Violet felt sick. Her hands started to shake in her lap, and the shuddering spasms moved up her arms and coursed through her body like electric currents.
Hailey McDonald was only in middle school, she was maybe thirteen, much younger than the other two girls whose bodies had already been discovered. And Violet knew Hailey, she used to babysit her when the younger girl was only in grade school. Hailey’s older brother, Jacob McDonald, was a year younger than Violet at White River High School.
This was close. Too close.
“Do they think that…you know, do they suspect…” She took a breath to stop the quivering in her voice. “Do they think he took her?”
Her dad sat down on the other side of her. “Yes.” His voice sounded too calm to be saying something so horrendously unacceptable. “Stephen said she was supposed to be walking home from her best friend, Elena Atkins’s, house, but that she never made it. Her parents waited for over an hour past the time she was due back before they started calling around, but by then it was probably too late.”
“Maybe she’s just pissed at her parents and she’s hiding out at another friend’s house.” Violet tried to sound convincing even though she didn’t believe a word of it herself. And then, because she couldn’t think of anything else to say, she just covered her mouth with her own trembling hand. “Oh my God,” she whispered.
Violet wanted to cry, to let out her frustrations and fears. It would be healthier that way, and she might even feel a little better if she could release her feelings…share, as her mom would say. But instead she felt herself shriveling up, drawing inward. Shutting down.
It was the same way she’d felt after discovering the dead girl at the lake. A hopeless feeling that sucked her deeper into the mire of her own inner turmoil. She felt vulnerable and despondent.
Everything had just changed for Violet. Knowing this girl…and knowing what she was capable of doing to help, even if it was futile, and even if it turned out to be dangerous, she knew she could no longer just sit around and wait to see if—or when—they found Hailey.
Violet was done waiting around for someone else to find the psychopath who was preying on these girls. She was going to do something, even if she had to sneak around to get it done.
She excused herself to her bedroom, telling her parents that she wanted to be alone, and grabbing the house phone as she passed it on her way.
She was going to do something. But she wouldn’t do it alone.
She was going to ask for help.
JAY CAME OVER AS SOON AS VIOLET CALLED HIM; she didn’t even have to give him a reason. He was there in less than ten minutes.
Of course, he’d heard about what had happened to Hailey. Everyone had. Buckley was a small town, and news traveled fast…especially bad news.
When he got there she told him what she was thinking about doing. It was nothing dangerous, at least as far as she was concerned, and she hadn’t expected Jay to disagree with her about it. So when he did, she was more than a little bit surprised by his stubborn reaction.
“No way,” he insisted, and his voice left little room for argument. “There is no way you’re going to go around looking for this guy.”
Violet was shocked by the tone in his voice, and by the harsh look he shot at her. She thought maybe he misunderstood her plan, so she tried to explain it to him again. “Jay, I’m only going to public places, like malls and parks, to see if I can get a feeling for who this guy is. Who knows, maybe he goes to places like that to find them, maybe he hangs out there waiting to pick out a girl to…you know, kidnap.” She tried to make her argument sound logical, but there was a desperate edge to her voice. “I’m not going alone…you can go with me. We’ll just hang out at different places to see if we can find him. And if we do, we’ll call my uncle. It’s not like we’d do anything stupid.”
“‘Anything stupid’ would be going out to look for a killer. I won’t let you go looking for trouble, Violet. This guy is dangerous, and you need to leave it to the cops. They know what they’re doing. And they’re armed.” He sounded like he thought she’d lost her mind, and maybe she had, but she had already made her decision.
“Look, I’m doing this. I was just asking you to come along with me.”
“You’re not,” he insisted. “Even if I have to tell your uncle and your parents what you’re planning. I promise you, you’re not doing it.”
She could feel her temper flaring. “You can’t stop me, Jay. If you tell on me, then I’ll lie. I’ll bat my eyes innocently and promise not to go looking for this guy. But I swear to you that every chance I get, even if I have to sneak out of the house to do it, I will be trying to find him.” She stood up, meaning to glare back at him, but instead found herself craning her neck just so she could see his face. The awkward position didn’t steal any of her thunder. She refused to back down. “I mean it, Jay. You can’t stop me.”
Jay glared incredulously back at her. Emotions ranging from disbelief to frustration and back to disbelief again flashed darkly across his face. He seemed to be fighting with himself now. But when she heard him sigh, and then saw him raking his hand restlessly through his hair, she knew she’d won. His icy determination seemed to melt right before her eyes.
“Damn it, Violet.” He sighed brusquely, wrapping his arms around her and holding her tightly. “What choice do I have?” he asked as he practically squeezed the life out of her.