Heartless Page 32


Sure enough, the top story was about how there had been a new arrest in the Alison DiLaurentis murder case. Pretty Little Liars Exonerated, the subhead added. Spencer quickly clicked on a live video feed. A dark-haired reporter was standing in front of the Ali shrine, the collection of photos, candles, flowers, and stuffed animals on the curb of the DiLaurentises\' old house. Police lights blinked behind her. Her eyes were red-rimmed, as if she\'d been crying.

’’The saga of Alison DiLaurentis\'s murder has finally ended,’’ the reporter announced gravely. ’’A man has just been arrested for Alison\'s murder on the basis of overwhelming evidence.’’

A blurry black-and-white photo of the greasy blond man flashed on the screen. He was lurking in a convenience store parking lot, drinking a can of beer. His name was Billy Ford. Like Emily suspected, he\'d been part of the crew that had dug the hole for the DiLaurentises\' gazebo almost four years ago. Investigators now thought he\'d stalked her.

Spencer shut her eyes, gripped with guilt. Thank God the workers aren\'t here, Ali had said when they passed the half-dug hole on the night of their seventh-grade sleepover. They keep harassing me. At the time, Spencer had thought Ali was bragging: Ha ha, even older guys think I\'m hot. Meanwhile . . .

’’After another body was found earlier this evening,’’ the reporter was saying, ’’police received a tip that the deaths might be connected. Their investigation led them to Mr. Ford, and they found photos of Ms. DiLaurentis on a laptop in his truck. Also on the laptop were pictures of the foursome now known as the Pretty Little Liars Spencer Hastings, Aria Montgomery, Hanna Marin, and Emily Fields.’’

Spencer bit down hard on her fist.

’’Also found in the car were records of correspondence in the form of text messages, photo messages, and IMs under the handle USCMidfielderRoxx,’’ the reporter continued.

Spencer pressed her forehead against the cool window glass, watching the trees blur past. USCMidfielderRoxx was Ian\'s IM.

The shadowy memory from the night Ali was murdered flooded her mind. After Spencer and Ali had gotten in a fight outside the barn, Ali ran off into the thicket. There had been a signature giggle, rustling sounds, and then Spencer had seen two distinct shapes. Ali . . . and someone else.

I saw two blonds in the woods, Ian had told Spencer when he\'d accosted her on her porch, pleading that he was innocent. Spencer stared at the photo of the man on her cell phone\'s tiny screen. Billy had blond hair. And he was New A, sending each of them texts that blamed Jason, Wilden, and even Spencer\'s mom. But how did he know so much about all of them? Who was he? Why did he care?

Her cell screen flashed white. New text message. Spencer grappled with the keyboard and pressed read. It was from Andrew Campbell, Spencer\'s boyfriend. I heard about jail. . . and that you were released. Are you okay? Are you home? Do you know what\'s happening on your street?

Spencer sat back in the seat, the streetlights whizzing past outside the window. What did he mean, on her street?

Another text popped in her inbox. This one was from Aria. What\'s going on? Your road is blocked off. There are police cars everywhere.

A horrible idea began to form. The radio had said there was another murder.

The police car made a wide left turn onto her street. At least ten vehicles were jackknifed across the road, blue lights flashing. Neighbors stood on their yards, their faces slack. Police officers moved in and out of the shadows. They were right in front of Spencer\'s house.

Melissa.

’’Oh my God,’’ Spencer cried. She pulled at the door and leapt out of the car.

’’Hey!’’ her driver growled. ’’You\'re not allowed out until we\'re in your driveway!’’

But Spencer didn\'t listen. She sprinted toward the flashing lights, her limbs aching. Her house was ahead. She passed through the front gate and up the long drive. All sound disappeared. Shapes blurred in front of her. She could taste bile at the back of her throat. Then she saw a figure on the front porch, her body in silhouette. She shaded her hand over her forehead, squinting in the bright porch light. Her knees buckled. A relieved wail gurgled from her throat. She sank to the grass.

Melissa ran toward her and engulfed her in a hug. ’’Oh, Spence, it\'s so awful.’’

Spencer trembled. The sirens rang in her ears. A couple of neighborhood dogs howled along, disoriented and scared.

’’It\'s so terrible,’’ Melissa sobbed on Spencer\'s shoulder. ’’That poor girl.’’

Spencer stepped back. The air was frigid and sharp. The smell of the fire was still pungent and suffocating. ’’What girl?’’

Melissa\'s jaw twitched. She grabbed Spencer\'s hand. ’’Oh, Spence. You don\'t know?’’

Then she gestured toward the sidewalk. The police weren\'t surrounding their house but the Cavanaughs\' across the street. Yellow police tape covered the Cavanaughs\' entire backyard. Mrs. Cavanaugh stood in the driveway, screaming in agony. A German shepherd in a blue vest stood next to her, sniffing the ground. A small shrine had already begun at the curb, rife with pictures and candles and flowers. When Spencer saw the name written in pale green chalk on the pavement, she lurched back.

’’No.’’ Spencer looked at Melissa imploringly, hoping this was a dream. ’’No!’’

And then she understood. A few days ago, she\'d gazed out her bedroom window and seen a greasy-haired man dressed in a plumber\'s jumpsuit lope up the Cavanaughs\' driveway. He\'d given a beautiful girl a predatory look, revealing a gleaming gold front tooth. But the girl hadn\'t seen his look. She hadn\'t known to be afraid. She couldn\'t see anything . . . ever.

Spencer turned to Melissa in horror. ’’Jenna?’’

Melissa nodded, tears spilling down her cheeks. ’’They found her in a trench in her backyard, where plumbers were replacing one of the burst pipes,’’ she said. ’’He killed her just like he killed Ali.’’


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