Her Last Word

Page 5


“What’s Kaitlin’s last name?”
“Roe.” She pulled out her phone. “I have the address. Jennifer texted it to me.”
Adler scribbled the name Roe.
“It’s a warehouse studio just across the river in the Manchester district.” She rattled off the address and time. “She’s probably still there. There was a reception after her talk. Until ten, I think. What does Kaitlin have to do with Jennifer?”
“Maybe nothing. Trying to piece together her last day.”
“Jesus, it’s her last day.” She tipped back her head, but the tears rolled along her cheeks. “I can’t believe this is happening.”
He motioned to the patrolman who’d approached. “This officer will take you home.”
She looked up at the house. “I can’t leave my sister.”
“We’ll look after her,” Adler said. “I promise.”
She wiped away another tear and allowed the officer to escort her to the waiting patrol car. She didn’t take her eyes off Adler as the car drove away.
Quinn handed him a printed postcard encased in a plastic evidence bag as the medical technicians carried the stretcher onto the porch and down the steps toward the waiting van. “It’s a handmade invitation to a lecture scheduled for tonight,” she said.
Adler studied the postcard. The time was underlined with three red lines.
He flipped the card over to see a black-and-white image of huge boulders in the rapids of the James River. The picture captured the rising sun illuminating a thick mist hovering above the river’s waters. He knew the location of the picture. It was Pony Pasture, a popular spot where people gathered on warm days to sun, swim, and drink.
“Kaitlin Roe.” Saying the name drew the memory closer to the surface. And then he remembered.
Talk to a homicide detective about motive, and they’ll tell you there are three primary driving forces: sex, revenge, and money. Gina was a girl everyone liked. She lived a clean life. After she vanished, the police dug into her past expecting to find signs of risky behavior that had lured the killer to her. Revenge: Whom had she wronged? Money: Whom did she owe? Sex: Whose heart had she broken?
The police search turned up nothing in Gina’s behavior that signaled trouble. So they shifted their focus to the people who knew her. Cops understand that most murder victims know their killers, and the chance a random stranger is involved is almost nonexistent.
The spotlight landed on me. My past substance-abuse problem meant I was the likely troublemaker. The provocateur. For weeks, that spotlight didn’t move. The cops examined every aspect of my life, grilling me about my brother’s death, my troubles in Texas, and my poor academic performance at Saint Mathew’s. As much as they pushed and dug, they didn’t initially find any motive or evidence linking me to the crime. That connection would come six weeks later when a pawnshop owner called in a tip about an unrelated crime.
Thursday, March 15, 2018; 10:15 p.m.
The event hadn’t attracted the crush of interest Kaitlin had hoped for. Only seven people had shown up to hear her lecture. A few were her students angling for extra credit, and there was a retired couple interested in making their own podcast. One attendee confessed she had come for the free wine, crackers, and a night out away from the kids. No sign of Jennifer or her sister. That stung.
Still, she welcomed the chance to talk about her project. Saying it out loud made it feel real. Her podcast had yet to be realized beyond a handful of interviews, but announcing it publicly, if even to only a few people, meant she had to follow through with it.
Kaitlin walked her last guest, a student, to the front door. Remembering the flowers, she turned and picked them up and handed her the extravagant arrangement. “Enjoy.”
“Are you sure?” Amy’s short dark hair framed a round, serious face.
“Yes. And thank you for opening up the space. I can’t believe today of all days, I was running late.”
“Oh, no worries. Don’t you want to keep the flowers?”
Kaitlin glanced at the vase of white tulips that had been delivered to this room right before the start of her lecture. “Not my color.”
“Who sent them to you?”
“An anonymous admirer.” She had no card and no idea who would send them. It was unsettling. If she’d been alone when they’d arrived, she’d have pitched them. But she hadn’t been by herself, so the delicate flowers had stood front and center as she lectured.
“See you in the study session on Saturday,” Kaitlin said.
“I’ll be there.” Amy glanced toward the podium and an enlarged picture of Gina. “You never said why you’re digging into the Gina Mason case.”
Black shoulder-length hair swept over Gina’s smooth shoulders, and a V-neck drape set off a strand of white pearls likely handed down through generations. Dark eyes ignited with laughter, soon to be extinguished by a horrific future.
“She needs to be remembered, to be found and brought home.”
“Yeah, but why her? Why you?”
This was the piece of the documentary she’d not shared tonight. It was one thing to dictate into a recorder at home, but another to talk about it here. So she’d skirted her involvement in the case, telling herself it was better to appear objective. Soon, however, the story would demand more honesty and more vulnerability from her. “It’s a compelling story.”
Amy hesitated as more questions clearly bubbled below the surface. But Kaitlin checked her watch; the kid got the hint and let them go. “Right. Well, terrific story. I can’t wait to find out how it ends.”
“Me, too.”
Kaitlin opened the door, wished the girl a good night, and watched as she crossed the street to her small car. She waited until the little red vehicle’s lights popped on and the tires were rolling before she closed the door. She pulled down the shades over the big display windows and locked the dead bolt. She paused, then clicked it open and closed again. A habit she’d picked up after Gina’s disappearance.
She unpinned her hair and ran her fingers through thick blond strands accentuated with long dark roots. After kicking off her clogs, she knuckled her toes against the hard floor and massaged out the tension.
The room’s ceiling rose fifteen feet to accommodate the building’s pipes, and the HVAC ducts crossed overhead with industrial fixtures that cast a harsh light onto the concrete floor and unfinished brick walls. Outside, the rumble of a broken muffler mixed with the beat of an unrecognizable rap song as a car drifted past.
This location probably hadn’t been the best place to hold the event. Its semi-industrial address all but guaranteed most genteel people would not venture here after dark. However, Kaitlin was saving her money for the podcast, and free space was welcome.
She faced the enlarged high school senior picture of Gina mounted on a portable easel.
“I’ll find you,” Kaitlin whispered.
Outside, the shouts of young men reverberated on the other side of the door. She tensed and waited for them to pass. When it was silent again, she released the breath captured in her chest.
Maybe once she finished the podcast, the university would cut her a deal and have her lecture on their dime. Or better, she’d pick up a corporate sponsor. Maybe one day, she’d make other podcasts. Find other missing girls like Gina.