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This is Our Story
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Five boys went hunting. Four came back. And the evidence shows it could have been any one of them, in this thrilling mystery with a big twist, for fans of Courtney Summers.
Kate Marino's senior year internship at the District Attorney's Office isn't exactly glamorous–more like an excuse to leave school early that looks good on college applications. Then the DA hands her boss, Mr. Stone, the biggest case her small town of Belle Terre has ever seen. The River Point Boys are all anyone can talk about. Despite their damning toxicology reports the morning of the accident, the DA wants the boys' case swept under the rug. He owes his political office to their powerful families.
Kate won't let that happen. Digging up secrets without revealing her own is a dangerous line to walk; Kate has personal reasons for seeking justice. As she gets dangerously close to the truth, it becomes clear that the early morning accident might not have been an accident at all-and if she doesn't uncover the true killer, more than one life could be on the line including her own.
Copyright © 2016 by Ashley Elston
Cover design by Tanya Ross-Hughes and Maria Elias
Cover art © 2016 Tanya Ross-Hughes
Cover photograph of deer head © 2016 David Hughes
Additional cover photographs © Shutterstock
All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.
For my mom, Sally
A ten-point buck and a dead body make the same sound when they hit the forest floor. It’s hard to believe a person could be mistaken for an animal, but it happens more than you know.
We know these woods. We’ve spent as much time here as anywhere else. Every hill and valley, every place the deer forage for food and rest in the heat of the day, is mapped out in our heads. We know exactly where the shot comes from when we hear it. Stealth no longer necessary, we tear in from every direction, each wanting to see the kill first.
But that excitement evaporates at the sight of Grant’s body twisted in odd angles over a downed tree. The impact of the bullet knocked him completely out of his boots, which are still upright several feet away.
We gravitate to one another, standing in a tight pack several yards away from him, momentarily scared to get any closer. One by one, our guns slip through our fingers, thudding softly on the blanket of leaves covering the ground.
And one by one we move closer to Grant.
Stunned, we stand in a circle around him, our bodies covered in camouflage, each of us blending into the next.
No one goes near him. No one bends down to check his pulse. There is a small hole in the center of his chest and blood pours out of him and soaks into the ground and there is no question—Grant Perkins is dead.
Two of us drop to our knees, crying; another seems unable to move at all.
But one of us studies the guns piled on the ground.
“That’s not a buckshot wound. He got shot with a rifle.”
All eyes go to the Remington—the only rifle in the group.
Concern for Grant is over quickly; the sorrow turns to panic and every finger quickly points to someone else and shouts of “I didn’t do it!” ring through the air. We all handled that rifle and we know it could point back to any one of us.
The amount of booze and pot and pills still flowing through our systems will guarantee that this is seen as a crime, not just an accident.
We push each other.
We cuss each other.
We threaten each other.
We are imploding.
I watch my friends, who are more like brothers, and know this won’t end well for any of us.
A buzzing sound on the ground beside Grant quiets everyone. His phone, set on vibrate, rattles in the dead leaves. No one moves to touch it, to answer it, to make it stop. We all just stare at Grant.
Single file, the ants begin to claim his body. Birds swoop into the nearby trees, waiting for a clear shot at him. We will look guilty if we wait too long to call for help. We will look guilty no matter what. We need to do something—call someone—but we’re paralyzed.
I study each person in the circle, faces tear-streaked and numb from either the shock or the alcohol or the drugs. Or maybe all three. I weigh strengths and weaknesses.
Only one of us pulled the trigger, but we all played our own part in his death. They will find marks on Grant that don’t fit with an accidental shooting. They will find marks on us that shouldn’t be there either. The last twenty-four hours will have them talking about more than what happened during this early-morning hunt.
“So no one is owning up to using the Remington,” one of us says, more a statement than a question.
Do any of us remember which one of us was holding that gun a few minutes ago?
Silence as loud as a freight train fills the space, and we stare at Grant to avoid looking at each other. Or looking guilty.
“If one of us goes down for this, it’ll be as bad as all of us going down for this,” I say. “We can’t let that happen.”
All eyes are on me. One look is blank, like my words aren’t registering, while others are nodding, ready to agree to anything that will keep them out of trouble.
There is only one way out of this, and it has to be together. We all have to agree.
“This was just an accident. A horrible accident,” one of us mumbles. “Whoever used the Remington should just admit it. There’s no reason to drag us all through this.”
“Even if it was an accident, whoever did this could still go to prison,” another of us says.
Our actions this morning would be viewed no differently than if Grant had died while we’d been driving under the influence.
“Look, I know we’re all scared shitless right now, but we’ll be fine. There’s no reason for anyone to ruin his whole life over this,” I say.
There’s one person who hasn’t spoken at all, and I realize just how fragile this plan is. We all have to agree or the whole thing will fall apart. He looks down at Grant and then back at the rest of us and finally says, “We’re in this together. We stick together.”
I lean forward and the other three do the same. Hovering over poor, dead Grant, I say, “Okay, this is our story…”
OCTOBER 20, 7:55 A.M.
REAGAN: They’re here
They look calmer than they should, given the huge amount of trouble they’re in. The fact that they’ve been ejected from that private school of theirs—just two weeks after Grant was killed—should have knocked them down a notch, but instead the opposite seems to be true.
They are as cocky as ever.
The loud pre-school madness falls to a hush as the boys make their way down the hall. It’s just like something you would see in the movies.
There’s only one public high school in our small Louisiana town of Belle Terre. It’s in the old Garden District and is named after William B. Marshall, who had done something incredible for our town, though I’m not really sure what it was. Marshall is very regal, with its façade of brick and stone, surrounded by huge trees that have been here for ages. It’s really one of the prettiest buildings in town.
But it’s still considered second-rate by those who attend St. Bartholomew’s.
Or St. Bart’s, as it is more commonly known. St. Bart’s is very exclusive. And very private. I always thought no matter how bad those kids screwed up, they wouldn’t get in trouble, but apparently, they don’t take kindly to students who are under suspicion for negligent homicide…even if their families donate ridiculous piles of money to the school.
There was some question as to whether our school would take them when they got the boot from St. Bart’s. There was an emergency parents’ meeting over the weekend led by a few vigilant moms who did not want these boys in our school. But they are in our district, and until they are actually convicted of a crime, they have a right to attend school.
So here they are.
This has been their school for only a matter of seconds, and yet they already own it. The four of them walk shoulder to shoulder, most people moving out of the way to let them pass, dressed in khakis and button-downs like they’re still accountable to some dress code.
My fists ball at my sides as I try to control the rush of anger that flows through me.
Reagan scoots down to my locker and watches them too, her chin resting on my shoulder. “Which one do you think did it?” she asks.
I shrug. “Does it matter? It’s not like they’ll get in any trouble even if it comes out.” The words leave a vile taste on my tongue and an even deeper hole in my chest.
“Sure they will. They can’t get away with this,” she says. I’m glad she can’t see me roll my eyes.
“Well, I’m sure we’ll get some good scoop when we get to work this afternoon,” she adds.
“Yeah, if they got kicked out of St. Bart’s, then something must be happening with their case. Isn’t the gym at St. Bart’s named after John Michael’s grandparents?” I ask, nodding toward the boy on the far right side.
“Who knows? But today will be ex-ci-ting!” Reagan says exciting in a high-pitched singsong voice. And then she leans back against me, hugging my shoulders. “Sorry, I know this is hard for you.”
“It’s fine. And you’re right, work should be…interesting.”
Most people our age have to work a drive-through or bag groceries, but Reagan and I scored jobs as paid interns in the district attorney’s office. No weekends and we’re usually off the clock by five. And to make it even sweeter, we qualified for work passes, so we’re done with school by lunch.
We are the envy of the teenage workforce.
Favors were called in for us to get these jobs, though. I got my spot because my mom has been a secretary for one of the assistant district attorneys for the last twelve years and he knows how bad we need the money. Reagan’s cousin’s brother-in-law is the district attorney, Mr. Gaines, and even though he’s barely a relative, he agreed to hire her as a favor to her dad. Reagan wants nothing more than to go to design school right out of high school, but her dad is insisting she consider “more worthwhile pursuits,” hence the job at the district attorney’s office. No one has the heart to tell him he’s fighting a losing battle.
You only need to look at Reagan once to know she doesn’t fit the mold for some nine-to-five job. Her sketches come to life in bold patterns and fabric combinations that shouldn’t work but do. Walking the halls with her every day feels like getting a sneak peek at what future runways will showcase.
“With me in Morrison’s office, and Camille and you both interning for prosecutors, we should know all the dirt before anyone else. Maybe they know who did it. Maybe they’re just keeping it quiet for now,” she says.
“Maybe,” I answer.
Reagan, still perched over my shoulder, lets out a soft purr. “Don’t kill me for saying this, but damn…Henry is seriously hot.”
I shrug my shoulders, making her chin bounce. It’s hard for me to see any of them as anything other than Grant’s killer. One of these boys killed their friend and refuses to admit he did it.
Even though they’re new to our school, we already knew who these boys were. It would be impossible not to know them in a town our size. But that doesn’t mean we run in the same circles. Not even close.
Only one of the boys makes eye contact with those he passes; the others stare straight ahead as if they are oblivious to us. His name is Shepherd Moore—Shep to his friends. I turn away before he has a chance to find me watching them.
“Come on, they’re not worth getting a tardy over,” I say, dragging Reagan in the opposite direction as she gawks at the boys over her shoulder.
• • •
The worst part of this job is the filing. I’ve decided there is some evil fairy that must live inside the Qu–Rh drawer, the only drawer with any extra space, just to torment me. She waits until I leave for the day, after the filing tray is empty, and then spitefully pulls the most random pages from almost every file in every drawer.
No matter how much filing sucks, it’s got to be better than whatever Reagan is doing. She works for Mrs. Morrison, head of the administration department. It’s the pit of paperwork hell over there.
Our parish is big but mostly rural. The district attorney governs the parish, and his offices are in Belle Terre. But even though Belle Terre is the largest town in the parish, it’s still pretty small, so the DA’s office is actually in the same building as the courthouse and the police station.
It’s a really old building, older than the high school. The courtrooms, judges’ offices, and administration offices, where you can pay your water bill or tax bill or file a complaint, are all on the main floor. The district attorney’s offices take up the second floor, and main filing rooms and storage are on the third floor. The jail is in the basement.
I’m sitting on the rough tan carpet, drowning in paper, when I get a text from Mom:
Even if you’re not done filing, come back to Mr. Stone’s office. I need you to cover the phones.
Mom must be in need of a smoke break. I push to my feet. Anything’s got to be better than this. My first stop on the way back to the second floor is Camille’s cubicle. She’s an intern like me, but she attends the local community college. Camille always has the best gossip, since she works for the secretary of the DA.
There’s only one thing buzzing through the halls today, the only thing anyone wants to know: Will there be charges filed against the boys who shot Grant Perkins? I know everyone wants to believe that information like this is carefully guarded and that only those who should know do, but that’s not even close to being true. The DA’s office is no safer from gossip than the cafeteria at school.
I perch on the edge of her desk and ask, “Any word yet?” She has no idea how interested in this case I am, so I try to play it cool.
Camille is looking through some files in the top drawer of a filing cabinet. She peeks at me over her shoulder, then scans the area, making sure no one is nearby, before joining me at her desk. “The case was referred to our office today. The police have no idea who pulled the trigger.”
My mouth drops open. Mr. Stone, the ADA Mom and I work for, said this was a possibility—a worst-case scenario, but still a possibility.
“Seriously? How can they send it to us if they don’t know who did it?” The shrillness of my voice has her looking at me funny.
Camille shrugs. “There’s a lot of pressure coming from Grant Perkins’s dad to arrest someone. He was in here this morning. Two of the other boys’ dads have been in today, too. Gaines is in a panic. Every one of these dudes helped put him in this office—including Mr. Perkins—and they’re all here to call in their favors.”
“Oh God! So what’s he going to do?”
Camille motions for me to lower my voice, then says in a near whisper, “I don’t know if he knows yet. The loudest one right now is Perkins, obviously. The other parents are trying to do damage control.”
I hop off her desk and start to leave, but Camille calls me back.
“You owe me info now. Make sure you share if you hear something.”
I nod and turn away. Just as I’m about to head into Mr. Stone’s office, a blur of orange and red and blue that can only be Reagan barrels down the hall.
“Sorry,” she says as she skids to a stop in front of me, catching us both before we fall down. She’s breathing like she’s run a 5K and her eyes dart up and down the hall.
“What’s wrong?” I’ve known Reagan since we were young and she’s always been a little dramatic, but this seems over-the-top even for her.
“Stone got it. Stone got the River Point Boys case,” she says in between labored breaths.
“Are you sure?”
She nods. “Gaines just left Morrison’s office. Told her to get everything up here to Stone. She’s pretty shocked, too. We all are.”
It’s no secret the assistant district attorney Mom and I work for shouldn’t be the automatic first choice for this case. He’s older and on his way out. In his day he was fierce, but those days are long gone.
She steps in even closer, until our noses are just inches apart. “Gaines had to recuse himself. The hot one—Henry—his dad gave a bunch of money to his campaign. Well, they all did, but Henry’s dad gave the most. He’s too close. He could have given it to the attorney general and let them handle it, but he didn’t. He’s keeping it here. It’s weird. And insane that he gave it to your guy. Word is he wants this case to go away and he thinks the fastest way for that to happen is to turn it over to Stone.”
She squeezes my arm and asks, “Are you going to be able to handle this?”
I nod, not trusting myself to speak, then she’s gone as fast as she appeared, and I’m left in the hall, still trying to digest this latest news.
“There you are,” Mom says as I step into her office. I study her face while she digs around in the bottom drawer of her desk. After so many years working long hours plus the half pack of cigarettes she smokes a day, she looks older than she really is. From pictures, I know she used to have long, dark hair like mine, but it’s mostly gray now, and pulled back in the ever-present bun.
I drop down in the chair next to her desk. Her office is small, with barely enough space for her desk, a couple of filing cabinets, and a small table and chair. I glance through the door on the other side of the room and find Mr. Stone, leaned back in his chair, eyes closed and headphones on.
There’s a good chance he doesn’t even know he’s gotten the case yet.
A knock on the door makes me jump.
Mr. Gaines, the DA, steps inside, his tall figure taking up most of the space.
“Mrs. Marino, I need a moment with George,” he says to Mom. He nods to me and I smile back, then start shuffling papers around Mom’s desk so I look busy.
Mom alerts Mr. Stone and he sits up in his chair, probably embarrassed at being caught in such a relaxed state.
“Come on in,” Mr. Stone calls out.
Mr. Gaines shuts the door and it takes everything in me not to press my ear against it.
“What’s going on?” I ask. I don’t dare let on that I know about the case. Mom is a stickler when it comes to office gossip, and Reagan has more than one strike against her in Mom’s book right now.
Mom takes a deep breath. “I hope this doesn’t mean what I think it does.” She twists her hands and then busies herself at her desk. I know she wants to sneak out for a cigarette right now, but there’s no way she’ll leave until Gaines does.
Mr. Gaines is in there a while, and nervous energy seems to be bouncing back and forth between Mom and me. I’ve alphabetized the files on Mom’s desk, shredded about two inches’ worth of documents in the shred pile, and watered all the plants.
Thirty minutes pass before the door opens.
Mr. Gaines leaves without sparing us a glance.
Mr. Stone leans against the door frame and lets out a deep breath. “The district attorney has decided to put the River Point case to a grand jury.” He pauses a moment before continuing. “And he wants us to present it.”
From the first day I started, Mr. Stone referred to any case he had as “ours,” since it is a group effort to get him through it.
“Is there enough evidence against them to even make a case?” Mom asks in a whisper.
Stone shrugs. “Doesn’t sound like it. The picture the DA painted for me is this is a wild but essentially good group of boys who partied a little too hard and against their better judgment went hunting that morning. He wants Grant Perkins’s death to be classified as an accident, but there’s that pesky part about them being drunk and negligent.” He says the last part scornfully. “The victim’s family isn’t as willing to sweep this under the rug and are threatening to make a big stink, which Gaines doesn’t want since he’s up for reelection next year. The other boys’ families have contributed to Gaines’s campaign, so he’s in the ‘difficult position’ of making everyone happy.”
He says difficult position with enough disgust that we all know what he means—Gaines doesn’t want any of the boys to get in trouble, no matter what the evidence shows.
“Gaines said he’s too close to both sides so he’s going to leave it up to the grand jury to decide if there was a crime committed. He thinks this is the only way to appease everyone, but he wanted to make sure I understood that I wasn’t to ‘press too hard’ on this.”
And that’s the thing about a grand jury—they only hear from the prosecutor presenting it, so if Stone presents a weak case, this whole thing disappears and no one will be arrested for Grant’s death.
Mom moves closer to him and squeezes his arm. “We’ll be behind you no matter what.”
He nods at Mom, then glances toward me. “Kate, I understand the boys involved in Grant Perkins’s death transferred into your school today.”
“Yes, sir,” I answer.
He fumbles around in his suit pocket, finally pulling out whatever he was searching for and holding it up for Mom and me.
It’s a picture I’ve seen a thousand times.
In the image, there are five guys, all dressed in camo, holding rifles and standing behind a sign that says River Point Hunting Club. The woods behind them are alive with the reds, oranges, and yellows of fall foliage. They look happy and carefree, just as boys with bright futures and privileged backgrounds should look.
But one of those boys is dead now.
“Have you ever seen any of these boys in any social situation? Maybe at a football game, school dance, or anything like that? Ever dated any of them?”
“I’ve met a few of them but never hung out with them at a party or anything. And I’ve never dated any of the River Point Boys.”
And technically, that’s the truth.
Mr. Stone ponders this a moment. In a town this size, everyone pretty much knows everyone else, so there’s never any true separation. He finally says, “Steer clear of them at school. Don’t talk to them. Don’t talk about them. Things are different now that I have this case and you work for me. Until this is over, keep your distance from them. Are we clear?”
“Yes, sir. Very clear.”
Mom and I follow him into his office. He sits in his chair and gazes at the wall. Most would assume he’s lost in thought, but I know he’s looking at us the only way he can.
Mr. Stone does a good job faking it for others, but with us he lets his guard down. He has macular degeneration, which means everything in his central line of vision is blurry, but the edges are in focus. So basically to see something clearly, it has to be in his peripheral vision. His disease is getting progressively worse and there isn’t a cure.
The DA is aware of his condition, but pride has stopped Stone from telling Gaines how bad it’s gotten. This job has been Stone’s life, not leaving any room for a wife or kids. In fact, Mom and I are the closest thing he’s got to a family, and he spends most holidays at our kitchen table. I’m not sure Gaines could actually fire him over his deteriorating vision, but Stone knows he would be more or less put out to pasture and he says he’s just not ready to go out like that.
“Gaines already subpoenaed the grand jury. We’re set for Tuesday, November eighteenth. This case will be in front of them in four weeks, so it looks like all of this will be over soon enough.”
I swallow hard and examine each face in that picture, wondering which one of them pulled the trigger.
Just as Mom’s about to speak, I say, “But you’re not going to do what Gaines wants, right? I mean, you have to try to find out what really happened.”
Stone leans forward, resting his elbows on his desk. “I’ve got three options: present this the way Gaines wants so that it disappears quickly and quietly, try to convince a grand jury to indict all four for negligent homicide since they were all hunting while under the influence, or dig a little deeper and try to find out who pulled the trigger.”
I’m nodding my head at his last suggestion. I’d even be okay with the second option. Mom directs a confused look at me and I school my features. I’m not normally this enthusiastic when it comes to Stone’s cases, and I don’t really want to explain why I care about this one.
- "Absorbing, haunting, and memorable... a slow-burning mystery/love story that ratchets up the tension with each chapter. By the time you reach the end you will be breathless!"—Colleen Houck, New York Times best-selling author of the Tiger's Curse series
- "Elston’s exploration of privilege, justice, and digital media . . . highlights the duality of the human soul, the ways technology can twist the truth, and the difficulty of knowing who to trust."—Publishers Weekly
- "Chilling and suspenseful, with just the right number of twists."—Kirkus Reviews
- "Elston spins out a solid mystery... She sustains a high level of tension. For teens who enjoy watching the heedless-but-good girl take on a crew of privileged bad boys to exonerate her guy, this is their story."—BCCB
- "Intrigue and suspense, drugs and partying, social media, budding romance, mounting clues, and characters who embody good and bad--some evil--make this incredibly crafted novel impossible to set aside. It is a stellar summer reading or book discussion group choice... This novel will circulate among all readers."—VOYA
- *"The characters are believable and well developed in this stimulating and intriguing plot. This mesmerizing romantic mystery is bursting with plot twists and turns that will leave the reader highly satisfied and wishing they had not yet finished the book."—School Library Council, starred review
- "The plot build cleverly, interspersed with text messages, mistaken identities, whiffs of political corruption, and mysterious narrations from someone who knows what happened... impossible to put down."—Booklist
- On Sale
- Nov 15, 2016
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers