Read an Excerpt
Jordy Decker stopped for her third Coke in less than two hours. She knew she had a problem, and it wasn't unquenchable thirst.
She looked at Fred, her goldfish, floating upside down in his Tupperware container, on the seat next to her.
"This has turned into the rest stop tour of Florida. And we have four states to go."
Fred swished his deformed tail around the bowl before resuming his belly-up pose.
"Yeah, well, we all can't float through life." She jammed the soda can in the drink holder. "I don't want to go home. There. I've said it. Are you happy now?"
Fred floated, wisely noncommittal.
Home. Warburg, Virginia. Only it didn't feel like home anymore. It had taken two long years to win the court battle against Suzanne. By the time her former business partner was convicted of embezzlement, she was so exhausted that it had been little more than a moral victory for Jordy. She wasn't even angry anymore, she was just numb.
Fighting the battle had cost her everything: her home was gone, her business dismantled, and her former clients didn't trust her, since Suzanne cleverly portrayed herself as the victim. So well, in fact, that her conviction hadn't seemed to change their minds.
But the most devastating consequence by far was that Jordy lost the ability to create the whimsical sculptures that had been her joy in life and her livelihood for the last ten years.
Ten days of lying under the hot Florida Keys sun had given her a great tan, but no answers. It was useless to keep blaming Suzanne for all her misfortunes. If Jordy was feeling unfairly punished, well, she had to let go of that anger and just deal with it. It was over. Done.
She was finally free to get on with her life. Whatever the hell that was going to be.
She pictured herself driving past her old studio, through the neighborhoods of friends who had become clients, and clients who had become friends. She'd drive by the house she'd loved, then walk into the cramped apartment she hated. But it was all she could afford now.
Yes, Suzanne owed her a huge chunk of money from the civil suit, but that was on appeal. Everything her former partner owned was being liquidated, but those proceeds would go to pay off Jordy's legal team. A relief for sure, but she was left to rebuild her business from the ground up. And in order to do that, she had to have a product to sell.
Taking a long sip of her soda, she pulled out the stack of photo envelopes she'd picked up on her way off Mangrove Key. She'd decided to do some painting, watercolors perhaps, as a roundabout way of getting back to sculpting. Something completely different to get the creativity flowing again. She'd taken photos of sunrises, sunsets, palm trees, and mangroves as inspiration.
Forcing enthusiasm, she flipped open the first envelope. Where could she set up an easel in her one-bedroom apartment to catch the best light? She snorted. That was a joke. There was no "best" light. There was no "good" light. Her double-paned windows were perpetually clouded because the seals were broken. She sighed, glanced down . . . and let out a little scream.
Revulsion curled inside her stomach. "Jesus, what in the hell happened to you?"
The stranger in the photo stared silently at her, her face badly beaten.
Who had taken these pictures?
The abuser? Was that twisted or what? And to have them developed at a one-hour photo shop? She slid one picture behind the rest, then another. Maybe this woman was trying to do something about the abuse she'd suffered. Maybe she'd had these pictures taken as proof. Why hadn't she gone to the police? Or the hospital? Or maybe she couldn't trust anyone.
Jordy scowled. She knew something about having nowhere to turn. Her gaze was riveted to the tragic, mutilated face. Who was this woman? Had she once been pretty? Her medium-length dark hair was wet, or very dirty, matted as it was to her head. The one eye that wasn't swollen shut continued to stare at her, silently demanding that something be done about this.
Compared to what this woman had been through, Jordy's troubles suddenly seemed trivial.
She could mail them back to the photo shop and hope things would get straightened out. She looked back down at the photos and found herself shaking her head.
Maybe it was because too many people had bailed out on her when she'd counted on them most, but she couldn't just dump these in an envelope and forget about them. Or maybe she was just delaying the inevitable return to Warburg. The return to uncertainty.
She tried to tell herself it was righteousness, not cowardice, that had her turning for the exit going south. She knew it was a little of both.
It was dusk when she returned to the Lower Keys. There was a different clerk behind the counter than before, when she finally walked into the ZippySnap. The young woman had unnaturally black hair, which matched her fingernail polish and her lipstick.
"I got these by mistake." Jordy laid the envelope on the counter. "I picked up five envelopes earlier today. Four of them were my pictures. The other one had my name on it, but the pictures aren't mine."
"Did you check the negatives?" she asked, clearly annoyed. The girl only needed a nail file to complete the picture of occupational boredom.
"No negatives in that envelope."
"Can't help you then."
"Where is the young man who helped me earlier today?"
"Jason's gone for good. Parents are making him go back to school." She rolled her eyes, as if Jordy would certainly sympathize with that indignity.
"Okay, then may I see your manager?"
"Sherrill went off with Jason for the rest of the weekend. Sick if you ask me. I mean, she's almost thirty."
Jordy was thirty-one. "Yeah, a real Methuselah complex. About the pictures I got by mistake"
"Just leave 'em. Probably belong to tourists. Most don't come back, but some call."
Jordy tried a different tack. "Did you deliver any pictures today to someone who looked like they'd been in a fight? A woman?"
"Don't think so."
Just how many black and blue customers do you get? Jordy wanted to ask. "Do you have a policy on pictures that might be, you know, a little out of the norm?"
The clerk frowned suspiciously. "We just print them. If it's about kids or something, we call the cops, but otherwise Sherrill just tells us to shut up and deliver them. Listen, it's time for me to close up. Do you want a refund or a free roll of film?"
"I want you to check the pictures you have here and see if any of them are mine."