“I’m really sorry I have to leave like this.” Refusing to look into Vincent’s excited eyes, I speak my apologies to the table.
“No problem, really.” He says with a stomach churning grin. “Can I call you sometime? I would love to do this again if you’re up for it.”
“I… Um… Yeah.” I stumble over myself, confused.
The date had been great so far. Calming myself, I quickly decide that his odd behavior may just be lack of understanding. Against better judgment, I take the readied pen from his hand. I scribble my number on a cheap, thin, napkin and slide it in his direction. Without another word I turn away. I can feel his eyes piercing my backside like daggers. A chill shoots down my spine, and a low sensual tone follows me as I walk away from the table.
“Good luck with your emergency.” He whispers.
I have nothing but shortened breath and a lump in my throat. Deciding against any sort of response I speed to the door, refusing to look back at my strange, handsome date. Clicking shoes carry me quickly down the walkway and into my SUV. Keys, where the hell are my keys? Shaking fingers fumble through my messy purse. I can’t help but think of Beth. I imagine her always calm voice telling me to slow down. I dump the contents of my purse on the empty passenger seat, and I grab my keys as soon as they hit the cushion. A relieved sigh escapes me.
As the engine turns, I look up only to have my heart drop to my toes. The air catches in my chest. We lock eyes. Vincent is staring at me with that inappropriate crooked grin. He stands in a giant window only a few yards from me. The name, Frenchie’s, is printed in the window directly above his head. Eyes wide, chest puffed, and with hands shoved deep in his pockets, he holds my gaze.
The moment is creepy. It feels wrong. His smile widens, as he pulls a large hand from his pocket to give me a small, childlike wave. I wave back slowly. My face heats, and my brows bunch together at the middle. Nearly slamming the gas pedal to the floor, I speed away, refusing to look in the rear view.
I’m usually not one to speed, or break the law at all, for that matter. Right now I don’t care. I rush home. I’m completely beside myself, lost in thought. My foot is pushing hard. It shoves the pedal into the floor, painfully squishing my toes out the small hole in the tip of my shoe. Headlights stream by in a blur. Only slowing for the few red lights along the way, I make it home in record time.
The neighborhood is a mess, in every sense of the word. Police cars are parked in front of practically every other house. Flashlights shine in bushes and sheds. My block, especially, is utter chaos. Streetlights light up the faces of my neighbors as they stand on well-manicured lawns in front of their homes. Confusion and fear fills the air. I’m driving through a cloud of anxiety, with peering eyes staring at me as I pass. It’s a struggle, but I spot Kam.
She is standing on the sidewalk in front of our house with arms crossed. Her face is pale. It’s a shade lighter than I have ever seen her. She is staring directly across the road, past the abundance of authorities, and into the open door of the Snyder home. Hunched over and sickly is her posture. I pull into the driveway carefully, waiting for her to run up to me, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t move or avert her eyes in any way.
With my head down, looking only at my feet, I jog to her side. A large part of me doesn’t want to see what Kam’s so engrossed by. Somehow I already know. I just know deep inside that it’s happened again. Grabbing her by the shoulders, I give her entire body one quick, hard shake.
“Kam!” I yell. “Snap out of it.”
“They… They… They finally opened the door.” A quiet slur.
Her stare remains locked in place. I close my eyes as tight as I can. My head turns toward the Snyder home, and after letting out an anxious lungful of air, I open them. Fog takes over my mind, and my body heats in an overbearing fire. It is Breanna, one of the friendliest, outgoing teenagers I know. She is the oldest child in the Snyder home. She was a beautiful young woman, now lifeless.
Standing next to Kam, peering across the street and into their home, I can clearly see her mutilated body. Their front doors are French, and opened wide, allowing a perfect view into their once tidy entryway. The always bleached white floors and walls are completely covered in scarlet splatters and pools of blood. That must have been exactly where the attack had taken place. Right inside the front door, for God’s sake. I can only imagine her killer’s tactic, pushing his way in as she greeted him with an innocent welcome. Sick. Disgusting. This is completely unfathomable.
The once full of life girl is slumped backwards over a small round decorative table. Her legs are bare, and full of slashes. A slow steady drip is still running down her arms and escaping to the floor from her fingertips. Clinging to her body are the remnants of a spaghetti strap tank top, and short pajama bottoms. I can’t even tell their original color. My mind wanders briefly away from the present. I picture those pj’s being a lovely shade of green, and the smile on her face is genuine.
The thought lasts only a second before my mind snaps back to reality. Like a rubber band pulling itself into place, my head twitches and my lips let out a frightened gasp. Breanna must have been relaxing comfortably in what should have been a safe home. Bile rises from my stomach, and into my throat. I swallow it, and continue to stare. I am unable to look away. Unable to process.
Just like Beth was, every inch of her is stained in thick red fluid. This killer is bleeding them out. Every drop of life drained from his victims. It is vicious, and it is personal. I look closer. There’s a shine on her chest. It reflects light from the bright police LED lights placed a few feet away from her. Something is resting around her neck. Small and gold. I wonder how it is possible that she actually has jewelry on that could still hold a shine. How is there no blood on the top of her necklace?
“Can you see her necklace?” I whisper under my breath to Kam.
“All I see is blood.” Her response comes out flat and dry. I can hear the dehydrated click as her tongue hits the roof of her parched mouth. “Do you think this has anything to do with Beth?” She asks, even flatter in tone, as the tears finally spill over.
“I don’t know, Kam. But it feels the same.”
We stare at each other in shock. The moisture of a lone tear runs down my cheek. It rolls slowly over my foundation and hits the corner of my mouth. I can taste the salt as I touch the tip of my tongue to my lip’s edge.
“What do we do?” She asks.
I respond only with a hug. She grabs on tightly, and softly sobs into my shoulder. We stand in shock and confusion. A nicely suited man approaches us. He is guarded, moving slowly, with his head tilted toward his chest. It’s a relief to recognize his kind eyes as his head lifts, allowing his face to come into focus. Phillip is his name, Detective Phillip Sharpe, but he always insists on just Phil. I had gotten to know him well in the first few months following Beth’s murder. He is a gracious, sympathetic man, and very thorough. No detail is too small or unimportant to him. He has been at our home many times, and must have seen me pull in.
“Markie, I’m sorry we have to meet again under these circumstances.”
“Detective.” I reach for his open hand, letting him shake mine in a professional manner.
“I know how hard this must be for you to see.”
“It’s the same guy, isn’t it? The same man who killed Beth?” The question slips out. Still beside myself, I have no control over my mindless eager words.
“I’m not sure, ma’am. It is too soon to tell, and until the crime scene has been fully processed we can’t be certain on anything.”
I can only manage a nod in response. I understand the drill all too well. Looking around, I notice the officers asking each neighbor to go back into their houses. Slow moving families herd up their clinging children and retreat into their homes. Porch lights stay on and windows stay lit. There will be no sleep on this once peaceful street. I turn to the detective and attempt to calm my nerves. I need to get as much information as possible. If this is the same guy, then I have to know everything. I have to.
“I can see she was stabbed just like Beth. It has to be him.” I insist.
“Markie, I’m going to have to ask you…”
“No!” I cut him off before he has a chance to say anything else. “I’m not going inside. I’m not going to walk away. This man killed my best friend and now my neighbor. She was 17!” My voice rises. Kam gives my hand a tight squeeze as I voice my frustration. “You have to find him. You have to stop this!”
“Ma’am.” Detective Sharpe interrupts me softly and respectfully, with a hand raised. “I wasn’t going to ask you go in your home, actually quite the opposite.” His eyebrows lift slowly in sympathetic caution, as the rest of his face levels. “I know this is a lot to ask, and if you’re not up for it I completely understand,” he pauses briefly. “With all of the similarities in this crime scene, and in Beth’s, I feel it might be beneficial for us, if you come with me and take a look.”
“What do you mean? A look?”
“I mean…” Again with the irritating pause. “It is strange that two completely different women have been killed this way. Beth and Breanna are opposite each other in nearly every way. The only similarity they share, Markie, as far as we can tell, is you.” The detective’s last sentence comes out slow and guarded.
He ducks his head slightly as he pushes out the statement. It hits me like a truck. He is right. They had nothing in common, and were nothing alike. As far as I know, they had never even met each other.
“So what’s that supposed to mean?” I ask quietly. I’m not sure if my question is aimed at him or myself.
Kam chimes in with a panicked squeak. “Yeah! What the hell?”
“That’s exactly what I’m trying to figure out. We have a lot of work to do, and I feel it best that we do it together.”
“Okay.” I agree. I hold my head high and straighten my shoulders. “Let’s do this then. I’ll do whatever I can to help find this bastard.”
I may look brave on the outside, which is exactly what I’m going for, but inside I feel like a lost, hopeless child. Every bone in my body shakes with fear and vulnerability. I’m rocked with an overwhelming sense of helplessness.
“Wait!” Kam yells, holding her ground. “I can’t go over there.” She begs. “I can’t do this, please don’t leave me alone.”
“Kam we have to. For Beth.” I try to comfort my frightened little sister. She is usually the stronger and more confident of the two of us, yet here she stands, shaking and pleading.
Detective Sharpe whistles loudly, drawing the attention of several nearby officers. He motions one over with a wave of his arm. He instructs the cop to stay with Kam, and places a hand on the small of my back. His other arm is held out in front of us. The long, manicured fingertips of his right hand point toward the gruesome truth across the street. I shudder, take a step off of the sidewalk, and cross the road. We move in the same motion, one with the other, our footsteps in sync. He leads me through the crowded lawn, and we stop at the door abruptly, so as not to disrupt any key evidence inside the bloodied entryway. My eyes go straight to the necklace I had noticed before.
“Oh my God.” I croak, with an instantly dry throat.
My hand instinctively reaches to my collar and grabs the gold chain hanging around my neck. I pull the locket out from under my shirt. My fingers tremble and cling to the gold heart, I gasp for a breath. The air around me closes in, I struggle for oxygen. My bottom lip trembles involuntarily. It feels as if I’m being strangled by this cherished item I have clung to for so long. Detective Sharpe watches my display with eyes wide.
“Markie.” His voice is slow and steady. “Let me see your necklace.”
My quivering hand drops, and I stare into his eyes. He makes the connection. I’m certain that he is reading my mind as his face lightens more than just a shade. Placed on top of Breanna’s chest, and dangled around her already bloodied body, is Beth’s matching heart locket. He points to the dead body that lay inches away.
“Is that Beth’s necklace?” He asks, already knowing the answer.
“Yes.” I force out.
Again, I am beside myself. Talking through a foggy haze of grief. The detective glances back and forth between the dead teen and myself. His lips are pursed. The color returns to his face in full force. He is clearly at a loss for words.
“It gets worse.” I continue.
“How could this possibly get any worse?”
“Beth’s locket was hanging from the corner of my bathroom mirror this morning.”
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