Even though it was an early Sunday morning, Hayley knew a news story of this magnitude would require the
’ staff to immediately report to work. When she reached the office, word of a charred body found inside the burned-out tour bus of Wade Springer in Albert Meadow had hit the town like a tsunami. Within an hour, all the TV reporters from the network affiliates in Bangor were in their cars, racing over the Trenton bridge onto Mount Desert Island to ask questions and get to the bottom of just whose body was inside the bus.
Rumors flew fast and furious all morning.
It was Wade!
No, wait, it was his publicist, Billy Ray Cyrus.
No, wait, it was the famous Billy Ray Cyrus, who came to make a surprise appearance at Wade’s charity concert.
No, wait, it was Trace Adkins!
No, Jimmy Buffett!
No, Johnny Cash! No, he’s already dead!
The names flying about just got more and more ludicrous.
Hayley received a call from Liddy, who was driving by the Harborside Hotel on West Street on her way to an open house and swore she saw Wade Springer alive and well being escorted out of the hotel toward a waiting limo. But she wasn’t absolutely one hundred percent positive it was him.
Hayley held her breath.
Please don’t let Wade be the body on the bus.
By noon, the body had been transported to the county coroner’s lab, and was finally identified from dental records that had been e-mailed from Nashville.
It was Mickey Pritchett.
Hayley felt a sudden jolt of elation knowing the body wasn’t Wade.
Then she felt a twinge of guilt.
She despised Mickey. But nobody deserved to die like that.
Wade issued a statement just a few minutes later expressing his deepest condolescences to Mickey’s family, not mentioning that Mickey and his mother were estranged. He also announced that the charity concerts would be postponed for a few days but would still go on because Wade had made a promise to the college and he intended to keep it.
Hayley couldn’t imagine what had happened to Mickey. Wade had fired him. She had seen Mickey still hanging around the hotel eating the fried chicken he snatched from her when she left just a short while later.
Did he steal the bus?
If so, why did he drive to Albert Meadow?
And how did it catch fire?
Was Mickey a smoker?
Had he been drinking too much and then passed out with a lit cigarette in his hand?
She was dying of curiosity.
She picked up the phone and called Randy.
He picked up on the first ring.
“Randy, it’s me. I was just wondering . . .”
“Sergio won’t tell me anything.”
“Damn. Well, I guess he’s busy interviewing people on the tour.”
“I’m sure you’re going to hear from him before I do. He’ll probably want to bring you in for questioning.”
“Hayley, I heard you were one of the last people to see Mickey Pritchett alive. Last night at the hotel. When you took your fried chicken over to Wade.”
“Oh God, you’re right.”
Here we go again.
This wasn’t the first time Hayley found herself smack dab in the middle of a police investigation.
“I just wish we knew more about what happened,” Hayley said. “There are just so many unanswered questions.”
“Everything will come out eventually,” Randy said. “It always does. But if you want a heads-up, you know who you can call.”
Hayley knew exactly who Randy was talking about. Sabrina Merryweather.
The county coroner.
And Hayley’s arch-nemesis in high school.
They loathed each other back then, but now Sabrina apparently had amnesia about her mean-girl tactics from yesteryear and considered Hayley a close friend. Hayley, on the other hand, had never forgotten even one single nasty slight or vicious comment.
But Sabrina was an invaluable source of information when it came to the cause of death and other interesting tidbits about a corpse.
It was just the idea of calling her that made Hayley sick to her stomach. Sabrina could be so catty and annoying.
Still, she had to know.
“I’ll call you back, Randy,” Hayley said.
“You go, girl!” Randy said before she hung up on him.
Hayley called the coroner’s office. Normally the office would be closed on Sunday but Hayley was betting someone would be there because of the Mickey Pritchett murder. And she was right. Hayley asked the woman who answered if Sabrina was there. The woman said rather haughtily that Dr. Merryweather was in the middle of something and would most certainly have to return her call. Hayley begged the woman to tell Sabrina she was on the phone. Hayley could hear the woman scoffing, but finally she agreed to check with Sabrina just to make sure.
Hayley didn’t have high hopes. She presumed Sabrina was busy examining Mickey Pritchett’s corpse and would probably have to call back later.
“Hayley! I’m so happy to hear from you! You never call me anymore!” Sabrina came on the line and said.
Hayley only remembered having called her once since high school. And that was to find out information on another dead body, last year.
“I know. Look, I’m sure you’re super busy and I hate bothering you . . .”
“Oh, hell, that barbecued boy in the other room isn’t going anywhere. You wouldn’t believe how gross he looks. I often wonder why I got into this business. I just figured if I became a doctor, I might meet one. A really cute one. Talk about irony. Instead, I met a banker who decides to quit and become a so-called artist who likes to paint landscapes that nobody wants to buy, and now I’m the one supporting
I really miss the days when our moms stayed home and our dads went to work.”
Hayley couldn’t remember a day when her mother didn’t go to work. Unlike Sabrina, she didn’t come from a wealthy family.
“So, Sabrina, this guy you’re examining, Mickey Pritchett. I was wondering if you could tell me . . . ?”
“He works for Wade Springer. You know him, don’t you, Hayley? Of course you do. I saw you two canoodling on the front page of
papers. Really, Hayley. Have you no shame?” Sabrina said, bursting out in a fit of giggles. “What I wouldn’t do to be you! Is he really as cute in person as he looks in the papers?”
“Well, he certainly is handsome, but I’m just working for him . . .”
“I guess I’ll see for myself in a few days. I got front row seats at both concerts.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful, Sabrina. So, about Mickey . . .”
“It’s like you’re psychic, Hayley, calling me today, because I was going to call you. After I saw your picture in the paper, I got all sad and frowny, and you want to know why? We never see each other! Ever! We are so overdue for a night out. So what I was thinking is, why not go on a double date?”
“Lex is out of town for a couple weeks.”
“Who’s talking about Lex? The guy is a hunk and nice to look at, but about as boring as a downed oak tree! I mean, seriously, what’s he going to talk about? How many leaves he raked in one day? Yawn!”
“Then who . . . ?”
“You and Wade!”
“But we’re not . . .”
“I saw the pictures! Don’t tell me there isn’t a spark between you two! And I am just dying to meet him. So let me make a reservation somewhere nice, even though now that summer’s over, all the good restaurants are shut down. But I’ll find something that works, and then the four of us—you, me, Wade, and my idiot husband, who I promise won’t drone on about art or politics, because, well, let’s face it, he’s one of those bleeding hearts, and I assume since Wade is a country singer from a red state, he’s probably conservative like my beloved Lee Greenwood who sang that classic ‘Proud To Be an American’ song—”
Hayley couldn’t believe Sabrina had said all that without taking a breath.
“What do you say, Hayley?”
“Um, sure, that sounds like a plan,” Hayley said, already panicking about committing Wade to a dinner with Sabrina and her husband.
But Hayley still needed information.
She could always call and cancel later.
Sabrina squealed. “I’m so excited! Omigod, did I just quote the Pointer Sisters? I loved listening to them as a kid!”
Hayley held the phone away from her ear to keep from going deaf.
“Well, I better get back to work,” Sabrina sighed. “Duty calls. I hate when someone dies under suspicious circumstances on a Sunday. It ruins my entire weekend!”
“Wait. Before you go, I know your professional ethics are uncompromised and you would never talk to me about anything before you complete your autopsy and consult with the police . . .”
“What do you want to know?”
Sabrina obviously didn’t care about ethics right now. She thought Hayley was her ticket to an intimate dining experience with country superstar Wade Springer.
“Burned to a crisp.”
“So the bus caught fire somehow and Mickey got trapped inside and burned to death?”
“The bus caught fire and Mickey certainly was in it. But that’s not how he died,” Sabrina said matter-of-factly.
“There’s a big hole in his chest. Somebody shot him.”
Hayley nearly stopped breathing. “What?”
“He was murdered.”
After Hayley hung up with Sabrina, she resisted the urge to march into Sal’s office and give him the scoop of the year. She knew he was in there, happy to be in the office on a Sunday because his wife hadn’t yet come home from her mother’s. Mickey Pritchett’s death was about to be officially ruled a homicide. Sal would be able to get the jump on the
But she just sat there at her desk, staring at the wall.
She knew Darrell Rodick wouldn’t be the only shutterbug with a digital camera running around town now. Bar Harbor was about to be deluged with tabloid journalists, all out in search of the most sensational aspects of this story.
A roadie on the Wade Springer tour shot dead and burned up inside a raging tour bus fire?
This was a huge scandal.
The reporters would eventually discover the bad blood between Wade and Mickey, and how Wade dumped Mickey from the tour on the night of his murder.
And then they would ask why.
Would it come out that Hayley had two run-ins with Mickey before he got shot?
Had someone seen Wade defend Hayley from Mickey’s unwanted advances? Would she wind up a murder suspect again like she had been last year?
She couldn’t possibly take the pressure of being in that kind of situation again.
She just couldn’t.
The office was quiet. Everyone was probably at Albert Meadow pushing and shoving each other out of the way to get a one-on-one interview with Sergio, who was undoubtedly spearheading the case.
Hayley just started to type her next column.
But it was difficult focusing on recipes when she expected the phone to ring at any moment, with someone asking her to report to the police station for a sit-down interview with the chief.
And brother’s partner or not, Sergio wouldn’t hold back any punches when it came to interrogating her.
The afternoon crawled by and the phone rang just once. It was an elderly woman worried about her missing cat and wanting to place an ad. Hayley jotted down the information and promised to have it in tomorrow’s paper.
Finally, just before quitting time, Bruce arrived. His sleeves were rolled up, there were ash smudges on his face, probably from getting too close to the burned bus, and his hands were grimy with soot. He barely acknowledged Hayley as he plowed through the front office to his cubicle in the back.
Hayley sat there for a few minutes. She heard him typing furiously on his computer. She couldn’t take the suspense.
He was obviously writing a story.
He had just come from the crime scene.
It had to be related to Mickey Pritchett.
She stood up and strolled into the back bullpen, pretending to be searching for a file, but casually stepping behind Bruce and trying to read what he was typing.
Bruce sensed her presence immediately and spun around in his chair. “Can I help you?”
“Just getting a file. What are you working on?”
“Oh, nothing special, Hayley. Kind of a quiet day in town. Not much going on. What do you
I’m working on? Why else would I be working on a Sunday?”
“You don’t have to be rude.”
“I have a tight deadline.”
“So you found out something?”
Bruce turned back around to his computer and continued typing.
Hayley craned her neck to see Bruce’s screen. He was typing the words,
Wade Springer is without a doubt a person of interest
“Really? Sergio said that?”
Bruce stopped typing and sighed. “No, Hayley, those are my words. Sergio’s not talking, but he’s scheduled a press conference for tomorrow.”
“So what makes you think Wade is a person of interest?”
“I got to Donnie.”
Donnie was a local kid in his midtwenties, a hellion when he was younger, always in trouble with the law. But in a surprise turn of events, he grew up to become a cop. Hayley assumed all that time he spent in the local jail had made him fond of the police station, so it was a natural evolution for him to want to spend more time there as he got older. It was like a second home.
Donnie was also a major gossip.
And Bruce knew that.
Which is why he became his drinking buddy.
And drinking buddies talk about everything.
“What did Donnie tell you?” Hayley asked, treading carefully.
“Donnie said Wade’s alibi is pretty shaky. According to his interview with the chief, Wade claims he took his dog out for a walk last night and was gone from the hotel for about an hour.”
“Delilah’s the name of his dog.”
“Not really pertinent to the story, Hayley.”
“The problem is, nobody saw him. He could’ve been anywhere. He could’ve been at Albert Meadow shooting a hole in Mickey Pritchett’s chest and setting fire to his own tour bus to try and cover up the crime,” Bruce said, a big grin on his face.
“That’s the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard, even from you, Bruce,” Hayley scoffed.
“Most of the crew from the tour were at your brother’s bar in plain view doing shots and playing darts in front of a bunch of locals until closing time at one
,” Bruce said. “Wade’s the only one who was unaccounted for.”
“So you’re going to write that in your article?” Hayley asked, her stomach churning. “You’re going to suggest Wade left the hotel to go kill Mickey?”
“I’m not suggesting anything,” Bruce said. “I just report the facts. And the fact is at this point Wade Springer is the only suspect.”