It took four dead girls for the NYPD to admit they had a serial killer on their hands.
“Ugh.” I turned away from the news story my best friend Alyssa and I were reading on my laptop and squeezed the tip of my nose. “Can you imagine how much it must hurt to have your nose cut off?”
Alyssa shuddered. “Yeah. Like a lot.”
I shook my head, chills going through me. “What kind of person does such a thing?”
“Right.” I exhaled. “I really, really hope they’ll catch him soon. If not, my parents won’t let Cass or me outside our house ever again.”
“I know. I’ll probably be under house arrest, too.” Alyssa flipped her mane of glossy, dark hair over her shoulders. “Yeah, they definitely better catch him soon.” She bounced off my bed. “Gotta take off, honey bunny. Volleyball practice.”
I groaned. “Where do you get all that energy from? I can barely stand up after all those intervals.”
Mr. Jennings, our phys ed teacher, who I’m convinced is a sadist, had us run intervals the whole hour in class today. On top of that, Alyssa and I had spent most of last night studying for our final in Spanish class. Now, at five, I was so beat I could barely move.
“Lazybones,” Alyssa said. “Have a double espresso and come with me! We’re three players short today.”
“No way. You already forgot I almost killed myself last time I filled in?”
She nodded. “I do remember that. Yeah, you’re probably wiser just sticking to the karate.”
“Oh, yeah, you think?” I pushed myself out of my reclining position and yawned, my arms stretching toward the ceiling. Hero, my family’s German shepherd, stirred where he lay curled up at the end of my bed. I leaned over and scratched his head.
“Okay, well, I’ll see you later then. Adios, guapisima!” With those words, Alyssa walked through my bedroom door.
Guapisima. I couldn’t help but smile a little. If only I was very beautiful. Very beautiful like tall, slender Alyssa. But I was just a normal-looking seventeen-year-old with blonde hair that tended to get staticky. Unlike Alyssa’s angular face and flawless complexion, my face was round and sprinkled with brownish freckles around the nose. And my body had a few too many curves. Maybe some would call me “cute” on my best days, but that was it.
I picked up my laptop and lay down on the bed. Even though the news story’s contents turned my stomach, I couldn’t resist finishing it. When I was done, I went back to the part about the twelve-year-old’s facial mutilations. Just like the third, this fourth girl was unluckier than the first two, whose noses and ears had been left alone, according to what was reported.
I Googled the words “Serial Killer” and “Manhattan” to see if I could find any more information about the case. Several links appeared, the top one belonging to some obscure blog with the headline SERIAL KILLER ON THE LOOSE IN MANHATTAN. I clicked on the link and found myself staring into the dead eyes of a girl whose nose had been sliced off. I gasped in horror, acid rising up my throat. There was so much blood below the black hole it was hard to make out her duct-taped lips, and I was barely able to take in the terror imprinted on her face.
Oh my god.
My eyes moved to another photo, the full-body shot of a young victim. She was slumped on a kitchen chair, her arms pulled behind her and her feet tied to the chair’s legs. Her stomach and chest area were covered with vicious slashes.
I put the laptop on the floor beside me, fighting back the vomit that wanted to come out of me. I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths. The nausea slowly dissipated. Then, as I thought about how painful it must be for the victim’s family and friends if they saw these photos, anger surged through me instead. I hoped the authorities found the bastards who’d leaked them. Years of watching crime shows had taught me that crime scene photos and other confidential stuff were leaked all the time. Which must be what was going on here. I really didn’t think any parent would give their permission to make public such gruesome images of their daughter.
Footfalls in the hallway approached my bedroom.
I flipped sideways and reached for my laptop so I could close the webpage with the photos. I didn’t want Cass to see them. Not that I fooled myself into thinking she wouldn’t find out about this eventually, find out the police had concluded the killer only seemed to go after girls like her, twelve-year-olds with brown hair. It was just a matter of time before that happened. Also, she needed to know what was going on so she could be careful when she left the house. Still, I wanted to keep her in the dark for a little while longer, keep that sunny face going. It wasn’t like the murderer was going to get her in the next couple hours anyway, here in our house.
“What you doin’?” I turned my head to the voice and saw that my pretty little sister had appeared in the doorway. She was grinning as always, displaying teeth covered with metal braces onto which she had applied bright purple bands to match her purple sweater. She had multiple colors of these brace bands and changed them according to her outfit.
“Just chillin’,” I said. “Hardly slept yesterday. What about you? Aren’t you supposed to be in dance class?”
Cass was obsessed with hip hop and spent several of her late afternoons in dance class.
“It’s a big Jewish holiday today, so classes were cancelled,” she said.
“Oh.” I thought about what she’d just said. “Wait. Why’s it cancelled because of that?”
“Our teacher is Jewish, remember?” Her brown eyes narrowed. “What are those bloody photos on your laptop?”
I leaned over the edge of my bed and threw a quick glance at the screen of my laptop. Crap. I’d failed to close out the webpage. The grim headline above the photos—SERIAL KILLER ON THE LOOSE IN MANHATTAN—stared back at me in bold, black caps.
“Nothing,” I mumbled, reaching for the laptop. Before I could pick it up, Cass had scuttled over and snatched it out of my hands. Holding it away so I couldn’t take it back, she stared at the screen. She plopped down on the floor. Her eyes widened and she gasped as she took in all the photos.
“Wow,” she said. I gave up trying to get the laptop back. “That’s so freaky. Those poor girls.”
“Tell me about it. And this serial killer is apparently only after twelve-year-olds with brown hair like you, so you better watch out every time you leave the house from now on. No talking to strangers or taking the subway on your own.”
Cass lowered the laptop and looked at me like she had suddenly swallowed a sip of lemon juice by mistake. “Don’t tell me what to do! I’m not a kid anymore. Don’t you think I can tell if a weirdo tries to do something to me?”
I wanted to say that, no, I didn’t think that she did—she was way too friendly—but knowing my sister, she would just rush off and pout even more, so I kept quiet.
“I’m just saying that, considering what’s going on, it’s not a bad idea to be extra careful. You’re this guy’s target, Cass.”
“Or girl. It only says that the cops think it’s a guy. They don’t know that for sure.” My sister had turned into a feminist in the last few months.
“That’s true. But I really doubt a female is behind all this. First of all, it’s very rare for women to be serial killers. And when they are, they tend to kill people they’re close to in some way. The victims here seem totally unrelated to each other. Besides, the nature of the murders is too violent for it to be a woman killer.”
Standing up, Cass handed me my laptop. “Oh, so now you’re an expert on serial killers just cause you watched that documentary?”
She was referring to the Forensic Files DVD set I’d recently gotten from Amazon.
“I’ve done more than watch documentaries about serial killers, sweetie,” I said. “Lately, I’ve read tons about them, too. I suspected we were dealing with one long before the police did. Apparently, the cops needed him to kill a fourth girl to conclude this.”
“You did?” She plopped down on my bed, which made Hero stir again.
“Yes, as soon as I read about the third murder.”
“When was that?”
“About three weeks ago.”
“Yeah. But I’m sure they’ll catch him soon, though, what with all the attention the murders are getting now. Some serial-killer specialists from the FBI are involved after this last one. As they should be. But meanwhile”—I sat up and yanked Cass’s brown ponytail—“it doesn’t hurt to be extra careful, missy.”
Cass rolled her eyes. “Okay, Mom. I need to buy a gift for Maria’s birthday. It’s in two days and I still don’t know what to get her. Can you come help me find something?”
Maria was one of the girls in Cass’s hip hop class.
“Shopping? Now?” The thought of pushing through all the shoppers likely to be out this time of day in mid-town Manhattan—especially considering it was the week before Christmas—
made me even more exhausted than I already was. “How about we do it tomorrow?”
“No, I have to have it for her tonight. Tomorrow I have to go to the library to work on my English project.” Cass sandwiched my hand between her smaller ones and tilted her head. “Pretty, pretty please, Riley. I can really only go today. You’re just lying here like a sack of potatoes anyway. It’ll take one hour max, promise.” She batted her eyelashes at me. “Besides, that serial killer might snag me if I’m out and about on my own now that it’s getting dark outside. You said so yourself, remember?”
I sighed. “Fine. But we’ll stay here on the Upper East Side. And you better pick out something fast cause I’m really not in the mood to go shopping.”
Cass’s face burst into another sunny grin and she pressed a big kiss onto my cheek. “You’re the best big sis ever!”
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