Halfway to the Grave

Page 35

I knocked on her door politely. "It's Cathy."

That was my school name. I was up to four now. At least they were all similar enough.

She opened it a moment later, clad only in her bra and a skirt.

"Hey! I'm just getting dressed. Come on in."

I followed her inside, waiting near the door as she disappeared into what I presumed was her bedroom. Her apartment was surprisingly nice, not like the usual college digs. She had a plasma TV across from a leather sofa, a large entertainment center, a high-end computer notebook, and several other expensive-looking items arranged for decorative effect.

"I like your place," I said sincerely. "Do you live here alone, or do you have a roommate?"

"Come in here, I can hardly hear you," she called out.

I repeated the question while I went down the short hall into her room. Stephanie was in front of her closet, pursing her lips as she considered its contents.

"Huh? Oh, no roommate. So, tell me more about yourself, Cathy. I know you live at home with your mom and grandparents, but where's home?"

"In a tiny town an hour north of here that you've probably never heard of," I answered, thinking her bedroom was even nicer than her living room. Rich parents, obviously.

"You never talk about your father. Is your mom divorced, or did your dad die?"

"He ran off before I was born, I don't even know who he is," was all I said. Well, it was kind of the truth.

"Got a boyfriend?"

My response was immediate. "No!"

She laughed. "Wow, that was emphatic. Do you bat for the other team?"

"What other team?" I asked, confused.

Her mouth quirked. "Are you a lesbian? I don't care if you are, but the 'no' on the boyfriend thing was so strong, it begs the question."

"Oh!" Duh! "No, I'm not. I, er, just didn't know what you meant before-"

"You know," she cut me off with a pleasant smile, still rifling through her closet, "you're very pretty. But you dress like a troll. Let's see if we can't find something of mine for you to wear tonight."

Jeez, she sounded just like Bones. Switch her accent to an English one and I'd swear it was him talking.

I glanced down at my jeans. They were so comfortable. "Oh, you don't have to do that."

"Here." She filched some more and then threw a navy dress at me. "Try this on."

Not wanting to appear too modest, since she was still only partially clothed, I kicked my boots off and started to undress where I stood.

Stephanie looked at me with cool evaluation as I peeled off my jeans. The way her gaze swept over me made me feel odd. Like I was being appraised. She's probably just mesmerized by how pale you are, I told myself, trying to shake off the unease that had taken hold of me. You're like a snowman with tits.

"You've got a great body, Cathy. I wasn't sure, from those baggy outfits you wear, but lo and behold, you do."

Her voice was flat. Almost indifferent. That feeling of disquiet grew. I hadn't had any girlfriends before, true, but there was something about this that didn't seem right. She wasn't acting like the bright, bubbly girl from class. She seemed like an entirely different person.

"You know," I said, putting down the dress I'd been about to don, "I think I'll just wear my jeans. I'd hate for something to happen to this, and you know how clubs are. Someone could spill a drink on me or it could get ripped-"

"You really are just another clueless farm girl, aren't you?" That little smile never left her face. "I had you pegged the first time I saw you on your way to class, with your head down and your shoulders hunched. No friends, no connections, from a poor family...you fly totally under the radar. Someone like you could just"-her fingers snapped-"disappear."

My mouth had dropped after the first insult. It continued to hang open until I shut it in disbelief.

"Is this some kind of joke? Because it's not funny."

Stephanie laughed. It was so cheerful, for a second I relaxed. She'd been kidding. Okay, it wasn't funny, but maybe she just had a weird sense of humor-

She reached back into the closet. This time, instead of another dress, she pulled out a gun.

"Don't scream or I'll shoot."

What the hell? "Stephanie, what is wrong with you?" I gasped.

"Nothing," she replied affably. "Just making my rent, and you, cookie, are just what the landlord likes. Here. Put these on."

She tossed a pair of handcuffs at me. They landed near my feet. I was still so stunned, I didn't move.

She cocked the gun. "Come on, Cathy. Don't make this messy."

"You won't shoot, your neighbors would hear," I said, keeping my voice calm while wondering what in the name of God was going on.

Her finger tapped the side of the barrel. "Silencer. They won't hear a thing."

My gaze narrowed as a thought occurred to me. "Did Bones put you up to this?"

"Who?" she asked in annoyance.

From her expression, she'd never heard of him, and that chilled me. If this wasn't another of his little tests, or if she wasn't pulling some kind of twisted sorority prank, then this was the real deal.

I picked my words very carefully. "I don't have any money or drugs, so you're wasting your time. Just put the gun down and I'll walk out of here and not call the police."

She came closer. Only about six feet separated us. "College girls, you're all the same. You think you're so smart, but when the time comes, I have to spell everything out like I plucked you from preschool. I should just tape-record myself and play it to you bitches so I don't have to keep saying everything over and over again! All right, listen up, stupid! I'm going to give you to the count of three to put those cuffs on, and if you don't, then I'm going to shoot you. First round goes in your leg. One...two...three."

The gun went off, but I lunged away before she'd finished speaking. Holy shit, whatever this was, she meant business! If I hadn't moved, she would have plugged a hole in me!

Stephanie fired again with a curse, clearly not expecting my speed. I jumped her, grabbing for the gun. To my shock, she was far stronger than I'd anticipated. We fell to the floor, rolling, the gun in between us, each of us tugging roughly for it. When it went off again, I froze.

Her eyes were as wide as they could be, and staring straight into mine. Something warm spilled onto me. I pushed back, letting the gun slide from my numb fingers, and watched as the blood spread in a widening pool around her chest.

My hand came to my mouth in horror and I scooted back until I felt the wall behind me. Stephanie made a noise that was half grunt, half sigh. Then she stopped moving altogether.

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