The Sheriff’s Office in Willow Gap, AlabamaOne Week After
It would’ve been a touching moment except for the reality of the grave at their feet. Gran’s grave. I shiver just thinking about the three Williams sisters standing in the family cemetery, their arms entwined, gazing up at the sunrise, all that cool Alabama clay piled beside them, their fingernails packed with the red earth, the stench of what they’d done in their nostrils. It was Decoration Sunday, the one day of the year when the entire family descended on Gran’s property to pay respect to the dead and gossip about those still living.
Tara, June, and Clementine Williams are my sisters-in-law. For so long, I’ve waited for the day that their little coven would topple some man’s ivory tower. Now that the time has come, I realize that each of us has a man that we might be better off without, but only one of us is lucky enough to have actually rid ourselves of him.
Four men: a preacher, a doctor, a professor, and a mayor. One goes missing. It’s like our own little Willow Gap edition of Clue. How charming.
Sheriff Brady Dean, his badge shining in the interrogation lights, brings me back to the moment at hand, the moment of reckoning. The aged sheriff wants to know what I know, wants me to spill all the whys, whens, wheres, and hows of the Williams sisters over the past forty-eight hours.
“I’m sure you know why you’re here, Mrs. Williams.” The words emerge like a sigh. He’s been after this family for more than thirty years, ever since he was first elected. Poor guy. Must be exhausted.
I meet the sheriff eye to eye, tapping my recently painted nails—Los Angeles Latte, the dark bottle of polish had read—against the metal table in the claustrophobic office where he’s brought me for questioning. Not that I’m the one in trouble here.
My husband, Walker Williams, knew Sheriff Dean before Walker and I ever met and married a decade ago. Some say ours was a Yankee seduction, but I don’t care. Walker has been the mayor now for eight years, and they have to put up with me, the damn Yank in their midst.
I think of my three children—Walker Jr. and Auggie and Bella—their features too much like my husband’s. They’re fine, I remind myself. They’re with the nanny while I’m here tying up all of the loose ends. I shake my head to dislodge their faces from my mind. It’s important that I focus. I must get this right.
“Call me Ms. Chadrick. Or Stephanie. I’ll be using my maiden name soon enough,” I tell the sheriff.
Sheriff Dean clears his throat, and I follow his eyes to my hand. I’m still wearing my massive diamond, the one Walker bought for our last anniversary. To ten years, baby, and a lifetime more, he’d said as he slipped it on my finger in our Nashville hotel room. I’m not planning to part with my jewelry just because my husband can’t keep his dick in his pants.
I blink innocently at the sheriff and twist my ring around, pressing the stone into my palm until it bites. “I’m here to tell you what I saw after Gran Williams’s funeral. Isn’t that right?”
“Yes’m.” The sheriff lets out a heavy breath that reaches all the way down to the gut hanging over his belt. “I know these women are your husband’s sisters, but we’re hoping…”
“Soon to be ex-husband,” I fire back, reminding him once again.
“Fine. As I was saying, we’re hoping you’ll be willing to give us an account of the movement of your sisters-in-law these past few days. With a missing person, time is of the essence.”
He gives me one of those indulgent smiles saved only for a wronged woman. He knows about my cheating bastard of a spouse, and I breathe, reminding myself again that I’m in good company. Jackie O., Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary—all of these fine ladies were cheated on by their infamous yet politically savvy husbands. Remembering them makes it easier for me to deal with the fact that everyone knows about Walker and his lying ways.
When I first moved here from DC, I thought my new husband and his town were adorable, quaint even. As I prepared for Walker’s bid for mayor, I even got a kick out of researching its history at the local library, trying to understand the place where generations of Walker’s family had lived for so long.
Alabama. Some historians say the word is from a Native American language and means “tribal town” or “vegetation gatherers.” My favorite definition of the word, though, was penned by one Alexander Beauford Meek, a highly unreliable
source, but isn’t that what history is made of? Mr. Meek said that the word means “here we rest.” Alabama: here we rest. It’s deliciously spooky, isn’t it? Like something from one of those Faulkner stories I couldn’t get enough of in college.
To be fair though, my problem isn’t actually with the great state of Alabama. It’s with these people, this town, this family. They forget so easily that I’m a part of them now, for better or worse. They forget that I know where all the bodies are buried, and I’m not just talking about their kinfolk in the family cemetery a couple hundred yards down the hill from Gran’s house.
The sheriff clears his throat and tries again. “As I was sayin’, we’re hopin’ you can give us a clearer account of who all was there and what exactly went on, so we can understand what led to our missing person. He’s an important man, a good man, and the last time anyone laid eyes on him was Saturday evening a few hours after the funeral at Gran Williams’s cabin.”
Our missing person. There’s something so possessive in the phrase. I almost giggle, realizing that this man is handing me my chance on a silver platter, an opportunity to expose every inch of the Williams family drama.
“Sheriff, ask me any question, and I’ll tell you exactly what you want to hear.” I cross my legs and study my cuticles. “Although, if you want to know the whole truth, you need to go a lot further back than the past few days.”
I take a sip of the coffee he brought me earlier and stretch my arms in front of me as if preparing for a catnap. I wonder if the sheriff realizes just how far back he needs to reach, how far down he needs to dig until he hits something like the truth.
The sheriff nods at me to continue, and I notice again the plump circles hanging under his eyes. He sneezes into the crook of his arm and settles in for the real reason why people involved with the Williams family might just disappear.
I sit up straighter. “All right, then. Let’s start with the dead one.”
Excerpted from I Love It When You Lie. Copyright © 2023 by Kristen Bird. Published by MIRA Books.
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