It was nearing ten o’clock and Josie was three shots of Wild Turkey deep by the time Luke arrived at her house. She met him at the door, flinging her arms around his neck and kissing him deeply. She felt the stir of her lust for him, intensified by booze. Before he could catch his breath, she was undoing his belt.
Laughing softly, he grasped her hands and held them between his large palms, like he was warming them on a cold day. “Not so fast,” he murmured. “I heard about what happened at Rockview. Is your grandmother okay?”
“She’s fine,” Josie replied. The last thing she wanted to do was talk about what happened at Rockview. She could still see her grandmother standing in the doorway of June’s empty room, open-mouthed and white with shock like the rest of them. Josie had felt terrible leaving her there, and felt even worse now, remembering.
Pulling her hands from his grip, Josie pushed Luke until his back was against her foyer wall. Her hands returned frantically to his belt.
“Josie,” he said, and she felt a stab of annoyance at the tone of his voice. Was that pity?
“Shut up,” she said as she finally released his belt and snaked a hand up, behind his head, grabbing a fistful of his hair and pulling him down to her hungry mouth. He didn’t fight her.
He broke the kiss and looked at the steps. “Should we go upstairs?” She pulled her shirt off. “No,” she said. “I want you now.”
He brushed her cheek gently with the back of his hand. “We can slow down, you know.”
But she didn’t want
to slow down. She didn’t want tenderness, or a slow burn. She needed a raging
inferno that would burn up every anxiety twisting and turning inside
her head. She needed the heat, that
fire they’d achieved in the woods.
She dropped to her knees before him. “No,” she said. “We can’t.”
Josie picked up the clothes she had strewn all over the floor and put them back on. The numbing effect of the Wild Turkey had burned away, leaving her feeling as though she had downed a pot of coffee. Her mind felt clear, her anxiety eased for the moment. Luke sat bare-chested at her kitchen table. He had, at least, pulled on his boxer shorts and watched as she went back to work on the late dinner she’d been attempting to make for him before he arrived.
“I brought you something,” he said, eventually. She smiled at him. “Oh yeah?”
“It’s in my truck.”
“Are you going to bring it inside?”
“Yeah, it’s a door. You know, for your bedroom closet.”
Josie froze, the knife in her hand poised over a piece of grilled chicken breast. The buzzed feeling she’d had since she took him in the foyer drained out of her. “My, uh, my bedroom closet?”
“Yeah. There’s no door.” He laughed. “You didn’t notice?”
She laughed along with him, hoping he didn’t hear the high note of nervousness in her voice. “I, uh, kind of like it without a door,” she said. “It’s more open, airy.”
It was a lie, but it was the best she could do in that moment. What could she say? Nothing that wouldn’t lead to questions she didn’t want to answer.
When she and Ray first moved in together after college they’d lived in a tiny apartment with a huge bedroom closet. Big enough for her to walk in and out of, but not quite a walk-in closet. She’d been moving things around inside of it when Ray had closed the door without thinking, not realizing Josie was still in there. The click of the latch, the sudden darkness, broke something in her and caused an unexpected, furious panic attack. Paralyzed, she had started hyperventilating. It had felt like the walls were reaching for her, the dark space getting smaller by the second. She had nearly passed out.
Ray had felt
terrible. Once he calmed her down, he’d taken the door off the hinges and
thrown it out for trash. It had come out of their security deposit when they
moved but Ray said it didn’t matter. In each one of the string of crappy
apartments they’d rented, and then, finally,
the house they’d bought together, he routinely removed all closet doors. It became their normal.
It was only natural to then do the same in her own place. It helped her sleep at night. But she couldn’t tell Luke that. She couldn’t tell him the truth. He couldn’t know that Josie.
“Airy?” Luke said. “But it looks terrible. I mean, all your stuff is just there. Josie, closets are where you shove all your unused stuff. They’re meant to have doors.”
The knife clanged onto the counter, startling him. “Not all of them,” she replied, through gritted teeth, then took a deep breath and reminded herself that he was trying to do something nice for her.
Luke was a fixer. That was one of the things that had initially attracted her to him. If he saw something in disrepair, he quietly fixed it. He’d been mending things around her house for as long as they’d been together: touching up the paint, replacing the leaky faucet in her bathroom sink, patching a hole in the drywall in her kitchen left by the previous owner. She had always appreciated it—until now. This time it felt like he was trying to fix her, but she didn’t need to be fixed. She wasn’t broken. She was fine.
But he means well, she told herself. He wasn’t attempting to control her. He didn’t understand what putting that door up would mean. She forced a smile onto her face. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I meant to say that I want to paint my bedroom. It was really wonderful of you to go out and buy a door for me, but let’s just put it in the garage until I paint the room, okay?”
“Oh, I can paint it for—”
“No, no,” she said quickly. “I kind of wanted to do it myself.”
He looked half-disappointed and half-confused. She had to change the subject, and fast. She hated to do it, but it was the first thing that came to mind. “How did you know about Rockview?” she asked, picking the knife back up as casually as she could.
“Oh, I called to see if anyone had claimed any of the bodies from the shootout—no one has yet—and Noah told me. Hard to believe.”
Josie turned to get something from her fridge and knocked a mess of cooking utensils onto the floor. Luke jumped up to help her retrieve them.
“Just throw them into the sink,” Josie said with a heavy sigh. “I’ll wash them later.”
“What is that,
exactly?” he asked, pointing to the mess on her counter: chicken, pasta and some creamy concoction. She had lost track
she’d put into that particular bowl.
“Creamy chicken lasagna,” she told him. She scrolled through her phone until she found the recipe and handed it to him.
His brow furrowed as he looked back and forth from the recipe to Josie’s countertop. Before Luke had arrived, she’d had the bright idea that cooking would take her mind off the work that she wasn’t able to do and all the questions firing around in her head. Cooking hadn’t helped at all. The truth was she hated cooking. It was boring and frustrating. She had been living on bagels, microwave dinners and salads since she left Ray.
“Do you mind?” Luke asked, pointing to the cooked chicken breast piled on a plate on the counter.
Her heart just wasn’t in it, especially now. “Sure,” she said. “Have at
First, he rearranged all the plates and bowls on her counter. Then he
searched her cabinets for more supplies: measuring cups, basil, salt and a large knife and cutting board. He started dicing the chicken. Josie pulled a chair up to her kitchen table and sat down, tucking her feet beneath her. “You think you can save it?” she asked. There he was again, fixing things.
“Guess we’ll find out,” he said as his hands worked quickly and deftly, chopping the chicken in half the time it would have taken her. “Tell me about today.”
Relieved to be off the subject of the closet door, she took him through the whole episode at Rockview, from June’s arrival to finding Sherri murdered on the floor of her room. She told him about everything but the Princess tongue barbell. She already regretted telling the chief; maybe he was right, maybe she did sound crazy. Maybe she shouldn’t be taking it so seriously or trying so hard to connect June to Coleman. Luke listened intently as he moved on to the creamy concoction, tasting it with a spoon then adding ingredients, stirring, tasting, adding, stirring some more.
“No missing persons named Ramona?” he asked.
“The chief said there aren’t any. There aren’t any Ramonas at all in Denton.”
“But obviously the Spencers know someone named Ramona.” “Except Dirk Spencer’s ex-girlfriend says they didn’t.”
He waved a wooden spoon in the air. “Wait, why were you talking to Dirk Spencer’s ex-girlfriend?”
“That’s not important,” Josie said.
Luke’s grin told her he wasn’t going to make an issue of this, and for that she loved him. He filled a large pot with water and put it on the stove to boil, adding in a few dashes of salt and a capful of olive oil. “Maybe Ramona isn’t a person,” he said. “Maybe it’s a place.”
“No, I think it’s a person,” Josie said. “Maybe not a missing person.
Just a person.”
The scene with June played out in Josie’s mind again from beginning to end but brought her no closer to figuring out the mystery of Ramona.
And what about Drummond? Where did he fit in? The chief had said they’d found no trace of Coleman or any other girl at his property. Where was Coleman, and how had she and June come into contact with one another?
Josie retrieved her phone from the countertop and pulled up a search screen. She wouldn’t have access to the police databases now that she was suspended, but she would have access to the Megan’s Law list in Pennsylvania which would tell her what Drummond had been in prison for.
A few minutes of searching was all it took to find him. He’d been convicted ten years earlier of forcible rape and unlawful restraint. He’d served seven years. His photo showed a wide-faced man with features that seemed better suited to a giant. He looked easily ten years older than his stated age of thirty-three and stared at the camera with a flat affect— almost the same expression June had had when they brought her into Rockview. Physically there, but not mentally.
Drummond was in his early twenties when he committed the crime that landed him on the registry, likely to have been his first. It looked as though he’d been on his best behavior once he got out, under the watchful eye of his mother.
Josie searched for her and found her obituary. She had died a few months before June went missing. In theory, with his mother gone, Drummond could have held June for a year and no one would have been the wiser. It was possible that June had packed up her messenger bag and walked away from her uncle’s house, then been picked up by Drummond.
Josie wondered if June’s messenger bag had been recovered at Drummond’s house. She fired off a quick text to Ray, asking him. She could sense his eye roll across the city of Denton. His response came back within minutes: No. No bag. Now stay out of it before the chief fires you.
She typed back: Have you checked
out Drummond’s prison friends? Chief already asked me to look into it. DON’T TEXT
She typed in a cutting reply, but then deleted it and simply wrote thank you instead. She might need Ray in the future.
“Are you online?” Luke asked.
She looked up to see him feeding stiff, uncooked lasagna noodles into the boiling pot of water.
“Uh, yeah,” she said.
Coleman had not been found at Drummond’s house, and neither had June’s messenger bag, which meant there was another location and someone else involved. Yet she couldn’t see Drummond being involved in trafficking. It made no sense. He was a collector. He had prepared a room—what had Ray said? He had outfitted it like a cell. Drummond had likely been planning to take someone. He’d wanted June for his own gratification, not to make money from her. Traffickers made money from the women and children they bought and sold.
Round and round it all went in her mind. Going nowhere. “Josie?”
She looked up from her phone. Luke was standing beside her, an uncertain smile on his face. He laid a hand on her shoulder. “I said the lasagna will be ready in a half hour. Did you want to open a bottle of wine?”
She flashed him a smile. “I’d love to.”
Not as much as I’d love to do some digging in the police database, she added silently.