”

Andi shook her head. “Where do we go from here?”

“Well, until we get a report back from the lab, there’s not much for us to do, other than reach out to the people on this list.” Chief Hastings held up the envelope. She scanned it one more time before saying, “Ever eaten at the Depot?”

The Depot was the only place to eat in town. And, because it was directly across from the station, it was where Andi had eaten every single day and night since she’d arrived in Bellriver.

“No,” she lied.

“You hungry?”

Andi thought of Sean Greaves, of Jeannie Fellows, of her fiancé, Mark.

And she was certain she would never eat again.

Mercer was at a loss. His meeting with the town’s Historical Society mentioned nothing about any owls, or owl statues. Just to be certain, he’d paid Harriet Brackett a visit up at the library, but the only book even relating to owls that Luther Haskell, Bellriver’s only librarian, came across was a children’s picture book. So, a short while later, surprised to find it still morning, he found himself back in that pasture on Hollow Hill.

The body was gone, the scene cleaned up. If it was anyone but him or his team looking out at the field, they’d have seen nothing out of the ordinary.

Only, something out of the ordinary did happen here. Something fatal. He could almost feel it down in his bones. That same shifting inside himself, like something unsettling was creeping—slithering, really—unraveling to its full extent.

Hands on his hips, Mercer blew out a breath, which turned to mist before his face.

It was getting colder.

This field looked no different than it had any other day of his God-given life. Yet, today it felt different more than anything else. Like a picture frame hung on the wall, suddenly crooked—but not just that: like this newly crooked frame held an entirely different picture. And not a better one at that.

Slowly, Mercer started out into the pasture. His eyes went to the Harrowing Tree on the rise, breaking up the light that fell. And as he stood there, he thought maybe he’d been right. Maybe, just maybe, there was a reason the body had been left there.

Andi’s words came to mind then.

Would someone really kill over a simple tree?

And then, as if in answer, a breeze whispered through the pasture, pulling back the branches of the Harrowing Tree so that, from where he stood, it looked as though it were giving him the finger.

In a sort of salute, Mercer gave it right back.

The Depot was as full as it always was, and pretty much as full as it was capable of being.

At the old wrap-around counter sat the usual suspects: Old white guy, and older whiter guy. Andi was sure she’d learn their names at one point or another, though she was hoping she’d be back in New Mexico before she ever had to.

Or better yet, somewhere else.

Andi’s favorite thing about the Depot, though, despite its countless flaws, was the numerous amounts of photographs along the walls. All the walls. Some of people, families. Some of wild life. Others of scenic vistas and mountain tops.

She spotted one of the chief. Andi realized she’d seen it practically a hundred times and never realized who she was looking at until now.

“Ah, Officer Andi!” Donnie almost shouted.

The chief shot her a look.

“Okay,” Andi said. “So, I’ve been here a few times. Sue me.”

“I just might,” said the chief, and they sat at one of the only tables in the joint, away from the “bar.”

Donnie slapped down a beer in front of Andi. “I’ll have your eggs cooking in a moment, Officer Andi. And for you, chief? It’s good to see you out of bed. Feeling hungry?”

Chief Hastings smiled. “I’ll have whatever she’s having, Donnie.”

“Coming right up!”

The man started from the table, but before he could, Andi grabbed his arm and pulled him back. “You’re mistaken,” she said, trying to force the beer back into his hand.”

“You’ve quit? So suddenly?” he asked, looking skeptical.

Donnie winked at the chief, who sat their grinning.

Andi took the beer and placed it back on the table. “I’m not an alcoholic, I swear.”

“Course not,” said the chief, who, setting the bottle against the table, punched the cap right off and took a long drink before setting it back in front of Andi. “You just drink with breakfast. And by the looks of it.” She nodded towards Donnie, who disappeared into the kitchen. “You eat a lot of breakfast.”

Andi’s head dangled from her neck like a weight.

“So who taught you to drink?”

Uncomfortable, arms on the table, Andi took a small sip. “My sister.”

“Your sister the drinker? Older or younger?”

“Older,” Andi said, sighing. “She would have been thirty-two this Christmas.”

The chief stared, quirking a brow. “Would have been?”

“Yeah.” Andi looked down, folding into herself—not unlike Sean Greaves, curling inward. “She died a while back. Drug overdose.”

“I’m sorry, Andi.”

“Thanks. It’s just that . . .” She stopped herself. Her beer halfway to her lips.

“What is it?”

“Nothing.” She was immediately on the defensive. And she set the bottle back down.

“You’re new here, Andi. And I’m happy to give you some leeway because you’re new. But we don’t lie here.” She took a sip of her trainee’s beer. “And if you want to talk, it’s my job to listen.”

Andi, head bent, tucked a stray hair back behind her ear. After a few more moments of silence, she started with, “They claimed it was a heroin overdose. What killed my sister.”

Her eyes lifted to the chief’s.

“Claimed?”

“My sister used to volunteer with the local elementary schools. Her and a few of her friends would put on these wretched costumes and dance around with these colorful signs, advocating for a drug-free life. Trying to teach kids that you don’t need drugs to have fun.” Andi sniffed, screwing up her face. She couldn’t help but smile at the memory.

“She continued with it years after high school. Even got a job as a teacher.”

The chief nodded, following along.

“Doesn’t sound like a drug addict.”

“My sister never touched a drug in her life. And if she did, it was only to stop someone else from using.” Andi shook her head and took a sip of her beer. And then another—drinking far too long, she realized—before dropping it to the table. “It’s one of the reasons I wanted to be a cop.”

“Oh yeah?”

“I wanted people to know that not all cops are like the ones who found my sister. That, simply because they couldn’t figure out how she died, they won’t cover it up. Won’t try to hide what really happened. Won’t give up on the truth when the going gets tough.”

“And yet you ended up here?”

At that, Andi’s eyes went to the window. She could see the station across the way. Mercer’s cruiser wasn’t there; he must have been out. Probably at the church.

It hit her then that Andi had no idea who she preferred: Kit Mercer and his constant sighing, or Lizzie Hastings and her constant questions. Her intense gaze.

It felt like an interview. Andi supposed it was.

“To start,” she said, her eyes shifting back to the middle-aged woman across from her. “To appease my father. And to learn.”

The chief finished her beer, setting it back down with a clattering ring. “Learning is good.”

“I fully intend on going back, you know. Not today. Not tomorrow. But one day.” She put her hands up to her face and loosened a breath, exhaling through the gaps in her fingers before dropping them to her lap. “I’m going to find out what happened to her. And why.”

The chief was still nodding, still listening. “But not today, Andi.”

“No,” she said, hanging her head once more. “Not today.”

When Donnie made his way back around with their breakfast, the chief ordered Andi another beer. And one for herself.

“Shouldn’t you be by the phones?” the chief asked when Mercer suddenly plopped down in the empty seat beside Andi.

He looked different, she quickly noticed. His eyes were shot and his face wasn’t smooth. Stubble crept along his sharp jawline like grass growing where it never had before, irregular and messy. It unsettled her in ways not even the discovery of the body the day before had.

He responded with, “Shouldn’t you be drinking anything other than beer this early in the morning?”

The chief grinned, showing teeth. “You’re right. Arlo?” She waved to the man across the way. “Some scotch, if you will.” Donnie had left, off to run some errand, leaving his own second in command, Arlo Dugan in his place.

Arlo was about Andi’s age, possibly a few years older. He was pale, thin, but had a hideous afro that reminded her of a foreign plant that simply didn’t belong. He had acne on his neck, and a small tuft of hair had sprouted from his chin.

Mercer rolled his eyes, fighting back a smile.

“Want anything to eat?”

He motioned to the plates. “I’m pretty sure you guys ate the place out.”

Andi, wizening up, said, “It’s not polite to comment on a woman’s eating habits.”

Lizzie Hastings fought a smile at this, and Mercer sagged back in his seat, sighing louder than she’d ever heard him sigh before.

“Find anything about Kerry?” he asked.

“Lots,” the chief replied, looking out the window—up at St. John’s, at the towering white steeple beside the police station. “She was addicted to pain killers. Apparently, Kerry has a dealer here in town. We have a list of names of people who might have driven her out there, and we’re going to interview them later. See if anyone might be able to bring us where we need to go.”

Mercer’s eyes grew wide and he whistled. “Sounds like a lead if I ever heard one.” He glanced around. “But who would’ve thought? Little Kerry Greaves . . . addicted to pain killers.”

The chief shook her head. “Times are changing.”

They sat quietly for a while.

“Is this dealer of hers the same man Mr. Greaves told you about?” Mercer later asked.

“I think so.” Chief Hastings looked at him and nodded. “But there’s no knowing for sure until we know more. Did you find anything at the Historical Society? The church?”

“Nothing and nothing. Not even at the library,” he added, clicking his tongue and scowling at the world around him. “But I’m sure something will reveal itself eventually?” He shook his head. “But an owl. Why an—”

Mercer stopped. Froze, really. His entire body going still.

Rigid.

His eyes, Andi realized, were on the men sitting at the bar. No, not the bar. What they were holding.

Mercer, without a word, shot to his feet. Any and all sense of amusement had gone from him. He walked over to the two old guys and, without asking, grabbed the paper from the one on the right—older whiter guy.

“Hey!” groaned the man, but Mercer held up a hand, silencing him.

“Look,” he said, bringing the paper over to the table. He threw it down in front of them, flattening it out like a map so that they could see it.

It was a full-page ad for “Sweetwater’s Sweet Carvings.” And in one corner was a selection of what they sold: unique carvings, statues, and totem poles. Wooden statues.

One of the statues was of a bird, its wings folded back. Not unlike the one left beside the body. It’s beak wide open—as if to taunt them.

Mercer lifted his head. “Are we certain the statue is made of stone?”

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