About A Good LIe
Anna Bradley lived an ordinary life until she woke up in the woods with no memory of how she got there.
Frank Cahill, a retired soldier with a clandestine past. He thought he put the demons of his former life to rest, but when his family is threatened, waking his demons might be the only way to save them.
Todd Flynn, a struggling P.I., lands a case that will save his business, but it may cost him everything he believes in.
Three lives drawn together in a quest for truth, but the closer they get, the more dangerous things become. And they may discover that truth is no match for a good lie.
A Good Lie is a stand alone novel published Aug 2017. It is the debut novel by JL Bowers.
The first thing that registered was the icy breeze that prickled at her skin and nudged her toward consciousness. She felt around for her bed covers to pull them tighter around her but failed to grasp them. Instead, her hand clutched wet, spindly strands of grass.
But the thought didn’t alarm her; it merely passed through her mind like a curiosity. She was dreaming—must be.
Her eyelids fluttered open. Gray storm clouds swirled above her, angry things, threatening to deluge her with their frigid drops.
She shivered. Her eyes closed again.
Minutes passed. Somewhere, a bird warbled out its hollow song. Another joined in the chorus, but somehow the duet only managed to make the song sound lonelier.
Don’t birds only sing in daylight?
But then it registered—it was daylight. She must have over-slept her alarm. She was about to drift off again when it hit her.
Anna Bradley bolted upright or tried to, making it halfway before a wave of dizziness swept over her, forcing her to collapse back into the tall, coarse grass. She lay there, head pounding from her feeble attempt.
It was not a dream. She was lying in grass. How—?
But she couldn’t think past the pain inside her head. She pressed against her eyes with the palms of her hands. Seconds passed, then minutes, and finally, the pain subsided. Still, she couldn’t seem to focus. Her brain felt foggy, her thoughts smothered in clouds as heavy and thick as the ones above her. She shook her head to clear it, but her thoughts remained stubbornly muted. She swallowed, and her tongue felt heavy in her mouth, dry and cottony, like from a hangover. Anna frowned. She didn’t remember drinking last night. Come to think of it, she didn’t remember last night at all.
She eased herself halfway up and leaned weakly on her elbow. When her head cleared the grass, her mouth fell open. Thick clusters of trees surrounded her, and moss-dappled fallen logs, clumps of ferns, and other wild plants, but no houses or streets. No people.
The wind picked up. It pulled at her clothes and rippled the grass around her. After a long minute, she attempted to rise, but the move made her head throb again, its fiery tempo matched by her heartbeat as fear crept in and edged quickly toward panic. How did she get here? And where was here, anyway? Nothing looked familiar.
It began to rain. Cold, marble-sized drops spattered all around her. One drop hit her square on the neck and rolled down to slip beneath her already damp clothes. It spurred her to move. But where? She shifted around, seeking some kind of shelter, and fixed on a likely group of trees not too far off. It took several more seconds before her body registered what her mind wanted her to do; but finally, she staggered to her feet, put one tentative foot in front of the other, and shuffled toward them on stiff legs.
By the time she ducked into the cluster of trees, Anna was drenched head to toe. Rubbing her arms, she pressed up against the dry side of an oak. An occasional drop of water still reached her, but the tree mercifully blocked the wind, protecting her from most of the downpour. The move, and maybe even the rain, had helped clear the remaining fogginess from her head, so she took stock of her situation.
The velour tracksuit she wore was dirty and wet, but not torn, and it didn’t appear she’d been molested or harmed in any way. The long underwear she wore underneath meant she’d planned to be outdoors. Reaching around, Anna felt a scrunchie holding up her copper-flecked brown hair. She only wore her hair up that way when she exercised. Had she been on one of her power walks and gotten lost? Maybe she fell and hit her head or something….
A spark—then it came. Yes—she’d been trekking down the gravel path alongside the Mississippi River, half a mile from her home in St Paul.
Only—she frowned—she was nowhere near a trail now, or the river.
She glanced up at the sky wondering how late it was, thinking it had to be close to supper time. But even though she couldn’t see the sun through the blockade of clouds, somehow it felt like morning instead of afternoon. She shook her head. Boy, she must have whacked her skull a good one. But when she reached up and felt around her scalp, she detected no lumps or tender areas of any kind.
Well, whatever the actual time, she was long past due to be home. Rowling would be worried.
And suddenly, Anna remembered. Her cell phone had rung. Tired and out of breath, she considered not answering it, but Rowling hated when she didn’t answer her phone.
Her face scrunched as she tried to recall their conversation. He had news and was coming home early. Yes, important news; and he wanted her to meet him at the house. She had picked up her pace, and then—was that when she fell?
No… slowly, it came back to her. She remembered passing the bright yellow house with the ugly green shutters, waving at a neighbor as she turned down her street, and finally making it to her doorstep where her husband waited in his charcoal gray suit, a smile brightening his face as he held out one of her favorite vitamin-water drinks. She gulped down a few swallows, thinking how handsome he looked in his suit. And then…
That was it. Her mind went blank.
A shuffling noise behind her…
Her heart thumped like a jackhammer, and her eyes darted wildly between the clumps of foliage.
She took a deep breath to slow her pulse. A normal wilderness sound, that’s all.
The thought did not reassure her.
A slight breeze found its way between the trees, penetrating her layers of clothing and causing her to shiver. She glanced up at the sky. The clouds were thick, the rain showing no sign of letting up. She should move. Maybe if she reached higher ground, she could orient herself and navigate her way back home.
Behind her was a steep, grassy slope, and after a quick, uncertain glance around, she started up it. The climb took her twice as long as it should have, as she had to pause several times to catch her breath—measures that seemed wasted in hindsight; because when she finally crested the ridge and looked out, what she saw knocked the wind right out of her.
Nothing but wilderness stretched out for miles in front of her. She turned, fearing the same behind her, and expelled a mouth full of air in relief when she saw the river. Only a sliver of it was visible through the dense trees, but it was there. It comforted her for about a second. No part of the Mississippi River looked like this, not where she lived. There should be streets, buildings, and people—civilization. But here, there were only long, rolling hillsides littered with rain-darkened trees.
An icy clump of dread settled into her stomach.
Where was she?
Then she spotted the trail. It seemed to follow the ridge opposite her and then dip away towards a meadow. A trail should lead to people, so she headed towards it, pushing her way through thick prairie and skirting bushes laden with spiky purple flowers.
Something—an animal—darted from the tall grass, startling her, just as she must have startled it. She felt a flash of fear.
Oh, God—what if there are snakes?
She quickened her pace, tiptoeing in short, erratic spurts, her eyes raking the grass for any movement. But then, reason found her, and she forced herself to slow again. The last thing she needed was to slip on the slick terrain and sprain an ankle.
Already she was breathing harder, and despite the cold, she was thirsty. She tried to distract herself from her parched throat, but the rain made that impossible, so she lifted her face to the sky. A few drops found their way inside her mouth, easing the dryness, but it wasn’t enough to quench her thirst. She forced herself to think ahead. Once she got home, she would have everything she needed. A faint smile touched her lips—including her husband's embrace.
But a thought began to form, one so terrifying, she immediately shoved it from her mind. The thought persisted, tickling at her brain like an icy feather. Her smile vanished.
What if he was…?
No! He was okay. Probably wearing the carpet out with worry, but okay.
The rain throttled back to a fine mist. Her sneakers, previously bright white, were now a muddy, slimy brown, and they squeaked as she slid through the knee-high grass.
Soon the grass thinned, and the hike became easier. A small sign with an image of a hiking person on it marked the trail ahead. She approached it eagerly, but when she read the lettering at the bottom, she froze.
Afton State Park? No, it can’t be.
Afton was twenty miles east of St. Paul. That meant the river she spotted wasn’t the Mississippi; it was the St. Croix—a river that formed the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin. How in the world did she end up all the way out here?
She needed to think, so she dropped into the shadow of a large rock, a rare dry spot where she could rest for a minute. The ruggedness of the terrain was rapidly wearing her down. She coughed, a raspy, wheezy cough that shot from her lungs to her stomach. She hugged her knees to her chest, wondering again how she’d ended up here. But it was a question for later. What she needed to know now was how to get out of here.
With a jolt, she remembered her cell phone. Of course—how stupid of her! All she had to do was call Rowling and have him come get her. But when she felt around her pockets for it, she came up empty. She lifted her hand and noticed her wedding ring was also missing. Had she been robbed, then? Had the thieves dumped her here? But why? And what happened to Rowling?
Her lower lip quivered. She bit into it. Later; she would think about that later.
Her calves ached, her back too, but she forced her tired body off the ground and continued on, heading south or what she assumed was south. Soon the trail folded back on itself and dipped into a heavily wooded ravine. She passed a vacant picnic area and crossed a footbridge over a small stream. She paused at the stream, badly wanting a drink, but the murky water wore an ugly, greenish hue, so she moved on.
Eventually, she came upon a paved trail and took it. The walking became far easier now, not only because of the concrete beneath her feet but for the hope it gave that it would lead somewhere safe.
And it did. Minutes later, the visitor center appeared—a cream-colored stone oasis with tall windows and a warm, welcoming light inside. She breathed a long sigh of relief and picked up her pace.
She reached the common area just as the doors to the center sprang open. Two women emerged, laughing and chatting without a care in the world. Both wore slickers, but the smaller of the two carried a thick daypack and sounded vaguely like the female cop from Fargo. They froze when they saw her.
The larger woman spoke first. “Are you okay?”
Fargo lady took in her wet clothes. “Where’s your rain coat at?”
In spite of her troubles, Anna nearly laughed. Contrary to popular belief, few people in the state talked like the actors from Fargo. In fact, since she moved here a few months ago, she found the only notable difference was that the locals called soda “pop.”
Anna opened her mouth to explain herself, but then snapped it shut. An inexplicable feeling of paranoia overtook her. What could she tell them? Her memories from the previous night were gone. She couldn’t even explain to herself what had happened, let alone these strangers.
She glanced down at her dirty, rumpled clothes. Her hand reached involuntarily for her hair, a disheveled mess she couldn’t even comb her fingers through. What if they decided she was just some druggie and chose not to help? Already, they were sizing her up, ready to sidestep and scurry away if anything resembling crazy rolled out of her mouth.
So she lied.
“It—it’s in my boyfriend’s car,” she said. “I didn’t expect so much rain. I—I’m not from around here.”
Better to appear stupid than crazy.
The larger woman frowned and looked around. “Did he go get it?”
“No… he…um…we had a fight. He left me.”
“He left you?! When?”
“A few hours ago I think. I lost track of time.”
“And he never came back for you? How are you going to get home?”
Anna felt her eyes misting. “I don’t know. I thought maybe a park ranger could call a cab for me. I don’t have any money on me, but I could pay for it once I got back to St. Paul.”
At least she hoped she could. They had an emergency stash at the house—her eyes shot to her empty ring finger—if no one had taken it. The thought briefly crossed her mind that she should ask one of the women for a cell phone so she could try calling Rowling, but just as quickly, she remembered she didn’t know his number. It had been programmed into her phone, but she had never dialed the number manually.
“You’ll never get a cab to come all the way out here without paying for it first,” the woman said. She noticed Anna eyeballing the water in her friend’s hand. “Kathy, give her that extra water in your sack.”
Kathy jumped like she should have thought of it first. She fished a bottle of Dasani from her backpack and handed it over. Then, as if to make up for her oversight, said, “Lucky for you, me and Barb are headed back to the Cities now. You wanna come with?”
Anna twisted open the bottle of water. “Oh, I—well, I wouldn’t want to impose...”
She gulped down several swallows, letting the coolness soothe the driest parts of her throat. When she tipped the bottle back, half the water was gone.
“It’s no trouble.” Barb told her. “And we can’t just leave you here”—she winked—“us girls got to stick together!”
The ride back to the Twin Cities took almost an hour as Barb liked to drive at least five miles under the posted speed limit. The clock on the dash read 2:30 p.m., but Anna didn’t dare ask the date. She had to assume it was the next afternoon, which meant she’d lost almost a whole day. However, the two women left her no time to dwell on her problems. They gabbed nonstop all the way back, sharing more about their lives than Anna ever wanted to know. Barb had grown up in Minneapolis and had met Kathy when they both attended the University of Minnesota, the same college where Rowling taught now. Kathy came from up north, whatever that meant, but it explained the accent.
After what seemed like an eternity, they pulled into Anna’s neighborhood, the Macalester-Groveland area of St. Paul, a middle-class, family-friendly community tucked inside the U formed by the Mississippi River. Without knowing why, Anna had them drop her two blocks down from where she lived. Given the uncertainty of her situation, it seemed like the prudent thing to do.
And maybe, she thought, if I repeat what I did yesterday, starting with my walk home, there’ll be a different outcome this time. Like that movie Groundhog Day.
The girls offered to stay while Anna confronted her “S.O.B. boyfriend,” but she politely declined.
“Don’t ever talk to that creep again.” Barb said, and then raised her fist. “Stay strong!”
Anna forced a smile and gave a thumbs-up in return. With a final wave and a “bye, now” from Kathy, the two women drove off. Anna didn’t know whether to feel relieved or sad.
Her smile faded, and she stood there a moment, staring quietly up her street. Desperate earlier to get home, she now felt a queer reluctance to move. No matter what Franklin Roosevelt said, sometimes there was more to fear than fear itself. Except… nothing in her neighborhood seemed amiss. No police cars, no fire trucks, no yellow crime tape. No ravens portending her demise with their ominous squawks. Just a normal suburban neighborhood.
Anna swallowed hard and started up the street, her heart thudding with every step. A block away, she noticed Rowling’s gray Mitsubishi was not in front of their house. That was not unusual. He parked on the street for convenience, but more often than not, pulled around back to their small detached garage.
Still, it gave her a twinge.
But then she arrived at her house, and a warmth flashed through her. She’d half expected the place to be burnt to the ground, or by some strange alchemy, vaporized into thin air. But everything appeared to be as it was before. The antique lamppost stood guard over the porch; the house numbers were fixed vertically to the porch column, one number askew as usual; the windows were unbroken, and the front door showed no signs of violence—no blood, no splintered wood, no—
She swallowed and stepped gingerly onto the porch.
Somewhere, a Chickadee sang. A car drove down the road, its tires swooshing gently over the wet pavement. In the distance, she heard the wail of a police car.
Almost on its own, her hand reached out and grasped the doorknob. She tried to turn it, but it wouldn’t budge. She knocked softly on the door and waited. Nothing. She pounded on it, hoping it would swing open and Rowling would appear, his face etched with relief.
But there was no answer.
At the far window, there was a slight part in the curtains. She walked over and cupped her hands against the glass, hoping for a reassuring glimpse of home, but what she saw instead turned her cold.
The house was empty. No Rowling, no furniture, no sign anyone lived there at all.