Smoke and Mirrors – Cheryl Bradshaw

Grace Ashby was having an unusual dream. A dream so real it seemed like her mum was beside her, sleeping in the same bed she was. But her mum wasn’t in her room. Her mum was screaming— emitting high-pitched, grisly shrieks of terror that startled Grace awake from her hellish nightmare. The screams echoed through the hall for a few moments and then stopped, and the house returned to its usual quiet tranquility. Grace remained still, listening to the familiar creaks and groans she’d grown accustomed to over the years. Then she drifted off to sleep again, soothing her fears by assuring herself that what she had just experienced was nothing more than an all-too-realistic dream. But her self-soothing was short-lived, bursting like a popped balloon when she heard her mum shouting a slew of muffled sentences Grace couldn’t string together. Nervous about what was happening, Grace wanted to remain in bed where it was safe, where her mum had told her to stay, but something about the tone in her mum’s voice wasn’t right. It was different. She sounded … frightened. Grace reached a hand through the darkness until she felt the cold metal of the bedside lamp. Sliding a hand up its base, she found the switch, turned the light on, and canvassed her room. She was alone, and the house had gone quiet again. “Mum? Are you okay?” Grace called out.

“Is something wrong?” There was no reply. I’m too far away from her. Maybe she can’t hear me. Grace cleared her throat, raised her voice, and repeated the question. The outcome was the same. Grace was afraid to leave her bed. She didn’t want to walk across the long, dark corridor leading from her room to her mum’s, but no matter how nervous she was, she knew sleep wouldn’t find her again until she was sure her mum was all right. She peeled back the covers, took a deep breath, and crept to the door, sliding one eye out just enough for her to peer down the hall. She looked out, seeing nothing but a faint sliver of light emitting from a crack beneath her mum’s door at the opposite end of the house—just enough to light the way for her. She tiptoed down the hall, reached her mum’s door, and paused, hearing the whisper of a man’s voice on the opposite side.

It was gruff and emotional. Grace pressed a finger to the door, pushing it open just enough for her to glance inside. She slapped a hand across her mouth, stifling a scream as she saw her mum sprawled on the floor, unmoving. A man was hunched over her mum’s body. Grace stepped into the room, and the man’s head snapped back to look at her, his face grim and vexed, like her presence irritated him. The man’s name was Hugh Beaumont. Over the last two years, he and her mum had been in a relationship. Grace had liked him at first, but in recent months, his behavior had soured after he’d knelt down and proposed marriage, sliding a ring on her mum’s finger before she’d had the chance to respond to his offer. Her mum had flat-out refused, taking the ring off, and handing it back to him, saying she cared for him, but she felt blindsided. She told him she wasn’t ready and that he should have discussed the idea of becoming engaged with her first before making such a grandiose gesture.

Undeterred, he’d grabbed her mum’s hand, pushing the ring onto her palm as he said, “Keep it. Think of it as a promise ring, a sign of my commitment to our relationship.” And she’d accepted it. He’d fooled her mum, but he hadn’t fooled Grace. She’d known the ring symbolized far more than a simple token of his devotion. It symbolized his power over her, a power he seemed to be exerting now. Hugh stared at her a moment, then said, “Grace, you shouldn’t be in—” “What’s wrong with my mum?” Grace asked. “What did you do to her?” “Nothing. I didn’t do anything. You don’t understand.

” She understood plenty. His face was sweaty and red. Her mum was unconscious, or worse. She couldn’t tell yet. But there was one thing she knew for sure—he was to blame. Grace charged forward. “Move! Get away from her!” Hugh didn’t budge. “I mean it! Get out of my way, Hugh.” She stepped around him, noticing something she hadn’t until now—blood—and lots of it. It had soaked through her mum’s shirt, oozing drops of red onto the rug on the side of her body.

Grace’s knees buckled beneath her, and she collapsed to the floor. She leaned in, placing an ear over her mum’s mouth. There was nothing—no air, no signs of life. She grabbed her by the shoulders, shaking her like a rag doll. “Mum, please. Wake up. Mum!” When there was still no response, Grace sprung to her feet, stabbing a finger into Hugh’s chest. “She’s not breathing! And the blood … you! You did this to her!” “Look, Grace, this isn’t the time to … I mean, I don’t know how to explain …” He pulled a phone from his pocket and dialed a number. Before the call could go through, Grace lunged for the phone. “Give it to me! Let me have it!” “Stop it, Grace! Stop it right now.

” He tipped his head toward the bedroom door. “Go back to your room and wait for me until I come get you, all right?” He was trying to get rid of her … Why? And whom was he calling? A friend? Someone to help cover up what he just did? Was she next? Eyes blurred with tears, Grace thrust her hands into his chest, shoving him backward. The phone clattered to the ground. She snatched it off the floor, waving it in front of him. “You’re nobody! You’re not my dad. You’re not her husband. You’re nothing, and you don’t get to tell me what to do. Get out of here right now! Get out of our house!” Hugh grabbed her arm, yanking her toward the bedroom door. She wrestled away from his grip and ran into her mum’s bathroom. She slammed the door and locked it.

Heartbroken and scared, Grace’s thoughts turned to the only man she’d ever trusted, a man she needed more than anyone right now. Glancing around, she eyed a window on the opposite wall—a window that was just big enough for her to fit through. Redondo Beach, California One week later I stood in front of the full-sized mirror in my bedroom, staring at myself. My wedding dress was delicate and thin, with a vintage look reminiscent of a gown Grace Kelly wore in the1950s. Mine had short sleeves and was far simpler, but it was perfect, just the way I liked it. After dating Cade for the last seven years, the day we’d been talking about for so long had finally arrived. I felt ready in some ways, and not so ready in others, and even though I was happy and content, nervous jitters flowed through me like restless fireflies. In the next hour, I would wed a man I considered to be the best, most loving person I’d known in all of my life, and yet my anxiety still showed no signs of letting up anytime soon. Not only was I nervous, my OCD was in full-on mode as I fiddled with a hairpin I’d positioned and repositioned in my hair at least four times. And that was just in the last five minutes.

“Leave it alone. It’s perfect,” a woman’s voice said. I turned to see my closest friend standing in the doorway. Maddie was wearing a wine-colored, floor-length dress she’d chosen herself. Her long, blond hair had been curled into soft, wavy locks, a departure from her usual pigtails or braids. Yesterday she seemed a lot younger than a woman like me in her mid-forties. Today she was all grown up. We both were. “Everything is perfect—your dress, your hair, your makeup,” Maddie said as she slid up beside me at the mirror. “You don’t need to change a thing.

” She was right. I didn’t. But we both knew I was going to do it anyway. “Your hair is amazing,” I said. She scratched her scalp. “Well, don’t get used to it. After the reception, this sophisticated princess is going back to a tracksuit and braids. I don’t know how some women spend so much time on their hair every day. It took me almost two hours to pull this together, and another thirty on makeup. Other than snazzy events like this, it’s a ridiculous waste of time.

” I laughed. “Even Medical Examiner Barbie needs to get fixed up from time to time.” Maddie was an ME. One of the best in the country. Recently she’d ditched life in the lab and had started touring, giving lectures about her work and discussing some of the forensic breakthroughs she’d discovered over the years. She was bright and fearless. She was also a tomboy. My grandmother entered the room and smiled. “Oh, just look at you, dear. So beautiful.

You ready? It’s almost time.” I nodded and repositioned the hairpin one last time. “And where’s our little man?” Gran asked. I pointed to a chair, where Boo, my Westie, was pawing at the satin hat tied around his head, trying everything he could to get it off. I hoped it would last another thirty minutes, just long enough for us to get our rings out of it before it was destroyed. “I may have put the hat on him too soon,” I said. “He doesn’t like it.” “There’s no sense taking it off now,” Gran said. “It’s go time.” Maddie scooped Boo off the chair and looked at Gran.

“I’ll take him. You take her.” With no parents left in my life, and no sister, Gran would be the one walking me down the aisle. I stood up, and my phone buzzed on the nightstand. I walked over and picked it up. The number was one I didn’t recognize, and it looked international. I assumed it was probably an accidental dial and pushed it to voice mail. I looped my arm around Gran’s, and she patted my hand. “All right, then,” she said. “Let’s go.

” We entered through the chapel doors of the old, restored church, and I scanned the room, my eyes coming to rest on a small gathering of people I loved seated in my section. They weren’t family, but over the years, they’d become friends. Close friends. Even Coop—Park City’s chief of police—was smiling. It was hard to believe a day had finally come where we were no longer at odds with each other. But come it had, and I couldn’t have been happier. I walked down the aisle, resting my eyes on Cade, whose smile removed the jitters inside me. He took my hand as I reached him, rubbing my palm with his fingers. The pastor began, taking us through the ceremony with ease and grace, and with Maddie’s assistance, Boo walked the rings to us like he’d prepared his entire life for this moment. Not long after, we were officially a married couple, with the pastor announcing, “You may kiss the bride.

” I was now Sloane Monroe-McCoy. Cade leaned in, pausing a moment before the kiss. “I’ve waited all my life to start one with you.” And as we embraced a tear trailed down my cheek because I felt the exact same way. Two weeks later I returned from a relaxing but adventurous honeymoon in Africa to several missed calls on my business line from a senator in Australia named James Ashby, a man I assumed I’d never hear from again. We’d met several months earlier in Cairns when I’d traveled to Australia to help my friend, Nick Calhoun, investigate the disappearance of his wife Marissa, who was traveling Down Under to attend her friend’s wedding. James was to be the groom, but once I’d solved Marissa’s murder, and he’d learned his bride-to-be had been keeping secrets from him that pertained to the murder, he’d called off the wedding. The voice mail James left me was vague: “Call me when you get this message. Something has happened here, and I’d like to hire you. I need your help.

” After listening to it, I stood there, staring at my phone as if it were sand in an hourglass, while I considered whether to return the call or not. I wasn’t sure I wanted to travel to another country at the moment. I also wasn’t sure I wanted to offer whatever help he needed. When we’d first met, I had formed the wrong impression of him after hearing rumors about the kind of person he was, but in the end, he’d proved himself a better man than I initially believed him to be. Still, I speculated there was a side of him I hadn’t seen, a side he concealed from others. I didn’t know how I knew. I just did, and I wasn’t sure getting involved with him again was in my best interest. On the other hand, I’d never been one to shy away from risk. And though hard for me to admit, I’d recently come to realize my life was the most fulfilled when accompanied by a moderate amount of danger. It was something I lived for, something I needed in order to thrive, and as the sand in my imaginary hourglass began to run out, I decided I should at least talk to him before coming to a decision.

James answered the call on the second ring, saying, “Does it always take you this long to call your clients back?” “I was on my honeymoon,” I said. “I’ve only just returned, and you’re not my client.” “Oh. I wasn’t aware you’d gotten married. Congratulations.” “I was surprised you called. You mentioned needing my help, but you’re a senator. Aren’t there plenty of people who are equipped to handle your needs more than I could be?” “There are, but none of them are you.” I accepted his flattery and got to the point. “What can I do for you?” “You can get here as soon as possible.

” “Why? What’s happened?” “A few weeks ago, my sister Caroline and the man she had been seeing were murdered in her home.” Whatever I’d expected him to say, this wasn’t it. “I … I’m really sorry to hear it,” I said. My thoughts turned to his niece, a sweet teenager with Down syndrome. I’d met her on my previous visit. “What about Grace?” I said. “Please tell me she’s all right.” “She’s fine. I wouldn’t say she’s doing well, but we’ll get there again one day. She’s staying with me now, and I’m doing everything I can to help her.

” “Where was Grace when Caroline was murdered?” “She was in the house, sleeping. Caroline screamed, which woke her. She went down the hall to investigate the noise and found Caroline on the floor, bleeding and unresponsive. Hugh, Caroline’s boyfriend, was crouched over her, mumbling, but Grace couldn’t hear what he said.” “I thought you said he was dead.” “He is. That is to say, he was alive and appeared unharmed when Grace first discovered Caroline, but he’s dead now.” “I’m confused,” I said. “I was too. There are a lot of moving pieces here.

A lot of things which don’t make sense, but they will once we find the man who did this.” Or woman. “How are you sure it was a man?” I asked. “I’m not. It’s just a hunch.” “What else can you tell me?” “From what Grace has been able to piece together, we know Hugh was alive initially. When Grace saw him leaning over Caroline, she assumed Hugh had killed her. She locked herself in the bathroom and escaped through the window. She ran to a neighbor’s house and called me. I headed straight over.

When I arrived, Hugh was dead. He’d been found at the bottom of the stairs, and it looks like he either fell down them or was pushed.” I visualized Hugh having a confrontation with Caroline’s killer. I assumed a chase had ensued at some point, wherein Hugh ended at the bottom of the stairs. “Grace never heard or saw anyone else in the house?” I asked. “No one. But her memory of the night’s events hasn’t been great. She was quite shaken up. It’s still a bit fuzzy.” “It’s understandable.

I’m sure she’s confused about everything right now.” I found the whole thing strange. Caroline had been dead when Grace found her, but Hugh had been alive. Minutes later, he was also dead, but the two had died in different ways. I wondered if Grace was confused at the time, so overcome with shock and grief at seeing her mother dead on the floor that she’d missed things. Clues. Maybe the killer had still been there in the house before she escaped out the window. I also wondered if Hugh had been an intended victim, or if he’d been killed because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or maybe he hadn’t been murdered at all. Maybe he’d just suffered a heart attack or something and just toppled.

“I’m sorry your family is grieving,” I said, “but I’m not sure what I can do to help. I’m not a licensed private investigator in your country.” “It doesn’t matter. You don’t need to worry about that.” Too late—I already was, and the last thing I wanted to do was to end up on the wrong side of the law in a country where I wasn’t a citizen. “Is there a way I can help you from here in the States?” I asked. “No. You must come to Cairns. It makes the most sense. You didn’t seem to have a problem working in Australia before, hmm?” He was right.

I didn’t, and I justified my actions because I was helping Nick find answers about what happened to his wife. That was personal. This wasn’t. “I’m not sure, Senator Ashby. It’s not that I don’t want to help. I do. I just don’t know if it’s a good idea for me to—” “Look, Sloane, all I want you to do is to do some digging around. I thought I knew almost everything there was to know about my sister, and now I believe I was mistaken. I don’t know who did this to her, or why, or if it has anything to do with me, or if it doesn’t. The police have been remarkable.

They’re doing everything they can. But I’m impatient, and I want the killer found—now. The longer this goes unsolved, the less the chances are that we’ll find out who did this. I need you. Will you come?” Guilt often caused people to break from the norm, shredding their ethical rulebook and creating one more suited to the situation, like he was doing now. And even though I was principled and tried to do the right thing in most situations, it was something we had in common. His comment about whether Caroline’s murder had anything to do with him meant the idea was weighing on him. I was familiar with that particular kind of weight, what it felt like, and how far it had dragged me down when my sister died at the hands of a serial killer several years before. Until he had answers, the weight he felt would eat away at him like rust on a sunken ship, and I didn’t want to add to that. “Let me see what I can do,” I said.

“I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.” Two days later, I touched down at the airport in Cairns. An older man in his late sixties wearing a weathered bush hat and a bright, tropical, button-up shirt—only the bottom four buttons were fastened, so his white chest hair poked through the top—was waiting next to the luggage carousel. He looked like a senior-aged model for Tommy Bahama. He introduced himself as Froggy and said he would take me to meet with Senator Ashby, but I had somewhere else in mind I wanted to go first. On the way to the car, I made my intentions clear, which didn’t seem to please him. “James has been waiting for you to arrive,” he said. “It’s best not to keep him waiting, all right.” “I just want to make a quick pit stop. It won’t take long, and I feel the senator would appreciate me getting right to work.

” He frowned, so I presented him with another option. “If you don’t want to drive me, I can grab a cab or an Uber and meet up with the senator once I’ve finished.” Froggy sent a quick text message, which I assumed went to the senator. He received a reply moments later and said he’d drive me where I wanted to go, then afterward would take me to see the senator. Twenty minutes later, a freckled, redheaded Victoria Bennett glanced up at me from her desk, giving me a look that made me feel like I was expected. Victoria was the coroner for the North Queensland region, and although we hadn’t spent much time together on my last visit, she was a straight shooter, and I hoped she’d be willing to fill me in on what she knew so far. “Nice to see you again so soon, Sloane,” she said. “You too,” I said. “Your hair is different.” She blushed.

I assumed it was because the last time I was there, she was sporting a Pulp Fiction type bob. Now her hair was as short as mine and styled much the same. She brushed her bangs to the side with her hand and said, “I hope you don’t mind. It’s just … when I saw your pixie cut the last time you were here, I finally got up the nerve to chop my own hair. I’ve been wanting to do it for years.” “Of course I don’t mind. It looks great on you.” And it did. She was even more stunning than I remembered. “James told me you were stopping by,” she admitted.

“News travels fast in this place.” “Did he tell you why I’m here?” “Not at first, but I know what you do. It wasn’t hard to figure out. When I asked him, he didn’t say much, but he didn’t deny it, either.” “I was hoping we could talk about what you’ve learned about Caroline’s and Hugh’s deaths.” She stared at me for a moment but didn’t respond, and then her gaze shifted to something behind me. I glanced over my shoulder and saw Froggy hovering by the door. We made eye contact, and he started whistling, like piping out a tune was going to make his eavesdropping just fine and dandy. It wasn’t fine … or dandy, and I wondered if he was really a driver or someone the senator had sent to shadow me during my visit, as his casual attire suggested. If so, he’d soon learn I didn’t work that way.

“Can I help you?” I asked. “This is a personal conversation.” “Oh,” Froggy said. “I … uhh … just wanted to know how long you think you’ll be here.” I shrugged. “I can’t say. As long as it takes. I’m aware the senator wants to meet with me today, and I will, just as soon as I finish talking with Victoria.” “It’s just … you’re expected, and you shouldn’t keep him waiting for too long.” “I’m jetlagged, sweaty, and in dire need of a shower, but I’m here, already working, doing the job he hired me to do.

He should be happy about that.” “He is. It’s just … he shifted his schedule around today to accommodate your arrival.” “He never told me he’d moved his appointments,” I said. “He wouldn’t. He’s too modest. I’m not.” Obviously. “For a driver, you seem to care a lot about the senator.” He tipped his head back and let out a full-bellied laughed.

Victoria followed suit, letting me know I was missing something they both knew and I didn’t. “What’s so funny?” I asked. “I’m not James’ driver. I’m his father.” I was starting to feel like I’d been right before in thinking that James had sent someone he trusted to keep an eye on me. Perhaps it was to protect me while I did my investigating. Or perhaps his reasons were entirely different. “You could have told me who you were earlier,” I said. He shrugged. “I could tell you a lot of things.

Doesn’t mean I will.” “You can go.” “I’m sorry. What?” “You can go. I have the senator’s address. When I’m ready to see him, I’ll give him a call.” “I was just teasing you a little. You know that, right?” Victoria seemed to sense the tension between us. She walked over and stood next to me. “Sloane, you’re probably hungry after such a long flight.

” I had been flown in first-class and had taken full advantage of the upgrade, but she was offering me a way out of an uncomfortable situation, and I knew better than not to take it. “I’m starving.” “Great.” She turned toward Froggy. “I’m taking her to lunch, Noel, and then I’ll drop her off to see James.” Noel—we had a name. A real name. He grimaced, yanked his phone out of the pocket of his cargo shorts, and sent another text. Seconds later, my phone rang. I didn’t answer it.

I didn’t need to. I knew who was calling. “Aren’t you going to get that?” Noel asked. I shook my head. “I don’t like being followed around and spied upon. I’m not at your son’s beck and call just because I’m working a case for him. I’m sure that’s what he expects, but that doesn’t work for me.” Noel crossed his arms in front of him. “Understood. Just so you know, I wasn’t spying.

I was just trying to give you a lift after your long flight.” He walked out of Victoria’s office without saying another word. She grabbed her wallet and car keys and said, “Well, that was fun.” Victoria and I ordered a couple of lattes at a café in the city, and then we strolled along a wooden walking path next to the pier. We sipped our drinks and soaked up the tropical sun. I thought about how far away I felt from home and how different things were here than the hustle and bustle in the States. In Cairns life seemed to almost come to a standstill at times. The air seemed different because it was. A place like this gave one time to think—really think. To put things into perspective.

I thought about the last time I’d been here, and of Marissa, and how she had probably walked the same path I was walking now on the night she had been murdered. How fleeting life was, and how fragile. One day we’re alive and free, the next we’re turned to dust, evaporating into an afterlife I wasn’t even sure existed. Some days I felt larger than life, like I meant something and like I mattered. Today I felt small and insignificant, like I could exit life’s door tomorrow, and in a hundred years, there would be little left of me to remind anyone of my existence. Thinking about it now, I vowed to make my mark in some small way. I wanted to be better—to make a difference—not just for myself, but for all those around me. I glanced at Victoria who was eyeing me curiously, like she could tell my mind had drifted and she was wondering how far. “I was surprised James asked you to come here,” Victoria said. “Why?” I asked.

“I don’t know. He doesn’t let many people in—not when it comes to his personal life, and the murder of his sister … well, I can’t think of anything more personal than that.” “It doesn’t feel like he’s letting me in. It feels like I’m just one more card in the deck he’s been dealt recently, and after some thought, he’s decided to play multiple hands to see which one gives him the best results in the fastest time frame.” “You think so?” “I do. He wants to know what happened, and he wants to know now. The police are doing everything they can, I’m sure, but he’s impatient. He wants another perspective. That’s where I come in. How’s it been since everything happened?” “It has been a trying couple of weeks for all of us.

He’s not the only one pushing for answers. Everyone is. It’s a tremendous amount of pressure.” “I’m sure he feels like he’s in a fishbowl right now,” I said. “Cairns may be a city, but it’s also a small, close-knit community. There was a table of women in the coffee shop discussing the details of the murder while we waited for our lattes, and when we walked outside, a man was showing his wife the front page of the local paper. Have you seen it?” She nodded. “I haven’t read the latest article, but I’ve seen the photos they posted of Caroline and Hugh. You don’t miss a lot, do you?” “I wouldn’t be any good at my job if I did. Everywhere I look, people are talking about what happened.

They’re all speculating and drawing their own conclusions. It’s almost like what happened to Caroline has also happened to them. Whether they knew her or didn’t, it’s still personal to them.” “That’s an interesting way of looking at it.” It was also an accurate one, and it made Cairns special, different than most other places where I’d been involved in an investigation. “You called the senator by his first name a few times today,” I said. “Aside from your forensic work on the case, are you two friends?” She bit her upper lip. They were connected somehow. She stared at her latte. “I feel like I need a much stronger drink if I’m going to talk about it.

” “Is it that bad?” I asked. “It’s not bad. Not really. I … uhh … we dated for a while. Well, not a long while. A couple of months a few years ago.” “What …” Happened. I left the word I didn’t say alone. What happened wasn’t my business. If she wanted to tell me, she could. And though I was curious, I wasn’t going to pry. Not with her love life, anyway. “It’s all right,” she said. “I don’t mind talking to you about it. We met at a holiday fund-raiser for the city after he became senator. He was single, and I was going through a divorce at the time, and I wasn’t in the right place in my life to start a new relationship. He was, and after dating for a short time, he wanted a commitment. I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t give him what he wanted, so I broke things off, even though I can admit now that I really didn’t want to.” Years had passed, but from the look on her face, the pain of her decision to end the relationship was still fresh in her mind, even now. “Must have been hard,” I said. “I’ve been there before.” “I still wonder if I should have done things differently. We weren’t together long, but the bond we shared together was unlike anything I’ve experienced before or since.” “Have you ever thought about talking to him or trying to get back what you once had?” “I almost called him a few times, but I didn’t.” “What stopped you?” I asked. “I have no interest being in the public eye the way he is in his career right now. If he were no longer senator, maybe it would be different.” She paused, then abruptly switched subjects. “Hey, you want to sit down for a few minutes?” I nodded, and we crossed into a park-like picnic area along the esplanade. I spotted a vacant table nestled under a ficus tree, and we sat down. “What can you tell me about Caroline’s death?” “She was knifed in the chest.” “How many times?” “Once.” “She died from a single stab wound?” I asked. “She did. The knife punctured her abdominal aorta, which means she would have died shortly thereafter. Looking at how specific Caroline’s injury was, I would assume the killer knew where the knife needed to enter her body in order to be fatal. The puncture wound was clean. With Hugh, it was different.” “Was the knife recovered from the crime scene?” “It was found outside, in Caroline’s back garden. The length and width of the blade are consistent with the wounds found on Caroline, but there were no prints on the knife’s handle. Not even a smudge.” “So, someone took the time to wipe their prints off the blade but was careless enough to leave it behind?” Victoria lifted a finger. “I’ll get to my theory on that in a minute. Another interesting thing of note is that Caroline had no defensive wounds, but Hugh had a slice on his neck that wasn’t deep, like he had been trying to fight his attacker off before he tumbled down the stairs to his death.” “How many cuts did he have?” “Only one, and like I said, it wasn’t deep. It was more like a scrape than a stab wound. Hugh is a lot bigger than Caroline, and if he did have the chance to fight for his life, the killer would have had a harder time doing what he’d come to do.” “Hugh died from falling down the stairs, right?” She nodded. “His neck was broken. From what Grace told us, we know Hugh was still alive when she discovered her mum. And yet, at some point after Grace climbed out of the bathroom window, Hugh was also murdered.” “I suppose it’s possible the killer was in the house the entire time, hiding out somewhere,” I said. If true, the question was—why? And had the killer intended to kill Grace as well? “This leads to my theory about why the knife was left behind,” she said.

.

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