That didn’t mean she wanted to skip the seeing Jay part; in fact, it was probably the only part of the day that Violet didn’t want to skip. It just meant she was exhausted.
She showered before going downstairs, hoping it might revive her, and it did…a little. And by the time she stumbled her way downstairs she was actually feeling halfway human again.
Her mom and dad were at the table. And so was her uncle Stephen.
And if Violet thought she was exhausted, it was nothing compared to the way her uncle looked. His eyes were rimmed in red and bloodshot throughout, and the deepening circles beneath them were heavy and dark. It made her own eyes water just to look at him, he was so grizzled and worn.
He held on to a travel mug, which Violet could only assume was filled with the darkest, nastiest coffee that could be consumed and still be considered a liquid. That was the way her uncle liked his coffee: police-station black.
“Hi, Uncle Stephen.” She acknowledged him curiously, pulling out a chair at the table. She wanted to ask a million questions about what had happened after she’d left yesterday, but from the look of him, she decided to wait and see why he’d stopped by. She doubted this was a courtesy or social call, since the only thing he should be visiting right now was his bed.
He nodded at her but didn’t say anything right away, and from the look on his face, and the raised eyebrows cast in her father’s direction, it was obvious that he was deferring to her dad to explain his surprise appearance this morning.
Suddenly that nagging sixth sense that had been toying with her all night clamped its razor-sharp teeth around her and wouldn’t let go.
Something was wrong.
She looked from her uncle, to her dad, and then to her mom, who Violet was sure was still harboring a grudge over being lied to…something she hated more than almost anything in the world, especially coming from her own daughter. She shook her head at Violet, telling her with a weary look not to come to her for help, not this time. So Violet glanced back to her dad again. The tension was almost palpable.
When her dad finally spoke, his normally calm demeanor was rigid and strained. “Your uncle was at the station all night. Since yesterday afternoon they’ve been gathering all the information they could and trying to tie up as many loose ends as possible. They don’t want to make a mistake on this one, so they’re being very thorough.”
“Uh-huh…” Violet said, letting her dad know that he was taking way too long to get to the point. “What about a confession?” she asked, directing her question to her uncle. “Did he admit to anything?”
Her uncle Stephen nodded, bleary-eyed. “Everything. He confessed to doing all kinds of horrible things to those poor girls. He confessed to more than we asked him about. Apparently this has been going on for years, all over the state.” He looked up to her dad, as though asking his permission to go on, and when her dad nodded his approval, her uncle dropped a bomb on her. “He even confessed to killing the girl you found.”
Violet was confused. Of course he’d killed the girl she found; she knew that much the instant she saw the oily sheen on him yesterday in the woods.
The look on her face must have said what she was thinking, because her uncle clarified, “No, Violet, not the one in the lake. The other girl. The one you found when you were eight, out in the woods by the river. That was his first victim. He told us that when she’d been found so soon after he’d dumped her there, it spooked him. He thought he’d done a better job of hiding her than that. And he probably had. He had no way of knowing that an eight-year-old girl with a special knack for finding bodies would come across her, buried there. He said that when she was found, he decided to branch out farther from home to find his victims, so for years he’s been looking for girls in every county but our own.”
Violet wasn’t sure which question to ask first, so she picked the one that seemed the most obvious, the one that bothered her the most. “So, where does he live?”
She saw her mom shudder across the table from her, clutching her robe and pulling it tighter around her as if staving off a phantom chill. Violet looked back to her uncle.
“He lives here in Buckley. Well, just outside of town. He has about twenty acres of farmland between here and Enumclaw. He’s lived there most of his life,” Uncle Stephen explained. And then, as if he were angry at himself for not finding the killer sooner, he added, “Right under our noses.”
Violet understood why her mom looked so shaken. It was close. Too close.
But after seeing the man yesterday, Violet knew exactly why he didn’t need to bother moving from place to place, why he didn’t worry about anyone being suspicious of him. He could live anywhere. He was invisible. Or he might as well be. Ordinary. Plain. Normal…or at least normal-looking anyway. There was nothing about his bland appearance that made him stand out. There was nothing about his harmless facade to cause suspicion or alarm.
“So, if he’s confessed already, why are you here?” Violet asked. It was the next-most-obvious question she could think of.
More glances were exchanged over her head. She wished they would just spit it out.
Until they did. And then she wished they’d take it back again.
It was her dad this time. “They need you again, Violet. Uncle Stephen’s here to ask for your help.”
“Why? You’ve got him. He confessed. It kinda sounds like a no-brainer.” She looked around the table. “What else is there?”