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Chapter 16

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Photo illustration by Samuel Hoffman, The Journal Gazette

Chapter 16

It was no surprise that Crandall's apartment was dark. All of the shades were pulled, blocking out even the smallest bit of light. It took Stevie's eyes a minute or two to adjust.

Crandall's apartment was laid out much like Stevie's. You could tell it had once been part of a house. His living room area was huge. It probably even contained a parlor at one time.

There were boxes of stuff stacked up along one wall near the kitchen. The furniture looked a little worn but ultimately the apartment was tidy.

There were bags of chips, cookies and soda bottles sitting out on the kitchen table. It looked almost like Crandall was expecting company.

"Were you expecting someone?" Stevie said looking at the table.

Crandall laughed. "You never know when someone might be dropping by. I mean, c'mon. Here you are, right?"

Stevie thought Crandall's answer was weird. She had never seen anyone go in Crandall's apartment. But he is a night owl.

"Have a seat," Crandall said motioning toward the couch. "Would you like something to drink? I have water, lemonade, wine or beer."

"Uh, water would be great, thanks."

Crandall opened the freezer to get out some ice for the drinks. "Is your apartment a one bedroom or two?" Crandall asked. "Mine was a two bedroom, but I converted one space into my work area."

"Mine's a two bedroom."

Just then Stevie's cell phone began to beep. She had forgotten to charge it when she got home that morning. Darn, it's dying.

"What is that?" Crandall asked.

"It's my cell phone. The battery is going dead."

Stevie noticed some pictures hanging on the wall near the table. She got up to take a closer look. They were very abstract, but colorful. She couldn't quite make out what they were. It appeared to be some sort of collage.

"Is this your work?" Stevie said, admiring the framed photos.

"Oh, that's some of my old stuff." Crandall walked to where Stevie was standing and handed her the drink. "I've been working on some newer things. Would you like to see them?"

Stevie nodded and Crandall led her to a back bedroom.

There was no furniture inside the room. Just a display of photos of what appeared to be frames of nothing but flesh-colored background. When Stevie looked closer, she could tell it was close-up photos of a person.

In one shot was part of an eyebrow and the top of a forehead. Another had a bit of red from the corners of a lip. One shot looked to be of a knee. Yet another had a strand of brown hair. None of the photos showed the person's entire face. Stevie took a step back. These aren't just one person, they're several people. "Are these photos of real people?"

"Yes. Aren't they great?" Crandall walked toward the photos, stroking one of them with his fingers. "It's taken me a long time to get just the right photos. Just the right subjects."

Stevie was a little taken aback. "How did you get them to agree to let you take their pictures?"

"I promised them they would be famous."

Just then Stevie's cell phone rang. She looked down at the number and saw that it was Jason. Her heart skipped a beat. She wasn't sure if she should take it or just call the police. At least they could catch him when he came to her apartment.

"Crandall, I'm so sorry. I need to take this."

Crandall seemed irritated as he excused himself and stepped into the living room.

"What do you want?" Stevie said in an angry whisper.

Her cell phone beeped again. Oh, don't die now. I've got the killer.

"Stevie? I'm on my way to your place. What's the matter?"

"I know who you are and I'm going to the police. You killed those girls. All the evidence is there."

"Stevie, have you lost your mind? What are you talking about?"

"You're a photographer. They found photo chemicals on the bodies. You have dark hair. You ..." Stevie stopped as a photo caught her eye. Oh, no.

The room began to spin. She couldn't believe she hadn't caught it before.

She began to frantically look at the photos that covered the wall in the small room. She realized that these aren't just people – they're women. And in the photo of the knee was a scar. A moon-shaped scar – just like the one Celeste Wade had.

It was like a punch to the gut. Stevie then remembered the bottle of liquid Crandall had in his bag. Photo chemicals. It's not Jason; it's Crandall.

Stevie felt her knees begin to buckle. Jason's voice brought her back. "Stevie. I only use digital."

"Oh, Jason. I'm in trouble."

"Where are you?"

"I'm at Crandall's."

"Stevie, you need ..." Her cell phone went dead.

She couldn't call the police. Stevie knew she had to get out of the apartment. But how? If she could only get to the living room, maybe she could run for the door.

She walked out of the bedroom. She jumped back when she saw Crandall leaning near the door jamb.

"Is everything all right?" Crandall asked.

Stevie kept walking, looking at the door and keeping her eye on Crandall, who had begun to walk toward her.

"Oh, yeah. I'm sorry. I forgot I needed to do something at work today. That was them on the phone. Maybe we can reschedule for later."

"No, Stevie. I'm sorry, but I've been waiting a long time for this. You see, you're the last piece of my work."

Stevie tried to make a break for the door, but Crandall cut her off.

"I've based everything on you. The women. The murders. You got your stories. I got my photos. I knew that together we would be famous."

"Crandall, what are you talking about? Why did you do this?"

"So we could be together. We are perfect for each other. You just can't see it. So I had to get your attention."

"So you killed cat lady too?"

"That crazy woman. She ruined everything."

Stevie knew she needed to try to get away. She had noticed a door to the kitchen earlier. It probably leads to the alley.

"My work is finally making the headlines." Crandall continued to walk toward her. "And now you'll have the final story, even though you won't get to write it."

Stevie tried to run for the kitchen but her knee gave out and she crumpled to the ground. Crandall rushed toward her and began to wrestle her to the floor.

Crandall managed to get his hands around Stevie's neck. She couldn't breathe. She tried to pull his hands away, but he was too strong. Everything was spinning and Stevie found herself getting weak.

Just then the door burst open and she heard someone shout. "FBI. Get away from her."

She turned to see that it was Jason. He had a gun and was pointing it at Crandall. Then there was a shot. And everything went dark.

By Terri Richardson, assistant managing editor for features.