Aaron raised his blood-shot eyes towards me and sighed in relief, “Riley, oh thank god, you’re here.”
My mind was reeling with possibilities. Why was Aaron here? Could it be possible that he was the killer and he was trying to trick me into thinking he was the victim? Or perhaps he really was the victim and I was not seeing clearly into this.
“Aaron, who…who did this to you?”
His hair looked like he hadn’t washed it in a long time; his fingers were covered in dirt and there were angry red marks of the robe cutting through his skin. His eyes were blood-shot, as if he hadn’t slept in weeks. As if that wasn’t enough, he seemed like he’d been beaten.
“Riley, you shouldn’t be here.” He whispered, his eyes darting around the dark room in panic. “He could come back any minute. You need to get away from this place.”
If I thought he was the killer before, the thought left my mind that time. He was bound to a chair, completely helpless and he was asking me to save my own life rather than to free him from his situation. Aaron had always been so bright, lively and comfortable to be around with, a guy who would never even hurt a bug intentionally. To see him in this vulnerable state really shocked me.
“The police were looking for you. They thought you killed Maddy and the others because you never showed up at her funeral or the interrogations and—”
“I did not show up because the killer had me.” He said in irritation and exhaustion. “Were there any search parties going around even looking for me?” He paused, “Of course they won’t because they thought I had murdered all those people.”
“It wasn’t your fault.” I said. “Everyone was a suspect at that time. I’m still a suspect, Aaron.”
“Yes but you weren’t a captive for a straight week, locked and bound to a chair.” He stated impatiently.
He had a point.
“True but I wasn’t really hitting clubs and having fun either. I spent the last few days in an asylum getting my mental health re-evalued.”
He was silent for a long minute, staring at the ground. He glanced up to look into my eyes. “You should leave. Take the chance when you have it.”
I shook my head. “I will not leave you here to die.”
“Riley, just leave! Listen to me at least once!” He said angrily.
“Never have and I will not start now.” I told him as I looked around the place for something sharp to cut the robes around his wrists. I couldn’t see clearly even with the torch light flashing around.
Finally, I found a rusty old pocket knife and decided this needed to work. I began working the knife through the robe and it was turning to be quite hard. I looked at Aaron and he appeared agitated.
“You need to do it fast, Riley. If he finds us, we are both dead.”
A minute later, I had managed to cut deeper into the robe and I was almost done when I paused and looked at him. Throughout the entire conversation, I’d forgotten to ask him one important thing, “Who is the killer, Aaron?”
He stared at me like I’d asked him the stupidest question ever, “It is Jackson. I thought it was pretty obvious by now.”
My blood ran cold and I had my heart jump into my throat. “That’s not true…”
“Yes, it is.” Aaron said.
I shook my head. “Jack can’t be the killer!”
Aaron laughed with no traces of humor. “That again. Wake up. You’re blinded by your love for him. He murdered all those people and then manipulated you to into trusting him. You were deluded by the thought of Jack falling in love with you, but all he did was use you to get what he wanted. He’s a psychopath. His brain doesn’t have what it takes to feel empathy or guilt.”
“He told me his reports were all lies produced by Brady Wolfe to get him locked up in the asylum for life. I trust Jack.”
“Alright. I understand. Maybe your mind won’t be clouded until I’m just a useless piece of meat with eyeballs missing. If that’s all it would take for you to believe me, then fine. You can walk back up the stairs and show yourself out. Just do me a favor and let the police know I’m here.”
My mind was boggled and my thought process was jumbled up. How could this be true?
“Think, Riley. When Mad-Dave was dead, Jack was in the hospital, as for Roxy he’d taken you to live with him but he could have come back to the asylum, killed her and left the body there while he seduced you with his own game. Jack has a pretty good motive to kill his father and Maddy…well, I don’t even know why he could have killed her but then again, psychotic killers do not need a motive.”
I raised my hand, indicating him to stop speaking. “I need time to think.”
“Time is running out. I told you to either untie me or leave. There’s really no point in the two of us dying.” He said quietly.
Suddenly we heard the sound of the footfalls coming down the stairs. I had to be ready for this. I pulled out my gun and was ready to shoot a bullet when I saw it was Jack. Clearly, he was stunned to see me here.
“Riley, what are you doing here?” Jack asked me, his tone was sharp.
I kept the gun cocked at him. My hands trembling, “Where’s Ken, Jack?”
“Are you seriously fucking doubting me?” Jack snapped.
To be honest, I was scared. Knowing what Jack would do to me, or had already done to my brother if everything that he told me was a bunch of lies.
This was no time to shed tears. “I want to know the truth!” I turned the gun to aim at Aaron and then at Jack. “Either of you killed those people. Confess right now or I’ll shoot you both.”
“Go on shoot me, Cotton-candy.” His brown eyes had turned a shade darker, his jaw set hard.
Did I even know this man?
“I want the truth!” I said in a frustrated yell.
“Here’s the truth!” Jack snapped, keeping his eyes on me. “As soon as I got the text, I came here looking for your brother but he wasn’t here, instead I found Dr. Aaron Shaw waiting here in the basement for me acting like a victim, the same way he’s trying to trick you. Although, Shaw told me that Ken was the one doing the killings and that I should let him go.” Jack turned his wrist to show me a deep gash. “When I didn’t believe him, he tried to attack me, but I’d come prepared for it so I tackled him down and bound him to a chair—”
“He is lying, Riley!” Aaron exclaimed, and then pointed an accusing finger at Jack. “You lying piece of shit! Here’s what actually happened. You have to listen to my side. After Maddy’s death, I tried to reach the police but before I could talk to them, I was drugged and abducted. When I opened my eyes, I found myself here. A man in a black mask visited to drop in food and then left. Jack appeared two days later and forced me to send threating messages to Ken, blackmailing him with the truth of him being a drug addict. I had no choice but to do as I was told because I didn’t want to die.”
Jack laughed and then clapped, “Nice story. If you uploaded that online, I'm sure it'll get a million hits and maybe even get a Netflix series made out of it.” He turned to me. “Do you seriously believe him?”
I looked at Jack. “If you tied him up, why didn’t you inform the police?”
“Well, that’s what I was doing right now. My phone wasn’t working and this place is not exactly a place with a lot of phone connections or pay phones. When I came back, you had already found him and believed every word he said.”
I remembered Paul’s words during Maddy’s funeral. ‘I saw a man washing the sole of his shoes in the men’s restroom. It was Dr. Aaron Shaw.’
Aaron’s story didn’t add up and sounded jumbled up, almost like he was forcing me to believe him. I was going to go with my gut feeling which said—
The sound of a gunshot roared through the basement and I let out a bloodcurdling scream. It happened all at once. Aaron had broken free from the robes, he was standing tall, and his expressions were downright mean. He looked like a bully, which was so unlike the Aaron that I knew.
Jack was shot in his leg, but the bullet had just grazed him. Jack cursed under his breath and then groaned.
“Jack…” I started making my way towards him when I felt the sharp point of the blade poking under my chin.
“I’ll slice your throat clean right in front of Psycho boy, and the next bullet goes in his head.” Aaron said in an icy-cold voice, one that I never thought he possessed. “And then you both love birds can die watching each other as you slowly bleed to death.” He reached into my waistband and took my gun.
“You’re sick.” I told Aaron. “I knew it was you the second you made up that cock and bull story.”
Aaron sniggered. “Yeah, and I was smart enough to know your intentions as to which side you were really taking on and it’s a real shame. At least, if you’d believed me, we could have killed Jack together and that could be the end of this long revenge story. The police would have believed that Jackson was the killer since a lot of other evidence was against him. Ken would have testified as per my instructions and everyone would go home happy. Case solved.”
“Why did you do it?” I asked, my voice barely a whisper.
“Weren’t you listening?” He asked. “Revenge.”
Jack asked. “What was your purpose for revenge?”
“Listen up because I’m going to make this quick, and won’t repeat twice.” Aaron said. “Joel Shaw. Does the name ring any bells?”
Jack appeared to be lost in thought for a moment. “As a matter of fact, it does. He worked for my adoptive father, Brady Wolfe. Joel Shaw was a personal butler and then climbed his way up to becoming his personal assistant. Now that I try to recall, he had a son that used to keep to himself. Even came by the mansion, once or twice. Baron, was it?” Jack said all this with a straight face, his emotions in check.
Aaron’s jaw began ticking. “Your mother was a whore, I hope you realized that.”
Jack didn’t seem remotely offended. “She was my mother nevertheless, granted that she may have been a little selfish. Then again, she was beautiful and men were easily attracted towards her. She took advantage of the fact. Maybe your father should have tried to practice some restraint.”
“You arrogant sonofabitch! You’re one to talk.” Aaron raged.
What the hell were they talking about? How was Jack’s mother, Laura Wolfe linked to any of this?
Aaron continued, his speech was filled with so much hate, “She had me before she had you and Ezra, and yet, she never showed me even an ounce of love. I craved just a few words from her but she pretended like I wasn’t her son and then she ditched my father and married Brady Wolfe. How ironic that he couldn’t give her any kids. A gold-digging lying bitch that she was, she deserved it.”
“Ezra and I were the same as you. She had us with an affair after she married Brady. There’s no difference.” Jack reasoned.
“There’s a huge fucking difference!” Aaron spat. “She loved you and Ezra, she never loved me. I was supposed to be adopted when Brady decided to adopt her illegitimate child but she chose you and Ezra over me!”
“I had a hard life.” Jack began. “You destroyed my name, my reputation, turned my employees against me for something that wasn’t our fault.”
“You destroyed my life. My father committed suicide because of your selfish mother!”
“She was your mother as much as mine. Don’t you forget that.”
“Aaron is your half-brother.” I whispered.
“Riley has nothing to do with this.” Jack said calmly. “Whatever issues you have with me and Ezra, we can resolve it alone. Let her go.”
He pushed the knife at my throat again and I felt the trickle of something warm running down my neck. My eyes were turning watery due to the pain. “Why are you doing this?” I asked.
Aaron was my friend, and my mentor and to think he’d been the one all along. I couldn’t fathom to think he was capable of so much violence.
“Because he’s got Mommy issues.” Jack responded.
Sometimes I wondered why Jack couldn’t just shut his mouth up for a second.
“Shut the fuck up or I’ll kill her!” Aaron said. “I’m sorry Riley, I didn’t want to drag you into this but you left me with no other choice.” He turned to Jack. “I wanted your life destroyed. You didn’t deserve to live a millionaire’s lifestyle when you’re the same as me. A bastard. And now you will pay for all those years of torment you put me through.”
“If you’re man enough, you’d stop dragging a woman into this.” Jack said in a commanding voice.
The knife sliced to my skin and I screamed and tried to hit him which is when a strong pair of hands seized my arm in a harsh grip and before I knew it I was pushed violently towards the floor when I realized what had happened. Jack had saved my life. Aaron’s blade had slipped out of his fingers and landed somewhere on the floor.
I watched horrified and helplessly as the men engaged in a fight. Jack had delivered a few blows before Aaron took advantage of the fact that Jack was injured and pummeled him relentlessly on the ground. His fists were bloodied as he continued to pound Jack with as much hate as he could muster. A vindictive glint shining in Aaron’s eyes. All the while he continued to chant, ‘She should have loved me! I should have been the heir to the Wolfe Enterprise.’
I whimpered. If this continued, Jack could die.
My eyes darted around the floor to look for the weapon. I spotted my gun pushed below the chair. I scrambled on my hands and knees to reach it and snatched it into my hands. I turned around to aim it at Aaron. My hands trembling on the trigger.
He raised his hands in surrender. “I won’t hurt you, Riles. Don’t shoot me.”
Riles.He called me Riles. Just like old times just to soften the blow.
He had made his intentions loud and clear. Memories of us laughing, talking and working together flashed through my mind. I was beyond hurt. Jack lied on the floor, barely breathing.
“Where is Ken?” I demanded.
I heard more footsteps descending the stairs. A mass of light blond hair and vigilant emerald eyes. Agent Flint Knight stood there, armed. “Games over Dr. Shaw. Lower yourself on the ground, hands where I can see them. Do it now.”
Aaron laughed, and continued to laugh hysterically. Flint and I exchanged looks. I heard Jack whisper, his voice gruff. “House number zero-seven-two. He gave us the wrong house number.” Jack moaned in pain, “The next victim was supposed to be killed today. The seventh of April. House number zero-seven-four. It was a clue.”
“What does that have to do with this?” I asked.
Aaron sniggered. “I never liked your brother Riley. I thought he needed to be taught a lesson.”
“What did you do?!” I screamed.
Aaron lunged forward towards Jack like a madman. And there was the sound of two gunshots. Reflex. That’s what I’d call it. One bullet had been shot from my gun, the other by Flint. Aaron’s body hit the floor; he made some gurgling sounds. Flint’s bullet was lodged into his neck making his death slow and painful.
A puddle of blood began forming on the floor.
I started to move towards Jack but he shook his head. “House zero-seven-four. Your brother’s there.”
I jogged my way to the neighboring house, abandoned and left open. Everything turned upside down.
Ken was his last victim.
I prayed that my brother was alright. Even if he’d gotten addicted to drugs, I would find a way to help him back on tracks. I didn’t want him to die.
I heard a sound coming from outside the house. I walked into the kitchen and through the back door. Ezra was there digging through the soil with a shovel. His hair and shirt matted with dirt and sweat. His face turned pale when he saw me, but he continued to dig deeper without stopping.
My hands covered my mouth. I broke into a sob. “Oh my god…”
He was buried alive.
All part of Aaron’s game.
If I had solved the mystery and found the house before, I could have saved my brother.
I found another shovel and began helping Ezra. A minute later we found a coffin nailed shut. I wept as I clawed at it. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.”
Ezra placed a comforting hand on my shoulders and proceeded to open the coffin with care. His hands were confident as he took the nails out with the back of a hammer and yanked the coffin lid aside. My heart could have stopped beating completely.
“Nooooooooo! No. Please no!”
Ken lay inside with his eyes closed. His fingers covered in blood, his nails had been ripped off, clearly from trying to get out of it before he suffocated. I touched my brother’s face with my bloodstained hands, and tried to hug him close.
Ezra placed his fingers on the side of Ken’s neck and looked at me.
Please be alive.
Ezra looked puzzled for a moment and then turned his tired eyes towards me. “We’ve got a pulse.”
Ken and Jack were rushed to the hospital. And I couldn’t believe the fact that I’d shot Aaron dead. Me. Of all people. I let the realization sink in. In the days that followed, I was interrogated by the police and the FBI. I told them everything without leaving out any details. My lawyer, James had recovered from his injuries and was glad that it had ended. He was shocked to learn that Aaron had been the one behind all of it.
The reason. Revenge. I’d tried during the days that followed to feel pain or remorse for a friend that I’d lost but I instead I was relieved. Aaron had murdered people ruthlessly, someone as innocent as Maddy and he’d gotten what he deserved.
I watched Ken recover each day. He barely spoke, his eyes haunted by the horrors of what had happened. I couldn’t blame him. He’d been through a lot. I placed the flowers at the side of the bed and sat down beside him. He was reading a book.
“Are you seriously reading Wuthering Heights again?” I asked him, grinning. I tried to throw in the Snape’s dialogue. “After all this time?”
He grinned back. “Always.”
“How are you feeling?” I asked, placing a brown bag of more books beside his bed. I’d gone out of my way and bought him some Manga and other comic books.
Ken looked at me and then looked away. I recognized that expression. “I’ve always…always taken you for granted.”
“Oh, Ken…”I put my hand on his.
“Let me speak, Riles.” He said. “I’ve always looked up to you as an older sister, even though I act like a macho brother all the time. After mom and dad died, you were all I’d left and when you met Jackson, I felt like I was losing that connection with you. I started to feel insecure. And honestly, I hated him. He appeared predatory, the way he looked at you. I jumped on the bandwagon and believed that he was behind everything. I fucking hated how he tried to take things in his hands and be the man of this house. I wanted him gone.”
“Well, now you don’t have anything to worry about.” I said bitterly.
“What? What do you mean?” he asked innocently.
“He’s gone, Ken. After Jack received medical attention, he just picked up his stuff and left.” Which was so typical of Jack, I shouldn’t even be surprised.
Ken shook his head. “I’m sorry. I wanted to thank him. I’m alive and breathing today because of Jack. He found me buried inside and tried to talk to me through it and told me to stay calm. If you see him again, please do me a favor and thank him for me.”
I nodded, trying so hard not to break out in a sob.
“And one other thing. I wanted to apologize to you…” He said and then paused. I looked up into his eyes to find that he was trying not to cry in front of me.
I cupped his face in both of my hands and wiped his tears. “You don’t need to say anything, Ken. I understand.”
“No. I need to get this off my chest.” He choked, and then broke into a heaving sob. I’d never seen my brother cry. Not since his pet or our parents died. “I’m so so sorry, Riley. I’m ashamed of myself for what I’ve done but trust me, I only told the police your name because Aaron threatened to hurt you. But that doesn’t excuse my behavior. I’m such a coward.”
“I’m glad you realized your mistakes and that’s enough for me.” I said.
“Saint Riley.” He teased me between wiping his tears.
We laughed. “So you forgive me?” He asked.
“Of course. I’m your older sister. A person can make mistakes sometimes.” I said sincerely and then I pulled him in a hug and kissed his head. “I love you so much.”
“I love you three thousand.” He laughed quoting Tony Stark and I rolled my eyes. He was still so immature but didn’t fail to make me smile.
“Which reminds me, I brought you some comics.”
“Love you ten thousand.”
“I also brought some homemade tacos.”
“I love you infinity.”
“Okay, stop.” I laughed and realized it was the first time in a week that I hadn’t forced myself to laugh. “Get some rest, Ken. I’ll be back soon.”
I walked out of the hospital room and bumped into Ezra. “Whoa! Gotta watch where you’re going, lady.”
I’d tried to act civil around Ezra but it wasn’t working. I knew that he knew where Jack was and yet he wouldn’t tell me. I begged, groveled, bribed. Nothing had worked. His will was made of some solid metal.
“Do you need anything?” I asked, folding my hands across my chest.
A smile crossed his lips. “Not me, but you need to read this.”
He handed me an ivory colored letter. It had one word written in the center of it in beautiful cursive.
I stared at the letter.
“I don’t think I need to tell you who the letter is from.” Ezra said. “Don’t ask me where he is; don’t ask me how to reach him. Just read it.”
“Thanks.” I said.
“You’re welcome and I’ll see you around.” He kissed my cheek before leaving.
I settled down in one of the plastic chairs outside in the passageway and opened the letter carefully even though I had this urge to tear it and throw it away. It was like kindergarten where it made you happy even receiving the smallest of gestures from your crush. Much like the letters written on the envelope, this was in the same loopy handwriting. The most beautiful penmanship I’d seen.
You’re probably really angry at me right now for leaving you without notice. But that’s just how I am and you know that. I didn’t leave because I wanted to, but because I needed to. There’s some unfinished business I have to take care of and I cannot involve you. This may take a while and that’s exactly why I’m writing to you. (You’re probably thinking that’s pretty old fashioned, who writes a letter when we have email. But Sweeting, it’s just downright romantic. You admit that, right? ;)
I know I should have at least met you once before leaving, but I knew for a fact that if I had you, I wouldn’t leave. I love you so much. It’s a no-brainer and I have so much to talk to you about, but that has to wait.
This letter isn’t really a parting letter, but it also is. It depends on how you take it. I don’t know how long this is going to take me. I don’t even know what I’m doing with my life right now. I needed some time and space (Not gonna give you a ’it’s not you, it’s me speech. Don’t worry.) I have a lot of shit to sort out, a lot of baggage that I need to get rid of and I will eventually. How much time that will take, I’m not sure. I’m going to be honest with you. While I want to be selfish and ask you to wait, I won’t. It’s your life and if you choose to not wait for me then I have to accept it and won’t hold it against you.
It’s a dark tunnel, Cotton-Candy and I have to walk through it right now, (Not gonna bore you with philosophy either). I’m walking alone.
But if at the end of the tunnel, I find you, my love, I will come to you. Until then I will treasure every moment, every kiss and every touch and hope that it lasts for a long time. And lastly, smile because you don’t look nice when you cry which is exactly what you’re doing right now.
Take care of yourself.
P.S: If you’ve read this letter until the very end without skipping, give yourself a pat and treat yourself to a seven course meal in the best fucking restaurant in town and bill it to Ezra Wolfe. You have my permission.
I laughed between tears and read the letter over and over again. I realized it was the only connection I had with Jack.
I will wait for you Jack even if it takes you a million years because you’re worth it.
A.N: Next will be the Epilogue.