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When All The Girls Have Gone

By:Jayne Ann Krentz

CHAPTER 1


The killer waited patiently for the target to emerge from the cabin.

There was no great rush, after all. The waiting allowed time to savor the prospect of revenge.

It was rather pleasant sitting there, propped against a mossy tree, rifle at the ready. High summer in the Cascades was a very enjoyable time of year. True, the tourists clogged the narrow mountain roads and insisted on stopping at every lookout point to take photographs. They left their trash behind at the numerous picnic sites. But come fall they would be driven away by the heavy rains and high winds of the early storms. In winter, snow would make the roads treacherous.

In the meantime, the warm, gentle breeze stirring the branches carried the scents of the trees and the vegetation that thrived in the short growing season.

Now there was time to contemplate the past and all the injustices that could be laid at the feet of the man inside the cabin. While making preparations the killer had worried that when the moment finally arrived, there would be at least a few qualms. Instead there was only a great sense of certainty.

The door of the cabin opened. Gordon Greenslade came out onto the porch. He had always been a good-looking man and he was aging well. His hair had turned an attractive silver-white, not dull gray. He was still lean and fit, and his aquiline features had softened only a little.

He had a mug of coffee in his hand. The killer recognized the mug. It was several years old, handmade and hand-painted. Like everything else in the rustic interior of the cabin, it was worn and faded.

These days Greenslade used the cabin primarily for hunting and fishing and when he just wanted to get away from the pressures that came with being the town's leading citizen. He owned the company that was the second-largest employer in town-the college had taken first place in recent years. But more to the point, he owned the local politicians, the authorities of Loring College and a couple of state representatives. If the rumors were true, he also had at least one U.S. senator in his pocket.

Everybody in Loring respected Gordon Greenslade and a lot of people owed him in one way or another. He was a rigid, self-righteous pillar of the community. But no one really liked him. It would be entertaining to see how much effort the police put into investigating his death.

The killer rose and picked up the rifle. There was a clear line of sight. It would be easy to take the kill shot without being seen. But that would defeat the purpose. When you set out to walk the path of revenge, you wanted your target to know who was pulling the trigger.

The killer moved out into the clearing in front of the cabin. It took Gordon a moment to notice that he had company. When he did, he was startled, but only briefly. Irritation soon replaced the surprise.

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

The killer did not bother to respond. It was, after all, pretty damn obvious what was about to go down.

Belatedly Greenslade realized the rifle was aimed at him. Rage and panic flashed across his face.

He tried to retreat back into the cabin where he no doubt had a gun. But he didn't move fast enough. The bullet took him in the chest.

A head shot would have been too easy because death would have been instantaneous. This way there would be time for the killer to watch the target bleed out; time for Greenslade to comprehend that this was all about revenge.




The death of Gordon Greenslade was front-page news in the Loring Herald. There was genuine shock-Greenslade had, after all, been the biggest mover and shaker in town-but not a lot of genuine mourning. Still, everyone made a point of displaying the appropriate degree of respect for the deceased, because Gordon Greenslade's death had not changed the economic and political reality. The Greenslade family still controlled the second-largest employer in Loring and, indirectly, Loring's largest employer, the college. It existed solely because of the Greenslade endowment.

The police did their job and conducted an investigation. But in the end they came to the conclusion that the killer had anticipated: Gordon Greenslade had been killed in an accident. The shooter had been hunting out of season and probably hadn't even been aware that his wild shot had killed a man. In any event, it was unlikely that the person who had pulled the trigger would ever be found.

Everyone who lived in the area knew that the mountains were inherently dangerous. In the fall, heavy rains flooded the rivers to dangerous levels, sweeping away those who were unlucky enough to get caught in the rushing waters. Landslides blocked roads. Strong winds felled trees that could crush vehicles. In the winter, backcountry avalanches invariably took the lives of a few skiers and snowboarders every year. In the summer, it was inevitable that a hiker or two or three would fall into a crevasse or simply go missing forever.   





 

And hunting accidents happened all the time in the mountains.





CHAPTER 2




". . . And then I killed him.'"

Ethel Deeping looked up from the page she had been reading from her memoir. She smiled proudly, clearly anticipating a round of applause from the audience.

For a few seconds the other members of the Write Your Life memoir writing group were shocked into a state of speechlessness.

Then the muttered complaints began rolling across the room in a wave that crested to full-blown outrage.

"You can't put that in your memoir," Hazel Williams announced from the back of the room. She banged her cane on the floor for emphasis. "We're supposed to be writing our life stories, not fiction. The fiction class meets on Wednesday evenings."

"Hazel's right," Bob Perkins grumbled. "It's a memoir. There are rules. You want to write mysteries, go join the fiction writers' group."

Ethel narrowed her eyes. "It's my life story. I can tell it any way I want."

Charlotte Sawyer, seated at the front of the small classroom, raised her hand, signaling for silence. The grumbling subsided. Everyone looked at her.

She was far and away the youngest person in the room. The Thursday afternoon meeting of the Write Your Life group was a popular program at the Rainy Creek Gardens Retirement Village. It had been one of the first workshops she had introduced upon accepting the position of director of social and educational activities. That had been a year before, when, after bouncing from one boring, dead-end job to another in Portland, Oregon, she had taken her stepsister's advice and moved to Seattle. Her first interview had been at Rainy Creek Gardens. She had landed the job immediately. Five minutes into her new career she had concluded that she had found her place in the world.

Overseeing the busy schedule of workshops, events and programs at Rainy Creek Gardens lacked the glamour and sophistication that her stepsister, Jocelyn, enjoyed as a fund-raiser for a wealthy entrepreneur's foundation. Jocelyn frequently traveled to exotic locales and mingled with the rich and famous-all in the name of convincing them to donate to the foundation. Nevertheless, Charlotte had no desire to trade places. She found her job far more satisfying than anything else she had tried to date.

The only real drawback-and admittedly it was a big one-was having to walk past the memorial board in the elevator lobby on her way to and from her office. Rarely did a week pass without a new name being posted. Because of her position on the staff, she was usually acquainted with the deceased. She often knew some of their family members, as well.

She had attended more memorial services in her year at Rainy Creek Gardens than most people did in a lifetime. And somewhere along the way her attitude toward the inevitability of death had begun to change.

Lately it had dawned on her that until she had come to Rainy Creek Gardens, she had spent her life living mostly in the future. As a child, that had meant looking forward to holidays and birthdays and, most of all, becoming a grown-up. Upon achieving adulthood she had discovered that being a grown-up wasn't nearly as satisfying as she had anticipated. What was more, the future was uncomfortably unpredictable.

At Rainy Creek Gardens she had finally begun to realize that, no matter your age, when you looked back it always seemed that your life had passed in the blink of an eye. The past could not be changed and the future was unknowable. The residents of Rainy Creek Gardens were teaching her that the real trick to a good life was to learn to live in the present.

She smiled reassuringly at Ethel Deeping and the other people in the room.

"Ethel makes an excellent point," she said. "She is allowed to write her life story any way she wants. And it's certainly true that there have been a number of very successful memoirists who have, to put it mildly, embellished their memoirs."

"Makes 'em more interesting," Ethel said.

"But it's wrong," Ted Hagstrom thundered.

Ted was a retired engineer. He tended to be a stickler for the rules.

There was another round of disgruntled murmuring. Once again Charlotte signaled for silence.

"Before we critique Ethel's essay, I think we should ask her why she chose her rather unexpected ending for the chapter on her marriage," she said. "Ethel?"

Ethel beamed. "It's more exciting that way."

"Well, yes," Charlotte agreed. "But are you certain that it fits with the rest of what you have told us about Mr. Deeping? You've made it clear that your husband was an excellent provider and well respected in the community. You said he was a churchgoing man. You mentioned his military service and you said that everyone liked him."   

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