Chapter no 20

The Locked Door

Present Day

I don’t want to leave work today. The idea of going home to my empty house is terrifying to me. I can’t stop imagining Shelby’s face. She was so full of life at her last appointment. And now…

I wish I knew why. Why would somebody do it? Then again, the answer to that question is likely unsatisfying. My father never had a reason why. Well, technically he had a reason why. He did it because he enjoyed it. I look a lot like him. If I were a man, I would be a spitting image of

Aaron Nierling. But thankfully, my extra X chromosome has spared me that fate. But I have his very dark brown hair that looks black and his dark eyes. The hint of a cleft in my chin. The same lean build.

My grandmother used to hate how much I looked like him. Sometimes she would stare at me and shake her head in disgust. You have the devil in you, Nora.

If my grandmother were still alive, she would probably think I was the one killing those girls. Just like the detective does.

Does he really think that though? Maybe not. Female serial killers are exceedingly rare. Even with my genetics, I’m an unlikely candidate.

But not impossible.

As much as I don’t want to go home, I don’t want to be the last person at the office either. So when I hear Harper packing up her things, I grab my purse and jacket and join her. She smiles when she sees me, but her eyes widen slightly at the sight of me. I must look as bad as I feel.

“Dr. Davis,” she says. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” I say quickly. I watch as Harper shoves her biology book under her arm. “Are you heading out?”

She nods. “My roommate wants to take me out clubbing.”

“Oh.” I had been hoping she might be free to grab a drink with me. “Well, have a good time.”

“Do you…” She frowns and her dimples deepen. “Do you want to come with us?”

I almost laugh out loud. Even when I was Harper’s age, that sort of thing never appealed to me. “No, but thank you for the invite.”

“Okay…” Her brow furrows. I never told her what the detective was asking me about, and she’s too polite to ask. But she must be curious. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

Harper smiles at me, blinking her blue eyes. A pretty girl with dark hair and blue eyes. Just like Amber Swanson and Shelby Gillis.

“Harper,” I say. “Do you… have any protection?”

“No,” she says. “But Becky has like a million condoms in her room and she’ll totally lend me one if I need it.”

I cringe. “No, that’s not what I mean. I mean, if someone were to attack you in the street, do you have anything to defend yourself with?”

“Um…” Harper shifts her purse on her shoulder. “I guess not…” “Don’t move.”

I run off to the supply closet. I don’t know who killed those girls, but I don’t want anything to happen to Harper. I find a great deal of gauze and Band-Aids and alcohol swabs, suture kits, as well as some suture and staple removal kits. There’s a whole stack of silver-impregnated dressings, but I don’t see how that will help Harper if she runs into somebody in a dark alley. Finally, I come to the syringes.

It’s not ideal. But it’s better than nothing.

I grab the three milliliter syringe and screw on an eighteen gauge needle. I think that’s enough to do some serious damage. Of course, she’ll have to remove the cap of the needle, but it’s better than being completely unprepared.

I come out of the supply closet with the needle ready to go. I present it to Harper, who takes it gingerly, like she doesn’t quite want to touch it. She drops it in her purse. “Uh, thanks?”

“I wish I had something better,” I say. “You should go out and get some mace or something.”

Harper looks down at her purse, then back up at my face. “Are you sure you’re okay, Dr. Davis?”

No, I am not okay. I’m not even close to okay. But I don’t want Harper to know the truth about me. Nobody in my life can know. They would never

look at me the same way. They would look at me the way… well, the way Detective Barber does.

Two dead bodies. Two dead patients with their hands removed. What does it mean?

“I’m fine,” I say.

“You look…” She bites her lower lip. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t say anything. It’s just that you always seem so composed, no matter what’s going on. You and Dr. Corey both do. But now you seem… Are you upset about that other patient who was killed?”

“It’s sad,” I say. It is sad. But that’s not why I’m feeling so shaken by the whole thing. “It just goes to show how dangerous it is out there.”

“I’ll be careful,” she promises me. “Becky and I took a self-defense course last year. We’ll be fine.”

As if a self-defense course would have protected her against somebody like my father. But I can’t say that. “Good. And if you get in any trouble, just call 911.”

“Okay,” she agrees, although I can tell she thinks I’m being ridiculous.

Right after Harper takes off, I leave as well. But the last thing I want to do is to go home. To my empty house where I’m becoming increasingly sure a letter from my father was slipped under my door.

I’ve got to get an alarm system. Alarms and cameras. Everybody says it’s a safe neighborhood, but I don’t feel safe right now.

As I drive home, I come up to the exit on the freeway for Christopher’s. I haven’t been there in an entire week—not since that spectacular night with Brady that ended in me running out on him. It seems so unfair that I can’t go there anymore because of him. I’ve been going there for years, and he only just started there. Christopher’s should be mine.

Against my better judgment, I find myself taking the exit and driving the rest of the way to Christopher’s. I’ll just look inside and see if Brady is working. If he is, I’ll take off. If he isn’t, then I’ll go order myself an Old Fashioned.

I don’t want to see Brady again. It has nothing to do with what that old lady said about him, which in retrospect seems even more insane than it did that day in the drugstore. I just can’t get involved with anyone right now. And if I spend more time with him, he’s going to get the wrong idea. I don’t have room in my life for that right now.

It turns out I hit the jackpot. When I look inside the bar, there’s another bartender there serving drinks—another new guy I don’t recognize. Brady is nowhere in sight. Thank God.

Although the truth is, a small part of me is disappointed.

Instead of going to the bar, I slip into a booth in the back. A waitress comes over and I order my Old Fashioned. But I don’t think it’s going to be enough to make me feel better about today. I don’t think anything will be able to do that.


I jerk my head up at the sound of my name. I suck in a breath when I see Brady standing over me. He looks surprised but not unhappy to see me.

“Hi,” I say. “I, uh… I didn’t know you were working right now.” Brady glances at the bar, then back at me. “My shift just ended.” Wow, my timing could not have been any worse.

“I don’t suppose you feel like some company?” he asks.

I stare down at my hands on the table. “Not really. I’m sorry.”

The waitress returns at that moment with my Old Fashioned. She places the drink down on the table in front of me without much fanfare. I can’t help but notice how she smiles at Brady and even touches his shoulder as she says hello. He’s polite to her, but clearly not that interested. I don’t know why he seems so focused on spending time with me when he clearly could have any other girl in this bar.

I reach for my Old Fashioned and take a sip, aching for that warm, good feeling. But instead, I nearly spit it out.

“Ugh!” I say out loud. “This is awful!”

The waitress overheard me because she’s still lingering nearby, trying to talk to Brady. She looks over and shrugs. “Sorry. That’s how the new guy makes them.”

“It’s too bitter.” I push the glass away from me. “He made it


Brady smiles crookedly. “No worries. I’ll make you a new one.”

“You don’t have to do that,” the waitress tells him. “Your shift is over.” “I don’t mind.”

Before I can say another word, he has whisked my glass away and he’s behind the bar. I watch him talking to the bartender, explaining how to make the drink. I wonder where he learned how to mix drinks. He seems

pretty good at it, considering most of his career was spent working in Silicon Valley.

A minute later, he returns with a new glass and places it down in front of me. He waits for a moment while I take a sip. Naturally, it’s perfect. Perfectly sweet and bitter.

Just the way my father used to drink it. “Thanks so much,” I say.

“My pleasure.”

He nods at me, then he turns and starts walking towards the exit. I bite down on my lower lip hard enough that I’m certain I must be drawing blood. I know I’m making a mistake, but I call out, “Brady!”

He freezes. Turns around. “Yes?”

I take a deep breath. “Actually, I think I would like some company.”

A slow smile spreads across his face. Without any hesitation, he comes back to the booth and slides into the seat across from me. “I was hoping you would say that.”

I allow myself to smile back. “For the record, I’m pretty sure you could go home with that waitress anytime you want.”

“Maybe.” He keeps his eyes on me, without looking at the waitress. He knows what I mean. “But I’m much more interested in you.”

“I see…” I take a sip of the Old Fashioned. He made it even better than last time. “So you like a challenge then.”

“No. That’s not what it is.” “Then what?”

He picks up the napkin in front of him and starts playing with it. “I just never entirely stopped thinking about you since college.”

I laugh out loud. “Oh, come on.”

“I mean it! The one that got away, et cetera, et cetera.” “We only dated for three months.”

“Yeah, but…” He makes a little tear in the napkin. “I know we didn’t seem to have a lot in common. I mean, I was a computer dork and you were gung-ho premed. But I just feel like we connected. I know that sounds silly, but that’s how I felt.”

Right, and what does that say about him that he connected with someone like me?

He lifts a shoulder. “I never really felt that way about anyone else after we broke up.”


He shakes his head.

“What about your ex-wife?”

He gives me a lopsided smile. “Well, if I felt that way, we would probably still be married, wouldn’t we?”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

“Anyway,” he says. “I still don’t know why you broke up with me. I thought things were going so great, and then bam, you call me and tell me it’s over.”

“Sorry about that.”

“Any chance you could tell me why?” His eyebrows scrunch together. “Just so I know for future reference?”

“It had nothing to do with you. I just felt like things were getting too serious, and I didn’t want that. I still don’t want that.”

“Right, but…” He looks like he’s going to say something else, but then he thinks better of it. “Fine. I guess that’s fair.”

I drain the last of my Old Fashioned. Before I can second-guess myself, I blurt out, “Do you want to go back to your place again?”

“Yes,” he says so quickly that I almost laugh. “Two cars again?” “Yes.”

“I can drive you back here after if—” “Two cars.”

“Fine.” He nods. “Let’s go

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