Mortician's Daughterby Elizabeth Bloom
A suspended New York City policewoman returns home to a small New England mill town to investigate the murder of her best friend's sonSee more details below
A suspended New York City policewoman returns home to a small New England mill town to investigate the murder of her best friend's son
- Grand Central Publishing
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Meet the Author
Elizabeth Bloom is the author of the highly praised See Isabelle Run, and a journalist, playwright, and film critic who has worked for a variety of publications. An associate editor at the Cornell University alumni magazine, she lives in Ithaca, New York, with her dogs, Nancy Drew and Mr. Jane Austen.
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The Mortician's Daughter
By Elizabeth Bloom
MYSTERIOUS PRESSCopyright © 2006 Beth Saulnier
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Taconic Parkway is a curving brontosaurus of a road, outdated and ungainly. It was built for slow-moving leaf-peepers, not speeding traffic; it has no shoulder and plenty of suicidal deer. It's dangerous enough during the day, but at night or in bad weather it can be more stressful than a Manhattan avenue at rush hour.
Ginny remembered the last time she drove north on the Taconic. Someone had been dead then, too.
That was ten years ago, and in the heart of winter. She'd been driving so fast she nearly skidded off the road, until a trooper pulled her over. She told him she was on the way home for her mother's funeral; he took one look at her NYPD shield and her tearstained face and waved her on. Slow down, he said. You're no use to anybody if you get yourself killed.
Now the skewed fall sunlight made dappled patterns on the hood of her old Chrysler. She drove the speed limit, partly because the car wasn't up to much more-but mostly because it would delay the moment when she crossed the town line, and her grown-up self would blow away like the crunchy autumn leaves.
It was just after ten when she got to the bottom of Main Street. She'd left her apartment before the sun came up, after a night that included three shots ofCrown Royal and no sleep.
Crown Royal. It had been her dad's drink-probably still was-and she'd been vaguely disconcerted to discover that she had a taste for it, too.
She drove up Main Street, not wanting to take in the changes, her training giving her no choice but to notice. The sprawling Kmart, for which a dozen historic buildings had been leveled back in the sixties, had gone out of business. Something had moved into the old Robert's department store, and there was a new card shop where the Apothecary Hall drugstore used to be. The Mohawk Theatre, where she and Sonya had watched badly dubbed Pippi Longstocking movies on many a Saturday afternoon, was still closed.
She drove up the hill without looking left onto Eagle Street. She didn't think she could stomach the sight of whitewashed windows outside Molly's Bakery, where she'd eaten countless half-moon cookies and whoopie pies and nut cups.
And lost her virginity.
Sonya and her husband lived near the top of the hill, on the middle floor of a three-family tenement on a dead-end street. Sonya had grown up in the apartment, so Ginny had spent half her childhood there, eating pierogies and stuffed cabbage and concocting excuses not to go home.
She rubbed her forehead, trying to stave off the headache that was starting to flower from the back of her skull. She'd been in town less than sixty seconds, and already the memories were getting to her.
She parked the Chrysler on the street out front. Her friend was on the porch, sitting in a fraying lawn chair, waiting.
"They found him two days ago. No, three. I'm losing track of time. It was in the big mill down on Union Street-the one across from the mushroom factory. But you don't know about that, do you? It was after you left. There's a mushroom factory now. Fancy kinds they ship all over. They found him there Thursday morning. He'd been missing for three days. Since Monday. I made him his lunch and he went off to work with Pete and put in his day and clocked out, but he never came home. And then Tuesday he didn't show up at the job site. That isn't like him. He's very responsible. You know he is. Right, Gin? He's a very responsible boy. You know that. Right?"
"Of course I do," she said, and tightened her grip on Sonya's hand. She would've said the same thing if Sonya was claiming Danny could breathe underwater.
"By Wednesday I was going out of my mind. I went down to the police station, but Rolly said he was just off having fun. He said there was no point filing a report, because boys will be boys and when Danny came home he'd just be mad at me for making a fuss. And I told him-I told him Danny wouldn't just disappear like that and make me worry. But that night they found his truck parked over at the Fish Pond. And then on Thursday."
Sonya said it like it was a complete sentence. Her eyes were wide but dry; she wasn't entirely there. Ginny wondered if it was just the shock or if someone had given her a Valium. Even if someone had, she doubted Sonya would've taken it.
"Who found him?"
"Mary Benedetti. She sells real estate now. She was showing the building to some artists."
Ginny hadn't wanted to interrupt, but she couldn't stop herself. Sonya didn't seem to notice.
"They found Danny lying on the floor. Somebody beat him to death. It was so bad Rolly didn't even recognize him. Somebody who knew Danny his whole life, and he had to identify him by his dental records.
"When they told me what happened, I didn't believe it. It had to be a mistake. An accident. Because I knew something like that could never happen to Danny. You'd have to be so mad at somebody to do that to them. And nobody was ever mad at Danny. You know-everybody loved him."
"They wouldn't even let me see him. My own son. They said it would upset me. Like it could be any worse. But Pete agreed with them. He saw Danny, and then he said he wanted me to remember him like he was." Sonya focused on the box of snapdragons hanging off the porch rail. They were wild and overgrown, the edges of the few remaining flowers gone to brown. "Did he think I'd forget?"
Ginny squeezed her hand tighter. "He was just trying to protect you."
Sonya clutched the arm of her chair and said, "Obviously."
"And nobody has any idea what happened? None of Danny's friends?"
"Rolly arrested someone yesterday."
Sonya's voice sounded even emptier than before, something Ginny wouldn't have thought possible. She tried to keep her own voice level and low. It wasn't easy. Since Sonya's two a.m. phone call she'd been crawling out of her skin, and the three cups of gas station coffee hadn't helped.
"You mean he's got someone in custody?"
"Yes." Sonya spat the word like a curse. This time it didn't take a lifetime of friendship to make Ginny understand.
"You don't think it's right."
"No." Sonya looked at Ginny like she was only just noticing she was there. Then she stood up. "Can we walk?"
"Job's running behind," Sonya said. "Let's go."
"I gotta pee first."
Ginny stepped inside the ground-floor apartment, the screen door slapping shut behind her. Just the smell of the place made her feel ten years old again-the combination of fried onions and cigarette smoke and Jean Naté perfume that had permeated the walls decades ago. Sonya and her husband had updated the appliances and changed the wallpaper in the kitchen, but the bathroom was the same: olive-green sink and tub, yellowed linoleum floor, daisy-patterned walls. On hot summer days before they were old enough to go to the Fish Pond, Sonya's mother would put them in that tub with their bathing suits on and hose them down.
She smiled at the memory, then wiped the smile off her face before she emerged to find Sonya standing exactly where she'd left her.
"Where do you want to go?"
Sonya shrugged. "Doesn't matter."
Her friend nodded, and they started retracing the route Sonya had taken every morning from kindergarten through fifth grade. Sonya was quiet as they went up the hill, by the Little League field, through the scruffy patch of woods. They walked around the back of the low-slung brick building, past classroom windows covered in construction-paper jack-o'-lanterns. A batch of handprint turkeys indicated that some enterprising teacher had gotten a head start on Thanksgiving.
Behind the school was the kindergarteners' Shangri-La, a huge wrought-iron jungle gym shaped like a locomotive and universally referred to as the choo-choo train. Sonya climbed up the side and perched on a top bar, then pointed at the iron outline of a smokestack.
"Remember how everybody used to fight over who got to be in there?"
"Hard to believe we were ever small enough to fit."
Sonya nodded, glancing down at her own body like it was a stranger; she'd gained a good thirty pounds since Ginny last saw her, and it all seemed to have settled around the middle. After a minute she said, "Danny loved to play on this thing."
"He used to climb up to the top and hang upside down by his knees. Scared the hell out of me." She stared at the empty space circumscribed by the heavy black metal, seeing the little boy who'd grown up to be the young man, but who would never grow up to be anything else.
"Sonya, sweetie, please tell me what's going on. Who did Rolly arrest?"
Sonya took a deep breath and turned to her. "Jack O'Brien."
"You know. Jumping Jack."
"You mean that crazy guy who used to hang around downstreet? He's still around?"
"Where else would he go?"
It had been nearly fifteen years, but Ginny could still see him: greasy hair, dirty beard, dirtier army coat. A local boy who'd come back from the war with a Bronze Star and a serious case of the shakes, the very stereotype of the shattered Vietnam vet. He used to do calisthenics outside in all kinds of weather-hence the nickname.
"And Rolly thinks he killed Danny? Why?"
"They found Danny's wallet in his pocket."
Sonya let out a mirthless laugh. "That was enough."
"But you don't think he did it."
Ginny climbed up and sat next to her. "How can you be so sure?"
"Jack's crazy, but he wouldn't hurt anybody. Much less Danny."
"The two of them knew each other?"
"Everybody knows everybody. You know that."
"I guess I've been gone even longer than I thought."
Sonya bit her lip. "You've been gone forever," she said.
"I'm here now. I can stay as long as you want."
"Don't you have to work?"
Sonya's eyelids fluttered. The tears were about to come, and with a vengeance. "Thank God," she said.
"I'll do whatever you need. Help you run the house, deal with the arrangements. Anything. Or if you want to get away, we could-"
"There's only one thing I want."
Sonya grabbed her hand.
"I want my son back," she said.
Excerpted from The Mortician's Daughter by Elizabeth Bloom Copyright © 2006 by Beth Saulnier. Excerpted by permission.
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