Chapter no 25

A Flicker in the Dark

I don’t move until I hear the roar of the engine and the thud of his truck reversing over the curb and peeling out of my driveway. I stand completely still, listening to the sound of his retreating vehicle growing fainter in the distance, until finally, I’m met with silence.

You really think I don’t know who you are, Chloe?

His words had trapped me, rendered me immobile the second he turned around and looked me in the eye. I was paralyzed the same way I was paralyzed as I watched my father slink through the backyard at night, shovel in hand. I knew I was witnessing something wrong, something terrible. Something dangerous. I knew I should run, screaming. I knew I should sprint out the open door, flailing my arms. But just as my father’s slow, lumbering steps had held me captive, Bert Rhodes’s eyes had entranced me, bolted my feet to the floor. His voice had coiled around my body like a snake, refusing to let go. It was dense like salt water; trying to run from it, from him, felt like trying to run through the swamp, the mud heavy and thick and sticking to your ankles. The harder you try to push through, the more exhausted you feel, the weaker you become. The deeper you sink.

I wait another minute, until I’m sure he’s gone, and take a slow step forward, the weight of my heel forcing the wood beneath my feet to creak.

I’m not talking about her. Not Lena. I never wondered what it was like to lose my life.

I take another step—slow, cautionary, as if he’s lurking behind the still-open front door, waiting to strike.

I’m talking about your father. I’m talking about taking one.

I take one last step to the front door and slam it shut, locking the dead bolt before pushing my back hard against the wood. I’m shaking violently as the room starts to get brighter; I’m fighting back that unearthly feeling that sweeps over your body after a shot of unexpected adrenaline wears off

—twitchy fingers, spotty vision, ragged breathing. I slide down the wall and sit on the floor, pushing my hands through my hair, trying not to cry.

Eventually, I look up at the security panel installed on the wall above me, glowing bright. I stand up and set the code on the keypad before pushing Enable, watching the little lock icon turn from red to green. I exhale, although I can’t help but feel that it’s pointless. For all I know, he didn’t install it correctly. He skipped a few windows, set an override code. Daniel wanted to get a security system installed to help me feel safer, but right now, I’ve never felt more afraid.

I need to go to the police with this. I can’t put it off any longer. Bert Rhodes not only knows who I am, but he knows where I live. He knows I’m here alone. Maybe he knows that I’m onto him. As much as I don’t want to thrust myself into another missing girls investigation, that encounter was the extra evidence I had been looking for; Bert Rhodes’s rambling—his anger over my life and how I turned out, his wondering what it felt like to take a life—was practically an admission of guilt and a threat of future violence all at once. I reach a shaky hand into my back pocket and yank out my phone, pulling up my previous calls and tapping on the number that appeared on my screen just this morning, the number that confirmed my biggest fear: that Lacey Deckler was dead. I listen to the ringing on the other end, bracing myself for the conversation I know we’re about to have. The conversation I had been desperately hoping to avoid.

It stops abruptly as a voice greets me on the other end. “Detective Thomas.”

“Hi, Detective. This is Chloe Davis.”

“Doctor Davis,” he says, sounding surprised. “What can I do for you?

Did you remember something else?”

“Yes,” I say. “Yes, I did. Could we meet? As soon as possible?”

“Of course.” I hear shuffling on the other end, like he’s moving around papers. “Can you come to the station?”

“Yes,” I say again. “Yes, I can do that. I’ll be there soon.”

I hang up, my mind swirling as I grab my keys and walk outside, double-checking that the door is locked behind me. I get in the car and crank the engine. He didn’t have to give me directions; I already know

where I’m going. I’ve been to the Baton Rouge Police Department before, although I hope that part of my past isn’t dragged up, too, when I reveal to him who I am. It shouldn’t be, but it could. And even if it is, there’s nothing I can do about that but try to explain.

I pull into visitors’ parking and kill the engine as I stare at the entrance looming before me. This building looks the same as it did ten years ago, only older. Less maintained. The tan bricks are still tan, but the paint is cracking at the seams, large chips peeling off and landing in piles on the concrete. The landscaping is patchy and brown, the chain-link fence separating the station from the neighboring strip mall wobbly and bent. I step out of the car and slam the door behind me, pushing myself inside before I can change my mind.

I walk to the front counter and stand behind the clear plastic divider, watching as the woman behind the desk taps her acrylic nails against a keyboard.

“Hi,” I interrupt. “I have an appointment with Detective Michael Thomas?”

She glances at me from behind the plastic and chews on the side of her cheek, as if she’s trying to decide if she believes me. My statement came out more like a question, undoubtedly because the certainty I felt back home about coming clean to the police all but evaporated the second I stepped inside.

“I can text him,” I say, holding up my phone, trying to convince both her and myself that letting me in is a good idea. “Tell him I’m here.”

She looks at me for another few seconds before picking up her phone and dialing an extension, propping it between her shoulder and chin while she continues typing. I hear the line ring before Detective Thomas’s voice picks up.

“There’s someone here to see you,” she says. She looks at me, eyebrows raised.

“Chloe Davis.”

“A Chloe Davis,” she repeats. “Says she has an appointment.”

She hangs the phone up quickly and gestures to the door on my right, guarded by a metal detector and security personnel who looks agitated and


“He said you can go in. Place all metal and electronics in the bin.

Second door on the right.”

Inside the station, Detective Thomas’s office door is cracked open. I peek my head through, knocking gently on the wood.

“Come in,” he says, looking at me from above a desk cluttered with various papers, manila folders, and an open box of Saltine crackers, half a sleeve sticking out and a trail of crumbs littered across the wood. He follows my gaze and ducks his head, shoving the sleeve back into the box and closing the flap. “Sorry for the mess.”

“It’s fine,” I say, walking inside and pushing the door shut behind me. I linger for a second before he points to the chair opposite him. I take a seat, my mind flashing back to earlier this week when the roles were reversed. When I was seated behind my desk, in my office, gesturing for him to sit where I commanded. I exhale.

“So,” he says, folding his hands on the table. “What is it that you remembered?”

“First, I have a question,” I say. “Aubrey Gravino. Was she found wearing any jewelry?”

“I don’t really see how that’s relevant.”

“It is. I mean, depending on what the answer is, it could be.”

“Why don’t you tell me what you remember first, and then we can look into that.”

“No.” I shake my head. “No, before I share this, I need to know for certain. I promise, it matters.”

He looks at me for another few seconds, weighing his options. He sighs loudly, trying to convey his annoyance, before shuffling through the folders on his desk. Then he grabs one, opens it, and flips through a few pages.

“No, she wasn’t found with any jewelry,” he says. “One earring was found near the body in the cemetery—sterling silver with a pearl and three diamonds.”

He looks up at me, his eyebrows raised, as if to question: Are you happy now?

“So, no necklace?”

His eyes linger on mine for another few seconds before looking back down.

“No. No necklace. Just the earring.”

I exhale, pushing my hands into my hair. He’s looking at me carefully again, waiting for me to say something, to do something. I lean back into my chair and spit it out.

“That earring was a part of a set,” I say. “There’s a matching necklace she would have been wearing at the time of her abduction. She wears them together in all of her pictures. On the MISSING poster, her yearbook photos, tagged pictures on Facebook. If she was wearing the earrings, she was also wearing the necklace.”

He lowers the folder to his desk. “How do you know this?”

“I checked,” I say. “Before I came to you with this, I wanted to be sure.”

“Okay. And why do you think this matters?”

“Because Lacey was wearing a piece of jewelry, too. Remember?” “That’s right,” he says. “You mentioned a bracelet.”

“A beaded bracelet with a metal cross. I saw it on her wrist in my office. She wore it to cover her scar. But when I looked at her body this morning … it wasn’t there.”

The room is uncomfortably quiet. Detective Thomas continues to stare, and I can’t tell if he’s actually considering what I’m telling him, or if he’s concerned about my well-being. I talk faster.

“I think the killer is taking his victim’s jewelry, as mementos,” I say. “And I think he’s doing that because my father used to do that. Richard Davis, you know. From Breaux Bridge.”

I watch his reaction as the pieces fall into place. It’s always the same, every time someone realizes who I am: a visible loosening of the face before the jaw gets tight, like they have to physically restrain themselves from lunging at me from across the table. Our last names, our similar features. I’ve always been told that I have my father’s nose, oversized and slightly crooked, by far my least favorite thing on my face—not because of

vanity, but because of the constant reminder of our shared DNA every time I look in the mirror.

“You’re Chloe Davis,” he says. “Dick Davis’s daughter.” “Unfortunately, yes.”

“You know, I think I read an article about you.” He’s pointing at me now, waving his finger as he allows the memory to take over. “I just … I didn’t put it together.”

“Yeah, that ran a few years ago. I’m relieved to hear you forgot.”

“And you think these murders are somehow related to the ones your father committed?”

He’s still staring at me with that look of disbelief, as if I’m an apparition hovering above the carpet, unsure if I’m real.

“At first, I didn’t,” I say. “But the twenty-year anniversary is coming up next month, and I recently discovered that the father of one of my father’s victims lives here in Baton Rouge. Bert Rhodes. And he’s … angry. He has a record. He tried to strangle his wife—”

“You think this is a copycat?” he interrupts. “That the victim’s father

has turned into a copycat?”

“He has a record,” I repeat. “And … my family. He hates my family. I mean, understandably so, but he showed up to my house today, and he was very angry, and I felt very unsafe—”

“He came to your house unannounced?” he sits up straighter and reaches for a pen. “Did he threaten you in any way?”

“No, it wasn’t really unannounced. He installs security systems, and my fiancé, he called them to have one installed—”

“So you invited him to your house?” he leans back again, putting the pen down.

“Will you stop interrupting me?”

The sentence comes out louder than I intend it to, and Detective Thomas looks at me, stunned, with a mixture of shock and unease as an uncomfortable silence settles across the room. I bite my lip. I hate that look. I’ve seen that look before. I’ve seen that look from Cooper. I’ve seen that look from police officers and detectives, right here, in this very building. That look that shows the very first hint of concern—not for my safety, but

for my mind. That look that makes me feel like my words are not to be trusted, that my slow unravel is getting faster and faster, spiraling out of control, until pretty soon, I’ll be nothing.

“I’m sorry,” I say, exhaling. Forcing myself to calm down. “I’m sorry, it’s just that I feel like you’re not really listening to me. You asked me to look at Lacey’s body today and tell you if I remembered anything that could be important. This is me telling you what I believe may be important.”

“Okay,” he says, holding his hands in the air. “Okay, you’re right. I’m sorry. Please continue.”

“Thank you,” I say, feeling my shoulders relax a little. “Anyway. Bert Rhodes is one of the few people, possibly the only person, who would know that detail, lives in the area where these current murders are taking place, and has a motive for murdering these girls in the same way my father murdered his daughter twenty years ago. It’s a coincidence that can’t be ignored.”

“And what do you believe his motive is, exactly? Does he know these girls?”

“No—I mean, I don’t know. I don’t think so. But isn’t that your job to figure out?”

Detective Thomas raises his eyebrow.

“I’m sorry,” I say again. “Just … look. It could be a lot of things, okay? Maybe it’s revenge, targeting girls I know to harass me or make me feel the same pain he felt when his daughter was taken. An eye for an eye. Or maybe it’s grief, a need for control, the same fucked-up reason victims of abuse will go on to become abusers themselves. Maybe he’s trying to make a point. Or maybe he’s just sick, Detective. Twenty years ago, he wasn’t exactly the best father either, okay? Even as a girl, I just had a feeling about him. That something wasn’t right.”

“Okay, but a feeling isn’t a motive.”

“All right, well how’s this for motive?” I spit. “Today, he told me that after Lena’s death, he found himself obsessing over what it would feel like to take somebody’s life. Who says that? Who imagines what it’s like to take a life after your own daughter has just been murdered? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? He’s empathizing with the wrong person here.”

Detective Thomas is silent for a minute before sighing again, this time in what sounds like resignation.

“Okay,” he says. “Okay, we’ll look into him. I agree—it’s a coincidence that deserves to be checked out.”

“Thank you.”

I get ready to stand from the chair before the detective looks at me again, a question forming on his lips.

“Real quick, Doctor Davis. You said that maybe this man, this—”

He looks down at the paper below him, devoid of any notes. I feel irritation gurgling up my throat like bile.

“Bert Rhodes. You should write it down.”

“Right, Bert Rhodes,” he says, scribbling the name in the corner, circling it twice. “You said he might be targeting girls you know specifically.”

“Yeah, maybe. He admitted to knowing where my office was, so maybe that’s why he took Lacey. Maybe he was watching me and he saw her walking out. Maybe he dumped her in the alley behind my office because he knew I might find her there, notice the missing jewelry, make the connection. That I’d be forced to acknowledge the fact that all these girls are still dying because of…”

I stop, swallow. Force myself to say the words. “Because of my dad.”

“Okay,” he says, tracing his pen along the edge of his paper. “Okay, that’s a possibility. But then what exactly is your connection to Aubrey Gravino? How do you know her?”

I stare at him, my cheeks growing hot. It’s a valid question—one I somehow hadn’t thought to ask myself before. I was there just before Aubrey’s body had been found, which seemed coincidental, then Lacey going missing the day she left my office took it to a whole new level. But in terms of an actual shared connection between Aubrey and me … I can’t think of one. I remember seeing her image on the news for that first time, the vague familiarity of her features, like I had seen her somewhere before, maybe in a dream. I had just chalked it up to all the adolescent girls who

streamed through my office on a weekly basis, the way they all seem to look somewhat the same.

But now I start to wonder if maybe it was something more.

“I don’t know Aubrey,” I admit. “I can’t think of any connection right now. I’ll keep thinking on it.”

“Okay.” He nods, still eying me carefully. “Okay, Doctor Davis, I appreciate you coming in. I’ll be sure to follow up on this lead and let you know as soon as I learn more.”

I push myself up from the chair and turn to leave; his office feels claustrophobic now, the closed door and the closed windows and the clutter piling high on every surface making my palms sweat and my heartbeat pound loudly in my chest. I walk quickly to the door and grasp the knob, feeling his eyes still drilling into my back, watching. It’s clear that Detective Thomas is wary of my story; with something this shocking, I had suspected that might be the case. But in coming here and revealing my theory, I had hoped to at least point the spotlight on Bert Rhodes, to get the police to start watching him closely, making it harder for him to lurk in the dark.

But instead, I feel like it’s pointed directly at me.

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