My breath is ragged when I finally reach my car, parked outside the morgue. I’m inhaling massive, unsteady gulps of air, trying to wrap my mind around the implications of what I just saw.
Lacey’s bracelet is gone.
I try to tell myself that it could have fallen off; just like Aubrey’s earring was found mashed into the dirt in Cypress Cemetery, La-cey’s bracelet could have been flung from her wrist in a struggle, snagged on the side of the dumpster when the police dragged her body out from behind it. It could be buried in the trash somewhere, lost forever. But I’m sure Aaron would disagree.
I’m just asking you to trust your gut here. Listen to your instincts.
I exhale, try to stop the shaking in my fingers. What are my instincts telling me?
The coroner’s statement about the bruises on Lacey’s neck and ligature marks on her arms make it impossible to disagree with one fact: The same person is responsible for the deaths of both Aubrey Gravino and Lacey Deckler. Same method of killing, same finger marks on the neck. As much as I was trying to deny it before, convincing myself Lacey could have run away, maybe taken her own life—after all, she had tried to before—some part of me had known this all along. Abductions happen. Especially abductions involving young, attractive girls. But two abductions over the course of one week? Two abductions within miles of each other?
It was too coincidental.
Still, proof that Aubrey and Lacey had lost their lives to the same person doesn’t necessarily mean this person is a copycat. It doesn’t mean these murders have anything to do with my father, with me.
He dumped Aubrey in a cemetery, in her last known location.
I think about Lacey, dropped behind a dumpster in the alley behind my office—her last known location. Hidden in plain sight. Not only that, but now I know that she was moved there. She wasn’t grabbed at random and
killed on the spot, the way I had assumed Aubrey had been. She was taken from my office, drugged, killed in another location, and then brought back.
For a split second, my heart forgets to beat as a thought materializes in my mind, a thought too terrifying to entertain. I try to push it out, try to discount the idea as paranoia or déjà vu or purely raw and unfiltered fear. Another irrational coping mechanism my mind simply generated to try to make sense out of something so senseless.
I try, but I can’t.
What if the killer wanted the bodies to be found … but not by the police? What if he wanted them to be found by me?
Aubrey’s body turned up minutes after I had left the search party. I was there. Did this person somehow know I would be there?
Even more terrifying—was he there, too?
I move on to Lacey, to the mental image of her body dumped feet from my office door. I was telling Detective Thomas the truth—I rarely go into that alleyway—but I can see it from a window in my office, very clearly. I can see the dumpster, and it’s entirely likely that had I not been in such a distracted daze this week, I could have noticed Lacey slumped behind it from the viewpoint of my lobby.
Did this person somehow know that, too?
Maybe there are clues on her body that he also wanted found.
My mind is racing faster than I can keep up. Clues on the body, clues on the body. Maybe the missing bracelet is the clue. Maybe the killer took it on purpose. Maybe he knew that if I found the body, and if I noticed the missing bracelet, I would put the pieces together. I would understand.
My car is hot at a stifling 85 degrees, but somehow, I still have goose bumps. I crank the engine, letting the air-conditioning blow through my hair. I glance over to my glove compartment and remember the bottle of Xanax I picked up last week. I imagine myself pushing the pill onto my tongue, that bitter pinch in the jaw before it dissolves into my bloodstream and loosens my muscles, cloaks my mind. I open the door and the bottle rattles to the front. I pick it up, turn it over in my hands. Twist off the cap and dump a pill into my palm.
My phone vibrates beside me, and I turn toward the illuminated screen, Daniel’s name and picture staring back at me. I look down at the pill in my palm, then back to the phone. I exhale, reaching for the phone and swiping to answer.
“Hey,” I say, still holding the Xanax, inspecting it between my fingers. “Hey,” he says, hesitant. “So, are you done?”
“Yeah, I’m done.” “How was it?”
“It was awful, Daniel. She looks…”
My mind wanders back to Lacey’s body on the table, her skin the color of frostbite, her eyes made of wax. I think about the little cuts across her skin like wild cherry Tic Tacs. The giant cut across her wrist.
“She looks awful,” I finish. I can’t think of any other word to describe
“I’m sorry you had to do that,” he says. “Yeah, me, too.”
“Did you find anything helpful?”
I think back to the missing bracelet and start to open my mouth before
realizing that, without context, this revelation means nothing. To explain the significance of the missing bracelet, I would have to explain my trip to Cypress Cemetery and finding Aubrey’s earring minutes before her body was discovered. I would have to explain my meeting with Aaron Jansen and his theory about a copycat. I would have to revisit all the dark places my mind has been wandering to this past week, revisit them in front of Daniel. With Daniel.
I close my eyes, rub my fingers against my eyelids until I’m seeing
“No,” I say finally. “Nothing. Like I said to the detective, I was only
with her for an hour.”
Daniel exhales; I can visualize him running his hands through his hair as he sits up in bed, his bare back leaning against the headboard. I can see him resting the phone against his shoulder, rubbing his eyes with his fingers.
“Come home,” he says at last. “Come home and get back into bed.
Let’s relax today, okay?”
“Okay.” I nod. “Okay, that sounds good.”
I fidget in my seat, pushing the pill and its bottle back into the glove compartment. I get ready to shift into Drive when Aaron’s voice echoes around me again. I hesitate, wonder if I should go back inside, tell Detective Thomas everything. Tell him Aaron’s theory. If I keep this to myself, how many other girls could go missing?
But I can’t do that. Not yet. I’m not ready to be thrust back into the middle of something like this; to explain his theory, I would need to explain who I am, my family. My past. I don’t want to open that door again, because once I do, it would never be closed.
“I have to run a quick errand first,” I say instead. “It shouldn’t take longer than an hour.”
“It’ll be fine. I’m fine. I’ll be home before lunch.”
I hang up before Daniel can convince me to change my mind; then I dial another number, my fingers tapping impatiently against my steering wheel until that familiar voice picks up on the other end of line.
“This is Aaron.”
“Hi, Aaron. It’s Chloe.”
“Doctor Davis,” he says, his voice light. “This is certainly a more pleasant greeting than the last time you called.”
I glance out the window and crack a small smile for the first time since Detective Thomas’s number appeared on my phone this morning.
“Listen, are you still in town? I want to talk.”