After a moment, a slew of secondary questions raced to mind. What did he want this time? Was he connected to the girl outside Victoria’s Secret? Had he known I’d be shopping at the pier? Wearing a ski mask constituted advance planning, so he must have known beforehand where I’d be. And he didn’t want me to recognize his face.
“Who did you tell we were going shopping?” I asked Vee suddenly.
She rammed a pillow behind her neck, trying to get comfortable. “My mom.”
“That’s it? Nobody else?”
“I might have brought it up to Elliot.”
My blood seemed to suddenly stop flowing. “You told Elliot?”
“What’s the big deal?”
“There’s something I need to tell you,” I said soberly. “Remember the night I drove the Neon home and hit a deer?”
“Yeah?” she said, frowning.
“It wasn’t a deer. It was a guy. A guy in a ski mask.”
“Shut up,” she whispered. “You’re telling me my attack wasn’t random? You’re telling me this guy wants something from me? No, wait. He wants something from you. I was wearing your jacket. He thought I was you.”
My whole body felt leaden.
After a count of silence, she said, “Are you sure you didn’t tell Patch about shopping? Because on further reflection, I’m thinking the guy had Patch’s build. Tallish. Leanish. Strongish. Sexyish, aside from the attacking part.”
“Patch’s eyes aren’t charcoal, they’re black,” I pointed out, but I was uncomfortably aware that I had told Patch we were going shopping at the pier.
Vee raised an indecisive shoulder. “Maybe his eyes were black. I can’t remember. It happened really fast. I can be specific about the gun,” she said helpfully. “It was aimed at me. Like, right at me.”
I pushed a few puzzle pieces around my mind. If Patch had attacked Vee, he must have seen her leave the store wearing my jacket and thought it was me. When he figured out he was following the wrong girl, he hit Vee with the gun out of anger and vanished. The only problem was, I couldn’t imagine Patch brutalizing Vee. It felt off. Besides, he was supposedly at a party on the coast all night.
“Did your attacker look at all like Elliot?” I asked.
I watched Vee absorb the question. Whatever drug she’d been given, it seemed to slow her thought process, and I could practically hear each gear in her brain grind into action.
“He was about twenty pounds too light and four inches too tall to be Elliot.”
“This is all my fault,” I said. “I never should have let you leave the store wearing my jacket.”
“I know you don’t want to hear this,” said Vee, looking like she was fighting a druginduced yawn. “But the more I think on it, the more similarities I see between Patch and my attacker. Same build. Same longlegged stride. Too bad his school file was empty. We need an address. We need to canvass his neighborhood. We need to find a gullible little granny neighbor who could be coaxed into mounting a webcam in her window and aiming it at his house. Because something about Patch just isn’t right.”
“You honestly think Patch could have done this to you?” I asked, still unconvinced.
Vee chewed at her lip. “I think he’s hiding something. Something big.”
I wasn’t going to argue that.
Vee sank deeper in her bed. “My body’s tingling. I feel good all over.”
“We don’t have an address,” I said, “but we do know where he works.”
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Vee asked, eyes brightening briefly through the haze of chemical sedation.
“Based on past experience, I hope not.”
“The truth is, we need to brush up on our sleuthing skills,” said Vee. “Use them or lose them, that’s what Coach said. We need to find out more about Patch’s past. Hey, I bet if we document, Coach will even give us extra credit.”
Highly doubtful, given that if Vee was involved, the sleuthing would likely take an illegal turn. Not to mention, this particular sleuthing job had nothing to do with biology. Even remotely.
The slight smile Vee had dragged out of me faded. Fun as it was to be lighthearted about the situation, I was frightened. The guy in the ski mask was out there, planning his next attack. It kind of made sense that Patch might know what was going on. The guy in the ski mask jumped in front of the Neon the day after Patch became my biology partner. Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence.
Just then the nurse popped her head inside the door. “It’s eight o’clock,” she told me, tapping her watch.
“Visiting hours are over.”
“I’ll be right out,” I said.
As soon as her footsteps faded down the hall, I shut the door to Vee’s room. I wanted privacy before I told her about the murder investigation surrounding Elliot. However, when I got back to Vee’s bed, it was apparent that her medication had kicked in.
“Here it comes,” she said with an expression of pure bliss. “Drug rush … any moment now … the surge of warmth … byebye, Mr. Pain …”
“This is really important—”
“Knock, knock. ”
“It’s about Elliot—”
“Knock, knoooock,” she said in a singsong voice.
I sighed. “Who’s there?”
“Boohoo, somebody’s crying, and it’s not me!” She broke into hysterical laughter.
Realizing it was pointless to push the issue, I said, “Call me tomorrow after you’re discharged.” I unzipped my backpack. “Before I forget, I brought your homework. Where do you want me to put it?”
She pointed at the trash can. “Right there will be fine.”
I pulled the Fiat into the garage and pocketed the keys. The sky lacked stars on the drive home, and sure enough, a light rain started to fall. I tugged on the garage door, lowering it to the ground and locking it.
I let myself into the kitchen. A light was on somewhere upstairs, and a moment later my mom came running down the stairs and threw her arms around me.
My mom has dark wavy hair and green eyes. She’s an inch shorter than I am, but we share the same bone structure. She always smells like Love by Ralph Lauren.
“I’m so glad you’re safe,” she said, squeezing me tight.
Safeish, I thought.
THE FOLLOWING NIGHT AT SEVEN, THE BORDERLINE’S parking lot was packed. After nearly an hour of begging, Vee and I had convinced her parents that we needed to celebrate her first night out of the hospital over chiles rellenos and virgin strawberry daiquiris. At least, that’s what we were claiming. But we had an ulterior motive.
I tucked the Neon into a tight parking space and turned off the engine.
“Ew,” said Vee when I passed the keys back and my fingers brushed hers. “Think you could sweat a little more?”
“Gee, I had no clue.”
I inadvertently looked at the door.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Vee said, tightening her lips. “And the answer is no. No as in no way.”
“You don’t know what I’m thinking,” I said.
Vee vised my arm. “The heck I don’t.”
“I wasn’t going to run,” I said. “Not me.”
Tuesday was Patch’s night off, and Vee had put it into my head that it would be the perfect time to interrogate his coworkers. I envisioned myself sashaying up to the bar, giving the bartender a coy Marcie Millar look, then segueing to the topic of Patch. I needed his home address. I needed any prior arrests. I needed to know if he had a connection to the guy in the ski mask, no matter how tenuous. And I needed to figure out why the guy in the ski mask and the mysterious girl were in my life.
I peeked inside my handbag, doublechecking to make sure the list of interrogation questions I’d prepared were still with me. One side of the list dealt with questions about Patch’s personal life. The flip side had flirting prompts. Just in case.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Vee said. “What is that?”
“Nothing,” I said, folding the list.
Vee tried to grab the list, but I was faster and had it crammed deep in my handbag before she could get to it.
“Rule number one,” Vee said. “There is no such thing as notes in flirting.”
“There’s an exception to every rule.”
“And you’re not it!” She grabbed two plastic 7Eleven sacks from the backseat and swiveled out of the car. As soon as I stepped out, she used her good arm to hurl the sacks over the top of the Neon at me.
“What’s this?” I asked, catching the sacks. The handles were tied and I couldn’t see inside, but the unmistakable shaft of a stiletto heel threatened to poke through the plastic.
“Size eight and a half,” Vee said. “Sharkskin. It’s easier to play the part when you look the part.”
“I can’t walk in high heels.”
“Good thing they’re not high, then.”
“They look high,” I said, eying the protruding stiletto.
“Almost five inches. They left ‘high’ behind at four.”
Lovely. If I didn’t break my neck, I just might get to humiliate myself while seducing secrets out of Patch’s coworkers.
“Here’s the deal,” said Vee as we strode down the sidewalk to the front doors. “I sort of invited a couple of people. The more the merrier, right?”
“Who?” I asked, feeling the dark stirrings of foreboding in the pit of my stomach.
“Jules and Elliot.”
Before I had time to tell Vee exactly how bad I thought this idea was, she said, “Moment of truth: I’ve sort of been seeing Jules. On the sly.”
“You should see his house. Bruce Wayne can’t compete. His parents are either South American drug lords or come from serious old money. Since I haven’t met them yet, I can’t say which.”
I was at a loss for words. My mouth opened and shut, but nothing came out. “When did this happen?” I finally managed to ask.
“Pretty much right after that fateful morning at Enzo’s.”
“Fateful? Vee, you have no idea—”
“I hope they got here first and reserved a table,” Vee said, stretching her neck while eying the crowd accumulating around the doors. “I don’t want to wait. I am seriously two thin minutes away from death by starvation.”
I grabbed Vee by her good elbow, pulling her aside. “There’s something I need to tell you—”
“I know, I know,” she said. “You think there’s a slim chance Elliot attacked me Sunday night. Well, I think you’ve got Elliot confused with Patch. And after you do some sleuthing tonight, the facts will back me up. Believe me, I want to know who attacked me just as much as you. Probably even more. It’s personal now. And while we’re handing each other advice, here’s mine. Stay away from Patch. Just to be safe.”