Follow me, p.1
Follow Me, p.1Part #2 of The Amateurs series by Sara Shepard
Copyright © 2017 by Alloy Entertainment, LLC and Sara Shepard
Cover design by Whitney Manger
Balloon photograph © 2017 Traci Hahn / Shutterstock
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About the Author
To Colleen and Family
IT WAS THE perfect day for a party. The summer afternoon was a temperate seventy-nine degrees, the sky was cloudless, and the Atlantic crashed hypnotically down the bluffs. He got ready, dressing in linen pants, a fitted white polo, and broken-in leather flip-flops. As he splashed water onto his cheeks, he saw a refined, debonair face in the bathroom mirror. He looked like the strong-but-silent type. Teddy Roosevelt, maybe. He smiled, delighted at the reference. Wasn’t Roosevelt the one who said Speak softly and carry a big stick? Maybe he’d think of himself as Teddy tonight. As a little inside joke.
By 7:30 p.m., streaks of pink and orange made an ombré effect across the horizon. The beach was empty; a flock of seagulls perched on the wooden lifeguard stand. Partygoers glided toward the luxury beach club and condo complex, bottles tucked under their arms, phones in their hands. Past the gates, twinkling votive candles spanned the long seating areas by the pool, and brightly colored rafts bobbed atop the placid clear water. As the guests swarmed the space, beer bottles were popped open. Everyone began to talk and laugh. Swells of Bob Marley, the Beach Boys, and Dave Matthews drifted through the air.
Teddy sat on a chaise, beer in hand, and watched as Jeff Cohen, a staple on the beach scene, carefully made his way across a slack rope that had been set up between two trees. When Jeff reached the end without falling, he grinned at Cole, whose indie film about surfing nuns had won first prize at a couple of festivals last year. “Wanna give it a try?”
Cole chuckled. “That’s not exactly my thing.” He raised his Nikon camera and took a snap of Jeff as he jumped to the ground.
Chelsea Dawson, Jeff’s ex-girlfriend, gave Cole a flirty grin. “Cole, you’re so going to be a famous paparazzo someday.”
Cole snorted. “Uh, I have bigger career goals than loitering in a parking lot, waiting for celebs. Unless it’s you.”
“Nah, I’m my own photographer.” Chelsea pulled something from her purse. An iPhone in a sparkly pink case was attached to a motorized selfie stick; when she hit a button, the device extended, lights illuminated, and a miniature fan began to whir. Her blond hair whipped prettily in the artificial wind. Her skin glowed under the golden bulb. The cobalt shade of her dress brought out the steel-blue flecks in her eyes. As she grinned into the lens, a hush fell over the crowd. Everyone turned and looked at the perfection that was Chelsea Dawson.
She examined the results and then tapped the screen. Moments later, Teddy’s phone buzzed, but he didn’t bother to check the alert. He knew what it said: New post from ChelseaDFabXOXOX.
Another Bob Marley classic blared from the speakers. Someone did a perfect jackknife off the diving board. Teddy decided to check out the bonfire. Down at the beach, the stoners were arguing about whose fudge was better—Cindy’s, a local store, or Lulu’s, from one town away. “Dude, all the fudge is made by the same company, probably in a big vat,” a glazed-eyed guy said. “It’s a conspiracy.”
Teddy chuckled along with them, but then he was distracted by a sharp, familiar voice. “When did you turn into such a hater?”
He whirled toward the sound. Chelsea stomped across the sand, high heels in her hand, her face a knot of pain. Jeff trailed behind her, his long hair in a messy man bun, the tails of his button-down flapping. A couple of the stoners glanced at Chelsea and Jeff, too, then went back to their fudge argument.
Jeff waved a cell phone in her face. On the screen was Chelsea’s latest Instagram post. “Look, I just don’t understand why you feel you have to post photos that show your boobs to ten thousand strangers,” he was saying, loud enough for Teddy to hear. “There are a million prettier pictures of you than this one.”
“Fifty-one thousand, eight hundred seventy-three strangers,” Chelsea shot back.
“Okay, so almost fifty-two thousand skeevy dudes know what your boobs look like. As a woman, I’d think you—”
Chelsea groaned. “Don’t do the feminist thing with me. Your opinion doesn’t matter so much anymore. Besides, it’s important for me to build my brand.”
Jeff laughed incredulously. “It’s not like you’re a Kardashian.”
Chelsea’s expression hardened. Spinning around, she headed for the beaten-down path that led through the dunes, behind the apartment complex, and all the way to the public parking lot. “Hey!” Jeff cried. “What did I say?”
“You’re more than a pretty face, Chel. You should have more self-respect.”
“I do have self-respect.” Chelsea’s eyes blazed. “It’s you who doesn’t respect me.”
“What are you talking about? I’m—”
Chelsea’s expression snapped closed. “Just leave me alone.”
Jeff looked like he’d been slapped. Chelsea disappeared into the reeds. After a few moments, Jeff swiveled and settled down on a lawn chair at the bonfire next to one of the stoners. He stared into the flames, looking like he might burst into tears. The stoners suddenly seemed to notice him. “You okay, man?” one asked, but Jeff didn’t answer.
Taking a deep breath, Teddy grabbed his phone from his pocket and composed a message.
You all right?
He could picture Chelsea stopping on the overgrown beach path. Rooting through her bag, pulling out the phone he’d given her. On cue, his phone quietly pinged.
I’m fine. Thanks.
His fingers flew. Wanna talk about it? I can meet.
Up popped an emoji of a face blowing a kiss. Nah. I’m really tired. We’ll talk tomorrow.
He squeezed his phone hard. That had been her one last chance, and she’d blown it. Well, then. Now to put the plan he’d crafted into motion.
Teddy stood as unceremoniously as he could. No one saw him as he walked away from the bonfire, though he chose to follow Chelsea by a different route than she’d taken. A quarter mile later, a streetlamp made a gauzy golden circle across the pavement, the beach tag hut, and the concrete structure that held the men’s and women’s bathrooms and showers. A lithe shape streaked through the light near the beach path. Teddy breathed out, sweaty and anxious.
A car passed, its xenon headlights blinding. Teddy crouched behind the changing rooms, his thighs trembling, his heart contracting in his chest. He’d been so desperate to get close to Chelsea. For her to know him. If she’d bothered to give a shit, if she’d reciprocated the kindness he’d shown her, he would have let her in, told her who he really was, where he really came from, how he’d become this way, who was responsible for turning him into this. Instead, she had blown him off time and time again, so she only knew the basics, the lies. She knew him by the name everyone called him, a name he’d ditch when he moved to his next location—Washington, maybe, or Texas. It wasn’t even as good a name as Brett Grady, which he’d used in Connecticut. He’d been quite fond of Brett Grady, actually. He sometimes still called himself that when he was alone, or bored, or right when he woke up, when he didn’t yet remember who he was pretending to be.
The man formerly known as Brett Grady pulled the mask out of his pocket. The slippery piece of fabric felt energized and electrified, like a living thing. He fit it over his face and walked quietly across the pavement. Next to the path, Chelsea stood by the bike rack, her hand curled over a random bike’s handlebars. It was such a pretty hand. Milky white. Long-fingered. Elegant.
It was a shame he’d probably have to break every bone.
ON A STICKY, sweltering Saturday morning in July, Seneca Frazier stood on a brick-paved side street in downtown Annapolis, Maryland, wearing the long-sleeved uniform of the Annapolis Parking Authority. The getup was 100 percent wool and didn’t breathe. Unless she got into air-conditioning in the next three minutes, she was going to pass out from heatstroke.
Brian Komisky, the officer she was shadowing, inspected a parking meter next to an off-white Range Rover. His hazel eyes lit up. “Bingo! One minute left, and this baby’s expired.” He offered Seneca the gray handheld computer that electronically processed parking tickets. “Wanna do the honors?”
Go, me, Seneca thought as she held out her palm for the device. It was demoralizing that making a prehistoric iPad wannabe spit out a thirty-dollar parking ticket was the highlight of her day. It wasn’t like she’d set out to score a summer internship with the APA. She’d wanted to intern with law enforcement, and her dad even begrudgingly helped her get the interview, calling upon a friend on the Annapolis PD. But somehow she’d gotten stuck on parking duty instead of actually solving crimes.
She and Brian inspected more cars on the block, but everyone was paid up on their meters, so they headed to Brian’s van. Sweat dripped down Seneca’s back as she walked. They passed a little boutique called Astrid, and Seneca noticed a gaggle of girls in flirty sundresses squealing over something on their phones. She felt a pang. According to her overprotective worrywart of a dad, that frothy, bubblegummy life was the one she should be living.
In another universe, maybe.
Brian started the van, and Seneca cranked the AC on high and pressed her face directly against the vent. Brian peered at her before pulling out of the spot. “You okay?”
Seneca tried to tell herself that the sudden chill she felt was from the subzero air. “Right now, I’m just trying not to melt into a puddle,” she said.
“C’mon, Seneca. You’ve been vacant all day. What’s on your mind?”
Seneca sighed. Was she that transparent?
“Is it…a boy?” Brian asked gently, turning down the AC a touch.
Seneca felt herself blush. “No!” Though it was kind of true. She was thinking about a boy. Just not that way.
A wrinkle formed between Brian’s eyes. At twenty-four, he was already married to his high school sweetheart, and Seneca understood what his wife saw in him. His penny-colored hair was thick and wavy, his hazel eyes were kind, and his impressive physical size always made Seneca feel safe. No one would mess with her with Brian around. And by no one, she meant Brett Grady.
Or whatever the hell his name really was.
It started three months ago, when she and Maddox Wright, a friend she’d made on a website dedicated to cold murder cases called Case Not Closed, looked into what happened to Helena Kelly, a murdered girl from Dexby, Connecticut. They teamed up with Aerin Kelly, Helena’s younger sister; Madison, Maddox’s stepsister; and another site regular, BMoney60—Brett Grady. Together they discovered that Helena had been having an affair with Skip Ingram, a much-older man, and that Marissa Ingram, Skip’s wife, had most likely killed Helena. Case Not Closed team out.
Only after Brett Grady skipped town did Seneca figure out that their so-called friend wasn’t who he said he was. Once she put together that his name wasn’t even Brett Grady, Seneca realized that Brett had fed them every clue that led them to Marissa Ingram. He’d been so subtly cunning that Seneca believed she’d come to each conclusion on her own, and she’d felt like a brilliant crime solver. Which was an improvement over feeling like the girl who’d flunked out of her freshman year at the University of Maryland—aka the truth.
But Brett knew everything because he’d killed Helena. And she wasn’t his only victim. He’d also killed Seneca’s mom, Collette, a murder Seneca had spent years trying to solve. And Seneca had discovered a slew of other cases with Brett’s name written all over them, each one involving the disappearance of a blond-haired, blue-eyed woman.
Seneca didn’t dare share her theory with anyone besides Maddox, Madison, and Aerin—and she only discussed it in clinical terms, verifiable facts. Not the emotion of it. Not the crushing terror that they’d all been duped by someone they’d considered a friend. That they’d been working side by side with the very person who had destroyed their lives. She was desperate to tell the cops, but she didn’t have any hard evidence Brett had done anything. She didn’t even know his real name or age or where he was from. If only Seneca could find Brett, follow him, get something on him…but he’d disconnected his phone. Stayed away from CNC message boards. Shut down his social media accounts. Seneca wondered whether Brett went AWOL because he knew she was onto him, but if that were the case, wouldn’t she be dead by now?
At the next stop sign, Brian swung the van to the left. “Let’s take a break and get some ice cream for lunch. My treat. Sprinkles? A waffle cone?”
“Whatever.” Seneca slumped, embarrassed that Brian thought she’d actually get this bent out of shape over a boy.
Brian pulled into the ice cream stand, a glorified shack with a small service window and a large grassy area that abutted a swampy back stream of the Chesapeake. Seneca peered nervously around the gravel parking lot, looking for Brett, as she’d done ever since he’d vanished into that crisp April evening in Dexby. She thought of the map she’d constructed on the inside wall of her closet. Each pin on the map corresponded with the locations of the cases Brett had commented on through Case Not Closed under the handle BMoney60—crimes he also might have committed. His trademark was weighing in with one simple but salient clue that broke the case wide open, like he’d done with the Ingrams. There were pins in Arizona, DC, Florida, Georgia, Utah, Maryland, Connecticut, and Vermont. Where would Brett show up next? All she knew about Brett was what he’d done in the past, not what he planned to do in the future.
A long reed jerked. Seneca tensed. A mouse shot out and disappeared into the grass. She exhaled, suddenly drained.
She and Brian ordered vanilla cones and took a seat under a filmy umbrella that provided little shelter from the punishing heat. “Well, you know what they say,” Brian said, “there are plenty of fish in the sea.”
Seneca licked the cone furiously to keep the ice cream from melting onto her hand, letting out a grunt.
“Maybe you need to go on a date,” Brian continued. “I might know someone.”
Seneca felt her cheeks blaze. “Brian, will you please drop it?” Love was the furthest thing from her mind.
Her phone beeped. As she rummaged in her messenger bag, Brian squinted at a Honda Civic in front of an antique shop across the street. “That bastard’s in a loading zone.” He reached for the ticket machine as though it was a semiautomatic weapon. “Not on my watch.”
“I’ll catch up with you in a sec.” Seneca found her phone and squinted at it, but the glare was so bright she had to curl her hands around the screen. When her vision adjusted, she saw the alert she’d set up months ago. Her breath caught.
BMoney60 has just posted on Case Not Closed!
Hands shaking, she clicked on the link. A Case Not Closed thread appeared, something about a girl named Chelsea Dawson disappearing from a party in Avignon, New Jersey, last night. BMoney60’s comment was four names down the list: Easy one. It’s gotta be her ex, right? I was at that party—saw them fighting. It was VICIOUS.
Whoa, read the responses from the eager amateur sleuths. Let’s dig in. The cops need to question him. But Seneca had gleaned something very different from the post. It was as though a tiny pinprick of sunlight had emerged in the sky after months of rain.
Brett Grady was back.
AERIN KELLY LAY on a chaise on the top deck of a sixty-six-foot yacht named That’s Amore in the middle of Newport Bay. She was pretending to sleep, but the guy she was hanging out with, Pierce, kept fiddling with the strings of her plaid bikini bottom, and it was distracting.
“Babe.” Even though it wasn’t yet noon, Pierce’s breath smelled like beer. “Babe. I need you. Now.”
“Mmm.” Aerin opened one eye. Pierce was shirtless, showing off the rock-hard abs he’d perfected working out with his personal trainer, Jules. His hair stood up in peaks, and he wore aviator sunglasses with green-tinted lenses he’d special-ordered. Pierce was always getting things custom-made. He thought buying anything off the rack was pedestrian.
Follow Me by Sara Shepard / Mystery & Detective / Young Adult / Thrillers & Crime have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes