“He should be here any minute,” said Nora. “Let’s see if our jogger feels like talking now. He was too upset earlier to say much.”
Mason hung back in the kitchen and took a long look at the dark puddles of blood, remembering how the blood had pooled around Denny. At least Denny’s had merged with the soil, returning to nature. The blood on the old linoleum would be diluted and blended with soapy water in someone’s cleaning bucket. A worker on hands and knees, who’d never known Samuelson, would clean up.
Mason hoped his own death wouldn’t leave stains for a stranger to remove. He’d rather die under a fir tree, his blood soaking into the earth.
Ava recognized the athleticism in Brian Wasco. He had lean muscles and thin tendons that formed deep grooves down his neck. When it came to running, he said he didn’t care about the time of day or whether it was pouring rain. Ice was the only thing that stopped him from his run.
The twenty-eight-year-old sat on the low rock fence that separated the sidewalk from the home, his elbows resting on his thighs. Someone had given him a bottle of water and he squeezed it like a stress toy while he spoke. Nora finally asked him to stop, the loud crunching noise getting on everyone’s nerves.
“I got off work at midnight because I was filling stock after hours. By the time I got home it was almost one. I changed and ran out the door,” he said, looking earnestly at the investigators. “I like running at night. It’s quiet and you feel alone but sorta powerful because most of the city is sleeping. There’s an element of mystery that makes it feel like you’re doing something wrong.” He gave a sheepish look. “Sometimes I’ve wondered if cops on the graveyard shift would think I was running away from something.”
“Do you usually run this street?” Ava asked. Brian seemed direct and honest, but she hadn’t made up her mind. Something about him seemed slightly off.
“About half the time. I try to mix it up, and I usually save this road for when I have to run in the dark because the roads and sidewalks don’t have any root bumps to trip over.”
“You said earlier that you don’t always work the same shift,” Zander added.
“That’s right. Some days I work nights, some swing.”
“What made you stop and look closer at this house?” asked Nora.
“I actually ran past two more houses and then came back,” said Brian. “I assumed I’d seen a Halloween decoration out of the corner of my eye, but it was a bit odd that the house was all lit up. Usually every house on this street is dark when I run it at night.” He took deep breath and squeezed his bottle. He shot an apologetic glance at Nora. “I came back because it’d felt too real. You know how you get that feeling when you’re staring at something and your brain can’t figure out what it’s seeing? I stood over there at the beginning of the walkway and stared for a long time, expecting to see the guy walk through the room, setting up more decorations.”
“The guy,” Ava stated. “You say that like you know him.”
Brian shrugged. “I’ve seen him working in the yard pretty often during the day. I’ve never seen a woman or kids here. Does he have a family?”
“No kids,” said Ava. “Divorced.”
“That’s good. Well . . . not good. I’d worried that he had kids since there were so many Halloween decorations. I don’t like the thought of kids seeing him like that.” He shuddered.
“So you stood at the end of the walkway,” prompted Zander. “What made you move closer?”
Brian squeezed his bottle. “I don’t know. It just didn’t feel right. As I got closer, I could see the blood on his shirt and the spikes in his wrists, but I kept telling myself it was fake. It wasn’t until I spotted the big tattoo on the inside of his forearm that I realized that was no mannequin.” He looked nauseated.
“That must have been horrible for you,” sympathized Ava. She’d been warned the body had been hung on the wall, but the sight had rattled her to the core. This was a scene that would be stored permanently in her memory banks.
“I can’t get it out of my head,” said Brian. “I banged on the window a few times and he didn’t move. I rang the doorbell and called 911. I finally tried the doorknob. It was unlocked. I stepped in the house and yelled to see if anyone else was in the house.”
“You didn’t worry for your own safety?” Nora asked.
Brian stared at her. “That wasn’t very smart of me, was it? I didn’t even consider that the person who’d done it could still be inside until right this minute.” He ran his hands over his face and bent over. “Holy shit. What the hell? I guess I’d assumed he’d done it himself.” He looked up at the investigators. “But no one could drive those posts into their own wrists.” He froze, leaped up, and then took large lunging steps toward a corner of the yard.
The investigators looked away at the sound of his retching. Ava picked up the bottle of water he’d dropped.
“Poor bastard,” Mason said in sympathy.
Brian returned after a few moments and sheepishly took the bottle Ava handed him. “It happens to all of us,” she told him as he rinsed his mouth and spit.
“Someone murdered him,” Brian said with a shudder. “Deep down I knew someone murdered him, but it didn’t hit home until just a minute ago.”