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Fell, New York
The night it all ended, Vivian was alone.
That was fine with her. She preferred it. It was something she’d discovered, working the night shift at this place in the middle of nowhere: Being with people was easy, but being alone was hard. Especially being alone in the dark. The person who could be truly alone, in the company of no one but oneself and one’s own thoughts—that person was stronger than anyone else. More ready. More prepared.
Still, she pulled into the parking lot of the Sun Down Motel in Fell, New York, and paused, feeling the familiar beat of fear. She sat in her beat-up Cavalier, the key in the ignition, the heat and the radio on, her coat huddled around her shoulders. She looked at the glowing blue and yellow sign, the two stories of rooms in two long stripes in the shape of an L, and thought, I don’t want to go in there. But I will. She was ready, but she was still afraid. It was 10:59 p.m.
She felt like crying. She felt like screaming. She felt sick.
I don’t want to go in there.
But I will. Because I always do.
Outside, two drops of half-frozen rain hit the windshield. A truck droned by on the road in the rearview mirror. The clock ticked over to eleven o’clock, and the news came on the radio. Another minute and she’d be late, but she didn’t care. No one would fire her. No one cared if she came to work. The Sun Down had few customers, none of whom would notice if the night girl was late. It was often so quiet that an observer would think that nothing ever happened here.
Viv Delaney knew better.
The Sun Down only looked empty. But it wasn’t.
With cold fingers, she pulled down the driver’s-side visor. She touched her hair, which she’d had cut short, a sharp style that ended below her earlobes and was sprayed out for volume. She checked her eye makeup—not the frosty kind, like some girls wore, but a soft lavender purple. It looked a little like bruises. You could streak it with yellow and orange to create a days-old-bruise effect, but she hadn’t bothered with that tonight. Just the purple on the delicate skin of her lids, meeting the darker line of her eyeliner and lashes. Why had she put makeup on at all? She couldn’t remember.
On the radio, they talked about a body. A girl found in a ditch off Melborn Road, ten miles from here. Not that here was anywhere—just a motel on the side of a two-lane highway leading out of Fell and into the nothingness of upstate New York and eventually Canada. But if you took the two-lane for a mile and made a right at the single light dangling from an overhead wire, and followed that road to another and another, you’d be where the girl’s body was found. A girl named Tracy Waters, last seen leaving a friend’s house in a neighboring town. Eighteen years old, stripped naked and dumped in a ditch. They’d found her body two days after her parents reported her missing.