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Authors: Harry Dolan

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BOOK: The Last Dead Girl
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And at eleven o'clock I sat on my balcony, staring at a candle, thinking about Simon Lanik and Poe Washburn. One or the other could be involved in Jana's death. I didn't know where to look for Lanik, but I had an address for Washburn. Eleven o'clock. Not too late to go calling. The flame of the candle guttered. I made up my mind.


found himself missing Jolene.

She had died easy. He felt glad of that. Oh, let's be candid, she had died hard at first: twisting, struggling, clawing at the arm he held around her throat. Luckily he'd been wearing long sleeves; otherwise she would have left marks.

She tried to step on his feet too. Tried everything. Pushing back against him. Kicking. The kicking accomplished nothing, apart from launching one of her shoes into the canal. And in the end, she went easy. All the flailing stopped and her limbs went slack, and there was only the gentle weight of her as he settled her down to the ground. Like putting a sleeping child to bed.

K thought of leaving her like that, lying by the side of the trail. He folded her hands over her stomach, crossed one slim ankle over the other. Used a handkerchief to touch her, because there was always a chance of leaving fingerprints, even on someone else's body.

He tried to close her eyes, but they wouldn't stay. He covered them with her hair instead, ribbons of bottle blond to make a blindfold.

The sunlight fell on the stone of her amethyst ring.

She looked peaceful, he thought, standing over her. Maybe even beautiful.

Sentimental K.

Putting her in the water would be better. He knew that. If her body held any trace of him, even a single hair, the water could wash it away.

He looked again at the ring on her finger and wondered who had given it to her. Someone who loved her, he thought. The idea filled him with something verging on regret.

He thought about taking the ring as a souvenir. Decided he'd better not.

After one last look he dug the toe of his shoe under her back, lifted her up, and rolled her over the edge into the canal.

•   •   •

olene had been good practice. In a way, she had saved him, because when he paid his visit to Jana Fletcher that night, he was ready.

He wore steel-toed boots, for one thing. And gloves, black leather. A commonsense precaution.

He wore a long-sleeved shirt again, of course. And a jacket over it, for extra padding. The padding made a difference when Jana came at him with the two-by-four.

That was unexpected.

She seized it from the fireplace mantel, candles and all, and swung it like a club. Fire and hot wax coming at him. He might have been burned if not for the jacket.

But she couldn't hurt him. He was too strong for her. He wrenched the board from her hands and got her down on the floor, and then it was a matter of time and pressure. Her legs kicked, her feet stomped. Her nails would have dug into him if not for the gloves and the long sleeves. She went out hard, and then easy, just like Jolene.

Afterward he felt no tenderness toward her. He gave no thought to closing her eyes or folding her hands peacefully. He kicked her in the ribs once with a steel-toed boot. Tore her blouse open, yanked her pants down from her hips. A nice, lurid scene for someone to discover. Let them interpret it any way they wanted.

•   •   •

had nothing to connect him to Jana Fletcher. He had disposed of the clothes he wore when he killed her—bagged them and dropped them in a dumpster. The jacket too, and the gloves. Easier than trying to wash out the melted wax.

He had nothing from Jolene either—except for her red Solo cup. It was the first thing he had noticed when he reached his car, after the hike back along the trail beside the canal: the red cup lying empty in the footwell on the passenger side.

It was still there tonight. K leaned over and picked it up. He could see a trace of her lipstick inside. Jolene. He really did miss her. She had helped him. No denying it.

But she couldn't help him anymore. Not with Napoleon Washburn, for instance.

•   •   •

ashburn spent two hours in a roadhouse bar called Casey's.

K waited outside for him all that time. He didn't mind waiting. When he got bored, after the first half hour, he opened his glove compartment and took out a popsicle stick and sat turning it over and over in his fingers.

After a while he put it back. He thought about Jolene. Thought about her legs. Remembered the strength draining out of her body. He took her red Solo cup and held it on his knee. He wished he could keep it, but he knew it had her fingerprints on it. Probably DNA too. He twisted around for a box of tissues in the backseat, tugged some out, used them to wipe the outside of the cup. He opened the car door and dropped the cup on the ground.

Add littering to the list of his crimes.

•   •   •

he roadhouse had country music playing inside, on a sound system with too much bass. K could hear it thumping through the parking lot. People came and went, driving pickups and SUVs. They wore boots and jeans and flannel shirts. That was one of the secrets of upstate New York: it was full of rednecks.

Napoleon Washburn was a redneck. He lived in a rat-trap house on an unpaved street. Lived alone, as far as K could tell. K had watched the house from down the street. Washburn had come out around nine o'clock, stumbling down his front steps with a cigarette between his lips. He wore a black T-shirt and jeans and shit-kicking boots. Good luck strangling
. He was over six feet tall, much taller than he had a right to be with a name like Napoleon. K knew he wouldn't go down easy.

Washburn had a truck that looked a little like David Malone's, but with a lot more rust and a lot less muffler. He drove three miles to the roadhouse spewing exhaust, making as much noise as a tank division. K had no trouble following him.

And now K waited for him in the parking lot. He didn't go inside, because he didn't want to be linked in any way to Napoleon Washburn.

Around eleven the main door of the roadhouse opened and Washburn staggered out, grinning. K suspected that he had started the night out drunk, and now he would be two hours drunker. He had a cigarette in one hand and his arm around a woman in knee-high boots and jeans and a long tight sweater. She had teased-out hair and was a little too heavy to look good in the sweater.

The two of them walked hip to hip along a row of cars in the lot. They stopped by Washburn's truck and he ditched his cigarette. They shared a drunken kiss. The kiss turned into a make-out session—Washburn grinding against the woman until she broke away from him with a laugh.

He got into his truck and drove out of the lot, and she followed in her own car. K trailed behind them, three miles in the smell of Washburn's exhaust, to the unpaved street and the rat-trap house.

The woman went inside with Washburn and stayed for twelve minutes. K timed it.

Figure three minutes to get down to business, five for the meaningless sex, and another four to get dressed and realize there was nothing more and say an awkward good-bye. The woman came out alone, no last kiss at the door. She held her chin up and took a slow, steady walk to her car, a sign of either dignity or resignation.

When she was gone, K watched the house for any sign of movement. It seemed likely that Washburn would now stay put for the night. Which gave K a perfect opportunity. All he needed was a plan.

No movement behind the curtains of the front windows. Washburn was drunk. He could be asleep in there. He hadn't accompanied the woman to the door. The door could be unlocked. K could walk right in.

K watched the house. Imagined Washburn inside, sprawled on a bed or a sofa. If he wasn't asleep, K could make him go to sleep. All he had to do was think about it. Picture him with his head back, his mouth open, snoring. Easy.

K got out of the car and crossed the street. He took a pair of gloves from the pockets of his jacket and put them on. New gloves, new jacket. His clothes were becoming disposable. Washburn's front steps were made of cinder blocks laid dry. They led up to a sagging porch. A broom stood beside Washburn's door, broken in two pieces: straw bristles, thick wooden handle. As if it had been left there for K on purpose.

The knob turned when K tried it, and the door opened. K entered clutching the broom handle. The front room stood empty. Peeling wallpaper. Garish furniture upholstered in flower patterns. The place reeked of cigarette smoke. An overflowing ashtray sat atop a white milk crate that served as a coffee table.

K moved through the house with exaggerated care, one slow step at a time, holding the broom handle in front of him like a talisman. He checked the kitchen and the utility room on the ground floor. No Washburn. He climbed the stairs. Saw the open door of a bathroom. Saw Washburn's boots kicked off and abandoned in the hall.

Two bedrooms. The one at the back of the house was full of boxes and old clothes. K moved to the one at the front, eased the door open. Napoleon Washburn lay snoring on a mattress on the floor, just the way K had pictured him.

The room had a single window with long curtains. There was a lamp with a weak bulb on the floor between the mattress and the window. The lamplight fell on a scattering of girlie magazines. Beside the magazines lay a heap of tissues and a used condom—the remains of Washburn's tryst with the woman in the tight sweater. Washburn had gotten dressed again after, in the same T-shirt and jeans he'd gone out in. He hadn't bothered to zip up or to buckle his belt.

A cigarette still smoldered in a ceramic ashtray beneath the lamp. K watched the smoke rise, a strand of gray thread. He stood over Washburn with the broom handle held like a spear. He aimed the broken point of it at Washburn's heart.

Washburn stirred in his sleep, rolled onto his side.

K listened to Washburn's breathing, watched the thread of smoke. He got an idea. He crouched down by slow degrees, an inch at a time, until he was on one knee beside the mattress. He laid the broom handle on the floor without a sound. He reached for the smoldering cigarette with his gloved hand, then thought better of it because the black leather would be too clumsy. He stripped off the glove and dug his handkerchief from his pocket.

With the handkerchief he picked up the cigarette, leaving the ash in the tray. He brought the tip of the cigarette into contact with one of the tissues on the floor. He held it there patiently and nothing happened, and he waited, and at last the tissue began to smolder.

He bent down over it, let his breath fall on the charred black edge until he saw an orange glow, and then a flame.

He placed the cigarette on the floor, returned the handkerchief to his pocket. He picked up his discarded glove and used it to nudge the burning tissue into another. The second tissue caught fire.

K put the glove back on and opened one of the girlie magazines—last October's issue. He folded out the centerfold until one corner of the page touched the burning tissues.

The flames spread. They consumed Miss October.

He opened another magazine. Miss July. A blonde. July, like Jolene. She made an excellent bridge between Miss October and the curtains.

The curtains must have been made of some kind of synthetic. They burned greedily and gave off a plastic smell.

K picked up the broom handle and rose to his feet. Washburn was still snoring on the mattress. K looked at the ceiling. No smoke detector. He didn't remember seeing one in the hall either. He closed the bedroom door on his way out.

Down the stairs, out through the front room. He turned the lock in the knob and pulled the door shut after him. He left the broom handle propped on the porch where he'd found it.

Calmly he crossed the street. No need to hurry. He dropped his gloves on the passenger seat, started the car. This worked out well, he thought. Better than stabbing Washburn or beating him with the broom handle. That would have been a mess. And K knew that Washburn could be connected to Jana Fletcher. Both of them dying in the space of two days—better that one should look like an accident. Napoleon Washburn goes out to a bar, comes home drunk, falls asleep smoking.

K watched the upstairs window. The curtains had burned away; the flames would have moved on now to the walls. In the weak lamplight he could see smoke building along the ceiling, working its way down. Time to leave.

As he drove along the unpaved street he saw something that made him touch his brakes and curse out loud. He wanted to stop, but he kept going. What he saw was David Malone's pickup truck.

•   •   •

hen I found Poe Washburn's house, it was on fire.

I didn't realize it at first. I was looking for the address, and the numbers were hard to see in the night. I parked the truck on the street in front of one of Washburn's neighbors, went up onto the neighbor's porch, and turned around when I realized my mistake.

But there it was, one house over. When I approached the steps I heard a burst of glass. The heat of the fire had shattered an upstairs window. Shards of glass slid down the roof of the porch and rained down into a flower bed beside me.

I looked up at the broken window and saw smoke. Called 911 on my cell phone. The woman who answered was all business. Nature of the emergency. Name and address. Is there anyone in the house? I told her I didn't know.

“Firefighters are on their way,” she said. “Don't go back in the house.”

“I was never in there to start with,” I told her.

“Don't go in.”

I closed the phone. In the gravel driveway alongside the porch was a rusted pickup, just the sort of thing Washburn might drive. He could be in the house.

It would be stupid to go in.

I went up the cinder-block steps and tried the door. Locked. I threw my shoulder into it halfheartedly, which did about as much good as you'd expect. Then I went back to the steps and hefted one of the cinder blocks.

One blow from the block and the door crashed open. The front room was empty of life and eerily calm. I could smell smoke but I couldn't see any, not here. I dropped the block on the porch and went in.

I found the stairs and stood at the bottom looking up at a mass of gray smoke. It was gathering there, getting ready to come down.

BOOK: The Last Dead Girl
11.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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