MOSES LAKE, WASHINGTON – 1992
She turned the key in the ignition, and nothing happened, just a hollow click, click, click.
“Oh, shit,” Kristin murmured. She felt a little pang of dread in her stomach.
The battery couldn’t be dead, because the inside dome light had gone on when she’d climbed into her Ford Probe a minute ago.
Biting her lip, Kristin gave the key another twist. Click, click, click. Nothing.
It was 11:20 on a chilly October night. Hers was the only car in the restaurant lot. Kristin had just finished a seven-hour shift waiting tables at The Friendly Fajita. She’d closed up the place with Rafael, the perpetually horny 19-year-old busboy, and he’d just taken off on his rusty, old Harley. Kristin could still hear its engine roaring as he sailed down Broadway. It was the only sound she heard.
There was a phone in the restaurant, and she had a key. But she and Rafael had already set the alarm. It would go off if she went back inside, and she could never remember the disarm code—especially while that shrill incessant alarm was sounding. She’d have to go look for a phone someplace else—and then call a tow company or a cab. Her boyfriend, Brian, was out of town—at a golf tournament down in San Diego.
“Please, please, please,” she whispered, trying the ignition once again. The car didn’t respond—except for that hollow click, click, click.
“Damn it to hell,” she grumbled. Grabbing her purse and a windbreaker from the passenger seat, Kristin climbed out of the car and shut the door. She didn’t bother locking it.
She took a long look down the street. Most of the other businesses along this main drag were closed for the night. There were a couple of taverns further down Broadway. Kristin loathed the idea of hoofing several blocks along the roadside. The waist-length windbreaker didn’t quite cover her stupid waitress uniform. The Friendly Fajita’s owner, Stan Munch, who was about as Mexican as she was, made her wear this senorita get-up with a white, off-the-shoulder peasant blouse and a gaudy, purple, green and yellow billowy skirt—over a petticoat, for God’s sakes. With her short, blonde hair, green eyes and pale complexion, she looked like an idiot in the outfit. But, hell, anyone would appear ridiculous in it. The thing looked like a Halloween costume.
The Friendly Fajita had been open for four months, and it was floundering. Moses Lake didn’t need another Mexican restaurant. Besides, the food was mediocre and overpriced. And if that wasn’t enough to drive customers away, Stan had the same two Herb Alpert CDs on a continuous loop for background authenticity. If Kristin never heard The Lonely Bull again in her life, it would be too soon.
Maybe she could flag down a cop car—or a Good Samaritan. Kristin ducked back into the Probe just long enough to pop the hood and switch on the hazard lights. She figured that would make it easier for passers-by to see that she needed help. Of course, she was also making it easier for the wrong person to see that she was stranded.
It suddenly occurred to Kristin: someone might have sabotaged her car. Just a little sugar in the gas tank—that was all it took. She’d read that before he started killing, the young Ted Bundy liked to screw with women’s cars; so he could later watch them when they were stranded—and vulnerable.
He just watched them. It turned him on.
Kristin wondered if someone was looking at her right now as she stood beside her broken-down car in front of the darkened restaurant. Maybe he was across the street by the flower shop. He could be hiding in the shadows behind those bushes, studying her through a pair of binoculars.
Or maybe he was even closer than that.
She shuddered and rubbed her arms. “Stop it,” Kristin muttered to herself. “You’re perfectly safe. There aren’t any serial killers in Moses Lake.”
Still, she reached inside her purse and felt around for the pepper spray. She wondered if it even worked any more. She’d bought the little canister over two years ago while a junior at Eastern Washington University in Cheney. She’d majored in graphic design, and planned to move to Seattle. But Brian got a job as the golf pro at one of Moses Lake’s courses. It was a big resort town. Kristin had decided to put Seattle on hold, and stick with Brian for a while. There wasn’t much need for a graphic artist in Moses Lake. So—here she was, dressed up like a Mexican peasant girl and stranded outside the Friendly Fajita at 11:30 on a cold Wednesday night.
Kristin kept the pepper spray clutched in her fist.
One car passed the restaurant, and didn’t even slow down. She waited, and then gave a tentative wave to an approaching pick-up; but it just whooshed by. Kristin glanced at her wristwatch: only two cars in almost five minutes. Not a good sign.
She noticed a pair of headlights down the road in the distance. Kristin stepped toward the parking lot entrance, and started waving again—more urgently this time. As the vehicle came closer, she noticed it was an old, beat-up station wagon with just one person inside. It looked like a man at the wheel. He got closer, and she could see him now. He was smiling—almost as if he’d been expecting to find her there.
A chill raced through her. Kristin stopped waving and automatically stepped back.
The station wagon turned into the restaurant parking lot. Warily, Kristin eyed the man in the car. He was in his late thirties and might have been very handsome once, but he’d obviously gone to seed. His face looked a bit bloated and jowly. The thin brown hair was receding. But his eyes sparkled, and she might have found his smile sexy—if only she weren’t so stranded and vulnerable. Right now, she didn’t need anyone leering at her.
He rolled down his window. “Looks like you could use some help.” The way he spoke, it was almost a come-on.
Kristin shook her head and backed away from the station wagon. “Um, I already called someone and they should be here any minute, but thanks anyway.”
“You sure?” the man asked, his smirk waning.
“Positive, I—” Kristin hesitated as she noticed the beautiful little girl sitting beside him in the passenger seat. She had a book and a doll in her lap. The child smiled at her.
“Wish I knew more about car engines,” the man said. “I’d get out and take a look for you, but it wouldn’t do any good. Want us to stick around in case this person you called doesn’t show up?” He turned to the child. “You don’t mind waiting, do you, Annie?”
The little girl shook her head, then started sucking her thumb. She glanced down at her picture book.
The father gently stroked her hair. And when he smiled up at Kristin again, there was nothing flirtatious about it. “Would you like us to wait?” he asked.
Kristin felt silly. She shrugged. “Actually, it’s been a while since I called these people. Maybe I should phone them again.” She nodded toward the center of town. “I think there’s a pay phone at this tavern just down Broadway. Would you mind giving me a lift?”
“Well, if you live around here, we can take you home.” He turned to his daughter again. “Should we give the nice lady a ride to her house, honey?
Breaking into a smile, the girl nodded emphatically. “Yes!” She even bounced in the passenger seat a little.
Kristin let out a tiny laugh. “I don’t want to take you out of your way.”
“Nonsense,” the man said, stepping out of the car. He left the motor running. “We’ve taken a vote and it’s unanimous. We’re driving you home.”
He touched Kristin’s shoulder on his way to the passenger door. He opened it, then helped the girl out of the front seat. “This is my daughter, Annabelle,” he said. “And her dolly, Gertrude.”
“This isn’t Gertrude!” the girl protested. “This is Daisy! Gertrude is home with—”
“Oops, sorry, sorry,” her father cut in. He gave Kristin a wink. “I’ve committed a major faux pas, getting the names of her dollies mixed up.” He opened the back door for his daughter. “C’mon, sweetheart, climb in back and buckle up. And hold onto Daisy. Let’s hurry up now. This nice lady is tired, and wants to go home.”
Kristin hurried back to her car, switched off the blinkers, locked the doors and shut the hood. Then she returned to the station wagon. “I live on West Peninsula Drive,” she said, climbing into the front passenger seat. The man closed the door for her.
The car was warm, and smelled a little bit like French fries. She noticed an empty Coke can and a crumbled-up Arby’s bag on the floor by her feet.
The man walked around the front of the car, then got behind the wheel. He pulled out of the parking lot.
Kristin looked back at her broken-down Ford Probe. She’d call the tow company in the morning. Right now, she just wanted to get home and take a shower. She turned to the man and smiled. “I really appreciate this.”
Eyes on the road, he just nodded. He seemed very intent on his driving.
Kristin glanced over her shoulder at the little girl. “Thank you for giving me your seat, Annabelle.”
“You’re welcome,” the child said, her nose in the book.
“So—how old are you, Annabelle?”
The girl looked up at her and smiled. She really was beautiful—a little girl with an adult face. Kristin had seen photos of Jackie Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor when they were around this child’s age, and they had that same haunting mature beauty to them.
“I’m four-and-a-half years old,” she announced proudly.
“My, you’re almost a young lady!” Kristin turned forward again. “She’s gorgeous,” she said to the man.
But he didn’t reply. Another car sped toward them in the oncoming lane. Its headlights swept across his face. He had the same strange, cryptic smile Kristin had noticed when first spotting him.
She squirmed a bit in the passenger seat. Moses Lake was an oasis. Just three minutes outside of the bright, busy resort town, it became dark desert—with a smattering of homes. Kristin’s and Ted’s townhouse was in the dark outskirts.
“Um, you need to take a left up here,” she said, pointing ahead. But he wasn’t slowing down. “It’s a left here,” she repeated. “Sir…”
He sped past the access road. “Oh, brother, I can’t believe I missed that,” he said, slowing down to about fifteen miles per hour. “I’m sorry. I’ll find a place to turn around here. I must be more tired than I thought. My reaction time is off.”
Biting her lip, Kristin wondered why he didn’t just make a U-turn. There was hardly any traffic.
“Here we go,” he announced, turning right onto a street marked DEAD END. They crawled past a few houses along the narrow road. Kristin counted six driveways he could have used to turn his car around. They inched by the last streetlight, and the darkened road became gravelly. Kristin noticed a house under construction on her right.
“I think there’s a turn-around coming up,” he said, squinting at the road ahead.
Kristin swallowed hard, and didn’t say anything. The car was barely moving. Its headlights pierced the unknown darkness ahead of them. “Can’t we—can’t we just back up and turn around?” she asked.
“I’m beginning to think you’re right,” he said. He shot a look in the rear view mirror. “How are you doing back there, honey? You tired?”
“Kind of,” the child replied with a whimper.
“She’s up way past her bedtime,” the man said. “But I needed her tonight. She’s daddy’s little helper.”
The car came to a stop. The headlights illuminated the end of the road—and a long barricade, painted with black and white diagonal stripes. Beyond that, it was just blackness.
Puzzled, Kristin stared at the man. “Why did you need your daughter tonight?”
He smiled at her—that same cryptic smirk. “If she weren’t here, you never would have climbed into this car with me.”
Daddy’s Little Helper.
All at once, Kristin realized what he was telling her. She quickly reached into her purse for the pepper spray. She didn’t see his fist coming toward her face.
She just heard the little girl give out a startled yelp. “Oh!”
That was the last thing Kristin heard before the man knocked her unconscious.
“God, please! Somebody help me!”
An hour had passed and they’d driven thirty-five miles.
The little girl sat alone in the front passenger seat of the old station wagon. With a tiny flashlight that had a picture of Barbie on it, she looked at her picture book.
“Please, no! Wait…wait…no…”
The woman’s shrieks seemed to echo through the forest, where the car was parked along a crude trail. But the child paid little attention. She turned the page to her book, and tapped at the dashboard with her toes. Cold and tired, she wanted to go home. She wondered when her daddy would be finished with his “work.”
When the screaming stops, that’s usually when he’s almost done.
She told herself it would be soon.
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – FIFTEEN YEARS LATER
Someone had a Barenaked Ladies CD blasting. The music drifted out to the backyard—along with all the talking, laughing and screaming from the party inside the townhouse. The place was a cheesy, slightly run-down rental down the street from the University of Washington’s fraternity row. Amelia wasn’t sure who was giving the party. A bunch of guys lived in the townhouse, sophomores like herself. One of them—a total stranger—had stopped her this morning when she’d been on her way to Philosophy class, and he’d invited her. That happened to Amelia all the time. She was constantly getting asked to parties. It had something to do with the way she looked.
Amelia Faraday was tall, with a beautiful face and a gorgeous, buxom figure. She had shoulder-length, wavy black hair and blue eyes. She also had a drinking problem, and knew it. So she’d declined many invitations to drink-till-you-drop campus bashes. Her boyfriend, Shane, didn’t like the idea of strange guys inviting Amelia to parties anyway. Among their friends, they were nicknamed the Perrier Twins, because they always asked for bottled water at get-togethers.
But tonight, Amelia wanted a beer—several beers, in fact, whatever it took to get drunk.
A few people had staggered out to the small backyard, where Amelia stood with a beer in one hand, and the other clutching together the edges of her bulky cardigan sweater. She gazed up at the stars. It was a beautiful, crisp October Friday night.
She had a little buzz. This was only her second beer, and already, results. It happened quickly, because she’d been booze-free for the last seven weeks.
Shane didn’t understand why she needed alcohol tonight. “Before you drink that beer,” he’d whispered to her a few minutes ago in the corner of the jam-packed living room. “Maybe you should call your therapist. Explain to her why you need it so badly.”
In response, Amelia had narrowed her eyes at him, and then she’d chugged half the plastic cup full of Coors. She’d refilled the cup from the keg in the kitchen and wandered outside alone.
The truth was she hated herself right now. She was lucky to have a boyfriend like Shane. He was cute—with perpetually messy, light brown hair, blue eyes, and a well-maintained five o’clock shadow. He was sweet; and he cared about her. And his advice—patronizing as it seemed—had been practical. She’d tried to call her therapist this afternoon. But Karen had gone for the day.
So Amelia was left with these awful thoughts, and no one to help her sort them out. That was why she needed to get drunk right now.
Amelia’s parents and her aunt were spending the weekend at the family cabin by Lake Wenatchee in central Washington. Ever since this afternoon, she’d been overwhelmed with a sudden, inexplicable contempt for them. She imagined driving to the cabin and killing all three of them. She even started formulating a plan, though she had no intention of carrying it out. Her parents had mentioned there was construction this weekend on their usual route, Highway 2. The cabin would be a three-hour drive from Seattle—if she took Interstate 90 and Route 97, and didn’t stop. Her parents and aunt would be asleep when she arrived. She knew how to sneak into the cabin; she’d done it before. She saw herself shooting them at close range. As much as the notion bewildered and horrified her, it also made Amelia’s heart race with excitement.
If only Karen were around, Amelia could have asked her therapist about this hideous daydream. How could she have these terrible thoughts? Amelia loved her parents, and Aunt Ina was like her older sister, practically her best friend.
The only way to get these poisonous feelings out of her system was to flush it out with another kind of poison. In this case, it was another cupful of Coors from the keg in the kitchen.
Amelia was heading back in there when a young woman—a pretty, Asian-American with a red-streak in her long black hair—blocked her path through the doorway. “Hey, do you have a cig? A menthol?” she asked, shouting over the noise. “I can’t find another person at this stupid party who smokes menthols.”
“No, but there’s a mini-mart about six blocks from here.” Amelia had to lean close to the girl and practically yell in her ear. “If you want, I can go get some for you. I have my boyfriend’s car, and I’m looking for an excuse to bolt out of here for a while.” She drained the last few drops of Coors from her plastic cup. “Just let me get the car keys from my boyfriend, and then we can go.”
Weaving through the crowd, Amelia made her way to Shane, who was still standing in the corner of the living room. Apparently, he’d decided that if she could fall off the wagon, so could he. He was passing a joint back and forth with some guy she didn’t know.
“Are you drunk yet?” he asked, gazing at her with half-closed eyes.
“No,” she lied, speaking up over the party noise. “In fact, I want to get out of here for a few minutes. Give me the car keys, will you?” With her thumb, she pointed to the other girl, who was behind her. “I’m driving my friend to the mini-mart for cigarettes. We’ll be right back. Okay?”
But she was lying. She had no intention of going to the mini-mart. She just needed his car.
Shane dug the keys out of his jeans pocket. He plopped them in her hand. “Do whatever you want to do,” he grumbled. “I don’t care.”
Amelia gave him a quick kiss. “Please, don’t be mad at me,” she whispered.
Shane started to put his arm around her, but she broke away and fled. She could hear the other girl behind her, saying something about her boyfriend being cute and that he looked like Justin Timberlake. Amelia didn’t really hear her. Threading through the mob of party-goers, she made her way back to the kitchen.
“Hey, wait up!” the girl yelled. “Hey, wait a minute!” But Amelia kept moving. She spotted a half-full bottle of tequila on the kitchen counter—amid an assortment of empty bottles and beer cans. She swiped it up, and then tucked it inside the flap of her cardigan sweater. Heading out the kitchen door, Amelia found a walkway to the front of the house. As she hurried toward Shane’s beat-up VW Gulf, she heard the girl screaming at her from the side of the townhouse. “Hey, don’t forget the cigs! I’ll pay you back! I need Salem’s! All right? Did you hear me?”
Amelia waved without looking back at her, and then she ducked inside Shane’s car. Starting up the engine, she stashed the tequila bottle under her seat, and then peeled out of the parking spot. She didn’t look in her rear view mirror as she sped down the street.
Four minutes later, she saw Marty’s Mini Mart on the corner. There were only a couple of cars in the lot in front of the tacky little store—plenty of available parking.
But Amelia kept going, and headed for the interstate. If she didn’t make any stops along the way, she’d reach Lake Wenatchee by about two in the morning. The gas tank was three-quarters full.
Amelia pressed harder on the accelerator, and kept telling herself that she loved her parents and her Aunt Ina. She’d never do anything to harm them.
Excerpted from ONE LAST SCREAM © Copyright 2011 by Kevin O’Brien. Reprinted with permission by Pinnacle. All rights reserved.