Holly is living on borrowed time, but when mysterious footsteps follow her home and a cryptic note shows up on her door, she realizes her time is running out. The man she’s hiding from has found her. Or has he? When people start dying and old, forgotten memories begin to surface, holly finds herself wrapped up in a terrifying mystery with God, a pushy southern detective, and a killer with one thing on his mind: her.
Genre: Christian Fiction – suspense
Preview the first few chapters
The ominous sound of something scraping across the cement behind me raised the hairs on the back of my neck. I slid my fingers under the thick braided strap of my camera bag, preparing to use it as a weapon, as I paused to look behind me.
I’d stayed out too late photographing a young couple. The sun had dropped behind the horizon fifteen minutes ago, and it had been a long walk back from the park.
I scanned the dark streets. Light from the street lamps cast an orange glow over the buildings and sidewalks. A few female silhouettes haunted the corner, laughing and talking too loudly, and a taxi trolled slowly by.
I forced myself to breathe again and continued walking.
A tune I couldn’t quite place drifted through my mind, distracting me from dwelling on the eerie street. I’d heard it somewhere before—something about someone saying hello and someone saying goodbye—and it was stuck in my head like a skipping record.
The faded yellow door of my apartment stood out in the darkness, and the sight of it sent a wave of relief through me. My living space wasn’t technically an apartment; it was the unwanted, unkempt basement of an apartment complex that the owner had rented to me for dirt cheap. I couldn’t afford much more than dirt.
I hurried down the two cement steps and thrust one of the keys into the first lock. Another chilling scrape came from somewhere behind me. I stiffened with my key poised over the remaining keyhole. The last thing I wanted to do was let a lunatic into my apartment.
If he made it into my apartment and locked us in, only the fire department could save me, and they would need to bring the Jaws of Life. This metal door would not budge otherwise.
Nope, getting attacked outside was much safer.
I glanced over my shoulder, but saw no one. I listened for the telltale scrape, but only the quiet crackling of tree limbs in the breeze and a distant siren broke through the silence. The city was quiet. Unnaturally so. That in itself was unsettling.
I slid the key into the lock, twisted it, and cracked the door just enough to slip through. I squeezed into my apartment and slammed the door behind me. I flipped all three dead bolts with practiced quickness and then dropped back against the door with a relief that made my knees weak.
The scent of must and lilac air freshener greeted me as I drew in a breath. No matter how often I cleaned, the musty aroma remained embedded in the walls and ceiling.
I shrugged my bag off on the kitchen counter immediately to my left, flipped the light switch that ignited the lone bulb over my kitchen table, and pushed away from the door.
My living space was a single L-shaped room with a quaint, if mismatched, kitchenette, a claustrophobic bathroom closet, and an alcove where my bed rested. I savored the openness. Small spaces brought back old memories better left forgotten.
A small chirp drew my gaze to the floor. A gray cat staggered around my ankles, his wide body throwing off his balance. Jordan looked up at me with crystalline blue eyes, pleading. I sighed and scooped him up with a grunt of effort.
“If I’d known you were going to be this chunky, I would’ve named you Sausage.” I shifted his weight in my arms and he head-butted my chin affectionately. I really needed to put him on a diet. Would that be considered animal cruelty?
I grabbed the empty glass from the counter and filled it with water. A chunk of soggy cat food floated to the top of the glass and I set it aside with a frustrated sigh. “Really?” My cat blinked at me with wide, innocent eyes from the crook of my arm.
There were times when Jordan seemed confused about his species. He had an irritating habit of squirreling away his food anywhere he could find a spot: between couch cushions, in dishes, the silverware drawer . . . even the laundry hamper.
“I wasn’t thirsty anyway,” I grumbled.
I passed from the kitchen into the living room in four steps, and walked to the faded purple couch. I dropped Jordan onto the worn cushions and picked up the card-shaped envelope I had found taped to my door that morning. I hadn’t had the opportunity to open it.
I sank onto the cushions beside Jordan as I examined the envelope. It was addressed simply to Holly, and the return address was 1288 Stony Brooke, Kansas.
I glanced at the battered silvery bracelet on my left wrist. It had begun to turn green around the edges a long time ago, and the letters engraved into the surface had all but faded away, leaving just a shadow of my name: Holly.
It was the only thing that had truly been mine when I drifted from one foster placement to the next, and I couldn’t bring myself to part with it.
“Kansas,” I said thoughtfully, letting the name roll around on my tongue. I didn’t receive mail. I paid the landlord in cash for my utilities and rent, and I had no formal address. I glanced at my cat. “Do we know anyone from Kansas?”
My plump feline couldn’t have looked more disinterested. I sighed and slipped my finger into the crease of the envelope, carefully tearing it open. There was a note card inside. Typewritten across the center of the card was the message:
Holly, come home.
An unexpected chill traveled down my spine. What was that supposed to mean? I had lived in a number of places in my twenty-eight years, but none of them had been in Kansas, and none of them had been home. At best they were rest stops, at worst . . .
I puffed out an anxious breath and flipped the card over. Except for the single phrase on the front, it was blank. There wasn’t even a recipient address on the envelope, just my name.
The implications of that were terrifying.
Someone had tracked me down and taped it to the outside of my door. I moved through the world in the shadows, because that was the only way I knew how to survive, and this wasn’t a good sign. I dropped the card on the couch as if it had singed my fingers, and stared at it warily.
I tapped an anxious rhythm on my thighs as I contemplated throwing what I could in a bag and running. Maybe I had stayed here too long; maybe I had become complacent.
I glanced at my cat when he bumped my leg with his head and purred. “Did he find us?” When I moved in a year ago, I had been determined to stay, to carve out a life for myself, but I’d known it was temporary. It was always temporary.
But this place was more a home to me than any other place I could remember. At times I even felt safe, and I wasn’t ready to give that up. I had even adopted Jordan, and I couldn’t abandon him; I wouldn’t. I knew all too well how that felt.
I pulled him into my lap and stroked his head. His purr sputtered briefly before catching and deepening into a full-blown lawn mower vibration.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. The verse fluttered through my mind, sparking hope. I could do this. Someone finding me was a complication I didn’t need, but it was one I could handle. I had Jesus, and I had chocolate.
I stood and walked to the kitchen. I dragged a folding chair over to the counter and climbed on top of it. I fished a chocolate bar out of the back of the cupboard. I love the kind of bitter dark chocolate that makes you shiver with surprise when it first hits your taste buds.
I plopped onto the counter and unwrapped the long slender bar. The first bite was heavenly. I savored the bittersweet flavor as it melted over my tongue. I took another bite. I should really stop there and tuck the rest back into its hiding spot. I stared at the chocolate, feeling conflicted.
“Eh,” I muttered with a shrug. I was going to eat the whole bar. I was stressed.
I slid off the counter and strode to my bed. Jordan trotted behind me, anticipating cuddle time. He bounced up and down on his hind legs a few times, too fat to scale the bed, and then sat down in defeat. He let out a wail that should be reserved for wounded or dying animals, and I took pity on him. I dragged him onto the bed next to me.
I flopped back on the blankets and grabbed the notebook and pen from the top of the cardboard box that served as my nightstand. I released a heavy breath as I uncapped the pen and opened the book.
It was my nightly tradition. In a life of chaos, it was easy to be swallowed by despair and pain, so I had decided to be thankful for at least one thing every day. I pressed the pen to the page tentatively.
This was the first time fear hadn’t sent me running, a decision I hoped wouldn’t be an awful mistake, and I considered the reasons for that. I glanced at the purring bundle against my side and started to write.
Today I’m thankful for Jordan. And for chocolate.
Breath rushed in and out of my lungs with the rhythm of my shoes on the pavement. Autumn had come a few weeks early this year, and dry leaves stirred around my feet.
Some of the trees bloomed with richly colored leaves, which resembled jewels as the sunlight filtered through them, while others clung to their green leaves rebelliously despite the cooling temperatures.
Autumn was beautiful in its own way, but it was my least favorite season. The crunch of dead leaves beneath my feet, the sound of gnarled, naked tree limbs knocking together in the breeze, candlelit pumpkins with twisted faces . . . it always left me feeling rattled.
My gate faltered when something orange smashed into the pavement a few feet in front of me and exploded. I barely avoided being splattered in pumpkin goo. I glanced up at the two adolescent boys who leaned out of an upstairs apartment window and laughed at the remains of the pumpkin.
I hated October.
I hopped over the pumpkin and finished my lap around the block at a brisker pace than usual. It helped me to evade the fellow jogger who always managed to overlap my jogging path and insisted on trying to flag me down with a wave. I considered changing my route just to avoid him, but this was my time.
I tried never to miss my 7:00 a.m. run, even if it was a crisp thirty-something degrees, like this morning, because it afforded me a steady routine that my unpredictable life didn’t.
Someone was on the sidewalk outside of my apartment when I turned onto my street. I slowed to a cautious walk. I wasn’t expecting company. A shock of black hair frosted with blue identified my visitor.
She lived in one of the upstairs apartments, which was technically not connected to my underground basement, and she was the closest person I had to a friend. She was never up this early.
Jace was tall and slender, and her wild hair and slightly Asian eyes made her look like a character from an anime cartoon. She’d been able to walk for most of her life, but I met her after a car accident left her bound to a wheelchair.
“Hey,” I said between heavy breaths. I strode up behind her with my hands on my hips. My sides ached from pushing myself harder than usual. “How are you even alive at seven thirty in the morning?”
Jace spun her wheelchair around to face me. She lifted a paper coffee mug and grinned, “Caffeine and sugar. Liquid magic.” She held up a second cup. “I brought you one too.”
I regarded the offering warily. “It’s not another cinnamon spice latte, is it?”
She looked offended. “I only made that mistake like two, maybe five times. It’s hard to remember. Normal people like cinnamon.” She dangled the cup in front of me tauntingly. “It’s hot cocoa.”
“With marshmallows?” I asked hopefully as I took it from her. I’d been fantasizing about marshmallows since I jogged past the pastry shop.
“They were out. Extra whipped cream, though.”
I popped the lid and drew in the sweet, chocolaty aroma. “You . . . are my favorite person in the whole world,” I declared.
“Wow,” she said flatly. “If I wasn’t the only person you spoke to in the whole world, that might mean something.”
I smirked as I took a sip of the warm drink. Apart from the occasional word exchanged with my landlord when I dropped off my rent, and the information gathering from my customers, she really was the only person I spoke to. I was certain she knew deep down that I kind of liked her.
“Can we go inside? It’s cold and I can’t feel my toes,” she announced, completely deadpan.
I laughed. Her toes had been numb since the accident; it had absolutely nothing to do with the cold. I hopped down the steps and unlocked the door. I flung it open and grabbed the slab of wood that rested against the side of the building. There was no ramp or elevator to my apartment, so we had to make do. I laid it over the steps and backed into the apartment to give her room.
She cruised down the board and maneuvered over the dip at the bottom and into my apartment.
“What . . . what is this hideously inconvenient lump on your floor?” Jace demanded as her casual glide through the doorway was abruptly halted when the front wheels of her wheelchair collided with the rug.
“It’s called a rug,” I replied evenly as I took another sip of my hot chocolate.
“I’m sorry, you said death trap?” Jace asked with a painfully serious expression. She spun her wheels, but the bunched-up rug moved with her, forcing her into a slow circle. “I feel like I’m in a tailspin here.” She sighed and stopped struggling. Her blue eyes met mine. “Can I burn it? Pretty please with sprinkles?”
I smiled and set my cup down so I could untangle the rug from her wheels. I tossed it aside. She sped across the tile and spun in a deliberate circle in her chair.
“Oh yeah, smooth sailing.” She popped a wheelie in her chair and somehow managed to maintain the precarious position. I was pretty sure if I tried that I would tip backwards and crack my head open like that pumpkin I saw hit the pavement. “The next time you try to redecorate, buy a pillow. Pillows are fantastic.”
“Fine, no more rugs,” I agreed as I dropped onto the couch. I folded my legs beneath me and grabbed one of the brown pillows to put in my lap. “So what brings you to my door at the crack of dawn with a bribe?”
Jace locked her wheels and folded her arms over her legs as she leaned forward. “I need a favor.”
I twirled my hand in a gesture for her to continue.
“I have a date,” she said.
I wasn’t sure what the appropriate best-friend response to that news was supposed to be—seeing as I’d never had a best friend before—so I just nodded and said, “Have fun?”
Jace stared at me.
Okay, apparently “have fun” wasn’t the right response. I racked my brain for something better. “Is he . . . cute?” That was normal, right? I could do normal. I took a casual sip of my hot chocolate as if it hadn’t taken me ages to think of that normal question.
I waited for more, but she offered nothing. Crap, is it my turn again? “I assume he has a face and it looks like . . . something.”
Jace rolled her eyes and said with exasperation, “Yes, he has a face. A cute face. And he has an accent.”
“English,” she said, grinning. “Although Southern would be delicious.”
I wasn’t particularly drawn to a person because they had an accent, but I had to admit that English accents were interesting, and Southern accents, depending on what part of the South they were from, could be downright soothing to listen to. But delicious?
“I’m assuming he doesn’t have a criminal record.”
Jace grimaced. “I didn’t ask. You don’t just ask things like that, Holly.”
It was absolutely a question I would ask, right after “why are you speaking to me?” I frowned at her as I said, “But it’s important.”
I groaned and rubbed my head. My brain was starting to hurt. “Did you at least get his name?”
“Does Gale have a last name?”
Jace puckered her lips inward in reluctance. “Doe” finally popped out.
Jace straightened and her tone was mildly defensive. “Yes, seriously. It’s more real than Smith, so don’t even . . .” She slapped a hand over her mouth, and her eyes widened in shock and horror.
I forced a thin smile. “It’s fine, Jace. It’s not like I just realized my last name isn’t actually Smith.” I doubted it was the surname I’d been born with, but it was the one assigned to me by the state when I was twelve.
Before that day, I didn’t officially exist. My first memory was of waking up in a cabin with a strange woman and her husband when I was ten. They clothed me, fed me, gave me chores to do, and to the best of my knowledge we were a family. Until their cabin was raided by the police two years later and I was removed. My “family” went to prison, the state assigned me an identity, and I was chucked unceremoniously into the foster care system.
In all that time, I had never managed to build a trusting relationship with another human being, and sometimes I questioned letting Jace in. I had only shared a few details about my past with her, and it was still more than I’d shared with anyone. Ever.
I had rebuffed her multiple times when we first met, and even flat out told her to take a hike, to which she mockingly replied, “I can’t hike; I’m in a wheelchair.” She was one of those frustratingly determined people.
I cleared my throat. “So about that favor . . .”
“Right, the favor,” she muttered. “I don’t know what to wear. I could um . . . use a little help tracking down an outfit.”
I pursed my lips. “You want me to go shopping.” I abhorred shopping.
“If we go super early when the stores just open, there won’t be many people.” She gazed at me with wide, pleading eyes.
She wanted me to go with her badly enough that she’d forced herself out of bed hours before she usually did in an effort to make me more comfortable with the idea. And she brought me hot chocolate. How could I say no? I sighed and said, “Fine. But I have a photo shoot at four this afternoon, and I will not model clothing with you in front of the mirrors.”
“Just one outfit?”
“I will wheel you out that door and leave you on the sidewalk,” I threatened.
Jace grinned. “Okay fine, no modeling. I’m ready when you are.”
“Just gimme a second to change.” I dragged myself off the couch and over to the nook where my bed was. There wasn’t room for a dresser, so I hung my clothes on a curtain rod mounted to the ceiling above my bed. I tugged the heavy purple drapes closed between the bed and the couch to give myself some privacy and stripped out of my sweat-dampened clothes.
I sat on the edge of the bed and pulled off my socks and shoes. My feet ached, though I expected the pain resonated more from my memories than from the scars that covered the bottoms of my feet. The wounds were old enough that the scars had faded to white.
I wiggled my feet into a fresh pair of socks before the old wounds could stir up frightening memories. I was tugging a thin white sweater over my purple long sleeved T-shirt when Jace asked, “Holly, what is this?”
I poked my head through the curtain. She was studying the note card I’d left sitting on the couch for the past few days. “Mail,” I replied dismissively.
Her heavily lined eyes narrowed. “You don’t get mail. And it says it’s from Kansas.”
“I know nothing about Kansas.” I teetered precariously on one leg as I tried to shove my other foot into a stubborn brown boot. Who ever thought it was a bright idea to make a boot without a zipper?
“That you remember,” she insisted. “You can’t remember anything before the age of ten. For all you know you could have been raised in Kansas.”
“This could be from your family. Your real family.”
If my biological family had managed to track me down, which was incredibly unlikely, then I was genuinely offended that all they left behind was a cryptic message typed on a note card. Surely after all these years I at least deserved a face-to-face “this is why we didn’t want you” explanation.
Like any other child who was discarded into the foster care system, I had thought about my family every day. No one could even tell me their names. Someone said once that you can’t miss something you never had. I didn’t have a single memory of my family, but I missed them.
Eventually I decided that if they existed—if they had even a glimmer of love for me—they would never have left me in some of the “homes” where I was placed.
“I don’t have a family,” I replied flatly.
“That you remember,” she repeated with emphasis. She rotated her wheelchair to face me. “People don’t just forget ten years of their lives, Holly. That doesn’t just happen.”
Except it did.
My brain wasn’t broken; the state had sent me to various hospitals to have brain scans done when I was a child, but there was no evidence of physical trauma to my brain, which left one possibility.
“Maybe you were abducted, maybe something bad happened that made you wanna forget everything,” Jace continued.
And that was the other possibility. No amount of therapy had helped me to regain those lost memories, so I couldn’t say one way or another if my memory loss was due to psychological trauma.
I folded my arms and gazed at her from behind the small opening in the drapes. “I don’t wanna talk about this anymore, okay? Let’s just go shopping.”
Jace sighed in defeat and dropped the note card back onto the couch. If I would rather go shopping than discuss my family, she knew the conversation was utterly hopeless.
“Move a little to your left,” I suggested. I watched through the camera lens as the couple shifted under the orange-and-yellow oak tree. The light captured their faces perfectly, and I snapped a few quick shots before stepping to my right to adjust my angle.
I tried to avoid taking photos straight on despite what my customers requested; it was the angle and the lighting that gave a picture life.
A gust of wind sent orange leaves showering down around the couple, and I snapped the picture just as they both looked up in laughter. That would be a keeper. When I lowered the camera and scrolled through the last few photos to be certain I liked the quality, something odd caught my attention.
I zoomed in on a dark blur in the background of the last photo. It was a human figure standing in the shadow of a tree. It was too dark to tell, but he appeared to be looking in our direction. Frowning, I slowly scrolled back through the photos. The figure was present in every single picture for the past hour.
Unease fluttered through my stomach. I looked up and gazed into the distance, but I couldn’t see anything but trees. I lifted the camera and zoomed in.
Whoever had been standing there was gone.
“Is everything all right with the pictures?” the woman asked.
I lowered the camera and looked at the couple. “I think you’ll like them. I would take a few more but the lighting’s shifted too much. I’ll develop a few of the better ones in a couple days and let you take a look. If you don’t like any of them, we can set up another appointment.”
The woman smiled. “Okay. Thanks, Holly.”
The man intertwined his fingers with hers, and they strode off toward the road. I tucked my camera safely into the bag and slung the strap over my shoulder. I usually crossed it over my body, but that just wasn’t comfortable tonight. I wound the purple scarf around my neck to stave off the chill of evening.
I turned toward the trees that divided the park from the inner city and then paused, reconsidering. I glanced back at the tree where the mysterious figure had been standing. I couldn’t help but wonder if it had been pure chance or if he’d been spying on one of my clients. A quick glimpse of the receding sun told me I had about an hour before nightfall.
This is a dumb idea.
I sighed and walked toward the tree. As I drew nearer, my steps became more cautious. If someone was hiding behind the tree, I didn’t want to risk being jumped.
I gave the area a wide berth as I circled it. The shady photobomber was nowhere to be seen, but I found the impressions of his boots in the moist grass. I would have guessed it was a man from the height and shape of him in the photos, but I hadn’t been sure until now.
I placed my foot next to his footprint. I wore a size 6 shoe, and this print was a little more than double the size of my foot. It was definitely a man, and a large one. That kind of unnerved me a bit. I had my fair share of run-ins with creepers, but none of them hid in the trees and watched people.
“You’re a special kind of weird, aren’t you?” I murmured to the man who had left these prints.
I pulled out my camera and snapped a picture of my foot next to the footprints. I doubted anything bad would happen to the young couple, but if I knew anything about the nature of human beings, it was that they were just as prone to outbursts of violence as they were to unexpected kindness. It was always better to err on the side of caution. And if anything did happen to the couple, I could at least provide the police with a direction.
I wasn’t particularly fond of the police. Not only had they snatched me out of the first place I could identify as a home, but they had hunted me down every time I fled from one of my foster homes. If I ran, it was for a good reason, but none of them had bothered to listen. To them, I was just another troubled child looking for attention. They threw me right back into the situation I had worked so hard to save myself from.
Sometimes it was hard not to see them as the enemy. But they had a purpose, and I knew that many of them were heroes and wonderful people. Why couldn’t I have met some of those?
I slid the camera back in my bag and headed through the trees toward the street. There was something about wooded areas that made me anxious, but the trees in the park were typically far enough apart that I didn’t feel the need to pant hysterically into a paper bag.
No matter how sparse the trees, though, I walked on egg shells until I cleared them. Leaves rustled above me, and I scanned the thinning canopy warily. A squirrel bounded from one tree and onto another, sending leaves fluttering down around me.
Quiet crunching came from behind me, and anxiety flared in my stomach. I glanced over my shoulder, but there was nothing behind me but more trees.
If creepy noises were going to become a regular soundtrack when I was walking home, I was going to have to invest in a can of mace and some bricks. Just in case the mace didn’t put a lunatic down, I could beat him over the head with a bag of bricks. That worked on anyone.
I was going to freak myself out if I kept thinking about men lurking in the shadows. That man in the photos had unnerved me more than I thought. I tried to ignore the sounds of nature around me as I walked toward the eastern edge of the park.
A loud whistling tune shattered the quiet and I jumped. I turned in a frantic circle before realizing the sound was coming from the pocket of my coat. My phone was ringing. I sighed in exasperation of my own reaction and grabbed my phone.
Jace’s name flashed across the screen. I flipped it open and pressed the phone to my ear. “So either you’re excited to tell me the details of your date or it went horribly wrong and you’re calling because we’re about to have a very late night full of ice cream and frosted brownies.”
Jace scoffed. “You’re hilarious. We had to reschedule. Something came up with his mother or something. I wanted to see if you wanted to grab some Italian or Mexican on the way home.”
I paused for a beat. “That’s called kidnapping, Jace.”
She laughed loudly through the phone, and I had to pull it away from my ear. “Cute,” she said. “I meant food.”
“I am craving breadsticks slathered in butter.” I had planned on becoming acquainted with an old generic can of beef ravioli I had stashed in the cupboard, but I wouldn’t say no to real Italian food.
“Good. I’ll order and pay over the phone, and you can pick it up on the way home. It’s on your way, right?”
“Yep. I’ll be home in about thirty minutes.”
“Cool. See ya then.”
I disconnected the call and slipped the phone back into my coat pocket. I could see the abandoned playground several hundred feet ahead through the sparse trees. I was almost out of the woods. Literally.
Musical whistling filled the air again, and I fished my phone out of my pocket. I wondered if Jace had changed her mind already. The phone screen was blank. I froze and looked up, tracking the sound of the whistling.
A man stepped out from between the trees ahead of me. He whistled softly as he dragged his feet leisurely through the leaves. He stopped directly between me and the path to the playground and cocked his head. “Catchy tune.”
His lips were curved into a thin smile, but there was something about his eyes that sent a tingle of warning across all my nerve endings.
I made an effort to appear casual as I took a slow step back. The man’s gaze flickered to my feet and then back to my face. I recognized the shine of amusement in his eyes, but I couldn’t decide if it was me that amused him or my fear.
He plucked a leaf from one of the low-hanging limbs and turned it over thoughtfully in his large hands. “Having dinner with your friend, huh? Italian?”
Not only had he imitated my ringtone perfectly, but he had eavesdropped on my conversation? That wasn’t creepy at all.
He lifted his gaze to mine and flicked the leaf away carelessly. “I hate to break it to you, but you won’t be making it to dinner.”
Fear twisted through my stomach, and I backed away from him. I flipped open my phone and punched in 9-1-1. Maybe I would meet some of the hero cops after all.
“It’s Friday night in the city.” He made a show of glancing at the expensive watch on his wrist. I had a feeling he’d stolen it from some other poor soul who wandered through here. “Cops are busy. That gives us plenty of time.”
Plenty of time for what?
My heart hammered in my ears, and I barely heard the 9-1-1 operator pick up the call. “9-1-1, what is your emergency?”
A second man dropped out of one of the trees beside me, and I sucked in a startled breath as I stumbled backwards over my own feet. He landed in a crouch and stood slowly, brushing the dirt and bark from his hands.
“Hi there,” he said. He plucked the phone from my fingers, snapped it shut, and tossed it over his shoulder into the grass.
“Pretty little thing, isn’t she?” the Whistling Man commented. “I’ve always had a thing for redheads.”
The second man’s dark eyes took me in with one long, lingering sweep before he grunted, “Eh.”
My gaze shifted between the two of them as I slowly backed away. “I don’t have anything to give you.” I hated the quiet tremor in my voice. “I don’t have any money or valuables.” All I had was my camera and my worn bracelet. I’d heard about drug deals and muggings in the park before, but that was usually after nightfall. I still had an hour of sunlight left.
“We don’t want your money,” the Whistling Man declared.
“Or your valuables,” the second man added.
Nausea crawled the walls of my stomach as their words sank in. This wasn’t a mugging then. The only two things remaining that they could possibly want from me I wasn’t willing to give.
God, I begged silently. I couldn’t form the thoughts I needed, but I knew He would understand.
I expected panic to set in, but a familiar icy resolve slid beneath my skin. It had been my armor as a child—a barrier that protected me when the pain and fear became too much. I had learned that sometimes the only way to survive was to feel nothing. And I did whatever I could to survive.
I studied the two men as they closed in around me. There was no way I was going to be able to skirt past them to the street. Even if I managed to escape the park, there was nothing to stop them from catching me and dragging me back inside.
I knew my chances of escaping unscathed were virtually impossible. The dark-eyed man was the smaller of the two, and I might be able to fend him off, but the Whistling Man was probably a foot taller than me—six two, maybe—and he moved like an athlete.
I had to accept the fact that they were going to hurt me. I would escape if I could—I would survive—but if nothing else, I would do my best to make them regret choosing me.
“I have a feeling she’s gonna rabbit,” the dark-eyed man observed. “She looks cagey.”
“Don’t do this,” I pleaded, and my voice came out far steadier than it had moments ago.
Painful memories and emotions pressed against the barrier I had erected, but I held them back by sheer force of will. I needed my mind to be sharp. I backed away and discretely slid my fingers under the strap of my camera bag. I was suddenly grateful I hadn’t slung it across my body like I usually did.
“I promise it won’t hurt,” the dark-eyed man said.
Someone should let him know he was a really bad liar. “You’re a terrible liar,” I blurted. May as well be me.
The dark-eyed man grinned. “Yeah?”
He stretched out a hand to touch me, and I slid the strap off my shoulder and swung the bag in one swift movement. The bag smashed into his face, and I heard the lens of my camera shatter against his nose. The man let out a string of curses as his hands flew to his face.
I swung the bag at the second man, but he jumped back to avoid it. I lost my grip on the strap and let it hurdle through the air toward him as I pivoted on my heel and ran. I dashed through the park at full speed.
I trained every day so that when I came face to face with my fears again, I could outrun them.
“She broke my nose!” the man bellowed, his voice muffled by the hands he had cupped over his face. A small sense of relief flickered through me. I knew from experience that blinding tears were welling in his eyes and streaming down his cheeks, and it would slow him down.
An eerie feeling of deja vu crept over me as I darted through the trees, trying to outrun the heavy footsteps that nipped at my heels. My foot hit a patch of damp leaves, and I grabbed a branch to catch myself before my legs could slide out from under me. I slipped and skated down a small wet slope and then picked up the pace again.
“There’s nowhere to run!” the Whistling Man called out.
Every step led me deeper into the park. There was another playground at the opposite end, but I didn’t want to endanger children. The nearest walking path was empty, and there was no one I could ask for help. I just needed to reach the street.
Fear pounded violently against the emotional barrier I had erected, sending hairline cracks through it. Something old seeped through—like a memory of terrifying, debilitating fear—and it threatened to consume me.
I tried to push it away, but it clung tighter with every breath. It was suffocating. I ducked behind a patch of bushes whose leaves had begun to fade into fiery red and sank to a crouch.
Something was wrong with me. I was so terrified that my body was trembling, and tears pooled across my vision. I hadn’t been this frightened in two years, and those circumstances had been far more dire. These men hadn’t even touched me yet. I covered my mouth to quiet my gasps, and closed my eyes. I needed to control myself.
Unbidden scenes flashed behind my closed eyelids.
I tried to melt into the tree behind me and disappear as I listened to the heavy footsteps snapping through the brush behind me. I bit down on my lips to keep my teeth from chattering as the cold air whipped through my nightgown.
Another snap brought him closer. He was going to find me. Fear stole my breath, and I wrapped my arms around myself as I began to tremble. I mouthed the prayer Mom had made us memorize in case we were ever lost or afraid:
I come to thee
And ask you please
Watch over me
Keep me safe
Dry my tears
Protect me from
The things I fear
My eyes snapped open as the scene dissolved. For a moment I’d been there in those woods, shivering in a nightgown as someone hunted me. I shuddered. It had felt so real.
I heard a heavy thump, followed by a string of violent curses. The Whistling Man had found the small slope I had skated down, but his descent hadn’t been as graceful.
I needed to move. He was too close. I slunk around the bushes and kept low to the ground until I was sure he couldn’t see me from the spot where he’d landed.
He was dragging himself to his feet and grumbling under his breath. His head lifted and his eyes scanned the area for me. My heart hammered in my chest as his gaze glossed over the small tree I hunkered behind.
“There’s nowhere to hide,” he shouted. “You’re not gonna reach the sidewalks. No one’s gonna help you.”
He was probably right. People were selfish creatures. Most would probably walk by a guy bleeding to death on the street because they were late for an appointment. Or because they just didn’t want to get involved. But really, just because no one would help me didn’t mean I was going to roll over and offer myself up as their evening entertainment.
“Stop playing with her and just grab her!” the dark-eyed man shouted from somewhere in the distance. “Or is a hundred-pound girl too hard for you to handle?”
“I’m not the one with the broken nose!” the Whistling man shouted back. He swatted the nearest bush in irritation, and then swore at it when the rough stems cut his palm.
He walked forward slowly, and I shrank down. If I moved, he would see me, and if I stayed, he would find me in a matter of seconds, but then it would be too late to run.
Running at least gave me a chance. I shot to my feet and bolted.
“Found her!” he shouted before launching after me. “She’s on the move again!”
On flat ground his long stride gave him an advantage. I had no doubt I could tire him out if I could just stay ahead of him, but he was gaining on me. He stretched out an arm to grab me, and I swerved, narrowly avoiding the tips of his fingers. He stumbled as he reached for me the second time and missed.
I spotted a figure in the distance. Someone had appeared on one of the walking paths that wound through the park. “Help!” I cried out. I had no idea who it was or if he would even help me, but I had to try to reach him.
I screamed when a heavy force slammed into my back and tackled me to the ground, knocking the breath from my lungs. I coughed and clawed at the grass as I tried to pull myself out from under my attacker.
“No, you don’t,” he grunted, as he dug his fingers into my hips and dragged me back.
I searched desperately for something to hold onto, but there was nothing. My fingertips brushed a thick branch, and I grabbed it. I twisted and swung it with as much force as the awkward position allowed. It thumped the man across the side of his head.
I hit him again and he recoiled, raising his hands to shield his face. I scrambled forward a few feet before he grabbed a fistful of my jacket and tried to drag me back. My cold fingers fumbled hastily with the zipper. I twisted out of the sleeves and nearly fell forward from the sudden lack of resistance. The man threw my coat aside with a growl of frustration and lunged after me.
I skirted around a tree in my path, and he cut me off on the other side. I screamed as he locked an arm around my waist and heaved me off my feet.
He clamped a hand over my mouth to silence me. “Got her!” he hollered over his shoulder. I squirmed against his hold. I needed to get away from him. I had to fight harder than this.
God, please don’t let this happen.
“Let’s go somewhere a little more private,” he suggested, as he carried me toward a thicker patch of trees.
Panic threaded through me. It made me want to scream and fight, but I couldn’t fight him. Even if I managed to kick him or hit him, he would put me down with a single blow. I had to find another way to get free.
I stopped fighting. I let my body go limp, and I dropped like a sack of bricks, which I could really use right now, and took my captor with me.
“What the . . . ,” he exclaimed, as my sudden drop threw him off balance. He’d expected squirming and flailing, but 115 pounds of dead weight were more difficult to maneuver.
He uncovered my mouth to wrap his other arm around my stomach and heaved me up. I took advantage of his confusion and let out a scream shrill enough to reverberate through the entire park. He slapped his hand back over my mouth. “Shut up.”
I thrashed violently as he lifted me up, and the moment he adjusted to carrying me, I let my body go limp again. He nearly dropped me. I was going to make this process as frustrating as possible for him.
“’Riley! Stop!” someone shouted in the distance.
The sound of something or someone racing across the grass through the dead leaves made the man holding me stiffen. “What is that?” he muttered to himself.
I squinted against the fading light at the blur cutting through the park too quickly to be a person. It hunkered low to the ground, and the color of its fur nearly blended into the fall background.
“Is that . . . a dog?” he asked, and there was fear in his voice. A German shepherd bared down on us, his muzzle contorted in a snarl. I tried to shrink away as the predator leaped toward us. The dog slammed into my attacker, sending both of them tumbling into the grass. The German shepherd growled and ripped into the man’s arm.
“Get it off me! Get it off!” the man screamed.
I scrambled backwards through the leaves as the fight between my attacker and the dog came closer. The man balled his fist and hit the dog in the side of the head. The German shepherd whimpered and reared back.
The man stumbled to his feet and fled through the park, running as fast as he could with his injuries. The dog gave chase, and I had no doubt he would catch him. I couldn’t find it in my heart to feel sorry for him.
A third man lumbered over on my left, and I gathered my legs under me to run. He plodded to a stop a few feet from me, bent over to grip his knees, and gasped, “My dog . . .”
I froze where I crouched. I noticed he was carrying half of a leash that had been snapped in two. He’d called after his dog when he broke the leash and came for my attackers. This was the man from the walking path.
He was a round man pushing sixty, and he was in no shape to be running. He wheezed as he stood up, and his face was an unhealthy shade of red. “Riley,” he managed to squeeze out.
Too stunned to do anything else, I pointed in the direction the dog had run. The man sighed heavily and hung his head. “He’ll come back.” He dropped onto the ground where he stood. He examined me with a quick thorough glance. “Were you the girl who was screaming?”
I watched him warily, unsure what to make of the situation. “That was your dog?” When he nodded, I said, “I don’t understand. Why did he chase that man off?”
The man drew another heavy breath and let it out. “Riley is a retired police dog. He has PTSD. Gunfire and screaming set him off. His former partner was a female officer, and I guess something happened to the two of them. I don’t know all the details. I do know he gets me in a lot of trouble when we go walking. Someone is always screaming, and it’s like it’s programmed into his head to help them . . . but half the time it’s just some kid playing. At least this time he was right, huh?” He looked down at his broken leash and tossed it aside with an unhappy grunt. “Third one this month. I’m gonna go broke.”
There was nothing I could say to express the awe and gratitude that flooded through me. I had prayed for help, and God had sent Riley.
I studied my broken, ragged fingernails as I sat on the curb. Blood and dirt were caked beneath what remained of them; I hadn’t paid much attention to the pain when I was trying to claw my way out from under my attacker, but now they throbbed.
If these were the worst of my injuries, though, I couldn’t complain.
I flinched at the male voice that came from my left. I looked up to see a lean, forty-something man standing next to me. His face was serious and tired, but his green eyes were warm.
A quick scan of his attire told me he wasn’t a member of the police force or the medical personnel. He wore a pair of dark jeans and a threadbare brown suit jacket. Beneath the jacket was a bulge that suspiciously resembled a gun.
My eyes darted to the ambulance and police cars, but no one seemed alarmed by his presence. He must have noticed my wariness, because he peeled his jacket aside slowly with two fingers and showed me the badge attached to his belt.
“I’m Detective Richard Marx.” He had a slow, gentle voice with a touch of Southern. He certainly hadn’t grown up here.
I hoped he didn’t expect a badge to make me like him more, because it didn’t. But it did settle some of the anxiety in my stomach.
“Holly,” I corrected. I hated to be addressed as Ms. Smith.
“How are you doin’?”
“I’ve had worse days,” I answered with a shrug.
The detective blinked, clearly unsure how to take my response. Ha. I’d stumped a seasoned detective in four words. That had to be some kind of record. He looked as if he wanted to ask for an explanation, but he didn’t.
“Did you find my camera?” I asked, hopeful. I doubted I could afford to repair the lens right now, but that would be better than having to replace the entire camera.
“We did.” He gestured to the curb. “Do you mind if I sit?”
I hesitated at the thought of him sitting next to me, but it was public property and I couldn’t really tell him to go find his own curb to sit on. I scooted over, allowing for about five feet of space between us.
The barely perceptible arch of his eyebrow told me the amount of space I deliberately put between us was not lost on him, but he chose not to comment. He was careful not to invade that space as he sat down.
“Is my camera okay?”
“For the most part. The lens is damaged, but the memory card and display are intact. I skimmed through a few of the photos. One of them seems a little out of place. Would you mind explainin’ it to me?”
Realizing that some stranger was snooping through the photos on my camera made me cranky. Other than my bracelet, my camera was the only material possession I treasured. If they had asked, I might have given them the memory card. But they hadn’t asked.
“I want my camera back,” I said, and I couldn’t completely keep the irritation from my voice.
“Accordin’ to the statement you gave the officer first on scene, you struck one of your attackers with it . . . in the face. Broke his nose.” He flipped absently through the notepad in his hands but didn’t appear to read it.
“Why does that matter?”
He drew in a careful breath before saying, “Because he’s dead.”
The news hit me like a punch to the stomach, and my voice came out breathless. “What?”
Detective Marx raised a hand to calm me. “Don’t worry. You didn’t kill him with the camera.”
I slumped forward in relief. Regardless of what the man’s intentions had been, I hadn’t wanted to kill him. “How did he die?”
“Throat was cut,” he answered calmly. I imagined he saw a great many awful things in his line of work, but the dispassionate calm in his voice as he spoke about someone’s murder was a bit . . . disconcerting.
“Someone slit his throat?”
“Seems that way.”
I swallowed the bile that brushed the back of my tongue.
“I need you to tell me about the last time you saw or heard from him.”
I thought back on the events of the night. I had been so busy trying to stay ahead of the Whistling Man that the dark-eyed man’s absence hadn’t even registered. “He was . . . pretty far off, I guess. The last time I saw him was when I hit him.”
Detective Marx jotted down my answers. “And when was that?”
“About . . . 5:10 or so. I already told all this to the other cop. The short guy who looks like a Keebler Elf.”
His lips curved into a small smile. “I’m sure he’d be delighted to hear your description of him. And I understand that you already spoke with him, but I need to hear the details for myself, if you don’t mind.”
I did mind. I was exhausted and sore, and I just wanted to go home and take a shower. I glanced in the direction of home and fear clenched low in my stomach. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get there; I usually walked, but . . . what if he was still out there? What if he came after me again while I was walking home? I didn’t have money for a cab.
Detective Marx asked me a question, but I was too distracted to catch anything more than the tail end of it. “After that?”
I dragged my gaze away from the sidewalk and blinked at him. “What?”
His gaze flicked toward the sidewalk I’d been staring at and then back at me. “The man who died. You said the last time you saw him was around 5:10. Did you hear him at all after that?”
“Oh, um . . .” I looked down and rubbed at the dirt on my fingers. “Just once.”
“And when was that?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “He took my phone, and I don’t have a watch.”
“What did he say?”
“He was taunting the man who was chasing me, asking if . . . if I was too much for him to handle.”
I looked over to find the detective assessing me with cautious interest. “I have to be honest, Ms. Smith—”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Holly,” he amended. “I’m not sure I quite understand how you got away. The man we found was pretty fit, and the second man you described”—he considered his words carefully—“well, he sounds formidable.” He met my gaze, and I saw the uncertainty and doubt in his eyes. “You’re, what, five-foot, hundred pounds?”
“Five-two and hundred and fifteen.”
He lifted a skeptical eyebrow, and I wondered if he could tell that I was rounding up on the inches. If he could, he chose not to comment. “Okay, but my point is, it’s unusual for someone of your . . . size . . . to be able to defend herself against two well-developed males. So what I’m wonderin’ is, did you have help?”
I frowned. “I already told the police. Riley.”
“Right. The dog.” He sighed and rubbed his forehead. “I don’t suppose you know what happened to this dog?”
“No,” I admitted, as I tugged the blanket the paramedics had given me tighter around my shoulders. The owner had called the police despite my objections and then gone in search of his dog when he didn’t come back, and neither of them had returned.
Detective Marx grunted thoughtfully. “I’m thinkin’ you had help of a human persuasion, and I’m wonderin’ if they might have been carryin’ a knife.”
I gaped at him in disbelief. “You think a friend of mine slit that man’s throat?”
“Well, he did have ill intentions toward you.”
I almost choked. Ill intentions. Well, that was one way to put it. “My only friend is about four feet tall,” I snapped. “So, unless he willingly got on his knees in front of her or suffered from a sudden case of dwarfism, she didn’t slit his throat.”
“It’s just a workin’ theory,” he explained.
“Well, it’s not working very well. Find another one.” I stood and stripped out of the warm blanket. The cold night air passed straight through my layered shirts. I held out the blanket to the detective, and he took it reluctantly as he stood with me.
“Look, Ms. Holly, I’m not the enemy. I’m just tryin’ to put the pieces together.” His warm eyes implored me to understand. “I know you had a rough night and I promise I’m not tryin’ to make it worse.”
I folded my arms over my chest and willed my body not to shiver from the cold. I would feel ridiculous if I asked for the blanket back.
Detective Marx sighed at my stony expression and draped the blanket over one arm. “We’re not gettin’ off to a good start.”
“That could be because you’re accusing my friend of murder.”
“I didn’t say the killer was your friend.”
“I’m guessing—and this is just a theory—that he was involved in some other criminal activities. Maybe it was an associate of his who killed him. Maybe he forgot to pay his drug dealer.”
“Those are all possibilities, but I have to investigate every angle,” he explained calmly. His calmness grated on my frayed nerves. “I know this is an inconvenience, but a man is dead, Ms. Smith.” I parted my lips to snap at him, but he quickly corrected himself. “Holly.”
He tapped his pen against his notebook as he watched me, like a person waiting patiently for an icicle to thaw. I glared at him.
“You’re angry,” he said.
“You’re intuitive.” My tone was frosty. Anger was more bearable than fear or pain, and I savored the warmth it lent me.
Detective Marx smiled slightly. “You don’t much like cops, do you, Ms. Holly?” He studied my face, and I suddenly felt like he was trying to pick through my brain for answers like my state-assigned therapists used to do. He was trying to puzzle me out. Well, I wished him luck with that. I hadn’t even figured me out. “Judgin’ by the way you’re lookin’ at me, I’m guessin’ you had some bad experiences with law enforcement.”
“I’m not a criminal.”
“I didn’t say you were,” he replied patiently. “I realize that just because somebody’s a cop, it doesn’t mean they’re a good person. It also doesn’t mean they’re automatically trustworthy.” He’d nailed that one. “I don’t expect you to trust me right away. That’s somethin’ that should be earned. But I am askin’ you to give me a chance to earn it. Let me help you.”
I curled my toes under my feet as the cold from the pavement leached into my boots. I knew I was being unfair to him. He wasn’t one of the officers who had helped to wreck my childhood. I closed my eyes and sighed. “No one I know did this.”
I looked at him in surprise.
He smiled. “I’m not a disagreeable know-it-all. I can listen.” He offered me the blanket as he said gently, “I do have a few more questions, though, and then I’ll have someone take you home.”
I stared at the blanket as stubborn refusal warred with the desperate need to be warm. I’d begun to shiver. I accepted the blanket begrudgingly and wrapped it around my back. “I don’t know what more I can tell you.” I plunked back down on the curb.
The detective crouched beside me, and I drew my knees to my chest beneath the blanket to put some space between us. “For starters, I’d like you to tell me about the photo.”
“It was just . . .” I trailed off when I saw two men carrying a stretcher out of the park. A black body-shaped bag was belted to the gurney, and I watched them load the body into the back of a van.
The detective had told me the dark-eyed man was dead—murdered—but somehow seeing the body bag made it that much more shocking.
I watched the van drive away, and somewhere in the back of my mind between the confusion and anxiety, I was grateful the man was dead. If someone hadn’t slit his throat, I couldn’t help but wonder if . . .
I swallowed uneasily and pushed those thoughts away. A man was dead, and I had no right to be relieved about that. Human life was precious.
“Ms. Holly,” Detective Marx said again, drawing me out of my thoughts. He cocked his head to meet my eyes, and his expression was patient and understanding despite how easily distracted I was. “I know you have a lot on your mind, and you’re probably not quite sure how to feel about the fact that one of your attackers is dead, but that means you don’t have to worry about him anymore. And I will do everythin’ in my power to find his friend. Everythin’ will be okay.”
I shifted uncomfortably under his sympathetic gaze. “Do you know who they are?”
He considered me for a moment and then nodded. “The deceased is Jimmy. We’ve had a few complaints about him loiterin’ in the park harassin’ people for the past few months. A few women have mentioned that he made them uncomfortable, but if he ever crossed that line, no one has come forward.”
“And the other one?”
“Given your description of him, I have an idea who he might be. He . . . has a history.” He sank a lot of meaning into that word, and I shuddered inwardly.
Detective Marx tapped his pen on the notepad as he continued, “Now, I’m gonna say this knowin’ full well from our brief interlude that you are—as people call it these days—independent and you’ll do what you want. But until we catch the other man who assaulted you, don’t walk around the city alone. And for the love of all things holy, don’t go near the park.”
That was going to put a real cramp in my photography. I needed to call that couple and let them know we would have to reschedule their photos. Except . . . I no longer had a phone to call them with . . . or a camera. I released a frustrated sigh.
“Can you tell me about the photo?” Detective Marx requested.
“I noticed a shadow in the background of every photo I took this afternoon. Nearly an hour’s worth of pictures, and someone stood there in the background the entire time, watching.”
“What happened when you noticed this person? Did they leave?”
“I decided to ask them what they were doing if they were still hanging around, but they left before I even noticed them in the pictures. I thought maybe they were spying on one of my clients, so I took a picture of the evidence just in case something happened.”
Detective Marx’s eyes squinted. “You thought somebody might be spyin’ on your clients and you thought it was a good idea to approach that person alone?”
I’d known it was a dumb idea when I did it, but I glared at him anyway. I was really trying to be courteous with him, but I had a serious urge to flick him in his squinty eyeball. “What do the footprints matter to you anyway?”
“Because it was the last picture you took before bein’ assaulted,” he pointed out.
“Maybe I like shoes,” I countered, but he didn’t look amused.
“I might have dismissed the boot prints until you told me that man stood there and watched you with that couple for an hour. Shortly after they leave, you’re attacked, and some mysterious individual slits your attacker’s throat? I might just be tired, Ms. Holly, but that doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me.”
I shifted uneasily. I didn’t like the direction his theory was taking.
“Do you have any more memory cards at home or your place of business?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered, unsure of where he was headed. I kept a small memory card for each of my customers in case they needed duplicates or replacements.
“I would like you to go through them and see if you notice any more mysterious shadows in the background. If this person was just loiterin’ or watchin’ your current clients, then he won’t be there.”
“And what will that prove?” I asked.
“If he’s present in the older photos, it will prove he has another interest entirely,” he replied. “So will you look and get back to me?” He pulled a card from his pocket with his name and number on it and handed it to me. I decided not to point out that I no longer had a phone to call him with even if I found something.
“Just one more question and then we’ll call it a night,” Detective Marx said. “Has there been anyone in your life recently—intimate partners, acquaintances, clients—who’ve made you uneasy? Anythin’ that might have set off warnin’ bells?”
I considered the question carefully. His phrasing gave me a bit of wiggle room to answer without having to lie or give away any of my secrets. “There was an ex-boyfriend who followed one of my clients to her photo shoot about three months ago. I think she had a restraining order against him.” Not that it had done her much good.
“Did you have any interaction with this man?”
I shrugged. “I told him to leave.”
“And how did he react?”
I thought back on that afternoon for the exact conversation, and then decided I really didn’t want to repeat the words he’d used. “He creatively told me to mind my own business.”
“Did he threaten you in any way?”
“Not really. He seemed more interested in patching things up with his ex-girlfriend.”
Detective Marx scribbled on his notepad. I leaned over to peek at his notes and scrunched my nose. I was pretty sure he’d written: popsicle possessed ex-boyfriend of Clint. Best guess: possible obsessed ex-boyfriend of Client?
“Do you . . .” The detective paused when he noticed me studying his notes. He smiled and said, “I know. I’m a terrible writer. My ex-wife calls it chicken scratch.”
“I think I’ve seen chickens do better.”
His smiled broadened. “Of that I have no doubt. Do you happen to remember the name of this client or her ex-boyfriend?”
“Helen. I don’t remember her last name. I can check my files.”
“All right then. Let’s get you home.” He stood and offered his hand to me, but I declined help to my feet. “Officer,” he called, and a young woman hurried over.
“Detective,” she chirped. She was a slender woman in her thirties with blond hair tucked up beneath her hat.
“Could you see that this young lady gets home safely?”
Detective Marx flipped his notebook closed and slid it into an inside pocket of his suit jacket along with his pen. “I’ll be in touch, Ms. Holly.” He gave me a tired, warm smile before heading back to his car.
I stood slowly and remembered I had a question. “Detective.”
He stopped and turned to face me, giving me his full attention.
“You said he might have another interest entirely. If he’s not watching my clients, what’s your theory?”
His expression turned grim. “That he was watchin’ you, Ms. Holly.”
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