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Authors: Harry Dolan

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BOOK: The Last Dead Girl
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6

H
ere's the thing I meant to tell Jana that night: I was engaged to a woman named Sophie Emerson.

We were set to be married in the fall, on a day in late September. There was going to be a carriage, and horses, and doves. The doves would be released at just the right moment, to symbolize whatever it is that you symbolize by releasing doves. The ceremony would take place in a garden on an estate, because Sophie's mother knew someone from her sorority days who had married into an estate. And the mayor would preside, because Sophie's father knew someone else who knew the mayor.

Sophie kept a binder with all the details: a guest list for the rehearsal dinner, another for the ceremony itself, a third for the reception after; a set list for the band; menus from the caterers and brochures from the carriage company and the dove people. And on and on. When one binder filled up, she got another. She kept them on the coffee table in our apartment.

“I can tell what you're thinking,” she'd say to me. “You didn't know what you were getting into. But why not? A little spectacle won't hurt you, and my parents can afford it. It's mostly for them.”

“Really?” I'd say, teasing her. “We're doing this for them?”

“And for me,” she'd say, breaking into a smile. “I'm only getting married once, and by god I'm having horses.”

•   •   •

O
n the night I met Jana, the Night of the Doe, Sophie and I had known each other for six months; we'd been living together for three.

We lived in an apartment not far from Rome Memorial Hospital, where Sophie spent most of her time. She was a surgical intern. The first time I saw her she was dressed in a set of blue scrubs; she wore cat's-eye glasses and had her hair gathered up in a clip. A cross between a doctor and a sexy librarian.

She was about to make an offer on a house and she had hired me to do the inspection. The place she had picked out was in a fine neighborhood and had a lot of surface charm, but there was mold in the basement and some substandard wiring and a furnace that wouldn't last another winter.

I walked her through and gave her my report.

“That sounds bad,” she said.

“The good news is, it can all be fixed,” I told her.

“What's the bottom line? Would I be crazy to buy this house?”

“That's up to you.”

“I think I'd be crazy,” she said. “What about these cabinets?”

We had ended our tour in the kitchen.

“What about them?” I said.

“I think they're hideous. Do you think they're hideous?”

“That's not really my area.”

“And the walls,” she said. “Too beige.”

“A lot of people do that on purpose. Neutral colors. Makes the house easier to sell.”

“Way too beige. I'd have to get someone in here to paint.”

“Painting's easy,” I said. “You could do it yourself.”

Sophie laughed. “Like I'd have time to paint. I'd hardly have time to live here.” She turned a circle in the center of the kitchen, as if she were having one last look. “There's no way I'm buying this house,” she said. “Do you want to get a drink?”

•   •   •

Y
ou know what I was worried about?” Sophie Emerson said. “The lawn.”

She'd left it to me to pick the bar and we wound up in a dive on Dominick Street. A hangout for tradesmen, the kind of place my father would have gone to.

“Houses have lawns,” said Sophie. “You have to mow them. And water them. And kill the weeds. You have to plant things and trim them and cut them down and put them in a paper sack and haul them to the curb.”

She took a sip from her margarita. She had asked for a cosmopolitan, but the bartender vetoed that idea.

“But it sounds like the lawn would be the least of my worries,” she said. “Mold and bad wiring and all the rest. I'm not ready to deal with that stuff.”

I picked at the label on my beer. “Why do you want to buy a house in the first place?” I asked her.

She didn't answer me right away. She took her glasses off and rubbed her eyes.

“You'll laugh,” she said.

“No I won't.”

“Maybe you won't. But you'll think less of me. I wanted a house because of Brad Gavin.”

Brad Gavin turned out to be someone she worked with, another intern at the hospital.

“You've seen those shows,” she said. “On TV. About young doctors.”

I nodded.

“They're always competing,” she said. “Who can get the best fellowship. Who can perform the trickiest procedures. Who can scrub in for the most surgeries. Right?”

“Right.”

“Well, all that's true. Only it doesn't end there. Doctors are competitive about everything. Even little things. Who's got the newest cell phone. Who can shoot a better game of pool. And no matter what it is, Brad Gavin is always the one to beat.”

“And he bought a house.”

“Exactly. And I thought: Why should he be the one with the house? I could get a house.” She put her glasses on and looked at me over the rim of her margarita. “You think less of me now, don't you?”

“No.”

“You do, but it's all right. I've got a flaw in my character. But I plan to reform.” She took the cat's-eye glasses off again and held them by a stem. “Let me ask you something, David Malone. Does anyone call you Dave?”

“Almost no one.”

“I'm gonna call you Dave. But that's not what I meant to ask you.” She pushed the margarita aside and leaned close to me across the table. “The glasses,” she said. “Do you like me better with them or without them, or does it not matter to you at all?”

Something in her voice, either alcohol or mischief. I was hoping for mischief.

I leaned close, took the glasses from her hand, opened up the stems. Put them on her. I reached to take the clip out of her hair, a dicey maneuver, hard to pull off gracefully. I managed it. Her hair tumbled down. She combed her fingers through it.

“Then it does matter,” she said. “Good to know, Dave.”

•   •   •

S
ophie didn't buy a house. But three months later we got engaged. She gave up the apartment she'd been living in and I gave up mine, and we moved into a bigger one together.

The cabinets in the kitchen were a few years out of date, but they were easy to replace. The walls in the bedroom were unacceptably beige, but I primed them and painted them sky blue. The bedroom windows faced south and had heavy, dusty curtains. We took them down and put up blinds that we could open to let in the light in the morning.

Not that Sophie was there much in the mornings. She worked an intern's hours, a schedule I could never predict. Sometimes she'd climb into our bed just as I was climbing out of it. Sometimes I'd come home in the evening and find her sleeping, a plate of half-eaten takeout on her night table, her clothes in a pile on the floor.

On the twentieth of April, a Sunday, she came home at four in the afternoon and stumbled into bed. She asked me to wake her at eight-thirty so we could share a late dinner. I let her sleep till nine, then went in and sat on the bed—my side—and turned on a lamp. Then music on the clock radio. This was the way I'd learned to wake her: gradually, so she could get used to the idea.

While I waited for the music to do its work, I tidied up my side of the room. Newspapers off the floor, dirty socks into the basket in our walk-in closet. I moved to her side, picked up a bra and panties from the night before, reached for the scrubs she'd been wearing when she came home.

She had her eyes open by then. Still groggy. She said, “You can leave those, Dave. I'll take care of them.”

I was checking the pockets, because there was always something in them: a pen, a pad, a sample of some new medication the reps were trying to sell . . .

Sophie was alert now, covers off, out of bed. “Dave, give me those.”

. . . a tissue, an empty condom wrapper . . . That was new. Never found one of those before.

She got the scrubs away from me, the wrapper too. She closed her fist around it as if she could make it disappear.

“This was not supposed to happen.”

She looked around for her glasses, found them, put them on. It took a few seconds, but it seemed like she needed the delay. I let her have it.

“Dave,” she said, “it's not what you think.”

Which, when you get right down to it, is something people only say when it's exactly what you think.

I knew the next line, heard myself say it. “Who is he, Sophie?”

“It was one time, I swear. It'll never, ever happen again.”

“Sophie—”

“And I'm sorry,” she said. “You've got to believe that.” And I did. She was trembling. I could see it.

I put my arms around her, but it was no good. I said, “Sophie, tell me who.”

“I don't want to,” she said. “You'll think less of me.”

Which was just enough of a clue to suggest the answer. I didn't want to believe it.

“Not Brad Gavin,” I said.

The glasses came off and she held on to me tight. Her face against my neck, her tears on my skin. She didn't say the name. We didn't need to say it again. It had been said.

I got loose from her after a while, and out of the apartment. Into my truck. And that was it; that was the catalyst: looking in Sophie's pockets. It was enough to send me out into the night, to Quaker Hill Road, to my rendezvous with Jana Fletcher. The Night of the Doe.

7

K
stayed away from that spot in the woods, the place where he had watched Jana Fletcher standing naked in the moonlight. Because something like that only happens once. You can't recapture it. If you think you can, you're kidding yourself.

Besides, the spot in the woods had its limits. You couldn't see the front of the duplex from there; you couldn't see people coming and going. For that, you needed a better vantage point, and K found one: in the parking lot of a dumpy apartment complex across the street. When he parked in a corner of the lot, he had a perfect view of Jana Fletcher's front door. And he could stay there as long as he wanted. The people who lived in the complex weren't exactly neighborhood-watch types. They weren't going to call the police if they saw a stranger sitting in a parked car.

So he spent some time there. Not crazy, obsessive time. He wasn't watching Jana Fletcher twenty-four hours a day. But he spent enough time to figure out that she generally left her apartment early in the morning and came back in the afternoon. Then she left again in the evening, between seven and eight, driving off in her little blue Plymouth. K assumed she was meeting her boyfriend for dinner, because when she came back the boyfriend would roll in right behind her in his pickup truck. And they would go in together and he would spend the night.

Which meant that K couldn't do it at night, the thing he needed to do. Not with the boyfriend there.

The other thing K discovered was that the neighbor woman seemed to leave the duplex two evenings a week. She'd come out around six-thirty, dolled up in her finest, scarved and bejeweled like a gypsy. She'd hobble over to a big boat of a car and climb in and rattle off down the street. Where she went, K didn't know. Not on a date, not an old crone like that. More likely a bingo game or some kind of church meeting.

Whatever it was, she went every Monday and Wednesday. Or she seemed to. K couldn't be sure; he hadn't been watching very long. But she had gone out two Mondays in a row, and one Wednesday, and tonight would be the second Wednesday.

K knew that tonight would be the test. He had woken up this morning with a sense of purpose, and with an image of Jana Fletcher in his mind, the way she looked in the moonlight. He would be there watching tonight—in the corner of the parking lot—and if the neighbor went out at six-thirty he should have at least a half-hour window during which Jana would be alone in the duplex. K wouldn't need a half hour. He would glide in and glide out. A few minutes and it would be done.

As the morning wore on, he started feeling restless and eager. At noon he got into his car and drove to Jana Fletcher's street. A warm day, sunny, the last day of April. He turned into the lot of the apartment complex, dodging potholes filled with yesterday's rain. He found the corner of the lot and cut the engine. A line of spindly evergreens in front of him, and in the space between two of them he could see the duplex. Jana's car gone, the boyfriend's pickup parked in the drive.

K wondered if the boyfriend was still asleep in the apartment. That must be the life, he thought: fucking all night, sleeping all day. But not
all
day. If he slept
all
day, he would still be there when Jana got back in the afternoon; he would be there at six-thirty when the old woman left. And that would ruin K's plan. So the boyfriend had to go. K had to make sure of it.

How? He couldn't go over there, knock on the door, tell him to clear out. Nothing as crude as that. But K had other methods. He had the power of his thoughts. He knew the boyfriend's name because it was on the side of his truck:
DAVID MALONE. HOME INSPECTIONS
. K focused on the duplex across the street, sending his thoughts out to find Malone, to wake him up, to bring him out. K sharpened his focus, aiming it at the front door, willing the door to open. If he concentrated intensely enough, if he wanted it, then his thoughts could make it happen.

He must have been concentrating hard, because the tap at the window beside him startled him.

K turned to see a woman leaning on his car, her left hand braced on the roof, her face inches from the window. Dyed-blond hair. Nice eyes, though there were shadows underneath them. Full lips colored red. She was asking him a question he couldn't make out. He rolled the window down to hear it.

“You got any cigarettes?”

He shook his head. “Sorry.”

“You got money for cigarettes?”

“No money,” he said.

“Everybody's got money.”

K had no answer for that.

“What are you doing?” the woman asked.

“Nothing. Just passing the time.”

“That's cool. That's what I'm doing too. Passing the time.”

She went quiet, but she didn't leave. K could smell cigarette smoke on her breath, along with the odor of stale beer. She held a red Solo cup in her right hand. He watched her take a drink from it.

“Do you live here?” he asked her.

“I've got friends who live here,” she said. “I come here a lot. Sometimes they let me crash.”

“Well, maybe they can help you. I don't give money to people I don't know.”

“Yeah, I got that message off you. Loud and clear. Have I seen you before?”

“I'm sure you haven't.”

“I think I saw you here the other night. What's your thing? You just come here and sit in your car?”

K started to deny it, then changed his mind. “That's right,” he said. “I sit here and concentrate, and my thoughts make things happen.”

“No way.”

“It's true.”

And it was. Across the street, Jana Fletcher's front door opened. David Malone stepped out, bare-chested, carrying his shirt. Tarzan.

“Hey, are you watching that guy?” the woman said. “Is this like a stakeout?”

“Yes,” said K. “It's like a stakeout.”

“Are you a cop?” the woman said, an edge of suspicion creeping into her voice. “Because I haven't done anything wrong.” She paused a beat. “Not yet anyway.”

“Are you planning to?”

“Maybe. But if you're a cop, you have to tell me. Otherwise it's entrapment.”

“I think you're mistaken,” said K.

“No, that's for real. It's like a law.”

“I think you may have an imperfect grasp of the law.”

Across the street, Malone locked Jana Fletcher's door. He stood on her steps in the sunlight, putting on his shirt.

“I don't think you're a cop,” the woman said to K. She raised the red cup to her lips and brought it down again. “Who is that guy?” she said.

“That's Tarzan,” said K. “The Ape Man.”

“You talk a lotta shit. Anyone ever tell you that?”

Malone buttoned his shirt as he walked to his truck.

“I'm leaving,” K said to the woman.

“That's a shame,” the woman said, smiling. “I was just warming up to you.”

Her teeth weren't bad, K thought. Just not quite straight.

“You want to go for a ride?” he said.

The smile got bigger. “I thought you'd never ask.”

•   •   •

T
he woman wore a sleeveless top and a short skirt. She had fine legs. K admired them when she got in the car, and stole glances at them as he drove along, following Malone. He tried to guess her age and decided she must be in her late twenties or early thirties. Still pretty, but cigarettes and too much sun were beginning to take a toll on the skin of her arms and chest. Her clothes seemed inexpensive, and she carried a cheap leather purse on a long, thin strap. But she wore a ring on her left hand, silver with a purple stone. An amethyst.

“What's your name?” he asked her.

“Jolene,” she said.

“Like the song?”

“What song?”

Up ahead, Malone's truck bounced over a set of railroad tracks. K thought about the woman's red Solo cup. He didn't want beer spilled in his car. He held out his hand for the cup and after a second she gave it to him. After they passed over the tracks, he gave it back to her.

“You've never heard that song?” he said.

“Maybe you could sing some. Maybe I'll recognize it.”

He tried to think of the words, could only remember the chorus.

“Jolene, Jolene, Jolene,
Jo-leeeeeene
.”

She rested the red cup on her thigh. “That's not much of a song,” she said. “You're just saying my name over and over.”

“There's more to it,” K said.

“It's good though. You have a nice voice. Did you ever sing in a choir?”

Malone's brake lights flared. He made a turn onto the main drag, Erie Boulevard, and headed downtown. K followed.

“I'm messing with you,” Jolene said. “About the song.”

“I thought you might be,” said K.

“It's Dolly Parton. I love that song. I just wanted to see if you'd sing it.”

•   •   •

M
alone drove past the university and the hospital and pulled into the lot of an apartment complex—an upscale version of the one across from Jana Fletcher's duplex. The pickup truck rolled into a numbered space close to one of the buildings, and K found a space marked
VISITOR
farther back.

He watched Malone disappear into the building. Impossible to tell which apartment was his. It could be useful to know. There was a row of mailboxes beside the entry door. There might be names on the boxes or there might just be numbers. K could go and check, but he wondered if there might be another way.

“What are we doing here?” Jolene asked him.

“Shhhh,” he said.

The building had three stories and each of the units on the top two floors had a balcony. More likely than not, David Malone lived on the second or third floor. Two chances out of three. K believed that if he concentrated, he could make Malone come out onto his balcony.

“How long are we gonna follow this guy?” Jolene asked.

K held up a finger to silence her, and she murmured something that sounded like “You're gettin' to be kind of a drag.” But she didn't say anything more. He focused on each balcony in turn, starting on the third floor, working his way left to right, then the second floor, right to left.

He came to the last one with no result and glanced over at Jolene. She was sitting quietly, balancing the red Solo cup on one knee. No hands.

He reached over carefully and picked it up. Held it in his lap while he started over with the balconies. He got through the third floor and halfway through the second before Jolene broke his concentration.

“I don't have germs, you know,” she said.

“What's that now?”

She pointed at the red cup. “You can have a drink if you want. You won't catch anything.”

“I'm not thirsty,” he said.

A bit of movement caught his eye. A car pulling into the space beside Malone's pickup truck.

“Well, maybe I'm thirsty,” Jolene said. “Did you ever think of that?”

The woman who got out of the car wore glasses and a doctor's white coat. K watched her go up the steps and into the building.

“Rude to hold on to it,” Jolene said, “if you're not even gonna drink it.”

K offered the cup to her. “Take it,” he said. “Just be careful. Use two hands.”

Up on the second floor—all the way on the left—David Malone stepped out onto his balcony. He put a mug of coffee on the railing.

“Two hands,” Jolene said. “What am I, a baby?”

“Shhhh,” said K.

“Are you shushing me again?” Jolene said. “I don't believe you.” She drank from the beer, holding it with two hands. “Oh wow,” she said. “Look, it's a guy on a balcony. This is great.”

Movement on the balcony, a door sliding, and out came the woman with the glasses. The white coat was gone; she wore blue hospital scrubs. Her hair had been pinned up before, but now it was down. Another beauty, K thought. Maybe Malone had them all over the city.

“Oooooh, hey,” Jolene said. “It's two people on a balcony.”

K tried to tune her out. He watched the scene unfold. Malone and the woman didn't look happy. They kept their distance from each other. Malone picked up his coffee and took a sip.

“Uh-oh,” Jolene said. “He's not using two hands.”

BOOK: The Last Dead Girl
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