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Authors: Chelsea Cain

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BOOK: Kill You Twice
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Archie sneezed.

“Gesundheit,” one of the girls said.

He looked up. A fine mist of his saliva floated in front of him, sparkling in the light. Beyond it, on the other side of the sunbeam, was a couch, and on the couch sat four girls. The girl
who’d spoken sat on the floor in front of the couch. The facial piercings were gone, and her hair had grown out and was bleached blond, with two inches of light brown at the roots. A colorful
Indian skirt pooled around her legs. Tiny mirrors were sewn into the fabric and they reflected the sun, projecting bright spots above their heads onto the plaster ceiling, like a disco ball. Her
thin round shoulders pushed forward and she smiled at him.

She’d Tasered him once. The fifty thousand volts of electricity had dropped him to the floor.

“Hi, Pearl,” Archie said.

She was supposed to be in Salem, back with her foster parents. Archie wondered how long that had lasted before she’d run away again. A month? Two? She’d been sixteen when
they’d met and already an epic pain in the ass. Archie was guessing that a year had not mellowed her.

“You look old,” she said.

Yes, still a pain in the ass. “I feel old,” he said. He cleared his throat and glanced around at the other girls. They gazed sullenly back at him. No tearstained cheeks. No
histrionics. No loss of innocence at the violent death of someone they knew. These girls had already seen the bad the world had to offer. So they weren’t surprised. It would be different,
Archie thought, if they had seen Jake Kelly’s mangled body hanging from that tree.

Pearl was tapping a plastic pen against her front teeth, tap, tap, tap. The fans whirred and heaved. Archie’s eyes felt dry.

“I’m Detective Archie Sheridan,” he said, for the rest of them. He skipped the usual get-everybody-comfortable small talk. It was too hot in there. “Did any of you see
anything out of the ordinary this morning?” he asked.

The girls shook their heads or shrugged, or stared blankly, which meant the same thing.

“Did any of you see or talk to Jake Kelly?” Archie asked.

More head shakes. “He works in the kitchen,” a girl with an orange Mohawk said, like it meant something.

Bea Adams took a small step forward from her position against the wall and said, “The girls aren’t supposed to fraternize with the volunteers.”

Especially the male ones, thought Archie.

Pearl was chewing on the end of the pen now, working it between her teeth at the corner of her mouth like a dog with a strip of rawhide.

“None of you saw him this morning?” Archie said.

“I shuttled the food in and out of the kitchen,” Bea said. “The girls weren’t back there at all.”

Archie returned his attention to Pearl. She caught him looking at her and stopped savaging the pen. “What?” she said. She lowered the pen to her lap, holding it between her first and
second fingers, a substitute for the cigarette she really wanted.

“Can I see your hand, Pearl?” Archie asked.

She looked down at her hands and then back up at him, mouth uncertain. “Why?” she said.

Archie smiled. “Just a hunch,” he said.

Pearl considered this for a moment and then threw a defiant look around the room and shrugged. “Whatever,” she said. She held her left hand toward Archie. As she shifted forward, the
disco lights reflecting off her skirt spun dizzily around the room.

She’d been holding the pen in her right hand.

“The other hand,” Archie said.

Pearl hesitated; then extended her right hand, palm up.

Archie stood, walked over to where Pearl sat, and knelt in front of her. Then he took her hand in his. It seemed tiny, the nails bitten to the quick. No rings. A tattoo on her inner wrist
consisted of a single plainly printed word:
lucky
.

“The news said that you saved that kid,” Pearl said. “Someone kidnapped him and you saved him. Patrick somebody. I heard about that.”

Archie lifted her palm to his face. Her veins pulsed against the pale skin of her inner wrist, the tattoo still black, relatively new. He could feel her hand tense. She pulled it away. But not
before he caught a whiff of what he was looking for.

It was a bright, spicy scent, and instantly recognizable. “Cloves,” he said.

Pearl tucked her right hand under her left armpit. “So what?” she said.

“You can’t buy cloves anymore,” Archie said. “They’re banned. Along with all flavored cigarettes.”

Pearl smirked. “I know a guy.”

The smell was fresh. “You smoked this morning,” Archie said.

Bea’s arms were crossed. “It’s not allowed in the house,” she said.

“So you went outside,” Archie said to Pearl.

“They’re not allowed to smoke on the front porch,” Bea said.

“We’re not allowed to do anything,” the girl with the orange Mohawk said.

Archie leveled his gaze at Pearl. “If I go to the side yard, by the parking lot, I’m going to find your cigarette butts. I’m guessing you’re the only one around here who
smokes cloves. And I’m thinking I’ll find butts from this morning.”

Pearl turned her head away. “I didn’t see anything. I saw him go by with the laundry.”

A warm, dust-thick tunnel of air oscillated past from the fans, and Archie sneezed again. This time no one said gesundheit. They were all watching Pearl.

“Then what?” he asked.

“I came back inside,” she said.

“What time?”

She had the pen in her hand and was gripping it so hard, her slender fingers looked like they might snap it in two. Her arms had goose bumps. Everyone else was sweating. “Search me,”
she said.

“Pearl,” Bea said. “You need to tell him what you saw.”

Pearl looked away. “I saw Jake,” she said. “I liked him. I talked to him sometimes. But I didn’t talk to him this morning, because he didn’t like me
smoking.”

Tears slid down her cheeks. She reached up and rubbed them away, and when she lowered her hand her face was smudged with ink. The pen had leaked.

“Do you believe me?” she asked Archie.

Sure, she had Tasered him, and when he’d come to he’d found himself hanging from meat hooks, but then again, she’d helped rescue him, too. Good times. “Yes,” he
said. Pearl’s face relaxed. Inky tears streaked her cheeks. When Archie’s daughter was four, she got into his wife’s makeup, and ended up with eye shadow and mascara all over her
face. She’d cried, too, that day. It was something kids learned to do when they wanted to get out of trouble. Archie leaned back and caught the attention of a patrol cop standing in the foyer
of the house. “Get a CSI in here,” Archie told him.

Pearl’s eyes grew large. “Why?” she said.

“I want you checked for blood spatter,” Archie said.

Pearl’s tough façade faltered. Archie tried not to smile.

CHAPTER

8

T
he light was
on in Archie’s apartment when he got home.

He could see it from outside. It made him feel like he was coming home to something other than an empty place in a half-developed wasteland of warehouses and low-overhead retail. It was almost
nine
P.M.
, and still light. Daylight hung on hard in the Pacific Northwest in the summertime. The short dark days of winter unspooled into days that started early and stayed
light long after dinnertime. It was still light out when kids were sent to bed, and already light out when the alarm went off in the morning. Everyone stayed up late and got up too early. Everyone
was tired.

Jake Kelly didn’t have a family. Archie had called his closest relative, a cousin in Iowa, and broken the news. So far they had turned up no leads, no witnesses, no trace evidence. The
only clue they had was the flower.

Archie looked up at his building from where he’d parked across the street. It looked a lot like every other building in the riverside produce district: six stories of weathered brick, with
big factory windows and an old loading dock in front. The old glass reflected the dusk, so the building seemed to shimmer in and out of existence. Only a few lights were on inside. The developers
were carving livable apartments out of the brick warehouse one apartment at a time, and only a few were occupied. When Archie saw the blonde, for a moment he thought she was inside his apartment,
standing in his window, looking down at him. He had to remind himself that Gretchen was locked up. Then, after a startled second, he realized that she was standing in the window a floor below his.
She was five stories up, but when she stepped back suddenly he was certain that she’d seen him looking up at her.

It made him feel strange, like a peeper, when in fact hadn’t she been looking down at him?

Another blonde. That was the last thing Archie needed.

He kept his eyes on the ground and hurried across the street. It had been three months since the floodwaters that had damaged much of downtown had receded, but the smell of it still lingered, a
wet rot that crawled down Archie’s throat and settled in his clothes. The heat only made it worse.

The building had been built as a produce warehouse, with offices upstairs. Back in the thirties they had distributed apples from Oregon farms. Truckers from California would load up their trucks
and then race back south. The first few loads got paid the most. After that, the novelty passed and the price dropped. Truckers died all the time on that route. They fell asleep at the wheel or
took a turn too fast. These days most of the world’s apples came from China.

Archie went through the oversized door on the loading dock and took the old freight elevator up to the sixth floor.

His cell phone started ringing again as soon as he opened the door to his apartment. He pulled the phone out of his pants pocket, but didn’t pick up the call. Instead he set it on the
table inside the door. He glanced at the screen as he walked away. He had twenty-two missed calls.

Archie walked around his apartment turning on fans and opening windows. It was a familiar routine, the same order every time. The feeling of air moving gave, at least, the impression of the
temperature dropping. The stink from the flood was bearable up here. He unbuttoned his shirt and walked down the hall to the living room, and stood looking out his window. He wondered if the blonde
was still standing at her window, one floor below. Outside, the sky was layered in pastels and the Willamette River looked almost lilac. Portland was a city painted in bold colors—deep green
trees and stark white mountaintops, red brick and blue water. Then you’d blink, and it would all go pastel—pink sky, lilac river, silver skyline, a French Impressionist Portland. It was
this Portland that somehow always ended up on postcards. It didn’t help that the second tallest building in Portland, at forty-two stories, was a big pink glass skyscraper.

Archie smiled. Portland. Known for its blush-tinted scenery, and its serial killers.

Beyond the roofs and old wooden water towers of the produce district, Archie could see the twin glass towers of the convention center and the ribbon of interstate that paralleled the river.
Straight ahead, beyond it all, was Mount St. Helens, an hour north in Washington State. The mountain had erupted back in 1980, and killed fifty-seven people, and still spit out a plume of steam
once in a while just to remind everyone she was there. An old coot named Harry R. Truman had refused to leave his home on the mountain when authorities came calling. They never found his body.

The phone rang again. Archie glanced back at it. He could only avoid the calls for so long. He felt a pain under the scar on his chest, told himself it was just in his head, and walked over to
the table and picked up the phone.

“You don’t give up, do you?” Archie said.

There was a pause on the other end of the line. “Detective Sheridan?” said a man’s voice uncertainly. “This is Jim Prescott at the Oregon State Mental
Hospital.”

“I know who you are,” Archie said as he walked back to the window. He had listened to the first few voice mails Prescott had left. Archie had thought that if he didn’t call
back, Prescott would get the message. He’d been wrong.

“I’ve been trying to reach you,” Prescott said.

Archie knew all about Prescott. He had an undergrad degree from UC Davis and an M.D. from Harvard. He’d ended up on the psychiatric staff of the Oregon State Hospital right out of med
school, and he’d clawed his way to chief shrink by the tender age of thirty-five. Archie had read all of Prescott’s reports on Gretchen. That was the arrangement. One-way access.
Emphasis on
one-way
. No one outside the hospital administration, including Prescott, was supposed to know just how involved in Gretchen’s care Archie really was.

“I’ve left messages,” Prescott said.

At thirty-five, Archie had been running the Beauty Killer Task Force—combing crime scenes, interviewing relatives, observing autopsies.

“I’m one of Gretchen Lowell’s doctors,” Prescott said.

Archie scratched at the scar on his neck. Traffic was backed up on the interstate. The parade of red taillights headed north as far as he could see. Too late for rush hour. There must have been
an accident. “I’m not coming down there,” Archie said. “You can tell her to go fuck herself.”

There was a pause. Finally Prescott said, “She’s been making progress. She’s been quite adamant about needing to speak with you.”

The white headlights heading south were slow now, too. Gawkers. Human nature. Everyone had to look. “She’s playing you, Doctor,” Archie said. “There’s no shame in
it. I’ve been played by her.” That was an understatement. “Epically. But trust me, whatever she’s telling you to make you think that you calling me is at all appropriate in
any universe, she’s lying.”

“She says she has a child,” Prescott said.

Archie’s body went numb. He swallowed hard, trying to recover his voice. “That’s impossible,” he said.

“She thinks this child is in danger,” Prescott said. “That you are the only one who can help.”

Archie had seen Gretchen’s medical records. Her tubes had been tied. The scars were old; the doctors who’d examined her thought the surgery had been done when she was a teenager.
This was all part of the game. The sky was darkening and the traffic on I-5 looked pretty, a festive ribbon of red and white. Archie shook his head slowly and laughed. “This is insane,”
he said. “This is what she does. She manipulates people. You know that. She’s convinced people to kill for her, for Christ’s sake. She fucks with people’s heads for
entertainment.” He would not give her the satisfaction. Not this time.

BOOK: Kill You Twice
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ads

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