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Laundromats made good hunting grounds.
Alone, for now, he sat back to wait, listening to the empty rumble of the drier and the tinny radio tuned to the blues. He liked a little blues on a hunting trip. The music was gritty and real and full of pain. Like the sweetness of a dying scream.
He'd never guessed how invincible killing could make him feel. The godlike power of holding life and death in his hands. It had taken a mentor to teach him. To guide him. Until he'd become brave. Until he'd become strong. Stronger than he'd ever imagined he could be.
But it had been too long since he'd tasted that strength. Eight months of fantasizing. Eight months of lying low, waiting for warm weather, waiting for the police and press to grow bored, waiting for word.
Now he was hungry to feel his power.
The glass door swung open and for a moment the rush of traffic outside eclipsed the low thunk of the bass guitar. The door closed, and a blonde shouldering a duffel trudged past the vending machines and between rows of whirring washers.
He took a deep breath. The air smelled sweet with detergent and fabric softener. Not as sweet as her hair would smell. Not as sweet as the scent of her blood. He'd never understand why women who would never walk down a dark street alone would brave a night like this to wash their laundry. Clean clothes were damn important to some people. He smiled as she came closer.
He could see she was older than the three he'd done last fall. Delicate crow's-feet touched the outer corners of her eyes. Her mouth held the pinched look of a woman who had to work hard to make ends meet. She was probably in her mid-thirties, maybe close to forty. He didn't like older women. They were smarter, not as easily misled.
She glanced at him with narrowed eyes. As if she could see something in him that bothered her.
For a moment he considered walking out, checking the Laundromat down the street. The last thing he wanted was for her to figure him out and give his description to the police. He couldn't afford to give them a gift they didn't deserve.
She opened one of the small, top loaders and sorted whites into it. Bras. Lacy panties.
She was the one.
He looked at her again, more closely this time. If her hair were a little lighter in color, if her lips were set in a cruel smile, she would look like his mother. He liked that thought. It got his blood pumping. Maybe he could even dress her in the slutty miniskirts his mother used to wear. And one of those oversize shirts with big shoulder pads that had gone out in the eighties.
He shifted in his chair. If he went on fantasizing about what he was going to do, his growing arousal would tip her off for sure. Besides, after eight long months, he'd fantasized long enough. He wanted action.
Humming along with the radio, she pulled a small bottle of detergent from her duffel, measured it into the cap and poured it into the machine.
He stood up and crossed to one of the machines whose wash cycle had finished. Pulling out wet jeans, he threw them in a drier near the woman. He pasted his most innocent and pitiful expression on his face. "Excuse me."
She glanced up at him, offering a stranger's smile, brief and insincere.
"My girlfriend told me to get some of those drier sheets. She says she doesn't like the smell of my clothes. If you don't mind my asking, what kind do you use?"
She dipped a hand into her duffel and pulled out a pink box. "These are the best. They smell the best and do a great job controlling static. Do you want to try one?"
Crossing the aisle, he reached into his pocket. He had to be fast. He couldn't let her catch on. Not until he had her where he wanted her. He tilted his head at the pink box, as if he really gave a damn about fabric softener. "Oh, I've seen commercials for that kind." He reached out as if he intended to take a closer look at the package. Instead, he grabbed her arm.
Her eyes flew wide. She pulled back, trying to free herself, trying to fight.
He whipped his hand out of his pocket and stabbed the syringe into her arm. He held her as she fought. Finally the drug took effect, and she swayed and stumbled into him.
Moving quickly, before anyone else wandered into the Laundromat, he pulled his laundry bag over her head. When he'd pulled it down past her waist, he positioned her swaying body next to a laundry cart and flopped her over. Lifting her by the hips, he heaved her into the cart.
A tinge of pain shot through his back. They were always heavier when they were dead-weight. Once he let her loose in the forest, once she was fighting for her life, he wouldn't have to worry about back strain. Then the pain would all be hers.
He stuffed her feet into the oversize bag, pulled the drawstring closed and tied it. Smiling to himself, he wheeled the cart to the exit and his waiting van outside.
Yes, Laundromats were great for hunting. And he'd just bagged himself some prey.
Diana Gale had done everything she could think of to make her twin sister's post-wedding gift opening a memory to cherish. She'd decorated her apartment with purple irises and white streamers. She'd poured mimosas and coffee for Sylvie's handful of out-of-town friends. And, not much of a cook herself, she'd made brunch reservations at one of Madison's best restaurants. But as Sylvie sat on the couch next to her groom and tore open the card attached to the last silver-and-white package, Diana knew something was wrong.
Sylvie's face blanched. Clutching at the gift, she looked to her new groom with stricken eyes. "Bryce."
"What is it?"
Sylvie spread the wedding card before Bryce Walker. She looked up at Diana.
She didn't have to say who the gift was from.
Diana knew by the alarm shining in her sister's blue eyes — eyes identical to hers. And his.
A tremor crept up Diana's spine, raising the hair on the back of her neck. She hadn't spoken to their birth father in months, neither had Sylvie, but a day hadn't passed that they didn't think about him. Now the door of communication she'd thrown open would never be able to fully close.
"Who is it from?" One of Sylvie's friends who'd traveled up from Chicago for the wedding eyed Sylvie with a curious smile.
Diana plastered a smile to her own lips. Lisa might have been one of Sylvie's workmates from her previous life, but there was something about the woman Diana didn't trust. It was as if she were constantly on the prowl for a wisp of gossip to provide herself with excitement, even at someone else's expense. The last thing either Sylvie or Diana needed was for Lisa and Sylvie's other friends at the morning gift opening to learn who had given this particular gift. "Just someone we know."
Leaning the gift against the side of the couch where she and Bryce sat, Sylvie pushed to her feet. "You'll have to excuse me. I'm not feeling so well." She darted from the room and down the hall toward Diana's bathroom.
Bryce handed the card to Diana and started after his bride.
She gripped the card with trembling hands. Opening it, her eyes flew to the simple message scrawled beneath the wedding verse. A message from their father, serial killer Dryden Kane.
A father should have the privilege of walking his daughter down the aisle. I miss my girls. I look forward to your visit.
A newspaper clipping lay between the tissue folds inside the card. Several months old, the newspaper article was dated October of the previous year.
Copycat Killer Claims Three
Cold filtered through her blood. She knew Dryden Kane's silence wouldn't last forever. She knew he'd find a way to contact them. She also knew in her bones that her hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, hadn't heard the last of the killer who was copying Kane's crimes — a man the police believed was carrying out the orders of Kane himself.
"Is Sylvie okay?" Lisa looked down the hall, eyes glowing with predatory interest.
"Maybe we should see if she needs anything," another friend offered.
"What is in that card?" asked a third.
Waving off their questions, Diana eyed the gift that leaned against the side of the couch still shrouded in its silver-and-white wedding-bell paper. She had to think. She had to figure out what to do. She had to talk to Sylvie and Bryce. But in order to do any of those things, first she must deflect Sylvie's friends and their curiosity.
She made a show of looking at her watch. "Why don't you guys head down to the restaurant?"
"The restaurant? Now?" Lisa shook her head.
"I think we should help Sylvie."
"Bryce is helping her."
"There's only so much a man can do." Lisa stood up from her chair and plopped her hands on her hips. "I've been friends with Sylvie longer than any of you. It's my duty to help her through this."
Diana tried to tamp down her annoyance. Lisa might have known Sylvie the longest, but she had no clue about what they were dealing with. "Making sure the restaurant doesn't give away our table will be the most help, Lisa. Really."
Lisa frowned. Apparently she wanted more excitement than securing a spot for brunch would provide.
"Lisa, please." Diana offered her best pleading smile, praying the woman had the sense to stop pushing. "It would really help out."
Reluctantly, Lisa nodded. "All right. But if the three of you don't join us soon, I'll be back to check on you." She gathered her posse and headed out of Diana's apartment.
As soon as the door shut behind them, Diana set the card on the counter and rushed to check on Sylvie. She tapped on the bathroom door.
Bryce stepped out into the hall and closed the door behind him.
"How is she?"
"Sick. I'm sure all of us feel that way to some extent."
Diana couldn't agree more. But Diana's nausea was mixed with a heavy dose of guilt. "Is she going to be okay?"
Bryce paused, studying Diana's face. "We were going to wait to tell people, but you might as well know now."
"Oh, Bryce! That's wonderful. I know how much you both want kids. Congratulations."
"Thanks." Bryce smiled despite the concern still cloaking his brow. "But I'm worried about her. Especially with all this."
"You're leaving on your honeymoon tomorrow. She won't have to worry about it. At least not for a few weeks."
"If I can convince her to go."
"She has to go."
He shrugged. "You know Sylvie. She's worried about you."