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Her Last Word(2)
Author: Mary Burton


“Do you ever think about where she is now? I do. Every night. So many terrible things could have happened to her.”

“I know you.” Her voice trailed off.

Her pain focused her attention completely on him. He knelt beside her so she could get a good look at his eyes. “Accept your punishment, and you will feel peace.”


“It’s the only way now.” He slowly wrapped her fingers around the knife handle and gently placed his hand over hers. He felt a strong bond with her now.

He raised the knife to her neck. “Jennifer, do you want to do it, or should I?”

Tears filled her eyes. “I don’t want to die.”

“Punishment is never easy, but once you accept it, you will feel better.”

She shook her head. “No. Please.”

“We’ll do it together.” He drew the sharp tip across her throat, slicing her milk-white flesh. Blood sprayed on him, the walls, and the door as her eyes rolled back in her head and her fingers slackened.

“And if I could fly with that Angel . . . my life would be perfect.”

“Jennifer, when you see God, put a good word in for me.”



Sunday, August 15, 2004; 11:42 p.m.

It was a hot, muggy night when I stumbled up to the front door of the Riverside Drive house. I was fairly new to the area and still easily turned around. It was nearly midnight, and the residents of this affluent neighborhood weren’t accustomed to drunken late-night visitors. I’d lost track of time and to this day don’t know how I made it up the hill from the river to the Hudson residence.

Dispatcher: “911. What’s your emergency?”

Caller: “My name is Jack Hudson. I live on Riverside Drive. There’s a young woman on my front porch. She’s banging on the door and begging for help.”

Dispatcher: “Have you spoken to her?”

Caller: “Just for a second. She appears drunk. She’s incoherent. Hysterical . . . Oh, shit! She just threw up in the flower bed.”

Dispatcher: “Do you know why she’s upset?”

Caller: “She claims she and her friend were attacked on Riverside Drive. Her friend was then kidnapped.”

Dispatcher: “Did you ask the woman her name?”

Caller: “Her name is Kaitlin. I didn’t catch her last name. She lives down the street with the Mason family. They have a daughter, Gina.”

Dispatcher: “I’ve dispatched officers. What is the woman doing?”

Caller: “She’s pacing in my driveway.”

Dispatcher: “Is she bleeding or hurt in any way?”

Caller: “I can’t tell. Let me flip on the porch lights.” Feet shuffle. A switch clicks. “She has blood on her arms. Jesus, she looks insane.”


Richmond, Virginia

Thursday, March 15, 2018; 9:00 p.m.

Homicide detective John Adler held up his badge for the uniformed cop and caught the young officer’s surprised expression. There’d been lots of rumors circling around about Adler during his prolonged leave of absence. He had kept up enough to hear his new nicknames, including Firewalker, Burning Man, and his favorite, Hot Pants. He didn’t begrudge the dark sense of humor cops developed to stay sane.

Three months ago, Adler and his rookie partner, Greg Logan, had been investigating an arsonist who’d set seven fires in the Richmond area and killed three people. Working off an informant’s tip, they’d approached what they thought was one of the arsonist’s former residences.

Adler had entered first. Logan had been ten feet behind him when Adler flipped on a kitchen light switch, which instantly triggered an incendiary device. The blast blew behind Adler and seared the skin on his back as its force threw him forward. His ears ringing and fire roaring around him, he’d pushed up on his hands and knees and staggered toward his partner, who had been near the explosion. Logan had been thrown across the room and was lying in a heap.

He’d pulled his partner from the burning house and called for help. They’d both survived, but Adler had spent a couple of weeks in the burn unit. Logan had lost his left leg.

The uniform shifted and, lifting the tape, grinned. “Detective Adler. Good to have you back, sir.”


“You’re a hero.”

Though he didn’t mind the humorous nicknames, Adler hated the designation of hero, a title he didn’t want or deserve. “Is Detective Quinn inside?”

“Yes, sir.”

The crime scene tape was looped over the wrought iron railing of the townhome in the historic Church Hill district. Spring was teasing the city with a warm spell and had lulled them into thinking winter had passed. But he knew Mother Nature wasn’t ready to dismiss winter.

This section of town was picturesque and loaded with charm. Finished with the buzz of nightlife and the lure of laughing crowds, he’d opted to move out of the city to the country two months ago. He liked the idea of not locking his doors, but he had been a homicide cop too long not to.

He climbed the steep stone steps and strode across the porch past an oval brass plaque that read RICHMOND, VIRGINIA, 1903. This house, like the city, had deep roots. Church Hill was the original location of the city, and then like most urban areas suffered when the population fled to the suburbs. Now the tide had changed, and after decades of neglect and decay, Church Hill was enjoying a renaissance. Young professionals seeking a trendy address were willing to ignore poverty and crime. They snapped up these forgotten homes and undertook major renovations while keeping the architectural charm of the period. The drug dealers, pimps, and prostitutes would have to live somewhere else.

Adler fished out black latex gloves from his coat pocket as he paused in the entryway. This house had the typical floor plan of its era. It was built long and narrow with high ceilings. To the right, a parlor connected to a dining room via huge wooden pocket doors. The occupant had done what many did and flipped the parlor and dining rooms. When the pocket doors were closed, expensive home-entertainment and computer equipment were hidden from view and hopefully safe from theft.

The center hallway shot straight to a kitchen, and he caught a glimpse of the standard white marble countertops and stainless steel appliances, the favorite of current remodelers. To his left was a long staircase with an ornate hand railing rising to the second floor. The flash of a camera above told him he’d find his latest case upstairs.

The 911 call had come from the victim’s sister. They’d planned a night out, which included a lecture and then drinks. When the sister couldn’t get the victim to answer the door, she’d used her key. She found her sister stabbed in the shower.

Adler threaded his fingers together, working the gloves deeper onto his hands as he paused by the stairs and looked toward a side table where a woman’s oversize black purse sat. Next to it were keys attached to a brass key ring shaped like the letter C. Several steps from the table were black pumps. One stood upright, and the other tilted gently against it like an old friend. It didn’t appear she had been hurried or forcibly rushed when she came in the door.

He walked toward the kitchen, where an open bottle of wine sat on the marble counter. He moved to the back door in the kitchen. The dead bolt was unlocked. He twisted the knob, and as he pulled the heavy door open, he heard a chime. The security system appeared to be in working order.

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