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By KEVIN O'BRIEN
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Kevin O'Brien
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGlenview, Illinois—October 25, 1996
Her son was awfully quiet.
Ensconced on a park bench in the little playground, Maggie divided her time between composing a grocery list and watching her four-year-old, Mark, play on the jungle gym.
BBQ Potato Chips, she scribbled down on the personalized notepad with Ms. Margaret Farris printed along the top of the page with the cheesy illustration of a pumpkin patch. She had gotten the notepad from the March of Dimes or the American Cancer Society or one of those places that sent her junk mail. She always felt a bit guilty for keeping her "personal gift" and tossing out the rest of it. But not too guilty—she gave to the United Way at the office.
Maggie worked part-time, selling ad space for the Pioneer Press, a weekly newsmagazine for several suburbs along the Chicago North Shore. She cherished these Fridays off, spending the day with Mark. After this, they'd go grocery shopping at Dominic's. They now had a tradition on Friday nights: she and Mark would meet her husband, Ed, at the Glenview train station and they'd go for dinner at The Willow Inn.
Sitting on that park bench, bundled in a pea coat, with her light brown hair fluttering in the breeze, Maggie had no idea this wouldn't be one of their regular Friday nights. They wouldn't make it to the supermarket.
She added rice to the shopping list, and then K-Mart Bars. That was what Mark called Special K Bars. Maggie had gotten him to eat the healthy snacks, but still couldn't get him to call them by their correct name. So—in the Farris household, they were K-Mart Bars. And if somebody ate too many, they might get a stomachache and need to take some Pencil Bismal—another Markism.
Dressed in jeans, red tennis shoes, and his blue Chicago Bears jacket with the orange ITLITL logo on the back, he scurried over to the slide. The sun caught him at a certain angle, and made his curly, dark brown hair look golden.
It was a beautiful, cool-crisp fall afternoon. The trees were a riot of color, and fallen leaves danced across the grass. The playground stood in the far corner of a big playfield. Some shrubs near the monkey bars provided a natural barrier to a gully alongside a set of railroad tracks. It smelled like someone nearby was burning leaves.
She watched Mark careen down the slide—without making a sound. He played like some people studied—quietly and focused. While watching TV or eating or even lying in bed, he was a regular chatterbox. He even talked to himself. But not right now. He was concentrating, and the task at hand was making his way down the slide.
Maggie had no complaints. The silence was lovely—no traffic noise, just the occasional chirping from some birds. She went back to her grocery list. Rollos & mini Nestlé Crunch, she wrote. They needed something for the trick-or-treaters, but who was she kidding? She'd be dipping into both bags. Hell, she'd probably have to buy another supply before Halloween. Better she give out some candy that wasn't so tempting—maybe Mike & Ikes and Hot Tamales. No, she'd only eat those, too. Maggie jotted down a few more candy candidates, then scratched them out and scribbled: Halloween crap—whatever's on sale.
In the distance, she heard a train horn blaring. She automatically looked up. Mark wasn't on the slide anymore. She glanced over toward the vacant monkey bars—and then at the swing set. The empty swings swayed in the breeze. The chains holding them squeaked lightly.
"Mark?" she called. Maggie sprung up from the bench. Her notepad and pen fell to the ground. "Mark, honey, where are you?" she yelled. Glancing around the park, she had this awful feeling in the pit of her stomach. She didn't see him on the railroad tracks on the other side of the bushes. And he wasn't in the playfield, either. How could he have just vanished?
She kept hoping to hear his laugh. Maybe he was playing hide-and-seek with her. But all she heard was the train horn, getting louder and louder. She anxiously looked over toward the tracks again. There was still no sign of him.
The street was on the other side of the playfield, and she didn't see any cars coming or going. No one could have driven off with him. She'd only looked away for a few moments. With a hand on her forehead, she wandered around the small park, calling out his name.
Why in God's name didn't he answer her?
With a roar, the train sped by, drowning out her cries. As it churned down the tracks, the noise subsided—only to be replaced by the sound of her son's screams. Panic-stricken, all Maggie could think was that the train had run over him—and severed his foot or an arm.
Maggie raced toward the tracks and broke through a gap in the shrubs. Peering down at the gully that sloped down from the railroad tracks, she spotted Mark. "Honey?" she whispered.
Her little boy stood at the bottom of the ditch—amid the thorny bushes and overgrown grass. He'd just pulled something out of a black plastic garbage bag. Frozen, he held it in his trembling hand, and kept shrieking. It was a severed human arm.
He couldn't seem to move or let go of the mangled thing. And he couldn't stop screaming.
Horrified, Maggie rushed down the gully to him. She had to knock the severed arm out of his grasp. The empty black plastic bag danced in the wind. Maggie hugged her young son, but he kept screaming. His little body shook in her embrace.
Maggie glanced down at the blue-white limb amid the overgrown grass. The fingertips on the hand had been cut off, and hundreds of ants were crawling all over it.
* * *
The headline and subhead ran across the top of page three of Saturday's Chicago Tribune:
ANOTHER GRISLY DISCOVERY IN 'GARBAGE BAG' KILLING
Severed Arm Found Near Glenview Playground
Seated on a stool at the window counter of the Plaza del Lago Starbucks in Wilmette, he paid no attention to the traffic on Sheridan Road or the view of the lake. He sipped his Grande Americano and pored over the news article. He was a bit disappointed the story hadn't made the front page.
No photo accompanied the article, but there was a map of the Chicago North Shore suburbs. It pinpointed each location where a garbage bag containing a body part was found. So far there were three sites on the map, all within a few miles of each other.
The most recent find had been the right arm, which he'd tossed in a ditch by some railroad tracks near a playground in Glenview. He'd sealed the bag up pretty well, but that was no guarantee raccoons or birds wouldn't get to it.
Fortunately, a four-year-old Glenview boy—the news article didn't give his name—found it first. The news story indicated that his handiwork was still intact—nothing gnawed away, no bite marks to mar the clean, surgical cuts he'd made just below her shoulder.
He hadn't been as lucky with the first find. Wood creatures had discovered the left leg hours before a group of schoolkids on a field trip stumbled upon it along a forest trail in Glencoe's Turnbull Woods on Monday morning. The possums or raccoons had dragged the garbage bag—along with the half-eaten limb—to the path's edge.
Another animal, a collie named Tippin, had unearthed the left arm wrapped in a garbage bag by some bushes at the edge of Tower Road Beach in Winnetka. Bradley Reece, a retired English teacher, had been taking Tippin on an unleashed run along the beach when the dog had made the discovery late Thursday afternoon.
"Cook County Medical Examiner Dennis Gotlieb has confirmed the severed leg and arms are from the same unidentified female victim," the article stated. "The fingertips of both hands had been cut off. Gotlieb indicated that the victim appears to have been killed within the past two weeks."
Nine days ago, to be exact, thought the man, hunched over the counter with his newspaper. He'd strangled her last Thursday. It was supposed to have been a night of reconciliation, or at least she'd thought so. He'd surprised her with a bottle of champagne and a carton of Ben & Jerry's strawberry. She never got to finish that first glass of champagne.
Three garbage bags containing her remains were still out there at various locations along the North Shore. A cold snap in the weather had helped keep the limbs relatively fresh. They hadn't yet found the right leg, her lower torso, and the upper torso. But they would—soon enough.
He didn't think they would ever find her head. He'd buried it very carefully.
According to the news article, one of the detectives on the scene at Tower Road Beach on Thursday had referred to the discovery as part of the Garbage Bag Murder.
The man sitting in Starbucks hoped the moniker caught on. He liked the sound of it.
"If I told you a secret—I mean, a really, majorly serious secret—would you promise not to blab to anybody?"
Seventeen-year-old Candy Kruger couldn't keep it inside any longer. She had to talk to someone. She nervously ran a hand through her light brown hair—styled after Rachel in Friends. The sophisticated cut seemed incongruous with her St. Regina High School uniform: white Peter Pan–collar blouse, plaid kilt, and knee socks.
Her best friend, Trish Scanlin, gazed at her from behind a pair of slightly mannish glasses. She had frizzy red hair, which today was pulled back and braided. She blinked several times. "God, what is it?" she whispered.
"Candice and Patricia!" their biology teacher, Ms. Trotter, admonished them. Maybe it was the photo of President Clinton—right under the photo of Pope John Paul II—by the blackboard, but Ms. Trotter always reminded Candy of Hillary Clinton. Though a redhead, she did her hair like the first lady—and she had that same brainiac, no-nonsense demeanor. "Eyes on your work, and put your gloves on, please," Ms. Trotter said.
Candy automatically straightened up on her stool. With a sigh, she slipped on the pair of latex gloves that had been placed on the worktable in front of her. She rolled her eyes at Trish, and then gazed down at the wrinkly pink-grayish dead thing in a pan with a plastic bag rolled up beside it. Candy's lip curled. Part of the umbilical cord was still attached to the fetal pig they had to dissect for class. She and Trish had been working with the unborn piglet for three days now, and Candy still wasn't used to it. Trish did most of the cutting. They'd named the poor thing Boris, after their drippy trig teacher who stunk from wearing too much bargain-basement cologne. Their little Boris stunk as well—from formaldehyde or whatever the solution was preserving him.
According to Ms. Trotter, the insides of a pig were similar to a human's, and that was why this animal was so ideal for dissection. And no fetal pigs were murdered for this biology class—at least, not exactly. They were the unborn piglets of sows butchered by the meatpacking industry. They were extracted from the dead sow's uterus.
That little bit of information didn't make Candy feel any better about cutting into the poor thing. And it had her swearing off bacon—at least until the end of the semester.
She kept gazing at Boris and at the plastic bag in which they stored him between classes. She thought about cutting into him, and couldn't help making a connection to the latest discovery in the Garbage Bag Killing.
The day before, someone had found the woman's upper torso. It had been inside a black garbage bag at a construction site—a half-finished new mansion in Hubbard Woods, not far from the house they used in Home Alone. Like anyone would want to live in that new mansion now, no matter how pretty it was, even in that ritzy cake-eater neighborhood.
According to the TV news, the torso had some distinct markings.
"So—what's the big secret?" Trish whispered. Hovering over Boris, she held a suture in her gloved hand. But she was looking at Candy.
Ms. Trotter was busy helping Barbie Ray, who was a total moron, so Candy figured it was okay to talk. "You know how yesterday they found a new section of that woman who got murdered?" she said under her breath. "And you know how my aunt supposedly killed herself?"
Trish scowled at her. "What do you mean, supposedly?"
"I mean, I don't think she committed suicide," Candy admitted in a quiet voice. She kept her head down, pretending to be focused on the fetal pig in front of her. "I think she's the one whose body parts they're finding all over the place."
"You're kidding!" Trish said, out loud.
Candy automatically glanced toward Ms. Trotter, who glared at them. "Patricia, Candice? Is there something you'd like to share with the rest of the class? And does it have anything to do with the digestive system of our specimens?"
Their mouths open, both Candy and Trish quickly shook their heads. Then they pretended to get back to work on Boris. Candy stared at the internal organs of the unborn thing. She thought of her Aunt Lisa—and the section of torso found at that construction site.
Candy felt sick. She remembered how beautiful her Aunt Lisa was. They weren't too far apart in age. Lisa was only twenty-five. She had wavy, shoulder-length chestnut hair and big blue eyes with long, thick lashes. Candy had seen her without makeup, and she was still gorgeous. Candy had seen her naked, too. Her aunt had taken her swimming at the country club pool a few times over the summer, and Candy had snuck a curious peek at her in the locker room. She felt clunky and pale in her aunt's naked presence. Lisa had long, tan, shapely legs, a tiny waist, and petite perfect breasts. She seemed flawless—until Candy glimpsed the purple-hued bruise on Lisa's lower back. She also had an ugly scar along her left rib cage—a cluster of three angry-reddish marks, each about the size of a nickel.
Lisa seemed to catch her staring, and she quickly wrapped a towel around her. Earlier, while swimming, Candy had wondered why her aunt—with her killer body—would wear a modest one-piece swimsuit to the pool. Now she knew. "God, Aunt Lisa, what happened?" Candy asked. "It looks like you burned yourself, and your back...."
Her Aunt Lisa just shook her head, which Candy took as a cue to shut the hell up. Outside, kids screamed, giggled, and splashed in the pool. But in their little alcove of the locker room, Candy just stared at her Aunt Lisa for a moment.
Lisa let out a nervous laugh. "Oh, I'm such a klutz. I—I had an accident with the barbecue, hon. That's what I get for messing around in your Uncle Glenn's territory. I fell—and suddenly there were hot coals and me sprawled out all over the patio...." With a wave of her hand, she seemed to dismiss the subject. "I'm so embarrassed. I don't even want to talk about it. You know what I think? I think we should head to Old Orchard and go shopping. Fall's just around the corner, hon, and you'll need clothes for all the dates you'll have...."
Clutching the towel around her, Aunt Lisa retreated toward the shower area. Candy frowned as she watched her duck around the corner of the tiled room. She'd known right then that story about the barbecue was probably a lie.
Glenn was Candy's uncle—her mom's younger brother and a big-shot surgeon. He and Lisa had been married for a year. Lisa had a brother with cancer or something, and he was always in and out of the hospital. That was how Lisa had met Glenn—during one of her hospital visits to her brother. She didn't really have any other family. As for girlfriends, the way Lisa explained it she just grew apart from most of her friends when she married Glenn. She became sort of a big sister to Candy—a big sister with money, who took her places and bought her stuff. Plus she was funny and sweet, and a good listener. Candy confided in her. She didn't think there was anything she couldn't tell her Aunt Lisa.
And yet on that afternoon in the women's changing room by the country club pool, she'd realized there were some things Lisa kept secret from her.
Candy wouldn't put it together about the bruise and the burn marks until after Aunt Lisa disappeared.
Excerpted from TERRIFIED by KEVIN O'BRIEN Copyright © 2012 by Kevin O'Brien. Excerpted by permission of PINNACLE BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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