Moody’s nose hurt.
And, she was scared.
For the past seven years, psychologist Mary “Moody” Sinclair had been used to the moist cool air of the coastal town of Winnington Bay, Washington. The dry desert air of Rubicon Ranch sucked the moisture out and left her feeling like she was breathing in tiny sand particles. The scratchiness in her nose added to all the other hurts she had suffered over the past year.
One error in judgment had cost Moody her license to practice. When conventional ADHD treatments had not helped eight-year old Chad Monroe, in a moment of self-doubt and slight panic Moody had opted for a new-age radical binding technique.
All had been going well for Moody and Chad’s parents until Chad started to convulse. Epilepsy had not shown up in any of the boy’s medical tests. Everyone, including the coroner, was left with the question: did the tight binding treatment create the epilepsy or was the epilepsy dormant until the binding triggered it?
The humiliation of the trial and its resultant three-month prison sentence added to the hurts Moody had already suffered for her part in killing Chad Monroe. It wasn’t entirely her fault, though. When the boy began to convulse, too many hands had tried to loosen the thick rope wrapped around his small body like a cocoon.
After three months in Fendleton’s Women’s Prison, Moody had been given court permission to return to her father’s home in Rubicon Ranch. When the judge realized who Moody’s father was and where Rubicon Ranch was located, he sarcastically told Moody she might wish to stay at Fendleton rather than move to another type of prison.
The judge had been right. Morris Sinclair was not the type of father any child would wish to have. Reclusive and malevolent, Morris had his own vast following of fans who soaked up his famous horror stories and sang dark praises to him. His children were not among them.
When Moody arrived at her father’s house, he had not so much as welcomed her as he had grudgingly accepted she was going to be part of his lonely household. He’d never been much of a father to Moody or her two brothers when they were growing up, but he had been the only parent they had left after their suicidal mother succeeded in one of her many attempts to leave the living.
Morris had always been strange, but Moody’s clinical eye was observing a different type of strangeness she recognized. Early senile dementia was creeping up on Morris and Moody was not sure if she was prepared to handle it. She certainly was not in the right frame of mind to help her father after learning about the death of Riley Peterson in the desert outside of Rubicon Ranch.
The child was the same age as Chad Monroe. The coincidence was not lost on Moody and the significance to everyone around her would not be lost. At least, not for long.
The neighbors had, up to this point, been too polite to mention Moody’s incarceration. Now, however, after a fourteen-minute visit from the sheriff, she was sure all the people up and down the cul-de-sac were pointing sly fingers at her.
While the sheriff had not mentioned “murder,” Moody had not been born yesterday. Her training in psychology made her somewhat of an expert at reading between the lines.
Sheriff Bryan was as smooth as ever on the surface, but Moody detected extreme danger emanating from him as he “talked” to her about Riley. He was tightly coiled despite his casual posture. Little tics and miniscule movements made him read like a loaded weapon.
Gesturing for him to sit down, Moody wasn’t surprised when he remained standing. Looking down on someone put the seated person on a lower level, thereby weakening them and giving the person standing an illusion of power.
Instead of raising her head to meet his, Moody suddenly felt a little rebellious and slightly brave. She started straight ahead at his belt buckle until he gave in and sat down.
“Moody, one of your neighbors said you’d had Jeff and Riley to the house a couple of times.”
Just like that, the sheriff stopped talking and stared at Moody. It was one of the oldest police tricks on the books. The “drop dynamite in the water and see what floats up” method of interrogating a person—Moody could not bring herself to say “suspect”—was also a cognitive therapy trick.
Unfortunately, he’d picked the wrong subject to try it on. Moody knew every psychological tactic out there.
With a small smirk, Moody cocked her head slightly and stared back at him for a few moments before answering.
“Seriously, Seth, we could do this all afternoon. You know, just like everyone else around here, that I still give free advice. And, you should know that even though it’s free, it’s still privileged.”
“That’s a fine line, Moody. As far as the board’s concerned, you can’t practice and anything you say to anyone else isn’t protected.”
Well, someone had done their homework. Moody was a bit surprised the sheriff had checked into the medically legal aspects of her forfeited license. It had shaken her more than a little bit when she lost her license because she was a listener at heart, but could no longer openly practice her calling.
“Please don’t do this, Seth. Whatever happened to that little girl, it had nothing to do with what Jeff and Riley were coming to me to talk about. But, if you get Jeff’s permission, I’ll tell you all you need to know. Don’t make me break his confidence,” she said as she dropped her head and stared at her lap. “Not too many people trust me these days,” she finished in a whisper.
Moody lifted her head in time to catch a shadow as it passed over the sheriff’s face. Whether he was thinking of the one time he’d come to Moody and asked her opinion on a personal matter or whether he was thinking of the extra hurt he might cause a grieving parent or maybe he was just being considerate of her—whatever the reason, he nodded his head in agreement.
“But,” he said as he stood up, “If I need to, I’ll have to talk to you, with or without Jeff’s okay. Okay?”
Moody nodded as she rose and saw the sheriff to the door. Watching him back out, she thought she saw him wipe the side of his face like one would wipe away a tear. Well, it was either a tear or sweat from this horrible, horrible, heat.
Standing outside for a moment, Moody looked around at her neighbor’s houses. Almost every one of them looked closed and unwelcoming. Blinds were drawn in most of them and no one was outside. What horrific secrets were they hiding, she thought as she felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up.
She felt eyes on her. It wasn’t unusual to feel as though people were watching her, but this time was different. This time she felt holes being bored into her very being. Accusing eyes. Hateful eyes.
As she turned around to go back inside, from the corner of her eye she caught the twitch of a curtain from the house across the street. She still was not used to being slyly spied upon but, eventually, she would probably have to get used to it since her reputation preceded her in an uncomfortably bad way.
With one child murder under her belt, what was stopping anyone, especially the local police force, from thinking Moody was capable of killing another child? The appearance of the child in her house was not good. Although Riley and her father had been there for secret counseling, there was no way of knowing how Sheriff Bryan would regard their visits.
More so, it would look very bad for Moody if anyone learned of Riley’s extra secret visits without her father and without his knowledge. If that happened, Moody might as well start packing her overnight bag.
Jeff Peterson had been on the verge of a breakdown when he had approached Moody a few weeks before. His wife and daughter were emotionally detached and Jeff was feeling more and more of the strain of their apathy toward each other.
Moody had ended up counseling both Jeff and Riley. Jeff’s wife Kourtney had vehemently opposed Moody’s sessions and went so far as to forbid Jeff to continue.
However, Jeff loved his daughter so much, he’d defied his own wife and risked everything. Moody had recognized who wore the pants in their relationship and saw Jeff’s courage as a positive sign.
All of the therapy had been under the table since Moody no longer had a license. This little fact did not make it any less critical, though. At their last session a few days before, Moody had recommended a reconnection between Kourtney and her daughter by reliving the birth of Riley.
When she told Jeff this, his face lost all color and he looked as if he’d been punched in the stomach. Stumbling to his feet, he mumbled something to Moody as he and Riley quickly left. Frowning, Moody sat in the quiet living room and tried to connect the dots on Jeff’s extreme reaction.
Now, only three days after that last puzzling session, Riley Peterson was dead by unnatural causes. Moody was again sitting quietly in the living room and thinking after the sheriff left. The music coming from her father’s work room was muffled, but she could make out the beginning of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.”
Darkness was definitely her father’s friend and, so it seemed, hers. Her reverie was interrupted as her father opened the door and deafening music exploded into the house and, quite possibly, the neighborhood. As if propelled by a tidal wave of sound, Morris stumbled into the living room and demanded a limo ride to the airport.
“Dad,” Moody shouted as she hurried to turn off the music, “You don’t have anywhere to go this week. It’s not on the calendar.”
Moody’s form of helping her father’s dementia was to negate whatever he said with conditions. In this case, she left the option open that, indeed, there may have been an appointment on the calendar requiring an airport ride, but it wasn’t for today.
Maybe she needed to rethink her way of helping others. She’d been drawn more and more to unconventional methods, but the fallout lately had been severe.
Watching Morris walk to the kitchen as she shut the door to his work room, Moody momentarily wondered if her father, who rarely ventured outdoors, knew anything about Riley.
Obviously, the sheriff had not thought so since he’d never asked to speak to Morris. But, that wasn’t entirely unusual because Morris had been strange way before the dementia set in. Holding a conversation with him had always been like talking to a person with half the bricks shy of a full load.
Of course, early on Moody and her brothers had realized most of it was an act. Their father was one of the most famous horror writers of the day and because of this, he acted the part. Yet, there was that one small part which his three children all recognized as genuine.
Genuine insanity, that is.
Grabbing her purse, Moody headed toward the front door.
“Dad, I’m going to the store. What do you want for supper?”
“Whatever your mom fixes is fine. Except broccoli. I hate broccoli.”
This was her father’s standard answer for the most part. Each day the hated food changed. Yesterday it was cotton candy. Tomorrow it might be water.
“How about turkey sandwiches for lunch?” Moody hoped an uncomplicated meal would calm her father’s kaleidoscope mind. As with a few Alzheimer’s patients, too many choices would lead to no choices at all.
“Sure, sure,” he answered with a wave of his hand. He had found a rolling pin under the kitchen counter and was staring at it like he’d never seen one before. Momentarily, Moody thought about ordering pizza and having it delivered.
Realizing her father had been progressing toward this mental state some time before she moved back in with him, she picked up her sunglasses on the corner table in the foyer and left Morris to his own devices. Hopefully, he would not break anything with the rolling pin before she returned.
The neighborhood had come alive within the short time Moody had been indoors. Some of her neighbors were in their yards gossiping with other neighbors or talking amongst themselves. Others were going about the business of normalcy by washing cars or playing basketball or simply sitting in deck chairs on the dry grass.
As she shut the front door, the sound of the heavy oak door echoed around the cul-de-sac and stopped the chatter instantly. The silence was deafening and the looks she got when she walked down the sidewalk to the corner store were full of accusations. It didn’t bother her. No, she couldn’t lie to herself – it did bother her. But, what bothered her more were the looks she observed on others.
It wasn’t only the looks that conveyed the intent of murder, but the body language of quite a few of her neighbors suggested they were capable of all manner of destructive behavior toward others.
Moody had been pursuing a discipline in criminal psychology before suddenly changing to child psychology in her final year of study. However, her background in studying the motivations behind men and women who committed atrocities against others made her a qualified expert in recognizing potential harmful behavior.
It also gave her the insight into soulless madness. The most terrifying people she had studied were the ones who had no conscience. They could not atone for their violent acts because they were not mentally equipped to feel regret. Talking to them was like talking to the boy or girl next door. They fit normally into society. They were perfect chameleons.
Was one of her neighbors a murderous chameleon?
After leaving the store with turkey sandwiches and her father’s favorite iced tea mix, Moody felt apprehensive as she neared her house, saw the front door wide open and heard Simon and Garfunkel once again invoking the darkness that was perpetually her father’s closest companion.
Morris was standing in the middle of the yard, stuttering incoherently and brandishing the rolling pin like a demented orchestra conductor. All of the neighbors had stopped what they were doing as they openly stared at the bare-footed, wild-eyed man in their midst.
As Moody hurried toward him, she could make out some of the words he was repeating. Dodging a lazy swing from the rolling pin, Moody took it away as she shakily led her father back inside. As she unplugged the CD player in his work room, the weight of silence pressed heavily on her.
The practical side of her mind told her to never leave him alone again. The surreal portion of her brain was still trying to decipher what Morris meant as he continued to recite a horrifying chant.
As she handed him his sandwich, she heard it one more time before he shut his own mouth with a bite of turkey.
“Little girl dead, smashed in the head, rings of pale hair, face so fair, covered in blood—what a pretty picture she makes.”