In The Victim's Shadow

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Chapter 38

On a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge a distant background, the women huddled, bound together with zip ties.

“I’m so very sorry,” April kept repeating. “He said he’d kill me if I didn’t do it.”

“Shh,” Katherine warned, trying to comfort her. “I know,” she whispered. She tried to wriggle free of her ties but felt the hard plastic bite into her skin, followed by a warm, wet sensation and knew the ties were cutting her.

“What does he want?” April asked, whining.

“Shh,” Katherine repeated.

She was trying to think, but April’s whining was distracting her. She looked at April’s throat where Chad had cut her, glad to see it had clotted nicely. “Does it hurt much?”

April shook her head. “I just want to go home.”

She looked down at April’s leg. It was not faring nearly as well. Although the bleeding had slowed, it still soaked through the bandages Katherine had made out of her wedding dress. Her complexion was looking pale, too. If April didn’t get to a hospital soon, she would surely bleed to death.

Katherine leaned against her, doing the best she could to comfort her. It was difficult to do considering her head was splitting from the whack Chad had given her.

When she had finally come to, she was in the back of Chad’s truck with April lying next to her, bound and gagged and still out cold. Although Chad had pulled a tarp over them, a corner flapped in the wind, giving them both air and light. When April finally came around, Katherine had managed to work her gag loose and was working on trying to sit up, without much success.

April immediately started choking. “Breathe in through your nose,” Katherine said. April didn’t listen at first. In too much a panic to think, she attempted to take huge breaths, but her gag wasn’t letting in any air. “Your nose,” Katherine repeated. Slowly, April’s breathing calmed, her eyes took on a much calmer look. “That’s right,” Katherine said, trying to smile to ease April’s panic. “I’m going to turn on my other side and try to get your gag off. Okay?”

April nodded rapidly.

Katherine turned over, crushing her hands underneath her body as she rolled to the other side. She felt for April’s face, but April was too tall. “You’ll have to move down,” Katherine said. April slid down beside her, guiding her mouth toward Katherine’s wiggling fingers. Katherine felt the tape and grabbed. “Ready?” Katherine asked. April grunted. “One…two…three.” Katherine ripped the tape from April’s mouth. April let out a scream, but the noise of the speeding traffic all around them covered the sound. Nonetheless, Katherine said, “Be quiet. Do you want him to put it back on?” April shook her head.

“Where’s he taking us?” April asked.

Katherine shook her head. “I have no idea.”

She could tell from the speed of the truck and the cacophony of sounds from blaring horns, too loud music, and the swish of tires on asphalt they were on the freeway, but to where he was taking them anybody’s guess.

“Why is he doing this to us?” April whined again. Was

“It’s me,” Katherine said. “For some reason he has it out for me, and I can’t figure out why. How’s your leg?”

“It hurts,” April said. “And it doesn’t feel right. It’s all wet and mushy.”

Katherine guessed she was bleeding heavily. She twisted her body to get a better view of April’s blood-soaked leg. “I’m going to have to tie it off,” Katherine said.

“What?” April wailed.

“Shh,” Katherine repeated. “Can you reach down with your teeth and grab the hem of my gown?”

“Why?” April asked.

Katherine sighed. She was beginning to lose patience. “Please, April.”

April bent in half, biting back a scream of pain as her leg shifted. Using her teeth, she grabbed the gown and brought it up to Katherine. “Hold it still,” she said. Katherine bit a hole in it to start the tear. Then the two women played tug of war until a good sized piece of cloth broke free.

“Your beautiful gown,” April said.

Katherine flinched for a moment before saying, “It’s just a gown. If I don’t tie off that leg, you’re not going to make it.”

“I’m sorry,” April cried again.

There was enough light to see April’s tears, and Katherine made a silent plea for her not to cry. She certainly didn’t need a babbling teenager on her hands. Katherine used the side of the truck to help her turn around. Turning her back to April, she took the cloth in her hands and, with great difficulty, weaved the fabric around the wound. April began to hyperventilate. Katherine knew she had to distract her. “You’re in college, right?” Katherine asked. April nodded. “What’s your major?”

April took a deep breath and could feel the calming relief it offered. “Psychology.”

“Great!” Katherine said. “What do you want to do with that?”

April shrugged. “I don’t know. Daddy thinks I should go to medical school and be a psychiatrist. He says there are enough messed up heads in this world to keep me employed for like my whole life.”

“It doesn’t sound as if you agree. What do you want to do with it?”

She shrugged again. “I don’t know. I kind of want to be a drug counselor. I’ve seen an awful lot of kids messed up on that shit. I’d be interested in helping them.”

“That sounds very noble,” Katherine said.

She shrugged again. “It’s a lot less school. I know that for sure.”

Katherine couldn’t help but chuckle. “I’m sure whatever you do will work out fine.”

April scoffed. “That is if psycho out there doesn’t kill us first.”

“That’s not going to happen,” Katherine said.

“How are we going to stop him, he like outweighs us by a ton.”

Katherine frowned. Not hardly a ton, but she wasn’t going to argue mathematical estimations with April. “There’s two of us and one of him,” Katherine reminded her.

“And we both have our hands tied behind our backs.”

“Do you think you could be just a little less optimistic there,” Katherine asked.

“I’m sorry,” April said. “I’ll try to do better.”

The truck slowed then, and Katherine guessed they must be entering a freeway exit. Did they turn to the left—toward the ocean?

“Where are we going?” April whispered.

“I don’t know,” Katherine said,” but I think he’s taking us toward the ocean. Do you smell that?”

April sniffed the air. Living in San Francisco, one could smell the ocean at any given time, but it was stronger closer to the water. April felt the cold ocean breeze permeate the tarp and shivered. “What’s he going to do with us? Is he going to kill us?”

“I don’t think so,” Katherine said. “Otherwise, he could have just done that at the hotel.”

“Then what does he want?”

“I don’t know. Some type of grudge, but for what I’m not sure.” She had been racking her brain for weeks, trying to figure it out, guessing it might be a disgruntled client, or perhaps a relative of one.

The truck began to ascend and wind around some hills. Were they headed toward the bluff? The terrain became soft and then boggy. The truck came to an abrupt halt, and the women heard Chad’s door squeak open as he exited the cab. He flung back the tarp and grinned. “I see you managed to get the tape off your mouth. No matter, no one can hear you up here.” He cut the ties from their feet. “Get up.”

Neither woman dared defy and rose shakily to their feet. Chad helped them down. April stumbled and fell, scratching the side of her face as she hit the ground. “Stupid bitch,” Chad spat. He hauled her to her feet. A wave of dizziness enveloped her.

“Come on, Chad,” Katherine said. “She’s hurt.”

Chad looked down at her leg. “She’s fine.” He began to push them, forcing them to walk. April dragged her leg, making the pain just a little easier to bear.

“Lean on me,” Katherine urged. April smiled gratefully.

All around them, they could see trees and hear the waves thunder to the shore. Katherine’s face took on a puzzled expression and then suddenly she recognized where they were. “We’re on my father’s property!”

“Surprise!” Chad exclaimed. “How do you think Daddy will like it knowing his little princess’s death bed was his own glorious back yard?”

“No, Chad. Please don’t do this,” April said.

Katherine was beginning to hear the fear in her voice again and was afraid she’d start to hyperventilate again. With the amount of blood she’d already lost, she was sure to pass out. She was certain Chad would just leave her to die on the path. She’d served her purpose.

“What have I done to you?” Katherine asked.

Chad didn’t answer but pushed the two women along. They could see the waves now, and the noise of the surf grew louder. Chad pushed them to the ground, bound their feet again, blessedly re-tied their hands in front of them, joining them together, and walked away. Now he sat on a wall looking out over the city.

“The most spectacular view in the entire city,” her father had always said, “the city on one side, the ocean on the other.”

Occasionally, Chad would look back to see if the women were still there as if they could escape with their arms and legs bound together.

April looked down at Katherine’s ruined wedding dress. “I can’t believe this is happening on your wedding day,” she said.

“Yeah,” Katherine said.

“Shut up!” Chad commanded, but he did not leave his place on the wall.

“What’s he going to do with us?”

“I honestly don’t know,” Katherine said.

Chad could hear them whispering but chose to ignore them. His plan had gone better than he had hoped, thanks to the naiveté of the twit, April. He had actually managed to convince her he loved her. He didn’t love anybody. Love only brought hurt. Hurt, anger. Anger, mistakes. He couldn’t afford any more mistakes—like the one when he lost his temper and stabbed that lawyer. Not that he cared about the lawyer, mind you—but it had almost spoiled his plan.

He was waiting for Greasy Charlie to get there, and then he could put the rest of the plan in action.

If all went well, he would be sitting on a Mexican beach by tomorrow night, sipping exotic fancy drinks and sleeping in a prime Mexico hotel. He turned and looked at the women. He wondered how April would feel about Mexico.

He rose to his feet, walking to stand next to them. He looked down. They looked up, and he laughed at how pitiful they appeared.

“It’s too bad you didn’t change after that pitiful ceremony. You look uncomfortable.”

“I’m fine,” Katherine said between clenched teeth. “Am I allowed to ask you a question?”

“You can ask,” he said, “but it doesn’t mean I’ll answer.”

He walked away, kicking a stone as he waited impatiently.

“What are we waiting for?” Katherine asked.

He contemplated her question and decided it would do no harm to answer. “Greasy Charlie.”

Braving another question, Katherine asked, “What are you going to do with April and me?” Then suddenly she knew. He had kidnapped her—all these months he had attempted to woo her, all the dates, the flowers, the phone calls—he had been trying to get her to fall in love with him—and then what? Take all her money and kill her?

He saw the dawning in her eyes and smiled. “That’s right, Katherine. I’m going to take your father for everything he has, including you. It would have been so much simpler if you had just fallen in love with me,” He flung his arms in the air with a dramatic flair, “but no, you’re too good for someone like me.”

“That isn’t true, Chad. I don’t think I’m too good for anyone. I don’t understand why you’re doing this to me?”

He got down close to her face—so close she could see his pupils taste his breath that smelled like beer, feel the pain and anger that poured out of him. “Because I’m tired of living in your shadow. All my life it’s been about you.” He stood back and thumped his chest. “I deserved his love. I deserved his attention, but he was always wrapped up in you!”

Katherine shook her head, narrowed her eyes in bafflement. She had never seen Chad before that day in the elevator. “All about whom, Chad? How have you been living in my shadow? I don’t even know you.” She fidgeted. The ropes he’d used to bind her cut into her wrist, drawing more blood, but she ignored it. If she didn’t get out of these restraints, she was dead for sure.

“Chad,” she tried again. “Who hurt you so badly?”

“My father!” he spat. Then in a mimicking voice, he said, “All he cared about was how you were doing—‘I wonder if she cried for her mommy today. I wonder how she handled starting school without her mommy’. I wonder this, I wonder that. It was always about you! Well, what about me?” He pointed his thumb at himself. “Did he ever stop to think how I might be doing without my mother? Of course he didn’t because I didn’t count.”

“You did count, Chad—and I’m sorry I didn’t tell you so.”

Chad turned around to face his father. He hadn’t even heard him approach.

“What are you doing here?”

“Stopping you,” Spencer said.

“How did you know I’d be here?”

“This is always where you go when you’re stuck.” He took a step toward his son.

“I’m not stuck,” Chad protested. “I know exactly what I’m doing.”

“Do you?” Spencer asked. He took another step toward Chad.

“Who is that?” April whispered.

Katherine shook her head. “I think we’re about to find out.”

Chad stepped back. Spencer felt the iciness of Chad’s stare pierce his heart. “Please, Chad. Let these women go. They haven’t done anything to you.”

“She did!” he spat, pointing an accusing finger at Katherine. “She took—took—took her entire life.”

Spencer shook his head. “No, Chad, she didn’t. That was my fault, not hers.”

“Who are you people?” Katherine screamed.

Chad strode quickly toward her, thrusting the knife in her face. She recoiled. “Do you want to know who we are?”

“No, Chad, don’t. Please,” Spencer pleaded.

Chad pointed toward his father, the knife waving in the air, desperation and pain taking over his face. “That,” he said, jabbing the knife toward Spencer, “that man right there is the man who killed your mother.”

Spencer groaned as Katherine’s face turned white. She shook her head.

Chad nodded. A satisfied grin spread across his face. “Yeah, that’s right. You heard me.” He got down in front of Katherine so that his face was only a few inches from hers. “My father killed your mother.”

Tears spilled down Katherine’s face. Looking past Chad to Spencer, she cried, “Why? She never hurt you. She never hurt anyone.” She began to sob. April inched her body toward Katherine. She tried to touch her, tried to offer comfort, but her binds stopped her. Katherine laid her head on April’s shoulder.

Spencer closed his eyes, reliving the moment twenty-seven years ago when he pulled that trigger. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It was an accident.”

The scene played around and around in Katherine’s mind. She and her mother headed into the store—the man running out—the gunshot—her mother dropping to the ground—the man rushing past her—his face. She stared at Spencer and the recognition hit her. Her voice monotone, she said, “You wore a blue shirt that day.”

“And you wore a pink hair ribbon,” he said.

“I remember. My mother bought them for me when I learned to plié. I lost one.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pink ribbon. Katherine gasped.

“I kept it safe.”

“Isn’t this touching,” Chad said. “Too bad you didn’t care as much for your own son.” He stomped his foot. “Where the hell is Greasy Charlie?”

Spencer shook his head. “He’s not coming.”

“What?”

He turned on him, jabbing the knife out in front of him. “What did you do?”

A moment later, they heard sirens. A look of alarm seized Chad’s features. “No,” he protested. “You wouldn’t do that. You’ll go to prison.”

Spencer took a step toward Chad. “It doesn’t matter. I’ve lived in a prison of my own making for twenty-seven years. Now give me the knife, Son.”

Chad shook his head. “No.”

He took a step toward Katherine.

“No, Chad!” Spencer yelled, grabbing Chad by the arm and dragging him to the ground. They wrestled for the knife.

April screamed. Katherine pushed her back, trying to get out of the way of the grappling men.

Spencer let out a cry and fell limp to the ground. Chad lay on top of him, eyes wide with surprise. The knife stuck out of Spencer’s chest. “Dad!” he cried. He looked at Katherine, then at April. “I didn’t mean to.”

The wail of the sirens grew louder as they drew closer. Chad glanced in their direction. Then he looked back at his father. Finally, he rose and took off on a run. Katherine started moving toward Spencer, but the ropes linking April and her held her back. “Come on, April,” she commanded.

April shook her head. Tears spilled down her cheeks. “I don’t want to.”

Katherine dragged her. She kicked and screamed, “No!” Katherine kept pulling until she was leaning over Spencer.

She put her and April’s hands over the wound, applying pressure. April just kept screaming.

“Shut up!” Katherine commanded. To her relief, April complied.

Spencer lifted his arms, grabbed onto Katherine’s wrist. “Don’t,” he said. “Let…me...go.”

From somewhere, Katherine heard a shot.

Spencer locked eyes with Katherine. “I’m sorry,” he said. In his eyes, she saw pain and hurt—and in hers, he saw forgiveness. He smiled. That was all he needed to take with him. His hands grew limp as the light faded from his eyes, and his body went still.

Katherine went to a far-off place, free of hate and guns, and knives. She was aware of shouting, felt her and April separate, and then arms were lifting her from Spencer and cradling her. She buried her head in her father’s shoulder, and they wept together. Then someone shuffled her, and she felt John’s protective arms encircle her, felt lips pressed to her forehead, and then felt nothing as the blessed darkness overtook her.

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