فصل 25کتاب: دو نفر میتوانند رازنگهدار باشند / فصل 25
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FRIDAY, OCTOBER 4
When I knock on the cellar door, I’m not sure anyone will answer. It’s four o’clock on Friday afternoon, three hours before the House of Horrors is supposed to open. I’m not working tonight, and no one’s expecting me. Unless you count my grandmother, who’s expecting me to be in my room and is going to be furious if she realizes I’ve left and walked through the woods on my own. Even in the middle of the afternoon.
Brooke’s been missing almost a week now, and nobody in Echo Ridge is supposed to walk anywhere alone.
I knock louder. The park is noisy and crowded, a blend of music, laughter, and shrieks as a roller coaster rattles nearby. The door cracks just enough for an eye to peer out. It’s deep brown and winged with expertly applied liner. I flutter my fingers. “Hi, Shauna.” “Ellery?” The Fright Farm makeup artist swings the door open with one tattooed arm. “What are you doing here?” I step inside and look around for any sign of Murph, my boss. He’s a stickler for rules. Shauna is a lot more laid-back. I can’t believe my luck that she’s here and he isn’t, although I half expect him to come barreling through the velvet curtain with a clipboard any second. “Are you here alone?” I ask.
Shauna raises a brow at me. “That’s an ominous question.” She doesn’t look worried, though. Shauna has at least six inches on me, and is all slender muscle and perfectly toned arms. Plus her spiky heels would make lethal weapons in a pinch.
“Heh. Sorry. But I have a favor to ask, and I didn’t want to ask Murph.” Shauna leans against the doorframe. “Well, now you’ve got my attention. What’s up?” I channel Sadie again, twisting my hands with fake nerves. “My grandmother gave me an envelope to deposit at the bank the other day, and I can’t find it. I was trying to figure out where it went, and I remembered that I tossed a bunch of stuff into the recycling bin the last time I was here.” I bite my lip and look at the ground. “I’m pretty sure the envelope went with it.” “Ooh, sorry.” Shauna grimaces. “Can she write another check?”
I’m ready for that objection. “It wasn’t a check. It was cash.” I tug at my dagger necklace, running my thumb over the sharp point at the bottom. “Almost five hundred dollars.” Shauna’s eyes widen. “Who the hell carries around that much cash?”
Gah. Maybe she noticed I lifted my entire excuse from It’s a Wonderful Life. “My grandmother,” I say as innocently as I can. “She doesn’t trust checks. Or credit cards. Or ATMs.” “But she trusts you?” Shauna looks as though she’d like to give Nana a detailed explanation of why that’s a terrible idea.
“She won’t when she finds out. Shauna, is there any chance … do you think I could get the keys to the recycling bin? Do you know where they are?” She hesitates, and I put my hands together in a praying gesture. “Please? Just this once, to save me from having to hand every cent I’ve earned over to my grandmother? I’ll owe you big-time.” Shauna chuckles. “Look, you don’t have to beg. I’d open the damn thing if I had a key, but I don’t. No idea where it is. You’ll have to ask Murph.” She gives my arm a sympathetic pat. “He’ll understand. Five hundred dollars is a lot of money.” He would, probably. He’d also stand over me the entire time. “Okay,” I sigh.
Shauna goes to the vanity and plucks a few makeup brushes from a can, dropping them into a half-open leather bag resting on the chair. “I have to get a move on. You caught me on the way out. The evil clowns need touching up at Bloody Big Top.” She zips the bag closed and slings it over her shoulder, crossing to the door and pulling it open. “You wanna come with? Murph might be there.” “Sure.” I make as if to follow her, then wince and put a hand on my belly. “Ugh. Do you mind if I use the bathroom first? I’ve had kind of a stomach virus all day. I thought it was better, but—” Shauna waves me away. “Just meet me there. Make sure the door locks behind you.” “Thanks.” I dash toward the tiny restroom for effect, but she’s already out the door. As soon as I hear it click, I pull two paper clips out of my pocket and head for the office.
I’ve never tried to pick a lock before. But I took Vance’s advice, and I’ve watched a lot of YouTube videos in the past twenty-four hours.
“You took it all?” Ezra stares at me as I empty a trash bag’s worth of paper onto Mia’s bedroom floor.
“Well, how was I supposed to know what’s important and what isn’t? I couldn’t sit there on the floor and sift through it. Anybody might’ve walked in.” Malcolm eyes the pile. “At least we know they haven’t emptied it in a while.” Mia plops down cross-legged on the floor and scoops up a handful of paper. “What are we even looking for?” she mutters. “This is some kind of invoice. This looks like an envelope for an electric bill.” She makes a face. “We’re gonna be here for a while.” The four of us sit in a circle around the pile and start sifting through its contents. My pulse has slowed since I left the House of Horrors, but it’s still jumping. I checked the office thoroughly and didn’t see any security cameras, but I know they’re all over the park. It’s entirely possible that someone’s staring at footage of me hauling a garbage bag through Fright Farm right now. Which, okay, could easily be the sort of thing an employee would do in the normal course of business. But it could also look weird, and I wasn’t exactly subtle about it. I didn’t even wear a baseball cap or pull my hair back.
So I hope it’s worth it.
We’re silent for almost fifteen minutes until Malcolm, who’s sprawled next to me, clears his throat. “The police want to look at my phone.” Mia freezes, a scrap of paper dangling from her fingers. “What?”
We’re all staring at him, but he doesn’t meet anyone’s eyes. “Officer McNulty said that with Brooke still missing, they need to dig a little deeper. I didn’t know what to do. Peter was … kind of great, actually. He managed to get across the point that they shouldn’t be asking for access to my personal stuff without a warrant while still sounding totally helpful. Officer McNulty ended up apologizing to him.” “So they didn’t do it?” I ask, placing another invoice on our reject pile. That’s all we’ve found so far: invoices for food, maintenance, supplies, and the like. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it takes a huge amount of fake blood to keep a Halloween theme park running.
“Not yet,” Malcolm says grimly. He finally looks up, and I’m struck by how dull his eyes are. “They won’t find anything about Brooke if they do. Other than that text from Katrin telling me I should invite her to homecoming, which could go either way. But there are a bunch of texts between me and Declan and … I don’t know. After that article yesterday, I’d rather not get scrutinized like that.” He tosses aside a sheet of paper with a frustrated grunt. “Everything looks bad when you examine it too closely, right?” Thursday’s Burlington Free Press article rehashed the past five years of Declan’s life, from the time Lacey died to his recent move to Solsbury, sprinkled with occasional references to the unnamed younger brother who was a key witness in Brooke’s disappearance. It was the sort of article Viv might have written—no actual news, but lots of speculation and innuendo.
Last night, I sat in my room in front of my bookshelf full of true-crime novels and made a timeline of everything I could think of related to the three missing girls and Echo Ridge: October 1996: Sadie & Vance are crowned homecoming queen/king
October 1996: Sarah disappears while Sadie is with Vance
June 1997: Sadie leaves Echo Ridge
August 2001: Sadie returns for Grandpa’s funeral
June 2014: Lacey’s junior class picnic with Declan, Daisy & Ryan
August 2014: Declan and Daisy get together—Lacey has a secret boyfriend?
October 2014: Lacey and Declan are crowned homecoming queen/king
October 2014: Lacey is killed at Murderland (Fright Farm)
October 2014: Sadie returns for Lacey’s funeral
June 2015: Daisy & Declan graduate, leave Echo Ridge (separately?)
July 2019: Daisy returns to Echo Ridge
August 2019: Daisy gives Lacey’s bracelet to Ryan Rodriguez
August 30, 2019: Ellery & Ezra move to Echo Ridge
September (or August??) 2019: Declan returns to Echo Ridge
September 4, 2019: Anonymous homecoming threats start
September 28, 2019: Brooke disappears
Then I hung it on my wall and stared at it for over an hour, hoping I’d see some kind of pattern emerge. I didn’t, but when Ezra came in, he noticed something I hadn’t. “Look at this,” he said, tapping a finger on August 2001.
“What about it?”
“Sadie came back to Echo Ridge in August 2001.”
“I know. I wrote it. So?”
“So we were born in May 2002.” I stared at him blankly and he added, “Nine. Months. Later,” enunciating each word slowly.
I gaped at him, blindsided. Of all the mysteries in Echo Ridge, our paternity has been the last one on my mind. “Oh no. No, no, no,” I said, leaping backward as though the timeline had caught fire. “No way. That’s not what this is for, Ezra!” He shrugged. “Sadie said she had something more to tell us, didn’t she? That stuntman story has always been kind of sketchy. Maybe she looked up an old flame while she was—” “Get out!” I yelled before he could finish. I yanked In Cold Blood out of the bookcase and threw it at him. “And don’t come back unless you have something useful, or at least not horrifying, to contribute.” I’ve been trying to put what Ezra said out of my mind ever since. Whatever it could mean is totally separate from the missing girls, and anyway, I’m sure the timing’s just a coincidence. I would’ve brought it up with Sadie last night at our weekly Skype call if she hadn’t skipped it. Her counselor told Nana she was “exhausted.” One step forward, one step back.
“Huh.” Ezra’s voice brings me back to the present. “This is different.” He separates a thin yellow sheet from everything else, smoothing a wrinkled corner.
I scoot closer to him. “What is it?”
“Car repair,” he says. “For somebody named Amy Nelson. A place called Dailey’s Auto in …” He squints at the sheet of paper. “Bellingham, New Hampshire.” We both turn instinctively toward Malcolm. The only thing I know about New Hampshire is that his brother lives there. Used to live there.
Malcolm’s expression tightens. “I’ve never heard of it.”
Ezra keeps reading. “Front of vehicle damage due to unknown impact. Remove and replace front bumper, repair hood, repaint vehicle. Rush charges, forty-eight hours.” His brows rise. “Yikes. The bill’s more than two grand. Paid in cash. For a …” He pauses, his eyes scanning the bill. “A 2016 BMW X6. Red.” Malcolm shifts beside me. “Can I see?” Ezra hands him the receipt, and a deep crease appears between Malcolm’s brows as he studies it. “This is Katrin’s car,” he says finally, looking up. “It’s her make and model. And her license plate.” Mia grabs the thin yellow paper out of his hand. “Really? Are you sure?” “Positive,” Malcolm says. “She drives me to school most days. And I park next to that car every time I drive my mom’s.” “Who’s Amy Nelson?” Ezra asks.
Malcolm shakes his head. “No idea.”
“There’s a phone number for her,” Mia says, holding the paper in front of Malcolm. “Is that Katrin’s number?” “I don’t know her number off the top of my head. Let me check.” Malcolm pulls his phone out and presses a few keys. “It’s not hers. But hang on, that number’s in my phone. It’s …” He sucks in a breath and turns to Mia. “You remember how Katrin sent me that text, asking me to invite Brooke to homecoming?” Mia nods. “She sent Brooke’s phone number, too. I saved it to Contacts. This is it.” “Wait, what?” Ezra asks. “Brooke’s number is on a repair receipt for Katrin’s car?” While Malcolm was scrolling, I was on my phone looking up Bellingham, New Hampshire. “The repair shop is three hours away,” I report.
“So Brooke …” Mia studies the receipt. “So Brooke helped Katrin fix her car, I guess. But they didn’t take it to Armstrong’s Auto—or even anyplace in Vermont. And they used a fake name. Why would they do that?” “What did Katrin say about her car being wrecked?” I ask, looking at Malcolm.
Malcolm knits his brow. “Nothing. It wasn’t.” I blink at him, confused, and he adds, “It wasn’t wrecked, I mean. It’s fine. Maybe there’s some kind of mistake. Unless … wait.” He turns back to Mia, who’s still staring at the receipt. “When was the car fixed?” “Um …” Mia’s eyes flick to the top of the paper. “It was brought in August thirty-first, and ‘Amy’ picked it up on September second. Oh, right.” She looks at Malcolm. “You and your mom were on vacation then, weren’t you? When did you get back?” “September fourth,” Malcolm says. “The day of Lacey’s fund-raiser.”
“So you wouldn’t have known the car was gone,” Mia says. “But wouldn’t Mr. Nilsson have said something?” “Maybe not. Katrin spent days at a time at Brooke’s house over the summer.” Malcolm taps an unconscious beat on his knee with one fist, his expression thoughtful. “So maybe that’s why Brooke got involved. She was Katrin’s cover while the car was getting fixed. Peter’s always telling her she needs to drive more carefully. She was probably afraid he’d take it away if he knew.” “Okay,” Ezra says. “That all makes sense, I guess. The fake name is kind of dumb—I mean, all anybody would have to do is look up the license plate number to know who the car really belongs to. But they probably figured it wouldn’t come to that.” He pauses, frowning. “The only thing I don’t understand is, if that’s what happened, why was Brooke so desperate to get the receipt back? Assuming this is what she was looking for, but”—he gestures at the pile of invoices we’ve already discarded—“nothing else seems relevant. If you’ve gone through the trouble of having an undercover car repair and disposing of the evidence, wouldn’t you just leave it to be shredded? Mission accomplished, right?” I think back to Brooke’s words in the Fright Farm office. That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? What happened? Wouldn’t you like to know? My heart rate starts rising. “Mia,” I say, turning toward her. “What date was the car brought in, again?” “August thirty-first,” she says.
“August thirty-first.” I repeat. My skin prickles, every nerve twitching.
Ezra tilts his head. “Why do you look like you just swallowed a grenade?” “Because we came in from LA the night before that. August thirtieth, remember? The hailstorm. The night Mr. Bowman was killed in a hit-and-run.” Nobody says anything for a second, and I tap the paper Mia is holding. “Front of vehicle damage due to unknown impact?” Mia’s entire body goes rigid. Ezra says “Holy shit,” at the same time Malcolm says, “No.” He turns toward me, his eyes pained. “Mr. Bowman? Katrin wouldn’t …” He trails off when Mia drops the repair receipt in his lap.
“I hate to say it,” she says with surprising gentleness. “But it’s starting to look an awful lot like she did.”
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