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By:T. R. Ragan

T. R. Ragan

Chapter 1

Sacramento, California

Saturday, August 17, 1996 6:47 PM

Tall, dense oleander provided cover within the shadows of the night as he watched the front door to the Anderson's house. Behind him lay a field of tall dry grass which would be useful in keeping him hidden when it came time to get to his car parked on the other side. The dry grass was a fire hazard. If this was his neighborhood, it would have been taken care of already. One thing he'd learned from watching the area for the past two months was that the people who lived here were complacent. No Neighborhood Watch signs. No regular meetings. No communication.


Didn't they know that the best protection against crime was an informed public? Be vigilant about what's going on in your community, people. Be observant. Be alert for strangers or unfamiliar vehicles. He shook his head.

The media "experts" insisted the recent killings were about control and playing God. It wasn't about that at all. It was about patience. Not only did he have the patience of a saint, he was a saint. He wasn't a maniac or a lunatic or any of the things the reporters liked to call him. If he was a "crazy lunatic" he'd go after each and every one of those so-called "experts" and call it a day.

Retired FBI agent and now author, Gregory O'Guinn, referred to him as a loser, asserting that he was an outcast...a failure who thrived on torturing the innocent. Gregory O'Guinn gave Harvard a bad name.

But what did he care what O'Guinn thought? He knew the truth. He knew what he was doing and why. He knew the difference between right and wrong. If the author spent more time investigating the lives of the dead girls, he'd see that they were far from innocent-they were bad girls. They were disrespectful teenagers who had forced him to take action when no one else would. If O'Guinn knew the whole story, he'd be calling him a vigilante, a hero, a man obligated to ignore the due process of law and execute justice on his own terms.

He kept his gaze fixated on the Anderson's front door. Glancing at his Rolex, an Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller, he swallowed the irritation nipping at his insides. Despite having an aversion to all forms of water-sea, ocean, pool-he'd always wanted a Sea-Dweller. His dad used to wear one just like it. With thirty one jewel chronometer automatic movement, the watch was water resistant at 1220 meters. It was solid. Not as heavy as those beefy Omegas. The watch had been milled from a solid block of ridiculously expensive 904L stainless steel. The dial was easy to read, even in the dark. A gift to himself for doing a job well done-three girls in three months-all menaces to society.

He narrowed his eyes. Where was Jennifer?

For the past eight weeks, like clockwork, Jennifer Anderson's parents went to dinner and a movie every Saturday night, leaving their sixteen-year-old daughter home alone. What they didn't know was that within five minutes of leaving the house their daughter crept out the front door and walked to the neighborhood park to meet her boyfriend. Shame on her.

Convinced she would sneak out eventually, he decided to wait as he thought about the other girls he'd recently disciplined. The experts had speculated that he got his kicks out of torturing the girls, which was ridiculous. He got more out of the morbid curiosity of the public than he did out of taking the girls home and doing whatever he had to do in order to teach them a lesson.

Was he the only one who refused to let insolent spoiled teenage girls rule the world?

Saturday, August 17, 1996 7:00 PM

Lizzy Gardner crept down the stairs, hoping to escape unnoticed, but when she reached the landing, her sister's lipstick dropped from her hip pocket and slid across the tiled foyer.

"Where do you think you're going, Elizabeth?" Dad asked from the kitchen.

She sighed and looked his way.

Mom stood behind Dad and waved a dismissive hand through the air, letting Lizzy know it was okay. Dad was just blowing off steam like he always did before she went out with her friends.

"It's my last night with my friends," Lizzy lied. "Emily and Brooke are leaving for San Diego tomorrow."

"It's a good thing," he said. "You need to start hanging out with people your own age. Who's driving?" He opened the front door and looked outside.

Emily waved from her convertible VW Bug. "Hi, Mr. Gardner!"

Dad grunted and shut the door. "You don't need to go out tonight. There's still a killer on the loose."

Not this again. The notorious teenage killer hadn't struck in months, but after killing one fifteen-year-old and two sixteen-year-old girls in a three month period, the maniac had managed to turn perfectly normal parents into fearful worry warts.

"Dad. Please?"

"I want you home by ten."

"Tom," her mother interrupted. "I told Lizzy she could stay out until eleven thirty. This is her last night with these girls. After the bowling alley they're all going back to Brooke's house. You've met Brooke's parents before. She'll be fine."

"I don't like it," Dad said, shaking his head.

"Go ahead," Mom said with a wave of her hand. "We'll see you later tonight."

Lizzy didn't need to be told twice. Forgetting all about the lipstick she'd dropped, she ran out the door and didn't look back.

Saturday, August 17, 1996 11:25 PM

Lizzy didn't want the night to end. As Jared drove toward her house, she looked out the front window. It was a dark and wonderful night...a perfect night.

Jared took a right on Emerald Street.

"Do you mind pulling over up there," she said, pointing to the curbside at the end of the block. "I'll walk the rest of the way. If Dad sees you dropping me off, he'll kill me."

Jared drove his dad's Ford Explorer to the side of the road and shut off the engine. Lizzy unlocked her seatbelt. She leaned into him and pressed her lips to his. When she pulled away, her eyes watered.

"What's wrong?"

"I don't know," she said. "I just hate this feeling...like I'm never going to see you again."

Jared pulled her close and kissed the tip of her nose, her cheek and chin, and finally her lips. Every kiss felt like the first. And now he was leaving for college. Life was so unfair. "I wish tonight would never end," she said.

"Me, too," he said before kissing her again, deeper this time.

She loved everything about Jared Michael Shayne: the way he looked, the way he made her feel, the way he smelled, and the sound of his voice.



"You're not going to forget about me, are you?"

"Not a chance."

There was a long pause before he laughed and said, "Look at us, acting as if we're never going to see each other again. I'm going to Los Angeles, not Mars. A five or six-hour drive tops. All you have to do is call me and I'll be there."


"Promise." He kissed her again.

The clock on the console read 11:25 before he parked the car. Dad was probably already in a frenzy. "I better go." She turned away to open the car door.

His hand stopped her. "I love you, Lizzy. This isn't the end. It's the beginning."

She managed a smile. "You're right. I love you, too. Call me in the morning before you leave, okay?"

"I will." He looked at the street ahead of them. "Let me take you closer to your house. It's too late for you to be walking alone."

She liked that he worried about her but he did have a tendency to treat her like a little girl sometimes. She had spent enough Sunday night dinners with Jared and his family to know that his father could be bossy and controlling. She didn't want Jared or anyone else telling her what to do. Besides, Dad would ground her for a month if he saw Jared dropping her off when she was supposed to be with Emily and Brooke. Lizzy p