فصل 35

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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All these weeks of wondering what the hell was happening around town, it somehow never occurred to me that the guy I trust least of anyone might be involved.

I’m an idiot. And Ellery sucks at solving true crime. But none of that matters right now.

“I’m going to need your phones,” Peter says. He’s still in his polo and khakis, but he’s slipped on a pair of gloves, too. Somehow that’s more chilling than the gun. “This isn’t a drill, kids. Put them on the side table next to the bed. One at a time, please. You first, Ellery.” We both comply, and Peter waves the gun toward the hallway. “Thank you. Now come with me.” “Where?” I ask, glancing over at Ellery. She’s frozen in place, her eyes trained on Peter’s right hand.

His nostrils flare. “You’re not really in a position to ask questions, Malcolm.” Jesus. This is bad, colossally bad. I’m only just starting to grasp how much shit we’re in, but I know this much: Peter would never let any of this unfold if he planned on leaving us alive to talk about it. “Wait,” I say. “You can’t— Look, it’s too late, all right? We found the receipt from Dailey’s Auto and gave it to the police. They know something sketchy is going on with Katrin’s car and they’ll figure out you’re involved.” Peter’s expression flickers with a second’s worth of doubt, then relaxes again. “There’s nothing on that receipt that points toward me.” “There’s the fact that you’re the only family member who was at home to drive,” I say.

Peter raises his shoulders in a careless shrug. “Brooke borrowed the car and had an accident. Simple enough.” I keep talking. “I just spoke to Mr. Coates. I asked him about meeting up with you that weekend and he said you never did. He knows you lied.” “I listened to every word you said, Malcolm. You told him you must have heard wrong.” “Mom was there when we talked about it,” I say, hating the desperate edge that’s crept into my voice. “She’ll remember. She’ll know something is fishy.” “Your mother will remember whatever I tell her. She’s a remarkably compliant woman. It’s her greatest asset.” I want to kill him then, and I think he knows it. He takes a step back and lifts the gun so it’s pointed directly at my chest. I strain to keep my expression neutral as my brain cycles through every possible reason why it’s too late for Peter to get away with another murder. “Officer McNulty was there when Katrin said Brooke snuck out during a sleepover to meet up with somebody in this house. If she wasn’t coming to me, it had to be you.” “If you’re not here, there’s no reason for anyone to think it wasn’t you,” Peter points out.

Shit. I wish Ellery would snap out of whatever trance she’s in. I could use another brain working right now. “People are going to question another murder. Another couple of murders. Especially if your stepson is involved. First your daughter’s best friend, and now me? This is going to come back on you, Peter, and it’ll be ten times worse when it does.” “I agree,” Peter says. He looks completely relaxed, like we’re chatting about baseball scores or the latest Netflix series. Not that we’ve ever done either of these things. “Now is absolutely not the time for anything even remotely resembling a homicide. I have to insist you come along, though. Downstairs. You first, Ellery.” Hope pulses through me, even though the coldness in Peter’s eyes tells me it shouldn’t. I contemplate lunging for him, but Ellery’s already moving toward the hallway and he has the gun trained on her back. I can’t see any choice except to follow, so I do.

“All the way to the basement,” Peter says.

He keeps his distance as we troop down two sets of stairs. The Nilssons’ basement is huge, and Peter tersely directs us through the laundry room and the finished space my mother uses to exercise. The past week flashes in front of my eyes as I walk, torturing me with everything we missed. There’s so much to regret that I scarcely notice where we’re headed until the biggest revelation of all hits me. When it does, I halt in my tracks.

“I didn’t tell you to stop, Malcolm,” Peter says. Beside me, Ellery pauses. I turn slowly, and she does too.

Cold sweat coats my face. “Declan’s class ring,” I say. “You had it. You dropped it near Brooke’s body in Huntsburg.” “And?” Peter asks.

“Declan never got the ring back from Lacey. She still had it when she died. She hadn’t stopped wearing it. You took it from her. Because you—” I hesitate, waiting for some sort of signal that he’s affected by what I’m about to say. But there’s nothing on his face except polite attentiveness. “You killed Lacey, too.” Ellery draws in a sharp, shocked breath, but Peter just shrugs. “Your brother is a useful fall guy, Malcolm. Always has been.” “Did you …” Ellery’s eyes are locked on Peter’s face. She tugs at the silver pendant around her neck, so hard I think she might break it. “Did you do something to my aunt, too?” Peter’s calm expression doesn’t change. He leans forward and whispers something in her ear, so faint I can’t catch it. When she raises her head to look at him, her hair tumbles across her face, and all I can see is curls. Then Peter raises the gun again so it’s pointed directly at her heart.

“Is this a thing with you, Peter?” I’m so desperate to get his attention off Ellery that my voice bounces off the basement walls. “You hook up with girls your daughter’s age, and kill them when there’s a chance they might expose you? What did Lacey do, huh? Was she going to tell?” A sudden thought strikes me. “Was she pregnant?” Peter snorts. “This isn’t a soap opera, Malcolm. It’s not your business what happened between Lacey and me. She overstepped. Let’s leave it at that.” The gun swings toward me. “Move a few steps backward, please. Both of you.” I do it automatically, my thoughts tumbling and swirling so much that I barely notice we’re standing inside a room. It’s in the farthest corner of the Nilssons’ basement, piled high with sealed cardboard boxes.

“This is the only room in the house that locks from the outside,” Peter says, one hand gripping the edge of the door. “Convenient.” He slams the door shut before I can react, plunging the room into darkness.

I’m at the door seconds later, first twisting the doorknob, then pounding so hard that my bruised ribs flare with sharp pain. “You can’t just leave us!” I yell against the thick wood. “People know Ellery is here. Her grandmother dropped her off!” “I’m aware,” Peter says. There’s a sound of something heavy being dragged across the floor, and I stop pounding so I can hear better. “Are you familiar with how a portable electric generator works, Malcolm?” I don’t answer, and he continues, “It should never be turned on inside a house on account of the carbon monoxide it emits. It kills quickly in a concentrated area like this. I’m not sure how this got switched on, but oh well. Maybe you and Ellery knocked against it accidentally while you were down here doing who knows what. We may never know.” My heart plummets to my feet as I twist the knob again. “You locked us in here, Peter! They’ll know it was you!” “I’ll be back in a little bit to open the door,” Peter says casually. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to stay long, though. Wouldn’t want to meet the same fate. Plus, I need to head to the grocery store. We ran out of popcorn.” A humming noise starts outside the door, and Peter raises his voice. “I’d say it was nice knowing you, Malcolm, but quite honestly you’ve been a nuisance from the start. All things considered, this has worked out fairly well. So long.” His footsteps recede rapidly as I stand at the door, my head reeling and my heart pounding. How did I let it get to this point? Declan wouldn’t have gone into the basement like a lemming. He would have tackled Peter in the bedroom, or— Light blazes behind me. I turn to see Ellery standing by the far wall with her hand on a switch, blinking like she just woke up. She goes back to the center of the room and kneels down in front of a box, ripping a thick strand of tape from its top. She turns the box upside down and dumps its contents on the floor. “There has to be something in here I can use to pick the lock.” “Right,” I say, relief flooding through me. I join her in tearing through the boxes. The first few are full of books, stuffed animals, and wrapping paper. “I’m sorry, Ellery,” I say as we tear open more boxes. “I’m sorry I invited you over here, and that I let this happen. I wasn’t quick enough.” “Don’t talk,” she says shortly. “Save your breath.”

“Right.” My head is starting to pound and my stomach rolls, but I don’t know whether that’s stress or deadly gas. How long has Peter been gone? How much time do we have?

“Ah-ha!” Ellery says triumphantly, seizing a box of Christmas ornaments. “Hooks.” She yanks a couple free and heads for the door. “I just need to straighten it and …” She’s silent for a few seconds, then lets out a grunt of frustration. “These aren’t strong enough. They just bend up. We need something else. Do you see any paper clips?” “Not yet.” I open more boxes and root through their contents, but my head is pounding in earnest now and I’m so dizzy that my vision is starting to fuzz around the edges. I struggle to stand up, and look around the room. There are no windows to break, nothing heavy enough to use as a battering ram against the door. I upend more boxes, scattering their contents across the floor. At least we can make a mess, I think hazily. If nothing else, people might question what the hell happened in here.

But my movements are sluggish, and slowing by the second. All I want to do is lie down and go to sleep.

I can’t believe I’m thinking that already.

I can’t believe I finally learned what happened to Lacey and Brooke, too late to give any kind of closure to their parents.

I can’t believe I won’t get a chance to apologize to my brother.

My eyes are drooping, so heavy that I nearly miss it glinting on the floor. One small, solitary paper clip. I dive for it with a strangled cry of triumph, but it’s almost impossible to pick up. My hands feel rubbery and unwieldy, like I’m wearing giant Mickey Mouse gloves. When I finally get hold of it, I turn toward Ellery and the door.

She’s slumped in front of it, motionless.

“Ellery!” I grab her by the shoulders and pull her into a sitting position, cupping her cheeks in my hands until I see her release a breath. I shake her as hard as I dare, until her hair spills across her face. “Ellery, come on. Wake up. Please.” She doesn’t respond. I lay her carefully on the floor and turn my attention to the paper clip.

I can do this without her. I just need to unfold the clip and get to work. If only my hands hadn’t turned into inflatable gloves, it would be a lot easier.

If only my brain wasn’t about to pound out of my head.

If only I didn’t have to stop to throw up.

If only I could see.

If only.

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