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

           Willow Rose
 
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  Joey stops midsentence when he realizes I am no longer listening. I am staring intently at the TV-screen behind him. There is no sound on, but the picture has me captured.

  The waitress comes up to our table. She is still chewing gum visibly. “How are things around here?”

  “Do you know what they’re talking about on the TV screen behind the bar?” I ask her.

  She looks up and squints her eyes to better see.

  “Sure. It’s that woman they found killed in her hotel room. At first they thought she had a stroke, but the autopsy showed that she had been killed. It was right down the road from here, actually. Pretty scary, huh? Now, can I get ya’ll anything else? Any desserts or anything?”

  “No. We’re good. We would like the check, please.”

  When she leaves, Joey looks at me. “What’s going on?”

  “Look at the picture,” I say and nod towards the screen. “The drawing they have. Doesn’t that remind you of someone?”

  Joey turns and looks. “Oh, my God.”

  “I know. That’s baby brother dearest. He might be bald and have a beard, but I’d recognize him anywhere.”

  “This happened recently,” Joey says.

  “I know. We’re right on his tail. Better get back on the road. We have to get to him before he hurts anyone else, or even worse, before he hurts our son.”

  Chapter Eleven

  July 2016

  Honeymooning in New Orleans. Not a bad way to celebrate us, Debra Trout thinks to herself, as the door to their hotel suite is opened and they walk in.

  Jack looks at her and she smiles. She can’t believe her luck to have landed a guy like him. It is her third time around and his second, but who’s counting?

  This is what it’s like to be rich? I could get used to this.

  “Just put the bags in the bedroom,” Jack says to the bellman. He turns to look at Debra.

  “You’re spoiling me, Jack,” she says.

  “Only the best for the love of my life.”

  Debra scoffs and sits on the couch in the living room. Growing up outside of New Orleans and living there for most of her life, she has heard about Hotel Monteleone more times than she cares to remember and dreamt about one day being able to stay here. Right there in the center of the French Quarter. So when Jack asked her where in the world she wanted to honeymoon, this is what she picked. Not the Maldives, not Costa Rica. That would all have to wait for another trip. This is Debra’s chance for some luxury in her life, and she is going to enjoy it to the fullest. At the age of sixty-five, she knows this will be her last chance. There aren’t that many Jacks out there who like their women to be over forty.

  “So what are you in the mood for?” Jack asks when the bellman has received his tip—which is generous, as always with Jack. “Pool? There’s one on the rooftop. Or maybe you want to take a stroll through the French Quarter, see if we can find some music?”

  Debra grabs Jack’s tie and pulls him close. She kisses him and closes her eyes. “Or we can do that,” Jack says when her lips let go of his.

  “I have something for you,” Jack says and walks to the bedroom. He comes back with a wrapped box.

  “Oh, Jack, you shouldn’t have,” Debra says, but she doesn’t mean it. She loves every gift he gives her and can’t get enough. After being married to guys that were constantly broke for all of her adult life, it feels so great to finally have the right man, with the right wallet, by her side. So what if Jack is twenty years older than her and might have one foot in the grave? He is very agile, and very sweet, and they might have a few good years together before he dies and passes all his money to her. He is exactly what she has been looking for all of her life. Her first husband, Brad, was a no-good guy that ran out on her and the kids while they were just babies. For years she had to get by on her own, working hard and raising them alone, ‘cause who would want to be with a woman like her and her kids? No one. Later, when she finally met Colby, she thought her luck had finally turned. Colby had money and could take care of her and the children, he said. He did make good money as an insurance salesman, but he was also a drunk and a gambler, and soon they had run out of money and Debra had to leave him. He begged her to stay and cried and told her he loved her, but how could he think she would want to stay with him when he had no money? He couldn’t even provide for her. A man without money is like a bow without arrows. Just doesn’t work.

  Debra unwraps the box. She looks up at Jack when opening the lid. Her fingers shivered with excitement. It feels so good to finally be with a man who appreciates her, who values her, and is not afraid to show it. The room is filled with long stemmed red roses and she knows that is his work too.

  Inside the suede box is a necklace. Diamond covered. Debra gasps and cups her mouth. “Oh, Jack.”

  He smiles widely. “I told you. I intend to spoil you rotten for the rest of our lives together.”

  She kisses him, then whispers a lie, but it is what he wants to hear. “Then I sure hope it will be a long time.”

  He laughs. “I don’t intend to die anytime soon.”

  Debra chuckles. It’s a little forced. “Me neither.”

  Chapter Twelve

  July 2016

  “Chloe has booked a room for us at a hotel,” Mary says as they drive into New Orleans.

  It is early morning and the sun barely up yet. The tall buildings stand like mountains in front of them. The traffic is getting tighter, telling them they have reached an urban area. Mary is zigzagging between cars in the morning traffic. The area they drive through looks poor.

  Joey nods and yawns. He is barely awake. Mary woke him up at five so they could make it to New Orleans as early as possible. The night before, Mary wanted to drive all the way through, but Joey eventually talked her out of it. She was simply too tired and it was too dangerous. They ended up sleeping at a small motel in Mississippi, close to the border to Louisiana.

  Soon the concrete jungle surrounds them as they reach the center of town. They find Canal Street and rush through lots of green lights, some very yellow. Joey looks at the extraordinary buildings and the trams. He has never been in New Orleans before, but it looks just like he imagined. Just bigger. He finds it very charming.

  Mary drives down Royal Street and stops in front of a beautiful white building. “Hotel Monteleone?” he asks. “It looks kind of pricey, don’t you think?”

  “I make good money now, Joey,” she says. “It’s okay.”

  A man in uniform walks up to the door and welcomes them. Mary and Joey get out and walk inside while their luggage is taken care of. Joey feels a little uncomfortable in the big hall, under the huge chandeliers and high ceilings, marble floors and people wearing big hats. A couple walks past them, the woman carrying her dog in her purse. A uniformed man hands Joey a water bottle from a silver platter.

  “It’s going to be hot today, sir. One needs to stay hydrated,” he says and lifts his red cap.

  Joey takes the bottle. It has the hotel’s logo on the front.

  They walk up to the front desk and the woman smiles at them. Mary addresses her, smiling politely, but tired.

  “Mary Mills. I believe there should be a reservation.”

  They get the keycard and check into a big room with soft carpet and two king size beds. Joey looks at them with all their big golden pillows on top.

  “Do we really need this big of a room?”

  “I thought it would be the most appropriate,” Mary says. “You know, given our situation. I don’t think our better halves would like it if we slept in the same bed while we were here.”

  Better halves? Does she mean Jackie?

  Joey nods, throws his sports bag on the bed, and lies down. The bed is extraordinarily comfortable. Joey has never stayed in a place like this before, and even though a part of him likes the luxury, the other parts feels estranged, like he doesn’t belong here, like he has somehow sneaked his way in and soon they’re going to find out and come for him. He knows it is
very different for Mary because she comes from a wealthy background. She travelled with her father from time to time as a child. And as a reporter for CNN and later the New York Times, she used to travel a lot and stay in great hotels.

  Joey never did. He is just a carpenter.

  “How big is this hotel, anyway?” he asks.

  She shrugs. “I don’t know. It has like six hundred rooms or something. There is a rooftop pool, several restaurants and bars; you can read all about it in the book over there. It tells everything about the hotel. I’m going to call Chloe and tell her we have arrived.”

  Chapter Thirteen

  July 2016

  “Good morning, sunshine.”

  Jack leans in over Debra in the bed. She is hardly awake when he starts to kiss her and fondle her under the covers. Debra groans. She has a bad headache from all the wine and champagne they drank the night before at the Carousel Piano Bar & Lounge downstairs. She had barely been able to walk down the hallway without Jack holding her arm when going back.

  “Not now, Jack,” she moans. Jack’s breath smells bad. His crooked fingers are touching her arm. His nails are too long.

  “Come on,” Jack says and creeps closer.

  Debra can feel his skin against hers and it makes her nauseous. When agreeing to marry him, that was the only worry she had. The sex part. She can tolerate kissing him, since she can close her eyes and picture him younger or handsomer, but she can’t stand having to see him naked or feeling him touch her. Even though she knows he’ll expect it from her, she finds it harder and harder. Now that she has finally sealed the deal, she is kind of hoping she won’t have to put out anymore. Hopefully, he’ll grow too old for it in a short while. She is only praying that she doesn’t have to wait years.

  “I need something to drink,” she says, smacking her lips. “Could you get me some water, please?”

  Jack sighs, disappointed. “Sure,” he says and gets up and walks to the minibar.

  Debra watches his flat and flappy behind as he walks across the carpet. She feels sick to her stomach.

  Nothing is free in this world, Debra. This is the price you have to pay for living the rest of your life in luxury. Deal with it.

  “Just water or do you want something else? Maybe a soda?” Jack asks.

  “Just water will do,” she says.

  He grabs one and closes the minibar. He walks to her, swinging his privates, trying to be sexy, she is guessing. It’s not working. He throws the water bottle to her and she opens it. She drinks, wondering what else she can come up with as an excuse for not wanting to sleep with him.

  “I’m hungry,” she says. “Should we get some food?”

  Jack looks disappointed again. She looks away so she doesn’t have to see it. She doesn’t feel sorry for him. He can go sleep with younger women later if he likes, when he realizes that she will not sleep with him ever again. She got what she came for.

  He nods. “All right. Oh, maybe we could do room service? And then have some action afterwards?”

  She wrinkles her nose. “I was more thinking about going downstairs, then maybe go into town afterwards? I always wanted to go on one of the steamboats. You know, sail the river. I saw in the brochure over there that there is one leaving at eleven. Maybe we could have lunch there?”

  “You mean to tell me you have lived in New Orleans all your life and never gone on one of the steamboats?” he says.

  She shakes her head. “I could never afford it.”

  Jack smiles. The story of her poor past always wakes something in him, a sort of protective, almost fatherly feeling in him. “Then on a steamboat we shall go. And have the biggest lunch they have.”

  Debra smiles, leans over, and kisses him. “Thank you, Jack. Thank you so much.”

  Chapter Fourteen

  July 2016

  “He was seen again yesterday by the same camera at precisely two thirty nine.”

  Chloe is talking fast and agitated on the phone. I watch Joey as he reads through all the hotel info.

  “That’s two days in a row that he has been spotted by the same camera in town. Maybe you could use that for something.”

  “Was Salter with him?” I ask hopefully.

  The first day he was spotted, Blake had been alone. It worries me that Salter isn’t with him.

  “No. I’m afraid not, Mary. Still, that doesn’t prove anything. You’ve got to keep that hope up.”

  I exhale. I am exhausted and I feel a little like I am still driving. “He killed someone in Alabama.”

  “Say that again?”

  “I am pretty sure he killed a woman in Mobile, Alabama. They had a sketch drawing on TV that looked a lot like him. Her credit cards were stolen, they said. A hundred thousand dollars was withdrawn from her accounts before they were closed. All from different ATMs in Alabama and Mississippi. He is wearing a hat in all of them, so they can’t see his face properly, but they’re certain it must be the same man that she was seen with at the hotel’s bar earlier on the night she was killed.”

  “So you think he killed her for the money?” Chloe asks.

  “Yes. I can’t stand the thought that my son is with him.”

  Chloe exhales into the phone. “I know. I can’t imagine what you must be going through. Just know that we are all with you. Sandra was here last night, helping me go through all the surveillance footage that has been sent to me. She’s been a great help. Alex was here shortly too.”

  “Ugh.”

  “I know you can’t stand them together, but they are really enjoying each other’s company.”

  “I don’t mind as long as they tell their spouses. It’s the betrayal that makes me sick.”

  “Can’t blame you. How’re things with you and Joey?” Chloe asks.

  I scoff. I don’t know what to say. How can I describe our trip? I enjoy being with him again, but I hate how we don’t seem to be able to communicate anymore. It’s complicated?

  “We’re okay. As long as we find Salter.”

  “All right. I’m going to send you the address of the bank where the surveillance camera spotted Blake two days in a row at exactly the same time.”

  “That is our only clue, but it’s better than nothing,” I say.

  “I’ll give you a call if there is anything. And, Mary…?”

  “Yes?”

  “Be careful. I know he is your brother, but…”

  “I know,” I say. “Believe me; I know and we will.”

  I hang up and Joey looks up from the book. “Did you know this hotel is haunted?”

  “All houses in New Orleans are haunted. Especially the hotels.”

  “According to the story, this hotel is haunted by a little boy,” he continues. “A toddler named Maurice Begere. In the 1800s, he and his family stayed at this hotel often. His parents liked to go to the opera and would leave their son here at the hotel with his nanny. While they were gone, the boy developed a fever, had convulsions, and died in his room before the parents made it back from the opera. The grieving parents kept returning to the hotel, hoping that the spirit of the boy would come to them, and one day it did. On the fourteenth floor—hey that’s where we’re staying—which is actually the thirteenth, Maurice appeared to his mother near the room where he died. And get this…he told his mother not to cry, that he was doing fine. Ever since then, several guests have seen the boy on the fourteenth floor. Some have seen him appear by the foot of their beds.” Joey shivers as he reads the last part. “Creepy, huh?”

  I chuckle. Mostly because I think he is being ridiculous. “Don’t tell me you believe in those things?”

  “Well, I know you don’t, but I can’t help wondering.”

  I grab a map of the town as the text from Chloe appears on my screen with the address. “I think we have a lot more serious business to deal with right now.”

  Chapter Fifteen

  April 2005

  “You have to eat something, Robyn.”

  Robyn stares at her plate. M
ashed potato, some kind of meat, maybe veal, peas, corn, some type of gravy. Usually, she would have been all over this. But not today. Today, the sight of food makes her nauseous. It’s worse than when she was pregnant. This is different. This is her losing the will to live.

  John clenches his fist and slams it into the dinner table. All the plates jump. The sound echoes in the big empty house for long afterwards.

  “Damn it, Robyn. You’re not the only one who lost a child. But you have to keep living. You can’t just give up.”

  Startled by his motion, she picks up the fork and tries to catch a pea. It keeps rolling on the plate. She wants to cry, but she has no more tears. It has been four weeks now. It was a boy, they told her. But he didn’t make it. And she won’t be able to have any more children. Ever.

  She finally catches the pea and shovels it into her mouth. It feels like it grows to triple the size and she has a hard time swallowing it. It is the first thing she has eaten in days. John doesn’t even look at her while he eats. She gets the feeling he can’t stand the sight of her. Maybe it’s because she has lost so much weight? Maybe he blames her for losing the child. Maybe.

  He finishes his food, then gets up. “I have work to do.”

  She lets him go. Being in the same room as him makes her even more nauseous. This house makes her nauseous, the furniture, her entire life, everything around her makes her sick.

  Robyn gives up eating any more and walks outside on the porch instead. She sits on the swing, a glass of iced tea between her hands, and looks into the street, her mind empty, her eyes dried up from all the crying.

  A woman walks by pushing her stroller in front of her. She looks down at the child, annoyed, then sighs and pulls something out of his hand. The kid answers with a loud squeal. The woman exhales again, and pushes the stroller even more forcefully while the kid’s body is in a bow.

 
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