Who killed Brooke Donovan? It’s the biggest mystery of the summer, and everyone in Castle Cove thinks they know what happened. But they’re wrong. Two unlikely friends come together to solve the case in this fast-paced, fun, modern Agatha Christie inspired thriller. Start reading an excerpt of The Agathas now. . .
by Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson
“Why shouldn’t I hate her? She did the worst thing
to me that anyone can do to anyone else.”
—Agatha Christie, The Mirror Crack’d
from Side to Side
WHEN IRIS SHOWED UP in my room, I recognized her immediately, and, I hate to admit, I felt kind of bad that I had never bothered to learn her name. I mean, sure, if I spent my time learning the names of all the people at school, I wouldn’t have time to do much of anything else, but . . . I guess I could have made a little more of an effort.
She wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Her hair was kind of cool—she had that messy bedhead thing going on that most people can’t pull off, but she makes work. And weirdly, her outfit wasn’t actually out of style—she had the right parts—the flannel, the Chucks, but like was missing that extra thing to tie it all together. I could help her, maybe. I appreciated that she didn’t rub her smartness in my face, unlike so many of the other smart kids at Castle Cove. I know I’m not stupid; it’s just that school has never interested me much.
Now, with her gone, it’s quiet in my room. Too quiet. All I can think about is the fact that it’s Halloween night, and all my old friends are at the annual party at Levy Castle while I’m sitting here alone.
I’m sure Brooke is there, glammed out and wandering the halls of the Castle with Steve, reminding him that her family used to own it and her grandmother used to live there back in the day. Their heads bent together, laughing, holding hands, like they don’t have a care in the world. Like the only reason that they even know each other isn’t because of me. Like I don’t even exist.
That image plays in my head, over and over. I grab my iPad and turn on something mindless on Netflix, but even that doesn’t help shut my brain up. All I can think about is that party and Steve and Brooke and what happened this summer and how unfair it all is. . . .
I can’t take it anymore. They’re all there, having fun, while I sit here alone. I deserve to be there as much as any of them. Brooke stole my boyfriend, and somehow I’m the bad guy?
I jump out of bed, throw my closet door open, and pull on clothes.
Once dressed, I sneak downstairs. Brenda’s in her room, so I manage to get outside and to my car—another guilt gift from my parents—without fielding any questions. In the distance, the surf slams into the cliffs below our house, the fall wind rolling the waves angrily. I’d say that there’s something in the air tonight, something creepy, but I’m not the type of person to believe in that sort of thing.
I turn up my music as high as it’ll go, drowning out any more racing thoughts, and take off down the driveway out to Highway 1.
The road is busy tonight. It wraps along the cliffs, between the ocean and the hills, and there are only a few houses to the west of the highway. Downtown Castle Cove is on the east side of things, cut into the bottom of the hills.
I pass Park’s driveway; her house is on the cliff side of the street like mine but surrounded by high gates. Her dad is an international businessman, whatever that means, and is super paranoid about everything. Kennedy and Donovan live a few minutes in the other direction from where I’m heading; their houses are up in the neighborhoods in the hills on the east side of the highway. If I kept driving, I’d hit the town center, where the high school is and all the restaurants where Top Chef losers come to set up shop. The winners open their places down the coast in LA, obviously.
But, before I hit downtown, I reach my destination—the Castle. It’s on the west side of the road, set on ten acres, the biggest parcel of land on the cliff side of the highway. It was built by Brooke’s great-grandfather about eighty years ago as a residence for their family. It sits on the ocean side of Highway 1, with a veranda that has a gigantic outdoor pool and sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. The public is only allowed in certain rooms of the Castle, but because of the various parties over the years I’ve seen it all—and it’s literally insane. Like, tall, stained-glass windows, an ornate indoor pool with mermaid fountains that spit water, and more bedrooms than I can count.
Back in the day, Brooke’s great-grandfather used to hold court there, throwing these elaborate weekend-long parties and inviting all the entertainment industry people up from LA. Tons of movie stars used to hang out there, and at least one of them died under mysterious circumstances.
It’s been here since before Castle Cove was even really a town, and all the property on the cliff side of the road used to belong to it—according to what I’ve heard from Kennedy, at one point it had like one hundred acres, all to itself. Legend has it that Brooke’s great-grandmother used to have a zoo on the property, with llamas and tigers and everything.
Developers bought up most of that land over the years and built huge houses like mine and Park’s. I guess it brought in a bunch of money to the town—made Castle Cove more of a livable place rather than just a tourist destination. More recently, they’ve turned their attention to revamping the Yacht Club. Kennedy’s dad has something to do with it, I think, which I only know because a few months ago she spent, like, a solid week moaning about how her dad had canceled their summer vacation to Barcelona because he had to stay in town to help with the deal.
I pull off the highway into the lot for the Castle and stop beside Park’s car, a green Porsche Cayenne that her parents bought her for no reason other than she exists and they love her.
As I slip out of my car, I hear them: loud voices in the distance, a scream of laughter. Brooke’s laughter. It scrapes through my skin, down into my heart, and for a moment I actually consider getting back into the car and driving away. Maybe driving away like I did three months ago.
That night, last summer, after I’d just gotten back from Egypt and Brooke came over and said what she said to me about her and Steve . . . it was like my heart stopped beating. Like my brain short-circuited. All I could think about was Agatha Christie, what she did after she figured out her husband was cheating on her. How she straight up disappeared for eleven days, and half the population of England was convinced he’d murdered her. Like, how badass is that? It’s not that I wanted Steve to, you know, get arrested or anything, but at the same time, I didn’t mind the thought of people searching for me. Wondering about me. Thinking about me.
So, I got into my car and started to drive. I left my phone at home along with this vase I’d accidentally knocked over in the foyer on my way out . . . which sort of made everyone think I’d been kidnapped, and Steve had to go into the station for questions, and the town organized this whole search party to look for me. . . .
Anyway, when I got back five days later, everyone was pretty freaking mad. Mad enough that my parents had to negotiate with the city, and everyone agreed that house arrest was the appropriate punishment for what I’d done.
Another peal of laughter punctures the night air. We started having this party at the Castle three years ago, when we were freshmen, courtesy of Brooke’s connections. The first year it was mostly just people from our school, but word got out and now kids from neighboring towns drive in for it, too. Kennedy’s dad, who’s a music agent down in LA, gets one of his clients to play. Everyone ships in the most elaborate costumes possible. It’s become a whole thing.
As I round the corner to the front of the Castle where we always set up, I hear music but don’t see a DJ. Which means Kennedy’s dad didn’t come through with one of his clients. Park must have had a fit.
There have to be at least two hundred people here, spread out everywhere, laughing, talking, crying. Everyone having a grand old time without me.
Across the lawn a bit, on a wide stone terrace behind the back entrance to the Castle, a bar is set up, manned by a bartender wearing a penguin costume. I catch sight of Cole Fielding hanging in front of it, talking to Kennedy, who’s still dressed as a bloody cheerleader. Her blond hair is tied up on her head in a messy top knot that I’m sure took her over an hour to perfect, and she has one manicured hand placed on Cole’s arm.
Even Cole is here? That had to be Kennedy’s doing. She’s wanted to get with him for years. I wonder if Brooke was okay with it.
On the lawn overlooking the sea, someone—probably Kennedy’s house manager—has set up a big bonfire and surrounded it with floor pillows and faux fur blankets and other glamping paraphernalia. I spot Park and Donovan and Steve right away. They’re sprawled across a giant pillow. Brooke is basically lying on top of Steve, and Park is, as usual, sitting awkwardly close to the two of them. She has no sense of personal boundaries. Both of them are still wearing their bloody cheerleader outfits, too, and Steve just has a green mask perched on top of his thick, brown hair. He’s never really been into dressing up, which annoyed me to no end when we were dating.
My heart starts thumping in my chest as I take it all in. And of course Kennedy chooses this moment to spot me.
“Oh my god. Ew,” she says loudly. The music basically screeches to a stop, and every single person turns in my direction and stares. Merde. This is not the entrance I anticipated. In my mind, it went something like this: I walk in, Brooke sees me and collapses into a ball of tearful guilt, and every single one of these people apologizes to me for how rude they’ve been. Even though I saw them at school earlier and that didn’t happen, I somehow thought that it might now. I swear to god, sometimes I don’t know what I’m thinking.
Instead, a little voice in my head is screaming run run run run run over and over again. I can’t leave now, though. How pathetic would that be? I ball my hands into fists and remind myself that I have just as much right to be here as the rest of them.
I keep walking across the lawn toward the fire.
Steve starts to stand when he sees me approaching, and Brooke topples off his lap onto the blanket, which gives me a little kick of satisfaction. She glares at him and then drags herself up off the ground, brushing her short pleated skirt off and turning to face me with an angry glare.
It’s Steve who speaks first, though. “What are you doing here, Alice?” he asks quietly.
I stop in front of them. “I just . . .” I trail off, heart pounding.
Brooke starts to move between us, and he puts out a hand to stop her. “I’ll take care of this,” he says, then to me, “C’mon.” Then he grabs my elbow and starts to lead me through the large crowd that’s gathered. I put my head down, trying not to make eye contact with anyone.
We’re almost back to the side of the Castle when we’re stopped by a voice behind us. Brooke.
“Where are you going?” She sounds upset.
Steve and I both turn back, and Steve says, “Brookie, give me a minute, okay?”
Her expression falls. “You’re going to go off into the dark? With her?” she whines, barking a bitter laugh.
For a moment, a foreign emotion runs through me—something that might be close to guilt, but then Kennedy appears behind Brooke. “Are you sure that’s a good idea, Steve?” she says. “You know what she did last summer.”
“Kennedy. God,” Brooke snaps, and turns back to me and Steve, a frown tugging the corners of her mouth down. “What are you even doing here, Alice? Haven’t you done enough damage? Why can’t you just leave us alone!”
She has got to be kidding. She’s playing it off like she’s the victim? “Haven’t I done enough damage? You’re the one who
stole my boyfriend—”
“I didn’t steal him,” she interrupts. “Jesus, Alice. You are so dramatic. You were in Egypt. You guys were broken up. And then you disappeared—why did you do that? That was so scary—”
“Enough!” Steve yells, cutting us both off. Now his voice isn’t so quiet. Or nice. He sounds mad.
Brooke’s face flushes. She must be thinking what I’m thinking—I’ve never heard Steve speak like that before, not to anyone. Last summer, after I reappeared with no explanation, everyone was so pissed off, but Steve just ignored me—in fact, this is the longest conversation the two of us have had since the day he dumped me. He’s just not an angry guy.
He sucks in a breath and then turns to Brooke. “I am going to walk Alice back to her car. It’s dark and it’s Halloween. Who knows what kind of pervs are out there. I have to do this, Brooke.”
She folds her arms across her chest. “Fine. Come back soon, okay?” Her voice is tight, but she manages a smile. Something squeezes in my stomach. God, the two of them—two peas in the same annoyingly kind pod. A whisper of regret floats into my brain, but I squash it before it can grow.
“I will.” He smiles at her and walks over to where she’s standing. He bends down to kiss her cheek, and suddenly, I’m invisible.
By the time we get to the parking lot, Steve is practically dragging me by the arm. Every time I tried to stop and say something to him, he gave me this look and kept right on going. Now, under the streetlamps, I can see his face clearly for the first time, and he does not look happy.
We stop a few feet away from my car, and he drops my arm.
“Why did you come here, Alice?” he asks again. “I . . .” What am I doing here? My fantasies about everyone begging for my forgiveness seem ridiculous now. The anger drains out of my body. I’m tired. Tired of holding myself up straight. Tired of all of this. “I’ll go.” Clearly, I’m not going to get whatever I was looking for from this place.
Steve’s face softens, because of course it does, because he’s Steve and he’s too nice, even to me. “Alice, are you okay?” He puts his hand on my arm, gently this time. His face is close to mine and his eyes are kind.
The words pierce a hole in my midsection, and the warmth of his hand on my arm is almost too much. I miss him, but more than that, I miss my life. I miss friends. I miss . . . Brooke. It makes me want to cry, even though I do not cry, as a rule. I suck in a shaky breath.
A voice hisses out of the dark. Brooke Donovan’s voice, to be precise. Who apparently followed us, along with Kennedy and Park. Kennedy has her phone out, recording everything, Park hopping around behind the two of them excitedly.
Steve’s hand drops off my arm. My mouth clamps shut.
“Alice, it’s time for you to go,” Brooke says. I open my mouth to respond, but I have nothing left to say. Instead, I muster up all the strength I have and, without so much as a glance back, get into my car and drive away.
THE PASTA THAT ALICE’S—nanny? maid? caretaker?—gave me was something warm and cheesy with sun-dried tomatoes and broccoli and tangy nuts. I rinse the empty Tupperware in the sink and set it to dry on the dish rack.
Alice’s house smelled like good things. Fresh flowers, food cooking somewhere I couldn’t see, the aroma wafting through
the enormous front room.
Our apartment smells like trash that needs to be taken out. Laundry we haven’t yet hauled down to the dreary basement, where we’ll have to lift out someone else’s clothes, musty and already half-dry from being left in the washer too long.
The ceiling bulb goes dark, then pops back to life. The landlord always says he’s going to fix it.
I open the window above the sink so the ocean air pours in, cool and salty. Maybe it’ll freeze the tears brimming in my eyes.
When you’re little, people tell you how great your life will be one day. Tell you that you can be anything or anyone you want as long as you work hard and are kind and never give up.
But I do all of those things, and I’m still a girl alone in a crappy seaside apartment with wonky wiring.
I turn back to the kitchen table, boot up my iPad. I have two assignments due tomorrow and a calc quiz to study for. Right? Because isn’t that supposed to be my ticket to getting out? Using my brain for a college scholarship? I’m a junior. This is all I’m
supposed to care about.
I can hear footsteps outside the door. I know it’s just somebody who lives in the building, because he can’t come back. He’s not allowed to.
I start to shake. Don’t think about him. Don’t.
But it’s too late. I can feel his hands on my chest, pushing me. I’d wedged myself between them after he lunged at her. The snap in my wrist as I hit the linoleum.
Old Man from C11 pounding on the front door. What’s happening in there?
The Thing staring down at me, face red, then him staggering to the door, pushing past the old man.
Of course he called days later, sorry, crying, like he always does. My mother changed her number. Again.
The apartment, the blinking lightbulb. The air around me closes in, making me smaller, smaller, nothing, everything inside me disappearing.
I grab my peacoat, my phone and keys and headphones, and run from my own home.
I take deep breaths as I walk down Highway 1, wiping my face dry in the cold air, my heart a loud drum in my chest.
Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out.
At the lookout spot, I stop. I like to stand here and gaze down at the waves and listen to the sound of the water crashing against the bottom of the cliff. There’s something mesmerizing about the way the water rolls up into curls of white and then rolls back out again.
I’m not thinking about anything dire. It’s just peaceful, that’s all.
I step back, noticing I’m too close to the edge. You have to be careful. Every year, there’s always a referendum or something like that to put in a guardrail, but it gets shot down. Instead, there are signs posted with figures midtumble, surrounded by a
spray of pebbles, and Watch Your Step, and a broken fence.
I will miss the sea when I finally get me and my mom out of here. I don’t know where I’ll take us, but it has to be far from this place. Somewhere he can’t bother us ever again.
I slip my headphones back on, turn around, check carefully before crossing the highway. The road’s super curvy around here, and who knows who might be driving too fast on Halloween night. I need to stay by the woodside to be safe.
A horn blares and I jump back, my heart racing.
A silvery car whizzes past, southbound. Is that Alice Ogilvie driving like a bat out of hell? I could only make out waves of blond hair, but it looked like her car.
What would Alice be doing out? Her friends hate her. And she should be, you know, reading about Icarus. Oh well. It’s not my fault if she doesn’t study, I tell myself. I’m glad I’m getting paid, no matter what happens with her grades.
About fifteen minutes down the road, I hear the sounds of thumping bass from way up the hill. A seething mass of brightly colored figures staggering around a bonfire flickering on the lawn of the Castle.
Right. Levy Castle. The Halloween party the Mains throw every year. Even kids from neighboring towns come, swanked out and itching to get their drunk on.
I keep walking, angling my direction so they can’t see me, when two figures spill out of the clearing ahead of me. They’re pulling at each other, which is just great. Now I have to walk by a fight. I keep my headphones on, ducking against a tree to wait it out when I realize who it is—Steve Anderson, a green mask pulled on top of his head, and Brooke Donovan in a short skirt. She must be freezing out here.
They’ve stopped tugging at each other. Steve looks . . . well, not like Steve usually does, kind of happy-go-lucky and nice. He’s probably the nicest of the Mains, to tell you the truth.
But he’s not smiling now. Instead, he looks kind of pissed. And a little . . . messed up? He’s kind of weaving every which way. I didn’t think Steve was a drinker. He’s pretty straight-edge because of basketball.
Brooke’s crying and her hair is in her face. Brooke has always been pretty cool, and she doesn’t even have to be. She’s literally the most famous, richest girl in town. I mean, entire books have been written about her family history, which apparently involves some mysterious deaths at sea, a fortune made, lost, and remade, and an infamous custody battle involving her grandmother that made headlines around the world. All this means Brooke could be the biggest bitch in town, but she isn’t.
The silver car from earlier flashes in my memory then, and it hits me. That had to be Alice. But why would she come here after everything? From Spike and Zora, I knew all about Steve stepping out on Alice over the summer with Brooke. Then, when Alice disappeared, Zora was pretty convinced for, like, a day that Steve had done something to her, and I guess the police thought so, too, because he was questioned and the whole shebang. They had a search party, Amber Alert, all the bells and whistles and then . . . Alice reappeared in her parents’ driveway, miraculously fine, with nary a scratch on her.
Steve grabs Brooke by the shoulders, startling me. I tense up, slide my headphones off.
I sink farther into the tree as Brooke twists away violently.
“I knew it,” she screams. “I knew you’d go back to her. Everyone is always leaving me.”
“I’m not leaving you, just calm down,” Steve yells back, and grabs her arm. I take a step forward and stop. Where are her friends?
“Let go of me. Get away from me, now!” Brooke screams.
“I’m not going to let you run away from me,” Steve says.
Suddenly, an army of Mains clutching red Solo cups descends from the long steps leading down from the Castle into the lot. They all have their phones up, filming Brooke and Steve, but no one’s stepping in to stop what’s happening.
Brooke shoves Steve, and he stumbles backward.
And then Steve shoves her back.
“Hey, man, come on, now.” It’s Cole Fielding. He moves like he’s going to stop Steve, but Nelson and Gerber, Steve’s basketball buddies, hold him back.
“Brookie.” Kennedy rushes over, helping her up.
“What the hell is your problem,” Park yells at Steve, slugging him in the arm.
Brooke straightens her skirt. Then she turns and runs. Toward me.
Steve starts to go after her, but Park blocks him, her hands pressing against his chest.
“Brooke,” he shouts. “You can’t do this to me, Brooke!”
I step back farther in the trees so her friends can’t see me. I know it would not be good if they knew I was here.
Brooke runs past me, tears streaming down her face, phone clutched in one hand, face wild. She looks like my mom used to after a fight with the Thing when I was little. Desperate and in her own world.
Instinctively, I go still. It’s scary to see Brooke look like my mom did.
It’s only after she’s passed me that I come out of the trees.
Her friends are still standing in the lot. Kennedy hesitantly calls out, “Brookie! Come on, come back.”
But then Kennedy shrugs and turns her back. Park is guiding Steve away, her arm in his. I guess Brooke is just a drunk nuisance to them, which doesn’t seem very friend-like to me.
If her friends aren’t going to help her, I will. I take off after her. A girl shouldn’t be allowed to run away into the dark on her own.
By the time I reach the first bend of road, though, there’s no one there, just the sound of the sea washing up against the cliffs below. I walk along Highway 1 and call her name, but I don’t get an answer.
Brooke Donovan is gone.