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Chapter 8

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Photo illustration by Samuel Hoffman, The Journal Gazette

Chapter 8

The run through Swinney Park was just what Stevie needed. The park was beautiful with its huge shade trees and winding paths.

There were only a few people in the park, which allowed for some peace and quiet. But it still wasn't a place where Stevie wanted to be alone at night. It's surrounded by woods. Just like all the other places the women were dumped.

Stevie decided to push the thought from her mind and picked up the pace.

She looked down at her watch. The last of the evening light was quickly fading, but she was making good time. I should be home by dark.

She heard the sound of passing vehicles as she neared West Jefferson Boulevard. She was just about to round a bend when a figure jumped from behind a tree into her path.

Stevie screamed and fell to the ground. She tried to get up but realized she had hurt her knee. She began to crawl backward in an effort to get away from the dark figure that kept walking toward her.

She tried to scream but her voice caught in her throat. It wasn't until the figure bent over her that Stevie realized who it was. Cat lady.

Stevie became angry. "What are you doing?" she screamed as she managed to get up and limp to where cat lady's buggy was sitting near a tree.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. I came to warn you."

"Warn me?" Stevie said, massaging her knee.

"Yes. There is evil in the city," the cat lady said, looking around the park. "You're in terrible danger. Mr. Jones feels it too."

"Mr. Jones?" Stevie said.

Cat lady pointed to the buggy and Stevie saw a yellow and white cat tucked into a blue blanket with a baby's bonnet on his head. Stevie rolled her eyes.

"The other day a man with dark hair was near home and scared Mr. Jones," cat lady continued. "He wouldn't go outside for a whole day."

"Gotcha. Thanks," Stevie said as she began to limp away.

"Just stay away from the riverbank. It's full of evil memories. Evil memories."

Darkness had already fallen by the time Stevie got home. She limped up the stairs and went inside.

She fell onto the sofa and propped her leg up on a pile of pillows. Crazy lady. Who pushes stupid cats in a buggy anyway?

She really needed to take a shower, but admittedly the cat lady's words spooked her. What did she mean the riverbank was full of evil memories? A dark-haired man?

Stevie chalked it up to just crazy talk. She got up to head to the bathroom when a knock on the door startled her.

She stopped and looked at the door as if she expected the person behind it to jump right through. Stevie wondered whether she should answer it. I should take something with me to the door. She grabbed her cell phone off the table and punched in 911, placing her finger on the SEND button.

Stevie hobbled to the door and looked out the peephole. It was Jason.

She opened the door. He was holding a pizza box. The smell of the pizza hit Stevie's nose and her stomach growled. Loudly.

"Whoa, I don't get that very often," Jason said, smiling.

Stevie's face turned red.

It was then it occurred to her that she'd never given Jason her address. "How did you know where I live?"

"I work for the police, remember? Look, I know we haven't set a time to get together, but I just couldn't wait any longer."

Again, Stevie's face turned red. Apparently Jason enjoyed making her blush. It was becoming quite a thing with him.

"I know pizza isn't technically Italian, but I thought you might like some anyway with a real Italian."

Stevie smiled. "Come on in."

"Nice place," Jason said as he stepped into Stevie's apartment and began to look around. "Were you getting ready to go running?"

"I just got back." Stevie began to limp into the kitchen to get some plates.

"Is that the result?"

"No, well, yes ... well, one of my crazy neighbors caused me to fall down." She reached into the cabinet and pulled out two plates. "She was talking about seeing some dark-haired man snooping around the apartment. I was actually a little spooked to answer the door when you knocked."

"Really?" Jason walked into the kitchen and sat the pizza box on the countertop. "Did she say what this guy looked like?"

"No. Why?"

"Just curious."

She began to tell him the story as she laid the plates on the counter.

Jason listened, but didn't respond. He instead sat fiddling with his watch.

"I thought it might be my neighbor Crandall. He's an artist and works at home."

Her last statement seemed to pique Jason's interest. "Really? What kind of artist?"

"You know, I don't really know."

She turned back to the cabinet and pulled out two wine glasses. "How about some wine? I think I may need a glass after today."

Jason walked to where Stevie was standing and took the wine glasses she was holding. "As long as you promise we can sip it slowly while you tell me all about yourself."

"It's not much of a story."

He was so close. Stevie could see that he had green eyes.

His full lips formed each word perfectly. "You're a journalist. I bet you're able to tell a great story."

His breath smelled so sweet on her face. Stevie could feel herself falling.

It was a good thing Jason was there to catch her before she hit the floor.

By Terri Richardson, assistant managing editor for features.