At thirty minutes past eight o'clock, red and blue strobe lights lit up the sky outside Grace Francone's modest Cape house with the frenzy of a fireworks display. A quick check out the window revealed two cars parked in her driveway, one a sedan, a single twirling red light mounted to its dashboard, and the other a black-and-white from the Lynn Police Department, lights also flashing.
A wave of fear clutched Grace hard.
Not more than two hours ago, she had returned home from a run to find her sixteen-year-old daughter, Penny, gone. Since she was a teenager, it was no great surprise her daughter had left the house without a text or a note to say where she was going. Out of habit, Grace had checked the garage to find the burgundy Chevy Caprice, still registered to Penny's deceased father, was also missing. Grace assumed Penny, who had the car keys and her license, had taken it. The house rule was to always ask permission before taking the car, and to give a destination and return time. The lack of any such communication put Penny's driving privileges in jeopardy.
Naturally, Grace had texted Penny to check on her whereabouts. When she didn't get a reply, she figured Penny was trying to avoid a conflict. Now, Grace had a different thought.
The unexpected arrival of the police filled her with a dark vision of a twisted knot of steel, parts of it resembling what was once that Chevy Caprice. She imagined the vehicle had veered off a road somewhere, and now lay crumpled like a balled-up piece of paper. Penny was either still pinned in the wreckage, rushed to a hospital...or worse, much worse.
Grace opened the front door before the police had time to exit their vehicles. Outside, a crackle of indecipherable radio chatter momentarily drowned out the night-calling insects. Even though she lived a mile from the ocean, the air carried a tinge of salt, that special seawater smell that normally she found so rejuvenating. Not tonight.
Of the two men who strode up her walkway, only one was dressed in a police uniform. The other gentleman, a heavyset fellow, sported a thick mustache and wore a dark suit to match his hair.This one greeted Grace with an inscrutable expression, which set her somewhat at ease. At least his eyes didn't carry the weighty look of someone about to crush her soul.
He had a deep, gravelly voice, good for coaching or getting hardened people to follow his orders. The best Grace could manage was a quick nod.
"I'm Detective Jay Allio from the Lynn Police Department, and this is Sergeant Brent Adams. Is your daughter Penny Francone?"
"Yes," Grace said, shifting her weight from one foot to the other, feeling her anxiousness fire back up.
"We came here to tell you that we've arrested her. She's at the Lynn Police Station right now."
Grace's field of vision blurred momentarily. "Arrested? For what?"
"We believe she killed a woman," Allio said, showing no emotion in his voice or face.
Grace used one hand to grip the doorframe while the other went to her chest, where she could feel her heart beating way too fast.
"Killed as in...what? Was it a...a car accident? Is Penny hurt?"
"No, it's not that," said Allio. "No accident. And Penny is uninjured. We believe it was a homicide."
The matter-of-fact way he shared this information made it hard for Grace to process his words.
"I'm sorry, what? Say that again."
"We believe Penny committed a homicide this evening."
"A murder?" Grace stammered. "You think my daughter murdered someone?"
Her words came out with a sharp edge as her grip on the doorframe tightened. She felt like she'd slipped out of her own body and was observing these events from some higher vantage point. Part of her wanted to slam the door in the detective's face, imagining that doing so might make it all untrue, but she resisted the irrational urge.