The distant crashing of waves hummed through the open windows of the Hamilton home, endless characters dismantling a well-built manuscript as a brunette’s face rested on the worn keys of her laptop. Sea salt dusted the air of the Malibu property, a golden retriever sitting by an empty food bowl with his head cocked to the side as he watched his unconscious owner.
Alex, although young, knew what he wanted. He wanted food. He barked, his red collar jingling against the vibrations of his throat.
The slim figure of Lucy Hamilton lurched up from her deep sleep, a computer key stuck to her face and stormy blue eyes half open in confusion. A light mumble fell from her parted lips, attempting to orient herself as she sat up in her desk chair. She rubbed her eyes, looking over to Alex as if she didn’t recognize him right away. “Long night, huh?”
Barking once more, Alex nudged his food bowl with one of his paws in response to her question.
“Yeah, yeah,” Lucy said as she stretched, tugging the ‘Y’ off of her cheek and tossing it back onto her desk. “Bring your bowl.” Walking through her open upper loft decked with novels and manuscripts in every which way, she headed down the blonde wood stairs to the living space that housed the kitchen.
By the time Lucy had pulled the container of food from the upper cabinet, Alex had already dropped his labelled bowl at her bare feet.
Lucy lightly laughed, pouring a cup of dry food into the bowl before rubbing the top of his head. “Good boy,” she warmly praised before putting the food back in the cabinet. She took down a tourist Arvada mug from a random trip to Colorado, clicking on the coffee pot after wincing at the time on the machine. “She sure was a talker last night, huh, Al?”
The morning sun glinted on Lucy’s tanned skin through the slatted blinds covering the glass doors, flannel shorts and a slouchy top surprisingly not out of place in the relaxed home atmosphere. Alex remained passive, eating sloppily without a care.
The brunette jabbed a finger on the small TV set up on the island as she passed by, the news already preset as the colors seared onto the screen. She yawned as she leaned on the counter, idly waiting for her coffee to brew.
Lucy’s eyes wandered to the kitchen window over the sink, a clear view of the ocean staring back at her. “What do you think, Al?” she absently asked the retriever as she gazed out at the welcoming waves. “Beach day?”
However, she only laughed when Alex’s snout pointed towards the antique sign bearing ‘It’s Always A Beach Day’ next to a yellow umbrella.
“Agreed,” Lucy said with half a smile as she moved off the island counter and headed back upstairs with a soft bounce in her step. She picked up her surfing wetsuit off of the interior balcony, moving it over to her neatly made bed before rifling in her dresser for a bikini.
The noise of the TV muffled up the stairs and into the loft, incomprehensible to Lucy as she changed behind the bamboo panel in the corner of the space that doubled as her bedroom. Distantly she could hear Alex’s hasty eating and waves scuffling outside the open windows, pulling on a pitch black neoprene suit in record time.
Alex barked from below, drawing Lucy’s attention as she braided back her collarbone length hair.
“Al?” she questioned lightly as she leaned over the balcony, half her hair done as she paused. Hesitating before realizing she wasn’t going to get an answer, Lucy headed back down the stairs as she finished up the braids. “What is it boy?”
Sitting on the tile floor with his nose pointed up at the TV, his tongue idly lolled out of his mouth.
Lucy’s eyes fell on the kitchen screen still bearing the news, her brows furrowing as she read the headline.
KIDNAPPER CAUGHT AFTER GIRL ESCAPES 5 YEARS IN CAPTIVITY IN BASEMENT
Shock laced through the brunette’s expression, watching the cropped footage of Neil Hunter being dragged from his home in cuffs and shoved into a police car. A rage stung the back of her throat, hate taking root in her heart.
Not once had they mentioned the name, but Lucy knew it. She knew him, she knew what she’d done.
“That’s Emily’s killer,” she said softly with an odd look on her face. Lucy walked barefoot across her open living space, stopping at a single shelf filled with first editions novels. She went up on her toes, picking out Endless Alabaster from the plethora of books. “I didn’t know he took another girl after her.”
The accredited novel by Stella St. Laurens remained perched in hands that were still raw from hitting away at her keyboard for a solid seven hours the night previous, the brunette flipping to the very last page of a story she was so familiar with, only a thin epilogue waiting in the wings.
Lucy mumbled to herself as her finger trailed down the font bearing a tragic end, “There wasn’t supposed to be another one.”
Night weighed heavily over the forest, light of the house blocked by a blanket of trees that would keep his secrets, his demons until the end of time.
Oliver steadied his breath, dirt caking his overalls and blood painting his sleeves. The warm fog leaving his lips hovered like a shield, protecting himself from what he’d done for only a moment until it wisped away into oblivion. He looked up to the sky, as if it would bring comfort to his sin.
“By God, let her be the last.”
But she wasn’t, and Lucy could’ve done something about it.
The warmth of the city flooded into the cramped office of Agent Deveraux, swirling in gasping breaths that seemed near attempts to suffocate the sole occupant.
Vance sat hunched forward in his chair, a mess of papers shrouding his desk like a shrine to Emily Morrison’s disappearance. He massaged his left temple while scanning through the witness report of the friend that Emily was supposed to meet before she vanished, it merely the ramblings of a child with no leads.
Nothing in the years of documents crammed into his office held anything that tied Neil Hunter to the abduction of Emily Morrison.
Not a damn thing.
There was no video footage, no witnesses, absolutely nothing that pointed to Hunter.
Yet, the hair matched.
The red hair found in the basement matched that of Emily Morrison, and no one could find anything else about her. No one knew where he grabbed her, when or even why.
Vance felt like he was fumbling around for a light switch in an Amish barn.
Philips knocked idly on the door frame of Vance’s office, looking exactly like she had the day before except her suit being two shades darker. “How’s it going?”
“It’s not going anywhere,” Vance replied with an exasperated sigh as he pinched the bridge of his nose, leaning back in his chair. “The hair isn’t going to be enough. We need something else for a judge to rule it. He’s pleading the fifth and I’m about five steps from jumping off a cliff because of it.”
“And what are you going to do about it?” Marina asked, her arms crossed over her chest.
Vance’s eyebrows furrowed slightly, “What do you mean?”
“You didn’t graduate from the Academy to get your ass handed to you, Deveraux. This is your first real investigation since they shipped you here, so do something about. Show them you can still do your job.”
“I know I can do my job,” said Deveraux, “but I don’t know if I can do this job.” He motioned absently with his hand towards the stacks on his desk, unsure of what to do. “There is nothing linking Hunter to Emily except one damn hair. Sure, maybe she sold him girl scout cookies, but it doesn’t mean she was being held there through her teenage years and then was murdered.”
“If you think he did it, then prove it,” she firmly told Vance. “Do what you can. No one who is guilty of a crime like this can get away with it without leaving some sort of evidence - something more than just a hair.” Unfolding her arms, she gave him a last look before leaving. “Get it done.”
Vance shut his eyes, groaning as he templed his hands over his face. Aggravatedly sitting back up in his seat, he went back to leafing through the files pulled from Hunter’s computer from the weeks leading up Emily’s disappearance.
The only thing slightly less disturbing to Vance than Hunter keeping young girls in his basement for years at a time was that he’d never cleaned his computer hard drive.
Leaning his chin on his palm as he read, his eyes lazily drew to his desk phone when it started to ring. Vance picked up the landline, pressing it his ear with an absentee expression. “Go for Deveraux.”
Vance’s eyes narrowed slightly, “Yes, this is Special Agent Deveraux. Who is this?”
The voice on the other end of the line was hesitant, nonverbally questioning whether or not they should even be calling. “That’s not…important. I uh, I saw your name on the news. You’re on the Neil Hunter case, right? They released shots of your team showing up at the jail to talk to him.”
“I am, yes,” he replied as he sat up straighter. “What can I help you with?”
“I, uh, I would actually like to help you. Well, maybe. I’m not sure about it, but it was too strange not to notice.” The woman, age undecipherable, cleared her throat lightly. “I saw there were mentions of Emily Morrison, the girl that went missing years ago, and that Hunter might’ve been the one who did it.”
Vance didn’t respond right away, unsure of how much of that information had gotten out to the public. “Potentially.”
“There’s this book,” the caller told Vance, “and I think it’s worth a read.”
“I’m sorry, but this isn’t a book club, I-”
“No, listen. It sounds just like what happened in the basement, the chains. It’s – it’s hard not to sense something. Just, read it and see for yourself. It’s called Endless Alabaster by Stella St. Laurens.”
Vance absently wetted his lips in thought, the name not unfamiliar to him. “You’re not just messing with me, right? Because I really don’t have time to deal with jokers.”
“I swear,” they quickly assured.
Despite being hesitant, Vance agreed and thanked the caller before ending the call. He checked his watch as he stood from his desk, knowing that his situation was by far the most bizarre he’d been in. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” he muttered, grabbing his wallet and car keys before heading out of his office.
Book’em Mysteries sat welcomingly on Mission Street, the afternoon sun beaming down on the bustling street filled with a mixture of tourists and natives enjoying their day.
Vance Deveraux’s sleek black sedan pulled into a parallel spot outside of the bookstore that he’d found himself a fan of since his arrival in Los Angeles, giving less of an FBI vibe as he took off his tie and left it his passenger’s seat. He stretched his arms behind him absently as he walked around the front of his Audi and onto the sidewalk, his mind elsewhere as as he opened the shop door and ducked inside.
“Welcome to Book’em Mysteries,” a warm voice greeted, it belonging to a young brunette bearing a lanyard filled with pins. “Can I help you find anything?”
“Actually, yes,” replied Vance as he pocketed his hands in his slacks. “Stella St. Laurens, do you-” His eyes followed her finger as the college student pointed towards a major display with Stella’s name hanging above the stacked books. “Right, thanks.” Walking over to the kiosk, Vance scanned the various titles - all belonging to the infamous writer.
He couldn’t help but wonder how he hadn’t heard of her outside of the airport bookstore despite the mass of novels that she had published, especially with the ‘International Best-seller’ stickered onto more than half of the covers.
Vance mumbled the titles under his breath as he ran his finger along the spines of the books that had been moved from displays and shelved. He’d read two of her more recents on his flight to LA, but Endless Alabaster was amiss to him.
However, there it was.
The agent pulled out a copy of the novel that had caused such suspicion over the phone, leafing through the fairly thick hardcover. Vance rubbed a finger under his nose absently, shutting the book with one hand. “All right, let’s see if I’m just being tricked into buying a copy for sales.” He wandered to the check out, not taking the time to look through anything else before setting the book on the counter.
“Is this all?” The clerk asked, picking up the novel from the other side of the register.
Vance nodded slightly, his thoughts elsewhere. “That’s it.”
Although working on his graduate degree at UCLA, Jefferson enjoyed his job more than anything else he’d done in his 25 years. “I love this one,” he told Vance in idle chatter as he processed the purchase. “This was one of her firsts. Published it about five, six years ago. She’s only gotten better, and that seems hard to do when it comes to how she writes. She’s, amazing.”
“I haven’t read much, but she’s got talent,” Vance agreed as he tapped his watch, the credit card machine beeping as it accepted his digital payment.
“You’ll enjoy it,” Jefferson said in response as he bagged up the book, sliding the receipt inside. He held it out to Deveraux, “Happy reading.”
Vance thanked him as he took his bag, offering a good day before leaving the building. He ran a hand through his hair, finding the attached cafe a rather enticing spot to read. Taking a seat at one of the metal tables, he pulled free the new book. “Publicity stunt or actual issue?” he asked himself softly as opened up to the very beginning of the novel.
But then he knew.
~ For Emily