That afternoon I didn’t go for Maddy’s funeral reception. I just wasn’t ready to walk into that house and remember that horrific night when I’d found her body in the bath tub. Instead I drove my brother there and decided to meet Ezra and tell him about the text message. I couldn’t bring myself to tell Ken because I knew he’d blow a gasket and put me under house arrest.
And that’s probably exactly what the killer wanted. If I was scared enough to stay home, there was a high possibility he’d pick the lock and the next thing, I’d be face down in a tub filled with my own blood with my throat slit open.
I couldn’t let that happen.
I drove back home, changed out of my black dress and decided to meet Ezra. Paul had promised to meet me and Ezra at the station. I was surprised he was acting so co-operative. Then again, his life was on the line too.
Paul had beaten me to the chase. He was already seated in the diner with Ezra and Agent Flint Knight. Agent Scott was missing. Since Agent Flint and Ezra were seated beside each other, I had no choice but to sit beside Paul in the booth. It was weird because we'd spent the better half of the year hating each other’s guts and now we were forced to play allies all of a sudden.
“Riley, I’m so sorry to hear about your friend.” Ezra said sincerely.
I nodded. He continued, “You wanted to tell me something.”
I looked at Paul and then at Flint. “I thought I’d tell you about it in private. It’s something that I don’t want to disclose in front of everyone.”
Ezra’s gaze shifted towards Paul and back at me. He knew what I was talking about. “Alright.” He left his seat and stood up. “If you don’t mind, gentlemen, I’d like to talk to Riley more privately. No offence.”
“None taken.” Flint said.
Ezra led me farther away from the booth. We rounded around the corner and I pulled out my phone and showed the text to Ezra. “I received this text right after the funeral.”
Ezra stared at the phone but didn’t react. It was hard to decipher what he was actually thinking because one couldn’t read his expressions. “I think the killer’s trying to put us on the wrong trail.”
“So you think the message is a hoax?”
“Not exactly a hoax, but more of a diversion. The killer wants us, the police force and the agents to focus on you so he could take someone else as a victim.”
I had never thought of that!
“Either way, we can't risk to think he won't be coming after you. There's a fifty-fifty chance it's the truth or absolute bull."
I hugged myself. “I think he’s coming for me.”
Ezra got hold of my shoulders, looking me straight in the eye he said, “Riley, I will never let him hurt you, I promise. I know that if Jack was awake, he’d want to protect you and I’m going to do that in his stead.”
“I’m not afraid, Ezra.” I said.
“I can see why my brother has fallen in love with you.”
I blushed. “I hope he wakes up soon.”
“I do too, but I know that if and when he does, there’s going to be chaos. He would be questioned for Brady Wolfe’s murder and he could be the killer’s next target because he knows his identity.”
So Jack’s best option was to stay in a coma?
He placed a hand on my shoulder. “Let’s head back to our seats.”
Paul told them the same story that he’d told me, about how Aaron had made excuses the night Maddy was murdered and had been seen cleaning his muddy shoes later in the closed hospital section. He was also not present at the funeral, so where exactly was Dr. Aaron Shaw?
“Have you tried calling his cell?” Flint asked.
“I haven’t.” Paul replied.
“The forensics team searched every corner of the house, checked if they found any finger prints or a DNA sample and came up empty except for Riley’s finger prints in certain areas.” Flint concluded, picking up the menu and leafing through it casually.
“Are you suspecting me?” I asked Flint.
“No. I’m just stating the facts.”
I was still a suspect.
“The killer is very careful. About Aaron Shaw, we don’t have much evidence against him to rule him out as the killer yet, we need solid proof. As disappointing as it sounds, Dr. Bennett, we can’t take your word alone for it.”
“I understand, Agent.” Paul said. “I was also going to mention—”
“Are you ready to order?” The waitress interrupted our conversation, she was cheerful than usual and her eyes lingered on Ezra longer than necessary.
“Two grilled cheese sandwiches, Two cheeseburgers, a large dynamite fries with extra cheese, chicken wings dipped in hot sauce, one Blueberry pie milkshake and a Diet Coke, please.”
“That will be all.” Flint said closing the menu.
Ezra stared at him in confusion. “Aren’t you getting anything?”
“I think all that would be enough for the four of us.” Flint said in a matter of fact way.
Ezra shook his head. “That’s my order. And I don’t share.”
Paul stared at Ezra with his mouth hanging open in surprise. The waitress was as confused as the rest of us seated at the table. Flint said quickly, “In that case, I’ll just have a classic cheeseburger and a coke. How about you, Dr. Bennett? Riley?”
Paul recovered a moment later. “Uh...I’ll have a Russian salad and an iced tea.”
Ezra chuckled, “Lighten up, Doctor. You may want to substitute a healthy lunch for something unhealthy for a change.” And then he added devilishly, “Seeing as the situation is, you may not live long enough to eat what you actually want. One should die without regrets.”
“You can pretend you didn’t hear that, Dr. Bennett. Ezra has a very dry sense of humor.” Flint said.
I laughed. It was a little giggle, but they all turned to look at me in wonder. I guess they hadn’t heard me laugh or seen me smile since quite a long time. Ezra was obviously teasing Paul and trying to make light of the situation but what he’d said bore the truth and Paul knew it. It could be his last meal, or even mine. Ezra and Flint could lose their lives fighting this evil.
Paul cleared his throat. “I’ll like to change my order. I’ll have two chicken grilled sandwiches, chili jack and cheddar cheese omelet with sausage at the side. Carrot cake and a double chocolate chip ice-cream. ”
Ezra smiled back at me in obvious triumph. I couldn’t help but smile back.
“And what would you like, Miss?” The waitress asked, scribbling the order on her notepad furiously.
“I’ll have the same as Flint.” I said, waving my hand towards the Agent.
“Got it.” The waitress beamed, obviously in a good mood. She walked back to the kitchen, swaying her hips, putting up a show for the men.
“Riley, you’re no fun.” Ezra teased me.
“Don’t even try. I’m not going to fall into your trap. You guys must be monsters to eat like that.” I said.
“Well, aren’t we all?” Ezra asked, twirling the salt shaker on the table. “A monster resides in everyone. It’s just a matter of choice when a person decides to unleash it.”
“Wise words.” Flint said.
An old Juke box in the corner was playing songs from the eighties. It played Take on me by A-ha. I really liked that song a lot. The diner had the lovely retro look going on, like I’d walked into the past.
The food was served approximately twenty minutes later. They had to join two tables to accommodate the amount of food we’d ordered. It was like a feast. The owner of the diner, a sweet old lady approached our table and asked us if we liked the food and that it had been her late mother-in-law’s recipes. She further explained that her grandchildren were trying to modernize the cooking to meet the standards of the youngsters.
“Nonsense. I’d rather prefer the original recipe, Mrs. Danbury, because these wings...” Ezra sighed, both his fingers dripping in sauce and cheese. “Divine. Better than sex.”
The old lady’s eyes lit up. “How old are you, dear?”
“Twenty-seven.” Ezra answered dutifully.
Mrs. Danbury smiled in good humor. “If I was only forty years younger.”
Ezra pouted. “I wish you were too. If you cooked like this, someone as beautiful as you, I mean, I’d divorce my wife right now.”
“You aren’t even married, dipshit.” Flint said.
“Hey, show some fucking respect here, please.” Ezra said. “I’m technically your senior.”
Flint rolled his eyes and that got another laugh out of me.
“Gramma, we need you in the kitchen, if you’re done flirting with the gentlemen.” A cute girl looking like the younger version of Mrs. Danbury called out from the kitchen doorway.
“My Anne is single. She’s just twenty-four.” Mrs. Danbury added. “And people say she looks and cooks just like me.”
“Gramma!” The girl called out, her face beet-red.
When Mrs. Danbury had left the table, Paul said. “Is this the usual amount of food you eat every day, Agent Wolfe?”
“Got a problem?”
“I mean the calories.” Paul added nervously.
“Ezra won’t live long enough for the killer to get to him. The food’s going to kill him first.”
“I agree.” I said.
Ezra’s middle finger slowly began rising from his right hand towards Flint who scowled at him.
After we’d polished off our meals, we were served homemade apple pie which was on the house. Ezra had impressed Mrs. Danbury with his smooth tongue which was very typical of the Wolfe twins. I couldn’t believe how miserable I’d been until this morning, and right now it all felt so normal again like the murders weren’t happening, as if the killer wasn’t still on the loose, as if my life wasn’t so messed up.
Paul dabbed a towel on his mouth and his phone began ringing. He took one look at it and then at the two, “Agents, if you’ve asked all the questions you’ve wanted to, I’d like to get back to work. I got a call from WoodVille.”
“Thank you for your time, Dr. Bennett. If you see anything remotely suspicious, I assume you would come down to the station.” Ezra said turning serious all of a sudden.
“I definitely will.” Paul said pulling a few dollar bills from his pocket to cover his share of the meal, but Ezra waved it away. “Thanks for the treat.” Paul then shook hands with the two agents. He looked at me and said. “Take care, Riley. See you around.”
We watched from the window as he sat down in his Toyota SUV and backed out of the parking lot with a screech, almost furiously.
“What do you think, Flint? Is Paul telling us the truth?”
“He doesn’t really strike me as someone who would kill people. He’s a bully for sure, but killer? I don’t know.”
“It’s hard to say that he did it. I mean everything is pointing towards Aaron. Did he answer your call?” I asked.
“It hit straight to voicemail.” Ezra said.
“I’ve got an idea.” Ezra said, and then in a very accurate Jigsaw voice impersonation he asked, “Do you want to play a game?”
Flint appeared bored, but I knew he was amused. “Sure, if it doesn’t include getting any of my body parts chopped up.”
Back in his normal voice, Ezra continued. “Your partner, Scott and you against a lone Wolfe. Two teams.” He pointed at himself. “The first team that manages to get to the killer, wins.”
“Well, I never back down from a challenge. What’s the grand prize?”
“I’ll talk to the bureau chief myself and you get a placing in Washington D.C.” Ezra grinned. “This is a tough case. You crack this and you get promoted to DSAC.”
Flint stared at him like he’d spoken in Japanese. “What?”
“Deputy Special Agent in Charge.”
“I know what the abbreviation means.”
“The chief told me about this.”
Flint’s hands were balled into fists. “And he never said a word to me. The chief wants you in Washington taking over that rank. It’s obvious, Ezra, you’re his favorite. It’s one reason he agreed to put you on this case despite the fact that your brother is a convicted felon. I don’t understand why you’re even telling me this.”
“Because I want this to be fair.” Ezra said taking a bite of the apple pie. “If I get to the killer first, I go to Washington and if you do, well, I know how much this would mean to you.”
“And what if I nail the killer and you loose? What awaits you?” Flint asked him.
“There’s another case waiting for me. I’m more interested in that one. I'm not the Chief's lap dog. I do my own thing. Hear this. I don't need the bureau. The bureau needs me." Ezra had a smug expression plastered on his face.
"Show off." Flint smiled. “You want me to win, don’t you?”
“Badly.” Ezra said.
I looked between the two men. “I don’t understand, Ezra. Your father owns a million dollar company. Why do you even need this job?” I asked him the question I’d always wanted to.
“I like thrill of it. This job gives me the reason to live, Riley. New assignments which means new places, risks and adventures. I wasn’t cut out to lead a company. I want to do my thing. Jack is more business minded. He’s sharp and can handle being the owner of the Enterprises some day.”
“When he’s out of the coma and has sorted out his shit.” Ezra reminded. “Now, Riley, I’d suggest you to stop going to work for a while.”
“That’s the best option if you don't wish to get killed.” Flint said. “We have established the fact that the killer might be doing the exact opposite of what he’s told you but we can’t be sure. Maybe he knows what we are thinking and will decide to outsmart us.”
“A police officer will be outside your apartment at all times.”
I didn’t have a choice. I had to follow Ezra’s instructions.
“Can I have the cheque please?” Ezra called out.
I was having trouble going to sleep just like the previous few nights. Tonight I kept remembering Maddy in her casket. She’d looked like she’d just fallen asleep.
I tried to block out the thoughts and my mind wandered to Jack.
Next thing, when I opened my eyes, I wasn’t home.
I was lying in a field.
A field filled with roses.
I didn’t know where I was, but I was somewhere far away from home. The skies were a shade of inky blue. A mansion loomed in the far distance.
And there he stood holding a single rose.
His dark hair was rumpled, he turned his head towards me, his hooded eyes watching me. He smiled. “I’ve been waiting for you, Riley.”
A.N: Hey guys! Surprise Update :) I hope you guys will enjoy this chapter. It's one of the longest I've written so far. We are heading towards the ending of the story soon and I'm really excited <3
As always I'd love to hear your thoughts on the chapter.