Chapter Three

It took another two days for David to sufficiently wrap his mind around Brooke's death. He called the high school where he worked and requested time off. Luckily with it being July he was told to take however much time he needed, that they'd find someone else to watch over his summer school class. He'd tried just wallowing in his misery, hiding away in the house that still smelled like her, but he kept coming back to anger.

She hadn't died; she'd been murdered. Someone truly evil was out there, with her blood on their hands. Someone was walking free while she was buried at only twenty-six. David was furious in a way he'd never been before. He found his hands, a scholar's hands, clenching for the first time into fists. And the second time. And the thirtieth time. He wanted drinking to help, there was something about the archetypal drunk drowning more in their pain than in the bottle that appealed to him, but it just gave him a headache.

He'd had enough, and he just needed to do something. He jumped into his car still unsure of where he was going. He rubbed dry, itching eyes and struggled to focus on the road. Maybe this would have been a better idea if he'd gotten any sleep. He shook his head violently. He wasn't getting any sleep, and he didn't feel like he would for a long time to come.

The road flew past him, little houses dotted through fields, thickets and woods, a covered bridge over the trickling creek for which the town was named, all the images of 'southern charm' that had so drawn Brooke to moving to Kept Creek. David felt a steady stream of vile words rushing from his mouth at the seemingly innocent setting. In his mind it all took an insidious edge, the bright light hanging before an ugly angler fish. Everything was deadly here. Kept Creek had killed his whole world, and he'd never forgive the place. Once the murderer was found, once Brooke had justice, he'd leave and never look back.

Justice. His rapid driving found new purpose, and his aimlessness shifted into a specific direction. He needed justice. Ten minutes later he swerved a bit too quickly into the police department's parking lot. He slammed the car door as he jumped from the vehicle, not even bothering to lock it. He ran inside of the building, desperate that just maybe he'd find the answer he was looking for. He swept past the squat middle-aged woman at the desk and burst into the Sheriff's office.

Sheriff Hubbard was pacing behind his desk, a large and outdated cell phone stuck to his ear. He didn't turn his head at David's arrival, behaving as if he hadn't even heard.


"My mind's set on this," Hubbard's words stomped over David's interruption and blasted the bluster right out of the younger man. David was left standing with his mouth hanging slightly in surprise. The good Sheriff took no notice as he carried right on talking, "You got cataracts, Ralph, not cancer. Jus' see a doctor and they'll fix it right up. 'Til then you ain't gettin' yer car keys back," He paused, and David could hear an angry voice on the other end of the line. After a moment Hubbard had heard enough, "They ain't gon' take yer eyes, Ralph. They're doctors not evil scientists," Another pause. More grumbling words, "Now that's jus' plain not true; Paul could drive ya, or little Jase. You got better options than your blind ass gettin' behind the wheel," With that Hubbard was done. He flipped the phone shut and slammed it on his desk, looking torn between frustration and laughter.

"Sheriff Hubbard," David cleared his throat and tried to regain his composure.

"Yes, Mister Daugherty," Hubbard finally turned to David, his mouth pursed into a displeased slit in his face, "You look like shit, Son," He gestured for David to sit in one of the little wooden chairs in front of the large desk. David motioned his polite refusal and the Sheriff shrugged, sitting down in his own much larger chair, "I'm guessin' you've got questions," His pale eyes roved over David's disheveled appearance. It was true, the twenty-seven-year-old was looking ragged. His short, dark hair was matted and sticking up in every direction from several nights of failed attempts at sleeping. His brown eyes were red-rimmed over dark purple blotches, but that was the only color left in his pale, haunted face. His clothes were wrinkled and mismatched, a wrongly buttoned, ragged flannel shirt with navy dress pants and flip-flops. David closed his puffy eyes and took a deep breath, not noticing Hubbard's gaze.

"Have you found any suspects yet?" He searched for that rage that had been so close to the surface recently, but found nothing but exhaustion.

"Not yet, and truthfully, Son, we ain't got much to work with," Hubbard's voice was heavy and sad, but David was a teacher. He'd heard enough bold-faced lies to sense the deceit in the words.

"You've got the murder weapon!" He shouted, throwing his hands down on the large wooden desk, "Dust it for prints! Check whatever store around here that sells knives, and get copies of who bought what! Check the crime scene for footprints! Something! Just don't sit there and act like your hands are tied!"

"You think we ain't done all that?" Hubbard raised one eyebrow, his scowl hardening.

"Honestly as far as I've seen you're more concerned with holding someone's car keys ransom than solving a murder in your town!" David paced as he shouted, his arms shaking with the struggle not to hit something. The Sheriff just sat back in his chair, looking very like a parent waiting out a temper tantrum.

"Look, I got all my guys workin' on the investigation. We're doin' all we can, but with it takin' so long to find her most of the physical evidence got washed away in the weather last week. I don't got a clue 'cept what I've already told you, but we're workin' on it. And we'll be workin' on it," He stood from his desk, looking finished with the conversation, "We'll get done a lot quicker if you ain't hoverin' over things, questionin' and accusin' as you go. I'll call you if any new information comes out. You have a nice day," He led David a little too forcibly towards the exit, but his eyes softened at the hurt look on David's face, "You get some sleep now. You've got some grievin' to do and my heart goes out to you, it really does, but we've got professionals on the case that don't need yer help. I'm so sorry, David, I am, but there's nothin' for you here,"

That was it. The rest of the day passed in a whirl of misery and the remembered parting line.

There's nothing for you here.

Truer words had never been spoken. There was nothing for David in Alabama. His family was in California, three thousand miles and several time zones away. His family. His heart sank into the vicinity of his calves. He hadn't spoken to his parents since the call about Brooke's death. He'd turned his cell off days ago and the only person he'd told his land line number was the sheriff. His mother had been distraught by the news, demanding he come home immediately in case it'd been the work of a serial killer or 'psycho hillbilly'. He hadn't even had it in him to argue with her, he'd just hung up.

He should call them before they lost their minds. He searched the bedside table, but his phone wasn't there. Of course it wasn't there, he'd thrown it. He cast a long look around the room, but didn't see the phone. He did see the room itself, for the first time he really inspected the place. Brooke had picked the house. She'd been ecstatic at the prospect of renting a real house instead of an apartment. She'd been ecstatic about everything to do with their relocation. She'd immediately and completely fallen in love with the ridiculous little town. She'd quit her job in California for a chance to move out into the sticks of Alabama. It was a story out of a cheesy eighties movie.

Brooke had been a lawyer, but she hadn't cared about it as a career beyond good benefits and her mother's absolute pride. After her mother's death, Brooke became less and less satisfied with her tiny role in a big law firm. One client's custody battle win involved Brooke being sent to Montgomery. She'd gone site-seeing and gotten hopelessly lost, only to find herself in what she called "the sweetest little town you could ever dream of" and that'd been it. She went back with a resume and a promise to ace the Alabama Bar, and landed a job on the spot at a family-run law office on Main Street. That was the type of person she'd been. She was friendly and likable, but there was this unstoppable force behind her personality that made people sit up and listen when she entered a room.

It had been pure luck that the high school was looking for a History teacher. History wasn't Literature, but it was still a teaching job and that was good enough for David if it made Brooke happy. David sighed heavily and left the room.

He was done moping. Missing her physically hurt, but sitting in his grief accomplished nothing. He made his way to the living room to grab his laptop, only to find it missing from his bag. He swore and threw the empty bag back onto the ground. He must've left it at the school on Monday. He'd gone rushing out when he'd heard the voicemail about identifying a body.

At least now he had an immediate goal. He was going to get his computer, and then find out everything the internet had about police procedure. He'd make certain Hubbard would tell him every detail, and he'd put his own brain into finding the criminal responsible for all of this. It should have felt like a crazy plan, but it didn't. Hubbard was keeping secrets. That man knew much, much more than he was admitting to, and what got under David's skin was that it seemed like the same held true for half the town. Too many people knew more than they should. The words from the old woman with the fiery red hair still made him shiver.

"'Least she had somethin' nice to look at 'fore she went," She'd spoken with the distinctive cadence of a phrase she'd said a thousand times before. The more David thought about it, the more questions he had. He shook his head, as if the movement could dislodge the direction his thoughts were taking. There was no conspiracy here, only police incompetence. He couldn't let his pain rob him of his sanity. He had work to do.

First he'd need his computer.