Falls Hallow




Prologue: Katie Myers

They say that your life passes in front of your eyes just before you die. For Katie Myers, as her broken body flung upward over the roof of the speeding car, she had only one thought: Thank you for killing me.

 

Part One: Deputy Sheriff Nancy Evans

Deputy Sheriff Nancy Evans rubbed a freckled hand over her weary blue eyes. The spotlight from her patrol vehicle illuminated the tall stalks of corn rows that stood sentry on either side of Route 16 that connected a string of small towns with Falls Hallow, Indiana. Farmers made up most of the population of the rural northern Indiana town, with a smattering of business folk settled close to the four square blocks of downtown. Evans was one of two detectives for this part of the county, filling in on the night shift for the regular patrol officer who'd called off with the flu. She didn't mind, having no one at home warming her bed beside her black and white tuxedo cat Morty.

Her spotlight picked up reflective golden eyes between the rows and she slowed further, not wanting to hit a deer or coyote if it darted out into the road. Her main duty on night shift was to make sure the roads were clear; there wasn't much crime at three in the morning. Occasionally, there'd be a drunk driver swerving down the road from Blue Moon Bar out near Highway 31, but mainly she cruised the dark streets and reported any downed trees or lines, or deer carcasses in the middle of the lane.

Reaching for her travel mug of cold coffee, Evans thought she'd caught sight of dead deer in the drainage ditch that ran between the farmland and Route 16. Something niggled at her, though, causing her to pull to the side and park the patrol vehicle. She put the mug back into the cup holder, grabbed her hat and the mag light from the passenger seat, and climbed out of the car.

Evans stood at five-foot-six and stretched her regulation brown patrol uniform at the seams. Her utility belt hung heavily around her waist, weighted down by cuffs, her gun, pepper spray, radio, and small pouches of necessary tools of police work. She settled the dark brown campaign hat over her thinning red and gray hair, which was knotted at the nape of her neck, and flicked on the flashlight. The intense beam cut a swath through the darkness of the moonless night. The crunch of gravel beneath her boots added percussion to the chorus of chirping crickets and complaining katydids. The October night was cool, but not cool enough to need a jacket, as she hiked back down the shoulder of the road to where she'd seen the flash of white.

Her flashlight played across the bent tall grass and standing rain water at the bottom of the ditch. Dispatch spoke over the radio at her hip, relaying information to the other patrol officer on duty that night.   Deputy Ramirez copied the message.   Evans kept her free hand resting on the handle of her sidearm, thumb against the snap that held it in the holster, as she'd been trained long ago. Falls Hollow was a quiet town, with crime falling primarily in the misdemeanor category. She spent most of her regular shift finding out which kids defaced the tombstones in the local cemetery, or who boosted a set of tools out of the back of Jack Hangman's work truck.

The flashlight's beam fell upon the white that had caught Evans' eye from the road. She sucked in a sharp breath between her gapped teeth, and her feet froze in place. The flashlight began trembling in her taut grip, causing the beam to jitter over the female body dressed in a white and blue cheerleader uniform of Falls Hollow Junior-Senior High School.

The acrid scent of urine caught her nose, snapping Evans out of her daze. Evans checked that she wasn't the cause of the smell before snagging the radio microphone clipped to her shoulder as she carefully descended into the ditch. The flashlight shined on the ash gray color of the girl's skin. "Dispatch, this is Charlie 83. 10-78, 10-79. Possible fatality on Route 12 at roughly mile marker 35 between Gunderson's and Heineman's farms," she said into the mic, even prior to checking for a pulse. She'd seen dead bodies before in her twenty-plus years as a Deputy, at vehicular crash sites, and this girl looked the same as the others.  

Still, Evans pulled a pair of thick latex gloves from the pouch on her belt and crouched beside the body as she put them on. She checked for a pulse both at the wrist and the neck. The girl was on her stomach, partially in the water at the bottom of the ditch, blonde hair hiding her face from view. The body felt cold and stiff under Evans' protected fingertips.   Rigor mortis had set in. The girl had been dead for at least two hours.

Evans' radio squawked at her, letting her know additional assistance and the coroner were on the way.   As a detective, she had the ability to touch the body in a search for evidence, but protocol dictated that she wait until the scene was cordoned off and the coroner arrived to pronounce the victim dead. Evans took the chance to carefully lift the girl's hair from her face, to see if she could be identified.  

It was Katie Myers.   Falls Hollow's Perfect Girl.

Evans lowered the hair like a blonde shroud and pushed upright from her crouch. She ascended the ditch, trying to keep in the same footsteps as she'd made going down into the shallow gully. Her mind raced as she headed back to the patrol vehicle, to retrieve her camera, stakes, and police tape. Katie Myers was dead on the side of the road at three in the morning on a Monday night, a good distance from town. What had happened? How had Katie gotten there? Where had she been coming from or going to? The questions circled around Evans' brain with no answers yet. But Evans already knew one thing for a fact.

This was a homicide.

 

Part Two: Jeffrey Myers

The Myers lived in a tan brick ranch house close to downtown. The well-manicured lawn was divided by bright yellow and deep red mums lining the stone path that led to the front steps. A harvest wreath of maize hung in welcome on the door.   Inside, rich wood blended with warm tones of color. The furnishings appeared both comfortable and inviting, yet held onto the pristine facade of newness. Framed photographs of Katie Myers from infant to teenager hung prominently on display.  

Jeffrey "Jeff" Myers was proud of his home. His wife, Christine, kept it faultless. No dust coated any surface. No crumbs hid under the round, country kitchen table. Shoes and coats were put in the closet no matter where they landed upon returning home. The mail was stacked neatly on the old oak desk in Jeff's private office, awaiting his perusal. He was manager at the local bank and his house reflected his status in the small town of Falls Hallow.

He would give it all up and live in a cardboard box if it meant having his Katie back.

Jeff's lanky form was bent double on the chocolate sectional, his manicured hands pressed against his stinging eyes. Deputy Evans perched at the edge of the sofa chair across from him, notebook flipped open, pen poised to write. A low wooden coffee table stood between them with an artful array of magazines fanned in the center. Deputy Evans had delivered the news of Katie's death at six that morning, knocking on the door as he was watching the Keurig pour him a fresh cup of Italian Roast.   He still wore his burgundy silk robe - a Christmas gift from Katie when she was eight - tied over his light blue silk sleep pants and matching shirt.

Jeff pushed his hands upward, through his business cut blonde hair with a heavy exhale of breath.   He straightened his posture again, shoving down the heart-crushing pain he felt in his chest. Deputy Evans waited for the answer to her question.   "I don't know why Katie was out there," Jeff said. "I thought she'd gone with Christine to Lawrenceville to visit Christine's sister."

"What time did your wife leave?" Deputy Evans asked. She wore black slacks and a black blazer over a white collared shirt.   Her hair was damp, pulled back in a knot at the nape of her neck. When she shifted on her seat, the holstered gun at her hip was exposed.

"I don't know.   She called me around 4:30, saying she was already in Lawrenceville. If Katie had gone with her, it would've been after school ended," Jeff said.   But Katie had ended up dead in a ditch on the side of Route 16, nowhere near Lawrenceville. Jeff shut his blue eyes tightly, fighting back the tears.

"I'll need the sister's name and number," Deputy Evans said. "What time do you expect your wife back?"

"Sometime this afternoon," Jeff said. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket, found Angela Wright's contact information, and relayed it to Deputy Evans. Christine's sister was a heavy drinker. Christine always had one or two glasses so as not to be impolite and stayed over as she didn't want to chance being arrested for drunk driving.

"All right.   Where were you last night after the bank closed until around one in the morning?"

Jeff looked startled.   "Are you asking for my alibi?   Do you think I killed Katie? My own daughter?"

Deputy Evans met his gaze head on, not revealing what she was thinking. "Standard procedure."

Fury swept through Jeff, and he clenched his fists. The muscle in his smooth jaw twitched and his full lips thinned. "I was here, all night. I watched the Colts game before going to bed."

"Can anyone verify that?"

"No, and I don't appreciate what you're implying. My daughter's killer is out there somewhere and you're interrogating me instead of doing your job." Jeff stood abruptly and pointed toward the front door. "You know your way out."

Deputy Evans gave him the once over, flipped her notebook shut, and rose. She took a card out of her pocket and held it out to him.   "Call me if you think of anything that may help. And don't leave town. I might have more questions for you."

Jeff snatched the card from her and followed her to the door. He twisted the dead bolt after she'd gone and rested his forehead on the back of the door. The anger he'd felt toward Deputy Evans left him with a rush of grief. He choked on a sob, swallowing it down. His Katie, his perfect Princess, was dead.

Jeff went into his office, shutting and locking the door behind him. A high-backed, winged chair in a pleasant shade of tan sat near the richly draped window.   Tall bookcases filled with classics lined one wall. A credenza with decorative knick knacks graced the opposite side by the door, with a pricey painting of wild horses hanging above it.   His desk angled toward the door, for privacy, and he had to walk around it to sit in the desk chair. He grabbed a tissue from the discreet wooden tissue holder on the desk, wiped his eyes, and powered on the laptop positioned neatly in the center of the desk.

The laptop was password protected, and Jeff keyed in the correct combination of letters, symbols, and numbers. He'd made sure it was nothing guessable, choosing a random word from one of the books on the shelves and converting it at least once a month. He glanced at the office door again, double checking that it was locked.   Assured, he brought up the search box and typed in the name of a folder he'd hidden deep within the machine.

He opened the folder and clicked on the first picture file within it. His Katie appeared, dressed in a butterfly dress, around six years of age.   He'd started grooming her then, buying her pretty things, dressing her up, brushing her hair until it shined like a blonde halo around her head. Her smile was bright and happy, as she posed for the camera.   His eyes welled with tears as he clicked through more pictures of Katie in sweet dresses, in her bathing suit, in her frilly girls underwear in shades of pinks and lavenders.

She was eight, his beautiful, perfect daughter, when he began photographing her without clothing.   She was Daddy's Girl, allowing him to pose her, loving the attention and the praise. It was their secret thing, the fun they enjoyed together, as she grew older and he joined in the photos. The last ones he'd had, she was thirteen, on the verge of womanhood, riding high on his love for her. His precious, precious baby girl.

Jeff bowed his head and wept.

 

Part Three: Mike Whittington

Mike Whittington sat on the corner of his bed, staring blankly at the pile of clothing on the beige carpet. Posters of football players, fast cars, and professional cheerleaders decorated the pale blue walls of his bedroom. A handful of trophies sat on the chest of drawers in the corner of the room, next to the desk with his computer. Tickets to the Homecoming Dance were pinned to the board above the desk, waiting to be used that coming weekend. His date was his girlfriend, Katie. But Katie was dead.

Mike felt numb.   Texts had flown around the school that morning once the news had broken that Katie had been found dead on Route 16.   Stories about how she died ranged from being hit by a car to falling out of a crop duster. Mike hadn't believed it at first, thinking Katie was pulling a joke to get out of her Trig test. It wasn't until the guidance counselor pulled him out of his first period class that it had become real.

The school sent him home, and he'd been sitting on the edge of his bed behind a locked bedroom door for the past hour.   His mom was downstairs making sounds in the kitchen, missing work for him. Occasionally he'd catch her voice as she spoke to his father on the phone.   She told Mike that she was there if he needed to talk, or a shoulder to cry on. Mike hadn't taken her up on the offer because it felt as if it were happening to someone else; that it wasn't his girlfriend who was dead.

Mike rose from the bed and went over to the dresser. He caught his reflection in the mirror hanging above it. He was built like a typical sixteen-year-old football player, dressed in jeans and a black Keith Urban concert t-shirt. His shaggy brown hair was in need of a cut, hanging over dull brown eyes. His slightly red nose was crooked where it had been broken playing ball and he could use braces on his teeth, but his mom couldn't afford it and his dad didn't want to cough up any more than he had to with child support. He reached for one of his Pee Wee Football trophies and unscrewed the base. Hidden within the hollow core was a dime bag of coke.

Mike checked that his door was locked as he cleared a spot on his desk. He tapped out some of the coke onto the surface and neatened it into a line with his fingers. Bending forward, he pressed a finger to his left nostril and inhaled the coke with his right. As he waited for the effects to kick in, he stashed the dime bag back in the bottom of the trophy. He'd bought the bag the last time he'd gone to South Bend to visit his father for the weekend. He and Katie had planned to use it before the Homecoming Dance.

Flopping back onto his bed, Mike threw an arm over his closed eyes and let the euphoria wash over him. He remembered the last time he'd gotten high with Katie, a couple weeks prior. They usually got high together once or twice a month, sitting on the hood of his pickup truck in Chester's Park, watching the stars blink on one by one as the sky darkened. They talked a lot during those times, about school, their friends, what they wanted to do once they graduated in a couple of years. Mike would complain about his divorced parents and wish he could live in her perfect home. Katie would laugh too loudly and too long whenever he did and start talking about Falls Hallow High's chance of winning the following day. The fact that they would never do that again didn't seem possible.

A knock sounded on his door and he called out, "Go away."

"Mike, Deputy Evans is here. She wants to talk to you," his mom said through the closed door.

Mike sighed and rolled off the bed. The coke wasn't working as well as it normally did, but at least he was feeling something now.   He brushed his fingers through his hair, straightened his shirt, and opened the door. His mom looked worriedly at him, her hands reaching up, but he pushed past her before she could give him another hug.

He found Deputy Evans in the living room of the ranch house, looking at the photos of him and his mom sitting on the fireplace mantle.   A beige couch that had seen better days stood beneath the picture window draped with dark brown curtains. A tan leather recliner angled near the couch, separated by a standing lamp. A flat-screen television hung on the wall across from the seating, with shelving packed with DVDs, video, and gaming equipment beneath it.

Mike dropped into the recliner and peered at Deputy Evans.   She didn't wear a uniform like the other County Brownies. Instead, she was dressed in a black pants suit with a white collared shirt under the jacket. She wasn't too bad looking, for an old lady cop. He'd bang her.

"Mike," Deputy Evans greeted, with a nod to him.   Her red hair had lines of gray in it, pulled back into a knot at the nape of her neck. She didn't sit down. "I need to ask you a few questions. About Katie."

Mike gave her a self-confident smile, leaning back in the recliner and folding his hands over his stomach. "Shoot."

Deputy Evans's eyes narrowed slightly. She flipped open the small, black notebook she hand in her hand and clicked her pen. "When was the last time you saw Katie?"

"Yesterday, at school." Mike's smile grew as he remembered Katie bending over at her locker, her white cheerleading skirt riding up high, exposing her uniform spankies.   He'd smacked her ass when he'd approached, earning him a squeak and a playful slap on his chest. "She was looking great. I asked her if she wanted to come over after practice, but she said she couldn't. She had to go somewhere with her mom."

Deputy Evans nodded, jotting a note in the notebook.   "Do you remember how she was acting? Worried? Angry? Afraid?"

Mike shrugged a shoulder. "She was acting like Katie. You know, happy, always smiling, being nice to people. She's sure to win Class President again this year. I'm voting for her." A frown tried to cross his lips but the coke kicked the corners back into a grin. "I guess I'll have to vote for someone else now, but I don't know who. No one is like Katie."

Mike thought Katie was awesome. Besides being crazy hot, she was super smart. She'd been getting straight As ever since Kindergarten.   She'd been the Freshman Class President and was the head JV cheerleader. She was cool and popular. Mike had never seen her be mean to anyone, not even the nerds. She even did a lot of volunteering at the church with their bake sales and in the children's room. She was the perfect girl and Mike knew he'd lucked out when she agreed to be his girlfriend.

"She was a pretty special girl," Deputy Evans agreed, her eyes narrowing slightly again when she looked at him.   "Tell me about her friends.   Was she having any problem with anyone?   Or with someone else at school?"

"Nope." Mike shook his head, then paused as something came to him and he nodded instead.   "Yep. She was mad at Mr. Palmer for some reason. Something about his not raising her grade on her last test, even though she asked for extra credit. Or something. I don't know. You'll have to ask him."

"I will." Deputy Evans made another note. "What about you and Katie? How were you guys getting along?"

Mike's chest puffed slightly in pride. "We're doing great. She's an awesome girlfriend. We chill together all the time, when we're not in class or at practice or at home. She's great in bed, too. Like, really awesome. Oh, shit." He laughed. "I probably shouldn't have said that last part."

Deputy Evans didn't look amused. "Where were you last night, from practice until about one in the morning?"

"Um, I went to Benny's Pizza with some of the guys from the team after practice," Mike said, leaning his head back on the recliner as he looked up at the stippled ceiling. "Then I came home and did some homework here in front of the TV while mom complained about something forever until I finally went to my room and messed around on the computer until bed."

"What time was that?" Deputy Evans said.

"Maybe around midnight? I don't know. I wasn't paying attention to the time," Mike said.

Deputy Evans made another note in her notebook and flipped it closed. She clicked her pen.   "Thank you, Mike. That's all the questions I have for now."   She took a card out of her pocket, walked over, and handed it to him. "Call me if you think of anything that might help me figure out what happened to Katie, even if it doesn't seem important."

Mike nodded. "Okay." He studied the card. It had Deputy Evans' full name on it. Her first name was Nancy, middle initial M. Maybe the M stood for MILF. He grinned to himself.

Deputy Evans made a short sound in the back of her throat before heading out of the living room and into the kitchen where Mike's mom was waiting.   He grabbed the remote and flipped on the TV, drowning out their conversation. He saw Deputy Evans leaving a few minutes later, and then his mom came into the room and stood in front of the television. She crossed her arms, and wore Angry Mom Face.   "Michael Jonathan Whittington, are you high?"

Ut-oh. Busted.

 

Part Four: Scott Palmer

Scott Palmer met Deputy Evans as he was getting out of his Corolla after the school workday had ended.   He lived out near the Falls Hallow library in an one-bedroom apartment. The four tan-sided buildings in the complex housed six apartments each over three floors, including the basement. Aside from the trailer park off Route 16, it was the least expensive place to live in town and worked well for a single, male teacher in his mid-twenties.

Scott tucked his soft sided briefcase under his arm and shook Deputy Evans' hand. He stood a full head taller than her. He was good looking, with black hair that he kept short with a side part, dark amber eyes, and an aquiline nose. He wore a pale violet, checked dress shirt tucked into charcoal chinos. "What can I do for you, Deputy?"

"I have a few questions regarding Katie," Deputy Evans said. "Do you mind if we go inside?"

"Out here is fine." Scott watched enough crime shows to know inviting a cop inside gave them permission to look through your stuff, if it was visible. He didn't have anything illegal, but he preferred to keep his privacy. He had secrets he'd rather not share.   "What do you want to know?"

An annoyed expression briefly crossed Deputy Evans' face, but it was gone quickly. She pulled a black notebook from her jacket pocket, flipped it open, and took out a pen. "How well did you know Katie?" she asked.

"The same as any high school teacher knows a student. She was in my Sophomore Lit class this year," Scott said. His heart went out to Katie's family. It was tragic when someone so young died.   When he'd heard the news that morning, he'd made sure to let his students know that they were free to go to the guidance counselor's office at any time over the next week.

"Was she a good student?"

"Well enough," Scott said. "I got the feeling sometimes she was straining to get straight As."

Deputy Evans lifted a brow.   "Isn't that a good thing?"

"It's good to strive to get high grades, but not at the expense of your well-being," Scott explained. "I've read plenty of articles about kids getting into drugs, or having mental breakdowns, because of the pressure they're under to be the best in their class. That seemed to be the path Katie was on, to me."

"I was told Katie tried to get her grade raised yesterday and you wouldn't let her?" Deputy Evans phrased her statement as a question.

Scott nodded, shifting uncomfortably on his feet. Anxiety rose in him. "She wanted extra credit to raise her last test score from an 89 to a 90.   That's not my policy."

Katie had stayed after class, the last of the day, yesterday and approached Scott once everyone else had left. She had been wearing her cheerleader uniform in support of the boys' soccer team's game after school, even though they didn't cheer for them. Her blonde hair had hung in soft waves around her heart-shaped face. She was quite pretty for a fifteen-year-old girl, and outgoing and friendly. She was popular without being stuck up, a rarity at that age.

"Mr. Palmer, I was wondering if I could talk to you a minute, about my last test?" she'd said once they were alone.  

"Of course.   You did very well on it," Scott said.  

"Not well enough." Katie shook her head and leaned on Scott's desk, exposing her bare thigh. "I wanted to know what I could do to raise my grade. I would do anything." She rested her hand on her thigh and slid it up under the hem of her cheerleader skirt. . "Anything at all."

Scott had shut her down, fast and hard, ushering her from the classroom with a firm no and a warning not to try that again. He knew many of the female - and a few male - students found him handsome, but he would never cross that line. Aside from being both illegal and immoral, he was gay and one whiff of impropriety would have him labeled a pedophile and likely drummed out of teaching. It was one of the reasons he was still in the closet.   Rural Indiana wasn't the best place to be anything but a white, conservative, heterosexual Christian.

Deputy Evans scratched something off in her notebook. "Did you notice anything out of the ordinary about Katie yesterday? Did she seem worried or anxious about anything, besides her grade?"

"No," Scott said, keeping Katie's blatant sexual offer to himself. The girl was dead, there was no need to besmirch her reputation.  

Deputy Evans nodded.   "One more thing, just to cover all bases: where were you from the end of the work day until about one in the morning?"

Scott was shocked by the question. "You think I had something to do with Katie's death?"

Deputy Evans eyed him squarely. "Should I?"

"No!"   Scott shook his head vehemently.   "I barely even knew her, outside of class. I came home around this time yesterday, cleaned up, and headed over to the church.   First Christian. I was with Pastor Clemons until about nine, then I came home, graded some papers, and went to bed."

"All right."   Deputy Evans wrote another note in her notebook and flipped it closed. "Thanks for answering my questions. If you think of anything else, give me a call." She handed him one of her cards.

"I will," Scott said, and watched her until she got into her car. He hustled to his apartment. Once he was behind his locked door, he pulled his cell phone from his pocket, scrolled quickly through the contacts, and dialed Pastor Clemons.   "John, it's Scott. Deputy Evans was here asking me where I was yesterday. I told her I was with you..."

 

Part Five: Pastor John Clemons

Pastor John Clemons was surprised to receive a phone call, rather than a visit, from Deputy Nancy Evans.   John was in his office at First Christian Church behind a locked door. He was in his forties, with a receding brunet hairline and a softness around the middle from all the church bake sales. He paced the short distance between the door and the bookshelves lining the opposite wall. A set of visitor chairs stood in front of his flat-topped desk and a low, leather sofa spanned the wall between the double windows.

"Yes, Scott was here.   He arrived around four p.m. and didn't leave until close to nine," John replied to Deputy Evans's question.   Scott had warned John that she might contact him for Scott's alibi, which put John on edge. He nibbled on the edge of his thumb, a habit he was trying to break. "What did we do? Um, well, we worked on the children's program. No, not for the entire time. We did break for dinner. Benny's delivered a pizza around 6:30 or so."

All of what John told Deputy Evans was the truth. Scott had been there between four and nine on Monday. They had worked on the children's program, but not for the entire time. They did have a pizza.   What John didn't say was that, after dinner, they'd had sex on the couch in the church office.

The affair wasn't something John would ever admit, not even to protect Scott. If word got out, not only would he lose his job, which he loved, but he would lose his wife, whom he also loved. John didn't know if he was gay or if this was an experiment. He wasn't about to give up his entire life for a fling.

"While I have you on the line, have you noticed Katie acting strange or different, or perhaps noticed any signs of her being in trouble?" Deputy Evans asked over the phone.

"You know, now that you mention it, she and Tina were acting up in church on Sunday. They were looking at something on a cell phone and had to be shushed and told to put it away by Sam Reynolds. It was surprising. Katie never is anything but perfect in church, usually sitting with her parents in the front row. If only all my parishioners were like the Myers'."

"Thank you for the information. If you think of anything else, don't hesitate to contact me," Deputy Evans said, concluding her call.

"Poor Katie Myers," John murmured to himself after he disconnected. His thoughts weren't focused on her, however, but his own sense of preservation. He exhaled with profound relief. His secret was still safe.

 

Part Six: Tina Reynolds

Tina Reynolds sat with her dad, Sam, and Deputy Evans at the square table in the blue and yellow kitchen at her house. Tina was a flyer on the cheerleading squad, her small, compact form good for aerial lifts and jumps. She wore her dark hair pulled in a ponytail with a green scrunchie and fiddled with the pink scrunchie she had around her wrist.

Evening light came through the blue curtained kitchen window above the sink and the hatch window on the back door. Dinner preparations were laid out on the L-shaped, butcher block counter. A red tea kettle sat on the flat burner on the stainless steel stove.   Sam and Deputy Evans both had a mug of red raspberry herbal tea in front of them.

"I still can't believe she's gone," Tina said, pulling at the pink scrunchie. She'd been saying it a lot, because it was true.   She'd just seen Katie yesterday, at school and then at cheerleading practice. They'd made plans to go to Benny's today. She sniffed, blinking away the tears that stung her brown eyes.

"I know it's hard, Tina. I'm doing my best to find out what happened," Deputy Evans said. She had a black notebook open on the table in front of her and used her pen to scan down what she'd written. "Did she tell you where she was going yesterday after practice?"

Tina shook her head.   "No. I saw that her mom picked her up, but that's all I know."

"Did she seem upset or anxious about anything?" Deputy Evans said.

Tina shrugged, turning the scrunchie around on her wrist. Katie had acted like Katie, perky and perfect. Sometimes it was hard to be her friend.

Deputy Evans glanced at Sam before returning her eyes to her notebook. "I heard that you two were distracted at church on Sunday.   Want to tell me about it?"

Tina's eyes grew wide and she looked at her dad and quickly away. She dropped her chin. "It was nothing. Just some video." God, why did Deputy Evans have to ask about that? And who told?

"Was it nothing, or was it a video?" Deputy Evans said.

Tina shrugged again.   Sam didn't like her response.   "Tina, you answer the deputy's questions with words and with the truth. Now, tell her what you guys were looking at on your cell phone on Sunday," he snapped at her.

"All right.   Fine. Geez." Tina huffed and crossed her arms. "It wasn't my phone, it was Katie's."

"And what was on it," Sam growled at her before Deputy Evans could say anything.

"A video."

"Tina..."

Tina hunched her shoulders at her dad's tone. "I promised Katie I wouldn't say anything."

"It's good of you to be loyal to your friend," Deputy Evans said. "But Katie is dead. Anything you can tell me may help me find who killed her."

Tina pulled at the scruchie on her wrist and chewed her lower lip. "Okay. But you have to promise not to tell anyone. Especially not Mike."

Deputy Evans glanced at Sam again and nodded. "I won't say anything unless I have to, all right?"

Tina hoped she was doing the right thing. She mentally apologized to Katie. "It was a sex video."

"With who?   Mike?" Deputy Evans asked, writing in her notebook.

Tina shook her head.   "With a bunch of college guys at Purdue. She went there on Saturday night with Kevin and Beth. She said it was a dare."

"And she took the video with her phone?"

"Yeah."

Deputy Evans made another note. "Do you know if she showed the video to anyone else?"

"I don't know," Tina said. Sex wasn't a big deal. Everyone had it, including her. She'd even had sex a few times with Mike when Katie was busy. A sex video, though, would totally ruin Katie's chances of being Class President, and there was a behavior clause they had to follow to be on the cheerleading squad.

"Did she have her phone with her at school on Monday?"

"Yeah. She did."

Deputy Evans nodded. She closed her notebook and took a final sip of tea.   "Thank you for talking to me Tina." She stood and put a card on the table. "Let me know if you hear anything or think of something about Katie that will help me find out what happened to her."

"We will," Sam said, rising as well. He put his hand on Tina's shoulder. Tina bobbed her head in agreement.

Deputy Evans left through the back door, and Sam looked down at Tina. "I think we'd better have a talk about what is and isn't appropriate behavior for a young lady."

Tina slumped in her chair.   This sucked.

 

Part Seven: Deputy Sheriff Nancy Evans

In the fading light of day, Evans knocked on the Myers' door, noting the polished Saab in the driveway. The long shadows caused a dimple in the hood of the vehicle. She took out her notebook and scanned through her notes while she waited for someone to answer. She had several questions for Katie's mother, Christine. She was anticipating a text from the station with the location of Katie's cell phone. Jeff had provided the information to use the Track My Phone app when Evans had called after leaving the Reynolds' home. He'd mentioned that Christine had returned from Lawrenceville, as well, and as soon as Evans had called the station, she'd driven over to the Myers'.

Evans checked her watch for the time as the wreath adorned front door opened. Christine stood in the doorway, dressed like she'd stepped out of a Macy's catalog: mint green sweater set; tan, pressed slacks; fashionable low heels. Her subtle makeup was perfect and not a strand of hair was out of place. She did not appear to be a grieving mother, but everyone reacted to death differently.

"Mrs. Myers.   May I come in?" Evans asked, already taking a step forward.

The corners of Christine's mouth thinned, but she allowed Evans to enter. She closed the door behind Evans and motioned toward the living room. "Jeff will not be joining us. He is indisposed."

"That's fine."   Evans walked over and took a seat on the chocolate-colored sectional. She dropped her notebook on the coffee table. The metal tines of the spiral clacked against the wood.   She watched Christine's mouth thin again.

"May I offer you a beverage?" Christine asked.

"No, thanks."   Evans opened her notebook and clicked her pen. "I'll try to keep this short. I know that you're grieving."

"I appreciate it." Christine walked to the other end of the sofa and perched primly on the edge. She folded her manicured hands on her lap.

"When was the last time you saw Katie?" Evans said. The stiff and proper behavior wasn't something Evans was used to in such a relaxed town, but she recalled the few times she'd seen Christine Myers, at bake sales or other volunteer activities, and the woman had come across as snobbish and unbending.

"Yesterday," Christine answered. "I spoke with her briefly after school."

"Didn't you pick her up?"

Christine paused briefly before answering. "I did. But I dropped her off at the library."

"What time was that?" Evans said.

"Not long after I picked her up from practice. And then I continued on to Lawrenceville to visit my sister."

"So around four then?" Evans made a note in her notebook. "Was she meeting anyone?"

"I do not believe so," Christine said. "She was going there to study, not fraternize."

"She was a good student?"

"Yes. Straight As. Always on the Honor Roll, ever since Kindergarten." Christine's voice held pride. "I expected her to achieve that honor again this year."

"I heard she was having trouble in one of her classes," Evans said.

"No. Not at all," Christine said swiftly, as if quashing a nasty rumor. "Katie never got anything but As."

Evans hummed in the back of her throat. "Any troubles with friends? Boyfriends?"

"Not that I am aware," Christine said. "Katie is friends with many students, but schoolwork comes first."

"Mike Whittington and Katie were dating--"

"It wasn't serious," Christine said before Evans could finish her sentence. She seemed adamant. "She's only fifteen and school comes first."

Evans made another note, about Christine's repetition. "School is important to you."

"Of course. It paves the way for the future. Katie is not going to live here for the rest of her life," Christine said. Although it wasn't blatant, Evans could hear the disdain for Falls Hallow in her words.

"Do you have any idea where Katie could have been going, to put her out on Route 16?" Evans said as her phone vibrated. She pulled it from her pocket, unlocked it, and read the text. The station came through on Katie's phone location. Evans had expected GPS coordinates, anticipating that the phone had been sent flying into the corn field near where they'd found the body. Instead, it was an address.   This address.

"No. Wherever it was she was going, it certainly was not with my permission."

"Mrs. Myers, do you know where Katie's cell phone is?" Evan asked, using her thumb to dial Katie's number.

Christine hesitated.   "I don't believe I do."

Evans listened for the ring or song as her end starting ringing. Katie's phone was muffled, barely audible, somewhere in the house.   "That's her phone ringing.   Do you mind if I go and find it?"

A flush ran up Christine's neck, into her cheeks, and she suddenly stood.   "Yes. No."   She appeared as if she were trying to gather her composure. "I mean, I shall go and find it for you."

A groggy male voice answered the phone before Christine could move. "Hello?"

Evans hit the speaker button. "This is Deputy Evans.   Mr. Myers, is that you?"

"Yes," Jeff Myers said over the line, tone thick from sleep.

"Come on out to the living room and bring the phone with you," Evans said, watching Christine. Christine's hand risen to nervously finger the strand of pearls around her neck.

Jeff came down the hall from the bedrooms, still dressed in the blue silk pajamas and burgundy robe that he'd been wearing when Evans had visited that morning. He held Katie's cell phone to his ear.

Evans stood, disconnecting her end of the line and slipping her phone into her blazer pocket. She pulled a baggie from a different pocket, which also held two pairs of protective gloves. Walking over to Jeff, she held open the baggie in front of him. "Hang up and put the phone in the bag."

Jeff did as requested.   "What's going on?" He looked between Evans and Christine.

"Where did you get the phone, Jeff?" Evans asked instead of answering his question.

"It was in Christine's purse."

Evans sealed the bag, as she turned to face Christine. Christine's face was now an ugly shade of red and deep lines of anger creased it.   "Anything you care to say about that, Mrs. Myers?"

"I forgot that I took it away from her. It slipped my mind," Christine said, haughtiness in her tone, as if daring Evans to question the veracity of her statement. "She doesn't need her phone in the library. She was supposed to be studying."

Evans nodded noncommittally. She retrieved her notebook from the coffee table. "Thank you for your time. I'll be in touch," she said.

Christine hustled behind Evans to the door. "Do let us know if we can be of any further assistance. We want to find out what happened to our daughter more than anything else."

The sun had set. The porch light cast a cheery glow on the front steps. Crickets and katydids took up conversation after the door closed behind Evans. Evans pulled a small flashlight from the same blazer pocket in which she kept her phone and clicked it on. She kept Katie's bagged phone in her other hand. She walked over to the Saab, shining the flashlight across the front bumper, the hood, and the front window. There was a slight dimple in the hood but she didn't see any signs of a body having been hit by the Saab.

Evans glanced back toward the house as she circled to the driver's side. She could see Christine peering at her through a small gap in the dark drapes. Evans' flashlight highlighted the bright white sticker from Dave's Garage in Lawrenceville in the upper corner. It indicated the Saab was due for an oil change three months from today's date, meaning Christine had likely gotten the oil changed while she was in Lawrenceville.   Unusual, to go so far for a lube job, but not unheard of happening. Still, it felt off to Evans and she'd give Dave's a call in the morning.

Evans shined the flashlight through the driver's side window of the car. The interior was as clean as the Myers' house. Again, not unheard of, especially if the car had been detailed after an oil at the garage. Evans moved onto the back seat. Sitting on the floor behind the driver's side seat was a backpack. The kind the kids used for school.

Evans clicked off her flashlight, dropped it into her pocket, and pulled out her phone to make a call to the Deputy Prosecutor. "Hi, Steve. It's Nancy Evans. I'm going to need a search warrant for the Myers' vehicle. I'll grab an officer to sit on it, take some pictures, and meet you at Judge Petroski's."

 

Part Eight: Christine Myers

Monday

Christine Myers' fingers tightened around the Saab's steering wheel as the passenger side door opened and Katie slid into the car. Katie threw her backpack into the back seat, closed the door, and pulled on her seatbelt.

"Your phone.   Right now." Christine held her French manicured hand out, palm up.  

Katie made a sound of disgust and pulled the phone from where it was tucked in the waistband of her cheerleading skirt. She slapped it into her mother's palm.

Christine clenched her fingers again, and dropped the phone into her open Gucci purse between her leg and the driver's side door. She wore a soft beige sweater set and tailored slacks in deep burgundy.   Freshwater pearls hung around her neck and at her ears. She checked her reflection in the mirror. Her neatly styled blonde hair was pulled back in a soft chignon. The resurgence of anger flushed her smooth skin and made lines around her mouth and flashing blue eyes, making her appear aged and ugly. All because of Katie.

"Who else did you send that filth to?" Christine said, putting the car into gear and pulling away from the curb. She merged into light traffic on School Street as the other parents and kids in after school activities headed for home.

Katie didn't answer, slumping in the passenger seat, her arms crossed. She stared mulishly out the side window.

"I asked you a question, Katherine."

"No one. I made is special, for you." Katie's tone was snide, and it angered Christine more.

"Do not take that tone with me." Christine signaled and turned onto Route 16. "What you did was repulsive. I can't believe you're my daughter."

Christine had gotten a text with attached video from Katie at lunchtime. It was lucky that Christine had been alone at home, rather than being out on errands. The video was explicit, showing her fifteen year old daughter having sex with several older boys in a dorm room. Christine had almost been physically ill after watching it. She'd deleted it immediately and started to phone the school to pull Katie out, but stopped herself. People would talk if Katie left in the middle of the day.

Christine simmered in her anger while she waited for school to end. She polished every inch of wood in the house until it gleamed richly.   By the time she cleaned up and dressed herself appropriately, her anger had settled into a deep disgust for her daughter.

"How could you do such a thing?" Christine pressed harder on the pedal, increasing her speed on Route 16. She passed Jack Hangman going the opposite direction. "Do you know how humiliating it would be if that got out? What people would say?"

"About you, you mean?" Katie said bitterly. Her scowling face reflected back into the car in the passenger side window.

"Not only about me.   What about your father? Did you think about him when you were filming that smut?"

Katie started laughing.   Not a few sarcastic chuckles that Christine was used to, but an all out baying that filled the interior of the car and had Katie bending at the waist. The laughter caused rage to erupt inside Christine and she jerked the car to the side of the road, coming to a sharp stop. She threw the car into park, turned in her seat, and slapped Katie hard on the back of her bent head. She hit Katie again on the neck and her back. "Stop laughing! This is not funny!"

Katie sat upright and blocked Christine with her arm. She was gasping for breath as she spoke. "No, it's not. Being molested by my own dad isn't a joke."

Christine saw red.   She grabbed Katie's arm, forced it downward, and slapped Katie hard across the cheek. "How dare you?! I told you that if you said those lies again you would be sorry."

Katie cupped a hand over her reddening face where she'd been hit. She unclipped the seatbelt and threw open the door. "Go to hell!"

"Get back here this instant!" Christine tried to grab Katie as Katie scrambled from the car. Katie slammed the passenger door and stormed away from the car.

Christine straightened in her seat and grasped the steering wheel. Her body trembled with fury. Katie didn't appreciate everything that had been given to her.   Christine had grown up on a farm in Remington, Indiana. She'd been poor and dirty all the time. She got picked on at school because her mother had been arrested for solicitation multiple times, and it wasn't until she left Remington after high school that she'd been able to escape the stigma of being the Town Slut's daughter.

She'd gotten a scholarship to go to IU in Bloomington, where she majored in finding a man with ambition to marry. Jeff fit the bill: a finance management student from Evansville with good genes and proper parents.   She'd dropped out of school and married him as soon as he'd graduated. She would have preferred that Jeff had taken a job in the city, but Falls Hallow had offered him Assistant Bank Manager immediately out of school and within three years he was made Bank Manager when the prior one retired.

Christine had done all she could to create the ideal home befitting of her new social position.   She kept the house pristine, had dinner on the table promptly at 6:15 p.m. nightly when Jeff arrived home, and insured he was unburdened by Katie's upbringing. Christine volunteered in the community at clothing drives, bake sales, and the PTA. She made certain she was always neat and presentable, and that her daughter never had a speck of dirt on her. Reputation meant everything, and Katie was now threatening Christine's perfect life.

Christine glared through the front window at her daughter stalking down the side of the road.   Rage engulfed Christine. She yanked the car in gear, drew her foot off the brake, and slammed it on the gas pedal. The Saab's tires spun in the gravel before gaining traction and the car shot forward. The speedometer read fifty-two when she ran head-on into Katie.

 

Epilogue: Falls Hollow

Christine Myers was arrested for voluntary manslaughter and lesser charges the day after Katie's body was found in a ditch on the side of Route 16. Her reputation was ruined. She cooperated with the police.

A day later, a warrant was served on Jeffrey Myers to seize his personal laptop and cell phone. He was in jail on charges of child pornography, sexual molestation, statutory rape, and lesser charges by the weekend.

Scott Palmer and Pastor John Clemons broke off the affair the night they were questioned by Deputy Evans. Scott eventually started openly dating a barber from Lawrenceville. John stayed faithful to his wife the rest of their marriage.

Mike Whittington was sent to inpatient rehabilitation. His visits with his dad became strictly supervised. Both his parents grounded him for life.

Tina Reynolds stopped having sex after a pregnancy scare. She spent her extra time coming up with new routines as head cheerleader of the JV squad.

Katie Myers was laid to rest on a sunny Wednesday morning by her grandparents. Nearly all of Falls Hallow attended the funeral. No one called her 'perfect'.

 

End