As most of you know, I took the majority of this story down last year and uploaded it to Wattpad instead. I've since taken it down from WP, too, and put it up in the Kindle Store. You can find it there under the same title, author name: Rachel DeLuca.
Thank you SO much to everyone who's read and reviewed. You truly inspired me. You might not understand how much.
It's funny what a fluid thing time can be. One would think that nine years is a sufficient amount of time for anyone's brain to bury an unpleasant memory, but Callie had figured out long ago that something as simple as a smell, or sound, or touch could bring it all back as easily as though it happened yesterday.
She tried to concentrate on the blue patch of sky visible through the sliver of a window near the ceiling in the dank, sunken room in which she sat. Pushing her ponytail of dark brown hair out of the way, Callie rubbed at the back of her neck to relieve the mounting tension. But the distant sounds of clacking heels on polished floors, the muted typing on keyboards, and incessant ringing of telephones made it too hard for her not to remember sitting in a similar room, nine years ago.
"You really don't remember anything else?" The voice of the detective, even so many years later, was still fresh.
"I've told you everything I know." Callie's voice, once vibrant, sounded hollow and tired against the cinder block walls of the room. The skin underneath the cast on her leg itched and she imagined the luxury of scratching it until her skin bled.
Blood was everywhere she looked now. On her hands, though she had committed no crime. On her clothes, though all the bleach in the world would never get it out. And in Callie's mind it dripped over her consciousness like the slick icing of a cake, oozing slowly down over layer upon layer of horror.
Callie was finding it hard to imagine that she was the same naive girl who'd come to New York City from small town Connecticut, intent on art school and a completely different sort of life, throwing herself into it with the conviction that only teenagers have. It had been just as fabulous and exciting as she'd dreamed; being at the Art Institute of New York during that perfectly crisp and colorful autumn that was the start of what would eventually change her life forever.
"Miss," the detective said, trying to regain Callie's attention. "Can you go over it one more time? When you left the bar, you don't remember anyone following you?"
Callie shook her head. "It's not that I don't remember. I know for a fact that no one was following us."
"That you saw anyway."
Did this woman interview victims with eyes in the back of their head or something? "I guess. I suppose I don't generally look out for those sorts of things, I'm not usually that paranoid."
"Well, you should," the woman chastised, as though Callie wasn't sitting there with a cast on her leg, two black eyes, a broken nose, and stitches running the length of her upper arm.
Her father leaned in then, his voice clipped with anger. "I don't think we're here to discuss what could have been, correct officer?"
Chagrined, the detective cleared her throat but did not apologize. "Okay, Callie. Can you just tell me again, what happened after you turned the corner at the end of the block?"
Laughter and stumbling was what Callie remembered. After a few beers, she'd always felt closer to Lucy, like they had a connection that other best friends didn't have. She seemed prettier that night too, she'd done something different to her short blonde hair and Callie remembered complimenting her about it more than once. Something about alcohol always made her want to hand out excessive compliments, deserved or not.
They had met in their Drawing 111 class the second semester of school. Both had thought that they didn't need the developmental course that their advisor had suggested and both had been incredibly wrong. It had been a mutually humbling experience to admit that they perhaps didn't know as much as they had previously thought, and Callie and Lucy had bonded over it. They'd started getting lunch after class, then dinner sometimes. Lucy had melded herself into Callie's life so seamlessly it felt as though they'd always been friends.
"I'd like you to describe the scene again, if you can remember it," the detective asked, bringing her back to reality. Officer Conrad her ID read. Callie looked up when the woman repeated the question.
"I'm sorry, Callie, but I need to be sure we have all the details down."
Callie didn't feel like the woman was actually sorry. Instead, she felt patronized, like they thought she might change her story.
"Of course I can remember it," she finally answered. "I don't think I'll ever forget."
Her father took her hand gently and turned to Officer Conrad. "Look, she's been over this a hundred times, both in the hospital and with your officers here. Can we try to wrap this up? My wife and I just want to take her home." He had been with her at every interview. Both of her parents had spent the last two days in the hospital, taking turns sitting by Callie's bedside, getting her water, trying to get her to eat, watching her while she slept, and holding her while she cried.
Lucy's parents had stopped by once. They brought a beautiful bouquet of bright flowers, which Lucy's mother sat on the windowsill with the others. When she turned to face the bed, her already red and tired eyes were filled with tears.
"They told me you tried to fight him off," she said in a choked voice. "I...I…"
Then she had simply fallen to the floor in a heap, her body crumpled like so many matchsticks. If Callie hadn't been so tired, she would have joined her. It was the last time she'd seen them, because she had still been in the hospital for Lucy's funeral. Every once in a while Callie sent them a card and sometimes she'd receive one in return, but eventually it was just too painful for either of them and the pretense was dropped.
"And you're sure he was six feet tall?" Officer Conrad asked, her pen tapping lightly on the table.
"I'm not sure, no. I didn't ask him to stand still to measure him," Callie bit out. Her father squeezed her hand and she swallowed, willing herself to be calmer. "Sorry. I'm pretty sure. That seems about right. And he had brown hair, a big nose, and hadn't shaved. He wore black leather on top and blue jeans on the bottom. I don't know about his shoes." She gave a tired sigh. "And he could be just about anybody."
The detective glanced up. "We're not so sure about that." She leaned forward, as though they were having coffee together and she was about to drop a particularly juicy piece of gossip. "Did you know that Lucy Drummond's family has possible ties to the mafia?"
"Did Lucy ever mention that?"
Callie shook her head vehemently. "No. Never. What are you talking about?"
Officer Conrad shrugged. "Word is her father borrowed some money to keep the family business afloat. What if he couldn't pay it back? I know I'm not supposed to speculate, but they could have been trying to send a message." Callie wondered if they offered acting lessons for detectives, because this woman's fishing for information was so stunted that if she'd been in a different frame of mind, she would have laughed.
Her father stood then, and gripped the back of Callie's wheelchair. "I've heard enough," he said in a low, serious voice. "You people have tortured my daughter for days now. Will you please just let us take her home so she can heal and rest?" Without waiting for an answer, he pushed the chair to the door, but not without turning around to add, "Your time would be better spent looking for this man. Make sure he doesn't do this to anyone else's daughter."
Callie remained unfocused as he wheeled her through the dingy hallway of the precinct, toward the main office, and then out the doors into the sunshine.
She blinked into the brightness, pain searing in her arm as she tried to shield her eyes. The sun was out, the sky was blue and grass was starting to grow again after the long winter. People are going to work and school, and being so ordinary, she thought. But how can they when my best friend is dead? It was a disconnect that would take many years to resolve.
Slap. The sound of a thick folder dropping onto the table pulled Callie back into the present. Her head jerked up to stare at the police officer standing in front of her. She blinked once, still trying to shake the nine-year-old memory of Officer Conrad's interrogation.
"I read your file," the officer said, not elaborating.
Callie waited for him to go on. "A. Delaney" his polished nametag read. Deep brown eyes, as steely as the gun on his hip, stared down at her intently and she got the distinct impression that he wasn't sitting on purpose to make her feel uncomfortable.
Finally he spoke again. "Care to explain why you waited so long to report this harassment, Miss Richardson?"
"Callie," she corrected him. "And I could explain, but I doubt you'd understand."
"Humor me," he said, and finally moved to sit on the chair across from her. His black police uniform was pressed and unwrinkled, as though he'd been standing all day. Classically handsome, with short dark hair and a chiseled jaw, he left her feeling rather disconcerted. The sleeves of his uniform pulled tightly around slightly tan, muscled biceps.
She swallowed, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. She'd pulled the mass of rich brown waves into a thick ponytail before leaving, but something about how perfectly put together this police officer was made her feel particularly unkempt. Callie tried to shake it off, puffing her chest out a little in confidence as she watched his eyes focus on her mouth for a moment. He pulled his own into a grim line as he waited for her to respond.
"You already read my file, so I don't have to tell you that part."
That part. How ridiculous that the single most important and defining event of her life could be summed up in two words.
They had been celebrating. One of Lucy's drawings had been accepted into a show and they just knew it was going to be the beginning for her. Callie had always conceded that Lucy was a better artist, and by that point had decided to focus more on photography anyway. It was the end of their sophomore year. They were barely twenty years old.
After leaving the bar, where two fake IDs had gotten them in, and gotten them beer, they'd turned the corner to an unlit street. The bar was close to their apartment and it had never occurred to Callie that she should be frightened walking home. She wasn't alone, after all, as she had promised her mother she would never be. But people had warned her about dark alleys for a reason.
It was in such an alley that the world went to hell. In an instant, Lucy was on the ground, writhing underneath a man with a knife that he plunged into her chest. It took surprisingly few times for her to stop fighting as Callie threw herself blindly on the attacker, screaming. He knocked her to the ground, and then, as she watched, grabbed Lucy's head by the hair and slit her throat. There was no arterial spray for she was already dead, just a slick flow of blood, oozing down her pale neck.
Then the man had turned and advanced on Callie as she scrambled in a blind panic like a crab on four legs before standing and trying to run. She didn't see it, but felt the knife plunge into her upper arm, the pain blinding. Later, she was positive he'd been smiling as he kicked her hard in the stomach, sending her sprawling to the ground again. He grabbed her leg as she tried to crawl and even nine years later Callie could not forget the sickening crack of bone on bone and the indescribable pain it brought. A wave of nausea took her, but she managed to kick out at his descending hand and knock him off balance, the knife skittering away down the alley.
Later, she would wonder if it was simply his anger that saved her then, for instead of scrambling to get it, he reached down to pull her up by the scarf around her neck and threw her into the brick wall of the neighboring building. With no streetlights, Callie knew her only hope was if someone heard her screaming, so she did then with gusto. The pain was nearly immobilizing, but she lashed out with her good leg, swung at him with her bleeding arms, screamed at him through a mouthful of blood. But still, he overpowered her, twisting her only working leg under her and pinning her to the ground. She could see his eyes in the dimness and they were glazed, unfeeling, and terrifying.
She had a brief moment of peace then, knowing that the blow that would kill her was about to come. It felt almost nice, to let herself ease out of that terror and just accept that her death was inevitable. But the strike never came and by the time she'd pushed her hair, now matted with blood, from her face and lifted her bruised body from the ground there were police running toward her, their outlines blurred and confusing. Thinking they were going to hurt her, Callie pulled into herself until an officer crouched next to her, touching her arm gently, whispering that everything was going to be okay as he cradled her like a baby in his arms. She wasn't sure later who had done it, but had never forgotten the feeling of safety. His soft reassuring voice was her anchor and she clung to it.
She wondered now, as she looked at Officer Delaney, if he had any of that softness in him. If so, he was currently hiding it under the guise of abject professionalism.
He flipped open a small notebook and pulled a pen from his front breast pocket. "I know your story. You don't have to rehash it."
Callie was relieved for the small reprieve.
"But I'm concerned that this isn't the first time you've been harassed but you're just coming forward," he continued.
"I didn't come forward because I wasn't planning on letting them bother me. It's taken me many years to get to the point where I realized that being scared isn't going to get me anywhere," Callie said, voice steady.
It was a succinct way of describing the last nine years of her life since she'd moved from NYC to the sleepy, seaside town of Newport, Connecticut. She spent months talking about the case with various detectives, police, reporters, and friends. It took many years for them to find the man who'd done it. And in those years her leg healed and the stitches in her arm came out and eventually, although it often felt like an eternity, she began to regain parts of herself again. She stopped being reminded daily of the tragedy that took her friend. In time, a few days would go by and then a week and once she'd realized it'd been months since she had thought about the terrifying ordeal. Sometimes the memories were not so nice. The bitter, coppery smell of blood, the sterile and faded sea-foam green of hospital walls; the tiniest things could take her back in a heartbeat. But once in a while, something would make her think of Lucy and she would smile; a fondness in memory of her life, not her death.
"To make a long, complicated story very short," Callie went on, "I refuse to let certain things stop me from living my life. So I tend to ignore them, and that's worked out pretty well for me."
He raised an eyebrow. "Until yesterday, apparently."
"Yesterday was different. Someone was actually in my home."
"But the person who killed Lucy Drummond is in jail," he said, as though she was a child. "You're saying that you've been getting threatening messages for a year, and you're just now coming to the police because you think someone was in your house last night?"
She stood up and pushed her chair back, the legs scraping against the linoleum as her blood pressure began to skyrocket at the skeptical look on his face. "Look, Officer…" she glanced at his nametag again. "Delaney. Please don't patronize me. I am neither stupid, nor unobservant. There was someone in my home. If you're not prepared to believe me, I'll go back out and wait for someone who will," she finished, voice clipped with annoyance.
"That won't be necessary," he replied, coolly, although Callie noticed he at least had the decency to look slightly chagrined. "Please, sit down Ms. Richardson."
"Callie," she said again.
He shrugged. "Fine, Callie." Then he stared at her until she did sit down, folding her hands in front of her calmly, forcing herself to maintain eye contact.
Office Delaney flipped open the folder and scanned it for a moment. "So you've been getting these letters since right around the time John Humboldt was caught?"
John Humboldt. The name sent a shiver down Callie's spine. The man who had killed Lucy and left her for dead. Better technology in DNA testing, and the testimony of a former cellmate was all it had taken to finger him. Despite the evidence, he was claiming innocence and now, after nine years, Callie was faced with testifying against him at trial. She was both parts thrilled that she could finally put it past her, and terrified that it would send her down the emotional spiral she'd worked so hard to come out of.
"They started a year ago, yes," she answered. "They scared me at first." Terrified is more like it, she thought. "They were just generic letters, nothing incriminating. Just warning me not to testify. And before you ask, there were no return addresses and the postmarks were all different."
She fervently wished she hadn't destroyed them, that she'd listen to her friend Ben's plea that she should keep them, just in case. But, instead, she'd burned them up, because it was just easier to ignore them and file away that fear somewhere inside instead of accept that there was a real threat she needed to contend with. Callie said none of this to Officer Delaney. She wasn't sure he was particularly worthy of an explanation longer than the one she'd already given.
"I see that you reported the first letter," he said, flipping a paper over with a finger. He looked up. "How many more did you receive?"
"Probably three," she replied, knowing it was more like five.
"And you didn't tell the police about the rest of them." It was a statement, not a question.
Callie shook her head and sighed. She was losing her patience.
"Look, there is nothing that can convince me not to testify against the man who murdered my friend and tried to kill me. He can send as many threatening letters as he wants, it's not going to change my mind. I'm not scared anymore." That was rather a bastardization of the truth, but she didn't much feel like elaborating.
"You're not scared, fine. But don't you want to protect yourself?" he replied, shaking his head in disbelief. "We could have helped you. Could have tracked down who wrote these." Officer Delaney continued to observe her, long fingers steepled under his chin. His obvious disdain for what he perceived as her lack of concern over her own welfare made her prickle.
"I'm sure he'd just hire someone else. I'm told he could have mafia connections, you think they don't have deep pockets? I'm not going to let this ruin my life. I'm calling his bluff," Callie said, sitting up straighter and holding his eyes. "But now someone is threatening my business and my patrons - and that, I cannot ignore."
"You run that hotel out on Ravenna Road?" he asked, eyes back on her file.
"It's a Bed and Breakfast," she corrected him. "The Ravenna Inn."
Officer Delaney made a note, and then looked back up. "Maybe it was a guest?"
"Why would someone do that?"
"It's my job to ask the questions." His voice was low, and those brown eyes had not strayed from hers. This was the kind of cop that Callie imagined on television, staring at the bad guy across the table until he gave up the evidence. Intense was too kind a word for his gaze.
She took a deep breath, trying to maintain her calmness so he would not know he riled her. "My inn is on the first two floors of an old farmhouse. I live on the third floor and no one is ever there except me. I know where I keep my things and I know when something is moved. I'm certain this person knew I wasn't home - and he wanted me to know he was there. He wanted to leave a stronger message than those letters."
"What type of message? It wasn't a letter?"
Callie paused, not sure what she could really explain to him the significance of what she'd found in terms that would make sense to anyone but her. "There was a piece of clothing that I found draped over a chair in my living room. Something connected to the night of Lucy's murder, something I've had in the back of my closet for years. I didn't put it there."
Officer Delaney raised an eyebrow skeptically. "So, a piece of clothing that you might have tossed over a chair and forgotten about has you convinced someone was in your quarters and was sending you a deep and powerful message about not testifying against John Humboldt."
She took a deep breath, trying to quell the anger bubbling up from her stomach. He must have felt her ire, but he simply shrugged and said, "Imagine how this sounds to me. You have to give me more than that. I mean, why that? If you ignored the letters and he had access to your home, why not just wait for you and kill you?"
Her eyes went wide at his words, his bluntness was disturbing. "Maybe they don't want another murder on their hands," she finally said. "Maybe he thinks he can just scare me into not testifying."
"Never," she answered. That was the truth.
He contemplated her silently for a moment and Callie stared back defiantly, despite how uncomfortable she was starting to feel. Something told her that he knew and let the silence linger.
"So, what would you like us to do about this?" he finally asked.
She let her breath out in a disdainful laugh. "You're the police. I thought that was really more your department." After a moment, she added, "Look...what's your first name?"
"How is that relevant?"
"It's not." That was true. She had no reason for asking, other than to even the playing field.
There was a pause. "Alec," he finally said.
"Look, Alec. I don't expect you to understand my motivations. You don't know me at all. I realize you're skeptical because I didn't come to the police for so long, but I'm asking you to trust my instincts. Someone is threatening my livelihood and now I want it looked into. Can't someone come over and...I don't know, dust for prints or something?"
He chuckled then, the first glimpse of humor she'd seen in him. "You watch too much TV."
Callie remained silent, refusing to admit her embarrassment at him calling her out on knowing next to nothing about police investigations aside from what she'd seen on Law and Order.
Alec stood and placed both palms flat on the table. She was momentarily taken aback by his height. "I'll stop by tomorrow and take a look around. I can't promise you anything, except that I am thorough. If there's something to be found, I'll find it."