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Chapter no 35

The Coworker

I CAN’T GO ANYWHERE RIGHT AWAY. There’s a chance Santoro could be keeping an eye on my house, and I don’t want to risk him seeing me doing anything suspicious. And what I’m about to do is going to be very suspicious. But I can’t take any chances.

So I force myself to eat some dinner. I boil some spaghetti on the stove, but I’m so distracted that I forgot all about it. The water boils all the way down, so the spaghetti is half-burned and stuck to the pot. It doesn’t matter though. I don’t have any appetite.

About four hours later, I get back in my car.

One nice thing about living on the south shore is the number of beaches we have out here. I’m only about ten minutes away from the Quincy line, and there are a ton of beaches to choose from. During the summer, I’ll grab my reclining chair and towel, and I’ll try to get out to the beach every single weekend.

I don’t need my GPS to get to Wollaston Beach. It’s my favorite beach, and I’ve been to that one dozens of times, even just this past summer. I love the way the grains of sand feel under my feet, I love the way the ocean water licks my ankles, and I love the way the sun beats down on me while I lie on my beach towel. I love the array of little shops lining the beach, all selling delicious but incredibly unhealthy fried seafood that you could smell from down the block. Fried clams are just the best.

Unfortunately, the beach in November isn’t quite as much fun. But the good news is, it will be empty.

I spend the entire drive trying to figure out who would have put that murder weapon in my laundry hamper. I’m wracking my brain. Because it’s obvious that whoever put it there was hoping the police might find it and pin the disappearance on me.

And then there were all those fingerprints they found in Dawn’s house. I had convinced myself that I must’ve touched more items than I thought in her kitchen, but now I’m not so sure anymore. It strikes me that if I wasn’t the one who went to check on Dawn and reported her missing, those fingerprints would have looked a lot more suspicious. It seems like somebody is trying to make it look like I’m responsible for what happened to my coworker.

The question is, who would do something like that?

I don’t have any enemies. Everybody likes me. Okay, there are a few disgruntled customers. But nobody is angry enough over a few boxes of vitamins to murder somebody and then frame me for it. That’s pretty diabolical.

I suppose Melinda Hoffman isn’t too fond of me. She may even blame me for breaking up her marriage. But aside from that one-off, which happened after Dawn’s disappearance, I hadn’t gone near Seth in months. It seems unlikely she would hate me enough to frame me for murder. That is just too far.

As for how they did it, that part is easy. My door was unlocked when I came back from Dawn’s house. I’m careless about stuff like that. It would be easy for just about anyone to walk right in and bury the ceramic turtle in my laundry hamper.

At this point, I’m starting to seriously wonder if I need to hire a lawyer, but I can’t imagine how I’ll afford something like that. When Seth’s wife was threatening me and I was looking into taking legal action against her, the hourly rate of all the local lawyers made me realize being threatened by your boyfriend’s wife isn’t that bad. I’m innocent, so why do I need a lawyer anyway? Lawyers are for guilty people.

During the summer, it’s impossible to find a decent parking spot at the beach—every single one of the spots lining the coast are taken by families eager to enjoy a nice refreshing swim and a day in the sand. But on a cold night in November, the parking lot is barren. It’s so quiet here, I’m pretty sure I would know if there were a car following me. But mine is the only vehicle in sight.

It was nippy during the day, and now that the sun is down, it’s really cold. Below forty degrees, for sure. And because of the mist in the air all day, when I take my sneakers off in the sand, the grains feel wet and uncomfortable under my bare feet. But I don’t want to get sand in my shoes, so I have no choice but to carry them.

Seth was always reluctant to go anywhere in public with me, because he was too scared of getting caught, so a beach trip wasn’t in the cards for us. Then Caleb and I started dating in the middle of September, and it wasn’t beach weather by then—the summers are short in New England. I fantasized about bringing him to the beach next year. I wanted him to see me in a teeny tiny bikini. I wanted us to playfully splash each other in the waves.

If I don’t get rid of what’s in my shoulder bag, I’ll be wearing an orange jumpsuit by next summer.

Before I left the house, I stood on my back porch and smashed the ceramic turtle into pieces. I figured it would be challenging to get rid of a basketball-shaped object, and this way, if the pieces wash up, nobody will know what they are. So I’ve got about a dozen shards of pottery stuffed into my shoulder bag with “Save the Whales” emblazoned on the front.

I walk through the beach up to the edge of the water. The tide hasn’t come in yet, so I have to go out pretty far. I keep walking until the sand squishes beneath my toes, and then the water kisses my feet. The water feels freezing, but I guess it’s not technically freezing, because if it were, the water would have turned to ice.

When I was a little kid, my father used to take me to the lake, and he would show me how to skim rocks. You had to throw them at just the right angle and they would bounce on the water. I pick out a piece of pottery from my bag and I throw it the same way I used to throw those rocks when I was a kid. It doesn’t bounce, but it goes pretty far.

Five minutes later, my shoulder bag is empty. I overturn it, just to be sure, and shake the pieces out onto the water. At this point, even if somebody saw me here, the evidence is out to sea. Nobody could identify those pieces of pottery. And the dried blood will be washed away by the water.

I’m safe.

I trek back to my car, clutching my shoulder bag with my right hand and my sneakers with my left. I left my purse in my car, and just as I wrench the

door open, my phone starts ringing. Who could it be? Is it Caleb calling to wish me good night? Is it the detective, with “just a few more questions”?

I fish my phone out of my purse. It’s a blocked number. Great. Not again.

“What?” I bark into the phone. “What is it?” No answer.

“I know who you are,” I spit into the phone, even though I absolutely do not know. But if I say it confidently enough, they might wonder. “I know that you’re messing with me. And it better stop right now.

I wait for some sort of response. A protest. Even laughter. But there’s nothing. Only silence.

“I’m calling the police. I’m telling them all about you. All about what you did to Dawn.”

Silence.

“Answer me, damn it!” The veins bulge in my neck. “Say something, you piece of shit!”

I want to hurl my phone across the beach, but that probably wouldn’t do me any good. Instead, I jab my thumb into the red button to end the call. It’s utterly unsatisfying.

I climb into the driver’s seat, my body buzzing with frustration. Somebody is toying with me. And the thought occurs to me that maybe the ceramic turtle isn’t the only thing planted in my house. Maybe there’s something else I haven’t found yet. Just about anything could be in my house, tucked away.

And I would never know.

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