When a stack of library materials is found at the scene of a hit and run, library director Lindsey Norris finds herself dragged into the investigation as the police try to link the driver of the stolen car to the person who borrowed the books. Before Lindsey can delve into the library's records, the victim of the hit and run, Theresa Houston, suffers another "accident" and the investigation shifts from driver negligence to attempted homicide.
A clue surfaces in the confiscated library materials that could crack open the case and it is up to Lindsey to piece it all together. But things are not as they seem in the sleepy town of Briar Creek and when the driver of the stolen car turns up dead, Lindsey, her staff and her library friends have to hit the books before the murderer gets the last word...
About the Author
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***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Copyright © 2018 Jenn McKinlay
He was whistling. At five o’clock in the morning, the man was whistling. Lindsey Norris grabbed an extra pillow and plopped it over her face, making a sandwich out of her head. It blocked out the chipper sound coming from the bathroom, but it also made breathing a challenge. She shifted and tried to make an air duct for her nose and mouth without letting in any sound. Sucking in a breath of cool early morning air, she tried to get back to her blissful unconscious state.
Her brain refused to be lulled. It was too busy being irritated. What sort of person whistled first thing in the morning? Her boyfriend, Captain Mike Sullivan, that’s who. The man woke up before the sun rose every day, even on days he didn’t have to. It was positively unnatural. Lindsey had moved into Sully’s house several months ago, and while she loved him and she loved living with him, there were just a few things that made living together a bit tense, not the least of which was Sully’s egregious habit of greeting every day whistling like a songbird at sunrise.
A former navy man who owned his own boat touring and water taxi company, Sully was used to being up and out before anyone else. Lindsey was not. She was the library director for their small town of Briar Creek, and as a public servant, she kept bankers’ hours, with an evening and rotating weekends thrown in just to keep it interesting.
Great, now her mind was on work. Lindsey did a quick mental rundown of her day, hoping that by thinking it through, she could put it aside and fall back to sleep. She had a meeting at nine o’clock with the library board, which had been in transition since its last president had been murdered. She hadn’t yet gotten a read on the new members and what their expectations of the library were. Mostly, they seemed relieved after every meeting to still be alive. She wasn’t sure what that said about her as a library director. She decided to bring muffins and hope that relaxed them a bit. After all, everyone liked muffins.
At lunch, she had a crafternoon scheduled. This was a weekly Thursday meeting where they shared lunch, did a craft, and talked about a book. Lindsey wasn’t a crafty sort, so this week’s string bracelets were not really her thing, but her library assistant, who was in charge of the craft, assured her that the worst that could happen would be that she’d suffer a small burn. Lindsey made a mental note to put some antibiotic pain-relief ointment in her purse.
Lastly, she had a late meeting with the mayor to discuss making the library a more environmentally friendly space by changing out the current lighting with more energy-efficient LEDs. The mayor was all about the bottom line and never welcomed ideas, even good ones, that would cost money in the immediate election cycle. His ideas for the future didn’t run much past getting reelected. She was going to have to come up with a compelling reason for the change to get him to listen to her. Maybe she could convince him that this would get him the youth vote in the next election.
Today was definitely a “look professional” day. Pity. She would have preferred to wear her book-lover pajamas to work, comfy flannel pj’s covered in a repeating pattern of eyeglasses and flying books. It was April in Connecticut, still on the chilly side in the morning, but the afternoon would be warmer. Her navy blue business suit with the pencil skirt and tailored jacket would work. She wondered whether she’d gotten her jade green blouse back from the dry cleaners—that would lighten up the severity of the suit but still give her executive polish.
How much time had passed since the whistling started? Why hadn’t she fallen back to sleep? Could she fall back to sleep now? Lindsey tried to gauge her level of tiredness. Her brain was fully engaged; sleep was going to remain a memory for the rest of the day. Darn it.
Her nose twitched. What was that smell? Mmm. Coffee. She peeked one eye out from under her pillow. Freshly showered and shaved, Sully was approaching with a steaming mug of coffee in one hand. He carefully put it on her nightstand. The man brought her coffee; that was the definition of true love in Lindsey’s book. His unfortunate whistling was immediately forgiven.
She reached out from under the covers and grabbed his hand before he could escape. He allowed her to pull him down, and he crouched beside the bed and peered under the pillow.
“You awake in there?” he asked.
Lindsey tossed the pillow aside. “Good morning.”
Sully studied her with a small smile on his lips. “Good morning. I can’t believe you’re awake.”
“Really?” she asked. She didn’t mention the whistling.
“What time did you finally put the book down last night?”
Lindsey glanced at the floor, where the book she’d been reading had landed when she’d fallen asleep. “One thirty, maybe two.”
“In the morning?” Sully asked. He ran a hand through his reddish brown hair, making the curly waves stand on end.
“I was suffering from OMC syndrome,” she said.
“OMC, is that some sort of insomnia?”
“Sort of. It stands for one more chapter.”
“Book nerd,” Sully teased. Then he leaned forward and kissed her on the nose before standing up.
Lindsey yawned. “Yes, I am, and I have no read-grets, not even for missed sleep. The book was that good.”
“Is that another made-up word?” he asked. Lindsey nodded. “Fine, then here’s one for you. If you don’t get moving, you’re going to have to break the read-o-meter to get to work on time. It’s already eight fifteen.”
“What! I thought it was five. You always get up at five.”
“Not today,” he said. “I have a late boat tour, plus I was tired because somebody keeps their light on into the wee hours of the morning.”
“Gah!” Lindsey lurched from the bed, dislodging her dog, Heathcliff, from where he was resting his head on her knee. She grabbed the hot mug of coffee and slurped some as she hurried into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.
“You look awful, like someone left you out in the rain, tossed you on the floor of their car, where you were stepped on for a few months, and then they stuffed you in the book drop and pretended they had no idea how you got into such bad shape,” Beth Barker said. She stared down at Lindsey, who was sprawled on the couch in the crafternoon room at the back of the library.
“Gee, thanks,” Lindsey said. She opened her eyes and glanced at her best friend, who was also the children’s librarian. “That means so much coming from a woman who is dressed like a pigeon.”
Wearing an oversize gray sweatshirt that had big, round eyes and a beak sewn onto the hood, Beth flapped her arms, which had been fashioned into wings, and then clasped them in front of her in a begging pose. “Please, can I drive the bus? I’ll be your best friend.”
Lindsey snorted. No one could act out Mo Willems’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! better than Beth.
“You’re already my best friend,” she said. “Which is why I forgive you for saying I look awful.”
“It’s a book hangover, isn’t it?” Paula Turner entered the room, pushing a cart full of craft materials. “Was it A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, our discussion book today?”
“No, I finished that one a few days ago. This was one I picked up on the way out of work last night. I couldn’t put it down,” Lindsey admitted.
“That’s the worst—the best, but also the worst,” Beth said. She plopped down on the couch.
Lindsey draped her arm over her eyes. It wasn’t that she wished her friends would go away exactly, but she had almost managed a fifteen-minute power nap. She had read somewhere that fifteen- to twenty-minute naps could refresh a person without sending them into such a deep sleep that they were groggy all day. Oh, how she wished for that right now.
“What was it? A thriller, romantic suspense, murder mystery?” Paula asked. She tossed her thick blue braid over her shoulder while she set up the large table at the side of the room. “I’m looking for a good read.”
“Thriller,” Lindsey said. “But the author killed off one of my favorite characters at the end, and all I could think was No, take me instead!”
“I hate that,” Nancy Peyton said as she entered the room. “It destroys me when an author kills off a character I’m fond of, especially in a series.”
“But sometimes it has to be done,” Violet La Rue said as she followed her best friend in. “You have to trust the author to be true to the story they need to tell.”
“Not if it breaks my heart, I don’t,” Nancy insisted. Her bright blue eyes sparked with a fierce light as she tossed her short bobbed silver hair as if emphasizing her point. “I will break up with an author over something like that.”
Nancy Peyton had lived in the village of Briar Creek all her life, making her a true Creeker. She’d been married to Captain Jake Peyton, and when his boat went down in a storm, she had never remarried or left her home, choosing to make their captain’s house into a three-family apartment building. Lindsey had rented the third floor from her before she moved in with Sully.
Nancy’s partner in crime in all manner of shenanigans was her best friend, Violet La Rue. Violet had retired to Briar Creek after a long career on the Broadway stage. With her dark skin and warm brown eyes, she was still a great beauty, and with her silver hair scraped back into a bun at the back of her head, her cheekbones dominated her heart-shaped face, which had delivered famous lines from the likes of William Shakespeare and Sam Shepard to appreciative audiences all over the world.
“You’re being thick,” Violet said. “Think of all the great works of literature and how they would be different if the author didn’t follow their vision. Take Romeo and Juliet—it had to end the way it did.”
“Did it?” Lindsey asked. “Couldn’t they have communicated better and ended up living together in some faraway land? Then again, maybe it would have ended exactly the same if they’d gotten married and Juliet discovered Romeo was a morning person who whistled really loudly while he shaved, and one morning she just snapped.”
The room became quiet as her friends stopped talking to stare at her.
“What?” she asked.
“You and Sully have been living together for six months, right?” Violet asked. She sat in an available armchair by the couch, and Nancy did the same.
“Something like that,” Lindsey said.
Nancy exchanged a look with Violet and nodded. “It’s over.”
“What? No!” cried Beth. “How could it be over? It took them forever to get together.” She bounced forward on the couch and reached for Lindsey’s hand, looking devastated. “I mean, if you and Sully can’t make it, Aidan and I—”
“Are still in your honeymoon phase,” Violet interrupted. “Relax. You’re fine.”
“Oh, thank goodness.” Beth sagged with relief and dropped Lindsey’s hand. “I’ve barely gotten used to being Mrs. Barker. I’m not ready for things to go sideways on us.”
“Sully and I are fine,” Lindsey insisted. “It’s just that living with someone, even an awesome someone, is—”
“Annoying, irritating, exasperating, all the ‘-ings,’” Nancy said. “I remember the first few months I was married to Jake, I fantasized about clobbering him with a frying pan more times than I can count.”
“Communication is the key,” Violet said. “But that’s just what I’ve been told. I was married to my career, so I’m not really a go-to person when it comes to relationship advice.”
“What about you, Paula?” Beth asked. “You and Hannah have been living together for the same amount of time as Lindsey and Sully. Is she getting on your nerves, too?”
Paula glanced at Lindsey. She cringed and shook her head. “Sorry. But maybe I’m getting on her nerves. I’ll check and get back to you.”
Lindsey laughed. “Thanks, but I wouldn’t want to stir up any trouble. Probably, my reading until two in the morning gets on his nerves, but Sully’s too polite to say anything.”
“He is very nice,” Nancy said.
“And he’s a man,” Violet said. “They have different expectations.”
The two women exchanged another glance, and Lindsey turned to Beth, who shrugged. She and Aidan Barker had gotten married just a few weeks ago, and she’d been walking on clouds ever since. In other words, she was useless.
“All right, people, I have the craft supplies set up. Where is Ms. Cole? Isn’t she in charge of food today?” Paula asked.
“The lemon—er—Ms. Cole was in the staff lounge last I saw,” Beth said. Ms. Cole was the newest member of their crafternoon group. During the first two years that Lindsey had worked at the library, Ms. Cole had been full of disapproval, and her puckered disposition had caused Beth to dub her “the lemon.”
But they’d been through some dire times at the library, and Ms. Cole had softened toward her fellow librarians and had actually asked to join their book club and invited them to call her Ginny. The new name didn’t take, however, and she remained Ms. Cole to them—and occasionally, when she was being particularly rigid, she was still the lemon. But there was affection there now, too, which made all the difference.
“She was loading up a cart full of food,” Beth continued. “I really hope she made her charlotte russe to go with the book. I love that ladyfinger, raspberry-gelatiny goodness that she made for the last holiday staff party.”
“Should we start on our craft then?” Paula asked.
Beth popped up from her seat first, and the ladies made their way to the craft table.
“Are we late? I tried so hard to get here on time, but babies have their own schedules.” Mary Murphy, Sully’s younger sister, hurried into the room with a baby in a sling across her chest and a padded bag the size of a small car strapped to her back.
As if she knew she was the topic of the conversation, the wee person strapped to Mary’s front shoved a tiny fist into the air and then let out a not-so-delicate wail.
“Josie’s here!” Nancy clapped her hands in delight.
Simultaneously, she and Violet rushed forward as if they were in a race to see who could get their hands on the baby first. Given that Violet was the taller of the two women and her stride longer, she beat Nancy by a grabby hand.
Mary plopped the baby into Violet’s arms and dropped the bag onto the floor. She then collapsed onto the couch, looking like she didn’t intend to move for the rest of the hour.
Both Beth and Paula moved forward to get in line for their turn with the baby. Lindsey did not. She loved little Josie Murphy—after all, she was Sully’s niece and hands down the cutest baby Lindsey had ever seen—but Lindsey was not really a baby person. She didn’t have any younger siblings, just her older brother Jack, and had never babysat while she was growing up. While a clean, sleeping baby was an adorable thing to gaze upon, when they got messy or wailed she found them somewhat terrifying.
She backed up to allow the others access to the baby. Little Josie did not seem to mind being passed around like a hot dish at the dinner table, but still, Lindsey knew what was coming. Someone was going to try to hand her the baby, and Josie, knowing full well that Lindsey should never be entrusted with such a delicate being, would begin to wail, desperate to be rescued. And Lindsey could not blame her one little bit.
She turned away from the group and studied the scene out the window as if she were tracking an incoming storm from the bay. Short of running out of the room, this was her best defense against having the baby passed to her. Just the thought of holding the infant made her hands start to sweat, which convinced her that she’d drop the baby and she’d smash like an egg. No, Lindsey figured she’d wait on the holding thing until Josie was walking or talking or, even better, driving.
Big white fluffy clouds filled the sky. Lindsey scanned them for any distinctive shapes. She saw one that resembled a dragon, but she’d noticed that big cumulus clouds always looked like dragons. The early afternoon sunlight danced on the water in the bay. She gazed at the pier. Sully’s tour boat was out, taking visitors around the Thumb Islands, an archipelago of over a hundred islands of all sizes that filled this small coin pocket of Long Island Sound.
She saw Dennis Greaves and Sam Holloway, two of Briar Creek’s retired residents, across the street in the town park that was on a narrow patch of land between the town beach and the main road. They were sitting at their usual picnic table, enjoying a game of checkers as they did every day around lunchtime.
Lindsey knew Dennis was a big Tom Clancy reader, while Sam came into the library only if he was looking for car-repair manuals. He was always fixing up vintage cars, and the library had manuals going back into the nineteen-twenties. The only reason Lindsey hadn’t thrown them out was because Sam used them every now and again.
Across from Sam and Dennis, Theresa Huston, the local tennis coach, was power walking through the park in her bright turquoise running suit. She was one of Lindsey’s favorite patrons, as they shared a love of poetry, particularly Emily Dickinson. Lindsey waved, but she doubted Theresa could see her.
A pack of five bicyclists pedaled down Main Street, interrupting Lindsey’s view of the park, and her gaze shifted to a group of women down on the small town beach. They were having a picnic with their toddlers, who were racing up and down the sand, kicking inflatable balls almost as big as they were. Adorable. She recognized most of them from Beth’s story times and wondered whether they’d just enjoyed her portrayal as the Pigeon.
Seeing all of the activity, Lindsey felt her sleepiness lift. Spring was here and summer was coming. The sound of tree frogs would fill the nights, and the days would get longer. It was hard to sustain a grumpy mood in the face of such happy activity.
She started to turn back to the room when she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. A car was speeding down Main Street, going way too fast for the pedestrian-friendly area. Lindsey glanced back at the park and saw Theresa step into the crosswalk, where pedestrians clearly had the right-of-way. Lindsey’s heart thudded in her chest. She had the sick feeling that the car wasn’t going to stop.
She glanced to the right, thinking surely the driver would see Theresa and slow down, but he didn’t. Instead of hitting the brakes, the driver sped up. Horror flooded Lindsey as she realized Theresa was going to get hit. She cried out and slapped her hands against the glass window as if she could push Theresa to safety just by willing it. She couldn’t.
With a sickening, bone-crunching thud, Theresa was struck by the car. Lindsey watched as she collapsed back onto the sidewalk and the car took off.
Dennis Greaves and Sam Holloway abandoned their checkers game and raced across the grass as fast as their geriatric bones could carry them. The women on the beach gathered their children and stared wide-eyed at the park above them.
Lindsey spun away from the window and ran from the room, yelling, “Call nine-one-one. Theresa Huston was just hit by a car.”
Lindsey dashed down the hallway. She was forced to take small steps since she was in her pencil skirt and heels, which was just as well, as she had to swerve around two patrons in a tug-of-war over the latest Stephen King novel and a mom pushing a stroller with twin babies. Then she was out the main door and running down the sidewalk with Beth on her heels.
When they reached the street, they stopped to check both ways, and Beth, gasping for breath, asked, “What happened?”
No cars were coming. Lindsey cut across the road, not bothering to use the crosswalk.
“It was a hit-and-run,” Lindsey said. “Theresa stepped into the road, and a car came out of nowhere and hit her and then sped off.”
“Oh my God!” cried Beth.
Together, they reached Theresa. She was lying on her side, curled up into a ball and rocking ever so slightly back and forth. She was gasping and panting, and high-pitched moans were coming from her throat. Dennis and Sam were kneeling beside her, looking as if they were afraid to touch her but wanted to comfort her.
“Theresa, we’ve called an ambulance. What can I do for you?” Lindsey crouched down beside the woman.
“My leg,” Theresa cried. “Oh, my leg. It hurts. It hurts so bad. I think I’m going to be sick.”
A sheen of sweat had beaded up on her skin, which was a sickly shade of gray.
“I think she’s going into shock,” Dennis said. “I saw this when a buddy of mine had his arm blown off in Vietnam.”
“Her leg is definitely broken,” Sam said. “Look at the weird angle of it.”
Lindsey glanced at Theresa’s shin and felt her stomach lurch. It was bent forward. Shins weren’t supposed to go that way. She felt her own stomach roil and knew the pain Theresa was feeling had to be excruciating.
“I think I’m passing out,” Theresa said. Her eyes rolled back into her head, and her entire body relaxed.
“Oh, crap!” cried Beth. She hunkered down beside Lindsey. “Is it okay if she passes out? What if she also hit her head? There could be a traumatic brain injury happening, and passing out would be a definite no-no.”
“You’re supposed to raise a person’s feet when they pass out,” Sam said.
They all glanced at Theresa leg. Lindsey shook her head. No one was willing to touch it and risk causing more damage or hurting her.
“She’s breathing,” Dennis said. He moved closer so he could see the rise and fall of her chest. “I say we let her be, but maybe you should talk to her—you know, reassure her.”
“It’s going to be okay, Theresa,” Lindsey said. She brushed back a hank of thick dark hair from Theresa’s forehead. “We’re here, and we won’t leave you until help arrives.”
Theresa blinked twice, and Lindsey took that to mean she could hear her. A shudder rippled through Theresa’s body, and her teeth were chattering.
“Here, she might be cold from the drop in her blood pressure.” Sam unbuttoned his wool cardigan and handed it to Lindsey to drape over the injured woman.
The sound of a siren was just audible, and Beth said, “I’ll flag them down.”
She jumped up and stood on the side of the road, shoving the hood off her head so she looked less like a pigeon and more like a person. She bounced up and down and waved her arms. The ambulance driver homed in on her and pulled over. In seconds, two EMTs, a male and a female, were out of the vehicle and tending to Theresa and her leg.
Lindsey stepped back to give them room. She stood with the others as they watched the man and woman go to work checking Theresa’s vitals and preparing her to be lifted onto the stretcher.
“What happened?” the woman asked. She glanced up at the group while she opened her medical kit. Her name tag read Annie.
“Hit-and-run,” Lindsey said. The words fell like stones falling from her mouth. A hit-and-run, here in Briar Creek in the middle of the day. It seemed so unthinkable. So unlikely. She glanced up at the sky. The same fluffy white clouds she’d been admiring before were rolling by, but suddenly they felt ominous instead of pretty. She shivered.
“Ma’am, can you hear me?” the male EMT said to Theresa. “I’m going to have to move you just a bit.”
Theresa whimpered, and Lindsey turned her head away. She couldn’t bear to watch. She noticed the others did as well.
“Keep everyone back!” the order was barked from the sidewalk, and Lindsey saw Emma Plewicki, the chief of police, directing one of her men, Officer Kirkland, to keep people away from the area.
It was then that she noticed a crowd had gathered across the street. This was not surprising, given that everyone in the small town kept track of everyone else. This community closeness had seen them through hurricanes, blizzards, summer tourists, and property-tax hikes.
“Lindsey, what happened?” Emma demanded as she joined them.
“Theresa Huston was struck by a car when she stepped off the curb to cross the street,” Lindsey said. “It appears her leg is broken.”
“And the driver?” Emma asked.
“Sped off,” she said.
Emma’s lips compressed to a hard, thin line. Emma Plewicki was a good-looking woman with a heart-shaped face, a head of thick, glossy black hair, and a curvy figure that distracted from the raw muscle beneath the swerves. And most of the time she wore a wide, warm smile that greeted the residents of Briar Creek even while she mediated their difficulties. That smile was gone right now, and in its place was a look of cold fury. Emma took crime in her town personally.
“Can you describe the car?” Emma asked. She pushed her narrow-brimmed police hat back on her head and surveyed the scene, taking in the tire marks on the road and the bent iron fencing that encircled the park. Officer Kirkland was standing on the far side of the road, keeping the gawkers over there while asking questions and canvassing the crowd for any information.
“It was a sedan, four doors, white,” Lindsey said. She glanced at the others. “Right?”
Dennis nodded but Sam shook his head.
“It was a two-door,” Sam said.
“No, it wasn’t,” Dennis argued.
“Oh, what do you know?” Sam asked. “You were about to lose to me at checkers.”
“I was not! I was about to triple jump you for a king.”
The two men looked like they were about to square off for a shoving match. Lindsey eased her way in between them and sent Beth a desperate look. She gave Lindsey a slight nod to let her know her message had been received and slid in betwwen the two men as well, creating a nice two person buffer between them.
“I only saw the back of the car. It was definitely white,” she said. “Honestly, I just followed Lindsey when she ran out of the building. I wasn’t even sure of what was happening.”
“We’re about ready to roll out,” Annie, the medic, said to Emma.
They loaded Theresa onto a stretcher. Her right leg had been braced, and she was strapped down. Annie held up Sam’s sweater, and he took it from her with a nod.
“That was quick thinking,” she said.
Sam shrugged like it was no big deal, but Lindsey could tell he was pleased to have been able to help.
“I’m going to follow them,” Emma said. “Lindsey, can you give me a quick rundown of what you saw?”
“There’s not much to tell. It happened pretty fast. Theresa was walking through the park. She stepped into the road to cross the street, when out of nowhere this car appeared, and before she could get out of the way, it sped up and hit her.”
Emma frowned. “You’re certain it sped up when Theresa stepped into the crosswalk?”
“Positive,” Lindsey said. “I was standing in the back room of the library, looking out the window, and I had just turned away when I saw the car out of the corner of my eye. That’s what made me look. While I was watching I heard the engine rev as the driver sped up.”
“I saw it, too,” Dennis said. “I even said to Sam, ‘What’s that fool doing?’”
“He did,” Sam agreed. He pushed back his baseball cap and scratched his head. “Is Ms. Huston going to be all right?”
“I don’t think we’ll know for sure until she’s had some X-rays,” Emma said. “Back to the vehicle—was there anything distinctive you remember about it? Dents, mismatched tires, broken windows, bumper stickers, anything?”
Lindsey shook her head. The others did the same.
“Did anyone get a look at the driver?” Emma asked.
Lindsey glanced at Sam and Dennis. They’d been closer than she had, but they were elderly and she had no idea how good their eyesight was. Plus, like her, they had probably focused on Theresa and not the car.
“Sorry. I didn’t get a good look,” Sam said.
“Me neither,” Dennis said. “Hell of a thing to have happen.”
“We’re taking her into New Haven,” the male EMT said to Chief Plewicki. He looked as if he was about to say more and then thought better of it. Instead, he helped lift the stretcher into the back of the ambulance and shut the doors.
Lindsey suspected he’d been about to tell them how badly her leg had been broken. He didn’t need to. She doubted she’d get the visual of that weirdly bent leg out of her mind for a long time to come.
“I’m right behind you,” Chief Plewicki said.
She turned and strode toward her squad car.
“Theresa! Oh my God, Theresa!”
They all turned toward the street to see Liza Milstein pushing through the crowd with two students about the same age running beside her. She was a petite young woman in her early twenties with light brown hair that she wore in a ball on top of her head. She was clutching a stack of textbooks in her arms, and her backpack was unzipped and hanging off one shoulder as if she’d been interrupted in the middle of her studies and hadn’t bothered to put her books away. A set of headphones dangled around her neck, but she seemed oblivious to all of it as she ran toward them, looking frightened.
Meredith Lane and Zach Stoliwicz were right behind her. Lindsey had come to know all three of these college students, along with Toby Carter, who wasn’t with them at the moment, as the four students had formed a study group that met in the Briar Creek Public Library two years ago when they began commuting to college in New Haven.
“Theresa—is Theresa Huston in there?” She waved her hand at the ambulance. Liza was panting for breath, and Zach grabbed her backpack before it fell to the ground.
“Maybe,” Emma said. She paused beside the distraught young woman. “Are you family?”
“No, maybe, sort of. Is she all right? What happened?” cried Liza.
Emma gave her a hard stare. “Unless you’re family, I’m not at liberty to—”
“She’s my tennis coach, and she’s engaged to my father. That makes me soon-to-be family. You have to let me see her!”
“She has a right to know,” Meredith said. She supported her friend by putting an arm around her shoulders.
Emma hesitated. Larry Milstein, Liza’s father, was well known in town, as he owned one of the largest furniture franchises in the country and was always good for a donation whenever the town was having a fund-raiser for new school equipment or a new cruiser for the police department. Emma nodded at the driver, and he opened the doors.
“Liza.” Theresa lifted her head with a wince. She glanced at the young woman standing by the open door. “I’m all right. Please don’t worry your father. I’m fine.”
“Worry him?” Liza said. “Look at you—he’s going to go mental.”
She didn’t wait for an invitation but climbed into the ambulance. She turned around and took her backpack from Zach with a quick nod of thanks.
“You don’t have to—” Theresa protested.
“Yes, I do. I won’t leave you alone,” Liza interrupted. She glanced at the driver and scowled. “Can’t you see she’s in pain? Let’s go!”
Liza’s command got everyone moving. The driver shut the door and hurried to the front of the vehicle.
“All right, I’m off. If any of you think of anything you feel is important, call me,” Emma cried over her shoulder as she dashed to her squad car.
“Of course,” Lindsey said.
They stood motionless as the ambulance flipped on its lights and sirens and sped out of town with Chief Plewicki right behind it. The silence that followed their departure felt heavy, as if a large hand were pressing down on the small seaside community, pushing out the air and making it hard to breathe.
“I have lived here all my life,” Dennis said. “And I have never seen anything like that. A hit-and-run, can you believe it? Right here in the center of town in broad daylight.”
“What is wrong with people?” Sam agreed. “He didn’t slow down or stop or anything. He had to have seen her. He intentionally swerved into the bike lane to hit her.”
“He?” Lindsey asked. “Did you see that it was a man?”
Sam frowned, then shook his head. “He had a hat on. I just assumed it was a man.”
“Did either of you recognize the car?” She glanced between Sam and Dennis.
“It was a Chevy,” Dennis said.
“No, it was a Honda,” Sam argued.
“What sort of hat was he wearing?” Beth asked.
Lindsey gave her an approving nod. Good question.
“Baseball hat,” Sam said. “A Mets hat.”
“No, it was a Yankees hat,” Dennis argued.
“Either way, you should tell Chief Plewicki that the driver was wearing a hat,” Lindsey said. “That’s the sort of detail she was looking for. Did you see anything else, anything at all?”
“No,” they said together.
Lindsey glanced at Beth. She looked as discouraged as Lindsey felt. She supposed this was why eyewitnesses were frequently considered unreliable. Three of them had been watching, and they couldn’t agree on the type of car or the type of hat the driver was wearing, none of it, and they had all seen the exact same thing.
“Hey!” Toby Carter, another student from the study group, jogged toward them. “Did I just see Liza climb into an ambulance? Is she okay?”
“She’s all right,” Meredith said. She turned to face Toby. “But Theresa, her dad’s fiancée, was hit by a car. That’s who was in the ambulance.”
“Oh no.” Toby frowned. “Is she going to be all right?”
Zach shrugged. “It looked pretty bad. We saw the crowd gathering from the library window, and Liza recognized Theresa’s sweat suit and came running out here. Where were you? You know we were supposed to meet up to study, right?”
“Yeah, sorry, I spaced on the time,” Toby said. He glanced away, taking in the calm water of the bay before turning back to his friends. “Did anyone see the driver? I mean, who would drive like that through the middle of town?”
“That’s what I want to know. A crazy driver almost took me out in front of the Blue Anchor, and he was coming from this direction.” Charlie Peyton, Nancy’s nephew who worked for Sully part-time as a boat captain, strode toward them. His shoulder-length black hair hung over his face, and when he pushed it back out of his eyes, Lindsey noticed his fingers were shaking.
“You all right, Charlie?” she asked.
He put his hand on the back of his neck. “Yeah, I’m just a little shook up. I’d just finished my lunch at the Anchor when I heard a car screech. I stepped out to see what was happening, and the guy almost hit me. I had to dive out of the way.”
He gestured to his jeans, and Lindsey noticed one knee was torn and his Doc Martens were scuffed. He was sweating profusely for a day that was on the brisk side of cool, and his eyes were wide, as if he were stuck in a permanent state of surprise.
“White car?” Lindsey asked.
“Theresa Huston was crossing the street and was hit by a car, a white car, just a little while ago,” Beth said. “I’m sure it was the same one that almost hit you.”
“Oh, that’s awful!” one of the women from the beach said as she joined their small group. “We could hear the commotion but couldn’t see anything. I was afraid to come up from the beach in case it was some sort of nutjob on the loose.”
“What’s worse is the driver took off,” Sam said.
Dennis looked at Charlie. “You didn’t recognize him, did you?”
Charlie shook his head. “No, but I’ll remember his hooked nose and beady-eyed stare for the rest of my life. If I did know him, I’d have chased him down.”
“Good thing you didn’t then,” Beth said. “Clearly, the person is disturbed. If they didn’t stop when they hit one pedestrian, they weren’t going to stop for a second.”
Charlie was shockingly pale, and Lindsey could tell he was trying to shake off the adrenaline surge that had left him shaky. She gave him a bracing hug.
“I’m glad you’re all right,” she said. Charlie hugged her back hard, and Lindsey felt the breath get squeezed out of her lungs. As if realizing he was holding her too tight, Charlie quickly released her and stepped back. “Sorry.”
“It’s ok—” Lindsey was cut off by an imperious voice coming from the curb.
“Officer Kirkland, you will let me pass, or I will take down your badge number and file a formal complaint.”
They turned as one to see Nancy Peyton nose to nose with Officer Kirkland, who was doing his best to cordon off the area with some plastic yellow crime scene tape.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but I can’t have people traipsing through—”
“That is my nephew,” Nancy declared. “If you want to keep me from him, you’ll have to arrest me.”
They stared at each other for several seconds, and the Kirkland grunted. In the battle of wills, Nancy had forty years of sharply honed endurance on him. He didn’t stand a chance.
“Fine, but walk around and not through the area where the victim was struck by the car.” Officer Kirkland rolled his eyes toward the heavens as if seeking patience.
“Charlie, are you all right?” Nancy cried as she jogged around the crime scene perimeter and reached for her nephew. She wrapped him in a fierce hug, and then leaned back to study him. “You look like you were in a fight.”
“I’m all right, Nanners,” he said. He hugged her back, and Lindsey noticed he looked less shaky. “I’m in better shape than Theresa Huston, at any rate.”
Another squad car arrived, and Kirkland ushered all the bystanders out of the area so that the police could investigate the scene. Lindsey glanced at the dented railing and wondered whether they would call the state police crime scene unit to come and collect paint scrapings or note any tire marks that might help identify the car that was involved.
Her curiosity made her want to linger, but Lindsey knew the most helpful thing she could do was to get out of the way. Besides, it was possible that someone in the library had seen something, and maybe she could get some information for Chief Plewicki.
“Let’s head back to the library,” she said to Beth. “We should tell the others what happened.”
“Right,” Beth said. “And maybe if we’re lucky, one of our patrons saw something that will help the police out.”
Lindsey glanced at her, and Beth shook her head. “Don’t even pretend you weren’t thinking the same thing.”
“Oh, I was thinking it,” Lindsey admitted. “I’m just surprised that you were.”
“Clearly, I’ve been spending too much time with you,” Beth said. “Being a buttinsky is contagious.”
Lindsey laughed. She knew her need for information was usually her downfall. Over the past couple of years, she’d had several harrowing episodes, such as boat chases, being held at gunpoint, and locked in a storage shed in the dead of winter. All of these things should have nipped her curiosity, but no. Instead, she took comfort in the fact that in each instance, the criminal had been caught because she hadn’t been able to ignore pursuing the facts. She felt the same need for answers right now.
It was like an incurable disease. She desperately wanted to know who was driving that car. Why had they sped up when Theresa stepped into the road? Was it an accident or on purpose? Where had they gone? Were they drunk or uninsured? Had they just panicked? It didn’t feel like it to Lindsey. From what she had seen, the car had appeared to be aiming for Theresa. Was Theresa the target, or was the driver out to hit anyone who got in their way? The questions spun through Lindsey’s mind, ending with the most concerning of all: If Theresa was a target, would the driver come back and try it again? Lindsey knew the events of the day would plague her until she had some answers, and what better place to start asking questions than the library?