Chapter 1 Seventy-two Hours Later
A single lightbulb hangs from the ceiling, its dull glow illuminating the spare decor of this windowless room. I could itemize its contents with my eyes closed: one wooden table, splintered and paint-chipped, surrounded by four rickety chairs; a rotary phone; an old television; and a VCR. I know this room well. Hours of my childhood I lost in here, answering for crimes I probably did commit. But I sit here now answering to a man I have never seen before, for a crime that is still unknown, a crime that I am too afraid to even consider.
Inspector Henry Stone sits across from me. He places a tape recorder in the center of the table and switches it on. I can't get a good read on him: early forties, short-cropped salt-and-pepper hair, crisp white shirt, and a perfectly tasteful tie. He might be handsome, but his cold professionalism feels like a mask. His suit seems too pricey for a civil servant and makes me suspicious. But everyone makes me suspicious.
"Please state your name and address for the record," says the inspector.
"Isabel Spellman. Seventeen ninety-nine Clay Street, San Francisco, California."
"Please state your age and date of birth."
"I'm twenty-eight. Born April 1, 1978."
"Your parents are Albert and Olivia Spellman, is that correct?"
"You have two siblings: David Spellman, thirty, and Rae Spellman, fourteen. Is that correct?"
"Please state your occupation and current employer for the record."
"I am a licensed private investigator with Spellman Investigations, my parents' PI firm."
"When did you first begin working for Spellman Investigations?" Stone asks.
"About sixteen years ago."
Stone consults his notes and looks up at the ceiling, perplexed. "You would have been twelve?"
"That is correct," I respond.
"Ms. Spellman," Stone says, "let's start at the beginning."
I cannot pinpoint the precise moment when it all began, but I can say for sure that the beginning didn't happen three days ago, one week, one month, or even one year ago. To truly understand what happened to my family, I have to start at the very beginning, and that happened a long time ago.