The tranquility of Smithtown, Ohio is shattered when David Bradley arrives home to find that his wife has been raped and murdered by someone who left no clues behind except the words "May Day" painted on her body. Reporter Sam Middleton is determined to help police find the killer of his ex-wife's friend as they learn that another Smithtown woman has been murdered. Who will the next victim be?
Sam Middleton held the door open for his ex-wife and daughter before joining them as they descended the steps of the funeral home. Leaves of brilliant colors blew in every direction as they made their way across the parking lot to Ann's white Toyota Camry. Sam stood and watched Ann search absentmindedly in her purse for the car keys; the tears welling up in her eyes for the third or fourth time that day.
He glanced over at Amy, who seemed oblivious to her mother's grief, and Sam silently wished that she would at least make an effort to console her. But Amy simply stood there apathetically and he was once again reminded of how dramatically his little girl had changed since the divorce last spring. She seemed almost a stranger now, no longer the sweet, freckle-faced little kid who was so considerate of others and nearly always obeyed her parents' demands without question. Amy had since become defiant and selfish--seemingly overnight--and was so wrapped up in her own little world that it was downright scary. Through some force unknown to him, his little bundle of joy had evolved into a bitter, incorrigible young lady of fourteen--a keg of dynamite just waiting to blow up at the slightest provocation.
Ann suddenly broke down and started weeping. Sam stepped over and put his arms around her comfortingly, feeling a little awkward as he did so.
"Why, Sam?" she sobbed. "Why did Marsha have to die? She was so full of life--so happy! And now she's . . ."
"There now, dear," he consoled. "Please don't get yourself all worked up again."
"And so violently! Who in the world would want to do that to her? Marsha wouldn't harm a fly. She was so
. . . so kind. And Dave, and little Tommy . . . What will they do now?" Sam hugged her tightly, patted her back. "I don't know, Ann. It's certainly an awful situation. I guess they'll just have to try to put all the pieces together and get on with their lives without her. Just like the rest of us will have to do."
She buried her face in his chest, and Sam's heart bled for her. He had known that Ann was going to take it hard when he'd called to give her the grim news of Marsha Bradley's murder, but he had never conceived that it would absolutely devastate her like this. She and Marsha had been best friends since grade school and had been practically joined at the hip in the years since. That was a lot of memories shared together; a lot of closeness.
And for Marsha Bradley to die so abruptly like that; and in such a gruesome, hideous way . . .
"I hope they find the bastard who did this to her and string him up by his balls!" Ann declared bitterly.
She pulled away and faced Sam, her eyes moist with tears. "Do you know if they've found any clues yet?" Sam stared at her gaunt, lovely face and replied, "When I checked with Roger this morning, he told me that they still don't have much to go on. Little Tommy is still in shock, and no one is going to interrogate him until he calms down. The shrink seems to think that could take awhile. And since Tommy is the only witness they know of so far, Roger doesn't think that much of anything is going to break until they can question him. Poor kid. I guess he's so traumatized over this that they've had to practically force him to eat, and he still hasn't spoken a word to a soul. Not even to his father."
"Is Dave going to be able to handle all of this, you think? He looked absolutely awful in there." Sam shook his head slowly. "He's taking it pretty hard, no doubt. My guess is that once the shock has worn off, he'll be out for blood. I just hope they find this asshole soon. The whole town's pretty stirred up, as you can imagine. Probably already forming a lynch mob, as we speak," he added with a wry grin.
Ann managed a weak smile. "God, am I ever glad I don't live in this little Peyton Place anymore!" Sam ignored her remark. "The police are advising everyone to be on the lookout for anything or anyone suspicious and recommending that parents set up a voluntary ten o'clock curfew for their kids."
"Are you covering the story, or is that a stupid question?" she asked.
"Yes, to both," Sam replied dryly.
"Well, keep me informed. I want to know everything that happens, okay?"
"Sure," Sam nodded. He let go of her and turned to Amy. "Why so quiet, kiddo?" Amy shrugged her shoulders. "Nothing to say. I just want to go home," she answered, her tone of voice bored.
Sam went over and kissed his daughter on the cheek and whispered in her ear, "Look after your mother, okay, sweetie? This has been really tough on her, and she needs all the emotional support she can get right now.
Think you can do that for your old man?"
Amy remained expressionless and replied, "Okay, Dad."
Sam held her bright green eyes in his a moment and could feel the familiar pang of remorse gnaw at him--
just as it always did whenever he was about to say goodbye to his estranged family. He missed them both more than he wanted to admit to himself. Amy, as if reading his mind, suddenly gave him a bear hug. "I miss you, Dad."
"I miss you too, honey."
Then, as quickly as it began, this rare, magical moment ended. "Can we go now, Mom?" Ann unlocked the car door. "We're on our way."
As Amy walked around to the other side of the car, Sam stood and watched as Ann got in. "Be careful," he said. "I'll call you as soon as I learn anything."
Ann looked up at Sam and squinted from the glare of the sun coming from behind him. "Thanks, Sam.
Take care of yourself."
He nodded and waited until Amy was inside, then said, "You two take care of each other, okay?"
"We will, Dad. Bye."
Sam closed the door and stood by as Ann started the engine and backed the car out. He waved to them as they pulled away.
As he sauntered across the lot toward his gray Grand Cherokee, Sam's head was reeling from the events of the day. He reached the Jeep, climbed in and fired up the engine. He felt numb and more alone than he'd felt in a long time. Marsha Bradley's rape, murder, and ensuing memorial service were agonizing enough. But seeing how hard Ann was taking it, then watching her drive away into the sunset along with his kid--leaving him here in this godforsaken town while they headed to a new city and a new life--was just about more than he could handle right now. Although Columbus was only a couple of hours away, it might as well be somewhere in China.
Sam floored the accelerator and pulled into the alley, turned onto Grant Street and headed north. Traffic was light for a Saturday afternoon; but then it was always light in this little burg of 21,000. One of Smithtown's few assets was its intrinsic charm; the rolling foothills that virtually surrounded the entire town, the fine old houses with their neatly manicured grounds, and the nearby state forest located to the west just outside the city limits. Otherwise, the town was a bust. An economically anemic place that was swiftly heading in the wrong direction as towns go. Shrinking instead of growing.
Smithtown was comprised for the most part of white middle class folks, coexisting with a smattering of impoverished but determined southern Ohio hillbilly farmers. Minorities existed to a considerably lesser degree, with the Indian and Asian American professionals--mostly physicians--equaling, if not exceeding the town's black population. Smithtown's County Hospital seemed to draw immigrants in search of a place to practice medicine like a streetlight to moths.
As he waited impatiently for a traffic light to change, Sam wondered for the umpteenth time why he remained in this depressing place. With the exception of his job as a reporter at the Smithtown Observer, there was virtually nothing else holding him here. Especially now that he'd split up with Ann. Even his parents had moved on, happily retired and basking in the Florida sunshine.
His game plan had fallen apart, he admitted to himself grimly. He had always had this crazy dream of being a novelist, and after having gotten his first bestseller published, moving his family to New England to spend the rest of his life writing novels in his den in front of a roaring fire in the fireplace. Now, at forty, he no longer had a family to move anywhere and his "bestseller" was yet to be written, stalled on page sixty-three where it had lain dormant for months.
Sam hung a right onto Court Street and heaved a long sigh. The divorce had been the beginning of his undoing, no doubt about it. He missed Ann and he missed his kid. His motivation to write was shot--his two greatest sources of inspiration now in a car heading north on Route 23 en route to Columbus . . . To a new city and a new life . . .
One mistake was all it had taken to end their once happy marriage of seventeen years. He'd f**ked-up royally by letting his dick do his thinking for him. One measly night in the sack with that beautiful young thing had blown everything all to hell. Had he seen the consequences beforehand, he would never have let it happen.
But it was too late now. Ann had been relentlessly unforgiving and hadn't budged an inch. She had surprised him. He had never realized that Ann was so strong-willed.
The joke was on him . . .
Sam shut his eyes for a moment in an effort to exorcise these nagging thoughts. When he opened them again, he focused on the road and thought about the matter at hand: Marsha Bradley's murder.
Once he arrived at the Observer, Sam resolved, he was going to research each and every minuscule detail the police had logged thus far concerning the case, as well any background info he could find on Marsha and Doctor David Bradley for the article he was writing for Monday's paper. He needed to call Roger and set up a time that he could visit the Bradley residence and take some shots for the article, just in case he needed them.
Roger would question this, and probably laugh in Sam's face as he proceeded to ask Sam why in the f**k he wanted to take more pictures of the murder scene. Sam would then reply flippantly that it might add interest to the article, and Roger would know better, but say no more about it.