Suddenly Sheriff Valenti rushed around the corner, into the Crashdown, and Liz and Maria went to meet him. “We caught him,” he said, out of breath. “We got the murderer red-handed.”
Max jogged in right behind the Sheriff. “I can’t believe it,” he said. “We know him.”
“Who is it?” Maria and Liz demanded at the same time.
They looked out the window as Deputy Hansen brought the murderer around the building in handcuffs, leading him toward the car. He was tall, blond, athletically built, and wearing a letterman jacket from West Roswell High.
“Tommy del Bianco,” Jim said. “He used to be a friend of Kyle’s.”
Liz gasped. “Tommy and some friends beat up Max,” she said.
Jim looked at them. “When was this?”
“A long time ago,” Max said. “Last fall.”
Jim nodded. “Looks like you’re lucky that’s all he did.”
“Are you sure it’s him?” Liz asked. “How do you know? What happened?”
“He was hiding in the alley behind the Crashdown,” Jim said. Max saw him and wrestled him to the ground, just as Hansen got there. Jim pulled a small box out from under his arm. “And he had this.”
Liz’s eyes raked over it, taking in the familiar style of box the other suckers came in. It was yellow with all sorts of black cats on it, tied with a black bow, and her name was scrawled across one corner.
“What’s inside?” she gasped.
Opening it, Jim frowned at the contents; a dozen lollipops, a leather gag, and two rubber-tipped metal clips connected by a small chain.
“Nipple clips,” Maria whispered in Liz’s ear.
Vaguely Liz wondered how she knew, and then just accepted it.
Reaching for the note, Jim lifted it out so they could all see.
I call her
Oh lolli lolli lolli
Lollipop is gonna be mine
Liz shuddered. Not only was he having fantasies about her, but he was sending her all this bondage stuff. Did he think she would like it, or be turned on, or was he trying to scare her?
Immediately Max was next to her, taking her into his arms. “It’s over now,” he soothed. “He can’t get to you, or hurt anyone else.”
She leaned into him, letting his warmth and strength chase away her fears.
He held her tightly, rubbing her back as the Sheriff continued.
“Tommy says he can’t remember why he was in the alley, or why he had the box. But I’m sure we’ll be able to link him to the murders. He was on the list of haunted house employees, he knows Liz, he comes to the Crashdown where he could have seen at least one of the victims. We’ll probably find evidence at his house too. I’m sure it will be an open and shut case.”
“Wow,” Maria said softly, “to think he was a psycho the whole time and we never even knew.” She looked thoughtful. “Although, I have heard stories of him maybe going farther than girls really wanted to.”
“I wonder why he started killing just all of the sudden,” Liz said.
“Sometimes,” Jim explained, “there’s something in their life that has gone wrong that pushes them over the edge, and sometimes we never find out.”
Everyone was relieved that the murderer had been caught. Liz’s parents hugged her tightly, and she could literally feel the tension leaving Max and Maria. Plus, she knew Tess would be happy that she was no longer the center of attention.
But she still something just seemed wrong to her.
Tommy was denying everything, and that was to be expected, she guessed. On TV shows, the killer always conveniently explains their entire crime, but in real life, she would think they’d keep their mouth shut.
She’d known Tommy for years, but not well, and they’d never been close. He was a bully, and not a nice guy from what she knew about him, but she would have never thought he was a rapist and killer. Well, she had to admit, possibly a date rapist.
Maybe he started killing to cover up his crimes.
But why was he focused on her, and sending her gifts? They didn’t have any classes together this semester, and she couldn’t even remember talking to him for almost a year. She saw him at the Crashdown sometimes, but he didn’t seem like he was paying attention to her.
He was always with different girls from school, usually a cheerleader.
And it was weird, but to Liz, his capture seemed too easy.
He was hiding in the back alley?
The killer had been so careful not to leave any evidence at the crime scenes, and he was caught hiding behind a dumpster.
Also Max had told her that he’d seemed disoriented, almost frightened when he’d been caught. Sheriff Valenti thought it was probably drugs.
She shivered, thinking of the whistling she’d heard outside the Crashdown door. Tommy had been back there, and he’d had the box with the lollipops and the note. It had to be him.
Although, the nagging voice in her head reminded her, she’d never had two boxes delivered in one day.
No, she told herself, shaking off her doubt, it must be Tommy. Maybe he was hiding the box for later. It had to be him. Everything fit. There was no other explanation.
Max was having a hard time calming down after what had happened.
He was so relieved that Liz was safe, but the adrenaline was still rushing through him from tackling Tommy.
When he’d run down the alley, he didn’t have any thought other than getting the murderer so he couldn’t hurt Liz. He didn’t know what he was expecting, maybe someone who resembled the Una-bomber or something, but he was completely confused when he saw Tommy.
The blond guy was kind of half-sitting on the ground behind a dumpster, and Max’s first thought was he was hurt.
Looking around, he approached him cautiously, wary of being attacked from the shadows, but then he saw the box in Tommy’s hands.
He’d seen enough of the other boxes to know it was exactly the same as the ones sent to Liz.
Instantly he was enraged, and all he thought about was making sure Tommy didn’t get away.
He threw himself against the other guy, tackling him and pining him to the ground, as he called out for Deputy Hansen.
“Deputy!” he yelled. “I got him over here!!”
Hansen was only seconds away, and as he was putting handcuffs on Tommy, Sheriff Valenti came around the corner.
“What’sss goin’ on?” Tommy slurred, looking around. “What are you doing? Where am I?”
“You’re being arrested for rape and murder,” Jim told him.
Tommy shook his head. “I don’t know anything about that.”
“Sure,” Jim said, and turned to his deputy. “Read him his rights, and book him.”
Briefly Max and Hansen explained where he’d found Tommy, and Valenti went to tell Maria and Liz the news.
Max walked with Hansen almost all the way to the car to make sure nothing happened. He wanted to be positive that the killer was off the streets.
Afterward, all he’d felt was relief. No more girls would die, and Liz was safe. But throughout the evening he replayed the events in the alley in his head, and the more he thought about it, the more strange it seemed.
For one thing, Tommy hadn’t even put up a fight. He’d simply collapsed to the ground. And he seemed confused or dazed. Max wondered if he had fallen and hit his head.
But he pushed the confusing thoughts aside. The important thing was he wouldn’t hurt anyone again.
Sitting on his bed, Max turned his mind to the other important matter in his life, Liz.
Now that she was okay, he intended to concentrate all his energy on getting her back into his life.
He had to admit to himself, it was a little disappointing that he wouldn’t be staying with her any more. Even though he’d been worried about her, he couldn’t deny that he loved sleeping in her room, protecting her. It made him want to be with her all the time.
And he would be, he reminded himself. He just had to convince Liz.
(Saturday, October 28th)
It had only taken a half hour of Liz begging her parents the night before to get them to let her go to the school Halloween Carnival.
Of course it wasn’t possible for her to go while the killer was sending her gifts, but now that he was in jail, it was perfectly safe.
Liz assured her parents that she would be with her friends the whole time. Max, Isabel and Alex would pick her up, and bring her home, so she’d never be alone.
The Halloween Carnival at West Roswell was a big deal, and she didn’t want to miss it. Everyone dressed up, and there were all kinds of booths, games, food, dancing, a costume contest, and an entire hallway and all the classrooms were always decorated for a haunted house experience.
She thought she would probably skip that part this year, but still she wanted to go. She even already had her costume.
Usually she’d either dress like an alien, but that was out for obvious reasons, or she’d dress like a famous woman scientist, like Madame Curie.
That didn’t seem appropriate either any more. Not since Max had been held in the White Room. She was afraid that seeing her in a lab coat would bring up bad memories for him.
So she’d gone a completely different direction in her costume choice this year. She’d wanted something fun, not scary, something whimsical, something out of a fantasy world.
She’d seen cats, and sorceresses, and even wenches, but none of them were right. Then she found the one. The costume had seemed perfect when she’d seen it on the rack. A fairy.
It was a short wispy dress that started at the top in a pale green color, turning darker green as it ran the length of her body. The skirt had several layers of a gauze-like material that made the dress float around her hips and legs. It was sprinkled in gold, white and green sequins, and had a light dusting of white glitter.
There was a small headband that held her hair back to reveal artificially pointed ears, and delicate wings were attached to her back.
To finish the outfit she wore dark green leggings to help keep her warm, gold ballet slippers, and a small green drawstring pouch she was using as a purse.
As she put her costume on, she couldn’t help wondering what Max would think.
She knew it was wrong to hope that he might like it, but she couldn’t help it. She was so in love with him, and his opinion mattered to her.
Barely had she finished getting dressed and emerged into her living room, when her father started snapping pictures.
Laughingly she posed, feeling lighter than she had in a while. The situation with Max was far from being resolved, but tonight was just about having fun.
Just when she was about to complain to her father about the amount of photos he was taking, the doorbell rang.
Gratefully, she went to answer it.
Swinging the door wide, with a grin on her face, she stopped cold when she saw who was outside.
She was expecting Max, but nothing could have prepared her for how devastatingly handsome he looked in his Halloween costume.
He was dressed as a pirate, and she didn’t think he’d ever looked sexier. His shirt was unbuttoned almost down to his navel, revealing his sculpted chest. Tight leather pants encased his muscular legs and disappeared into knee-high boots.
His unshaven face gave him a roguish appearance. His hair was rumpled, and he held a three-cornered hat in his hands.
She was literally speechless.
But as she examined him, she noticed he was taking in every inch of her. Their eyes met at the same time, and she blushed.
“You look beautiful,” he said softly.
Smiling, she blushed even more crimson. “You look great too,” she said.
Her father broke the moment. “Let’s get a picture of both of you together,” he said enthusiastically.
Liz rolled her eyes at Max but he smiled. “Sure, Mr. Parker,” he agreed eagerly.
Long minutes later, Liz practically had to drag Max out of her house to get away from her parents. “Sorry about that,” she said. “They’re just…” she trailed off awkwardly.
“It’s fine, really,” he assured her.
“They think it’s a date,” she finished.
Max took her hand. “So do I,” he said, holding her eyes.
Liz shook her head. “Max,” she started, but he cut her off.
“Just let me have one night with you, okay?” he pleaded. “And tomorrow we can go back to normal with you trying to get rid of me, and me trying to convince you to let me back in.”
Liz had completely forgotten about telling Max the truth in the excitement of catching Tommy yesterday. She still intended to talk to him, but it didn’t mean there was any chance for them to get back together. She couldn’t give Max false hope.
Maybe she’d tell him at the end of the night.
“Okay,” she agreed with a smile. “And Max,” she said, squeezing his hand, “I never wanted to get rid of you. If things were different…” she stopped. Maybe it was better left unsaid.
“Yeah,” he said knowingly.
They joined Isabel and Alex already in the car.
Alex was dressed as a glam rocker, complete with big hair, and Isabel was a beauty queen from Neptune, including a tiara and sash.
“What took so long?” Alex asked, smiling.
“My parents wanted pictures,” Liz answered.
“Our parents took pictures of us too,” Isabel moaned. “It’s so lame.”
It only took a few minutes to drive to the school, and they talked and laughed all the way. To Liz, it seemed just like old times, before any of the craziness had happened. It was nice.
In the parking lot they saw Michael and Maria. Maria was dressed as a flower child, with huge glasses, wild, wavy hair, and a peace symbol draped around her neck. Michael had on a hockey jersey and jeans.
“What are you supposed to be?” Isabel asked with her eyebrow raised.
He tugged at his shirt. “I’m a hockey player.”
“Right,” she said. “Should have known.”
Together, they walked inside, where they saw Tess and Kyle.
Tess was dressed as a naughty nurse, with a skin-tight, white latex uniform, that was cut to reveal her cleavage, and an old-fashioned nurse’s hat.
Kyle was an uber-nerd, head to toe. His hair was slicked back, making it look greasy, he wore mismatched clothes, his pants were too short and he had thick-framed glasses and a pocket protector.
Everyone broke out laughing when they saw him.
He smiled. “Thanks for letting me borrow your pocket protector, Alex,” he teased.
Alex smiled back. “Oh, right, very funny.”
The Halloween carnival was everything Liz hoped it would be. There was lots of food, and games, and she even danced with Max.
Kyle and Alex both entered the hot dog eating contest, but were beaten by the skinniest guy in school.
Maria won a cake in the cakewalk, and Max got a bull’s-eye that toppled Mr. Seligman into the dunk tank.
The news of Tommy’s arrest was on everyone’s lips, but Liz tried to ignore the talk. It was the last thing she wanted to think about.
For about half the night, the eight of them stayed together, but they separated to do different activities.
Michael and Maria were the first to excuse themselves, and Liz suspected it was to spend some time in a dark corner.
Then Isabel coaxed Alex away to go and dance.
That left Liz and Max with Kyle and Tess.
Liz felt really uncomfortable and wondered if the others did too. She just hoped Max wouldn’t mention anything about the night he saw her with Kyle.
But he seemed to want the evening to be as normal and pleasant as possible too. He was nice to Kyle and Tess, including them in the conversation and asking their opinion about where to go, and what to do. He talked to them like friends, and not the two people he wanted to be around least in the world.
They threw darts at balloons, tried to stand up bottles with fishing poles, and attempted to throw rings onto the necks of two-liter bottles.
For their successes they got tickets that could be redeemed at a booth for prizes.
Liz was doing especially well, and she had her handful of tickets added to when she got a perfect score on the beanbag toss.
She laughed, feeling like a little kid, and Max leaned into her so their bodies pressed together, rubbing her arm in support.
Suddenly, Liz noticed that Tess was keeping a close eye on them, and she purposefully took a few steps away from Max.
She’d let Max get close to her again because she’d been afraid, but now she saw it was a mistake. Max expected more from their relationship than she could allow.
Then she realized that all night he hadn’t been acting like a friend, but like a boyfriend. He was standing too close to her, and touching her too much, being too affectionate, and Tess had noticed.
What had she done?
Afterward, she tried to keep her distance from Max, but she was afraid it was too late. It seemed like Tess had her eyes on them every moment.
When it reached ten o’clock, everyone gathered in front of the stage to hear the winner of the costume contest.
Liz was only half listening to the several categories that were awarded. Scariest costume, best couple costumes, it just didn’t hold her interest. Vaguely she heard that Kyle won funniest costume, and clapped distractedly.
She was more worried about what Tess was going to do, but she was brought back to the present when she felt a hand on her back.
“You won,” Max said enthusiastically.
“What?” she asked confused.
He smiled. “You won the costume contest.”
Completely surprised, Liz looked around and saw that the Principal was motioning for her to come up on stage and get her prize.
Reluctantly she went, wondering if it was a set up by the teachers and administration to make her feel better after her recent ordeal.
Principal Forester smiled at her as she approached. “For best costume, you get a gift certificate to Chez Pierre, and two hundred tickets to trade in for prizes,” he announced as he handed her an envelope.
She smiled at him. “Thank you.”
Not knowing what to do, she waved to the crowd, and quickly got off the stage, returning to Max and the others.
“Congrats,” Tess said.
Liz couldn’t tell if she was sincere or not, but she accepted graciously. “Thanks,” she said. “I’m completely surprised.”
“You look incredible,” Max said. “Beautiful, just like a fairy princess.”
“Thank you,” she said, blushing. She noticed that Tess frowned, and quickly changed the subject. “Well, what should we do now?”
“How about a drink?” Max suggested.
“Sure,” Liz agreed.
Tess spoke up. “Kyle promised he would win me a stuffed animal at the basketball throw, so we’ll meet up with you later.”
They left and Liz almost sighed with relief.
She and Max went to get drinks and sat at a table near the concession.
“Tonight has been great,” Max said. “I’ve had a lot of fun.”
“Me too,” Liz said. “It’s nice to get out of the real world for a while.”
“I’m glad you came with me,” Max said softly.
She smiled. “So am I.”
Neither of them seemed to want to mention what had been happening and break the spell of the evening. They talked for a while longer, as they finished their drinks.
“Well,” Max said, “there are still some booths we haven’t gotten to yet. Do you want to do some more games, or food, or ice cream, or there is the fortuneteller’s booth.
A shiver went through Liz as she remembered going to fortuneteller, Madame Vivian, on the same night that Future Max had come back. The last thing she wanted was a repeat of that experience.
“Let’s try some of the games,” she said.
They played games for almost another hour, and Liz’s handful of tickets grew to a wad. She was just noticing that some of the booths had closed, and the gym was a lot emptier than before.
Again she had the feeling of being watched, and immediately started looking around, only to lock eyes with Tess. From halfway across the gym, she was staring right at Liz.
Smiling at the blonde, she looked away. Tess’ icy blue eyes seemed to bore right through her exposing her true intensions. She’d loved spending the evening with Max, but it had to be the last time. Now she had to give him back to his future wife.
“Um,” Liz started, “it’s getting kinda late and they’re starting to close up. Maybe we should trade in our tickets.”
“Okay,” Max agreed. “I think the booth is in the corner, over there,” he said, pointing.
Suddenly Liz noticed Tess coming toward them, and everything inside her seemed to freeze.
Was Tess mad? She couldn’t tell just by looking at her.
The blonde had a strange, almost resigned expression on her face that scared Liz.
“Hey Tess,” Liz greeted pleasantly when she stopped next to them. “Having a good time?”
Tess nodded. “Yeah,” she said with a small smile, as if she were surprised about it.
She looked quickly away, and her focus turned to Max. “Umm, Max, can I talk to you?” she said softly.
“Now?” he asked surprised.
“Yeah,” she said, “just for a minute.”
“Well,” he started, “Liz has all these tickets, and we were going to redeem them…”
Liz cut him off. “Go ahead,” she encouraged. “I’ll meet you over at the redemption booth when you’re finished.”
He searched her face, trying to see if she was okay, and then looked down the row to the redemption booth. It was at the end of the aisle, but he could see it clearly so she wouldn’t be out of his sight.
He nodded. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll just be over here if you need anything.”
Tess waited until Liz was a few feet away before she started talking. “Max, I’ve done something...”
Liz tried not to think about what Tess was saying to Max as she walked away from them.
What if Tess was demanding that Max stop hanging around her? What if she was giving Max an ultimatum, choose one or the other? What if she was asking him if she should leave town?
Liz tried to swallow past the nervous lump in her throat. Whatever was happening was all her fault. She’d been weak and let Max get too close.
But maybe she could still fix it. Maybe she could convince Tess to stay. She’d promise to stay away from Max. Maybe she’d have to leave town again.
Something would make it okay again. It had to.
Finally she arrived at the redemption booth, in the back corner of the gym. It was simply a table with a small box on it, where the used tickets went. Behind it was a partition, with a sheet draped across so you couldn’t see beyond. The sheet was painted to look like a lake with fish and plants and a boat floating above.
No one was around except the attendant.
“Hey, Liz,” he greeted.
She smiled. “Hey, Mac,” she said. “Looks like you’re not very busy.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I told them people wouldn’t be able to find us over here.”
Liz handed him her tickets.
“Four hundred and fifty points,” he counted. “Wow, that’s the most I’ve seen tonight.”
“I won the costume contest,” she said, explaining.
Looking her up and down, he nodded. “Smokin’.”
He handed her a fishing pole with a line that disappeared over the sheet. “Kinda lame,” he said shrugging. “I think this fishing prize booth was left over from Principal Forrester’s son’s elementary school carnival.
He sighed, bored, “Wait until you feel a tug, and pull out your prize.” Calling out over his shoulder, he said. “That’s an extra large prize, Jer,”
She waited a moment, but nothing happened. Looking at Mac, she raised her eyebrow.
“Jer,” he called out. “Yo, Jerry!”
There was no answer and he scowled. “Bet he fell asleep again,” he said.
Walking around the side, Liz could hear him talking. “Jer, what are you doing, man?”
She smiled. Both Mac and Jerry were stoners, and known to skip one or more classes a day. She thought they must have been assigned to the booth as a punishment for something.
There was some scuffling behind the sheet, and then Liz’s line tugged. She pulled, and an orange bag with a jack-o-lantern face on it came over the sheet.
Putting the pole on the table, she opened the sack and reached inside.
Her hands closed over something with a strange texture, that she couldn’t identify just by touch. Pulling it out, she was surprised to see some folded plastic.
A mask was her first thought, but as she started to open it, she was horrified to see a latex and mesh bra and panties. Staring at them dumbly she quickly read the handwritten note attached.
Gee, my Lollipop is great
I’m going to fuck her till she can't see straight
Her eyes snapped to where Max was still standing with Tess, she opened her mouth to call out to him.
A large hand closed over Liz’s face, almost completely covering it, and stopped her from screaming. She reached out to Max, desperately trying to get to him, but a strong arm wrapped around her waist, pulling her, dragging her back into the shadows.
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