Today’s work comes from one of my lovelorn. She’s looking for Mr. Right, but unfortunately, she’s shopping the local penitentiary. Her new pen pal has a tight-fisted scribble that leans backward, antisocially. The bowls of his o’s and a’s are narrow and closed off, the angle of his vertical strokes, short daggers. It must be a painfully slow hand. The man has all the time in the world to write a letter. How generous that he spends his time on her.
Generosity is the best thing I can think to say, but I won’t. If I produce even one positive attribute to this serial killer scrawl, that’s what she’ll cling to, and what I need her to know is that he’s hiding something in every line he writes to her. He’s a liar. And who knows what he’s actually in prison for? They never say, when they write to me. They keep all the stories to themselves when they ask me to pry into a handwriting sample. She’s even thoughtfully typed her own note to me, so I can’t take a look at the secrets she might be hiding. All I know: he’s trouble, and she’s paying me for that truth.
She’s not paying me much. I mean, these lonelyhearts make up such a small portion of my work that I probably shouldn’t bother. The meaty jobs that put money in Joshua’s college fund are for corporations looking for the right executive, the one who won’t get caught with underage girls or shoot up in his office. Human resources, that’s what I call that line of income, and it’s a good one. The other area is law enforcement: ransom notes, forgeries in things like contracts and pre-nups. Most of that work comes through my mentor and FBI contact Kent. The assignments are few and far between, and that’s fine. It’s strange working this side of the law, but then I’m just a third-party vendor when it comes to law enforcement. Better than being the victim, the one answering the door to the cops after the fuss has died down, pulling down the sleeves of my shirt to hide the bruises forming there.
Anything is better than that.
The work keeps me close to that line between order and lawlessness—too close, sometimes. Like tomorrow’s assignment, when I’m supposed to meet the local sheriff of this two-bit town Joshua and I have moved to. I saw on the news some kid is missing. He must need help with that. Kent didn’t say.
I say two-bit town as though it’s a bad thing. I tried to live in a big city. Chicago—that’s where we just moved from. And no question, it was easy to live an unexamined life there. With so many people around, no one has any time to notice you. Except someone did. We were on the Magnificent Mile that day, like tourists in our own town, when someone from up near home, I guess, wandered into my line of sight. She was wearing a Sweetheart Lake sweatshirt. And she recognized me. I must have seemed like a ghost to her.
But no one like that would ever come here. Here, to this no-name town, where they’ve stripped the land of any old-growth trees, where the only thing that reminds me of home is the roadside ice cream hut out by the highway. Just like home. And sometimes, you need a reminder or two of home. So that you don’t get comfortable, like we did in Chicago. So you don’t forget that you can never go back there. So that you don’t forget why you left.
You can read more about Anna in The Day I Died.
From the award-winning author of Little Pretty Things comes this gripping, unforgettable tale of a mother’s desperate search for a lost boy.
Anna Winger can know people better than they know themselves with only a glance—at their handwriting. Hired out by companies wanting to land trustworthy employees and by the lovelorn hoping to find happiness, Anna likes to keep the real-life mess of other people at arm’s length and on paper. But when she is called to use her expertise on a note left behind at a murder scene in the small town she and her son have recently moved to, the crime gets under Anna’s skin and rips open her narrow life for all to see. To save her son—and herself—once and for all, Anna will face her every fear, her every mistake, and the past she thought she’d rewritten.
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About the author
Lori Rader-Day, author of The Day I Died (forthcoming 2017), The Black Hour, and Little Pretty Things, is the recipient of the 2016 Mary Higgins Clark Award and the 2015 Anthony Award for Best First Novel. Lori’s short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Time Out Chicago, Good Housekeeping, and others. She lives in Chicago, where she teaches mystery writing at StoryStudio Chicago and is the president of the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter.
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