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Ava reluctantly agreed. It was easy to say from the comfort of a distance what the officers should have done; it was a completely different experience to be standing in their shoes next to a hysterical wife.

“What else does it say about the scene?”

“He was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. His wife said it’d been the clothing he’d worn the day before.”

“So he never made it to bed. She didn’t notice until the next morning?”

“His wife said it wasn’t unusual for her to go to bed before him.” He studied his laptop screen. “The rope was turned in as evidence, but since it was ruled a suicide no testing was done. The wife couldn’t say if the rope came from their house or not.”

“Who did the autopsy?”

“Seth Rutledge.”

“As the head medical examiner in the state, he runs a tight ship. I have a hard time believing he got one wrong,” Ava said.

“We don’t know he did,” said Zander pointedly.

Ava pressed her lips together as she kept her focus on the highway. Zander was right. She was making assumptions. Horror masks. Law enforcement. How could one be suicide and one be murder?

Do they both have to be one or the other?

“It’s bugging me, too,” Zander said. She shot him a smile.

Zander Wells had developed into a good friend. Formerly with Cybercrimes, he’d managed to extend his temporary loan to the Violent Crimes Unit into a long stay. He’d told Ava that as much as he liked tapping on his keyboard all day, he liked the diversity of Violent Crimes better. Mason claimed the agent had wanted more than friendship from Ava, but she didn’t quite believe him. Zander had never spoken of his feelings to her, but she’d always felt a vibe of admiration from him. She liked to believe it was a result of her work ethic. Not romantic interest.

Oddly, her close work relationship with Zander didn’t bother Mason. If anyone was to be the jealous type, her slightly redneck, old-fashioned-values cowboy fiancé would be the man. But he liked Zander and wasn’t threatened by his presence. Ava had eyes for no one but Mason.

I should set Zander up with Cheryl. Her neighbor was also her wedding planner. She could see the two of them as a good match.


“We could be on a wild goose chase,” said Ava, putting matchmaking out of her head. “The masks could be pure coincidence. You ran a VICAP search with horror masks as one of the criteria?”

“I ran several using a blend of different key words. I didn’t find any other crimes with horror masks and law enforcement in common.”

“What about without the law enforcement terms?”

“Some oddball things turn up, but nothing that feels right.”

“What’s Weldon’s history with depression? Has he tried to commit suicide before?” Ava asked.

“He has a few years of counseling and medication. His wife thought it was well under control. She says he had a pill swallowing incident in his late teens when he was away at college.”

“He did?” Ava asked sharply, surprised he’d made it through the FBI’s rigorous testing and background checks.

“She says he never told anyone, didn’t go to the hospital, and the police weren’t notified, so there’s no record.”

“It’s just her word.”

“His mother verified his wife’s story. She knew about the pills and says her son admitted it to her about a year after it happened. He’d appeared to have turned his life and mental state around, so she chalked it up to a bad month.”

“A bad month,” Ava repeated, the words souring in her mouth. If only the rest of the world had her experience of living with someone with serious mental illness. She understood her twin was an extreme case, but it helped her see people living with lesser conditions in an understanding light.

“I know,” said Zander. “But we don’t know how Weldon behaved when he lived with her. From the outside he could have appeared symptom-free and never let her know what was going on. They might have had very normal lives.”

She felt him studying her and stared straight over her steering wheel.

“How’s Jayne?” he asked.

“She’s good.”

“How’s she really doing?”

She glanced over at him. Nothing but concern showed on his face. She forced her apprehension at her sister’s name to fade away. “I get an email from her once a week and I always write back.”

“As you should.”

“She’s watched very closely. We were lucky to get her into such a good facility. I communicate regularly with her treatment coordinator, and she’s optimistic for Jayne’s health. Jayne even found a shop that was willing to show some of her paintings.”

“Her watercolors? She had enough to show?”

Ava was pleased that Zander remembered Jayne’s passion. They’d had a lot of discussions about her twin. “She made some new ones recently. I was impressed enough to buy one and another shopper bought one while I was there.”

“Her art doesn’t suck,” stated Zander.

Ava grinned. “No, not at all.”

“What’s her doctors’ plan for her future?”

She was silent for a long moment. “To slowly move her into independence. Keep her on medication and therapy schedules.” It was nothing new to Ava. She’d dealt with the same plan for her twin a dozen times. Would it work this time?