A small town, about as far North in Georgia as one can get, thought to be safe.
|Annabeth Hillston didn’t know what she was getting herself into when she walked into the police station in Helen, Georgia. With a population of only about 540 people, you would expect it to be a fairly small, safe town. However, that was not the case this weekend. In just the past week, eleven people were murdered in their homes in the dead of night. And of course, she had been called to the case. Annabeth had solved more complicated cases than this one, but never with absolutely no leads. This case was already going to be difficult enough as she was returning home for the first time in eight years. The thirty-year-old was not looking forward to the time she would be spending here, which at the moment was indefinite. She not only had eleven murder cases to solve, but also had three funerals to plan. Her mother, father, and younger sister were three of the eleven murders, and she was the only survivor of her family.
Not that anyone would care about that. Everyone here lost someone they loved. The other eight murders were people who were well known throughout the small town. That was her main focus. The funerals, she had already decided, were going to be simple, a basic burial at the Crescent Hill cemetery, where her older brother, Emmett, had been buried after his body was brought back from deployment to Afghanistan. Annabeth thought back on her brother’s life. He had wanted to be a hero, and he was in the eyes of his hometown, and of his brothers-in-arms. He had saved three other soldiers during an ambush. He had dragged one man to safety and had gone back twice for the other two. It was only when he had returned under fire the fourth time that he had been shot. He died while being flown to the hospital before they had ever made landing.
Annabeth shook her head and looked down at the almost completely empty file on the passenger seat, placed on top of her duffel bag. She needed to focus on the tasks at hand, not become lost in memories of the dead. That was not her job, that was the job of those who had lost the other eight. They needed to remember those lives so she could do her job.
She pulled into the parking lot of the Country Inn and Suites and turned off the car, sitting for a moment longer before climbing out of the vehicle, shivering at the nip of cold weather she was unaccustomed to. She looked down at her watch and sighed. March 21, 2018. The anniversary of her brother’s death. Eight years today. No wonder the thought had popped into her head. The wind picked up, causing strands of her long chestnut hair to slip out of the bun she was wearing. Of course, she was extremely unprepared for the weather, wearing just a pencil skirt and a sleeveless blouse, along with a pair of three inch heels, putting her at an even five foot ten. Her light skin was covered in goosebumps from the cold as she quickly reached back into the car to grab her bag and case file and shut the door.
Locking the vehicle as she went, Annabeth hurried into the hotel, desperate to escape the cold. Thirty-eight degrees to some might not be cold, but when one spends fifteen years in the south, it becomes very cold. She stepped through the doors and walked right up to the check-in desk.
“Hello. I have a reservation under the name Hillston”, Annabeth stated. She hated that she had used her actual last name when she made the reservation, but she knew it would have caused issues had she used another name and it was connected to her credit card.
The clerk gave her that look she had so dreaded, the knowing look that this was the last living Hillston. Her family had once been very powerful in the town, owning quite a bit of land and, at one point, her father even held a political position. Her mother had been well-known by the women in their community. She had held a book club for years and taught many of the younger girls to cook throughout her life. It was heartbreaking for many of the young adults in Helen to lose her. She had been a sort of second mother to the majority of them.
Annabeth shook her head and took her room key after a few moments of the clerk searching for her name and giving her the basic directions to her room. She thanked the woman and walked to the elevator, watching the numbers count down until it hit the first floor, then walked into the compartment and pressed the button to close the door.
She noticed upon entering the elevator compartment that there was a man with her, one who couldn’t be much older than herself, perhaps thirty-two. His dark green eyes seemed darker than humanly possible. This must have been the man the sheriff had told her to speak to first, the only one who had even come close to witnessing a few of the crimes. His hair was a dark brown, and it pained her to see the familiar military cut. He was a veteran, one of the men her brother had saved all that time ago. She remembered him from the funeral, and the majority of her brother’s letters. They had stuck together the entire time, and became best friends, always assigned together.
His eyes flashed with despair as soon as he recognized her. Her own blue eyes were darker than before. She had seen a lot since their last meeting, and from the pitiful look on his face, she could tell he knew it. A lock of her hair fell in front of her left eye, putting her at nearly blind then. But she didn’t move to push it aside. Instead, Tyler did just that, brushing the hair back behind her ear and smiled softly.
“Hello, Annabeth. It’s been some time…” His voice was hoarse, and clearly troubled. She knew he was suffering from the loss of her family as well. He had loved them all dearly, had moved here after her brother’s death to ensure they were cared for. She wondered if he blamed himself for their deaths, for not being there to protect them. From the look in his eyes, it seemed that was exactly the case.
“Tyler…” She wrapped her arms around his torso, hugging him tightly. Even in her heels, he was still four or five inches taller than her, so she was able to comfortably rest her head on his chest. He tensed slightly at first, but relaxed in her embrace, wrapping his arms around her, returning the tight hug.
“Didn’t expect to see you so soon. Are you here for the funerals?” Tyler asked her, his jaw tightening as the words left him.
Annabeth nodded slowly, pulling back a bit to look up at him. “Yes.. And to find out who did this.” Her own voice was beginning to waver. She didn’t much miss her parents. She hadn’t ever gotten along with them. No, it was her younger sister, Mary, who she grieved. She was only eighteen, just days from moving out of their house and onto college. She had a boyfriend who everyone was expecting to propose to her at any time. That would have been the next time Annabeth returned to Helen. To help plan her sister’s wedding. Even Tyler liked the boy, which was saying a lot. He felt he had to stand in for Emmett since he couldn’t be there for his sister.
“I’m so sorry… I tried to get to them, but-”
“Don’t do that to yourself. It isn’t your fault. You did what you could, that’s all there is to it. Come on,” she grabbed his hand as the elevator dinged, signaling they had reached their floor. Tyler had been staying with her family for the last eight years, so she assumed he was in the hotel because it was too painful to go back to that house. Tyler didn't fight as she led him down the hall to her room. She swiped the key card two or three times before the light finally blinked green and let her in. She held the door open for Tyler to slip in behind her before letting it close.
She bypassed the bathroom and the bed to set her bag and the case file on the chair at the far end of the room, then moved to sit on the queen sized bed beside Tyler. Neither person said anything as she flipped through the channels on the TV. She finally settled on an old cartoon she had loved as a child, Tom and Jerry, and they laid back against the pillows, watching as the cat chased the mouse until they both fell asleep.