“Why?” Violet asked, even though she already knew the answer to the question. Because she knew too much, and he couldn’t risk being revealed.
He didn’t bother answering her question. Instead, he kept talking. “After I saw you out there at my partner’s house, pointing out spots that your uncle later ordered exhumed, I realized that somehow you knew where the bodies were buried. Even the ones that didn’t turn out to be human.” He raised his eyebrows. “Did you know that? That we found animals buried in those places?” He shrugged. “You probably already knew that,” he said, more to himself than to her now.
“I was curious about you, so I started to go through the case files. I found something interesting. Your name, it showed up in only one place. One place,” he announced, seemingly baffled by the solitary connection, as if he’d expected more. “You found my poor little lake girl. But you know…” he added, narrowing his eyes with the anticipation of a hunter targeting its prey. His eyes locked on to hers. “…She wasn’t the first of my girls that you found.”
His news wasn’t a complete surprise; she’d known about the girl in the woods, the one she’d found when she was eight years old, and her uncle had already told her that the other man had confessed to killing the girl. But somehow imagining that these two lunatics had been hunting together for that long, that these psychotic killers had found each other in the first place, and then stayed together for over eight years, was appalling to Violet.
Her head was spinning.
This is crazy, she told herself.
He didn’t wait for her to respond, and she didn’t. He seemed to like flaunting his twisted prowess. Besides, what difference did it make if she knew? She doubted he planned on letting her get away from him again.
“That’s right,” he said, enjoying the game he was playing now. “The little girl who found the little girl. Of course, at the time I had no idea that you were involved, and according to the official records, you weren’t. But the name listed in the file was close enough. An Ambrose is an Ambrose, and your father’s name was as indicative as your own would have been.” He leaned closer to her, as if he was telling her a secret, even though they were all alone. “I wonder why he felt the need to leave your name out of it.”
She didn’t answer. She didn’t need to; he wasn’t really asking her a question. But his nearness was unnerving, and Violet found herself leaning back against the wall to get away from him.
He straightened up, his voice taking on a deceptively casual quality once again. “I didn’t actually kill them, you know?” He watched her, waiting for her reaction.
She wasn’t sure she should rise to his bait, but his cryptic explanations were wearing thin. And curiosity was a powerful emotion. He had no way of knowing that she could recognize the lie he spoke. “I don’t believe you,” she stated flatly.
“It’s true. Or at least it was true. He was the one who killed them,” he said, alluding to his partnership again. “I would find them and bring them to him. That was the part I loved, the hunt. That was the part that did it for me. After that, at least until it was time to dispose of the bodies, they were his problem.” He said it as if the girls themselves were insignificant. And Violet believed that, to him at least, they were. Their lives meant nothing to him; they were simply quarry to track, useless once captured.
It suddenly made sense to her, why the other man had carried so many echoes on him, like a patchwork coat he wore all around him. She hadn’t wondered before, but if she would have had time to process it, to think it through, she would have noticed it. That this man, the cop in front of her now, carried only one shrill echo.
So whose echo was it?
It was a question she couldn’t ask.
But she didn’t have to; he answered anyway.
“They’ll never find her, you know, the girl they were searching for out in the woods.” He smiled again, only slightly, and it made Violet’s skin crawl as she studied him. “I was always so careful, dumping each of them in different locations, in different ways. Never the same place twice.
“But not this time, not her. She was my first kill, and this time they’ll have no idea to look for her in the exact same spot where they found my partner, standing guard over the McDonald girl.” His smile grew, revealing a flash of glistening white teeth. “And they’ll never find you either.”
JAY STOOD AT THE EDGE OF THE DANCE FLOOR, still holding Violet’s purse and scanning the darkened gymnasium, searching for her. He tried to ignore the panic rising within him. Something was wrong.
But when he saw Chelsea, dancing with her date, he was no longer able to contain it.
He interrupted the two of them on the dance floor. He didn’t seem to notice that he was causing a minor scene. “Where’s Violet?” he demanded, ignoring Chelsea’s shocked expression.
“What…Jay? What are you doing?” she asked, her eyes widening at his unexpected outburst.
But Jay was too determined. “Chelsea…where is she?”
Chelsea stopped, momentarily stunned by the alarm she heard in his voice. “Relax! She’s in the bathroom, fixing her ankle wrap. She’ll be right back.”
Jay looked up, in the direction of the restrooms, and felt himself relaxing when he saw the swarm of girls coming and going in clusters. Chelsea watched his reaction.
“Not that one.” She corrected his mistaken belief that Violet was in there with the crowd. “We went down to the one past the locker rooms, so we could be alone.”