Read If I Should Die Online

Authors: Allison Brennan

If I Should Die (9 page)

He sent an email message to his partner Patrick, Lucy’s brother, giving him a rundown on what happened as well as a request for some needed research. As he typed, he watched Lucy’s mouth turn down. She was ready. He suppressed the itch to smile. He knew Lucy well.

She said, “A dead body trumps arson.”

“You think we should have shown our cards.”

“Weddle treated me like an idiot. I don’t think they’re going to take this seriously, no matter what Tim said. Why on earth would Deputy Weddle think I’d
lie
about seeing a dead woman in the mine?”

“I don’t think that’s—”

“And someone moved her. That means someone who knew we found the body went there last night to get her out. Why?”

“To cover up a murder?”

“Exactly. Yesterday I wasn’t sure if her death was natural or inflicted, but I wasn’t thinking straight. There is no logical way for her to
naturally
die in that position. Maybe she was killed in or near the mine, and it was the only place the killer could think of leaving her. Maybe it was an accident—and someone panicked and didn’t want to go to the authorities.”

“Tim said no one in town is missing.”

“No one from
Spruce Lake
is missing. What about the surrounding areas? Potsdam or Canton? A camper from last summer? Spruce Lake is small, but the highway winds through the state park and could bring people from all over passing through.”

“What do you want to do?” Sean asked, though he knew the answer.

“Go back down in the mine, first thing in the morning.”

“I knew you were going to say that.”

“I’ll understand if you’re not ready—”

“I’m not letting you go alone.”

“How’s your leg?”

“Fine.” It hurt like hell. “What do you expect to find?”

“I don’t know. Maybe nothing. Or maybe a clue to her identity. How she died. How she was moved. Who she was. A confession etched on the wall of the tunnel, I don’t know. I just feel like I need to go down there and do
something
.”

And that was the crux of the problem, Sean realized. Lucy felt helpless and her need to find justice for the dead woman—to give her family peace—overrode the details of the plan. If she didn’t search for answers, she wouldn’t be able to put it to rest. The woman would be on her mind, a tragic puzzle with no solution. Even if Lucy went down in the mine and found nothing, at least she would feel that she had done everything she could.

“All right,” he said. “We go down first thing tomorrow morning.”

“Thank you. And—would you mind if I asked Patrick to pull all missing persons in the area? Not just St. Lawrence County, but all of upstate New York? Maybe the adjoining states?”

“Already done.” He grinned at the surprise on her face and leaned back in the chair, hands behind his head.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Lucy stared at him with such a quizzical expression that Sean laughed.

“You never have to hold back with me, Luce. Your mind is a computer. You go through all the arguments you can think of to get your point across, and then bring them up one by one until you get your way.”

She looked both confused and sheepish, not sure if what he’d just said was a compliment. “I don’t understand what you mean.”

“Brainstorm with me. Give me all your ideas, the good and the bad, and we’ll go through them together. You don’t have to justify your reasons for anything, not to me.”

“That’s not what I was doing.”

“Yes you were. Maybe you don’t see it.”

She shook her head and turned away.

What had he said wrong? He wanted Lucy to know that he
knew
her, how she thought, how she felt, so she never felt that she had to put on an act for him. She didn’t have to sell him on her ideas. With her family and her colleagues, she was always hesitant to stand by her theories, though she was rarely wrong. Sean wanted her to have the confidence she deserved without tacit approval from Patrick or the rest of her family, or even him.

He stood and limped over to her, his leg stiff from sitting too long.

“You can say anything to me, Lucy.”

“I know,” she said quietly.

“Good.” He kissed her, a long, soft kiss that generally was a prelude to taking her to bed. He wished they had more time alone—she was still preoccupied, and it felt important to find out what she was thinking. “Luce, I mean it.”

“Sometimes I think you enjoy this game of yours a little too much. Trying to read me, so proud when you get into my head. And you’re good at it. Really.” But she wasn’t smiling, and Sean felt a chill run down his spine. “I like that you understand me, and I love that you’re so supportive. But sometimes I feel manipulated, like a puppet, when I explain something you already figured out.”

“I don’t mean to—”

“I know you don’t.” She squeezed his hand. “If I thought you were doing it to make me feel foolish, I wouldn’t be here. You know me, Sean, better than anyone. Which is kind of scary considering we haven’t known each other for long. So think about that—knowing me, how I would feel if someone
was
manipulating me.”

Sean realized he had made a critical mistake with Lucy. “Sweetheart, I would never do anything to hurt you. You know that, right?”

She smiled and nodded, but Sean saw that she’d put her shields back up, the invisible barrier that he hated. She should never feel defensive around him.

He wanted to push. Instead, he said, “I think it’s time to go into town and see what crawls out of the woodwork.”

TEN

An audible hush descended on the half-filled Lock & Barrel when Lucy and Sean made their entrance with Adam Hendrickson. All eyes turned to the group as they crossed the room to an empty booth. They sat, Adam on one side, Sean and Lucy on the other.

The crowd resumed talking. Quietly, making no pretense that they weren’t looking at the threesome.

“You sure know how to kill a party,” Sean said, bemused. “I swear, this place is right out of Deadwood.”

“Until these past few months, I’d have said Spruce Lake wasn’t as violent or colorful,” Adam said. “Now, I don’t know.”

Lucy looked around. Small, round lopsided tables littered the dark, scuffed wood floor and a row of booths lined the far wall. Behind the worn bar was a beveled mirror to watch the crowd. The mirror itself was an antique. Much of the bar and its décor was old but durable, adding a certain raw charm. A sign on a small stage in the back declared that Bo Crouse and the Miners were playing from eight-thirty until closing on Friday and Saturday, and the specials were written in Day-Glo chalk near the kitchen: Unlimited barbeque ribs for $6.99 and draft beers for a dollar.

Black-and-white photographs of the Kelley Mining Company lined the walls. Kelley had been the only major employer in Spruce Lake for decades. Mining equipment hung from the ceiling and an old mining cart was showcased in the corner, reminding Lucy of the cart she’d seen yesterday in the mine.

A bald, middle-aged man worked behind the bar, and the lone waitress—a skinny blonde in her midthirties who wore too-bright makeup and too-tight jeans—approached the table with a warm smile that didn’t quite reach her tired eyes.

“Adam Hendrickson! You haven’t been by in forever. And you brought friends.” She appraised Sean as if he were a
Playgirl
centerfold and she the lucky photographer.

Adam introduced Sean and Lucy. “They’re friends visiting before the resort opens.” He looked over at them. “Trina was always nice to me when I visited in the summers.”

“Your arrival was always exciting! City boy visiting us hicks for two whole months. A cutie, too. Anything to liven up this town.” She then did a double take on Sean. “You’re the one Doc Woody was talking about!” Trina looked at Sean’s lap. “Twelve stitches, huh? Did it hurt?”

Sean gave Trina a self-deprecating nod and dimpled half-smile. Lucy had seen him turn on the charm like a faucet, and it never failed—whether the women were young or old, attached or single.

“Not much,” he said modestly.

While they talked about the “excitement,” as Trina called it, a sprinkling of pinpricks crawled up Lucy’s spine. They were being closely watched. She discreetly assessed the room. Many patrons were glancing over at them every now and again, but no one seemed unduly focused.

It would seem odd to most people that Lucy had a vivid physical reaction to being watched. In the past, she’d blamed her discomfort—and occasional panic—as remnants of her attack seven years ago. And, in the past, her reaction was psychosomatic; she’d felt as though she was being observed even when she wasn’t.

It had taken her years, but she’d learned to distinguish the difference between the psychological tension when she was in a large crowd and the real tension caused by undue attention. Sean had taught her to trust her instincts. Just because she couldn’t tell who was watching their table didn’t mean there wasn’t someone watching. And here? They were the strangers. She tried to dismiss her feelings, but she couldn’t stop the sensation crawling down her spine.

Adam said, “Trina, I know I’m getting the ribs, but could you bring a couple menus for my guests?”

“Sure! Can I get y’all some drinks first? We’re running a special on Miller in the bottle. Jon got a deal from the distributor.” She winked and walked off without waiting for them to agree to her recommendation.

Adam smiled. “Don’t tell her anything you don’t want the world to know.”

“She might come in handy,” Sean said.

“She hasn’t changed. No one has, really,” Adam said.

“Do you know most of the people in here tonight?” Sean asked.

Adam looked around, none too discreetly. “I recognize most everybody, though not all by name.” He smiled broadly and waved at an older, clean-cut man who walked in to the chime of two bells over the door. “It’s Mr. Callahan.”

Henry Callahan smiled broadly at Adam, who stood to shake his hand. “Adam! Good to see you, son,” Henry said.

“Thank you for meeting us,” Adam said, sliding over so Henry could sit.

Lucy wished they’d met in private, though she’d understood Sean’s reasons for making the meeting public. She didn’t know how forthcoming anyone would be in such a public venue. The bartender was watching their table, his face expressionless.

Adam introduced the group. “I haven’t been in here in months,” Henry said with a long sigh. “I’m getting old.”

“But you own the Lock & Barrel,” Adam said.

“Not anymore, I gave it to my nephew a couple years ago. Jon had already been running the place for years, and with Emma doing poorly, I don’t like being out of the house as much.”

“I’m sorry to hear Mrs. Callahan isn’t well.”

“Growing old wears you out.” But he smiled. “I’m glad you called, Adam. We’ve only talked a few times since Joe’s funeral.”

“Tim and I have been busy.”

“Joe would be happy that you and Tim are here, working together.”

“Not everyone is,” Sean said.

Henry shook his head. “I heard about the fire. Al Getty said it destroyed the kitchen?”

“Yes. We salvaged all that we could, and Tim is working out a plan to see if we can make the repairs in time for the grand opening.”

“When is that?”

“Memorial Day weekend.”

“Adam said you and his dad were close friends,” Sean said, steering the conversation toward their goal.

Henry smiled. “We grew up together. My dad was the foreman at the mine, worked for Joe’s in-laws, the Kelleys. Faced changes, the mine closure, the town dying. Births, deaths. Change hasn’t been kind to Spruce Lake.”

“Tim and I think the resort will be a good change,” Adam said. “But someone has been vandalizing our equipment for months. And with the arson—we don’t know if we’re going to be able to pull it off.”

“People get set in their ways, and change scares them.”

“The town is dying,” Adam repeated. “The resort will create jobs and industry. It’s a good thing!”

“I agree, son, I do, but after everything that happened with the Swain family, people don’t exactly like the idea of strangers around. That left a sour taste.”

Lucy said, “Who are the Swains?”

“Satan’s spawn,” Henry said, the words sounding odd coming out of the mouth of such a soft-spoken man. “Six years ago, Paul Swain finally went to prison. Followed in his father’s footsteps, that’s for sure.”

“What were they convicted for?”

“Lawson Swain, Paul’s dad, was a couple years older than Joe and me. A big bully. Went to prison for killing his girlfriend. And everyone knows he killed his wife—the mother of his kids—though no one could prove it.”

“Where is he now?” Sean asked.

“Lawson is dead. Rumor has it he led a prison riot, and was stabbed to death by a fellow inmate with a knife made from a tube of toothpaste. But Paul was already ten times shrewder than his dad. Paul was the one and only drug dealer in Spruce Lake. Hooked a whole generation of kids, but not just here. He was selling everywhere. What did they call it? Distributing? Had a house where they made that chemical drug.”

“Methamphetamine?” Lucy prompted.

“That’s it, I think. Well, there was a big sting, and Paul and a dozen others were arrested. The press—state
and
national—were here, reporters from television to newspapers to radio. We all had short tempers then. The way the media depicted our little town was nothing short of slander. As if we were all drug dealers. They didn’t understand that anyone who stood up to the Swains were dead. We just did what we had to do to survive. And that’s why most of us don’t cotton to strangers.”

“You mean you knew what was going on?” Adam asked.

“We didn’t
know
, not as fact, but Joe and I suspected Paul was doing something illegal. It was easier to ignore it. Safer.” He shook his head. “Your dad only had you two months out of the year. He only showed you the good side of Spruce Lake.”

Adam seemed distraught, and Lucy said, “What happened after Paul Swain went to prison? Did things improve?”

“That’s a matter of perspective.”

“Perspective?”

“The devil you know …” Henry’s voice faded away.

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