C H A P T E R  O N E :  N E L L

Thursday, March 24


Twenty-four days before Easter


By the time Nell Holcomb pulled up for her shift at Mayflower Plastics, the KAOK news van had parked in her spot. Adding insult to injury: Maggie, the office manager, stood in front of the camera, chatting them up. Wearing her new bedazzled Hunt T-shirt that clashed with the fake tan she’d maintained since her sorority days that still showed her white skin in the underarm creases. Talking about how “causation does not equal correlation” and “accidents happen.”

Tell that to the families, Nell thought. Maggie never would, though. Not to her face or anyone else’s. But she’d go on TV and tell the world and call herself and other people like her “Eggheads,” like they were a fun little group and there weren’t any deaths associated with the Hunt every year, serial killer or not. If Nell didn’t know any better, she’d guess that Maggie worked for either the radio station or the Chamber of Commerce.

Nell walked on by Maggie and the news crew without saying a word, hoping they wouldn’t recognize her as the little sister of Garrett Holcomb: white, young, handsome, smart, and dead.

When Nell opened the plant door, Lloyd startled her. He hiked his pressed khakis, looked outside, and cast down his eyes.

“Sorry about all this.” He gestured in the direction of Maggie and the news crew. “Nancy asked me,” Lloyd offered as an apology. He was your average white, middle-class guy from a flyover state. Not wanting to stir up any trouble but doing it anyway. “Said it would be good to present both sides. Let people know how we feel. And with Maggie so . . .” He searched for the word. “Excitable. And Nancy so against it, well, I guess they thought it’d make for good TV. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have.” He checked his watch, struggled with his words. “They were supposed to be here hours ago.” He looked genuinely torn up about it. A young Asian woman wearing a KAOK vest and carrying a clipboard gestured for Lloyd to join her. “I can tell them no. Have them go on home.”

After Garrett died, there wasn’t much attention. Not like now. There was a brief mention at the back of the newspapers. It wasn’t until Nell had been working at Mayflower for five years, and after earning everyone’s trust that she wasn’t a dumbass and knew how to fix things, that Maggie told everyone else. That changed everything.

“No, no. Don’t worry about it.” Nell tucked a loose strand of unwashed hair back under her slouchy beanie hat and pretended like everything was fine and nothing bothered her because that’s the only way she knew how to cope with what had happened to Garrett and anything affiliated with the Hunt. “I appreciate it,” Nell said. “But I think Nancy’s right. Good to get both sides.” She thumbed toward Maggie. “Especially to counter folks like her.” Nell laughed, although it was forced. “Thanks again. I appreciate you. And Nancy.” She checked a fake watch on her wrist. “Eek. I should clock in before my boss discovers I’m late.” She clapped Lloyd on the arm at the joke; then she smiled brightly and broadly and hoped Lloyd bought it because she didn’t like people worrying about her or plain even thinking of her.

The break room was no better. She knew what she would find—the whole lot of them sitting at the table, their little ragtag night crew: Marcy, a white, bumbling-but-well-meaning label operator straight out of high school; Viv, an older white Christian conservative woman who had become a grandmother at the age of forty-five; Phonesavanh, a Laotian immigrant mother of adorable twin boys; Juanita, a third-generation Mexican American woman who hated living in Arkansas and couldn’t wait for her husband to be stationed somewhere, anywhere, else; Kasey, a white male hipster college student who drove forklifts and listened to emo bands; and Ada who was equal amounts smart and smartass and the proud Black mother of a future engineering student.

As Nell made her way through the long hallway, their voices grew louder: who was their biggest competition, who won in previous years, strategies for searching, and warnings not to go alone. Don’t let the Hunter get you!

Louder than the others was Ada Johnson—Nell’s “work wife,” according to everyone at the factory—boasting the most about how she’d come so close last year, and without needing any of them. When she saw Nell walk into the break room, she stopped talking. Didn’t even pretend to be talking about something else or look at her. Nell guessed most people didn’t know how to talk to people like her without worrying they’d say something wrong.

She understood that. Hard enough to say, Sorry your brother died of mysterious circumstances on the side of the road. Harder still to say, Sorry everyone thinks your brother was the first victim of the notorious serial killer who’s been stalking Presley’s annual Hunt for the Golden Egg.

If it were up to her, no one would say shit and they would just go about their business like they didn’t know her personal history.