That’s the price you pay
Leave behind your heartache, cast away
Just another product of today
Rather be the hunter than the prey
And you’re standing on the edge, face up ’cause you’re a
A beating heart of stone
You gotta be so cold
To make it in this world
– Natural, Imagine Dragons
Wednesday, September 24, 2003
Kelly’s: Lucky’s Room
Bobbie knocked on Lucky’s slightly ajar door, a folder tucked under her arm. “Hey. I didn’t think I’d catch you here—” She grinned. “You never seem to be in this room anymore.”
“Yeah, well—” Lucky shrugged. “I’m spending a lot of time with Kelsey right now.” He nodded at the folders. “Did you find something?”
“I don’t know,” Bobbie admitted. “I found some of Elizabeth’s old timecards and tried to match her schedule to Ruby’s notes. She liked to keep her thoughts about the waitresses. What needed to be done.” And reading her aunt’s spidery handwriting had opened that well of sadness. She hadn’t realized just how much she missed Ruby’s comforting presence.
She handed a notebook to Lucky. “This covers the period between the time Ruby hired Elizabeth and shortly after the attack. She talks about hiring Elizabeth—mostly because Audrey begged her.”
Lucky opened it to one of the pages Bobbie had flagged and smiled, his fingers tracing the papers. “Aunt Ruby was a soft touch.” He skimmed an entry.
“Didn’t fire the Webber girl again,” he read. “Wanted to. But there’s something about her that reminds me of Barbara. A fire. If it’s not tended properly, it can burn out of control. Better to watch her.” He laughed at that. “God, she really was a terrible waitress.”
“A disaster,” Bobbie agreed. “Anyway, Ruby didn’t comment much on the customers, but she said for some reason, Elizabeth had a small stable of regulars.”
“Yeah.” Lucky blinked up at her. “Aunt Ruby couldn’t understand it, but there were a few people who came in when she was working. Mrs. Hanson. My dad liked her attitude.” He frowned. “I can’t remember who else.”
“Well, that’s what gave me the idea to start pulling her timecards and see if I could match some receipts. People didn’t pay by debit card that often, but Ruby ran tabs for the regulars who were just getting coffee or something quick.”
“Yeah, I remember that—”
“And I thought you could ask Vinnie Esposito if he saw anything.”
Lucky looked at his aunt. Shook his head. “Vinnie? Dante’s cousin?”
“Yeah, he was staying in one of the rooms. Right around the time Lois Cerullo moved back to Bensonhurst, she said a friend’s nephew was starting at the PCPD and could we do them a favor. Give him a room? So, Vinnie lived up here for…oh, almost two years, I think. From…”
Bobbie pressed a finger to her chin, trying to remember it. She hadn’t really been involved as much with Kelly’s then. But it was in the middle of that awful time when her marriage had fallen apart. She could remember that Lois’s call had been commiserating about Tony’s affair, asking if Bobbie was doing all right. “1996, I think. He moved out, oh, before Ruby died, I think, but he was still here in the fall of 1997. I’d have to double check the tax records to be sure, but—”
“Vinnie lived at Kelly’s.” Lucky just stared at her. Because damn it—that was it. That was what he’d been trying to remember.
“Yeah, and so I thought maybe he might…” Bobbie trailed off. “Lucky—?”
“He was one of Elizabeth’s regulars,” he murmured, more to himself. “I…I remember that now. He came in for coffee in the evenings, halfway through the third shift.”
“Strange he wouldn’t have mentioned that if he knew her case was being reopened.” Bobbie tilted her head. “Lucky—”
“I need to…” He swallowed hard, closed Ruby’s book. “I need you to get me those tax records. Find out exactly how long Vinnie lived here. What kind of tab he ran. Ruby used to write down the dates and times so she could track their expenses. Do we still have those?”
“Ruby never threw out anything,” Bobbie murmured, as she realized what Lucky was getting at. “I’ll get that for you.”
“I’ve got to talk to Kelsey. I have to check on something.” Lucky’s hands were shaking as he reached for his jacket.
“Lucky, you should call Taggert.”
“Accuse another cop because he used to live here?” Lucky shook his head. “No. Besides, Taggert is out of town. There’s just…there’s something else I need to check. Something that might…Aunt Bobbie, thanks for this. But I gotta go.”
And then he ran out, leaving Bobbie with the horrifying concept that maybe Elizabeth had known her rapist…and had continued to serve him for months after it had happened.
Pentonville: Interrogation Room
Baker was pale when he was led in, his eyes fixated on Morgan. Taggert eyed the prisoner before looking at Jason Morgan, who remained standing, leaning against the closed door.
Something told him that Baker wasn’t entirely surprised to find Jason Morgan here today, and however the hell Morgan had managed it—Taggert didn’t give a damn.
On this case, cutting a few corners was worth it. At least it was for the right reasons this time. He hit record on the player in front of him.
“You know why we’re here, Baker.” Taggert raised his brows. “Do we have to go through the motions where I promise you I’ll make sure you never see parole if you don’t come clean?” He offered a short sardonic chuckle. “That’s if you even get that far. You never know what might happen in a prison.”
And now Baker’s eyes flitted from Morgan to Taggert and back to Morgan. “You dirty son of a bitches. Cops ain’t no better than the assholes in here—”
“Cut the crap, Baker. You know something. You knew the color of her dress.”
“I—” Baker shifted. “Valentine’s Day. Lucky guess.”
“How’d you know Elizabeth was attacked on Valentine’s Day?” When Baker remained silent, Taggert slapped the table, and Baker visibly jumped. “Tell me!”
“Did you gossip with the cops you hired for security?” Taggert demanded. “Did someone talk too much?”
Baker’s eyes slid away. “Maybe.” He looked up to find Jason staring at him. Hard. Then Jason uncrossed his arms, flexed them, crossed them again.
“Sometimes…I got some…help with my…” Baker coughed. “Plans. Endeavors. Some…enforcing.”
“Someone helped you blackmail people?” Taggert asked. His blood boiled. “A cop helped?”
“One guy. He…wanted to make money. Security wasn’t enough. Had a gambling problem. I hired him for shoots. And then to make visits. Marks paid faster when they thought the cops were in on it.”
Dirty piece of shit. “Which cop?”
“He liked to talk. Liked to brag, and I didn’t care much. He talked about this girl he wanted. She was a little young for him, he thought. But another year, maybe he could talk her into bed.” Baker licked his lips, sweat dripping down his cheeks. “But…I dunno, something happened. He couldn’t wait.”
“Couldn’t wait.” A cop. Fucking Baker was telling him it was a cop. A name skittered at the edge of his consciousness, but Taggert shoved it back. No fucking way. “What does that mean?”
“Saw her walking. She was sad. He liked her dress. Talked about the pretty red dress.” Baker slid back, almost as if he could feel the fury emanating from the mob enforcer behind Taggert.
“And he just…took it. Took her. She didn’t know him. Or didn’t realize it. She saw him all the time, but never knew it.” Baker wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“The name,” Taggert said quietly. “Which cop?”
But he already knew it. Even as Baker said it, Taggert knew it. It made too much sense, closed too many holes.
“Esposito. The one who moved to Buffalo.”
Port Charles Municipal Building: Kelsey’s Office
Kelsey stared him. Visibly swallowed. “Lucky, just because he lived at Kelly’s—” Her face was pale as she shook her head.
“Just listen to me,” Lucky said as he set a pile of folders on the conference table in her office. “Listen. I get it. I know it sounds insane, but once I realized Vinnie lived at Kelly’s—I started to think how well he fit the investigation. He was one of her regulars, but he was also the first reporting officer to the Lopez and Logan attacks. He was assigned to Watson, Norton, and Morris. He never made the link, Kelsey. What if it wasn’t just laziness? He knew the department policy on testing suspects. He knew his DNA wasn’t in the system. He knew we’d increased patrols in the park after Brooke. That’s why there hasn’t been another attack.”
He set out the victim statements. “Every single one of the victims this year expressed a dislike for the investigating officer. And both Lopez and Logan didn’t think much of the first responding officer.”
“But about our theory about newspaper coverage?” Kelsey asked, leaning forward. “How does that fit?”
“It still tracks.” He took out a manila folder. “The investigation into Nikolas’s shooting? Vinnie took statements from Elizabeth and Sarah. He also took statements at the Christmas party where Nikolas and Jason went after each other, and Nikolas almost pressed charges for assault.”
Kelsey rose to her feet and reached for the folder. “He took a statement from Nikolas about the punch?”
“Veronica Logan was attacked in January of 2000. Vinnie got married in February of 2000 and moved to Buffalo. He moved back last fall.”
“And then first attack was February 14. Anniversary?” Kelsey asked. “She was questioned at Rice Plaza—” Her face paled as she saw the report. “By Vinnie.”
“He didn’t work the kidnapping case, but it was all over the squad room.” Lucky shook his head. “It wasn’t the newspapers. And what’s worse, back in ‘98, Vinnie logged Elizabeth’s dress into evidence.” Lucky tossed the copy of the evidence log on top of the others. “I know this is all circumstantial—”
“If your aunt can get us those timecards and the tab that shows he was in Kelly’s at the same time as Elizabeth, it’s something to start with.” She looked at Lucky. “I believe you. It’s too much of a coincidence that he took those statements. That he investigated. It was never the newspapers or tabloids, it was her involvement with the cops.”
“Yeah.” Lucky exhaled slowly. “I think maybe that’s how Baker knew about the dress. Vinnie moonlights as security at some of the clubs in town. He probably worked for Baker back then. I think if we showed Brenda Barrett his picture or Emily—”
“They might pick him out as a cop who ran security. Maybe.” Kelsey looked at the pile of work. “If we could get his DNA, we’d lock it up, but I don’t know if this is enough for a judge.”
“We can put him at Kelly’s, yeah, but that’s not getting us anywhere. If Taggert gets his name from Baker, maybe…” Kelsey bit her lip. “Did you look into Buffalo?” She went back to her computer and pulled up a database. “I can’t remember if Buffalo is reporting yet to the state database—”
And there it was. February 14, 2000. February 14, 2001. February 14, 2002. Three more rapes. In a park. All unsolved. Nothing more was listed.
“Buffalo has three unsolved rapes on Valentine’s Day from the time Vinnie moved there until he came home.”
“Then Dana Watson here on Valentine’s Day. Sticking to his schedule—-”
“Until he sees Elizabeth at the hospital. Takes her statement about the fall. A week later, Renee Norton. It triggers the old pattern.” Kelsey reached for the Corinthos kidnapping file. “You said he didn’t work the Lansing case, but…” She nodded. “I remember his name. He signed up for shifts to watch the Webber house, but Taggert didn’t need him.”
“And he was one of the responding officers when Elizabeth found Carly. Because Capelli had been suspended, we were short-staffed. Vinnie was there that day.”
“Then a few days later, Wendy Morris.” She looked at him. “What about Brooke?”
“Elizabeth had been released from the hospital, but she came by the station that same day to fill out some paperwork. Vinnie was probably there.”
Kelsey chewed her lip as she made notes, trying to make it all line up. “It’s…too neat to be a coincidence, but—”
“He’s a cop,” Lucky said. “That’s how they’ll play it. This isn’t enough, is it?”
“We’ll need more. Your aunt’s records will help. If Baker gives us Vinnie’s name as guy who told him about the dress, I think it’ll add to it. I need to call Buffalo. Ask about these cases. If Vinnie investigated even one of them—if all the victims are similar in any way—” She reached for her phone.
“He came in for months afterward. I remember him now,” Lucky said, his teeth clenched. “She thought he was safe. He was a cop. She never once suspected him.”
“We’ll get him, Lucky.” The misery on his face tugged at her, and she reached out to touch his forearm. “Once we have his DNA, he won’t be able to talk his way out of it.”
“Yeah, well. We better get it soon.” He exhaled slowly. “I should check in with Taggert on this, but he left for the prison.” He looked at his watch. “They’re probably there by now. I’ll call him in about a half hour. Get those files from Buffalo.” He leaned in, kissed her hard. “Be careful, okay? Let’s keep this under wraps. I don’t want to spook him.”
Buffalo Police Department: Squad Room
“Some skirt from Port Charles DA office wants the files on our Valentine’s rapist.”
Chuckie Johnson scowled as his commanding officer dumped the memo on his desk. “What for?”
“Says there’s a link to an open case they got there. Get her copies,” the captain said, “but don’t give away the farm. She’s got a lead on the bastard, I want the collar. We worked the case too hard not get it.”
“Yeah, yeah.” When his captain had gone back into the office, Chuckie reached for his phone. If some bitch wanted the details on his cases, she could damn well get them from the original investigating officer. Why bother wasting his time with copying and scanning when he could just make a call?
“Yo, Esposito. How are the sunny shores of Port Charles treating you?”
Port Charles Municipal Building: Hallway
Kelsey scowled as she saw the line for the elevators. Lunch rush. Damn it. It would take at least two trips before she could make it on board, and the last thing she wanted to do was pull rank and force her way forward. She didn’t want to draw any attention to herself. If anyone found out she was looking at a cop—
She checked her watch and sighed. She wanted to get this search warrant before a judge as soon as possible. Lucky’s aunt had dropped off tax records proving Vinnie’s residence, records of his tab that were dated and could be corroborated by Elizabeth’s timecards. She’d combined that along with the handcuffs, the hair signature, and Elizabeth’s official interactions with Vinnie on the job—
Kelsey had polished everything up and had decided not to wait for official word from Buffalo—the captain she’d spoken to hadn’t seem all that enthusiastic. She would never understand people who got their panties in the twist because someone else might solve the case.
She knew Vinnie was guilty—could feel it in her bones—and she was determined to get a judge to sign an order for DNA to prove it.
Kelsey pushed open the door to the stairwell and started down the three flights to the ground floor. The courthouse was only across the street and down two blocks—she could catch Judge Farrell before he left—
Her thoughts flew out of her head as something shoved her forward, a force between her shoulder blades sent her flying through the air.
She landed hard halfway down the stairs, her hip and shoulder slamming against the concrete treads. She hardly had time to scream as she tumbled the rest of the way—
And then her head slammed into the floor. Everything went black.
Morgan Penthouse: Living Room
Elizabeth looked at the clock. She’d hoped that Jason would call at some point to tell her how the visit went—they should have been on their way back home by now, but—
She picked up her cell phone, then scowled. She’d forgotten to plug it in. Again. Jason was always reminding her to do it but—
She sighed, plugged it in and was reaching for the landline when it rang. She picked it up.
“Miss Webber, Detective Esposito from the PCPD is here. He’d like to talk to you.”
“Oh. Uh, send him up, I guess.” She didn’t really remember talking to Detective Esposito before—the name sounded dimly familiar so maybe he’d been around during the summer. Taggert was with Jason, so it was likely he’d sent this detective with follow-up questions. Maybe everyone else was busy putting out fires after her press conference.
When the knock at the door came, Elizabeth opened it. “Detective Esposito?” she asked. He was tall, lanky with short dark hair and brown eyes. He did look familiar. “Have we met before?” she asked with a slight frown. She looked past the detective, noticed that her guard, Cody, wasn’t there. Maybe he’d stepped out to use the bathroom. Strange. But maybe he’d taken the opportunity because she was with a cop.
“Yeah.” He flashed her a hesitant smile. “You probably don’t remember. I talked to you after your fall in May.”
“Oh. Right.” She stepped back to let him in. “I knew you looked familiar. How can I help you?” Out of habit, she flipped the deadbolt and secondary lock on the door.
As Elizabeth turned her back to walk towards the sofa, Vinnie carefully unhooked the phone cord from the back of her receiver.
“Just a few questions, Miss Webber. It won’t take long.”
PCPD: Commissioner’s Office
It was too horrible to be true but as Lucky Spencer detailed the case he’d built against Vinnie Esposito, Mac simply closed his eyes, his stomach twisting. A cop. A cop under his command was a serial rapist. And it made too much sense for it to be anything else. It all fit.
God help them.
He took a deep breath, looked at his officer. “This isn’t going to be easy,” Mac warned him. “Vinnie filed a complaint about the suspension. He’s back on duty, pending a hearing. We need more—”
“Can’t we bring Vinnie in? Do something to get his DNA? I could get him a soda or something.” Lucky paced the office. “Aunt Bobbie got Kelsey the records, but there’s no way to know how long before Buffalo gets back to us—”
“If this is his pattern, Elizabeth was in to give a statement. He could be looking for a new victim.” His eyes found Mac’s. “With the press conference—he might go for her next.”
“It’s not dark yet, Lucky. I’ll…give him an assignment. Something overnight.”
Lucky’s phone rang, and he scowled at the ID. “Why the hell is Scott Baldwin calling me?”
“Spencer—” Scott’s characteristic bombastic nature was absent from his tone. “You tell Scorpio to get everyone over to the MB. All the crime scene people. His best—” His voice faltered. “Kelsey was pushed down the steps. Some people heard her scream. We don’t know anything yet. She’s on her way to the hospital—”
“I’ll take care of it.” Lucky cut him off. His hands were trembling as he shoved the phone into his back pocket. “Mac. Someone just shoved Kelsey down the steps.”
“What?” Mac lunged to his feet. “Why? How could he—” He rushed out of the room and Lucky followed.
Vinnie was nowhere to be seen, but Dante was at his desk, watching security footage. He blinked as they rushed towards him. What’s—”
“Where’s your cousin?” Lucky demanded.
“Why?” Dante slowly got to his feet. “Everything okay? He got a call and left—”
Mac ignored him and grabbed for Vinnie’s extension, called down to the receptionist and switchboard operator. “Judy, did you transfer any calls to Vinnie Esposito today?” He listened to her answer, then closed his eyes. “Okay. Yeah. Thanks.”
He set the phone down carefully. “Charles Johnson from the Buffalo Police Department called Vinnie about a half hour ago. What do you want to bet he was giving a friend a heads up that some old files were being requested by his new ADA?”
Lucky fisted his hands at his side. “He knew we were on to him. Why the hell go after Kelsey? Why not run?”
“What the hell is going on?” Dante demanded. “What do you—No fucking way. My cousin isn’t a rapist—” He grabbed Lucky’s shirt, fisting his hand in the fabric. “No—not Brooke—He knew her!”
“Dante—” Mac shook his head. He looked at Cruz. “Rodriguez.”
“Put together a detail. Call CSU and get over to the Municipal Building. There’s been an assault.” He looked to Lucky. “I need you to put out an APB on Vinnie. No details. Just locate him and report. And call Taggert.” He checked his watch. “They should be on their way back by now.”
“Mac, what about Elizabeth?”
Mac frowned. “What about her—” He swallowed. “A distraction. Kelsey’s a distraction. Vinnie knows it’s over for him. If he’s not using this time to get out of town, then—”
Lucky tugged his cell out of his pocket. Started to dial. “He’s been trying to recreate it all along. He was always going back to Elizabeth eventually. Let me call her—”
“Call her. She’s at the Towers, and their security is top notch. Get them to hold Vinnie if he shows up. Get that APB out. Get Taggert up to speed.” He jabbed a finger. “Rodriguez, I’m with you.”
Morgan Penthouse: Living Room
“So, what brings you by?” Elizabeth asked. “I know Lieutenant Taggert is up at Pentonville.”
“Yeah.” Vinnie leaned against the arm of their sofa and looked at her. “I don’t know if anyone’s told you but there’s a theory that maybe you knew the guy. That you came into contact with him.”
Elizabeth wrinkled her nose. “Yeah. They said they think I was the first.”
“Yeah. You were.” Vinnie tilted his head. “And you know they say there’s something special about the first.”
Elizabeth hesitated as she shuffled some magazines on the coffee table into a pile, but then shook it off. She was just…feeling a bit jumpy, maybe. “I guess. To him. So…you want me to try to remember back then?”
“Yeah. Someone maybe you didn’t even realize was around. Someone who you saw at Kelly’s. Or maybe when you went out. What did you do for fun back then?”
“Oh…not much.” Something was making her skin crawl, and she just…she wanted to believe it was that she was talking about this era with a cop she didn’t know. That was it. He was a man and talking about her rape was uncomfortable with men.
“I was grounded a lot. Um. Usually, Kelly’s. Sometimes the mall. The movies. We used to go to Luke’s but not after the shooting.” She sighed at that memory as she picked up a glass of water she’d left on the table. “My grandmother worried about us, I guess.”
“The shooting?” Vinnie prompted.
“Oh. December ‘97. Nikolas Cassadine was shot.” She sipped her water, remembering that night. “In the throat. God, it was so terrifying. He couldn’t breathe, and he just—he almost died. But Jason…saved his life. My sister was dating him—Nikolas I mean– so I tried to keep her…”
And then she turned, the glass in her hand, and stared at him. “You were there.”
“I wondered if you would remember.”
And this time, when Vinnie Esposito smiled, she knew.
Taggert had to let Morgan drive on the way back. He had brought a copy of his files with him and was now pouring over them, looking for any connection he could find. He wanted to have everything together before he presented a case to Mac and Kelsey.
And he knew that Morgan needed something to do, something on which to focus his anger.
Now that they had a name.
They were just inside the city limits when Taggert’s cell rang. Out of habit, he hit the speaker phone so he could take the call without stopping his work. “Yeah?”
“Taggert, we’ve—we’ve had a development here.” Lucky Spencer’s voice was tremulous as it echoed in the car. “I think we know who it is.”
“Hopefully it matches what Baker gave us—” Taggert said, leaving the phone on speaker. He hesitated. “What’s wrong? You sound like shit—”
“Uh, I got a lead—I took it to Kelsey Joyce, and…Christ, he shoved her down the stairs. We can’t find him. Elizabeth’s not answering. Where the hell are you guys?”
Taggert felt the speed increase as he glanced at Jason. Those features could have been etched in stone for all the emotion that could be seen—and yet, the fury was palpable, radiating throughout the car.
“What the hell happened?”
“I talked to Bobbie who remembered Vinnie lived at Kelly’s during Elizabeth’s attack. And then I remembered he came in almost halfway through his shift. During Elizabeth’s. So, I just…I pulled records. He interviewed her at the drive by at Luke’s. And then—”
“He took my statement when Cassadine went after me at the Christmas party,” Morgan said, his voice flat. “Elizabeth was there.”
“Yeah. And the garage fire. He responded then. Wasn’t on call but came. He investigated the Rice Plaza fall before I took over—”
“And the Lansing house this summer. He wanted to take a shift watching it. Fuck me. He investigated three of the rapes. Fucked them up, but he’s a goddamn lazy piece of shit so I thought–”
“You’re not surprised— did Baker gave his name?”
“Yeah. Baker gave his name. You said he went after Kelsey?”
“Yeah.” He could hear Lucky swallow hard. “She was putting together a warrant for his DNA. She found three other rapes in Buffalo while he was there, but when she made the request for more info—”
“One of his good buddies gave him the heads up because I’ll just bet he investigated those, too.” Fuck this world. “Is she okay? What’s going on?”
“She’s…in surgery. She, um, hit her head pretty hard. And there’s some bleeding. We got an APB out on Vinnie. Just to locate and report back. But I tried to call Elizabeth. Her cell goes to voice mail and her phone just keeps ringing. She’s not here at the hospital. I had her paged. I’m calling everybody—”
“Get uniforms to her place. We’re going there first. I’ll be in touch.” He ended the line. “You got security at the building, yeah?”
“Yeah, on the door, but—” Jason swallowed hard. “We’ve been cooperating with the police lately. And she doesn’t know—” He gave Taggert a number to dial and put on speaker phone. “Wally, is Elizabeth at home?”
“Yeah, she came home about twenty minutes before the cop got here. I let him up about ten minutes ago.” There was a pause. “You know, Cody came downstairs like five minutes ago, said Miss Webber was going to be down to go to the station, but she’s still not—”
Jesus Christ. “Get up there!” Taggert ordered.
“Was that…Lieutenant Taggert?” Jason’s security guy asked, confused.
Jason’s hands clenched on the steering wheel. “Get anyone you know. Anyone on duty. Get upstairs.”
The line went dead as Jason pressed down on the gas pedal. Taggert reached into his glove compartment, pulled out the portable siren, and stuck it on top of the car.
They raced towards Harborview Towers, praying they wouldn’t be too late.
Morgan Penthouse: Living Room
“You…took our statement,” Elizabeth said. Her cell was dead, but maybe…if she could get the cordless off the receiver. She looked at it…and saw the thin telephone cord laying on the ground. Could she—would the cordless work if the base wasn’t plugged in? Could she get to the phone in time?
Her blood froze over, but she sipped her water. “I’m sorry, I didn’t remember you when you came to the door. That was so long ago. And…I think you used to come to Kelly’s.”
“I used to live there before I got married,” Vinnie said easily. “You know you’re not the only woman. The first. But not the only.”
“No.” She cleared her throat. “No, I mean, I know.” Keep calm. Keep cool. Get to the door. Get to the intercom. “Lieutenant Taggert told me.”
“Do you know why there were others?” Vinnie asked as she slowly stepped towards him. Get around him. Get to the door.
“I…I’m not sure. Um…” Elizabeth hesitated. “Maybe I know them. Did you bring pictures? Do you know any names?”
“They look like you,” Vinnie said. “But they were never you.” His smile slid away a bit. “I tried so hard to find someone who was as perfect as you.”
“I—” Her mouth was dry. She was two feet from him. More than fifteen from the door. Oh. God. “What was wrong with them?”
“They should have been right.” He shook his head. “Same hair. Same ages. Same body. I followed them all just like you. They stopped like you. It was supposed to be a sign. It should have been right.” His face twisted in irritation as he swung out— the glass flying from her hand and shattering against the hardwood floor.
She bolted, but never made it more than half a step before he grabbed her from behind, an arm around her waist, another at her mouth.
Just like before. It was just like before. Her brain froze. Blackness threatened at the edge of her vision. Oh, God. Oh, God. She had to get away. Had to make this stop.
“They were wrong!” he raged as he lifted her, tossed her on the sofa. He straddled her, took her hands in his, wrapping his fingers around her wrists. “They didn’t smell right. Didn’t feel right!”
“Please, God, please. Please.” She’d never make it out alive this time. She knew him. Could identify him. “Please don’t.”
“I never wanted to hurt you.” His grip softened as he stroked her cheek. Bile rose in her throat. “I was sorry. I saw your statement. You knew I was sorry. You heard me crying. You didn’t…you didn’t like it.”
“No.” She closed her eyes, the tears streaking down her cheeks. “No. I didn’t. I didn’t want it. Please don’t…. not again.”
She’d never survive it again.
“I couldn’t try again. Not with you. I had to wait. For you to get older. To understand. To see me. I waited, but—” He slapped her face. “Look at me, damn it!”
Elizabeth did and saw the insanity lit in his eyes. “Please—”
“But you never saw me. I had to find someone else. But they were never you. They were never right. I knew you had to be next, and I wanted it to be perfect. But that bitch attorney—” He hissed. “She’s on to me. I took care of her, but she probably told that pissant Spencer. I had to get to you. To see if it would be the same. Or better.”
Oh, thank God. Kelsey Joyce somehow knew. Maybe Lucky knew. He wouldn’t get away with it.
“No, it’ll never be the same,” Vinnie agreed. “I was your first. That’s why you were special. Because I was first. But it’ll be better than the others. Because it’s you. It had to be you.” He slid his hand down to stroke her hair.
His grip loosened on her wrist and she took her chance, maybe the only chance she’d ever have.
Elizabeth brought her knee up sharply against his groin and then sprang up, twisting until her elbow could get him in the abdomen. He howled, reared back.
He’d catch her before she could unlock the door—so she ran upstairs, to the bedroom.
She slammed the door shut, flipped the lock, and reached under her bed for the baseball bat Jason had given her. If he came through that door, she’d be ready.