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Chapter 18

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Photo illustration by Samuel Hoffman, The Journal Gazette

Chapter 18

Stevie stared into the brown liquid at the bottom of the Styrofoam cup.

"I haven't heard from him since that day in the ambulance."

The detective leaned back in his chair and looked down at his pen.

"So Agent Mullen killed Crandall?"

"Yes." She stood up and turned to face the back of the room. "I suppose Crandall did get his final story with me in it. And he was right, I didn't write it. But thankfully I'm alive to tell it."

She hugged herself. It was the first time she had told the story from beginning to end. She felt like her flesh had been pulled from its bones. She felt empty.

"How much longer, detective?"

"We're almost finished, Miss Von. I just need to make sure that I have everything I need before I let you go. I will be right back." The detective stood up and walked out of the room.

It was true that she had not seen or talked to Jason Mullen since that day. But she hadn't been easy to find. She'd changed her number and taken some time off work. She had been staying with her mother and sister.

Stevie went back and forth in her mind how she should feel about Jason. He lied to me. He used me. He saved my life.

That's the story that the detective doesn't know. That nobody knows.

It took Stevie a while to figure it out. Yes, he saved her from Crandall, but even more than that, he loved her.

Stevie was still surprised that the women willingly went with Crandall. But, she figured, like her, they were just looking for someone to care for them. Crandall was nice-looking and kind. How could they know he was a monster, too?

The detective came back into the room. "OK. Miss Von. You're free to go."

Stevie walked out of the police station and went back to her West Central apartment for the last time.

She shuddered as she walked by what was once Crandall's apartment. A "For Rent" sign sat on a stake in the front yard.

It was only later that Stevie found out that Crandall had a photo studio in the basement of his apartment. The entrance was in the back of the house. He would take all of the women down there. That's where he did his "work." And that's why she never saw anyone come to his apartment.

Stevie had decided to move after she was released from the hospital. She packed up all her stuff and just needed to get the last few items.

She wasn't sure what she was going to do next. She knew she didn't want to stop writing.

Margie told her she should write a book. "You could call it, 'Exposed: Living Next Door to a Serial Killer.' " She laughed at the thought. Why not? Everyone else does.

When Stevie got to the front door of her apartment, she saw another envelope with her name on the front. It was leaning up against the doorstop. You've got to be kidding.

Smiling, she quickly turned to look behind her but no one was there. Her smile faded.

She bent down and picked up the envelope and opened it. It was a final rent bill from her landlord.

She didn't know why she felt so disappointed. So hurt. "You didn't expect him to come riding up on a white horse, did you?" she said out loud.

A voice from behind startled her.

"Maybe not a horse, but how about a cop car?"

Stevie turned to see Jason standing at the bottom of the stairs. Her heart began to beat wildly and her skin began to tingle.

Jason began to walk up the stairs.

"What are you doing here? How did you know I was here?"

"Hello, police officer?"

Stevie smiled again.

"I came to talk to you. Stevie, I miss you."

"You lied to me. You could've told me who you were. And yet you left me to face this part alone."

Jason was in front of her now. She could see his jaws clench as he tried to find the right words to say.

"I'm here now."

"Yeah, I guess you are. And if you weren't, then I wouldn't be able to do this."

Stevie grabbed Jason by the shirt and pulled him to her. They kissed.

Jason stroked her face with his fingers. "I thought I had lost you that night at Crandall's."

"You saved me, Jason Mullen. You're my hero."

"So what now?" Jason asked.

"You know, I'm feeling a little hungry. How about some Italian?"

"You've got it."

By Terri Richardson, assistant managing editor for features.