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Authors: Kevin O'Brien

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BOOK: The Last Victim
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Bridget glanced over at the Fesslers’ house, and all the dark windows. Except for Sonny’s sojourns on his bicycle, they didn’t go out. Were they asleep already? Or perhaps Lon, Anastasia, and Sonny were in the back of the house, watching the strange light show in the forest.
She’d babysat for the Shieldses enough to know that Andy wouldn’t have disappeared like that deliberately. He wasn’t an adventurous kid. His idea of a terrific time was sitting at home and drawing. Bridget thought of Andy and his sweet, goofy smile. She thought about the picture he’d drawn for her, and she started to cry.
“Hi, young Corrigan girl,” someone whispered.
Startled, she spun around and gaped at Sonny Fessler. She almost didn’t recognize him without his hunting cap. His blondish gray hair looked greasy and unwashed. He wore a ratty old cardigan sweater, a graying T-shirt, and flared corduroys that hit him a couple of inches above the ankles. His milky blue eyes were guileless as he smiled at her.
“Oh, hi, Sonny,” Bridget managed to say, a hand over her heart. “You scared me.” She wiped her eyes. Some people were afraid of Sonny, because he was so strange. Or they made fun of him. But Bridget always treated him like a normal person.
“Did you hear what happened?” he asked. “The police are looking for some boys who are lost. I found out about it on my police scanner. I listen to all the police reports. It’s really interesting. Do you think those boys might be dead?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know, Sonny. I hope not.”
“The police might have to issue an all points bulletin so they can find a murderer,” Sonny whispered. He crept toward the pathway’s edge. “Look at all the footprints the police left. I’ve read up on the FBI. You know, they can trace a criminal by his footprints at the scene of a crime. But it’s too late now. The policemen wrecked it. Now they really won’t be able to tell if anyone bad was here.”
Bridget gazed out at the darkened ravine. The broken beams of light were moving farther and farther away.
The investigation at the cul-de-sac began to attract others. When a few Briar Court residents came down the block to see what was happening, Sonny Fessler quietly slipped inside his house. There were others with CB radios, who listened to police reports, and they showed up too. Within an hour, two state police cars arrived, followed by three local TV news vans.
Bridget turned and started for home. But then a reporter stuck a microphone in front of her face. She recognized the thin, pretty blonde from a Seattle TV station’s eleven o’clock news.
“Hello, I’m Gina Gotlieb from KIXI Four TV. Can I ask you a few questions?”
Bridget numbly stared at her. “Um, sure.”
“Do you know any of the three boys reported missing?”
Bridget looked at the camera trained on her—and the man behind it. Then she turned to the reporter and nodded. “Um, I babysit for Andy Shields. I was over there tonight—”
“Wait a minute,” the woman interrupted. “Ted, keep taping,” she said over her shoulder. Her eyes narrowed at Bridget. “Are you Bridget Corrigan? Are you the young woman Dennis Shields took home tonight in his car—before his accident?”
“Accident? What are you talking about?”
“Mr. Shields ran his car into a telephone pole on his way back from dropping you off at your house. Haven’t the police talked to you yet? Didn’t you know?”
Bridget just shook her head.
“He was admitted to Longview General Hospital twenty minutes ago in critical condition. Do you have any comment? Do you think he might have run into that phone pole intentionally?”
Bridget kept shaking her head. She backed away, but the reporter jabbed the microphone closer to her face. “Do you think it was intentional?” she pressed.
“No, I don’t know,” Bridget heard herself say. “I don’t think he would do something like that on purpose. He—he was upset and worried about Andy’s disappearance, but there’s still a chance Andy and the Gaines boys are all right. Isn’t there?”
Another TV reporter got in on the act, and he threw a barrage of questions at her too. Then a policeman and some plainclothes detective insisted she give them a statement. Bridget told them what she’d told reporters: Mr. Shields had been worried about his son, but she didn’t think he’d tried to kill himself.
Finally, they let her go. Bridget fled the mob scene that had taken over the quiet, little cul-de-sac. She practically ran home. She found Brad and her crush, David Ahern, anxiously waiting for her. The police had come by, and there had been several phone calls—from Mrs. Shields, reporters, and some of their classmates. They’d shown a news teaser on TV about the three missing boys, and she was on it. What was going on?
Bridget stared at David’s handsome face. It was the first time he ever appeared genuinely interested in her. But she shook her head at him and her brother. “I don’t want to talk about it,” she muttered. “It’s almost eleven. You can watch it on the news.” Then Bridget retreated upstairs.
She didn’t watch herself on TV, but snippets of her being interviewed kept running on news broadcasts all weekend. She’d mentioned that Andy was a sweet, thoughtful boy who wanted to be an artist. The three boys were still missing on Monday morning, when Bridget went back to school. The newspapers reported Mr. Shields had suffered several fractures and lacerations in the car accident. He remained hospitalized in stable condition.
It seemed everyone at school wanted to talk to Bridget that day—about Andy Shields, and what it was like being interviewed, and what she saw at the Shieldses’ house that night. People who had barely known she was alive were suddenly fawning over her. That day, she got a taste of what it was like to be popular, and she hated it. Bridget no longer envied her brother his status at school.
That day, when one of her classmates didn’t answer during attendance count, Fuller Sterns cracked, “Kurt’s missing. He’s pulling an Andy Shields.” And people laughed. During lunch hour, Olivia Rankin approached Bridget and asked if she was scared: “Aren’t your folks still away? Isn’t it just you and Brad at home? I mean, Richie and Robbie Gaines are missing, maybe dead. What if someone is out there killing twins? Aren’t you worried?”
For a while after that, Bridget didn’t mind being a mere peripheral member in Brad’s circle of friends. It was all right with her if she didn’t get invited to certain parties. And she didn’t mind driving to and from Brad’s football and basketball games by herself.
Looking back, she saw that had been good training for single motherhood. Hell, even when she and Gerry were together, he rarely attended their sons’ school events and Little League games.
The high school parking lot had emptied out, and Bridget realized that she’d been sitting in her parked car for several minutes now. She started up the engine, then pulled out of the lot and headed for home.
She thought of something Fuller had said to her in the high school hallway: “You and I both have this guy shadowing us, maybe he’s watching Brad too. Maybe he’s stalking each one of us who were at Gorman’s Creek. . . .” All the way home, Bridget kept checking her rearview mirror.
Once she got inside the house, she locked the door behind her. She knew it was silly, but Bridget decided to put her worries to rest. She checked every room and every closet to make sure she was alone.
The last closet she examined was a tiny storage room by the den. Along with board games and sports equipment, there were boxes of keepsakes. Bridget took out an old Bon Marche box full of high school memorabilia. Sitting by the sliding glass doors, she opened up the box and sifted through the birthday cards, old photos, and certificates.
Bridget found what she was looking for, and her hand began to shake as she held it up. The sketch Andy Shields had made of her was clumsy, but the rough, near-cartoon image did indeed look a bit like Bridget in her high school years. He’d made her look like a nice girl.
That had been back at a time when she could still think of herself as nice.
Bridget’s eyes filled with tears. Sighing, she put the drawing back in the Bon Marche box. Then she wiped her eyes and stared out the window. She could see some of the footprints outside the house—from when the police were investigating around there the night before last.
She remembered something Sonny Fessler had said to her that evening Andy and the twins had disappeared: “You know, they can trace a criminal by his footprints at the scene of a crime. But it’s too late now. The policemen wrecked it. Now they really won’t be able to tell if anyone bad was here.”
Bridget heard a noise. For a moment, she thought she was in bed—and someone was trying to get into her room. Then she realized that she’d fallen asleep on the sofa in the den. It was one of those unplanned afternoon naps that had her waking up so tired and disoriented, she felt as if a truck had hit her.
Bridget sat up. Outside, the sun had just set, and only a vestige of light came through the den’s windows. She reached over toward the end table and switched on the lamp.
Then she heard the noise again. Someone was at the front door, trying to get in.
A panic swept through her. Bridget got to her feet. It sounded as if someone was manipulating the lock. Just a few seconds ago, she’d felt so groggy, but now she was wide-awake and alert. Her heart was racing.
Bridget moved toward the front hallway. The entire house had grown dark while she’d napped. She was reaching for the foyer light switch when the doorbell rang.
Who would ring the doorbell—after trying to break in?
She didn’t flick on the light. She didn’t want the person to know she was home. She stared at the door. The bell kept ringing and ringing. It couldn’t be David. He had a key to the back door, and always used that. Eric always rang the bell first—even when the door was wide open. He liked ringing the bell. So Bridget knew neither one of her sons was on the other side of that door. Whoever it was tried to trip the lock again, and he rattled the knob.
Bridget stood frozen in the darkened hallway. The ringing stopped—so did the grinding sound of the lock being manipulated. After a few moments, she was still afraid to move.
The mailbox slot in the door opened and a set of eyes stared at her.
Bridget gasped, and backed away.
“Brigg?” she heard her brother yell. “Brigg, what the hell is wrong with you?”
She sighed, then trudged to the door and unfastened the dead bolt. She opened the door. “You scared the crap out of me,” Bridget told her brother. “That’s what’s wrong with me. What are you doing here?”
She hadn’t been expecting to see Brad until later tonight. She was supposed to swing by his house and drop David and Eric off with Janice. Then she and Brad were going on to a black-tie fund-raiser for his campaign. At this point, she didn’t feel too terrific about leaving her boys with Janice and her raging hormones; and she wasn’t exactly dying to attend this stupid party-for-the-party tonight.
Brad stepped into the foyer. He held a videocassette in his hand. “I need to speak with you alone, Brigg,” he said glumly.
“You sound ticked off,” she observed.
Brad’s handsome face tensed up, and he shrugged.
“Well, I need to chew you out as well, you jerk.” She turned and started toward the back of the house. “So—knock this around while I go to the bathroom,” she called over her shoulder. “I don’t know if it was Jay Corby’s brilliant idea or yours, but I’d like a little warning before I’m forced to sing the National Anthem in front of two hundred and fifty people.” Bridget ducked into the bathroom and slammed the door shut.
When she emerged a couple of minutes later, she found Brad in the den. Scowling, he stared at something on TV. It took Bridget a moment to realize he was watching a videotape of David’s Little League game that day.
“You know, Brad, I didn’t appreciate having David’s ball game turned into a media-event photo-op for your campaign,” she declared, standing by the TV with her arms folded. “Also I didn’t appreciate being yanked out of the stands to sing the National Anthem for the crowd. And by the way, I kind of butchered it—”
“I saw the footage,” Brad said, sitting down in the easy chair’s ottoman. “You did fine.”
“I was in shock, for God’s sake. And the camera crew you—or Jay—sent there, what was that about? It totally threw off David’s game. It’s bad enough you exploited me without warning, but did you have to drag David into the act? He was in the spotlight too, you know. That’s a lot of pressure you piled on him today. The worst part is—you didn’t ask, you didn’t even warn us. You just sent Skip Stevens and a film crew over—like party-crashers—so you could turn a Little League game into a Corrigan-for-Oregon event. Talk about tacky. I’m surprised people didn’t boo.”
Brad’s cell phone rang. He shut it off, then sighed. “Okay, maybe we should have asked you first—and David too,” he muttered. “Jay wanted footage of a Little League game, for a commercial. It’s to soup up my all-American image. I think they’re splicing me in later or something. Jay wanted you in it too. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cross a line.”
Bridget frowned. “Well, you didn’t cross it. Jay did. Huh,
Mr. Slick
, the great showman. I should have known he was behind that farce this afternoon. So, anyway, what did you want to talk to me about?”
Brad’s glum expression was nearly identical to his sister’s. From the ottoman, he barely glanced up at her. He just nodded at the TV screen. “I wanted to ask you about this,” he said.
She turned and saw herself on the TV, sitting with Fuller Sterns in the bleachers. The cameraman must have moved behind a post to take the footage, because she hadn’t noticed him at the time.
“That guy you’re with looks like Fuller Sterns—with a few more pounds and a lot less hair,” Brad murmured. “Am I right?”
Staring at the TV, Bridget nodded.
“Why in God’s name did you meet with him, Brigg?” he asked quietly. “You knew I wanted to put as much distance as possible between us and him. Yet there you are, chatting with Fuller Sterns. Did he call you up and arrange a meeting? Or did he—”
me,” Bridget cut in. “Just like your buddy Skip Stevens ambushed me. I had no idea Fuller was going to be there. But he knew exactly when and where to find me—thanks to your Corrigan-for-Oregon Web site. That’s the other bone I have to pick with you. I can’t believe my personal comings and goings are posted on that Web site. Don’t I have any privacy at all?”
“Well, it’s not like they’re listing when you plan to take a trip to the crapper—or to the Safeway or the hair salon,” Brad said in his defense. “The stuff listed in there is from the itinerary you submit every week to campaign headquarters. You blocked off this afternoon for a Little League game—”
“I didn’t tell anyone where the game was. How did they know?”
“It’s Jay’s standard operating procedure. If you or I block out some time, and one of us is going to a public event—a game, fair, supermarket opening, whatever—it’s a potential public appearance. They look up where and when. Nobody expects us to make a speech or anything. But being seen in public can make a difference. It might mean taking a bow or waving to a crowd, shaking a few hands—”
“Or singing the National Anthem for a crowd of two hundred and fifty?” she pressed. “It’s a total invasion of my privacy.”
“Well, I okayed that policy with Jay a while back. Maybe we should have discussed it with you in detail.” He shrugged. “I honestly figured you were willing to give up some of your privacy when you agreed to campaign with me. I mean, that comes with the territory. But if you want to put up some restrictions, some boundaries, I certainly understand.”
She sighed. “Well, for now, I’d just like a little advance warning. And maybe Jay Corby can
before he decides to arrange an ambush while I’m doing something with one of my boys.”
“Fair enough,” Brad replied, nodding.
Neither one of them said anything for a moment. Then Brad glanced at the TV, and he let out a loud sigh. “So—Fuller tracked you down today. What did he want?”
Bridget sat down in the easy chair and told him about their conversation. She watched her brother bristle as she mentioned Gorman’s Creek, and again as she told him about Olivia offering to “sell new information” to Fuller before she committed suicide.
“Sounds like extortion,” Brad said finally. “I wouldn’t have given her a dime. Fuller was an idiot to fork over five grand.”
“But that wouldn’t make sense,” Bridget argued. “Olivia couldn’t have blown the whistle on Fuller, or any of us, not without ratting on herself. She must have found out something that none of us knew about. That’s the only logical explanation. But I’ll tell you what can’t be explained away so easily. Why would Olivia put a bullet in her brain—just two days after she got the money she wanted?”
Frowning, Brad shook his head. “I don’t know. Maybe she was in some other kind of trouble. Olivia was crazy back in high school. I guess she hadn’t changed much.”
“Did she try to contact you?”
“Yeah, I think she left a message a couple of weeks ago. But I didn’t return the call.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Bridget asked. “For God’s sake—”
“Because I didn’t think it was important. Jesus, I get messages all the time from people we used to know. In the past month, I’ve gotten messages from Olivia, Fuller, Nancy Abbe from grade school, Rachel Porter, Margaret Freeman—and Zach Matthias. Remember him? Nice guy, Coke-bottle glasses?”
Bridget just nodded. “Yeah, my friend Kim had a crush on him.”
“I don’t have time to return all those calls. I know it sounds heartless and unsentimental, but I don’t. You know how crazy my schedule is.”
“So you won’t call Fuller back,” she said.
He nodded. “Bingo.”
“Aren’t you at all curious about this new information Olivia uncovered?”
“No, because I think it’s bullshit.”
“They never found the body,” Bridget whispered. “Maybe she discovered something about that.”
“And maybe she was just trying to squeeze a few grand from Fuller,” Brad replied. He turned away from her.
“Fuller said that someone’s been following him. From his description, it could be the same man who was outside my house the night before last.”
“Fuller was a major pothead back in high school,” Brad grunted. “He probably still is. That stuff makes you paranoid. He was always nuts too—just like Olivia. You were smart not to get too close to them in high school. They were more trouble than they were worth. I don’t know what Fuller is trying to pull right now. Hell, for all we know, he could be working for our friend Jim Foley. I don’t trust him.”
Bridget said nothing. Brad was being stubborn—and a bit stupid. But he was always that way when it came to the incident at Gorman’s Creek. Twenty years ago, he’d made everyone swear that they wouldn’t discuss it, that they’d forever put it behind them. To have all this coming up now—during his election campaign—must have been terribly unnerving for him.
“Well,” she said finally, “I guess you have enough on your mind right now. You don’t need—”
Bridget didn’t finish. Something she saw on the TV silenced her. She leaned forward, eyes on the screen. “Go back . . . rewind it . . .” she told her brother.
He pressed the remote, and the picture moved backward, scanning the crowd in the bleachers.
“Stop!” Bridget said, staring at the screen. “Stop it there.”
Brad hit Pause, and the tape froze on the image of a handsome, black-haired man, sitting in the bleachers. His face was just slightly out of focus. Bridget hadn’t noticed him at the game.
She pointed to the man on the screen. “Do you know that guy?” she asked her brother. “Have you seen him before?”
Brad squinted at the TV. “He looks a little familiar.”
“He was also in our hotel room yesterday—and at Olivia’s wake.”
“Maybe he’s a reporter,” Brad murmured.
“What would a reporter be doing at Olivia’s wake?” Bridget asked. “I didn’t tell anyone I was going there. I didn’t tell a soul.”
Her brother gazed at the slightly blurred image on the TV screen, and he just shook his head.
It took him nearly a whole day to recreate on canvas all the details in the billboard at the side of Garrett Road.
! it said in scripted red letters, alongside a smiling cartoon coffee mug with little arms and legs. The jaunty little mug was waving—supposedly to the driver.
! the sign exclaimed.
, 24-

. He’d decided the cartoon mug on that billboard would be one of the focal points of his next masterpiece. It would look very ironic smiling down on a twisted wreck of a car on the roadside beneath it.
He’d already put on the canvas the little slice of lonely highway—and the dark, cloudless sky. But he hadn’t painted a corpse yet. He wasn’t sure how that would look. There might be only a little blood, or perhaps it would be all over the place. There might even be a decapitation. He wouldn’t know until it actually happened. He had to be patient.
He’d made some preliminary sketches of the car. On his bulletin board by his easel, he’d posted several photos he’d gotten off the Web. They were of cars demolished in wrecks—deadly head-on collisions.
All of the cars were BMWs.
He knew the car type, but how it would look after the wreck was still to be determined.
He would know soon enough.
BOOK: The Last Victim
12.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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