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Paint It All Red: Chapter 17

LOGAN

Three months later…

I run my hand over the stubble on my chin, looking at the case files in front of me.

“Welcome back,” Elise says as she passes my desk, looking at me like she’s concerned.

Only three of us know why I broke down three months ago. Only three of us know why I’ll never be the same again.

Everyone else thinks I broke down because we were pulled out of that town when it needed us.

By the time ambulances and fire trucks arrived on scene, there was nothing left but flames they couldn’t put out in time to save anything. The town burned, leaving nothing but charred, empty structures in its wake.

None of the bodies were recognizable. They were too burned to be identified. And the only place with bodies was the town hall and the sheriff’s home.

For three months, the news has spoken of nothing else, giving contradictory reports from truthful and falsified sources.

That’s why I’m back.

Lana gave her life for the truth.

The last thing I’m going to do is let them cover it all up again.

Elise pauses like she’s waiting for me to respond. I just dip my head at her in acknowledgement, and she blows out a breath as I finish typing up the full report.

Hadley has been looking for Jake nonstop, but she’ll never find him. If he survived, he’s long gone by now, possibly stuck in a drunken stupor after having to watch his best friend die.

There’s no doubt that’s why he turned off the video footage. He couldn’t bear to see it. I wish I hadn’t.

I should have never left Delaney Grove. I should have risked my career. Now I don’t even want to be anywhere.

I didn’t realize until she was gone that nothing else mattered at all.

Nothing I stood for was worth more than her.

Nothing I valued held any true value at all.

Everything I have is pointless without her.

I could have saved her, but I walked away instead. She’s dead because of me.

Reading over the report one last time, I print it off and stand up. Leonard eyes me on his way to the copier, watching me as I place the papers in a folder.

“Day one back, and you’re already putting together a new case file?”

I shake my head. “No. I’m fixing the old report they refuse to go public with.”

He sighs harshly. “Let it go, Logan. They’re never going to admit any of the truths to the public. The entire Bureau has been humiliated by everything out there. They’ve given all the concessions they’re going to.”

“Yet they still claim the allegations of falsifying DNA evidence is a hoax and a lie. They’re claiming the video evidence isn’t authentic. And they’re also not redeeming the name of Robert Evans.”

“And they’re not going to,” he says softly, putting a hand on my shoulder. “Like I said, they’ve given all the concessions they’re going to. The director is gone now. Johnson is dead. No more corruption from this point on, Logan.”

I look at the file in my hands.

“Whatever Collins says today will determine if that’s true or not,” I say when I look back up.

He blows out a breath, and I place the file back on my desk. I have an appointment with Director Collins very soon. Whatever he says will determine my future course.

For the past three months, I’ve been on leave. Everyone agreed I needed a break after the breakdown I had. I was also relieved of my duties temporarily until I go through a department psych evaluation.

If anyone knew what I’d lost, no one would question my sanity. They’d know for certain I’m too fucked up to be here without needing a piece of paper to tell them as much.

During my forced leave, the only way I could keep myself together was to look into the original killer case. No one tried to stop me, and Collins gave me all the information I needed or requested. He even had Leonard drop it off by my house.

At first I couldn’t figure out the mystery.

At first, it made all the sense in the world for it to be the sheriff, with the exception of his daughter. That threw the entire thing into a tailspin.

But finally, I realized the women were surrogate kills. And once I figured out why they were surrogates and who they were surrogates for…everything made perfect sense.

Especially when I linked the trigger to a specific date—the date of the first kill. It’s not surprising that Johnson never linked the two together. He focused on one man and made the evidence fit.

He never took the time to look around, which was my problem, until I finally forced myself to rule out the sheriff.

It didn’t make sense that Lana would kill so many in such grizzly ways without ever going after the original killer that started all this. It didn’t make sense that she wouldn’t have figured it out, given how fucking brilliant she and Jake were.

But then I discovered how genius they actually were.

I realized the true depths of their forethought and their planning that went into each and every detail of the masterful plan they put into play.

I just wish I had realized how little the rest of the world meant to me post-Lana before I lost her. I could have been with her right now. The two of us could have survived that firestorm together.

Instead, I let her think my career and morals meant more than she did.

I was wrong.

Nothing else fucking matters but her.

Time passes by slowly as I get the rest of my information, printing off everything in case this thing with Collins doesn’t go as I hope it does.

Hadley comes up to my desk, hopping up on the top of it.

“Why are you running searches on this Olivia chick?” she asks curiously, holding up a page she brought with her.

“Because I needed some information.”

She grunts. “Obviously. But why are you looking into a microbiologist who also happens to be one of the original killer’s victim’s sister?”

“Because she was getting payments from a dummy account I linked to Jake. All that money in that account transferred directly to Olivia’s account the same day as D-day.”

She hisses out a breath. “Why?”

“Because they knew who the original killer was. Now I do too. And I know why I couldn’t find any evidence of retaliation before now.”

“Why?” she asks quietly.

“Because they’re fucking brilliant.”

My eyes dart to the clock on my computer, and I stand, shuffling together the file I’ve compiled.

“I’ll talk to you about it later,” I tell her, smiling tightly. “I have a meeting right now.”

She nods, knowing what’s to come, both of us hoping we’re wrong. I’ve supported Collins for so long. He’s always been a man of integrity. I hope the position hasn’t already corrupted him.

Her phone dings, and she cocks her head before darting off to her cubicle. I watch for a moment as her fingers fly over the keys, but then remember I have my own mission right now.

I head up to the director’s office, clutching the file in my hand. Every detail is accurate. It’s from the original case that needs to be reopened and the true suspect arrested, so he can spend the rest of his days in misery.

Collins answers when I rap my knuckles against his door, and I walk in.

“I’ve prepared the file to reopen the original case,” I tell him.

Immediately, he tenses. “You just got back, Logan. You’re not even technically off desk duty yet.”

“Good thing I prepared this at the desk,” I quip, tossing the file to the top of his desk.

I can tell what he’s going to say before he even says it. He steeples his hands in front of his face before blowing out a long breath.

“I realize Robert Evans was the wrong man, but the killer is either dead or already behind bars.”

“Actually, he’s living not too far from here,” I tell him, narrowing my eyes.

He doesn’t even glance at the file. Instead, he keeps his eyes trained on me.

“You have no idea at the pressure that’s on me to clean this all up. And—”

“You mean to cover it all up,” I growl.

“Damn it, Logan. I’ve already explained this to you!” he snaps, slapping a hand on his desk. “If I reopen this investigation and concede that one of ours really did falsify DNA evidence, it’ll be the end of your unit, as well as possibly allow numerous other serial killers to reopen their own cases and even get out of prison if their lawyers shine enough light on this as reasonable doubt for their clients.”

“So politics,” I state flatly. “You’re no better than McEvoy.”

His lips thin, and his eyes narrow to slits. “I’m cleaning up his mess. But I can promise you no one else will ever go through what that family did as long as I’m in this office.”

“No, an innocent man’s name will just go on tarnished because you’re too scared to stand up for what’s right.”

He curses and runs a hand through his hair. “He’s dead, Logan. Destroying your unit and all the good it has done won’t bring that man back to life. The end justifies the means right now.”

I stand, knowing he’s not going to budge. And I pull off my service weapon and toss my badge on the desk with it.

“Then consider this my resignation,” I tell him.

His eyes widen. “Don’t be stupid, Logan. Take some more time off. You’re too close to this case, and you’re not thinking clearly right now.”

“I’m thinking very clearly. I joined the FBI with the naïve notion we were going to always do the right thing no matter the personal costs to ourselves. I dedicated my every waking moment to this place, sacrificing any chance at a healthy lifestyle or any actual living. I didn’t sign up to be corrupted by the one thing that is supposed to be filled with honor. And I won’t be a part of it. Plenty of corruption is just outside those doors, and at least I get to have a life out there.”

He looks frustrated, but not as frustrated as I feel.

“You’re making a mistake,” he says as I start to walk out.

I turn and face him. “No. I’m fixing the mistakes, Director. Just remember that.”

I slam the door behind me, and I head back to my office to clear everything out. People glance at me as I walk through, and Leonard reads my face, his eyes dropping to my empty holster at my hip.

I’ve always hated wearing a tie anyway.

Taking my tie off and tossing it to the corner of my office, I grab a box, and pack up the few things that mean anything to me. Including the picture of Lana and me that I put on my desk a long time ago.

Hadley walks in as I finish up, and she shuts the door behind her.

“Don’t bother telling me I’m making a mistake,” I say without looking up.

“I’m not,” she says, walking toward me quickly.

My brow furrows when I see how wide her eyes are.

“What? If it’s a case, then you should take it to Donny.”

“Logan, Jason Martin was just found dead and castrated in South Carolina,” she says in a hushed tone reserved for blasphemy.

Blood rushes through my veins, and I squeeze the box in my hands as I lower it back to the desk.

“Was it—”

The words break off, because hope like that could destroy me if I’m wrong.

She nods slowly. “They sent me the pictures. I told them it wasn’t our Scarlet Slayer because she was dead. But it’s her, Logan. The knife is the same type, the wall was painted red, and there were no hesitation marks at all. Also, the shoe was a woman’s size. It wasn’t Jake. It was her. She’s alive, Logan. She’s actually alive.”

Tears start pouring from her eyes as I sag to my chair, unable to keep standing as my skin prickles all over. I’m almost afraid to believe it, knowing it’d be the final nail in my coffin if Hadley is wrong.

“I’ve been trying to find Jake since D-day, but haven’t found him anywhere. I checked plane logs, and couldn’t find any evidence that they came or went. That body was over a month old, but they just uncovered it. They found it in a cellar of a house that’s been on the market for a while,” she goes on.

“I know where you can search for them, and I think I know how you’ll find them,” I say quietly as I grab my things.

“What?! How?”

I look her in the eyes. “If you go to him, you can’t come back Hadley. If you leave with me right now, it’s the end of your life here. Do you understand that? It’d be too dangerous for them if we keep any sort of attachment to this life.”

“I’ll be packed and ready within the hour,” she says without hesitation. “I can’t quit, since this is a mandatory position, but I can disappear. I can make us both disappear if you want to give me two hours.”

“Do it,” I tell her. “I’ll meet you out front in ten minutes.”

“Where are we going?”

“I’m going to talk to the only person who can give me answers. You’re going home to get everything ready, including emptying our accounts.”

She grabs her laptop from her cubicle as she passes. I don’t glance behind me at anyone who might be looking at us.

“Where are you going?” she whispers.

“To learn the truth.”


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