[untitled] welcomes you, readers old and new, to “Ray Delaney & the Cape Cod [noun]”, a new Choose-Your-Own-Adventure that takes P.I. Ray Delaney to the Cape on a mission to solve a mysterious spate of deaths. Vote at the end of each chapter to decide Delaney’s fate, and check back each Wednesday for a new chapter!
treetlamp reflections like quotation marks rolled across the windshield of the car. Eddie Elderthorn’s face was blue with cold and worry. He had taken the vinyl convertible roof down before pulling out of his parents’ driveway, and his fingers were now pressed to the point of whiteness against the steering wheel. The chill evening air buffeted his face and drew goose pimples out along his forearms.
The road was widening. On the drive up to Boston, the ocean always began to dissipate after you passed Malmouth, the Atlantic waters moving off to the left as the highway grew wider. They’re going to kill me, Eddie thought. His teeth chattered in time with the words.
He glanced into the back seat. A smile broke his face in two. The small rectangular box lying behind the passenger seat was his ticket out of here.
Eddie turned back to the highway and took his last breath, a deep intake of salty, acid, Cape Cod air. And then, fear gripped his windpipe. The plastic moulded steering column seemed to fuse with his fingertips. In front of the windshield, a large cloud of black hovered over the car.
His screams breached the spring evening as the maroon convertible pivoted on its front bumper, arced in the air, and came to rest roof-side down against the tarmac. The black cloud dissipated. The small box bounced out of the upturned car and landed in a sandy divot at the side of the road.
* * *
The woman’s legs were curled so tightly around one another that Delaney feared they might never get untangled. He could make out a phantom reflection of her in the coffee shop window, a blurry arrangement of limbs. If he looked left, he would see her, would know whether she had an aquiline profile or whether her jaw jutted in a stiff V below her mouth, whether her eyes were set far apart or her cheekbones high on her face. Delaney didn’t look to the left. He preferred to preserve the sense of mystery.
As he made to turn to the next page of the Globe, his cellphone buzzed against the table top and flashed the name JANET up at him.
“Hey.” He flipped the phone open, and sobs trapped his sister’s voice on the other end of the line. “Janet – what’s wrong?”
“It’s Eddie.” A whelp and a swallow. “He… he’s dead, Ray. He was in a car accident last night.”
Delaney suddenly felt inanimate; the voice was just a disembodied spirit on the other end of the line.
“He took Bob’s car, the police said that he was on Route 6 and heading up the Cape.”
“Eddie’s dead? Stay at home, stay with Bob,” Delaney said. “I’ll drive down this afternoon.” He got up, leaving half a cup of coffee burning a ring into the table, and headed for the door as Janet explained. One minute later the tightly wound legs to his left disentangled themselves, and followed him in silence.
* * *
The silver speck in the rear-view mirror went unnoticed as Delaney sped onto the highway. His thoughts drifted above the cars and along I-93, twisted across treetops toward the sandy Cape, and came to rest above the ruined maroon Mazda Miata and the remains of his nephew tossed so carelessly onto the roadside. He couldn’t quite believe that Eddie was dead. Why had he been heading to Boston? And he had lost control of the car? Even at 17, Eddie was a good driver. Stop making a mystery out of everything, he cautioned himself.
As the rotary span him onto Route 6, the sky darkened and the clouds seemed to hang lower. Thunder storms threatened all the way to the Elderthorns’ house, and a distracted Delaney sped past the small, black box that lay buried behind police tape and men in high visibility jackets.
Within ten minutes, the silver speck trailing Ray Delaney had grown in size. An angular, unmarked car made its way along Route 6 and drew to a halt across from the wreckage of the upturned convertible. Limbs and then a torso unfolded, stepped out of the car, and crossed the road. The woman from the coffee shop flashed a badge and ducked under the tape.
A moment later, she sifted from the yellow-and-green roadside a scuffed rectangular box. And later, at the Elderthorn house in Malmouth, Delaney pulled from his nephew’s desk drawer a small clue of his own, as the Atlantic winds blew darkly in the distance.