If you like your summer reading with a side of rage, may I recommend my new thriller, We Were Never Here, out August 3. It’s about two globe-trotting best friends who kill a backpacker in self-defense and then flee the country, and I wrote it fueled by fury at how every woman who has the audacity to explore the world gets pelted, The Lottery-style, with variations of, “you in danger, girl.” Young men have always had the ability to strap on a backpack and travel the world (my dad did so in the ’70s; didn’t yours?). But for women, the messaging is: Watch your back. Avoid entire swaths of the globe.
And hey, at long last, international travel isn’t just something you can read and daydream about—it’s back on the horizon! However, much like smiling, not smiling, being friendly, being a bitch, wearing tight clothes, looking dumpy, and existing with a female form, travel is an activity that’s not without risks. To avoid the pesky assaults, robberies, druggings, and homicides that inevitably come along with having the nerve to step on a plane, heed the following tips. Happy travels!
First, it’s your job to avoid being assaulted on the plane. However, self-defense tools such as tasers and mace are not allowed in the cabin. Therefore, experts recommend investing in an iron-clad chastity belt for the duration of the flight. We hear Spanx is working on one that will—bonus!—shrink your thighs.
Don’t tell anyone you’re going on vacation, or else they’ll invade your home while you’re away. Also: Don’t not tell anyone you’re going on vacation, lest a well-intentioned friend think you’ve been murdered and call for a welfare check, draining valuable police resources. (Karens are the reason police departments don’t have the funds for deescalation training, that’s a fact.) Don’t tell anyone where you’re going once you get to your destination, either, or they may be tempted to follow you there and stalk you on the property. If a border patrol agent asks for your destination, just get really moony-eyed and say, “Hot Girl Summer 2021!” They love that.
After you check into a hotel, assess the room for security risks. Pack a small rubber door-stop to cram beneath your hotel room door, and be on the lookout for a long metal hook-shaped wire masquerading as the Babadook’s finger protruding under the door to open your doorknob. Rewatch the final third of Home Alone for tips on how to both booby trap the entrance and give the false impression your room is filled with people (men) who could pound any intruder to a pulp—it’s generally accepted that male companions can decide whether or not their female friend gets harassed, and when men say no, no means no. Ensure all booby trap materials are TSA-compliant. If you don’t have time to build and install booby traps, try shouting, “I have a boyfriend!”
Observe how male travelers navigate your destination. Do they let their phones and wallets hang temptingly from their hands? Do they speak to strangers? Do they hail cabs on the street? Doesn’t matter. Go back to your room.
Wear a T-shirt with a slogan such as, “Bill Gates Can’t Shoot Me Up!” with a cartoon vaccine on it. If a possible attacker gets within six feet, cough in his general direction. Do not cover your mouth.
(Remember, anyone you encounter, much like the post-transformation Hulk or that boy at the desk behind you in seventh grade who couldn’t stop snapping your bra, is a possible attacker who’ll be powerless to control himself if he enters your bubble. ACT ACCORDINGLY.)
Don’t drink anything you haven’t seen made. Don’t eat anything you haven’t seen prepared. Your best bet is staying in the hotel and ordering room service.
Oh my God, don’t order room service, you idiot! Inviting a complete stranger into your room just because he’s holding a tray of food covered in silver domes? What are you, asking for it?
In fact, don’t eat or drink anything until you get home. (Honestly, you could use the break, Ms. Post-Pandemic Pants. But don’t dwell on it—that’s vain.)
Speaking of sweatpants: Tight or revealing clothing will inevitably invite unwanted attention. But also, don’t wear loose or long clothing that’s easier for would-be kidnappers to grab. Of course, floppy, shapeless clothes also invites unsuspecting, helpless, hapless local men to imagine what’s underneath. Maybe you can explore the destination and see the sites without your body? They’re doing some amazing things on Zoom these days.
Assume that something will happen to you during your vacation, and really, it’s better for everyone if you just stay home and watch Bravo.
Image: BONNINSTUDIO / Stocksy.com
It’s spooky szn, but what really is spooky szn when we have been living in a real-life horror show for the past 10 months? I don’t know, but I’m the type of person who is finding comfort from reading murder mysteries and other similar thrillers in these trying times. What does that say about me? It’s unclear. Have I uttered that exact phrase before? Probably, it’s been a long year. If you, like me, seek comfort from IRL horror in more fictional horror, then these are the spooky reads you need to check out this October.
‘The Inugami Curse’ by Seishi Yokomizo
August 18, 2020
This classic murder mystery features Japan’s best-loved detective and is by one of the country’s top crime writers, so you can trust it will have you on the edge of your seat. It’s set in 1940s Japan after the head of the wealthy Inugami clan dies. As his family awaits the reading of the will, a series of strange and gruesome murders begins. Detective Kindaichi has to, obviously, figure out WTF is going on. That pursuit of the truth will uncover forbidden liaisons, hidden identities, and more.
‘Winter Counts‘ by David Heska Wabli Weiden
August 25, 2020
When the American justice system consistently fails you and your people, you become a vigilante of sorts—or at least, that’s what Virgil Wounded Horse does for the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. But it gets personal when heroin enters into the reservation and finds its way to Virgil’s nephew. So what do you do? Infiltrate the dealers, find the supplier—I mean, find out where the drugs are coming from and make them stop. As Virgil starts to put the pieces together, he’s forced to come to terms with his own demons and grapple with his identity.
‘Don’t Ever Forget’ by Matthew Farrell
September 1, 2020
Farrell’s last novel, I Know Everything, came out in 2019, and I still think about it, that’s how much the ending shook me. So I had to include his latest, Don’t Ever Forget, on this list. Police investigator Susan Adler is called to the scene of a roadside murder of a state trooper. Dashboard cam footage leads her to a nurse, who has been missing for days along with an elderly patient. A peek inside the elderly patient’s house reveals evidence from two cold cases involving missing children. Talk about a rabbit hole. Of course, nothing is as it seems, people turn up dead, and it’s a race against the perp, who does not want to be discovered.
‘One Step Behind’ by Lauren North
September 1, 2020
And now we’ve reached the “me recommending authors I’ve recommended before” section of this article. But hey, if you know something is good, then why stray from it? Best to lean in. I first got into Lauren North with The Perfect Son, a twisty tale about a woman stuck in the hospital, racing to figure out what happened to her son, who’s gone missing on his 8th birthday. In One Step Behind, Jenna—wife, mother, doctor—is the victim of a stalker. Sh*t gets crazy when her stalker is brought into the ER and Jenna has to treat him. Hold up, do they not have procedures in place to protect against that kind of thing? In any case, Jenna is desperate to understand the man who’s been making her life hell, and when she goes through his phone, she finds some startling images that lead her down a winding road of destruction.
‘When No One Is Watching’ by Alyssa Cole
September 1, 2020
Yes, I’ve written about this before, yes I’m featuring it again! It’s been written about everywhere, so you really need to add it to your list. It follows Sydney Green, a girl who’s born and raised in a Brooklyn neighborhood that’s rapidly gentrifying. She meets her neighbor Theo, and the two become interested in the neighborhood’s history. That leads them to realize that maybe the push to “revitalize” their community might be more deadly than it seems… or have they completely lost it? Can Sydney and Theo find out the truth before they too “go to live in the suburbs”?
‘The Sundown Motel’ by Simone St. James
September 1, 2020
Author of the chilling The Broken Girls (2018) has a new thriller out in paperback this September. It takes place in the small town of Fell, a town that seems to have a problem with girls winding up dead. There was the murder of Cathy Caldwell, who was found under an overpass, and Victoria Lee, who was killed and found along a jogging trail. A similar crime brings Carly Kirk to Fell: the disappearance of her aunt Viv. Carly is determined to return to Fell, stay in the same Sun Down Motel her aunt Viv worked the night shift at, and find out what happened to her. You’ll be on the edge of your seat with this one.
‘GROWN’ by Tiffany D. Jackson
September 15, 2020
I literally still think about Jackson’s 2018 thriller Monday’s Not Coming, so I simply must add her latest to the spooky season reading list. GROWN tackles themes like abuses of power and the dark sides of the entertainment industry. In this ripped-from-the-headlines mystery, legendary R&B artist Korey Fields plucks Enchanted Jones from obscurity, promising to make her a star. Until Korey ends up dead, and Enchanted finds herself with no memory of what happened and his blood on her hands—literally. Did she kill Korey? If not, who did?
‘And Now She’s Gone’ by Rachel Howzell Hall
September 22, 2020
Grayson Sykes has been tasked with finding Isabel Lincoln, who may or may not want to be found. Is she missing, or is she just trying to start over? P.I. Sykes attempts to figure this out while tracking down Lincoln. Her search uncovers a number of secrets that become more dangerous at every turn—not to mention, Sykes has secrets of her own.
‘Dancing With The Octopus’ by Debora Harding
September 22, 2020
This is actually just true crime, so I included it for the real fans. Harding’s memoir is being compared to Tara Westover’s Educated, and it starts in 1978, when Debora Harding was abducted at knifepoint from a church parking lot at just 14 years old. Harding was then thrown into a van, assaulted, held for ransom, then left out to die during an ice storm. Miraculously, she survived and led police to her attacker. Decades later, she did something even more unbelievable: she met her attacker face-to-face in prison.
‘The Nesting’ by C.J. Cooke
September 29, 2020
I don’t even tend to like supernatural thrillers, but this one pulled me in right away. It has a little bit of everything: Norse mythology, ghosts, an element of fraud, and more that I don’t want to spoil. In it, Lexi, a young woman battling her own demons, becomes a nanny in rural Norway for a family who just experienced a devastating loss. Lexi is hiding her own secrets, as is the house she and the family are living in, and soon she’ll discover that maybe the tragic family loss wasn’t what it seemed.
‘Goodnight Beautiful‘ by Aimee Molloy
October 13, 2020
When I tell you I couldn’t predict the ending of this one, that should say something. This novel had at least three twists that caught me completely off-guard. Sure, I could be going soft, or Molloy could just be that good. Dr. Sam Statler, a hot therapist, has gone missing after a storm. But let’s rewind: we begin with Annie Potter, who isn’t super thrilled to leave her life in NYC behind to move with her husband Sam to his hometown upstate. Especially because she has nothing to do while he sees (mostly female) clients all day. Little does Sam know, every word of his sessions can be heard from a room upstairs. Just when you think you’ve got this book figured out, it will throw another curveball at you, and even the most avid thriller readers won’t predict these surprises.
‘Scavenger: A Mystery’ by Christopher Chambers
October 13, 2020
In Washington, D.C., a Black man living in a homeless camp near the Smithsonian is framed for the murder of two of his closest friends. He faces life in prison. But when he meets an ex-Homeland Security Secretary, things start turning around. Sort of. He can avoid the life sentence—if he helps the former government official find a missing woman using the network of the streets and the underground world of undocumented immigrants.
‘A Will To Kill’ by R.V. Raman
October 20, 2020
This one is a fun, suspenseful read that’s perfect for fans of Knives Out or Agatha Christie. Aging Indian patriarch Bhaskar Fernandez wants to reunite his relatives (who all low-key hate each other), so he invites them out to a remote manor that’s rumored to be haunted, and where a few people have suddenly met an untimely death. The fun part? Bhaskar knows his family wants him dead so they can inherit his fortune, so he prepares two wills—the one he uses depends on how he dies.
‘Plain Bad Heroines’ by Emily M. Danforth
October 20, 2020
This queer gothic horror comedy brings the spooky without keeping you up at night. This story-within-a-story begins in 1902 at a cursed all-female boarding school in New England, where two students, Flo and Clara, start a private club called the Plain Bad Heroine Society. They are later found mysteriously dead. Over the next five years, three more people are found dead on the property, and the school closes for good. Over 100 years later, the school ends up back in the collective consciousness when a writer publishes a book celebrating the “haunted and cursed” school. That book becomes a movie, and the actresses cast revisit the school to start filming… which is when weird things start happening.
‘Little Cruelties’ by Liz Nugent
November 10, 2020
Already a #1 bestseller in Ireland and a most-anticipated thriller by CrimeReads and Crime by the Book, Nugent’s upcoming novel is one you’ll want to pick up. It begins with a funeral: all three Drumm brothers are there, but one is in a coffin. Which brother is dead? Who is guilty? If you liked Succession, you’ll get sucked into this cautionary tale of how sinister impulses can corrupt a family.
‘Little Threats’ by Emily Schultz
November 10, 2020
Fans of Andrea Bartz’s The Lost Night and Megan Goldin’s The Night Swim will find a perfect match in Little Threats, because of the blackout-induced amnesia plotline and the meta true crime elements. You’ll see what I mean: Kennedy and Carter Wynn are two rebellious twin sisters whose lives are torn apart as teenagers when their best friend Haley is found murdered after a night of partying. With no other leads, Kennedy enters a guilty plea and spends 15 years in prison. Once she gets out, a crime show host comes around asking questions, believing Kennedy may not have committed the murder. *Oprah voice* so what is the truth?
‘The Lady Upstairs’ by Halley Sutton
November 17, 2020
As someone who has gone on too many bad dates with men, the premise of this book is a littleeee too relatable for me. It’s centered on Jo, who makes a living blackmailing the skeeviest and most powerful men in LA—think dirty cops, handsy Hollywood producers, you know the type. Jo is eager to prove herself to her enigmatic boss, known only as The Lady Upstairs. When one of Jo’s targets is murdered, Jo finds herself on a short list of suspects. To avoid prison time she has to pull off one last job—her biggest target yet.
Images: @greystorm / Unsplash
For anyone that loves Big Little Lies, Mean Girls, and Desperate Housewives, May Cobb’s upcoming suspense novel The Hunting Wives is our newest obsession, as it’s being hailed as a Desperate Housewives set in Texas. In the novel, out May 18, 2021, protagonist Sophie O’Neill moves from her big-city life in Chicago to a small town in east Texas with her husband and young son. After settling down, she realizes her life is now quiet and boring, and she looks for a little more excitement. Sophie meets Margot Banks, who is a part of an elite clique known as the Hunting Wives. She immediately feels drawn toward Margot and her mysterious world full of late-night adventures and reckless partying. As Sophie’s involvement intensifies, she starts slipping away from her family as she finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation, and loses control over her own life.
Based in Austin, Texas, May Cobb is a novelist and freelance writer. Back in 2015, she won the Writer’s League of Texas Manuscript Contest. Her debut novel Big Woods (2018) was awarded as an Independent Publisher Book Award for Suspense/Thriller. Her writing has also been featured in Austin Monthly and the online edition of Jazz Times. The Hunting Wives comes out May 18, 2021, which I know feels like it’s a million lightyears away—but not to worry, because Betches readers can read an exclusive excerpt below. Preorder The Hunting Wives here.
(Brief setup: This takes place after Sophie’s first time skeet shooting with the Hunting Wives group and their Regina-George-esque leader, Margot, wants to keep the party going.)
Back inside, the lake house feels glaring after the darkness of the trail. Margot sinks the wine into a silver ice bucket and twists the bottle around, chilling it. Callie fetches wineglasses from the cabinet, and fills each glass to the brim.
We toast and sip, but I only take the smallest of sips so I can safely drive home. Margot tosses back half her glass and sets it on the bar.
“So…who wants to go hunting?”
“Always,” Callie says, winding a lock of coarse hair around her finger.
“I’m in!” Tina trills, rocking back and forth on her feet, her coal-black eyes squinting in a smile.
“Where?” Jill asks, demure, her face half-hidden behind her huge wineglass.
“I was thinking Rusty’s,” Margot says.
Jill sets her glass down, crosses her arms.
“Oh, please, Jilly! It’s been forever. Don’t pout. I’ll behave, I promise.” Margot goes over to Jill, puts her arm around her. There’s a perceptible shift in Jill’s demeanor, a small succumbing to Margot’s power.
I have no idea what they’re talking about, but suddenly they’re all looking at me. I take another small sip of wine, swish it around in my mouth.
“Who wants to tell her the rules?” Margot asks, her hip cocked against Jill’s, her exquisitely-shaped eyebrows hiked in a question mark.
“I will,” Callie says. This is the first time she’s addressed me directly, and there’s a trace of a sneer in her expression.
“Rules about what?” I ask, nervously giggling, clasping my wine glass.
“Oh, please,” Callie rolls her eyes. “Don’t act like you’re not bored in your marriage.”
“Maybe she’s not,” Margot says, her voice playful. “Her husband’s a hottie.”
The flush of alcohol and Margot’s hooded eyes on me make my face flame.
“I think everyone here is a little bored, except for Jill,” Callie says.
“Yeah, Jilly, what did Amazon bring you this week? Do tell.” Margot’s unwrapped herself from Jill and crosses over the bar to refresh her wine. “I want to hear all about your latest toy.”
I catch myself gawking at Jill and quickly look away before she notices.
“Ooooh, a new toy,” Callie says. “What role is Tom going to play? Will he be the police officer this time or the victim?” Callie snickers.
“You only wish you still had sex with your husband,” Jill fires back.
For some reason, Callie answers to me, “He chases me around the house, but I’m over it.”
She stretches her long legs across the length of the sofa, takes another mouthful of wine.
“So anyway, we’re all a little bored and have to let it out somehow.”
“Monogamy is so…monogamous,” Margot chimes.
The cold blast from the air conditioning has fogged up the windows, so I can’t see the lake anymore behind Callie, only the clouds of condensation frosting the glass.
My stomach registers a red-hot signal of danger; I don’t know how I feel about all this. Graham and I have never been anything but monogamous and I’m certainly not bored with him. Am I? I’m just bored, I think. But if that’s the case, why am I so drawn to Margot and why can’t I get her out of my head? If I’m honest, there’s part of me that, despite the sense of alarm that looms in the air, likes listening to them. It excites me. Makes me feel alive. Maybe the most alive I’ve felt since moving back. No, not maybe. Definitely.
“So. The rules.” Callie sits up now, rests her elbows on her knees. “There’s only two, really. We only use our first names. And, we don’t go all the way.”
I nod dumbly as if being read the instructions to a board game.
“So, you’re in,” Callie says matter-of-factly.
Again, that pinprick of danger at the back of my neck. And before I have a chance to respond, Margot fishes a set of keys off the wooden coffee table, stashes her Louis Vuitton clutch under her arm, and heads for the front door.
“I’m driving. Everyone load up,” she says and everyone rises and trails her to the entryway.
I take out my phone and check the time. 8:45. I should go home; I know I should. I certainly don’t want to get trapped all night by riding in Margot’s car. But then, I don’t want them to think I’m a scaredy-cat, either.
“I’ll follow in my own car,” I hear myself saying. My voice squeaks out of high-pitched and thin.
Margot freezes, turns around, and frowns at me.
“Early day tomorrow,” I say, casting my eyes toward the floor.
She twists back around and steps out the open door. “Suit yourself.” The others trickle out behind her. I follow.
Everyone is weaving towards Margot’s Mercedes but Tina spins around.
“I’ll ride with Sophie! In case she gets lost.”
Before Tina climbs in the Highlander, I dust a constellation of Cheerios off her seat. How Jack manages to scatter them everywhere, I’ll never understand. Tina’s perfume, powdery and floral, fills the cabin and she’s so buoyant, she seems to spring into the seat next to me.
Her husband, Bill, she tells me with a lick of pride, lifting her voice, is a home-builder. One of the biggest contractors in Mapleton. They live in a sparkling new development north of town. I’ve driven by and it’s all castle-like homes with spires and arched windows.
As we wind through the lake roads, tracking the red eyes of Margot’s taillights, I’m struck by how utterly dark it is out here and I notice, as we approach the country highway, that Margot is turning away from town, not toward it.
“So, what’s Rusty’s?” I ask.
“Oh, it’s a little honky-tonk on the outskirts of town. Margot likes to pick out-of-way spots. For obvious reasons.” She flicks down the mirror on the visor and applies a fresh coat of pink lipstick. “We don’t go much, though.”
“Hunting or to Rusty’s?”
She scrunches her curls with her fingers, studies her hair in the mirror.
“I was talking about Rusty’s specifically, but we don’t go hunting that often either. Maybe twice a month. But sometimes more. Depends on Margot’s mood,” she adds, snapping the mirror shut and darkening the interior of the car. “Margot’s appetite for men is insatiable. You’ll see.”
I instantly like and feel comfortable with her but chew my bottom lip as I ask the next question. “So, do you, you know,” I’m fumbling, can’t spit the words out.
“What? Cheat on my husband?” she asks, her voice bright and cavernous. “No. I mean, I kissed another guy once, the first time I went out with them, actually, but I hated myself for it. Bill and I are high school sweethearts. I can’t imagine being with anyone else. So, no. I’m just here to watch the train wreck.” She rubs her hands together in excitement.
The highway is empty but well-lit. Giant trees surf past us, cut by the strobe of fluorescent streetlights.
“Anyway, Margot’s in some kind of constant war with her husband, a who can one-up each other battle. Have you ever seen him?”
I shake my head no, though of course, I’ve seen him on Facebook. Just never in person. Those scorching eyes, his bronzed complexion.
“Well, he’s gorgeous. I mean, dead hot. But Jed cheated on her once in such a stupidly-typical way, with his secretary. Got caught, too, in a stupidly-typical way: sloppy texting. Margot paid the poor girl a visit to her apartment and ran her out of town. This was three years ago, but Margot does everything she can to punish him still,” she snorts, shakes her head. “She keeps him under lock and key. I’m pretty sure he hasn’t stepped out of line since, but Margot surely has.”
Tina’s fingers dance over the screen of my satellite radio. “Oooh, I love this song, mind if I turn it up?”
It’s “Brass Monkey” by the Beastie Boys and after she cranks the volume, she lowers her window and warm night air oozes through the car.
“Nights like these,” she shouts over the music, “I feel like I’m eighteen again!”
I roll my window down, too, and we both dance in our seats to the music.
As the song ends, I realize we’ve lost sight of Margot. I turn down the volume.
“Ummm, I don’t see them anymore.”
“No sweat, we’re almost there, just one last turn.”
I roll my window up, smooth my hair down, re-adjust my bra.
“So, what’s Callie’s story?”
Tina pauses for a second, seeming to consider as she fingers the silver hoop dangling from her ear. “She doesn’t like anyone who Margot might like. If you’re getting chilly vibes from her, that’s why. I think it was a full six months before she even acknowledged me. Just ignore her.”
We’re approaching a light. Tina waves for me to turn left. We head down a two-lane road.
“She’s all Single-White Female with Margot. Lives on the opposite end of the street from her, and drives the same make and model car. She wants to be her; she’s a bit obsessed with her. Her husband Trip is just a big oaf with a lot of family money. Fishes all the time. Manages the family finances. Could pass for okay-looking, though, if he dropped some weight.”
(I’ve seen him, too, on Facebook. Sort of a heavy, pasty Ben Affleck.)
I see the lights of the bar flickering in the distance. I slow the car and pull into the gravel parking lot.
“Callie and Margot went away together senior year of high school. Left Mapleton and went to that chi-chi boarding school in Dallas called Hockaday. Jill told me once that there were rumors that they were “together” while they were away. Not sure if there were ever a thing between them but Callie sure acts like it.”
I’ve read a lot of thrillers, and let me tell you, after a certain point it feels like if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. Often times, I feel like, for whatever reason, every single author writing a mystery in the same year uses the same twist (the narrator suffered from amnesia all along, two sisters switch places). It’s like, do they all meet at a convention beforehand and discuss the twist of the year? That said, it’s rare that a thriller surprises me. Yeah, I’m that person who knows who the perp is within 15 minutes of a Law & Order: SVU episode. So when I picked up Don’t Look For Me, the buzzy new suspenseful novel by Wendy Walker out September 15, I wasn’t expecting much. But let me say that I was taken aback by at least one of the curveballs in the novel, and I definitely didn’t predict who did it. (Hey, you can’t win ’em all.)
Wendy Walker is the bestselling author of All is Not Forgotten, Emma In the Night, and The Night Before, with rights sold in 23 foreign languages as well as options in film and television. In her latest thriller, Don’t Look For Me, a mom with a past that’s been weighing on her is trapped in a storm in a small town, when she considers running away from it all. Then, she goes missing. The police are convinced she ran away, but her daughter is not so sure, and is determined to find the truth at any cost. Betches readers can get an exclusive first look at the first chapter of Don’t Look For Me, and be sure to pre-order it before its release on September 15.
The sky grows dark as I drive.
I tell myself to concentrate, to focus on the two narrow lanes of smooth, black asphalt and the double yellow lines that divide them.
The road feels like a tunnel, carved between walls of brown cornfields which flank the road on both sides and go on as far as the eye can see.
Darkness now hovers above and below, and from side to side. It’s everywhere.
I hear the woman on the radio talk of the storm, but she is muted by thoughts that will not relent as the events of this terrible day unravel in my mind.
This stretch of Route 7 passes through an endless chain of small New England towns—not the quaint villages farther south, but the old industrial hubs that have been left to decay.
Neglected farmland, dilapidated houses, abandoned factories—they stand like tombstones. I wonder where people live. Where they buy groceries. Where they work and go out to dinner. Why they don’t leave.
The unease causes my shoulders to rise and my back to straighten. It’s the same every time I pass through. These towns will haunt me well into the night.
There’s a gas station up ahead. The Gas n’ Go. It sits at the intersection of Route 7 and an eerie road that leads to the heart of one of these towns. I have never been down that road, and I don’t ever intend to. Still, this seems to be the spot where outsiders find themselves in need of gas as they journey from southern Connecticut into western Massachusetts. There must be half a dozen boarding schools and small colleges which are accessed from Route 7. Sometimes I recognize cars, even faces, when I have to stop.
And I will have to stop today. The gas light has been on for miles now.
After the Gas n’ Go, it’s two hours to my home at the southern end of the state. I have already passed the green welcome sign. Welcome to Connecticut.
It will be just after nine. My husband, John, will likely be out. At the gym. At work. Having drinks with a friend. My daughter, Nicole, will also be out somewhere. Anywhere that’s not near me. She just turned twenty-one so she has options now. Options that keep me up at night, watching the clock. Listening for the door.
The dogs will bark and jump on my coat. They’ll only want food. They save their affection for my husband. He was the one who brought them home after Annie died, so they’ve been his dogs more than mine.
The house will smell like Fantastik and lavender dryer sheets because it’s Thursday, and on Thursday the cleaners come. I wonder if they’ll remember to clear the ashes from the fireplace in our bedroom. It’s late October and cold enough for a fire. John likes to sit in bed with the fire burning while he watches television. He had one going last night. He was asleep by the time I made it up the stairs, though now I remember that the fire had a fresh log. Conclusions are quick to follow and one hand now covers my gaping mouth.
Am I too sensitive? Am I just being too me, too Molly? I hear these thoughts with John’s voice. Stop being so Molly. He has come to use my name as an adjective that allows him to dismiss me. But, no—I’m not wrong about the log on the fire. He was pretending to be asleep.
The day unravels and I can’t stop my thoughts.
My son, Evan, attends one of the boarding schools off this road. He was recruited as a freshman to play football. He’s a junior now, and a starting lineman this season. I make this trip every other Thursday to watch his home games. The season is half over and they are leading the ranks. They may win the entire league this year.
The drive is four hours each way. John tells me I’m crazy to make the trip twice a month. He tells me Evan doesn’t care. Nicole has harsher words for me. She tells me Evan doesn’t want me there. That I embarrass him by going. That he’s not a little boy anymore and he doesn’t need his mommy watching him play.
He has changed. She’s right about that. He knows the power he has on the field. I hadn’t seen it before today. It was in his stance, his walk. It was in his eyes.
And it was in his cruelty. I wonder when that began. If it’s new. Or only new that I can see it.
I waited for him outside the field house where the team enters the locker room. I picture him now, as the day plays out again, slowly, painfully.
How he walked with his friends, the enormous bag hanging over his shoulder, high-tops unlaced, baseball hat turned backward, and a mischievous smile that probably had something to do with talk about a girl.
In that moment, before his eyes caught sight of me and his face changed, I felt my heart fill with pride.
These thoughts come, and like the log on the fire, they don’t go. My boy, my sweet Evan, the easy middle child, walking like he owned the world. A smile pulled clear across my face as I waited for his eyes to turn and see me at the door.
And they did turn. And they did see.
And then they widened and looked away. He grew closer, and still, they did not return to me. He positioned himself between two of his friends and passed through the door, leaving me in awe of his dismissiveness.
It is just now, one hundred and eleven miles later, that I feel the bite of it.
My vision blurs. I wipe away tears. Christ, I hear John. Stop being so Molly! He’s a teenager.
But the thought won’t leave, this image of his back turned as he walked into the building.
I look up at the dark clouds stirring in the sky and see the sign for the Gas n’ Go sitting atop a giant pole. The storm is a hurricane. I am driving right into its path.
John said this was another reason I shouldn’t make the trip today. The school could cancel the game if the storm got too close, and even if they didn’t, I would surely run into it on the way home.
The storm, Evan not caring.
And Annie. He stopped short of saying it, but the words lingered between us.
Today is the anniversary of her death. Five years ago, on this day, we lost our youngest child. She was nine years old.
No. I will not think of Annie. I will not go backward. I will go forward.
Put one foot in front of the other.
I learned this in grief counseling. I used to be a middle school science teacher, where the focus is on learning to analyze problems by breaking them down into pieces and forming hypotheses—so I studied the grief this way. Objectively. Clinically. We are not wired to witness the death of a child. To endure it. To survive it. But like every other human defect, we have used science to outsmart our own biology. We can take a brain that is shredded ear to ear and we can put it back together with mantras like this one. Mantras that have been tested in clinical trials. Vetted in peer articles and TED Talks and now appear in self-help books.
You just put one foot in front of the other, Molly. Every day, just one more step.
Had I not had other children to care for, I would not have been able to take these steps. I would have died. Let myself die. Found a way to die. The pain was not survivable. And yet I survived.
But the day continues to unravel, back now, to the morning.
Nicole was just coming in from one of her nights. I don’t know where she slept. Her skin has gone pale, her hair long and unruly. She’s become lean from running. She runs for miles and miles. She runs until she is numb, head to toe. Inside and out. Then she sleeps all day. Stays out all night. She is a lean, fierce, unruly warrior. And yet the pain still gets inside her.
Where have you been all night? I asked. The usual exchange followed, about how this was none of my business … but it was my business because she’s living in my house and what about her GED class and trying to dig herself out of this hole … but it’s my fault she’s in the hole; she’s in the hole because of Annie and her grief and because not everyone can just get over it … but when is she going to stop using her sister’s death as an excuse for getting expelled from her private school senior year, never going back?
She shrugged, looked me straight in the eye. When did she become like this? This soldier, ready to fight off anyone who comes too close?
What about you? When are you going back to work? she asked.
She likes to remind me that I, too, stopped living—breathing, yes, but not really living.
I had no response to my daughter this morning. I had no response to my son this afternoon.
I didn’t even see Evan after the game. I waited by the door but he must have gone out a different way. I almost marched straight to his dorm to tell him what I thought of his behavior. To do what a mother does when she knows she’s right and when her child needs to learn a lesson.
The sign for the Gas n’ Go grows closer, the clouds darker as these thoughts come. I didn’t find him. I didn’t do what I now think a mother should have done. A good mother.
Suddenly, I know why.
The car slows. I step on the gas, but it doesn’t respond.
I am not a good mother.
I can’t hold them back now, the thoughts of my dead child. Annie. Not that they ever really leave me. They are always lurking, hiding, wearing disguises so I don’t see them as they sneak up.
I steer to the shoulder. The wheel is stiff. The car is dead. When it stops, I try the ignition, but it won’t turn over.
I see the message on the dashboard. I have run out of gas.
How long has the light been on? I have been preoccupied by this day. By these thoughts. John was right. I should not have made this trip. Not today.
I look down Route 7 and see the entrance for the station. It can’t be more than thirty feet. The wind whips hard, rocking the car. I can see the rain coming on an army of clouds. A blanket closing over the sky. I can’t tell how far away they are. How much time I have.
Thoughts exploding. Heart pounding. What have I done?
Now comes the thought about the fire last night. We have four fireplaces in our house, all of them wood burning. I have been making fires and stoking fires since we moved there twelve years ago. I know what a log looks like when it’s just been placed on top of the flames.
I have no umbrella, just a flimsy jacket. I put it on anyway. I reach for my purse and tuck it inside. It’s only thirty feet.
I open the door, get out, close it behind me. And I run, clutching the purse. I run into the wind which is more powerful than I imagined.
I run and think about that log which had just been put there—last night—on the fire. John wasn’t asleep. John was pretending to be asleep so he wouldn’t have to see me, even just long enough to say good night.
It’s not the first time.
Flashes of the fight with Nicole break free as my body pushes through the wind. We fight every day now.
Open your eyes!
The fight had been so fast and furious, I had not processed each word. But I do now.
They are open. I see you clear as day, Nicole.
Not to me. To your own husband!
I can’t see what’s right in front of me. He never comes home for dinner. He pretends to be asleep when I come into our bedroom.
My husband doesn’t love me anymore. My husband loves someone else.
This thought feels old, like a jagged stone I’ve been carrying in my coat pocket, trying to rub it smooth. But no matter how much I dig my fingers in, the edges never soften.
And then, the words I had not heard before, but had felt many times. Still, hearing them from my own daughter twisted the knife.
I hate you!
Tears fall as I run.
Annie. Wispy blond hair resting on delicate shoulders. Big, round eyes and long lashes. I can still feel her in my arms. Her life just beginning. Annie.
And now I know why the thoughts have all come. They have been leading me to this one, last thought. This naked admission.
I am not a good mother because I did not drive four hours to watch my son play football so that he would feel loved. I drove four hours so that I could feel loved.
The log in that fireplace. My daughter’s words. I hate you.
Evan was all that was left. I had to see his face, see him thriving, so I could validate my life.
Gasps of breath. The wind is strong and the air cold. My lungs are on fire.
Maybe Evan knew. Maybe he could sense it seeping from my skin. The need I wanted him to fill which must have felt like poison. A mother shouldn’t need things from her child.
I caused Nicole’s demise. She is certain of it and it now feels real, though disorienting. I went to my son under false pretenses, caused him pain. Caused him to lash out with cruelty. My husband pretends to sleep so he won’t have to look at me.
Yes, I think as the grief spins violently in my head. I am a bad mother. This is an objective fact. There’s no way around it.
I let a child die.
I am at the entrance to the Gas n’ Go. I look up and see there are no cars. No lights on inside the store. Orange cones stand in front of the pumps.
The rain comes suddenly. The blanket covering the sky is now a broken dam. It’s dark but I can still see the writing on a cardboard sign. Closed for storm!
I stop and let the rain wash over me as I stare at these words.
Evan, Nicole, John. I am a burden to them now because they don’t love me. Because they can’t love me.
It’s been five years to this very day that they stopped.
Five years since Annie died.
Five years since she ran into the road.
Five years since I struck her with my car. Since I killed her.
Tears, rain, wind. I walk a few paces to the intersection, to the road, Hastings Pass, that leads to the town. There is nothing but pavement and dirt riding over hills, and the dead cornstalks in fields that go on and on. Not another car in sight.
The hurricane is a category four. That’s what they said on the radio. I remember the voices now. I remember the name of this town. Hastings. I have driven into the eye of the storm. I hear the mantra in my head. Don’t give up. I feel the weight of my guilt like a rock I hold above my head. How I fight to keep it from falling. I think now that maybe it’s time. Maybe I can just let it fall.
Maybe I can just walk away.
These words bring a sudden, jarring euphoria.
Walk away. Just walk away.
The road with the brown cornfields, darkened by the angry storm, is now a thing of beauty. An oasis. An escape. My legs begin to move, pulling my body. My mind is in a trance. Sedated by these words and the promises they offer.
You can leave all of this behind.
You can start again.
You can put down the rock, the burden you carry.
I walk along this road until I am part of the storm. Numb to the wet. Numb to the cold. Numb to the truth about the promises. And for the first time since I killed my child, I am at peace.
Please let me go. Let me walk away. I feel the words in my head like a prayer.
Please, they whisper. Don’t look for me.
I don’t know how long I walk, or how far, when I see light coming from behind. I turn to find headlights moving slowly toward me. They’re high and bright. It’s a truck of some kind. Tall but also long. And in spite of the trance I am in and the peace it has brought, I feel both of my arms rise above my head and wave wildly, the purse still clutched in one hand.
The truck pulls in front of me and comes to a stop.
I walk closer until I am inches beside the passenger window. There are two figures inside.
I make a shield with my hand, just above my eyes to keep the rain from my face. I lean in closer and see the window come down a few inches.
“The storm’s coming, you know—you shouldn’t be out here.” It’s a man’s voice. Friendly. But also urgent. “Do you want a ride to town?”
Another voice calls from the truck. The window comes down a few more inches.
The voice of a little girl. The face of an angel.
“Well? Do you or don’t you?” she asks.
I stare at her, at her blond hair and bright eyes, and beyond her to the man.
I stare at her, this young girl, and, God help me, for a split second I see my dead child.
And then I see this road for what it truly is. A mirage. An illusion. And the words that caused my legs to carry me away from my life—liars. Their promises nothing more than cheap deceptions.
The guilt will never leave me. I will never leave my family.
“Yes,” I say.
The passenger window of the truck closes and the girl disappears. But now I hear the click of the locks opening. I reach for the handle of the door to the second row, desperate to be out of the storm. Desperate to get back to my family. To forget what I have almost done. This storm might have killed me. The wind and the cold. Then the guilt would be theirs to carry. John, Nicole, Evan. How could I be that selfish after everything I’ve already done to them? I will never think of it again.
I climb inside, close the door. Relief fighting with despair.
And before I can clear the rain from my eyes and see what’s really before me, I hear the click again. The doors locking.
Copyright © 2020 by Wendy Walker
TW: violence, sexual assault
2020 is basically one long horror movie at this point. And if you’re like me (which is to say, there’s probably something wrong with you, but no judgment), then you are finding some strange sense of comfort in consuming fictional crime content. What is it about a murder mystery that provides a brief respite from the real terror of watching the news? Maybe the fact that you know it’s going to be tied up with a bow, have a neat ending where the mystery is solved and everything is okay? Just my guess, I’m not a psychologist. In any case, if you’re looking for a new thriller from a New York Times bestselling author with 19 electric thrillers under her belt, then you’re going to want to get your hands on Karin Slaughter’s newest, The Silent Wife, out August 4.
With more than 35 million copies sold across the globe in 120 countries, Karin is a literary force to be reckoned with who has been captivating readers with her novels for the last 20 years. Her 2018 novel, Pieces of Her, is in development for Netflix from the producer of Big Little Lies. Her latest, The Silent Wife, follows Georgia Bureau of Investigations investigator Will Trent, who is called to investigate the brutal attack of a young woman. In doing so, he finds himself at the state penitentiary, interviewing a prisoner who recognizes the M.O. of the attack—because it’s the same one he says he was falsely imprisoned for eight years earlier. As Will digs into both crimes, it’s clear he needs to solve the first mystery in order to solve the second—but the thing is, a lot can happen in eight years. Memories fade, evidence goes missing. When the past and present collide, everything Will holds near and dear is at stake.
The Silent Wife is Slaughter’s latest thriller that will keep you guessing, and Betches readers can get a first look below.
Beckey Caterino stared into the darkest corners of the dorm refrigerator. She angrily scanned the food labels, searching for her scrawled initials on anything—cottage cheese, Lunchables, bagel bites, vegan hot dogs, even carrot sticks.
KP, Kayleigh Pierce. DL, Deneshia Lachland. VS, Vanessa Sutter. “Bitches.” Beckey slammed the fridge door hard enough to make the beer bottles rattle. She kicked the closest thing she could find, which happened to be the trashcan.
Empty yogurt containers tumbled out across the floor. Crumpled bags of Skinny Girl popcorn. Diet Coke-swilled bottles. All with two letters written in black magic marker across the front.
Beckey stared at the depleted packages of food that she had bought with her precious little money that her asshole roommates had eaten while she’d spent the night at the library working on a paper that was fifty percent of her Organic Chemistry grade. She was supposed to meet with her professor at seven to make sure she was on the right track.
Her eyes flicked to the clock. 4:57 a.m.
“You fucking bitches!” she screamed up at the ceiling. She turned on every light she could find. Her bare feet burned a track across the hall carpet. She was exhausted. She could barely stand up straight. The bag of Doritos and two giant cinnamon rolls from the library vending machine had turned into concrete inside her stomach. The only thing that had propelled her from the library to the dorm was the promise of nutrition.
“Get up, you thieving bitch!” She banged her fist so hard on Kayleigh’s door that it popped open.
Pot smoke curtained the ceiling. Kayleigh blinked from beneath the sheets. The guy next to her rolled over.
Markus Powell, Vanessa’s boyfriend.
“Shit!” Kayleigh jumped out of bed, naked but for one sock on her left foot.
Beckey banged her fists against the walls as she made her way to her own bedroom. The smallest bedroom, which she had volunteered to take because she was a doormat who didn’t know how to stand up to three girls who were her same age but had double her bank account.
“You can’t tell Nessa!” Kayleigh rushed in behind her, still naked. “It was nothing, Beck. We got drunk and—”
We got drunk and.
Every freaking story these bitches told started with those same four words. When Vanessa had been caught blowing Deneshia’s boyfriend. When Kayleigh’s brother had accidentally peed in the closet. When Deneshia had “borrowed” her underwear. They were always drunk or stoned or screwing around or screwing each other, because this wasn’t college, this was Big Brother where no one could be evicted and everyone got gonorrhea.
“Beck, come on.” Kayleigh rubbed her bare arms. “She was going to break up with him anyway.”
Beckey could either start screaming and never stop or get out of here as fast as possible.
“I’m going for a run.” She yanked open a drawer. She looked for her socks, but of course none of her socks matched. Her favorite sports bra was wadded up under the bed. She grabbed her dirty running shorts out of the basket and settled on two mismatched socks, one of which had a hole in the heel, but getting a blister paled in comparison to staying here, where she would go completely crazy on every living organism.
“Beckey, stop being such an a-hole. You’re hurting my feelings.” Beckey ignored the whine. She looped her headphones around her neck. She was shocked to find her iPod shuffle exactly where it was supposed to be. Kayleigh was the dorm martyr, all of her crimes committed in service of the greater good. She’d only slept with Markus because Vanessa had broken his heart. The only reason she’d copied from Deneshia’s test was because her mother would be devastated if she failed another class. She’d eaten Beckey’s mac-n-cheese because her father was worried that she was too thin.
“Beck.” Kayleigh moved onto deflection. “Why won’t you talk to me? What’s this really about?”
Beckey was about to tell her exactly what this was about when she happened to notice that her hair clip wasn’t on the nightstand where she always left it.
The oxygen left her lungs.
Kayleigh’s hands flew up in innocence. “I didn’t take it.”
Beckey was momentarily transfixed by the perfectly round areoles of her breasts, which stared up like a second set of eyes. Kayleigh said, “Dude, okay, I ate your shit from the fridge, but I would never touch your hair clip. You know that.”
Beckey felt a black hole opening up in her chest. The hair clip was cheap plastic, the kind of thing you could buy at the drug store, but it meant more to her than anything in the world because it was the last thing her mother had given her before she’d gotten into her car, left for work and been killed by a drunk driver who was going the wrong way on the interstate.
“Yo, Blair and Dorota, keep the scheming down.” Vanessa’s bedroom door was open. Her eyes were two slits in her sleep-swollen face. She skipped over Kayleigh’s nakedness and went straight to Beckey. “Girl, you can’t go jogging at damn rape o’clock.”
Beckey started running. Past the two bitches. Up the hall. Back into the kitchen. Through the living room. Out the door. Another hallway. Three flights of stairs. The main rec room. The glass front door that needed a key card to get back in but screw that because she had to get away from these monsters. Away from their casual malevolence. Away from their sharp tongues and pointy breasts and cutting looks.
Dew tapped at her legs as she ran across the grassy campus quad. Beckey skirted a concrete barrier and hit the main road. There was still a chill in the air. One by one, the streetlights blinkered off in the dawn light. Shadows hugged the trees. She heard someone cough in the distance. Beckey’s spine was shot through with a sudden shiver.
Like they cared if Beckey got raped. Like they cared if she barely had money for food, that she had to work harder than them, study harder, try harder, run harder, but always, always, no matter how much she pushed herself, she ended up two steps back from where everyone else got to start.
Blair and Dorota.
The popular girl and the sycophantic, chubby maid from Gossip Girl. Two guesses as to who played which part in everybody’s mind.
Beckey slipped on her headphones. She clicked play on the iPod shuffle clipped to the tail of her shirt. Flo Rida started up.
Can you blow my whistle baby, whistle baby . . .
Her feet matched the beat as they hit the ground. She passed through the front gates that separated the campus from the sad little downtown strip. There were no bars or student hang-outs because the university was in a dry county. Her dad said it was like Mayberry, but somehow whiter and more boring. The hard- ware store. The children’s clinic. The police station. The dress shop. The old guy who owned the diner was hosing down the sidewalk as the sun rose over the treetops. The light gave everything an eerie, orangey-red fire glow. The old guy tipped his baseball hat at Beckey. She stumbled on a crack in the asphalt. Caught herself. Stared straight ahead, pretending like she hadn’t seen him drop the hose and move to help because she wanted to keep at the forefront of her mind the truth that every person on earth was an asshole and her life sucked.
“Beckey,” her mother had said, taking the plastic hair clip out of her purse, “I mean it this time. I want it back.”
The hair clip. Two hinged combs with one of the teeth broken. Tortoiseshell, like a cat. Julia Stiles wore one in 10 Things I Hate About You, which Beckey had watched with her mom a quadrillion times because it was one of the few movies that they both loved.
Kayleigh would not have stolen the clip off of her nightstand. She was a soulless bitch, but she knew what the hair clip meant to Beckey because they had both gotten stoned one night and Beckey had spilled the entire story. That she was in English class when the principal came to get her. That the resources officer had been waiting in the hall and she had freaked out because she had never been in trouble before, but she wasn’t in trouble. Somewhere deep in her body Beckey must’ve known that something was horribly wrong, because when the cop started talking, her hearing had gone in and out like a bad cell connection, stray words cutting through the static—
Mother . . . interstate . . . drunk driver . . .
Weirdly, Beckey had reached back behind her head for the clip. The last thing her mother had touched before leaving the house. Beckey had opened the jaws. She had finger-combed her hair to shake it out. She had squeezed the plastic clip so hard in her palm that a tooth had broken. She remembered thinking that her mother was going to kill her—I want it back. But then she’d realized that her mother couldn’t kill her ever again because her mother was dead.
Beckey brushed tears from her face as she neared the end of Main Street. Left or right? Toward the lake where the professors and rich people lived, or toward the tiny lots punctuated by doublewides and starter homes?
She hooked a right, away from the lake. On her iPod, Flo Rida had given way to Nicki Minaj. Her stomach churned the Doritos and cinnamon buns, squeezing out the sugar and sending it into her throat. She clicked off the music. She let the headphones drop back around her neck. Her lungs did that shuddery thing that signaled they were ready to stop, but she pushed through, taking in deep gulps, her eyes still stinging as her thoughts skittered back to sitting on the couch with her mother, chomping on Skinny Girl popcorn while they sang along with Heath Ledger to “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”
You’re just too good to be true . . .
Beckey ran faster. The air grew stale the deeper she got into the sad neighborhood. The street signs were oddly breakfast- themed: SW Omelet Road. Hashbrown Way. Beckey never went in this direction, especially at this hour. The orangey-red light had turned a dirty brown. Faded pick-up trucks and old cars pocked the street. Paint peeled from the houses. A lot of windows were boarded up. Her heel started to throb from pain. Surprise. The hole in her sock was rubbing a blister. Beckey’s memory tossed out an image: Kayleigh jumping out of bed wearing nothing but a sock.
She slowed to a walk. Then she stopped in the middle of the street. Her hands rested on her knees as she bent over to catch her breath. Her foot was full-on stinging now like a hornet was trapped inside her shoe. There was no way she would make it back to campus without skinning off her heel. She was supposed to meet with Dr. Adams at seven this morning to go over her paper. Beckey didn’t know what time it was now, but she knew that Dr. Adams would be annoyed if she didn’t show. This wasn’t high school. The professors could really screw with you if you wasted their time.
Kayleigh would have to pick her up. She was a deplorable human being, but she could always be relied on to ride to the rescue—if only for the drama. Beckey reached for her pocket, but then her memory dredged up another set of images: Beckey at the library slipping her phone into her backpack, then later at the dorm dropping her backpack onto the kitchen floor.
No phone. No Kayleigh. No help.
The sun was higher above the trees now, but Beckey still felt an encroaching darkness. Nobody knew where she was. Nobody was expecting her back. She was in a strange neighborhood. A strange bad neighborhood. Knocking on a door, asking someone to use the phone, seemed like the beginning of a Dateline. She could hear the narrator in her head—
Beckey’s roommates figured she was taking time to cool down. Dr. Adams assumed she had blown off their meeting because she had failed to complete her assignment. No one realized the angry, young college freshman had knocked on the door of a cannibal rapist . . .
The pungent odor of rot pulled her back into reality. A garbage truck rolled into the intersection at the mouth of the street. The brakes squealed to a stop. A guy in a onesie jumped off the back. Rolled a trashcan over. Clipped it onto the lift-thingy. Beckey watched the mechanical gears grinding inside the truck. Onesie-guy hadn’t bothered to look in her direction, but Beckey was suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling that she was being watched.
She turned around, trying to remember if she’d taken a left or right onto this particular road. There wasn’t even a street sign. The feeling of being watched grew more intense. Beckey scanned the houses, the insides of trucks and cars. Nothing stared back. No curtains twitched in the windows. No cannibal rapist stepped out to offer his assistance.
Her brain immediately did that thing that women weren’t supposed to do: chided herself for being scared, pushed down her gut instinct, told her to go toward the situation that frightened her instead of running away like a baby.
Beckey countered the arguments: Get out of the middle of the street. Stick close to the houses because people are inside. Scream your fucking head off if anyone comes close. Get back to the campus because that’s where you’ll be safe.
All good advice, but where was the campus?
She edged sideways between two parked cars and found herself not on a sidewalk, but in a narrow strip of weeds running between two houses. In a city, she would’ve called it an alley, but here it was more like an abandoned lot. Cigarette butts and broken beer bottles spotted the ground. Beckey could see a neatly mowed field behind the houses, then the forest just beyond the rise.
Going into the woods seemed counter-intuitive, but Beckey was intimately familiar with the packed dirt trails that crisscrossed the forest. She would probably find other Type A students riding bikes or heading to the lake to do tai chi or squeezing in an early morning run. She looked up, using the sun as a guide. Heading west would lead her back to campus. Blister or not, she would eventually have to return to the dorm because she couldn’t afford to fail Organic Chemistry.
Beckey tasted a sour burp in her mouth that had a distinct cinnamon undertone. Her throat felt thick. The vending machine treats were pushing for a second appearance. She had to get back to the dorm before she puked. She was not going to barf like a cat in the grass.
Walking between the two houses made her shudder so hard that her teeth clicked. She picked up the pace across the open field. Not running but not exactly strolling, either. The blister felt like a pinch on her heel every time she stepped down. Wincing seemed to help. Then she was gritting through it. Then she was jogging through the field, her back burning with a thousand eyes that were probably not watching her.
The temperature dropped as she breached the line into the forest. Shadows moved in and out of her periphery. She easily found one of the trails that she’d run on a million times before. Her hand reached for her iPod, but she changed her mind. She wanted to hear the quiet of the forest. Only an occasional ray of sun managed to slice through the thick tree canopy. She thought about earlier this morning. Standing in front of the fridge. The cool air cupping her burning hot cheeks. The empty popcorn bags and Coke bottles scattered across the floor. They would pay her back for the food. They always paid her back. They weren’t thieves. They were just too lazy to go to the store and too disorganized to make a list when Beckey offered to shop for them.
The sound of the man’s voice made Beckey turn her head, but her body kept moving forward. She saw his face in the split second between stumbling and falling. He looked kind, concerned. His hand was reaching out to her as she fell.
Her head cracked against something hard. Blood filled her mouth. Her vision blurred. She tried to roll over, but only made it halfway. Her hair was caught on something. Pulling. Tugging. She reached behind her head, for some reason expecting to find her mother’s hair clip. What she felt instead was wood, then steel, then the man’s face came into focus and she realized that the thing that was lodged inside of her skull was a hammer.
From THE SILENT WIFE by Karin Slaughter Copyright © 2020 by Karin Slaughter. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
If there’s one thing I’m thankful for during this pandemic, it’s Netflix. The platform is consistently dropping amazing content that allows me to forget that we are at the actual end of the world, and allows me to avoid cleaning my closet like I promised I would when this whole thing started nine weeks ago. It’s a multi-tasker, unlike me. This month, Netflix dropped season two of Dead to Me, and to say I was excited is an understatement. Murder, good. Dark humor, good. Gorgeous real estate, good! What’s not to like? And I’m pleased to say the second season delivered on all counts, and got me addicted to orange wine. I’m sad I’ve binged the whole thing (the show, not the wine…maybe), but now I have countless hours alone in my house to ponder the way it ended. So, can we talk about all the lingering questions the season 2 finale of Dead to Me leaves us with? But first, I must warn you, SPOILERS AHEAD! If you don’t want to know what happens, stop reading! I’m much more of a Jen than a Judy, so if you yell at me in the comments after I warned you, I might sell you a house with a little bit of mold.
Will Ben Get Away With His Hit-And-Run?
The final scenes of the season see Jen and Judy sitting in the car, marveling at the stop sign Jen successfully got installed. And then BAM! They are T-boned by another vehicle, which turns out to be driven by a drunk, off-the-wagon Ben who immediately flees the scene. The women appear to be alive, but injured. This is definitely not the kind of boning Jen wanted from Ben.
It’s not clear whether the women realized it was Ben who hit them, so this could be next year’s season-long mystery. This accident is definitely going to weigh on Ben’s conscience, since he’s actually a nice guy, as opposed to his verbally abusive, money laundering, trashbag, formerly alive semi-identical twin. Will next season focus more on his guilt? Or will it be Jen and Judy trying to solve a crime instead of cover one up for once?
Oh precious Ben, I wish I didn’t have to hate you.
Are The Women Finally Going To Get Caught For Steve’s Murder?
This whole season was a wild ride. It began with Steve dead in Jen’s pool, and eventually revealed that she killed him, not in self-defense, but because he was an asshole. I’m no judge, but I’m pretty sure that defense is legally rock-solid. By the end of the season, Jen couldn’t take the guilt anymore, and didn’t want Judy or her son blamed for her crimes, so she goes to Detective Perez and confesses. Jen can’t find where she and Judy buried the body in the 700,000 acres of Angeles National Forest, and Perez decides to let her off the hook so this crime doesn’t ruin Jen’s family any further. That’s so sweet! I’m no cop, but I’m pretty sure they’re allowed to let off the murderers they like.
“I couldn’t help but wonder…DOES Angeles Forest have more dead bodies than trees?” pic.twitter.com/kAAwuIXGyq
— Dead To Me (@deadtome) May 15, 2020
Unfortunately for Jen, she might not have been able to find Steve’s body in the giant forest, but the dog and its owner that Jen and the detective ran into seem to have better luck. We don’t see the dog actually find the body, but we do see it furiously digging at the site that Judy marked. Personally if my dog was going crazy at what appeared to be the perfect body dump site I may have stopped her, but I guess if you’re insane enough to go hiking at dawn, maybe you don’t mind if your dog parades around with a skull in its jaw. We eventually find out that the body was unearthed from the phone call to Ben, so what will happen now? Will the body reveal Jen as the murderer? Will Detective Perez get in trouble? That hiker did see them walking around. Fingers crossed she hadn’t had her thermos coffee yet!
I promise you, though, if Jen does go to trial for this next season I’ll be screaming at my TV “If the dead guy was a twit, you must acquit!” Who’s with me?
And What About The Money Laundering?
For most of the season, Judy is concerned with getting her paintings back from Steve’s art gallery. I mean, sure, they’re cute if your vibe is Big Eyes for pedophiles, but let’s be real, Judy could paint another one pretty quickly if someone decided they just had to have a piece of art that would give them nightmares for the rest of their life. So why did she really want them back? Oh, just for the hundreds of thousands of dollars that was stashed in the frames. I guess we know how Steve was laundering money!
Jen and Judy decide to take that money to buy out Jen’s mother-in-law (her name was on the deed of Jen’s house) and also buy Charlie a car. So keeping it under the radar then, huh, ladies? Is it smart to use laundered money? I’m asking this as a serious question. I mean, every time I do my taxes I’m afraid I’ve accidentally withheld money and just sit with my hands out waiting for the IRS to come and cuff me for days, so maybe I’m not the best person to ask this question, but it seems like a bad idea! Not only is the FBI onto the money laundering scheme, but weren’t dangerous people supposed to get that money? I highly doubt that the police captain who went to jail for killing Steve is the highest ranking member of the Greek crime syndicate Steve was involved with. So, next season will we see Jen and Judy tangled up in this crime as well? Ugh. Can’t these ladies catch a break? I just want to watch them get drunk in that gorgeous backyard FOR ONCE without worrying if orange jumpsuits will wash them out.
Can You Really Kill A Man With A Small Wooden Animal?
I truly believe that Jen has a lot of rage in her. I understand. I mean, I’ve gotten as violent as she does one time at the gym when I realized I went all the way there and my headphones were in my apartment. And my husband wasn’t even killed in a hit-and-run! So, I don’t blame her. But I don’t think even Jen’s amount of rage could turn a tiny hollow wooden bird into a murder weapon. Could she have gotten a few good pecks in? Absolutely! A little neck irritation to really make him think about what he said? 100%. Murder? Lol, no. For that, she should have used the gun that she had in her possession.
I also get that perhaps it was symbolic. Steve killed Ted, Jen’s husband. Jen’s son thinks the bird is Ted. Therefore, Ted kills Steve back. Very deep. And I don’t begrudge them that. But I do think they maybe should have established that the bird was filled with lead or something. Had Henry collapse under its weight when he carries it around. Maybe talk about how in its former life Arnold Schwarzenegger used it for body building. Have someone drop it and let it make a six-foot-deep hole in the ground. Anything, really! Literally anything that would make it slightly more believable that an object so tiny would kill such an incredibly handsome grown man. I’m going to need to take a closer look at Karen’s security footage to see it for myself, and she better go get that f*cking orange wine too.
Will Charlie Keep Their Secret?
Charlie, Charlie, Charlie. I hate you. Yes, your dad was murdered in the first season, your mother is a bit unstable, and you have a random woman with a disconcertingly cheery demeanor and aggressively sweet wardrobe occasionally living in your pool house, but you’re still a little sh*t. I never side with the teenagers anymore. God, I’m old, aren’t I?
This season, Charlie finds dead Steve’s very expensive car in his mother’s storage unit and decides that it’s a gift FOR HIM, takes it out, picks up his girlfriend in it, has sex, takes pictures, and then lets it run out of gas on a dead-end street. Youths! And the car isn’t the only thing he steals this season. He also has a penchant for taking weed from Judy, and it’s in her very easy to find hiding spot, that he spots the note his mother left him. We don’t exactly know what the letter says, but I can only assume it is a confession. Will Charlie keep his mom’s secret next season? I think the answer to that depends on how many cars the ladies buy him, and how many promises they make to never talk to him about STDs again.
What Is A Semi-Identical Twin?
When James Marsden showed up this season after being murdered and falling into the pool in the first season finale I thought, “That Steve was a douchebag and a strong swimmer?!” Friends, he was not a strong swimmer. This other James Marsden character was Steve’s twin, Ben. But not just a regular twin, a semi-identical twin. I know what you’re thinking, but no, that’s not what Lindsay Lohan is.
There’s nothing I love more in this world than discovering something new about twins (seriously), and according to the internet semi-identical twins are indeed a thing. And look, you don’t need me using the words fertilized, egg, and sperm in this article (whoops!) so I’ll spare you the gory details and just tell you they’re really rare, and share more genetic material than fraternal twins, and up to as much as identical twins. I cannot emphasize enough how shocked I am that Grey’s Anatomy has never used this as a plot line. You know Shonda Rhimes in isolation right now rage texting all her writers. Regardless of wtf they are, they let us keep James Marsden and for that I will always be grateful to semi-identical twins.
And those are all my burning questions after watching season 2 of Dead to Me! What did you all think of the season? Will you also be checking all of your friends’ garage freezers from now on? Let me know!
Images: Saeed Adyani / Netflix; Giphy (2); deadtome/Instagram (4); deadtome/Twitter
If you’ve read one thriller, you start to feel like after a certain point, you’ve read them all. We get it: the main character had amnesia all along. Two sisters switched places. It gets repetitive. So if you are getting a little fatigued of the same old twists, Emily Liebert’s new novel, Perfectly Famous, out June 2, 2020, will be a breath of fresh air, because it’s honestly kind of meta: after famous crime novelist’s Ward DeFleur’s daughter goes missing, the author is in the wind. But one journalist isn’t content with letting Ward remain in obscurity, and she becomes obsessed with finding her. This harrowing tale of one woman’s infatuation and another woman’s fear is full of explosive surprises, perfect for fans of The Night Olivia Fell and Then She Was Gone.
Emily Liebert is the USA Today bestselling author of Pretty Revenge, and Perfectly Famous will be her sixth novel. Perfectly Famous doesn’t come out until June 2, but Betches readers can get an exclusive first look at this gripping novel right now.
Fame is like a flame. A small flourish of light that’s ignited with good intentions and kindled with aggressive aspirations. But as those dreams are stoked, the flame grows fiercer, often too hot to pass your finger through. Fame can spread like a blazing rash, infecting everything and everyone in its path. The flame is inexorable. It can’t be stopped. It won’t be stopped. Until it’s extinguished.
Of course, some notoriety cannot be snuffed out. The force of it is too robust. People covet that fame. They envy it.
Those people become increasingly resentful as their small spark remains just that. No one—they think—deserves to shine forever, to eclipse all the others who are just as worthy of recognition.
Because only one other outcome is possible when a flame refuses to be choked.
It will explode.
CHAPTER 1: WARD
SIX MONTHS AGO
The smooth rhythm of jazz music drifted from the radio as I gazed out the window at the cookie-cutter McMansions with their rambling green lawns, glistening blue swimming pools, and soaring oak trees in a kaleidoscopic of colors. This time of year, the air is crisp but not cold. Children frolick outside until just before bedtime. Doors are left unlocked.
It’s safe here in Connecticut.
Ten minutes passed, as we traveled out of the suburban cocoon and through town, until the car pulled to a stop. I checked my reflection in the makeup compact I’d slipped into my purse at the last minute and allowed myself one final swipe of red lipstick, to match the cover of my new novel, Mysterious Stranger. Then I took a deep breath, trapped the air in my lungs for a few seconds longer than usual, and exhaled before the driver came around to open my door.
“Ready, Ms. DeFleur?” He extended his hand, and I accepted it, grateful for the support.
“Yes,” I spoke softly and stepped onto the glossy pavement, as pellets of rain struck the umbrella he was holding. One foot in front of the other, I reminded myself. I’ve done this before. Twelve times. And I’ll do it again. I hope.
“Here we go.” He hoisted me to standing, and I noticed that a bead of water had tainted my red silk flats like an inkblot in the Rorschach test. I never wear heels. When you’re five foot ten, it’s hard enough to go unnoticed. “I’ll keep you dry.”
“Thank you.” I nodded and raked my fingers through my thick, tumbling waves of auburn hair.
The line was already wrapped around the side of the building, a buzzing procession of anticipation. Instinctively, I looked behind me. As expected, the parking lot was crowded with sedans and SUVs jockeying for an open spot. To see me. Even after so many years, it’s still hard to believe.
Once we were inside, fear rose in my chest. I scanned the troop of men and women, mostly women in dark elastic jeans, stiletto boots, and flowy blouses cut to expose just enough of their assets. The landscape was dizzying. I thought about a quick pivot. I could make it back to the town car before anyone reached me. But I didn’t move.
“Hello, everyone,” I said louder than I’d expected. I sounded confident. Unlike myself. I smiled appreciatively at the light applause.
“Fabulous, you’re here.” My publicist, Gwen, swooped in, placed one hand on the small of my back, and cupped my elbow with the other. “Let’s get you settled. The signing doesn’t officially start for another twenty minutes. We can go over some important items.”
“Okay, sure.” I allowed her to cart me off.
“In here.” She thrust me into a small room with a green tweed couch and a cluttered wooden desk. “Make yourself comfortable. How are you feeling?” She motioned to the couch, dragged the metal desk chair over, and sat down on the edge of it, facing me. Her dark brown eyes were dogged. She’d rimmed them with far too much black eyeliner. And her knee was trembling. Probably from that high-octane coffee-in-a-can she drinks all day.
“Good,” I lied.
“Great, I mean. Definitely great,” I qualified.
“That’s better. Because tonight has to go seamlessly.” She maintained eye contact. “This is the first appearance in your fifteen-city tour.”
“I know.” Between my agent, my publisher, my editor, my editor’s assistant, Gwen, Gwen’s assistant, and all the other people at Lyons & Wilder responsible for launching my books, I’ve heard fifteen-city tour more times than my brain can metabolize.
“What I’m saying is that tonight sets the tone.” She leaned in closer and searched my face for mutual understanding. “There can’t be any . . .” She paused, careful to select the least offensive word. “Issues.”
“I get it.” It wasn’t hard to decipher what she meant by issues. I chose not to mention that it felt like the walls were closing in on us or that I was sweating through my blouse. “Don’t worry, it’s not my first rodeo.”
“Exactly. So here’s the plan.” Gwen lifted her chin and checked her watch. “I’m going to head out there now and make sure everything is under control and that everyone’s ready to roll. You’re going to stay here, have some water, have some fruit.” She signaled to a platter of neatly arranged slices of pineapple, mango, and cantaloupe, and a few bottles of Evian on the desk. “Then I’m going to come back and get you, and we’ll go in together. As always, there’s a table set up for you to sign at. There are plenty of Sharpies. We’re doing red for this book, as discussed. And clearly your fans are here in droves.”
“They never disappoint.” I smiled, pleased by my readers’ unwavering support.
Anxiety aside, I do realize what a gift that is. There are plenty of authors who write well-received novels, one-hit wonders that skyrocket to the top of the New York Times bestseller list and sell millions of copies. Unfortunately, their sophomore efforts frequently pale in comparison. There are other authors who write five, ten, fifteen books that all do adequately enough to turn a profit and keep their contracts coming. And then there are authors like me, whose audience has doubled, tripled, quadrupled with each new release. Thankfully, so have my advances. But above all that, I feel truly fortunate because my readers are the best readers. They communicate with me, and I communicate with them, from the very safe haven of my home office. Unseen. For that reason, among many others defined by my publishing house, I feel it’s my duty to show up for them. In this case, fifteen times over.
“And they never will disappoint,” Gwen assured me. “Just keep on being you. That’s all you have to do. They love you. Happy, authentic, engaged you.”
“Thank you.” I’ve worked with a lot of “Gwens” over the years, some grittier than others. This Gwen is a straight shooter, which I like. We both know that her little pep talk was a warning not to screw things up tonight. “I’ve got this.”
“Excellent.” I thought she was going to exhale, possibly reveal a hint of relief that her star thoroughbred was ready to race. But she’s still terrified I’ll break a leg.
She can’t be blamed for that. It has happened before, so to speak. It’s lore among the young girls who’ve passed through the halls of Lyons & Wilder. I’ve seen the way they size me up. They think I’m fragile.
Ward DeFleur sat on a wall.
Ward DeFleur had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men.
Couldn’t put Ward together again.
Not on Gwen’s watch, though. I guarantee she’s got an Ace bandage and a tube of Krazy Glue in her purse. She’ll repair me if it’s the last thing she ever does.
“Sit tight. I won’t be gone long.” She stood up and clipped her walkie-talkie to her belt.
“One question.” I raised my index finger.
“Shoot.” Gwen barely looked up from her cell phone. She was already sending a text, probably to my agent, Stephanie, who couldn’t be here tonight because her sister is getting married. Apparently, she asked her sister to switch the date and was horrified that she wouldn’t. In turn, I was horrified that Stephanie even asked in the first place.
“Is there security?”
“There are guards at all three doors. We’re in constant contact.”
“Just in case,” I added, so as not to seem dramatic.
“Ward,” Gwen said with intention. “You’re completely covered. Absolutely nothing will go wrong.” We locked eyes. “This is your night. Enjoy it.” She walked toward the door, turned the knob, and paused. Then she glanced over her shoulder and smiled. “Lucky number thirteen.”
“Lucky number thirteen.”
Copyright © 2020 by Emily Liebert. From the forthcoming book PERFECTLY FAMOUS to be published by Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed by permission.
Maybe you watched The Stranger or The Five on Netflix, or saw the movie Tell No One. Or maybe you just read one of his many New York Times bestselling books, like Run Away, Fool Me Once, Don’t Let Go, or the renowned Myron Bolitar series. Either way, if you’re into thrillers, you’ve definitely heard of Harlan Coben, and you’ve probably been waiting on the edge of your seat for the release of his newest book (which will be his 32nd), The Boy From The Woods, out March 17.
Wilde is a man who is a mystery to everyone, including himself, having been found 30 years ago living as a feral boy in the woods with no memory of who he was or how he got there. Fast-forward three decades: A local girl goes missing in those same woods, and Wilde is tapped to help find her. He works with Hester Crimstein, a famous TV lawyer (with big Nancy Grace energy) with whom Wilde shares a tragic connection. Along the way, they’ll go head-to-head with corrupt politicians (never heard of ’em), powerful media moguls, long-lost relatives, and so much more. The Boy From The Woods comes out March 17th, but if you just can’t wait to get a sneak peek of the book, we have the second chapter right here. So check it out, get hooked, then preorder The Boy From The Woods.
The hipster pundit said, “This guy should be in prison, no questions asked.”
On live television, Hester Crimstein was about to counterpunch when she spotted what looked like her grandson in her peripheral vision. It was hard to see through the studio lights, but it sure as hell looked like Matthew.
“Whoa, strong words,” said the show’s host, a once-cute prepster whose main debate technique was to freeze a baffled expression on his face, as though his guests were idiots no matter how much sense they made. “Any response, Hester?”
Matthew’s appearance—it had to be him—had thrown her.
Not a good time to let the mind wander, she reminded herself. Focus.
“You’re gross,” Hester said.
“You heard me.” She aimed her notorious withering gaze at Hipster Pundit. “Gross.”
Why is Matthew here?
Her grandson had never come to her work unannounced before—not to her office, not to a courtroom, and not to the studio.
“Care to elaborate?” Prepster Host asked.
“Sure,” Hester said. The fiery glare stayed on Hipster Pundit. “You hate America.”
“Seriously,” Hester continued, throwing her hands up in the air, “why should we have a court system at all? Who needs it? We have public opinion, don’t we? No trial, no jury, no judge—let the Twitter mob decide.”
Hipster Pundit sat up a little straighter. “That’s not what I said.”
“It’s exactly what you said.”
“There’s evidence, Hester. A very clear video.”
“Ooo, a video.” She wiggled her fingers as though she were talking about a ghost. “So again: No need for a judge or jury. Let’s just have you, as benevolent leader of the Twitter mob—”
“Hush, I’m talking. Oh, I’m sorry, I forget your name. I keep calling you Hipster Pundit in my head, so can I just call you Chad?” He opened his mouth, but Hester pushed on. “Great. Tell me, Chad, what’s a fitting punishmentfor my client, do you think? I mean, since you’re going to pronounce guilt or innocence, why not also do the sentencing for us?”
“My name”—he pushed his hipster glasses up his nose—“is Rick. And we all saw the video. Your client punched a man in the face.”
“Thanks for that analysis. You know what would be helpful, Chad?”
“Rick, Chad, whatever. What would be helpful, super helpful really, would be if you and your mob just made all the decisions for us. Think of the time we’d save. We just post a video on social media and declare guilt or innocence from the replies. Thumbs-up or thumbs-down. There’d be no need for witnesses or testimony or evidence. Just Judge Rick Chad here.”
Hipster Pundit’s face was turning red. “We all saw what your rich client did to that poor man.”
Prepster Host stepped in: “Before we continue, let’s show the video again for those just tuning in.”
Hester was about to protest, but they’d already shown the video countless times, would show it countless more times, and her voicing any opposition would be both ineffective and only make her client, a well-to-do financial consultant named Simon Greene, appear even more guilty.
More important, Hester could use the few seconds with the camera off her to check on Matthew.
The viral video—four million views and counting—had been recorded on a tourist’s iPhone in Central Park. On the screen, Hester’s client Simon Greene, wearing a perfectly tailored suit with a perfectly Windsored Hermès tie, cocked his fist and smashed it into the face of a threadbare, disheveled young man who, Hester knew, was a drug addict named Aaron Corval.
Blood gushed from Corval’s nose.
The image was irresistibly Dickensian—Mr. Rich Privileged Guy, completely unprovoked, sucker-punches Poor Street Urchin.
Hester quickly craned her neck toward Matthew and tried, through the haze of the studio spotlights, to meet his eye. She was a frequent legal expert on cable news, and two nights a week, “famed defense attorney” Hester Crimstein had her own segment on this very network called Crimstein on Crime, though her name was not pronounced Crime-Rhymes-with-Prime-Stine, but rather Krim-Rhymes-with-Prim-Steen, but the alliteration was still considered “television friendly” and the title looked good on the bottom scroll, so the network ran with it.
Her grandson stood in the shadows. Hester could see that Matthew was wringing his hands, just like his father used to do, and she felt a pang so deep in her chest that for a moment she couldn’t breathe. She considered quickly crossing the room and asking Matthew why he was here, but the punch video was already over and Hipster Rick Chad was foaming at the mouth.
“See?” Spittle flew out of his mouth and found a home in his beard. “It’s clear as day. Your rich client attacked a homeless man for no reason.”
“You don’t know what went on before that tape rolled.”
“It makes no difference.”
“Sure it does. That’s why we have a system of justice, so that vigilantes like you don’t irresponsibly call for mob violence against an innocent man.”
“Whoa, no one said anything about mob violence.”
“Sure you did. Own it already. You want my client, a father of three with no record, in prison right now. No trial, nothing. Come on, Rick Chad, let your inner fascist out.” Hester banged the desk, startling Prepster Host, and began to chant: “Lock him up, lock him up.”
“Cut that out!”
“Lock him up!”
The chant was getting to him, his face turning scarlet. “That’s not what I meant at all. You’re intentionally exaggerating.”
“Lock him up!”
“Stop that. No one is saying that.”
Hester had something of a gift for mimicry. She often used it in the courtroom to subtly if not immaturely undermine a prosecutor. Doing her best impression of Rick Chad, she repeated his earlier words verbatim: “This guy should be in prison, no questions asked.”
“That will be up to a court of law,” Hipster Rick Chad said, “but maybe if a man acts like this, if he punches people in the face in broad daylight, he deserves to be canceled and lose his job.”
“Why? Because you and Deplorable-Dental-Hygienist and NailDa-Ladies-69 on Twitter say so? You don’t know the situation. You don’t even know if the tape is real.”
Prepster Host arched an eyebrow over that one. “Are you saying the video is fake?”
“Could be, sure. Look, I had another client. Someone photoshopped her smiling face next to a dead giraffe and said she was the hunter who killed it. An ex-husband did that for revenge. Can you imagine the hate and bullying she received?”
The story wasn’t true—Hester had made it up—but it could be true, and sometimes that was enough.
“Where is your client Simon Greene right now?” Hipster Rick Chad asked.
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“He’s home, right? Out on bail?”
“He’s an innocent man, a fine man, a caring man—”
“And a rich man.”
“Now you want to get rid of our bail system?”
“A rich white man.”
“Listen, Rick Chad, I know you’re all ‘woke’ and stuff, what with the cool beard and the hipster beanie—is that a Kangol?— but your use of race and your easy answers are as bad as the other side’s use of race and easy answers.”
“Wow, deflecting using ‘both sides.’ ”
“No, sonny, that’s not both sides, so listen up. What you don’t see is, you and those you hate? You are quickly becoming one and the same.”
“Reverse this around,” Rick Chad said. “If Simon Greene was poor and black and Aaron Corval was rich and white—”
“They’re both white. Don’t make this about race.”
“It’s always about race, but fine. If the guy in rags hit the rich white man in a suit, he wouldn’t have Hester Crimstein defending him. He’d be in jail right now.”
Hmm, Hester thought. She had to admit Rick Chad had a pretty good point there.
Prepster Host said, “Hester?”
Time was running out in the segment, so Hester threw up her hands and said, “If Rick Chad is arguing I’m a great attorney, who am I to disagree?”
That drew laughs.
“And that’s all the time we have for now. Coming up next, the latest controversy surrounding upstart presidential candidate Rusty Eggers. Is Rusty pragmatic or cruel? Is he really the most dangerous man in America? Stay with us.”
Hester pulled out the earpiece and unclipped the microphone. They were already headed to commercial break when she rose and crossed the room toward Matthew. He was so tall now, again like his father, and another pang struck hard.
Hester said, “Your mother… ?”
“She’s fine,” Matthew said. “Everyone is okay.”
Hester couldn’t help it. She threw her arms around the probably embarrassed teen, wrapping him in a bear hug, though she was barely five two and he had almost a foot on her. More and more she saw the echoes of the father in the son. Matthew hadn’t looked much like David when he was little, when his father was still alive, but now he did—the posture, the walk, the hand wringing, the crinkle of the forehead—and it all broke her heart anew. It shouldn’t, of course. It should, in fact, offer some measure of comfort for Hester, seeing her dead son’s echo in his boy, like some small part of David survived the crash and still lives on. But instead, these ghostly glimmers rip at her, tear the wounds wide open, even after all these years, and Hester wondered whether the pain was worth it, whether it was better to feel this pain than feel nothing. The question was a rhetorical one, of course. She had no choice and would want it no other way—feeling nothing or someday being “over it” would be the worst betrayal of all.
So she held her grandson and squeezed her eyes shut. The teen patted her back, almost as though he were humoring her.
That was what he called her. Nana. “You’re really okay?”
Matthew’s skin was browner than his father’s. His mother, Laila, was black, which made Matthew black too or a person of color or biracial or whatever. Age was no excuse, but Hester, who was in her seventies but told everyone she stopped counting at sixty-nine—go ahead, make a joke, she’d heard them all—found it hard to keep track of the evolving terminology.
“Where’s your mother?” Hester asked.
“What’s the matter?” Hester asked.
“There’s this girl in school,” Matthew said.
“What about her?”
“She’s missing, Nana. I want you to help.”
Excerpted from THE BOY FROM THE WOODS. Copyright © 2020 by Harlan Coben. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.