Copyright © 2019 by Robin James Books
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An eerie stillness settled over Finn Lake. Sugary snow fell, brushing against my cheeks as I stepped to the water’s edge. Pure white filled the sky and covered the lake. It was hard to know where one began and the other ended. I took that first, halting step out, waiting to hear the ice break. It didn’t. It wouldn’t. Winter magic. The lake would stay frozen like this for weeks now.
This pureness wouldn’t last though. By morning, ice fishermen would dot the landscape with their tents. Behind me, I heard my brother Matty rummaging through the shed to set up his own. I smiled. He’d been staying with me since Christmas. His wife Tina had thrown him out claiming it was for good. I expected her divorce complaint in my inbox any day now.
Even with all Matty’s family turmoil, things had been peaceful with my family over the last two months. We all spent the holidays together. The last time that happened was before my mother died. Only my father was missing, but that’s what accounted for the peace.
The snow crunched beneath my feet as I trudged up the hill toward the house. Left to his own devices, Matty might tear the shed apart to find what he needed. A small beach chair flew by my head as I approached. I ducked neatly, barely avoiding having it crash against me.
“Do you mind?” I asked. “Joe said he put all the winter stuff in the hall closet upstairs. He didn’t want it to get wet.”
Matty made a noise and let out a stream of obscenities as he crashed into a few more things on his way out of the shed. Before I could get the words out to warn him, he banged his head on the doorframe as he came out. Blood trickled down his forehead as he looked at me with wild eyes.
“Nice work,” I said. “Don’t hurt my door!” But I was still smiling as I walked up to him. I pressed my mitten against the wound as I led him up to the house.
“Joe was supposed to fix the roof on that piece of shit,” Matty said as he took a paper towel from me and planted himself on the living room couch. “We wouldn’t have to worry about anything getting wet out there if …”
“Save it,” I said, pulling the first aid kit out from under the kitchen sink. I tossed a bottle of antibiotic cream at my brother. He caught it one-handed and grumbled some more as I ripped off a wad of paper towels. Regardless of his temper, I was proud of him. Matty had stayed on the wagon all through the holidays, his break-up with Tina, and his current employment status. He’d been working odd jobs around the lake, waiting for a callback at the machine shop in town. Though no one would admit it, I felt fairly certain his layoff had more to do with my choice in clients than anything else.
Late last year, I’d defended the girl accused of murdering the town’s basketball coach and former hero. It had ripped the town apart and things hadn’t completely returned to normal. Maybe they never would. There would always be those who blamed me for busting up a piece of the good ol’ boy network of Delphi, Michigan, population 8953. No matter how far I went, how high I flew, I was still a Leary to the people of this town. Still east-side-of-the-lake trash.
“I’ll take a look at it after my damn head stops bleeding,” he said.
“Good idea. I’ve got to go into the office for a little while. I’ve got a hearing to prep for. And don’t be a baby. It’s barely a scratch.”
His scowl melted me. Matty had been giving me the exact same look since he was a baby. From the time he was six years old on, I’d done most of the mothering in his life. He was twenty-six now, but some things never changed.
“What are you smiling about?” he asked. “I know that look. You’re about to get all weepy on me or something.”
I went up to him and smoothed the wild hairs away from his forehead. He had our mother’s eyes, clear, blue, and mirroring everything he thought. Right now, he was about to flip me off.
“It’s nothing,” I said. “It’s just, for the first time since I came back here, things are starting to feel almost normal.” I’d spent over a decade working for the Thorne Law Group, a high-powered law firm in Chicago. I might be there still if it hadn’t gotten too dangerous. Some of my client’s dealings had landed me in the crosshairs of the FBI. I’d danced with the devil and barely lived to tell the tale. But now I was home.
He raised a brow. “You know what Granny Leary would say. Quick, two Hail Marys and an Our Father or you’ll jinx us.”
I grabbed my coat off the hook by the door and slid the strap of my leather messenger bag over my shoulder. “Shows how much you know. It was five Glory Bes.”
Matty sat back and put his feet up on the coffee table. Two brown chunks of ice slid off the tread of his boots. He at least had the decency to wipe it with the paper towel before steam came out of my ears.
My phone buzzed as a text came through from Miranda, my secretary. I’d left my phone on the coffee table about two inches from Matty’s boot sludge.
“Told ya,” Matty said. “That’s probably hell breaking loose right now.”
“Shh,” I said. “You’re the jinx.” I was only able to read three words of Miranda’s text from the home screen before the message disappeared. “Better call Detective …”
I picked up the phone to unlock it and read the rest of it. Call Detective who? Other than a few speeding tickets, I mercifully didn’t have any criminal cases for the time being. I’d asked to be taken off the court-appointed list after the Coach Drazdowski trial in November. My civil docket was keeping me more than busy these days.
“I’m tellin’ ya,” Matty said, smiling. “You’re teasing the devil.” He managed a fairly accurate impression of our grandmother’s thick Irish brogue as he recited her favorite saying. Bridget Leary was also convinced each and every one of us was headed straight for hell. Some days, I thought she might be right.
I pulled up my contacts, ready to just call Miranda back. Better to have a heads-up about what detective needed my attention than to just dive right in. I never got the chance. Instead, my phone rang from a number I didn’t recognize. It was a 734 area code though.
“Cass Leary,” I said, bracing for the answer. It was probably just Matty’s superstition getting under my skin. Still, a shadow fell across my heart in the time it took for the caller to take a breath.
She was crying. No. More like screaming. Her voice was so loud, Matty heard it all even though I didn’t have the phone on speaker.
“Help me! Please. They’re here. They’re saying ... God!”
“Whoa,” I said. “Just hold on. Slow down. I don’t know what …” I meant to ask who it was. Something was happening in my brain. It was as if I were on a time delay. The woman on the other end of the phone kept screaming. She was frantic. Frenzied. Panting. But time caught up with me and I recognized the voice with cold clarity.
Vangie. It was my little sister Vangie. And she was scared to death.
“Help me,” she screamed. “Oh God. Help me!”
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