Chapter no 44 – NATALIE

The Coworker

THIS IS my second day with practically no sleep.

The police finally left my house at some ungodly hour. I didn’t see them carrying out any bloody clothing or dismembered limbs, so I’m thinking they didn’t find anything. Thank God. I can finally get back to my life again.

This morning is the 5K. I was adamant about keeping it going, but right now, I would seriously consider giving up one of my pinky fingers if I didn’t have to do it.

The weather has held up. It’s brisk out, but there’s no rain, and it’s not unseasonably cold. After running for twenty minutes or so, it will feel perfect. I decide to take the weather as an omen. If the weather is nice, the race is going to go perfectly.

Instead of the T-shirt and shorts I wear when I run around the neighborhood, I’ve got skin-tight running pants to wear for the 5K, as well as the special T-shirt I ordered. When I toss it over my head, I realize it’s a little tighter than I thought, but that’s fine. The T-shirts running small is a minor problem.

I’ve been organizing this 5K for the last five years now, so I’ve got it down to a science now. I recruited some students from Boston College to help out, and I put them in charge of various tasks that need to be done, like manning the water stations, posting the signs for where to go, and making sure everybody running is registered. I went over everything they need to

do in advance, but I usually call each of them the night before. I was in no position to do that last night, so I’m just going to have to hope everything goes to plan.

Before I leave the house, I check out my appearance in the bathroom mirror. I’ve pulled my blond hair back into a high ponytail, and I have on far too much makeup for a 5K, but it’s all sweatproof. I got a local news station to cover the race, so I want to be camera ready. And after the last few days, I would never consider being filmed without makeup on. When I stumbled into the bathroom this morning, I looked like the bride of Frankenstein. I certainly haven’t had a chance to touch up my roots this week, but it will have to be good enough.

I take an Uber to Florian Hall an hour before the start time for the race. I am expecting the worst, but to my relief, Cleo from Boston College is already at the front of the building with a table of registration clipboards and a jug of water with a bunch of little cups. She helped me out last year too, so she knows exactly what to do.

“Hey, Natalie!” Cleo waves enthusiastically. “We’re all set!”

Cleo is all of twenty years old, and she looks so bright-eyed, it somehow makes me even more tired. And she’s not even going to be running the 5K. But I’m grateful to have her help. She has a cousin with cerebral palsy, so she’s a big supporter of the cause.

“Everyone came?” I ask.

“Just about.” She squints off into the distance. “Eli thinks he’s coming down with the flu, although I think he’s being a baby. But we’ve got enough people. All the signs are posted. We’re good to go.”

“Thank you so much.” My knees feel weak with relief. “You’ve done an amazing job. I’m sorry I didn’t call to check in on you. I… I got busy yesterday.”

Cleo drops her voice a notch. “I heard what happened to your coworker.

I’m so sorry. I hope they find the monster who did it.” So do I. She has no idea how much.

Since everything has been taken care of, I wait around at the start of the race and do some stretches. While I am stretching out my hamstrings, the phone I have strapped to my biceps starts to ring. I pull it out of the holster and look at the screen.

It’s a blocked number.

I never got a phone call last night. I was waiting for it, especially while Santoro was at my house. I wanted him to see how somebody was harassing me. But of course, they never called. Just as well, since I suspect he wouldn’t have been that impressed.

I hold the phone to my ear. “Hello?” No answer. Again.

The other night, I started yelling into the phone when this happened.

But thanks to Greg Lowsky, I know exactly what to do:

I use the TrackCall app to retrieve the number of the blocked caller. I wasn’t entirely convinced it would work, but then a number shows up on the screen, just like Greg promised it would. I grab a pen off the table Cleo set up and scribble down the number on one of the registration sheets.

I stare down at the number I wrote down. The area code isn’t local. I think it might be Rhode Island. I bring up a reverse number lookup on my phone, and I type in the ten digits.

I was right. The phone number belongs to a motel just outside of Providence.

What the hell? “Nat?”

Caleb is behind me, wearing a pair of gray shorts and the extra-large T- shirt I gave him earlier in the week. I want to be furious at him for what he did to me, but since he showed up here to support me and it doesn’t seem like I have a lot of support right now, I can’t stay mad. Especially because he looks really hot in his running outfit—his muscles bulge under the T- shirt, which is a bit snug on him as well.

“You made it,” I say.

He gives me a lopsided smile. “I couldn’t let you down again.” “Yeah…”

“Nat…” His Adam’s apple bobs. He has the same purple circles under his eyes that I covered up this morning with makeup. “I’m so sorry about everything. I feel awful about it.”

“It’s not your fault.” It’s not. It wasn’t right of me to ask him to lie to the police. That’s not the kind of thing you ask your boyfriend of less than two months to do for you. That’s more of a six-month relationship request. “And it’s fine.”


I nod. “The police came by last night and looked around…” That’s a very diplomatic way to describe the way they trashed my house. “But they realized I don’t have anything to do with Dawn’s murder. Maybe now they can focus on actually finding out who really did it.”

“I hope so.”

“Also…” I hold up my phone. “I’ve been getting these weird calls from blocked numbers the last few days. Ever since I was in Dawn’s house. I finally used this app to figure out the number, and it turns out the calls are coming from some motel in Rhode Island.”

“Really? That’s weird.”

I show him the address on my phone. “This doesn’t look familiar to you, does it?”

“Nope.” He squints down at the address. “Why would someone in a random motel be calling you?”

“I have no idea, but…” I look back at the phone number and address. “It’s got to have some connection to what’s going on. After this race is over, I’m driving out there.”

“Good idea.” He nods in approval. “I’ll come with you.”

I arch an eyebrow at him. “You want to go all the way out to Rhode Island with me?”

“Sure.” He grins. “If you wouldn’t mind letting me tag along.”

I can’t help but smile back at him. It would be nice having his company. And after the way Seth treated me yesterday, things are truly over for good in that relationship. There aren’t going to be any other one-offs, that’s for sure. I can’t believe I was wasting my time with that jerk who is still freaking married when I’ve got a boyfriend who obviously cares about me a lot.

I tug playfully at the hem of Caleb’s T-shirt. “And maybe tonight we can have a make-up dinner for the dinner we missed last night?”

His eyes light up. “You’re on.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I see the news crew setting up the cameras. Fantastic—the crew has arrived just on time. I have plenty of time to do a quick interview to explain the goals of the charity, and then they can catch the beginning of the race.

About a dozen people have shown up to run today. I initially had nearly fifty people expected, but it looks like the Dawn situation has kept people home. It stings, because a larger number of participants helps to spread

more awareness of the charity—but we still get the money to donate either way. This is for Amelia—I can’t forget that. And even though some of the runners stayed home, a considerable crowd is forming to watch the beginning of the race.

As I face the crowd, I force my lips to form a smile. I’m not exactly in a smiling mood, but if I keep it on my face, maybe I’ll start to feel better. I wave at the spectators, and a heavyset man wearing one of our T-shirts waves back at me.

That’s when I notice somebody behind the man. Somebody familiar. I recognize that stringy brown hair and horse face.

Is that Seth’s wife? What is she doing here?

“Hi, Natalie!” Maria Monteiro from the news team waves to me, and I’m forced to rip my eyes away from the crowd. Maria covered the race last year as well, and she looks perfectly made up in a dress suit, her black hair shiny and her lipstick blood red. “Do you have time for a quick interview before the race?”

“Absolutely!” I hesitate. “But I just want to say, I’d rather not talk about my coworker, Dawn Schiff. I know she’s been all over the news lately, but I don’t want to detract from the reason we’re running today: to raise money for cerebral palsy.”

Maria can’t hide the disappointment on her face, but to her credit, she quickly recovers. “That’s fine. I completely respect that.”

“Thanks, Maria. I appreciate it.”

I glance back at the crowd, my eyes searching for Seth’s wife again, but she seems to have vanished. Or more likely, it wasn’t her to begin with, and I’m just being paranoid. I reach behind my head to straighten out my ponytail, and I smooth out the creases on my T-shirt so viewers will be able to see the writing. Maria gestures to her cameraman, and he points the lens in my direction. Maria gets out her microphone, and I know from last year that she’ll probably record a little intro later, and then splice the whole thing together.

“So, Natalie,” she says, “this is your fifth year running this 5K, isn’t it?”

I nod and feel my ponytail swish behind my head. “That’s right. We’ll be raising money for cerebral palsy.”

“And that’s a charity very close to your heart, isn’t it?”

I nod again. “One of my best friends growing up had cerebral palsy, so this race is in Amelia’s honor.”

Maria takes back the microphone and is asking me another question, but my attention is again drawn away by something in the crowd. It’s not Melinda Hoffman this time though—I wish it were. Two of the spectators step aside to allow a large man with black eyes to come to the forefront of the crowd.

It’s Santoro.

Maria has pushed the microphone back in my face, and I realize I have no idea what she just asked me. “Um,” I say. “Sorry, I…”

How embarrassing. Thankfully, none of this is live. When this video gets edited, she can cut out the part where I wasn’t listening to her question. “It looks like things are getting started soon,” Maria observes. “I’ll let

you get to it then. But thank you for what you’ve done.” “Yes…”

Santoro is moving forward, coming closer to me. What’s going on? He doesn’t want to grill me again right before the 5K, does he? This is a charity event. Doesn’t the man have any respect?

“Caleb!” I crane my neck, searching for my boyfriend. I spot him a few yards away. “Caleb, can I talk to you?”

Maybe Caleb can deal with this detective till we’re done here. I’ve got way too much to do. The race is starting in less than fifteen minutes, so I don’t have time to answer the same questions over and over. They even searched my house. What more do they want from me, for God’s sake?

When I turn my head back to look, Santoro is right in front of me. Less than a foot away. His eyes look like endless pools of darkness. Instinctively, I take a step back.

“Detective, this isn’t a good time—”

“Natalie Farrell.” His voice is flat. “You’re under arrest for the murder of Dawn Schiff.”


I feel like I can’t breathe. Those damn cameras are still pointed at me. Not to mention that half the crowd has gotten out their phones and is filming me. That bastard Santoro did this on purpose. He chose the most public moment possible to arrest me. He wants to humiliate me, even though I’ve done nothing wrong.

Maybe he’s the one who planted that ceramic turtle in my laundry.

“You’re joking me,” I sputter. “How could you… I didn’t do anything!

What is this based on?”

But Santoro isn’t offering an explanation. And this is not a joke. He takes out his handcuffs, and before I know it, he’s snapping them on my wrist. The cold metal bites into my skin, and my legs turn to liquid beneath me. I’m vaguely aware of the fact that he’s reading me my rights.

Caleb has sprinted over. I catch his eye, and he looks completely horrified. “Natalie!” I hear him yell.

“Caleb,” I gasp. The crowd is growing louder and dozens of cameras are trained on me. “That address I showed you. You’ve got to go there for me. Please!”


“Please!” I manage.

Santoro jerks me by the arm. He’s leading me to a police car to bring me back to the station and toss me in jail. There’s nothing I can do to stop this anymore. I don’t know why, but somebody has framed me, and they have done a really good job.

My life, as I knew it, is officially over.

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