Her Last Word

Page 26


“That would be great,” Kaitlin said.
“I’ll leave you to it,” Dr. Williams said. “Kaitlin, I’ll be in my office if you need anything.”
“Thank you.”
The principal laid her hand on Kaitlin’s forearm. “You and Gina are in my prayers.”
When Dr. Williams left, Kaitlin and Angela sat at two front-row student desks. Kaitlin pulled out her notebook and recorder and explained her project again. “What do you remember about Gina?”
Angela smiled. “I first met her in the third grade when I transferred to Saint Mathew’s. We weren’t friends right away, but even then she was the one everyone gravitated to.”
“I remember you were friends also in high school, right?”
“We ate lunch together sometimes and shared a few classes. I wouldn’t call us close friends, but in a small school like Saint Mathew’s, we all knew each other.”
“I remember you telling me that you’d heard rumors about Gina. Can you talk about those rumors?”
“There were some who thought Gina had staged the whole thing and that she’d run away. She fought with her mother the morning she vanished. And everyone knew she’d been under a lot of pressure to stay perfect.”
Kaitlin caught herself before she rebutted the idea. Part of the podcast’s purpose was to play devil’s advocate and explore all the angles and theories.
“Do you believe that?”
“God, no. Gina loved the school, and she had the golden ticket to the Ivy League schools. She had it all. I mean, yes, she was under a lot of pressure, but she looked like she could handle it. Though when you arrived she seemed a little more stressed.”
Kaitlin had upended her aunt and uncle’s family. She’d not been easy or grateful for the chance. “How did things change?”
“You didn’t fit in.” Angela fiddled with a pencil resting in a groove on the desk. “But you hadn’t grown up with us. I came to the school in third grade, and I was the new girl for years. No way as a sophomore you would’ve fit in.”
“It was more than that, wasn’t it?”
Angela nodded and shrugged. “You didn’t want to be here. You weren’t crazy about wearing a uniform. You definitely weren’t happy about Friday-morning prayer. And then you decided if you couldn’t be perfect like Gina, you’d be bad. That’s when you started dating Randy Hayward. You know he ended up in jail.”
“Yes, I heard. What do you remember about Randy?”
“He had come home for college spring break and announced he wasn’t going back. He showed up at senior prom for God’s sake.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“He snuck in the back. Security caught him. Said he was an alumnus and was just visiting. They made him leave.”
He’d had a rawboned look when Kaitlin had first seen him in late spring of ’04. The collar of his worn leather jacket was popped, and she’d immediately seen he didn’t belong at the school. His bad-boy reputation had been honey.
“Do you remember him with Gina?”
“He tried to talk to her at prom. She called him a loser, and it pissed him off. That’s when security saw him and tossed him off the property.”
“A few months later she vanished,” Kaitlin remarked.
Angela cocked her head. “He was arrested that fall, right?”
“For burglary.”
“He stole from his mother. He was a real piece of work. I don’t know what you saw in him, Kaitlin.”
“Neither do I. Do you think he knows what happened to Gina?”
Angela hesitated and then nodded. “Yes, I do. When I heard the cops had released him, I was shocked. I was sure we’d finally know what happened. Why did they let him go?”
“They didn’t have enough proof.”
“That’s right. You couldn’t identify him.”
“Yep.” Kaitlin imagined an accusation under the statement. She checked her watch, remembering why she had avoided Angela in high school. “I’ve a Saturday study session with my own students. I’m going to have to leave.”
“Oh, yeah, sure. I hope I was some help.”
“You were,” she lied.
“You’ll keep us posted on your project?” Angela’s practiced look of concern hadn’t changed since high school.
“I will.”
“I’d like to hear it when you’re finished. Maybe Saint Mathew’s can sponsor a venue.”
Angela hesitated as if undecided about giving her a handshake or a hug. She smoothed her hands over her jeans, opting to do neither. “Good to see you.”
“Yes.” Kaitlin left Angela’s room and made her way down to the main hallway.
On the way out of the school, she heard, “Kaitlin Roe.”
She turned toward the deep masculine voice. It had been fourteen years since she’d seen Derek Blackstone, but he looked much the same as she remembered. His hair was a little gray at the temples, but he remained fit. He strode toward her, the folds of his jacket hugging a trim waist and broad shoulders.
Kaitlin moved toward him, closing the gap. She extended her hand, doing her best to look relaxed and confident. She took his hand, smiling as strong fingers clamped around hers. “Derek. You look great.”
He allowed his gaze to roam over her before he released her hand. “I could say the same about you. What are you doing here? Investigating Gina still?”
“That’s exactly what I am doing.”
“Randy told me about your visit.”
She hid her disgust for Derek, harnessing all the lessons she’d learned in public relations. “I assume he’ll have news to share soon about Gina.”
He chuckled softly. “You know I can’t say anything about that.”
“Anything you say is strictly off the record.” He was too smooth and practiced to give a comment, but it didn’t hurt to ask.
A dark brow arched. “No such thing, Kaitlin.”
She couldn’t resist the urge to press. “You dated Ashley in the summer of ’04. You were only a mile from the river when Gina vanished.”
His smile remained fixed. “I’m assuming you have a point to make.”
“You were best friends with Hayward, and you knew him better than anyone. You would have been the guy he called if he’d done something stupid like kill Gina.”
Blackstone’s body appeared relaxed, and anyone looking at them would never suspect he was tense unless they could see how his eyes had now hardened. “You’re wrong.”
Dr. Williams appeared in the hallway and moved toward them. Blackstone leaned in and in a voice loud enough for only her to hear said, “Be careful. When you poke around in the dark, it’s easy to find something that bites back.” He winked, then turned toward Dr. Williams.
There was no missing Blackstone’s threat, and Kaitlin wasn’t foolish enough to dismiss it. As dangerous as Randy was, Derek was more so. But she was glad she’d seen him and had a chance to face him—and maybe rattle his cage a little.
She hurried to her car and drove along Grove Avenue toward the university. She parked and dashed to the audiovisual offices, where the department chair was tinkering with a microfilm machine.
“Stephanie,” Kaitlin said.
The brunette swiveled in her chair and smiled. “What brings you here? More questions about audio equipment?”