1.16: Crime Scene

Clair murdered Mathas Bernard for revenge. She killed him in a fit of jealousy. She hit him by mistake, thinking he was his wife toiling away in the garden. Actually, Clair did it on the instruction of the beleaguered wife. She’d always been a violent person. She was prone to sneaking out at night. After the burial, she dug the corpse back out of the earth.

Those were the things Henry heard during his shift at Horizon Foods that afternoon. He suspected that the townsfolk were swinging through for little reason other than to try out their theories. Tod, the portly man from the Hiking Club, quietly asked how long he had known, and if there were any more surprises out there that he should be anticipating. Not a single person floated the idea that Clair might be innocent.

“You can’t trust people anymore,” Howard, the store manager, told him. He leaned up beside the register, pointedly declining to assist in the growing line of customers. “Those officers marched right in here, and took her out in handcuffs. Mid-shift! Can you imagine? Now she’s really bitten the both of us.”

“Both of us?”

Howard nodded. “Me, obviously, because it’s bad for business. And you, because now there’s nobody else to do the re-stocking tonight.”

Henry focused on getting through his line. Red cans of beans, orange blocks of cheese, boxes of cereal and crackers and nuts. He scanned, smiled, and made change, trying to tune all of the words out of his head. Again and again and again, for second after minute after hour, until “they’re not letting anyone in to see Clair.”

Niles stood on the other side of the counter. “The jail’s locked up. Nobody’s getting inside without a good reason.”

“Is that unusual?” He pretended to forget the code for the loaf of bread that Niles was purchasing, punching in random keys.

“Normally visitors are allowed. I don’t know, it seems like they’re really taking this seriously.”

“Would they let family in?”

Niles looked haggard. “She doesn’t have much of that left.”

“We have to keep trying to talk sense into Leia.”

“She’s never going to take us seriously.”

The line was growing restless. Henry keyed in the correct code. “Then there’s nothing else we can do.”

***

The only problem with that verdict was that Henry himself did not believe it. He knew that there was one last thing he might try, but he reminded himself that the last time he’d gone grasping for straws all he found was a useless locket. Uneasily he put the reckless idea out of his mind, focusing instead on the maddening task of re-stocking the grocery store. Whatever other virtues Clair might have possessed, organizational prowess was certainly not among them. Not a single crate in the storeroom bore any kind of indication as to what it might hold. Howard, smiling, simply dropped a key by the computer and left with the vague instruction for Henry to “lock up behind himself.”

He thought about walking out early. The job was demonstrably unworthy of the stress it had already caused. But then there was Clair, let go from a position she loved and afterward unable to find any other decent work. He knew how the village saw him already, a distracted outsider who couldn’t handle or didn’t need a serious job anyhow; would that image be indelible? A vision of his future self, still living off Jamal’s generosity in room number 5 at the Tortoise Shell Inn, flashed into his mind. He shuddered, broke open another crate, and set to work trying to figure out whether he was dealing with potatoes or beets.

When the main door opened, he assumed it was Howard coming back around to check on his progress. Kara’s voice surprised him. “Henry?” she called.

“In back.”

“Howie around?” she asked.

“All clear.”

Kara entered, a frazzled look about her. Heavy bags hung under her eyes. “I was waiting at the bar for you, until I put two and two together. Should have checked here first. It’s a grim scene down there.”

“I thought everybody would be celebrating.”

She shook her head. “Clint’s beside himself. Vowed to never drink as long as Clair was locked up. That lasted about an hour and a half, then he changed tac and vowed to never stop drinking again. Things were starting to get out of hand when I left. Speaking of, why are you sitting on the floor in front of a crate of baby squash?”

“Baby squashes,” he breathed, rotating one of of the ribbed fruits in his hand. “Of course.”

“You really are from the city, aren’t you?” She put on a mocking accent. “Those are cucumbers on your other side, cauliflower on your left, and about fifty cans of baked beans behind you. Those ones have their names printed right on the label, so you can’t get confused.”

Henry laughed. “I suppose I deserve that.” She laughed along with him for a moment, but there was a distant look in her eyes. And that exhaustion, written all over her face. “Are you feeling alright? You look a little rough.”

“I’m fine. Do you still have that charm I made for you?”

He pulled the chain out from under his shirt. “Haven’t taken it off. Is that why you hunted me down here?”  

“No. And it wasn’t for gossip, either,” she said, crossing her heart. “I’m sure you’ve had as much of that as you can handle, and you know I’m around to talk whenever. No, I bring you something much better: an opportunity to avoid the shit-show currently developing down at the bar.” With a flourish, she produced a set of keys from her pocket.

“The apartment?”

“All yours.” Kara tossed him the keychain. “You did have locks where you came from, didn’t you? Big one’s for the outer door, small one’s for the inner door.”

“Shut up.”

“Sorry, couldn’t help it.”

Henry’s eyes stung. He swiped at them uselessly. “Thank you.”

“I would do a lot more for a friend. And no matter how recently we met, I know that we’re friends. That’s something you can feel right away.”

***

That night the black clouds that swirled over Tortus Bay broke into heavy rain, forcing Henry to pull his coat over his head as he made his way down the street. Past the park, the village ended. There were no more lawns, houses, or businesses; only the snaking street, which led him closer with every step to the crashing waves of the ocean. Wells of mud bubbled through the cracked asphalt.

He drew up to the squat, abandoned lighthouse amid the onset of crashing thunder. This was where Clair claimed to have found Mathas’ journal. She may have returned the offending article to hide her crime. Or, there might be something more interesting inside. More likely, there was nothing—but he could not know until he checked. And if she could get inside, that meant he could as well.

The heavy iron door was not only locked, but barred. Henry circled the structure, trying to figure out how Clair had done it. There was no evidence of any previous entry. Had it all been a drunken lie? Besides the door, there was only a small, cylindrical window, about twenty feet off the ground. He began to climb.

Crumbling stonework provided ample, if precarious, handholds. In the streaking rain his hands slipped against the jagged surface, his blood mixing with the sodden chalk. He angled himself atop the door-frame, sprang upward, and scrambled the rest of the way to the narrow windowsill. There, he stopped to breathe. Then he pulled the stone out of his pocket, and smashed the glass.

Peels of thunder masked the noise. Henry slipped inside, finding purchase on the steps of a winding staircase. He flicked his flashlight on, and cast the beam of light up, where he saw that a good portion of the roof had collapsed. Fractured stone littered the stairs. He followed the detritus down to the base of the lighthouse, and more peels of thunder masked the noise of his scream.

Thick, red-brown splashes stained the walls. Puddles of it gleamed in the exact center of a chalk circle on the floor. Books, daggers, and jewels lay scattered beside. The circle was surrounded by a dozen symbols, one of which Henry recognized immediately.   

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