Secret is in the Bones – Heather Sunseri

Routines are a killer’s best friend. J.P. laughed at the thought while he waited for his target to exit the police station. It was just after eight p.m. A breezy, late September night. J.P. had studied Penelope Champagne’s every move for over a week—what time she went to work as the Paynes Creek dispatcher each day, what days she worked, what she did when she got home, what time she put her little brat to bed, what time her husband left the house for his shift as an EMT. Penelope Champagne had become so predictable that J.P. was certain he could step into her life and live it better than she did. This was almost too easy. But he wasn’t actually looking for a challenge.

Penelope was his ticket to bring Faith Day back to Paynes Creek. Faith was the real challenge. And tonight, he would put his plan into motion. He was still kicking himself for losing track of Faith sixty miles outside of Antonito, Colorado. She’d been heading west, probably toward the west coast. Most likely some hippie town in Oregon where he would have been forced to further endure the skunky smell of weed. Colorado had been bad enough. A bunch of fucking potheads. Upon further reflection, he figured losing Faith was for the best. Luring her back to Paynes Creek would be better in the long run, seeing as having her in Kentucky was a part of the master plan.

Although, he did like having her mostly to himself in Colorado. That was where she’d stayed the longest, traveling the countryside with that ridiculous trailer. He’d thought about claiming Faith as his own in Colorado. But that asshole Fed came along and ruined everything. He wasn’t sure what Special Agent Fuckface had said to her, but he wasn’t gone thirty minutes before Faith had packed up and left the Mountain View Dude Ranch. She didn’t even wait long enough to get the details of the dead night watchman’s autopsy. He laughed at the memory. That fat prick barely saw it coming. He simply couldn’t let him live after he placed his hands around Faith’s neck. What kind of jerk did that? He acted like it was a joke.

But pretending to choke a woman you barely knew? No, sir. You don’t get away with that. Not on my watch. The man had to die. So he killed him and made it look like a suicide. The autopsy should have told a more accurate story, had they bothered to order one. Hell, a medical examiner didn’t even need to perform an autopsy to find out it hadn’t been a suicide. J.P. had gotten away with that one—his little gift to Faith.

He left Faith another gift last week. She didn’t know it yet, of course, but she’d hear about it soon enough. He smiled, reflecting on what he’d done to the man who had tried to keep Faith in Colorado. Glancing sideways, he reached over and grabbed the photograph he’d borrowed of Faith and the Coloradan. He discovered the framed picture right after Darren Murray got what was coming to him, and he nabbed it as a souvenir. Faith wasn’t smiling in the picture, but Murray appeared thrilled to have an arm around her. Just tracing a finger around Faith’s lips in the picture gave him a hard-on. He grabbed a dirty towel from the floorboard of the passenger side and wiped the picture frame free of fingerprints. Then he set the photograph so he could still see Faith’s inviting eyes. Soon, he would have full say as to who put his hands on Faith.

He would not stand for some rancher asshole touching his property, that was for sure. He sat up when Penelope finally appeared. The sun was just sinking lower into the sky behind the police station. He watched her, as he had many times, dig for her keys as she reached her minivan. She slid behind the wheel, pulled down the visor, and messed with her hair. She took her long, red curls and tied them into a knot on top of her head. As she applied a layer of lip gloss, he wondered if he might play around with her before he carried out his plan. He quickly thought better of it, instead deciding to stay focused. Faith was the woman for him. The ginger didn’t interest him.

“Come on, you little bitch,” he said. “The medical examiner isn’t going to care what you look like.” What was she even doing? Like every night, she was just going to go home just in time for her husband to turn and burn for his night shift as an EMT. And as soon as Penelope put the little shit Danny down for the night, he’d slip in and lay his trap for Faith. By killing her best friend. J.P. FOLLOWED Penelope at a careful distance, slowing as they neared her house. She turned into the driveway of her modest ranch home. As the garage door went up, he scoffed at the contents.

Like so many materialistic Americans, she couldn’t fit her vehicle inside the garage because it was stuffed floor to ceiling with crap they probably never used and definitely didn’t need. He continued past the home, circled around the block, and parked his truck two streets away from the Champagne house. He didn’t really care if anyone saw it. He’d get rid of the pickup soon enough. The sun dipped down further behind the trees, leaving the town of Paynes Creek bathed in shadows. The air was cool and smelled of dying leaves as the ridiculous summer humidity Kentucky experienced gave way to colder autumn air. He slipped surgical gloves over his hands before grabbing the five-by-seven-inch decorative picture frame from the passenger seat. After he climbed out of his beat up, old truck, he glanced up and down the quiet neighborhood street, spotting a husband walking beside his wife on the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. She looked extremely pregnant and was pushing a stroller. Neither of them looked older than twenty-five.

“You didn’t waste any time putting your wife right where she belonged,” he whispered under his breath as he closed the door. “Good for you, dude.” Turning away from the family, he headed in the opposite direction, up a driveway, through someone’s backyard, slowly sauntering toward the back door of Penelope and Steven Champagne’s home. As he neared the house, he spotted the couple through a small window, standing in the middle of their kitchen. “What the hell?” he said, ducking behind an oak tree, but keeping a visual. “What the fuck is he still doing there?” Steven Champagne wrapped his wife in a warm embrace. He bent his neck and placed what appeared to be a soft kiss on her lips. “Aww, isn’t that just the fucking sweetest? Now, get lost, Steven, or it will be your fault when little Danny becomes an orphan.” After another kiss, Steven tapped a finger to his wife’s nose and turned toward the front of the house. Penelope followed him.

Glancing around to make sure he hadn’t caught the attention of any nosey neighbors, he darted through the Champagne’s back yard. He was thankful the sun was finally setting. When he reached the sliding glass door on the Champagne’s patio, he slowly slid it open, relieved that people of small towns were stupid enough to leave their doors unlocked. He stepped softly through the kitchen, listening for the happy couple. Not hearing them, he darted to the opposite kitchen wall and peeked around the corner into the front foyer. He spotted Penelope through the glass storm door. She had walked her husband to his car, like a dutiful wife should. He turned back to the kitchen and immediately saw a bottle of wine open on the counter. “Oh yes,” he laughed. “This was going to be easier than I thought.

” It was like Penelope had read his mind. Of course, she was a creature of habit. The fact that she’d already opened a bottle of wine was of no surprise. He sprinted to the living room, careful to stay out of sight of the front window. Because Penelope had yet to turn on any of her lights, the room was darkening. It would be easy to go unnoticed by Penelope and Steven outside. He carefully set the picture frame he’d brought on one of the bookcases that framed their television. “See you in the morning,” he heard Penelope say. “It’s PJs and chick flick time for me.” He looked outside just in time to see the fiery redhead do a little dance before throwing her arms around Steven for another kiss.

He turned and raced down the hallway to the master bedroom. He knew from casing the house previously that Penelope had a prescription for Ambien, an opportunistic complement to the wine Penelope was looking forward to drinking. He rushed through the bedroom and into the master bath. Went straight to the medicine cabinet and wrapped his gloved hand around the bottle of sleeping pills. The sound of the front door forced a mad dash back through the master bedroom and across the hallway to their kid’s room. He reached for the knife at his hip, assuming that Danny was already in his bed, but he wasn’t there. He shrugged as he heard Penelope approaching. She turned and entered her bedroom, he presumed to change into the PJs she was just speaking of. So far, this was shaping up to be easier than he’d even imagined. However, watching her lift her shirt up and away from her body sparked the faintest hint of arousal.

But he squashed the impulse before it had a chance to take root. He was more fucking disciplined than that. He listened as she made her way into the bathroom and ran water. Washing her face, maybe? It didn’t matter. Shaking the image of her bare skin out of his head, he exited Danny’s room and raced down the hallway while the running water could drown out his movement. In the kitchen, he spotted a pad of paper sitting on the kitchen table. Ripping off a page, he went to the counter where the open bottle of wine sat. He tapped several doses of Ambien onto the granite countertop. Using a knife from the butcher block by the stove, he crushed the pills into powder. After folding a crease in the paper, he transferred the powder onto the sheet of paper, tilted it, and let the drug slide into the wine bottle.

Next, he picked up the bottle and swirled the liquid to mix the deadly cocktail. Hearing movement one room over, he set down the wine bottle, then wadded up the piece of paper and stuffed it in his pocket. He darted to the sliding glass door, and, using his gloved hand, opened the door and slid out into the night. That had been way too easy. Now, all he had to do was enjoy the show. DARKNESS HAD FALLEN over the quiet suburban neighborhood of Paynes Creek. It was easy for J.P. to hide in the shadows as he watched Penelope move through the house, enter the kitchen, and flip the light switch. He could tell by the way she moved, swaying her hips, almost dancing as she walked, that she was in a good mood.

It made what was about to happen that much sweeter. J.P. could tell Faith that her best friend died happy—that she’d had a delightful night with her husband and that she was downright gleeful as she poured the glass of wine that would slowly take her life. Of course, he’d also tell Faith that her friend’s death could have been avoided had she just stopped running from her troubles. This kill was on her. Armed with her glass of wine, Penelope headed for the living room, where J.P. assumed she would curl up and watch the chick flick she had mentioned to Steven before he left. Passing from window to window, J.

P. stalked Penelope from room to room, thrilled to make sure everything went exactly as planned. Simply orchestrating Penelope’s demise had sent a feeling of excitement to the pit of his stomach. And now, as his tongue made a swipe from one corner of his lips to the other, he knew it wouldn’t be long. After switching on a lamp, she plopped down on the sofa, curling her legs under her body and placing a crocheted blanket across her lap. She pointed the remote at the TV and began scrolling and clicking. Finding what she wanted, it didn’t take long for her to set the remote aside, settle in, and lift the glass of red wine to her lips. “That’s it, drink up,” he whispered. His earlier surveillance proved she always downed two glasses of wine in a single sitting, though only one of tonight’s special blend would do the trick. He glanced around, making sure he was alone.

The last thing he needed at this point was to be seen. She watched her movie and sipped her wine. Sipped her wine and watched her movie. The suspense of it had him wiping his palms against his pants. The longer it took, the more uncomfortable his pants became. Looking down, he smiled as his hard-on grew. As she took another long sip of wine, he unzipped his pants, pulled out his penis, and began to take care of the nuisance that was making him restless. He did his best to stay quiet in the bushes, but as he stroked, an image of Faith came to mind—how she looked in the photo, her face glowing from the light of a campfire. Just imagining Faith wrapping her slender fingers around the length of him had him coming in a matter of seconds all over a bright blue hydrangea. Temporarily lost in the euphoria of an orgasm, he missed Penelope making a phone call.

The sound of her voice had him lifting his head. “Who the hell are you calling?” He zipped up his pants, moved closer to the window. Though the sound was slightly muffled through the double-paned window, he recognized the sound of slurred, incoherent words. And when her words stopped, she sort of just slumped further into the sofa and let her phone fall to the floor. “Fuck!” He took off in a sprint to the back of the house. No time to slip on his surgical glove again, he used his sleeve to slide the glass door open. When he reached the living room, he went to Penelope. He placed two fingers on her neck and felt a slow pulse. “It won’t be long now,” he smiled. The sound of a siren in the distance had him jerking his head up.

Hubby was coming back. “Well, this is fucking inconvenient,” J.P. said to Penelope, who moaned in her unconsciousness. He grabbed the nearby lamp and jerked it hard enough to rip the cord from the wall, leaving them in darkness except for the television flickering behind him. He ran to the kitchen. Sliding a glove back on over his right hand, he grabbed the kitchen knife he’d left on the counter. He would just have to finish the job. A little messier than he had planned, but he couldn’t leave her alive. When he appeared in the living room doorway, an ambulance came to a screeching stop in front of the house.

He watched as Steven leaped from the driver’s side. Was he alone? He didn’t see his partner. This was definitely going to be messier than J.P. had planned. Steven flew through the front door and came to a halt when he saw J.P. “Who the fuck are you?” J.P. cocked his head, staring at Steven.

Steven looked to Penelope. “What did you do to her?” J.P. stayed silent as he assessed the situation. Steven didn’t hesitate long before he charged him. But J.P. had the advantage. He’d trained for moments like this. J.

P. ducked to the right as Steven’s right fist came at his face. Penelope stirred. Her eyes fluttered open. “Steven?” she slurred. Steven came at J.P. again, but he was ready. J.P.

stabbed Steven with one of the Champagne’s own kitchen knives, driving it up and into Steven’s heart. He pulled the knife out and stabbed again, this time in the gut and twisted. He then shoved him backwards and onto the couch beside his wife. Blood spread out from his body and onto the sofa he landed on. “Steven?” she murmured again. Her next words were incoherent. She placed a hand on her husband’s chest. When she pulled it back, she stared at the blood covering it. “Wha…” She could barely speak. She’d yet to even look up at J.

P.—the stranger in her house. She was too busy wrapping her fingers around the knife and attempting to pull. But it was no use. She passed out again as blood seeped through her satin PJs. Another vehicle came to a stop in front of the Champagne house. A petite woman pushed out and ran toward the front door. “Oops. Time for me to go.” J.

P. sprinted to the kitchen and through the sliding glass door, closing it behind him, and disappeared into the night. It wasn’t the scene he had meant to create, but hopefully it was enough to get Faith out of hiding and back to town.

.

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