An excerpt from
When Anna Valance left the Channel 4 studio, she didn’t notice the tall, gangly black-haired boy who was following her. But then, Anna hadn’t noticed very much of her surroundings for almost a year. Not since her younger sister Courtney had been murdered by her boyfriend. Allegedly.
Though the boy sat next to her on the El, Anna had her eyes closed against the rush hour crowd. She didn’t even open them when he jostled her elbow as he stood to leave the train. It wasn’t until she reached her stop and hooked her arms through the shoulders of her leather tote bag that she saw what he’d left behind: a package—a large brown international mailer—with her name on it. Anna glanced around at the people in the train car, wondering where the package had come from and if it was safe to pick up. Her curiosity had always been far greater than her fear, and Anna grabbed the package and shoved it into her bag as she got off the train. In her apartment, she tossed it on the kitchen counter and poured herself a bowl of cereal, which served as dinner on nights like this one, when she came home too tired and too late to feel like cooking and too broke to order a pizza. In other words, Anna had cereal for dinner every night. She crunched her cornflakes and eyed the package, turning the day over in her mind.
Anna was a production assistant on “Heartland Headlines,” a tabloid show dedicated to salacious crimes and domestic scandals, and as an ambitious junior employee, she had been working her butt off. Until Courtney had disappeared into the Souhegan River one night just before last Christmas. Since then, Anna had checked out, doing the bare minimum of tasks to keep her job, which wasn’t hard, since her bosses gave her grief a lot of leeway. Anna spent most of her time reading articles about her sister and the boyfriend and legal briefs of cases where murder charges had been brought without a body. Technically, she could have called it research. Courtney’s murder was exactly the kind of story “Heartland Headlines” would cover.
Edward Parker, 19, was on trial for the murders of Courtney Valance and Hugh Marsden. The year before, all three had been popular, talented seniors at Belknap Country Day School in Belknap, Massachusetts—Anna’s own alma mater. Courtney and Ted, as he was called, were high school sweethearts. Anna had met him two Christmases ago. He’d seemed nice, if a little too jock-next-door for her taste. According to the DA, Courtney had been having an affair with Ted’s best friend, Hugh, and Ted had killed them both. Hugh’s broken neck was initially ruled an unfortunate accident, and for a few weeks, he was mourned by the Country Day community and served as a cautionary tale against partying too hard in the region’s private schools. But then Courtney’s clothes were found in the Souhegan River, just downstream from the Country Day campus. The police were already entertaining the idea that Ted had killed Hugh and that Courtney knew it—their accounts of the night he died didn’t match up. Ted was charged with both murders, but Courtney’s body had never been found. Popular opinion held that she’d been washed out to Boston Harbor by the heavy fall rains that had brought the level of the Souhegan and Charles Rivers to record highs. The thought made Anna shudder. That Courtney’s body had never been found left a question mark at the end of everything.
Anna had barely spoken to Courtney for weeks before she’d disappeared—she’d just started the PA job and had been lucky to find a few hours to sleep and shower. The last time they’d talked, Anna had known Courtney had wanted to tell her something—but she’d been exhausted and exasperated and just trying to get her mother on the phone for their obligatory alternate Tuesday night catch-up. Then she’d heard that a Country Day kid had died—Hugh Marsden. She’d meant to call Courtney and ask if she knew him, how weird school must be even if she didn’t, if she’d gone to the funeral. Their mother had left her voicemails telling her Courtney needed her. But Anna had thought such a long, involved conversation ought to wait until the weekend. On Sunday afternoon, maybe, she could afford to spend a couple of hours on the phone. And then Courtney was gone.
She rattled her spoon in her empty bowl—her apartment was too quiet, sometimes—and set the dish aside. Picking up the package, she slit open one end of the mailer with her thumbnail, and pulled out… a book. The dust jacket was from an old copy of The Crucible, the same edition that had sat on the shelf in her childhood bedroom back in Belknap since her junior year of high school. Anna felt as if a cold draft had slipped out of the envelope as well. The night that Courtney had disappeared, she had starred in Country Day’s production of the play.
She’d used Anna’s copy of the book for her research. Anna flipped back the cover and saw to her surprise that her own name was written on the inside flap—it wasn’t just the same edition; it was actually her copy of The Crucible.
And inside the front cover, there was a note scrawled across the first page in her sister’s long, loopy handwriting:
I wanted you to know. Don’t come after me.
Anna swallowed, her throat suddenly scratchy and dry. Her knuckles went white as she gripped the book. Courtney was alive.
But where had she gone?
Don’t come after me.
Perhaps not downstream to Boston Harbor, after all.