The first entry was dated, September 7, 1891. It began with the words "Madeline is dead by my hand."
He had taken the diary and told no one about it. Over the years, he'd read from it almost daily, until it became an integral part of his own memory. Along the way, he realized he had become one with the author, sharing his sense of supremacy over his victims, chuckling at his playacting as he grieved with the grieving.
What began as a fascination gradually grew to an absolute obsession, a need to relive the diary writer's journey of death on his own. Vicarious sharing was no longer enough.
Four and a half years ago he had taken the first life.
It was twenty-one-year-old Martha's fate that she had been present at the annual end-of-summer party her grandparents gave. The Lawrences were a prominent, long-established Spring Lake family. He was at the festive gathering and met her there. The next day, September 7th, she left for an early morning jog on the boardwalk. She never returned home.
Now, over four years later, the investigation into her disappearance was still ongoing. At a recent gathering, the prosecutor of Monmouth County had vowed there would be no diminution in the effort to learn the truth about what had happened to Martha Lawrence. Listening to the empty vows, he chuckled at the thought.
How he enjoyed participating in the somber discussions about Martha that came up from time to time over the dinner table.
I could tell you all about it, every detail, he said to himself, and I could tell you about Carla Harper too. Two years ago he had been strolling past the Warren Hotel and noticed her coming down the steps. Like Madeline, as described in the diary, she had been wearing a white dress, although hers was barely a slip, sleeveless, clinging, revealing every inch of her slender young body. He began following her.
When she disappeared three days later, everyone believed Carla had been accosted on the trip home to Philadelphia. Not even the prosecutor, so determined to solve the mystery of Martha's disappearance, suspected that Carla had never left Spring Lake.
Relishing the thought of his omniscience, he had lightheartedly joined the late afternoon strollers on the boardwalk and exchanged pleasantries with several good friends he met along the way, agreeing that winter was insisting on giving them one more blast on its way out.
But even as he bantered with them, he could feel the need stirring within him, the need to complete his trio of present-day victims. The final anniversary was coming up, and he had yet to choose her.
The word in town was that Emily Graham, the purchaser of the Shapley house, as it was still known, was a descendant of the original owners.
He had looked her up on the Internet. Thirty-two years old, divorced, a criminal defense attorney. She had come into money after she was given stock by the grateful owner of a fledgling wireless company whom she'd successfully defended pro bono. When the stock went public and she was able to sell it, she made a fortune.
He learned that Graham had been stalked by the son of a murder victim after she won an acquittal for the accused killer. The son, protesting his innocence, was now in a psychiatric facility. Interesting.
More interesting still, Emily bore a striking resemblance to the picture he'd seen of her great-great-grandaunt, Madeline Shapley. She had the same wide brown eyes and long, full eyelashes. The same midnight-brown hair with hints of auburn. The same lovely mouth. The same tall, slender body.
There were differences, of course. Madeline had been innocent, trusting, unworldly, a romantic. Emily Graham was obviously a sophisticated and smart woman. She would be more of a challenge than the others, but then again, that made her so much more interesting. Maybe she was the one destined to complete his special trio?
Copyright © 2001 by Mary Higgins Clark
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