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THE OTHER TWIN
By Hunter Morgan
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2003 Hunter Morgan All right reserved. ISBN: 0-8217-7400-X
Chapter OneThe present
"OK, your turn," eleven-year-old Carrie said.
Her twin sister, Cassie, spun the spinner on the game board.
The girls were up in the tree house that their dad had built in their backyard. It had been a present before he left. Carrie wished her dad hadn't moved out and was divorcing her mother. She really missed him, but she liked the tree house.
Cassie jumped up and headed for the wooden ladder.
"Where you going?" Carrie frowned. She was winning. She didn't want her sister to quit now. "You didn't hop yet."
"I'm going to bathroom." Cassie turned to back down the ladder. "I'm hungry. I'm going to make a peanut butter and J sandwich. You want one?"
Carrie twisted a blond pigtail. "No. Just cookies."
"Mom'll get mad. We're not supposed to eat cookies in the middle of the day."
Carrie began to count the paper money she had already won. "So don't tell her." She stuck her tongue out at her sister.
Cassie stuck out her pink tongue, too, and disappeared down the ladder.
Carrie was just starting to count her twenties when she heard a man's voice call her name from the far side of the fence. She thought she heard a puppy bark.
Was it her dad? He wasn't supposed come today. Had he bought her a puppy? They had always wanted a puppy, but Mom always said no. Now that he wasgone, their dad was always buying them things Mom said they couldn't have. "Dad?"
Carrie shimmied down the ladder and stood at the gate for a second. Her mom would be mad if she talked to Dad today. It wasn't their visitation day, and her mom got really hyper about visitation days. The puppy yipped again.
Carrie pushed the gate open and stepped out of the yard.
Sydney padded barefoot across the kitchen floor, the wood cool on her feet. As she poured herself a cup of freshly brewed coffee, she gazed out the window of her ocean-block house. The sky was a hazy blue; it was going to be another scorcher.
"Going out to do drills, Mom," Krista called from the front of the house.
The door slammed, rattling a picture frame in the front hall, and Sydney smiled. With her thirteen-year-old daughter occupied, she could enjoy her coffee in peace before she went downstairs to her office to start her workday, without a confrontation with the little she-beast she had given birth to. She had an August deadline for her next book, A Fool's Guide to the Family Vacation, and she needed to get her ever-expanding butt in gear. She'd never missed a deadline since the first Fool's Guide had come out nine years ago, and she wasn't about to miss this one.
Sydney carried her favorite mug to kitchen table and tucked one bare foot under her as she sat down. Sipping the hazelnut coffee, she flipped through yesterday's mail. Bill, junk, bill, something from her publishing company, a weekly news magazine. She didn't have time this morning to read the whole magazine cover to cover the way she liked to, but she thought she would treat herself to the political cartoon page before she headed downstairs. As she flipped through the pages, a headline caught her eye.
Tragic Coincidence, it read. Sydney didn't have time for anyone's tragic coincidences this morning. She needed to call one of her researchers before she started the chapter on finding the right hotel, and she was already short on work hours today. Krista had a dentist appointment this afternoon and then softball practice, and there was the obligatory visit to her mother to get through as well.
Sydney took another sip of coffee and ran her hand over the glossy page, folding it back.
Another child kidnapping. Shit. Did she have some kind of sick radar or something? How did she always find these articles?
Every time she read about one, her heart stopped. There was so much depravity in the world these days that it was a wonder her heart could keep starting again. The little girl, a twin, was missing from near Annapolis-an hour from Sydney and a world away. But the story wasn't about the kidnapping; it was about the coincidence.
She set the cup down, the coffee suddenly bitter in her mouth. She heard her ex's voice in her head as she skimmed through the article, her heart beating faster: If that shit bothers you so much, stop reading it.
He was right, of course. But she couldn't help herself.
According to the article, the coincidence was that the missing child, Carrie Morris, who was a political activist's daughter, was also the daughter of a woman whose twin sister had been kidnapped and murdered almost thirty years ago.
Sydney suddenly felt sick to her stomach, and for a moment she thought she was going to throw up.
The woman's twin sister had been kidnapped and murdered in 1972-two years before Marla's kidnapping.
Sydney couldn't catch her breath. She wanted to put the magazine down, but she couldn't stop reading.
While no one was ever charged with the murder, it is
widely believed that recently paroled Charles Eshey, 62,
was responsible for the murder. Eshey was tried and
convicted for the 1974 murder of twelve-year-old Marla
Sydney dropped the news magazine on the table as flit were anthrax tainted. She pressed her hand to her pounding heart. Charles Eshey paroled? That son of a bitch.
It was impossible, of course; the article had it wrong. They were always screwing up, and then the following week the error would be noted in a little box near the editorials.
Charles Eshey couldn't have recently been paroled. He had been sentenced to life in prison. He'd served less than twenty-nine years. Sydney bent over, realizing she was hyperventilating. Her heart was pounding out of control and she felt dizzy.
There was a sudden explosion behind her, and she shot out of the chair as lines spidered across the picture window before the glass fell to the floor in fragments. A softball hit the floor with a thump and rolled to a stop against the refrigerator.
It was enough to snap Sydney back to reality. She leaned against the refrigerator, pressing her hand to her pounding heart. She heard the back door open and Krista run up the steps from the laundry room.
The door in the kitchen opened and Krista stepped in, halting in her cleats. No cleats on the hardwood, it was a rule. The green-eyed strawberry-blond teen stared at the window and then at her mother. "Oops. Sorry about that," she said sheepishly from under her teal visor.
Sydney exhaled and took in a deep breath. Somehow she managed a little laugh. "Your screwball?"
"Not screwing this morning," Krista said hesitantly, testing the maternal waters.
Just seeing her daughter safe and sound made Sydney smile. Right now she wouldn't have cared if Krista had broken every window in the house. She had an overwhelming urge to run barefoot over the sticky glass and throw her arms around Krista, but she didn't dare, knowing her daughter would rebuke her. Krista was at that age where moms just didn't hug daughters often-especially when they'd just shattered a window with a softball.
"Get the broom," Sydney said, heading for the stairs that lead to her office below. "I'm going down to work. I'll call the insurance guy." She turned on her heels. "You might as well turn off the air-conditioning on the whole floor. No sense in cooling the entire Atlantic coast."
Krista tossed her glove on a chair and raced to the hall closet in obvious relief. "I'll take care of it, Mom."
Sydney closed her office door and made a beeline for the phone. On the way down the steps she had considered calling Joel. If what the magazine said was true, if Eshey was out on parole, if a child had been kidnapped and there could be a connection with Eshey, Krista's father had a right to know.
But she knew Joel too well. He would tell her she was overreacting. Overextrapolating. He would say it was too far a stretch to suggest that if Eshey was out, then, as the daughter of a twin whose twin was murdered by Eshey, Krista could be in danger.
Sydney slid into her leather chair behind her desk and reached for her electronic Rolodex. She brought up New Jersey Victims Services and punched the number into her phone. She received yearly updates on Eshey, and last she had heard, he was still in jail. He wasn't even supposed to be eligible for parole for more than a year.
"Victims Services, may I help you?"
Sydney tried to calmly relate what she needed, and she was put on hold while her name was verified. Elevator music played in her ear as she tried not to let her imagination run away from her. She doodled on her blotter, drawing circles that spiraled inward. Eshey wasn't out. Even if he was, the missing girl in Annapolis was just what the article said, a coincidence.
She dropped the pen and it rolled under the desk. "Yes?"
"You were sent a letter on February fourteenth notifying you of Mr. Eshey's parole hearing and then another on, let's see, March twelfth notifying you that Mr. Eshey was being released on parole on April nineteenth. The note cites good behavior and a heart condition as extenuating circumstances."
Good behavior? Good frigging behavior? He killed Marla, for God's sake.
Again Sydney felt short of breath. "No. I never received such a letter."
"It says right here that notification of all hearings are to be sent to Mrs. Sydney MacGregor, 701 Seagrass, Albany Beach, Delaware-"
"Not 701," Sydney interrupted. "107. You had the address wrong."
"Hmm," said the woman on the other end of the line. "We just had our computer system updated before Christmas, what with all the new 911 addresses. Let me make that correction now."
"Make that correction now? How the hell is that going to help me now?" she demanded. "He's out!"
"Yes, ma'am," the woman said patiently. "Released on April nineteenth, as stated in the letter."
Sydney sat back in her chair. This was the stuff nightmares and bad movies were made of. "Is ... is there any other information you can give me? Where is he?"
"Well, he's in the state of New Jersey, because parolees must remain in the state. I can't give his address, of course. That's confidential."
Sydney wanted to ask her what right a man who had raped, tortured, and murdered a twelve-year-old girl had to confidentiality, but she had dealt with this bureaucracy long enough to know she'd be wasting her breath. "What about his parole officer?"
"The name of his parole officer." Sydney grabbed a pen from a tin can Krista had made for her years ago, decorated with colored yarn. "I want the name and number of his parole officer."
"Let's see. Yes, I believe I can provide that information."
Sydney jotted down the name and phone number. A woman. She hung up and called the number immediately. She got a voice mail message. "Hello, this is Cynthia Carmack, please leave your name, number, and a brief message as to how I can help you."
She sounded like a bank manager or a doctor's receptionist instead of a parole officer whose clients were thieves, pedophiles, and murderers. Sydney left a clipped message with her home and cell phone numbers and disconnected. She punched Joel's office number.
"MacGregor and Patterson. This is Sue."
"Hey, Sue, it's Sydney. Joel in?"
"Sure is, hang on," she said sweetly. Too sweetly. What Sue didn't know was that Sydney knew Joel had been doing her even before the divorce.
The line clicked. "Hey, Syd, what's up?"
Tears welled suddenly in her eyes. She was well over Joel. She had loved him once, but the hell he had put her through with his drinking had been too much. The love hadn't survived. Still, hearing his voice brought a lump of emotion up in her throat. "He might be out," she croaked.
"Who?" Sydney leaned forward, resting her head in her hand, her elbow propped on her messy desk. "Eshey."
There was a silence on the other end of the phone.
"Joel, did you hear me? He's out. The son of a bitch is out on parole for good behavior. Can you fucking believe it?"
"What about your New Year's resolution?"
It was Joel's attempt at a joke. He had given up booze and she'd given up her favorite swear word. They had both agreed that such language wasn't good for an impressionable teenager.
"It gets better, Joel. He was released almost two months ago, but there was a screwup with victims services so I was never notified." She got up, taking the cordless phone with her. She was too edgy to just sit. "There was a kidnapping in Annapolis last week. The daughter of a woman whose twin sister was probably murdered by Eshey before he killed Marla."
"I know where your head is going, but, Syd," he said calmly, "it's just a coincidence. A terrible one, but-"
"A twin," she said, hating to say it aloud. "The little girl who is missing has a twin sister."
Joel was silent again for a moment.
Sydney reached out and adjusted the lamp above her bonsai tree on a bookshelf.
"Well?" she demanded.
"You need to stay calm, Syd."
"I am calm. I'm so fucking calm I want to take a pen off my desk, drive to Jersey, and sink it into the man's heart. Calmly, of course."
He made a sound in his throat, and she exhaled heavily.
"I called his parole officer, but she wasn't in."
"Hell, he's got to be now, what, pushing sixty?"
"Over sixty," she said. "With some kind of heart condition. Supposedly, part of the reason he was released was because of his poor health."
"Well, maybe you coming at him with a Bic will put him over the edge and he'll die of a heart attack."
"Joel! This is not funny." Her tone bordered on the edge of hysteria.
"I know," he said gently, in that voice that had once made her toes curl. "But remember, you said a long time ago that you weren't going to live your life in fear. You vowed you weren't going to raise Krista in that kind of shadow."
Sydney leaned against the bookcase and closed her eyes. She could hear Krista upstairs going down the hall, then the sound of one of the heat pumps kicking off.
"She busted the window in the kitchen this morning. The one next to the sliding doors."
"Screwball?" he asked.
"Not screwing this morning." She had to smile, despite herself. Krista was an excellent softball player and was really coming into her own, pitching. She was consumed by the sport-ate, slept, and drank it-and Sydney was glad for the sense of direction in her teen daughter's life. It kept her mind off boys and drinking and drugs and all of the temptations the world had to offer young girls these days.
"You want me to come over? Hold your hand? Be your punching bag, even?"
She shook her head. "Nah.
Excerpted from THE OTHER TWIN by Hunter Morgan
Copyright © 2003 by Hunter Morgan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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This story could almost have been torn from the headlines of any big city newspaper. Morgan gives a tightly written tale with a twisting plot and characters that remain with the reader long after the book is finished. I loved the fact that the protagonist could have been the woman next door. The ending was a smash. I'm searching for more Hunter Morgan suspense. Great book! Great author!
This was a great story; the only negative thing about the book, however, is the editing. There are hundreds of typographical/writing errors. At certain places in the book, even the wrong character's name is used, and it was frustrating, but the story itself was great!!
This is the 1st HM book I have read. And now online trying to find some other titles of hers. The scheme of these characters was very welled formed and the ending took me a bit by surprise. I would recommend it to anyone who likes suspense.
THE OTHER TWIN scared the bejesus out of me! I had to sleep with the lights on. Hunter Morgan is an excellent writer of suspense.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Other Twin by Hunter Morgan. I thought the characters came alive and were truly believable. This is a great book to take to the beach. I'd put it with the best thrillers I've read all summer.
I couldn't sleep until I finished THE OTHER TWIN. The characters were ordinary people, yet so real that I could see them. This was a chilling story with frightening twists and a surprise ending. This is the first Hunter Morgan book I've read, and I will definitely look for more titles by this author.
this book never really comes together. The storyline didn't flow smoothly, and there were a lot of details that weren't explained. This book started out with a lot of promise but doesn't really deliver.