It seemed to Maddy like one second her Trigonometry class was talking about the square of the hypotenuse and the next they were
discussing the force necessary to strangle the last breath out of a human being.
According to Brad Farinelli, the murderer had to be a Nose Guard in high school and college ball to get the strength and speed to do
that kind of damage without a fight. Being a Nose Guard himself, Maddy wondered why Brad was so eager to place himself in the
company of a killer. However, the immediate swooning of half the female members of our class proved, once again, that even—and
sometimes especially—smart women make foolish choices.
It wasn’t Brad’s fault. It had been happening all day, ever since the newspaper this morning dropped on everyone's kitchen table. The
usual articles on the county fair and stargazing night violently ousted by the headline: BEG KILLER TAKES 5TH. AFTER TWO
MONTHS OF SILENCE! The usual pictures of prize-winning animals and ribbon cutting ceremonies were replaced by grisly crime
scene photos of bled and broken girls, accompanied by a picture of them from the yearbook that—in context—looked totally
The name stood for “brown-eyed girl” killer, referring to the murderer’s chosen victim: brown-haired girls with brown eyes. If someone
asked Maddy, the name was pretty uninspired, but nobody ever did.
These days, it seemed like the only contact she had with her so-called peers was one they were reminding her that she could be next.
Well, except Connor.
“Hey, little brown-eyed girl,” Brad was whispering in her ear as she reflexively lowered her head and grasped her long, curly, brown hair
to her chest.
“Shut up, Brad,” Maddy hissed.
“Why don't you just dye it?” Lauren Keeblehouse said, twirling a strand of her own honey-colored tresses and eying the girl priggishly.
Clara nearly choked on the overwhelming smell of garlic and Old Spice as Brad moved closer to her.
“Maybe she doesn't want to,” he opined. “Maybe she likes being that sicko's prime meal choice.”
Maddy bit her lip, trying to suppress her own strangling urges.
“Leave me alone,” she said weakly, simultaneously uncomfortable and irritated with herself for not being able to fight back.
In her other life, she could. In her other life, she could have knocked him down before he had a chance to react. But not this one
Maddy reminded herself.
“Yeah, you like it,” he said to her.
“Maybe because you're no one's prime meal choice around here, huh?”
“Mr. Farinelli,” the teacher said in a tone that was both inauspicious and
Any punishment she might have doled out was put off by the shrill jangling of the lunch bell. Avoiding Brad's lascivious gaze, Maddy
darted out into the hallway, heading towards her lunch spot of choice: the library.
Connor brushed his shaggy red hair back from his brow and grinned
as she collapsed at the table.
“Fun in Trig?” he asked her, eyes twinkling.
“Well, are you familiar with ‘a hole in the head’?”
“Yeah, about that much fun.”
Maddy smiled at him, pulling out a copy of “Death on the Nile” by Agatha Christie.
Ever since she started at Millard Fillmore High five months earlier, Maddy
had been taking a book to the library for lunch. She hadn’t noticed Connor at first. He was pulling an invisible act just like she was, but
one day they’d been reading the same copy of Poe's short stories. Since then, bringing the book with her had just been a formality.
Connor wasn't that kind of friend, though. Brad Farinelli was right, the boys at MFH didn’t exactly line up around the block for
In her other life, she was actually quite attractive. Everyone has their reasons for looking the way they do, from the tragic ugliness
syndrome to self-esteem issues, so Maddy considered hers a practicality and a temporary one at that.
She was broken out of her reverie as Connor snapped a finger impatiently in
front of her face.
“Hey, earth to Maddy!” he was saying.
“Sorry,” she said, shaking her head. “Just distracted; Brad Farinelli was espousing my loveliness today.”
Connor gave her a funny look.
“Please tell me you're not interested in Brad Farinelli.”
“No, not in him, in our local lover-of-Rhodas, the B.E.G. killer.”
“Ahhh. Seriously, though, did you read the paper this morning?”
“No,” Maddy lied expertly. “But I got the gist from the Steroid King. What did it say?”
He lowered his head and leaned in towards her, “Just that this was the worst one yet. They found her on a pretty well-lit street. Peach,
I think. And they're saying he cut her up before he strangled her this time.”
“Oh, yeah?” she asked casually.
Connor nodded, “They found the same words carved into her stomach, ‘Mine’, but there was so much blood around the wounds that it
had to have been done when she was alive.”
“God, that's gross,” Maddy commented, shivering. “What does that mean
“I don't know, but it seems like this guy is just gearing up for more.”
He looked at her plaintively, “I really think you should dye your hair, Maddy.”
She smirked, looking at him fondly. He really is sweet, she thought.
“You’re the second person to tell me that in the space of about twenty minutes,” she told him.
“But you said it in a nice way.”
“Well, maybe you should!”
Connor yelled, and then looked around self-consciously.
“Look, I just don't want you to get hurt. This last girl was from the Harker Academy two miles away and she looked exactly like you. I
“I'll be fine,” Maddy assured him, though she didn't really believe it
herself. “I'm sure this will all be over soon, anyway.”
“What makes you think that?”
Shrugging, she told him, “Well, if our local police are anything like those
detectives on Law & Order, I'm sure they’ll get their man.”
Privately, she thought those procedural shows were kind of a load of crap, but it
seemed to soothe her friend a bit.
After a moment, though, Connor shook his head.
“It’s been a year and a half and they haven’t even come close.”
The bell rang, causing Maddy’s whole body to twitch in surprise.
“Crap, lunch is already over!” She grabbed her book bag and heaved it over her
shoulder. “Don't worry about me,” she told Connor, who was still grumbling as he put his books away.
“I'm gonna worry no matter what you say,” he said, reaching out and grabbing her hand.
Maddy lurched back, pulling her hand away as he looked at her with a mixture of hurt and confusion.
“Sorry,” she told him nervously, kneading the hand he’d taken with the other. “Just jumpy these days. I’ll see you tomorrow at lunch,
“Okay,” Connor said, “tomorrow.”
She hoped so.
“How was your day?” Linda asked Maddy, spearing a bite from her salad.
“Fine, Mom,” she replied.
She had been using her fork to sculpt the mashed potatoes since they’d sat down at the table and she noticed it was actually beginning
to bear a remarkable appearance to Mount Diablo.
Linda smiled at her.
“You called me ‘mom.’”
“Had to happen sometime.”
She lowered her eyes away from the girl, but was clearly pleased. Linda was
a beautiful woman, save for a nasty scar running down from her eye like a flesh-colored tear. Maddy had been with Linda and Frank
for six years—since that last foster home—but she never told her how she got the mark.
“Does that mean you’re going to start calling me ‘dad’ now too?” Frank asked
with a wink.
“Don't push your luck,” she told him playfully as she completed her mashed
Frank cleared his throat.
“So, ahem, you’re going out, then. After dinner?”
“Yeah,” Maddy said. “I thought I’d take a walk down Peach.”
Linda looked like she wanted to say something, and then tightened her lips,
drawing another forkful of salad up to her mouth.
“Do you have everything?” Frank asked. He looked concerned like a Dad
should be, but he always acted more like Maddy’s manager before she went out for the night.
“I have everything,” she replied. “Do I have time for dessert?”
“Of course you do,” Linda said, but Frank gave her a warning look.
“It’s already seven-thirty,” he pointed out.
“Then I guess you guys owe me a slice of pie later,” Maddy said, rising from
the table. “I’m going upstairs to get ready.”
“You look fine,” Linda said, her eyes still lowered.
“I think I should wear the orange sweater,” she said to no one in particular.
“That one's a winner,” Frank said, winking at her again. “Have fun, peanut.”
“Check you later, cashew,” Maddy told him.
It was a stupid little trick to remind them that they were family now, but it always made her laugh. She walked upstairs to put on the
orange sweater, catching her reflection in the mirror as she walked down the hallway. She really did look like one of his, Maddy
thought. Her pulse started to quicken in what could have been fear or excitement.
“I'm leaving!” she called, grabbing her bag from the coat rack by the front
Maddy unzipped the front pouch and slipped what she needed into her pocket and sleeves, leaving only her gym clothes and wallet in
the bag. She paused for a moment, double-checking her pockets and trying to ignore the feeling of guilt that was beginning to ebb at
her obnoxiously. She only needed a little more time, she told herself. She’d send the message as soon as she was done.
She held her breath as she headed towards Peach St., gazing up at the tall
eucalyptus trees, their branches waving and creaking with the wind. She pulled her hands further into her sleeves, looking up and
“I guess the party's not on Peach Street,” she mumbled to herself, coming to
a stop at the next street.
She looked down the adjacent street to her right. Taking a deep breath, she turned towards Apple Tree Lane. Pretty much all of the
streets were named after fruits in this area; just another cute-ification technique to make people feel safe. As if a monster
would avoid someplace simply due to its kitsch level. It was when she crossed Cherry Blossom Way that she felt him coming up behind
her. It’s that feeling one gets when they know someone is in their house that doesn’t belong, or when they pull their child close when a
stranger smiles at them in the supermarket. People undervalue their instincts, she thought as she flipped her mane of brown hair back
over her shoulder, taunting him one last time. She walked carefully, trying to act like she didn’t notice anything at all, like
clueless prey to a hunter that wants the element of surprise. She would give him that.
She heard the soft pad of footprints behind her getting closer, faster, until she turned around and saw his cold smiling face less than
five feet away. His gaze was hollow, but at the same time heavy with desire. She could see the glint of the knife even on the mostly
dark sidewalk. She tilted her own head and smiled right back at him and, her pulse racing as she pulled her hand out of her sleeve,
allowing herself no more than a
fraction of a second to pull the trigger. The whole exchange must have taken seconds, but it felt like hours as she watched the thin
wires explode from her Tazer gun, the sharp points on the end piercing his chest.
For a moment, she stood there stupidly, willing her mind to catch up as she held the gun, watching the man convulse with her fifty
thousand-volt gift to him. Then, she remembered.
She pulled her phone out from her pocket, staring at it. She knew she was supposed to send a message the minute he was down. But
she just needed a few minutes. He hadn’t played by the rules, and neither would she.
Reaching down, she retracted the darts from his body, watching him calmly. He hadn’t passed out, so she would have to be careful.
“Hi there,” she said brightly as he blinked at her, pulling her Tazer back
into her long jacket sleeve for future use.
His eyes were clouded over, but his muscles tensed. He understood her.
“You must be Henry. Looks like you’ve gotten yourself into a bit of a pickle,” she continued, unzipping her other pocket and pulling
out a long spool of piano wire. “I don’t want to have to shoot you again, but I’d like to have a little chat. You’ll probably be able to talk
in about two minutes and move around in five, so I’m just going to make sure you don’t go anywhere, all righty?”
Her tone belied the nervous lump that threatened to make its way slowly down
her throat. It was either nerves or anger, she thought. The latter would serve her better in this case, and she willed it to take over.
She carefully pulled off a length of cut wire from the spool and bent over, pulling his legs together. He winced as she tightened the
wire. She could feel the lump tightening in her throat, but forced a chipper voice.
“Yeah, that wire’ll cut right through your skin,” she told him. “I’ll just use
some on your hands and feet but it will only be tight enough to break the skin, maybe cut down to the bone. That’s all.”
“M…” he croaked. “Mine.”
She gave him a sideways look.
“Muh-muh-mine? Yeah, sorry, buddy. I’m not yours. I’m not even close.”
He gave her a pained expression as she smiled down at him. Keeping her
Tazered-hand ready, she reached up with her left hand and pulled off the long, curly, brown wig that made him want her. She released
her own mane of blonde hair, shaking it out over her shoulders.
“Not her!” he croaked, his voice thick with panic.
She leaned forward, inches away from his face, and brought the same hand up
to her eyes, pulling out the soft brown-colored contacts.
“No,” she said, smiling. “Not her.”
The lump had turned into comfortable warmth. She was on a roll now. He stared at her, his eyes flashing up at her face and down to
his bindings. She chuckled as he struggled against the wire on his hands, only to force the wire to cut deeper into his wrist. He was
bleeding now, but not nearly enough.
“Who is yours, anyway?” she asked, kicking a stone towards him. “Not those
girls. Your mother? Your sister?”
He flinched as she said the latter.
“Ohhh, your sister!” she leaned down to face him again, putting on a mocking pout as he growled at her.
“Did she leave you all alone?” she asked him. “Did you try to get her back, but she didn’t want you?”\
“Madeline Farrell,” he spit out. “Sixteen years old, student at Millard Fillmore. They say that’s your name, but I know it’s you. Diana, I
know it’s you. You’re mine!”
She could feel the lump completely disappear and the warmth take over, tightening her hand against the blade in her other pocket. She
willed herself to let it go, kneeling beside him instead.
“You were right about one thing,” she whispered. “I’m not Madeline Farrell. But I’m not Diana either. She’s dead, Henry.”
His anguished scream filled the air but she merely grinned down at him, watching as he pulled against the wire and it cut deeper into his
“Is this how they felt?” she asked quietly.
“She was mine,” he whimpered.
She gave him a hard look.
“She was never yours.”
A scream erupted from behind her, “Stay where you are!”
She stepped back and out of the way as Frank rushed forward.
“You were supposed to send a message when he was down,” he told her angrily.
“I know,” she said. “But he’s incapacitated. It’s fine.”
“It’s not fine,” Frank snapped, keeping his gun level. “We were worried.”
He didn’t move his eyes.
“You know I’m not your father.”
“I got him!” Linda’s voice filled the air.
She grasped her firearm and pointed it at Henry as Frank carefully uncoiled the wire and reached for his handcuffs.
“Henry Townsend, you are under arrest,” Frank said, pulling the limp man
upwards by his wounded hands.
“You're hurting me!” he wailed. “I can barely move. This bitch attacked me!”
“Self-defense,” she said with a casual shrug, unable to suppress a smile.
“Clara,” Linda said with a warning tone.
“You have the right to remain silent,” Frank went on. “Anything you say can
and will be used against you in a court of law.”
“Who are you people?” he yelled.
Linda held up her badge.
“My name is Linda Foley, this is Frank Giraldi. We're agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and we are attempting to inform
you of your rights. Please listen.”
“What about her? She's not police, I'm telling you. She pretended to be
her. She tricked me!”
Clara watched silently as her fake Dad Mirandized Townsend and stayed
silent even as the wail of sirens grew louder and police surrounded them.
She let out a deep breath as Frank pushed Townsend down into the back of a
squad car, and only then started to feel the warmth take refuge and her nerves kick back in. She felt as though her whole body was in a
perpetual shudder as she turned to Linda.
“You're lucky we already have evidence on him,” Linda said quietly after they left.
“I know,” she said, tears escaping her eyes. “I’m sorry. I was just so angry. He wasn’t supposed to go after that girl from Harker. We
were supposed to get him before!”
“I know.” Linda pulled her close. “Did he hurt you?”
Clara shook her head.
“No, not at all. I hurt him.”
“Did it help? Do you feel less angry?”
“No.” She rubbed her eyes aggressively and took a breath. “ don't feel less angry. But it still felt good at the time.”
Linda kissed the girl's forehead.
“You can’t do this forever, you know.”
“You’re not my mother,” Clara replied, smiling.
“I wish I was,” she said guilelessly.
“Me too,” she told Linda, sniffling. “So do I go back to school tomorrow?”
“No, Clara. We’re moving onto the next assignment. Besides, do you want to
wear that wig forever?”
She thought about Connor.
“And will you be Maddy forever?”
“I guess not.”
“We’ll see if we can get you a better look next time,” Linda said with a smile.
“It would be nice if I could look like myself for a change. I thought these guys liked blue-eyed blondes.”
“Gentlemen do prefer blondes,” Linda agreed.
“What will my name be?”
“Anything you want, sweetheart, anything.”