Chapter Story – Part Four
She came to on the bathroom’s hard floor. Deep bone pain seared her cheekbone as she lifted her head to wipe the drool from the side of her face; a small, clear pool marked her desperate state on the floor. Her damp towel covered her feet, leaving the rest of her naked and shaking. She strained to push herself to stand. Her body ached, and gravity labored her movements.
She stood at the bathroom sink and stared into the mirror. Her long, wheat-colored hair swooped down, then up. Bloodshot eyes stared back at her. Her skin was blotchy from crying and blowing her nose.
“You’re to blame, you know,” she said to the mirror. “You killed Annabelle.” Anger fused her words to bite. She said it again and again, transforming her words into a brow-beating mantra.
A loud knock disrupted her verbal lashings. Who was that? She didn’t want to see anyone. What time was it? She didn’t remember looking at the clock when she woke. Another loud knock vibrated the wood.
God, I hope it’s not my mother. Hetty groaned and headed to the door. Why was she so cold? Was her heater broken? She reached out to grab the door handle when she saw her right breast. She jerked her hand back, flinging her arms about her chest, and scrambled to her dresser for something quick to slip on.
The knocking sounded, this time more urgent. “Miss. Kettering? Are you home?”
“Just a minute,” she said, trying to place the man’s voice—it was familiar. Fear erupted beneath her skin. What if it was him? The Monster. What if he found her? Wanted to do the same thing to her as he had done to Annabelle? Get rid of his loose end.
She slid into pants and a faded grey t-shirt with wear-holes at the hem. She tiptoed to the peephole in the door, prepared to see Annabelle’s Monster once more. Maybe she could turn the tables on him. Take her revenge right there in front of Annabelle’s things, then they’d stop asking her where she was.
The peephole lens distorted her view of the man on the other side of the door. Her heart drum rolled in her chest. Her fists clenched. She squinted and teetered on her tiptoes, trying to see better.
Then she realized who it was.
She opened the door.
“Miss. Kettering . . .” Officer Rayne’s said. She looked terrible, and he could see it. She didn’t care. She wasn’t worth caring about anymore, not when she was responsible for Annabelle’s death—her true killer.
“May I come in, Miss. Kettering?” Officer Rayne scanned her dorm room from where he stood, his hazel eyes searching for something. He flashed a carefree smile, but even through her shroud of hate and unending guilt, she saw his worry and concern for her.
She opened the door wider and left him to enter on his own. She plopped onto her bed without offering him a seat.
“What are you doing here?” Hetty said. She didn’t want to hurt him, but to be friendly, even when a small part of her was glad to see him, seemed entirely inaccessible to her.
“You missed your appointment with the sketch artist,” he said. “I called several times this morning but was unable to get through.” He stood a foot from her, his officer’s cap off, and held at his middle. He focused his gaze on her, as if his search of her room had found her to be the only questionable item.
She vaguely remembered unplugging the phone line from the wall jack. Most of last night and early this morning was a haze. “What time is it?” she said, not sure she wanted to know. To know would only make her feel worse—reinforce her utter failure as a friend.
“It’s after eleven.”
Hetty’s mouth dropped. Where had the time gone? What had she been doing? She searched her dorm room for clues, but all she remembered was crying and sleeping, and . . . her deep, black hole. She’d wanted to stay there. Die there.
“We caught the perpetrator, Miss. Kettering,” he said, quick to move on. Tentative excitement lifted his tone.
“Hetty,” she whispered as if she hadn’t really heard what he’d said. She wanted him to leave, let her be with her deep, black hole. The black hole was void of this, these feelings, these fears.
“We caught him late last night, pulled over for a broken taillight. Imagine that, a serial killer nabbed for a broken taillight.” Officer Rayne chuckled in disbelief, then his voice became curious. “Almost like he planned it, which seems odd, doesn’t it? Why would a serial killer want to be caught? Unless he wanted what he’d done to be known.”
Slowly his words registered.
They caught the Monster.
Her heart lifted in relief and then instantly plummeted. They hadn’t caught the true killer, though, had they? Her hands were clean, but all she could see was Annabelle’s blood.
“Hetty! Stop calling me Miss Kettering!” she blurted. She glared at him. The spittle on her lips felt like fire. Why was he here?
“Hetty, are you alright?” Officer Rayne stepped toward her, squinting.
“I don’t know,” she said. Her voice felt small to her, as her whole body did, except her hands. Her hands looked huge, covered in Annabelle’s blood. She wiped her hands on her pants. The blood wouldn’t come off. Unnerved, she tried again and again; heat burned in the meat of her palms.
“I’m to blame. I’m Annabelle’s true killer.” Her thoughts fell off her tongue, at first a quiet rambling, and then her voice rose to a shrieking pitch as she tried to scrape the blood from her hands with her fingernails.
“Stop that. You’re going to hurt yourself,” Officer Rayne said and grabbed her hands. His hands were larger than hers, and warmth emanated from them, so strong that it was a shock for her to learn how cold she was, not just physically but inside where her spirit resided. She fought accepting his warmth. This icy cold was part of her punishment because she deserved to be cold and broken, just like Annabelle.
“I killed her,” Hetty said and raised her eyes to his, begging for him to connect the clues. She wrenched her hands free. “I’m the one who told her to take the underground. I did!” She jabbed her index finger into her chest. “I did! I did!”
Grief burst from her chest cavity, and, for a moment, she believed her body would disintegrate.
Officer Rayne slapped her face. Startled, she stared at him, her left cheek stinging. “You’re hysterical and not thinking straight.” He towered over her, annoyed.
“I am not hysterical. And I am thinking straight.” She jutted her chest out in defiance, her hands on her hips.
“You didn’t kill your friend. Wallace Martin did.” Officer Rayne’s voice was hard with conviction. She went to interrupt him, convince him of her guilt, but he shushed her with his hand. “Just listen to me.”
She stopped. Then opened her mouth. “Stop it, Hetty.” He knelt down in front of her and placed a hand on her knee. “Can you listen for a moment?” Exasperation thinned his tone.
She said nothing, weighing his request, then gave a small nod.
“Did you know your friend was in the witness protection program?”
Hetty shook her head no. That was crazy. How did someone get into the witness protection program? The Mafia? No way. Not Annabelle.
“Wallace Martin murdered her family, her parents and her younger brother, three years ago in Minneapolis.”
Hetty gasped and covered her mouth with her hands. She paced the room, shaking her head. How did she not know this? Why hadn’t Annabelle told her?
Officer Rayne pushed up from his crouched position, watching her, and continued, “Her father, Davis Turner, was the District Attorney who convicted Wallace Martin of murder. Martin was sentenced to life without parole. Miraculously, he escaped prison two years later. It seems his point in escaping was to kill Turner’s family. Annabelle was the only one to survive but not before witnessing Martin kill her parents and her brother.” Officer Rayne cleared his throat. “She was placed in witness protection and moved here, to our small town. Unfortunately, Martin found her before the authorities could find him.”
“I told her to take the underground. If she hadn’t taken the underground, then she’d still . . . ,” Hetty said, her voice losing its assuredness with each loop she made. Regardless, she should’ve known Annabelle wouldn’t have been safe in the underground. She was to blame. Wasn’t she?
“No, she wouldn’t. Martin knew she was here. From the evidence, we’ve obtained and his confession, he knew everything about her. He knew what dorm she lived in. He knew her routine. No matter what, he would’ve gotten to her. No matter what you said. And, honestly, Annabelle may have saved your life by not waiting for you, for heading to the underground without you.”
Hetty gawked at him. That couldn’t be true. Could it? No, it couldn’t.
“How many other times had Annabelle taken the underground without you?”
Hetty thought about it. “Dozens,” she whispered, her mind grappled with his reasoning.
“Well, if she’d made it safe a dozen times before, there was no way for you to know she wouldn’t be safe this time,” Officer Rayne said. He reached out to her as if he handed her the truth if she’d only take it.
“I didn’t kill her?” Hetty said, doubt slowed her words as she gave them a voice. She stopped pacing and spread her fingers wide in front of her. Annabelle’s blood faded. Only traces of the darkened blood remained in the minuscule webbing of her fingers. Her eyes floated to Officer Rayne’s. His need for her to understand arched his eyebrows. She settled onto her bed, her body weak.
“No. You did not kill your friend. Wallace Martin did, and we have him in custody as we speak.” Officer Rayne sat next to her on the bed. He squeezed her hand, and the safe likable feeling she had with him before surfaced. She squeezed back, not completely convinced, but whether she wanted to or not, she trusted him.
She stared at Annabelle’s things: her green body pillow; her Mozart shirt she’d won at violin camp; her books, so many they overflowed her desk; her blue-swirl coffee cup, the one that reminded her of the ocean. There were other little things: knick-knacks, discarded candy wrappers, and quick notes for class. All those things carried her stamp, her life-print. She’d held them. Loved them.
But all those things weren’t her. They were just things.
A picture show flipped through Hetty’s mind of Annabelle and their friendship. She savored each photo, gently caressing each picture with her mind, then she stood. Officer Rayne’s hand slipped from hers.
She removed her viola from its case. Her father had made sure to bring it up, even though she had protested, saying she never wanted to play again, not without Annabelle. The idea of playing her viola made her nauseous.
But now she needed the music, couldn’t breathe without it.
The viola’s smooth mahogany finish comforted her as she brought it to her chin. After a quick tuning, she played a smooth, easy song, one that Annabelle loved, one that Hetty had written for Annabelle’s birthday. The song’s notes vibrated the wood in her hand and the bow molded to her light hold as she swept over the strings.
She forgot Officer Rayne watched her. She remembered only her friend, her laughter and snippets of secrets and questions of life. Emotions stormed her mind and her heart. The unbearable loss of Annabelle, the crippling pain of never seeing her again, bombarded her.
Slowly, with each upward bow and note change, the true killer persona she believed was hers evanesced.
She hadn’t killed her friend. Wallace Martin had. Tears wetted her cheeks while she transitioned from one song to the next. She imagined Annabelle’s sweet violin playing with her, lifting the music higher.