Careful little eyes an a.., p.11
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       Careful little eyes: An addictive, horrifying serial killer thriller (7th Street Crew Book 4), p.11

           Willow Rose
 
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  Is that what it has come to now?

  “Where did you go?” Joey asks.

  “What’s that?”

  “You went so serious all of a sudden.”

  I shake my head and smile. “Sorry. Just had a reality check.”

  Joey puts his hand on top of mine on the bar counter. The spinning—even though it is slow—is making me slightly nauseous. Maybe it is just the entire situation that is making me sick to my stomach. It seems almost surreal. Like a dream really.

  God. I miss you. Salter.

  “I think of him too,” Joey says. “Non-stop.”

  “I know you do. I know.”

  He squeezes my hand. Our eyes meet. I smile. So does he. Looking into his eyes makes me feel calmer. We stare into each other’s eyes as the bartender suddenly yells:

  “Ten seconds, people!”

  “Ten, nine, eight…” People around us start to count, and I get this odd feeling like it is New Year’s Eve, but they’re not counting down to midnight I soon realize. They’re counting down to a quarter past midnight, the time when The Axeman said he would make his kill.

  “Two…one!”

  The band plays like crazy while the crowd goes quiet. Everyone is holding their breaths. No one says anything, but everyone thinks the same thing. Is he out there somewhere? Is he lurking outside the door? Has he already found his victim or still waiting to strike? Will it be one of us?

  It is the strangest thing. Music is coming from the street outside, blending with the music coming from the Carousel Bar. It’s like they’re competing. Trying to figure out who can play the loudest. I look into the street, through the window, and there isn’t a soul out there. Not one car, not one single person walking home alone. All over town, people are playing loud jazz music from open windows in the hope to avoid being The Axeman’s next victim.

  As I look out, I wonder if there is anyone out there not in a place with music. Will The Axeman be able to find a victim at all? Does anyone dare to be in a place without music?

  Chapter Forty-Two

  July 2016

  Music is playing everywhere and it is driving Lisa nuts. Even behind the closed windows and doors of her apartment it is still so loud, she can’t sleep.

  Jazz music was never Lisa’s favorite. She likes pop. Pop is music you can dance to; it is what they play on the radio, it’s music you can sing along to, it has a rhythm that makes you want to move your body and Lisa loves to dance. She never understood the town’s fascination with jazz. It is the only thing she doesn’t enjoy about New Orleans.

  Now she is lying in her bed, hands covering her ears, groaning at the music coming from the street.

  Every damn restaurant and bar is playing with open doors and windows. Just because of that annoying letter they’re talking about all over the news.

  Don’t they know that some of us have to go to work in the morning?

  Lisa has tried using earplugs, but even they can’t block out the music properly, and she is getting so annoyed now she considers opening the window and yelling for it to stop. But that won’t do any good. She knows.

  Lisa decides to get a glass of water and gets out of bed. She walks to her small kitchen, grabs a glass from the cabinet, and fills it. She drinks, looking at the clock. It is past midnight now and she has to get up at six. She knows she is going to be so tired in the morning and it irritates her that just because of that stupid letter, her sleep has to be destroyed.

  Her sister Julia called earlier and told her she had to do what every one else was doing and put on music to play all night.

  “You can just play it from your phone or something,” she said. “Just make sure you play jazz music at a quarter past midnight. Or even better, you can come down to that little place on Canal Street, where Jim and I will be. We’re not staying at our place in case The Axeman tries anything. Nuh-uh. Please say you’ll come and hang with us. It’ll be fun. Well…fun is probably not the right word for it, but we’ll make the best of it.”

  “And be forced to listen to jazz music all night? No, thank you. I need my sleep and you know I hate jazz.”

  Julia sighed. “You’re impossible. You’d rather be killed than listen to jazz?”

  “You might say it’ll be over my dead body,” Lisa had said with a laugh.

  “It’s not a joke, Lisa.”

  “Come on. Of course it is. Someone is just pranking this entire city. Don’t you see?” Lisa had said.

  Her sister hadn’t agreed, but she had finally left her alone. Lisa still can’t believe the entire city has fallen for it. Just because of some stupid letter. The police had even said in a press conference that they received lots of letters over the years from people stating they were The Axeman. They didn’t see why this should be more real than the others. Lisa didn’t see that either. But that’s human nature for you. The media loves spreading fear and panic and people eat it all up.

  It’s almost like they enjoy being afraid.

  Lisa chuckles as she looks at all the light in the street below her. She can’t believe how easy people are to fool. When she worked as a substitute teacher for a few years a long time ago, she saw how much time they spent on fire drills and training the teachers what to do in case of an active school shooter.

  This is what the world has come to. Nothing but fearful people so afraid they don’t even dare to live their lives.

  Lisa was one of them for a long time. Living with Bernie made her scared of almost everything, but mostly of him. She completely lost herself in that relationship and it has taken her a long time to get to where she is now. She refuses to be scared anymore.

  Lisa puts the glass down and goes back to bed. She feels exhausted now and as she closes her eyes, she finally manages to fall asleep.

  She dreams of Bernie, as so many times before, and is tossing and turning in her sleep, when the sound of someone knocking cuts into her dream. The sound gets slowly louder and louder, and soon she wakes up to realize the knocking isn’t part of her dream. It is coming from the bedside table next to her. A clenched fist is knocking hard, almost aggressively on it. A gloved fist.

  “What the…?”

  Lisa sits up in bed and her eyes fall on a figure. A cloak covers the body and face, and as she tries to see the face, she sees nothing but deep darkness.

  “W-who are you?”

  She receives her answer when she spots the axe. As the blade falls upon her head, she screams, but the frantic music coming from the street drowns out all sound.

  Chapter Forty-Three

  July 2016

  I open my eyes slowly. My head is hurting. There is bright light coming from underneath the thick curtain in the hotel room. I moan and blink my eyes a few times, when I realize I am not alone in my bed.

  Uh-oh!

  I sit up with a gasp, and it wakes up Joey. He looks at me with a smile. “Hey there, sunshine.”

  I can’t breathe. Literally. I am gasping for air.

  What have I done? Oh, no! What have I done?

  Joey grabs my arm and pulls me close. I realize, to my distress, that I am naked. Completely naked.

  No, no, no!

  Joey pulls me into a warm kiss. I am so baffled I let him, but then pull away.

  “What’s wrong?” he asks.

  “I…I…This didn’t happen.”

  “Yes, it did,” he says.

  “I was drunk. You took advantage of me. I was vulnerable. It doesn’t count. You can’t take advantage of a vulnerable drunk woman, Joey.”

  “Oh, no, you don’t. Don’t pin this on me. You were the one who made the first move, Mary. You said you wanted this.”

  Oh, my God! Jackie. What about Jackie? I’m the other woman now! I can’t be the other woman. I simply can’t.

  “Well, I lied,” I say and jump out of the bed, holding the sheet to cover my body like he is seeing me naked for the first time.

  Joey scoffs. “What are you talking about?” He jumps out of the bed too, finds his bo
xers on the floor, and puts them on. “I can’t believe you. Last night you were all over me and now this! Gosh, you make me so mad sometimes.”

  I can see the hurt on his face. I don’t know what to say. Part of me is happy that we ended up in bed together; part of me wants more, a big part of me, but not like this! I don’t want to be his affair; I don’t want to be the other woman.

  And even if he chooses to be with me again, there is always the big question of whether I can dare to trust him again.

  “Yeah…well so do you. You make me so mad when you cheat on me, when you come waltzing in with that bimbo on your arm.”

  “Jackie?”

  “Yes, Jackie. I can’t believe you. I can’t believe you chose her…over me.”

  Joey’s eyes become milder. He looks surprised. “Is that what you think? That I chose her over you?”

  “Yeah, well, how could I not think that?”

  “Because I didn’t.”

  I am confused. “What do you mean?”

  “I didn’t chose her over you. I never would. She is not half the woman you are, Mary. She is not the mother of my child. I haven’t known her all of my life or been married to her. It’s you I love, Mary. It always has been. But you have been pushing me away. Ever since New York, you have been busy pushing me away. Jackie was nothing but a second choice for me. I would have dumped her any minute if you asked me to. But you were the one who didn’t want me anymore.”

  I am on the brink of crying now. I don’t know what to do with myself. “Because you cheated on me with that girl from the coffeehouse, Joey. Do you have any idea how much that hurt? And then later I find out that you were with Jackie while…”

  “Stop,” he says. “I was never with her while I was with you. I have told you that a gazillion times. You just assumed I was because she wouldn’t stop texting me, and then she came over even though I told her not to. I was done with her, but she refused to acknowledge that. I would have and still will dump her any day for you. Mary, you must know that. Please tell me you know that.”

  I stare at him, baffled, dumfounded even. I have never been this confused and so clear at the same time.

  Joey is almost crying now. “Mary, I love you. I love our family and I am tired of pretending like I don’t miss you and Salter every day of my life, every hour. I don’t want to be with anyone else. There is only you, Mary. No coffeehouse girl, no Jackie. Just you, Mary. Just you.”

  I start to cry. Joey is crying with me. We’re standing just a few feet from each other, me covered only by a sheet, him in his boxers, and we’re both weeping like babies. I drop the sheet and am completely naked now. I walk to him, tears streaming across my cheeks. He holds out his hands and we meet in a warm embrace.

  “Oh, Joey,” I say. “I have been such a fool.”

  “That makes two of us.”

  Chapter Forty-Four

  July 2016

  Joey usually doesn’t cry much, but right now he can’t stop. Finally holding Mary in his arms has overwhelmed him emotionally, and he can’t stop. He loves her so much, so deeply, and right now he is willing to do anything to get her back. They get into bed again and stay like that for hours, then both doze off again before they wake up, still intertwined in each other’s arms. It feels incredible. He is not letting go of her again, that’s for sure. Just like he is never letting go of Salter again once he gets him back.

  “Salter!”

  “What’s that?” Mary asks. “What about him?”

  Joey looks at his watch. “It’s time, Mary. We overslept.”

  Mary lets go of him and looks at the clock under the TV. “We can still make it if we hurry.”

  They jump out of bed, find their clothes, and throw them on, not caring what it looks like. They rush for the door. Mary holds it for Joey and they run into the hallway. They jump into the elevator, then run into the lobby and out into the street.

  Ten minutes later, they reach the place where they usually watch Blake. Mary is the first who sees it, Joey right behind her.

  The place is crawling with police. Part of the street is blocked off.

  “What the heck is going on here?” Mary asks. Joey hears the worry in her voice. “What is this, Joe?”

  “I…I don’t know.”

  “Where is Blake?” she asks.

  “I…I…Maybe we should leave, Mary.”

  There is a crowd gathered in front of the police tape. Cameras, reporters. Joey can tell Mary isn’t ready to let it go.

  “Last time I checked, I am also a part of the press,” she says and starts to walk towards it. Joey follows behind her, his heart throbbing in his chest, worried what they will discover.

  Mary approaches a female reporter. “What’s going on here?” she asks.

  “Murder,” the reporter says. “The girl living up on the second floor became The Axeman’s latest victim last night. Lisa Klein was her name. Killed at exactly twelve-fifteen, as he said he would in the letter. Her sister tried to call her all morning, then called her workplace, and they said she never showed up. The sister then decided to go check on her, and found her in her bed, her head split open.”

  “Wow,” Mary says. “That’s awful.”

  “Had an interview with the sister a few minutes ago and she said Lisa Klein refused to play jazz music and that she didn’t believe the threat was real. Thought it was all just a prank. Guess The Axeman’s letter was legit.”

  “Guess so.”

  Joey can hear the shock in Mary’s voice.

  “Listen, I gotta work,” the reporter says.

  “Of course. Sorry. Thank you.”

  Mary pulls Joey’s arm and they walk away from the scene. They turn around the corner, Mary almost running with fast and determined steps.

  “Are you all right?” Joey asks, as he tries to keep up with her.

  She stops suddenly. Then she looks at him. The look in her eyes frightens him slightly. “No, I am not all right,” she says. “Not at all.” She pauses, looks away while biting her lip, then her eyes meet Joey’s once again. Looking into them fills him with deep warmth as he remembers the night and morning in her arms.

  “I think my brother did this,” she says. “I think Blake is The Axeman.”

  Part Three

  O’ BE CAREFUL LITTLE FEET WHERE YOU GO

  Chapter Forty-Five

  July 2016

  Ian’s hands are shaking as he closes the back door and tries several times to make sure it is actually locked. Once he is certain, he looks towards the back yard and the shed. It is empty. It has been since he last saw the black man over there three days ago, on the evening of the night when that girl was killed in her bed.

  Slaughtered like a lamb.

  Ian saw it all on the news the next morning. He didn’t sleep at all that night. He and Mia stayed in the living room, on the couch, a baseball bat by his side, playing jazz music as loud as the old speakers could. All night he was shaking, while Mia slept with her head in his lap. He was waiting, staring at the door to the back, waiting for The Axeman to come back for him, to finish the job.

  But he never came.

  Instead, he killed that girl. Slaughtered her in her sleep. The coward. Just like Cindy, she didn’t stand a chance.

  Ian tears up just from thinking about how much he misses Cindy every day and how hurt Mia has been since losing her mother. It makes him so angry at the same time. So incredibly angry at this cowardly killer who sneaks into people’s bedrooms at night and rips their lives to pieces.

  Ian goes to the kitchen and starts to prepare his famous mac and cheese while Mia sits at the kitchen table, coloring in her book. It was a slow day at work for him, unusually slow for this time of the year. But the heat is keeping the tourists off the streets; well, that and The Axeman, who seems to have scared people from coming to the town altogether. So far it has been the slowest July in all the years Ian has driven the horse carriage. And since Ian lives on the percentage of the income he gets from the owner, he does
n’t have much these days.

  It angers him that one ghost, or whatever he is, can hold such power over them all. It has been three days since his last kill and everyone is holding their breaths, waiting for The Axeman to make his next move. Some of the so-called experts on TV seem to believe he might have left town, you know to not get caught, while others believe he is planning his next move. Will he send a letter again? Will he do something else this time?

  What will he do?

  Mia knows by now that it was The Axeman that took her mother, and somehow she seems to have come to terms with it. She wants to follow everything the news media is saying about it closely, but Ian tries to keep her from it.

  “Can I have ice cream for dessert, please?” she asks, while Ian puts the melted cheese on the pasta and stirs it. “We haven’t had any for a long time.”

  Ian sighs. He didn’t buy any ice cream last time he shopped for groceries. He’s been trying to keep the expenses down ever since his earnings went down. “I don’t have any, sweetie,” he says.

  He sees the disappointment in her eyes and it kills him. He knows how much she is hurting and he really wants her to make her happy.

  “I’m sorry.”

  She shrugs and the look changes in her eyes. “Don’t be. I probably couldn’t eat it anyway.”

  Ian looks at her and smiles. How deeply it breaks his heart to not be able to give her everything. As usual, the day has ended in a thunderstorm and it is still going on outside the windows of his small townhouse. A bolt of lightning strikes right outside in the street. Ian turns to look and gasps, startled, when he sees a figure standing on his porch.

  Chapter Forty-Six

  July 2016

 
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