The smell is beyond sickening, but I don’t dare pull over on the way home. Even if I think I’m somewhere safe and quiet, I can’t risk it. If somebody sees me, I’m finished. It isn’t until I get into my garage and the door slams shut behind me that I dare get out of the car and open the trunk.
The stench has only multiplied in the last thirty minutes. It’s so sickening, I cover my mouth and gag. I’ve read that smells are strongly attached to the memory center in the brain, and this horrible stench mixed with lavender reminds me of another very familiar odor. One that I will never, ever be able to forget.
Although God knows, I’ve tried.
Unfortunately, my trunk is a mess. I’ve got at least half a dozen pairs of scrubs back there, two fleece sweaters, a bunch of printed notes on patients that rightfully should be shredded, and various car oils and windshield wiper fluid. I tend to throw anything I can’t deal with or want to save for later into my trunk.
I can already see bloodstains on the fabric of my scrubs. Vaguely, I am aware of the fact that I should put on a pair of gloves to look through my trunk, but gloves are the one thing I don’t have back here, and I can’t wait for that. So I keep sifting through my belongings, searching for the source of the stench.
A minute later, I’ve found it.
I back away from the trunk, a dizzy feeling almost overcoming me. I turn my head to the side and dry heave until my eyes water. No. No. This can’t be. It can’t.
It’s a severed hand.
Whether it’s Shelby Gillis’s hand or Amber Swanson’s hand is not clear, but I’m sure a police analysis would be able to tell me. All I have to do is call the cops and they will tell me exactly who this hand belonged to, right after they snap cuffs on my wrists and haul me off to jail for two life sentences.
Nobody can know about this.
Of course, the question of how it got into my trunk is the most unsettling of all. Clearly, it happened today while my car was sitting in the parking lot of the San Francisco airport. Somebody got into my car and left this for me. The same way they got into my house and left the blood in my basement.
I’m done messing around. By tomorrow, I’m going to have my house locked up like a fortress.
In the meantime, I have to figure out what to do about this piece of evidence. Leaving it in my trunk is not an option. Breathing through my mouth, I scoop up the hand using a couple of pairs of bloody, ruined scrubs. And then I go into my house.
The first thing I do is flick on the lights. The house seems quiet—-almost too quiet.
“Honey, I’m home,” I whisper.
I stand there for a moment, listening. If they got into my car, they could be in my house right now. And then I hear something. Are those footsteps? It’s definitely something.
Then I hear the plaintive meow. Thank God, it’s just the cat.
A second later, the cat is padding into the foyer. I put together a makeshift litter box for her this morning, constructed from cereal boxes and scotch tape, so hopefully, she didn’t pee and poop all over my house. Getting her to leave seems out of the question—I’ve acquired a permanent houseguest. Fine. I don’t have time to deal with this.
She nuzzles at my leg, purring gently. Then she looks up at me and attempts to sniff at the bloody scrubs I have in my right hand. She bats at it with her paw.
“Please stop, cat,” I murmur. “Not for you.”
I go into the kitchen and pull one of the plastic bags out from under the sink. I throw the scrubs into the bag, tie it off, and put that inside another bag. And that inside another bag. Now there are three layers of bags. And a layer of scrubs. But if the police search my house, it’ll take them all of two seconds to get through it.
But what can I do?
I can’t drop it in my trashcan. Tomorrow is Friday and trash day isn’t until Monday. I don’t want a rotting hand in my trash the entire weekend,
especially with that detective sniffing around. Especially because my fingerprints are all over the scrubs. What if Barber manages to get a warrant to search my home? I’d be finished.
I suppose I could get the fireplace going and dispose of it in there, but I’ve never actually used it the entire time I’ve lived here. If I do something that attracts the fire department somehow, I’ll be in big trouble. And who knows how long traces of bones would remain in my fireplace.
I stare at the plastic bag on my kitchen counter. I’m beginning to feel like I should have called the detective from the beginning. I could have told him everything. I could’ve told him about my father’s letters and that I think somebody’s setting me up. If the detective finds the evidence in my house on his own, it will be a lot harder to explain it than if I hand it over myself.
But I don’t entirely trust Barber. Every time he looks at me, I see his mistrust. I’m the daughter of a man who murdered countless women. I’m a surgeon, who cuts into people on a daily basis. The connection between me and the two dead girls is only growing stronger. I don’t want to give him an excuse to arrest me. And if I tell him about the blood that I wiped off the floor in my basement, he almost certainly will take me in. Even if he can’t make the charges stick, the damage to my professional reputation may be irreparable.
No, I had the right idea. I’ve got to get rid of this hand. Now.
I tug my jacket back on and go out to my garage with the plastic bag. The car still smells terrible and I have to keep all the windows cracked open as I pull out on the street, even though the wind whips at my face. I head south on El Camino Real, not entirely sure where I’m going. I’ve got to find a dumpster. Something completely unconnected to me.
After driving for about twenty minutes, I come across a Carl’s Jr. off the side of the road. I can’t remember the last thing I’ve eaten, but the thought of one of those greasy fast-food burgers with creamy sauce dripping off of it makes me sick to my stomach. I crane my neck and see the lights are out inside the restaurant—closed.
I pull into the parking lot, which is empty. Looks like the staff is long gone. So are the customers. I’m sure there’s a dumpster behind the restaurant, and there will be no one there but me.
I sit in my car for several minutes, working up the nerve to get out. I wonder if this is how my father felt when he had to dispose of one of his victims. Was he ever scared? Did he worry about getting caught? Or was he just wound up in the excitement of it all?
This isn’t exciting. Not even a little bit.
I squeeze the steering wheel with my fists, giving myself a pep talk.
It’s going to be okay. Nobody will see me. Nobody is here. It’s just me.
I get out of the car with the plastic bag clutched in my hand. I want to stuff it inside my coat, but the thought of that thing being close to my body is just too sickening. I spot the dumpster right behind the restaurant—the green metal bin is already filled almost to the brim with trash bags. It will probably be emptied tomorrow. And then the hand will be in a trash heap at the dump, where nobody will ever find it or connect it to me.
I walk briskly in the direction of the dumpster. The smell of grease and garbage intermingle as I grow closer. At least it’s better than lavender. The lid is propped up and there are bags stuffed into the bin, but there’s still room for my little plastic bag. I slip the plastic bag into a little gap between two larger bags.
I take a step back, examining the trash bin. At a glance, you can’t see the plastic bag. It’s been subsumed by the rest of the smelly garbage. And tomorrow it will all be gone—off to the local dump. I let out a breath and I’m about to walk away when I hear the sharp voice from behind me:
“What are you doing?”