Chapter 1: Now: August 1 NOW August
Herron Mills Village Police Department, Long Island, NY
“ANNA? WE’RE RECORDING.”
The camera pans up from a long crack in the linoleum floor to rest on the hunched-over frame of a girl. She’s perched on the edge of a wobbly metal chair, cutoff shorts touching the smallest possible strip of a once-blue fabric seat. Her tank top is a bright shock of red in the colorless room. She tightens her arms around her waist, as if trying to make herself smaller or cover the red with the bloodless wash of her skin. Her head is tilted forward, gaze trained on her shoes, and a thick curtain of tangled black hair falls in front of her face.
“Do you understand, Anna? The camera is on.” A white time stamp in the bottom left of the screen notes that it’s August 5, 9:02 p.m.
“Okay then.” The voice coming from behind the camera is female, but it’s not kind or nurturing or any of those attributes we assign to women like a requirement or curse. Detective Holloway’s words have a jagged edge, chiseled from stone, then left raw. She faces the lens and states the date and time, that this is an interview with Anna Cicconi, a minor who is not, at present, under arrest. Then she turns to Anna. “Go ahead and repeat what you just told Assistant Detective Massey and me.”
The third person in the room is barely visible in the camera frame. AD Massey is in his late twenties and not used to sitting for so many hours on end. He fidgets in a rolling chair behind a small desk, kitty-corner to Anna, letting his senior partner take the lead. Over the past six hours, he has mostly stayed on the sidelines, making the occasional run to the vending machine for soda and slightly stale corn chips. Observing. Taking down notes.
There are no parents, no lawyers. The girl’s father is unreachable, has been unreachable for years. Someone called the girl’s mother, but not until after Anna placed herself at the scene where the body was found. Gloria Cicconi is on her way here now, but the drive across Long Island will take her over two hours, and she had to arm-twist her neighbor into lending her the car first. They told the girl they’d called right away, but no one actually did. Maybe it was a mistake, a wire crossed. Maybe it was on purpose. Maybe the girl should have refused to speak to the detectives until her mother arrived. Maybe things would have gone differently with Gloria’s leonine presence in the room. But that’s not how it happened.
Anna is used to doing things on her own. She has learned not to depend on adults to either take her to task or dig her out when she fucks up. Which has been often. She has grown accustomed to her mother’s display of hollow disinterest in her failures. Why should she expect this time to be different?
The detective steps out from behind the camera, confident now that it’s doing its job, and takes a seat in the empty chair beside Anna. In the shot, she looks close. Too close for comfort. You can see the girl shift slightly to her right. “Go ahead,” she repeats. “What you just told us.”
“About Zoe?” She lifts her head, hair parting to reveal chapped lips, sharp blue-green eyes sinking into dark circles, her already pale face almost ghostly in the white LED lights, one of the Herron Mills Village PD’s recent station upgrades.
“Why don’t you start at the beginning.” It’s not really a question. Detective Holloway extends her hand toward Anna, then seems to think better of it, and drops it down to the chair’s metal arm. “On New Year’s Eve.”
“Okay.” There’s a catch to Anna’s voice, a scraped-out quality. On the recording, it sounds like she has a cold, but really, it’s because she’s been talking to the police for hours already, before anyone decided to press record. They’ve been through quite a dance, the girl and Detective Holloway. It was midafternoon when Anna got here, shaken but brimming with a resolve that quickly wavered inside the station walls. Now, if there were any windows in this room, she’d know it’s been dark outside for more than an hour.
“We started the night at Kaylee’s. Early, like six thirty. She’s five blocks down from my mom’s place, in Bay Ridge.”
“That’s in Brooklyn?”
“Yeah. Yes. In Brooklyn. We, um … we started a lot of nights at Kaylee’s. Her dad’s gone too, and her mom works nights. We’d drink there for a couple hours, then go out. Meet up with Starr and everyone. There are a few bars around that know us, or we’d get on the train, head down to Coney Island. Go dancing.”
“And that’s where you went on New Year’s Eve? To Coney Island?” Detective Holloway’s face is still smooth for a woman of forty. But mascara clumps in the corners of her eyes and a stale film is beginning to coat her tongue and teeth. They’ve been at it since three, and she’s eager to finish this. Place the girl under arrest.
“Yeah, but not out dancing. I never made it farther than Starr’s place. She’s older, like twenty-two? Starr kind of took Kaylee and me under her wing last year, until she moved down to Orlando.”
“When was that?”
“Soon after New Year’s. Starr got a job at one of the parks.”
“Okay. But that night, it was you, Kaylee, and Starr at her apartment in Coney Island.”
“And a couple other people. Kaylee’s sort-of boyfriend, Ian. And this guy Mike we know from around.”
“Like, around Brooklyn. Not from school.” Anna tugs at a thread on her cutoffs until it snaps free from the denim.
“I see. And what time did you leave Starr’s apartment?”
For a moment, Anna is quiet. She leans forward, elbows pressed into bare knees, hair falling back across her eyes. She looks younger than her seventeen years, made small by the camera’s greedy eye and the imperial presence of adults in uniform.
“It must have been nine or nine thirty.”
“Must have been, or it was?” The detective’s voice is sharp.
Anna’s voice, in turn, is a low mumble, the words snagged in her hair. “I don’t really remember. But if I got a ride out to Herron Mills, and got there by midnight, I must have left around then. Or even earlier if I took the train.”
The detective lets out a low breath. “Fine. Then what do you remember?” She sits back in her seat but keeps her hand on the arm of Anna’s chair.
“We were on the balcony at Windermere. The long one that wraps around the front of the house, on the third floor.”
“Who’s we, Anna?”
“Me and Kaylee. And Zoe.”
“Just the three of you?”
“Just the three of us.”
“And where were the Talbots?”
“In the city, at their friend Doreen’s, I think. Not home.”
Detective Holloway stares at Anna for a moment. The girl holds her gaze. “Fine, continue.”
“We were drinking whiskey. Glenlivet, the good stuff. Better than Kaylee and I could ever buy back home.” Something bitter, so slight you might miss it, slips in, then out of her words. “Caden always kept a bottle stashed in this unused stall in the Windermere stable. I guess that’s where we got it.”
“You guess or you remember?”
“I guess. I just remember we were passing the bottle around, up on the balcony.”
“And who was drinking beer?” the detective asks.
“What?” Anna’s chin jerks up, hair parting once again. For a quick moment, she meets the older woman’s eyes. Then her gaze drops to the pale glint of her knees.
“Before, you told me you were drinking whiskey and beer.”
“I did?” On the recording, you can see Anna press her lips between her teeth. She runs her tongue over the cracked, flaking skin. “I guess so,” she says after a moment. “I’d been drinking for hours—it’s not very clear. I guess there was also beer.”
“Tell me about how Zoe fell,” Detective Holloway says. She lifts her hand from the arm of the chair and places it lightly on Anna’s shoulder. Anna doesn’t seem to notice, doesn’t react. Her eyes are unfocused, but when she speaks, her voice is clearer than it’s been all night.
“The railing’s kind of low. Only up to your thigh? We were messing around, the three of us. I remember Kaylee pinching me, like she was trying to keep me awake. I guess I was pretty out of it. And I remember Zoe laughing. She had one of those infectious laughs, like silver. It made you feel all warm inside.”
“And how did she fall, Anna?” Detective Holloway squeezes the girl’s shoulder, not quite gently.
“Oh.” Anna looks up for a moment, not at the detective, but straight into the camera. It’s like she’s remembering, for the first time, where she is. What she came here to say. “Kaylee went inside. I think she was getting us a snack. Zoe and I stayed on the balcony. I remember twirling, our arms crossed in an X between us, holding hands. We were twirling and laughing and it was fun until I started to feel sick. I think I let go of her hands.”
“You think? You need to be honest, Anna.” Her words slice the air. Anna flinches, just slightly.
“I remember she hit the balcony rail. It was too low. Her knees buckled, and then it was like she was flying.”
“Cut the pretty language,” Detective Holloway snaps. “Just tell the truth.”
“She fell backward, onto the lawn.” Something wild dances in Anna’s eyes, then fades, her pupils sinking once again into dark, exhausted circles. For a moment, everyone is silent. Anna clasps her hands tight in her lap. “By the time I got down there … I don’t really remember seeing her body. I just remember the way it hit me like this cold, empty dread—she’s really gone, and it’s my fault. And I couldn’t find her bag; it was missing. I don’t know why that seemed important.”
AD Massey stands abruptly, chair rolling back and hitting the wall. Anna and Detective Holloway look up at him, as if they’ve both just remembered he’s there. “Did you push her?” His voice is thin but loud.
Anna draws in a sharp breath. “No.”
“I’m going to ask you one more time.” He takes three steps, closing the distance between them. Standing, he towers over Anna, all lean muscle and pants that are too big in the hips and too short at the ankle. The camera captures him from the shoulder down, a headless menace. “Did. You. Push. Her?”
“N-no.” For the first time, Anna trips over her words. “We were twirling. I let go of her hands.”
Detective Holloway glares sharply up at her junior partner. He takes one step back.
“What happened then, Anna?” she asks.
“I guess I drove her out to the lake.”
“You drove Zoe. Alone.”
“In what car?”
Anna stares down at her hands, as if they might hold the answer. “I don’t remember. Maybe Zoe’s. Maybe a car from the Windermere property. Everyone has cars out here. And Mrs. Talbot isn’t much for keeping things locked.”
Detective Holloway grunts, part sound and part breath. “What do you remember, Anna?”
Anna draws in a lungful of air. “I remember the water. It was gray and dull, like an old car with the paint worn off. I remember kneeling on the bank, staring out across the surface after she was down there. I remember how cold it was that night, how the wind was sharp and wet against my cheeks. Most of all, I remember the guilt, how it crushed the air out of my lungs.”
The detective is silent for a moment, taking Anna’s words in. “Let’s take a step back,” she says finally. “How did you sink her body in the motorboat?”
Anna tugs at her lower lip with her teeth. “I don’t remember that part.”
“Think harder.” Detective Holloway’s voice is sharp.
“With buckets of water?”
“And what else?”
The girl pauses, considering. “With rocks?”
The two detectives exchange a glance.
“Okay. What rocks?”
Anna is silent for a moment. She chews a flake of skin from her lip and grinds it between her front teeth.
“From Windermere, I guess. Maybe I found some large rocks on the grounds, and I put them in the trunk.” She fidgets, rolling a new thread from her cutoffs between her thumb and forefinger, as AD Massey jots something down on the legal pad in front of him.
Detective Holloway clears her throat. She stands, changing the air in the room. “Tell me more about your relationship with Zoe.” Her voice is softer now, cajoling. “How did you know her?”
“We were friends,” Anna supplies unhelpfully. She’s mumbling again, holding something back.
Detective Holloway clasps her hands behind her back, exudes patience. “Had you known each other long?”
The question is so simple. But Anna doesn’t want to answer, or she doesn’t know how.
“Let me rephrase. How did you and Zoe meet?”
“I think …” Anna’s voice trails off. “It’ll be easiest if I show you. On my phone.”
This is new. Detective Holloway’s eyes light up. She nods toward her partner, who retrieves Anna’s phone from a small plastic basket on the room’s one desk. “What am I looking for?” he asks.
“Messenger. Bottom of the first screen? It’s like a little lightning bolt.”
AD Massey grunts, then taps open the app. He crouches next to Anna, holds her phone out between them.
“Scroll down a ways,” Anna says. “Here, it’s probably easier if I …” She looks up to Detective Holloway for permission.
Anna takes her phone gently from the junior detective’s hands, then starts scrolling back through months of chats. “Here.” She stabs her finger at a conversation from December—two messages from Zoe Spanos dated 12/10 and 12/28.
For a moment, the room is completely silent while the detectives pore over the notes from a dead girl. Anna barely breathes.
After her phone is taken away, the messages thoroughly dissected, then logged into evidence, after AD Massey has returned to his rolling chair and Detective Holloway is seated again at Anna’s side, only then does Anna draw in a full, deep breath.
“Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?” the detective asks.
For a moment, Anna is silent. Then, she turns to look the older woman in the eye. “We both loved that Tennyson poem. Do you know it? ‘The Lady of Shalott?’?”
At the edge of the frame, you can see AD Massey slowly stand. His senior partner gives him a glance. Hold on.
“Tell me about the poem, Anna,” she says.
“She lives in this castle on an island, near Camelot. And she’s cursed to sit at a loom and weave only what she sees in this mirror, which is kind of a reflected window to the world around her.” She pauses. “I’m not explaining this right.”
“It’s okay,” Detective Holloway prompts. “Keep going.”
“Um, so the lady watches this newlywed couple in the mirror, and wants what they have. They’re real; all she has is a shadow of real life. And then she sees Sir Lancelot, and she turns and looks directly out the window, which triggers the curse. She’s doomed, but she leaves her castle and finds a boat and sets sail to Camelot, even though she knows she’ll die before she gets there. The boat becomes her grave.”
For so long you might think it’s a mistake, the only sound on the recording is the scritch-scritch of AD Massey’s uniform pants rubbing together at the seams as he shifts uncomfortably from side to side.
“And so you found a boat for Zoe?” Detective Holloway asks. Her voice is a song now, the jagged edge smoothed away entirely.
“Maybe I thought it’s what she would have wanted. Maybe I was trying to make things right.”
“Make things right?” The detective repeats Anna’s words back to her.
“In some small way. After what I’d done. It was an accident, but … I killed Zoe Spanos.”