The Obsession Page 125

“You have to pay attention to block them out. You know more than you think, and I can help you bring it to the surface.”

Though she had to stifle a sigh, she decided if she had to take another trip into a therapy session, it might as well be with her brother in the chair.

“Let’s go back first, and tell me how much longer you think this has been happening.”

“Did you know Eliza Anderson?”

“I don’t know.” Already battling a vague headache, Naomi rubbed at her temple. “I don’t think so. Mason, I’ve brushed up against dozens and dozens of people. On shoots, at the gallery on trips to New York. There are motel clerks and waitresses and gas station attendants, shopkeepers, hikers. Countless. The odds of remembering . . .”

But suddenly she did. “Wait. Liza—I think they called her Liza. I remember hearing about her at college, my sophomore year, after she was killed. But, Mason, it wasn’t like this. And everyone said it was her ex-boyfriend. He’d been violent with her before, which is why he was an ex. She was beaten and raped, but she was stabbed to death, wasn’t she? And—God—they found her in the trunk of her own car.”

“What do you remember about her?”

“I didn’t know her. She was a year ahead of me. But I recognized her when I saw her picture on the news, on the Net, after it happened. We didn’t have any classes together, didn’t socialize, but she came into the restaurant where I worked the first two years of college before I could intern with a photographer. I waited on her enough times to remember her face.”

Now, she brought that face back into her mind. “Blonde, short, swingy blonde hair,” she said, waving her hands just under her own ears. “Very pretty. Polite enough to actually speak to her waitress, say thanks. I understand she was blonde, killed where I went to school, but she wasn’t held for any length of time, wasn’t strangled.”

“I think she was his first. I think he panicked before he could attempt strangulation. It was messy and quick, even sloppy—and he was lucky. If the investigation hadn’t zeroed in so completely on the ex, he might not have gotten away with it. She’d had a fight with the ex that night.”

“I remember reading that, hearing it around campus.” She found her calm, pushed back for memories. “He—the boyfriend—tried to get her to come back, and they fought, he threatened her. People heard him tell her he’d make her sorry, make her pay. He didn’t have an alibi.”

“And they had no physical evidence, and no matter how hard and long they worked him, he never came off his story of being alone in his room, asleep—when she was grabbed and killed and put in the trunk of her car.

“She looked a little like you.”

“No. No, she didn’t.”

“You wore your hair longer then, not dissimilar from hers. She wasn’t as tall as you, but she was tall, slim.”

And the way he paused, the way those warm brown eyes fixed on hers, Naomi knew worse was coming.

“Say it.”

“I think he used her as a surrogate, his first, because of those similarities. It may be he couldn’t get to you, so he substituted. And then found the high of the kill, of taking those substitutes. Along the way he evolved, he learned, he refined.”

“Mason, that’s ten years. You’re talking ten years.”

“Initially, his kills would be more spread out. Months, even a year between. He’d experiment with method, study you, study Bowes. He may be competing with Bowes, and Bowes had a twelve-year streak—that can be verified. You and I know it might have been longer.”

Couldn’t sit, couldn’t, so she pushed away from the desk, paced to the window, drank in the view of the water.

The peace of it, the colors blooming in light and in shadow.

“I don’t know why, but if I believe it’s been ten years, it makes it less intimate. This isn’t about something I did, something I didn’t do—Xander was right. I’m the excuse. God, I asked myself so many times in the first couple of years after that night in the woods what I’d done or didn’t do to make my father hurt all those girls.”

“I did the same.”

She glanced back at him. “Did you?”

“Yeah, I did. Of course I did. And the answer was nothing. We didn’t do anything.”

“It took me a long time to accept that, to push away any blame. It’s not going to take me as long now. Not with this, not with him. And he’s not going to get away with using me as an excuse to kill.”

She turned back. “He’s not going to get away with it.”

“Brooding time’s over?”

“Damn right, it is. Ashley. Liza would have been the same age as Ashley when I found her.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.” Considering, Mason sat back. “It might have been a trigger. Not necessarily the exact age, but the college student. You saved a college student. Now you’re a college student, and he goes there to kill you, or a surrogate. To finish what Bowes had started.”

Mason rose. “I have to get into town. What I’d like you to do, when you can, is go back over that period when Eliza Anderson was killed, the days before it happened. Try to take yourself back there, the routine—class, work, study, social life.”

“I barely had a social life, but all right. I’m going to do whatever I can to help you find him. And, Mason, when you do, I want something.”

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