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Her Last Word

By:Mary Burton

Her Last Word - Mary Burton
PROLOGUE

Thursday, March 15, 2018; 6:00 p.m.

“Hi, I’m Gina Mason, Saint Mathew’s class of 2004! Welcome to the Rebels’ soccer team—district finalists three years in a row!”

Remembering the videotape of Gina made the cramped, hot space under Jennifer Ralston’s bed bearable. He’d been here for almost three hours impatiently waiting for her. The tulips arranged into a heart shape beside him gave him comfort and strengthened his resolve.

For fourteen years no one had known Gina’s fate, and not knowing was torture. Gina had been everyone’s friend, especially Jennifer’s, and this woman along with others had abandoned his angel on that dark road. Gina’s loss had fueled a kaleidoscope of blackening thoughts that had finally driven him here.

He lightly fingered the ivory handle of his eight-inch hunting knife. Just a few more minutes. She was coming.

“Today, I want each teammate to say a little about herself. Tell me what you love most, your favorite color, your secret crush, and if you could have a superpower, what would it be?”

A key slid into the front door, and a trio of locks gave way. A familiar chime of the home security system announced her arrival. The keypad chirped with each digit entered into it, and then three dead bolts clicked back into place. The sequence never varied.

He took solace knowing he wasn’t the only one who’d been tormented by Gina’s disappearance. Jennifer pretended she was fine, but he knew she wasn’t. She rightly blamed herself for what had happened to Gina.

He curled his fingers around the knife handle. Heels tapped on polished wood floors, a purse dropped to the small foyer table, and keys clanked into the blue ceramic dish. One shoe hit the floor and then the other.

A light snapped on, illuminating the staircase to the second floor as bare feet padded through the house toward the kitchen. Drinkware clinked as Jennifer poured the evening’s first glass of wine. He’d been watching her long enough to know she drank to forget. Seconds passed, and then another clank of the bottle against glass. Round two. She was right on schedule.

The wooden staircase creaked. He stilled his breath and hushed the voices in his head. The lights in the bedroom switched on and revealed her pretty manicured toes as she walked by.

“My favorite color is blue. I love the color so much I named by dog Bluebell. And my secret crush is Angel on Buffy.”

Fourteen years was a long time without a trace of Gina. He might not ever be able to bring Gina home, but he could finally serve up justice.

Jennifer would be his first. Her sentence: death by a thousand cuts.

Her phone rang, shattering the silence and sending fresh ripples of tension through him.

She answered on the third ring. “Hey, sis,” she said, a little breathless. “Yeah, I’ll be ready in a half hour. What? No, you have to come. Ashley, we promised Kaitlin we’d both be there.”

Taking several sips, Jennifer listened to her sister’s prattle.

“Kaitlin is now a communications professor at the university.” Silence. “Why are we going? It’s more a question of why we wouldn’t go. Besides, Kaitlin’s podcast may help reopen Gina’s case and give us all some goddamned closure.”

Gina. The name scraped and jabbed. Jennifer didn’t have the right to speak her name. Honoring Gina now rang hollow.

More silence and then, “Yeah, Kaitlin interviewed me for her podcast. She’s changed since high school. Calmer. More serious. Figures, right? Okay. Meet me here in a half hour.”

Jennifer moved into the bathroom and turned on the shower. Soon steam wafted out of the room as she flipped on her music playlist, the light rock dating back to her high school days.

Her unbuttoned blouse slid off next, and then she wiggled out of her skirt. She hung both neatly in the closet before unfastening her bra and slipping off her panties. She stepped into the shower.

Getting out from under the four-poster bed was only a little awkward. He had done a trial run last week with no issue. He rose up without a sound, leaving the white tulips undisturbed.

The glass shower door was heavily fogged, but he could see the silhouette of Jennifer’s sculpted body. Her slim hips moved seductively to the rhythm of the music. She leaned back, dipping her head under the hot spray, and arched her full breasts as the water glided over her nipples. As she lathered shampoo in her hair, a drummer’s downbeat thumped against the tiled walls.

“If I could have a superpower, it would be flying. The idea of soaring high above is thrilling.”

Straightening his shoulders, he took a step forward. The floor creaked between the thump, thump of the music.

Her fingers, immersed in soapy bubbles, stilled. He imagined her brain, the most primal part of any human, rightly whispering of danger. You’re not alone. She hesitated, slowly turned, and wiped away the fog with her hand. She opened her left eye, their gazes locked, and then the next moments played out in slow motion.

Faced with this unexpected threat, her mind seemed to momentarily short-circuit with disbelief and confusion, before realization took hold.

She gasped and stumbled. Soap dripped into her eyes and forced her lids closed. With trembling, frantic hands she quickly wiped the suds from her face and braced.

The music’s downbeat pulsed.

She drew in a breath to scream.

The music swallowed the first cry as she backed up, slipped, and slammed onto the shower floor. She groped for the shampoo bottle, hurled it at him. He easily deflected it.

His hands trembled with excitement. He had waited so long for this moment. He silenced her scream with the first rapid thrust of his knife. Blood spattered his goggles. The hot spray of water and blood made his grip slippery. He adjusted the knife in his hand and lunged again. Blood and water swirled around the drain.

She swayed forward and clenched the arm of his suit. Her nails dug in but couldn’t penetrate the material. He never imagined there could be so much blood as he watched it trail away.

The third thrust sent more blood running down her flat belly and then her long legs. His white laminate suit was covered in soap, water, and blood.

He hesitated before his next strike, giving her a moment to raise her right arm and block his attack. The blade cut neatly through the flesh in her forearm.

She stared up, her eyes wide and searching.

He turned the knob to shut off the water. The soft music drifted around them. “There are so many terrible ways to die, Jennifer,” he said.

“Why?” The word was barely a whisper.

It was a stupid question, and he sidestepped it. “Did you ever wonder what happened to Gina?”

“What?”

“Do you ever think about where she is now? I do. Every night. So many terrible things could have happened to her.”

“I know you.” Her voice trailed off.

Her pain focused her attention completely on him. He knelt beside her so she could get a good look at his eyes. “Accept your punishment, and you will feel peace.”

“No.”

“It’s the only way now.” He slowly wrapped her fingers around the knife handle and gently placed his hand over hers. He felt a strong bond with her now.

He raised the knife to her neck. “Jennifer, do you want to do it, or should I?”

Tears filled her eyes. “I don’t want to die.”

“Punishment is never easy, but once you accept it, you will feel better.”

She shook her head. “No. Please.”

“We’ll do it together.” He drew the sharp tip across her throat, slicing her milk-white flesh. Blood sprayed on him, the walls, and the door as her eyes rolled back in her head and her fingers slackened.

“And if I could fly with that Angel . . . my life would be perfect.”

“Jennifer, when you see God, put a good word in for me.”





INTERVIEW FILE #2

THE 911 CALL

Sunday, August 15, 2004; 11:42 p.m.

It was a hot, muggy night when I stumbled up to the front door of the Riverside Drive house. I was fairly new to the area and still easily turned around. It was nearly midnight, and the residents of this affluent neighborhood weren’t accustomed to drunken late-night visitors. I’d lost track of time and to this day don’t know how I made it up the hill from the river to the Hudson residence.

Dispatcher: “911. What’s your emergency?”

Caller: “My name is Jack Hudson. I live on Riverside Drive. There’s a young woman on my front porch. She’s banging on the door and begging for help.”

Dispatcher: “Have you spoken to her?”

Caller: “Just for a second. She appears drunk. She’s incoherent. Hysterical . . . Oh, shit! She just threw up in the flower bed.”

Dispatcher: “Do you know why she’s upset?”

Caller: “She claims she and her friend were attacked on Riverside Drive. Her friend was then kidnapped.”

Dispatcher: “Did you ask the woman her name?”

Caller: “Her name is Kaitlin. I didn’t catch her last name. She lives down the street with the Mason family. They have a daughter, Gina.”

Dispatcher: “I’ve dispatched officers. What is the woman doing?”

Caller: “She’s pacing in my driveway.”

Dispatcher: “Is she bleeding or hurt in any way?”

Caller: “I can’t tell. Let me flip on the porch lights.” Feet shuffle. A switch clicks. “She has blood on her arms. Jesus, she looks insane.”

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