Written in 58 minutes.
Kelly’s: Dining Room
“She’s probably gone by now, don’t you think?” Elizabeth asked. She picked up her order, and made eye contact with Frankie, the guard that had followed her to the diner that night. “Come on.”
“I used to hate all the guards,” Robin said as Frankie held open the door for both of them. “But after the last few weeks—”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Elizabeth smiled faintly at the guard. “Not that I don’t appreciate it—”
“Wouldn’t like being followed either,” the guard said with a shrug. “But orders are orders.”
They walked the short distance to the parking lot, Frankie walking beside them, stopping at the first row of cars. “Where are you—” Elizabeth began, but then Robin stumbled. The guard caught her. “Whoa, are you okay?”
Then there was a crash, an angry swear, and footsteps running away—fast, as if they were being chased. Elizabeth whirled to see where the sound was coming from as Frankie pulled his gun, holding it low, scanning the parking lot.
“Oh my God!” Robin cried. She fell to her knees. “Oh my God, call 911!”
Elizabeth turned back and lost her breath. Robin was kneeling next to a woman—
“Is she—” Elizabeth had her phone in her hand as she rushed to Robin’s side, kneeing down, but even before she’d finished the sentence, she saw the open, glassy-eyed stare, the way Sam’s head limply rolled to the side. “Oh God.”
Robin pressed two fingers to Sam’s neck. “She’s dead.”
“Both of you—” Frankie barked, roughly taking Elizabeth’s arm, tugging her to her feet. “Back inside, now. Now!”
Elizabeth didn’t bother to argue — and neither did Robin. Sam had been dead only a matter of minutes, maybe less. And the footsteps?
Her killer making his escape. And if not for the guard at their side—
Morgan Penthouse: Living Room
“Why do they always have to ask about symbolism?” Spinelli muttered, flipping rapidly through the book. “Who cares what the whale means? It’s a whale.”
“What’s simbism?” Cameron wanted to know, climbing onto the sofa next to Spinelli, peering over his shoulder at the laptop on the coffee table and the book in his hand. “And is it like Free Willy? He jumped real high.”
“Symbolism. When something means something else. Maybe there’s no symbolism. Maybe the author wanted to make a buck. The Jackal is most perplexed.” He glanced over at Jason at the desk, scribbling something with numbers. “Is Stone Cold positive the Jackal shouldn’t search for this answer?”
“How hard did you try to answer it on your own?” Jason asked absently.
Spinelli grumbled. Felt like Jason was a lot more like a father now that the little ones had moved in. Maybe he was practicing for teenagers on his own. He missed the guy who barely noticed him.
“So Willy means something else?” Cameron furrowed his brow. “I don’t get it.”
“You and me both, Little Dude.” He pinched his brows. “There’s this captain guy and all he wants to do is get this whale, right? Ahab wants to hurt Willy.”
“That’s not okay. Willy’s good.”
“Yeah, the Jackal doesn’t get it either. But I’m supposed to know what the symbolism of it is, and I don’t get it. Like the guy is just obsessed with the whale. Why does it have to be more complicated.” He slid another glance at Jason. Would he even know if Spinelli did a quick search—
“You need to think about it for at least ten more minutes,” Jason said, and Spinelli scowled.
“I help,” Cameron said. “I fight sometimes. With Jake. He steals the rabbit. I steal him back. Then he steals it again. And I think hard to get it back. Does that count?”
Spinelli frowned. “You know what—a little, yeah. Thanks.” Cameron beamed.
The cell phone at Jason’s side rang, and Jason picked it up. “Hey—what? Where are—”
Spinelli watched with wide eyes as Jason shoved the chair back and was already halfway to the closet to yank out his leather jacket. “I’ll be right there. Okay? I’ll be right there.”
He clicked off the phone, his eyes a bit weird. “Spinelli—”
“I got the munchkins, no worries. Go where you need to go.”
Jason left, not even stopping to say goodbye to Cameron or to Jake in the playpen across the room. Most strange, and a bit worrying with Fair Elizabeth not at home. Spinelli closed his computer, put away the book. “Little Dude, why don’t we play a video game?”
Jason jerked the SUV to stop, pulling over to the curb, his blood bumping when realized the parking lot was cordoned off. Another car squealed to a stop behind him.
Jason slid out of the driver’s side, and frowned when he recognized Patrick Drake. “What are you—”
“What—” Patrick swallowed hard. “Robin called me. Is Elizabeth okay?”
“Yeah. She called—” Some of the tension released. Patrick wasn’t here for another reason. “Elizabeth said she’d found a body in the parking lot. I didn’t wait for details.”
They both stepped onto the sidewalk, heading towards the barricades. “Damn it, I knew I should have dragged Robin to Vegas,” Patrick bit out. “They’re never going to let us back there—”
“You can’t go any further.” As if on cue, a uniform held up a hand. “Diner is closed—”
“My fiancee is in the diner,” Jason said, trying to not to be irritated. The cop was just doing his job. “She called me—”
“Mine, too,” Patrick interrupted. “Okay? And mine is pregnant, and I’m a doctor, so I need to make sure she’s okay. Robin Scorpio. Find the commissioner. He’ll tell you I can—”
“No one goes through,” the officer said blandly. “I don’t care if you’re dating the president’s daughter. I got my orders.”
“This is bullshit,” Patrick said, and Jason thought the doctor might take a swing. He took him by the arm, tugged him back. “Hey—”
“They’re inside the diner with the cops. And Elizabeth has a guard. He won’t let either of them out of his sight until I’m there.” And just saying that out loud, reminding himself that he’d spoken with Elizabeth. That Robin had been the one to call Patrick—
“You’re telling me to listen to the cops, to sit back and wait? Didn’t you break into the hotel last year because they sucked at their jobs?” Patrick demanded.
“Yeah, and the place still exploded, and I ended up getting Elizabeth trapped in an elevator, so not exactly my best effort,” Jason retorted. “Getting arrested isn’t going to make any of this easier, so knock it off—”
“You know what—” Patrick took a deep breath, exhaled in a rush. “Okay. Okay. I know you’re right. I just—” He closed his eyes, dragged his hands through his hair again. “Second time. Second time Robin’s been this close to a murder. That night—God, that night, she switched places with Leyla. Could have been her. It’s making me a little nuts.”
“Yeah, okay. I get that.” Jason couldn’t blame the guy. Even as he’d reminded himself Elizabeth was safe with a guard — it didn’t help as much as he wanted it to. He wouldn’t feel right until he saw her. “They’ll let us back there as soon as they’re done with the statements.”
Kelly’s: Parking Lot
Lucky swallowed hard as Sam’s body was tucked away, zipped inside the body bag. “This doesn’t make sense.”
“It doesn’t fit the profile all the way no,” Robert said. “Solo victim. No signs of ligature—looks like a broken neck. Like he just—” He made a gesture with his hands, and Lucky’s stomach swirled.
“I’m gonna go inside, take Robin and Elizabeth’s statements,” Lucky said. “Sam wasn’t dead long—”
“Yeah, I’ll go with you.”
On their way in, in the courtyard, a uniform stopped Robert. “Uh, we got two angry guys at the barricades. Claiming their fiancees are inside—”
Lucky exhaled slowly. “That would be Jason—”
“And Patrick. Which answers a lingering question I’ve had,” Robert quipped, though the tension in his face conflicted with the humor in his tone. To the uniform he said, “Hold them off. As soon as we’re done with our wits, we’ll release them. I don’t want anyone else on the scene.”
Inside the diner, most of the patrons had already been questioned and released. Elizabeth and Robin sat at the table, along with a taller man Lucky didn’t recognize. A different uniform was holding them.
“Dad.” Robin leapt to her feet and nearly jumped into her father’s arm. Robert hugged her tightly, kissing the side of her head. “Oh, God, it’s so awful.”
Lucky turned his attention to Elizabeth, pale and shaken. He pulled over a chair. “Hey. How you holding up?”
“Not having a great night, but I’m—” She picked at her fingernail. “But you have questions, so—”
Robin returned to the table, and to her seat. She reached for Elizabeth’s hand, squeezed it. “Yeah, I want to get this over with. I called Patrick—”
“Yeah, he’s at the barricades along with Morgan. So as soon as you’re done,” Robert said, remaining standing, “we’ll get you on your way. Did either of you see Sam before you found her in the parking lot?”
“Yeah, um—” Elizabeth scratched her eyebrow, exchanged a troubled look with Robin. “She came in. And we definitely, um, well, it wasn’t friendly.” She glanced at Lucky then dropped her hands into her lap.
“Still a little bitter after her breakup with Jason?” Lucky said, wishing like hell he’d made Mac do this. What kind of universe kept forcing him to deal with Elizabeth during this investigation? First Georgie, then Emily, now— “And probably not happy that he moved on.”
“Yeah, she was…unhappy. But Robin and I sort of…God, this sounds terrible now,” she muttered.
“We weren’t friendly right back,” Robin admitted. “She took a shot at me, about not having kids because of my HIV, and I might have called her the barren one—which, now, of course, sounds even worse. But—”
“But she left. She didn’t get the reaction she wanted, I think, so she left,” Elizabeth said. “Robin and I were already on our way out, but I wanted to wait. I didn’t want to deal with her again in the parking lot.”
If they’d left right after her—oh, man.
“When we went to the parking lot, I, um tripped over her leg,” Robin said. Her voice trembled for a minute. “And then we heard sounds—footsteps—”
“There was something that fell. I don’t know. Something metallic crashed, and I thought I heard a voice,” Elizabeth added. “But then running. I told Frankie—” She looked at the man with them. “He’s…Jason wanted someone with me after Emily…”
Lucky straightened, the horror of what might have happened. Sam’s killer had still be in the parking lot. And he’d only left because Robin and Elizabeth hadn’t been alone. “He was waiting for two women to leave a public place,” he said. He looked at Robert, saw it sink into him. “Do you think he was inside?”
“Someone left when Sam came in,” Robin remembered. “Oh my God. Oh my God—” Her hands shook. “Oh my God.”
“Sam left first,” Elizabeth said. “Oh God.”
“We’ll get security tapes.” Robert looked at the guard. “Do you have anything to add?”
“No,” the guard—Frankie, Elizabeth had called him—said. “As soon as I realized what was going on, I got them back inside, and called 911. But Miss Webber is right. Definitely someone swearing and running away. I kept close to both of them, just like I’m supposed to. He would have seen me as soon as they got into the parking lot. We passed under a light.”
“But we weren’t together inside,” Elizabeth said to her guard. “You sat by the door.”
“So he didn’t know Elizabeth had a guard.” Lucky nodded. “Okay. Okay. I don’t have anything else for you right now. I’m going to check in with Mac.”
“I’ll stay here,” Robert said. “Walk them out to the barricades.” He squeezed Robin’s hand. “Not ready to let my little girl out of my sight.”
“You and me both,” Robin said with a sigh.
Lucky left them in the diner, went back out to Mac who was overseeing the crime scene unit. “They heard him running away,” he said immediately. Mac looked at him, frowned. “Elizabeth and Robin were going to walk out together, but Sam showed up first. There were words exchanged, and Sam left first. Robin said someone left just as Sam came in.”
“You mean—” Mac scrubbed a hand down his face. “Oh, damn.”
“Our guy saw a woman in the parking lot, grabbed her, hit her in the head—and when he realized she was alone and wasn’t the right target, he eliminated her and waited for the ones he wanted. But they had a guard with them and he wasn’t ready for that.”
“Holy hell.” Mac had to take a deep breath, lean over. “You telling me my niece is alive because she happened to run into Elizabeth and a guard hired by the mob?”
“Yeah. Yeah.” And what if Elizabeth hadn’t left him? What if she hadn’t moved in with Jason? Would she and Robin have been alone in this parking lot? What if it had been Elizabeth’s body Lucky stood over—three weeks after losing Emily— “We’re pulling security tapes.”
“Yeah. Maybe we’ll finally get a break. Get our eyes on this guy.” Mac rubbed his eyes. “I need to go. I have to make the notification.”
A bookcase crashed to the ground, but it wasn’t enough. It didn’t release the frustration. Nothing was going right—nothing was the way he wanted it—
The table was flipped next, and then he heaved it into the wall, feeling nothing when the leg snapped off. His chest heaving, his heart racing — he slumped to the ground.
Failure. That’s all he was. All he’d ever be. He’d spent weeks planning the first set. His perfect girls. The college roommates. The perfect pair. He’d learned about their habits, found just the right way to make sure they’d be alone—
And then that sweet, lovely release when he’d slid the wire around the second girl, knowing that he’d found his perfect pair.
The second set, his second pair, had almost been perfect. He’d felt it rushing through him — but then he’d learned about his mistake. Not a pair. Not good enough.
Tonight, he’d meant to fix it. To create another perfect pair to complement. One doctor, one nurse.
Instead—he hissed, digging his fingers into the threads of his carpet. Instead it was even more wrong. It was another failure. All he’d ever do was fail, that’s what they’d always said, that’s what his father had always said, just another fail—
But he’d showed his father hadn’t he?
He crawled over to the desk, still standing, using it to haul himself to his feet and looked at the photos of his perfect girls. His Georgie Jones and Chelsea Rae, laying next to each other, preserved forever in this moment.
He just needed to think. To take a breath. He couldn’t rush it. That’s how tonight had happened. He’d rushed it. He hadn’t made sure of his quarry.
And that woman didn’t even count. No, she wouldn’t count. She was just a mess he’d needed to clean up. She didn’t deserve to be one of his girls. One of his perfect pairs.
No, he’d just have to find another way to fix it. To make Robin Scorpio finally pay for escaping her fate one too many times — it was her fault that Elizabeth Webber was going to die. It was Robin Scorpio’s fault for all of this, and he was going to make sure she paid for what she’d put him through.
He smoothed out the photo of Georgie and Chelsea. And then when Robin and Elizabeth were dead, he could take their photo, and then he’d have three perfect pairs. He’d be finished.
He would be more careful next time. Make sure that he was ready for a possible third victim. Just like the woman tonight. She’d taught him to be prepared for obstacles.
And next time, he’d be ready.