THE NEXT VICTIM
John O'Brien pulled his Porsche GT3 into the Logan Foods garage and parked in his reserved space, nosing the bumper up to the sign that read—Executive Vice-president. The left side of his jaw was still numb from his morning visit to the dentist. He checked in the rearview mirror for drool, then brushed an errant speck of amalgam from his cheek before pulling his briefcase and jacket from the passenger seat.
With a flicker of irritation, he noted that Reed Logan's slot was empty. John had raced from the dentist's to be in time for their one o'clock conference call with Goldman Sachs, and Reed wasn't even back from lunch
Skirting the main entrance to the building, John took the private, side doorway that led directly to the executive offices, thus saving himself a pro forma smile and cheery good morning to the layers of receptionists and clerical staff stationed along the public approaches. As he neared his office, he saw his secretary, Alicia, of the long scarlet nails, huddled at her desk with Reed's secretary, whose knockout body made the state of her nails irrelevant. The two women were clutching wads of tissue and dabbing at their eyes. The latest boyfriend fiasco, John decided. There was at least one a month.
"Oh, Mr. O'Brien," Alicia wailed. "I'm so glad you're here."
Perhaps not a boyfriend problem, after all. A mishap at one of the stores maybe? That would explain Reed's absence. John felt a knot of tension form in his chest. Things were dicey enough for him already with the board of directors.
"I told you I'd be late," he offered .
"You haven't heard?"
"About Mrs. Winslow. It's been on the news."
"Sloane? What about her?"
Alicia choked back a sob. "She'd dead."
John's mind reeled. It took a moment for the words to register.
Reed's secretary chimed in but John heard none of what she said. Heard nothing but the pounding of his own pulse in his ears. He gripped the edge of the desk to steady himself.
Sloane, dead. Jesus.
Suddenly, he realized that the women had stopped talking and were looking at him strangely. "Are you okay, Mr. O'Brien?" Alicia asked. "Maybe you should sit down."
"I'm fine. How did it happen?"
"She was at home. They think it happened sometime Tuesday night. Mr. Logan had to identify her..." Alicia's eyes welled with tears. "Her remains. She was shot in the head."
Reed's secretary nodded. "Mr. Logan called from home to tell us. He won't be coming in today."
"No, of course not." John felt as though the ground at his feet had given way. Mumbling something about canceling the conference call, he bolted for his private office, where he tumbled into his chair, then stared blankly at the wall in front of him.
Sloane was dead.
She'd been so alive when he'd left her that night—hotheaded and impatient as usual. A veritable tornado of edicts and complaints. How could she be dead?
His mind flashed on an image of Sloane at fifteen. Freshman year at USC, John had gone home with Reed for Thanksgiving. Fraternity brothers, roommates, both so full of themselves their heads were the size of weather balloons.
And Sloane hadn't been the least impressed. "Strut and show," she'd told her brother. "You're a moron and so's your friend."
She'd been a beauty-in-making even then, despite the thick glasses, a mouth full of braces, and the perpetual scowl. John could see her, hip jutted to the side, arms crossed, railing against the evils of capitalism and narrow-minded people, which in Sloane's adolescent mind encompassed ninety-nine percent of the country.
By eighteen she'd shed the glasses and the braces, and much of the attitude. And John had learned she never scowled in bed.
She'd more than scowled at him Tuesday, however. He cringed at the memory of their angry exchange. Their last exchange, he realized with horror.
"Go rot in hell, Sloane."
She'd regarded him with her ocean-green eyes and lifted her chin ever so slightly. "Easy for you to say now. But that doesn't change what is. The real question is, just how much of a bastard are you?"
John pressed his palms against his eyes and tried not to think about the bombshell that had precipitated their argument. She'd been wrong about him. He wasn't going to run away this time.
He knew he should go to Reed and offer condolences, but first he needed to get a handle on his own emotions. Shock, disbelief, sorrow—they roiled and churned inside him.
And in the corner of his mind, something else. At first it was just a spark, come and gone before it really registered. Then, like a wildfire fueled by high winds, it consumed him.
His name was bound to come up.
He experienced a flutter of uneasiness in his stomach. Should he call Kali? His hotshot younger sister was a lawyer in California now. They could hardly be called close, but she wouldn't turn her back on him. Still, he hated for her to think he'd only gotten in touch because he needed help.
And he didn't need help. Not yet. But he felt certain he would.
© Jonnie Jacobs. Web site by interbridge.