The Twisted Truths Chapter One

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CHAPTER ONE

After a long night with the police working Honey’s crime scene, Rachel yawned at the kitchen sink while rinsing her mug. She was exhausted and on edge, despite the four cups of coffee she’d had. The late night and early morning hadn’t done her any favors, and she needed the energy, especially since Sheriff Hinley had asked her to come into town first thing so he could talk to her.

Liam’s arrest had come as a welcome relief to her. Rachel had been suspicious of that snake since day one. Now that he was in custody, she hoped he would confess to everything. She couldn’t wait to learn the truth about what happened to her old boss and mentor, Samuel Murphy.

The other murders in the house had been tragic, but losing Mr. Murphy had devastated her.

She dried her hands and reached into the pocket of her favorite blue baggy pants to fiddle with the folded-up note. Rolling it in her fingers, she could barely believe that such a little thing could be so significant, but it had kept her up all night.

It was a message from Mr. Murphy from beyond the grave. If only she could figure out what the hell it meant.

Ava walked into the kitchen looking downhearted and got Rachel’s attention. “I still can’t believe it,” she said. “Liam was a little shit, sure, but he was really a sweet boy when he was a child. Sure, he was a little too coddled, but I suppose that was Ruth’s fault, not his.”

Rachel wasn’t sure what to say, but Mattie, who had been sitting on the other side of the room sewing a button on one of Henry’s shirts, didn’t have a problem. “Well, from what I’ve seen on TV, there are a lot of those psychopaths who have mommy issues. And well, I suspected him all along.”

“You did?” asked Ava, looking surprised.

“You didn’t?” asked Mattie. “After he was caught snooping around in the study and always seemed to be where he shouldn’t? And he had no trouble turning the lights off and on the night of the séance. As if he had done it many times before.”

“Anyone could turn the lights on and off,” said Rachel.

“Are you saying you don’t think Liam did it?” asked Mattie. “You told me you had him pegged after he put his hands on you. You even told Sheriff Hinley about him.”

“Oh, I absolutely think Liam is guilty.” Rachel took her hand out of her pocket and focused on the conversation. “But if he’s been killing people, he didn’t do it alone. We know he couldn’t have killed Rebecca. Which means someone else is helping him. And they’re still out there.”

Ava shivered. “Is there no one we can trust?”

“Only ourselves,” Mattie said.

Rachel shook her head. “Someone used my keys to lock me in my room last night while Honey was being killed. Liam said he was in the bathroom a few feet away and he never responded to my shouting because he was afraid. So even if he’s innocent, he’s still a prick who ignored a terrified woman in a murder house.”

“Liam was selfish and spoiled,” Ava said. “He would never stick his neck out for someone else. That much is true. Is he a killer? I don’t know. In some ways, he takes after his father, and that man was a terror. Cocky and cruel, he would strut around like a rooster, but if anyone did something he didn’t like, he got nasty.”

“Was he violent?” Rachel asked.

Ava shrugged. “Not that I ever saw, but when he yelled, it was like a slap to the face. You’d rather he hit you. I never liked him, though I never told Ruth. She wouldn’t have listened. She always said she saw a side to him that no one else did.”

“That’s the way it usually goes,” said Rachel. “Love is blind, for better or worse.”

“Till death do us part,” Ava said.

“Liam sure liked to cut people down,” Mattie said. “The boy never had a kind word for anyone. Ava, you say he was a sweet boy, so growing up must have changed him a lot.”

“Well, all children are sweet, I suppose,” Ava said, nodding. “And I only meant when he was little. I think what happened with his father changed him. Walking around on eggshells all the time and getting screamed at would change a person. It would have to, right?”

The old woman seemed to want someone else to blame for Liam turning out rotten. Abuse could turn a person violent but there was no excuse for killing, outside of self-defense. Liam had killed people without remorse. Members of his own family. His own flesh and blood. The notion made Rachel’s stomach turn.

She didn’t think Liam’s killing spree was all that complicated. Mr. Murphy’s fortune and the Fox Nettle property were good enough reasons for someone like Liam to commit murder. Outside of Mr. Murphy himself, the whole family had proven to be greedy vultures, descending on the estate to pick the corpse clean.

They had spent more time at Fox Nettle after the old man died than before. Even Ava, who was nice enough, was only here to take a piece of the pie. Maybe Liam was greedy enough to kill.

Rachel sighed. “Well, I hope I can make some sense of it all when I speak to the sheriff.”

“Are they going to arrest Eloise?” asked Mattie. “If she helped him all along, she should be in there, locked up, right along with him. No one is safe while she’s on the loose.”

“I’m not sure. I guess I’ll find out.” Rachel wasn’t sure what she would learn. She would just do her best to tell the sheriff what she knew, and maybe he could make heads or tails of it.

“Don’t forget to tell them about all of the fighting between them and the destruction of the property here.” Mattie shook her head. “She was a part of it, too. Those two were in cahoots.”

“Can you imagine the nerve she had calling the police out here and lying to them?” said Ava. “That really had to take some special kind of sickness. To be so bold and think you won’t get caught.”

Rachel had really thought Eloise had been trying to help. But maybe she had been wrong about everything. Eloise made the most sense as his partner in crime. She was certainly crazy enough.

“It was such an awful ending to a wonderful night,” said Ava with a heavy sigh. “Mr. Bennington’s friends were so welcoming. And I felt like a special guest being there. I even learned a few things. It was wonderful. And then I come home to the news about poor Honey.”

“I’m glad you had a good time,” said Rachel. “Any bit of sunlight in all this darkness is good.”

“Well, I’m just glad to still be here,” said Mattie. “I’ll tell you two something. I’m not sure how much my old ticker can take. All of this drama wears on an old woman like me.”

Mattie’s nice, peaceful life had gone out the window the moment Mr. Murphy had died. Rachel hoped they could find their way back to some kind of normal. If she could just locate the signed will Mr. Murphy left behind, they could put an end to all the uncertainty over who would inherit what. Lucas would get all of the old man’s assets, and the other family members, the few left standing, would be forced to give up their claims.

It was only fair. Rachel had been around long enough to know which family members made an effort with her boss, and Lucas was the only one who called Mr. Murphy regularly. The rest only called when they needed money. Samuel Murphy had made it clear to Rachel he wanted everything to go to Lucas, and he had trusted her to execute his will for him.

If she could just find the damn thing.

Lucas came into the kitchen and stopped at the door. “Why all the long faces? We’re finally safe. Liam is in jail, and Uncle Samuel’s killer will finally be brought to justice. Things will finally be going back to the way they were around here.”

Rachel felt an emptiness inside, thinking about the way things had been before. She wished she could jump in a time machine and go back to when she first came to Fox Nettle. She would warn Mr. Murphy and help him. None of the horrible tragedies would be written in the history books or be photographed in Fern’s camera.

“I don’t think things can ever go back to the way they were,” said Mattie, saying what Rachel couldn’t. “Not without Mr. Murphy. It will never be the same, and I’ve accepted that. He was the heart and soul of this place. He brought this whole town together.”

“I understand,” Lucas said. “But we’ll bring his dreams for this place back to life. We can’t bring him back, but we can honor his memory by keeping the spirit of Fox Nettle going. We should be celebrating now that the nightmare is over.”

The killing might be finished but Rachel would never be able to erase the horrifying things she had seen over the last few weeks. Honey’s lifeless eyes and mangled body still haunted her from the night before. Rachel was in no mood to celebrate.

The only silver lining for Rachel had been meeting Lucas. True to Mr. Murphy’s word, his nephew was a good man with a kind and generous heart like his uncle’s. But even he would be leaving soon enough.

He ran his own company, which was why he was constantly on the phone, and he would have to get back there at some point. He had put off his responsibilities for so long already. Surely, they were ready for him to come back. But before she could ask him what he was planning to do, Ava turned to Lucas.

“What happens with the will now?” she asked him. “Will Liam still get his part? Or can we contest it to have him taken out of it altogether? I hate to say it, but I don’t think he deserves any of the money he killed for.”

“He was trying to pick you all off,” said Mattie. “One by one. I’m surprised he didn’t start with you all first.”

“Me too,” said Lucas. “I wish he had started with me. I could have stopped him. But rest assured, he won’t be getting a dime. You can’t profit from a murder you committed. I looked it up. We might have to file something with the court, but there’s no rush on that. We’re good to stay in control of Fox Nettle for a while without having to take any action. Which means you all can stay.”

Rachel had thought Lucas would be in a hurry to get Liam officially barred from any claim to the property. The fact that he wanted to wait before taking action surprised her. Maybe he still had hope they could find the damned signed will and Liam couldn’t even try to inherit anything.

“If Liam is cut off, that is something to celebrate,” said Ava, nodding. “If he killed my brother, he deserves nothing. Sam’s stuff should go to the people who loved him. Like Lucas and me.”

Rachel and Mattie had cared more about Sam Murphy than Ava ever had. The old woman was just as money hungry as Liam and the others, now dead. Ava also had nowhere to live at the moment. Was that enough for her to scheme with her violent nephew? Was the old woman as harmless and clueless as she seemed?

The old woman seemed more interested in her love life than her daughter’s recent passing. Had she moved on too quickly? Or was she just clinging to something positive in a sea of death?

“I should go and check on Mr. Bennington,” Ava said. “He said he would be here early to get me this morning.” She turned as if going to the door but didn’t make it far.

“You’re going out with him again?” asked Mattie, giving her a sideward look. “That’s two dates in a row. You should play a little bit hard to get.”

Ava stopped in her tracks and smiled. “Well, I don’t know if I would call it dating. But I suppose so. As for playing hard to get, I’ve done that too many times before, and look where it’s gotten me. No, thank you. If all this tragedy has taught me anything, it’s that life is short and fragile. Might as well have a little fun.”

“You really like him, don’t you?” said Rachel. She thought it was the nicest thing happening at Fox Nettle. Maybe if Ava could find happiness in all this, there was hope for others in the future and Fox Nettle’s entire mood wouldn’t be spoiled forever.

“Oh yes,” said Ava, with a sparkle in her eyes. “I like him more and more each time I’m around him. He has a lot of friends. I’m meeting so many new people. It’s such a nice rest from all this sadness. I wish my Rebecca was around to see it, but I suppose she’s watching from above. At least, I like to think she is from time to time.”

“Where are you going today?” asked Rachel, hoping to keep the topic of discussion far away from Ava’s deceased daughter, whose death was still a fresh but healing wound. “Is Mr. Bennington taking you someplace special?”

“It’s sort of special, yes. We’re having lunch at the country club. He’s a member there. He said something about playing cards, but I’m not sure if I’m going to join or just watch. I never was any good at that kind of thing.”

“That still sounds lovely,” said Mattie, who seemed like she was also trying to keep the woman in good spirits. Mattie could be gruff and prickly, but she was a big old softie deep down. “But you watch those elbows. Don’t let them get too chafed rubbing them with the high society folks. Ms. Fancy Britches.”

Ava pressed her hands to her chest and giggled. “I have rubbed a few elbows already. But I suppose dating a man like Alvin Bennington, that’s bound to happen.”

“He’s a big man around town?” asked Lucas, looking surprised to hear it.

“He’s very popular. He knows everyone, it seems. We can’t go anywhere without people coming up to talk to him.” Ava looked to be very proud of her new love interest.

“Sounds like he should run for mayor,” said Lucas.

Ava grinned. “Oh, can you imagine? Me dating the mayor? Couldn’t you just die?”

“Maybe let’s not talk about dying,” Rachel said. “But I think Alvin running for mayor is a great idea.”

“That would be just wonderful,” the old woman said. “I’ll have to tell him I think he should.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re going out and meeting people,” said Mattie. “Live a little for yourself for a change.”

“You know, I think I will,” she said. “I suppose I should go and check on Mr. Bennington. He was supposed to be here already. I don’t know what’s keeping him.” She left the room, and the door swung shut behind her.

“I just came to get this,” said Lucas, swiping an apple from the basket on the counter. “What are you up to today?” he asked Rachel.

“I’m going into town. Sheriff Hinley wanted to speak with me.”

“I can take you,” he offered.

She hesitated. Things between them went back and forth. She had no idea where they were headed. Lucas was a good man, and he looked good in a flannel shirt, but why get invested in a man who’s is just going to leave and break her heart?

“No, thank you,” she said. “I have a few other things to do in town. Boring errands. And you’ve got a business to run.”

“Yes, I work with great people but I have to stay on top of things. I wonder why the sheriff wants you to come down and not anyone else.”

“I don’t know,” she said with a shrug. “Maybe because I told him about Liam before. At least he’s taking me seriously now. I’m anxious to see if he’ll tell me any new information about the murders or the case. This has to open up some huge leads.”

“You would think so, but I’m the one he should be telling,” said Lucas, seeming a bit put off by it. Then he smiled. “But hey, that’s okay. I’d rather talk to you too, if I were him.”

The insinuation didn’t escape her. “It’s nothing like that, I’m sure. He knows I’m in charge of the house. He knows he can trust me.”

“Ah, I keep forgetting. Well, good luck. Tell him everything, so Liam never sees the light of day again. We’re almost through this.” Lucas took his apple and went upstairs.

Rachel nervously tucked her hand back into her pocket and felt for the little note. She still hadn’t shown it to anyone and wasn’t sure who she would share it with. Something stirred in the pit of her stomach every time she got the urge to show Lucas. She was sure it was meant for her, and if so, Mr. Murphy didn’t want anyone else to see it.

Trust no one behind Fox Nettle, she thought, running her fingers across the slip of paper. It seemed a simple enough sentence, though brief. Mr. Murphy must have been in a hurry when he jotted it there, rolled it up, and stuffed it in the pipe.

But who did he mean not to trust? Was it Liam who had called Mr. Murphy in the middle of the night during his recovery? Was it Liam he had told Lucas would get everything? Was it Liam who had been afraid of showing up at his charity event?

That didn’t seem right. Why would Mr. Murphy be so afraid of Liam, of all people? Did he threaten him? Did he know the evil his nephew was capable of?

Rachel rolled the paper between her fingertips as she tried to remember the entire conversation. It had been some time ago. With all that had happened and four cups of coffee making her mind race, she didn’t think she would be able to sort it out right then.

Liam was behind bars but she wouldn’t feel safe until his accomplice was caught. Liam couldn’t have killed Rebecca. Eloise was the most likely suspect, but he could have some other shady associate helping. Rachel didn’t know Liam all that well. He could have a whole host of accomplices.

She wouldn’t feel safe until the sheriff cracked the whole thing wide open and all the guilty parties were brought to justice.

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