You Belong To Me

Excerpt

Prologue

Bayview, Delaware, Sunday, March 7, 11:15 a.m.



“Excuse me, sir, you can’t go up there.”

Malcolm Edwards ignored the marina manager’s deep voice, his eyes fixed on his destination, his weakened body already aching. The Carrie On beckoned, rocking as the Chesapeake Bay churned. A storm was coming. It was a perfect day to die.

Just a few more steps, then I can rest. Then the dock began to rumble beneath his feet as Daryl charged up from behind.

“Hey! Stop right there. This is private property. Hey, buddy! I said—”

Malcolm winced as a beefy hand grabbed his upper arm and spun him around. For a moment he looked into Daryl’s face, waiting silently as recognition flickered and the man’s mouth dropped open in shock.

“Mr. Edwards.” Daryl took a step back, his ruddy cheeks gone pale. “I’m sorry, sir.”

“It’s all right,” Malcolm said gently. “I know I don’t look like myself.”

He knew what he looked like. He was surprised Daryl had recognized him at all, despite the years they’d known each other. Malcolm doubted many of his so-called friends would recognize him—not that they’d given themselves the opportunity. Only Carrie had stood by him, and there were times Malcolm wished she had not. In sickness and in health. This was definitely the former.

She thought he couldn’t hear her sobs in the shower, but he did. He’d give all he owned not to put her through such hell. But man didn’t get to make those calls. That was God’s territory. Carrie had cursed God as she’d watched Malcolm waste away, but Malcolm didn’t have that luxury. He already had enough black marks on his soul.

Daryl swallowed hard. “Can I get you anything? Help you in any way?”

“No. I’ll be fine. I’m going fishing.” He held up a bucket of bait he’d bought for appearances. “I just want to feel the wind in my face.” One last time, he added to himself. He turned toward his boat, determinedly putting one foot in front of the other. The dock rumbled again as Daryl walked beside him, clearly hesitant to speak his mind.

“Sir, there’s a squall comin’ in. Maybe you should wait.”

“I don’t have time to wait.” Truer words were never spoken.

Daryl winced. “I can get a crew to take you out. My grandson is a fine sailor.”

“I appreciate it, I truly do, but sometimes a man just wants to be alone. You take care, and thank you.” He made it on board, his body sagging as his hands closed over the wheel. It had been far too long since he’d spent a day on the bay. But he’d been busy. There’d been doctors and treatments and . . . He looked up at the forbidding sky.

And making things right. He’d had too many things to make right, especially the one thing that had burdened his mind for twenty-one years.

He thought about the letter he’d sent and hoped it wasn’t too late. He hoped he could handle the wheel long enough to get far enough out to do what needed to be done. He hoped drowning really was just like going to sleep.

The water grew choppier, the wind more brutal the farther out he got. Finally he killed the throttle and listened to the waves, his eyes closed. He drew the salty air deep into his lungs, savoring this, his final day. Carrie would be sad, but part of her would be relieved. She’d put on a brave face that morning when he kissed her good-bye. He’d told her he was going fishing after his doctor’s appointment. When the authorities knocked on her door to give her the bad news, she would swear that her husband could never have taken his own life, but deep down she’d know the truth.

He stepped onto the deck, setting up his fishing poles. There were appearances to be made in case someone found his boat intact after he was “swept overboard” by a rogue wave. He was baiting a hook when a harsh voice broke into his thoughts.

“Who are the others?”

Malcolm spun around, the bait sliding through his fingers. A man stood a yard behind him, feet planted firmly, arms crossed over his chest. There was hate in his narrowed eyes and Malcolm felt fear shiver down his spine. “Who are you?”

The man took a steady step forward despite the rocking. “Who are the others?”

The others. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he lied.

The man pulled a letter from his pocket and Malcolm’s stomach roiled, recognizing both the letter and the handwriting as his own. Malcolm thought back twenty-one years and thought he knew who the man was. He definitely knew what the man wanted.

“Who are the others?” the man asked once again, carefully spacing each word.

Malcolm shook his head. “No. I’m not going to tell you.”

The man reached into his other pocket and pulled out a long filleting knife. He held it up, examining the sharp edge. “I’ll kill you,” he said, with little emotion.

“I don’t care. I’m going to die anyway. Or had you not noticed?”

The boat pitched and Malcolm stumbled, but the man stood firm. He’s got sea legs. If he was who Malcolm thought he was, that made sense. The man’s father had been a fisherman back then, owned his own boat—back then, but no longer.

In the years since, businesses had been lost, lives splintered. Ruined. Because of what we did. What I did. He’ll kill me. And I’d deserve it. But he had no intention of divulging the others’ identities, nor a wish to die horribly. He lunged toward the side.

But the man was fast, grabbing Malcolm’s arm and shoving him into a deck chair, binding his hands and feet with a length of twine he pulled from his back pocket. He’d come prepared.

I’m going to die.

The man rose, threateningly. “Who are the others?”

His heart pounding, Malcolm stared up at the man and said nothing.

The man shrugged. “You’ll tell. If I had more time, I’d do everything to you that you did to her.” He met Malcolm’s eyes. “Everything.”

Malcolm swallowed as he remembered everything that had been done that night, so long ago. “I’m sorry. I said I was sorry. But I didn’t do anything to her. I swear it.”

“Yeah,” the man said bitterly. “I got that from your letter. And when you finally confessed, you were too much of a coward to sign your name.”

It was true. He’d been a coward then, and now. “How did you know it was me?”

“I figured it was one of you. You all ran together then. You all signed that team picture.”

Malcolm closed his eyes, seeing it. They’d been young and so damn arrogant. They thought they had the world by the tail. “The one in the trophy case at the high school.”

He sneered. “The very one. Your handwriting hasn’t changed much in twenty-one years. You still make your ‘M’ the same way. It didn’t take a genius to track that letter to you. Which brings me back to the reason for my dropping by. You will tell me what I want to know.”

“I won’t. Like I said in the letter, that’s between them and God. So, no. I’m sorry.”

The man’s sneer became a sinister smile. “We’ll see about that.”

He disappeared belowdecks, and Malcolm pulled at his bonds, knowing it was futile. His mind was flashing pictures, all the sick, disgusting things that had been done to the girl that night so long ago, as he’d stood and watched. And done nothing.

I should have done something. I should have made it stop. But he had not, and neither had the others. Now he’d pay the price. Finally.

He heard the thumping of something being dragged up from the hold. It was a woman. Malcolm’s gut turned to water. She was wearing a sweater exactly like the one he’d committed to memory just hours ago. When he’d kissed his wife good-bye.

Carrie.” Malcolm tried to stand, but could not. She’d been bound, blindfolded, and gagged, and the man was dragging her by her arm. “Let her go. She did nothing.”

“Neither did you,” he said mockingly. “You said so yourself.” He shoved Carrie into a chair and held the knife to her throat. “Now tell me, Malcolm. Who. Are. The. Others?”

Desperately Malcolm glanced to the man’s narrowed eyes before returning his own to the knife at his wife’s neck. He couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think. “I don’t remember.”

A drop of blood ran down Carrie’s throat as the knife nicked. “Don’t you dare lie to me,” the man said quietly. “If you know who I am, you know I have nothing to lose.”

Malcolm closed his eyes. He couldn’t think when he was looking at her. He was too scared. “Okay. But take her back to shore first. Otherwise I won’t tell you.”

Carrie’s scream of pain was muffled by the gag in her mouth. Malcolm’s eyes opened and he stared, horrified. Then he retched, violently. He couldn’t look back, couldn’t look at the finger the man held out for his inspection.

Severed. He’d cut off her finger. “I’ll tell you,” he rasped. “Dammit, I’ll tell you.”

“I thought you might.” The man stepped away from Carrie and she tucked herself into as small a space as her bonds would allow, whimpering. From his front pocket the man pulled a notepad and pen. “I’m ready when you are.”

Quickly Malcolm spat the names, hating himself for it. For all of it. For staying that night, for watching. For writing the letter and endangering his wife. The man showed no emotion as he wrote the names, then pocketed his notepad.

“I’ve told you,” Malcolm said, his voice cracking. “Now take her back. Let me get her a doctor. Please, put her finger in some ice. Please. I beg you.”

The man studied the knife, red with Carrie’s blood. “Did she say that?”

Who?

The man’s jaw cocked. “My sister. Did she beg?” He grabbed Carrie’s hair and yanked her head back. He held the knife to her exposed throat. “Did she?”

“Yes.” Malcolm’s body shook with sobs. “Please. I’m begging you. My wife did nothing. Please. I gave you what you wanted. Please don’t hurt her anymore.”

The man’s arm jerked, the knife sliced, and Malcolm screamed as blood spurted from her body. No. No. No. Please, God, no. She was dead. Carrie was dead.

Callously the man cut through the twine with which he’d bound her and her body landed at Malcolm’s feet. “I should leave you here to watch the birds eat her flesh,” the man muttered. “But someone might find you before you died, then you’d tell on me. I could cut your tongue out, but you’d still find a way to tell. So you have to die, too.” He lifted Malcolm’s chin, forcing him to look up. “I’ll cut your tongue out anyway. Any last words?”

 



Standing naked on deck, the man watched as the last of his clothes sank below the gray water, following the path Malcolm and his wife had taken. They’d be chum by nightfall.

The worst of the storm had passed as he’d dealt with the disposal of the bodies. There had been a lot of blood. Luckily he’d brought a change of clothes. He’d shower off the Edwards’s blood before sailing the Carrie On to a private little marina whose owner would be asking no questions. There he could hose the blood off the deck and remove any markers identifying the boat as Malcolm Edwards’s.

Going below, he paused at the galley counter where he’d put the notepad for safekeeping. He couldn’t risk getting it covered in blood. Not like he needed the list anyway. The names were already etched in his mind.

Some he’d expected. A few were surprises.

All would wish they’d done the right thing twenty-one years ago.


Chapter One

Baltimore, Maryland, Monday, May 3, 5:35 a.m.



“Go get yourself some cheap sunglasses . . .” Lucy Trask huffed out the words along with ZZ Top as she jogged along the path that cut through the park behind her apartment, not caring that she was hopelessly off-key. Gwyn was their singer, after all. Nobody cared what Lucy’s voice sounded like, only how her bow sang. Besides, nobody was around to hear her this morning except other runners, and they had earphones just like she did.

This time of the morning there was no one she needed to impress, nobody whose opinion she needed to worry about. It was one of the many reasons she loved the hour before dawn.

She rounded the curve at the end of the path and slowed to a stop, her serenity suddenly gone. “Oh no,” she murmured sadly. “Not again.” It was Mr. Pugh, sitting at one of the chess tables, his tweed hat illuminated by the streetlamp behind him.

She detoured off the path, jogging to the green where her old friend had spent so many hours checkmating all challengers. Those days were long gone. Now he sat alone in the night, his head down, the collar of his coat pulled up around his face.

She sighed. He’d wandered out of his apartment, again. She slowed her pace as she drew close, approaching quietly. “Mr. Pugh?” She touched his shoulder gently, taking care not to startle him. He didn’t like to be startled. “It’s time to go home.”

Then she frowned. Normally he’d look up, that lost expression in his eyes, and she’d take him back to Barb, who was so weary from caring for him all the time. Tonight he didn’t look up. He was still. So very still. Her heart sank. Oh no. No, no, no.

She reached to press her fingers to his neck, then covered her mouth to muffle a scream when his body slumped over the table, his hat tumbling off his head. For a moment she could only stare in horror. His head was misshapen, caked with dried blood. And his face . . . She stumbled backward. Bile burned her throat.

Oh God. Oh God. His face was gone. So were his eyes.

She took another step back, blindly. “No.” She vaguely heard a whimper, realized it was her own. Her breath hitched in her lungs and she forced herself to breathe.

Do something. Her hands shaking, she found her cell in the pocket of her shorts and managed to dial 911, flinching when a crisp voice answered.

“This is 911. What is the nature of your emergency?”

“This is . . .” Lucy’s voice broke as she stared at the remains. She closed her eyes. Not remains. It’s Mr. Pugh. Somebody killed him. Oh God. Oh God.

“This is . . .” She couldn’t speak. Couldn’t breathe.

“Miss?” the operator repeated urgently. “What is the nature of your emergency?”

Sternly Lucy cleared her throat. Called on years of training. Forced her voice to steady. “This is Dr. Trask from the medical examiner’s office. I need to report a murder.”