Home > Her Last Word(7)

Her Last Word(7)
Author: Mary Burton

“But why you? Is this some kind of artist’s way of pointing out how the cops failed to close this case?”

“They did fail,” she said, cutting her eyes toward Adler.

Less than a foot separated them as he studied her like a puzzle with too many missing pieces. “That’s the reason you decided to open this fourteen-year-old cold case?”

“You need more, Detective Adler?”

“I’ve been a homicide detective too long not to know when there’s more, Kaitlin.”

She blew out a breath, wrestling with her temper and the guilt she’d carried since the night Gina vanished. Lying or avoiding the question might stall him, but it wouldn’t erase what she’d done. “Gina’s kidnapper told me to run. I could have stayed and fought him. I could have tried to save my cousin, but I didn’t. And she’s gone.”

Absently he rubbed the scar on his right hand as he studied her. There might have been a slight softening of the gaze. “Why were you living with your aunt and uncle in high school?”

“My brother killed himself a few years before that. I got into drugs to numb the pain. I started to spiral down fast. My mother thought rehab and a fresh start in Virginia would save me.”

He didn’t speak, letting the silence push her to finish her explanation.

“After I returned to Texas, I thought I was getting on with my life. I was doing well for myself. None of my new friends knew about what had happened here. And then I went to a costume party.” She felt ridiculous articulating the answer.

He looked at her with genuine interest and no hints of judgment. “What does a party have to do with this?”

Despite herself, she could almost imagine he was here to help and they were on the same team. “This time two years ago, I ran the film division of an ad agency. The firm was having a Halloween party.” Telling him what happened was awkward. “It was a costume party, and one of the guys in accounting showed up wearing a clown mask. It had a big grin, a round red nose, arching eyebrows, and orange hair.” She blew out a breath. “The instant I saw it, my chest tightened and I freaked out.”

He was listening very closely.

“The man who took Gina was wearing a clown mask just like that one. There are probably thousands like it in the world. But this one triggered a panic attack.” The episode couldn’t be backpedaled or whitewashed. The skeletons in her closet wouldn’t be ignored any longer.

“And you decided to make a podcast.”

He made it sound so simple. “First, I started by going back to AA. Without the booze to dull my feelings, I started really thinking about Gina again. I realized what happened fourteen years ago hadn’t left me. I quit my job and moved back to Richmond.”

He removed a notebook and Montblanc from his breast pocket. “Where did you work?”

“Hayes Morgan Advertising Agency.” She hesitated to add information but knew honesty now might help her gain his trust. “When I worked there I went by the name Lyn Tyler.”

He wrote down the name in heavy, bold block letters. “Why change your name?”

“After Gina vanished, I came under media scrutiny. There were a lot of unwanted calls that didn’t let up until I moved back to Texas. I finally started using a different name.”

“So you have what amounts to a panic attack and decide to return to Virginia. You said you spoke to Jennifer. Have you interviewed anyone else?”

“Other than Jennifer—Erika Crowley, anyone who knew Gina, and the now-retired detective assigned to her case. I’m still trying to get an interview with Randy Hayward, but he’s in your city jail facing murder charges and won’t see me.”

He made notes as she spoke and then lifted his gaze to hers. “I need copies of all your interviews, starting with Jennifer’s.”

“The audio files are raw and unedited. I’m not ready to share them yet.”

“I’m investigating a murder. Are you saying you’re refusing to cooperate?” In an instant, challenge stripped away any gentleness in his tone.

Renewed anger crushed whatever connection she’d imagined between them. “So far I’ve gotten no help from you or any other cops. I left a dozen messages with the missing person and homicide departments. And you’re accusing me of not cooperating?”

“You have information, Kaitlin, and I need to see it.”

She stood and slid her palms over her jeans. “I don’t trust cops.”

He stood and towered over her as he shoved the notebook and pen in his breast pocket. “I picked up on that. But that isn’t an excuse to hold back information in a murder investigation.”

“I can’t believe my project has any bearing on your case. Gina vanished fourteen years ago.”

“How can you be certain they aren’t linked?”

Kaitlin was sure. At least nearly. But she knew the doubt would eat away at her. Better to take her chances with this cop than carry more regret.

He leaned in a fraction. “Can I take that silence as a yes? Or do I get a warrant?”

Guys like him held all the cards. She could play hardball and stall, but she didn’t have the legal firepower or money to fight it. “I can drop off a disc at your office.”

He fished a card from his breast pocket and handed it to her. “I’d like it tomorrow.”

She flicked the edge of the card, studying his name and Homicide Division. Cops were chameleons. They changed personas instantly. Savior. Tormenter. Two sides of the same coin. “Sure.”

He looked around the studio, surveying windows, exits, and locks. “Have you noticed anyone following you?”

“No.” The skin on her neck tightened. “Why, should I?”

“You’re here by yourself?”

Tension rippled over her body. “Yeah. The last guest left a few minutes before you arrived. I’ve a few chairs left to stack, and I’ll be done.”

“I’ll walk you to your car, okay?” The question mark didn’t soften the directive.

Her knee-jerk response was to refuse. The farther she stayed away from him, the better. But Jennifer’s death had rattled her. Already she replayed their interview and wondered what she’d missed. Jesus. Jennifer was dead. “Thank you.”

Adler loaded the last chairs onto the stack as she collected her backpack, folded up the picture of Gina, and slid it into a portfolio case. She fished her mace and keys out of her bag. “I need to dump the trash.”

He picked up the trash bag. “Let’s go.”


At the door, she shut off the lights and stared into a darkness ripe with an eerie weight now pressing on her chest. Anxious to leave, she snapped the door wider. A rush of cool air greeted her. She raised an unsteady hand, shoved the key in the heavy dead bolt, and locked it. She started toward the dumpster in the alley, but he stayed slightly in front while keeping her near the wall.

He followed her across the street to the lot where her SUV was parked beside a dark cruiser.

“Thanks for the escort.”

“Where do you work?”

“I teach film at the university.”

“You’ve a degree in film?”

“A bachelor of arts and a master’s.”

“How long have you taught?”

Given another set of circumstances, he’d have sounded conversational. “About six months. Not a full professor. I’m an adjunct.”

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