This is it! The last episode of The Coldest Case! Find out what happened to Marybeth Cooley. Become a patron for as little as $1 an episode and read the whole story.
Looking for Nannette Sullivan and Finding a Fifth Date
The story of Marybeth Cooley is wrapping up. Only one more episode left after this!
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Conclusions, Dead Ends, and a Fourth Date
Christabelle couldn’t sleep.
It wasn’t unusual. Keeping odd hours for so many years had firmly disrupted her circadian rhythms. The nights when she wasn’t required to stay up until the wee hours of the morning following some creep cheating on his wife or some floozy cheating on her husband (how she’d never been hired for a cheating case for a same-sex couple, she didn’t know), Christabelle found herself either struggling to make herself go to sleep or to entertain herself until she was tired enough to go to bed.
Tonight, it wasn’t only her inconsistent schedule keeping her awake. It was also Rena. More specifically, Rena’s kiss. Even more specifically, Christabelle was performing great feats of mental strength trying NOT to think about it. Because to think about it was to ruminate about it and to ruminate about it was pointless and would no doubt lead her to getting her hopes up, and that was already a losing battle. She didn’t need to lose that battle faster. Christabelle had already made up her mind that the kiss was part of Rena’s gag with the love stone she’d given her, and it ultimately meant nothing.
To keep her mind off of her inevitable heartbreak, Christabelle researched the four teenagers last seen with Marybeth Cooley. The internet being the wonderful thing that it was, she found the fates of the three boys without much trouble.
They were all dead.
Dwight Harmon, successful businessman, died a few years back, apparently suffering from a heart attack and drowning in his hot tub. The insinuation was he had become overstimulated during a “party”. That seemed a little tame for Murderville and a little suspicious that someone could so easily drown with so many people in proximity. It was a hot tub, not the ocean. A little research into this “party” dug up rumors that Dwight Harmon was a multi-millionaire known for his orgies featuring the biggest names in the higher social circles, including his younger brother Winchester Harmon, the man found dead on Pam and Drew Bendixen’s front step the previous year. Dwight Harmon’s heart attack occurred while he was having sex with a woman in his hot tub and he drowned when she left to get help from someone inside. Christabelle supposed it wasn’t easy to attract attention at an orgy, people being very involved in their activities and all. That sounded closer to the truth than what was printed in the paper.
Butch Taylor, another successful Munsterville businessman, died the same year as Winchester Harmon in a bizarre electrocution incident. In a fight with this fourth wife, Butch decided to cut her off from everything. Literally. After she stormed out in a dramatic huff, Butch proceeded to go down to the basement intent on cutting the power. Instead of turning it off with the switch, he took a pair of gardening sheer and cut into the wires. Instant fried millionaire. It was only pure luck that the house didn’t catch on fire. His wife came home hours later and found him, his corpse still smoking a little. Christabelle could only imagine the smell.
In another familial twist, Butch Taylor’s nephew Simon Sidney had recently been murdered by his second wife and a business rival. And in another neighborhood twist, Christabelle’s neighbor across the street, Velvet Li, found the body, along with her fellow security guard Otis Gorski, who, along with his cousins, also found Marybeth Cooley.
Christabelle was beginning to suspect that everyone in town was connected to this case in some way.
Jimmie DuPage died out at the End Of. He shot himself in the head when he was twenty-one. A routine sweep of the area found his body. No foul play was suspected. Like many of the suicides that happen out there, he didn’t leave a note. The speculation, though, was that he killed himself to avoid a prison sentence for manslaughter after killing a man in a bar fight. Christabelle had some doubts. It all felt a little too neat. But there was nothing that overtly suggested that his death connected to Marybeth Cooley’s murder, either.
So, Christabelle pressed on and ran straight into a brick wall.
Nannette Sullivan seemed to have disappeared.
It turns out the coldest case in Munsterville is the coldest for a reason. It’s a tough one to crack. Become a patron for as little as $1 an episode and read all about it.
Talking to the Wyliss Boys
Christabelle met the Windoms in the same diner she’d met them before and ordered the same breakfast plate. They wore the same sunglasses and cast the same furtive glances.
Things changed after Christabelle gave them her findings.
“They’re swingers,” she said bluntly.
Mr. Windom stared at her, his dark sunglasses masking some of his reaction. Mrs. Windom, though, whipped off her sunglasses in shock, revealing wide, blue eyes.
“Swingers, not drug dealers,” Christabelle said, adding a little salt to her hash browns. “The people coming and going? Are doing it in the literal sense. They’re all folks that are part of the lifestyle.”
“Oh my God,” Mr. Windom said, sounding like a married couple having an open sexual relationship with other married couples was somehow worse than running a drug den.
Mrs. Windom nearly poked her own eye out in her haste to put her sunglasses on.
“I see,” she said. “Well. That’s very…um…yes, well…I…” She elbowed her husband. “Pay Ms. Calder, so we can go.”
Mr. Windom scrambled for his checkbook and quickly dashed off Christabelle’s fee.
“Thank you so much for your help, Ms. Calder,” Mrs. Windom said. She stood up too fast and hit the table, jostling it and nearly upsetting Christabelle’s orange juice.
Christabelle took the offered check, thanked them, and watched the couple all but run out of the diner having learned a valuable lesson about being nosy.
After finishing her leisurely late breakfast and running to the bank, she arrived home just before noon. She pulled into her driveway and sat there for a minute, debating. It was probably late enough that Lister McKinney was awake, but early enough that he couldn’t have gotten too deep into the day’s dirty thirty. Christabelle decided that now was as good as time as any to talk to him.
Even though it was January, even though there was snow, even though that day there was a windchill in the teens, Lister McKinney was still sitting in a lawn chair in his garage with the door wide open. Christabelle walked down the plowed street and up Lister’s shoveled driveway, a fact that tickled Christabelle considering Lister probably hadn’t his license in two decades, if not more.
“Lister,” Christabelle called about halfway up the driveway.
Lister, sitting in his lawn chair, contemplating his can of beer, looked up, recognized Christabelle, and gave her a wave.
“Whatcha doin’ over here, mystery neighbor?” Lister asked with a grin. Christabelle smiled and shook her head. She’d lived in her house on the other side of Raul Santos for quite a while before a block party encouraged her to meet her neighbors (even though she knew who they all were, being naturally nosy on top of being a private investigator). It was only then that she realized just how familiar everyone in the neighborhood was with each other and how she stood out as a mysterious presence because she’d never introduced herself, a fact that until then she hadn’t regarded as strange since her previous neighborhoods hadn’t been so well-connected.
“Come to chew a little fat with you, Lister,” Christabelle said, surprised at how warm the garage was even with the door wide open. She spotted two space heaters going full blast, one of which was a few feet behind Lister’s chair, and realized that’s how Lister was able to drink out here in the dead of winter without suffering from frostbite.
“Yeah, what kind of fat you want to chew?” He reached into the bright orange cooler beside him and pulled out a can of beer, holding it out to Christabelle. She took it but didn’t open it.
“I wanted to talk to you about Marybeth Cooley,” she said.
Lister froze, the air temperature in the garage dropping lower than the windchill outside.
“Now, why would you want to be talking about that?” he asked.
Turns out only one of the Wyliss boys does much talking. But which one? Become a patron for as little as $1 an episode and find out.
Unfortunately, my hopes of getting it done last month weren’t realized. I fell about 30 pages short of finished (and it’s likely more because this part of the novel requires a lot of rewriting). Productivity has been hard to come by since the pandemic started here and I ended up being incredibly busy with library and podcasting projects during the last couple weeks of April. Which meant that revising took a bit of a backseat. I might have worked on it most days, but many of those days I only managed to get a few pages done.
Such is the way life is right now.
The goal is to finish revising it this month, which I should get do.
(Please, Universe, let me get it done.)
And if I happen to get it done before the month is out…I have no idea what I’m going to work on next. It’s not that I’m hurting for projects. One might say that I have too many waiting for something to happen. But, I can’t deny that right now motivation is in short supply.
I guess I’ll just play it by ear, as they say.
Good thing we have Murderville: The Coldest Case to keep us happy. Episode 5 goes live on May 12th. $1 an episode let’s you read. $2 an episode gets you a sweet bonus every other month. Become a patron and get some guaranteed entertainment.
And I always seem to have the motivation to produce episodes of Book ’em, Danno. Episode 13 covering the last episode of season 1 will go live at the end of the month, but in the meantime, check out episode 12, which covered “Not That Much Different” and “Six Kilos”. Steve undercover is a joy not to be missed.
Connections to the Past Lead to a Third Date
On lunch the next day, Rena went to the old Kiwanis Rotary Park, now called the Morgan Michael Memorial Park. Since Christabelle had been nice enough to offer to talk to her neighbor Vernee Dean, Rena figured that the least she could do was check out the park where Marybeth Cooley was last seen.
The day wasn’t too bad. It was overcast, but without any threat of snow. The wind was calm, so it was cold, but bearable, and Rena found the chill to be quite invigorating as she traipsed across the park towards the woods.
Jerry Cooley had been right when he said that park was the same except for the playground equipment. There was no sign of expansion or contraction of the space, and there was also no way that any kid before about 1990 went down any of the plastic slides on display. Rena figured that the kids had been loitering at the picnic tables on the far end of the park, though probably much older models compared to the sleek-looking new ones that sat there now. The teens were teasing Marybeth Cooley, the teasing got out of hand and she got upset, and then Nannette Sullivan walked her across the park to the woods, never to be seen again.
The woods weren’t much more than a fat copse of trees that separated the park from some neighboring houses. Hidden in it was a creek that was fenced off on the house side, but open from the park side. Rena found the worn path that Marybeth and Nannette, and probably decades of kids, had taken into the trees and she followed it. Even with all of the leaves gone, the trees still grew close enough together, thin and competitive, to affect a sort of shield from prying eyes. Rena hadn’t been able to see anything from the road or the park. Marybeth had disappeared in late spring when the leaves were well on their way in and any kind of scraggly bush that could get hold would be growing. Even walking along the path, it would difficult to see too far ahead.
The path ran to the vicinity of the creek and then split off, going left and right, running parallel to the creek. Left ran further into the trees, most likely ending at the next street. Right led to the road the park sat on, where the creek ran underneath the street through a drainage tunnel.
Rena ignored both of these options and instead walked straight to the bank of the creek, stepping carefully in her winter boots. The creek had shrunk in the cold weather, contracting into a narrow sheet of ice, but Rena could see the faint markings of where it usually ran. In the spring, with the rain and the snowmelt, that bank would easily overflow by several feet. She had no idea where it might have been when Marybeth and Nannette had been here.
Daring to get a little closer, Rena took a few tentative steps towards the frozen sheet of water. The third step was nearly her undoing. The ground practically collapsed under her weight, swallowing her foot up to the ankle, and leaving Rena flailing for balance. She kept her feet, or at least kept the one that wasn’t sunk in the mud, and managed to prevent her fall, which would have been a nasty one between the mud and the broken off saplings. Grabbing onto a nearby tree for balance and leverage, Rena pulled her foot out of the mud, feeling lucky that she didn’t leave her boot behind.
Rena stood there for a moment, breath coming out in quick, tiny puffs of steam, her heart thudding a little in her chest. The creek was frozen, but the bank wasn’t. Bizarre. Rena would have bet money that the ground would have been frozen, too, but apparently not. The whole place was tricky.
Tricky and secluded.
No wonder Marybeth Cooley disappeared without a trace.
Christabelle sat in Miss Vernee Dean’s living room, waiting for her to bring in the two cups of coffee she’d gone to the fetch. Once Christabelle had finished her rudimentary investigation into the possibly drug-dealing neighbors (who were not dealing drugs) for her clients, Christabelle grabbed a bit for lunch and then headed over to Miss Vernee’s house. The woman answered the door within seconds of Christabelle ringing the bell, adding credence to her reputation for being the hawk eyes of the neighborhood.
She only hoped Miss Vernee had that reputation when she lived across from the park, too.
“Here we go,” Miss Vernee said loudly as she came into the living room. She handed one of the coffee cups to Christabelle, who took it and gave it a test sip. She nodded to show that the coffee was just fine, which she probably would have done even if it tasted like distilled antifreeze. She wasn’t there for coffee and Miss Vernee knew it. “Now. What is it that you wanted to jaw about?”
Christabelle set her coffee mug down on the table in front of her, mindful not to spill, and pulled the papers that Rena had printed out from her coat pocket. She opened them up and handed them to Miss Vernee, pointing to the place where she’d highlighted her name.
“I was hoping you could tell me about Marybeth Cooley,” Christabelle said, keeping her voice just south of a shout.
“Oh, yes,” Miss Vernee said, nodding. “Poor girl. Just up and vanished.”
She looked at Christabelle with sad eyes.
“Paper said you were a witness, Miss Vernee,” Christabelle said, trying to nudge her into talking. “What did you see that day? Can you remember?”
“I’m old, but I still have my faculties,” Miss Vernee said and Christabelle chuckled. “You never forget something like this.” She rattled the papers in her hand.
Want to know what Miss Vernee remembered? And there’s also another date to be had. Become a patron for as little as $1 an episode and get the whole story.
March was one hell of a year, huh? Yeah, it felt like it. I was already struggling with some mental health issues when the Rona came in full force and I found myself sanitizing every book that came into the library before we ended up having to close to the public due to shelter-in-place. That happened on March 17th and I’ve been at home since (with pay because our board loves us and looks after us), but perhaps unsurprisingly I haven’t been as productive as I’d like to have been. The stress right before we closed and right after the shelter-in-place used up most of my energy. It was a push for me to get episode 11 of Book ’em, Danno out on time and I really doubted that I’d get it done.
So, revisions on The Support Group Meets on Wednesday will continue. I have about one hundred pages of the manuscript left. Unfortunately, it’s also the section that will probably take the most re-writing. Ideally, I’d like to get the revisions done this month, but the way things have been going…
I’ll also be doing episode 12 of Book ’em, Danno. Back to the usual grind of covering two episodes, so it should be easier for me to get it done this month providing I don’t procrastinate. Stop laughing. Only one more episode and season 1 will be done. Wild, huh?
I know April is poetry month and I usually write a poem a day for it, but I think I’m going to take a break from it this year. You may all breathe a sigh of relief.
And while you’re relieved, why don’t you check out episode 4 of Murderville: The Coldest Case, which will go live on the 14th? $1 an episode lets you read, $2 an episode gets you a sweet bonus every other month. Like this month on the 28th. So become a patron and get your jollies.
Don’t forget to check out episode 11 of Book ’em, Danno. It covers three episodes, a regular episode and a two-parter. A longer episode, but since we’re all safe inside, you’ve got time to indulge. Feel free to like, heart, favorite, subscribe, share, and otherwise show a little love to my little show. I do appreciate it.
An Intriguing Second Date
Christabelle stood outside Walley’s Cove wondering if this was how she’d spend her time if she ended up dating Rena on a regular basis, always waiting for her. When Pam called to tell her that Rena was open to seeing her again, Christabelle jumped at the chance to ask her to dinner. She felt like she needed another shot at impressing the woman after lunch getting derailed by Jerry Cooley. Pam had shamed Christabelle good for not knowing his story, but Christabelle had grown up and gone to school just outside of town; and her trips to Dillman’s were usually at the window. Her nosiness had also been confined to the what the living were doing currently, not so much what they’d done before she was born. The past didn’t concern her. She didn’t really have much interest in cold cases.
Rena arrived at Walley’s Cove, Christabelle spotting her little car as it sped into the parking lot and found a spot. Like a replay of that afternoon, Christabelle watched Rena hurry across the parking lot to the door, saying sorry as soon as she got within earshot of Christabelle, though this time her coat was buttoned up.
“I promise you I’m not usually late,” Rena swore, a little out of breath, as Christabelle opened the door for her. “Today has just been a day for last minute things.”
“It’s okay,” Christabelle said. “I’m used to waiting. It’s what I’m usually getting paid to do. Wait for a cheating husband to show up. Wait for him to kiss his mistress so I can snap a picture. Wait, wait, wait.”
“Is that what you’re most often hired to do? Follow cheating husbands?” Rena asked, sounding a little disappointed.
Christabelle shrugged. “Sometimes I follow cheating wives.”
The hostess met them and escorted the two of them to a booth. Walley’s Cove was a typical seafood place. Decked out in blue and white with nautical everything, it was warm and cozy. Their booth ended up underneath some kind of ceramic fish that looked like it was jumping out of the wall, simultaneously quaint and gaudy.
The two of them sat and slipped out of their coats.
“I told you that private investigation isn’t very glamorous,” Christabelle said, picking up where they left off. “It’s a lot of sitting in my car at night and watching buildings. It’s really dull, actually.”
“Why do I have the feeling that you’re trying to put me off asking about it?” Rena said, smirking a little. “Making it out to be less than what it is.”
“Because you can’t believe that my job could possibly be so boring,” Christabelle said. “TV has corrupted you all. We’re not all Thomas Magnum or Jim Rockford or Frank Cannon.”
“See. You have to learn all the great TV private investigators before you can judge.”
Rena laughed and opened her menu.
The two of them fell into the same easy chat that they’d established when they first sat down to lunch. It was like they were picking up where they left off, which Christabelle was thrilled about. Now maybe the two of them could make a little progress and see if this might be worth pursuing.
“I feel like I’m putting a disclaimer on everything I do, but I’m going to throw out another one here,” Rena said, glancing up from her menu at Christabelle. “I’m going to pick up the check tonight because I’m about to order a whole bunch of food. I am starving.”
“Okay. So, what’s the disclaimer? That you don’t usually pick up the check or that you don’t usually order a whole bunch of food?”
Rena hesitated. Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment when she realized what she’d just said.
“The second one. The second one,” she said with a nervous laugh. Christabelle thought it was cute. “Of course, I pick up checks. I was going to pick up the check tonight anyway because you were nice enough to buy lunch and this place was my suggestion. But, no, I normally don’t eat so much in one sitting. Like I said, I am starving.”
“Well, we didn’t have a very good lunch,” Christabelle said apologetically. “I ended up eating the rest of my burger when I got home.”
“Yeah, I forgot about mine in my car. It’s still in the passenger seat, probably frozen solid,” Rena said, making a face.
“You can always thaw it out and eat it later,” Christabelle said. “Trust me when I say that Dillman’s burgers are just as good leftover. Even when left to freeze in a car. Believe me. I know.”
“I will trust you on that. You haven’t steered me wrong about the food so far.”
Their waitress appeared, a pert young woman with big brown eyes and dark hair pulled up in pig tails. Christabelle ordered the shrimp tacos and a Coke. Rena got a seafood sampler appetizer, a bowl of Walley’s chowder, and the Surf ‘n’ Turf special which came with steak (Rena asked for medium rare), popcorn shrimp, a lobster tail, and hush puppies. It wasn’t the most that Christabelle had ever seen a woman order for a meal, but it was still more than she thought Rena could feasibly eat.
“We can share the appetizers,” Rena said, reading the look of doubt on Christabelle’s face. “But I’m craving calamari and you can only get it in the sampler. It’s a scam.”
“It’s worth it, though,” Christabelle said, thinking of that fried calamari, probably the best you could get in a landlocked state.
“Which is why I put up with ordering the whole sampler.”
“At least everything on the sampler is worth eating.”
They fell back into easy conversation once again, talking about Rena’s work for a change. Christabelle never thought much about what a librarian did, but it turned out that they did a lot. Rena did more than shelve books and send out letters about late returns. She was in charge of fundraising and ordering and reading programs and everything else.
“We are a little short-staffed right now,” Rena admitted with a shrug. “We just don’t have the money to hire anyone else at the moment. So, I take on the bulk of the work. It’s not fair to dump it on everyone else when they already have a ton to do.”
“It’s not exactly fair to you, either.”
“It’s why I get paid the big bucks.”
“That’s what I think when I’m sitting in my car, freezing my ass off while waiting for Mr. Stick-Your-Dick-Elsewhere to show up.”
Rena laughed loudly as the waitress arrived at their table with her tray loaded with appetizers and their drinks. She laid it all out for them, asking the customary questions of whether or not it all looked good and if they needed anything else. As soon as she turned to leave, Rena snatched a mozzarella stick from the plate, dunked it in marinara, and took a healthy bite.
“Oh. Hot,” she said around the boiling cheese in her mouth.
Christabelle laughed and shook her head. “You are hungry, aren’t you?”
“I told you so.” Rena nudge the mozzarella sticks closer to Christabelle. “Here. Help yourself.”
“And burn my mouth? No, thanks.” She instead grabbed a pita chip and scooped some of the spinach artichoke dip. It wasn’t nearly as hot as the cheese stick that Rena barely swallowed.
“So,” Rena said, grabbing a piece of friend calamari, the rest of her mozzarella stick left on a plate to cool. “How was work today?”
She grinned as she asked it and Christabelle couldn’t help but grin back. There was something infectious about the woman, more like giggles and less like the flu.
“The only thing I had to do today was meet with a couple of clients this morning,” Christabelle said. “Winter is kind of dead for me until Valentine’s Day when everyone wants to know whether or not their other half is cheating so they know if they should buy a gift.”
“The couple that I met this morning, though, is asking me to investigate their neighbors,” she continued, grabbing her own bite of calamari. “They believe that they’re involved with drugs, like selling them, but they don’t want to go to the police about it until they have some kind of evidence.”
“Ah. That sounds…slightly paranoid.”
“Looks it, too,” Christabelle said, thinking about the dark glasses and furtive looks.
“You don’t mind taking a job like that?” Rena asked.
“So long as the check clears. It’ll probably end up being nothing, but at least the clients will leave their neighbors alone.” Christabelle finally gave in and took a mozzarella stick. She broke it in half and left on her plate to cool for a minute. “How was your day?”
Rena giggled. “Slow this afternoon, thankfully. I got all of my work done in a couple of hours.”
“Oh yeah? Is that how the library business goes?”
“Some days,” Rena said with a shrug. “Even short-staffed we have those slow days where we get all caught up and then have nothing to do.”
“So, what do you do to entertain yourself on those days?”
Rena laughed nervously and looked at the remaining mozzarella stick on her plate. She scooped it up and quickly jammed it in her mouth. Christabelle raised an eyebrow. The interpretive dance of avoidance was obvious.
“Don’t tell me you were looking at porn on the library computers,” Christabelle said with a smirk.
Rena nearly choked on her mozzarella stick.
“Oh my God, don’t say things like that when I’m eating!” she gasped after having safely swallowed her food. She took a drink of water. “You’re going to kill me doing that.”
“Sorry,” Christabelle said with a laugh. “It wasn’t my intention. I couldn’t resist a library porn joke.”
“You wouldn’t think it was so funny if you were the one that had to police those computers. I have seen things.”
“Yeah? What kind of things?”
“This is not first date talk.”
“Technically it’s our second date.”
“So it is.”
They smiled at each other, letting a little silence infiltrate the conversation. Christabelle looked down at her plate after a moment. Oh, it would be so easy to fall for Rena. So very easy. But the distrust from her divorce lingered. There had to be something else going on here, something she was missing. Why was it that she could be so observant about everyone else’s lives, but not her own?
“So, anyway, to kill time today I ended up spending the rest of my shift looking into the Marybeth Cooley case,” Rena said.
Will Christabelle help Rena look into the Marybeth Cooley case? And will that derail their budding relationship? Become a patron for as little as $1 an episode and find out!
I regret to inform you that my March writing projects are the same as February’s. I will continue to revise The Support Group Meets on Wednesday because my days of revising a novel-length manuscript in a month are pretty much over. I got addicted to the self-care practice of not driving myself crazy and stressing myself out over trying to finish something that I could take my time with. I can take my time with this. It’ll be okay.
I do admit that it’s starting to weigh on me that I haven’t published something, traditionally or self, in quite a while. There’s this growing niggle about it in the back of my brain. There was a time when I was putting out at least one new title a year. Now, I think the last time I published anything was back in 2018 when Come to the Rocks came out (edit: I totally forgot that Take a Bite came out after that…dumbass me). Sure, Murderville continues, but does that count? Not really.
I think part of my trouble is that I’m still struggling to find an ideal writing/day job/podcasting balance, so my output of anything hasn’t been nearly what I would like. I haven’t mastered the shifting priority status required to get it all done efficiently.
I imagine that I will eventually fall to the pressure to produce once again. But until I succumb, I’ll enjoy being able to work without that self-imposed stress.
Speaking of Murderville, which isn’t at all stressful, episode three of The Coldest Case goes live on March 10. Don’t miss out! Become a patron! $1 an episode let’s you read and $2 an episode gets you a sweet, sweet bonus every other month.
Also, the latest episode of Book ’em, Danno went live just a couple of days ago. Be sure to give that a listen and give some love to not only me and the show, but also my super awesome guest, Dan Budnik. After all, there wouldn’t be a podcast dedicated to me rambling on about a fifty year old show without him. Which reminds me, episode 11 should be out before the end of the month. So, stay tuned.
Cracking Open a Cold One
Rena Neri’s morning had been hectic, her lunch had been odd, and her afternoon was looking to be boring. It was practically dead in the library and after the day she’d already had, Rena couldn’t bear it. It was the perfect excuse to call Pam Bendixen and tell her all about her lunch date with Christabelle Calder.
The first time Rena checked out Pam’s books, they instantly recognized each other as a kindred spirit. Pam was checking out a few true crime books and Rena’s obsession with that genre, particularly in regard to cold cases (there was something fascinating about going over clues in cases that hadn’t been solved), prevented her from keeping her mouth shut. From that first exchange, a friendship had been born and it was through that friendship that Pam decided Rena needed a romantic relationship. Rena had told her that it was the curse of married people, always looking to recruit single people into the cult, but really, Rena was ready for a nice, stable relationship. She’d tired of casual dating and relationships filled with drama and no promise.
Sequestered in her office, pretending to be going over next month’s new releases, Rena called her friend. Pam had been insistent about Rena going out with Christabelle, thinking Rena’s cold case hobby and Christabelle’s profession would provide a decent starting place. She’d warned Rena that Christabelle would be reluctant, citing her painful divorce, and asked Rena to be patient, which she was. Pam assured her that Christabelle was a woman worth waiting for. When Pam finally sent word that Christabelle had agreed to a lunch date, Rena jumped at the opportunity before the woman changed her mind. Maybe this wouldn’t be a match made in Heaven, but the mystery of the woman had Rena so intrigued she didn’t want to miss out on the chance to get to know her.
“Rena! I didn’t think I’d hear from you until later tonight,” Pam exclaimed. “How did it go?”
“Hello to you too, Pam,” Rena said, shaking her head at her friend’s excitement.
“Yes, yes, hello,” Pam said. “I hope that you calling me in the middle of the afternoon doesn’t mean that the date was a disaster and you hate me.”
“No, the library is dead right now, so I thought I’d kill time by calling you.”
“Thanks.” Pam paused, but only for a quick breath before she prompted, “So?”
“It wasn’t a disaster,” Rena said. “But it was interesting.”
“Interesting,” Pam repeated, sounding disappointed. “That doesn’t sound good.”
“No, it was fine. The date was fine. I guess,” Rena said, failing at conveying her mixed emotions. The date was fine, just really odd. She felt like she hadn’t gotten a chance to make any kind of impression on Christabelle, other than rude. As soon as Jerry Cooley sat down, Rena paid more attention to him than her date and she felt awful about that.
“Yeah, this is sounding anything but fine,” Pam said, and Rena could picture her frowning. “This sounds like it was terrible and you’re trying to soften the blow.”
“It wasn’t terrible! It was just…” She floundered for a second. “To be perfectly honest, I kind of want a do over,” Rena said with a sigh, sitting back in her chair and staring at her favorite water stain on her office ceiling. She thought it looked like a dragon most of the time.
“Oh no. What happened?”
Rena recounted the events of the lunch date, explaining how everything had been going smoothly and then got derailed by the man with the newspaper.
Pam let out a loud sigh.
“Oh, you met Jerry Cooley.”
“You know him?”
“If you go to Dillman’s and eat at the counter enough, you know him,” Pam said. And then she added, “I can’t believe Christabelle didn’t know the details of his story.”
“She said she didn’t. Do you?”
“Of course I know about Marybeth Cooley,” Pam said. “I grew up over by the park where she disappeared. Parents used that story as a way to keep us out of the woods and away from that creek back there. It never worked. If anything, the curiosity made us more keen to go back there. We used to spend afternoons in those woods looking for her bones or her ghost.”
“Oh, you know how kids are. Every town has a Bloody Mary. Usually more than one. Marybeth Cooley became one of ours. The kids in our neighborhood believed that if you went in the woods and said her name three times, she’d appear behind you and slit your throat.”
Rena laughed, and it sounded more nervous than she liked. She knew the kind of story Pam was talking about. The kids in the neighborhood she lived in had something similar, but it involved an old woman, an abandoned building, and a being stabbed in the heart with a large nail.
“Nobody I knew ever had the guts to say her name three times while we were in there and I never heard of any kids getting their throats cut, so I’m pretty sure it was all just a rumor.”
“Yeah, seems like,” Rena said with a chuckle.
“So, aside from a special guest appearance by Jerry Cooley, what did you think of Christabelle?”
Rena thought about it for a second.
“At a glance, I like her,” she said. “She seems interesting. She’s funny. I love her hair. She’s…I wouldn’t call her pretty, but she’s got a style, a look that I find very attractive.”
Pam giggled, sounding like a teenager.
“I would like to get to know her better,” Rena said slowly, considering. “Even if she doesn’t want to pursue anything romantic with me, which after today’s lunch date I wouldn’t blame her, it was so weird. But even if it were only as friends, I could live with that. She seems like a fun person to hang around with.”
“That’s the kind of optimism I like to hear,” Pam said. “I’m expecting her to call me with her feedback on the date. And I’m going to make sure I ask how her nosy, private investigator self doesn’t know Jerry Cooley’s story. But if she’s on the same page as you, wanting to get to know you better, can I give her your phone number?”
“Absolutely,” Rena said without hesitation, hoping she sounded more excited than desperate.
“Yay!” Pam giggled again and Rena laughed along with her. “I’m so excited about this. Okay. I’ll let her know and hopefully, she’ll be giving you a call.”
The two women said their goodbyes and Rena set about actually doing her work for the afternoon, all the while both Christabelle Calder and Marybeth Cooley bounced around in the back of her mind. Both people intrigued her.
Come four o’clock, Rena’s work was finished, but her day was not. She still had an hour left of her shift and nothing much to do. Sticking her cell phone in her pocket (in case Pam or Christabelle decided to get in touch), Rena left her office and made her way down to the periodicals room. Years ago, the back issues of the Munsterville Courier were on microfiche. An extensive fundraising campaign led to the digitalization of all of the back issues of the newspaper, an involved project that took over a year to do. It was worth it, though. It was so much easier to find and read old newspaper articles this way.
Only Penny LaGrand, the daytime periodicals clerk, was there. The older gentlemen who filled the room in the morning to read the daily copies of the various papers the library subscribed to were long gone, off to spend their afternoon at cafes and coffee shops and restaurants all over town, drinking coffee, eating pie, and talking about how right they were and how things were better back in their day. People looking to borrow movies in the afternoons weren’t as regular and this particular afternoon, it seemed no one was in the mood. Penny glanced up from the entertainment gossip magazine she was reading and when she realized that Rena wasn’t there on official business (or at least any business that involved her), she went right back to it. Penny was forty-four going on twenty-two and while she was good at her job, she wasn’t exactly invested in it. She got her work done to get it done because as soon as she got it done, she was free to do whatever she wanted, which was usually reading romance novels or trashy magazines.
Rena went to the digital newspaper archive and quickly found the issues from around the time Marybeth Cooley disappeared, including a copy of the one that Jerry Cooley carried with him. The details in that first article were much the same as what Mr. Cooley had told them: Marybeth had been with friends in the park, had gotten upset at being teased, was taken into the woods, and then never seen again. The police were conducting a search, but it was hampered by the parents reporting Marybeth’s disappearance late in the evening and a series of severe storms coming through the area at the same time. Due to the weather and lack of light, the police couldn’t begin their search of the woods until the following morning and by then, any potential evidence had all been washed away. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the creek that cut through those woods on its way to Lake Munster, already swollen from snowmelt, had flooded out from the rain. The spot where Nannette Sullivan had said the two of them had been standing didn’t exist when the police conducted their search.
Subsequent articles highlighted the fruitless search for Marybeth Cooley as well as floated speculation all over the place. Rumors swirled as to what had happened to the good girl who lived on Violet Way with her parents and her younger brother Jerry. She was a model student, attended church with her family every Sunday, was never in trouble, the teenager every parent wished they had. The newspaper articles made the girl out to be a saint. That was something Rena noticed about missing persons: an asshole never went missing.
Naturally, suspicion fell on the friends that Marybeth had been with that day. Two of them, Dwight Harmon and Butch Taylor, were from well-to-do families, considered to be a bit rowdy, but boys would be boys, especially when they have money. Nannette Sullivan was also from a good family but had a reputation in school as being rather mean. One unnamed classmate was quoted in the paper as saying, “You never want to cross Nan. You don’t want to get on her bad side. You won’t like it there, for sure.” The fourth friend, Jimmie DuPage, was a known troublemaker, always in trouble at school and with the local police. Nannette, Butch, and Dwight all defended him, saying they were trying to help Jimmie stay straight, that’s why they were hanging out together, and that Jimmie had nothing to do with Marybeth going missing. Still, there was strong speculation that either one, two, or all of the four friends, either accidentally or on purpose, killed Marybeth Cooley in the woods and buried her body there.
And then there wasn’t.
Rena digs deeper into the Marybeth Cooley case while waiting for Christabelle to call. Become a patron for as little as $1 an episode to get all the details!