Authors: Anastasia Hopcus
But why would the Mystery Man have had it? None of the BVs were poor. If he’d wanted to give Mrs. Carr a Tiffany’s ID bracelet, he could’ve ordered it on the Internet. Then again, if you already had one, why pay for another? An infinity symbol could be a romantic thing, and it wasn’t like the guy had any sort of scruples.
I let out an unconscious grunt of frustration, eliciting glares from two girls who apparently
having some luck with the whole reading-their-textbooks thing. At least, they were until I started making my animal-kingdom noises.
I stood up and shoved my books into my bag before heading over to the cafeteria. I was too antsy to be sitting in the
library. Adriana was already at our table with her typical lunch of raw veggies and low-fat yogurt, which today sounded about as appealing to me as anything. My stomach was in knots, wondering what was going on with Brody and Trent. Sitting on the sidelines was harder than I’d imagined.
“Hey.” I plopped my bag down, and the lunch table shuddered under the weight of it.
Adriana frowned at me. “Don’t tell me that bag is filled with textbooks.”
“I needed something to do. To take my mind off things for a while. I’m all grieved out right now.”
“Tell me about it. I had my police meeting earlier, and I spent the last hour on the phone with my mom trying to convince her that I’m not in imminent danger of catching some kind of airborne aneurysm virus.” Adriana crunched loudly on a slightly anemic carrot stick. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m upset about Mr. Carr, but it’s not like we were best friends—I didn’t even have a class with him. And now I’m supposed to be walking around crying like my grandparents just died. I can’t imagine what it costs the administration to have that psychologist on call for a whole week.”
I thought of what my parents had paid my shrink, and that had been for an hour.
“A ton of money,” I said. “But their lawyers are probably telling them they need to do it so the parents don’t get sue happy.” I stole a piece of broccoli and took a bite. “It makes sense that they would want to have all their bases covered.”
“Are you girls talking baseball again?” Brody sat next to Adriana, about as close as he could get without actually sitting in her lap.
“God, Brody. Ever heard of personal space?” Adriana scooted to the far edge of the bench seat.
“Shhh. We can’t talk like that in front of Phe, sweetcakes.” Brody winked.
“You are so gross.” Adriana stood up. “I’m going to get something to drink. I need to wash the taste of bile from my mouth.”
I cocked an eyebrow at Brody as Adriana headed off to join the rapidly expanding lunch line.
“I had to get her out of here so I could tell you what happened,” Brody explained. “Trent did some very strange stuff when I was following him.”
“Like what?” My heart was already going a mile a minute.
“He set off the sirens on all the police cars parked in the teachers’ lot, and when everyone went rushing out to see what had happened, he snuck into the ISS room.”
“Really?” I leaned in closer. “What did he do?”
“Well, that’s what I’m not sure of.” Brody cracked his knuckles. “I couldn’t exactly follow him. It was totally deserted in there, and he definitely would have noticed me. But I did tail him after he came back out, and he went straight to his locker and stashed his backpack. It was all very furtive.”
“We’ve got to see what’s in that backpack.” I chewed on my
lips. “But how are we going to break into Trent’s locker without him noticing?”
“Why are you breaking into Trent’s locker?” Adriana set a can of Diet Coke on the table.
“He stole the answers to our comparative government test,” Brody jumped in, answering for me. “If I don’t get my hands on them, I am going to majorly flunk that class.”
“I can probably help you with that.” Adriana gave a little shrug.
“But you’re not even in that class.”
Not that I was either, but hopefully Adriana didn’t pay enough attention to my classes to notice that
“No.” She rolled her eyes. “But I can distract Trent so Brody can break into his locker.”
“You’d really do that?” I asked. Adriana did have a rebellious streak, but she also seemed to have a bit of a crush on Trent. Or so I had thought, but maybe my radar was off these days, because she sure was eager to help Brody.
Or maybe she was just eager to flirt with Trent
, I thought a little later as I stood guard in the courtyard, watching the two of them through the cafeteria window. Adriana had her head thrown back in what I could only guess was fake laughter since I had never heard a remotely funny comment pass Trent’s lips. After she recovered from her fit of faux giggles, she laid a hand on his forearm and leaned in so close I half expected them to kiss.
“What could she possibly see in that tool?”
Brody’s voice made me jump, and I spun around to find him standing right behind me.
“Maybe he doesn’t sneak up on people.” I glared.
“Yeah, well, some lookout you are, letting people sneak up on you.”
“I’m supposed to be keeping an eye on Trent,” I pointed out, but the sight of a bright red official police folder in his hands made me abandon my argument.
“I haven’t opened it yet,” Brody said, noticing my expression. “Mrs. Carr is making funeral arrangements right now, so we can go back to the house and look at it if you want.”
“Yes.” I started off without a second thought.
“Wait. Don’t we need to get Adriana away from him?” Brody asked. “If we’re right, Trent could be a killer.”
Instantly, I felt guilty. I was in such a hurry to save my boyfriend that I was totally ready to overlook my friend’s safety.
“We can offer to walk her to her next class on our way to the library,” I said.
“Okay, but isn’t that kind of a public place to be investigating sealed police files?” Brody said, then stuck the file into his backpack and zipped it closed.
“That’s why we’re going to take it to your house. We’re just telling Adriana we’re going to the library.”
I went back into the cafeteria and headed over to the flirtatious couple. Brody followed me, a scowl on his face.
“Oh, hey! It’s Brody and Phe!” Adriana said in mock surprise. “What are you doing here?”
“As far as I know the cafeteria is free reign at lunchtime.” Brody crossed his arms over his chest. “Do you have a problem with that?” He glared at Trent.
“I don’t think
the one with the problem.” Trent tossed his long hair out of his eyes.
“Adriana, don’t you have chemistry now?” I broke in. “’Cause Brody and I are walking that way, and I thought you might like to come with us.” I gave her my best hint-hint, nudge-nudge look.
“I guess so.” She shrugged.
“Good. Well, I want to get to the library before next period starts, so we better go.” I avoided making eye contact with Trent. If he was already suspicious of me, this performance certainly wasn’t helping matters.
“That must be my cue to exit.” Trent’s stare was burning through my skin. I could only hope he wasn’t an advanced mind reader like the police. “I’ll call you about Saturday,” he told Adriana.
I took that as
to start walking quickly in the opposite direction. I couldn’t get out from under his watchful gaze fast enough. Brody and Adriana trailed after me.
“What about Saturday?” Brody asked as soon as we were out of earshot. “You’re not going out with that slime, are you?”
“Hey, you’re the one who wanted me to flirt with him,” Adriana shot back.
“No, I distinctly remember saying ‘distract’—flirting was never mentioned.”
“What are you, my dad?” She rolled her eyes.
“No. If I was, you might have learned some self-control.”
I could already tell this was not the way for Brody to get what he wanted.
“Excuse me?” Adriana stopped in her tracks. “You’re one
to talk about self-control, Mr. I’d-rather-get-stoned-than-be-a-productive-member-of-society.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I momentarily forgot that you’re the Queen of Productivity. The Empress of Charitable Deeds.” Brody smirked. “Bravo on all that shopping. Thank God you’re around to keep those boutique owners fed and off the streets.”
“I think I can get to class just fine on my own.” Adriana’s honey-brown eyes flashed gold in the midday sun as she turned and stormed off ahead of us.
“Great.” I shook my head. “I’m so glad we made sure Adriana was okay.”
“Oh, whatever. She’s fine. That girl has Teflon-coated Kevlar feelings.” Brody kicked a rock out of his path as we continued on to his house.
I had a feeling Adriana wasn’t as impenetrable as Brody thought, but I decided to leave it alone. Relationship drama could wait. Right now we needed to find out what was so important that Trent would risk stealing it from the police.
Once Brody had checked the house and locked the doors, we sat down at his kitchen table to look at our findings.
“You want to do the honors?” Brody nodded at the red folder. I shook my head no. I had done a lot of not-so-legal things in the last two weeks, but this was the first time I really felt like I was involved in something that could land me in jail.
“Guess it’s up to me then.” Brody undid the brad closure at the top of the envelope and slid out four eight-by-ten glossy pictures.
“Oh, my God,” I breathed.
Each sharply detailed photo was shot at a different angle, but they all showed the same thing: the handprints seared into Mr. Carr’s head. They were just as I remembered, except for one important detail my brain had left out—the thumb marks were right under his eyes. The only way Mr. Carr could have made those prints himself was if in the moment of pain he had crossed his arms in front of him, left hand to right cheek, right hand to left cheek. It was clear that someone else was facing Mr. Carr when they burned him.
“Looks like this lets the steam out of Zach’s theory about self-inflicted wounds,” Brody finally said. He exhaled slowly. “I know I was the one who suspected Mr. Carr had been killed—but I don’t think I truly believed it until now.”
I nodded. The conclusion was pretty inescapable. The marks looked even worse than they had in person. The bright wash of light from the flash had lit up every charred black smudge in the red viscous residue left by the hands that had murdered Mr. Carr.
“Does that look like the back of a ring to you?” I pointed out
a spot on one of the hand imprints. At the bottom of the middle finger, there was a slightly deeper, very raw-looking wound.
“You mean that thing that’s sort of like a crescent moon with the pointy ends cut off?”
“Yeah.” It was on the right hand, the correct finger, but maybe I was just seeing what I wanted to see.
“It is a darker red.” Brody’s face contorted. “Like it got more burned or … something. And are those little charred lines in the middle?”
“They’re sort of like hatch marks,” I agreed. “Maybe it’s some kind of pattern or engraving on the metal?”
“Did you notice anything on Trent’s ring?” Brody was still staring at the pictures, his expression pained. It occurred to me this was the first time he had actually seen what Zach and I had told him about.
I stuck the pictures back in the envelope and closed it. I couldn’t stand to look at them a moment longer, and I had no doubt that Brody felt the same. “The portion of the band that I could see was plain and smooth.” I sat back, thinking. Was I absolutely positive it was the same ring? And how common might a ring like that be?
“Would it be unusual for a guy here to wear a large gold ring with a rectangular malachite stone in it?” I asked.
“I certainly wouldn’t wear one.” Brody snorted. “But BVs are pretty fond of malachite, since it’s a copper carbonate. Copper’s a great energy transmitter.”
Like the Banished bracelet pictured in the file. If my bracelet
had something to do with the Banished, surely it would be made of the same metal. As much as I hated to agree with Corinne, her assertion that the infinity symbol was just a coincidence seemed likely.
“But are you sure what you saw was gold?” Brody asked. “Because it heats up really quickly, and we can burn things if we’re not careful.”
“Maybe that’s why he wears it.” I thought of the bright red splotch he left on my hand after shaking it.
“If it’s definitely gold, I would say that ring would be fairly uncommon.”
“Well, at least we know one thing—if the police have these pictures, they realize it wasn’t just an aneurysm that killed Mr. Carr,” I said. “They may be keeping it quiet, but they’ve got to be investigating it as a murder.”
“I guess.” Brody tapped his fingers against the table. “The most important thing in Shadow Hills is always keeping everything a secret.”
“But still … there’s a killer running loose around here … a BV killer, at that. I mean, if they banish people for doing this energy-sucking thing, they wouldn’t ignore murder.”
“No. That’s true.” Brody didn’t look as if that thought made him feel much better.
But it made me hopeful. I’d rather the police investigate a murder than Brody and me. Still, there were things they didn’t know.
“They don’t have any idea that Trent stole these pictures. And we can’t exactly tell them,” I pointed out.
Plus, the cops definitely wouldn’t put much stock in my graveyard vision
“Or that Mrs. Carr is having an affair,” Brody added, frowning. “I guess I could tell them I suspect her of it, but I don’t have any proof. Are you absolutely positive it was Trent with Mrs. Carr? Because I can make that little pig squeal all by myself. In fact, I’d rather not hand him over to the police until I’ve had a chance to do my own interrogation.”
This sounded like it would be as bad for Brody as it would be for Trent. I wished Zach was here; it wouldn’t hurt for him to keep Brody in check. But right now that job was falling to me.
“I didn’t get a good look at him. I don’t
that it was Trent.” I tried for a really unsure tone. “Maybe we ought to wait and talk to Zach.”
“When’s he getting out of the hospital?”