The Girls Mercy Forgot
A small town deals with the aftermath of a serial killer.
Part 1: The Butcher
The Butcher Shop appeared out of nowhere, just like those girls disappeared out of nowhere, too. Mom was fuming when she found out. Well, she was drunk when she found out, but the anger came later. I couldn’t tell if it was because she was actually upset or if she was just mad she hadn’t thought of it herself.
I wanted to be mad about it, I really did. But I couldn’t deny that the shrine to all those girls was tasteful in a sick and disgusting sort of way.
The thing was, girls had been disappearing in Mercy for as long as I could remember. It felt like a staple of life, yet another summer tradition — picnics in park, bonfires after dark, a girl going missing. And I was always right in the think of it, even though I was only just a baby when it started. Mom’s older sister Sammy disappeared three years before I was born, and I had barely been a month old when my father’s older sister Charlie also went missing in the summer of ’91. Girls had been disappearing like clockwork since 1987. I could say that no one thought anything of it, but they just didn’t care. Mercy was perfectly okay with forgetting all of those girls — Laura Lemon, Aunt Sammy, Hazel Weathers, Sophie Costas, and Aunt Charlie.
And they were okay with forgetting the next girl — Eva Escobedo Perez — when she disappeared one summer later.
After Eva, the disappearances stopped. There were a lot of rumours back then. People said that they’d run away, or that they’d committed suicide. Eventually, they became a warning, an urban legend of sorts. Don’t stay out late or you know what’ll happen. Don’t wanna go missing, do you? Maybe the problem was that they weren’t the type of girls that people were supposed to miss. They weren’t rich enough, or white enough, or whatever bullshit excuses and prejudices people thought up.
Fourteen years later, Cordelia Crawford would go missing and then Jocelyn McCullough a year later.
It would have been nice to say that eight missing girls in one small town was enough to warrant suspicion from, well, anybody. But it wasn’t.
There is no doubt in my mind that the disappearances of Lindsay Lawson, Tessa Morelli Mathers, and Meredith Richmond was a turning point for Mercy. Obviously, three girls had never gone missing all at once before. But I knew — we all knew — that it wasn’t the sheer number of girls that had caused such an uproar.
You see, Lindsay, Tessa, and Meredith were the perfect victims, really. They were the kind of young girls that the community felt like they could rally around for their safe return. They all came from good, respectable families — Lindsay was the granddaughter of the local pastor (which, as it turned out, wouldn’t mean a thing when he was discovered to be the one responsible), Tessa was the sheriff’s daughter, and Meredith was… well, her family was just really rich.
The search parties formed immediately, and Mercy refused to give up on them. They searched for days, weeks even. Candace and Randall Lawson, Teresa Morelli and Hank Mathers, and Lynne and George Richmond pleading for their daughters’ safe return. But I knew the truth, even they didn’t. Because they seemed so hopeful, that their daughters would actually come home safe and sound.
You see, “missing” and “disappeared” was just a nice way of saying that they were dead.
These eights girls — now eleven, were all dead.
No one would find their dead, mutilated corpses until the end of the summer. Just around the same time they would find the child graveyard in the middle of the forest. It took the town of Mercy thirty-one years and eleven dead girls to realize that they had a serial killer on their hands.
Part 2: Celeste
“That’s my sister’s face up on that wall, too. She’s been dead thirty years and what? Buck fucking Crawford gets to make all that money?” — Celeste Provenzano
I first heard about The Butcher Shop from Mom. It was two o’clock in the morning, and she had overstayed her welcome at The Lucky Acorn, the local bar. I knew the only reason she hadn’t been kicked out was because Dad’s oldest sister owned the place.
I had been tasked with taking Mom home. She had been ranting and raving to anyone who would listen about Buck Crawford and his crazy little murder museum. No one paid her must attention, and admittedly, neither did I as I eventually was forced to drag her out of the bar.
“Are you even listening to me?” she yelled, wrenching herself out of my grasp.
I rolled my eyes, and tried to push her into the passenger seat of my truck. “You’re drunk.”
“Not drunk,” she hissed, and then nearly fell flat on her face. “Okay… maybe a ‘lil bit.”
I sighed. “Get in the car.”
Mo crossed her arms over her chest like a petulant child. “Not ’till we go to the shop.”
“The butcher shop.”
“It’s two o’clock in the morning,” I cried.
“It’s perfect,” she whispered conspiratorially, swaying in her spot, “no one’ll be there. Please, Tally, for me.”
The thing was Mom never said please, so I drove down to the butcher shop expecting a whole ‘lotta nothing.
But there it was.
Of course, I couldn’t tell right away. I had to stick my face right up against the class to see inside, but I could tell that something was different. The deli counter was gone, in fact, the entire room seemed to be empty. (It wasn’t until morning that everyone would notice the furniture lying out on the curb.) There were big picture frames on the walls, and things piled up on the floor.
Mom had her face pressed up against the glass, too. “Sammy’s in there. I saw him taking a huge picture of her inside.”
I rolled my eyes, because it seemed ridiculous. “Why the hell would Buck Crawford stick a big picture of Aunt Sammy on the wall?”
“I don’t know,” she said, “but he did.”
By lunch time the next day, the entire town had heard the news and Mayor Rich Copeland had already called a town meeting. The last time we’d all gathered together was when he’d announced that a serial killer — whom the police had christened The Butcher of Mercy — had been arrested in our sleepy little town.
Mom came bursting through the doors of the motel where I worked and lived in, a wild look in her eyes. It was the fastest I had ever seen her sleep off a hangover. “You’re coming tonight, aren’t you?”
I sighed. At the time, I didn’t see the point in having a town meeting about whatever craziness Buck Crawford was doing in his butcher shop. “Why would I?”
“That’s your aunt’s picture on that wall,” she said, then corrected herself, “two of your aunt’s up on the wall. Doesn’t that bother you?”
“I haven’t decided yet,” I said after some consideration.
“Well, it sure as shit bothers me,” she huffed out. “That’s my sister’s face up on that wall, too. She’s been dead thirty years and what? Buck fucking Crawford gets to make all that money?”
“So it’s all about the money?”
“It’s about principle,” she replied knowingly, as if she had principles to speak of.
“Mom, I have work to do,” I said, annoyed, looking back to the computer, “can we talk about this later?”
“Sure,” she said flatly, “when we drive to the meeting.”
And then she disappeared before I could protest.
I didn’t want to drive Mom to the town meeting, because I could tell it wasn’t going to go well. Mom looked ready to sucker punch Buck Crawford or anybody else who thought that his stupid little murder museum was a good idea. And Mom really didn’t need to spend another night in jail.
Once we arrived at the community centre in the middle of town, I pulled the keys out of the ignition and looked at Mom expectantly. “You ready?”
“At least pretend to look a little angry,” she said. “Sammy’s my sister, and she—”
“She’s gone, Mom,” I said, regretting the words as soon as they came out of my mouth.
Mom looked ready to sucker punch me in the face. “You think I don’t know that?” she shrieked.
“You’re angry,” I said calmly.
“Of course I’m fucking angry,” she cried, her face growing redder and redder by the minute. “Buck Crawford is—”
“This isn’t about Buck Crawford.”
Mom pushed open the door, and walked out the car. Maybe I was being a bit insensitive (or a lot insensitive), but most of the time it was hard to feel sorry for Mom after all the shit she’d put me and my sisters through.
Nevertheless, I followed her inside the community centre and sat down beside her. At first she pretended like she hadn’t seen me, but then Buck Crawford walked inside, the room fell silent, and Mom gave him the evil eye.
Buck Crawford didn’t say anything at first. He sprawled out in his chair like he was in his own living room (and maybe, just maybe I kind of wanted to punch him too), and crossed his arms over his chest.
Mayor Copeland opened his mouth to speak, and Buck Crawford said firmly, “I ain’t closing down my shop.”
All hell broke loose then. People started screaming in anger, someone burst into tears.
“How dare you forget about our girls?” George Richmond said, standing up.
It was a little ironic, coming from George Richmond of all people, but I didn’t say anything.
“Don’t worry, son,” Buck Crawford said, “your girls ain’t even on my wall.”
There were sudden gasps of shock and cries of outrage, and George’s wife Lynne had to hold him back from dashing over to Buck Crawford and knocking him flat on his ass.
I quickly realized that not only had his sick little murder museum only commemorated the lives of the eight original girls, but also that everyone in town was too busy feelings things rather than going inside and checking it out for themselves.
Mayor Copeland banged on his gavel like he was some sort of judge and not a small-town politician with little to no power. He shushed the crowd, and open his mouth, “Mr. Crawford,” it came out stern, like he was scolding a misbehaving child, “I know this has been hard for—”
“Until that goddamn plaque comes down, my shop ain’t going nowhere,” he said sternly.
Candace Lawson, Hank Mathers, and Lynne Richmond simultaneously burst into tears. Mayor Copeland had personally paid for a plaque that was supposed to commemorate the lives of the victims of the Butcher of Mercy, but unsurprisingly, it had only mentioned Lindsay, Tessa and Meredith. It was as if Laura, Aunt Sammy, Hazel, Sophie, Aunt Charlie, Eva, Cordelia and Jocelyn had never died in the first place. Mom and Dad were furious about it, and the one
thing they could both agreed on was the fact that someone clearly needed to smash it with a baseball bat. I hated it too, but I wasn’t surprised.
Suddenly, someone in the middle of crowd jolted upwards onto their feet. Irene McKinnon pointed an old, gnarled finger in Buck Crawford’s direction. “And just where am I supposed to get my sliced ham, huh?”
Part 3: Cora
“He wants to stick his kid up in that meat locker, I don’t give a damn, but leave my baby out of it.” - Cora Weathers
By the time the town meeting was finished, no one had come to any agreement about what should be done. Mayor Copeland had refused to take down the plaque, and Buck Crawford refused to close down his murder museum.
After Buck Crawford unceremoniously walked out of the community centre, Mom and I decided to head out, too. Mom was only there to be angry with Buck Crawford, and I insisted upon driving her home to make sure she didn’t try to shank him when I turned my back. (I wouldn’t have put it past her).
I let Mom rant on the drive home, humming and nodding at the right moments but tuning her words out. I thought about Aunt Sammy and Aunt Charlie, two young girls whom I never got the chance to meet and who had died so horribly and so young. I wondered how different life would be if they had lived. Maybe Mom and Dad would have learned how to be real parents.
Maybe Dad wouldn’t have spent a good chunk of my childhood in jail.
Maybe I was selfish for thinking about myself when so many girls had been murdered.
Sometimes, it was weird to think of all those dead girls, because that’s all they were to me. Dead girls. Two of them happened to be related to me, but I didn’t know any of them and all I could think was how their deaths had affected me and my life.
We soon arrived at Mom’s place, and she turned to hop out of my truck. “You going to bed?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “I’m going to see what your Aunt Sheree’s up to.”
Aunt Sheree was the one who owned The Lucky Acorn, and I huffed out an annoyed sigh.
She just looked back at me. “It’s been a rough day, Tally,” she said, deadpan.
Every day was a rough day for Mom. I clicked the lock, and zoomed forward. “You’re coming home with me.”
“Fine,” she rolled her eyes. “Marilena’ll give me something to warm my stomach.”
Marilena was my daughter’s other grandmother, and she had seen firsthand what Mom’s drinking had done to our family. I doubted she’d provide my mother with any booze.
“Whatever you say,” I said, knowing it was fruitless to argue with her. I made a mental note to lock up the liquor cabinet before she got her grubby little hands in it.
When we arrived at the motel, I went inside before Mom and headed straight for the kitchen in the back room. My daughter Dania was sitting at the counter, face engrossed in a novel. As I rummaged around the kitchen looking for the padlock that we sometimes had to attach to the liquor cabinet whenever Mom came around, she looked up at me quizzically, “What’s up?”
“Mom really needs a drink,” I said, finally locating the lock in a junk drawer.
“Oh,” she replied. “How’d the meeting go?”
I sighed, and placed a hand on my hip. “I mean, not well I guess.”
“The Butcher Shop’s not closing?”
“Not over Buck Crawford’s dead body,” I replied, then whispered, “better not say that in front of Mom, or you’ll give her ideas.”
“Maybe you should cut her some slack,” Dania said slowly. “She’s still—”
Before she could finish her sentence, a glass shattered in the other room and I rushed to check it out.
“She’s been drinking, hasn’t she?” our head chef Cora Weathers spit out, looking in dismay at the vase of flowers that Mom had apparently knocked to the floor.
“Buck Crawford!” Mom shrieked like a maniac.
“If she says that name one more time,” Cora said through gritted teeth, looking at me angrily, “I’m gonna knock her out.”
“I’m sorry Cora,” I apologized, then leaned in closer to her, “she’s been like this all day.”
Cora stalked off, and as I went to the supply closet to find a broom to clean up yet another mess she had made, I told her, “Maybe it’s best if you do just go to see what Aunt Sheree’s up to.”
She looked at me like I’d slapped her in the face, and stormed out of the motel muttering obscenities under her breath.
I quickly swept up the broken glass that she’d knocked onto the floor, and headed back into the kitchen to throw out the garbage and apologize yet again for my mother’s (as far as I knew, sober) outburst. It was one thing for her to be ranting to me, but Cora didn’t deserve to have to listen to Mom’s ravings.
I found Cora aggressively cutting up vegetables. “Sorry again,” I said. “She can be—”
“I know how your mother can be,” she huffed out.
For a long time, neither of us said anything. Cora had been Hazel’s mother, but she hadn’t been at the town meeting. It was an awful thing to lose a child, especially a child only fifteen-years-old. It was an awful thing to have a town forget about your child, too. But Cora remembered.
Cora bought the restaurant inside the motel a few years after Hazel had disappeared and called it Hazel’s Kitchen. She only served Hazel’s favourite meals.
“Buck Crawford didn’t care when my Hazel went missing,” she said, finally, and then shook her head. “He barely cared when his own kid went missing.”
“I can imagine,” I agreed.
“He’s using his own kid for what? Money?” she rolled her eyes, “it’s fifteen bucks to get in.”
“Jesus,” I shook my head.
Cora jammed the knife in the cutting board, and looked up at me. “He wants to stick his kid up in that meat locker, I don’t give a damn, but leave my baby out of it.”
Part 4: Clarissa
“Do you feel good about yourself, huh? Making money off your dead daughter?” - Clarissa Corday
I wished that I had something comforting to say. I wished that I could have taken away her pain, or even brought her daughter back to her.
A sudden ding from the bell on the front desk brought both of us out of conversation. “I better get that,” I said, but she had already turned her back to me.
I would have been lying if I said I wasn’t surprised at who was trying to check in. Clarissa was Buck Crawford’s fourth wife, and she was trying to get a room.
Buck Crawford had fourteen children (five of which were through Clarissa), twenty-four grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. I often wondered what all four of his wives were thinking when they married him, but especially his latest wife who was twenty-three years younger than him and the same age as his second eldest son.
Even though she chosen him, I still felt sorry for her. I couldn’t imagine having to share a bed with Buck Crawford, much less willingly.
With her youngest daughter fourteen-year-old Maisie in tow, Clarissa asked for a room. I wanted to ask trouble in paradise?, but instead I just said, “Of course, ma’am,” like the professional I was, and checked to see what rooms we had available.
As I turned to get the key for room number six, Buck Crawford came lumbering through the door. “Clara, baby!” he cried.
“Don’t you Clara me,” she spat.
He looked over at me, and I pretended to look busy. “Can we talk outside?” he asked under his breath.
“No, we can’t,” she said firmly, then she looked at me, “can I get my keys, please?"
“Of course, we’ll just need a credit card.”
She fished out her card from her wallet, and placed it on the desk. “Buck,” she said, not turning around to face him, “you need to go.”
“It was for her, you know,” he said, desperately.
“For her?” Clarissa whipped around and slapped him across the face. “Do you feel good about yourself, huh? Making money off your dead daughter? Off those other girls?”
Maisie burst into tears.
“You didn’t even like Cordelia until she died,” Clarissa hissed, “and then she became your little project. A little ‘fuck you’ to this miserable town.”
“That’s not true!” he cried in outrage.
Clarissa grabbed her room key and Maisie by the hand and headed out of the room. “I’m done, Buck.”
Part 5: Buck
You know, people are more mad about my shop than the fact that we had a goddamn serial
killer in this town?” — Buck Crawford
I couldn’t deny that I had enjoyed watching Buck Crawford get verbally slapped across the face. He stood frozen in his spot, even after his wife (or soon-to-be ex-wife from the sounds of it) and daughter were long gone. He looked angry and lost all at the same time, and he braced himself against the doorframe.
He looked up at me. “What are you looking at?” he sneered.
“Nothing,” I said, even though there was so much I wanted to say.
He snorted. “This town’s a goddamn joke, you know?”
I didn’t say anything, but I raised my eyebrows indicating for him to elaborate.
“You wanna know why I did it?” he asked.
I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of saying yes, but I did so anyways. “Sure.”
“It was for Cordelia,” he said seriously, “and I mean that. People forgot about her, and I just wanted them to remember. I called it The Butcher Shop because she loved puns!”
I felt for him, I did. He had lost someone, too. But I also knew it didn’t explain everything, or even excuse everything. “Why’d you stick everyone else up there too, then?”
“It’s not like anyone bothered to remember them, either,” he explained, “may as well include them, too.”
“And you didn’t think to ask anyone how they felt about that?”
“And what about the fifteen bucks your charging people to get in?”
He stuck his chest out indignantly, and he narrowed his eyes at me. “You know, people are more mad about my shop than the fact that we had a goddamn serial killer in this town?”
I rolled my eyes. “Maybe so, but you’re definitely profiting off murder victims.”
“Well, Cordelia was my murder victim,” he cried, and he jabbed a finger into his chest,
“she’s my daughter, and I’m allowed to remember her any way I want.”
Unwilling to accept differing opinions (or reason), Buck Crawford stormed off into the night.
Part 6: James
“Just… take Charlie’s fucking picture down, okay? Or I swear to God, that shop’s not gonna be there tomorrow.” — James Willmore
I was ready to eradicate all memories of Buck Crawford for the night, to forget about everything that had happened in the last forty-eight hours. From outside, however, I heard a sudden gasp of pain, a loud crunch, and something that sounded like someone falling.
I ran outside the motel, and found my father kicking the shit out of Buck Crawford. He was yelping for his life, but Dad looked like he wasn’t going to stop until Buck Crawford was dead.
“Dad, stop,” I screamed.
He looked up at me for a moment, and then continued kicking. I ran over to him, and used all the strength I had to pull him from Buck Crawford’s body writhing on the ground. “He’s not worth it,” I yelled into his ear.
“What the fuck!?” Buck Crawford screamed at the top of his lungs, and then winced at the pain my Dad had inflicted on his entire body.
“You spread all ‘sortsa rumours when Charlie went missing, called her a no good slut,” he spit out, “and then you think you can just put her picture up on your stupid meat wall like everything’s okay, like you actually cared about any of them?”
“I was just trying to—”
Dad kicked him again. “Shut up!”
Dad put his hands up in mock-surrender and stepped back. Slowly, Buck Crawford picked himself up from ground, spitting blood and limping away.
Dad pulled him backwards, until their noses were almost touching. “Just… take Charlie’s fucking picture down, okay? Or I swear to God, that shop’s not gonna be there tomorrow.”
Buck Crawford pulled away from Dad’s grasp angrily. “Fine,” he huffed out, and limped away before Dad could do any more damage.
“Was that necessary?” I asked, hands on my hips.
He shrugged. “Yes.”
“He’s gonna call the cops, you know that right?”
“No cop’s gonna arrest me for beating up Buck Crawford,” he said with a grin, and as awful as it was, I knew it was true.
I sighed. “You shouldn’t have done that.”
He shrugged again, and then he headed back into his truck.
“Is that all you came here to do? Beat the shit out of Buck Crawford and bounce?”
“Well, yes, actually,” he said.
“And nice to see you, too,” I said with the roll of my eyes.
“Come have a smoke with me,” he said, hopping into his truck and patting the seat beside him.
I sighed. “You know I don’t smoke, right?”
“It’s never too late to start,” he said, then saw my face and snorted, “bad joke, sorry.”
He fumbled around with the lighter and the box of cigarettes, and I sat down beside him.
“You know, Charlie gave me my first smoke?”
I looked away. “Oh yeah?”
“She started ‘real young. Maybe ten or eleven.”
“Grandma or Grandpa didn’t care?” I asked, even though I already knew the answer.
“Momma freaked out in the beginning, but Charlie never listened to anything she had to say. Pops just shrugged and told her he wasn’t gonna pay for her habit.”
“I wish I could have met her,” I said, and I meant it.
When he talked about her like a real person, and not just some girl who got murdered it was easier to remember her. For a long time, he didn’t say anything, and it was almost like I had acknowledged something I shouldn’t have.
“She was the first person I told about you, too,” and her let out a loud, bellowing laugh, “and she grabbed her pack of smokes, took a long drag, looked at me, and said, well, shit kid. I think a part of her was just happy she wasn’t going to be the screw up anymore. She was doing a lot of drugs then, but… well, at least she hadn’t run of and gotten herself pregnant.”
Dad looked back down at the pack of smokes and shoved them into the glove compartment. “I used to hate smoking, the smell of it, the feel of it, everything,” he said quietly, “but then she disappeared and it was the only thing that reminded me of her.”
Part 7: The Memorial
Dad and I spent the rest of the night talking about Aunt Charlie, and by the time the sun rose, I felt like I had known her my entire life. Dad talked about the good and the bad, her loving supportive nature and her addiction.
I would have stayed talking to Dad forever if the sheriff hadn’t pulled up beside us. “James?” Sheriff Mathers said formally.
The Sheriff turned to me. “He been here all night?”
“Yup,” I nodded, not wanting to give anything up. I couldn’t believe that Buck Crawford had actually called the cops on Dad, and that the Sheriff had actually bothered to come all the way out here.
“What’s this about?” Dad asked.
“There’s been an… incident a the, uh, the butcher shop,” he said carefully.
Dad snorted. “What happened?”
“You don’t know?” Sheriff Mathers asked, raising an eyebrow.
“We’ve been here all night,” I reiterated.
It turned out that someone had burned down the butcher shop, or rather, The Butcher Shop all capitals. While Buck Crawford was still inside.
I loved my Dad, but if he hadn’t been with me all night I would have thought he’d done it, too.
Buck Crawford was fortunate enough to have survived, though not at great personal cost. He had burns covering seventy-percent of his body and it would be a long road to recovery. I never liked Buck Crawford, but he didn’t deserve for this to happen to him.
After the shock had worn off, I wondered what all of this said about remembrance and the Butcher of Mercy. I wondered who would do such a thing. I especially wondered if they had burnt the place down knowing Buck Crawford was inside. Considering we had a serial killer roaming around town for nearly thirty, that shouldn’t have been all that surprising.
Death and grief made people do crazy things.
It took awhile for all of us, all of Mercy, to figure out what we needed to do to deal with everything that had happened. Clearly, this wasn’t something we could do together, as a town or community.
Mom and Dad each held a weekend-long memorial services for their sisters, and we all got together to celebrate and remember Aunt Charlie and Aunt Sammy’s lives.
Cora continued to put her all into Hazel’s Kitchen, to honour her daughter’s memory through food.
Clarissa divorced Buck Crawford, and took Maisie away from town.
And Buck Crawford? He slowly but surely began to heal from his injuries, but he would never work at his butcher shop ever again. His eldest son Davey opened a new shop in a new location, and put his own reminder of his younger sister on the wall, with Cordelia’s smiling face looking down on all of them.