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by Jennifer Cloud
Description: The crimes against the Bartwell sisters happened long before their births. A mysterious payoff begins a whirlwind of blood. Only discovering the secret to their horrific history will make their troubles vanish, hopefully, before they're added to the body count. Full Synopsis Abigail Bartwell has a problem. Her sister, Senna, has been coming home late at night. She's also been acting paranoid, much like their mother used to before she finally lost her mind. During the last late night occurrence, Senna came home covered in blood and carrying a check for a quarter of a million dollars, money she shouldn't have. More odd things come into Abigail's life. The more pleasant one is a man by the name of Cody who breaks into her apartment under the guise of returning keys. He knows about Senna and he's not talking. He also knows about Abigail's insane mother. Abigail tries to discover if Senna is following in their mother's murderous footsteps. She doubts her sanity as voices haunt her along with the scent of lavender. Abigail suspects that people are following her. She just doesn't know why. If she can figure it out, maybe the blood and money will make sense. Then again, she's not certain she will live long enough to unravel the mystery.
eBook Publisher: Charles River Press, 2011 2011
eBookwise Release Date: December 2011
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [368 KB]
Reading time: 237-332 min.
Blood, dark crimson, started coagulating in a thin coat on Senna. Her blonde hair looked strangely red beneath the gore. Abigail stood in the open doorway of their apartment staring at her blood-covered sister, who looked more annoyed than injured. A single red drop fell from Senna's nose and splattered onto the tiled hallway. The drop left little bits of itself over the threshold.
For a moment, Abigail couldn't breathe. Fear and shock held her in place as panic flowed with her pulse. She wasn't sure if she was awake or asleep. She'd had nightmares like this. People covered in blood haunted her dreams. They never stood outside her apartment door though.
"Move so I can come inside."
Senna's voice snapped her out of the surreal sensation. This was no dream. Dreams could be left behind within the deep layers of sleep. Her bloodied sister was completely real, and that made it all the more terrifying.
"What happened?" Abigail stood there dumbfounded. "I'll call an ambulance."
"I don't need an ambulance. I need you to let me inside. I dropped my keys somewhere." Senna pushed by her, although their bodies never touched. The forward movement alone forced Abigail's retreat from fear that some nasty bit might brush against her.
"Keys? You're covered in blood and worried about keys?"
That stopped Senna. "It's a long story and it's too damn late at night to start telling it now."
For a moment, Abigail was transported back in time. Her thoughts returned to her childhood days and the very bloody memories therein contained. Guts knotted, tears pricked the back of her eyes.
Instead of staring at her sister, she could see their mother. Red splatters had covered her clothing too, more pooled on the floor. A smoking gun hung from her fingers and the police were on the way. The majority of the blood hadn't contaminated their mother, only droplets. The man on the floor soaked in his own mire of blood and skull bits.
Had her sister started mimicking their mother's behavior?
Senna stumbled by, trailing red smears on the floor. Her handprint held in perfect red detail where she'd touched the doorframe. Blood. So much blood. It matted her hair, plastering the front section to her scalp in a sickly red slime. The metallic scent of some sort of fresh gore came with her mixing with Senna's perfume.
"Senna, are you okay?"
Senna dismissed her with a wave. "I'm fine. Get me some water, please." She turned and locked the door.
Disbelief left Abigail staring. She felt her mouth hanging agape in shock, and forced it closed. Her sister looked like a walking nightmare. Unless Senna had stopped working at the library and taken a job as a horror movie extra, there was something seriously wrong.
Seeing the red-smeared face watching her, Abigail found the will to move. She went to the kitchen and got a glass of water. Still her sister offered no explanation as she took the glass.
Senna drank deeply. "Not now." She handed back the glass, now coated in someone's life fluids, and went into the bathroom. A moment later the shower started.
Bile rose in the back of Abigail's throat. She put the glass in the sink. She'd always had a weak stomach when it came to blood--the things carried in it, never mind the obvious problem with where it had come from.
Again, she felt like that seven-year-old child standing over the dead body by Mama's feet. Senna had been nine when it happened. She'd actually seen the shots fired. Abigail hadn't seen them, only heard seven bullets, and a man yelp in pain. Senna had a deeper connection to it though.
Senna, have you become like Mom?
Those doctors said Mama's mental condition could be hereditary. Worse, the things not inherited could be learned. Abigail wondered exactly how much Senna had learned from their mother. Those sorts of doings would keep one out late, and Senna had started keeping very late nights.
Dread filled her with a sick realization. She'd lost her mother after that day with the police. The thought of Senna also being taken away made her feel as if the world crumbled around her. Senna was the only family Abigail had left. Right or wrong didn't matter in this moment. All Abigail saw was a trail of evidence that led to Senna.
She grabbed a kitchen towel and started wiping away the red. It wasn't blood. She couldn't think of it that way. It was red, a color, a child's finger paints, and nothing more. She lodged this idea in her mind as a knock sounded at the door. She jumped, dropping the streaked towel. Another sharp sound brought her to the peephole.
A uniformed officer stood there, staring back through as if he could see her. Abigail didn't know what to do. There were red marks on the floor and the door. Who knew how much blood Senna had left in the hallway? Abigail quickly wiped the knob and anything obvious. When a third set of hard knocks struck, Abigail knew she had to answer it.
"Can I help you?" she asked as she pulled open the door and tried to keep her petite body in the way of any inquisitive stares into the apartment.
"Yes. I'm Officer Lyndon. I've had a report of an injured woman entering the building. Have you heard or seen anything?" His head moved slightly, eyes probing the interior of the apartment above her head. He was an older man with intelligent eyes. There was something about the hard line of his mouth though. He looked like a man who would readily bite anyone offering resistance.
"No." The lie came automatically. She couldn't very well tell him what had happened when she wasn't sure herself. "I heard some noise in the hall not long before you knocked. Someone might've been on this floor."
He nodded. "Thank you, ma'am." He put his hand on the door as she started to close it. Obviously, their meeting wasn't over. "Are you certain everything is okay in there?"
"Fine. Everything is fine." She knew her answer sounded too enthusiastic for an innocent woman. She was unaccustomed to lying, much less lying to the police.
"Okay. Would you mind if I came inside for a minute?"
"Well, yes, I would mind." Now she knew that she sounded guilty. Her heart raced, her stomach lurched, but somehow her mouth continued to work as if disconnected from the rest of her panicked body. "I'm in my pajamas." She took a step back, displaying the duck-covered shorts and tank top she slept in. "It wouldn't be decent for a man to come inside now, especially at this hour."
"Ma'am, I can assure you that I only have a professional interest in being here." He arched one brow and held his mouth in that firm line she feared would quickly change to the jagged tooth pose of a shark. "Now, may I come inside? I won't be long."
Abigail fidgeted, then felt the onslaught of nervous butterflies filling her delicate guts. "Get a female officer and you can come in. I'm sorry but it just isn't proper any other way. Besides, there is no emergency here, no crimes, and no reason for you to be here." She knew that was pushing things.
"Are you quite certain?"
Police procedures ran through her mind. If they'd witnessed a crime in progress, they could come inside. The question was what crime Senna had committed and who had seen her.
"Yes. Now, please leave. I can't have a man in my apartment at this hour."
"Very well. I'll see you soon then."
Abigail closed and locked the door. She felt no relief in this short reprieve. He would be back. Just then a drop of red caught her attention. Blood soiled the deadbolt and wispy bits of red marked her hand. Abigail hurried to the sink and scrubbed.
Blood. She hated blood. It stained, marked, contaminated, debased, and caused people to be taken away. She didn't want Senna taken away.
She took her long yellow rubber gloves from beneath the sink and found a couple of rags. These were her bathroom-scrubbing gloves, but it wasn't like she kept products for cleaning up evidence.
There was a lot of blood. Red seemed to touch every surface Senna had come near. Abigail scrubbed the door, floor, and the glass. Little cracks held red smears she couldn't quite reach. It seemed blood wouldn't wipe away easily, as if it wanted to expose the criminal.
With most of the evidence gone, Abigail listened at the door for any sign of activity in the hall. Everything was quiet. She opened the door and found more blood around the knob. She wasn't sure if she should get rid of that or not. The police officer had to have seen it. Still, it seemed disgusting to keep it on her door.
Abigail cleaned the door and the blood just outside. She also realized that her sister had left a trail from the elevator. There was only one thing to do and it wasn't nice. She took a bloodied rag and wiped two other doorknobs on the hall, leaving red smears on them. She also left traces on the tile leading away from her apartment. At least it looked plausible that the culprit hadn't stopped there.
Now she had to worry about her sister. Abigail hurried back inside and banged on the bathroom door. Her sister took notoriously long showers. They didn't have time for her usual beauty regimen this morning.
"Senna, the cops are coming."
"What?" Senna opened the bathroom door wearing only a towel. Not a mark touched her body. The only sign that something strange had happened was the bruise in the shape of a hand on her arm. Abigail could see each individual finger in the darkening mark.
"A cop was here. Told him he couldn't come inside." She stumbled through a quick version of events.
"Give me just a minute." Senna went to her room, appearing a moment later in her floral robe.
"What happened tonight?"
Senna didn't answer, only locked gazes with Abigail. Her blue eyes held neither guilt nor anger. They were lifeless, showing none of the sparkle she used to have. The extreme change in Senna frightened her almost as much as the blood.
"Let me get rid of those."
Senna pointed to the bloodied rags lying on the floor. With her bare hands, she piled the rags and gloves in the bucket. Abigail followed as she took them into her bedroom.
"What are you doing now?"
"The fire escape."
Every apartment had a rough metal balcony connected to a fire escape. It sounded very safe. In fact, it only provided thieves with more opportunities to gain entrance to homes.
Abigail opened the window and watched as Senna threw the bucket of evidence onto the neighbor's fire escape. The metal grate rattled but no lights came on in the other apartment. Senna then ran back to the bathroom and washed her hands.
There were serious questions and Abigail needed answers. She didn't get a chance to ask them though. As she opened her mouth, more angry knocks thudded.
Abigail returned to the door, dreading what would follow. She didn't even bother looking through the peephole. As she flung open the door, she discovered her guess was correct. Standing there was the officer from earlier, along with a female officer who looked rather manly, down to her light mustache.
"Ma'am, we'd like to search your apartment."
"Certainly." Abigail opened the door wide and stepped aside.
Senna sat on the couch as the two officers searched through their apartment. Her sister appeared relaxed. Abigail had no idea how she managed that. Maybe Senna's mind had snapped. Their mother never grew upset at the police either. She could look one right in the eye, even when holding a murder weapon.
Abigail joined her sister on the couch and waited. She obviously wouldn't get any sleep tonight. Right now she would be happy to not end up in the back of a squad car. She really didn't want to go to jail in ducky pajamas.
"Miss, there's some blood in the bathroom. Are either of you injured?" The very masculine lady asked the question. Thankfully Senna took control of the situation.
"I'm on the rag. Is that a crime now?"
Senna twisted one long blonde strand of hair as she answered. She looked so natural. Abigail's hair wasn't long enough to do that, which made her suddenly aware that she had no place to put her hands. She sat there like a student, hands in lap, looking straight ahead.
"Not that I'm aware of."
The cop walked away as if the question were a serious one. Abigail hoped they didn't take a sample of it. One swab for evidence and they were screwed. If someone had died tonight, a single drop of blood could send them all to prison for many years.
This was not the right time to giggle or make any sound for that matter. Yet Abigail couldn't help it. Senna had been acting strangely for months, making Abigail suspect the worst. Her fears had been realized. Senna, bloodied and secretive, led the cops to their doorstep. Now Senna was blaming evidence on her period.
Abigail giggled again.
She didn't know what to say in response, but with both cops staring at them, Abigail knew that she should say something. Only one thing came to mind.
"We are our mother's children."
The cops only shook their heads. Senna, however, didn't look amused with the comment. She looked absolutely terrified. This also pleased Abigail. At least Senna wasn't so far gone that she'd lost the ability to fear. That's when the craziness took over, when the person no longer feared going insane.
"Are you sure no one came inside this apartment?" This time the question was directed at Senna.
"I didn't see anyone. Sorry."
"Why is your hair wet?"
Senna laughed. "Someone woke me by banging on the door. In my sleepy state, I thought it was Abby trying to get me out of bed. I jumped in the shower, believing it was time for me to wake up."
"You were pretty loud. I hope our neighbors don't complain. I would hate to get the super upset. If we get complaints, should we direct them to your department?"
Both officers looked at Abigail. She felt hot, moisture crept along her neck, and she knew the police watched her for such a sign. There was no denying her guilt in this cover-up. She had to though. Her sister obviously had some sort of misadventure tonight.
Then again, she wondered how different things would be if someone had stopped Mom. Would there have been less bloodshed? Would their mother still be alive instead of dying in an insane asylum?
Now wasn't the time to jump to conclusions. Abigail knew she had to continue with the lie. She had to protect her sister until the time came that she had proof to the contrary.
"I told you that I heard someone outside, but I didn't let anyone in." Abigail spoke while moving her hands. As she motioned, she hit the clock on the end table, abruptly causing the little black plastic box to fall to the carpet. Apparently lying not only made her nervous but clumsy.
"Did you see anyone?" The male officer asked this, his tone already holding disbelief.
"Did you look through the peephole?" It was the female officer's turn. They must have worked this out in advance, although Abigail wasn't sure what purpose it served.
"By the time I got to the door, the person was gone."
"You saw no one? No one with injuries, maybe looking roughed up?" The male spoke this time.
"If you're so worried that someone was hurt, why aren't you looking for them instead of bothering us? We are the only two occupants and both of us are fine."
Abigail thought it a reasonable thing to ask. Both officers stood straighter after the question. Apparently, there was more to the injured person than they were willing to talk about.
"If you hear or see anything, call us." The man put a card on the table and both went out the door.
That was it. No apologies. No explanations for their curious behavior. It seemed an injured party would be more important than behaving as if two women were up to no good. At least the cops left without taking either of them.
Just to be on the safe side, Abigail went to the door and locked it. She looked back at Senna. All the color had drained from her face. Her dark blue eyes looked up at Abigail. Tears formed in them, threatening to run down her face.
"Senna, what's wrong?"
She didn't answer.
"What was that all about?"
Again, she said nothing.
"Damn it. I have a right to know why the cops are freaking out over someone who's hurt. It doesn't make sense. You come home covered in blood and the police act like we're hiding someone."
Abigail thought she would explode. Senna was shutting her out. It had happened with more frequency over the last few weeks. None of it made sense. If Senna was in trouble, she should turn to her.
"What's going on?"
Then, in a whisper Senna answered. "They're looking for an injured person because that person might've been involved in a murder."
The room seemed to spin for a moment. No. Senna couldn't be a murderer. There had to be another reason for the blood. "Senna?" Please don't turn into Mom. I need you.
"I'm tired. I'm going to bed." Senna got off the couch, her blonde hair still dripping as she went to her bedroom. "Good night."
Abigail sat on the couch with one word circling her mind: murder. As she sat there contemplating what now seemed a grim future, she heard another sound at the door. This wasn't a knock. The metal click sounded like the doorknob.
She got off the couch and approached the door. This time she could see the knob turn ever so slightly before the lock stopped the motion. She looked through the peephole.
Visible from the lens was the top of someone's head. She couldn't see anything beyond a straw cowboy hat. It looked like a man's hat, although she couldn't be sure. He appeared to be bent over, looking at something of interest on her door.
She bet there was blood there. Outrage filled her. This night still wasn't over and she was tired of every aspect of it. Common sense kept her from going into the hall. Instead she hit the door with the palm of her hand, causing a loud smacking sound. She watched as the person on the other side of the door jumped. He didn't lean up completely. He kept his identity concealed as he slunk away.
Righteous indignation aside, she still didn't throw open the door and voice her anger at this noisy neighbor. This situation struck her as more than odd. Things were very wrong with a man trying to gain access to her apartment.
Abigail stared out the peephole for several more moments before daring to unlock the door. When no movement or noise followed, she flung it open. The hallway was empty. She'd expected it to be. Only the scent of stale cigars remained from whoever had been at her door.
When she turned back around, a strange sensation settled on her. Her mind whirled, heart raced. For a moment, the room looked a little blurry as if she were seeing it through cellophane. Her vision cleared. She entered the apartment still feeling like something was terribly wrong here. At once, the scent of lavender hit her, an interesting contrast to what it had been like. A peaceful feeling overcame her in the same instant. For a moment, she thought she heard a song drifting on the air with the scent. It reminded her of a song her mother used to sing around the house. Maybe one of the neighbors had turned on the radio to drown out their noise.
Abigail went to her bedroom. As she passed by the end table, she noticed the clock was now sitting on it. "Odd." The officers must have righted it, yet she hadn't noticed them doing it.
Things were wrong. She knew something significant had happened here beyond her sister's bloody appearance. It was also far from over, and she feared what would happen next.
* * * *
"Good night" echoed through Cody's earpiece. He wished he'd had the video installed. He hadn't had the chance to get into their apartment yet. Audio would have to do for now.
He hit the button on his digital camera and pulled up Senna's image. He hadn't realized that the image was blurred. It was as if someone had stood between him and his subject, yet no one else had been there.
She'd had a rough night and he held every image of it. It hadn't been his intent to photograph a murder, just the payoff. He'd certainly gotten more than he bargained for. Of course, Senna's face was so blurred that he couldn't use the pictures. None of his other shots were this out of focus, just the ones taken at the time of the killing. It was certainly strange.
A shiver crept up his spine, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand at attention. He'd never seen so much blood or the level of fury he'd witnessed tonight. He really didn't blame Senna though.
Cody took his legal pad from the table and started jotting down notes. He hated the bright yellow pads, but that was all he'd had time to get. He watched the black ink flow, trying to form the threads into cohesive thoughts. The yellow seemed to break them apart.
"Predisposition to kill. A future murderer in the womb."
He looked down at the two still shots he had of Senna Bartwell and Abigail Bartwell. These were taken weeks ago when he'd started his surveillance. Both were beautiful ladies. Senna had a hardness to her eyes though. Perhaps her past had stained the soul and the evidence couldn't be hidden behind the beautiful blues.
Abigail was the opposite. At twenty-two, she looked much like her sister, but her eyes held softness. Maybe her age had shielded her from her mother's crimes. He hoped so. It was doubtful.
He touched the surface of Abigail's photo. It would be better to continue this from Abigail's angle and not Senna's. She was the best subject for him. She was likeable. Abigail could be any lady living next door. She had a wholesome quality.
Her chin-length blonde hair moved away from her face in the photo. He'd caught her glancing in his direction after leaving the college campus. Her eyes looked innocent yet sexy at the same time. Maybe she should have been a model.
Senna had long blonde hair and the same color of blue eyes as Abigail. The way she moved though, her expressions, all made her more like a closet dominatrix or something. She would never garner the public appeal like Abigail.
Cody put the photos on the table and picked up his digital camera. An honest man would turn these shots over to the police. He didn't see the purpose in that though. Senna would go to prison, and the crime truly hadn't been her fault. It may have been her hands that wielded the knife and finished the man with his own briefcase. It wasn't her will though. The photos were too blurry anyway.
He erased the pictures. It was good to get rid of the very red splashes of blood. Even when the images were gone, the blood seemed to have tainted his thoughts. These women had enough blood surrounding their past. He didn't need to make things any more gruesome.
Upstairs, he couldn't hear anything else. Maybe both women were in bed. He wasn't sure how either of them could sleep. He wasn't entirely sure how he could rest tonight either. So much had happened and he had a feeling it was only the beginning.