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Don't Turn Around
By HUNTER MORGAN
ZEBRA BOOKS Copyright © 2008 Colleen Faulkner
All right reserved.
Chapter One The Beginning
The phone woke her on the first ring. She was used to calls in the middle of the night, either from the hospital or, more recently, from the assisted-living facility, where her father was a resident. As she reached for the phone in the dark, she prayed he hadn't wandered away from Oak Orchard again. One more incident, the director had warned her, and she would have to "seek placement for Mr. Mc- Daniel elsewhere."
Even though she was used to the interruptions of her sleep, her heart still thumped in her chest as her fingers found the cordless phone on the nightstand. Calls in the middle of the night were never good.
"Casey? Oh, Jesus," a female cried on the other end of the line. "You got to help me."
Casey reached for the lamp switch, fumbling. Her heart raced faster. She recognized the voice, but still half asleep, she couldn't put a name to it. "Who is this?"
"It's me! Linda! Linda Truman."
Casey thought she heard a thump in the background. Linda yelped.
"Do you hear that? Did you hear it?" Linda pleaded. Her voice trembled on the verge of hysteria. "Oh, Jesus, Casey. You got to help me. He's back. It's him, I know it's him."
Still trying to find the lamp, Casey threw her feet over the side of the bed. At last, she located the switch and turned it. Light flooded the room.
"Linda, you have to calm down. Talk to me. Who's trying to break in?"
"It's him," Linda gasped. "It's Charlie. I know it's him."
The terror in Linda's voice became Casey's terror. She had seen the woman's battered, bloody face two weeks ago in the ER. She'd held Linda's hand while an intern had applied a cast to her broken wrist. Casey gripped the handset. "Doors and windows locked?"
"Yeah. But it sounds like he's got a crowbar or somethin'. He's tryin' to get in the back door. I ... I fell asleep on the couch and now he's here, Casey. Oh, Jesus God, he's here."
"Did you call the police? You called the police, right?"
"No. No, I called you." She was crying so hard now that her words were nearly indistinguishable. "You ... you said I could call you any t-time day or n-night."
Casey's bare feet met the bumpy, soft wool of the rug on the floor beside her bed. "Listen to me. You have to calm down. I'm going to hang up, Lin-"
"No! No, don't hang up," she begged, sniffing. "Don't leave me!"
"I'm going to hang up and call 911. The police will come, Linda." Casey raced across the cold wood floor and grabbed a pair of dirty jeans off a chair. "They'll be able to get there faster than I can."
"No, don't hang up," Linda half sobbed, half shouted. "Don't leave me alone with him. He's gonna kill me. He told me he was gonna kill me if I left him. If I ever kicked him out."
"Linda," Casey said firmly. She cradled the phone between her shoulder and her ear as she stepped into her jeans, hopping on one foot and then the other. "We both have to hang up so I can call 911, but I'll call you right back. I'll call you from my cell phone so I can talk to you while I'm in the car."
"You swear you'll call me back?" Linda's voice sounded smaller than before. Deflated. She didn't believe Casey. She didn't believe Casey would come for her.
"I swear. Now, where are you right now? In the living room?"
"Yeah. Yeah, and he's at the back door. It opens into the hallway. I ... I live in a trailer."
"Can you get to a bedroom or a bathroom, Linda? Somewhere with a door and a lock?"
There was another loud noise in the background. Casey thought she heard splintering wood and she fumbled to zip up her jeans.
"Linda!" Casey repeated, grasping the phone again, as if she could somehow physically reach the terrified woman. "Are you listening to me? Answer me! Can you get to a room with a lock on the door?"
"No. Yeah. Yeah. I ... I think so. But ... the front door. Maybe I should go out-"
"No. No, don't go outside. You don't know where he is."
"He's at the back door!" Linda shrieked.
"But he could run around to the front at any moment. You're safer inside. Go to the closest room. Lock yourself in." Casey gripped the phone tighter. "Now run, Linda. Take the phone with you and run!"
"The bedroom," Linda said almost trancelike. "Run for the bedroom."
"I'll call you right back, Linda. I swear." Casey hit the "end call" button on the phone. Hearing a dial tone, she punched in 911, trying to catch her breath as the call clicked through.
"This is nine-one-one. Is this an emergency?" came the practiced voice on the other end of the line.
Casey took a deep breath. This was not the first time she had had to call 911. She knew how to do this. She just had to stay calm. "Yes," she said. She took another deep breath. "This is an emergency."
For a moment, Linda stood motionless in the middle of the tiny living room, the phone still to her ear, her casted arm hanging heavy at her side. Casey was gone. She'd hung up. There was nothing but dead silence on the other end of the phone.
Linda heard a laugh track come from the tiny TV that sat on the microwave cart under the window. Her gaze shifted to the squiggly lines of the dim picture. Seinfeld.
Suddenly, another loud slam against the back door reverberated through the dark trailer. The sound of splitting wood and bending metal shocked Linda out of her stupor.
Casey is coming. The police are coming. Run. Casey had said she should run. She only had to make it as far as the bedroom.
She bolted. Tripped over the damned laundry basket next to the couch. Fell flat on her face, pain spearing up to her shoulder as the pink cast on her forearm cracked against the end table. The phone slipped out of her hand and slid across the carpet, which reeked of cigarette smoke and cat food. "No! No!" she screamed. She felt for the phone with her good hand but couldn't find it, couldn't see it, in the dim light thrown off by the TV. She scrambled to get to her feet. Canned laughter echoed through the cluttered room.
"You bastard!" she shouted down the hallway. "The cops are coming, you bastard. I'm gonna tell. You won't get away with it this time!"
Linda ran. She ran just like Casey told her. She made it to the spare bedroom doorway as he half fell, half leaped through the jimmied back door.
She couldn't scream. She was too scared. She was afraid she was going to barf.
He pounded down the hallway after her. Even in the dark, not able to see his face, she could tell how pissed he was.
Inside the bedroom, she spun around, throwing both hands against the door. It slammed shut and she felt for the lock on the knob. "Don't do it. Don't do it, Charlie," she sobbed.
Casey jumped into her car, sneakers untied and hair uncombed. She hadn't even taken the time to put her contacts in. Pushing her glasses farther up on her nose, she snapped on her seat belt and started the engine. She waited until she was on the road to use her cell phone to call information and have them put the call through to Linda. Thank God I knew the address.
The phone rang as she adjusted her Bluetooth earpiece. One ring. Two. Three. It rang and rang. With each passing second, dread began to creep up Casey's spine. Linda didn't pick up, but there was no answering machine either. Stopped at a red light, Casey ended the call and redialed, remembering the number the mechanical voice had provided before putting the call through the first time. Again, Linda's phone rang unanswered.
"Come on, Linda. Come on," Casey muttered. She glanced up at the traffic light that still blared red. There was no one approaching in any direction. "Come on, come, on." She tapped on the steering wheel.
Still red. She hung up her cell phone with the earpiece, tapped it again. "Redial," she ordered.
Still no answer.
Maybe the police had called Linda. Maybe that's why she wasn't picking up.
But shouldn't there have been a busy tone? Then again, everyone had Call Waiting these days.
At last, the light turned green and Casey stepped on the gas. It took her twenty-three minutes from the time Linda had called until she turned onto the gravel road at the entrance to the trailer park hidden on the edge of town. As she passed a line of beat-up mailboxes, she saw the flash of blue lights. The police. Thank goodness. She heaved a sigh of relief. The police were here. The abusive ex-boyfriend would be cuffed and taken away. He'd go to prison for sure this time.
He wouldn't hurt Linda again.
Casey pulled over onto the grass between two older cars, both parked at odd angles. Lights were on in the trailers on both sides of the street. People in bathrobes stood in their matchbook-sized front yards and in the middle of the street, talking excitedly, all staring and gesturing in the same direction. A poodle yipped from the doorway of an adjoining home. Casey got out of the car and leaned over to tie her shoelaces, putting her at eye level with a cluster of gnomes that guarded a dead rosebush. The warm night air smelled of motor oil, cat urine, and cigarette smoke.
The pulsing blue lights of the police cruisers blended with the flash of rotating ambulance lights and the blink of red flashers on the rear of several emergency vehicles. The street was a cacophony: the bark of voices from personnel at the scene, the ding-ding warning that someone had left his or her car door open with keys in the ignition, the neighbors' voices.
Casey's heart was pounding again, another wave of adrenaline kicking in. As she walked up the street, approaching the vehicles, the hard gravel crunched under her feet. She was surrounded by people: men, women, children, all shades of color from pale white to dark brown. But as she walked toward the flashing lights, she felt alone. Alone and empty and scared.
Casey loved her job. But she hated it. Hated the fact that a hospital needed a victims' advocate.
She craned her neck in search of Linda. Linda was thirty-two. Divorced, no children. A clerk at a convenience market. Average height. A brunette with a pretty smile that would have been prettier had it not been for her smoke-stained teeth.
There were police, firemen, and paramedics milling around. Someone opened the ambulance's rear door and cold white light spilled out.
Casey didn't see Linda anywhere. She'd have been hard to miss. There were no other women present except for one chunky paramedic and a black police officer, both of whom she knew from the hospital. How hard could Linda be to spot with that bright pink cast?
"Excuse me, ma'am. You'll have to step back."
A beefy arm barred Casey's way. She looked up at an officer in a bright orange safety vest.
"I'm Casey McDaniel." She fumbled in her back pocket for the ID that she'd had the good sense to grab off her dresser before she left the house. "I'm the victims' advocate at Sussex County Hospital. Linda Truman called me a few minutes ago. I was the one who notified the police of the break-in."
He moved the beam of his flashlight over her ID. "You talked to Ms. Truman a few minutes ago?"
His gaze met hers and Casey felt a trickle of fear. She fought it. "Yes. I need to see her. I promised her I would meet her here. I ... I was assigned to her case at the hospital a few weeks ago when she came in, beaten by her boyfriend."
He glanced over his shoulder in the direction of Linda's trailer. There was an old Nissan pickup with a tennis ball on the antenna parked in the driveway. He looked back at Casey, not meeting her gaze this time. "Can you come with me? Detectives'll want to talk to you."
"I'll be happy to speak with the police, but first, I'd really like to talk to Linda. If that's possible. I promised her-"
"Officer Chatham, this is ..." The male officer hesitated.
"Casey McDaniel," Officer Chatham cut in. "We've met."
Casey observed the slender young African American woman in the blue uniform. She was no taller than Casey but appeared so in the regulation hat.
"Casey," the female cop murmured.
"Chanel." Casey moved closer to her.
The officer who had escorted Casey walked away.
"The victim was one of your clients?" Chanel looked at her from under the brim of her hat.
Casey felt light-headed. The victim. She didn't like the way Chanel said it. But Linda was a victim, wasn't she? Her ex-boyfriend had beaten her half to death a few weeks ago. "Is she all right? She was pretty scared when she called me."
When Chanel didn't answer immediately, Casey knew. She knew. "No," she whispered.
"She's dead?" Tears sprang up in Casey's eyes.
"Bled out before we got here. Multiple stab wounds."
"She's dead?" Casey repeated. She looked toward the trailer, pressing the heel of her hand to her forehead. "He killed her? But I just talked to her. Less than half an hour ago. She said he was trying to break in the back door."
Chanel settled her hand on Casey's shoulder, facing her, then spoke directly to her in the same way that Casey had been trained to talk to her clients. Her voice was calm, soft, but strong. "Did Linda Truman say who was breaking into her house?"
"It was her ex-boyfriend." Casey fought her tears, fought to remain professional. "She said it was Charles Gaitlin."
Chapter Two Four Months Later
The phone rang and Casey bolted upright in her bed.
"Casey? Oh, God, you have to help me," Linda Truman begged. The room was pitch black.
The phone continued to ring and Casey recoiled against the headboard, pulling the bed linens to her chin.
The phone jangled so loudly that it seemed as if she was surrounded in the darkness by ringing phones.
"Casey? Casey, it's him! It's him. He says he's going to kill me."
Casey drew her knees to her chest, her heart pounding.
The phone still rang. It wouldn't stop. The voice, Linda's voice, was coming from somewhere in the room, but Casey couldn't see her.
"Linda?" Casey cried. She heard a loud thump and a splinter of wood. Someone was breaking through her bedroom door. No, through the trailer door!
Linda screamed, a bloodcurdling, shrivel-your-guts scream, and Casey cringed, covering her ears with her hands, trying to make it stop.
But it wouldn't stop. The phone kept ringing.
Casey wakened with a start, the phone still ringing. Her eyes flew wide open. No ... not the phone. Her alarm. Her alarm clock was buzzing.
She sat up and pressed the button on top of the digital clock with a shaky hand. Taking a deep breath, she leaned back on the pillows and closed her eyes, pulling up the comforter. The room was chilly. Her heart was still pounding.
Just a dream, she told herself, taking another deep breath.
Linda had been haunting Casey's dreams for months, as if calling to her from her grave. But Casey knew it wasn't really Linda haunting her; it was Charles Gaitlin.
"Have a seat." The receptionist motioned to a wall lined with sad metal chairs. "Mr. Preston is taking a call, but he'll be with you in just a second."
"Thank you." Casey managed a nervous smile and walked back to the waiting area. She sat in the chair closest to the door and set her brown leather briefcase on her lap.
The receptionist returned her attention to her keyboard and Casey glanced around. The Delaware Department of Justice office for Sussex County was like any other state office Casey had ever been in: scuffed green floor tile, a maze of narrow hallways and tiny offices, and a sea of overworked, underpaid employees. From where Casey sat, she could see through a glass partition to a room of cubicles that boasted gunmetal gray desks and outdated computers and fax machines.
A large white clock with black hands and numerals ticked. She'd had a difficult time getting the appointment with Assistant Deputy Attorney Adam Preston III. Even though she was a potential witness in the case against Charles Gaitlin, she'd been told by some nebulous voice on the other end of the line that the county prosecutor didn't meet with witnesses this early in the trial process. Casey had gleaned from a little poking around on the Internet that Adam Thomas Preston III was considered one of the best and brightest in the state and that the Republican Party had great hopes for his future. Home grown in Delaware, he was the son of a retired Superior Court judge, and the grandson of a former state senator.
But Casey didn't care how big a hotshot he was; it was important to her that she speak to him about Linda's case. Unwilling to be deterred by the runaround she had gotten with the Delaware Department of Justice, she had sent Preston an e-mail, and he had responded to it personally, saying he would be happy to speak with her. The appointment had originally been scheduled twice, but both times it had been rescheduled by someone in his office. The clerk who had called most recently to reschedule had been short with Casey, warning her that Mr. Preston had only ten minutes this afternoon before he would have to leave for court for the Gaitlin preliminary hearing.
Excerpted from Don't Turn Around by HUNTER MORGAN Copyright © 2008 by Colleen Faulkner. Excerpted by permission.
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