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I could imagine what Chad must have told Steve: “I don’t want the police to waste resources on me when the real killer is out there. Let’s say I was with you.” And Steve loved to help.
Maybe I could try talking to Steve again, get him to open up. He’d had a crush on me in high school... not that that made me particularly unique. He never actually had a girlfriend. Chad, who’d had sex with two and a half girls (give or take whether the last girl counted), offered him his worldly counsel. I heard him coach Steve on how you could get with any girl with the right words in the right order, like a combination popping open a lock.
Chad had started dating Kimmy at the end of high school, but from the beginning I suspected that to him she was more a prize than a person. He couldn’t stand her slipping out from his control. So he killed her.
Now I just had to prove it.
I found Steve at the garden centre where he worked. I’d come prepared: my phone was recording audio and I’d left the top three buttons on my blouse loose.
Steve dressed the same way as he did in high school: a baggy t-shirt and worn out sneakers. His chunky black glasses would have looked cool on a different guy, but his hunched shoulders and lack of chin wrecked any attempt at style.
“Hey Steve!” I said. “How’s work?”
“Oh, you know...” he ducked his head a little, like he was worried about bragging. “Flowers don’t water themselves, you know?”
The tension I was feeling must have shown itself then, because his forehead creased.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“It’s...” I looked around. Nobody was nearby. “It’s about Kimmy. Steve, I know the alibi is fake. And the police need to know too.”
Steve bit his lip. Then he nodded slowly.
“I’m just heading home now. Maybe we could talk there?” He glanced around, like a little boy afraid of a teacher. “It’s private.”
In his pickup, Steve kept the conversation light.
“I’m thinking about going into I.T.,” he said. “There’s good money in that. Woodworking is a fun hobby, but you can’t earn a living from it, that’s for sure.”
“Do you show your work?” I said, trying to look like I cared. “I cover arts and crafts events for the paper. I’m sure I’d remember anything you made.”
“They’re not good enough to sell,” Steve said. “My trellis with a diamond pattern did turn out pretty nice, though. I bet you love diamonds, huh? Real diamonds. Girls love them. And the guys who can afford to buy them.” Steve gave a self-deprecating laugh. “Not guys like me, with wooden ones.”
“You must have fun making them,” I said, fast-food wrappers crinkling under my feet as I shifted awkwardly.
Finally we arrived at a tumble-down bungalow on a dead end street. It bordered on a shadowed ravine that led to Georgian Bluffs, birches looming above the house. Steve went to his pickup’s cargo bed and grabbed a sack of mulch.
“Just gotta put this away,” he said.
Steve carried the mulch to the shed out back and I followed him inside, my pulse racing with impatience. It was small and damp, with paint peeling and the faint smell of mould. The only thing that looked well taken care of was his woodworking equipment, the saws hung with care.
Carvings were scattered all over his workbench, with more on the floor, nice enough to be wall decorations. There were so many: diamonds, spirals, lightning bolts...
Steve put down the mulch. He turned to me, his face serious.
“So you think the alibi was fake?” Steve said.
“I understand why you did it,” I said. “Chad’s your friend. Of course you wanted to help him.”
“You’re wasting your time,” said Steve. “You know we were fishing.”
“Let me tell you what I actually know,” I said. “I recently found a couple who came down from Toronto to see the fall leaves the day Kimmy died. They took a nice hike along the Saugeen, right past the spot where you say you and Chad were fishing. Didn’t see a soul. Isn’t that funny?”
It was a bluff. I’d searched endlessly for potential witnesses and came up empty.
“I haven’t gone to the police yet,” I said. “But I will, and when I do, well, lying to the police is a crime. But I like you, Steve. I don’t want to do that to you. Why don’t we fix this together? If we were to go to the police and tell them what actually happened, they’d be so happy to have the case solved that they’d let it slide.”
Steve let out a breath.
“I’ve been anxious since the day they found Kimmy,” Steve said. “I didn’t think I’d ever be about to talk to anyone about it.”
I stepped closer to him, covering his hand with mine.
“You can talk to me,” I said.
“Chad told me he was innocent,” Steve said.
“What else did he say?” I asked.
“He panicked when the body was found,” Steve said. “He was crying, saying everyone would think he did it, because the breakup was ugly. He said, ‘I didn’t do it, you have to believe me.’ And I put my hand on his shoulder and said, ‘It’s okay. I can say we were together. We’ll stick to our story, and you’ll be fine.’”
A thrill went through me. Even if he tried to back out later, I had the audio.
Then I saw it, on the floor, one shape among all the others. A starfish.
“I gave him an alibi,” said Steve. “And I got one myself.”
“I...” My mouth was dry. “This can be our secret. I won’t tell anyone.”
“That’s what Kimmy said,” Steve told me. “She ignored me for years, but all of a sudden, once we were alone, it was like we were best friends.”
He lunged for my throat.
Gasping, my last conscious thought was that Detective Jones would finally get some new evidence.