Chapter no 17

A Flicker in the Dark

Every serial killer has their signature. Like a name scrawled in the corner of a painting or an Easter egg planted in the scenes of a film, artists want their work to be recognized, immortalized. Remembered beyond their years.

It’s not always as grisly as they portray in the movies—encrypted monikers scratched across the skin, detached body parts showing up around town. Sometimes it’s as simple as the cleanliness of the crime scene or the way in which the bodies are placed on the floor. Stalking patterns strung together by unsuspecting witnesses or ritualistic procedures that occur over and over and over again until eventually, a pattern emerges. A pattern that isn’t too dissimilar to the way ordinary people go through their routines in a methodical rhythm each morning, as if there were no other way to make a bed, to clean a dish. Human beings are habitual creatures, I’ve learned, and the act of taking a life can reveal a lot about a person. Each kill is unique, like a fingerprint. But my father left behind no bodies upon which he could leave his mark, no crime scenes to preserve his autograph, no fingerprints to lift or analyze. Which left the town wondering: How do you leave a signature without a canvas?

The answer is, you can’t.

The Breaux Bridge Police Department spent the summer of ’99 scouring Louisiana for a single clue to his identity. They listened for whispers of evidence that pointed in the direction of one viable suspect, a hidden signature at a crime scene that seemed not to exist. But of course, they found nothing. Six girls dead and not a single witness could pinpoint a man lurking near the county pool or a car inching down the street at night, stalking its prey. In the end, I was the one who’d found the answer. A twelve-year-old girl playing dress-up with her mother’s makeup, rummaging through the back of a closet in search of scarves to tie in her hair. And it was then, holding that little wooden box, when I saw it—the thing nobody else had been able to see.

Instead of leaving evidence, my father was taking it.



“Even if it could save a life, Chloe?”

I watched the sweat drip down Sheriff Dooley’s neck. He was staring at me with an intensity I had never seen before. He was staring at me, and he was staring at the box clutched in my hands.

“If you hand over that box, you could save a life. Think about that. What if someone could have saved Lena’s life, but chose not to because they were afraid of stirring up trouble?”

I looked down at my lap, nodded slightly. Then I thrust my arms forward before I had time to change my mind.

The sheriff wrapped his gloved hands around mine, the rubber slippery but warm, before pulling the box gently from my grip. He looked down at the lid before placing his fingers on the lip and opening it wide, the sound of chimes filling the room. I avoided his expression, instead choosing to stare at the ballerina, twirling in slow, perfect circles.

“It’s jewelry,” I said, my eyes still on the dancing girl. It was mesmerizing, watching her spin in that faded pink tutu, her arms raised high. She reminded me of Lena, the way she twirled at the festival.

“I see that. Do you know who it belongs to?”

I nodded. I knew he was looking for more of an answer, but I couldn’t bring myself to say it. Not voluntarily, at least.

“Who does the jewelry belong to, Chloe?”

I heard a sob erupt from my mother beside me, and I glanced in her direction. Her hand was clamped over her mouth, her head shaking violently. She had already seen the contents of this box; I had shown it to her, back home. I had wanted her to give me an explanation other than the one that was forming in my own mind. The only explanation that made sense. But she couldn’t.


I looked back at the Sheriff.

“The belly-button ring is Lena’s,” I said. “Right there, in the middle.” The sheriff reached into the jewelry box and plucked out the small,

silver firefly. It looked dead, having spent weeks in the dark. No sunshine to

fuel its glow.

“How do you know that?”

“I saw Lena wearing it at the Crawfish Festival. She showed it to me.” He nodded, lowering it back into the box.

“And the others?”

“I know that pearl necklace,” my mother said, her voice wet. The sheriff glanced at her before reaching into the box again and lifting up a string of pearls. They were large, pink, and tied together in the back with a ribbon. “That belongs to Robin McGill. I … I saw her wearing it. At church one Sunday. I commented on how much I liked it, how unique it was. Richard was with me. He saw it, too.”

The sheriff exhaled, nodding again before placing it back inside. Over the next hour, the rest of the jewelry would come to be identified— Margaret Walker’s diamond earrings, Carrie Hollis’s sterling silver bracelet, Jill Stevenson’s sapphire ring, Susan Hardy’s white gold hoops. There was no DNA found on anything—they had been meticulously cleaned, the box wiped down—but their parents confirmed our suspicions. They had been presents for eighth-grade graduations, confirmations, birthdays. Tokens meant to celebrate the milestones of their girls growing up, instead forever memorialized by their untimely deaths.

“This is helpful, Chloe. Thank you.”

I nodded, the rhythm from the chimes soothing me into a kind of stupor. Sheriff Dooley slapped the lid closed, and I jerked my head up, the trance broken. He was staring at me again, his hand placed on top of the closed box.

“Did you ever witness your father interacting with Lena Rhodes or any of the other missing girls?”

“Yes,” I said, my mind flashing back to the festival. The way he was staring at her and her long, smooth stomach. The way he ducked his head when he realized he was caught. “I saw him watching her once at the Crawfish Festival. When she was showing me her belly-button ring.”

“What was he doing?”

“Just … staring,” I said. “She had her shirt pulled up. She caught him looking, and she waved.”

My mother scoffed beside me, shook her head.

“Thank you, Chloe,” the sheriff said. “I know this wasn’t easy for you, but you did the right thing.”

I nodded.

“Before we let you go, is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your father? Anything that might be important for us to know?”

I exhaled, held myself tightly in my own arms. It was hot in there, but suddenly, I felt myself shiver.

“I saw him with a shovel once,” I said, avoiding my mother’s stare. This was news to her. “He was walking across our yard, coming from the swamp behind our house. It was dark, but … he was there.”

Everyone was silent, this new revelation settling over the room like a heavy morning fog.

“Where were you when you saw him?”

“In my room. I couldn’t sleep, and I have this bench, right below my window, where I like to read … I’m sorry I didn’t say anything sooner,” I said. “I … I didn’t know…”

“Of course you didn’t, sweetheart,” Sheriff Dooley said. “Of course you didn’t. You’ve done more than enough.”



A roll of thunder shudders through my house now, making the wineglasses hanging upside down from our liquor cabinet rattle like chattering teeth. Another summer storm is rolling through. I can feel the electric charge in the air, taste the impending rain.

“Chlo, did you hear me?”

I glance up from my wineglass, half full of cabernet. The memory of Sheriff Dooley’s office starts melting away slowly; instead, I see Daniel, standing at our kitchen counter, sleeves rolled up to his elbows and a butcher knife in one hand. He got back from his conference earlier this afternoon; when I arrived home from the office, I found him dancing to Louis Armstrong through the kitchen in my gingham apron, the ingredients for tonight’s dinner spread across the island. The image makes me smile.

“Sorry, no,” I say. “What was that?”

“I said you’ve done more than enough.”

I squeeze my glass a little more tightly, the delicate stem threatening to snap from the pressure between my fingers. I rack my brain, trying to remember what we were just talking about. I’ve been so lost in thought these last few days, so consumed in memories. Especially with Daniel being gone and the house being empty, it’s almost felt as if I’ve been living in the past again. When the words escape Daniel’s lips, I can’t tell if they actually came from him or if I imagined them, conjured them up from the recesses of my mind and placed them into his mouth to regurgitate back to me. I open my lips to speak, but he cuts me off.

“Those cops had no right to show up at your office like that,” he continues, his eyes focused on the cutting board beneath him. He chops some carrots, moving the blade in quick, fluid motions before scraping them to the side of the board and moving on to the tomatoes. “Thank God you didn’t have any clients in there yet. That could have really hurt your reputation, you know?”

“Oh, yeah,” I say. I remember now. We had been talking about Lacey Deckler, about Detective Thomas and Officer Doyle questioning me at work. It felt like something I should tell him, in case her last known location ever became public knowledge. “Well, I was the last person to see her alive, I guess.”

“She might still be alive,” he says. “They haven’t found her body yet.

It’s been a week now.” “That’s true.”

“And the other girl … she was missing for, what, three days before they found her?”

“Yeah,” I say, swirling the wine in my glass. “Yeah, three days. So it sounds like you’ve been following all of this, then?”

“Yeah, you know. It’s been on the news. Kind of hard to avoid.” “Even in New Orleans?”

Daniel keeps chopping, the tomato juice running across the cutting board and pooling onto the counter. Another roll of thunder vibrates the house. He doesn’t reply.

“Does it sound like it could have been the same person to you?” I ask, trying to keep my tone light. “Do you think they’re, you know … related?”

Daniel shrugs.

“I don’t know,” he says, wiping the tomato juice off the blade with his finger before popping it into his mouth. “Too early to tell, I think. So what kinds of questions did those guys ask you?”

“Not much, really. They were trying to get me to tell them what we talked about in our session. Obviously, I wouldn’t, which kind of bothered them.”

“Good for you.”

“They asked if I saw her leaving the building.” Daniel glances at me, his brows furrowed.

“Did you?”

“No,” I say. “I saw her leave my office, but I didn’t see her leave the building. I mean, I assume she did. There really isn’t anywhere else to go. Unless she was grabbed from inside, but…”

I stop, look down at the ruby-red liquid coloring the sides of my glass. “That seems kind of unlikely.”

He nods and looks back down at the cutting board before scooping up the chopped vegetables and placing them in a searing pan. The scent of garlic fills the room.

“Other than that, it was pretty pointless,” I say. “Seems to me like they don’t even know where to start.”

A steady sheet of rain erupts outside, and the house is filled with the sound of millions of fingers tapping on the roof, eager to get in. Daniel glances out the window before walking over and cracking it open, the earthy aroma of a summer storm gushing into the kitchen, mixing with the scent of a home-cooked meal. I stare at him for a while, the way he glides around the kitchen so naturally, cracking pepper into the skillet of sautéing vegetables, rubbing Moroccan spices across a slab of pink salmon. He flings a dish towel over one husky shoulder, and my heart surges with warmth at the perfection of it all. The perfection of him. I’ll never understand why he chose me: damaged Chloe. He acts as though he’s loved me since the moment he met me, the moment he knew my name. But

there’s still so much about me that he doesn’t know. So much that he doesn’t understand. I think about the small pharmacy hidden in my office— my lifeline—that collection of faked prescriptions that I used his name to obtain. I think about my childhood, my past. The things I’ve seen. The things I’ve done.

He doesn’t know you, Chloe.

I try to shake Cooper’s words out of my mind, but I know he’s right. Excluding my family, Daniel knows me more than anyone else in the world, but that isn’t saying much. It’s still surface level. It’s still staged. Because I know if I were to show him all of me—if I were to show him damaged Chloe, expose my rancid, pulsing core—he would take one whiff and recoil. He couldn’t possibly like what he’d see.

“Enough about all of that,” he says, leaning over the counter as he fills up my diminishing glass. “How was the rest of your week, then? Did you get any wedding planning done?”

I think back to Saturday morning, the morning Daniel left for New Orleans. I had intended on getting some wedding planning done—I had opened my laptop and responded to some emails before the news of Aubrey Gravino filled my living room, the memories trapping me inside my own mind like a car submerged in water. I remember leaving the house and driving mindlessly through town, coming across the search party in Cypress Cemetery, finding Aubrey’s earring, leaving minutes before her body was discovered. I think about Aaron Jansen, visiting my mother, the theory he shared with me that I’ve been actively trying to deny all week. It’s Friday now; Aaron predicted another body would turn up by Monday. So far, it hasn’t, and every day that goes by, a small weight is lifted from my shoulders. A moment of relief that he might be wrong.

I think, for a second, about what I should tell Daniel, and I decide that I’m not ready for him to know me yet—not this side of me, at least. The side that self-medicates to calm my nerves. The side that joins a cemetery search party in an attempt to find the answers to questions I’ve been asking myself for the last twenty years. Because Daniel doesn’t let me hide; he doesn’t let me be afraid. He throws me surprise parties and plans a wedding in July, spitting in the face of all my irrational fears. If he knew what I had

spent my week doing while he was away—drugging myself into a stupor, entertaining a reporter’s fictional scenario, dragging my mother into it all despite her inability to protest, to talk back—he would be ashamed. I’m ashamed.

“It was fine,” I say at last, taking a sip from my glass. “I decided on caramel cake.”

“Progress!” Daniel shouts, before leaning farther over the counter and kissing me on the lips. I return the kiss before pulling back slightly, taking in his features. He analyzes my face, his eyes searching every surface of my skin.

“What is it?” he asks, dipping his hand into my hair. He cradles my skull, and I lean into his outstretched palm. “Chloe, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” I say, smiling. A band of thunder rolls gently through the room, and I feel my skin prickle; I can’t tell if it’s reacting to the bolt of lightning that flashes outside or the way Daniel’s fingers are caressing my neck, making slow circles in the spot of delicate skin just beneath my ear. I close my eyes. “I’m just happy you’re home.”

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