- Published: 29 September 2020
- ISBN: 9781529125184
- Imprint: Century
- Format: Trade Paperback
- Pages: 576
- RRP: $32.99
The Coast-to-Coast Murders
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
What is the mind but thin glass?
—Barton Fitzgerald, MD
Where will you be when your life ends?
I was in the grocery store, squeezing a mango.
Sixteen minutes ago, I took a phone call from the woman who lived in the apartment below mine in Wilshire Village, a nondescript mustard-yellow monstrosity just off Broadway on Glendale, a block from Wilshire in Los Angeles.
I left my basket in the aisle and ran the ten blocks from the store, arriving home out of breath and sweating, to find the mailman in our lobby staring at the growing puddle of water under the bank of mailboxes. The steady stream was trickling down the stairs, flooding the first-floor alcove.
I rushed past him and up the steps, careful not to slip.
My phone rang again as I reached my door. Neighbor again.
“I see it, Mrs. Dowell. Must be a burst pipe or something.” That happened back east during the winter. I’d had no idea it could happen in California.
The water came out from under my door and into the hall, pooling on the landing.
“Michael? It’s dripping down my walls, from the ceiling,” Mrs. Dowell said. “My paintings, my furniture . . . did you call the super?”
I fumbled with my keys, found the right one, and twisted it in the lock for the dead bolt. “I thought you called the super.”
“Why would I call the super? It’s your apartment.”
Because the super could have been here half an hour ago and killed the water. “I’ll call him the second we hang up, Mrs. Dowell, I promise.”
I pushed open the door and stepped inside. I reached for the light switch but thought better of it — I was standing in at least a quarter of an inch of water.
Mrs. Dowell sighed. “Who’s going to pay for all this?”
The hardwood floor glistened in the light of the setting sun. A small river flowed from the bedroom in the back to the living room, down the hall, and out the front door.
I could hear splashing and gurgling. “I think it’s coming from the bathroom,” I told her.
Mrs. Dowell said, “You didn’t answer my question.”
“I’ll pay for it. Whatever the damage. Don’t worry about that.”
“My paintings are priceless.”
I’ve seen your paintings. We’ll take a trip to the flea market together and replace them.
The bedroom was the only carpeted room in the apartment, and I sloshed through it, my shoes leaving a trail of mushy footprints in my wake.
In the bathroom, water gushed from the sink tap. The bathtub faucet too. Water cascaded over the white porcelain sides of both.
“Mrs. Dowell, I’m hanging up so I can call the super. I’ll call you back.”
I looked over my shoulder at the bedroom behind me, knowing full well that I didn’t leave the water on, so someone else had.
The room was empty, crowded with nothing but elongated shadows.
I turned to the sink, twisted the faucet, shut it off.
A towel was in the basin, blocking the overflow drain. I knew I hadn’t done that.
I should have run at that point, left the apartment. I wish I had, because what came next was far worse than a stranger invading my home.
I took the few steps from my sink to the bathtub and looked into the overflowing water, down through the rippling surface at what lay beneath, lit only by the fading light of dusk. I looked down at the most beautiful face staring back at me. Her deep green eyes were open wide, her mouth slightly agape, her blond hair wavering gently with the current.
I found myself staring at her, this nude, lifeless girl in my bathtub. Smooth, flawless skin, the faintest patch of freckles on her nose.
At some point, I shut off the bathtub faucet. I don’t remember doing it, though. I only remember sitting on the edge of the tub, my breath deserting me.
MY CELL PHONE BUZZED in my hand. Mrs. Dowell again.
I hit Decline and dialed.
I did not call the building super.
She picked up on the third ring. “I’m thinking of a number between one and five.”
“Meg, not now, something happened—”
“Ah, ah, ah, you know the rules, Michael. Pick a number.”
I shook my head. “Meg, this is really—”
“Do you have any idea how many times I’ve called you in the past week? You didn’t pick up. You didn’t call me back. You didn’t even bother with a Hey, I’m still alive but busy text,” Megan rattled on. “Nineteen times. Is that any way to treat your sister? Dr. Bart’s funeral is next Tuesday, and you pick this week to drop off the radar? No bueno, big brother. Dr. Rose is all over me. ‘Where is your brother? Is he coming home? Have you talked to him? He’ll be here, right?’ It’s bad enough you won’t speak to her, but you can’t shut me out. I know you don’t want to be here for this, but you have to, Michael. I can’t do Dr. Bart’s funeral without you, I just can’t. I know you didn’t get along, not all the time—all right, never—but if you skip this, you’ll never forgive yourself. This is the kind of thing that haunts you for the rest of your life. You’ll regret it, and there’s no way to take it back. If you don’t want to be here for yourself, think about me and Dr. Rose. I know she can be a bitch, but she raised us. And she’s a mess right now. She’s barely holding it together. We need to think about appearances too. How will it look for her if you’re not here? You know how people at the university talk, her colleagues. She doesn’t need this—”
“Just tell me you’ll be here, and I’ll drop it. I won’t bring it up again. You can even skip my next birthday, my next ten birthdays. Just be here for this. It’s too important to—”
Megan fell silent.
“The number you’re thinking of is three.”
“How do you do that?”
“Meg, I need you to listen to me closely. Something’s happened.”
“Are you okay?”
The girl’s blank face stared up at me from the bathtub, the rippling water distorting her features, a shimmer around her pale skin. She looked so calm, peaceful. She had the most beautiful green eyes. A lone bubble floated up from her lips, disappeared at the surface.
I wasn’t okay. I wasn’t okay at all.
“There’s a girl in my bathtub.”
Megan replied, “You sound awfully sad about that.” “
The water flooded my apartment, Mrs. Dowell . . . I don’t know who . . . ” The words fell from my mouth, incoherent babble. My heart beat hard against my rib cage.
“Whoa, take a deep breath, Michael.”
I did. I took two. “She’s dead, Meg.”
Megan said nothing.
“I . . . I don’t know who she is.”
My sister remained silent.
“You’re fucking with me, right? Like the time you said you ran over that guy at the truck stop in Kansas City because he was wearing a New Kids on the Block T-shirt? Or the time you said you found a prostitute sleeping in the cab of your truck and decided to keep her? Like the time you said you picked up a hitchhiker in Nevada and left him in Utah, Colorado, and Missouri? Now is really not the time for practical jokes, Michael. I need to be able to tell Dr. Rose you’re coming home.”
“I . . . can’t tell how she died. Not by looking at her. I don’t see anything wrong. She looks like she’s sleeping but she’s not, not underwater. She’s not breathing. I don’t want to touch her. I know I shouldn’t, and I haven’t.”
“Holy hell, you’re serious? Did you call the police?”
“I called you.”
“You need to call the police. Right now. You need to hang up and call them.”