In a way I guess you could say it all started with the scandal. The big, huge, knock-down drag-out scandal that threatened to swallow our town completely last year. Heck, it nearly swallowed the country for a minute. The way I see it, “Housewife goes missing” is a local story. “Mob wife goes missing,” a national one. And “Mob wife found weighed down and dead at the bottom of Windenburg Bay?” Well, that’s a knock-down drag-out scandal.
I knew her just enough to smile back politely in the grocery store or at the Hare and Hedgehog where we both ordered §12 skinny soy lattes. We’d see each other around a bit and we sort of had friends in common. My sister and her daughter are in the same class at school. Her son pals around with my boyfriend. That sort of thing. The difference is she’d had Boig Island money whereas I’ve turned dodging debt collectors into an art.
The funny thing is that lots of my friends have money; this town is so rich the people here could afford to plate it in gold. But nobody wore it like she did. She of 100 fur coats. Diamond earrings and injected lip fillers. Tiny dogs that fit into purses. She who knocked down a perfectly nice house on a fancy island to build a gleaming white monstrosity. I suppose she spent like she lived—on borrowed time.
When I first heard she was going broke I didn’t believe it. Then I saw her without her 24-karat ring and I knew it was true. Six months later she lost the house and then she was just lost. Vanished without a trace until they dredged the bay, found her bloated body and ruled it a homicide. To this day nobody really knows what happened. Where the cops leave gaps, though, the tabloids fill them in. And where the tabloids don’t, the rest of us do. I’ve always had my suspicions. Things never added up for me the way they did for everyone else. “It’s always the husband,” my best friend Joaquin told me. That would be Jacques Villareal, husband of the late Carmen, inheritor of her §3 million life insurance policy and reputed mob boss.
I say reputed because that’s what everyone says, but really we all know better. What I actually mean is plain old nasty SOB mob boss. The kind you don’t want to owe money to, or even cut off in traffic for that matter. I know because my boyfriend works for him. Not in a dangerous way or anything—it’s not like the movies. It’s just a little, how shall we say, supply and demand. We call it Trance, and it’s a fine white powder that feels like tripping into a wormhole and coming out the other side of Heaven. It’s basically the only thing anyone in this town ever talks about besides boats and each other. That creates demand. And Paolo? Well, he just supplies.
The mob doesn’t run things here though. Not really. They just follow the money, and my god is there enough of it. Tech investors. Screenwriters. Gaming stars. And more trust fund babies than a Swiss boarding school. Most people don’t even work. Not like a desk jockey, nine-to-five, “Honey, I’m home,” kind of thing. They don’t do they just are—and what they are is extremely rich.
To pass the time they divide themselves into what you call cliques in high school, but here they’re just “clubs.” I guess they’re supposed to revolve around hobbies: Gardening, chess, wine, feeling superior. I’m hardly rich but even I’m in one, a DJ group with Joaquin and my friend Dom Fyres. We play nightclubs, underground raves, pool parties, that sort of thing. It literally pays the bills. But for most of them it doesn’t matter what the club’s about. It’s the oldest story ever told—the rich pal around and get even richer while the rest of us watch through the glass.
That’s basically how we get along here in Windenburg. The real Windenburg. The one that was here before the detectives and reporters and feds and dredge boats, and that picked up again right after they left. And they did leave, after the body was found and the cops decided not to press charges. After that, life just moved on. It’s not like Carmen Villareal was the first person here to die. My dad died last year, suddenly, of a heart attack, and then my grandma, not so suddenly, from cancer.
The reporters and cops didn’t come back for them, of course. Why would they? But they’ll be back. Carmen may have unlocked the door but it’s been flung wide open now. Maybe they’ll catch a glimpse of the real Windenburg. Maybe the sleepy little bay town with the sweeping views, the low-level mobsters and almost-famous faces is more than what you see on the surface or in the news. More than what they figured out the last time. I know because I’ve spent almost every minute of my 24 years on Earth in this town. The Behr family has been here for three generations and my sister Yuki and I aren’t going anywhere. And if the cops can’t figure it out this time, then I guess I’ll have to do it for them.
Because one murder I can swallow, if only just. But a second? Well, that might just crack this town open like an egg. That’s fine by me though. I’m almost looking forward to it. Because now the only thing left is to watch the secrets spill out and sweep up the pieces.