Her Last Word

Page 19


“I’m not really a reporter. I’m looking for Gina. I might not ever find her, but at least she won’t be forgotten.”
“People don’t want to remember.”
“It’s not a matter of what they want.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You dated Randy for a couple of months. How old were you? Sixteen?”
“A girl that age had no business dating a twenty-one-year-old man.” She shook her head. “I remember seeing you with him. You looked at him with adoration.”
“I was young and foolish.”
“Yes, you were.”
“I remember you told me to stay clear of him. I wouldn’t listen.”
“No, you didn’t. And I should have told your aunt about what was going on, but I didn’t want the trouble.” Her head cocked a fraction. “Do you still have a soft spot for Randy?”
“No. This has nothing to do with him.”
“Good. Because I don’t have any more love left for him. He isn’t worth it.”
Kaitlin sensed a small opening. “But you didn’t believe that then. You thought you could save him. I know you fought hard to keep Randy out of prison fourteen years ago. I know you loved him.”
She fiddled with a silver bracelet banding her slim wrist. “I’m his mother. It’s natural for me to try and save my child.”
“It must hurt to know he’s back in jail now and facing the death penalty.”
“I gave up on Randy a long time ago. He’s called me several times since his last mishap, but I’ve not taken his calls.”
Randy’s mother had always brushed off her son’s violent tendencies as misfortunes or bits of trouble. Kaitlin fought back bitterness. “I only care about Gina.”
A large diamond ring dwarfed her arthritic finger. “Do you think this podcast will make the police take a second look at Randy? Are they going to try to prove he hurt that girl?”
As handy as a lie would be, Kaitlin reached for the truth when she could. “I want the police to take another look at her case. And if that means looking at Randy again, then so be it.”
Mrs. Hayward drew in a breath and stepped aside, creating more space in the doorway. “Come inside. I only have a few minutes.”
“Great. Thank you.”
Kaitlin followed Mrs. Hayward into a living room designed with a large bank of windows that were decorated in floral silk drapes. The lot was wooded and sloped straight to Riverside Drive. A few buds clung to the branches, but none had blossomed. The river and road were visible now, but shortly all the foliage would bloom, making it nearly impossible to see the road. By her calculation, Mrs. Hayward’s house was a quarter mile from the spot where Gina was taken.
Mrs. Hayward lowered herself into a wingback chair. “You were with that poor girl when she vanished.”
Kaitlin sat in a chair beside the older woman and angled her body toward her. “Yes, when she was abducted.”
“You didn’t identify Randy in the lineup.”
“The man who took Gina was wearing a mask. And as you may have heard, I was drunk.”
“I heard.” She drew in a breath and slowly let it out. “I heard you were the one who spiked the bottle of lemonade the girls were passing around.”
That wasn’t true. Yet everyone believed the former drug addict had not only provided the booze but also loaded it with Ecstasy. She’d done worse before in Texas, but not to Gina. “Would you believe me if I denied it?”
“I’m not sure anymore.” Mrs. Hayward pursed her lips. “Why were you so sure it wasn’t Randy?”
“I wasn’t. I just couldn’t say it was Randy. I couldn’t send him to prison for life unless I was certain he’d done it.”
The older woman rubbed a twisted arthritic thumb against her smooth palm. “I wish you had identified him. I wish to God you had. Even if you had lied, I’d have understood.”
Kaitlin allowed the silence to hang between them.
“Randy was difficult as a baby. Maybe his father and I spoiled him because we wanted him to be happy, but no matter what we gave him, it was never enough.”
Randy was good at using people and making them feel guilty when they didn’t give him everything he wanted. Kaitlin had gotten free of him, and it appeared his mother was doing the same. “He made me feel the same.”
“I suppose we have that in common.” The older woman stared at Kaitlin for a long moment. “I’m not taking his calls this time. I’m not helping him again.”
Kaitlin didn’t respond, sensing the woman had more to say.
“Randy dated every girl at Saint Mathew’s at one point. He liked them pretty and young.” She plucked at an imaginary thread on her pants. “But Gina always said no to him. That girl won points in my book. At first he took her rejection in stride, but as he got older, it bothered him more and more.”
“Why? Do you think it was his drug problem?”
“The meth and heroin made him paranoid. He started to take everything harder and had terrible mood swings.” She shook her head. “Listen to me talking about such drugs so casually. When I first heard about them, I had to go to the library and look them up.”
“They’re insidious.”
“I thought Randy would grow up. He had barely finished his second year of college and was on academic probation. His father and I wanted him to get serious about school. But he liked to play. He liked his drugs. He liked the girls.” She absently stared at a painting of herself and Randy as a young mother and son. “The cops asked me if Randy knew Gina well.”
“You told them he didn’t know her that well.”
Her brows knotted, and she slowly expelled a breath. “I thought I could save him. I thought if I gave him one more chance, he’d straighten out his life. So I told the police he didn’t know her.”
“But he did know her. Several of her friends knew he wanted to go out with her and she rejected him.”
She shrugged. “Hearsay from a bunch of teenagers looking for some fame and attention. I knew my boy better than anyone, and I made that clear to the police.”
“If you knew him so well, then you knew he didn’t like hearing no.”
She was silent for a moment. The habit of guarding old secrets was hard to break. “With Gina, he had met his match. It made him mad when she ignored him. I never told anyone, not even his father, but her rebuffs made him want her even more.” Mrs. Hayward suddenly looked vulnerable. “What did he say when you went to see him?”
Kaitlin slowly folded a sheet of notebook paper, buying time before saying, “He says he knows where Gina is.”
Mrs. Hayward’s serene face crumpled, revealing raw pain. She raised a trembling hand and pressed it against closed eyes, until finally she opened them. Watery blue eyes reflected a blend of sadness and unchecked anger. “Randy is a liar. You know that.”
“I do. I’ve reminded myself a dozen times in the last few hours. But he knew details no one else did.”
“What details?”
“I don’t think I can say,” Kaitlin said.
“Why not?”
“The police are looking into it.”
Mrs. Hayward tipped her head, holding back tears desperate to spill. Her lips trembled before she steadied herself and met Kaitlin’s gaze. “Don’t let him use Gina to get out of this latest charge. He used me more times than I can remember. I had hoped time in prison would make him a better man, but it’s made him even more evil.”