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Authors: T. B. Markinson

Claudia Must Die

BOOK: Claudia Must Die
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CLAUDIA MUST DIE

A novel by

T. B. Markinson

Published by T. B. Markinson
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T. B. Markinson’s official website
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Copyright © T. B. Markinson, 2014
Cover Design by Vik N Charlie
Edited by
Karin Cox
Proofread by
Jeri Walker-Bickett
e-book formatting by
Guido Henkel
This e-book is copyrighted and licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any forms or by any means without the prior permission of the copyright owner. The moral rights of the author have been asserted.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

This book is dedicated to all those who said I could when many others said I couldn’t.

Chapter One

Claudia spotted her by accident. The day turned out to be much hotter than the forecasters had predicted—an unseasonable eighty-eight degrees in April. Everyone was talking about the weather. Was this what scientists meant when they discussed global warming? The temperature forced Claudia to stop at Starbucks on Newbury Street for an iced coffee. Happenstance.

When she first arrived in Boston, Claudia had been taken with Newbury Street. The shops, the affluence, the wealthy people reminded her of the good old days, when she could spend willy-nilly and not have to worry. Those days were long gone.

Claudia.

She didn’t feel like Claudia anymore—she felt like prey, and her stalkers wouldn’t stop until they killed her.

When she, The Hunted (as she sometimes thought of herself) entered Starbucks, her heart stopped. A woman in her mid-twenties sat in the corner, leisurely examining what appeared to be lecture notes. Truth be told, the woman was not studying at all but daydreaming about a certain someone. Claudia, of course, was not privy to this information.

How could this be?
she wondered. The student looked like her—a dead ringer, in fact, except for a mole on the woman’s left cheek, which would be easy enough to fake. Otherwise, Claudia’s own mother would have believed the woman to be her daughter, only with shorter hair. Claudia’s long hair was pulled into a ponytail most days. It had been many months since she had wanted to look attractive or since she had felt desired.

The student’s hair was shoulder length, rendering a ponytail impossible; however, her hair color was spot on: strawberry blond. The student even had the same unusual, liquid green eyes that resembled the ocean on a calm day. Seductive eyes that hinted at intelligence mixed with curiosity. Even Claudia’s sharp nose was familiar in the stranger’s face. In grade school, Claudia had been called ski jump. Claudia had hated her nose most of her life, but now, she was grateful for it.

Could this be the answer? Will he fall for it?

She was tired of running, tired of being The Hunted. She had not seen her mom and friends for more than a year. This was the seventh city she had relocated to. Each time, Claudia hoped a bigger city would help her blend in and disappear, but the idea of living in New York City scared the crap out of her. So she came to Boston. No one knew Claudia in Boston, or in Massachusetts, for that matter. Most of the people she knew still lived in Colorado and had no intention of moving or even going vacationing outside of the Centennial State.

Claudia ordered an iced coffee and grabbed a copy of the
Boston Globe
before sitting down at a table, from which she could further examine the student. Pretending to be engrossed in the paper, she glanced in the young woman’s direction. The student looked to be in her mid-twenties and was more stylish than Claudia. Not just the haircut. Although the student was dressed simply, she revealed a few elegant touches. A silk scarf that added a hint of color. Diamond stud earrings. Makeup, although so little as to be barely noticeable.

Claudia suddenly felt as if she had raccoon eyes. She unknowingly stroked her own shapeless ponytail, ashamed. Pretending to make a cell phone call, she instead snapped a photo of the student.

After some time, the student packed up her belongings. Claudia followed her home. Parker Mapes, the student, lived in a five-story apartment complex on Commonwealth Avenue, near Boston College, right in front of a T-stop along the B-line of the subway. It was perfect.

Claudia glanced about, satisfied. Throngs of people were milling around. However, not wanting to draw too much attention to herself, Claudia didn’t venture into the building to determine which apartment the woman lived in. There was time for that, she hoped.

Walking down Commonwealth Avenue, back into the heart of Boston, Claudia could not contain her elation. What good fortune. And to think that earlier that same morning, she, The Hunted, had woken up so depressed she hadn’t wanted to roll out of bed. To say that she was in dire straits was an understatement. No words could express the despair Claudia had felt that morning. The money she set aside for her escape was starting to run dangerously low (although there was more hidden far away). There was no chance she could get a legal job, but Claudia refused to stoop to working in the oldest profession. She had to stay under the radar, or he would find her. If he did, it would mean the end of her.

***

At first, everything had been roses and wine. When others warned her about Dennis, Claudia laughed it off.

“Use your head,” Claudia’s mother had said. “How could a man in his early thirties make so much money owning a handful of run-down bars in two small towns in the West?”

“What, you think he’s a drug dealer or something?” Claudia had broken into hysterics. “He hardly looks like a gangster, Mother. Dennis doesn’t wear any jewelry. Not even a wedding ring.”

In Claudia’s mind, a gangster would at least wear a gold necklace. And, he had excellent table manners. There was no way Dennis could be a thug. How many scrawny five-foot-six guys were?

They had married after seven months. Neither had intended to marry so quickly, but they had visited Vegas for a long weekend, got drunk, and got hitched. It wasn’t until Claudia moved into Dennis’s house that she started to notice things. He wouldn’t come home for days, and when he did, he refused to tell her where he had been. He racked up a lot of mileage on her car, not his. When Claudia asked about it, his reply was a cold stare that made her legs feel like jelly. Granted, one of his bars was in Greeley, but that was only a twenty-minute drive from their home in Loveland. How did the miles add up so quickly?

After a year, they started to fight constantly. Verbal arguments. After another year, the fights turned violent. Claudia ended up in the hospital—still nothing serious enough for her to walk out. Not yet. Instead, she started hoarding cash. In the beginning, it was a little bit here and there. It was simple. Claudia would request cash back when she used her debit card at the grocery store. Dennis liked her cooking; he never questioned how much his wife spent on food. When she realized her embezzlement plan would take years, not months, The Hunted chose a more drastic solution. The next time her husband crossed the line…

***

After a week of following the student, Claudia felt secure enough to break into Parker’s apartment. She discovered the woman’s full name by conning the mailman into handing over Parker’s mail. The mail carrier said it was against regulations, but Claudia convinced him she was taking care of her sister’s apartment and had misplaced the mail key. When the mailman refused, Claudia “accidentally” exposed the top of one of her breasts.

Men! One look at her cleavage—and there was plenty to gawk at—and he had handed Claudia the mail every day for three weeks. Every time, he had grinned foolishly, trying to peek down Claudia’s shirt. Although always polite, she never gave the postal perv another glimpse; the thought made her sick.

The back staircase in Parker’s apartment complex was never locked. Too many of the residents couldn’t be bothered to carry their keys, it seemed. Even signs pleading with residents to lock the door, following several break-ins across the street, seemed to have no impact. Break-ins always happened there, literally right across the subway tracks. The residents claimed it wouldn’t happen in their building. Not on the right side of town. Claudia smiled as she read the warnings.

From the back staircase, Claudia could access Parker’s deck. All she had to do was nudge the bedroom window open—cut the screen if she had to. Claudia hoped that, since she looked like Parker’s identical twin, nosy neighbors would think Parker had simply locked herself out and was breaking into her own apartment.

Once inside the apartment, what struck Claudia first was the complete absence of any pictures. Not only did Parker not have any personal photos in frames, but nothing hung on the walls. No posters. No paintings. Absolutely zilch. The bedroom had a queen-size bed and one beat-up dresser. Everything was in its place. The student didn’t own many clothes, and the closet was only half full. Out of the four dresser drawers, two were empty. Two! Claudia’s clothes, back when she still had a home, had spilled out of every available closet in the house, as well as from Claudia’s walk-in closet, which itself had been nothing to sneeze at.

The kitchen was just as empty. A fridge, a stove, and a nearly bare pantry stunned Claudia. Stacks of Tupperware in the fridge contained some type of rice and red, green, and yellow pepper meals. Claudia sniffed the food. Soy sauce. Clearly, Parker wasn’t a chef.

Several bottles of tonic water fizzed in the door of the fridge. In the freezer, Claudia discovered several bottles of gin. All of this time, she thought the student had been drinking ice water on the deck—several glasses each night. Just days after spotting Parker, Claudia had rented a shady apartment with a wonderful view of Parker’s building and back deck. Each night, she studied the student as she sat outside, which was a nightly ritual, even when it rained. Parker’s apartment was on the third level, and the deck above protected her from the elements.

The main room consisted of a couch and a TV stand; however, there was no TV. Instead, books and old newspapers were neatly stacked by the couch. OCD, much?

What in the hell does this person do for fun?
wondered Claudia. All the evidence suggested Parker had no one in her life. No family. No friends. No loved ones. Perfect.

Claudia returned to the kitchen, wondering what gin tasted like. She withdrew an open bottle and took a swig with a pre-emptive grimace at the taste. She had always mentally associated gin with crabby old people who couldn’t taste anything anymore and required a strong drink to get even a hint of flavor. After swallowing, she took another sip. It tasted fresh, not strong at all, like the woods on a refreshing spring day.

Placing the bottle back in the freezer, she turned around and took everything in. Yes, she could definitely take this over. Claudia could live this life. She could become the student with no one in her life. Years ago, Claudia wanted to be an actress. That dream had died when she married Dennis, but now she had an opportunity to have a lifelong acting job.

***

Parker packed up her books in Starbucks and wandered onto Newbury Street. The sidewalk was packed with tourists, shoppers with bags swinging from their arms, or Red Sox fans heading to Fenway for a night game. Locals shoved their way through the crowds. Wanting to avoid the snobbery, Parker hung a left onto Massachusetts Avenue and wandered a few blocks until she came to the Christian Science Plaza. It was four minutes to five. Parker sat down on the wall by the reflecting pool and closed her eyes, waiting.

Claudia watched the student intently. Such behavior was out of the ordinary for Parker. The student was a stickler for routine. The change in schedule made Claudia ponder the significance of the place. Was Parker religious? But how could that be? She never went to church, nor did Parker possess any bibles or religious material. Why was she here? Claudia scanned the grounds and people, searching for a clue.

Then the bells started to chime. Every muscle in the student’s body relaxed. She was at peace. The bells reminded Parker of her grandparents, who died when she was eighteen. In their house, every hour on the hour all of their clocks—and there were more than a handful—would announce the passing of time.

To this day, bells calmed Parker. When her grandparents died, Parker didn’t know how she would go on. By the age of eighteen, she had lost everyone close to her. This burden weighed on Parker, preventing her from forming close bonds—except for one. Right then, though, that didn’t matter. All that mattered was the sound of the carillon. The ringing echoed off the buildings along Massachusetts Avenue, enhancing their soothing power on the student.

BOOK: Claudia Must Die
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