Home > Close to the Bone (Widow's Island #1)(6)

Close to the Bone (Widow's Island #1)(6)
Author: Kendra Elliot

“Her coat was found at the top of Widow’s Walk,” agreed Cate. “But . . . her body wasn’t found below.”

“There are rocks and rough water at the bottom,” stated Rex. “She probably washed out to sea.”

Henry carefully watched Cate. Her face was blank. No outward indication of pain from speaking about her friend’s disappearance. But he’d spotted a flash in her blue eyes. A momentary glimpse of her struggle to hold it together.

“That was one of the working theories,” Cate admitted. “It’s why they built a fence at the top of the Widow’s Walk cliff.”

“Should have been a fence there decades before,” Rex added. “How long will it take to determine if this is Becca?” He looked sick to his stomach, and Henry knew it wasn’t from the dizziness. “The county and FBI both have her dental records and DNA samples from her mother and me on file.”

“It shouldn’t take long,” Cate said. “I’ve skimmed through some of the digital notes on Becca’s disappearance. I haven’t had time to read everything we have . . . can you tell me about the day she vanished?”

“Do you know how many times I’ve recited that story?” Rex asked in a ragged voice. “How many times I’ve run it through my head as I search for something I missed? It’s haunted me for over two years.”

“Humor me,” Cate requested kindly. “I want to hear it directly from you.”

Rex took a long drink of water, his gaze growing distant. Henry watched the pulsating vein in his neck, wondering if Rex’s heart rate would spike again. His breathing had calmed, and his color was better.

“It was summer. No school. I let her take the boat to meet up with some friends.”

“Wait,” Henry interjected. “Wasn’t she a little young for that?”

“Fourteen-year-olds can get a boater education card in the state of Washington,” Cate said. “It’s common with islanders.”

Too young. Henry could easily imagine the stupid things he and his friends would have done with the freedom of having a boat.

“She was a good driver. Responsible and smart about it,” Rex said. “I was comfortable letting her take it on calm days. No boating in the dark. She didn’t come back when she was supposed to, and she didn’t answer her phone. When it grew dark, I knew something was wrong and called the sheriff’s office.”

Henry sat very still. How hard is this for him?

Rex continued in a monotone, his eyes staring past them. “They found the boat at the marina in Bishop Bay, not far from the ferry landing. She’d had permission to go to Harlot Harbor to meet her friends. It’s a straight shot from here.”

Bishop Bay is a good half hour by boat from Harlot Harbor. She drove the boat around the southeast point of the island.

“Her phone was found on the boat,” he went on. “The sheriff suspected she’d ridden the ferry to the mainland, but she didn’t show up on the camera footage.” He turned to look out the window toward the lights of Harlot Harbor. “They theorized she might have hidden in a vehicle for the ferry ride. The cameras wouldn’t have seen her on the floor in a back seat . . . or in the trunk.

“Her friends said she’d agreed to meet them but never showed. There were a dozen texts on her phone, asking when she’d arrive. They were all unanswered.” He took a deep breath. “They searched far and wide, but nothing ever came of it. It was as if she’d vanished into thin air.”

He closed his eyes. “Daphne blamed me. It was my decision to live here. Neither she nor Becca were happy on the island. My wife was right; it was my fault.” He opened his eyes and looked directly at Cate. “Guilt like that eats away at your gut and brain. It ages you, and you wonder if you’re better off dead. But I can’t die . . . Becca could come back, and I wouldn’t be here for her.”

Henry couldn’t speak. There were no words to comfort Rex. No words to alleviate his guilt. The author was drowning in remorse.

Rex pointed at a family portrait on an end table, and Henry picked it up. A happy family smiled at him. Becca looked to be about twelve in the picture, and Rex’s hair was a salt-and-pepper mix, not the solid gray of today. He studied Daphne, wondering how hard it’d been for Rex’s wife to leave the island. She looked kind, vulnerable. He silently handed the photo to Cate. Her lips tightened as she studied the faces.

“Originally the island was just a summer home for you, correct?” she asked, still examining the picture.

“Yes. But I decided to stay permanently when Becca was eleven. My brain felt clear and light here. It was easier to breathe, and my writing flowed. The isolation was hard on Daphne, but she made friends on Widow’s Island and tried to stay social. Becca went to school and had friends, but both of them talked about life back in New York. They would go back for several weeks at a time on vacation.”

“You didn’t go?” Henry asked.

“I went a few times, but I couldn’t relax.” He frowned. “It’s as if the islands have become part of me. I feel off balance and empty when I’m gone.”

Understanding flashed in Cate’s eyes as she slowly nodded.

Ridiculous. He’s just scared to leave.

“Can I go see her?” Rex looked from Henry to Cate.

“That’s not a good idea,” answered Cate. “The scene is being processed.”

He’s already convinced it’s Becca.

Cate’s phone dinged. She glanced at the screen, did a double take, and opened the message. She studied a photo for a few seconds and then cleared her throat. “Mr. Conan . . . do you recognize this bracelet? It was . . . with the remains.” She held the phone out to Rex.

Henry moved to look over Rex’s shoulder, not caring that it was none of his business. Dirt had been ground into the hollows of the bracelet’s large glass beads. They were pale blues, greens, and pinks. Rust encrusted the metal clasp. Rex stared for a long time.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “Daphne might.”

“I don’t want to send her the photo without speaking with her first,” Cate said. “Can you give me her phone number?”

Rex recited the digits as he continued to stare at the photo.

Henry looked at the portrait he’d set back on the table. Becca wore a few bracelets, but they were black thin cords.

Rex handed Cate’s phone to Dustin. He looked at the bracelet photo and shook his head.

“I thought you moved here after Becca disappeared,” Cate said. “Why do you think Dustin could recognize a bracelet, Mr. Conan?”

“Ever since I finished building the house, Dustin would spend weeks at a time here. My brother and his wife did too.” He gave a half smile. “Dustin was Becca’s official chauffeur when he visited.” He shrugged. “It was worth letting him take a look.”

“Of course.” Cate stood, signaling the interview was over. “I’ll be in touch later today, Mr. Conan.” She paused. “I’m very sorry to interrupt your night.”

“As if I sleep anyway,” he said without emotion. “Dustin can guide you back.”

They said their goodbyes and left the home, stepping out into the cold November air. No one talked. Henry paused halfway up the cliff stairs, breathing hard, and looked back at the glowing mansion.

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