Chapter 1 recap: Corey’s parents had an argument about her and were found dead the next morning.
The police officers had Corey sitting on the porch swing, with a young female office next to her to keep an eye on her, while they poked and prodded around in her home. Corey had her teddy bear tucked under one arm and was happily gnawing away at a banana nut muffin. The officer was casting weird looks her way, but the little girl ignored her. Mrs. Appleton was wailing and wringing her hands as she paced the width of the porch near Corey. Both women seemed to be waiting for Corey to start crying, but Corey didn’t know she was supposed to. All she knew was that she was hungry and wanted a second muffin.
“It’s okay to cry,” the officer said gently.
Corey only stared up at her with bewildered eyes. “Why?”
The officer drew back and blinked. Then she turned forward and clasped her hands between her knees, likewise looking bewildered. They sat like that with Mrs. Appleton pacing wildly beside them for a few moments. The officer had apparently decided to stop telling Corey it was okay to cry, which Corey appreciated.
The detective, a tall man with trimmed dark brown hair and serious brown eyes, strode out of the house. He paused a moment to look around while the officer with Corey stood. The detective turned to her and nodded. The officer moved aside as the man made his way over to Corey and Mrs. Appleton. The man knelt down on one knee to regard Corey. She stared back at him, still gnawing at her muffin. She saw the gentle, concerned look on his face, but didn’t really understand it. Why was this strange man so concerned about her? Sure, her parents were dead, but they hadn’t been very nice to her lately.
“Hello,” the man said in a quiet, serious voice, a voice Corey kind of liked. It sounded nice. “Are you Corey?”
Corey nodded and Mrs. Appleton stepped forward. She rested a hand on Corey’s shoulder, but the little girl only looked at the detective.
“It’s Cora Fallon,” Mrs. Appleton corrected, “but everyone calls her Corey. Cora was her late grandmother’s name.”
The detective nodded. “Corey’s fine.” He smiled at the girl. “Is that okay if I call you Corey?”
The girl nodded and took another bite from her muffin. She chewed it slowly and didn’t move her eyes from his face. He looked very serious, but his eyes looked kind and they softened as he looked her over, noting the crusted dried blood on the skirt of her nightgown.
“I’m Skylar Adams,” he said holding out a large hand. “You can call me Sky if it’s easier.”
Corey gently put her teddy bear across her lap and put her tiny hand in his. “Nice to meet you, Skylar.”
He gently shook her hand before letting it go. He smiled and leaned forward slightly. “I’m going to talk to your neighbor for a little bit, okay? But I’ll come back over and see how you are.”
Corey nodded and took another bite, seemingly dismissing him. With a shake of his head, Skylar rose and turned to Mrs. Appleton. He took her arm and gently guided her a few feet away, closer to the railing.
“You’re Eva Appleton from across the street?” Skylar started.
Mrs. Appleton nodded, casting a worried look at Corey. “That’s right. Right across the street there.” She pointed. “702 Wildflower Lane. I’ve known Corey’s parents since they moved in six years ago. Annie and I got to be such good friends. We usually have breakfast together every Thursday. Well, we used to. I remember when Corey was born four years ago. They used to ask me to babysit when she was really little because Annie was still working. She stopped working about a year ago to take care of Corey full-time after the poor girl was in the hospital for two weeks. That’s when Don got his raise and they could live comfortably on one paycheck a month.”
“Does Corey have any other family, Mrs. Appleton? Since she’s an orphan now, we would really prefer to put her in a family member’s care rather than make her a ward of the state.”
Mrs. Appleton wrung her hands a little harder and cast a glance at the girl. Corey was watching them, finishing off the muffin. Her eyes were trained on the detective, a part of her mind wondering why the man seemed so familiar. Mrs. Appleton licked her lips and turned back to the detective, giving her back to the little girl she adored, but simultaneously didn’t understand at all.
“No, detective,” she said quietly. “Don was abandoned as a baby. He never managed to track down his family. Annie was an only child of only children. Her father passed away about ten years ago and her mother two years ago. Annie and Don never thought anything would happen to them, so they never named godparents or any other legal guardian. I know Annie used to tell me their lawyer was always after them to name a legal guardian just in case, but Annie wouldn’t hear of it. She and Don were always very adamant that Corey wouldn’t need anyone else. But I’ve known them for six years and I’ve known Corey since she was born. I would be more than happy to take care of her.”
“That’s very generous, Mrs. Appleton, but I’m afraid that won’t be possible. You would have to legally adopt her in order to take care of her. In the meantime, we’ll put her in foster care.”
Mrs. Appleton’s forehead creased. “I don’t know….Corey’s awfully young. She’s never been away from her parents. Being in foster care wouldn’t be the best thing for her.”
“I’m very sorry, but we have to take her to foster care since there is no legally appointed guardian and no living family.”
Mrs. Appleton lowered her eyes to where Corey was now starting on her second muffin. She had an apologetic look on her face, which bewildered Corey because Corey didn’t even want to stay a single hour with the old woman.
“Just make sure she’ll be okay,” Mrs. Appleton said softly.
“We’ll do our best,” Skylar promised. “Thank you, Mrs. Appleton. One of the officers will take a formal statement from you in a little bit, so just hang out here until then. I need to talk to Corey now.”
Mrs. Appleton nodded and shuffled off to the other side of the porch. She stood against the railing and folded her arms tightly across her chest, staring across the street at her house.
Skylar watched her for a moment, just to make sure she wasn’t going to wander off or try to approach the little girl. Then he turned to where Corey was, apparently, happily eating a muffin and swinging her legs. Her teddy bear was once again tucked under her arm. He took a long step over to her and knelt down on one knee, smiling gently at her. The little girl stared back at him with wide brown eyes.
“Can you tell me a few things, Corey?” he asked, keeping his smile in place.
Corey swung her legs a few times before nodding. She took another bite of her muffin and nodded.
“Okay, then,” the detective replied, flipping open a small notepad. “Mrs. Appleton said she found you with your parents. Can you tell me how you found them?”
“Like she said. They were lying on the bed and there was lots of blood.”
“Did you touch them?”
Corey shook her head. “Just my mom’s face. It was cold.”
Again, she shook her head. “Uh uh. She felt funny.”
“Corey, this is very serious. Do you know your mommy and daddy are dead? They won’t be coming back. You don’t have parents anymore.”
The little girl nodded. “I know. Mrs. Appleton told me, too, before you got here. But Mom and Dad were mean. They were fighting last night before they went to bed.”
“What were they fighting about?”
“Me,” she replied quickly. “Mom took care of me, but Dad didn’t want to have anything to do with me. He didn’t think I was his daughter at all. He never played with me.”
“Are you sad your mom is gone?”
Corey shook her head. “Mom never let me do anything. I was bored.”
Skylar pierced her with his eyes. “Corey, did you hurt your parents?”
The little girl tilted her head to the side before shaking it. “I was sleeping.”
“Uh huh. Mom usually woke up before me and then she would wake me up. Sometimes I was awake before her, though. This morning she didn’t come wake me up. It was past nine in the morning when I woke up. Mom never came to wake me up. I got up and went to the bedroom.”
“And that’s when you found them.”
Corey nodded and took another bite of her muffin.
Skylar watched her for a moment, wondering if this little girl even realized what she had seen, what had happened to her parents, and what she was telling him. She’s only four, he reminded himself. Only four.
“Did you hear any funny sounds in the middle of the night?” he finally asked.
“Uh uh. I was sleeping.”
Skylar smiled at her. “Thank you, Corey.” He paused. “We’re going to take you to a nice family to stay with for a little bit, okay?”
“Later today. Some officers will help you pack up some of your things, the things you want to keep. Then we’ll take you to a family. You’ll probably stay a few days and then you may be adopted by another family.”
“Okay,” was her only reply before her eyes started to wander.
Skylar gave her a smile before rising, but Corey was still looking off in the distance. She didn’t care to talk to the man anymore about her parents’ deaths. There was something funny about him, but she couldn’t figure out what. And didn’t he know she was starving? She watched as the detective looked across the porch at where Mrs. Appleton still stood.
Giving Corey a quick smile, he finally left her alone and walked over to Mrs. Appleton. She turned to the detective, rubbing her hands up and down her arms, under Corey’s watchful gaze. Her gaze flickered to Corey for a second before she focused on his face.
“Is she okay?” Mrs. Appleton asked.
He arched a brow. “I thought maybe you could tell me.”
The woman frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“Corey seems…well, it’s hard to tell if the deaths of her parents have affected her. Usually kids are inconsolable. But Corey was talking about finding her dead parents very candidly. She indicated she understands they’re gone forever, but she had no affect. I was wondering if you would be able to tell me anything about her. Do you think she would be capable of murdering her parents?”
Corey had to stop herself from snorting at the question. Her? Kill her parents? If she could have, she probably would have done so earlier. They really had been appalling parents for awhile now.
“For God’s sakes, she’s a child!” Mrs. Appleton yelled. “She’s four years old and you’re accusing her of murder?”
Skylar held out his hands in an attempt to placate her. “I didn’t say that, Mrs. Appleton. I’m merely asking you if you think she’s capable of something like that considering her strange reaction to her parents’ deaths.”
Mrs. Appleton pursed her lips and turned away. “I don’t believe Corey would be capable of something like that. Look, Detective, Corey’s always been a little odd, and is bright beyond her years, but I seriously doubt she would be capable of hurting her parents. There was little love in the house, but Corey seemed content. Maybe not happy, but it was the only life she knew.”
“Does she have any friends?”
Mrs. Appleton shook her head. “No. Annie hardly ever let her out of her sight. Corey almost never left the house. Is she going to be okay?”
“That’s the hope, Mrs. Appleton. Thank you.”
She gave a distracted nod and he moved off to consult with a group of officers.
“Anything?” Skylar asked in a low voice.
“That’s the most bizarre scene I’ve ever seen,” one of the young men said, jabbing his thumb back behind him, towards the house. “Those bodies were ravaged beneath the covers. The clothes were tattered. The skin was all but shredded. The bed was soaked in blood. It looked like they were mauled by clawed animals.”
“But there were no signs of anything breaking in,” a female officer said quietly. “All the doors and windows are intact. There were no footprints or fingerprints. Nothing.”
Skylar scratched his head. “This is going to be one interesting case. Could one of you take Corey into her room and get a few things packed up? Social services will be taking her soon.”
The female officer nodded and walked off towards Corey. Corey watched the detective as the woman spoke to her, telling her it was time to go back into the house. Under Skylar’s watchful and concerned gaze, Corey just nodded and jumped off of the bench. She didn’t take the officers hand; just walked past her and straight through the front door. The officer followed and shrugged her shoulders as she walked past Skylar, while Corey hummed happily to herself with a third muffin in hand.
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