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Authors: Alice Sharpe

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Undercover Memories (9 page)

BOOK: Undercover Memories
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He waited until after they’d eaten to tune in the radio. As it was, it took a few minutes for the news to come on and when it did, it was full of a rehash of yesterday’s grisly find. The Pollocks were referred to by name this time, and Paige felt the last tendrils of guilt unwrap themselves from around her heart. It was all out in the open now.

Except, they were still looking for John. That didn’t mean they weren’t looking for Korenev, as well—the police didn’t always release every detail they knew. The news did mention finding the Pollocks’ car near Gil’s Tavern. That meant they would also find Anatola Korenev’s blood smeared all over the place.

The last unsettling comment came at the end of the report when it was mentioned that a honeymooning couple by the name of Brian and Paige Witherspoon, who had been renting a cabin in the mountains in the same general area as the Pollocks, could not be located and that there were signs of a struggle and a macabre find in the freezer.

“They don’t know I was up there alone,” she said. “And now they think Brian and I are both missing. I should have thought of that.”

“I didn’t think of it either,” John said as she switched off the radio. He groaned as he added, “My prints must be on file somewhere and they have to be all over your cabin.”

“But Anatola Korenev’s might be there, too, and his will be in the Pollocks’ car, as well. Yours won’t. Will they? Did you touch it when you got my stuff?”

“I must have touched the handle. Damn.”

“I should notify my family I’m okay.”

“And Brian, too.”

“Brian can tell the police whatever he wants. I am not getting involved with him again. Period. By the way, what do you think they meant when they said there was a macabre find in the freezer? I might have left some ice cream behind....”

“It wasn’t you,” John said, casting her a quick glance. “I actually stuck Korenev’s finger up there.”

“You what?”

“His severed finger. It’ll have a print that might match some in the car, right?”

She stared at him for a second, then put her attention back on the road, but a second later, she started laughing and couldn’t seem to quit.

She pulled over as soon as she could and called her mother, who wasn’t home. No doubt she was at the gym where she taught yoga classes. Paige didn’t want to call the gym. She left a message assuring her mother she was fine and would talk to her soon.

“If the police think you’re missing, they may be waiting at your apartment,” John said as they drove into Parker. He darted glances out the windows, probably looking for the cops.

“I guess. I don’t know how that works, although from what I’ve read in the newspaper, I don’t think the police department can afford stakeouts. For all they know, Brian and I drove off to California or for that matter, if they’ve found out that we didn’t get married, they’ll probably assume I drove off to pout.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Maybe.”

The drive ended at Paige’s apartment building, or what she hoped would still be her apartment building. John caught her wrist as she turned off the ignition, releasing it immediately.

“I want to apologize,” he said.

“Don’t worry about it.”

“No, Paige, don’t brush me off, please.”

She stared at him for a few seconds. His bruises had gone from black-and-blue to a shade of green she knew her own would soon achieve. The cuts were mending. The bandage on his chin had fallen off. Dressed in the cowboy duds, he looked like a bank robber who had ridden all night to escape a lynching posse, which, come to think of it, pretty much described the situation. The frightening look of before was gone. His eyes were calm now, his features less sharp.

Despite everything, her heart went out to him.

Man, she was a sucker.

She ran her hands over her eyes. They burned with fatigue. “Okay.”

“I think I had a kind of hangover from the nightmare.”

“Explain.”

He swallowed and rubbed the back of his neck. “I dreamed about owls. And screaming children.”

“What do you mean screaming children?”

“I couldn’t see them. There were just these voices and terrible cries.... After I…after I kissed you I realized the screams were accusations directed at me. I was on fire, like I was in hell. That’s what it felt like: hell. The only escape seemed to be you.”

He stopped talking abruptly and took a deep breath. Paige flashed on the old burn scars on his back and legs.

“I awoke feeling like I’d had the dream before, maybe many times,” he added. “I’m a killer, Paige. I’m sure of it.”

He swallowed again and Paige winced at the pain on his face. “Maybe it means you were a soldier in a war,” she said. “Or that you were a firefighter and couldn’t save a child.”

“Or maybe I’m just plain out nuts. If the police arrest me now, I’ll end up in some kind of mental institution.”

They could get adjoining rooms…

“So go home, John, before the police or Anatola Korenev find you. Go home and see if walking in your own space jars you back to yourself. Find out about your past—it will explain all this.”

“I hope you’re right.”

She stared at him a second, then shook her head and stared down at her hands. “You weren’t the only one to blame,” she said softly. “About the kiss, I mean. I knew you were acting all spacey. And it’s not like it wasn’t a hell of a kiss.”

He smiled. “I think you’re accepting responsibility you don’t deserve,” he said, “but thanks for the gesture. And I promise you, nothing like that will ever happen again.”

“We’ve had a strange relationship right from the start,” she said slowly. Staring at him, a thought occurred that hadn’t before. “Lone Tree is only about fifty miles from here, right?” she added.

“I think so.”

“I’m driving you,” she said firmly, and held up a hand to still his protest. “Don’t argue. You can’t get on a bus or hitchhike or take a train—someone will recognize you. It’s only an hour drive for me. But first I have to go upstairs and at least leave a note for Katy so she doesn’t freak out when she hears the radio.”

“What about the police?”

“I think I should get you back to Lone Tree before I call them. Might save on answering some really hard questions. I’ll be back in a minute. Katy is usually home at this time of the day, but you never know.”

“I’m coming with you,” he said.

“Do you think that’s a good idea? Wouldn’t it be better to stay out of sight?”

“You’ve forgotten about Anatola Korenev,” he said softly.

“But he doesn’t know where I live,” she said.

“If he listens to the radio, he can figure it out after that last report.”

“But how could he get off the mountain before us?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he didn’t. Do you want to bet your life on it?”

“No.”

He flipped open his vest and pulled the gun from its holster. “The media says I’m a bodyguard. Time I earned my keep.” He pulled the cowboy hat down low on his forehead and opened his door. “Stay behind me.”

* * *

T
HE APARTMENT BUILDING WAS
relatively new but it had zero security at the front door that opened directly into a hallway. Paige lived on the ground floor at the end of the left passage. At the sight of her front door standing wide open, Paige broke into a run and avoided John’s grab for her arm as she ran past him.

“Katy?” she screamed.

John arrived a microsecond after her, swearing internally. It seemed Paige was determined to face every horrific sight before he could possibly shield her. But this time, although chaos abounded, there didn’t seem to be a dead, mutilated body anywhere.

“Let me check the bedrooms,” he said, and she backed up against the wall and stood there, eyes wide with fear at what he might discover.

John stepped over half-empty boxes and stacks of clothes, dishes, books and everything in between. Had Korenev been here, searching for something to help him find Paige or John?

The first bedroom held nothing but two boxes stacked in the corner and taped shut. The adjoining bathroom was equally clean. The next bedroom was even more frenzied than the living area; ditto for the bathroom.

He put his gun away and walked into the living area, where he hastily assured Paige her sister wasn’t dead or injured somewhere else in the apartment. She sagged at the knees with relief and stepped over things to meet him in the middle of the mess.

“What if Korenev came in here and took her?” she said.

John put his arms around her, and she buried her head against his chest for a second. “I have to call the police,” she mumbled into his jacket. “I’ll have to tell them everything I know. I have to get Katy back. I’m sorry.”

He tilted her chin up and gazed into her moist eyes, drawing his fingers across her cheeks to wipe away the tears. “Of course you do. Don’t worry—”

“What the hell is going on?” a female voice interrupted from the hallway. John looked over Paige’s head. In one glance he took in a slightly taller, slightly younger version of Paige dressed in tight jeans and a yellow halter top, holding a large roll of plastic tape.

Paige turned at the sound of the voice. “Katy!” she screamed, and ran toward her sister, jumping over the worst of the mess. “I was so afraid. Thank heavens you’re okay.”

The two women hugged, then Katy stepped away, tape still clutched in her hand. “What are you doing here? And who is the cowboy?”

“He’s just a friend,” Paige said with a sideways glance at John before turning her attention back to her sister. “Where were you? Why did you leave the front door wide open?”

“I was upstairs borrowing tape from Matt. Oh my gosh, Paige. Where did you disappear to?”

“Then you heard the news on the radio....”

“What news? I didn’t hear anything. I’ve been buried in here for days. I mean where did you go after the wedding?”

Paige shook her head. “What wedding? Never mind. Haven’t the police contacted you about my whereabouts or maybe Brian’s?”

“No. I’ve been packing. The landline is disconnected and the battery is dead on my cell… Wait! Are you and Brian back together?”

“No. Why are you packing all your stuff?”

Katy rolled her eyes. She might physically resemble Paige but it appeared the likeness ended there. As she spoke, Katy tapped her foot and drummed her fingers against her thigh, as though unable to stay still. Her face was expressive, just like Paige’s, but the expressions themselves weren’t as beguiling. At least not to him.

“I figured I needed a smaller place,” Katy said, “so I rented a studio in that old building downtown. The Palms or something.” She plopped next to a box full of books and taped it shut. “I told you this before your wedding. I have to be out of here in two days. And that reminds me. You need to take the rest of your stuff. I guess you’ll have to move in with Mom unless you’ve had a better offer....” Her voice trailed off as she stared at John.

“Katy? Just focus for a second,” Paige said. “There was a terrible mess up in the mountains.”

Katy looked up from piling blankets in a new box. “What mountains?”

“I went to a cabin in the mountains. You know, I told you that’s where Brian and I were going to honeymoon.”

“You went to the cabin all by yourself! Oh, Paige, that’s just funny, it really is. Who but you would go off on a honeymoon without a husband?”

“Okay, funny, ha-ha, but there was a killer up there, and I gather the police are concerned I may be a victim, as well.”

“So it’s going to be all over the news that you went on your honeymoon alone? Man, you’re going to be a joke on one of those late-night shows. Does Mom know about this?”

Paige’s sigh was audible from six feet away. “No, Mom doesn’t know. I left her a message, though. Listen, I’ll talk to the cops. You need to leave this apartment right now and not come back until the murderer—”

“Are you crazy?” Katy interrupted with a sweeping gesture of her arm. “I can’t leave in the middle of all of this. I have to be out of here tomorrow or I lose my deposit, and I can’t afford that. No way.”

“This is important.”

“You always think your stuff is important,” Katy said. “Well, my stuff is important, too. I’ll lock the door. Who’s going to come looking for you anyway? Besides Brian’s uncle, and I told him you were gone and weren’t coming back. I knew you didn’t want to be involved with any of Brian’s lame family and—”

“Wait,” Paige said, holding out her hands. “Brian doesn’t have an uncle.”

“Sure he does. Thick accent? Black beard? Gargantuan eyebrows? Ring any bells? Anyway, me and Matt and Willie G. from across the hall were moving furniture when this dude shows up. He said he’d arrived too late for the wedding and wanted to know when you’d be home. It was like his only chance to meet you or something. I told him you weren’t coming back here, I was moving and I didn’t know what your plans were. I even let him look around in your room so he could see that I was serious. I didn’t really like him. Oh, and I told him his nephew is a jerk-face.”

“Was this man’s right hand bandaged?” Paige interrupted.

“Yeah. How did you know that?”

“That wasn’t Brian’s uncle,” John said. “When was he here?”

“A couple of hours ago.”

“This is the man I’ve been warning you about,” Paige said.

“He’s killed at least two people we know of,” John added. “He’s responsible for the abrasions and cuts on your sister’s face and neck.”

Katy looked Paige over. “Oh, I didn’t notice. You are a mess, aren’t you?”

“So, now you’ll leave, right?” Paige insisted. “The manager will understand—”

“Mr. Poplin? Are you serious? The only thing he understands is he has a new tenant who wants to move in bright and early tomorrow morning. I still have the whole kitchen to pack and all of this.”

“Your life is more important,” John said.

Katy propped her hands on her hips and looked from one of them to the other. “You guys are too much, you know that? Are you on drugs or something? Listen, the guy came and he went, big deal. I’ll call Matt down to help me and get a couple of guys from work to come over here and stand guard while I finish this up. If the fake uncle shows up again, I’ll get Willie G. over here and he’ll bore the guy to death. Okay?”

BOOK: Undercover Memories
11.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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