Home > Her Last Word(15)

Her Last Word(15)
Author: Mary Burton

Fourteen years later, I heard she was dying. I came immediately and for weeks visited her daily. In an odd way, we are united again. When I tell her about the podcast, she smiles. She wants people to remember Gina.

“Aunt Audrey, what do you remember about that night? You said once you had a bad feeling about that day.”

“I really didn’t want you two girls to go, but it seemed silly to keep you home that night.” She traces the thin blue veins on her pale-white hand as she glances toward the tulips.


“Gina and I had had a terrible fight that day. You weren’t there to hear, but we had never shouted at each other like that.”

“What was the fight about?”

“I caught her talking to Randy Hayward. He was trouble, and I told her so. She laughed and said she wasn’t you and she’d be fine.”

We sit in silence for a minute.

“I woke up at midnight out of a sound sleep. I dreamed Gina had drowned. It left a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, so I got up. I called her phone, but she didn’t answer. She always answers. I called again. Nothing. I knew something had gone terribly wrong.”

Audrey’s last day was a gray winter morning. I was at her side listening to her breathing growing shallower with each inhale. Another fresh arrangement of white tulips arrived for her. There still was no card or note. And she never opened her eyes again so that I could show them to her. As her life slipped away, I was more determined than ever to find Gina.


Friday, March 16, 2018; 11:00 a.m.

The rain had stopped, but the air remained wet and raw. Adler parked in front of the two-story frame house at the corner of Libby and Grove Avenues. The tony area was just east of the University of Richmond, and it was home to several trendy restaurants, expensive clothing boutiques, and an exclusive school for girls.

Adler saw the discreet DOGWOOD HOMES sign, climbed the front steps, and pushed through the door to find a young man sitting behind a desk. Slicked-back hair accentuated a sharp jawline. He wore a crisp white shirt but no tie. His smile clicked on. “Can I help you?”

Adler removed his badge from his breast pocket. “I’m Detective John Adler. I’m looking for Mr. Larry Jenkins.”

“That’s me. I own the company.” His brow furrowed.

“I have a question about a property you’re representing.”

“Which one are you talking about?”

He rattled off Jennifer Ralston’s address. “In Church Hill.”

“I know the address well. Ms. Ralston signed the sales agreement a few days ago. The house is supposed to go on the market in a couple of weeks. What happened?”

“Right now I want to know who has access to the property.” If Adler explained there’d been a homicide, the whole dynamic of the conversation would change. Every word would be measured and weighted. Calculated.

“I do.”

“Anyone else?”

“I know Jennifer hired a stager a couple of weeks ago. There was also a painter to touch up the kitchen and a plumber to fix the downstairs sink in the bathroom. The gardeners aren’t scheduled to come until next week. Properties like hers go quickly, and the ones that are pristine will get multiple offers above asking price.”

“She’s not been in the house long. Why sell?”

“Why not ask her?”

“I’m asking you.”

He shoved his hands in his pockets. “Why do you care what I think?”

Adler raised a brow and leaned into his personal space, waiting for an answer. He could play this cat-and-mouse game in his sleep.

Jenkins relented and released a breath. “She said she didn’t like the city. She wanted to move to the suburbs. What’s really going on here?”

Adler let the silence linger between them, reminding Jenkins he ran this show. “She was murdered last night.”

Jenkins blinked for a moment as he processed the news. He slowly stood up but kept his hands on the desk to steady himself. “This is awful. Her sister must be devastated.”

“You know Ashley Ralston?”

He rubbed his temple. “I went to high school with Ashley. We graduated the same year.” His eyes narrowed. “You look familiar. Did you go to Saint Mathew’s?”

“I did, but a few years ahead of you.” Mention of Saint Mathew’s redirected his thoughts back to the Mason case. “So you would also have heard about Gina Mason.”

“Everyone at Saint Mathew’s knew about Gina. It’s a small school. There were just over sixty kids in the graduating class. The news hit everyone hard. At the ten-year reunion the class president had a moment of silence for her.”

“Were Jennifer and Gina good friends?”

Larry took his hands off the desk and stood more erect. “How does Gina relate to Jennifer’s death?”

“You just said everyone knew each other, and both these girls are dead. Just making sure I have all the pieces.”

“Sure, they were great friends.”

“Did you know a student named Kaitlin Roe?”

“Kaitlin? Sure. She was Gina’s cousin and a couple of years younger. Everyone at Saint M. knew about Kaitlin’s circumstances. It was a small community.” He fiddled with his watch. “Funny you should mention Kaitlin. She came by here last week.”


“She’s making a podcast about Gina. She’s on this mission to find the truth about her.”

“Why was she talking to you?”

“She’s talking to everyone in Gina’s class. She can’t guarantee what she’ll use.”

“How did you feel about the podcast?”

“I don’t know. Doesn’t seem like it will do much in the long run. But I guess it makes Kaitlin feel a little less guilty for leaving her cousin. I didn’t have any new information to tell her. Most likely my interview will end up on the cutting-room floor.”

“Were you there the night Gina vanished?”

“I was on vacation with my parents. I didn’t know what had happened for several days. It was a surreal time. Soon after, all the kids went to college. I guess life just kept moving forward.” He slowly came around the desk. “How did Jennifer die?”

“I can’t say right now.”

“And this happened last night?”

“It did.”

He twisted a gold cuff link. “I don’t know what else to say.”

“How many employees do you have?”

“It’s just me.”

“And you had a key to her house?”

“As did the housecleaning service.”

“Where is the key?”

“In a locked box.”

“Can I see it?”

“Sure.” Jenkins moved to a metal cabinet mounted to the wall in a back office. He punched a number into an electronic keyless lock, and the door opened. There were several dozen sets hanging in the cabinet. He handed Jennifer’s key to Adler.

The key was labeled with the number twelve and a four-digit code. “What are these numbers?”

“The small number corresponds to her address logged in a separate location, and the four-digit number is her security passcode.”

“Who else has access to this cabinet?”

“Just me. I planned to go out there today to put a lockbox on the front door with a key inside it. Should I still go?”

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