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This was about Denny. Screw anyone who tried to shut him out of this investigation.

“What do we know about him?” Ava asked.

“Louis Samuelson was a trooper with OSP for fifteen years.” Nora looked at her notepad. “Forty-one, lives alone, divorced, no kids. He was spotted around one thirty this morning when a jogger ran by and saw him through the window.”

“Wait,” said Ava. “Who runs at one in the morning?”

“Our witness,” said Zander. “He works a rotating schedule at Home Depot and runs when he can. He’s outside with one of the patrol officers. We’re going to talk to him more in depth in a few minutes. Needless to say, it scared the crap out of him when he decided to take a closer look through the window.”

Mason glanced at the covered front room window. It was quite large and didn’t have curtains or blinds. He hadn’t noticed any large bushes or trees blocking the window from the street. The house sat up on a slight rise, but anyone on the sidewalk would have a clear view to the inside of the house. He wondered how long it’d taken the cops to hang something over the window.

Looking carefully, Ava stepped closer to the body, and Mason saw that most of its weight was supported on large metal spikes that’d been hammered into the wall under the victim’s armpits. The same spikes had been put through the wrists, but Mason felt they were for shock value, not necessity.

He recognized the mask from a series of popular horror movies. The white mask’s mouth was elongated and the eyes were a distorted jelly bean shape. “What movie is the mask from?”

“The Scream franchise,” Zander said. “I just looked it up. It’s never the same killer wearing the mask. It could be anyone in the films.”

“Never saw them,” said Nora. “Not my thing.”

“Could we have more than one killer?” Ava murmured. “What are they trying to tell us?”

“It’s almost Halloween,” Mason pointed out. “It could simply be something handy for him.”

“But his first victim worked with Freddy Krueger memorabilia,” Nora said. “Assuming the Vance Weldon case is part of this. After tonight, I think the possibility is almost definite.”

“Unless our killer heard about the mask used at Vance’s suicide,” said Ava. “Although that was kept quiet and out of the media as far as Zander and I could tell. But if the word got out, it could inspire someone.”

“Either way, we’ve got a serial killer on our hands,” Zander said. “We need to reach out to the Behavioral Analysis Unit for some input. This is a fucked-up case.”

Mason didn’t say anything. He considered the work done in the FBI’s BAU to be partially witchcraft but admitted they’d been helpful in the past. They’d salivate over the file of a killer who used horror movie masks during the week of Halloween. Nora stepped forward and gently lifted the mask. The long mouth had covered Samuelson’s neck, and they saw it had been sliced open like Denny’s. Mason looked at the spikes through the wrists, noticing there was virtually no blood at the sites.

“He was dead before they hung him up,” Mason said. “He would have bled more if he’d been alive when he put those spikes through his wrists.” The other three investigators nodded. The neck of Samuelson’s shirt was soaked with blood. He wore jeans and tennis shoes. Mason looked at the floor of the living room and noticed a smeared blood trail that led into another room. “He was killed in another room?”

Nora nodded. “In the kitchen. Follow me and watch your step.”

They stepped carefully and followed Nora into a spacious kitchen. Here was the murder scene. A tech took photos as another set out numbered tags next to blood drops. A bloody kitchen dishrag lay on the floor along with a tipped-over water glass. Two large pools of blood were in the center of the gold linoleum, their centers still wet but their outside edges darkening and drying. Mason could see where Samuelson had been dragged out of the pools and into the living room. The heavy blood smears grew lighter along the path to the living room.

“Weapon?” asked Mason. “I assume it’s a knife of some sort.”

“Haven’t found it. I’ve got men doing a canvass of the yards with flashlights, and we’ll do it again once it’s daylight.”

“Samuelson’s not that big of a guy,” Zander commented. “I think one person could have managed this. We noticed a bunch of blood on that overturned chair in the living room. I suspect he used that to help him prop the body up while he lifted him to the spikes.”

“I don’t know,” said Ava. “Two people would have made this task much easier.”

“Easier, but not impossible for one guy.”

Ava nodded in agreement, a thoughtful look on her face. “Someone took a big risk by doing it in clear view of the street. Maybe the lights were off for that part, and he turned them on before he left.”

“That’s possible. All lights on this level were on. Even the one in the powder room. Upstairs the master bedroom light was on,” Nora stated.

“Was there a forced entry?”

“No,” said Nora. “Both the front and back doors were unlocked.”

“He’s still in street clothes,” said Zander. “Looks like he was caught before he got ready for bed.” He glanced at his watch. “When will the medical examiner get here? I’d like to take the body down.”