Again she looked over her shoulder then scanned the ceiling, searching for a deceptively concealed camera. Thankfully she saw none, but she didn’t doubt her newfound sibling was paranoid enough to have one installed.
The makeup mirror was still lit, bulbs burning bright, brushes and bottles and jars neatly arranged, in stark juxtaposition to the damaged posters that looked as if they’d been nearly destroyed in a fit of rage, then lovingly repaired . . . sort of.
“God in heaven,” she whispered and walked to an odd-looking window,
pulling the cord for the blinds and seeing that the glass had been covered, and backlit with a thin bulb. The artwork stretched over the glass was a view of the Hollywood Hills, complete with the iconic white letters spelling out HOLLYWOOD.
As if the woman who called this her “Portland pad” believed that she had an authentic view of Hollywood. God, there were even fake palm fronds positioned perfectly.
How nuts was she?
“Off the charts,” Allie whispered, creeping and tiptoeing, as if she really did think the crazed woman was somehow observing her. Allie’s skin pimpled at the thought and she felt the lingering presence of pure evil, like a bad smell that seeped into the walls and carpet.
Don’t go there. Don’t get all freaky. Just check this place out.
From the fake window she spied a portable copy machine on a table in one corner. It looked to be connected to a laptop computer positioned near a laminator, a machine that melted plastic onto paper. Beside the laminating machine was a short stack of pictures. Curious, she picked up the glossy head shots. Seeing the images, she nearly screamed. Each page was different, a picture that had been photoshopped and distorted to make the subject appear to be in intense agony, as if her face were dripping off her skull. Horrid, chilling images, the creation of a sick mind. Every head shot was of Allie Kramer.
“Oh shit,” she whispered, terror building. Her eyes rounded and her body shook as she stared at the horrifying photos. She felt the hatred that had created them, the evil that spent hours in malicious glee making such hideous pieces of art.
She dropped the pictures as if they burned her fingers.
Her stomach heaved and she sensed that she was losing it; that, like her sister, she might lose touch with what was real, what was fantasy. Hadn’t it happened before, when Lucinda had been shot, when she’d first realized what she’d gotten into? And then, dear God, she’d played along with it, listening to Brandon, who had cared for her, letting him tell her that her disappearance was a good thing, that there was a new buzz around the movie, that she would be more popular, more mysterious, than ever.
“What have I done?” she thought, her grip on reality slipping.
She was turning to leave, to get out of this horrible place when she spied the mask lying on a counter. Obviously one of the sick pictures had been cut, carved around Allie’s hairline, her eyes hacked out, the paper laminated and a thin strip of elastic glued to the back. “What the fuck?” Allie whispered and turned the mask over. A single word had been scribbled across the back in uneven red letters.
“Sister,” Allie read aloud.
For the first time she understood the depths of her half-sibling’s depravity, the lengths she would go to, how far she’d step over the line of sanity to get what she wanted, to prove that she was as good as the others, as talented, and even though she had been discarded and forgotten.
Allie had been fooling herself if she believed she was safe.
Her throat closed with an ice-cold, newfound fear.
No one was safe while the monster was on the prowl. Not Cassie. Not Jenna. Not even Allie, who had been her “partner in crime,” who had actually, at one time, thought the world would be a better place if Cassie dropped off its face, if Cassie actually died.
How sick was that?
Maybe, Allie thought, mental weakness ran in the family.
The oldest was a homicidal maniac, the middle child had already spent time in a psych ward for hallucinations and blackouts and the youngest, the Hollywood star, was jealous and depraved enough to have agreed to be a partner in her sister’s murder, and then let horrendous things happen.
Again, she flashed on the set of the mental hospital at the party, a mannequin in her own likeness confined to a solitary room, strapped to the bed and obviously deranged. The woman who used this apartment, who slashed movie posters and made horrible, distorted masks of Allie’s family, who had already killed two people that Allie knew of, wouldn’t stop. She wouldn’t be satisfied until she’d murdered them all. Cassie. Jenna. Even Allie herself.
Allie’s insides turned to mush. She thought she might throw up. She’d been a part of this madness, had aided it, had fed her own insecurities and rage by wishing members of her family dead, and this woman, this maniac who was her half sister, had not only fed her fury, but implemented a plan to satisfy it. Now, unleashed, the monster would never stop! She couldn’t be called off.
She glanced once more at the posters of Jenna, the mother who had given up her career to move her daughters to safety, to a more “normal” life, which of course, it had never been. But Jenna had tried. Even if she’d lied about her firstborn, even if she’d lavished attention on Cassie after the madman had nearly killed her ten years earlier, even if she’d ignored her introverted, bookish child while tending to the one who had nearly been killed. And Cassie—God, she was a mess—the hatred and jealously she’d harbored for her sister still burned in Allie’s gut, but, really, did Cassie deserve this terror? To lose her life?
Then again, maybe not.
Allie had seen enough. She left the apartment in a hurry and didn’t care who’d seen her. Somehow, some way, she had to end what she’d so blindly started.
Before she, too, was a victim.
She knew what she had to do; she only hoped she wasn’t too late.