“The key is under the flowerpot, next to the frog statue.” Casey recalled the instructions Muriel had given her a few days ago. Bending down, she lifted the heavy terracotta pot with both hands. She watched as a large earth worm raised its faceless head towards her, assumingly agitated by her interrupting its dark slumber.
“Sorry, lil’ fella,” she whispered as she grabbed the brass key, placing the pot back down carefully as to not squish the tenant underneath.
“We haven’t been there in a couple years…since mom and dad passed away, so I can’t promise how it looks inside. Bring some food and extra blankets,” Muriel had warned her as she’d explained how to get to her family’s remote cabin on Frog Lake, about a ninety-minute drive from Casey’s home in Portland. The cabin seemed modest compared to the prominent house that Muriel had supposedly grown-up in. “It was our escape from the extravagant lifestyle my parents raised us in. It brought us back to reality,” Muriel had revealed, staring off into the distance as if reminiscing about her childhood summers at the lake.
After jiggling the key several times and pushing the door open forcefully, Casey entered the musty, one bedroom cabin overlooking the lake, taking in a deep breath of cedar. Setting her bag of groceries down on the hardwood, she reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone, rereading the text message she’d stared at until her eyes crossed the night before.
Shuddering, she pressed the power button off, wishing she could throw the phone into the lake, then remembering Luke would be there in an hour to meet her, she turned it back on. In in case there’s an emergency or he gets lost, she thought as she gave herself a quick tour of the humble space. Then I’ll turn it off so no one can find me.
The kitchen consisted of a small fridge and oven, a sink, and an island with two stools. No dishwasher or microwave. Casey glanced down at the small bag of groceries in her hand that consisted of Corn flakes, milk, coffee, bread, and peanut butter. I won’t be needing a dishwasher or microwave anyways, she thought as she walked over and placed the milk in the fridge, reaching a hand in to ensure it was working. She spotted an old jar of pickles in the back and wondered how long they’d been in there. Five years? Ten? Maybe she’d check the date later when she made Luke and herself a sandwich for dinner. She opened all the cabinets and found basic dishes and utensils. No food, which she’d assumed. “Black bears,” Muriel had given her one final warning as the guard had led her back to her cell.
Continuing her tour, she moved into the bedroom, pleased to see the bed was made and the sheets looked clean. There was a small quilt on the bed which she thought should keep her warm enough in the April weather, but she’d brought a few blankets in her car just in case, along with some wood for the fireplace. Glancing over at the walls, she spied photos of Muriel’s family. The first was what must be her parents wearing life vests, standing next to a canoe. They looked…happy. Another frame showed Muriel’s dad holding a large fish next to a little boy. Possibly Muriel’s brother? Another photo was of a little girl…perhaps Muriel? She was holding a frog in her hand as if it were a trophy. Casey smiled and ran her finger along the edge of the frame. This cabin had memories. This cabin had brought joy at one time.
She walked back out to her car and brought in her luggage: two duffel bags, hers and Luke’s, and her laptop bag. When she came back into the house, she locked the door securely behind her, relieved there was a deadbolt on the timeworn, wooden door. No one knew where she was. No one, except Muriel… and of course, Luke. And Muriel wouldn’t be telling anyone where Casey was. How could she? Muriel was in prison.
“How long have you been dating him?” Muriel had asked a couple months before when she’d told her about her new boyfriend.
“Only a couple weeks, but I think he’s the one,” Casey had said, her face swooning with fresh, new love.
“Wasn’t Jon the one?” Muriel had joked as she’d taken a sip of her mocha cappuccino and leaned back in her chair.
“Jon was a zero. Luke is the one,” Casey had replied, stirring some sugar into her black americano.
“Well, I’ll wait to meet him for a few months if that’s okay with you. My kid’s gonna get confused if he keeps meeting all your boyfriends and they keep disappearing.” They’d chuckled. Casey winced now, thinking that Muriel’s son would never have a chance to meet Luke. He’d never meet another one of her boyfriends ever again.
Carefully unpacking her bags, she placed Luke’s clothing gently in the old, wooden armoire next to the bathroom. She lifted his Harvard rowing shirt and raised it to her nose, breathing in his musky, now familiar, scent. Feeling somewhat accomplished, she sat down on the sofa, facing the large, bay window, overlooking the lake, offering a scenic view of the sunset. She leaned down and grabbed her laptop out of its case, opening it up as she searched for a signal.
“Jackpot,” she whispered as she discovered a Wi-Fi signal nearby labelled FROGLAKE222, connecting to it with no password required. It’d been a risk, coming to this cabin to hide out without knowing if she’d have Wi-Fi. But having no money or resources…it’d been her only option.
Opening Google, she typed in Muriel’s name and watched as her screen was flooded with articles and news flashes about her best friend.
Muriel West arrested for the murder of her husband and five-year-old child.
Waiting to inherit millions from her family estate, West went on a killing spree of her family.
Husband/Child Killer Not Eligible for Bail.
Muriel West’s brother, Brian DiCampo, tells Page Six, “She was always a disturbed child. I’m not surprised she finally snapped.”
Casey shook her head and clicked out of the headlines. How could Muriel’s own brother turn against her? Casey had known Muriel for fifteen years and not only was she the most undisturbed person she’d ever met, but she was the most loving mother and wife. Muriel had paid for Casey to go to radiology school when she couldn’t afford it. She’d told Casey she could do anything. Be anyone. Muriel was a good person. Muriel was not a murderer.
Casey thought back to the photo of Muriel’s brother in the other room, standing next to his father as he held his prized fish. From what Muriel had told her, her brother had been in and out of rehabs and psychiatric wards for the past ten years or so, unable to hold down a job. He just wants his fifteen minutes of fame, Muriel had told her, coming up with reasons as to why he’d turned against her. Growing up as an only child, Casey didn’t know anything about sibling rivalry other than what she’d seen on TV. But based on what Muriel had described, she and Brian had a tumultuous relationship that made Casey happy she was solo.
“Just try to find something. Anything. I need you, Casey. I didn’t do this,” Muriel had urged her. Casey had noticed black rings under Muriel’s eyes as she’d stared at her from behind the glass partition. She couldn’t tell if the rings were there from lack of sleep or if her friend had been punched. Or maybe both. She’d decided right then and there that she needed to help her friend…she needed to do this one thing for her. And of course, when she’d started getting threats of her own…she’d had no choice.
“Best friends are the siblings’ God forgot to give us,” she’d told Muriel, tears forming in her eyes.
Hearing the doorknob jiggle, she lifted her head up from the computer screen. “Luke?” she called from the sofa. She placed the laptop down and walked over to the door, wishing there was a peephole for her to see who was on the other side of the yellow pine.
“Knock knock,” a male voice buzzed on the other side of the door. Casey smiled sheepishly and unlatched the deadbolt, revealing her boyfriend on the other side of the door, grasping two bottles of wine in his hand.
“This isn’t a romantic getaway,” she joked as she opened the door up wider, Luke stepping inside and leaning over to kiss her cheek. Although I must admit, some wine sounds amazing right now, she thought to herself as she kissed him back and led him into the kitchen.
“Any progress on your friend, the murderer?” he asked as he set down the bottle and opened a cabinet, scouring its contents for wine glasses.
“Only regular glasses,” Casey said, gesturing towards the cabinet she’d found that contained a few simple cups. “And she’s innocent.”
“Sure…” Luke replied as he opened a drawer and pulled out a wine bottle opener, placing the screw on top of the cork and twisting it quickly as if he were in a hurry.
“I got hooked up to internet though…that’s promising,” she said as she watched Luke pour her a hefty glass of cabernet, her mouthwatering at the sight of the rich liquid.
“I still don’t get why you couldn’t just do your research back at your apartment in Portland,” Luke mumbled, lifting the glass up to his lips and taking a swig. And then another. And then another.
“Thirsty?” Casey joked, lifting her glass up and smelling the tagines. “I can’t because Muriel said there could be clues in this cabin. And those threats I’ve been getting…. I don’t want to be the next one to be lowered six feet underground…”
“Oh please,” Luke scoffed, “Don’t be so dramatic.” She watched as he took another swig and peeled off his coat, walking slowly into the family room as if he owned the place.
Muriel would die if she knew Casey had invited Luke to her parents’ cabin. A stranger in her family’s sacred space? But she hadn’t wanted to sleep there alone in the middle of the woods where anything could happen to her. Where anyone could harm her.
She followed Luke into the family room and placed her glass down on the coffee table. Sitting down on the sofa, she opened her laptop again, staring back at her search on Muriel.
“Find anything interesting?” She could feel Luke’s hot breath on her cheek as he peered at the computer over her shoulder.
“Not much. Just news articles so far. I’m going to scour the cabin tomorrow for clues once it’s light outside.” She could hear Luke step into the bedroom and shuffle around. Probably unpacking the backpack he’d brought in.
She clicked on another article and began to read conspiracy theories on why Muriel did it: She was having an affair and didn’t want to be married anymore. She’d always wanted a daughter and so she killed her son, once her husband found out she killed him too. She had psychosis and snapped.
“They mention anything in there about her inheritance?” Luke’s voice chimed from the bedroom.
“Her what?” Casey asked, turning her head as she was faced with Luke, peeping his head out from the doorway, his eyes a shade darker than they’d been a few minutes before. Or maybe she was imagining it.
“Inheritance. Millions.” Luke’s voice was cold all the sudden. Stern. Casey furrowed her brow and glanced over at the door towards her boyfriend. Her eyebrows raised as he stepped out, holding the picture of Muriel’s father and her brother that she’d been looking at earlier. “You know,” Luke’s voice began to rise as he stepped closer towards her, “He wouldn’t even let me hold the rod? He said I’d never catch a fish.”
Casey opened her eyes widely as Luke threw the frame across the room, the glass smashing across the hardwood floors.
“Luke…what are you…” she began, her heart beginning to palpitate fiercely in her chest.
“Brian. My name is Brian,” he interrupted her. “And I think you know why I’m here. To shut you up so I can get my inheritance. You probably know my parents decided to leave it all to that witch of a sister. The only way I could get it for myself was to either kill her or put her in jail. And it was so much more satisfying to watch her rot for the rest of my life.”
She watched in horror as he lunged towards her, knocking the laptop off her lap.
“Brian!” she screamed, falling onto the floor as he began to reach his hands around her neck, his fingers cold and clammy on her skin.
“There’s a gun in the bedside drawer,” Muriel’s words rang in her ears as Brian’s hands gripped tighter around her neck. “Just…in case,” she’d warned.
Casey squeezed her stomach muscles and forcefully pushed her knee into Brian’s groin as hard as she could, causing him to fall to the floor. Without glancing behind her, she ran as fast as she could into the bedroom, opening the bedside drawer. As promised, Muriel’s gun was still there, shiny, and black.
“You little bitch!” Brian yelled. She could hear his voice come closer as she placed both hands tightly around the metal, turning as she aimed it at the door.
“Goodbye, Brian,” she said, pulling the trigger as he leapt towards her.
Stepping over his body, she grabbed her cellphone from the sofa, dialing 911 before taking a sip of her wine. Best friends are the siblings’ God forgot to give us, she thought as she looked down at Brian’s lifeless body across the room. The sibling that God had given Muriel by mistake.