Next Girl to Die (The Calderwood Cases, #1)
At some point, as you get older, you stop counting things—how many times you’ve been on an airplane, driven across the country, or solved a murder. No matter how many murders I solve, it won’t fix me.
I close the file in front of me. It hits me close to home; memories of another murder strain against the box in the back of my mind, where I’ve hidden them. The teenage girl in the file was killed in a hit-and-run. Vehicular homicide is still homicide, and that means it falls to me to solve it. I lean back in a chair at a borrowed desk, and it squeaks in protest. Normally, I sit out in the station bull pen with the other detectives, but I needed to concentrate on my final notes for this case. Though seeing it through should feel like a load off, it doesn’t. Death is a cloud that will never lift. Footsteps in the hall draw my attention, and I sit up a little straighter, just in case Sergeant Gomez is about to pop her head in.
Instead Roxie’s face appears, her dark fauxhawk swept up, her usual curls smoothed away. In this light, her medium-brown complexion has an undertone of ocher, thanks to old lights flickering above us. She offers me a half grin, the kind she always dons when she’s testing my mood. I push the file away from me like a plate of food that’s been picked at for too long—if only someone would show up to whisk it away
“How’s it coming?” she asks.
“Done.” I shove up from the desk and stalk over to the windows, looking down over the busy street beneath us. Traffic, the city—it’s something that I can always use to distract myself. Maybe it’s still a wonder because I grew up without it.
“You want to get out of here? Maybe catch a movie tonight?” she asks.
It would be nice to get away, to take a step back. In the middle of a case, it’s impossible for me to pull myself away, for me to get any distance from it. But until another case falls in my lap—and another will; it always does—I’ll take this reprieve while I can. “Yeah, let’s do it,” I say, but before I even have the words all the way out, my phone vibrates in my pocket. The number on the screen isn’t familiar, but the area code sure is—it’s the area code of my hometown. Seeing it, even just thinking of Vinalhaven, is like being punched in the gut. My finger hovers over the accept button, but I look to Roxie. “Could you give me a minute?”
Her brows furrow, and the look she gives me makes me wonder what my own face must look like. “Sure. I’ll be at my desk. Take as long as you need,” she says before pulling the door closed.
I hold my breath and accept the call. Normally I answer my phone as Detective, but for this call—who am I? So I settle for “Hello?”
“Claire Calderwood?” A man’s voice—low and gruff—cuts through the silence in the office.
“Yes,” I say, and I clench the hand that isn’t holding my phone into a fist. “Who is this?”
“Sergeant Michaels,” he says. “Of the Vinalhaven Police Department.” He tacks on the next statement like it only just occurred to him to say it, as if he’s unfamiliar with introducing himself.
“What do you need?” I ask, my words clipped. Normally I’d give a sergeant the respect they deserve, but I’m so caught off guard that he’s lucky I’m talking at all. It takes a few seconds for my mind to dredge up memories of him; the last time I saw him, I was in high school
“We’ve got a situation that I was hoping you could help with. Some people in town mentioned that when you left Vinalhaven, you went to work in Detroit as a homicide detective.” Papers shuffle in the background while he speaks. I can imagine him sifting through the paperwork.
I know what’s coming next before he says a word. Another girl is dead. Another girl. My sister was the first. Emotion tightens around my chest, like I’ve got my vest on too tight. The memories threaten to breach the wall I’ve built around them. I clench my fist tighter, my fingernails cutting half moons into my palm, as I try to push past it.
“Emma Carver—I’m not sure if you knew her; she would have been five or so when you moved—she was—” He stops so suddenly that I check the screen to see if the call dropped.
“She was killed,” I say, finishing the sentence for him. The words don’t hold the weight they should. But when you’ve been saying words like murder, homicide, and dead since you were fifteen, they lose their luster.
“Yes,” he says finally.
There’s a long pause, and I decide to take the reins, saving me from the memories threatening to slither back to the surface. “When was she murdered?”
“Three days ago,” he says. “Strangled. Her body was found in Grimes Park.”
The park that sits on the southernmost tip of the island, next to the marina, the same park my sister’s body was found in. A shiver traces down my spine, though it’s stifling in the office. Six months after Rachel died, I stood in that park hoping it would reveal the secrets of what happened to my sister. It never did.
“I know you’re working in Detroit, but we’re in over our heads. We could really use the help,” he says, his voice strained.
When Rachel died, I had no choice but to stick around until I was eighteen—until I could flee the island that took my sister. And since, not once have I considered going back. I left that life behind, shedding it like an old skin. A few times over the years, usually around the anniversary of Rachel’s death, guilt got the best of me, and I considered opening up her cold case to try and solve it. But I couldn’t; it would have been like picking a scab, opening up that wound all over again.
When I say nothing, he continues. “I know this could be painful for you—given your history. But maybe this could help you get some closure.”
I want to laugh at that. Closure is a goddamn fairy tale. There’s no closure when your sister is murdered.
“Claire—I mean, Detective Calderwood—please. If you can’t help, if we can’t find who did this—” He stops, as if he knows he’s gone too far.
My nails dig into my palm so sharply I wince. The pain keeps me present, though; I can’t let my emotions surge forward again. “I need to think about it. Send me what you have in her file, at the least. I’ll take a look and see what I can do.”
“I’ll send it, but really, Claire, we need someone like you here. You know this island better than an outsider. You think like us. You know that people here don’t want to talk to mainlanders. More importantly, they don’t want to help them.”
“I know,” I say. Because he’s right. If they bring in anyone else, no one on the island will trust that person. I finish my call with Sergeant Michaels. Instead of finding Roxie, I stare back out the window, oblivious to the people below. It’s not the city I see now; it’s my sister reflected in the window.