Her Last Word

Page 24


A check of his watch showed it was almost showtime.
Killing Jennifer had been exhilarating, and his body still buzzed with adrenaline. He readily accepted it was his job to dish out her punishment, but he’d not expected to enjoy it so much.
It was smarter to wait before he dealt with Erika and Kaitlin, but the morning rain was too perfect to pass up. Rain washed away so many sins. Better to deal with them now. He’d punish Erika accordingly, and for Kaitlin he had a special windowless room.
The front door snapped open. Black yoga pants and a fitted blue top covered by a snug gray jacket silhouetted a body kept ruthlessly in shape. Socks and clogs warmed her feet. Blond hair was tied into a sleek ponytail reminiscent of her times as part of the Glittering Trio at Saint Mathew’s. Gina, Jennifer, and Erika had been at the peak of the school’s social pecking order, and they knew it.
As he inched lower, the torn vinyl on the seat rubbed against his T-shirt. The magnetic sign on the side of the truck read TURNER PLUMBING. The letters were in red, a color easily remembered if anyone were watching. He’d stolen the truck and would soon ditch it.
Erika’s Mercedes pulled out of the driveway, and he followed. He watched her race through a yellow light and then turn abruptly at the corner ahead.
He stayed several car lengths behind, careful to keep her in his sights. He knew where she was going, but today it was important he be there when she arrived.
He watched her pull into a parking spot near the back entrance of the yoga studio. Repeated observation revealed she preferred this spot because she could slip inside through the back door. That was Erika. She didn’t like to interact with people much anymore.
He slid into the space beside Erika, parking within inches of the passenger side of her car. He opened his door and smacked it hard into the sleek, polished navy-blue finish, leaving an angry white scratch.
She glanced up, alarmed. For a second, she just sat there staring at him. And then she ducked her head against the rain and hurried around the car. Keys clutched in her hand, she studied the jagged white mark in the side door of her car as the rain dripped on her hair and shoulders.
“What have you done?” Her voice was high pitched and rippling with stress. “My husband is going to have a fit when he sees this.”
Tugging a ball cap forward, he slid out of the car and made a show of studying the scratch. “Wow, did I make that?”
“Yes, you did. What the hell, why weren’t you thinking?” She folded her arms over her chest, her teeth already chattering a little. As she looked toward the studio door, her shoulders tensed. The clock was ticking, and she was going to be late for class.
“I’ve a rag and some rubbing compound. I bet once I’m done with it, you’ll never know there was a scratch.” He moved to the back of the truck and opened the camper top.
Her jaw clenched as she shook her head and ran her finger over the jagged surface before following him. “You can’t buff a deep mark out. It’ll have to go to a body shop.”
“Naw, I can fix it right up.” He grinned as he rummaged for a tool in a dented red toolbox.
“You can’t just rub it out!”
A car pulled into the parking lot, but the female driver barely tossed them a glance as she rushed through the rain into the building, a green yoga mat tucked under her arm.
She was inches away now. Mad. Spouting frustration. Closer. Closer. And then she ducked her head under the raised camper top. They were nose to nose.
Erika’s demeanor changed. “Is this some kind of a joke? I told you we’d meet later.”
He slid his hand into his pocket, removed a syringe, and plunged it into her arm. “No joke, baby.”
She flinched and recoiled, dropping her keys onto the wet parking lot. “What the hell?” Already her words were slurring.
“I’m changing the plan. You’re going to help me get Kaitlin.” He picked up her keys and hit the trunk release on her car.
Her knees buckled as she tried to steady herself against the truck.
He wrapped his arm around her and shuffled her toward the open trunk of her car. Her response was an incoherent mess, but it didn’t matter.
Not now.
He drove twenty minutes north to the deserted parking lot of a closed gas station on Route 1. Weeds sprouted from the cracks in the asphalt, and the windows of the garage were covered in brown paper. He drove around back and parked next to his truck. Moving quickly, he opened the car trunk and truck’s camper top.
Erika lay on her side in the trunk, her body curled into a fetal position. It would be hours before the drugs were out of her system. He quickly lifted and placed her body in the back of the truck, then taped her wrists and ankles before he covered her with a tarp.
The drive to his house took a half hour. He was careful to watch his speed and put his blinker on each time he switched lanes.
When he pulled up to his home, he pressed the garage door button, and when it opened he carefully drove into the clean, neatly organized space. The door closed behind him.
Out of the cab, he walked to the back and opened the camper top. Now that they were alone, he had the time to admire her. He pushed back a lock of her blond hair. Her soft perfume wafted around her. She was beautiful. She’d kept her body fit and trim, and she was always dressed to perfection.
Now he was going to strip that perfection away. Like Jennifer, it was time to be punished. He lifted her into his arms and carried her into the house and downstairs to a darkened basement room. He’d been in this room so many times getting it ready for her, he didn’t need light to know where to step or where to lay her. He knelt and settled her body on the cold floor.
He kissed her on the cheek, wishing he had time to linger. “It’s time to pay for your crimes.”
She appeared to frown, but she didn’t open her eyes. He left her unconscious, locking the door behind him.
Normally Saint Mathew’s wouldn’t be open on a Saturday. But today was Saint Patrick’s Day and also one of the school’s biggest fund-raisers, which was scheduled for this afternoon. When Kaitlin had called the principal, Dr. Williams had agreed to meet her at the school before the hectic day began.
Kaitlin parked at the front entrance on the street. Saint M.’s, as the student’s called it, had classes K through twelve, and many of the students had known each other since before kindergarten. That’s how it had been with Gina, Erika, and Jennifer. Whereas the others shared a lifetime of school years together and affluent backgrounds, Kaitlin had been the outsider and dirt poor. Kaitlin’s aunt had picked up the tab for her tuition.
The school’s brick facade had a worn patina hinting to its nearly one hundred years in service. The planters out front were still filled with yellow winter pansies, as they had been when she’d been a student here. Come mid-May the groundskeeper would change out the pansies with yellow marigolds. The world kept convulsing forward, but Saint Mathew’s stayed a steady course.
The signs on the school’s front door advertised the afternoon garden fund-raiser as well as the upcoming song competition held between the four high school classes. This spring contest, which had seemed so important when she’d been a student, now was a pleasant triviality. Gina had been the leader of her senior class, and they’d won, of course. Whatever that girl had touched turned golden, and if Kaitlin were honest with herself, that Midas touch had made it hard to love her cousin.
Kaitlin pressed the intercom button by the front door, which she knew was always locked.