I rolled onto my back as he opened it, kicking out with both of my feet. My sneakers caught him in the midsection. I don’t know if it was the impact, or simply surprise that I would attempt something, but he stumbled several steps back, and I didn’t waste any time.
Survival was the only thing I could focus on. I wriggled out of the back seat, and the moment my feet hit the gravel, Shaw was right in front of me. I didn’t think. I swung from the waist, slamming my fist into the same area where I’d kicked him—the solar plexus.
Shaw doubled over and I spun, opening my mouth to let loose an ear piercing scream. The sound tore through the night, but a hand clamped down on my lips, muffling the cry before it could gain any traction.
A knee slammed into my back, taking me down. I hit the gravel hard, my palms skidding across the small, sharp stones, ripping open my skin. Sudden pressure smashed my face down. Pain lanced across my cheek.
“I should kill you now,” he seethed into my ear. Reaching up, he gripped my arm. “I told you to behave. I doubt it was that hard to understand.”
He wrenched my arm back, tucking his knee against my lower back. His fingers dug into my other wrist and then both arms were pinned behind me. The slap of cold steel around my wrists caused my stomach to churn with panic.
He hauled me onto my feet, roughly turning me around. Pain exploded along my jaw, knocking me backward. My knees gave out under the shock. Blood pooled in my mouth. Dimly, I was aware that he had hit me.
Shaw lifted me up, dragging me toward the back steps with his hand over my mouth. He fished out a key. The hinges groaned as he opened the door and then shoved me inside. With my hands secured behind me, I lost my balance and went down on the kitchen tile.
He closed and locked the door behind him, his boots pounding off the floor as he approached me. He grabbed a handful of hair, hauling me to my feet. “Does it look like you remember?”
My eyes darted around the kitchen. With the exception of a table and two chairs, the room was bare. “No.” My jaw ached around the word.
“Yeah, because a family used to live here.” He led me forward, his hand wrapping tightly around my forearm. “A mother and a father and a son. They were happy for the most part.”
“No, they weren’t,” I whispered.
His grip tightened until I gasped. “I said ‘for the most part,’ didn’t I?” He led me into the dark hallway. My eyes had barely adjusted to the minimal light coming in through the front windows. “Did you ever wonder why this house never sold?”
I felt sick, close to throwing up. “Yes.”
“I always thought it was the bad vibes. For years it’s sat on the market. Rumor has it they’re demolishing it at the end of the year. How do you feel about that?”
“I . . . I don’t know.”
“Seems like the whole town would just rather forget about the kid. God knows I’d love to.” He spun toward the stairs, and I balked. He pushed hard, and I fell forward, cracking my knees off the second step. He caught my arm before I ate the step above. “What? You don’t want to go upstairs? Too bad.”
I had little choice. He all but carried me up there, down the hall and past the wooden railing that seemed to bow out over the foyer. The door to Penn’s old bedroom was closed.
“Remember when we first met?”
Squeezing my eyes shut did nothing to change the past, so I forced them open. I’d been too upset to really pay attention to the stream of officers that had poured into the woods, who had disappeared among the trees, and seemed to never come back out.
“I was the first officer on the scene.” He turned me around so I was facing him. Half of his expression was lost in the darkness. Down below, something squeaked and scurried across the floor, its nails making quick tapping sounds.
My lower lip trembled. “And I . . . I found him.”
“You helped put him there.”
I jerked back into the wall, stirring up dust.
“You and the rest of them,” he said, leaning in until his breath stirred the hair around my temple. “Brock. Monica. Wendy. Mason. Jensen. You.”
My breath rattled out of me. For the longest time, I carried that guilt. I always would, but it had lessened because I finally began to let it go. “Jensen and I—we didn’t do what Brock and them did. We went to a party. That’s all—”
“That’s all? Really?” Shaw tsked, and the sound turned my blood cold. “You don’t blame yourself anymore?” When I didn’t answer immediately, he gripped my chin until I cried out. “Do you still blame yourself?”
My legs shook as I held his gaze. “I will always . . . feel responsible.”
“But?” he sneered.
“But I loved Penn, and I never meant to hurt him.”
His head tilted to the side, his fingers digging into my flesh. “But you did.”
“It was just a party. That was all. We didn’t go to his party!” I shouted, and for the first time—for real—I believed what was coming out of my mouth. “I will always feel bad, and I will always wish I could go back and make a different decision, but Jensen and I didn’t kill him.”
“The thing is, you can’t go back.” He sounded almost sad about that.
Chest rising and falling heavily, my chin notched up. “I know.”
Shaw wrenched open the door and pushed me hard, and then again, once we were inside the room. Something hit me in the thighs, and I toppled over onto a hard, springy mattress that smelled of sweat and other things I didn’t want to think about.
I rolled up, using my feet to push myself across the bed. Walking in front of the bed, Shaw bent at the waist, and a second later, a soft halo of light illuminated the room. A battery-operated lantern had been turned on.
Penn’s bedroom . . . it wasn’t like it used to be.
The single window was covered with a board. Everything except this rotten bed had been removed from the room. Spray painted across the wall in red were names. Names repeated a thousand or more times.
Over and over again, our names took up every square inch of the room—even the ceiling. It was obvious that Shaw had done this and hadn’t been worried about anyone finding it.
He really was crazy. Not like that should come as a surprise.
My gaze settled back on him. He watched me from the foot of the bed. One word came out of me. “Why?”
“Does it matter?” He held a black duffel bag in his hand. “Maybe seeing a young boy dead messed me up?”
I looked around the room for an escape, but he stood where he could get to the door quickly.
“Some scenes stick with you.” He paused, pulling something out of the duffel bag. “As part of an investigation for any unattended death, we have to talk. I talked to you. I talked to Jensen. I talked to my cousin. I talked to Penn’s parents and yours and the school. I heard what was done to Penn.”
“It had to be hard. I know it was hard, but what you’re doing—”
He stared at me, his fingers clenching the edges of the duffle bag. “In middle school, when you and Gavin were just tiny kids, there was this boy named Eddie Stevenson. A lot of the other kids picked on him. So did I. We were relentless.”
“You . . . you harassed him?” I didn’t get how this was connecting to why he was murdering people.
“Yeah.” He ran his other hand over his head, rubbing the back of his neck. “He went home one day. Hung himself. It was my fault. It was all of ours and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to fix that. To go back and change things. Because I was an asshole, some innocent kid died. This . . . this shit here is different, but in the end it’s really the same.”
My gaze darted toward the door and then back to him. There was not enough room.
“I’d managed to do my best to forget about it. Like you.” His hand lowered and he pulled something out of the bag. The mask. My stomach tumbled. Its white plastic face shined eerily in the dim light. “Actually, you and I are a lot alike.”
“I’m nothing like you.” I stared at the mask.