Oh, yes, she remembered the place, had spent many hours within its walls and knew its idiosyncrasies. First though, she checked her reflection in a storefront window and though she was pale, she didn’t notice any dark spots staining her sweater, no blood spatter visible. Finger-combing her hair, she tossed it a bit, then slipped into her cool persona, the one most people who knew her would recognize. The other side of her personality, the hysterical, freaked-out portion, she managed to, once again, tuck deep inside. She only let it free when it suited her purpose.
Satisfied, she walked into the bar and reflected upon what she’d done, how, once again, she’d outwitted them all. She could almost taste the reaction and ummm, the taste was sweet.
She surveyed the small dining area. All good. Taking a seat at the bar, she inwardly smiled as she ordered a glass of Allie’s favorite wine. From the corner of her eye, she thought the bartender did a subtle double take. That was fine.
Did she get a few quizzical stares?
Oh, yes. Of course she did, but that was expected. Even necessary. Vintner’s House had a no cell phone policy, which was perfect, and, for the privacy of its customers, no security cameras, or so the management claimed. There was always a chance some yahoo who didn’t play by anyone else’s rules might sneak out his phone and risk taking a shot, if he thought he recognized her. But so what? It wasn’t a crime to have a glass of wine. That’s all it was. All anyone would know for now.
Besides, she thought, warming inside, she liked to flirt with danger.
From beneath her thick duvet, Rhonda Nash heard the ringing of her cell phone and groaned. She threw back the soft covers and felt the chill of the night. The window near her bed was cracked a bit, allowing a cold breeze that brought the steady plop of rain and the distant scream of sirens into the room. A glance at the clock on the night table told her the ugly truth—that it wasn’t quite four in the damned morning. Whoever was calling wasn’t the bearer of good news. Half asleep, she tried to pick up her cell and only managed to knock it from the night table.
“Damn.” Rolling to the side of the bed and hanging over its edge, she saw the bright display indicating that Double T was on the other end of the wireless connection. No surprise there. Scooping the phone from the floor, she clicked on and said, “Nash,” around a yawn.
“We got another one.”
“Another one what?” she asked, blinking herself awake.
“Another victim wearing a mask.”
She sat bolt upright. “A mask of Allie Kramer?” Suddenly completely awake, she flew out of bed and hit the switch for the bedside lamp in one fluid motion. As her feet hit the floor she started stripping out of her nightshirt on her way to the closet.
“Nope. This one’s of Jenna Hughes.”
She stutter-stepped. “The mother?”
Nash’s brain clicked into gear, dozens of questions forming. “Is it disfigured? Laminated? Same as the others?”
“Got an ID on the vic?”
“Yes, ma’am. The killer was kind enough to leave the victim’s license in her jacket pocket.”
“Great.” Shivering, she found the clothes she’d been wearing the day before, the pants and blouse she’d dropped on a bench when she’d been getting ready for her bath.
“Twenty-nine-year-old single woman. Brandi Potts. Lives in the Pearl. Got a couple of uniforms on their way over to the address now.”
“Good.” Already things were moving along. She poked the speaker button and set the phone on the counter in the built-in dresser within the closet. “Cause of death?”
“Won’t know until the ME arrives and—”
“Yeah, yeah, I know that,” she said, bothered as she stepped into her slacks. “But is there anything obvious . . . ?”
“Aside from the gunshot wound to her chest?”
“Funny guy.” She wasn’t laughing.
“Looks like she was hit from behind. Not a through and through. Bullet’s got to be lodged in the body somewhere.”