“It’s not even October yet.” Addison March grumbled more to herself than anyone as she wrapped her faux Burberry scarf around her neck, making her way to the entrance of Miller Market. It was two in the morning and the first day of her new job. The Michigan air was crisp with the bite of autumn approaching.
It was surreal for Addy to be back in her hometown, a place which she worked hard to avoid the past eight years. She wasn’t sure which part shocked her more; how everyone had changed, or how nothing had changed at all. Friends from high school were married and starting families, most were struggling to scrape a living in the small town, the population of which was just under two thousand.
Grandloc wasn’t a rough town to grow up in by any stretch. It was beautiful and quaint. Everyone knew each other and most people were helpful when times got tough. The problem for Addy was feeling too big for a small town, so when it was time for college she packed up and headed for NYU to get her degree in English where she met her ex-fiance and now bane-of-her-existence, Edwin.
Between not knowing exactly what she wanted to do and her engagement circling the drain, her only instincts were to go home to mommy. There was no shame in it, until she remembered that everyone knew everything in good ol’ Grandloc. It took a week of navigating through prying questions, giving vague answers and steering the conversation elsewhere, until finally the talk about her absence was considered old news.
Addy stood next to the sliding doors, pulling her coat close around her chest. According to Bill Burlap, the current manager of Miller Market, she was supposed to meet her new boss outside of the store in the wee hours of the morning.
In any other city like Detroit or Manhattan, she’d be wary and probably stay in her car with a can of pepper spray just in case. But this was Grandloc. Nothing dangerous happened in her old town. Scandalous, maybe, but not dangerous.
Within seconds of her shivering, stomping her new non-slip sneakers on the cement ground, Addy heard the clunky sound of an old Chevy truck pulling into the nearly empty (save for her mom’s Honda Civic that she borrowed) parking lot.
Her jaw dropped as a short, spiky-haired woman with blood red lipstick hopped out of the driver’s side like a spry teenager. “Ronnie?!”
Ronda Daley shoved her hands in her jacket pockets, strutting Addy’s way with the swagger of a woman who took no crap. “Well, I’ll be. The prodigal daughter returns.” She curled her lips upward, raising an eyebrow. Addy didn’t hesitate, throwing her arms around the woman.
“I oughtta be insulted, ya know?” Ronnie teased. “No phone call, no Facepage message, even!”
“Facebook, Ron.” Addy corrected with a laugh.
“You kids and your social media.” She rolled her eyes, unlocking the sliding doors and prying them open. “What’s it been? Three years since your last visit?”
“Nine months. Mom wouldn’t let me go too long without a visit.”
“And now you’re working here, so can I assume you aren’t just gracing us with your presence?” They walked through the second set of automatic sliding doors to the clock-in station. Ronnie checked her watch.
“I’m not sure where I’m headed. I always thought I’d get my degree and go on adventures, writing for magazines and newspapers.” Addy admitted. “Yet here I am, back in the old town.”
“You’re a lick more cultured than most folks out here, I’d say.” Ronnie grumbled. She still wasn’t wholly accepted in the traditional community after nearly 50 years. Addy remembered one day Ronnie took her to the beach while her mother was working. A couple of geriatric women in white shawls shook their heads at Ronnie, loudly whispering how she shouldn’t be around children and she was “too rock and roll” for a town like Grandloc.
In response to the women, Ronnie lit a cigarette and took off her own black shawl, revealing a Rolling Stones bikini, where the mouth was placed quite strategically.
But that’s what Addy loved about Ronnie, who may as well have been a second mother. If it weren’t for her, Addy was certain she wouldn’t have nearly as much confidence in herself as she did. Sure, her life was a hot mess now, but she took it in stride and made the most of her situation as privately as she could.
Ronnie punched her number into the clock-in station and steered Addy past the registers and aisles of groceries to the impact doors that led to the bakery. Addy’s eyes bulged as they drew near, a red handprint covered the door.
Ronnie shook her head, grumbling as she wheeled around the deli station on the far end of the store leading up to the bakery, “Raspberry jelly.” She reassured Addy, who was admittedly a fan of true crime and unsolved mysteries. “They’ve got these high school kids closing, taking anything and everything left in the donut case…”
Addy watched as she cleaned the door flap of the red stain, a feeling in the pit of her stomach growing, nagging at her that something just wasn’t right.
“Take the food, of course, don’t let it go to waste. Who knows how hungry those boys are, if they’re gettin’ enough at home, but for the love of all that’s holy in this world,” she continued, throwing the stained cloth over her shoulder and pushing the door flap open with her hip. Addy followed, “just clean up after-”
But she didn’t have a chance to finish her sentence because the scene that they walked in on was the absolute last thing anyone in Grandloc could have expected. Even a horror movie lover like Addy.
“That’s a lot of raspberry jelly.” She said before the strong smell of copper hit her nostrils. That definitely wasn’t raspberry jelly splattered across just about every surface of the bakery. Like a pair of rubberneckers on the freeway of a collision, Ronnie and Addy’s eyes swept across the scene.
“Oh, hell.” Ronnie gasped. She darted out of the bakery the moment Addy’s eyes landed on a pair of sleek, pale legs, with one ruby red shoe on and the other nowhere to be found. She pulled out her phone and started slowly recording the scene from where she stood. There was too much ‘raspberry jelly’ for her to risk stepping anywhere else, thus contaminating what she knew to be a crime scene.
“Deputy’ll be here in five. Seven minutes tops.” Addy pocketed her phone, slipping through the gap Ronnie had opened for her. Her nostrils were flared, which told Addy that no matter how even her voice was, Ronnie was shook up.
As predicted, five minutes later they could hear the flapping of slippers against the cool tile floor. In a full pajama set with a badge pinned to her left breast was none other than Kayla Kowalski, Addison’s very own childhood best friend.
“Ronda, I could not understand a dang thing you said. Something about a bloody mess in your kitchen?” As she flip-flapped her way forward, her brunette bun bouncing at the top of her head, Ronnie pushed one of the impact door flaps open.
“Holy hell in a handbasket.” Kayla gaped as she stepped into the blood-bath of a bakery. “What in Sam Hill happened here?!”
“We just got here.” Addy stated, meeting Ronnie’s disconcerted gaze. Addy’s eyes fell to her shoulder where the rag covered in what they thought had been jelly rest. Ronnie followed her stare, letting out a sigh.
“Ah, hell.” She mumbled. Addy moved without a second thought, spinning around the corner of the deli to the donut case, grabbing a piece of tissue paper and a wax lined bag. When she returned, she stuffed the stained cloth inside of the bag and handed it to Kayla, who was speaking in a flustered tone on her oversized cell phone.
“Chief’ll be here shortly with a team. In the meantime, I gotta take your statements. Is the rest of the store closed and secure?” She inquired, her thick brown eyebrows furrowed solemnly.
It was then that Addy realized just how much things had changed in her absence. She remembered how superstitious Kayla was as they poured over true crime articles in grade school when they should have been playing with dolls. They both loved a good whodunnit and it looked as though her friend followed that passion into adulthood.
As Ronnie gave Kayla their statement, Addy peeked through the window of the impact doors at the scene. Of all the macabre stories she had read on serial killers, disappearances, unsolved murders, she had never actually seen any of the crime scenes. It felt unreal.
By three in the morning, ten people from the Sheriff’s forensic lab swept the grocery store, collecting blood evidence, dusting for prints, photographing the body and the scene.
“Brings back memories, don’t it?” Kayla stood with a large Timmie’s cup. Addy’s eyebrow quirked upward. Catching her glance, Kayla pointed her thumb behind them at the deli counter. “Getcha’self a double double. One of the guys picked up a load once word was out.”
“Pass.” Addy cringed at the thought of bitter coffee even if it did have a bit of cream and sugar.
“Oh, that’s right. Miss New York over here only drinks fancy pumpkin spice lattes and chocolate frappy-chinos.” Kayla teased. Addy opened her mouth to protest but Kayla cut her off. “Half of your instant gram is pictures of food and drinks.”
“You’re following me on Insta?” Kayla feigned a look of hurt.
“You think us small-townies don’t know how to get on the internet? I’ve got a lookbook too.”
“Facebook.” Addy corrected for the second time that morning.
“If you say so. I see a lot more than faces on there than I’d like.” Kayla shook her head. Addy snorted, noticing Kayla’s lips twitch, trying to keep a professional face at the scene of a crime. She was wearing a badge after all, even if it was pinned to her soft, yellow pajamas.
“So… you here to stay this time?” The question was directed at Addy, yet Kayla’s eyes were glued forward at the bakery’s doors. Addy hesitated, thinking about how to answer, because the truth was, even she didn’t know how long she would stay. She took a deep breath, ready to reveal the truth of her own uncertainty when a booming voice echoed throughout the grocery store.
“What’s this I hear about a dead laska in the keetchens?” Addy’s ears perked at the familiar Yooper dialect. Before she spun around on her heel, she knew who she would see and yet her eyes still widened at the sight.
“Oh. Em. Gee.” Addy gaped at the lanky, still acne covered Benji “Chopper” Gladstone, nicknamed due to his penchant for absolutely destroying corn on the cob at cookouts. It was a niche talent, but impressive nonetheless.
“Holy caw, is that Miss Addison March? Here on the Huron?!” He clambered toward them with a large white toolkit.
“Heya, Chops, you still goin’ to that bonfire?” Kayla asked, taking a sip of her coffee.
“That greatly depends on the state of this cadaver.” He replied with a smile that was too bright for how early it was, not to mention how dark the subject matter was. The sun wouldn’t be up for another few hours. Kayla shrugged and turned back around to face the scene.
“Last time I heard you were off to medical school, Chopper!” Addy remarked as he rummaged through his pocket, pulling out a pair of translucent blue booties. He handed them to her as he replied, nodding toward the bakery.
She quickly placed the booties over her nonslip shoes and followed him as he spoke, “I finished early, but gran got sick and the doc out here didn’t have a lick o’ sense so I came back and thought… Benji, this town could use some fresh eyes.” He placed his kit on the heavy wooden baker’s table, his feet inches from the body. “Opened a practice after my residency, next thing you know, the Sheriff’s asking me to be the medical examiner. Turns out the one before me keeled over from the drink.”
“Yikes.” Addy cringed at the thought. She remembered her fair share of parties while she was away at college. The aftermath was enough to turn her away from making it a habit.
“Anywho, you’re back in the mix, I see.” He knelt down to inspect the body, taking photos with his phone, scraping her fingernails, and pulling out a long thermometer. “Avert your eyes.”
Following his command, Addy looked at the ceiling as she responded. “Yeah, I finished my degree and found my way back here.” She folded her arms across her chest and rolled back and forth on her feet.
“Ah, no. What time did you say you were here?” Addy looked down to see Chopper standing upright and looking at her with his twinkling blue eyes.
“2 o clock. That’s when our shift started.” She stated and his gaze turned back to the body.
“I’d say you were here around the time she was killed.” Addy’s jaw dropped at the thought that a brutal murderer could have been in the same vicinity as she. Could she or Ronnie had been victims? Had they scared the killer off?
“H-how do you know that for sure?” Addy gulped, unsure if she truly wanted to know the answer.
“Rigor’s not set in yet, see? It starts around 3 or 4 hours after death. She’s as floppy as a fish in the summer. See?” He reached down, but Addy turned on her heel just in time, rushing for the doors. No amount of thrillers, crime podcasts, or even realistic Halloween decorations could have prepared her for the onslaught of the past two hours. Oh no, it was time to seek the only person in that town that Addy trusted completely.
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