Today I have an exclusive excerpt from Follow Me Down by Sherri Smith, a mystery set in North Dakota. Do check it out and if you are intrigued, be sure to check it out.
My first thought was my mother had started another fire. Or maybe she did something nasty to a fellow patient again. Last year she stabbed a woman sitting next to her in the dining room with a fork because, she said, the woman tried to steal her dessert. Both times I had to cover the costs (the woman needed four stitches, one for each tine), which I couldn’t help but suspect the care home had inflated. I always pictured the nurses clanging their after-work mai tais together, telling each other they deserved this little something extra for having to deal with that woman.
I almost didn’t answer. I’d just spent the last slow hour helping a prostitute pick out hair dye (Midnight Vixen by L’Oréal seemed a professionally sound choice) after refilling her Valtrex prescription and was taking my second break of the overnight shift. But it was the strangeness of the hour. My phone never rang at 6 a.m.
“Mia Haas?” A gruff voice.
“Yes.” I was sitting with two front cashiers, sipping weak coffee and eating powdery donuts for a cheap rush to carry me through the next two hours.
“This is Wayoata Police Chief John Pruden.”
“What did Mimi do now?” I offered up a theatrical sigh for the benefit of my co-workers who had never heard me mention Mimi before now and locked myself in the bathroom for privacy.
“I’m calling about Lucas.”
“Your brother, Lucas. Have you heard from him?” He sounded irritated he had to repeat himself.
“Why?” My teeth sunk into my lower lip. Visions of accidents sucked me into a panic, of bloody highway collisions and motorboats crashed into rocky lakeshores with beer bottles still rolling back and forth on deck. A school shooting. Wayoata was the kind of crappy town where angry, awkward outcasts went on shooting rampages. “What happened?”
Pruden evaded my question. “So you’re telling me you haven’t heard from him in the last seventy-two hours?”
I tried to think when I last talked to my twin brother. He called me a couple of weeks ago but didn’t leave a message, which meant it wasn’t important. Just one of those catch-up calls and a full report on Mimi. The twenty-four-hour chain pharmacy where I worked in Chicago had opened yet another location two blocks away, and I was doubling up on shifts until another pharmacist was hired.
“No, I haven’t. What is this about?”
Pruden muttered something I didn’t catch, then followed up with “We can’t find your brother.”
“What do you mean, you can’t find him?” The better question would have been to ask why they were looking for him, but of course I didn’t think to ask that yet. I was too blindsided. “He’s probably at work.” It was June. Exam time. Lucas wouldn’t be anywhere but in his classroom. If he’d suddenly decided to quit, he wouldn’t have done it during exam time. Plus, he would have told me.
“At work?” Pruden parroted. I’d insulted him; obviously it’s too early for Lucas to be at the school. “He’s not at work. You need to come in. When can you get here? Sooner the better.” Someone jiggled the handle on the bathroom door.
I pushed for more details—really, really pushed—but Pruden insisted we talk in person.
Immediately after hanging up, I tried calling Lucas twenty times in a row. Each time I expected him to pick up so we could laugh at this whole absurd situation. He’d have a funny story about some woman he’d met and half moved in with for the last week and would be stunned that the police got involved over a few unwarranted sick days.
But Lucas wasn’t picking up his phone. The ringing, the pause as the call rolled over to voice mail was all dashed hope and building dread. The heat from my phone burrowed deep into my ear, turned into an electric buzz that stayed long after I stopped trying. No answer
Still sitting on the toilet lid, I went to my brother’s Facebook, thinking there’d be a selfie of him doing whatever and I’d know he was fine, but his account had been deleted
I Googled the Wayoata Sun. My ears started to hum; my windpipe twisted. It looked like a novelty newspaper. Pure bogus. The kind you get from some mall parking lot carnival with the words “WANTED AKA [INSERT YOUR COOL NICKNAME HERE]” above your laser-printed face. Yearbook photos, side by side. One staff, one student. My brother and a teenage girl. The breaking news headline, local teacher person of interest in student’s murder. It was dated yesterday.
I scrolled down to the comments section, and here was a litany of abuse against my brother. Cap-locked words, among them “MURDERER” and “RAPIST” mottled the screen like bullet holes. Even our miserable old neighbor who liked to plant plastic roses in his front flower bed, their startling, colorful heads peeking through the North Dakotan snowdrifts like the earth below was oozing blood, had managed to get in on the verbal stoning: Rot in hEll sick mutherfucker!!#! It struck me as especially serious that Paul Bergman felt no need to hide behind a username.
Earlier articles depicted the disappearance and search for a sixteen-year-old girl named Joanna Wilkes. She’d been missing for three weeks before her body was discovered in Dickson Park two days ago.
FOLLOW ME DOWN
by Sherri Smith
Release Date: 21st March 2017
Mia Haas has built a life for herself far from the North Dakota town where she grew up, but when she receives word that her twin brother is missing, she’s forced to return home. Once hailed as the golden boy of their small town, Lucas Haas disappeared the same day the body of one of his high school students is pulled from the river. Trying to wrap her head around the rumors of Lucas’s affair with the teen, and unable to reconcile the media’s portrayal of Lucas as a murderer with her own memories of him, Mia is desperate to find another suspect.
All the while, she wonders, if he’s innocent, why did he run?
As Mia reevaluates their difficult, shared history and launches her own investigation into the grisly murder, she uncovers secrets that could exonerate Lucas—or seal his fate. In a small town where everyone’s history is intertwined, Mia will be forced to confront her own demons, placing her right in the killer’s crosshairs.
ABOUT SHERRI SMITH
Sherri Smith has previously written two historical fiction novels for Simon & Schuster UK. When not writing she spends time with her family, three rescue dogs and restores vintage furniture that would otherwise be destined for the dump. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada where the long, cold winters nurture her dark side. FOLLOW ME DOWN (Forge Books (USA) & Titan Books (UK), March 2017) is her first thriller.