Chapter no 36

The Locked Door

My knees almost buckle beneath me.

I thought I was alone. I thought everyone was gone for the day. I was wrong. And now…

Oh God.

I turn around in the direction of the voice. It’s a man—a boy, really, although taller than I am—wearing a bright red T-shirt with a yellow star on it. His nearly hairless arms are folded across his chest, and he’s so skinny I could wrap my fingers entirely around his biceps. He’s an employee, probably locking up for the night. I don’t know why his car isn’t in the lot outside, but it doesn’t matter. He’s here.

The question is, how much did he see? Did he see me throwing away the bag or did he just notice me standing here?

I look up at his unlined face, smeared with acne on his cheeks and forehead. He doesn’t look like he’s suspicious. More like he’s curious.

I square my shoulders. Aaron Nierling was an incredible liar—he kept his crimes from everybody who knew him, including the people who lived with him. And I am his daughter. So if I can’t deceive a scrawny teenager working at a fast-food restaurant, it would be a disgrace.

“I was eating here earlier,” I explain. “I lost my sunglasses. So I thought I would come back and look for them.”

The boy’s eyebrows shoot up to his hairline. “In the dumpster?”

“Wishful thinking, I guess. Did anyone turn in a pair of sunglasses?”

He shakes his head thoughtfully. “No. I’ve been here all evening and I didn’t see any.”

“Oh well.” I sigh sadly. “I guess they’re gone forever.”

I’m holding my breath as I watch his face, at the wheels turning in his brain. Will he believe me? He’s thinking about it. I can tell by the way his eyes are looking up and to the side.

“You know what I think?” he says. I swallow. “What?”

He leans in close enough that I can see the greasy pores on his skin, even in the moonlight. “I bet somebody stole them.”

I stuff my hands into my pockets so he can’t see them shaking. “Do you think so?”

He nods. “Yeah. A nice pair of sunglasses—I bet somebody would just stuff them in their pocket and leave with them.”

“That… that’s probably exactly what happened.”

He flashes me a sympathetic look. “Do you want me to take down your number in case they turn up?”

I debate if I should give him a fake number, but I’m worried he might try to call it and realize I was lying. “That’s okay. They may have fallen out of my pocket when I was getting gas for my car earlier. I’m going to go check the gas station.”

The boy wishes me good luck and I rush back to my car. When I get inside, I start the engine as quickly as I can and get the hell out of there. I don’t want the boy to get any ideas that he should start searching for my sunglasses. Or take down my license plate in case they turn up.

My head is buzzing the entire drive home. It could’ve gone worse, but it could have gone much, much better. The boy did seem to believe my story, but who knows? What if he starts searching through the garbage after I leave, trying to be the hero to find my lost sunglasses? And then he finds the plastic bag and…

No, that won’t happen. The kid is earning minimum wage. He’s not digging through the garbage to help a customer.

I’m almost afraid to return home. God knows what other horror is waiting for me there. A dead body in my bedroom? Blood dripping down the walls? Nothing would surprise me at this point. But when I get through the door, nothing looks out of place. And the only sound is the cat begging for food.

At least I can make the cat happy.

While I retrieve a can of cat food out of the cupboard, it occurs to me that I probably need to feed myself as well. I don’t think I’ve eaten in at least ten hours. Unsurprisingly, my stomach lets out a low growl. I have no desire for food, but I might have to eat to keep my body in working order.

I rifle around in the refrigerator and pull out half of a chicken sandwich that I got from the hospital. I’m not entirely sure when I got it, but I sniff the sandwich and it doesn’t seem like it’s turned. I throw it in the

microwave and watch the unappealing lump of food revolve in a circle as it reheats.

I place the chicken sandwich on a plate, but I don’t want to eat it. The smell of that decomposing hand is still clinging to my clothing. It’s all I can smell. All I can think about.

That’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is the slight undertone of lavender. Every time I catch a whiff of it, I gag.

I push away the sandwich and grab my phone. I need to eat, but the other thing I need to do is start looking up home security systems. There are some do-it-yourself burglar alarms, but the sad truth is I don’t think I could set that up if my life depended on it. I want a professional to come in and make my house safe. And I want them to do it as soon as possible. Tomorrow.

I nibble on the sandwich as I call a couple of the companies. Of course, they’re all closed by now. I leave messages with three of them, figuring one of them will be able to come through for tomorrow. I’m not willing to wait even one more day.

Just as I’m leaving a final message, I hear the doorbell ring.

I glance at my watch—who would be coming by this late? Could it be Brady?

My heart leaps at the thought of it. Last night, it seemed like he never wanted to see me again. I was trying to be okay with it, but the truth is, I would give anything to see him right now. This day has been one of the worst of my life, and I want nothing more than to lie in his arms and forget it all. He might be the only person capable of making me feel better right now.

I really hope it’s him.

I toss my phone on the kitchen table and head out to the living room. As I walk toward the front door, a sick feeling washes over me. It’s not Brady at the front door—I’d bet my life on it. I look through the peephole and confirm my worst fears. It’s Detective Barber.

I freeze, not sure what to do. Patricia assured me he’s got nothing on me. But if that’s the case, why is he here?

Oh God, did he see me at Carl’s Jr.? Is that possible? If he did, wouldn’t he have stopped me there?


Maybe he was watching me from a place I couldn’t see. Maybe after I left, he went over to the dumpster. Maybe he searched through it and found what I threw away. And now he’s here to take me away in handcuffs.

I don’t want to open the door.

His fist raps against my door, more firmly this time. “Dr. Davis?”

I take a deep breath and unlock the door. I can’t very well pretend I’m not home. He could probably see me through the windows. I throw open the door and channel my father’s incredible charisma.

Please let him not have found that hand…

“Hello, Detective,” I say.

“Dr. Davis.” He tips an invisible hat at me. “Sorry to bother you so late…”

“May I help you?”

I stare at him, waiting for him to whip out a pair of handcuffs. Nora Davis, you’re under arrest. But instead, he smiles at me, the skin around his eyes creasing. “Actually, now that your lawyer isn’t around, I just wanted to apologize.”

My breath catches. “Apologize?”

Is this a trick? But no, if he spotted me at the Carl’s Jr., he wouldn’t have to trick me. He would have everything he needs to arrest me.

He scratches at his gray crew cut. “Yeah. See, I’m passionate about what I do. I would think as a surgeon, you would understand that, Dr. Davis. And I just want to find the bastard who killed those girls. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

I nod.

“Anyway,” he says, “it was wrong of me to make assumptions about you based on your father. You don’t deserve that. So I wanted to say I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done it, but my heart was in the right place.”

“Yes, well…” My knees almost buckle with relief. “I accept your apology. And I also hope you find whoever did this terrible thing.”

He has no idea how much I hope that.

“Yeah…” He smiles at me again. “Again, sorry to bother you so late. I came by your office, but they said you were home sick. But then I came here, and you weren’t here either.”

“I must have been asleep upstairs,” I say.

“Right, but your car wasn’t in the garage. I could see it was empty through the side window.”

I frown. This detective is a dirty liar. He didn’t come here to apologize. He came to find out where the hell I was all day. And I can’t exactly tell him I was visiting my father. Although if it comes down to it, it will be easy enough for him to find out about my plane flight. But I’m not going to serve it to him on a silver platter.

At least he didn’t see me at the garbage dumpster.

“I went out to get some chicken soup,” I finally say. Lying gets easier every time.

“Oh.” He nods. “Well, that makes sense. Are you feeling any better, Doctor?”

“Much better. Thank you.”

And now we’re just staring at each other. Another blinking contest. He should know by now he’s not going to win that one.

“Anyway…” Barber raps his fist against the door frame. “I said what I had to say. So I’ll let you get some rest. I hope you feel better.”

“Thank you.”

I watch him go down the steps to my front door and off to his unmarked vehicle. I watch him get inside and drive away. But even after he does, my knees are still trembling. He might be gone for now, but he’s going to be back. I better be ready.

I don’t know who is killing those girls, or why they’ve decided to try to ruin my life. But I’m not going to let them get away with it anymore.

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