The Widowmaker by Hannah Morrissey: Featured Excerpt

A wealthy family shrouded in scandal; a detective tasked with solving an impossible cold case; and a woman with a dark past collide in Hannah Morrissey's stunning new Black Harbor mystery, The Widowmaker. Read an excerpt, and watch the trailer below.

1: Morgan

The key was a blackened talisman, tucked into her leather cuff. She’d gotten in the habit of keeping it there since it had become the only tangible thing she owned when, three months ago, her entire life was reduced to ash and ruin. The fire department had already come and gone by the time she arrived, her boots crunching on caramelized glass and stepping over hissing metal. Everything was wet and charred—mannequins with their faces melted in; the once larger-than-life mylar tree shriveled to a root—which meant that whoever had left the key had watched and waited, like a tiger stalking its prey. But Morgan knew better. Only humans tortured their food before eating it.

A red balloon floated in the sulfurous haze, tethered to a small, coffin-shaped box set on a step of the smoldering stairwell. A simple note scratched on the back of an envelope revealed it was for her: My Ruin: All roads lead back to home.

A puff of vapor escaped her lips—a silent scream, perhaps, at the omen from beyond the grave. The only person who would have used that moniker was dead. The last image Morgan had of her auntt Bern was of her lying faceup with her skull shattered on the concrete, mouth open to catch snowflakes. It was one of few childhood memories she hadn’t overwritten. Rather, she kept it sequestered in a safe place so she could recall it at will, the way normal people preserved memories of their wedding day or the moment their first child was born.

Now, standing on the Reynoldses’ back porch, she turned her wrist and pressed her thumb to the key, tempted to free it from its holster. The iron stung. The key would not fit, she determined, as she considered the aperture in the ornate metal plate.

All roads lead back to home.

This was not her home. If the sea glass-colored mansion at the top of the bluff hadn’t tipped her off on her drive in, then the twelve-foot-tall gothic gate that swung inward to grant her entrance to the estate made damn sure she knew she wasn’t on her side of the tracks anymore. This was Reynolds country, she’d thought, following the cobblestone path that wended past topiaries draped in white lights and a life-sized Nativity scene. Then, she’d parked her salty little Honda Civic next to a newly waxed Land Rover and felt more than a little inadequate.

A family enshrouded in wealth and status—and mystery—Black Harbor’s entire eroding shoreline belonged to them. What remained of it, anyway. Over the past decade or more, Lake Michigan had eaten away the limestone as effectively as the city’s grim atmosphere gnawed on people’s morals. If they’d had morals to begin with. In her thirty-one years on this planet—most of them spent here in this frozen purgatory—Morgan had learned that some people were born purely and inherently evil. And Black Harbor was their breeding ground.

Morgan surveyed the snow-covered grounds. Giant red bulbs hung from evergreen boughs, and three wreaths decorated the middle tier of a stone fountain. A lone lamppost wore a gold velvet bow and to her left, fairy lights twinkled as they wove through the crosshatched trellis that would work well for group photos. It was creeping up on two o’clock. The golden hour would be here soon, when the sun was low and its amber hues came alive to brush its subjects’ skin tones with a warm glow. She raised her camera, snapped a test shot, and returned her attention to the door. Her worries melted away. It was just her and the keyhole. She felt the autofocus lock into place and took a photo. She could add it to her collection—the one she’d started since inheriting the key—of all the doors and their corresponding keyholes into which it didn’t fit.

Not terribly unlike herself.

Pierced and gangly with a death stare that could intimidate a bull, Morgan didn’t really fit anywhere, either.

Except The Ruins. She’d fit there. And then it all burned down.

Morgan considered the keyhole again and sucked in a breath. This wasn’t home and yet, was it so wrong that she wished it was? That her childhood had been spent here, running free through an orchard and pushing siblings on a front porch swing; not curled up on the floor, left to lick her wounds like a dog and pray her door remained closed until morning.

A gust of wind came and pulled tears from her eyes. She repositioned her gear bag slung on her shoulder and, turning her back to the wind, slid the key out of her cuff. It didn’t hurt to try. With the key pinched between her thumb and forefinger, she reached forward, when the door fell away. The woman who suddenly appeared was so beautiful it hurt, Morgan thought, as she took in her verdant eyes and the short layers of russet hair that framed her face. She looked surprised, and Morgan suspected she hadn’t anticipated someone who looked like her—dressed all in black, with a pierced septum and two studs in her bottom lip, skin pale as the ghost of Christmas past—to be standing on her doorstep.

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “You must be the photographer! Morgan, right?” She shifted the chubby-cheeked toddler she was holding to her other hip. He stared at her in that unapologetic way that babies do. Drool glistened on his lip. Morgan estimated 1.2 seconds before it froze into an icicle.

Sliding her key back into her cuff, Morgan nodded.

“I’m Cora.” The woman smiled, showing teeth brighter than fresh-fallen snow. Her lips were painted holly red, the same shade as her knit, short-sleeved sweater. Goosebumps stippled her arms. “And this is Charlie. We were just about to get Mamó some ginger ale, weren’t we, Charlie?” Her voice pitched and fell. How easily some people could slip in and out of baby talk, Morgan mused, and she wondered, was Mamó some type of nickname for Mom? Grandma? Just like Omi, Oma, Nana, Yamma, and the cringey beyond all get out Glamma?

When Cora leaned over to grab a six-pack of cans resting atop a resin storage chest, Morgan stopped her. “I’ll get them.”

“Thank you,” Cora said, speaking like an adult again. “Come in, please. My mom will be so excited that you’re here. You’re her gift,” she added with a quick glance over her shoulder.

Morgan scrunched her brows. A gift? She’d never been anyone’s gift before, and yet, perhaps that was how the people who’d paid her aunt had looked at her—a guilty little pleasure they’d never tell a soul about. Her throat felt dry. She licked her lips, tempted to suck down one of those ginger ales. Being back here had that effect on her. One breath of Black Harbor was potent enough to turn her devil-may-care armor brittle. She imagined watching it disintegrate and fall away like fish scales, leaving her raw and exposed while she served herself on a silver platter to the black widow of Black Harbor: Mrs. Eleanor Reynolds, whose husband, Clive, vanished twenty years ago. Eleanor was the obvious suspect, and according to the court of public opinion, she was guilty as sin. The eleven-million-dollar life insurance policy she’d taken out on Clive just weeks before his death had been, for all intents and purposes, her hand hammering the nail in his coffin. And he’d had an affair. Which meant he’d pounded the final nail in himself.

Morgan’s ears pricked at the sound of the door closing behind her. Noting that Cora wore only Fair Isle stockings, she heel-toed her combat boots off in a mudroom she doubted had ever seen a speck of mud. Plus, it was larger than the space she’d recently moved back into at her parents’ house. She set the ginger ale on a bench to straighten the tops of her stockings, making them even, and hung her jacket on an empty hook. Her glasses fogged.

“Mom,” Cora called. Her voice carried through the kitchen, rose, and dissipated somewhere between the hardwood floors and the cathedral ceiling. “Morgan is here!”

Following cautiously in Cora’s wake, Morgan set the cans of ginger ale on a granite countertop and waited. A current swam through the great room, fragrant with cloves and thyme and buttery croissants. It smelled of roast beef, too, and seasoned potatoes. The countertop boasted a trove of mini mince pies and single-serve sherry trifles. Adjusting her camera settings, Morgan took a few photos to show her mom the spread. Up until six months ago, when the highway construction shut it down, Lynette’s Linzers—her mother’s bakery—had been the pride and joy of Black Harbor, serving homemade cookies, tarts, and biscuits on the daily. Now, it was simply one of dozens of vacant storefronts.

Over the home’s surround-sound system, a slow piano melody melted into a chorus of accordion, flute, and bagpipes. As the song picked up, Morgan recognized it as “Fairytale of New York,” by The Pogues, and smiled.

Where was everyone, she wondered. Cora had gone and disappeared with Charlie down a corridor, and aside from someone who was clearly a caterer coming to check the oven, there wasn’t a soul in sight. Had she gotten the time wrong? No, the email had stated two o’clock. She’d read it again this morning to be sure.

A mansion this massive, there were a million places people could be hiding.

Morgan looked to her right and surveyed what appeared to be the living room. Overstuffed grey couches that could have swallowed her parents’ dinky little sofa formed an L-shape around a glass coffee table. In the corner, between the stone fireplace and a large picture window, stood a tree that had to be fourteen feet tall. Its branches dripped with faux crystalline icicles; expensive-looking ornaments nestled in its boughs, and a glass Swarovski star twinkled at the top. Jesus, had they jacked this tree from Tiffany’s?

Her gaze traveling upward and across the ceiling, Morgan noticed a lofted upstairs where all the bedrooms must be. Beneath it, in the wide hall down which Cora had previously disappeared, floated a radiant, white-haired woman. She wore an emerald top cinched with a leather corset and flowy sleeves; her smile and Fair Isle socks matched Cora’s.

“Uh, hello,” said Morgan. “I’m . . . um . . . the photographer?” Her voice trembled. The sight of Eleanor Reynolds, here, in the flesh, had left her dumb.

“Morgan, what a delight.” Eleanor beamed, revealing eyeteeth that were sharp, stark white, and perhaps a centimeter too long. Spreading her arms, she welcomed Morgan into a straitjacket hug.

“You must be Eleanor,” Morgan said.

“The devil herself.” Eleanor raised her hands as though holding up praise.

Eleanor’s acknowledgment of her less than savory reputation put Morgan at ease. “Your home is stunning, by the way.” Her eyes roamed the four-seasons room and the English-inspired kitchen with marble backsplash. A Prussian blue china cabinet fit snug in a shallow alcove, holding stemware that undoubtedly cost more than her entire education. And yet, on the counter beside it was a red rotary telephone. It looked out of place here where everything was modern and cool-toned. And who even had a landline anymore?

“Oh, thank you, darling.”

“Mam was an interior designer for many years,” chimed Cora, who had reappeared, sans Charlie. “A home stager. She even designed sets for Hallmark.”

Eleanor rolled her eyes at Cora’s praise; nevertheless, she grabbed her daughter’s arm and gave an affectionate squeeze. “Puff pieces, dear, honestly. I should have done something important with my career. Cora is a child psychologist.”

Morgan lifted her chin as though she cared. She couldn’t tell if Eleanor and Cora were displaying genuine admiration for each other, or putting on a show.

“Help yourself, won’t you, Morgan?” said Eleanor. “They’re setting up food in the dining room. There’s wine, beer, cocktails, coffee . . .”

“Nog,” suggested Cora.

“Yes, nog,” Eleanor repeated. “Make yourself at home, really.”

Morgan smiled politely. She’d never heard anyone abbreviate “eggnog” before. The slang made these characters slightly more human. But then, she’d never been told to make herself at home while on the job, either. She was used to shooting cocktail parties and corporate events that took place in warehouses and banquet halls. Never someone’s home, and certainly never in a murderess’s mansion.

A gentleman between Cora and Eleanor’s age swept in. Morgan watched as his hand grazed Eleanor’s waist. Eleanor twirled gracefully, turning her body toward his. “Don, darling, this is Morgan, my gift. She’s our photographer for the evening.”

“Oh.” Don looked impressed. He had a sophisticated aesthetic with salt-and-pepper sides and piercing eyes behind rectangular frames. If Morgan had to guess, she’d put him at twenty years younger than Eleanor. Damn lady, get it, she applauded silently.

“Pleasure,” he said, and offered his hand to shake.

The second Morgan offered her hand in return, jingle bells tinkled from down the hall.

The front door opened and Reynolds friends and family members filtered in, all toting decorated sacks and gifts wrapped in kraft paper and twine—ironically rustic. Morgan watched them with fascination. They looked like they’d just stepped off the set of a photo shoot, so cozy in their chunky knit sweaters, moms and daughters wearing matching suede boots, gentlemen in flannel shirts that had never seen the elements they were intended for. A little blond boy wore a marbled cardigan with elbow patches. Crouching, Morgan snapped several photos as he ran off with his cousins.

There had to be forty people once everyone arrived. Kids crawled beneath tables and thundered up and down the staircase. The clamor of conversation drowned out the Celtic Christmas music. The women clinked their wineglasses. Men guffawed and sipped dark beer. Morgan captured a photo of a freckled girl wearing angel wings and a tinsel halo eating a powdered cookie.

“You know you can eat the food, too. You don’t just have to photograph it.”

Morgan stood and turned to see where the suggestion had come from. A man sat on the sofa, legs casually crossed in a figure four, clutching a bourbon neat. He looked to be about her age. Early to mid-thirties? There was something about his eyes. Dark like his drink, and salient, they made her feel as though he was looking through her, not at her. She swallowed. What did he see, she wondered. Did her interior—dark and damaged beyond redemption—match her exterior? She hoped it did; enough, at least, so he would stay away. And yet, a quiet voice in her head pleaded for the opposite. Perhaps it was the way he stared through her, or the winsome smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth.

But, she was here on business. “Thanks. I might get a plate later. I was actually eying up the seven-layer bars.”

“Want me to get you one?” The man shifted as though to get up. The natural light streaming in from the window subtly illuminated his face so she could see a shallow cleft in his chin, like a thumbprint.

“No, no, I’m good. Thanks, though.”

“A drink then?”

She shook her head.

“You think this is one of those fairy places where if you eat the food or drink the wine, you’ll have to stay forever?”

“Something like that.” You didn’t spend your childhood in Black Harbor avoiding cracks in the sidewalk only to be welcomed into the proverbial mansion and eat the food. “I don’t drink on the job,” she added.

“Because your pictures will be out of focus?” He lifted the glass to his lips. The corner of his mouth ticked upward.

Morgan nodded. “It’s a risk I’m not willing to take.”

Nor was it a risk she could afford. When she left Chicago with only the key and the clothes on her back, she’d used everything in her bank account to buy a one-way bus ticket to Black Harbor and a professional photographer starter kit—camera body, two lenses, off-camera flash, extra battery pack, the whole shebang. With the rest of her money, she’d purchased the only car her skimpy budget allowed. But, she was debt-free. Not a lot of people could say that.

“How ’bout after, then?”

Morgan tilted her head, sizing him up. “Anyone ever tell you you’re a little forward?”

He laughed, the comment sliding off him like oil on a feather.

Morgan turned and observed the photographs on the mantel, locking on to a portrait showing a young Reynolds family. Judging by the scrunchies in the two girls’ hair and Clive’s color-block vest, it looked to have been taken in the early ’90s. There was no denying that Clive was old-Hollywood handsome. He and Eleanor made an attractive couple. The frame was a touch out of line with the others. She nudged it forward, making it straight, when her hopeful suitor came up behind her. He stood close enough that she could feel the heat coming off his skin like she was sitting in front of a crackling fire; smell the sharp, evocative scent of his cologne: bourbon and black ice and a little bit of char. It was as though he’d simply selected them from a catalog and had them bottled into a quintessential male fragrance.

“Scary that that was twenty-five years ago.”

Morgan did the mental math. “So, 1995?”

He pointed to Eleanor in the photo. “I can tell the decade by the height of my mom’s hair. It was a sight to see in the eighties.”

“I bet.” Morgan pointed to one of the girls. She was nine or ten maybe. “Cora?”

He nodded, then drew her attention to the younger, fox-faced girl with golden hair, and a raven-haired boy who might have been thirteen. “Carlisle and David,” he said, packaging them together. “It’s a joke in our family, that David doesn’t love anyone but himself. He loves Carlisle, though, ’cause she’s like his mini-me. They don’t look alike, but trust me, inside they’re made of the same stuff.”

Morgan studied each of them in turn. They had the same stare, she noted. The way their eyes bored into the camera, it was almost as if they were challenging it. Daring it to call them out for something and yet not caring if it did.

“And who’s this?” She pointed to a wild-eyed boy leaning over Clive’s shoulder. He was wearing a striped T-shirt and a bulky Power Rangers wristwatch.

“The boy with the very unfortunate bowl cut, you mean?” He offered his hand for her to shake. “Bennett Reynolds.”

“Morgan Mori,” she said, though he already knew. He’d been the one to email her about the job.

“When do you get off the clock, Morgan Mori?”

She bit her lip. She could do this. “You tell me, boss. Though I believe the arrangement was for eight o’clock.”

A wicked glint flashed behind Bennett’s eyes. “Eight o’clock,” he repeated. “You’ll need a drink by then, trust me.”

“Is that a bet?”

“It’s a promise.”

* * *

It was through Morgan’s 50mm lens that she came face-to-face with each of the Reynolds family members. She led them out to the trellis, staging groups about four feet in front of it to capture the soft bokeh of the lights strung between the cedar boughs. She photographed Cora and her little family, adding in Eleanor and Don, Carlisle, David, and Bennett, who stood at the edge of the frame, still holding his drink.

Carlisle was gorgeous in jewel tones, wearing a teal sweater dress belted at the waist and black tights. She looked like a snow angel come to life, her long golden ringlets cascading down her back. Morgan couldn’t help but wonder if it was a wig. Everyone wore them these days, didn’t they? David, on the other hand, was her antithesis, and that made him her complement. They were yin and yang together, light and shadow, dove and raven. When everyone else had dispersed, they posed to re-create an old photo from their childhood; Carlisle crossed her eyes and pretended to pick her nose while David looked on in animated disgust. Afterward, they huddled around Morgan’s camera to see the photo appear on the LCD display.

“That’s it, that’s our Christmas card!” Carlisle laughed. They left Morgan to finish up before the sun went down, and later, when everyone was gathered inside by the fireplace, sleigh bells sounded.

Of course they got a freakin’ Santa Claus, Morgan thought, as the children’s eyes widened in excitement. They tumbled over one another as they ran down the hall, sliding in their socks when Santa Claus burst through the door with a festive “Ho, ho, ho!”

He was a convincing Santa—albeit nontraditional in a red patchwork robe trimmed with Celtic knots. A green beret with a shamrock perched atop his head. Toting a sack full of presents, he ambled in and plunked into the high-backed chair Cora had previously occupied. Then, he withdrew a pair of half-moon spectacles from an inside pocket and read the names off his list. Every single child received a gift, which was damn impressive, considering how many kids there were.

Afterward, the kids took turns sitting on his lap and telling him what they wished for under the Christmas tree. Morgan captured every interaction, and when the last child had spoken, Santa gestured to her, bending his white-gloved finger. “And you, young lady. What do you want for Christmas?”

“Oh.” Morgan gave him a dismissive wave.

“Come on, now.” He patted his knee.

Morgan looked around. The chaos had quieted. The lights had dimmed. It had to be eight o’clock or close to it. She looked around, searching for someone to save her, but caught only Bennett’s gaze. He sat at the end of the couch, a reflection of the firelight dancing in his daring green eyes. Morgan stared back, challenging him, and lowered herself onto Santa’s lap.

She bit her lip and prayed he didn’t touch her.

“What’s your name, young lady?”

“Morgan.”

“Morgan.” He sounded it out one syllable at a time. “What a lovely name.”

“Thanks, I didn’t choose it.”

Santa chuckled. “What would you like for Christmas, Morgan?”

Sarcastic responses raced through her mind. A puppy? An Easy-Bake Oven? One of those fancy power lift recliners so her grandpa could hold on to a shred of his dignity instead of getting hopelessly stuck in the La-Z-Boy every night. That last one wasn’t sarcastic. “A Butterfinger,” she said.

Santa’s eyes twinkled. “A Butterfinger?”

“King-sized.”

“That depends. Have you been naughty or nice?”

Morgan froze. A shiver started at the base of her skull and trickled down her spine. It might have been the question itself, or the fact that his asking of it made something pulse against the underside of her thigh.

Now finished and packed up for the night, and having said her goodbyes to the Reynolds family, Morgan stood on the porch where she’d stood hours earlier, contemplating the keyhole. She slid the key out of her cuff, and this time, as she approached the door, she heard a voice in the dark. “Looks like you’re off the clock, Morgan Mori.”

 

2: Hudson

Jesus, Hudson, you sure know how to fuck up a crime scene.

Blue salt crystals dug into his knees, stuck to his palms as a final spasm racked his body. At the Fast Mart across from an empty furniture store, Investigator Ryan Hudson pressed his forehead to the cold concrete of the sidewalk. It grounded him, stopped the world from spinning out of control, if only for a few seconds.

Jesus, Hudson. He heard his friend’s voice as clearly as though Garrison were standing next to him. It was something they’d said to each other often, during the decade they’d spent on patrol together. Never serious, and almost always accompanied by a ribbing or an elbow nudge, it was a deflection, a way of one placing his blame onto the other, like when they’d been called to Breaker’s office after Garrison wrote forty parking tickets for the wrong side of the street. “Jesus, Hudson,” Garrison had muttered. Or, the time Hudson had misheard an address over the radio, and when they arrived, the resident––believing her friends had gifted her male strippers for her birthday––ushered them inside. “Jesus, Garrison,” Hudson laughed as he’d recounted the story back in the locker room. Garrison had unbuttoned his uniform then, revealing his black undershirt, and set his foot up on the bench in a mock striptease. Someone walked by and smacked his ass.

Wincing as though he’d been the one to get shot, Hudson cautiously rose to sit on his heels. He looked over his left shoulder, where across the street, Garrison’s department SUV was parked. It looked like a dog waiting for its owner to come back.

A gust of wind tore through the lot, almost knocking him backward. The lake effect ripped the tears from his cheek, gnawed at the exposed skin of his legs. A plastic cone toppled over and rolled across the snow-scraped asphalt. His eyes followed it as it tumbled toward him and butted up against the curb.

Gingerly, Hudson stood. He swayed and planted his feet shoulder-width apart to steady himself. His throat burned. This was the first time in eleven years he’d thrown up at a scene. That was reserved for amateurs. Baby cops, as Garrison called them.

Even when Hudson had been a baby cop, he hadn’t acted like one. He couldn’t afford to. Wiry and spectacled, he looked more like an IT guy than a police officer. It didn’t take much to pass the physical litmus test anymore. If you could manage twenty-five push-ups, run a mile in under ten minutes, and be of reasonably sound mind, you were hired. Because just like Hudson couldn’t afford to act like a baby cop, the Black Harbor Police Department couldn’t afford to be picky.

All around him, blue and red lights danced like the aurora borealis. Both Black Harbor and Wesson police vehicles were at the scene. Taking a deep breath and steeling himself for what he was about to walk back into, Hudson reentered the doorway he’d run out of a moment before, stepping aside as a patrol officer came through. The stink hit him again like a skid of bricks. It smelled like blood and shit and coffee.

With all the ins and outs, it was as cold inside as it was outside, though at least it was out of the wind. Camera flashes burst, yellow placards marked evidence, fingerprint powder saturated the contact surfaces.

Garrison lay on his back, staring empty-eyed and slack-jawed at his own blood spattered on the ceiling. The story of how he ended up like that was punctuated by the bullet hole in his neck. Two more projectiles were punched in his vest, dislodging the personal effects he kept in the center pocket: a picture of his wife and daughter, a couple of postage stamps, a twenty-dollar bill. Hudson stood over Garrison in a jacket and gym shorts, wearing socks and Adidas sliders. He’d been in bed when Breaker, his former lieutenant, called with the news. “Garrison’s been shot,” he barked, and before Hudson could process what he’d heard, the lieutenant rattled off an address Hudson immediately recognized as the store he and Garrison had been watching for robbery activity. Used to watch.

Guilt burned a hole in his stomach. He never should have gone upstairs. A promotion to investigator could have waited. After all, Hudson was staring down the barrel of another twenty years in law enforcement. He could have stayed with Garrison for his last few months before retirement. If the tables had been turned, Garrison would have done it for him.

Investigator Devine escorted the female witness outside, likely to find her a ride home, since the suspect had stolen her car. Hudson had observed Devine interviewing her earlier. She’d sat in the candy aisle with her knees tucked into her chest, rocking backward and forward, like a buoy stranded in a low tide.

Now, he heard Investigator Fletcher interviewing the cashier. According to the man’s statement, he’d been held at gunpoint by a suspect clothed in all black: long-sleeve shirt, pants, and a balaclava, the fabric of which had been bunched up to expose a patch of light-colored skin. “Anything unique about him?” Fletcher asked. “Identifying features like scars, tattoos?”

“He had a mark on his neck,” was all the cashier said.

“Anything else? Approximate height and weight? Eye color?”

Hudson stared at the floor. Saw the pool of blood becoming more viscous in the cold. Saw Fletcher’s snakeskin cowboy boots. And he focused on them, anything to not look at Garrison. His eyes traced the outline of the pointed toes, scales carved in rounded diamond patterns, rivers of black that divided the continents of greys. Who wore cowboy boots in the city?

Fletcher scribbled something in his memo pad, shoved it in his back pocket.

Devine returned inside and joined his partner. “You got surveillance?” he asked the cashier.

“No. The camera’s been busted . . .”

Their voices were drowned out by the blood rushing in Hudson’s ears. Any other time, any other victim, he would have listened intently for any morsel he could pick up and file away for later to help solve the case, for when he built his own case to move to the Robberies Unit once Fletcher’s or Devine’s time was up. But tonight’s victim was Garrison, and Wesson PD—the neighboring jurisdiction—would be taking over anyway. He was just here to stand watch until Medical Examiner Winthorp arrived and pronounced Garrison dead at the scene.

“Fuck me.” Breaker stood beside him. His eyes were bloodshot. “You all right?”

Hudson set his jaw, locking in a sob. He tried to nod. He was all right, considering he still had a pulse. “You call Noelle?”

“I was just leaving to go over there. Did you want to come?”

Hudson swallowed. He couldn’t imagine showing up at Garrison’s house, ringing the doorbell, seeing his wife and daughter’s faces when Breaker delivered the news.

Breaker took his silence as a no. He set his hand on Hudson’s shoulder. “You should go home. Tell Miserelli to come sit with you. This is Wesson’s investigation anyway.” He left, then, to inform Noelle Garrison she was now a widow.

Hudson’s stomach twisted. He could taste the bile making a resurgence up his esophagus. His mouth began to salivate and a cold sheen of sweat beaded on his neck and forehead only to be instantly wicked away by the cold. His eyes drifted to Garrison. He almost didn’t look real, like he was made of wax. His skin was too ashen, his blood too bright. Shaking, Hudson knelt to examine Garrison’s trauma plate. His uniform was unzipped; he’d undoubtedly been reaching into his vest’s center pocket to pay for his coffee when the shooter entered the store. One bullet had chipped his ID card; it looked like a hole punch had bitten the edge from it. He saw the photograph of Garrison’s family; it was worn, the corners rounded. A piece of faded red paper peeked out from beneath it. It looked like a raffle ticket, the kind torn from a roll at bars and high school football games.

He checked to see if anyone had eyes on him. No one did. They were all searching for casings and latent prints. Hudson tugged the ticket from Garrison’s pocket. Crouched, he examined it, shielding it in his hands like a flame. The bottom right corner was singed. On the front, the words ADMIT ONE were stamped, and on the back, a message:

Welcome to The Ruins

Where your true self dwells

“The Ruins,” he whispered. The place didn’t ring a bell. He stood and was about to google it when another whoosh of cold air assaulted him.

“Christ.” ME Winthorp appeared next to him. Her black earmuffs looked like giant bolts screwed into her skull. “Why’d it have to be him?” she said under her breath. She knelt beside the body, pressed two latex fingers to Garrison’s throat. “Deceased. You got the time, Officer?”

He was “Investigator” now, but Hudson didn’t correct her. He touched the center button on his phone. “Eleven forty-seven.”

“December nineteen, twenty-three forty-seven hours,” she said into her recorder. “You know how much longer they got?”

He didn’t remember answering. Time crashed into him like a wave and when he broke free, it was around 2:00 A.M. and Garrison was stiff with rigor mortis. He watched as three men from the coroner’s office arrived and lifted him into a black polyethylene bag. The zipper’s teeth connected as the bag swallowed Garrison, and he felt the ugly, finite sound of it, like a serrated knife ripping him from bottom to top, gutting him like a fish.

 

Copyright © 2022 by Hannah Morrissey. All rights reserved.


About The Widowmaker by Hannah Morrissey:

Ever since business mogul Clive Reynolds disappeared twenty years ago, the name “Reynolds” has become synonymous with “murder” and “mystery.” And now, lured by a cryptic note, down-on-her-luck photographer Morgan Mori returns home to Black Harbor and into the web of their family secrets and double lives. The same night she photographs the Reynolds holiday get-together, Morgan becomes witness to a homicide of a cop that triggers the discovery of a long-buried clue.

This could finally be the thing to crack open the chilling cold case, and Investigator Ryan Hudson has a chance to prove himself as lead detective. If only he could stop letting his need to solve his partner’s recent murder distract him. But as Morgan exposes her own dark demons, could her sordid history be the key to unlocking more than one mystery?

 

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Comments

  1. drift boss

    It does what good documentaries ought to do: it sheds a laser-like spotlight on a problem that millions of people and their families are dealing with.

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