Authors: Kevin O'Brien
Tucking the Salems in the pocket of her windbreaker, Wendy approached the minivan. The little girl had been struggling with one of three bags. But now she stopped to stare at Wendy. The child kept shaking her head over and over. Tears slid down her cheeks. She seemed to be mouthing something to her.
“It looks like you could use an extra hand,” Wendy said.
Propped up on his crutches, the father smiled. “I really appreciate this. If you could just slide those bags into the backseat, we can take it from there.”
“No problem.” Wendy hoisted one of the bags into the back. The young girl stood by the open door. She whispered something, and Wendy turned to her. “What did you say, honey?”
,” the child whispered.
Bewildered, Wendy stopped to stare at her.
The father cleared his throat. “If you could get in there and slide the bag to the driver’s side. Just climb right in there…”
,” the young girl repeated, under her breath.
For a second, Wendy was paralyzed. She squinted at the child, who began to back away from her. Wendy wasn’t looking at the man.
She didn’t see him coming toward her with one of his crutches in the air.
“Run!” the child screamed at her. “No—”
It was the last thing Wendy heard before the crutch cracked against her skull….
THE NEXT TO DIE
MAKE THEM CRY
WATCH THEM DIE
LEFT FOR DEAD
THE LAST VICTIM
ONE LAST SCREAM
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
Kensington Publishing Corp.
This book is for my friend Doug Mendini.
My thanks to my editor and good friend, John Scognamiglio, who always knows just when I need a pat on the back or a kick in the butt. I couldn’t have written this book—or any of my others—without him. I’m grateful to everyone else at Kensington, especially the wonderful Doug Mendini. About time I dedicated a book to this classy man!
A great big thank-you also goes to my agents extraordinaire, Meg Ruley, Christina Hogrebe, and the terrific people at Jane Rotrosen Agency.
I owe another big thank-you to Tommy Dreiling, for his support, encouragement, and friendship.
As usual, my talented writer-friends were incredibly helpful with their suggestions on how to make early drafts of this book better. Thank you to Cate Goethals and David Massengill; and to my Writers Group pals, Soyon Im and Garth Stein.
Thanks also to Lori, at Open Adoption & Family Services, for answering so many of my questions about adoption and foster care.
I’d also like to thank the following friends for their support and encouragement: Lloyd Adalist, Dan Annear & Chuck Rank, Marlys Bourm, Terry & Judine Brooks, Kyle Bryan & Dan Monda, George Camper, Jim & Barbara Church, Anna Cottle & Mary Alice Kier, Paul Dwoskin, Tom Goodwin, Cathy Johnson, Ed & Sue Kelly, David Korabik, Jim Munchel, Eva Marie Saint, John Saul & Michael Sack, Bill, JB, Tammy & Fran at The Seattle Mystery Bookshop, Dan, Doug and Ann Stutesman, George & Sheila Stydahar, Mark Von Borstel, Michael Wells, and the gang at Bailey/Coy Books.
Finally, thanks to my wonderful family, Adele, Mary Lou, Cathy, Bill, and Joan.
Moses Lake, Washington—1992
She turned the key in the ignition, and nothing happened, just a hollow
click, click, click
“Oh, shit,” Kristen murmured. She felt a little pang of dread in her stomach.
The battery wasn’t dead, because the inside dome light had gone on when she’d climbed into her Ford Probe a minute ago.
Biting her lip, Kristen gave the key another twist.
Click, click, click
It was 11:20 on a chilly October night. Hers was the only car in the restaurant lot. Kristen had just finished a seven-hour shift waiting tables at The Friendly Fajita. She’d closed up the place with Rafael, the perpetually horny 19-year-old busboy, and he’d just taken off on his rusty old Harley. Kristen could still hear its engine roaring as he sailed down Broadway. It was the only sound she heard.
There was a phone in the restaurant, and she had a key. But she and Rafael had already set the alarm. It would go off if she went back inside, and she could never remember the code, especially while that shrill incessant alarm was sounding. She’d have to go look for a phone someplace else, and then call a tow company or a cab. Her boyfriend, Brian, was out of town at a golf tournament down in San Diego.
“Please, please, please,” she whispered, trying the ignition once again. The car didn’t respond except for that hollow
click, click, click
“Damn it to hell,” she grumbled. Grabbing her purse and a windbreaker from the passenger seat, Kristen climbed out of the car and shut the door. She didn’t bother locking it.
She took a long look down the street. Most of the other businesses along this main drag were closed for the night. There were a couple of taverns farther down Broadway. Kristen loathed the idea of hoofing it several blocks along the roadside. The waist-length windbreaker didn’t quite cover her stupid waitress uniform. The Friendly Fajita’s owner, Stan Munch, who was about as Mexican as she was, made her wear this señorita getup with a white, off-the-shoulder peasant blouse and a gaudy purple, green, and yellow billowy skirt over a petticoat, for God’s sake. With her short, blond hair, green eyes, and pale complexion, she looked like an idiot in the outfit. But, hell, anyone would appear ridiculous in it. The thing looked like a Halloween costume.
The Friendly Fajita had been open for four months, and it was floundering. Moses Lake didn’t need another Mexican restaurant. Besides, the food was mediocre and overpriced. And if that wasn’t enough to drive customers away, Stan had the same two Herb Alpert CDs on a continuous loop for background
If Kristen never heard “The Lonely Bull” again in her life, it would be too soon.
Maybe she could flag down a cop car, or a good Samaritan. Kristen ducked back into the Probe just long enough to pop the hood and switch on the hazard lights. She figured that would make it easier for passersby to see that she needed help. Of course, she was also making it easier for the wrong person to see that she was stranded.
It suddenly occurred to Kristen that someone might have sabotaged her car. Just a little sugar in the gas tank—that was all it took. She’d read that before he started killing, the young Ted Bundy liked to screw with women’s cars, so he could later watch them when they were stranded and vulnerable.
He just watched them. It turned him on.
Kristen wondered if someone was looking at her right now as she stood beside her broken-down car in front of the darkened restaurant. Maybe he was across the street by the flower shop. He could be hiding in the shadows behind those bushes, studying her through a pair of binoculars.
Or maybe he was even closer than that.
She shuddered and rubbed her arms. “Stop it,” Kristen muttered to herself. “You’re perfectly safe. There aren’t any serial killers in Moses Lake.”
Still, she reached inside her purse and felt around for the pepper spray. She wondered if it even worked any more. She’d bought the little canister over two years ago while a junior at Eastern Washington University in Cheney. She’d majored in graphic design, and planned to move to Seattle. But Brian got a job as the golf pro at one of Moses Lake’s courses. It was a big resort town. Kristen had decided to put Seattle on hold, and stick with Brian for a while. There wasn’t much need for a graphic artist in Moses Lake. So, here she was, dressed up like a Mexican peasant girl and stranded outside The Friendly Fajita at 11:30 on a cold Wednesday night.
Kristen kept the pepper spray clutched in her fist.
One car passed the restaurant, and didn’t even slow down. She waited, and then gave a tentative wave to an approaching pickup, but it just whooshed by. Kristen glanced at her wristwatch—only two cars in almost five minutes. Not a good sign.
She noticed a pair of headlights down the road in the distance. Kristen stepped toward the parking lot entrance, and started waving again, more urgently this time. As the vehicle came closer, she noticed it was an old, beat-up station wagon with just one person inside. It looked like a man at the wheel. He got closer, and she could see him now. He was smiling, almost as if he’d been expecting to find her there.
A chill raced through her. Kristen stopped waving and automatically stepped back.
The station wagon turned in to the restaurant parking lot. Warily, Kristen eyed the man in the car. He was in his late thirties and might have been very handsome once, but he’d obviously gone to seed. His face looked a bit bloated and jowly. The thin brown hair was receding. But his eyes sparkled, and she might have found his smile sexy if only she weren’t so stranded and vulnerable. Right now, she didn’t need anyone leering at her.
He rolled down his window. “Looks like you could use some help.” The way he spoke, it was almost a come-on.
Kristen shook her head and backed away from the station wagon. “Um, I already called someone and they should be here any minute, but thanks anyway.”
“You sure?” the man asked, his smirk waning.
“Positive, I—” Kristen hesitated as she noticed the beautiful little girl sitting beside him in the passenger seat. She had a book and a doll in her lap. The child smiled at her.
“Wish I knew more about car engines,” the man said. “I’d get out and take a look for you, but it wouldn’t do any good. Want us to stick around in case this person you called doesn’t show up?” He turned to the child. “You don’t mind waiting, do you, Annie?”
The little girl shook her head, then started sucking her thumb. She glanced down at her picture book.
The father gently stroked her hair. And when he smiled up at Kristen again, there was nothing flirtatious about it. “Would you like us to wait?” he asked.
Kristen felt silly. She shrugged. “Actually, it’s been a while since I called these people. Maybe I should phone them again.” She nodded toward the center of town. “I think there’s a pay phone at this tavern just down Broadway. Would you mind giving me a lift?”
“Well, if you live around here, we can take you home.” He turned to his daughter again. “Should we give the nice lady a ride to her house, honey?
Breaking into a smile, the girl nodded emphatically. “Yes!” She even bounced in the passenger seat a little.
Kristen let out a tiny laugh. “I don’t want to take you out of your way.”
“Nonsense,” the man said, stepping out of the car. He left the motor running. “We’ve taken a vote and it’s unanimous. We’re driving you home.”
He touched Kristen’s shoulder on his way to the passenger door. He opened it, then helped the girl out of the front seat. “This is my daughter, Annabelle,” he said. “And her dolly, Gertrude.”
“This isn’t Gertrude!” the girl protested. “This is Daisy! Gertrude is home with—”
“Oops, sorry, sorry,” her father cut in. He gave Kristen a wink. “I’ve committed a major faux pas, getting the names of her dollies mixed up.” He opened the back door for his daughter. “C’mon, sweetheart, climb in back and buckle up. And hold on to Daisy. Let’s hurry up now. This nice lady is tired, and wants to go home.”
Kristen hurried back to her car, switched off the blinkers, locked the doors, and shut the hood. Then she returned to the station wagon. “I live on West Peninsula Drive,” she said, climbing into the front passenger seat. The man closed the door for her.
The car was warm, and smelled a little bit like French fries. She noticed an empty Coke can and a crumpled-up Arby’s bag on the floor by her feet.
The man walked around the front of the car, then got behind the wheel. He pulled out of the parking lot.
Kristen looked back at her broken-down Ford Probe. She’d call the tow company in the morning. Right now, she just wanted to get home and take a shower. She turned to the man and smiled. “I really appreciate this.”
Eyes on the road, he just nodded. He seemed very intent on his driving.
Kristen glanced over her shoulder at the little girl. “Thank you for giving me your seat, Annabelle.”
“You’re welcome,” the child said, her nose in the book.
“So, how old are you, Annabelle?”
The girl looked up at her and smiled. She really was beautiful—a little girl with an adult face. Kristin had seen photos of Jackie Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor when they were around this child’s age, and they had that same haunting mature beauty to them.
“I’m four years old,” she announced proudly.
“My, you’re almost a young lady!” Kristen turned forward again. “She’s gorgeous,” she said to the man.
But he didn’t reply. Another car sped toward them in the oncoming lane. Its headlights swept across his face. He had the same strange, cryptic smile Kristen had noticed when she first spotted him.
She squirmed a bit in the passenger seat. Moses Lake was an oasis. Just three minutes outside of the bright, busy resort town, it became dark desert, with a smattering of homes. Kristen and Brian’s town house was in the dark outskirts.
“Um, you need to take a left up here,” she said, pointing ahead. But he wasn’t slowing down. “It’s a left here,” she repeated. “Sir…”
He sped past the access road. “Oh, brother, I can’t believe I missed that,” he said, slowing down to about fifteen miles per hour. “I’m sorry. I’ll find a place to turn around here. I must be more tired than I thought. My reaction time is off.”
Biting her lip, Kristen wondered why he didn’t just make a U-turn. There was hardly any traffic.
“Here we go,” he announced, turning right onto a street marked
. They crawled past a few houses along the narrow road. Kristen counted six driveways he could have used to turn his car around. They inched by the last streetlight, and the darkened road became gravelly. Kristen noticed a house under construction on her right.
“I think there’s a turnaround coming up,” he said, squinting at the road ahead.
Kristen swallowed hard, and didn’t say anything. The car was barely moving. Its headlights pierced the unknown darkness ahead of them. “Can’t we—can’t we just back up and turn around?” she asked.
“I’m beginning to think you’re right,” he said. He shot a look in the rearview mirror. “How are you doing back there, honey? You tired?”
“Kind of,” the child replied with a whimper.
“She’s up way past her bedtime,” the man said. “But I
her tonight. She’s Daddy’s little helper.”
The car came to a stop. The headlights illuminated the end of the road and a long barricade, painted with black-and-white diagonal stripes. Beyond that, it was just blackness.
Puzzled, Kristen stared at the man. “Why did you need your daughter tonight?”
He smiled at her—that same cryptic smirk. “If she weren’t here, you never would have climbed into this car with me.”
Daddy’s little helper.
All at once, Kristen realized what he was telling her. She quickly reached into her purse for the pepper spray. She didn’t see his fist coming toward her face.
She just heard the little girl give out a startled yelp. “Oh!”
That was the last thing Kristen heard before the man knocked her unconscious.
“God, please! Somebody help me!”
An hour had passed and they’d driven thirty-five miles.
The little girl sat alone in the front passenger seat of the old station wagon. With a tiny flashlight that had a picture of Barbie on it, she looked at her picture book.
“Please, no! Wait…wait…no…”
The woman’s shrieks seemed to echo through the forest, where the car was parked along a crude trail. But the child paid little attention. She turned the page of her book, and tapped at the dashboard with her toes. Cold and tired, she wanted to go home. She wondered when her daddy would be finished with his “work.”
When the screaming stops, that’s usually when he’s almost done.
She told herself it would be soon.
Seattle, Washington—fifteen years later
Someone had a Barenaked Ladies CD blasting. The music drifted out to the backyard—along with all the talking, laughing, and screaming from the party inside the townhouse. The place was a cheesy, slightly run-down rental down the street from the University of Washington’s fraternity row. Amelia wasn’t sure who was giving the party. A bunch of guys lived in the townhouse, sophomores like herself. One of them—a total stranger—had stopped her this morning when she’d been on her way to philosophy class, and he’d invited her. That happened to Amelia all the time. She was constantly getting asked to parties. It had something to do with the way she looked.
Amelia Faraday was tall, with a beautiful face and a gorgeous, buxom figure. She had shoulder-length, wavy black hair, and blue eyes. She also had a drinking problem, and knew it. So she’d declined many invitations to drink-till-you-drop campus bashes. Her boyfriend, Shane, didn’t like the idea of strange guys inviting Amelia to parties, anyway. Among their friends, they were nicknamed the Perrier Twins, because they always asked for bottled water at get-togethers.