Salt water ripples around the drifting couple, their blood mingling with the current. A length of twine encircles the woman’s slender wrist, tying them to one another. Now they’ll be together forever.
When two bodies are found floating in the shallows off the Florida coast, the hallmarks of the crime are terrifyingly familiar to FBI forensic psychologist Dr Nadine Finch. The circle carved around the female victim’s wedding ring finger is identical to the wounds Nadine’s own mother inflicted on her victims. But her mother is on death row where she can’t hurt anyone. Is this a disturbing coincidence, or a twisted copycat?
Nadine quickly identifies the victims as a young local couple, new parents with their whole future ahead of them. Who would want to harm them? With two heartbroken families reeling, and no witnesses or forensic evidence, Nadine has no choice but to tap into her own dark past to delve inside this killer’s mind. If she can’t make her team listen, she knows more lives will be lost.
Then another couple are found in the Manatee River, their throats cut—and another circle carved around the woman’s ring finger. Desperate to act, Nadine must face her demons head on and visit her mother in prison. When her mother whispers a name Nadine hasn’t heard for years, the case takes a terrifying turn, and returning home after her bleak visit, the bag of bloodied clothes left on Nadine’s bed tells her someone is watching her every move…
As time runs out, can Nadine catch the killer—or will she be the next victim of this dark family legacy?
An unputdownable thriller that will have you racing through the pages until the final, jaw-dropping twist. Perfect for fans of Rachel Caine, Lisa Gardner and Mary Burton.
Read what everyone’s saying about Jenna Kernan:
“FIVE SHINING STARS!… breath-taking pace! I simply could not put this book down!… HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!” Goodreads Reviewer, ?????
“It starts with a literal bang… so much tension you can cut it with a knife.” Goodreads Reviewer, ?????
“Emotionally thrilling roller-coaster… an edge-of-your-seat read from beginning to end. Was a great read and exciting journey!” Goodreads Reviewer
“The suspense builds and turns in ways that will keep you reading… I do believe that I am truly hooked… I highly recommend… another great read!” Goodreads Reviewer, ?????
“Highly recommend this book. I did not see that coming. Just when I thought I knew what was going to happen it took a huge turn.” Goodreads Reviewer, ?????
“Exceptional story… I read it in one sitting.” Goodreads Reviewer, ?????
“I could not put this story down. An excellent read…
Release date: February 11, 2021
Print pages: 350
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A Killer's Daughter
Sitting in my kayak, hidden in the mangroves, I wait for the lovers to arrive. I’ve watched them before; their affair so old it has become routine. Their other partners wait at home as they “work late” every Saturday night. She’ll arrive on her paddleboard; he’ll arrive on foot from the parking lot with wine and the blanket.
The scrape of her board on the sand gives me a rush of power and foresight. Beyond the Intracoastal Waterway, lights from the million-dollar homes wink on, most set on timers in the summer months as their owners are back up north. The view from that private key is spectacular, with the sunset already in progress, but from their shore, this barrier island and the adulterers are invisible against the dark greenery of the city park. Most of the boaters have already headed to their moorings or berths. The few people left here are on the Gulf side of the point, watching the sinking sun. Sunset is an event here every night, weather permitting. And today, the weather is perfect.
I retrieve the rope and fish-filleting knife, then slip on my latex gloves as the lovers embrace. Lifting my paddle, I leave the tangled roots of the mangroves and cross the inlet.
Before today, I feared I faced the impossible. But now I recognize the point is not about being in total control. It’s about legacy. What lives on after we are gone.
It’s also about commemorating a master. And she was that. What I admire best about this killer’s trail of death is how simple she kept it. The water concealed the bodies, washed away the blood and gave her time to flee.
The challenge, the risk and the start of a journey combine in a heady rush of pleasure. I’ve never taken one outdoors before. I’m aroused at this new challenge and lick my lips, anticipating, exhilarated, feeling younger and, oh, so very alive.
A knife isn’t my weapon of choice. The death it brings is usually too quick for my liking, but this is an homage, re-enacting her creations with an added purpose beyond meeting my own needs. And I admit that a kill by knife has a simplicity, an elegance.
This pair is so like Gail and Charlie. Those two cheated on their spouses in the back of the carpet warehouse, screwing on a bed of foam instead of sand. The similarities are important; otherwise, how will she know?
They are in a hurry, dropping to their knees, face-to-face as they tussle with unwanted clothing. I beach the kayak. I’m so close to them now, close enough to smell the sweat on their bodies and hear their sighs. The woman senses me and opens her eyes as I reach out and slice through both his Achilles tendons. I hit one hamstring on the return stroke.
He cries out in pain and turns, looking at his legs. I grip the knife, now slick with blood. Confusion blankets his flabby face. In the twilight, his blood is dark.
He falls from her arms into the sand. Her eyes dart from him to me. She sees but doesn’t understand, the shock blinding her. She lifts her hands in defense.
Why doesn’t she scream? I like to hear them scream. But she seems paralyzed, mouth gaping. Meanwhile, his words are a jabbering garble of cries and pleas as I open an artery.
I look him in the eye as I cut again, a long slice down his upper arm. Was this what she felt, carving into the one who betrayed her? Did she experience this rush of power and appreciate that the killing is the point?
Another sweeping arc and slice, her this time. The blade is so sharp that the laceration across her abdomen doesn’t even seem to break the skin. The line of red is razor-thin—at first. Then the pain receptors register. She screams at last. The sound carries across the water, but who is to hear? The boaters over the roar of their motors? No, her scream is just for me.
She presses her palms to her stomach, and I slice the vessel at her neck.
He’s struggling to his knees. He roars with fury and lunges for the knife. So, I give it to him, swinging wildly across his wrists and forearms. He recoils, falling to his seat, opening the opportunity for me to slice his femoral artery just below his junk.
The blood sprays across the sand and blanket and me. She’s reaching for him, calling his name.
Her hero, only he’s not. He’s a butcher at a local market.
Who’s the butcher now?
A panicked look blankets her face as she sucks in a breath. She sways as her blood spurts, pouring down her naked torso. Her final scream is a gargling yowl.
I grab his arm and drag him to the water. He struggles and ends up facedown. I lift his wrist and make a final cut, then return for her. She’s holding her belly and her neck. Her face is pale as moonlight.
“Did you find everything you need today?” I ask.
Her eyes widen as she recognizes the words that she has spoken to me dozens of times from behind her register, never really seeing me. She sees me now.
I clasp her wrist and slip on the noose. She’s too weak to struggle. She leaves a wide trail in the sand as I drag her to the shore. The gentle waves wash over his face as I tie the other end of the rope to his wrist. Can he still see us? The possibility thrills.
I cut a strip of skin from his finger and his hand twitches. Yes, he still sees me. I give him a final triumphant smile, then turn to her, squatting to carve the letters in her flank, enjoying the twitch of her muscles as the blade cuts deep.
She struggles as I yank off her wedding and engagement rings. She doesn’t deserve them. She moans as I cut, then tug away the skin around her finger and flick it into the water. When I roll her into the current, her mouth opens. She breathes in seawater. The convulsions are fascinating.
The rope pulls tight, tugging his wrist, and I heave him after her. For several moments, they roll and drag along the shore. Then the tide takes them. His head bobs like a coconut. I wade in after them to wash.
And so it begins, this new adventure. The initial step toward making her mine. I have gone to great lengths to bring her here. She is the reason that the hot blood now drips from my fingers.
“Do you feel my presence yet, my dear? Can you hear us calling you?”
I glance down the empty shore between the mangrove forest and the channel. Everyone is on the opposite side of the park, a half mile away, on the Gulf beaches, watching the setting sun paint the clouds the same color I have painted the sea.
I can’t see the couple anymore. I turn and retrieve the crushed seltzer can from my rear pocket and drop it on the blanket, wondering where the bodies will land. But I am already losing interest. The tingling excitement fades, turning me sullen. I make my exit shortly after the lovers have made theirs, heading to my watercraft, carrying an unopened bottle of wine.
The 6 a.m. news opened with a breaking story. Two bodies were recovered from the water in Sarasota’s Bayfront Park. The correspondent reported from beside a kayak rental that the identities of the victims were being withheld, pending notification of the families. Law enforcement offered a big “no comment” on the cause of death.
Dr. Nadine Finch reached for the remote and flicked off the television as if it were a screaming smoke alarm. The forensic psychologist stared at the dark screen, struggling to control her breathing as sweat beaded on her forehead.
Bodies in the water. She shuddered. The sense of familiarity from these murders stirred. Two people found together in the water—it brought to mind the murders that still haunted her. But this had to be a coincidence.
A bird crashing into her front window startled her from her musings. Nadine stood up and stared out at the sunny summer morning, and watched the seemingly lifeless creature right itself and fly off. Then the alarm on her phone blared, warning her she would be late if she did not leave right now.
Her hands trembled as she collected her bag, then headed out into the oppressive July humidity. Inside her Lexus, the AC pushed away the heat as she drove to the Sarasota City Courthouse. There, she spent her morning trying to shake off a sense of dread, while administering a battery of tests to an elderly man who had starved his wife of forty-five years to death.
When she finished, Nadine motioned to the guard who stepped forward to take custody of Mr. Swineford.
The old man tried and failed to rise with her.
“Can I see my wife now?” he asked.
Her heart gave a sharp pang at his guileless expression as she considered her response, settling on, “Not today.”
Mr. Swineford began to cry. Tears welled in her eyes in response.
“I don’t like it here,” he said.
Nadine’s hand went to his forearm and she squeezed.
“I’m sorry,” she said, and assisted him to his feet.
She would use her influence with the court to keep this man from prison. A plea deal including placement in a geriatric facility was all that was needed to protect society. Prison would serve no one, least of all this helpless aging veteran who could not care for himself, let alone a wife with dementia.
“Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. Swineford.”
He patted her hand. “You’re a nice lady.”
The officer handcuffed his spindly wrists before him and assisted him out of the interview room. Nadine wiped at her eyes before gathering her things and heading out.
She passed through the lobby of one of Sarasota’s most beautiful buildings, designed in Mediterranean Revival style. Colorful mosaic tile brightened the central tower, courtyard and exterior. Most days Nadine lingered to appreciate the statues, fountains and reflecting pool in the inner garden. But today, gray-bottomed thunderclouds billowed skyward, threatening rain, so she hurried along one of the interior corridors adjoining the gardens. She passed several city employees, who did not even glance in her direction.
Nadine stood only five feet two inches on a small frame, and had been told by more than one detective that she wasn’t very imposing. In much of her work, this was an advantage. Her pale complexion swung between rosy and florid depending on the heat index. Her hair was shoulder-length and a forgettable brown. While working, she mirrored a submissive posture. Most people never noticed her hazel-green eyes, because she limited direct eye contact to avoid appearing a threat. But appearances were deceiving. Her mother had taught her that.
Being overlooked and underestimated were two of her superpowers, which was why hearing someone shout her name startled Nadine.
She found Dr. Juliette Hartfield heading in her direction.
Juliette was a new hire and one of two medical examiners in their district. The medical examiners’ offices were three miles south, though Juliette was occasionally in court as part of her job.
She’d only started here one month ago, and Nadine hadn’t figured her out yet, but there was a connection forming that went past the workplace. She was becoming a friend, which was concerning. Nadine didn’t let anyone get too close. It wasn’t safe.
“I was about to text you,” said Juliette. She lifted the seltzer and drained the can’s contents.
“I just testified for the first time.” She sagged in mock exhaustion.
She’d forgotten Juliette had mentioned her first court appearance.
“How did it go?” asked Nadine.
“Easier than expected.”
Her golden complexion and brilliant blue eyes would have been Juliette’s most distinguishing features, if she did not dye her hair platinum-blond and spike the five-inch strands in every direction, so it bristled about her. Despite the use of sunscreen, her skin was perpetually tan.
“You just missed Officer Dun.” Her grin was conspiratorial.
“The creepy lurker?” Nadine made a face.
You would assume the forensic team would be creepy, taking apart bodies day after day. But the one who gave her the willies was a court security officer who always managed to be in the same courtroom as her, and always stood a little too close.
“Nathan isn’t creepy. He’s sweet on you and a little awkward.” She tossed the empty can in a recycle bin with the proficiency of a basketball player.
“I’m not getting that. He’s always watching me. It’s disturbing,” she said.
Juliette grinned. “Because he’s attracted and too shy to speak to you. I think it’s cute.”
“He isn’t shy. In fact, I have to make excuses to get away from him.”
“Anyway, he’s gone.”
Nadine ceased scanning the corridor and blew away a breath, then turned back to Juliette, who was holding a grin.
Getting on so effortlessly with Juliette made her cautious. But she and the new ME were both single and new to Sarasota, so exploring together seemed harmless, if it only went so far. Acquaintances. Never friends.
She remembered the old joke about not wanting to join any club that would have her as a member. That was how Nadine thought of friends. If they wanted to connect, there was something wrong with them.
Still, she longed for true companions, family and all the normal things that seemed too dangerous to pursue.
As a girl, she knew never to bring friends home. And now she was grown, if the loneliness and isolation weighed heavily, she reminded herself what had happened when she had tried in the past to connect with people. Once she told them the truth about her past, they never looked at her the same way again.
Who could blame them?
“I’ve still got work to finish up,” Nadine said, thinking Juliette was looking to catch lunch together.
“Me too. I have three today and the court thing really set me back.”
Three, meaning three bodies and their autopsies. How Juliette kept so cheerful when she spent much of her day up to her elbows in noxious bodily fluids and decomposing corpses, Nadine would never understand.
Were any of her “three today” the victims recovered from the bayfront that she’d seen on the news?
“Were you on hand for the two found this morning?” Nadine swallowed and repressed a shiver despite the July humidity.
Juliette’s brows lifted. “You heard?”
“Ah. I saw the reporters there.”
“Was it a drowning?” asked Nadine. Did she sound hopeful?
Juliette held her gaze as she gave a slow shake of her head. “Nope. Papers might report it as a drowning because I haven’t released the cause of death yet.”
“Well, first off, autopsy’s pending. But I also have orders from above.” Juliette pointed to heaven.
“Is that normal?”
“I haven’t been here long enough to know. My supervisor said it’s all right to hold the death certificate pending toxicology results. That gives us a couple of weeks.”
Which made Nadine wonder why they needed to hide a cause of death for a period of weeks. For the sake of the homicide investigation? She wasn’t sure.
There was no way to know it was homicide. Two victims. That was all. She didn’t even know if they were a male and a female. That would mean another similarity. Another red flag.
“One male, one female,” said Juliette. “Sliced up like a Sunday ham. We have a wacko.” She glanced at Nadine. “Sorry. Disturbed individual.”
Nadine focused on Juliette’s mouth. She was speaking, but the ringing in Nadine’s ears distorted her words.
“… Stabbings… Multiple lacerations.”
Nadine squeezed her eyes shut, imagining the blood, so much blood. Juliette kept on talking as Nadine swayed.
She was sure she knew these two deaths. Intimately. They’d have been married, engaged in an illicit affair. The woman would have taken the brunt of the attack.
But wait. She didn’t know that for sure. The only parallels were the two victims, and a stabbing. And the water…
“… called our guys to process the scene… turned up on bayside. Right next to the tiki bar. Some kid found them near the kayaks. Can you imagine?”
She could. Vividly.
“Anyway, it’s got the lab buzzing. And we can’t determine where they entered the water. The Coast Guard is helping investigators to figure that, but I can’t zero in on the time of death any closer than five hours, and the tides change every four, so…” Juliette frowned. “You okay?”
Nadine resisted the urge to ask if the victims were tied together at the wrist with a length of cording. Did the female have long hair, dark eyes and a slim build? Nadine’s face heated.
“Okay?” she repeated, giving herself processing time and landing on a redirection. “It looks like I won’t beat the rain.” She motioned to the first large droplets splattering sidewalks in the courtyard.
Juliette peeked out of one arched opening to stare at the approaching storm.
Stabbing deaths. She had a special horror of those. Nadine crossed her arms over her middle, flashing a defensive posture because Juliette was suddenly a threat. The urge to run nearly overwhelmed her. These deaths were all too familiar.
“Lead detective wants a profiler for this one,” Juliette said, still looking skyward.
“Did you suggest me?” Nadine heard her voice squeak as she strained to maintain control of the terrified creature writhing inside of her.
“No,” Juliette assured. She waved her hands and made eye contact now.
“I’m not a profiler.”
“But you could be,” she said.
“I help after arrests. That’s what forensic psychologists do, help the police after they catch the bad guys. Work with suspects, inmates. Assessment of mental state, interviews, sentencing recommendations.” She glanced up to see Juliette looking at her as if she’d stepped off the deep end. Nadine realized she was babbling and reined herself in. “What I’m saying is, they need a criminal psychologist. They’re the ones who assist law enforcement on capturing criminals.”
“There’s crossover, no?”
Nadine shook her head. “Besides. We have a criminal psychologist on staff already. They’ll assign him.”
“I heard them mention you.”
“Detective Wernli recommended you to the new Homicide cop, Detective Demko.” Juliette squeezed her hands together in front of her heart and fluttered her eyes. “Total hunk, btw.”
Nadine was still in denial mode.
“He won’t want me. They need someone to do predictive work. That’s not me.” Nadine was still jabbering, talking too fast and too loud.
“But this is a chance to assist in a major case. Double homicide, a wild one.”
“I… I just don’t think that kind of work is for me.”
Juliette’s tone turned conciliatory. “I wanted to give you a heads-up is all. Know you hate surprises, so… that’s it.”
Nadine forced her gaze to meet Juliette’s and saw nothing but concern.
“I appreciate that.” With a nod of farewell, she headed down the steps and into the courtyard, hurrying toward the street.
“Want a lift?”
Nadine deployed her umbrella for protection from the rain and Juliette’s shouted question.
“I’m fine.” This she called back without turning.
She wasn’t fine.
Nadine splashed through rapidly forming puddles. Juliette could be wrong about the profiler request. Nadine was newest on staff. They wouldn’t trust her with something this important. Plus, she was certain they would assign their criminal psychologist to this one.
Nadine hurried from the courthouse through the downpour, sloshing through the swelling puddles in the crosswalk that soaked her shoes. She arrived at the lobby of her building, two blocks away, panting with exertion and alarm. Safely inside the innocuous three-story cinder-block office complex, she let the tremors come. Years and years of therapy had made her into a functioning adult. But she wasn’t equipped for this.
It was several minutes before she took the elevator to the third floor and the Forensic Psychology Services office, where she worked.
Inside, their new assistant called a greeting from behind the high receptionist counter. The young woman gave her a timid doe-eyed blink and shy smile. This was Tina Ruz’s first job out of college, and she was fresh and innocent as a baby bunny. Nadine felt sorry for her because she recognized what the world did to helpless creatures.
“Dr. Crean wants to see you,” said Tina.
“That’s what she said.”
The sense of dread returned, but Nadine merely nodded and hustled to her office to drop off her things and set her umbrella open to dry.
On the job here as a forensic psychologist for only three months, Nadine was anxious to make an impression. She wanted to do well here, but her self-protective instincts outweighed ambition. Always. And right now, her instincts were buzzing like a hornet’s nest.
As she headed from her office down the corridor to the corner office of Dr. Margery Crean, she prayed this had nothing to do with the death investigation she’d discussed with Juliette. Her boss might wish to speak to her about anything, and not necessarily the recent slayings. She ignored the distant shrill of a siren in her mind, but her sweating palms were less easily overlooked.
Why did her thoughts go immediately to assignment to an active investigation? There were worse things.
As she walked through the outer office, she wondered again if she should have disclosed her past to her employer. If she’d told them, would they have hired her?
Keeping secrets was as exhausting as keeping everyone at a distance. But experience had shown her that being alone was preferable to being ostracized.
Nadine paused in the outer office, and resting a hand flat on her chest, she closed her eyes and breathed deeply. The self-calming exercise took only a moment. Afterward, she glanced down at herself. Yes, she was wearing a navy-blue suit, white blouse and low practical heels on small narrow feet. She checked the simple gold hoops in her ears and ran her hand over her hair pulled back at her nape. She straightened her shoulders, knowing that the panicky little girl within was invisible to all but herself.
Nadine walked with calm assurance toward Crean’s office. She looked the part of the professional she tried to be and, if necessary, she could utilize very effective masking techniques.
Before she studied psychology, she had become a social chameleon. She didn’t stand out. She blended in groups. Mimicked reactions. Copied expressions. Nothing too special. Nothing too odd. Hiding among normal people, like her mother had done for so long. The good ones, the successful ones, always did.
Crean’s door was open, and as Nadine raised her hand to knock, the director of clinical services waved her in.
“Close the door,” she said, glancing back to the computer monitor as Nadine complied. Crean’s office phone blinked. “Excuse me.” She lifted the handset.
Nadine admired Crean but didn’t trust her, or anyone really. All Nadine’s therapists said she saw every authority figure as a potential threat. A habit formed in childhood. She raised a hand to her cheek, certain she could still feel the sting that followed each slap.
Nadine dropped her hand and lifted her chin, forcing a placid expression, eyes on her boss. Likely, Crean knew as many tricks as she did, or she might be exactly what she seemed. She found that unlikely because no one was.
And figuring people out was Nadine’s A game.
All she could ascertain pointed to a woman who was scary ordinary. But nobody went into this field because they were whole and happy. Two kinds of individuals settled into the profession of psychology, the broken and the ones who like to drive a pin through a living fly to watch it wiggle.
Which was Crean?
Her director was married to an outwardly normal guy who owned a landscaping business and bred dogs. They had one daughter away at college. Children didn’t mean anything. Her mom had two kids. Reproduction was easy. Mothering was harder.
Crean played golf. She canoed. She was a member of the library board, and she volunteered at the no-kill shelter. Zero social media presence, at least with her professional name, except LinkedIn, which didn’t count. Normal home, normal kid, normal life. Didn’t add up.
Nadine settled in one of two chairs that faced the desk. Crean’s brown eyes flicked to hers, still talking to someone about schedules. Her gaze danced away, giving Nadine a chance to take a good look at her supervisor.
Dr. Margery Crean was in her early forties, with intelligent brown eyes that centered a face that had fought many battles. Her fine, chin-length blonde hair brushed the collar of her crisp white blouse. Wispy bangs hid some of the deep lines in her forehead, changing the focus to her broad nose.
As Crean spoke on the phone, Nadine glanced at the shelves of books behind her, noting many familiar psychology texts. A single bookend was a cast plaster of an old hag draped in a cloak, clutching a pair of shears—the type used on sheep—on her lap. On the other side of the neat row of textbooks and diagnostic manuals sat a green ceramic canister holding several pairs of scissors with brightly colored handles. Nadine narrowed her eyes on the seemingly benign display.
On the adjoining wall, blinds designed to block the harsh eastern sunlight covered the window. Beside this was a framed print of a painting of two Roman lovers resting on marble steps while Cupid draped them in a garland of flowers. It pointed to Crean being a romantic, until you looked at the green-veiled woman in the image, holding wicked-looking shears above the pair.
Nadine had asked about the print. Crean told her the original was on display at the Ringling Museum of Art, and Nadine had later found the painting hanging in the modern wing. She learned that the shrouded figure was Atropos, oldest of the three Fates, and the one responsible for choosing each mortal’s manner of death. While her sisters spun and measured the length of a human-life thread, she severed it.
Nadine glanced at the canister of scissors again, their presence taking a more sinister turn.
As she studied the painting, she tried to determine which of the entwined life-threads Atropos was about to sever. The blade of the shears looked familiar, like the carpet knife belonging to her mother.
She flicked her attention back to Crean. She respected her boss and her work with convicted felons. Crean was an expert on serial killers, published prodigiously, and Nadine had read every article of Crean’s she could get her hands on.
Crean’s academic knowledge of serial killers impressed, but it didn’t compare to Nadine’s personal knowledge.
At her mother’s shout, Nadine spun around on the vinyl kitchen chair, the cracked spot scraping against her leg. Her mother stood in the trailer, completely naked. Water dripped from her wet hair, the droplets tinged pink.
“Dee-Dee! Get the trash to the curb.”
Nadine hesitated, math homework forgotten, the gnawed pencil still gripped in her fingers. She rubbed the surface, feeling the indentures from her teeth marks. She had turned eight a week ago, but still hated going outside at night. There were big dogs and coyotes and the light above the trailer door didn’t work, so it was dark and creepy. Nadine bit her lower lip, hunching.
“Do you hear me, girl! Now!”
She scrambled off her chair and gripped the seatback, her fingers sticky from the jelly crackers her brother, Arlo, had given her for supper.
“What are you yelling about?” Arlo appeared from the hallway, followed by the scent of the pot he’d been smoking. Six years her senior and already in eighth grade, he was a good student, when he could be bothered to go to school.
He caught sight of their mother and pulled up short.
“Jesus, Ma. Put some clothes on.”
“In a minute.” She turned to Nadine. “Go on.”
“Go where?” her brother asked.
When Nadine looked to Arlo, her mother lost it.
“What are you lookin’ at him fer? Trash is your job. Not his.”
“I’m scared of the dark.”
Her mother threw her head back and laughed. She was in one of her happy-time moods. Nadine watched her breasts jiggle. Arlo stormed back down the hall.
When she stopped laughing and lifted an open hand toward her only daughter, Nadine scuttled past her and out into the carport, running a few steps and then turning back. The door slammed shut behind her, removing the square of light.
Nadine trembled. Something scuttled under the trailer. A stray cat? She hoped so, because the raccoons and possums had big teeth.
She inched toward the trash cans, guided by the light from Arlo’s window. There beside the can was a dark garbage bag, exactly like last week. She lifted it and it thumped against her legs. The content was squishy and warm. There was a bad smell, too. She turned her head as she opened the lid. Piles of trash filled the bin. The stench made her eyes water. Why did her mother keep throwing away her clothes?
Why was the water on her face pink?
The beam of a flashlight illuminated the carport. The beam came from Arlo’s window and it lit her path all the way back to the door. When she turned the latch, she saw her mother now stood at the sink wearing a sports bra and shorts.
“You have a look inside that bag?” she said, cigarette clenched between her lips.
Nadine shook her head. She was never looking in those bags.
“Nadine?” Crean was now off the phone.
Nadine gave herself a mental shake, pushing back her memories. In time, she’d learned exactly what had made those bags squishy, the blood-soaked clothing of Arleen and her latest victims. Even back then, she’d suspected, but been too terrified to look
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