The door was locked. Katelina knocked and rattled the knob, but the only answer was silence. This was just like him. Their relationship might not be committed, but it should involve basic respect.
She moved the grocery bag to her other arm and struggled the key out of her purse and into the lock. The door clicked and, with a gentle push, swung inwards.
The small apartment was dark except for the bright swath of light let in by the opened door. It was like a glowing path that beckoned her forward; a yellow brick road bound for hell.
She followed it.
The light switch felt loose as she clicked it. Part of her was screaming, "Don't turn around! Just walk away!" but she didn't listen to it. She couldn't. The past couldn't be changed by shouting at it.
She turned around and a strangled cry escaped her lips. He lay on the floor in a heap. A puddle of congealing gore, so dark it looked black, spread out around him and made the carpet fibers stiff. The flesh of his throat was torn away. Muscles were stripped to reveal the gleam of his spine shining through the gelatinous, clotted blood.
Her knees gave in and she fell to the floor. Oh God, she needed to call someone - the police, an ambulance, but she couldn't even stand-
The voice tore through her thoughts and brought her back to the newspaper office. She sat on a stool in the break area, her elbows planted on the counter top. A forgotten mug of coffee steamed next to her, untouched.
She swung her eyes to see Sarah standing next to her. Her friend was the picture of independent feminism; soft brown curls framed her face and her khaki dress clung in just the right places. Though she usually wore a smile, her eyes made it clear that nonsense was not acceptable; she had things to do, places to go and people to see. At the moment, though, those eyes reflected uncertainty.
"Are you all right?"
Katelina shook her head to chase away the tattered remnants of a nightmare become reality. "Yeah," she answered flatly. "I'm great."
"You don't look great." Sarah's lips clamped together as she scrutinized her. Though Katelina's blonde hair fell down her back in a tight ponytail, and long bangs carefully framed her pale face, her blue eyes were rimmed with lack of sleep and a month's worth of depression. She'd tried to look "okay", but it wasn't enough.
"Are you thinking about Patrick again?" Sarah asked softly.
Katelina waved her hand as if she could make Sarah's concerns drift away like smoke. "No. I'm fine. What did you need?"
"You have a phone call." Sarah sighed and then added softly, "If you decide you want to talk about it-"
"I'm fine, I told you. So who's on the phone?"
"I don't know." Sarah turned teasing. "It's a man. He asked for you by name, said it was personal."
"Personal? I bet it's just the police again." In the last month they'd called more times than she could count. Always the same questions and the same answers. "No, I don't know who might have wanted to kill Patrick. No, I don't know who he was last with. No, I wasn't really his girlfriend; we just had an arrangement-"
She wound her way through the office, her shoulders slumped, and cautiously approached the secretary's desk.
"I have a call?" It was more a question than a statement.
The secretary glanced up, her eyes narrowed and her tone acidic. "Make it fast. You know the rule about personal calls."
"Of course." Katelina wanted to say that there was no need to be so impatient. She hadn't asked for any of this. But she kept the thoughts to herself and pressed the receiver to her ear. "Hello?"
The voice was deep, warm and, despite the fact that very few people had her work number, unfamiliar. "This is she. Who is this?"
"I know who killed your lover."
She blinked and lifted a hand to her throat. A flash of Patrick's mutilated form appeared behind her eyes. "Excuse me?"
"I know who killed your lover. Meet me tonight just as the suns sets. I'll be at a house on Farm Mill road; it's the only house, the road is a dead end. Come alone."
The phone clicked loudly and she called, "Wait - I . . ." but there was no point. Her only answer was the quiet buzz of disconnected line. She clutched the receiver to her ear, as if it would bring the stranger back.
Sarah appeared in front of her. "Who was it?" At Katelina's expression, the smile died on her lips. "What?"
"I - I don't know," Katelina whispered. Her shock was replaced by sharp anger. "Some kind of joke." She slammed the receiver into its cradle and ignored the dirty look from the secretary. "I need to go home."
"We only have an hour left." Sarah softened in sympathy. "I'll take you."
"No thanks. I didn't feel like walking, so I brought my car today."
"At least tell me what it was about." Sarah followed her to retrieve her purse and then to the time clock. "Who was it?"
"I don't know who it was. They said they knew who killed Patrick."
Sarah's green eyes went wide and her voice came out low and strangled. "They know who did it? Who?"
"They didn't say. They want to meet tonight." She stuck her badge in her pocket and stopped to run distracted fingers through her bangs. "I'm sure it's a joke."
"A cruel one." Sarah's eyes narrowed. "You're not going? That's how people get killed!"
"To meet some stranger by myself? Are you kidding? Give me some credit!"
Katelina headed for the door and Sarah followed her out and down the sidewalk to the parking lot. Katelina stopped to dig through her purse, searching for the familiar pack of cigarettes, when her friend gently reminded her, "You quit."
"Oh, right." She managed a sick smile and resigned herself.
"I'm proud of you, you know. For not smoking. Even with all of this."
Katelina nodded, but didn't tell her how bad the cravings were. It wasn't the nicotine she wanted, just something to hold on to - something to make the world normal again.
The pair made their way to Katelina's red car. It waited for her under the late autumn sun, dead leaves sticking out from beneath the wipers. Katelina plucked at them absently before she unlocked the door and climbed into the driver's seat. She gripped the steering wheel as if she could strangle it.
Sarah stood stubbornly next to the car like a guarding sentinel, worry on her face, until Katelina said, "I'm not going to meet 'him', so you don't need to worry. And I'm not buying a pack of cigarettes either, though I wouldn't rule out a bottle of brandy."
"Alcohol won't help," her friend said sagely, eyes still locked on her. "Maybe you should see someone. My therapist . . ."
Katelina cut her off, tired of the never ending suggestion. "I don't need to see anyone. I'm fine." She shook her head and stuck the key in the ignition. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"I'll stop by after dinner. Unless you want me to cancel with Brad?"
"No, you've already moved this date twice. You two go and have a nice time. He may never get another night off." She forced a tight smile. Sarah deserved an evening out with the sexy bartender. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Sarah mumbled an appropriate goodbye while Katelina started the car and backed out of the parking lot. She glanced back in her rearview to see her friend standing next to the empty parking stall alone. The breeze played with her soft brown hair and whipped the khaki dress around her knees. An eerie feeling crept over Katelina, but she shook it off and turned the radio on. She let the blaring music drown out her thoughts and memories.
Whoever made that phone call deserved to be tortured to death.