Erica uttered a silent gasp.
She blinked, trying to force her eyes to adjust to the harsh yellow porch light.
It wasn’t Josie.
Standing grim faced on the other side of the glass storm door were two dark-uniformed police officers.
Erica recognized them immediately. They were the same men, the young-looking redhead and the older one, bald in front with a wide salt-and-pepper mustache, who had come to their house after Muggy had been killed.
They gazed in at her, their features set, their eyes narrowed.
Erica pushed open the storm door with a trembling hand. “Is TERRIBLE TROUBLE—everything okay?” she asked haltingly.
She could tell by their expressions that everything wasn’t okay.
“Are your mother and father home?” the older one asked somberly.
“My dad is away,” Erica told him, her voice trembling. “But I can call my mom.”
Suddenly chilled, she held the glass door open for them. The two police officers stepped inside quickly, silently. They seemed to bring the cold in with them. To Erica the room temperature dived to below zero.
The older one pulled the storm door shut. His partner removed his cap and nervously scratched his curly red hair TERRIBLE TROUBLE.
Erica turned and was startled to see her mother already behind her in the hall. Mrs. McClain was struggling to tie the belt of her robe with trembling hands.
“Erica?” she asked, her voice still choked with sleep. “What’s going on?”
“I’m afraid I have some very bad news,” the older police officer said softly.
Mrs. McClain gasped and reached out to grab the banister with her right hand to steady herself. “About Josie? Where is she? She isn’t home?”
Erica shook her head no and shut her eyes.
“There’s no other way to say TERRIBLE TROUBLE this but to say it,” the officer said in a low steady voice. He took a deep breath. “Mrs. McClain, your daughter has been murdered.”
Mrs. McClain uttered a shrill shriek. Her knees buckled and she collapsed onto the floor of the hall.
“Nooooooooo!” As she landed, she let out a piercing wail that sounded more animal than human.
The two officers lunged forward to help her. She landed hard, straight down on her knees, still wailing. “Not Josie. Please—not Josie.”
“How did it happen? How do you know? How do you know it’s TERRIBLE TROUBLE Josie?” The questions poured out of Erica in a desperate voice she didn’t recognize. “Who did it? How do you know? What if—”
The red-haired officer helped the sobbing Mrs. McClain to her feet. “Not Josie. Please, not Josie!” she kept repeating, enormous tears running down her quivering cheeks.
“We found your sister in the alley behind the ice rink,” the older police officer told Erica, speaking in a low, professional voice. “We identified her by her wallet. She hadn’t been robbed. She was dead when we arrived. She had been stabbed in the back. With the blade of TERRIBLE TROUBLE an ice skate. The skate was still in her back.”
“Ohhhhh.” Erica moaned. She stared wide-eyed at the grim-faced man for a long while. Then her eyes rolled up in her head. Her knees bent, and she crumpled in a heap to the floor.
The older officer bent quickly to help her.
“No! No! Please—no!” Mrs. McClain was still screaming.
“Ma’am, do you have a family doctor?” the red-haired officer asked, holding on to her shoulder. “Perhaps the doctor could come out and—”
He stopped in midsentence, startled as another figure TERRIBLE TROUBLE floated down the stairway. Rachel emerged from the shadows, wearing a long, flowing white nightgown, her hair down over her shoulders.
“Somebody hates Josie,” Rachel declared in a bright sing-song voice. She had an eerie smile on her face. “Somebody really hates you, Josie.”
Still leaning over the unconscious Erica, the older policeman’s expression darkened. “What? What did you say?” he called suspiciously up to Rachel.
“Somebody hates Josie,” Rachel repeated, smiling, her green eyes sparkling in the hall light.
“Huh?” The two officers glanced quizzically at each other.
“Ignore poor Rachel,” Mrs. McClain told them through her tears, shaking TERRIBLE TROUBLE her head sadly. “Just ignore her. She doesn’t know what she’s saying.”
♦ ♦ ♦
The next morning, Sunday morning, Melissa had planned to sleep late. But she was startled awake by her mother’s voice, calling from downstairs.
“Huh?” Melissa muttered, slowly raising her head from the warmth of her pillow. “Phone, Melissa!”
Melissa pulled herself up and rubbed her eyes. She struggled to focus on the clock radio. Only eight-thirty.
“Hey, Mom, why’d you wake me?” she shouted irritably. “Why didn’t you tell them to call back?”
“It’s Dave,” Mrs. Davis TERRIBLE TROUBLE shouted patiently. “I wouldn’t have awakened you, but he said it was important.”
What could Dave possibly want at eight-thirty on a Sunday morning?
This better be good, Melissa thought, yawning.
She picked up the phone extension on her bedside table. “Hello? Dave?”
“Hi, Melissa. I . . . uh . . .”
“Dave, what’s the matter?” Melissa asked with concern. “You don’t sound good.”
“Melissa, I’ve got to talk to you. Right away,” Dave said breathlessly. “I-I’m in terrible trouble.”