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

           Willow Rose
 
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  “Hello,” Suzy says as she walks up the stairs. She sits down on the cushion. “How was your day?”

  Robyn smiles. Suzy is always so considerate and always asks Robyn how her day has been. “It was good,” Robyn answers. “I brought you something.”

  Robyn hands Suzy the drink and the girl’s face lights up. “For me? Thank you. I have never tried iced tea before.”

  “I also brought you these,” Robyn says. She reaches towards the table next to her and pulls out a small box.

  When she opens the lid, Suzy’s face lights even more up. “Cookies!”

  Robyn chuckles. It brings her great joy to be able to spoil Suzy a little, and their little meetings on the porch every night seem to be helping her tremendously. It is all she looks forward to all day as she stays in the house, while John is at the office. She has grown to hate the house and all its loneliness. It keeps reminding her that she is all alone. It is way too big for just one woman all day.

  John has been very busy at work and is hardly home anymore. It is very rare that he makes it for dinner and now she finds herself eating alone too. She doesn’t mind that John is away this much; to be honest, she enjoys that he is not there, since all they do is fight or—worst of all—simply not talk. She knows he blames her for losing the child. She also knows the feeling leaves him sad and angry with himself because he knows he is not allowed to feel that way. But it’s okay. She blames herself too. Every day she thinks back and speculates if there was anything she could have done differently, even if there was something she could have eaten or not eaten to have prevented the child from dying. Was it because she lifted too much during the move? Or maybe the stress from moving?

  She’ll never know.

  Robyn is tired of living in the past. She is sick of thinking about it day in and day out. That is why she enjoys these little visits so much. Suzy comes with life. She brings stories from the real world; she tells her about school and her second grade teacher who always yells and picks her boogers when she thinks no one sees it. It is so refreshing to Robyn to hear all this, especially since John doesn’t want to bother her with his day or his trouble at work, because he believes it might be too much for her, that she needs to focus on her own recovery. But all she really wants is to move on. To come alive again.

  Suzy digs into the box and grabs a cookie. She looks nervously at Robyn like she isn’t quite sure she is really allowed to eat it. “Go ahead,” Robyn says. “Have another one. Your second hand is quite empty. We don’t want it to get jealous of the first hand, now do we?”

  Suzy giggles. It warms Robyn’s heart. Suzy grabs another cookie and eats both of them, stuffing her face like she is afraid someone might snap them out of her hand before she can put them in her mouth.

  “Easy there,” Robyn says. “I don’t want you to choke.”

  “S-s-sorry,” Suzy says, her mouth full so it is hard to hear properly. “I am just so hungry.”

  Robyn looks at her. “Really? Haven’t you had dinner yet?”

  The girl shakes her head, still chewing. “Well then, I sure hope I didn’t ruin your appetite. I don’t want your mom to get angry at me for spoiling your dinner.”

  Suzy looks away and finishes chewing.

  “Tell me, is your mom even home?” Robyn asks. “You come here every night at this time; is your mom not home?”

  Suzy shakes her head. “It’s okay,” she says, as she swallows the last bit of cookie. “She’ll be home later.”

  “But…but what about dinner?” Robyn asks.

  Suzy looks at her. “Oh, no. It’s okay. I just usually grab something myself.”

  A six year old making her own dinner?

  “Like what? What do you usually eat?”

  “Just some rice or pasta.”

  “Oh, okay, that’s not too bad, but do you cook that yourself? Or has your mom cooked it for you and you just heat it in the microwave?”

  “Oh, I just eat it straight from the box,” she says with an indifferent shrug. “It’s not so bad actually.”

  Robyn stares at the girl. Not so bad?

  “You know what?” she says. “I have loads of leftovers from my dinner tonight. How about I heat it up for you? Do you like meatloaf?”

  Suzy’s eyes sparkle when she looks at Robyn. “I love meatloaf. Only had it once, at my grandma’s, but I loved it.”

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  July 2016

  “Has anyone seen a little boy?”

  I ask everyone I see in the corridors. The man has been rushed to the hospital and the coroner has been there and declared the woman dead. The police have swamped the place and I have been interrogated and told to stay in town in case they need to question me more. I tell him about the boy, but he tells me the couple didn’t check in with any children. Then he leaves me, and I spot Joey coming down the hallway looking confused and sleepy, his hair pointing in all directions.

  “What’s going on?” he asks.

  “Someone was killed in room 14237, right in there,” I say, and point at the heavyset door.

  “Someone was killed?” Joey asks.

  I nod.

  “Are you all right?” he asks and grabs me by the shoulders.

  I shake my head, biting my lip, trying to hold back the tears. I know if I give in to them, there will be no stopping them again. “I found them, Joey. They were…oh, my God, their…heads…they were…”

  “Hey, hey slow down.” He pulls me into his embrace. I close my eyes and let the tears roll. I take in a deep breath and linger at his scent. It makes me feel so calm. Always has. If nothing else, Joey has always managed to make me feel safe.

  “Now, first of all, tell me, what are you doing out here in the middle of the night? I wake up hearing sirens and loud voices in the hallway, and see that you aren’t there. Imagine the shock I had. I was certain something had happened to you. Don’t ever do that to me again.”

  “There…there was a…boy…a boy, but now we can’t find him. No one has seen him, but he was there. He was at the foot of my bed. He was crying. He told me to walk in there, or he didn’t really say anything, but led me to the door, then stopped and pointed at it. I thought they were his parents or something, but the police say they didn’t check in with children. I don’t understand, Joe. I’m worried about the boy. I fear that he is somewhere crying with no one to take care of him.”

  “Shh, shhh,” he says and holds me closer. He kisses the top of my head and I can hear he takes in a deep breath. It feels nice to be held by him again. “Someone will find him. It’ll be all right.”

  I know it won’t because those people will never be all right again. The woman was killed and there really isn’t much hope for the man either, and the boy is lost and so is Salter, and everything is a mess. Yet, I still decide to believe him. For just a second, I decide Joey is right. Everything will be all right. At some point. I have to believe that it will. I simply have to. The world will be good again; life will be good again.

  “Let’s go back to our room,” Joey says. “You need rest, Mary. How long have you been up?”

  I shrug. “I don’t know. Could be hours. I don’t think I can sleep, though. I keep seeing the woman and her…her skull…open.”

  “Shhh, don’t think about it anymore,” he says and puts his arm around me as we walk back towards our room.

  “But what about the boy?” I ask when he holds the door to our room open for me to walk in.

  “You know what? Maybe he is already taken care of,” he says. “Maybe some hotel personnel took care of him and he is already in the hands of the police or DCF or whomever takes care of lost little boys.”

  We walk inside and I get a quick flashback from entering room 14237 just before I found the bodies. I gasp as the images rush through my mind and Joey comes up behind me.

  “It’s okay,” he whispers. He puts his arms around me from behind. I am shivering, but with his embrace I calm down. He helps me get into bed and puts the covers over me
, then gets into the bed as well. I fall asleep tightly wrapped in his arms.

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  July 2016

  Joey’s arm is hurting, but he doesn’t move it. Mary is sleeping heavily on top of it and looks so peaceful he is afraid of waking her up. Instead, he stays in place, holding her in his arms, while she snores lightly and finally gets the sleep she so desperately needs. And somewhere deep inside of him, Joey can’t help but enjoy her, enjoy being close to her. He tries to fight it, but he really wants to kiss her lips.

  You can’t do that, Joey. She’s with someone else. She doesn’t love you anymore. She has moved on and will only get angry with you.

  The sun rises outside the hotel’s windows and slowly the town wakes up outside. Joey listens to the many sounds of the vibrant town, the cars, the bands playing in the streets. He thinks about Salter and wonders if he will ever hold him in his arms again, if he will ever make pancakes with him, chatting about surfing again. Joey is struck by a deep regret for not having spent more time with him while he could.

  Why had he been in such a hurry to get a new girlfriend? To get back at Mary? To push her away? Why hadn’t he just spent time with Salter instead?

  It really is true, isn’t it? You only know what you have when it is gone.

  Joey looks down at Mary, who mumbles something in her sleep. Joey chuckles and wonders if he will ever get a chance with her again. Would it always be like this between them? Them fighting and not being able to communicate, trying constantly to hurt one another, but secretly desiring each other?

  Was that the life he wanted to live?

  Mary makes more sounds and slowly opens her eyes. He looks down and their eyes meet. She smiles. “Hey, there. Guess I fell asleep.”

  Joey chuckles again. “Guess so.”

  She realizes she is in his arms, then sits up. “I am sorry. Did I fall asleep on you? I…I didn’t…”

  “It’s okay, Mary,” Joey says. “You needed comfort.”

  “But…Jackie is going to kill you and maybe me. I really didn’t mean to come between…”

  “Stop,” Joey says and gets off the bed. The moment is gone. They’re back to the cruel reality. “I won’t tell her.”

  “What time is it?” she asks.

  Joey looks at his watch. “It’s almost noon.”

  “I need to get ready,” she says, spinning around a few times. She seems out of it and Joey wonders if she is all right. “We have to get something to eat and then go to that place again and find Blake.”

  “Are you sure you’re feeling well enough to go?” he asks.

  She finds her suitcase and picks up a piece of clothing, then looks at him. “What on earth is that supposed to mean?”

  He shrugs. “I don’t know. It’s just you saw two people be butchered last night; I thought maybe you needed a little time to get back, if you know what I mean.”

  “I really don’t,” she says. “First of all, I didn’t see them be butchered, I found their bodies; second, I am fine. At least I know I will be when I have Salter back with me.” She stops, then corrects herself. “Us. I mean us.”

  She sighs, then looks around like she is looking for something. She walks to the bathroom with the piece of clothing in her hand and closes the door, but returns a second later.

  “This is a swimsuit,” she says. “That’s hardly appropriate. I don’t even know why I packed a swimsuit for this trip. What was I thinking?”

  Joey scoffs. “Probably that once we found Salter we would enjoy the pool at the hotel.”

  Mary stops and looks at him. Something in her eyes, a sadness, makes him want to cry.

  “That is exactly what I thought. How did you know?”

  Joey pulls a pair of board shorts out of his suitcase and waves them in the air. Mary laughs, but it is not funny, and soon she slides to the carpet, the swimsuit still in her hand, an expression of defeat on her face.

  “I don’t even know if I’ll ever swim again,” she says. “I mean, without Salter. What’s the point?”

  Part Two

  O’ BE CAREFUL LITTLE HANDS WHAT YOU DO

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  July 2016

  Mia is sitting on his shoulders as they walk down Canal Street. Ian pretends to lose control and bash straight into the building, then misses it barely before he pretends to slam into the light pole. Mia is squealing and laughing.

  “Oh, no, no, no!” he yells and runs towards the shop selling tourist trap shirts and hats, then pretends to miss the window by just a few inches.

  “Stop it, Ian,” she laughs and holds on tight to his hair.

  It hurts a little, but Ian doesn’t mind. All he cares about is hearing her laugh. That has been his main job since she lost her mother four months ago in that nighttime attack that left Mia without a mother and him missing an ear on the right side.

  Since she doesn’t have any other family who wants her, she has stayed with him and he has been made legal guardian, a decision that has completely changed his life. But only for the better, he thinks.

  “So, what do you want to do? Get an ice cream?” he asks.

  “Yes!” she almost screams.

  She is on summer break and Ian can’t afford to put her in camp, so ever since school got out, she has been spending the days with him, helping drive the tourists around town in the horse carriage. In the beginning, Ian feared she would be a problem, but the tourists love her. And she has caught on fast to all the stories and tales and can now tell them for him. Somehow, they find it endearing—and maybe even a little spooky—to have a little girl tell them about the ghosts of this town.

  Ian shivers when thinking about ghosts. He hasn’t slept well since that night they were attacked. He is certain it was the black guy from the back that killed Cindy. He has no way of proving it, but he knows it in his gut.

  Cindy was killed by a slave ghost out for revenge for what white people did to him. But, of course, the police won’t believe him. And ever since the murder, the black guy has been gone from the shed. Ian hasn’t been over there to take a closer look because, frankly, the guy scares him half to death, but he hasn’t seen any trace of him since that night, that terrifying night.

  Ian doesn’t talk much to Mia about what happened. She knows her mom was killed in her bed at night, but not the details. Ian doesn’t want her to. She is suffering badly from nightmares as it is. She doesn’t have to know more.

  Ian wishes he could afford to move, since the house is filled with all the bad memories and staying in it makes him feel sick. But he can’t. Especially not now that he has more than himself to think of.

  For a long time, Ian was a suspect. He was questioned again and again about his relationship with Cindy and the drinking, but eventually they let him go. To this day, he still thinks they believe he did it.

  “I want the chocolate mint kind from the corner place,” Mia says and points.

  “Ah. Good choice, little girl,” he says and turns to head in that direction. They still have about an hour before his workday begins. Ian has enjoyed having Mia with him every day this summer and wonders if he’ll miss her terribly once she has to go back to school.

  He stops at the small stand. “One chocolate mint in a cone, please,” he says. It’s early for ice cream and it is obvious that the lady behind the counter isn’t expecting customers yet. She isn’t ready at all and it takes a long time for her to get her gear out. She has a TV in there and the voice of the speaker can be heard all the way in the street. Ian usually never watches the news, since it’s only bad stuff, but this morning it catches his interest immediately.

  A ticker at the bottom reads:

  BREAKING: COUPLE ATTACKED BY AXE-MURDERER AT HOTEL MONTELEONE.

  “What’s the matter, Ian?” Mia asks, her voice nervous. “You’re shivering.”

  “No. No. It’s nothing,” he says, and helps her get down so she can get her ice cream when the lady hands it to her through the window. He looks at her and
smiles, while his heart is pounding hard in his chest. He tries to keep his breath steady so she won’t notice anything.

  “It’s nothing, darling. Eat your ice cream.”

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  July 2016

  Just like the day before, we spot him at exactly two thirty-nine, walking past the bank, and just like the day before, he is in obvious pursuit of the blonde woman. I am tired, but as soon as I see him, I feel more energized and alive than ever. Every fiber of my body springs to life and wants to attack.

  I know Joey feels the same way, yet he is the one who puts a hand on my shoulder to calm me down. I know he is right. We can’t blow our cover. We need him to take us to Salter first.

  We watch Blake as he watches the woman use the keys to get into the building, and wait for him to move. He stays outside in the street for about ten minutes, watching her through the window on the second floor. He has a camera and takes pictures of her every time she is in sight by the open window, then suddenly decides it is time to leave.

  “He’s moving,” I say to Joey. “Let’s not lose him this time.”

  We walk far behind him, but still close enough to be able to follow his every move. Blake is whistling happily as he walks down the small street, greeting some tourists on the way, then continues till he reaches the end of the street, where he turns to his right. We hurry up to not lose him and reach the corner shortly after, where I spot Blake crossing the street, walking towards a park.

  We follow him. A band is playing in the square at the entrance of the park. It sounds really good, and Blake stops to watch them. Trumpets, saxophones, drums, all in a vibrant wave of music. At any other time in my life, I would have truly enjoyed listening to them, but now I just want Blake to continue. I want him to take me to my son. My heart is beating faster at the thought of Salter and maybe, just maybe, seeing him again soon.

 
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