Kevin O'Brien

One Last Scream

Chapter One

Moses Lake, Washington-1992

She turned the key in the ignition, and nothing happened, just a hollow click, click, click.

“Oh, shit,” Kristen murmured. She felt a little pang of dread in her stomach.

The battery wasn’t dead, because the inside dome light had gone on when she’d climbed into her Ford Probe a minute ago.

Biting her lip, Kristen gave the key another twist. Click, click, click. Nothing.

It was 11:20 on a chilly October night. Hers was the only car in the restaurant lot. Kristen had just finished a seven-hour shift waiting tables at The Friendly Fajita. She’d closed up the place with Rafael, the perpetually horny 19-year-old busboy, and he’d just taken off on his rusty old Harley. Kristen could still hear its engine roaring as he sailed down Broadway. It was the only sound she heard.

There was a phone in the restaurant, and she had a key. But she and Rafael had already set the alarm. It would go off if she went back inside, and she could never remember the code, especially while that shrill incessant alarm was sounding. She’d have to go look for a phone someplace else, and then call a tow company or a cab. Her boyfriend, Brian, was out of town at a golf tournament down in San Diego.

“Please, please, please,” she whispered, trying the ignition once again. The car didn’t respond except for that hollow click, click, click.

“Damn it to hell,” she grumbled. Grabbing her purse and a windbreaker from the passenger seat, Kristen climbed out of the car and shut the door. She didn’t bother locking it.

She took a long look down the street. Most of the other businesses along this main drag were closed for the night. There were a couple of taverns farther down Broadway. Kristen loathed the idea of hoofing it several blocks along the roadside. The waist-length windbreaker didn’t quite cover her stupid waitress uniform. The Friendly Fajita’s owner, Stan Munch, who was about as Mexican as she was, made her wear this senorita getup with a white, off-the-shoulder peasant blouse and a gaudy purple, green, and yellow billowy skirt over a petticoat, for God’s sake. With her short, blond hair, green eyes, and pale complexion, she looked like an idiot in the outfit. But, hell, anyone would appear ridiculous in it. The thing looked like a Halloween costume.

The Friendly Fajita had been open for four months, and it was floundering. Moses Lake didn’t need another Mexican restaurant. Besides, the food was mediocre and overpriced. And if that wasn’t enough to drive customers away, Stan had the same two Herb Alpert CDs on a continuous loop for background authenticity. If Kristen never heard “The Lonely Bull” again in her life, it would be too soon.

Maybe she could flag down a cop car, or a good Samaritan. Kristen ducked back into the Probe just long enough to pop the hood and switch on the hazard lights. She figured that would make it easier for passersby to see that she needed help. Of course, she was also making it easier for the wrong person to see that she was stranded.

It suddenly occurred to Kristen that someone might have sabotaged her car. Just a little sugar in the gas tank-that was all it took. She’d read that before he started killing, the young Ted Bundy liked to screw with women’s cars, so he could later watch them when they were stranded and vulnerable.

He just watched them. It turned him on.

Kristen wondered if someone was looking at her right now as she stood beside her broken-down car in front of the darkened restaurant. Maybe he was across the street by the flower shop. He could be hiding in the shadows behind those bushes, studying her through a pair of binoculars.

Or maybe he was even closer than that.

She shuddered and rubbed her arms. “Stop it,” Kristen muttered to herself. “You’re perfectly safe. There aren’t any serial killers in Moses Lake.”

Still, she reached inside her purse and felt around for the pepper spray. She wondered if it even worked any more. She’d bought the little canister over two years ago while a junior at Eastern Washington University in Cheney. She’d majored in graphic design, and planned to move to Seattle. But Brian got a job as the golf pro at one of Moses Lake’s courses. It was a big resort town. Kristen had decided to put Seattle on hold, and stick with Brian for a while. There wasn’t much need for a graphic artist in Moses Lake. So, here she was, dressed up like a Mexican peasant girl and stranded outside The Friendly Fajita at 11:30 on a cold Wednesday night.

Kristen kept the pepper spray clutched in her fist.

One car passed the restaurant, and didn’t even slow down. She waited, and then gave a tentative wave to an approaching pickup, but it just whooshed by. Kristen glanced at her wristwatch-only two cars in almost five minutes. Not a good sign.

She noticed a pair of headlights down the road in the distance. Kristen stepped toward the parking lot entrance, and started waving again, more urgently this time. As the vehicle came closer, she noticed it was an old, beat-up station wagon with just one person inside. It looked like a man at the wheel. He got closer, and she could see him now. He was smiling, almost as if he’d been expecting to find her there.

A chill raced through her. Kristen stopped waving and automatically stepped back.

The station wagon turned in to the restaurant parking lot. Warily, Kristen eyed the man in the car. He was in his late thirties and might have been very handsome once, but he’d obviously gone to seed. His face looked a bit bloated and jowly. The thin brown hair was receding. But his eyes sparkled, and she might have found his smile sexy if only she weren’t so stranded and vulnerable. Right now, she didn’t need anyone leering at her.

He rolled down his window. “Looks like you could use some help.” The way he spoke, it was almost a come- on.

Kristen shook her head and backed away from the station wagon. “Um, I already called someone and they should be here any minute, but thanks anyway.”

“You sure?” the man asked, his smirk waning.

“Positive, I-” Kristen hesitated as she noticed the beautiful little girl sitting beside him in the passenger seat. She had a book and a doll in her lap. The child smiled at her.

“Wish I knew more about car engines,” the man said. “I’d get out and take a look for you, but it wouldn’t do any good. Want us to stick around in case this person you called doesn’t show up?” He turned to the child. “You don’t mind waiting, do you, Annie?”

The little girl shook her head, then started sucking her thumb. She glanced down at her picture book.

The father gently stroked her hair. And when he smiled up at Kristen again, there was nothing flirtatious about it. “Would you like us to wait?” he asked.

Kristen felt silly. She shrugged. “Actually, it’s been a while since I called these people. Maybe I should phone them again.” She nodded toward the center of town. “I think there’s a pay phone at this tavern just down Broadway. Would you mind giving me a lift?”

“Well, if you live around here, we can take you home.” He turned to his daughter again. “Should we give the nice lady a ride to her house, honey?

Breaking into a smile, the girl nodded emphatically. “Yes!” She even bounced in the passenger seat a little.

Kristen let out a tiny laugh. “I don’t want to take you out of your way.”

“Nonsense,” the man said, stepping out of the car. He left the motor running. “We’ve taken a vote and it’s unanimous. We’re driving you home.”

He touched Kristen’s shoulder on his way to the passenger door. He opened it, then helped the girl out of the front seat. “This is my daughter, Annabelle,” he said. “And her dolly, Gertrude.”

“This isn’t Gertrude!” the girl protested. “This is Daisy! Gertrude is home with-”

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