Authors: Minka Kent
His closet is filled with scrubs and the kind of ordinary clothes any thirty-something man would wear on the weekends. Jeans, T-shirts, polos. A small collection of sneakers.
The drawers of his nightstand are empty.
There’s nothing out of the ordinary hidden in his bathroom—I even went so far as to check under the sink.
I head to his study next, peeking between books and under books and looking for those fake books that double as hiding spots. It isn’t until I’m on the second-to-last shelf that I discover one of the medical textbooks has what appears to be a garage-sale sticker on the spine—an orange circle, unsuccessfully scraped off. Squinting and examining it closer, I make out the number five next to a dollar sign. This was definitely not purchased at a collegiate bookstore.
I shake my head.
This room and the other are nothing but props.
The real Niall—whoever he is—won’t be found in either of them.
I check the closet in the study last, tugging on the string light and rising on my toes before feeling around at the back of the top shelf. My fingertips brush against metal, and I try to stand taller. There’s something back there, something out of sight.
My heart throbs in my ears, and I grab his desk chair to use as a step stool.
A second later, I’m in possession of a small metal box, the fireproof kind with the six-digit locks, and of course it’s locked.
It’s probably where he keeps his real identity and all the things he doesn’t want me to find—unlike the diary. Which I now know he planted. Looking back, it was eerie how calm he was when he caught me going through his things. But now it makes sense: he wanted me to find the journal and the divorce papers. It was all part of his master plan.
I place the box back on the shelf, shoving it all the way in like I found it, and I return the chair to his desk.
I need to get downstairs before he comes home.
I have a feeling he won’t be as calm if he finds me this time.
Returning to the main level, I grab my phone and the Post-it with Marisol’s number. I need to see if she can meet up tomorrow. This can’t wait.
I pace the dining room as I text, and when I’m done, I stand before one of the windows, glancing down the street in search of headlights. If he was just running to the store for milk, he should be back any minute now.
I’m still alone.
My phone vibrates with a response from Marisol. She’s available. And more important, willing to continue our conversation. I shoot her back a quick reply, and when I glance out the window again, my stomach drops.
My red Audi is out front, only it’s parked in the street, under one of the oaks. Squinting, I hit the lights so I can see better, but all I can make out is a figure in the driver’s seat.
But before I have the chance to ponder my next move or rack my brain as to why Niall wouldn’t have parked in the driveway, the car speeds off.
I take a step back, away from the window.
I don’t think that was Niall.
I think that was the other me.
I scan the milk at the self-checkout and toss a pack of gum in the bag before fishing out a five-dollar bill. Ten minutes ago I was parked outside the Quik Shoppe gas station, hiring some cash-hungry kid to help make a series of wire transfers . . . only to have my card declined.
The man working the counter was just as frustrated as I was.
He tried at least six times before handing it back and suggesting that I call my bank.
But I refuse to panic.
I tried calling the bank on the way over, but the live customer-support hotline was already closed for the day, and the automated system couldn’t tell me anything.
First thing tomorrow morning I’ll go to the bank and get it cleared up. I’m sure it’s a glitch. Maybe the system is down. I paid the pimple-faced skateboarder a hundred bucks for his time and silence and told him to wait for me to get hold of him tomorrow.
There’s no way Brienne’s got this figured out—I’d bet my life on that.
I climb into Brienne’s car a few minutes later with my grocery bag and head back to the house.
My phone chimes when I’m halfway there.
“Hey, baby,” I answer. “Did you get my message earlier?”
I called her on my way to the gas station a while ago, but she didn’t answer, and the first time she called back, I was dealing with the card issue. I slow down, going five below the speed limit, and I take a few side roads, buying more time. It’s not like I’ve got anything else to do tonight. I told Brienne I was running to the store, and I’ve got her car. My options are limited.
“Yeah,” Sam says. “Really sucks. I was looking forward to hanging out tonight.”
“I know. Me too. I’ll make it up to you, though.”
“What are you doing right now?” she asks.
“Just ran out to pick up a few prescriptions for Eleanor,” I say. “She came home with a nasty case of pneumonia.”
Sam is quiet. It’s unlike her not to offer any kind of condolences. She’s got a soft spot for the elderly, having worked at a retirement home as a CNA all through high school.
“You want to stop over and hang out for a bit?” she asks. “Since you’re out and about?”
“I wish I could, but I have to head back and give Eleanor her meds before she goes to bed for the night,” I say, stopping at a vacant four-way stop. I decide I’m going to linger until I see headlights approaching from behind. “What are you doing right now?”
She’s quiet again.
I don’t like this.
“Sam?” I ask.
“Just . . . sitting at the apartment,” she finally answers.
“Do me a favor, okay? Go do something fun. Call up some of your friends from your old job and get drinks or something. I don’t want you to sit at home on a Friday night just because I have to.”
“Yeah,” she says. “I could see what they’re up to.”
There’s a despondency in her voice that isn’t usually there. A lack of animation. The way she’s speaking to me is robotic almost, like she’s lost in thought or like there’s something she’s thinking but isn’t saying.
I’m about to ask her if anything’s wrong when the jerk behind me lays on his horn.
I glance in my rearview mirror to find that I’m still alone at this intersection.
The sound came from her end. And it was loud, close.
She’s not at home—she’s out and about.
And she never lies.
“I’m almost home,” I say to her as I press my foot against the gas pedal. “I love you, okay?”
“I love you, too.”
“Good night, Sam.”
“Good night, Shane.”
I meet Marisol at her house late Saturday morning, and it’s just the two of us. She thought it would be better to talk in private for now, given the topic of conversation. I can’t stop yawning. Another night of sleeping next to “Niall” means I’m running on scattered, unrefreshing sleep cocktailed with adrenaline and a boost of stress-induced cortisol.
I begin by filling her in on the situation with Niall. I need to paint a picture and illustrate for her what kind of deranged sociopath we’re dealing with here. By the time I’m finished, she’s speechless, and that isn’t an easy feat.
“So now you see why it’s not completely out of the question that he spoofed my number,” I say. “He’s crazy. He’s insane. And he’ll go to any length to get what he wants.”
Her elbows rest against her kitchen table, her coffee untouched beside her.
A moment later, she clears her throat and sits up. “This is . . . this is disturbing.”
“I guess, Bri, if I’m being honest, I’m not sure why you’re here with me and not down at the police station filing a report.”
“I know.” I bury my face in my hands. “I know it’s hard to understand, but you don’t realize what I’m dealing with here. It’s like he’s one step ahead of me. And if he knows I’m onto him or that I’m going to the police, he’s going to run, and he’s going to take my money with him and he’s going to disappear, and I guess I was hoping I’d be able to get a name. Something. Anything—”
“His name?” Marisol laughs. “What good is a name to someone who doesn’t use it?”
“He’s going to bolt any day now. I know he is. If I have his name, then the police can at least charge him with something. If he leaves today, he’ll get away with this scot-free. There’ll be no name to pin this on. I want justice.”
Marisol places her hand over mine, head tilted.
“Oh, Bri.” Her eyes hold sympathy, and she exhales. “I know they never found the person who attacked you last year. And I know you’d do anything to bring them to justice. But you need to be careful. Some things aren’t worth the risk. I’d hate to see you jeopardize your safety for the sake of some roundabout retribution.”
My eyes burn, but I blink away the sting of tears.
She knows me too well.
But it isn’t just that.
“I’m scared,” I admit for the first time.
“And you should be.” She removes her hand from mine. “You can’t stay in that house. Not with him there.”
“If I don’t stay there tonight, he’ll know I’m onto him.”
“Doesn’t he already, though? If
knows there’s no Kate. And
know there’s no Kate. But you’re both pretending that you’re Kate . . . the cat’s already out of the bag. Don’t you see what he’s doing? He’s beating you at your own game. And honestly, I bet he’s having himself a hell of a time. People like that live for this stuff. It’s sick. And that makes him dangerous.”
With everything that’s come to light the last couple of days, I’ll admit I haven’t been bringing my A game. I haven’t had a chance to thoroughly think any of this through or come up with multipronged strategies. I’ve been taking it all one day at a time.
I’ve never been the kind of person who strategized their way through life.
It’s a foreign concept for me, an alien way of thinking.
All this time I thought I was onto him when in actuality he is probably onto me.
I finish my coffee with Marisol, and when I leave, she makes me promise to stay at her place tonight.
When I drive away, I head to the Pavilion Plaza, an outdoor shopping mall with myriad specialty stores I have no need to visit, but if I take my time and browse them all, I could kill the better part of the day and avoid being home with
I let Marisol’s words play in my head on the drive over, and I give myself two hours to decide whether or not I’m going to the police empty-handed—no physical evidence, not even the name of my perpetrator. I imagine being ridiculed, looked at like an idiot who trusted a stranger, treated the way that PI treated me weeks ago over the phone. And I imagine them bringing “Niall” in for initial questioning, only to have him run the first chance he gets.
And then he’ll always be out there, haunting me just like the person who attacked me last year.
This could be my only chance to get closure, to bring him to justice.
But at what cost?
I try to decant another splash of antifreeze into Brienne’s coffee creamer this morning, only the container is still as full as it was last time. She left an hour ago, saying she had to run some errands and would be back later. As soon as she was gone, I called up the bank to check on the status of the account, only to be told again by a robotic autoteller that the account had been “frozen at the owner’s request due to suspicious activity.”
I pressed “1” to be connected to a live person, who spent a solid five minutes verifying that I was indeed an authorized user on the account. Thank God I had the forethought to fill out that form last week.
I was then connected to a man named Hugo and politely insisted there must be some kind of mistake and asked him to remove the freeze. When that didn’t work, I threatened to get my (fictitious) attorney involved.
There are people on whom that strategy works.
And then there are people like Hugo, who respond by saying, “I’m ending the call, sir,” when my rant veered toward what the corporate world calls “abusive.”
I place the creamer back in the fridge, next to the gallon of skim milk I purchased last night, which is still full.
Leaning against the counter, I cross my arms and stare at the closed fridge.
With Sam’s stepdad, it was easy.
The bastard would polish off a fifth of Jack Daniel’s on a nightly basis. Little did he know then that his days of making disgusting and inappropriate comments to his fifteen-year-old stepdaughter were numbered. The pervert was literally drinking himself to death anyway. I just helped things along.
But at this rate . . . with Brienne . . . I’m going to have to go to plan B.
Heading upstairs, I grab the box from the back of my closet shelf in my study and enter the code—Sam’s and my anniversary. Buried beneath a collection of Social Security cards, birth certificates, and various forms of ID is the syringe and vial of potassium chloride I managed to finagle during a recent transport. We were taking some guy into OR 2 for a quadruple bypass, and the drugs were just sitting there on a tray while all the nurses were flitting about, prepping the room.
Everyone was busy.
Everyone was focused on their own duties.
It’s not my fault none of them noticed the lowly transporter slipping a few vials into his pockets.
From what I’ve read, an injection of this stuff should stop her heart in under a minute.
Her death will be painful.
But it’ll be fast.
And just like that, it’ll all be over.
Brienne will be dead, and I’ll be long gone before anyone has a chance to realize. Sure, Enid will know my face, and she’ll be able to give a description to police, but by the time any of that happens, there’ll be no trace of me on American soil, and I’m 100 percent sure the Quinnesec Bluff Police Department isn’t going to spend their precious resources sending one of their sleepy-eyed deputies on an international wild-goose chase.