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“It was your brain trying to cope and protect you from what you’d seen,” Zander pointed out. “You don’t expect to see something like that every day. Or any day.”

“Hell no,” said Brian. “Do you know who did it?”

“Not yet,” said Ava. “We’ll find him. Someone doesn’t create a scene like that without leaving a lot of evidence behind. Did you touch anything when you went in the house?”

He started to vehemently shake his head, but froze. “I was going to say no, but I did lift the mask because I was going to check for a pulse at his neck. Once I saw his neck had been slashed, I stopped. So my fingerprints are on the mask right at the bottom. Is that okay? Shit. I shouldn’t have touched that.”

“It’s expected that you would try to check for signs of life,” Nora said. “I’ll have one of the techs take your prints for comparables. Did you touch anything else?”

“Just the doorbell and the door handle. I backed out of the room once I saw he was dead.” He shook his head with a confused look on his face. “That mask is fucking creepy,” stated Brian. “Who does shit like that? It’s like a scene out of one of the Scream movies.”

Ava exchanged a look with the other investigators. “About the mask, we’re going to ask that you not share that detail with anyone . . . not your girlfriend or your mother or any reporter that contacts you. We’d like to keep that sort of unusual detail quiet to help weed out the liars who will call in trying to claim they did the murder.” It wasn’t the entire reason to keep it quiet, but it should be enough.

“You think reporters will contact me?” Brian asked, looking slightly stunned.

Ava was starting to think he wasn’t the sharpest tool on the Home Depot sales floor. But it was the middle of the night and the discovery of a violent death had probably muddled his brain a bit. Hers felt muddled. “I’d say yes. You don’t have to talk to them. It’s up to you, but I think it rarely does any good. They can come to us for an official statement.”

“I don’t want to talk to them,” said Brian. “I don’t need to talk about this ever again. I want this shit out of my brain as quickly as possible.”

“We’ll have you come in and deliver an official statement tomorrow—today, I mean,” said Nora. The sound of a car door slamming had them all turning to see who’d arrived.

“Seth Rutledge,” murmured Mason next to her.

Ava nodded, pleased to see the chief medical examiner of the state had personally responded to their case.


“We’ve been busy tonight,” Seth Rutledge said to the group of investigators. “Two drunk driving accidents and now this. As soon as I heard there was a trooper involved, I wanted to be here.”

Mason had worked with the medical examiner more times than he cared to remember. The man was good at his job.

Seth frowned as he realized Ava and Zander were present as investigators. “What’s pulled in the FBI?”

“You’re aware of the OSP captain who was murdered at the coast?” Nora asked. At Seth’s nod she went on. “He was found with a horror mask covering his face. This case also has a similar type of mask.”

Seth didn’t move. “Captain Schefte’s autopsy was finished late yesterday afternoon. I got a quick briefing from one of my examiners, Dr. Trask. She didn’t mention the mask. She primarily described the injury to the neck. I assume the mask is in her full report, which I’ll receive tomorrow.” He paused. “But we had another case last week where a horror mask was involved.” His face was deadly serious. “He was an FBI agent.”

“Vance Weldon,” Nora said. “We’re aware and have gone through your autopsy notes already. You were confident he was a suicide?”

“I’m glad you’re aware of the case and have already reviewed it. Vance Weldon was a tough one, but I never assign a classification unless I’m comfortable with it.”

“What made it tough?” Mason asked.

“We have to classify deaths as homicide, suicide, natural, or undetermined. Weldon clearly was not natural or undetermined—he died from strangulation by hanging. I went with suicide based on the position in which he was found, a statement from his wife about his past attempt, his medications, and how she described his recent state of mind. I didn’t see anything that indicated murder. His wrists were clear of the abrasions I’d expect if someone had bound his hands to hang him. Maybe I rushed to judgment on that one, but it felt right at the time. I won’t claim to be perfect. I’ve made classification errors before. Now I want to review it again.”

“Based on what you knew, you made the right determination,” stated Zander. “I’ve been through your notes and most of the investigator notes from the case, and it all points at suicide. The masks are the only thing making us take a look to see if he should be grouped with Denny Schefte and now Louis Samuelson.”

“The second two are OSP,” Seth pointed out. “Why include an FBI agent?”

“That’s what we’re hoping to find out,” said Ava.

Seth looked at the house. “I’ll get started right away. Let’s nail the bastard who’s doing this.”

“Amen,” muttered Mason.

They followed the medical examiner into the house. The crime scene techs were still working in the bloody kitchen. Nora told Seth they’d finished taking pictures of the body in its current position. Seth studied the body, looking at it from all angles. He moved one of the hands, peering at the spike in the right wrist. “That’s a new one for me,” he said softly. He pushed the shirt out of the way to get a clear view of one of the spikes under the armpit. “It was nailed in at a downward angle. Someone knew they’d have to do it that way to keep the body in place.” He reached up and rapped across the wall with his knuckles. “The bugger even checked for the position of the stud in the wall. He knew driving the spikes into the drywall might not hold the man’s weight.”