As the three dig deeper, disturbing facts begin to pile up: one boy killed every year; all older brothers; all had spent New Year's Eve in the idyllic town of Summerton. But when their search for the serial killer takes an unexpected turn, suspicion is cast on those they trust the most.
As secrets shatter around them, can they save the next victim? Or will they become victims themselves?
|Publisher:||Little, Brown Books for Young Readers|
|Sold by:||Hachette Digital, Inc.|
|File size:||891 KB|
|Age Range:||12 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Karen Healey is the author of the Aurealis winner and William C. Morris Debut Award finalist Guardian of the Dead, The Shattering, and When We Wake. She technically lives in New Zealand, but actually lives on the internet. You can find her at karenhealey.com.
Read an Excerpt
By Karen Healey
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2011 Karen Healey
All right reserved.
THE FIRST TIME I BROKE MY ARM, I WAS READY for it.
I was seven years old, and Janna van der Zaag and I were playing in her backyard. Janna’s backyard was a fantastic place for kids—a big dollhouse and a lot of bush out back for playing hide-and-seek in and a brand-new zip line her dad had made, sloping from a tall platform built into the sturdiest tree down to a brace attached to the next sturdiest.
Janna had been using the zip line for days, and she flew down with style, blond hair like a banner, the T-bar gripped tightly in her hands. I climbed the ladder and clung there as she ran the T-bar back up to me on its long rope. The zip line hadn’t seemed so high up from the ground.
What if I fell off and broke my arm? I thought. And I mean I really thought. I pictured it in my mind, working out the way it could happen and what I should do if it did. I decided that a bone would go crunch or crack, and I would sit up and cradle my arm and yell, “Janna, get your mum!” and then go to the doctor in the family’s big blue van that fit all the van der Zaag kids for Sunday Mass.
Then I opened my eyes, grabbed the T-bar, and took off flying all the way down the wire, screaming laughter at the rush of flight. My landing was perfect, and I ran the T-bar back up to Janna for her turn, heart jumping with joy and terror.
My body was so free.
On the fourth time down the line, my palms were too sweaty. They slipped, I fell, my left arm went crack, and I yelled, “Janna, get your mum!” before her big blue eyes could even fill with tears.
Everyone praised me for being so brave, but I had still been scared. I had only known what to do if the worst happened.
After that, it just seemed a good idea to be prepared. I hung a go-bag on my door in case of a fire or an earthquake and put a mini first-aid kit in my backpack, and I rehearsed possible disasters in my head, over and over, until I was sure I knew how to react.
I knew it sounded a little bit crazy, and I stopped telling anyone about it when Hemi Koroheke called me creepy and, with smug emphasis, neurotic, which was our Year Eight Word of the Day.
But I did it anyway. I had plans for what eulogy to give if both my parents were hit by a car, how to escape or attract help if I were kidnapped, and how to survive if I were lost in the bush. It wasn’t as if I thought all these things were likely to happen. But I knew they could, and if they did, I wanted to be ready.
In the end, it didn’t do me any good. Because I didn’t have a plan for what to do if my older brother put Dad’s shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger with his toes.
I found Jake—I mean, I found the body—but I don’t remember that. A couple of weeks later I couldn’t find my favorite pair of jeans, and Mum said she threw them out because of the blood, and I suddenly remembered the feeling of something heavy in my lap. I might have imagined it—I don’t know. But I think it was real, that memory of wet weight across my thighs.
That’s it, though.
Jake killed himself and he didn’t leave a note, and I lost bits of my memory and my favorite pair of jeans. I’ll never get a pair like those again—they don’t make that style anymore. They were scuffed in all the right places and cut to fit my short legs and big bum, and they were comfortable and a choice faded dark blue that looked good with everything.
That’s not a metaphor. I loved those jeans.
I loved my brother more. Jake was my favorite person—my best friend, my first supporter, the last one to get angry with me when I said something that was just too sarcastic. At nineteen, he was two years older than me, but we weren’t one of those sibling pairs who hated each other as kids and then hit adolescence and got along. We’d always been that close. My first word was Chay.
There had been no warning. He didn’t give away his possessions or say things like “It’ll all be over soon.” His girlfriend, Sandra-Claire, swore up and down that he didn’t act depressed or fight with her, and even though she is a heinous bleached and bony bitch who told me that if I kept cutting my hair short everyone would think I was a lesbian (and she didn’t say lesbian), I believed that Jake hadn’t done any of that stuff, because I knew he would have told me first.
I knew what to do if someone you love showed signs of suicide, because we’d studied it in Health. It’s a myth that people who talk about it aren’t going to do it; 74 percent of suicides give a warning sign of some kind, and if Jake had ever mentioned it, I would have had a plan. A plan for what to say, how to tell Mum and Dad, what to do if he did it and failed, what to do if he did it and succeeded, what to do if he did it and succeeded and I found the body. But he didn’t and I didn’t, and it happened anyway. It made no sense at all.
It was a lot easier to think about how irrational Jake’s killing himself was than to think about how my insides had been ripped out.
Because Jake’s death was a suicide, we nearly didn’t get to hold a proper tangi, in case all the celebration and ceremony for the dead encouraged other kids to copy him. But I think Nanny Hinekura put her foot down, and all the family on Dad’s side turned up at the marae farther down the coast. It was three days of people crowding around us and talking about Jake. All the stories: how he’d bagged his first deer; how he’d gotten his first swimming medal by crashing into the end of the pool; how one Christmas he’d played PlayStation for twenty-one hours against any cousin who’d take him on, and he’d fallen asleep in front of the TV, thumbs still twitching. I liked the stories a lot better than the formal speeches, which were mostly in Maāori. I’m all for valuing our cultural heritage and that, and I’d taken Maāori for two years to make Nanny Hinekura happy, but it turned out I was just no good at languages.
Jake was much better. He would have translated for me.
The mourners cried and laughed and talked—so much noise, everyone saying “Jake, Jake, Jake,” echoing the way my heart beat out his name. When everyone slept, on the mattresses spread out under the high carved rafters of the wharenui roof, I could feel the thick emotion leeching out of them, sticking to my skin like steam. I was surrounded by love, but it felt like I was smothered by it. I’d been at tangi before and watched grieving families take comfort. But I couldn’t. Not with Jake in the closed coffin beside us instead of sitting with me, adding his own stories to this mix.
I gripped Mum’s hand, very pale in mine, and didn’t let go.
Once we went back to Summerton, I didn’t go to school for the last bit of the year—there was no point with the Christmas holidays coming so soon, and I got compassionate consideration on all my final assessments anyway. Mum cleaned the house as if she would die if she didn’t, and Dad had to go back to work. I walked a lot, trying to avoid people who would say useless, comforting things, like “Well, I’m sure he’s in a better place.”
I couldn’t believe any of that crap. The room he’d died in had been blessed and a farewell karakia chanted, but Jake wasn’t going to take the long trip to Cape Reinga to find the home of Dad’s ancestors. He wasn’t in heaven with some white-bearded God. He wasn’t hanging around, keeping an eye on me. And he sure couldn’t do all three, which was what Nanny Hinekura seemed to believe. Those were just stories, things people made up to make the world nicer. How did they know? Where was the proof?
No, Jake was dead. He wasn’t in a better place. Everything left of him was in the ground, where it would rot.
Two weeks after the burial, I was in Summerton’s only department store, trying to find a replacement pair of jeans. Janna van der Zaag walked up to me and said, “If you want to find out who murdered your brother, follow me.”
So I did.
Janna was cute and short when she was seven. Now she was tall and skinny and gorgeous in a perky blond-and-milky-complexion way, which was probably one of the reasons why she put on eye makeup like she was painting the house and dyed her hair every two weeks (right now it was shiny purple-black) and wore black velvet blazers and plaid skirts.
The other reason was that she was in a band.
She looked right at home in the alley between Lauer’s Department Store and Mimi’s Muffins, leaning up against the redbrick wall behind the trash-filled Dumpster, wanting to talk to me about murder.
“Hi, Stardust,” I said. “I thought you only came out at night, with the other vampires.” Ever since primary school, everyone had called Janna Stardust: van der Zaag → Zigzag → Ziggy Stardust → Stardust. So it’s not actually a cool nickname, but she acts like it is.
Normally this is the sort of thing that gets me a reputation for being a bitch, but Janna didn’t seem to care that I’d just called her a bloodsucking creature of the night. She probably thought it was a compliment.
“Do you believe me?” she said. “About the murder?”
I looked at my fingernails, all bitten down to raw nubs. “Not yet. But it makes sense.”
She nodded. “No note, right? No warning?”
My interest sharpened. “Right.”
“I knew it. Exactly the same thing happened to Schuyler.”
I very nearly said, “Who’s Schuyler?” but then my brain got in the way. Schuyler was Janna’s older brother. He’d killed himself ten years ago by hanging himself in the garage. It happened about three weeks after I broke my arm on the zip line.
“Someone murdered your brother?” I said instead, and Janna nodded again, tugging at her collar with black-painted fingernails. Hers weren’t bitten at all.
I leaned my head to one side. “Huh.”
“You’re weirdly calm about this,” she said.
“I’ll cry later,” I told her. She rolled her eyes, so she might have thought I was being sarcastic, but I was telling the truth. I felt like a girl-shaped open sore, walking through a world made up of salt and lemon juice. But there was a limit to how much anyone could cry in public, and I’d reached that limit at the tangi, tears rolling down my face while the aunties clustered around me.
I refocused. “If you think they were murdered, shouldn’t you go to the police?”
She laughed. “In this town? I don’t know who the murderer is, but he’d know I’d been talking in about ten minutes. Twenty, tops.” She made a gesture at her throat. “And then I might ‘suicide.’ ”
She had a point, even if she was being typically melodramatic about it. It didn’t take long for gossip to get around Summerton.
“I want you to meet someone,” she said.
“This guy I know. He gets here from Auckland tomorrow.”
I choked on a laugh. “Wait, he’s a tourist?”
“Sione’s a good guy!” she said, really defensively, as if being a tourist and being a good guy were normally mutually exclusive. As far as I could tell, they were. Summerton is a tourist town. People got worried a while ago when an earthquake destroyed the famous limestone Steps to Heaven, which stood just off the coast, but the tourists keep coming every summer, and the money keeps rolling in. In fact, there are more tourists now than ever before. Other towns on the coast have lost young people to the cities and old people to retirement. Thanks to the tourists, Summerton’s still going strong.
But no one actually likes the tourists, though people like Janna are happy to party with them. In my experience, most of the tourists are rich snobs, and the ones our age are only interested in surfing, snogging people of the opposite gender (mostly other tourists), and leaving puddles of vomit drying on the streets for me to dodge when I did my paper route.
“He lost someone, too,” Janna said.
“Has he looked under the couch?” I asked.
Janna gave me a look that said I wasn’t following the script and then proved she had a sense of humor by giggling. But she looked guilty afterward. “Are you doing okay?” she asked, and her voice was soft and kind.
Up until then, I had been just about enjoying the conversation. Sure, Jake had been a big part of it, like every other conversation I’d had for the past few weeks. But Janna hadn’t bothered to keep her voice low and her gestures gentle, or even, right up to that point, ask me how I was.
“How do you think I feel?” I said.
“How I felt,” she said. “How Sione feels.”
I rocked back on my heels and considered it.
“We’ll meet tomorrow at the Kahawai to show you something,” she said. “Eight PM. Okay?”
“Well,” she said, and made a sort of uncertain gesture. “And… I can’t believe I didn’t start by telling you that I’m really sorry. Because I am.”
“It’s okay. We’re not exactly friends.”
“Well, we used to be. And Jake was always nice to me.”
Jake was always nice to everyone. I took a deep, deep breath against the hurt and the tears. “See you tomorrow.”
Other people might have tried to hug me, but Janna just nodded and walked away, the thick soles of her red platform shoes making no sound on the asphalt. I sniffled for a while, then took more deep breaths of leftover-food stink. How could anyone wear black velvet in this weather? She must have been sweating like a pig under all that makeup.
I wondered if she was pulling some kind of joke. I didn’t really know much about her now, and people change a lot from when they were seven. We didn’t play pretend anymore; I played rugby, and she played bass. Not that you couldn’t do both, but we didn’t. We were in the same English class (I was okay; she sucked), and we knew each other enough to say “Hi” and “Good game” and “Good gig.”
That was about it.
But I was pretty sure she wouldn’t do this to me, not after Schuyler. Her intense face had said she believed every word coming out of her mouth. So she was delusional or had been fooled by this Sione guy—or she was right. Jake had been murdered.
I scrubbed my eyes with my T-shirt hem. I didn’t have what I’d come for, but I didn’t want to go back to Lauer’s and buy inferior jeans from Candace Green or let anyone in Summerton see me and think, That poor Keri, she’s been crying again.
I had to get through the holidays. The holidays and then one more year of school and the holidays again. Then I could get out of here. Go to uni in Dunedin, or head to London for a working holiday, or anything to get away from Summerton and the room I couldn’t go into and the memory of Jake laughing all over town and heavy and wet in my lap.
I rode home with the sun on my back, warm through my T-shirt. It rains a lot on the West Coast—outsiders joke that it should be called the Wet Coast—but Summerton has the kind of summers you read about in books. Long, warm, dry days, perfect for swimming or lazing around with a book or doing a bit of a hike in the green and shady bush. But maybe not so good for biking along Iron Road, up the hill, past the fancy hotels and time-share apartments, to the places where real people actually lived. There was sweat pooling unpleasantly at the base of my spine.
I coasted down the concrete driveway, leaned the bike against the garage, and slammed my way into the kitchen. I needed a shower, a cold drink, and some quiet to think about what Janna had said.
Mum was waiting for me, still in her clean white blouse and black trousers, but her sleek, blond hair was falling out of its French knot, and her eyes had that red pinched look.
“Where have you been?” she snapped.
“I went to buy jeans.”
“You didn’t tell me you were going out!”
“You were at work.”
“You could have dropped in. You have to tell me when you go places, Keri!”
“No, I don’t,” I said, and she reached across the kitchen island and slapped me. I stared at her for a moment, then slapped her back.
“Oh, God,” she said, and spun away to lean over the counter.
“I won’t do it, Mum,” I said. “Not ever.” Damn Jake anyway, I thought, and then felt guilty for the rage. My hand was stinging, and pain and anger and guilt went around and around in my brain. Grief was so exhausting.
“I know.” She gulped and wiped her eyes. “I’m sorry. I had a tough day at work, and then you weren’t here and I worried. I shouldn’t have slapped you.”
“I’m sorry, too,” I said. I was wondering about evidence. Maybe there’d been something peculiar about Jake’s body—a dropped cigarette butt or something, anything to point to a murder and not a suicide, something to prove that Janna wasn’t being weird and crazy. The police had investigated, of course, with officers coming across from district headquarters in Nelson to assist the locals and everything, but they’d mostly seemed concerned with making sure that Dad had his firearms license and had followed the safety rules.
Which he had. The shotgun and the two rifles were always unloaded and locked up when they weren’t in use, and the ammunition was stored separately. But Jake had his own license, and he knew where the keys were.
The cops had seemed satisfied with that, though there had to be an inquest anyway after the holidays.
Mum might have seen something more. I found the body, but she found me holding it, and there were no gaps in her memory.
But I wasn’t going to ask her now, when she was slapping me and home early from her first day back at work.
“I saw Janna van der Zaag today,” I said instead.
Mum was pouring herself a glass of water. “How’s she?” she said, and then turned, face crinkling. “Didn’t her brother—”
“Yes,” I said. “She said she knows how I feel.”
Like no one else did. No one in Summerton had died so young or so violently for years and years. No one else knew what to say.
“You two used to be such good friends.”
“I’m meeting her for dinner tomorrow. To meet a friend of hers. If that’s okay?”
“Of course, Keri,” she said. “Here, let me—where are you going?” I let her reach for her handbag on the table, even though I had my own money from the paper route and I knew Mum and Dad were running short. The funeral and burial had been expensive. The family had given us koha to help, of course, crisp notes in clean envelopes, but the costs added up.
But this was Mum’s way of apologizing for hitting me. So I stood there and waited for the cash.
“Janna said the Kahawai.”
Mum hesitated and then pulled out a purple note instead of a green. I blinked at the fifty-dollar note but tucked it into my pocket.
“Try the snapper,” she suggested, as friendly and detached as if I were one of the hotel guests. Then her face stopped being Ms. Lillian Pedersen-Doherty, concierge extraordinaire, and went back to being Mum. “No drinking, home by ten thirty.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, hoping to make her smile.
She was looking at my empty hands. “Didn’t you find any?”
“Oh. No. Nothing that really fit the same.”
She nodded again, rubbing her eyes. I had a sudden vision of what she would look like when she was old. “I’m going to lie down. Can you scrub some potatoes?”
“Sure,” I said.
I could scrub spuds and tell her where I was going when I left the house and take her apology money, and none of it would do anything to really help. Mum needed Jake back; she needed him to have never done it. I couldn’t do anything about that.
Unless he hadn’t.
Right then, in the kitchen, I decided that Janna had to be right. Jake had been murdered.
I felt the world click into place again. I had a plan for what to do if a member of my family was murdered.
It went (1) find the killer, (2) make sure he was guilty, (3) destroy him.
SIONE INCHED CLOSER TO THE BUS window and wished, for about the 912th time, that he’d had the guts to say no to Janna.
“So you’re traveling alone?” the elderly white woman sitting next to him persisted. “It’s a real family vacation spot, I thought.”
Sione nodded. She’d been talking since the bus left Nelson, and he had managed not to say much, which was almost as good as not having to speak at all. She probably thought she was being nice, but conversation with strangers was hard and small talk was torture.
“You kids are all so independent these days,” she said. “I’m always surprised by what your parents let you do.”
Me, too, he thought, but managed to come up with, “I’m meeting friends.”
“Ahhhh. A group of you, is it? Are you going early or late?”
“Friends who live in Summerton.” Well, Janna was his friend, sort of. This Keri girl was an unknown quantity. If Janna was wrong, and Keri thought they were nutcases and started talking, it could ruin everything. Mum would be on the next flight back from Samoa.
But when Janna suggested bringing Keri in, he hadn’t said no.
“This is beautiful, isn’t it?” the woman said, and leaned over Sione to stare out the window at the intricate shades of green that made up the view. “Is this your first time, too?”
“No. I’ve come with family before.” Mum and Dad in front, and he and Matthew in the back, up and down the road that wound through the Karamea peninsula, over the hill to its tip, where Summerton, the most beautiful place in the world, was nestled in the bay. Matthew would have been able to talk to this lady. He’d have charmed her and flirted a little, but not too much, and by the time she got off the bus, she’d be eager to tell all her friends about the nice Pacific Islander boy who’d been so polite.
Instead of the sullen P.I. boy who kept staring at his fingernails.
“Are you going for a holiday?” Sione said, and then wanted to put his head through the window’s glass. Of course she was going for a holiday. Retired old ladies didn’t go to vacation spots for business.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. Sione Felise, total spaz.
But she gave him a kind look and nodded. “Yes, dear. With the lawn bowls club. I’m heading down a little early to make sure everything’s prepared.”
Sione nodded, aware that his cheeks were hot with embarrassment. She was probably being nice because he looked so awkward. Which meant that she would have to be nice to him until the end of time, because he was always awkward. He could try to make it up to her, though. “Would you like to swap seats? The view’s best as you come in.”
“Oh, no, I’m fine, dear.”
But she leaned over him anyway as the bus rose and then dropped over the last big hill, the bay spread out before them. The entire bus held its collective breath, staring down at heaven.
By the time he could blink, his eyes were stinging, and nearly everyone on the bus was wiping away tears. The Summerton magic, the tourism videos called it, though it never looked that good on TV. In person, it was nearly impossible to look away.
He felt wrong about it, though. It should have been less beautiful now that Matthew was dead.
He got to the meeting spot far too early. The restaurant was already busy. Besides him and two Asian couples by the big windows overlooking the balcony, everyone else was white. The only person in the restaurant who looked anything like him was the guy behind the bar, waiting in his black apron with his big brown arms folded over his barrel chest.
The bartender saw Sione looking and winked as he went past.
Matthew would have gone over and said hi, and they’d have been lifelong mates after five minutes. Sione nodded, jerky, and let the blond waitress show him to the private room Janna had reserved.
It was a little alcove beside the balcony with a view of the sea, probably meant for honeymooners, and maybe too small for three people. But it had its own door that closed, and that was important. Sione didn’t like strangers listening to him at the best of times, but especially not when it was this kind of information.
He tugged on his pressed cuffs. He was worried about the shirt, which was an Elusiv design, olive with subtle black stitching picking out a pattern on the back and at the side. Would it impress Janna, or would she think he was showing off? He hadn’t really brought anything cheaper. Maybe he should have gone full out in the other direction and worn a tie.
He checked his watch and tapped his fingers on the table.
The waitress knocked and opened the door. “Drink while you wait?” she asked.
“Orange juice. Please.”
“Sure thing. What’s your name? You look familiar.”
Her eyes went a little wide. No way people had heard of his dad down here. No way. Maybe she just recognized him because they’d been coming here for so long for the holidays. Or maybe she’d hooked up with Matthew sometime.
She didn’t say anything, though, just, “I’ll get your juice.”
He told himself he was imagining the look she gave him as she left, leaving the door open. “Van der Zaag party?” he heard her say outside. “This way.”
Sione looked up, hoping for Janna. It wasn’t, of course.
This Keri looked a little bit Islander herself. She was short and sturdy, with short, dark hair lying shaggily around the small features of her snub-nosed face and skin a few shades lighter than his medium golden-brown. Green eyes, taking him in, his fancy shirt and black trousers.
He tried not to steel himself too obviously to the task of greeting her and stood up, holding out his hand. “Hi, Keri? I’m Sione.”
Keri’s little fingers squeezed around his in a firm, warm grip. She looked at her rumpled cargo shorts and baggy, dusty-green T-shirt. “I should have dressed up.”
“Uh, it’s okay.”
“I knew that I should have dressed up. I just didn’t think of it.” Her voice was nice, soft and sort of furry. “It’s hard to think sometimes. Since it happened. Does that sound crazy?”
So she wasn’t much for small talk, either. “Not really,” he heard himself say. “Right after Matthew… died, I thought I could hear him talking to me in my dreams. Whenever the phone rang and stopped ringing before I could pick up, I thought it was him checking in. That’s crazy.” Oh, Jesus. He had told a girl he’d just met that he was a head case.
But she didn’t run screaming from the room or shoot him down with the loser look. Instead she gave him a half smile and said, “My nanny believes things like that. But you don’t think that now?”
“No,” he said, which was mostly true. “It’s been… how long for you? Since?”
“Nineteen days.” She said it automatically, without having to count, and he recognized that, too.
“Oh, man. You’re allowed to still be crazy.”
Keri grinned at him properly then, and her green eyes lit right up, crinkling at the edges. “What’s your surname? Janna didn’t say.”
“Felise. It’s Samoan,” he added, and then felt like a dick. “I mean… I’m Samoan.”
She only nodded. “My dad’s Kāi Tahu, my mum’s Pākehā. How long for you?”
“Six months, and”—he paused, thinking—“four days.”
“Hey!” Janna said, walking in. Something thumped hard into the pit of Sione’s stomach. The room was suddenly close and hot. She’d dressed up, a black strapless dress that hugged her—well, her chest—and then flared out over a stiff net petticoat and ended at her knees. She was wearing stompy black boots that laced up to her knees and shiny red gloves that fit over her elbow.
Sione knew instantly that he should have worn a tie.
“You look like an evil debutante,” Keri said.
“That was the idea,” Janna said, and stripped off her gloves. “God, these are hot. Hey, Sione! Looking good! Have you gotten taller since last summer?”
He had. But he still wasn’t as tall as Matthew. “Little bit.”
Keri leaned in, clearly not caring at all about his height. “Janna, you said Sione had something to show me.”
Sione reached for his laptop, but Janna put her hand over his, and he froze, trying not to move into her touch.
“Drinks, then talk, then dinner,” she decreed, and while Keri’s eyebrows rose, she seemed okay with letting Janna call the waitress back.
“So how do you two know each other?” Keri asked when the drinks arrived.
Sione felt the flush start under his collarbone. “Uh, well,” he began. “We met at the gelato place last year—”
“We hooked up on New Year’s Eve at the Beach Bash,” Janna said.
“Weren’t you going out with Patrick Tan?” Keri said.
“No, we broke up before Christmas. And then he rebounded with Serena White. But then she got together with Christian Gough at New Year’s, and then Patrick wanted to get back with me, and I said no chance, and then Serena changed her mind, and they hooked up again anyway.” Janna shrugged. “Whatever, right? Anyway, I don’t cheat.” She picked up her glass.
“Oh, yes, you do,” Keri said. “You married me behind the bike sheds when we were seven. We exchanged gummy rings. Does that mean nothing to you? You’re a cheating whore, Stardust, and I want a divorce.”
Janna snorted into her drink and flapped her hands wildly. “No fair,” she protested when she got her breath back. “You’re not allowed to be funny when I’ve got something in my mouth.”
“That’s what you say to all the boys.” Keri sighed and turned to Sione before Janna could respond with more than stutters. “So, now talk. I guess you brought the laptop for a reason?”
He nodded and opened it without speaking. It was better to be careful with girls like Keri, all fast brain and sharp tongue; they could turn you inside out in double time. Some of his girl cousins were like that; they made a game out of it.
“Don’t the black ones cost more?” Janna said enviously, staring at his laptop, and when he shrugged, she leaned over and nudged Keri. “Sione’s parents are loaded.”
“Not loaded,” he protested. “Just… we do okay.”
“Felise Finance,” Janna said. “For all your investment needs.”
He pulled up the spreadsheet, spun the laptop around so it faced the girls, and glared at the back of it. There was nothing to say to people about the money. He didn’t have money; his dad did. And he couldn’t exactly choose for his dad not to have it, could he?
Keri’s green eyes focused on the spreadsheet. “Okay,” she said. “What am I looking at?”
Now that was something he could talk about. Sione shifted his chair closer to hers. “They’re arranged by year.” He pointed at the columns. “That’s the name. That’s the date they did it. That’s the location. That’s the… uh, method.”
“Strangulation,” Keri read. “Poison. Exsanguination?”
Janna made a slashing gesture down the inside of one wrist and grimaced.
Keri’s mouth twisted. “Strangulation… that’s popular, three entries. I guess that’s hanging? Poison again. Carbon monoxide. Gunshot.” Her voice was as flat on that as on the others, but the table rattled as her hands pressed convulsively against the edge.
“Do you see the patterns?” Sione asked.
“These all look like guys’ names. The locations are all over the place, but the dates are pretty close together. One most years—you’ve got a few gaps here—and two this year.”
“We’re pretty sure there’s at least one every year, around the middle of winter,” Sione told her. “But I wasn’t able to confirm for these three. I didn’t want to add unconfirmed data.” He pointed at the entry above the last one. “That’s Matthew.”
“And that’s Jake. And Schuyler up here at the top.” Keri looked up. “So these are all supposed to be suicides, I get it. But it doesn’t say anything about murder.”
“No,” Sione agreed. “But in the year they killed themselves, every one of those guys was in Summerton for New Year’s Eve. And not one of them left a note.”
Keri’s gaze jerked up from the screen to meet his. There was a noise outside, and they all went still, but the waitress’s voice said, “It’s just me. I can’t open the door, could you—”
Keri got the door and took her own plate from the waitress, freeing one of her hands. “Thanks, Emily,” Keri said.
The waitress leaned over Sione’s shoulder to put down his plate and then paused, blinking at the laptop screen. Sione swung it closed, feeling an uncertain smile tug at his mouth. Even a fast reader couldn’t have seen much, he told himself. Just a spreadsheet with some boys’ names.
At any rate, the waitress didn’t say anything, just wished them happy eating. The door closed behind her with a soft click, and they all looked at one another. Sione was dying for one of the girls to break the silence.
“So what I think you’re saying,” Keri said at last, “is that there’s a serial killer in town.”
Keri didn’t seem to be a very trusting person. She had questions. Lots of them. As they picked at their food, Sione and Janna tried to answer them to her satisfaction.
“He e-mailed me,” Janna said. “When Matthew…” She made a waving gesture. “And I said, that’s awful, Schuyler, too.”
Sione nodded. That e-mail had been so stupid—a sort of long, heartsore wail to a girl he’d kissed once and thought about ever since and talked to only a couple of times on IM.
But after that e-mail, Janna had been kind.
Sione tried to ignore the mixed guilt and triumph in that thought and spoke again. “It was only a coincidence until I met Tarquin.”
“Tarquin?” Keri said. “Did his parents hate him?”
“From what he said, pretty much. We met at a grief support group for teenagers.” Keri’s eyebrow flickered, and he figured she was one of those people, the tough-it-out-yourself kind. “My mum’s a psychotherapist,” he said, trying not to sound either defensive or preachy. “The group helped a lot. Anyway, he talked about the last family holiday he had with his brother, before he killed himself last year.”
“It was in Summerton,” Keri said flatly.
“And I said, hey, me, too, what a coincidence. And he got really freaked out.” Sione remembered Tarquin’s sudden interest interrupting his perpetual stoner haze. It had been about the only emotion Tarquin had ever shown in the group sessions. He had been a really good example of how not to deal. “Because it turned out—”
“He knew someone else whose brother had killed himself, who’d spent New Year’s in Summerton.”
Janna grinned. “I told you she was smart.”
One of those girls. “Yes. Five years ago.”
“So you asked around,” Keri continued, “and you found the others.”
“Well, it wasn’t as easy as that.” Sione rubbed his lip. Months of checking obituaries in the library, of calling families, claiming that he was doing a project or posing as someone from the Ministry of Health—whichever lie had fit the situation. Months of lying to strangers and keeping secrets from his parents. He’d hated it; he hadn’t even known if he could do it. If Matthew hadn’t died, he might never have known.
“But that’s how it turned out,” Janna said, grimacing. She’d done even more of that work than he had, listening to strangers cry on the phone.
“There are other patterns,” Sione said. “Matthew was the only one who lived in Auckland. Tarquin had moved to Auckland from Blenheim when his folks split up after his brother died; the guy he knew was from Wellington. Schuyler and Jake are the only Summerton residents. All the other victims lived in separate places, scattered all over the country.”
“How’s that a pattern?”
“It’s too neat. A quarter of New Zealand’s residents live in Auckland, and almost a fifth of Summerton’s yearly visitors are from the Auckland region. But only one victim—Matthew. Three-quarters of the population are in the North Island, and well over half of Summerton visitors are from there, but the victims are spread almost evenly between North and South Islanders.”
“Deliberately spread out. Got it.” Keri tapped the screen, leaving a greasy fingerprint. Sione winced. “What’s this number?”
“Number of younger siblings.”
Keri’s eyebrows twitched. “They all had siblings?”
“They were all brothers and all the oldest. No girls, no middle or youngest children, no only children.”
“We have no idea. But working out the motive might help us work out who the murderer is, and how he did it,” Sione said. “And looking at patterns, seeing why these guys were picked, might help us with motive.”
“Why don’t you take this pattern to the police? They could do who and how.”
Sione looked into Keri’s eyes. She had brown flecks around the pupil of the left one, he noticed, even as he made his voice calm and quiet, willing her to believe. “They’ll laugh at us. Or they’ll be very nice and very concerned and call our parents, who will be very nice and very concerned. And then I don’t know what will happen to you guys, but my mum will slap me back into therapy so fast my head will spin. They’ll say it’s just a weird coincidence. A lot of people come to Summerton for New Year’s, and a lot of New Zealand teenagers kill themselves. New Zealand males between fifteen and twenty-five, especially.”
“You can’t tell anyone,” Janna said. “Some of what we did to find this out—Keri, we can’t tell anyone yet, especially not the police. We’ll call them in when we find real proof and cope with whatever punishment we get then.”
“It could be a coincidence,” Keri said.
“You don’t believe that,” Janna told her, with more confidence than Sione felt.
“No. I know he was killed. Jake wouldn’t go without saying good-bye.”
Sione finally relaxed back into the chair, only realizing then that there was a thick line of sweat right up his back. Real cool, Felise. “Do you know if there was anything unusual about the murder scene?”
Keri shook her head. “I don’t remember.”
So she’d found her brother, too. Sione did remember, but he made himself think about Janna’s strapless dress instead. He’d put everything he knew into Matthew’s file; it was there, he could look at it when he needed to, but he didn’t have to think about it right now.
“My eyes are up here,” Janna said, but not like she was offended. He blushed anyway. She’d grown a bit over the year, too.
“When we find the killer,” Keri said abruptly, her soft, furry voice intense with purpose, “we are going to destroy him. Completely.”
Janna didn’t even blink. “You bet.”
When Sione was honest with himself, in the dark hours of the night, he had to admit that he hadn’t liked Matthew very much. He’d loved him, but that was just a family thing—biology and proximity and shared memories mostly. If they hadn’t been related, they wouldn’t have gone anywhere near each other. Matthew’s friends were either morons or too cool to bother with Sione, and Sione didn’t exactly have any friends. But that could have changed; Matthew might have stopped being a homophobic dick who thought caring about clothes made Sione a fa—a gay person, and maybe Sione would have developed an interest in sports or cars, and they could have been mates as well as brothers.
Sione hadn’t gotten a chance to like him, and now he never would.
“Yeah,” he said, and stood up. “Whoever murdered them will pay.” He shoved the chair away a bit harder than he’d meant to and looked out the window as he righted it.
The Kahawai was set into one of the three hills, high enough to look down on the town and the bay. It was getting late, but it was the high days of summer, and the sun was just setting over the water.
Sione went dead still. “Wow,” he whispered, knowing what was happening but unable to drag his eyes away. It was the same gut-wrenching awe that had grabbed him when the bus had gone over the hill. “It’s so beautiful.”
The girls exchanged looks. “I guess, yeah?” Janna said. “It’s a nice evening.”
It was the kind of thing she’d said last summer, the same uncaring incomprehension whenever he’d tried to talk about Summerton. Other visitors seemed to understand, but the locals walked around in this paradise every day without paying any attention. His mum said they were just used to it, but how could anyone get used to this?
He tried again. “You don’t get it. I’ve been back to Samoa with my folks and to the Twelve Apostles off the Australian coast, and they’re really great. But this…” He waved at the view: the green curve of the bay; the neat lines of the white buildings all aglow in the dying light, in sharp contrast with the soft gray-white sand of the beach; and beyond, the shimmering, red-gold sea. “Summerton is the most beautiful place in the world.”
There was a brief pause.
“My parents say the Steps to Heaven were a little bit like the Apostles,” Keri offered at last.
Janna laughed. “Remember how, just after they came down, the council was like, ‘Let’s rebuild them in plastic’?”
Keri snorted. “Some tourist attraction that would have been. The idea was to get people to keep coming, not scare them off.”
“Why were they worried?” Sione asked. “This is just… it’s enough by itself. For anyone.” And he breathed deeply, trying to inhale all the beauty and calm of the sun-drenched bay.
JANNA CONSIDERED TELLING SIONE THAT taking deep, patient breaths was distracting and not very attractive, but that might have given him the wrong idea. It was summer, and there were tourists—new guys, different guys—who could appreciate a girl with a sense of style and a mean knack for bass. Not that Sione didn’t appreciate her—he was just kind of like, well, not a puppy, because she didn’t like dogs, and she liked Sione. A kitten. That needed to stop shedding on her clothes.
Of course the main priority was getting even for Schuyler, and Jake, and Matthew, and the others she hadn’t even known. But she couldn’t be focused on that all the time, because it would look suspicious and also because she would go completely mental.
Emily Rackard rang up their bill. Emily had been a few years ahead of them at school, and she’d gotten some crap there. She wasn’t pretty, she wasn’t smart, she wasn’t sporty, and she was a teacher’s daughter. Janna liked Mrs. Rackard okay, but she wasn’t everyone’s favorite teacher. Janna wondered if it was weird for Emily to carry drinks and clear plates for kids who were younger than she was or maybe even for the people her own age who had bullied her and gone on to better-paying jobs in the town. It would be super weird for Janna, which was yet another reason for her to get out of Summerton.
“Did you enjoy your meal?” Emily asked, red lipstick flashing on her crooked teeth. Janna felt even more sorry for her. Janna had a Grape Dracula shade of lipstick that she’d worn only once. Awesome color, but it had rubbed off on her teeth and smeared around her mouth like a big clown smile.
“Very nice, thank you,” Sione said automatically, in his richest, politest voice. He reached for the bill and then looked nervously at the two girls. “Uh, I’ll get this?”
Keri frowned, but Janna said, “Sure. Next one’s on us,” and Keri looked away. Janna was a feminist, too, but if someone could afford to pay more than the other two could and wanted to, it only made sense to let him do it. Anyway, she was nearly out of babysitting money after buying her new amp, and Keri’s paper route couldn’t be bringing in much.
Sione paid with a credit card, as if he’d done it lots of times before, and for a moment Janna wished so hard for rich parents that it hurt. Then she got over it.
Excerpted from The Shattering by Karen Healey Copyright © 2011 by Karen Healey. Excerpted by permission.
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