Her Last Word

Page 20


“Do you know about the current charges against him?”
“I keep track. If I hadn’t helped him after Gina vanished, there would have been less suffering in the world for all of us, you included.”
“What was he like around the time Gina vanished? Did he act more jumpy than usual?”
“He rarely slept then. I would hear him come in at all hours, and when he was here he was either watching television or pacing. I soon learned that meth could keep him up for a week or more. He spent a lot of time in the garden shed.”
“Did you ever look in the shed?”
“Yes. One day he left the house in such a rage. Randy was in one of his moods, and it scared me. I went to the shed, thinking I’d find his drugs. I was going to destroy them.”
“What did you find?”
“Nothing. I remember feeling so relieved.” She twisted a pearl earring.
“Is the shed still there?”
“I had it demolished ten years ago.”
If Gina had been in the shed, the evidence was long gone. “I remember Randy was close to Derek Blackstone and Brad Crowley.”
Mrs. Hayward rose and moved to a Queen Anne desk, opened a bottom drawer, and removed a framed picture. She smoothed her hand over the image. “It was easy to love Randy then. He was so funny. So charming.” She looked up. “That little boy died a long time ago.” She handed the picture to Kaitlin. “Here he is with Brad and Derek. By the time Gina went missing, those two had moved on with their lives, whereas Randy was stealing my silver for drugs.”
Kaitlin studied the image of the three boys who were standing in front of a fifth-grade graduation banner. “They all went to Saint Mathew’s, didn’t they?”
“Yes. Graduated with Randy. Did you hear Brad became a plastic surgeon?”
“Yes. He married Erika Travis.”
“Does Erika seem . . . happy with Brad?”
“Hard to say. We only spoke briefly.”
“Derek is a very successful lawyer. He called me after Randy’s latest arrest. I didn’t answer the phone, but he left a message. He wanted me to know he would protect Randy.”
“I supposed he’d act as his lawyer.” Instead of explaining more, she shifted the topic, saying, “I heard about Jennifer on the news. Terrible.”
“Randy couldn’t have killed Jennifer.” The mother still couldn’t resist defending her son.
“No.” Kaitlin scribbled down the names of Randy’s friends. “Do you mind if I snap a picture of this?” she asked.
Kaitlin took several pictures of the smiling boys with her phone. “Thank you, Mrs. Hayward. Do you want me to call if I find out anything?”
Her lips thinned. “No, child. I don’t want to know. Goodbye.”
Kaitlin had not revisited the spot by the river since she left Richmond fourteen years ago. Returning now was harder than she’d imagined. Her chest tightened and her hands trembled as she stood on the narrow road hugging the river just under Mrs. Hayward’s house.
The afternoon sun cast a warm glow on the rippling water lazily drifting past large rocks. The warmth of the sun took the edge off the cold and blustery air as she walked toward the outcropping of boulders that would be packed with sunbathers in only a few months. It looked so peaceful. So innocent.
She closed her eyes. The soothing sounds of nature grew silent in the wake of Gina’s screams. Her cries. And when she opened her eyes, for a brief second, she saw the menacing clown mask.
Every fiber in her demanded she run now.
Run, Kaitlin. Run.
Her fingers curled into fists.
Breathless, she retraced the same path she had walked with Gina. She hugged the shoulder of the narrow road, remembering as an occasional car came flying by full of kids not paying attention. With each step, she felt the pull of the past.
“You’re such a bitch, Gina. Can’t you wait up?”
“Hurry up.”
“God, I hate you.”
Kaitlin was now a half mile from Pony Pasture and standing at the spot. Her heart pounded as fragmented memories rushed her from all sides.
The knife to Gina’s throat and then her ear. Gina’s screams. The blood. The seconds when she didn’t remember but must have stood in shock and utter denial that this could be happening. A memory of those missing moments reached out and teased her, but it quickly drifted away. Why couldn’t she remember?
A car drove by, and she sidestepped into a line of trees separating the river from the road. To steady herself on the sloping bank, she placed her hand on one of the trees. Its broken branch scratched her palm, and in an instant a memory emerged.
It was Gina’s abductor. “I told you I’d come for you, Gina.”
She closed her eyes and replayed the words that until now had remained locked in her subconscious. Was she remembering Randy’s voice? She focused, trying to trigger more memories. She waited. Listened. But instead, the sounds of the river and wind in the trees came back.
Frustrated, she headed back to her car. “I’ll make this right, Gina.”
Adler was still processing Kaitlin’s comments from their meeting as he dialed his phone. In the light of day, she had looked softer, not quite as tough as he’d first thought the night before. She had opened up to him a little, but still kept him at arm’s length.
Trey Ricker with the Commonwealth Attorney’s office didn’t pick up. Adler wasn’t surprised when it rolled to voicemail. “Trey, this is Adler. Got an idea to run past you about an inmate named Randy Hayward. Call me. Thanks.”
He checked his watch. The Gina Mason case file should be on his desk by morning. In the meantime, he had the grim task of attending Jennifer Ralston’s autopsy.
The drive along Broad Street from Church Hill into the heart of the city took less than ten minutes. He parked in front of the state medical examiner’s building on East Jackson Street and made his way into the gray granite office. The state offices usually were closing by now, but given the nature of this crime, the medical examiner assigned to the case had agreed to expedite the examination of Jennifer Ralston. He rode the elevator to the basement.
A weight had settled on his shoulders as he pictured Jennifer lying lifeless in her shower. It never got easier. He knew the day it did, he needed to pack it in.
Adler stripped off his jacket and pulled on a set of scrubs. He found Quinn already gowned up at the foot of a gurney holding a sheet-clad figure. At the head of the table was Dr. Tessa McGowan, one of the pathologists who worked for the state medical examiner’s office. Dr. McGowan was the newest to the team, but she’d quickly established herself as a top-notch professional. She stood a few inches over five foot and had a trim build kept fit by hiking and running. Black hair peeked out from her surgical cap, framing large expressive eyes. In her early thirties, she was also married to an agent with the state police.
“Detective Adler. We were just getting started,” Dr. McGowan said as she pulled on latex gloves.
“Sorry for the delay. I went by the murder scene again to revisit a few observations.”
Without looking at Quinn, he could tell she was expecting him to comment further. She would have to wait.
Dr. McGowan slid on protective eye gear and nodded to her assistant, a tall, slim man also gowned up. He pulled back the sheet to reveal Jennifer Ralston’s pale nude body.