After She's Gone (West Coast 3) - Page 93

“Most of the nurses wear earrings.”

Had she seen the earrings on an actual caregiver at the hospital and then created them in her nightmarish dream? No, no, no. Steven Rinko had seen the nurse, too. He even knew the kind of car she drove and . . . but he suffered from delusions and hallucinations and boundary difficulties between what was real and what wasn’t.

Cassie’s throat went dry. She didn’t know what to say. Had she really put all her faith in a genius of a boy who often lived in a fantasy world?

“Listen, Cassie.” Dr. Sherling’s voice was soft again. Kind and caring. Or so it sounded. “Call my office in the morning. I’ll tell the staff I want to see you and they’ll fit you in tomorrow after rounds. I really do think it would be a good thing if we talked again. About your treatment. If not in the hospital then outpatient.”

All the spit dried in Cassie’s mouth. The doubts that were always with her assailed her again and she heard herself saying, “I will.”

“Good. I’ll see you tomorrow. Good night.” And then she clicked off. Cassie was left holding the phone and staring out the window. The fire was burning low in the wood stove, the dog curled into a ball and Trent . . . where was Trent? She heard a floorboard creak overhead and remembered he’d gone upstairs to sort out bills in the bedroom he used as an office.

She wanted to tell him about the phone call, but told herself she should deal with it herself; she couldn’t always go running to her husband. Hell, what a mess!

A headache started to form behind her eyes. She found the remote for Trent’s television, clicked on the flat screen, and scrolled through the stations until she found the cable channel that was hosting mystery shows. Sure enough, slated to be aired within a few minutes was Justice: Stone Cold. The subtitle read: Terror in Ice. The caption read like a horror story from her past: Reporter Whitney Stone reviews the case that terrorized a small town in Oregon where celebrity actress Jenna Hughes was hunted and kidnapped by a serial killer who had targeted her and her daughters.

Cassie’s heart sank. Jenna’s stalker was part of a month-long marathon of shows on serial killers. It seemed from the menu that the hour-long shows were running back-to-back, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. And as she checked the listings, she realized that this week, every twelve hours the show about the freak who had held her and her mother hostage ten years ago would run.

Over and over.

She shivered. Remembered the fear, the stark terror of waking up in his ice-cold lair, knowing that both she and her mother were doomed.

She dropped the remote and stared at the television as the program started. First there was Whitney Stone’s face, perfect makeup, long, black hair, hazel eyes staring into the camera’s lens. She was serious. Dressed in black. The screen behind her in shadows.

“We all know that Allie Kramer is missing, her whereabouts unknown, her condition undetermined. Police are investigating her disappearance as a missing person’s case, but there is always the fear that she may already be dead, her body hidden, maybe never to be found.”

Cassie’s throat closed and she felt faint.

But Whitney Stone plowed on. “We at Justice: Stone Cold are currently investigating Ms. Kramer’s disappearance and the bizarre events that happened in and around the set of her latest film, Dead Heat, which premieres soon. I promise you, we at Justice: Stone Cold will ferret out the truth, through exclusive interviews with Allie Kramer’s sister, Cassie, an actress in her own right, but with far less star power than that of her sister. There are questions about her relationship with her estranged sister and rumors of a love triangle between Allie and Cassie Kramer and Cassie’s husband, Trent Kittle.”

To Cassie’s horror, pictures of Allie, Trent, and herself flashed onto the screen while Whitney’s voice continued. “Who is this man?” A close-up of Trent, unshaven, in jeans and an open shirt, lounging against a western facade, one booted foot propped against the weathered boards of what appeared to be a saloon. Cassie recognized the picture as one he’d used when he was briefly a stuntman looking for work in Hollywood while dating her. “If that isn’t enough scandal in this bizarre tragedy,” Whitney went on in a voice-over, “add in the fact that Allie had been involved in a white-hot affair with her costar, Brandon McNary.” Trent’s image faded to be replaced by a sexy head shot of McNary smiling slyly into the camera. “Could he have played a part? All these questions will be answered in the next installment of Justice: Stone Cold. But tonight’s story is dedicated to another portion of Allie Kramer’s life, when she was still an impressionable teen, a schoolgirl in a small Oregon town, her mother, Jenna Hughes, a famous actress who had escaped the pressures, stress, and yes, dangers, of Hollywood.”

Cassie backed up until her calves hit the edge of the couch, where she dropped onto the cushions. Her eyes were trained on the screen and the debacle that was unfolding.

Turn it off.

Her common sense was silently screaming at her.

Don’t watch this. Do not!

In a poorly acted sequence with commercial breaks cutting into the action, the story that had haunted Cassie since her teenage years was played out. She saw unknown actresses play the parts of her mother, her boyfriend, Allie, and, of course, herself. A man who resembled the murderer was also on-screen as he stalked the actress who played Jenna and re-created the terrible ordeal that she had lived through. Interspersed were actual clips from news reports of the horror that had claimed their lives.

In one sequence of footage of her family that had been shot just afterward, Jenna was ushering her children inside the house, waiflike Allie was clinging to her mother, while Cassie threw a dark, angry look at whoever was manning the camera. Quickly, Jenna eased her daughters through the door and away from the public’s eye, but outside, even with the door firmly shut, the camera kept filming, sweeping across the wide front porch to focus on a window where Allie appeared and stared through the glass panes. Then the picture on the screen changed, morphing into Allie nearing adulthood. The same wide-eyed innocence was visible on the older Allie as she stared through another window. That now iconic image had become the poster for Wait Until Christmas, one of the films that had caught the attention of the American public and propelled Allie into stardom.

A cold shiver ran down Cassie’s spine as the image faded back to the first shot again, of young Allie peering through the window of the family home. Even at her tender age, just after a life-shattering ordeal, Allie had been able to exude an ethereal quality. But in the next second, that image was destroyed as Jenna appeared and quickly yanked her daughter from the window. A second later the blinds snapped shut.

“Cass?” Trent’s voice brought her back to the present. He took one look at the television. “What’re you doing? What is this?” He found the remote on the floor and clicked the TV off. Then he gazed hard at Cassie.

“I wanted to see what Whitney had to say.” She felt compelled to defend herself.


“Probably not a good idea.”

He tossed the remote onto the couch. “You okay?”

She nodded, not really sure.

He waited, the fire hissing, the dog snoring softly, the seconds ticking by. “Let’s call it a night.”

Tags: Lisa Jackson West Coast Mystery
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