It was a long-shadowed late afternoon, and Julia was staring dully into the refrigerator, not hungry but feeling as though she should make something, or eat something, just to be doing something normal.
From outside there was a whispery crunch, as of someone moving through the carpet of fallen leaves in the backyard. Julia turned, wondering if it was some early trick-or-treater approaching from the rear, or a teenaged curiosity seeker on a dare, come to see the house on the fateful anniversary. She moved to the window.
In the middle of the backyard was an old swing set that Scott had always played on as a child. Next to it was a black goat, standing upright, wearing a drooping red bell collar, furry horns twisted, black bead eyes motionless. The goat had a human hand where one of its hooves should have been.
Julia put her own hand to her mouth. The goat stood, looking toward her and not moving. She didn’t know if it could see her or not. She almost called for Bill, but then remembered that he was gone, of course, the last echo of him a shouted expletive and the roar of a car engine. Julia was alone.
Hesitantly, she went to the back door and peered through the curtains. The goat was still there, but it seemed to have shifted its weight, and as she watched it turned its horned head to one side, as though considering a course of action. “Scott,” she said under her breath, his name like a talisman. She turned the knob and opened the door.
Before she could step outside, before she could repeat the name, the goat had turned and dashed awkwardly off into the shrubbery, leaving a panicked flurry of crisp red leaves in its wake. Julia stood on the threshold for a very long time, staring at the space where the goat had been. The longer she stood there, the more she was able to tell herself that she had seen nothing but her own wishful imaginings. But she was not able to completely convince herself.
And so as night began to close in and the faint laughter and squeals of children began to float on the frosted air, Julia went back inside and called the police.
Inspector Jim Wright was almost ready to go off duty, but he took the call and agreed to stop by the Langley house on his way home. Whatever Julia Langley had seen, it had upset her immensely, and even if it was just a sick prank, Wright felt compelled to check it out. He liked Julia Langley, and genuinely felt for her; that business a year ago had been terribly ugly.
When he got to the house, Julia was composed, though her eyes were a little red. “Thanks for coming,” she said, and offered him coffee, which he accepted.
While she went to make it, Wright wandered out the back door and made a slow circuit of the yard. It was full dark now, of course, but Julia had turned on the floodlights mounted on the house’s eaves, and they bathed the area in a stark white glow. Even so, there was nothing to see; the space near the swing set, where Mrs. Langley had seen the goat, was unremarkable save for a few trodden leaves. Wright trudged back to the house and slid into a chair at the kitchen table. Julia placed a steaming mug in front of him and gave him a rueful smile before sitting down herself.
“I’m perfectly willing to accept that I imagined the whole thing,” she said without any prompting from him. “I don’t think I did, but maybe the stress is getting to me more than I realize.”
“Where’s Bill? Did he see it?”
Julia’s gaze was flat over the rim of her cup. “I told him to leave.”
Wright sat back in his chair. “When was this?”
“Two days ago.”
So ‘under stress’ is something of an understatement, Wright thought. Not only was it Halloween, the first anniversary of her son’s disappearance, but now this. “Mrs. Langley—Julia—I know this isn’t really my business, but…”
She gave him that sad little smile again. “Christ, Jim, after all you’ve done for me you’re like family. Don’t worry about getting into my business.”
“You know there was never any real evidence that Bill had anything to do with it.”
“I know. It wasn’t just about the disappearance, or about that girl.” Her voice on the last word was hard as diamond dust; clearly she still suspected Zoe of something, even if the police had released her. Julia took another sip of her coffee. “I just felt like Bill was never fully on board, you know? Sometimes I thought…well, it was almost like he didn’t really want to find Scott.”
This did not surprise Wright as much as it probably should have. Scott’s disappearance had brought forth some scandalous accusations against Bill, and even if they weren’t true, the stench of them was hard to erase. Wright had to admit he felt a little sorry for the guy, though he never would have said as much to Julia. She was really the one getting the worst deal out of all this, after all. She’d lost her son, her husband, her peace of mind—and now it seemed like somebody was fooling around in her backyard, trying to make the whole thing into a joke.
Wright leaned forward, getting down to business. “So you saw this person through the window?”
“Yes. I saw him clearly. He ran off before I could get outside.” Her gaze drifted to the window above the sink, which was now a dark rectangle partially concealed by curtains. “It was the same costume Scott was wearing when he disappeared,” she said quietly, still not looking at him. “I remember it because the horns were crooked, one slightly bigger than the other, and the bell collar was red. And of course one of the hooves was missing.” Her voice shook a little, but she held herself together.
She had told him about the goat’s human hand on the phone, and this was the detail that most disturbed him. Scott Langley had disappeared on Halloween night, exactly one year before. He had been dressed as one of the Three Billy Goats Gruff; his girlfriend Zoe was the troll, while their two friends Alan and Tiffany played the parts of the other two goats. After Scott’s disappearance, one of the only traces of him found by police was a single furry hoof from the goat costume. The inside of it had been streaked with blood. It had been found floating near the edge of the muddy stream under the Woodburrow Bridge, two days after Scott had gone missing.
Julia was looking across the table at him now, her eyes deep pools of rage and sorrow in her otherwise calm face. “I don’t know what all this means,” she said.
Wright knew she wanted to believe she’d seen Scott out there in her backyard, but he also knew that she was realistic enough to understand that her son was probably dead. Julia was justifiably upset, but she wasn’t delusional. So if the person in the goat suit had really been there, and if it wasn’t Scott, then who was it? Some kid with a morbid fascination with the case who was getting his jollies out of toying with a grieving woman? Or someone who knew exactly what had happened to Scott that night?
It was the same costume Scott was wearing…I remember it… Memory was a funny thing, Wright thought. It was possible all this was a fantasy or a misunderstanding, but until further notice, he was going to operate on the assumption that Julia had stared into the masked face of her son’s killer.
Technically, the Langley case was still open, though Wright had been the only one doing any work on it for the past four months. He had taken the files home after his stop at Julia’s house, and planned to look over them for the rest of the evening. He had also phoned back to his office, telling the night officer to be on alert for any strange reports of a man in a black goat suit wearing only one glove.
Wright made more coffee and settled onto the sofa in his small but neat living room. His cat Agatha purred and rubbed against his leg, then jumped up beside him and promptly dozed off. The apartment was otherwise quiet, the only sounds the faraway hum of traffic and the tick of the clock on the mantel.
The exact facts of the Langley case were worryingly ambiguous. On Halloween night of 2009, Scott Langley had gone to a costume party at the home of a vague acquaintance, Susan Hawthorn. Accompanying him to the party was his girlfriend of eighteen months, Zoe Beamish, and two other friends, Alan Young and Tiffany Grandy. Scott and Zoe had gone to the party in Zoe’s car, a 2001 Nissan Altima. Alan and Tiffany had gone in Alan’s battered Ford.
At around 9:45pm, according to Alan and Tiffany, who had corroborated each other’s stories, the four of them had left the party and driven to Woodburrow Bridge, which was a fairly common hangout. They drove there in their separate cars. They had brought along some beers from the party, and after a bit of coaxing admitted to possessing some marijuana as well. The four friends talked, drank and smoked for more than an hour, still clad in their Halloween costumes.
At around quarter to eleven, Scott appeared to be getting intoxicated, and he and Zoe began to argue. Both Alan and Tiffany claimed that Scott made accusations of infidelity toward Zoe, which she denied. He became verbally abusive, but Alan was able to calm him down, though according to him Scott still seemed morose. The mood of the get-together had soured, so Alan and Tiffany left just before midnight, both under the impression that Scott and Zoe would make up and then follow them back to the party at the Hawthorn house, which a phone call confirmed was still in full swing.
Alan and Tiffany arrived back at the Halloween party at about 12:30, according to witnesses. They did not immediately worry when Scott and Zoe did not arrive, though Tiffany phoned Zoe and got no answer. Finally, at ten to one in the morning, Zoe returned Tiffany’s call. She sounded strange and very upset, and claimed Scott had been acting bizarrely and had disappeared into the woods. She said she had looked for him, but after fifteen minutes of calling and wandering around the muddy banks, she left him to fend for himself and drove off. Her parents confirmed Zoe arrived home shortly after one twenty a.m.
When Scott had not returned home by the following morning, his mother called Zoe and all her son’s other friends, then called local hospitals. Coming up empty, she finally reported his disappearance to police.
At this point Wright looked up from his files, staring absently at the wall and stroking the head of his sleeping feline. He remembered Julia’s initial phone call—much like today, she had seemed tight-voiced but calm, though he could sense the underlying panic threatening to spiral up and overtake her. The case had initially seemed cut and dried; Scott was seventeen, he’d had a fight with his girlfriend, he was out drinking and smoking dope with his friends. He had probably just gone off and slept in the woods, or at the home of a friend his mother didn’t know about. Wright had told Julia Langley all this in order to reassure her, but even then he had the disquieting sensation that there was more to the boy’s disappearance than met the eye. Julia certainly seemed to think so; despite his attempts to minimize her fears, she would not be mollified and seemed to resent his efforts to calm her.
Wright had begun an investigation. Various clues collected over the course of the next few days seemed to strengthen Wright’s hunch about the case: Droplets of blood that proved to be Scott’s were found in the mud near the bank of the stream, as well as on the wooden slats of Woodburrow Bridge. A small knife, also discovered in the mud, had a streak of Scott’s blood on the blade; its handle contained a partial fingerprint, but its owner could not be determined. Scott’s blood, though only a few spots of it, was found in the trunk of Zoe’s car. The glove of Scott’s goat costume was discovered near the stream, as though it had been tossed off the overhanging bridge. Wright had brought dogs in to cover the area, and they had followed a scent another mile from the site where the glove was found, but then lost the trail. No other trace of Scott turned up after that.
At Julia’s insistence, Wright had searched Scott’s bedroom, watching the team pick meticulously through the detritus of an average seventeen-year-old boy’s life. Nothing was found to indicate that Scott had been depressed or considering suicide; no phone numbers or addresses of previously unknown friends were discovered. The only significant piece of the puzzle was a plain black diary that looked fairly new and only had a few entries in it. The final entry, dated October 30, 2009, read: “Found out about Z and my dad. Can’t believe it if it’s true. They might do something if they know I know about it. Z has been acting crazy and strange and now I know why.” When asked about this diary entry, both Zoe Beamish and Scott’s father Bill Langley vehemently denied any relationship between them. Zoe also denied having anything to do with Scott’s disappearance, and claimed she had no idea how Scott’s blood might have gotten into the trunk of her car, or onto the mud near the bank of the stream.
Wright leaned back on the sofa, rubbing his eyes. This was the kind of case he hated: Seemingly, tauntingly simple, and yet riddled with vague clues and unknown motivations. He had questioned Zoe Beamish and Bill Langley himself, and while going in he had wanted to dismiss their alleged affair as the overdramatic imaginings of a jealous teenage boy, Wright found he couldn’t quite discredit the story entirely. Bill Langley in particular seemed a little off, a little secretive. Wright could easily see how Julia had gotten the idea that Bill was not especially diligent in wanting to track down his son. And Zoe was an enigma all on her own, careening from vituperative diatribes about Scott’s character to tearful proclamations of undying love to flat-eyed emotionless silence. Wright was sure he had earned more than a few ulcers during the few months when the investigation was hottest.
So where did things stand now? If Julia was to be believed—and Wright thought she was, at least for the present—someone wearing Scott’s black goat costume was lurking around in her yard for some unknown purpose. If could have been Scott himself, of course, but Wright doubted it—even if the kid was still alive, which was doubtful, where on earth had he been all this time, and why would he want to torment his mother that way? More likely something stranger was going on. The person in the goat suit might also have been Scott’s father Bill, or even Zoe, who was taller than average for a girl. Alan and Tiffany were also distinct candidates, though they had been nothing but not cooperative during the entire investigation, and didn’t seem like the types of kids who would pull a horrid stunt like this.
And then there was also the remote possibility that Scott had stormed off into the woods that night and into the path of some random psycho, the kind of guy who would kill a nice seventeen-year-old kid for no reason at all and then parade around in the kid’s costume to satisfy some of his freak urges. If this was the case, then Julia Langley herself might be in danger; Wright would have to keep a close eye on her.
After Wright had left, Julia locked all the doors and windows tightly, drew all the blinds and curtains, and extinguished the front porch lights to discourage trick-or-treaters from pounding on the door.
Although she did not know it, everything that had been going through Wright’s mind about the case had also gone through hers, in much the same order but at a more feverish pace. She had no idea what the person she had seen wanted from her, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that it might be a warning, or even a threat.
She had to admit to herself that when she’d first seen the goat standing out by the swing set, she had immediately thought it was Scott; who wouldn’t have? But after he—it—had turned to run away she got the distinct impression that the goat did not move as Scott had; her son had always been lithe and graceful, with a gazelle-like lope to his walk. The person in the goat suit had seemed slightly bulkier, clumsy, as though not in complete control of his limbs. Part of this might have been due to the cumbersome dimensions of the costume, but not all of it. The fact that Julia couldn’t think of anyone who moved the way the goat had filled her with creeping unease. She sat in the living room, the TV on but muted, and watched the closed curtains as if she could see through them, imagining the black goat with the twisted horns and the human hand standing out there in the dark, forming a shadowy maypole for costumed children running laughingly around it in the whirl of a great pagan ceremony. This vision was so intense that at last she rose quickly to her feet and swept the curtains aside. But the yard was empty in the cheery orange light from the jack-o-lanterns lining the porches on the opposite side of the street.
Wright’s cell phone chimed at a little past eleven pm. He had dozed off sitting up on the sofa, files still spread across his lap, his hand resting loosely on Agatha’s head. At the sound of the phone, he snapped instantly awake, startling the cat so much that she yowled and leaped to the floor, fixing him with a withering glare before sauntering off with her tail in the air. Wright brought the phone to his ear. “Yes?”
“Hey, Jim, this might be nothing, but one of the officers patrolling near that Walgreens on 44th said he saw someone in a goat suit with a red collar getting into a black Ford Mustang that had been sitting in the parking lot.”
Wright’s heart rate jumped; that drugstore was less than three blocks from the house Julia Langley now lived in alone. “Did he get the plate?”
“Sure did. He was going to follow the car too, but it had taken the highway exit and was long gone by the time the officer got turned around. The plate number’s 4E3 7HA, registered to a Daryl Shaunessy, residence at 1884 Emerald Avenue, Bridgeton.”
The name didn’t ring a bell, but Wright’s heart was still pounding. It was the first lead they’d had in months. “Have the Bridgeton police been alerted?”
“Yeah, I spoke to an inspector over there, name of Sherry Raeburn. If you want to ride out with her when she goes to pay them a visit, she’ll expect you by midnight. Think you can make it by then?”
“Are you kidding? I’m halfway out the door already.” This was not entirely true; in actuality he was trying to straighten up the files that had slid off his lap in his excitement and simultaneously searching for his shoes, which seemed to have been sucked into the black vortex beneath the couch. “Give me her number, I’ll call her when I’m on the road.”
Wright wrote the number on the edge of a manila folder when the night officer gave it to him, then thanked him for calling and rang off. He found his shoes at last and slipped into them, then pulled his keys out from where they had jammed in his pocket. He dialed Raeburn’s number as he left the house, and when she answered he gave her a brief rundown of the Langley case, explaining that this Daryl Shaunessy was just a person of interest at this point, whether he was the man in the goat costume or not.
After he rang off, he sat in his car for a few moments, wondering if he should call Julia to let her know what was going on. It seemed cruel to build her hopes up when all this might turn out to be a big dead end; besides that, it was getting late, and she might have already gone to bed. But he hesitated only a moment before deciding that if it was his own child who was missing, he would want to know about every scintilla of police work being done to find him, damn the hour or the false hopes. He punched in her number.
As soon as the headlights of the police cruiser washed over the driveway at 1884 Emerald, Wright had a feeling this was the place. He didn’t see a black Mustang, but the garage door was closed, and he could see the flickering blue light of a television coming from behind the curtains, indicating someone was home. There was a large carved pumpkin sitting on the front porch, already starting to go punky around the cut edges. There was no light inside it, but Wright could see that it had been sloppily carved into a leering devil’s face, with a large rusty steak knife protruding from its head in an oddly jaunty way.
As they mounted the wooden porch steps, Raeburn in the lead, Wright saw the twitch of a curtain out of the corner of his eyes. Raeburn knocked on the door, firmly, announcing, “Bridgeton Police, please open up.” For a long moment Wright wondered if anyone was going to answer; Raeburn knocked again.
Finally the door opened a crack, revealing a shadowed figure bearing a blue-lit aura from the television. “What do you want?”
“Do you or someone in this house drive a black Ford Mustang, tag number 4E3 7HA?” Raeburn asked.
The shadow fidgeted. It was clearly male, a large form with vaguely lumpy proportions. Wright noticed that despite his large size, his movements were curiously furtive, like those of a bashful child. “I can’t drive,” the figure said in a small voice.
“We’re looking for Daryl Shaunessy,” Raeburn said.
At this, the figure straightened and backed up a few steps, opening the door wider. “My cousin,” the voice said in a much brighter tone, almost one of excitement or pride. Now that the door was opened fully Wright could see another figure perched on the edge of the sofa, a rangy boy in ragged jeans and an orange T-shirt that said COSTUME across the front in bold black letters. Black and white images of a heavily-browed Bela Lugosi pulsed across the TV screen; Wright recognized the film as White Zombie. There was a bowl of candy on the table next to the sofa, half filled with empty wrappers.
The boy—presumably Daryl—got up from the couch and slowly approached them. Even in the dark Wright caught the dirty look Daryl flashed at his cousin. The cousin evidently saw it too, for he flinched as if struck. Now that Wright had a better view of the person who had opened the door, he could see that it was just a kid, fourteen or fifteen at most, and that he appeared to have some sort of mental impairment. Wright immediately felt a surge of pity for the boy. Did he know that his beloved cousin might be a murderer?
“Can I help you?” Daryl said, now leaning in the doorway. He was quite a handsome young man, with longish blonde curls and brown eyes like a puppy’s. He looked nervous and more than a little cocky.
“You’re Daryl Shaunessy?” Raeburn asked.
“Was it your black Mustang parked in the lot at the Walgreens on 44th Avenue this evening at approximately 10:25pm?”
He paused as if he wasn’t going to reply, but then his face split into a crooked grin. “Yeah. I took junior here trick or treating and I was waiting for him there.”
“Kind of a long way to go just for trick or treating,” Wright observed.
Daryl shrugged. “Not much action around here. You get better candy in the nicer neighborhoods, you know.”
“Do you know Scott Langley?” Raeburn asked abruptly.
Wright saw Daryl hesitate, but only for a second. “No,” he said.
“What costume did your cousin wear when he went out trick or treating?” Wright asked.
Daryl’s brow furrowed; they were rattling him, and that was good. “Um…I think it was a horse or a cow or something. Rudy loves animals.” That grin again, but this time less assured, more like the wide rictus of a fearful chimpanzee.
“You sure it wasn’t a goat?” Wright said.
“Might have been,” Daryl replied. “It wasn’t a very good costume.”
“Where did you get it?”
“It was just an old one we had lying around.”
Wright crossed his arms. “You’re sure you don’t know Scott Langley?”
Daryl’s dark eyes flared. “Of course I’m sure! Look, is all this leading to something, or are you going to piss off and leave me alone?” As soon as the words were out of his mouth he clearly regretted saying them, but to compensate he pressed his lips together in apparent defiance.
“Let me run down the scenario for you,” Wright said, aware that Rudy was standing close behind Daryl’s shoulder, eyes wide with terror. “Someone in a goat costume was seen standing behind the home of Julia Langley. Julia Langley is the mother of Scott Langley, who disappeared a year ago wearing a goat costume very similar if not identical to the one this person was wearing. This person was then seen getting into a black Mustang registered to you, Mr. Shaunessy. Am I making myself quite clear?”
Daryl just pressed his lips together tighter, but behind him the cousin began to wail. “I just put on the costume because Daryl told me to,” the kid said between tears. “I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong!”
“Shut up, Rudy!” Daryl snarled, which only made the kid cry harder.
Wright looked straight into Daryl’s dark eyes. “Did you kill Scott Langley?” he asked quietly.
“No!” He dropped his gaze from Wright’s, but then sought it out again. “No, I didn’t kill Scott.”
“Do you know who did?” Perhaps inadvertently, Wright glanced at Rudy, who was shaking like a leaf over his cousin’s shoulder. Was Daryl protecting his mentally challenged relative?
Daryl was staring at the two inspectors, lip twitching, clearly mulling something over. Wright silently coached him. That’s right, Shaunessy, he thought. Just tell us everything and get it over with. At last he seemed to have come to a decision. “Come in,” he mumbled. “Upstairs, first room on the left.”
Wright and Raeburn exchanged glances, then simultaneously unclipped their pieces from their belts. Rudy was trembling so violently that Wright expected him to break into fragments, but Daryl just looked resigned. “You won’t need those,” he said, raising his hands in the air with just a twinge of mockery. “We’re all unarmed.”
“We’ll keep them handy, if it’s all the same to you,” Raeburn said, stepping over the threshold. Daryl shrugged again.
Neither of the boys moved as the inspectors made their way slowly into the living room. “Could one of you tell me where the lights are, please?” Raeburn said. Rudy started to move toward them, but Raeburn barked, “Stay where you are!”
Rudy froze with a tiny shriek, tears streaming down his cheeks, a long line of snot dangling from one nostril. Wright hoped the poor kid didn’t die of a heart attack on the spot.
Daryl pointed to a plate on the wall near the kitchen, and Raeburn sidled over and flicked on all the switches. Everyone blinked for a few moments, adjusting to the glare. The living room looked flat and dingy under the cheap ceiling fixtures, like an abandoned stage set.
The lights over the stairs had also come on, and Wright was glad of that. He didn’t like to admit it, but the whole scene was beginning to freak him out a bit; this sad, dirty little house out in the sticks, the two boys staring up at him with their respectively blubbering and unreadable faces, Bela Lugosi glaring out from the TV screen as if he too was watching and weighing in on the proceedings. Not to mention the anxiety over what they would find in that room upstairs. He had a feeling that this Halloween might give him enough nightmares to last for a lifetime.
Raeburn went first, since it was her jurisdiction, and when she had reached the top of the stairs and the long darkened hallway it led onto, she felt around along the wall, looking for another light switch. After a moment she found it, and the hall was flooded with a sickly yellow glow that put Wright in mind of insect lights, or of the slowly rotting flesh of the carved jack-o-lantern outside. There were three doors, one of which was open; Wright could see a pie-wedge of chipped gray linoleum and the edge of a pink porcelain bathtub.
They approached the first door, hands on their guns. The sound from the television was muted, but still drifted up the stairs with eerie strains of distorted organ.
Raeburn glanced at him, and he nodded. She placed her hand on the doorknob, held it there for a moment, then turned it and slammed the door inward in one fluid motion.
The room within was dark, but in the faint glow from the hallway Wright could make out the unmistakable form of a human being, sprawled across the bed. There was a stale scent in the room: The sour odor of unwashed clothes, a tang of sweat, even a very slight metallic whiff of blood. Wright had a second to ponder and be grateful for the lack of a strong decay smell before Raeburn flipped on the lights.
There was indeed a figure on the bed; a gangly boy of late teenage years, black hair falling upon the pillow. His back was turned toward them, and he was very still. As Wright stared, he caught a glimpse of glossy black out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head slightly. In a ratty old armchair in the corner was piled a misshapen mass of shimmering ebony fur; in a flash, Wright had made out the shapes of gray cloven hooves, and even caught a glimpse of red that was presumably the collar with its silver bell. The way the costume sat upon the chair made Wright assume that the goat’s horned head was underneath the folds of the body portion.
Raeburn took a few steps toward the bed, and as she did there came a thick snort, like an animal rooting in the ground, and she immediately brought her gun up to chest level. Wright did too, a reflex born of long practice, but then he noticed that the supposed corpse on the bed had moved. In seconds he found himself staring down his gun barrel at a bearded young man, sitting halfway up on the bed, blinking confusedly. “Hey! What’s going on?”
Wright lowered his weapon, though not completely. “Scott Langley?” he asked, but even before he said it he knew that it was. Despite the beard and the darkened hair, he had seen enough photos of the boy to recognize those wide green eyes and that bony hawklike nose.
“What? Who?” The boy sat up fully now, scratching at his scraggly beard, his gaze darting left and right. Raeburn had partially lowered her weapon as well, but she was looking at him quizzically, as if to say, Yeah, what is going on? Have you lost your mind?
“You’re Scott Langley,” Wright said. “Your mother’s been going crazy looking for you.”
“I’m William Steyer. You can check my driver’s license if you want, it’s in my pants pocket.” He pointed to a pile of clothes on the floor with a trembling finger.
Wright finally re-holstered his weapon. “Can the act, I know who you are. Was the goat suit tonight your idea?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he muttered, but he could not meet Wright’s gaze.
“I’d like you to come with us now,” Wright said gently. It was all so surreal, talking to this kid who he had been expecting to find rotting in a ditch somewhere for the past twelve months. For a second he was almost convinced he had made a mistake, but no, he thought, looking at the boy’s thin, angular face, so like his mother’s. This was definitely Scott.
“Am I being arrested for something?” the kid said.
“We’re just going to have a talk for now,” Wright said. “I’m going to call your mother too, have her come down. She’ll be happy to see you, but you’re going to have a hell of a lot of explaining to do.”
Julia sat in the bare police station interrogation room, listening to her son with disbelief. It was strange enough that he was sitting there before her—bearded and considerably thinner, but unmistakably Scott—but the story he was telling was equally unbelievable; diabolical, even.
“What did you do for money?” Wright was asking.
Scott shrugged. “I had some saved up, and I borrowed some from Daryl. Plus I sold some stuff. Once I got to Daryl’s house and got my new driver’s license, I got a job at the restaurant Daryl manages.”
Julia sat back in her chair and regarded him bleakly. “You weren’t planning on coming back.”
He wouldn’t look at her. “No. I was supposed to be dead, remember?”
“What I don’t understand is why,” Wright said. “Why go to such elaborate lengths? Because you were the one who spilled your blood in the trunk of Zoe’s car, weren’t you? And you were the one who made sure Alan and Tiffany heard you arguing under the bridge. You even left the glove of the costume in the stream for us to find, and deliberately wrote that diary entry to cast suspicion on Zoe and your father. Why go to all that trouble?”
Scott was looking down at his hands. His shoulders were slumped. “I loved Zoe a lot, you know? And to think of her and my dad…” Julia saw him shudder, and she almost hated him in that second for making her picture the scenario as he was undoubtedly picturing it. After a long pause, Scott continued. “I just went a little crazy, you know, and then it was too late to turn back, to undo it. At first I actually thought about killing them both. It would have been easy to do. But it wasn’t enough. I wanted them to suffer. I wanted everyone to know. I thought, even if I can’t get them convicted for killing me, at least they’ll be suspects, and everything would come out in the press, and they wouldn’t be able to show their faces again.” In this, Julia thought, his plot had been successful; Bill had lost his job and several friends even before Julia had kicked him out, and last she heard, Zoe had had to move out of town under the cloud of suspicion that still hung over her. During Scott’s entire speech, his thin frame had barely moved; his gaze had not risen.
“And what about me, Scott?” Julia said. “Did you think how this would affect me?”
“I wasn’t even thinking about you!” Scott suddenly raised his head and looked at his mother. His eyes were blazing, and ringed with red. “The only thing I thought was if Dad was doing that and you didn’t know about it, then you were sort of responsible too. For letting it happen.”
There was another pause in which Scott’s ragged breathing could be clearly heard.
At last Wright broke the silence. “And what about tonight, Scott?”
The boy finally locked eyes with the inspector. “I thought everyone was forgetting about it,” he said flatly. “Zoe and my father were walking around free, nothing had been in the papers for a while. I didn’t want to wear the costume myself in case I got caught, but Daryl’s cousin isn’t too bright, he would do whatever we said. He didn’t know who I was, or anything about the case. I wanted someone who didn’t have any connection with Scott Langley.” He scratched at his beard, nervously. Julia was disturbed at how he could speak of himself in the third person so casually, as if his former identity had simply been an old skin he’d since shed. She also wondered if he knew how much trouble he had caused, how much trouble he was in now.
“I really wanted my father to see the goat suit; I didn’t realize he had gone,” Scott went on, glancing at his mother with a faintly approving smile. “I thought it would freak him out a little, make him think he was seeing a ghost or something. I just wanted him to know that things would never be forgotten.” He sighed and slumped back down in his chair, clearly exhausted. It was nearly three a.m., All Saint’s Day. “That’s all,” he said.
There was another long, profound silence in the room; all Julia could hear was Scott’s short, hitching breaths and the clank of metal bars somewhere far away. She looked at her son, suddenly reappeared after so long, seemingly back from the dead. As she thought of all he had done, the lives he had ruined over something that may or may not have occurred, she had a horrible vision of him, his face bloated and white above the glossy black fur of his goat costume, resting peacefully and eternally at the bottom of the stream beneath the Woodburrow Bridge. Perhaps, she thought, that was where he really was now, and where he really belonged. Perhaps the boy in front of her was merely an imposter, still in costume even beneath the one he’d taken off, a changeling, a devil.
She was still thinking along these lines when Wright stood, gestured Scott to his feet and cuffed the boy’s hands behind his back, when he intoned charges that included making a false report, obstructing justice, possessing false identification.
Julia went home alone, once again, wondering if a black goat would be lurking in the shadows beneath the bridge in her dreams.