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Chapter 1

Gabriel

Sixteen Years Ago

 

She needed to die quickly with as little pain and mess as possible. So poison was out, as was strangulation, manual or otherwise. After all, he wasn’t a sadistic psycho, just an ordinary guy on an extraordinary mission. Absent mindedly, he fiddled with the knife in his pocket, then picked up the binoculars and scanned the upscale neighborhood again. All the yards were precisely landscaped. Not a blade of grass out of place. Shrubs trimmed. Leaves raked. Quiet. Tidy. Perfect. After the excitement died down, maybe he’d buy a house like one of these. Become a typical suburban dad. Wear a Red Sox cap backwards and shop at those huge home improvement stores, examining paint chips for hours, comparing one shade of yellow to another. Like the owners of the colonial across the street must’ve done. He wondered how many days or even weeks it had taken that couple to make their final decision. The clapboards were dandelion yellow. The dark green shutters matched the well-hydrated grass. And the six-paneled front door was an artfully faded, rusty shade of red. This family’s proud home had what people called curb appeal. Tons of it.

Would the privileged young wife he’d chosen for his first victim be thinking about opposite sides of the color wheel when he held the knife to her throat? Not likely. Her last thoughts would be about family, friends, love. Things he didn’t quite understand because he’d never had them.

He slouched down lower in the driver’s seat, took out the knife, fidgeted with it a little more, then slid it back into his pocket. All the while staring at the gray ranch house with the big front yard and willing her to come out. Alone.

She always had the baby with her and that made him nervous. The kid could easily ruin his plans. He needed to calm down and think rationally. Everything would be okay. All he had to do was choose a place where the child wouldn’t be heard if it screamed.

In the yellow colonial, a pale hand shifted a curtain aside then pulled it closed again. He flinched. What if they’d seen him? Not likely. The van was parked in a pool of darkness, far away from the closest streetlight. Even so, the what ifs unnerved him sometimes. Like what if he couldn’t bring himself to kill her?

Before his anxious brain could think up anything else to worry about, the front door of the small gray house opened and Rosemary Flagg stepped out. Seconds later, a sturdily built, golden haired toddler waddled through the doorway. At the top step the kid paused, turned around and descended backwards, with her butt in the air. When she got to the bottom, she spun around and ran toward the SUV parked in the driveway. Rosemary easily caught up with her, yanked the car door open, stuffed her into the car seat, slammed the door shut, climbed behind the wheel and backed out.

Victim number one was on the move. Gabriel started his engine but didn’t switch on the headlights. If she suspected he was there, even for a second, it could ruin everything. During the past few weeks, he’d spent hours following her, watching and waiting. If tonight was the night, he didn’t want to blow it by doing something stupid, like turning on the headlights too soon.

He touched the pulse on his throat and counted out ten slow, calm beats. Then he eased the van out of the shadows and headed down the dimly lit street. When she took a right at the stop sign, the red glow of her taillights disappeared, but he wasn’t worried. He knew she was headed to the local supermarket. For the fourth time this week. Make a list, honey. It might help. Then you won’t have to haul your unruly kid around town at all hours of the day and night. He glanced at the clock on the dash. The store closed in twenty minutes. He knew because he’d staked it out many times, sometimes when she was inside and sometimes even when she wasn’t. Just to get the lay of the land.

Up ahead, her car slowed down at the corner and took a left onto Main. Time to switch on the headlights, ease up on the gas and keep a safe distance away. He cruised behind her down several quiet side streets, until she reached an intersection and paused at the red light. When it changed to green, she drove on and he followed, staying three cars behind. His girl was a nice, slow cautious driver. After all, she had a baby on board and speeding was dangerous. His loud laugh split the silence of the van.

Seconds later, she pulled into the supermarket’s nearly empty parking lot and he followed, switching the headlights off again. Rosemary parked close to the entrance of the grocery store and he headed off in the opposite direction, toward the wooded area at the edge of the blacktop.

One-handed, Gabriel steered through the deepening shadows. Anticipation hummed through his mind and raced along his skin. The comforting weight of the weapon in his pocket soothed his excitement down to a manageable level.

He cruised along the outer parameter of the parking lot and chose a place far away from the security cameras. Then switched off the engine and sat back to wait. The white lines for the parking spaces were barely visible back here in the darkness. Dressed head-to-toe in black, he was even less visible.

He swept the binoculars across the deserted lot to gauge the distance between his van and Rosemary’s SUV. She was parked a short distance away, under the lamppost closest to the supermarket, in between him and the store. Perfect. No one would see him when he got out. Her car would block their view.

He double-checked his interior light to make sure it was off, then opened the door, crept out into the moonless night and raised the binoculars to his eyes.

Inside the store, only one cashier was on duty, a teenage girl. She was holding a metallic pink cell phone up close to her face and poking at the buttons. When the manager appeared she slid it back into the pocket of her apron.

Gabriel swung the binoculars back toward the dark parking lot so he could watch Rosemary carry the baby toward the well-lit store.

Next to the entrance she grabbed a cart and strapped the wriggling toddler into the baby seat. The kid, as usual, put up a huge stink. Kicking. Squirming. Screaming. Gabriel honed in on her little red face and read her lips. “Down! Down! Down!” Soon she gave up on getting down and tried to wriggle out of her jacket. “Off! Off! Off!” Rosemary ignored the temper tantrum and kept pushing the cart along. Eventually, the child quieted and they disappeared from sight.

At exactly eight fifty, the manager walked over to the door marked Entrance and locked it. At eight fifty-five, Rosemary Flagg, the last customer of the night, wheeled a full cart up to the checkout, completely unaware that her life was in danger.

Never once glancing up at the young mother and her child, the cashier chomped away on a wad of gum and scanned the items: a six pack of paper towels, three rolls of toilet paper, dish liquid, sponges, a bunch of grapes, a gallon of skim milk, two loaves of whole wheat bread, a jar of peanut butter, a large box of animal crackers, and of course, diapers. The girl tossed the groceries into some bags and flung them toward the end of the counter. Rosemary handed over a credit card and began to load everything into the cart.

While her mother was distracted, the kid wiggled out of the seatbelt, stood up and leaned toward the candy display. Within seconds she was sitting back down in the child seat, cramming a Twix bar into her mouth, wrapper and all.

Oblivious, Rosemary tucked the credit card back into her purse and smiled at the cashier, who never looked up. Waste of a perfectly good smile, Rosie, he whispered. When she finally caught sight of the baby’s chocolate covered face, she ran over and stuck her finger inside the kid’s mouth to fish out the last few fragments of wrapper. Then she wiped her hands and the baby’s face off with a tissue and gave the cashier a dollar to pay for the Twix. The teenager still didn’t look up. She grabbed the bill, placed it with the others in her drawer and began to count them so she could close out. Tomorrow, when the cops asked if she’d seen anything unusual, she’d have to answer, No. I was too busy worrying about missing the newest episode of Beverly Hills 90210 if that stupid lady and her annoying kid didn’t hurry up and leave.

Before Rosemary could push the cart more than a few feet away from the checkout counter the baby struck again, attacking her purse. Coins, credit cards, Tic Tacs, car keys, all tossed onto the floor. The little hellion was quick, uncontrollable and laughing like a lunatic. Typical two-year-old. He noticed she was no longer wearing her jacket, either. Persistent little thing, he thought as he watched Rosemary scramble around, gathering up the items.

Finally the automatic doors slid apart and his first victim left the yellow-lit safety of the store.

The manager locked the exit doors and turned his back on Rosemary and her child. Probably in a hurry to go home and microwave his supper. Apathy was Gabriel’s best friend tonight.

Unaware of his presence, Mrs. Flagg rolled the cart over to the SUV, lifted the rear door, unloaded the bags and slammed it shut. Then she picked up the baby who squealed and grabbed a handful of her mother’s hair. One finger at a time, Rosemary pried the sticky little fist open.

Finally, she hoisted the kid onto one cocked hip and reached for the door handle. This was his cue.

He tossed the binoculars into the van, tugged the sweatshirt hood closer around his face and started toward them. With each quickening step, questions and doubts flooded his mind, threatening to drown his confidence. Should I stop now? Find someone else? Give her a second chance?

No. Too late. Too much was at stake. He had chosen Rosemary Flagg to be the first and he had to stick to his plan. He’d been following her for weeks. He couldn’t wait any longer. She was it. The time was now.

Too nervous to breathe, he stood in the shadows and watched her fasten the baby into the car seat. The little girl batted both chubby fists at her mother’s head and yelled until Rosemary stuck a pacifier in her mouth. Gabriel crept closer, so close that he heard the click of the harness when she snapped it shut. The child was safe and secure.

Once again silence blessed the parking lot. Rosemary stood up and rested a hand on the open car door to steady herself. With one quick swing of the sap, he cracked her skull. Just as she began to collapse, he caught her, slung her over his shoulder and carried her off, into the darkness. Wait. What about the baby? With the child’s unconscious mother still slung over his shoulder, he ran back to the car. She stopped sucking on the binky and stared up at him. He snatched the pacifier and slipped it into his pocket.

Rosemary Flagg’s golden-haired baby girl sat there staring at him and asked, “Mama?” Then she began to scream.

Keep making all that noise, kid. Maybe one of those brain dead fools inside the store will notice you.

He hustled back to the van, stuffed the young mother inside and crawled in after her. First he zipped the plastic restraints onto her wrists and ankles, then pressed the duct tape over her mouth, hopped back out and slid the door shut. Finally he jumped into the driver’s seat and drove off into the night. After he’d cruised through the first two intersections, he glanced at the clock on the dash: nine past nine. It had taken less than four minutes to execute the plan he’d spent weeks perfecting.

On the way home, he obeyed the speed limit, came to a full stop at every stop sign and signaled before each turn. Everything had gone well. He was about to get away with murder. So where was the sense of accomplishment he had expected to feel at this point? Why wasn’t he pleased with himself?

Because he couldn’t stop thinking about her. Those wide-open, curious eyes. The puzzled look on her face when she said, “Mama?”

The echo of her screams in the dark parking lot.

Chapter 2

Harper

He’s Back

 

When someone dies we say Rest in Peace. But we don’t mean it. Instead we should say Come back. Come back and haunt our every waking moment and when we’re asleep, haunt our dreams. That’s how my father felt when my mother died. That’s how he still feels, sixteen years later. I don’t even remember her. I’m just a passenger aboard my father’s obsessive quest. He spends all his time trying to fill up the bottomless crater her tragic death blasted open. Even when he’s with me, he’s not. He never lives in the moment. Instead he’s thinking up ways to protect me from a death like hers. He has purposefully and methodically turned me into a fearless warrior. I’m the best female runner at my high school, a martial arts expert, and an accomplished marksman. I’m frighteningly good at self-defense and I drive one of the fastest cars on the road. Welcome to my kick ass life.

And today’s the day I might finally get to use all these skills for real. Dad has spent tons of time preparing us both for this day. After sixteen years, my mother’s killer has returned, once again flaunting his invisibility. Early this morning he took another young mother from the same parking lot where he stole mine. Lugged the poor woman away and left her baby safely strapped into the car seat. We haven’t heard yet if his most recent victim’s still alive, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Sixteen years ago, the authorities determined that he killed his victims within an hour of abducting them. If he’s sticking to the same plan, she’s already dead.

He sneaks up on them, knocks them unconscious, carries them off to his van and leaves their babies behind. Once they’re inside the van, he binds their wrists and ankles, gags them and drives to a secluded spot to finish them off. Then he stuffs them in a trash bag and dumps them in a different parking lot.

Shortly after he killed my mother, he abducted and killed two more women the same way. All three of these early victims had children who watched from their car seats. My mother was his first. A couple of weeks later he killed another woman. Then he waited two more weeks to kill a third. Afterwards he took a sixteen-year vacation from slicing up young moms on the go.

The FBI has several theories about what happened to him. He may have been arrested for something else and sent to prison. Or maybe he took his act abroad: a bilingual serial killer. Perhaps he simply changed his M.O., his modus operandi, his specific method of doing evil things to people.

Wherever he went, he’s back now. And that’s all that matters.

A few hours ago, during calculus class, Dad texted me. My phone was on vibrate, inside my pocket because the math teacher’s a colossal bitch. Dad should know. He dated her for half a second last year. Maybe if he hadn’t dumped her she’d be less heinous, but he wasn’t willing to make the sacrifice. I don’t blame him. She sucks.

Surreptitiously, I slid my phone out and checked the screen without unlocking it. There it was. Those tiny but powerful letters highlighted in white on the dark screen. He’s back. I forgot to breathe for a few seconds. Then started again, so I wouldn’t explode. He’s back. No further explanation needed. Dad and I have been anticipating this moment for years. The text means my mother’s killer has struck again. The Bad Guy’s back. Game on.

Chapter 3

Gabriel

Home Again, Home Again

 

Gabriel trussed-up his first Bad Guy-style victim in sixteen years, wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand and sat back on his heals to admire his work.

“This should get Harper’s attention,” he whispered.

The duct tape and plastic zip-ties were simply a precaution. He knew from experience; once he’d cracked them on the head, they never woke up. They never even stirred. It only took one flick of the wrist, a fast, hard tap to the skull and they were out. The sap was a flat leather weapon, shaped like a beaver’s tail and weighted with lead on one end. Small, easily concealed and lethal. Old school, but still effective. He always tried not to shatter the skull or lacerate flesh but occasionally the skin split a little, never very much, though. His goal was to render them unconscious and then finish them off with the blade later, not beat them to a bloody pulp with the sap. Jessica Phelps looked good. No visible contusions or blood. She should be out for at least ten more minutes, which was more than enough time.

He left his limp prize in the back of the van, slid the heavy door closed, hopped into the driver’s seat and took off. While he was driving away, he thought about the little boy he’d left in the dark parking lot, alone. As soon as he finished off the child’s mother, he’d turn on the news, and keep track of the story until he was sure Matthew Phelps was safe. He’d never forgive himself if something happened to one of the babies.

Chapter 4

Harper

Don’t Be Afraid, Be Ready

 

After school I race full speed through the hallway, firing off a quick text to the track coach. Feverish. Not exactly a lie. Going home to rest. Definitely a lie. I twirl the combination lock on my locker as fast as possible, right-left-right, and grab the handle. A large palm thunks down, next to my head. I don’t flinch or look up because I’m made of steel and I know who it is. Mark Cosgrove. Biggest, loudest douche in the whole school. Ignoring him, I jerk the handle up and fling open the door. He grabs it with his other hand and opens it wider making it impossible for me to ignore him. He has me boxed in and I have to be civil. Deep breaths. I’m not afraid, just trying to control my anger.

Last year I wasn’t so civil. My run-in with Mark cost me a three-day suspension from school. He had recently asked me out a couple of times and I had politely declined a couple of times. I underestimated how much my rejection had hurt his feelings. Even though I added a “thank you” to my “no” both times he felt the need to retaliate. One day, shortly after I’d said “no, thank you” for the second time, he and his friends were gathered around the girls’ locker room door afterschool. I needed to enter quickly because I was running late for track practice. As he moved out of the way to let me through, he delivered the punch line of a “rated explicit” blonde joke to his friends. The punch line of his eloquent and witty tale involved the use of the word “tits”. As he spoke this offensive word aloud, he ogled mine, head bent down and thrust forward, from less than a foot away. His friends thought this was hilarious but I didn’t find him funny at all. So I punched him in the eye.

I could’ve knocked him unconscious if I’d wanted to, but he hadn’t totally pissed me off. He had only annoyed me, so I held back. The next day you could barely see the dark, puffy ring around his eye. It wasn’t even black, only light gray. My intention was to shut him up, not annihilate him. Still, I got suspended and he got nothing. Not even suspension from the football team. Not even for one game. I missed an important cross-country race and two practices.

When the principal reviewed the videotape from the hallway surveillance camera Mark looked relatively innocent because there’s no sound on the black and white tapes. I was the only one who got in trouble because I was the only one who punched somebody.

Soon after this incident, Dad showed up at the Cosgrove’s front door and explained to Mark’s parents how the comments their son had been making in my presence, comments that had been overheard by several witnesses, would likely constitute sexual harassment in a court of law. Mr. and Mrs. Cosgrove decided not to file assault charges against me.

However, I wasn’t allowed to drive my car for two weeks. My grandmother chauffeured me everywhere in her big old 1995 Cadillac. Sometimes I got a ride from one of my friends. Dad made his point. I should never use my self-defense skills unless I actually need to defend myself. From an authentic physical attack. I can’t just haul off and slug someone who’s annoying me. My father lectured me for about an hour. I still remember his closing argument:

Harper, danger and violence are regrettable necessities. We only punch hard because the bad guys do. We only have big guns and fast cars because the bad guys have them. Don’t take it lightly. Don’t ever use force or weapons frivolously.

His parting line was, “Next time, use your words.”

So now I always try to follow his advice. I behave responsibly and use self-control. Mostly because Dad will take away my car if I don’t. I still think Mark had it coming, but I’m not going to argue with my father about it. And I’m not going to pull anything like that again. I always exercise admirable self-restraint and I have the freedom to drive my car whenever I want to.

After extracting a few things from my locker, I look up at Mark and smile without showing any teeth. I’m not going to speak first and I’m not going to touch him. This happens about once a week and I’m pissed that he’s pulling this shit today when I’m in a hurry, but I have to be patient. Peaceful resolution is the name of the game here. I need to be a nonviolent assassin. This quasi-aggressive behavior must be his way of saving face because a girl shut him up with a well-placed punch. I will allow him to save face but I will not allow him to intimidate me. If he touches me, I’m going to flip him onto his back before he can blink. But he keeps his hands to himself. Damn. I’d love an excuse to flatten him. Finally, one of his friends walks over and pulls on his arm.

“Let’s go, dude. Leave her alone. You’ve got more important stuff going on.”

“Yeah, way more important.”

Ooh, that stings, dick face. I’m not important to a big, loud-mouthed douche like Mark Cosgrove. What a monumental disappointment. I don’t insult him out loud, though. I only think about it. I’d like to deflate his fragile ego but I have ‘more important stuff going on’. Finally my self-appointed nemesis tilts his chin up and takes his time backing away. Probably because he’s afraid I’ll kick his stupid fat ass if he turns around. As soon as he puts a safe distance between us and finally shows me his back, I slam the locker door shut, fly out to the parking lot and hop into my silver Camaro SS; a sixteenth birthday gift from Dad. The deal was this: if I could prove I was a safe driver, he would buy me a car. And he did. My car’s a guy magnet, too, until the guy meets my father.

He’s a homicide detective for the Massachusetts State Police Department. Sold his profitable computer start-up two years after Mom died. Started training to become a cop. He changed from a scrawny, energy drink guzzling technology geek into a master of martial arts and an expert on weaponry. His body is his temple now and it’s the temple of doom. He can shoot the head off one of those man-shaped paper targets from fifty meters away, in less than five seconds, run a mile in under six minutes and five miles in thirty-five. He can bench press his weight. He’s ripped and smart and the most focused person I’ve ever met. My friends think he’s the shit, but they’re also afraid of him.

When my father isn’t busy neglecting me because he’s hunting down murderers, he’s obsessively overprotective. I’ve been on a few dates but never had a boyfriend. Whenever a guy comes over to hang out, Dad magically appears. Barges in, introduces himself and then gives the guy a tour of his weapons collection. He unlocks his walk-in safe and shows off his bo staffs, nunchacku, throwing stars and other stuff. Usually, shortly after they’ve taken the tour, they stop texting and calling.

I still haven’t figured out how he always knows exactly when to come home. He’s never home. Only if I’m hanging out with a guy. Then he’s all over the house: relaxing in front of the TV, popping popcorn in the microwave, whipping up a batch of oatmeal cookies, walking into whatever room we’re hanging out in and offering us lemonade. Stuff he never does. He’s not that kind of a dad. He’s not that kind of a human.

I’ve checked for hidden microphones and cameras but haven’t found any. Maybe my father has a sixth sense. Nah…the equipment’s just tiny and incredibly well hidden. I haven’t given up looking for it yet.

The upside of Dad’s overprotectiveness has been his insistence that I become an expert at self-defense. Rule number one when the killer returns is don’t be afraid, be ready. Arm yourself.

Sometimes I drive like the speed limit isn’t the law but merely a suggestion. This is one of those times. It takes me five minutes less than usual to get home from school.

I burst into the empty house, reach down inside the neck of my t-shirt and pull out the gold chain that always hangs around my neck. The chain was my mother’s. The key dangling from it was a gift from my dad. It unlocks the closet in his room. In the same closet is another gift from Dad: a police-model pepper spray canister.

I can’t get a handgun until my 21st birthday. Damn Massachusetts’ gun laws. Until then I have to make do with pepper spray. At least I own the best model, though. It’s about four and a half inches tall and contains pepper spray, mace and teargas. With it, you can shoot a twelve-foot stream of this highly effective concoction straight into your attacker’s face. There’s dye in the canister, too, so the police will be able to identify whatever ass hat decides to mess with me. He’ll be easy to identify anyway, because after I shoot him between the eyes with a shit-ton of agony causing chemicals, I’m going to run over and kick the crap out of him. His face will be all bloody and bruised and covered with dye. No one will have any problem identifying him.

Normally I don’t carry the pepper spray around. But now that the killer’s back, I’ll always have it on me, unless I’m at school.

The public schools of Massachusetts don’t allow students to arm themselves with any type of weapon. Even when you’re not inside a public school, you actually have to have a Firearms I. D. card just to carry pepper spray, unless you’re over eighteen. As soon as I turned fifteen, I got my FID and I’ve practiced regularly with the spray canister since then. It’s tucked into the waistband of my pants, above the small of my back, like a gun. That way, in one smooth motion, I can pull it out fast and aim at my attacker. It’s best to practice in a dark room. Reach back, whip it out and fire a twelve-foot stream into his face. The Bad Guy’s face. I can’t wait.

I unlock my father’s closet door, yank it open and stare at the pyramid of brand-new sneaker boxes. There it is, the box with 100% Forever written in black permanent marker on the end, right below the size label: 13.5 Regular. My dad has big, fast feet and he likes expensive shoes. I open it, toss aside the lid and disentangle the three hundred dollar sneakers from their cocoon of tissue paper. The pepper spray’s shoved into the toe of the right running shoe.

Wishing it was a pistol, I tuck it into the back of my jeans, run to the garage, jump into my car and take off for the firing range, full speed ahead. I can’t carry a handgun but I can practice for when I’m older. A lot of cops hang out there and everyone knows my father. There’s always someone who’ll sign me in.

After pushing a few buttons on the car radio, I finally find a station broadcasting the news. The announcer’s fast monotone recites the facts: “Massachusetts State Police Detective Thomas J. Flagg is at the scene now. A member of the homicide division of the state police detective unit, Flagg is an authority on serial killers and a consultant to the FBI. He was also the husband of the late Rosemary Flagg, murdered in September of 1999, by the serial killer the press dubbed ‘The Bad Guy’. The facts about today’s kidnapping bear a close resemblance to the details of the abduction that led to Mrs. Flagg’s death sixteen years ago. To this day, her murder remains unsolved.”

He doesn’t mention me because Dad has warned the media that they’ll never get any information from him about any of his cases if they come near me. But sometimes I like to imagine what they’d say if he hadn’t warned them off: Detective Flagg is also the proud father of Harper Flagg, a senior at Eastfield High School. Harper’s a track star and an honor student and has been accepted into the criminology program at River Wind University, where she’ll start college this fall. One day she hopes to make it all the way to the FBI. Sixteen years ago, when she was only a baby, she watched a madman carry her mother’s unconscious body away. The poor kid doesn’t remember a thing about that night.

I was the only witness to his first crime. No matter how hard the cops tried to coax the details out of me, I couldn’t tell them anything.

They kept asking, “What did he look like?”

No answer.

“Who took your mama?”

No answer.

Wrapped in my father’s arms, hoarse from wailing at the top of my lungs, I was almost asleep when they tried one last time. “Who took your mama?”

Finally, I whispered an answer. “The Bad Guy.”

The media got hold of it and this silly, generic term became his nickname. How understated considering his spectacular, meticulous style and his success record. He must have been disappointed.

Sixteen years ago, the cops pieced together the details of the Bad Guy’s first murder without my help. Based on almost no evidence, they theorized that he snuck up behind my mother when she was bending over to buckle me into the car seat. Then he whacked her over the head. He must have hit her pretty hard, because they found a few drops of her blood on one of my shoes.

After he knocked her unconscious, he raced over to his van and tossed her into the back. Bent her ‘round backwards, hogtied her hands to her ankles, covered her mouth with duct tape and drove somewhere private to finish her off.

Did she suffer? I go over the details in my mind every night before I fall asleep. It works better than counting sheep. Or praying. No one’s god can bring her back.

The moment he arrived back at his lair, he killed her. There were no signs of struggle on her body, so he probably did it while she was still unconscious. From behind, he slit open her carotid artery with a gruesomely sharp knife, gripped in his left hand. She bled out in ninety seconds. Never regained consciousness. Once she was dead, he wrapped her up in an extra large, heavy-duty trash bag, along with the clear plastic tarp he used as a drop cloth, loaded her back into his van, drove to a different store parking lot and dumped her where she was sure to be found. Either he was invisible or he knew exactly how to avoid being seen.

He didn’t handle her much before or after she died, pre or post mortem. He worked fast and left no traceable physical evidence behind. Brilliant.

She never saw or heard him. She never knew what hit her. She didn’t have time to feel afraid. So, no, she didn’t suffer. She left that job for my dad. And he’s good at it.

He shrank the seven stages of grief down to two, starting with denial and ending with murderously pissed off. He skipped all the other steps because they were a waste of time. He had more important things to do. Miles to go. Stuff to accomplish. Killers to hunt. My personal theory: he thought if he worked hard enough he could become the kind of detective who could solve a case like ours. Where the other cops had failed, he would succeed. And nail the Bad Guy to a wall. No one else would ever have to die the way Rosemary Flagg had.

I wish I could remember something about that night, but I can’t. As soon as I was old enough to ride my bike to the library, I looked up the story in the local newspaper’s online archives. The reporter who covered the Bad Guy’s first crime over-dramatized a tale that was already emotional enough, if you ask me. But no one ever has.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Alyson Larrabee is the author of *Enter If You Dare* and *Her Evil Ways*, both paranormal romances. *Hidden in the Dark*, a mystery & thriller, is her third novel. A graduate of Oliver Ames High School, Emerson College and Bridgewater State University, Alyson has three grown children and lives with her husband, and a very poorly behaved hound called Nigel, in Easton,MA. She’s interested in local history and likes to take long walks through old cemeteries. She also loves Earl Grey tea, small children, and large dogs.

Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
My mother loved Alfred Hitchcock's movies, especially Psycho. It's one of the few movies that's better than the book. He terrified us with suspense instead of nauseating us with gore. Mum and I were huge fans of his accent and his darkly twisted sense of humor.
Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
Thomas Harris' books inspired some of my best nightmares. I've always been half in love with, half petrified of Hannibal Lecter. For romance, Jane Austen can’t be topped. Put these two genres together, like Daphne DuMaurier did in Rebecca, and the literary experience is heavenly.
Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
I have an Instagram, a Wordpress blog, a Twitter account, a Pinterest account, an author Facebook page, an Amazon author page and a Goodreads author page. Also, I’ve done some book talks here in Massachusetts, for clubs, libraries and bookstores.

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