“Many people won’t discuss it,” Ava said quietly. “Even with their closest friends or family. We’ll check for some antidepressants.”
“I can’t believe he did this knowing I’d be the one to find him,” mumbled Daigle. “Fucker.” He wiped an eye.
Ava’s eyes were gentle. “Maybe he trusted you.”
“Still sucks. Never gonna get that out of my head.” He glanced briefly at the body and shuddered.
The sheriff raised a brow at Zander and Ava. They nodded. “You can go, son,” he told the deputy. “We’ll talk later.”
Daigle left without a word.
“Has anyone reached Copeland’s parents?” Zander asked.
“I left a vague message for them to call me. Nothing yet,” answered Greer. “Let’s take a quick look around.”
The three of them split up. Zander took the single bathroom, where he checked the medicine cabinet and under the sink. He found medication containers, but the names on them were John and Helen Copeland. Except for a blood pressure prescription, he wasn’t familiar with the names of the drugs.
“Nothing in the bedrooms,” stated the sheriff as he walked down the hall.
“No medication in the kitchen,” Ava said from the rear of the house. “But come take a look at this.”
Zander and Greer joined her in the kitchen, where she stood in front of the open refrigerator. “See that?” She pointed at a six-pack of Miller Lite on the top shelf. “It’s right next to an unopened container of ranch dip.” She gestured at the counter, where three bags of potato chips sat next to a small cooler. “Looks like he intended to go somewhere today.”
“Like to hang with a buddy at the beach.” Greer swore under his breath.
Zander opened the cabinet under the sink and pulled out the trash. He carefully dug through the top items with gloved hands and found what he was looking for. A receipt for beer, chips, dip, and a bag of ice. “Is there a new bag of ice in the freezer?”
Ava checked. “Yep.”
The three of them exchanged a long look.
“By the way, the prescription containers I found have different names on them,” Zander said. “John and Helen Copeland?”
“Those are his parents.” The sheriff was grim. “I’ve known both of them for over twenty years. Telling them is going to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.” His face sagged.
“We can—” Ava started.
Greer raised his hand to stop her. “I’ll talk to his parents. It’s best coming from someone they know.” He paused. “Not that there’s any good way to deliver this news.”
Zander stepped closer to the others and lowered his voice. “There’s a good possibility this isn’t a suicide.”
Emotions struggled on the sheriff’s face, and he rubbed his temple. “I’m trying to keep an open mind, but I don’t like what you’re implying. I know this community.”
“This crime could have come from outside your community,” Zander said.
“But why?” Greer’s voice cracked.
“If we knew that, we’d have our murderers,” answered Ava. “Whether it’s homegrown or not, something is rotten in this little town.”
“And I don’t think it’s over,” Zander said slowly. He had no basis for the statement; it was his gut speaking.
The look in Ava’s eyes told him she agreed.
The handle to the Anita Haircut salon’s door was in Emily’s grip when someone behind her called her name. She turned away and clenched her teeth as she spotted who had spoken.
Leann was a reporter for the county’s online newspaper and liked to poke and pester Emily’s family. Leann had used her job to write several articles about the Bartons, framing them as historical pieces while emphasizing that the Barton family had always been self-centered and money hungry. She presented the history in such a way that her opinions appeared based on fact. The problem was that Leann had cherry-picked her facts, leaving out anything good the Bartons had accomplished.
Leann had been in Emily’s high school class, but they hadn’t had the same circle of friends. They could have ignored each other all four years, but for a reason Emily never understood, Leann had singled out Madison for harassment.
Even in high school, Madison had continued to be quiet and keep to herself. To students who strove to meet the status quo, she was a perceived as an oddity. They didn’t understand her, so they picked on her. It was like when a pack of wolves attacks a pure white wolf for his difference. Mean girls ran in packs, and Leann was the head bully, bolstered by her group of followers.
Madison ignored them; they never physically touched her. She shrugged when Emily tried to talk to her about it, and Emily’s heart broke over the treatment of her younger sibling. But the mean girls spread stories, passed from student to student, and many liked to repeat the words to Emily to see her reaction.
Leann had no bone to pick with Madison. And Madison’s lack of response should have taken the joy out of Leann’s harassment, but Emily responded. Fear of consequences didn’t stop Emily when she had a little sister to protect.
The fuse of her temper was long. She rarely reacted out of anger. But the spark had traveled along the full length of her fuse when it came to Leann harassing Madison.
Madison was Emily’s responsibility.
Emily strode down the school hallway, her gaze fixed on the blonde ponytail amid four other ponytails of different hues. Emily’s utter preoccupation blurred the lockers, doors, and students she passed. She had one goal. “Leann!”
The ponies turned as one.
Emily stopped nearly nose-to-nose with Leann. Both of them were popular, both got good grades, and both had large circles of friends. The power balance was equal. Emily felt rather than saw other students stop and stare, their whispers white noise in her ears.
“Why did you spread that rumor about Madison?” Emily hissed. “I traced it back to you starting it at Bryan Sprig’s party. You know it’s not true.”
Leann looked to her ponies for support. “I think it’s true. Your sister is weird.”
“She’s a straight-A student.”
Leann shrugged. “Lots of psychopaths are smart.” A slow smile crossed her face. “You know, they say it can stem from a tragic event in childhood. Her brain probably cracked soon after your mother’s did.”
Emily couldn’t speak as the head pony turned and led her herd away.
A deluge of emotions slammed into Emily, making sweat start under her armpits, Leann’s sham smile filling her mind. They’d butted heads several times since high school. All of it instigated by Leann.
She wasn’t worth Emily’s time.
Emily turned back to the Anita Haircut door. Ignore her.
“I hear you found two dead bodies yesterday.”
She stiffened. “Go away, Leann.”
“I’m trying to get some facts for my article.”
“Then talk to the police.”
“I have. A statement from you would be helpful.”
Emily looked back at her. “You’ve never said a kind word about my family in person or in the paper.”
“I just report facts, Emily. That’s my job. Did yesterday stir up some bad memories for you?” Fake sympathy shone in her eyes. “Must have been horrible seeing something like that . . . so similar to your father’s death.”
Every cell in Emily’s body screamed for her to get inside the salon to put space between herself and the leech. But she didn’t. Warning bells rang in her brain as she slowly pivoted. She wasn’t angry, but she craved satisfaction.
And thinking before she spoke wasn’t her strong suit.
“How is that fact-reporting job treating you? I heard they cut everyone’s pay again.”
“Tell me what happened yesterday. The public deserves to know.” Ignoring Emily’s comment and all business now, Leann tapped the screen of her phone, and Emily assumed she’d turned on a recorder.
“I’ve got nothing to say.”
“I heard your tires were slashed later that day.”
“What about it?”
“Seems odd to happen so soon after you discovered two murders.”
“I also burned my fingers at work,” Emily said in a mild tone. “Do you think that’s odd so soon after the murders?”
Leann tapped her screen again and dropped the phone in her purse, giving Emily a side-eye. “Sarcasm isn’t appropriate. Two people are dead. I understand the FBI is in town to give a hand in the investigation.”
Emily said nothing, thinking of Zander Wells. She didn’t need to tell Leann about the agent. It had taken less than one day for her to see that Zander was damned good at his job. And when her aunts swarmed, it hadn’t intimidated him. Another plus in Emily’s eyes.
“If you don’t want to talk, I’m sure one of your aunts will.” Leann edged closer, fake curiosity in her eyes. “I wonder how they feel about the second hanging in Bartonville’s history.”
Emily was finished with the conversation. And Leann. “If you hound my aunts with a single question, I will call your boss.”