Promise Not to Tell(8)

By: Jayne Ann Krentz

“Yes.” Virginia shuddered at the memory. She and the other kids had been terrified of the thugs Zane used to patrol the compound grounds. “Abigail was one of Zane’s earliest followers—maybe the very first.”

Cabot glanced at Anson. “We should add Abigail Watkins’s name to our list.”

“Right,” Anson said. He swiveled around in his chair to face his computer.

“You can mark Abigail Watkins as deceased,” Virginia said.

Anson and Cabot shot her sharp, questioning looks.

She shook her head. “No conspiracy theory involved. Abigail died of cancer in early December. It was very sad. Hannah nursed her to the end. They were quite close.”

Anson nodded once and then went to work entering Abigail Watkins’s name to the list.

Cabot turned back to Virginia. “What makes you think that Hannah Brewster’s death wasn’t suicide?”

“It’s her last painting that worries me,” Virginia said. “I need to show it to you.”

Cabot glanced at her large black leather tote. “Did you bring it with you?”

“I have a picture of it. I never got the original. Hannah painted it on the wall of her cabin. It was destroyed when the cabin burned to the ground.”

Cabot watched her intently. “How did you get a picture of the painting?”

“Hannah used the digital camera I gave her to take a photograph of it. Then she mailed the camera to me. According to the time-and-date stamp, she took the photo at three o’clock in the morning of the same day that the cabin was later destroyed—the day she died.”

Anson frowned. “Any other photos on the camera?”

“No, just the one. At first glance it looks very much like the others in the Visions series. But there are some significant differences. As I told you, the paintings are all scenes from the night of the fire at the California compound. They all show a demonic figure striding through an inferno. In most of the pictures it’s easy to identify the figure as Zane—at least it’s easy for those of us who remember him. Hannah usually depicted him with shoulder-length black hair swept straight back from a sharp widow’s peak, and he’s always dressed in black from head to toe. Always wearing a steel key ring.”

“That sounds like Zane, all right,” Anson said. “He used to come into town occasionally to pick up packages or get gas for that big black SUV he drove. I remember those fancy black leather boots he wore. The bastard had a real flair for the dramatic.”

Cabot’s eyes narrowed faintly. “I remember that damned key ring. He kept the keys to every building in the compound on it. You could hear those keys clashing whenever he got close. That’s how you knew when he was nearby.”

“I remember that sound, too,” Virginia said. “At night, after he locked us into that horrible barn, I could hear the keys as he walked away.”

She saw no point in mentioning that she still heard the clash and clatter of keys in her nightmares. She could tell from the way Cabot’s hand tightened around his coffee cup that he, too, heard the terrible music in his dreams.

“Go on,” Anson prodded gently.

Virginia willed herself to stay focused. She had to convince Anson and Cabot that there was enough evidence of murder to make them take the case. She could not afford to have them conclude that she was as unhinged as poor Hannah. The suggestion that she suffered from a form of PTSD had been made by more than one person in her past, including a couple of therapists and some ex-lovers. She had to tread carefully.

She reached into her tote, took out her tablet computer and opened the image of Hannah’s last painting. She put the device on the desk so that Cabot and Anson could see the screen.

“There’s a frantic kind of energy about this final painting that makes me think she did this in a great hurry,” Virginia said. “As you can see, she used one entire wall of her cabin as a canvas. It was as if she was trying to create a life-sized version of what she saw in her mind.”

Cabot and Anson studied the photo for a long time. She could tell by their grim expressions that they saw what she saw—a disturbing vision of the past fused with the present.

The scene showed a large, dark, demonic figure striding through a storm of flames. There were eight smaller figures clustered on one side of the painting, reminiscent of a Greek chorus. Virginia knew they were intended to represent the children, including herself and Cabot, who had been trapped in the barn. They stared at Quinton Zane, silent witnesses to the horror he had unleashed upon them.

After a time Anson looked up. His eyes were bleak. “Was there an investigation into Brewster’s death?”