Seven Minutes in Heaven

Page 20


“We’re through, Garrett!” I stare up at him, and it’s like I’m seeing him for the first time. The sweet boy who brought me lilies of the valley for our first date, who sent me dozens of playlists filled with songs that made him think about me, who held my hand so innocently when we walked side by side—that boy is gone. Did he ever even exist? The person in front of me is a monster, damaged beyond all repair.
He freezes, and for a moment it looks like nothing is alive but his eyes. They burn with a frenzied light. I don’t know how I ever thought they looked soulful. “We’re not through until I say we’re through,” he grits out.
Pebbles shift beneath my feet, and I turn to realize he has backed me up against the precipice. Inky darkness fills the air below me. I can’t tell how far the drop is.
He moves so fast. All at once he has me by my shirt. My feet rise up off the ground, the collar of my shirt tight against my neck. I whimper and kick out, but my feet don’t hit anything. Below me, the ravine opens hungrily. He lifts me up and pulls me close to his face so that I choke on the rancid fumes of whiskey.
“Why do you make me so crazy?” he asks, his voice breaking in agony.
And then he lets me go.
The heavy tread of footsteps sounded outside the door. Emma quickly shoved the pages back into the folder just as Quinlan stepped inside.
Without hesitating, she shot to her feet. “Detective Quinlan, I think I know who killed my sister.”
“Yes, tell him,” I urged. I was still reeling from the sensation of Garrett holding me out over the precipice.
He stopped in his tracks. One eyebrow crept up his forehead in a skeptical arc. “That’s interesting. I was just coming back in here to tell you the same thing . . . Emma.”
For a moment what he said didn’t register. Emma stood rooted to the spot, unable to move a muscle as her mind raced to catch up with what was happening.
Quinlan gave her a cool smile. “When I swabbed your cheek, I couldn’t help but notice you have two fillings in your molars. The thing is, Sutton Mercer has never had a cavity in her life. Must be all that nice organic food the Mercers buy. But according to the dental records we got from Las Vegas, Emma Paxton has two fillings. Right where yours are, as a matter of fact.” He threw a set of dental X-rays down on the table.
Emma stared at them dumbly, adrenaline churning through her body. For one wild moment she thought about making a break for it. But then what? She might make it as far as the hallway, but she was surrounded by cops. The awful realization unfolded: There was no way out of this. She slowly lowered back to her seat.
Quinlan pulled out his chair and sat as well. He watched her for a moment, his face softening visibly. Emma had the impression that he felt almost sorry for her. “It’s time to tell the truth, Miss Paxton. Come on, why not make this easy on yourself?”
Emma looked down at her fingers on the table in front of her, her mind racing. How much did he already know?
Quinlan sighed, pressing his fingertips together thoughtfully in front of him. “Come on, Emma. I can’t help you if you’re not honest with me.” He opened Emma’s file, pulling out the crime scene photos and dropping them on the table in front of her.
“Maybe it was just an accident,” Quinlan said gently. “You girls were in the canyon, you got into some kind of argument. Things turned physical, and Sutton just . . . fell. You didn’t mean for it to happen. But you have to help me out, Emma. You have to tell me the truth.”
I watched warily. I knew what he was doing from long hours spent in the hot seat myself. He’d pulled this on me more than once—it must be so hard for you, Sutton, being adopted, not knowing who your family is. Why don’t you just tell me the truth? He was trying to manipulate my sister into talking.
Quinlan’s stone-gray eyes were implacable. Before Emma had time to process what he was saying, he threw his hands up as if he’d tried his hardest to reason with her. “All right. Let’s see what’s behind door number one, then.” His knees popped as he slowly stood up, pushing his chair in behind him. He opened the door a crack and looked outside, holding a low conference with someone in the hall. Emma craned her neck, trying to see who was out there, but his body obstructed her view.
Then the door opened wider, and a female officer propelled Alex Stokes inside.
She was in handcuffs.
Emma’s jaw dropped. Her best friend stood awkwardly in front of her, staring down at the familiar checkerboard-patterned Vans she’d worn every day for the past two years. She was a short, elfin girl, tiny next to the Amazonian officer escorting her. She’d been crying, and her trademark turquoise Urban Decay liner had smeared across her cheeks. When Quinlan gave her a little nudge, she stumbled forward, lifting her tear-filled eyes to meet Emma’s.
A lead weight seemed to drop on Emma’s heart in that moment. Alex was in trouble, all because of her.
Quinlan’s lips curled up in a cruel smile. “We can get your friend here on a half dozen charges. Aiding and abetting, obstructing justice, concealment of a crime. Hell, if the judge is feeling creative I might be able to get her as an accomplice to murder one.” He made a tsking sound. “We got a search warrant for her phone, and it turns out she’s been in contact with her dear friend Emma Paxton for the past three months. And Emma had all kinds of interesting stories about life in Tucson. How close she was with Sutton, how great life was with the Mercers. The most recent one was . . .”—he made a show of looking at a pile of papers in his hands—“. . . one day ago! Look at that!”
Emma shot to her feet again, anger bubbling up from beneath her fear. “Alex had nothing to do with this. That should be obvious, if you read the texts.”
Quinlan shrugged. “Maybe it’s obvious. Or maybe you two are talking in code. How can I know, if you haven’t told me the truth?”
Emma stared at him, suddenly hot with anger. She clenched her fists, digging her fingernails into the soft skin of her palms. “I tried to tell you the truth, the day I got here.” She didn’t even have to channel Sutton for the attitude; cold fury squeezed her chest. “Maybe if you’re going to charge Alex with anything, you should charge yourself too—with negligence, for not even bothering to look into my story way back in September.”
The room went silent. Somewhere down the hall a phone rang over and over. The female officer glanced at Quinlan uncertainly. His smirk died away, but as he spoke he didn’t break eye contact with Emma.
“Get her out of here,” he muttered, jerking his head at Alex. The officer hesitated, but when Quinlan didn’t move, she took Alex by the arm and guided her back to the door. Emma wanted more than anything to call after her friend, to ask her forgiveness, but she knew she couldn’t show weakness in front of Quinlan now.
“So what’s your story, then?” Quinlan asked finally, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Aren’t you going to turn on your little tape recorder for this part of the interview?” she snapped. He scowled, reaching down to turn on the machine. She leaned back in her seat. “I came here to meet Sutton at the end of the summer. But she was the one who stood me up in Sabino Canyon, or so I thought. I waited forever, but she never showed up. Madeline Vega and the Fiorello twins found me on the bench and thought I was Sutton. The message had warned me not to say who I was, so I played along. I kept thinking Sutton would show up any minute and clear everything up.” A lump formed in Emma’s throat as she thought back to the hopes she’d had that first night, of meeting Sutton, of finding family. Of finally fitting in somewhere. Tears stung her eyes, but she kept her chin high, refusing to break Quinlan’s gaze. “Then I got a note, one that said Sutton was dead and I had to play along. I still have the note—that, and the others the killer left. I stitched them inside a purple pillow on Sutton’s bed. You can check.”
Quinlan gave an impatient grunt. His eyes glittered darkly as he leaned across the table toward her. “Let me tell you what I think. I think you’ve been stalking your sister for a long time. I think you’ve been watching her on Facebook and on Twitter. Maybe you even took a little road trip here to Tucson to watch her. She had everything you wanted, everything you never had yourself—money, popularity, a nice house, a loving family. And you decided to take it. You came out here without luggage, without ID, because you knew you wouldn’t need it, because you planned to take over her life.” Emma shook her head violently, but he stabbed at the crime scene photos between them with his index finger. “You pushed your sister down that ravine. And then it was easy. All you had to do was step into her shoes. You waited one night, then headed to Nisha Banerjee’s party, calling yourself Sutton. Luckily for you, your twin was a notorious practical joker, so if anyone suspected anything off, they could chalk it up to some kind of prank. You even came in here pretending to be yourself, so that you could have some semblance of an alibi if you got caught. A smart move, trying to make the truth look like a lie. But not smart enough.”
“You’re wrong,” Emma said, slamming her hands on the table. She almost surprised herself with the force of her anger. As Emma Paxton she’d never talked back to an authority figure. She’d always been the get-along girl, the foster kid who didn’t make trouble, a chameleon who could turn into whatever kind of person the adults in her life needed her to be. Now, though, she was possessed of a righteous fury all her own. “While you’re busy harassing me, the real murderer is getting away with it. Don’t you see? Someone’s setting me up.”
Quinlan gave her a long, measured look. Then he squared his jaw.
“I’m not going to lie. Sutton Mercer was a pain in my ass.” His gravelly voice was almost deadly calm. Suddenly the room was so quiet she could hear the second hand on Quinlan’s watch ticking. “But she was just a kid. She didn’t deserve what happened to her. I can’t prove you killed her. Not yet, anyway. But I’m going to make it my mission to dog your steps until you slip up. Because you will, Emma. Criminals always do.”
“So can I go?” Emma asked, her voice shaking but clear.
Quinlan nodded. “Sure. We need both your BlackBerry and Sutton’s iPhone, though. And we’re impounding Sutton’s car for clues. Someone at the front desk can give you a ride wherever you’re heading tonight. I hope it goes without saying that you shouldn’t think about skipping town.”
Emma gave a jerky nod. “What about Alex? Are you going to charge her with anything?”
“We haven’t decided yet.” He shrugged. “That’ll depend on how well you cooperate with us. Tonight she’s probably going home to her mom. We’re not planning to charge her yet. But we’re keeping an eye on her.”
Another surge of guilt swept through Emma at the thought of Alex’s mom worrying, her face tight and anxious. She stood up and picked up her purse. From behind her, Quinlan’s voice came again, this time with a taunting edge.