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Authors: Melinda Leigh

She Can Scream (37 page)

BOOK: She Can Scream
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“Brooke?” Ian stood at the entrance, his hair and clothing rumpled, his eyes desperate, his usual composure erased. His gaze settled on Haley.

“The doctor said she should be all right.” Brooke took pity on him. No one could have predicted that the killer would follow Haley to Philadelphia.

Ian’s body deflated. “Thank God.”

“I’m sorry,” Brooke said in a low voice. “This is my fault.”

“Your fault?” Ian’s brow wrinkled. “Why would you think that?”

She lowered her chin. If she’d had a tear left in her soul, she would have wept. “If I wasn’t obsessed with Karen’s murder, I would never have gotten involved in this.”

“My God, Brooke. You can’t blame yourself for saving a young woman’s life.” Ian scrubbed his face with both hands. “I’m the one to blame here. I put Haley in danger. You saved her. I was only going to be gone a short time, but I shouldn’t have left them alone at all. I specifically took Haley and Chris to keep them safe. I shouldn’t have put work first. Not for one second.” His face tightened, deepening the lines around his eyes and mouth. “The police found her cell phone in the street. She thought she was messaging with that boy she likes. She went downstairs to let him into the building. She even told him she couldn’t come out.”

Poor Haley. Her impulsive decision would haunt her, but Brooke would make sure she got the help she needed, so her daughter wouldn’t pay for her mistake for the rest of her life.

“I don’t know her as well as I should.” Ian would need to deal with his guilt in his own way. “I could have lost her.”

“Will you sit with her?” Brooke asked. “I have to give a statement to the police.”

His face brightened. “Of course.” He tentatively reached for Haley’s hand.

Luke was waiting for her outside the cubicle. He wrapped an arm around her. With equally heavy heart and body, she leaned
on him. He was there for the moment, and she appreciated his support, but she was going to have to let him go too. In a few days, he’d be off to Argentina, and she would be alone again.

Two days later, Luke took Brooke to the police station. This was the first time she’d left Haley’s side. But her daughter was being looked after by Abby and her monstrous dog. Plus, a security expert, some friend of the police chief, was currently installing a security system in Brooke’s house. Brooke had referred him to Maddie’s parents too. Physically, Maddie was recovering nicely, but Brooke knew the harder battle would be to overcome her emotional trauma.

Unfortunately, Kent had survived.

Mike and Jack were in the conference room. Files and photos were spread across the table.

“We have a lot to tell you.” Mike gestured toward two chairs.

Brooke sank into a chair. “Thanks.”

“In the storage bins in Kent’s basement we found scrapbooks of more than a dozen murdered women. He detailed how he stalked them. Kept track of their daily schedules, their friends, jobs, and hobbies. He then identified someone in the woman’s life who would be set up to take the blame for the killing, usually a boyfriend or ex-boyfriend. Kent took particular pleasure in planting the evidence.” Mike looked up. “He had a brand-new file on Brooke.”

Brooke swallowed her queasiness. “He told me he killed Karen. Is this true?”

“Yes.” Mike opened a file. “Karen Edwards was his first killing. He planned her murder in the weeks after he pulled her over
for speeding. Setting up the ex-boyfriend was an afterthought. But he enjoyed following the trial so much that framing someone else for his murders became part of his ritual. And being a cop gave him the knowledge to do it right. His frame-ups were successful in all but two of his killings.”

“This is why no one suspected a serial killer was active,” Jack added. “He didn’t leave a trail of unsolved murders. Most of the cases were closed. Interestingly, Maddie was the first woman he attacked this close to home. His crimes started farther away and spiraled inward. Maybe he got overconfident?”

A knock sounded. The chief’s secretary opened the door. “There’s an Ellie Springer to see you. She says it’s about her brother, Timmy.”

Mike got up and crutched his way into the lobby. He returned a few minutes later with a woman in her fifties. Straight-backed with determination, she clutched a purse with both hands against her belly. Years of labor and exhaustion showed in her lined face and red-knuckled hands. The graying hair scraped back from her face in a severe bun didn’t help. Her pink hotel maid uniform was just as worn.

At Mike’s direction, Ellie lowered her stooped body into a chair.

“Ms. Springer is Tim Kent’s older sister.” Mike introduced them.

Ellie gave Brooke a grim stare. “I’m sorry for what my brother did.”

No,
how is he?
No claims of innocence. Guess they weren’t close.

Ellie pulled a pack of cigarettes from the front pocket of her uniform. She tapped one out and held it between her fingers.
Ignoring the
NO SMOKING
sign on the wall, Jack slid an empty diet soda can in front of her. “Go ahead.”

No one protested as she lit up, then sucked down smoke like it was air to a drowning victim. “Is he in prison?”

“He’s still in the hospital.” Mike said. “You’re not surprised by any of this?”

She blew out a stream of smoke. “The only thing that surprises me is that it didn’t happen sooner.”

“Why?”

“Timmy was an accident. I was in high school when he came along. Our parents were tired and busy. They hadn’t wanted another child. He was pretty much left to himself. They were killed in a house fire when Timmy was six. By that time, I was in my twenties. I was working and going to school at night. All the sudden I had Timmy to look after. I quit school and took a second job. A rented trailer was the best I could afford. I did my best with him for six long years, until the social worker came and took him away. She said I was abusive. I think the little shit called social services himself.”

Mike stopped her. “I don’t understand.”

“My baby brother was a sick, sick little boy. I tried everything to set him straight, but he was wired wrong. Something was missing, maybe a soul. I don’t know.”

“What did he do?” Mike asked.

She leveled a gaze across the table. “He killed things. Bugs, frogs, animals, whatever he could catch. I remember the first time clear as day. It was nighttime. I was making dinner, macaroni and cheese, because that was his favorite and that’s all we had left until payday anyway. In the beginning I thought he was holding his sadness about our parents’ deaths inside. It was only
later that I realized he didn’t show any grief because he didn’t have any feelings. That boy was colder than February snow.”

She took a drag on her cigarette. “I found him in the bathroom. He’d caught a mouse. The poor thing was all over the floor, all over his shoes, all over the hammer he’d used to beat it to death. Blood and bits of fur were stuck to the metal.” She shivered and took another long pull on her cigarette. The color had leached from her face. “Timmy looked up at me. He had this huge smile on his face. It was the first time I’d seen any emotion in him since he came to live with me. The first activity he’d enjoyed was hammering an animal to death.”

Luke’s stomach turned.

“It got worse from there. I watched him as much as I could, but if I wanted to feed him, I couldn’t miss a shift. I tried everything. I lectured him. I took him to church. I gave him time-outs and grounded him. Got to the point I tried beating on him if I caught him torturing some poor creature. You wouldn’t believe what he could do to a frog. Nothing worked. Punishing him had no effect. Screaming didn’t faze him. He didn’t care if I hit him. He just got mad that I made him stop what he was doing. He started fighting me on that. I’d have to lock him in the closet to get the mess cleaned up.”

“Why did they take him away?” Mike asked.

“He must have told his teacher I’d hit him.” The cigarette was down to the filter. She gave it a final pull. “Frankly, I was relieved when they took him away. He was getting bigger, and I was the only one who knew what he was inside. I’d been sleeping with one eye open and a locked door for a long time. If they hadn’t taken him, maybe he would have killed me eventually. Sometimes, I wonder if the fire that killed our parents was really an accident.”

“Your brother was transferred to City Hospital. He’ll stay there until he can be transferred to the prison. You’re his next of kin. You can see him if you’d like to.”

Ellie lit another cigarette. “I haven’t seen Timmy in twenty-five years. And twenty-five more would suit me just fine. I’ve never been a religious woman, but I didn’t need a Bible to know that boy was the closest thing to the devil on this earth. He was born pure evil.”

CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

“This is your home, Lucas. I want you to visit whenever you want. You don’t need to call or ask.” Gran followed him to the car, hugging her thin frame against the chill.

“I promise to come more often.” Luke hung his suit jacket on a hanger he kept in the back of his BMW.

She waved as he pulled out of the drive. In his rearview mirror, she grew smaller and smaller as he drove away, shrinking until he couldn’t see her anymore. Luke ignored the empty space in his gut and focused on the road. She was getting older. There wasn’t anything he could do to halt time. Her cold was fading, but he was still going to worry. What if she’d gotten worse instead of better? Who would take care of her?

Country roads turned into interstates. He veered onto the ramp that linked the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Turnpikes. His heart, and his sweat glands, kicked up a notch. By the time he entered the Lincoln Tunnel, his hands were clammy and his stomach was curling up like a nervous child.

But he had something to resolve before he went back to his job and moved on with his life.

The morning sun shone on his head, the day’s first note of warmth after the cold night. He locked his car, parallel parked at the curb between two American sedans. Under the watchful eye of two young mothers, three preschool-age girls jumped rope on
the sidewalk. The sing-song chanting of an alphabet rhyme followed Luke up the steep flight of steps of the three-story brownstone, converted from one huge home into three large apartments. He pressed the buzzer labeled number three.

“Hello?” a man’s voice answered.

“It’s Luke Holloway.”

“Come in. Come in.” The exterior door buzzed. Luke opened the door and stepped onto the black-and-white tiles of the lobby. His muscles were sluggish and reluctant as he climbed to the third-floor landing. A couple in their mid-fifties waited just inside the threshold to an apartment. Mr. and Mrs. Leonetti.

Sherry’s parents.

They’d passed their dark eyes and olive skin on to their daughter. Mrs. Leonetti was plump, her short hair dyed a uniform dark brown. Sherry’s dad was bowling-ball bald.

“Please, come inside.” Mr. Leonetti stepped back and waved Luke inside.

He walked into a high-ceilinged room. As was typical of converted townhomes, there was more height than space. Light streamed in through two narrow windows overlooking the street. Worn furniture, framed pictures, and oddly shaped knickknacks, the kind of things grade-schoolers made with clay, crowded the space. The effect was more comfort than clutter. A mass card from Sherry’s funeral lay on the hall chest.

Sherrylyn Mary Leonetti.

Guilt crawled its way up Luke’s chest into his throat.

“I’m sorry I didn’t answer your calls or return your messages.” He lowered his head. They’d lost their daughter, and he hadn’t even offered his condolences. Hadn’t been able to face their grief for a woman he couldn’t save.

He didn’t offer an excuse because he had none. Sherry’s parents had reached out to him a dozen times since the explosion. He’d avoided them like a coward.

He’d lived, Sherry had died, and there hadn’t been a thing he could have done to change that. Luke opened his mouth to explain, but he choked on the words.

“We understand.” Mrs. Leonetti reached forward and grasped Luke’s hands with strong fingers. Her warm eyes glistened. They were deep brown and swimming with sadness, a bottomless pool of sorrow. But other emotions lingered there too. Kindness, faith, strength.

Mrs. Leonetti steered him toward a leather sofa. One of them pressed a cool glass into his hand. Water. Luke drank, swallowing some of his guilt. It settled in his empty stomach, cold and achy. He stared ahead, at a sideboard filled with pictures of Sherry and her sisters. Close in age, all three were curvy and petite, with long dark hair and laughing eyes. Mr. and Mrs. Leonetti sat on either side of him, flanking him with their solid presence.

“We came to see you in the hospital. You weren’t awake.” Mr. Leonetti put a hand on Luke’s shoulder. “We wanted to thank you.”

Luke didn’t register the last words right away. They sunk in slowly, the way rainwater seeps into parched earth. He lifted his head. They wanted to thank him? For what? Watching their daughter die?

“You carried our Sherry out of that building.” Tears streamed down Mrs. Leonetti’s wrinkled face. Mascara trailed onto her cheeks. She grabbed Luke’s hand and clenched it tight. “You brought her back to us.”

BOOK: She Can Scream
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