Carolina moon, p.49
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       Carolina Moon, p.49

           Nora Roberts

  sister was stolen from a house about fifteen miles south of here, on the morning Tory's mother was killed. House was broken into between nine and ten A.M. that same day."

  "How can that be?"

  "Only way it could be is if Bodeen spouted wings and flew down here from Darlington County or if somebody else put those bullets in Miz Bodeen."

  Carl D. cupped a hand over his chin, rubbed it hard. His eyes burned with fatigue. "I've been in touch with those federals, and I'm piecing it together. The phone records show Miz Bodeen got a call just after two that morning, from the pay phone outside the Winn-Dixie north of town here. Now, we were figuring that would've been Bodeen calling her from here, telling her he was coming for her. That's fine as far as it goes. But it don't fit when you add the rest."

  "It had to be Bodeen calling her. Why else would she have packed up?"

  "I can't say. But you've got him calling from here at round about two in the morning, getting up there, doing the shooting between five and five-thirty, then heading back here and moving south another fifteen miles, breaking into a house and stealing a gun, a bottle, and some leftover supper. Now, why would the man be zigzagging back and forth thataway?"

  "He was crazy."

  "I won't argue with that, but being crazy doesn't make him able to all but break land and speed records in one morning. 'Specially since it doesn't look like he had any kind of vehicle. Now, I'm not saying it couldn't be done. I'm saying it don't make sense."

  "What kind of sense does it make otherwise? Who else would have killed Tory's mother?"

  "I can't answer that. I gotta work with facts here. He had the wrong gun, we got nothing to show the man had a car. Now, could be we'll find one yet, and the gun that he used on his wife. That could be."

  He took his handkerchief out of his pocket, wiped the back of his neck. "But it appears to me, if Bodeen didn't do those murders up in Darlington County, maybe he didn't kill anyone. That means whoever did is still walking free. I was hoping to have a talk with Tory."

  "She's not here. She's—" White hot fear burned through his belly. "She's gone to Hope."

  Tory opened herself, tried to feel him, gauge him. But all she saw was dark. Cold, blank dark. The rustling moved in a circle, a taunting. She turned with it, even as the saliva dried up in her mouth, she turned to face it head-on.

  "Which of us did you want that night? Or did it matter?" "It was never you. Why would I want you? She was beautiful."

  "She was a child."

  "True." Dwight stepped out in the clearing. "But so was I." It broke her heart. One quick snap. "You were Cade's friend."

  "Sure. Cade and Wade, like twins themselves. Rich and privileged and handsome. And I was their chubby little token. Dwight the Dweeb. Well, I fooled them all, didn't I?"

  He'd have been twelve, she thought, staring at the easy smile on his face. No more than twelve years old. "Why?"

  "Call it a rite of passage. They were always first. One or the other of them, always first in everything. I was going to be the first one to have a girl."

  Amusement—it couldn't be anything but amusement—danced in his eyes. "Not that could brag on it. Kinda like being Batman."

  "Oh God, Dwight."

  "Hard for you to see that, you being a female. We'll call it a guy thing. I had a bad itch. Why shouldn't it have been my good friend Cade's precious sister I used to scratch it?"

  He spoke so calmly, so casually, that the birds continued to sing, liquid notes that ran like tears.

  "I didn't know I was going to kill her. That just . . . happened. I'd snuck some of my daddy's whiskey. Drink like a man, you know? My mind was a little fuzzy."

  "You were only twelve. How could you want such a thing?"

  He circled the clearing, not really coming closer, just stalking, a patient, anticipatory cat and mouse. "I used to watch the two of you, skinny-dipping, or sprawled out here on your bellies telling secrets. So'd your old man," he said with a grin. "You might say I was inspired by him. He wanted you. Your old man wanted to fuck you, all right, but he didn't have the guts. I was better than him, better than any of them. I proved it that night. I was a man that night."

  Town mayor, proud father, devoted husband, loyal friend. What kind of madness could hide so well? "You raped and murdered a child. That made you a man?"

  "All my life I heard, 'Be a man, Dwight.' " The amusement died out of his eyes so they turned cold and blank. "For Christ's sake, be a man. Can't be a man if you're a virgin, can you? And no girl would look twice at me. I fixed that. That night changed my life. Look at me now."

  He spread his arms, stepped closer, watching her. "I got confidence, got myself in shape, and didn't I end up with the prettiest girl in Progress? I got respect. A beautiful wife, a son. I got position. It all started that night."

  "All those other girls."

  "Why not? You can't imagine what it's like—or maybe you can. Yeah, maybe you can. You know how to feel it, don't you? Their fear. While it's happening I'm the most important person in the world to them. I am the world to them. There's a hell of a kick to that."

  She thought of running. The idea whipped in and out of her mind. And she saw the gleam in his eyes, saw he was waiting for her to do just that. Deliberately she slowed her breathing, opened herself. There was the blankness again, like a pit, but around the edges was a kind of ugly hunger.

  Recognizing it, anticipating it, was the only weapon she had. "You didn't even know them. Dwight, they were strangers to you."

  "I just imagine they're Hope, and it's that first night all over again. They're nothing but tramps and losers until I make them into her."

  "It wasn't the same with Sherry."

  "I didn't want to wait." He shrugged. "Lissy isn't much on sex these days. Can't blame her. And that sexy little teacher, she wanted it. Wanted it from Wade though, stupid bitch. Well, she got it from me. She wasn't quite right though. Not quite. Faith's perfect."

  He saw Tory jolt. "Yeah, you've gotten pretty tight with Faith, haven't you? I plan to be pretty tight with her myself. I was going to wait till August for her, got my little ritual, you know. But I'll have to move things up. Oh, she'll be late, by the way. I talked Lissy into going over to see her, and I know my girl. She'll keep Faith occupied just long enough."

  "They'll know this time, Dwight. You won't be able to pass it off on someone else."

  "Your father sure did cooperate, didn't he? Did I mention I was the one who killed your mother? Gave her a call, told her I was a friend and her loving husband was on his way to get her. It just seemed like a nice touch, one that kept the cops on his ass and let me sit back and watch with my concerned-mayor attitude."

  "She was nothing to you."

  "None of them was. Except Hope. And don't you worry about me. Nobody'll look to me. I'm an upstanding citizen, and right now I'm out at the mall buying a teddy bear for my unborn child. A big yellow bear. Lissy's just going to love it."

  "I could never really feel you," she murmured. "Because there's nothing there to feel. You're almost blank inside."

  "I wondered about that. Gave me some bad moments. I took your hand today, a kind of test, just to see. You got nothing from me. But you're going to feel me, before we're done. Why don't you run, the way she did? You know how she ran, and called out. I'll give you a chance."

  "No. I'll give myself one." Without an instant's hesitation, she stabbed out with the stick, aiming for his eye.

  When he screamed, she ran as Hope had done.

  The moss tangled in her hair, slithering spider legs, and the ground sucked greedily at her feet. Her shoes slithered, tearing through soaked ferns as she batted viciously at branches.

  She saw as Hope had seen, the two images blending into one. Hot summer night merging with steamy afternoon. And felt as Hope had felt, with her own fear and rage leaping just ahead of the childhood terror.

  She heard as Hope had heard, the footsteps pounding behind her, the thrashing through the brush.

  It was the rage that stopped her, that made her turn before the intent was clear in her mind. It seared through her, black as pitch, as she charged him with teeth and claws.

  Stunned by the sudden attack, half blind from the blood, he went down beneath her, howling as she sank her teeth into his shoulder. He struck out, felt the blow connect, but she clung like a burr, raking her nails down his face.

  None of the others had been able to fight him, but she would. God, she would.

  I am Tory. The words were a battle cry ringing in her ears. She was Tory, and she would fight.

  Even when his hands closed around her throat, she tore at him. When her vision grayed, when she was gasping for air, she used her fists.

  Someone was shouting her name, wild, desperate calls that echoed inside the roar of blood in her head. She clawed at the hands around her throat, choking when the grip loosened. "I feel you now. Fear and pain. Now you know. Now you know, you bastard."

  She was being lifted away, and she fought mindlessly, her gaze locked on Dwight's face. Blood ran from his eye, and his cheeks were ripped from her hands.

  "Now you know. Now you know."

  "Tory. Stop. Stop. Look at me."

  His face white and running with sweat, Cade held hers until her eyes cleared.

  "He killed her. It was always him. I never saw it. He's hated you his whole life. He's hated all of you."

  "You're hurt."

  "No, I'm not. It's his blood."

  "Cade. My God, she went crazy." Coughing, Dwight rolled to his side, struggled up to hands and knees. It felt as if he were bleeding from a thousand wounds. His right eye was a burning coal. But his mind worked, and worked fast and cool. "She thought I was her father."

  "Liar!" Rage bloomed again and had her struggling wildly against Cade. "He killed Hope. He was waiting here for me."

  "Killed Hope?" Blood dripped from his torn mouth as Dwight sank back on his knees. "That was almost twenty years ago. She's sick, Cade. Anybody could see she's sick. Jesus, my eye. You have to help me."

  He tried to get to his feet and was genuinely shocked when his legs wouldn't hold him. "For God's sake, Cade, call an ambulance. I'm going to lose my fucking eye."

  "You knew they came here." Cade kept Tory's arms pinned as he studied the ravaged face of his old friend. "You knew they snuck out at night to come in here. I told you myself. We laughed about it."

  "What does that have to do with anything?" Dwight's good eye wheeled as he heard the slash of wet branches. Carl D., panting with the effort, pushed through the brush. "Thank Christ. Chief, call an ambulance. Tory had some kind of breakdown. Look what she did to me."

  "Sweet Jesus Christ," Carl D. muttered, as he hurried forward to Dwight's side.

  "He wanted me to run. But I've stopped running." Tory stopped struggling and lay a hand over Cade's as Carl D. crouched to tie his handkerchief over Dwight's ruined eye. "He killed Hope, and the others. He killed my mother."

  "I tell you, she's crazy," Dwight shouted. He couldn't see. Goddamn it, he couldn't see. His teeth began to chatter. "She can't face what her father did."

  "We'll get you to the hospital, Dwight, then we'll sort this all out." Carl D. looked over at Tory. "Are you hurt?"

  "No, I'm not hurt. You don't want to believe me. You don't want to believe what he is has been living side by side with you all these years. But it has. It found a way."

  She shifted, met Cade's eyes. "I'm sorry." "I don't want to believe you, either. But I do."

  "I know it." And drawing on that, she got to her feet. "The gun he killed my mother with is in the attic of his house, up in the rafters on the south side." Gently, she rubbed a hand over her throat where the violence of his fingers left their mark. "You made a mistake, Dwight, letting me in that far, getting that close. Should've been more careful with your thoughts."

  "She's lying. She planted it there herself. She's crazy." He stumbled as Carl D. pulled him to his feet. "Cade, we've been friends all our lives. You have to believe me."

  "There's something you have to believe," Cade told him. "If I'd gotten here sooner, you'd be dead now. You believe that. And you remember it."

  "You gotta come on with me now, Dwight." Carl D. snapped cuffs over his wrists.

  "What're you doing? What the hell are you doing? You're taking the word of a crazy woman over mine?"

  "That gun isn't where she said, or it doesn't match what was used to kill a young police officer and a helpless woman, I'll give you a big apology. Come on with me. Miss Tory, you best go on to the hospital yourself."

  "No." She wiped the blood off her mouth with the back of her hand. "I haven't done what I came to do."

  "You go ahead," Carl D. told them. "I'll take care of this. Miss Tory, I'll be by later to see you."

  "She's crazy." Dwight screamed it, kept screaming it as Carl D. pulled him away.

  "He's insulted." With a shaky laugh, Tory pressed her fingers to her eyes. "That's the primary emotion running through him right now. Insult, that he would be treated like a criminal. It's even bigger than the hate and the hunger."

  "Step back from him," Cade demanded. "Don't look at him."

  "You're right, Cade. You're right."

  "Second time I almost lost you. I'll be damned if it'll ever happen again."

  "You believed me," Tory murmured. "I could feel how it hurt you, but you believed me. I can't tell you what that means." She put her arms around him, held tight. "You loved him. I'm so sorry."

  "I didn't even know him." And still, Cade grieved. "If I could go back—" "We can't. I've spent a lot of time learning that." "Your face is bruised." He turned his lips to it.

  "His is worse." She leaned her head against his shoulder as they began to walk. "I was running, and I was going to keep on running, then, all at once there was this life inside me. This rage of life. He wasn't going to win, he wasn't going to chase me like a fox after a rabbit. For once, he was going to know what it was like. He was going to know."

  He would never get the picture completely out of his head, Cade knew. Of Tory, her face bruised and bloody, tearing like a cat at Dwight. And his hands around her throat.

  "He'll keep denying," Cade said. "He'll hire lawyers. But it won't matter. In the end, it won't matter what he does."

  "No. I think you can depend on Agent Williams to tie it all up. Poor Lissy." She sighed. "What will she do?"

  Tory stopped in the clearing to gather the fallen flowers. The fire had burned down to sputters, and the light, watery streams of it, slanted through the trees. "I'll come back and do this another time with Faith. This time is for you and me." Together they walked to the banks of the river.

  "We loved her, and we'll always remember her." Tory tossed flowers on the water. "But it's over now. Finally. I've waited so long to say good-bye."

  She had tears in her yet, but they were quiet, and they were healing. They glimmered on her cheeks as she turned to Cade. "I'd like to marry you in the garden tomorrow, and wear my grandmother's dress."

  He took her hand, kissed it. "Would you?" "Yes, I would. Yes, I very much would. And I'd like to go to Paris with you, and sit at a table in the sunlight and drink wine, make love with you when the sun's coming up. Then I want to come back Here and build a life with you."

  "We're already building one."

  He drew her close. The sun shimmered in thin beams, and moss dripped with rain.

  Flowers, bright blossoms, floated silently down the river.

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