Authors: Keven O’Brien
Maggie sipped her coffee. “Something else occurred to me, Jack. Jonie’s the third person I know who has died within the last month, all of them from unnatural causes.”
“Who else has died besides your brother and Jonie?”
Maggie shrugged. “I didn’t know her very well. Her name was Lucy Ballatore. She was a waitress at this restaurant where I go for takeout. About three weeks ago, they found her near a railroad yard. She’d been murdered—stabbed in the throat.”
“You say she was stabbed in the throat?” Jack whispered.
Maggie nodded over her coffee cup. “According to the newspapers, they found her in her bra and panties—with her hands tied behind her back. No sign of sexual assault—”
“She was in her underwear?”
Maggie nodded again. “Why? Is there any significance to that?”
Jack stared down at the tabletop. “He takes their outer clothes and uses them for something,” he muttered, almost to himself.
Maggie leaned forward. “What are you talking about?”
“This waitress—Lucy—was she missing any fingers or toes?”
With a dazed look at him, Maggie slowly shook her head. “I have no idea. You mean like how my brother lost a couple of toes?”
“If there’s a pattern here, that’s it. He takes their clothes and some actual part of their bodies….”
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 Cate Goethals,
who helped me become an author
A great big thank-you goes to my editor at Kensington Books—the dapper John Scognamiglio, who is also a dear friend. The sensational Doug Mendini (also with Kensington) has my undying gratitude and admiration as well. And thanks to all the other people at Kensington who got this book off the ground. I’m also grateful to my agents and friends, Mary Alice Kier and Anna Cottle.
Several people helped me with the writing, rewriting, and fact-checking for this novel. Special thanks to my buddies, Cate Goethals, Dan Stutesman, Dan Monda, David Massengill, my brother-in-law, Dennis Kinsella, and my sister Adele O’Brien Bensinger. Thanks also to David Madsen at Seattle University, for giving me a Latin translation and Bill McClure at the Seattle Medical Examiner’s Office, who gave me information about coroner practices.
Thanks also to the friends and family members who really went out of their way to push my last novel to their friends or the general public, especially Beth Kinsella, Dan Annear, Paul Dwoskin, Louise Vogelwede, Doug Stutesman, Amanda Brooks, and mostly my pal, Tommy Dreiling.
Finally, all my love and gratitude to my family.
She told herself this would be the last time. If she nipped it in the bud today, there was a good chance no one would ever find out.
Dorothy sat behind at the wheel of her BMW, studying the snaky road ahead. It was dusk, and she’d just switched on her headlights. The drive was quite pretty, taking her through a few rural towns, some farm area, then the forest. She knew the route very well by now. The two-lane highway would straighten in a few miles, and she would reach the little town of Worley. At the roadside, there would be the Worley Feed & Tackle General Store—and next to it, the motel.
Since their last rendezvous, she’d gotten her hair cut and they’d touched up the gray. She wore it short now with the bangs swept over to the side, very no-nonsense. He’d said he liked her brunet hair long and free. He would be disappointed. Too bad for him. Maybe it would make breaking up with him a little easier—or so she told herself.
In reality, she couldn’t help wanting to look her best for him tonight. Dorothy wore her favorite pearl-and-gold earrings, and the rose-colored silk blouse he said made her look sexy. She was a forty-year-old mother of two, and he called her
. Small wonder she had a hard time leaving him.
But it was more than mere flattery and physical attraction. They related to each other. They’d both given up so much for their jobs, and had so many responsibilities. In their respective professions, they were under constant scrutiny and had to set good examples of moral integrity. If it was ever discovered that they were lovers, their lives would be destroyed. So far, they’d been lucky. But she couldn’t afford to keep pushing her luck.
Taking another curve in the highway, Dorothy eyed the long stretch of road in front of her. She felt a twinge in her stomach. These stolen afternoons and evenings always made her nervous and a bit breathless. She would never admit it to him, but he scared her at times. Maybe that was part of the thrill.
Up ahead, she saw the yellow Co-Zee Motor Inn sign towering above two squat buildings beside the rural highway. The management still hadn’t fixed the sign. Some of the letters were missing.
LOW HOURLY RAT S
, it said.
HOT TUB & FRE ADULT MOVIES IN ROO
The two of them had an ongoing joke about the low rats that would appear in their room every hour. They’d used the hot tub—a round, sunken Jacuzzi-for-two in the corner of the bedroom—several times.
She didn’t watch the adult movies, which revolted her. He claimed that he wasn’t interested in them either. Yet she’d walked in often enough and found him glued to one of those raunchy films on TV. “Just getting warmed up for you,” he’d say.
Dorothy pulled into the motel’s lot. The Co-Zee Motor Inn was a tacky, late-fifties cabin-row-style lodge with about forty rooms. No question about it, the place was an adult motel. Built in the middle of nowhere, its isolation was part of the draw. There were always plenty of cars in the lot—and Do Not Disturb signs on the doors.
She parked around back—her usual spot, near their usual room. She often worried about someone seeing her BMW there, and tracing the plates back to her. It was probably silly. Still, she had to be very careful.
Dorothy had never set foot inside the Co-Zee Motor Inn’s lobby for fear someone might recognize her. He always made the reservations and checked in, then waited for her in the room.
She noticed his car in the lot, a few spaces down from her.
Dorothy’s stomach was still in knots. She’d tried breaking up with him before—several times. But he wouldn’t let her go. Besides, it was difficult forsaking someone who loved and needed her so much. Earlier today, she’d resolved that they wouldn’t make love tonight; they were only going to talk.
But now that she was here, Dorothy felt herself weakening. She wanted to be with him just one more time.
Glancing around the parking lot, she climbed out of the car. She patted her new hairstyle, then gently knocked on the door to Room 29. She waited.
Her heart sank a little, but she didn’t panic. Sometimes he’d be taking a shower, or out stretching his legs—he’d had a long drive, too. Whenever he couldn’t come to the door, he left the room key on top of the door frame. Dorothy stood on tiptoe and felt around for the key. She found it, then unlocked the door.
He’d turned on the radio to some oldies station. They were playing the Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” The shades were drawn, leaving the room rather dim despite a light coming from the bathroom and another from the nightstand lamp. The furniture was a cheesy, midsixties Mediterranean style. The turquoise-and-brown drapes matched the bedspread, and the rug was a brown shag—ideal for camouflaging cigarette burns and dirt.
Stepping into the room, Dorothy closed the door behind her. She saw an empty, large garment bag by the foot of the bed—as well as an arsenal of cleaning products crammed into a plastic bucket: Mr. Clean, Playtex gloves, a sponge and scrub brush. There was also a box of large heavy-duty trash bags.
For a moment, Dorothy wondered if she’d walked in on the maid. But she recognized his open duffle bag on the bed. “Hello?” she called nervously. “Anyone here?”
Then she spotted his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He was naked, hiding behind the half-open door. She could only see part of him in that mirror—but one of the best parts, she often liked to tell him. He had a really cute butt. He seemed to be holding something in his hand, but she couldn’t make out what.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” she chimed, sauntering toward the bathroom.
The door moved, obscuring her view of him in the bathroom mirror. “What’s going on?” she said.
“You got your hair cut,” he said.
“What do you think?” she asked hopefully.
“You know I liked it long.”
“Listen, what’s going on?” she asked. “Why is all this cleaning junk here?”
“Take off your blouse,” he whispered. “Take off everything.”
Dorothy hesitated. “I—I really don’t like this. Would you come out from behind there, please?”
“Not until you take off your clothes and step into the hot tub. I’m naked. C’mon, play along.”
Reluctantly, Dorothy set her purse down on the bed. She unbuttoned her rose silk blouse, but didn’t feel at all sexy as she took it off. She stepped out of her shoes, and then her skirt. She kept staring at the cleaning products and that garment bag.
Dorothy stood near the foot of the bed in her bra, half-slip and stockings. She planted one hand on her hip. “This is as far as I go until you come out of there and talk to me,” she announced.
“Get in the hot tub,” he said. “Then close your eyes.”
“This is crazy.” With a sigh, Dorothy marched over to the sunken Jacuzzi and carefully stepped down into it. “There’s no water in here. I don’t understand what’s going on.”
“Are your eyes closed?”
Dorothy squinted toward the bathroom. If he was looking at her, he probably couldn’t tell that her eyes weren’t completely shut. He was opening the door now. She could make out his silhouette.
“They’re closed,” she lied, watching him come closer, more into focus. Indeed, he was naked. He seemed to be holding a sword. But she told herself it couldn’t be. Her eyelids fluttered, and for a moment, she saw only blackness.
“Why am I standing in this stupid, empty tub?” she asked.
“So it catches all the blood,” he replied.
Dorothy never had time to open her eyes—or scream.
She’d lost a button from the front of her good dark blue coat, the one she always wore to church. Irene McShane wondered if anyone at the service had noticed. They must have felt even more sorry for her—if that was possible.
Poor Irene McShane, so distraught she can barely dress herself
But Irene didn’t really care what people thought. Sitting at the wheel of the family station wagon, she watched her two grandsons scurry through the rain toward the front door. She’d given the boys her house keys and told them to go ahead. She needed a minute. There had been a crowd of reporters huddled under umbrellas, waiting at the front gate. The police kept them off the actual property—thank God—but their presence still unnerved her.
Through the rain-beaded windshield, Irene numbly stared at the Tudor-style house and allowed herself a good cry. No one could see. At the special church service for her missing daughter-in-law, neither she nor the boys had shed a tear. The McShanes weren’t big on showing their emotions in public. She’d spent the last ninety minutes trying to look her stoic, matriarchal best for the congregation at St. Matthew’s. How many more services would they have to attend, praying for her daughter-in-law’s safe return? How many more times would she have to dress up those poor boys and parade them into St. Matthew’s, when everyone knew her daughter-in-law was dead?
They’d discovered Dorothy’s car today, in a cul-de-sac by an abandoned railroad yard in the small town of Gold Bar, Washington. The BMW had been stripped. All the windows were broken. Someone had stolen the tires—along with the license plates, the radio and CD player, and even one of the doors.
Almost immediately, the police began searching Gold Bar’s many creeks and forests for the body of Dorothy McShane. She’d been missing now for two weeks.
Her disappearance had made the
front page. Irene’s daughter-in-law had the distinction of being the youngest elected judge in Washington state. That had been six years ago, when she was thirty-four. An attractive widow with two children, she was the image of respectability and honor.
Her jurisdiction and home were in the small, coastal city of Anacortes, about ninety miles north of Seattle. Dorothy had never remarried after her husband’s death from cancer. Irene moved into the house to help look after the children—Michael, now eleven, and Aaron, nine. She also accompanied her daughter-in-law for several public appearances. Dorothy was smart, but lacked people skills. Irene had no such problem. At seventy, she was still a handsome woman, slim with silver-blond hair. She exuded an elegance and charm that won people over. A lot of the townsfolk said that Irene McShane had secured Dorothy the reelection.
She was also one of the last people to see Dorothy alive.
Sixteen days earlier, Dorothy had told her that she was driving down to Seattle on business and would spend the night at the Westin hotel. She always phoned home during these overnights to talk to the boys.
But this time, Dorothy didn’t call. Nor did she return the next day. When Irene telephoned the Westin, they said that Dorothy McShane had never checked in. They didn’t even show a reservation for her.
Irene waited another day before calling the police. She claimed not to remember where Dorothy had planned to stay in Seattle; she’d just
it was the Westin. She didn’t want anyone knowing that the Honorable Dorothy McShane might have lied to her mother-in-law about her plans.
Anticipating a message from Dorothy’s kidnappers, the police put a surveillance on the house and tapped the phone lines. But no one ever contacted them with a ransom demand. They combed through Dorothy’s offices, both at home and in the County Court building. For all their efforts, they uncovered nothing useful to their investigation.
Irene didn’t mention it to the police, but for several weeks prior to her disappearance, Dorothy’s behavior had been erratic. She’d had a number of mysterious, last-minute “business” dinners and overnights. When Irene had asked if she was seeing someone, Dorothy pitched a fit and vehemently denied it. A little too vehemently, in Irene’s opinion.
So, at first, Irene thought perhaps her daughter-in-law had left town with a secret lover—though it seemed out of character for Dorothy. Irene couldn’t share that theory with anyone. She just kept telling herself that Dorothy was all right. She wouldn’t abandon her children. She’d be back.
But Irene no longer clung to that hope. They’d found Dorothy’s car today. She was dead. And all the special church services and prayers weren’t going to bring her back.
So Irene cried in the idle station wagon while the rain pattered on the roof. After a couple of minutes, she wiped her eyes and took a deep breath. She glanced down at her coat and fingered the unraveled thread where the button had been.
Her daughter-in-law kept a coffee tin full of assorted buttons in her sewing room. One of them had to match. Now she had a mission—a minor one, but something to take her mind off the obvious, something she might actually fix.
When she stepped inside the house, Irene could hear the boys in the family room with the TV blaring. She shook the rain from her coat, then headed up the stairs.
Dorothy’s sewing nook was at the end of the hall. Her skill with a needle and thread had become public knowledge during her election campaign. It made for a nice, homespun touch: The judicial candidate sewed her sons’ school clothes, as well as some of her own dresses. Dorothy hadn’t had much time for sewing lately, but the tiny room had still been her refuge. There was barely enough space for her soft easy chair, the sewing machine, a dressmaker’s padded dummy, and a desk that used to belong to Jim McShane when he was a boy. But the large picture window provided a sweeping view of Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. On this gray, rainy afternoon, the vista was wistfully beautiful. Most of Dorothy’s sewing materials were stored in the small closet: yards of fabric, pattern books, boxes upon boxes of thread, and the Folger’s tin full of odd buttons on the top shelf.
Irene peeled off her damp coat and draped it over the chair. She reached up for the coffee tin, but it slipped out of her hand and came crashing to the floor. Gasping, Irene reeled back. She stared down at the scores of buttons—all shapes, sizes, and colors—scattered over the floor. The coffee can rolled from side to side.
Lately, all it took to set her off was a sudden noise or a minor mishap. Irene started crying again, but she’d used up her tears. So all she could do was take deep, tortured gasps of air. She dropped to her knees, reached for the empty Folger’s tin, and started gathering up the buttons. After a couple of minutes, she sighed woefully and rested. The coffee can was half full.