Chapter no 31

The Locked Door

I spend the rest of the day in the hospital. I’ve got surgeries scheduled all afternoon, although the trauma pager stays thankfully quiet. Even after my surgeries are over, I have to go off to find a quiet space to dictate the operative reports. It was a busy day—I’m making headway on my competition with Philip.

When I finally finish my work, I start to head out to the hospital parking garage, and then it hits me that my car is still indisposed in the parking lot at my office. How could I have forgotten? I should have called Harper to take care of it. Tomorrow I’ll get it towed. But I can’t deal with it right now.

I end up calling another Uber to get home, then I doze off in the back seat. The driver has to call out my name—possibly repeatedly—to wake me up. It’s been a long day.

When I finally get inside my front door, it feels like it’s been five days since I woke up this morning. I can’t wait to have a nice quiet dinner and crawl into my bed. I flick on the lights and the living room comes into focus. “Honey, I’m home!” I call out.

But instead of the usual silence, my entrance is met with a loud meow. Oh right. The cat.

The black cat is standing at my feet, looking up at me. See, no good deed goes unpunished. I was just trying to be a nice person and feed a hungry cat, and now I’ve got a houseguest I don’t want. I need this cat out of my house. Now.

But at least this feels manageable. First thing, I need to get rid of the cat. Then I need to deal with my car. Then I need to call a company to put alarms on all my doors. And cameras. Actually, maybe that one should be first. But getting rid of the cat feels like something I can do right now, instead of waiting until business hours.

“Okay,” I say to the cat. “It’s time to go outside.” The cat just looks at me. Damn it.

I’m trying to figure out how to coax this cat out of my house when I hear the doorbell ring. I look down at my watch—it’s nearly nine o’clock.

Who could be ringing my doorbell this late?

Oh God, is it the police again? Did they find some other piece of evidence linking me to the murders? I’ve got to put Patricia on speed dial.

I hurry over to the front door and check the peephole. I take a step back when I see who’s standing there. It’s Brady. What the hell? I was certain I was never going to see him again. I undo the deadbolt and crack open the door.

“Hey, Nora.” His mild brown eyes meet mine for a moment, then he looks away. “How are you doing?”

“Been better.” I tug at the collar of my scrub top, wishing I were wearing something more attractive. “What are you doing here?”

He holds up a key. “I got your car fixed.”

“You did?” I look over his shoulder, and sure enough, there is my Camry, parked on the street. I want to kiss his feet. “Thank you so much. You didn’t have to…”

He shrugs. “No worries. I had the time to do it today, so…”

I wait for him to smile at me and ask to come inside, but he’s surprisingly flat. “How much do I owe you?”

He doesn’t hesitate: “Seven-hundred-fifty dollars.”

“Let me get my checkbook.” I pause with my hand on the door. “Do you want to come in or…?”

He shuffles between his sneakers. “I… I think I’ll just stay out here.” “Right. Of course.”

It’s a slap in the face, after the way he’s acting around me before, but I try not to show it. I understand how he must be feeling. This is why I was always too scared to tell anybody about who I really am. If I stayed in a relationship long enough, I would have to tell the other person the truth. And then they would start looking at me the way he’s looking at me now.

I fetch my checkbook and write out a check for him. It occurs to me as I’m scribbling down my signature that this might very well be the last time I ever see him. I’m never going back to Christopher’s. And I have a feeling he’s not coming back here either. And the thought of that… It makes me sadder than I could have imagined. I wish…

Well, there’s nothing I could have done differently. My life is what it is. But I wish sometimes that I had a different life. Different parents. That I were a different sort of person. Somebody who could have spent years

curled up on the couch with Brady, watching scary movies, because it’s fun and not because I’m a sociopath who needs therapy. I wish I were the sort of person who could’ve spent the night at his place just one freaking time.

I return to the door with the check. I hold it out to him. “Here you go.

Thanks again.”

He grabs the slip of paper from me, and his fingertips brush slightly against mine. My fingers tingle at his touch. We linger there for a moment, staring at each other. Brady and I have a connection. He knows it as well as I do. I don’t want this to be the last time I ever see him. I really, really don’t.

“Nora.” His voice cracks slightly. “Look, I can’t do this. I can’t be involved with… I mean, my daughter—”

“No, it’s fine.” “I’m sorry…”

“I said it’s fine.”

Except it’s not fine. I don’t know why this rejection hurts so damn much. I rejected him first. I’m the one who ran out of his apartment twice.

I clear my throat. “Do you need a ride? I mean, I’m assuming you drove here in my car.”

“I already called for a ride.” He jerks his head at a white SUV that’s just pulled up on the curb. “So I’m going to take off.”

“Okay.” I ball my hands into fists. “Good night, Brady.” “Good night, Nora.”

But what he means is goodbye.

I close the door behind him before he even gets to the end of the walkway. I take a ragged breath, banishing all thoughts of Brady Mitchell from my mind. It’s better this way. Sure, he was a nice guy, and really great in bed, but I don’t need that complication. I don’t.


Now that Brady is gone, the cat seems to want to assert her dominance. She rubs herself against my leg and meows loudly. She’s hungry. Fortunately, I’ve got a ton of cat food. At least I can make somebody happy. As I’m grabbing the can of cat food, it hits me that this is the perfect opportunity to get rid of the cat. All I have to do is put the bowl outside and quickly close the door. There’s no way this cat will be able to resist the food in her bowl, no matter how much she wants to stay in this house (for some

reason). I don’t understand why she wants to be here so much. Nobody else seems to want to be around me very much.

I walk over to the back door with the can of cat food, and I throw it open. I put the bowl outside the door, then I empty the can into it. The cat lingers in the doorway, watching me with her yellow eyes.

“Come on, cat!” I say.

She doesn’t budge. Stupid cat.

I crouch down next to the cat, close enough that I can smell cat food in her breath. “Listen,” I say, “I’ll keep feeding you. I promise. But you can’t stay here.”

She meows at me. Which is about what I deserve for attempting to reason with a cat.

From my position crouched on the floor, I notice a white envelope on the ground. It’s slightly pushed against the wall, which is how I initially missed it. I reach for it, a sinking feeling in my chest when I see the name on the return address:

Aaron Nierling.

Again, there’s no postmark on it. I can’t kid myself that this letter resulted from another string of mishaps. The only way this could have gotten into my house is if somebody slipped it under the back door. Or worse, they left it on the floor after they were done planting that blood in my basement.

I wish the security places were open now. I need alarms on every door and every window in this house. Tomorrow morning. First thing.

I get to my feet unsteadily. I’ve ripped up every single letter my father sent me, but those were the ones he sent through the mail. None of them came through my back door.

I have to see what this says.

I collapse into a chair at the kitchen table. I stare at the writing on the envelope. I’ve gotten to know my father’s writing over the years, based on these weekly letters. This is his handwriting. Or if it’s a forgery, it’s an excellent one. But I think it came from my father.

My hands are trembling as I rip open the envelope.

It’s a single piece of paper. Folded into thirds. I carefully unfold it and stare down at the single sentence written on the paper:

Come see me, Nora.

And underneath, it’s signed “Dad.”

I want to do the same thing I’ve done to every other letter he’s ever sent me: rip it up into pieces. But I don’t know if I can ignore him anymore. If I want to find out who killed those girls, there’s only one way to do it.

I’m going to pay my father a visit for the first time in twenty-six years.

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