Home > The Good Lie

The Good Lie
Author: A. R. Torre

 


CHAPTER 1

The prestigious street still held secrets of the horror. The missing-person flyers were tacked into the Canary Island palms, their colors faded from the elements, the edges of them curled from rain and wind. The white-brick mansion at the end of the street no longer had police cars parked in its circular drive. The press vans and cameras had slowly moved on to other stories. The iron gates, which had been necessary to keep the well-intentioned public at bay, were deserted. The weight of silence hung in the sunny Los Angeles air.

Scott Harden stumbled down the palm tree–lined sidewalk and toward the large gates. As he moved, the white house swayed before him, the view blurred by sweat burning the corners of his eyes. His monogrammed polo shirt, stained from weeks of wear, stuck to his back. Bruises and cuts from the stiff rope circled both wrists, and he quickened his steps, moving into a jog as he grew closer to the home. As blood oozed from the incision on his chest, he staggered to a stop at the gates’ security panel.

He pressed the code into the keypad, leaving bloody fingerprints behind. The gates chimed and hummed as they slid open.

 

Nita Harden stood before the bathroom mirror and tried to find the energy and motivation to pick up her toothbrush. Her counter, once clustered with perfumes and expensive cosmetics, was empty. Her blonde locks, which had always been kept up with biweekly visits to the salon, now had a half inch of dark-gray roots. Wearing a black yoga suit that hung from her frame, she looked nothing like the put-together socialite who had clawed her way to the top echelon of Beverly Hills society. Did bad breath matter when your son was missing? Did anything when each day was just a horrible waiting game for someone to discover his body?

The Bloody Heart Killer was reliable. He kidnapped handsome and popular teenage boys, like her Scott.

He held each boy prisoner for a month or two, strangled them and mutilated their bodies, then discarded them like bags of trash. There had been six boys before Scott. Six naked bodies found, a heart carved into their chests. It had been almost seven weeks since Scott had disappeared. Any day, his body would show up, and she would be called to the morgue to identify her son.

The tones of their security system chimed, and she looked up from her toothbrush, listening as it played one of the custom sounds of the front gates. When they built the home, each of them had picked a unique gate code and notification sound. Every time she pulled her Jaguar up to the gates and used her remote or personal code, the gentle tinkling of bells would sound. Her husband’s was the UCLA fight song. Scott’s was a simple trill . . . Her toothbrush clattered into the sink as Scott’s personal chime sounded through the large bathroom.

A fresh pang of raw emotion ripped through her heart, and she let out a painful cry at the familiar ring, one she had taken for granted for years, one that instantly brought to mind Scott’s big grin. He always came bounding in with his backpack slung over one shoulder, beelining for something to eat. She moved to the large window at the end of the bathroom and peered down at the front yard, expecting to see one of his friends’ cars, or the van of their cleaning crew or landscapers, any of whom Scott might have given his code to. No vehicle appeared through the foliage, and she cupped her hand to the glass and tried to see down to the entrance gates.

A figure moved stiffly down the center of their crushed-shell drive, one leg dragging a bit and drawing a long line behind him. Her breath caught painfully in her throat at the familiar gray polo, identical to the dozens that still hung in Scott’s closet. His face wasn’t visible, his attention forward, but she knew that build instantly. Whirling, she tripped over a copper clawed foot of the tub and fell to her knee. Hiccuping out a sob of emotion and pain, she bolted to her feet and through the arched opening that led to their bedroom. Barreling into the hall, she knocked past a maid as she rounded the staircase and sprinted down the stairs, her hand tight on the banister, her vision blurring with tears.

“GEORGE!” she screamed, her head whipping in the direction of her husband’s study, where he often worked from home. “GEORGE!” Without pausing to see if he was home or had heard, she yanked at the heavy bronze handle of the front door and swung it open far enough to squeeze out.

Her bare feet churned against the crushed shells, the pain ignored as she tore down the middle of the drive, screaming out her son’s name.

Scott’s head lifted, and he staggered to a stop, his features exhausted as his mouth wobbled into a smile. He slowly lifted his arms, and she crashed into them.

Her son, against all odds, was home.

 

 

CHAPTER 2

I listened to John Abbott’s voice mail and wondered if this was the day he would kill his wife.

“Dr. Moore,” he rasped, his voice uneven and emotional, “call me back. She’s gonna leave me for him. I know it. This is it.”

John—who always arrived five minutes early for our appointments, in pressed clothes and meticulous shape, who wrote my checks in painfully neat block writing—sounded as if he was falling apart. I listened to the end of his voice mail, then pressed the screen and played it again.

Sighing, I returned his call. I had determined, over a year of one-on-one psychiatry sessions, that John suffered from pathological jealousy. We had spent the first two months focused on his wife and her supposed infatuation with the landscaper. John was resistant to behavioral therapy and staunchly opposed to the thought of taking phenothiazines. After weeks of urging, he took my advice and fired the landscaper, which resolved the situation. He had now found a new source of worry—their neighbor. His suspicions seemed to be unfounded, which wouldn’t be too alarming if he didn’t also suffer from a growing compulsion to kill said wife.

As I waited for him to answer, I opened up the fridge and pulled out a gallon of milk. Whether John Abbott had the capacity to kill was up for debate. Still, the fact that he had consistently considered it for almost a year was validation enough.

He didn’t answer, and I ended the call and set my phone on the counter. I poured a tall glass, then moved aside the stiff lace curtains and peered through the window above the sink. Through a fine layer of pollen, I saw my cat knead her claws along the polished red finish of my convertible’s front hood. Knocking at the glass, I tried to get her attention. “Hey!”

Clementine ignored me. I downed the milk in one long gulp and tapped the window harder. No reaction.

Rinsing out the glass, I stacked it in the top shelf of my dishwasher and eyed my cell phone. This was the first time John Abbott had called my cell. Unlike Rick Beekon, who couldn’t book a tee time without getting my approval, John was the sort of client who viewed a call for help as being weak and incapable. For him to leave a voice mail on a Tuesday morning was significant. Had he caught Brooke? Or had his paranoia and jealousy hit a breaking point?

She’s gonna leave me for him. I know it. This is it.

Loss, for a man like John, could be a world-breaking concept, especially since he had a singular focus on and distorted view of his wife. That focus had grown into an obsession, one with a violent thread that hovered toward maniacal.

I called him again, my concern mounting as the phone rang and rang with no response. The possibilities appeared, unwelcome in my mind. The pharmacist with the perfect handwriting and two missed appointments this month standing over his wife, a bloody knife in hand.

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