The cabin, p.9

The Cabin, page 9

 

The Cabin
 


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  He was right behind me, his gaze burning into mine.

  I couldn't figure him out. Blake was a mystery and a pretty annoying one.

  "Got nothing else to do," he whispered, giving me goose bumps. His proximity made my earlier anger toward him fizzle out completely--almost completely.

  "Liar." There were probably hundreds of other things he'd rather be doing, including nothing at all.

  His eyes narrowed, clearly disliking how I challenged him. "I want to find the killer too. No one else can give me answers, so why not tag along with Detective Mackenzie and see where it leads me? Besides, I can't stand being at home." His voice lowered at his confession. I could only imagine what it was like for both him and his mom.

  "I'm sorry."

  He smiled halfheartedly and shrugged one shoulder. "What are you looking for?"

  "A shed or cabin," I replied. "Anything the killer could have been hiding in."

  "Are you expecting to find bloody clothes and the murderer's ID too?"

  "Hoping, not expecting. There any places you can show me?"

  "A couple." He walked past me, headed in a different direction.

  "Do you still know the way to them?"

  "Please," he said, turning his head to smirk at me. "I'm a man."

  I followed closely behind him, weaving around the trees. The deeper we walked into the woods, the darker it became and the more I wanted to head back. "Are you sure this is the way?" I asked, wrapping my arms around myself.

  "What do you think, I'm leading you into the middle of nowhere to slit your throat?"

  "That's so not funny, and I don't think that's what you're doing. I think you've gotten us lost. No man would ever admit to that, so I think you're taking us around in circles, hoping we'll eventually come across the cabin again."

  He sighed. "Just ahead you'll see a crappy, old shack. Josh and I found it years ago when we were looking for somewhere to play with our water pistols."

  "You needed shelter for that?"

  "We needed a base. Every good military operation has a base."

  I grinned, imagining Blake as a child, running around and playing fantasy games. We started walking again, slower this time. "Quite the imagination you have."

  "Had," he corrected. "Life screws you over eventually."

  "Pessimist."

  "Hopeless optimist."

  "How far does the river go?" I asked.

  He shrugged. "How should I know? Far, I assume."

  "That's a lot of opportunity for someone to dump the evidence in the water. And a lot of forest too. Do you think they've hidden it all somewhere? The clothes, I mean."

  "No, they're probably doing their weekly shopping in them," he replied dryly.

  I narrowed my eyes. "Bastard."

  "The forest is huge. You could lose anything in there. The ground is covered in leaves and crap, so you could probably bury a lot in there too."

  "Great. We have no hope." Finding clues seemed impossible. If Blake was right, and he knew this area better than me, the murderer could have already hidden the evidence anywhere in the miles of woodland. The police would need the murderer's clothes to match fibers to.

  "Want to explain why we're doing this?" he asked, lifting his dark eyebrow at me. I knew what he was thinking and I couldn't disagree. This was stupid, beyond stupid, and a huge waste of my time.

  "Because I have to do something, Blake!"

  What else could I do? I'd never been the type of person to sit back and do nothing when people I cared about were in trouble.

  He pointed ahead. "There you go."

  I frowned, but as I took another step, I could see the side of something wooden. "We're here?"

  "No, I took you--"

  "All right, thank you!" I rolled my eyes and muttered under my breath, "Sarcastic arse."

  Blake grinned wide, flashing his teeth. He was a little too good at shoving his emotions aside. I could do it well enough to function, but Blake could do it well enough to be himself.

  We walked closer, and I stopped. No way am I going in there. The whole structure looked as if it was about to collapse. It looked like the type of shack you screamed for someone not to go near in a horror film.

  "It's creepy," I said as a cold shudder ripped through my body.

  "It's an old shed, Mackenzie. What do you think it's gonna do? Bite you?"

  I ignored him and nodded toward the door half hanging off the top hinge.

  Blake's smile grew. "Ladies first."

  "Shut up and go." I didn't understand how he could continuously make jokes when what we were doing was serious. And I hated that I didn't completely hate his humor. "Unless you're scared?"

  He rolled his eyes. "Reverse psychology doesn't work on me. This is your crusade. You lead the way, detective."

  "Fine." I stood taller, trying to fool myself into believing that I was braver than I felt. "But for the record, you have no balls at all, princess." I wasn't sure what his reaction would be, whether he would continue the cocky attitude or bite back, but I didn't wait around to find out. I swallowed my dread and stepped into the run-down shed. Cobwebs plagued the top of the doorway, but the bottom half was clear, maybe from where someone had cleared it recently. I peered inside, but the dust-clad windows prevented much light from coming inside.

  I looked over my shoulder and was met by an incredibly smug-looking Blake. "Want me to go first, sweets?" he asked.

  "Is that a genuine offer?"

  He bit his lip, pretending to think, even though we were both aware that he already knew the answer. He sighed. "Move out of the way." Swiping at the remaining cobwebs with his hand, he stepped inside.

  "What's in there?" I whispered.

  "No one. No reason for you to whisper."

  I took a deep breath, gritting my teeth. "What's in there, Blake?" I hissed.

  "Bugger all. Come in."

  He could have been lying, and I would walk in to see a skeleton or something, but for some reason, I trusted him. Blake drove me crazy with his attitude, but I knew he wouldn't put me in any danger. Well, not real danger at least. He would probably let me do something like walk into a room with a skeleton to scare the hell out of me.

  I took a small step and was halfway through the door when the musty smell made my nose sting. Blake wiped the cracked glass with his hand. A shaft of light poured into the small room, giving enough light so we could see.

  The inside of the shed was filled with dust, mud, and more cobwebs. The floor was littered with empty packets of chips and bottles of drink. I frowned. "We're not going to find anything, are we?"

  Blake scratched the back of his neck. "If you want to continue looking for someone else, I'm with you."

  "But?" I prompted, sensing he had more to say.

  "But I think it was one of your friends."

  I gulped and shook my head. "No, it couldn't have been. They wouldn't."

  "That's what they want you to believe, yes."

  "No. I need to keep searching. Check the use-by dates on the litter. Some might be recent."

  "And that will prove...?"

  I don't know! "Please, Blake," I said. I knew I was looking for a needle in a haystack and searching rubbish was plain ridiculous, but I had to find evidence that pointed to an intruder. I couldn't accept the killer was one of my friends.

  He held up his hands. "All right, let's look at rubbish."

  I smiled. "Thank you."

  This is absolutely absurd. We're checking litter. This investigation is at an all-time low.

  Blake knelt down and picked up a faded packet of chips. I wanted to tell him that the bag had clearly been here a long time, but he was doing me a favor. "I hope your friends appreciate you."

  "What do you mean by that?"

  "You're doing everything you can to prove their innocence--innocence you don't even know is there--including sifting through crap. What're they doing for you?"

  "I don't do things to get something in return."

  "No
, but perhaps you should ask yourself if you're being appreciated a little more often."

  I didn't respond, but picked up a crumpled biscuit packet. Gasping, I shoved the packet toward him. "Blake, look!" There was blood on it. Not a lot, but I hoped against all the odds that it was blood to link the real murderer to the crime. A frown slipped onto his forehead as he studied it.

  "How long do you think it's been there?" I asked.

  "How the hell should I know?"

  "Well, does it look like old blood?"

  He shrugged. "I dunno."

  Outside, I heard a snap and froze. Gripping Blake's arm, I looked at the doorway in horror. "Did you hear that?" I whispered.

  "Uh-huh," Blake replied, taking a step forward and tilting his head. I tightened my fingers around his bicep and kept myself rigid, trying to hold him back. He looked over his shoulder. "I need to check it out," he said in a low voice, dropping the bloodstained packet.

  Shaking my head, I tugged him closer, but he barely moved. "Don't. It could be them."

  "It could be an animal."

  "Please, Blake, I'm--" Another snap had me clenching my teeth together and my heart sinking to my toes. "Don't go out there," I discouraged.

  Blake reached down and pulled my hand from his arm. "Stay here."

  "Are you crazy?"

  "Not half as much as I'm starting to think you are." His eyes darkened as he leaned closer. "And don't ever question my mental health again."

  I took a step back, away from him.

  "Stay here, Mackenzie," he growled.

  Holding my breath, I watched him cautiously step out of the shed. I couldn't let him go out alone. What if the killer was out there? It was unlikely, but I hadn't thought something bad could happen at the cabin either.

  Gathering as much courage as I could, I stepped into the woods and held my breath. Blake rounded the corner of the shed and almost slammed into me. I jumped backward and scowled as he smirked.

  "It was a deer," he said.

  "Huh?"

  "Deer--four-legged creature that lives in the woods?"

  I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, I know what a deer is. Are you sure that's what it was?"

  "Well, if not, it was a very ugly person." He reached down and picked up the packet from just inside the doorway. "So you really want to take this?"

  "Yes," I replied. It's just a deer, calm down. "I think the blood looks new...ish."

  Blake laughed and shook his head. He thought I was an idiot, but at least I was being proactive.

  "This isn't funny, Blake. Why aren't you taking this seriously?"

  "Because you've got us sifting through garbage. I'll humor you and we'll take this to Wright." He stood up. "Now come on, before you find a dead bird and accuse that of--"

  "All right, thank you." I turned on my heel and stomped away. Keeping my cool with him was hard, even when he was trying to help.

  "Mackenzie?"

  "Yeah."

  "What will you do if one of them is the killer?"

  "I honestly don't know," I said, and tried to shake the thought from my mind. "Will you help me? No one else seems overly enthusiastic about investigating. I need someone," I whispered.

  He frowned. "Are you gonna cry? I don't do well with hysterical women, remember?"

  "I'm not going to cry. Not yet."

  "You've set a timer?" he teased.

  I smiled. "When this is all over. Until then, I'm strong Mackenzie."

  "Your friends really are lucky."

  I shrugged off his compliment. It's what anyone would do for the people they cared about. "So will you help?"

  The corner of his mouth pulled up, and he did a little bow. "I'm at your service, Detective Keaton."

  I breathed out sharply, relieved that I had someone to go through all this with--even if that person drove me insane most of the time. I knew that, together, we could figure out the truth of what happened.

  He reached out and brushed his thumb over my little finger. His touch sent a bolt of electricity through every inch of my body.

  "Thank you, Blake," I whispered.

  Chapter Ten

  After leaving the cabin, Blake and I dropped the bloodstained packet off to an amused Wright at the police station and then went back to Blake's house. The second we stepped through the door, I could tell he wanted nothing more than to leave again. He walked slowly into the living room. His mum sat in the same chair where she had spent Josh's entire wake. The TV was on, but she didn't seem to be watching it. She stared into space, not moving at all. I could only tell she was alive by the rise and fall of her chest.

  "Hi, Eloise," I said to the statue of his mum. She didn't even blink. I looked to Blake for help.

  He shook his head discreetly, his lips thinning. I guessed this empty shell was normal for her now. "Let's go up to my room," he said.

  I took a quick glance back at his mom as I followed Blake out of the room. Her eyes were bloodshot and sunken. Her hair was slick with grease and tied into a messy ponytail on top of her head. She looked as if she had checked out days ago and just left her body behind.

  "Is she OK?" I asked as we reached the top of the stairs and were out of her way, not that she would have acknowledged she'd heard me if I had asked him right in front of her.

  "Not really." He pushed the door open and nodded, gesturing for me to go in first.

  Wow, he can be a gentleman.

  His room was plain and bare. A dull light blue covered the walls, and there was nothing hanging from them to personalize it. The only furniture was a double bed, bedside table, and wardrobe. A flat-screen TV hung from the wall opposite the bed, but it looked old, probably secondhand from when they'd replaced another one in the house. I imagined Eloise buying a new one for the lounge and saying, Oh, we can put the old one in Blake's room. His bedroom reminded me of a cheap hotel room.

  "I've never spent much time here," he explained.

  "It's fine." I wasn't sure why he felt he had to explain it to me. I didn't care how it looked. "Have you heard from Wright?"

  "Nope, but that's hardly surprising since it's been two minutes."

  I sat down on the bed. "All right, I'm impatient!"

  "Please, make yourself at home," he said playfully, teasing me. "He does that on purpose, I think."

  "What, not contacting us?"

  He plopped down on the bed, making me bounce. "Yeah. You'd think he would be on our case twenty-four seven, so he's not. Whatever we expect, he does the opposite."

  "Ah, to mess with us. He doesn't seem like a proper detective."

  "I dunno"--he shrugged--"I'd probably be cocky and arrogant if I were a detective."

  I snorted, and he rolled his eyes--if he were a detective my arse.

  "Moving on," he snapped, amusement clear in his eyes. "What fun activities do you have for us now? Digging up graves? Sifting through sewers?"

  "Why don't you suggest some options if you don't like what I'm doing?" I could've used the help.

  "We could talk to Tilly's dad. You know, maybe something he says will tell us more than looking through people's rubbish."

  He absentmindedly reached over and stroked the back of my hand with his thumb as he spoke. I wasn't sure if he realized how he was making me feel, but I liked it way too much. Every touch had me feeling like I was falling. I wasn't sure if I was falling for him or about to fall because of him. At that point, it could have been either.

  "I found blood, didn't I?" I replied, my voice wavering while I tried to keep my hormones in check.

  "Probably from a half-dead animal, but whatever."

  "We'll see. Wright is going to have it tested."

  "I thought he would laugh in our faces and tell us to leave."

  He didn't laugh, but he was definitely amused by our investigative work. "Um, because he knows I'm right."

  "Either that or the blood will be from one of your friends and you dropped them right in it."

  My world slammed to an abrupt stop. What if it was? Wo
uld that mean they'd done it? No, it couldn't be. "It won't be theirs," I said, my throat closing around the words.

  "Whatever you say. My money's on Kyle though."

  Did Blake know about Kyle's affair with Courtney? "Why Kyle?"

  "He has those dark eyes. They look mysterious slash serial killer."

  I laughed. "'Mysterious slash serial killer'? Brown eyes don't make you a murderer."

  "It's not the color. Just the way they look."

  I shook my head. Blake was no longer making sense.

  "So...Lawrence's?" he said. "I'm assuming that's Goldilocks's dad?"

  "Yes, and how do you know Tilly was blond?"

  "I can sniff blonds out. It's a gift."

  "You're a pig!"

  He laughed, standing up as I did. "I do know you all, you know. Well, I know of you." Right, he had seen us from the car as his parents had done the child swap. "How far away does Lawrence live?"

  "Five minutes. We all live close."

  "I hate small villages."

  "There's nothing wrong with this village."

  "Sure, if you don't mind a bit of murder every now and then," he muttered.

  Taking a deep breath, I pushed his words to the back of my mind. I was grateful that he was helping me, but his little jabs weren't helpful. He joked about situations to make people think he didn't care about anything. But that wasn't true. Blake cared, but for some reason, he wouldn't drop the tough-guy act.

  "And where you're from is so much better?"

  "Towns are better. Fact. Here, everyone knows your business, and they all look at you, wondering what you're up to. In towns, people have lives. In villages, people's lives are other people's lives."

  "OK then." We reached the bottom of the stairs, and I frowned in concern. Should we leave his mom alone? "Blake, is she really OK? I feel like we should do something for her."

  Eloise sat in the same position, still, motionless. I wished Blake and I had met somewhere else. I understood why he didn't like staying at his mom's anymore. Usually, I was good with grieving people. I could do or say something to try to help, but not with Eloise. She gave me nothing to work with. Crying I could handle. Angry I could handle. An emotionless statue? I drew a blank.

  "Has your mum eaten anything? Maybe we should make her a sandwich before we leave," I said as we stopped outside the lounge door.

  "She won't eat it even if you make something--never does."

  "What about you?"

  "I'm a big boy, Mackenzie. I can look after myself." He walked to the front door, and I followed.

 
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