Heartless. Part 2

Heartless. -

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An hour after her meeting with Esmeralda, Aria parked at the gates of St. Basil's cemetery. The majestic mausoleums and headstones were dappled with silver moonlight. A couple of tall, old-fas.h.i.+oned lanterns lit the brick pathway. There was a gentle breeze shaking the bare willow trees. Aria knew every step to Ali's grave, but that wouldn't make the journey there any easier.Ali killed Ali. It was shocking . . . and unbelievable . . . and filled Aria with penetrating, unbelievable guilt. Someone murdering Ali was one thing, truly tragic. But Ali killing herself? It could have been prevented. Ali could have sought help.And still, Aria was skeptical that Ali could have done such a thing. She'd seemed so happy, so carefree. But the day Mrs. DiLaurentis questioned them about Ali's whereabouts, after Aria and her friends parted ways, she'd started down the DiLaurentises' driveway and noticed the lid to one of their garbage cans had blown off. Bending down to put it back on the can, she spied an empty bottle for pills nestled atop the trash bags. The prescription was for Ali, but the medication's name had been rubbed off. At the time, Aria hadn't thought much of it, but now she reexamined the memory more closely. What if the pills were to treat depression or anxiety? What if Ali took a whole handful of them on the night of the seventh-grade sleepover, too overcome to go on? She could have climbed into that hole on purpose, folded her hands over her chest, and waited for the drugs to take effect. But there was no way to prove it-Ali's body had been so decomposed by the time the workers found her that there was no way to test for a drug overdose.R U avoiding me? Ali had texted Aria in those last few weeks she was alive. I want 2 talk. But Aria had ignored almost every one of them-there was only so much teasing about Byron's affair she could take. What if Ali had needed to talk about something else? How had Aria missed something so huge?Even though she'd only seen Noel an hour ago, she pulled out her phone and called him. He answered right away. "I'm at the cemetery," she said. Then she paused, figuring Noel would know why."It'll be okay," Noel said. "It'll make you feel better, I promise."Aria picked up the crinkly wrapping around the bouquet of flowers she'd picked up at the grocery store just minutes ago. She wasn't sure what she was going to say to Ali here-or what answers she'd get. But at this point, she was willing to try anything to feel better. She swallowed hard, pressing the phone to her ear. "Ali might have been reaching out to me about something, but I ignored her. This is all my fault.""It's not," Noel soothed. The other end crackled with static. "I think that about my brother sometimes, too . . . but you can't. It's nothing I could've prevented, and it's nothing you could've stopped, either. And it wasn't like you were Ali's only friend. She could've reached out to Spencer or Hanna or her parents. But she didn't.""I'll talk to you later, okay?" Aria said, her voice thick with tears. Then she hung up, grabbed the flowers, opened the pa.s.senger door, and started up the walk. The gra.s.s was wet and squishy under her feet. Within minutes, she was climbing the hill and approaching Ali's headstone. Someone had set up fresh flowers at the headstone's base and taped a picture of Ali to the stone itself."Aria? "She jumped. A s.h.i.+ver went down her back. Jason DiLaurentis was standing a few feet away under a big sycamore tree. She braced herself, ready for him to get angry, but he just stood there, his eyes darting back and forth. He wore a heavy black jacket with a thick, padded hood, black pants, and black gloves. For a wild second Aria wondered if he was going to rob a bank."H-hey," she finally sputtered. "I just . . . wanted to talk to Ali. Is that okay?"Jason shrugged. "Sure." He began to walk down the hill, giving her s.p.a.ce. "Wait," Aria called. Jason stopped, leaned his hand against a tree, and peered at her.Aria considered her words. One short week ago, when they were dating, Jason had encouraged her to discuss Ali with him-he said everyone else seemed too uncomfortable to even utter her name in his presence. She brushed her hands on her jeans. "We've found out a lot about Ali that we didn't know," she finally said. "A lot that's really painful. I'm sure it's been hard on you, too."Jason kicked his toe into a loose clump of soil. "Yeah.""And sometimes you just don't know what's going on inside of people," Aria added, thinking about how Ali had happily pirouetted across the lawn the evening seventh grade ended, seemingly overjoyed to see her best friends. "People always seem so perfect on the surface," she added. "But . . . it's not always the case. Everyone hides things."Jason's toe kicked up more dirt."But it's not your fault," Aria went on. "It's not any of our faults."And all of a sudden, she really believed that. If Ali really had committed suicide, and if she'd known she was going to do it ahead of time, Aria still might not have been able to do anything to stop her. It broke her heart that she hadn't sensed it coming, and it sucked that she didn't know why Ali had done it . . . but maybe she just had to accept it, grieve, and move on.Jason opened his mouth as if to speak, but a shrill ring pierced the air. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. "I should get this," he said, glancing at the screen, his tone apologetic. Aria gave him a wave as he turned and walked down the hill into the shadows.Then she faced Ali's headstone. Alison Lauren DiLaurentis. Nothing else. Had Ali known the night of the sleepover would be her last on earth, or had it been a spur-of-the-moment, I can't take it anymore thing? The very last time Aria saw Ali alive, Ali had been about to hypnotize them, but Spencer had jumped up and tried to open the blinds. It's too dark in here, Spencer said. It has to be dark, Ali argued, whipping the blinds shut. That's how it works.Then, when Ali turned, Aria got a peek at her face. She hadn't seemed manipulative and domineering, but fragile and scared. Seconds later, Spencer told Ali to leave . . . and Ali did. She backed down, something she'd never done before, like her s.p.u.n.k and resolve had evaporated.Aria knelt down in the gra.s.s, touching the cool marble of Ali's headstone. Hot tears rushed to her eyes. "Ali, I'm sorry," she whispered. "Whatever was going on, I'm sorry."A jet roared overhead. The fragrant bouquet of roses next to Ali's grave made Aria's nose itch. "I'm sorry," she repeated. "I'm so, so sorry.""Aria?" a high-pitched voice called.Aria jumped. There was a blinding light in her face. Her hands shook, and for a moment, she was sure it was Ali. But then the light s.h.i.+fted. A woman cop in dark-framed and a Rosewood PD ski cap knelt down. "Aria Montgomery?""Y-yes?" Aria stammered.The cop touched Aria's arm. "You need to come with me.""Why?" Aria laughed nervously, pulling her arm away.The walkie-talkie on the cop's belt bleeped. "It would be best if you spoke to the boys downtown.""What's going on? I didn't do anything."The cop curled her lips into a smile that didn't reach her eyes. "What are you so sorry about, Aria?" She glanced at Ali's grave, obviously having heard everything Aria had just said. "Is it because you've been hiding evidence from us?"Aria shook her head, not understanding. "Evidence?"The cop gave her a knowing, condescending look. "A certain ring."Aria's throat instantly went dry. She clutched her yak-fur bag to her chest. Ian's ring was still nestled in the inner pocket. She'd been so busy trying to contact Ali, she hadn't thought about it in days. "I didn't do anything wrong!""Mm-hmm," the cop murmured, neither interested nor impressed. She unclipped a pair of handcuffs from her belt and glanced at Jason, who was standing just a few feet away. "Thanks for your call, telling us she was here."Aria's mouth fell open. She whipped around and stared at Jason too. "You told them I was here?" she exclaimed. "Why?"Jason shook his head, his eyes wide. "What? I didn't-""Mr. DiLaurentis told the officer at the station everything he knew," the cop interrupted. "He's just doing his civic duty, Miss Montgomery." She wrested Aria's bag from her hands, then placed her cuffs over Aria's wrists. "Don't be angry at him for what you did. What all of you did."The reality of what the cop was saying slowly sank in. Could she really mean what Aria thought she meant? She whipped around to Jason. "You're making this up!""Aria, you don't understand," Jason protested. "I didn't-""Come on," the cop bl.u.s.tered. Aria's arms were now roughly bent behind her back. She could see Jason's lips moving but couldn't make out the words."And since when do the police take advice from psychos?" she exploded to the cop. "Don't you know Jason's been in and out of mental hospitals for years?"The cop c.o.c.ked her head, seemingly perplexed. Jason made a gurgling sound. "Aria . . ." His voice cracked. "No. You've got it all wrong."Aria paused. Jason sounded aghast. "What do you mean?" she asked sharply.The cop grabbed her arm. "Come on, Miss Montgomery. Let's go."But Aria's gaze was still on Jason. "What do I have wrong?" Jason stared, his lips parted. "Tell me!" she pleaded. "What do I have wrong?" But Jason just stood there, watching as the cop pulled Aria down the hill to the flas.h.i.+ng cruiser.

Chapter 26

The Evidence doesn't Lie.

The trip from Lancaster to Rosewood was supposed to take two hours at the most, but Emily had made the mistake of getting on a bus that stopped at a couple of authentic Pennsylvania Dutch farms on the way back. It had then deposited her in Philadelphia, meaning she'd had to get on another bus to Rosewood, which sat in the station for an additional forty-five minutes before then getting stuck in jammed traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway. By the time the Greyhound sighed into Rosewood, Emily had bit every fingernail to the quick and had torn a giant hole in the vinyl bus seat. It was almost 6 P.M., and a cold, ugly sleet had begun to fall. The bus opened its doors, and Emily scampered down the steps.The town was quiet and dead. The traffic lights changed from red to green, but no cars pa.s.sed through. Ferra's Cheesesteaks still had an OPEN SIGN in the window, but there wasn't a single customer inside. The smell of roasted coffee beans wafted from the Unicorn Cafe, but the place was locked up tight.Emily started to run, skidding down the s.h.i.+ny sidewalk, careful not to slip in her pathetically thin, tractionless Amish boots. The police station was only a few blocks away. There were lights on in the main building, where Emily and the others had gone when they'd figured out Mona Vanderwaal was Old A. The back of the complex, where New A had told her to go, had no windows, making it impossible to tell whether it was occupied. Emily spied a big metal door propped open by a coffee cup and gasped. A had left the door open, as promised.A long hallway stretched in front of her. The floors smelled like industrial-strength cleaner, and an exit sign glowed at the far end of the corridor. The only sound was a faint, annoying buzz from the overhead fluorescent light, and Emily could hear every breath she took.She ran her fingers along the edges of the walls as she walked, stopping at each office door to read the names on the plaques. FILING. MAINTENANCE. EMPLOYEES ONLY. Four offices down, her heart leapt. EVIDENCE.Emily peered through the little window in the metal door. The room was long and dark, with a mess of shelves, folders, file boxes, and metal filing cabinets. She thought of the papers in that photo A had texted. The interview with Ali's mom. The timeline of when Ali went missing. The weird paper from the Preserve at Something-or-other, which sounded like a housing development. And, last but not least, the DNA report, surely saying the body in the hole wasn't Ali's, but Leah's.Suddenly, a hand clapped on her shoulder. "What do you think you're doing?"Emily jumped away from the door and whirled around. A Rosewood cop held her roughly by the upper arm, his eyes aflame. The EXIT sign above him cast eerie red shadows along his cheeks. "I . . ." she stammered.His brow furrowed. "You're not supposed to be down here!" Then he stared at her harder. Recognition flickered across his face. "I know you," he said.Emily tried to back away from him, but he held her tight. His jaw dropped. "You're one of the girls who thought she saw Alison DiLaurentis." The corners of his lips curled into a smile and he pressed his face close to hers. His breath smelled like onion rings. "We've been looking for you."A streak of fear shot through Emily's stomach. "It's Darren Wilden you should be looking for! The body in that hole isn't Alison DiLaurentis-it's a girl named Leah Zook! Wilden murdered her and dumped her there! He's guilty."But the cop just laughed and, to Emily's horror, began to handcuff her hands behind her back. "Sweetheart," he said as he led her down the hall, "the only guilty one here is you."

Chapter 27

That's Amore!.

Mrs. Hastings refused to tell Spencer where they were going, only that it was a surprise. The large, turreted houses on their street swept by, followed by the rambling Springton Farm and then the upscale Gray Horse Inn. Spencer took her money out of her wallet and rearranged her bills by serial number. Her mom had always been a quiet driver, fiercely concentrating on the roads and traffic, but something was different today, and it had Spencer on edge.They drove for almost a half hour. The sky was pitch-black, all of the stars twinkling brightly, everyone's porch lights blazing. When Spencer closed her eyes, she saw that awful night Ali went missing. Last week, her foggy memory had conjured an image of Ali standing at the edge of the woods with Jason. But that vision s.h.i.+fted again, and the person she thought was Jason morphed into someone smaller, slighter, more feminine.When had her mother finally come back to the house? Had she confronted Mr. Hastings about what he'd done-and revealed what she'd done? Maybe that was why he'd wired an exorbitant sum of money into the Alison DiLaurentis Recovery Fund. Surely a family that gave so much cash to the fund to help find Ali couldn't be responsible for her murder.Spencer's cell phone beeped, and she jumped. Swallowing hard, she reached for her phone in her bag. One new text message, the screen said.Your sister is counting on you to make this right, Spence. Or else the blood will be on your hands too.-A"Who's that?" Spencer's mom eased on the brakes for a red light. She unglued her eyes from the SUV stopped in front of her and glanced over at Spencer.Spencer clapped her hand over her cell phone's screen. "No one." The light turned green, and Spencer squeezed her eyes shut again.Your sister. Spencer had spent a lot of time resenting Ali, but that all felt wiped away now. She and Ali had shared the same dad, the same blood. She'd lost more than a friend that summer-she'd lost a family member.Her mother veered off the main road and pulled the Mercedes into otto, Rosewood's oldest and nicest Italian restaurant. Golden light shone from inside the building's grotto dining room, and Spencer could almost smell garlic and olive oil and red wine. "We're going out to dinner?" she said shakily."Not just dinner," her mom said, pursing her lips. "Come on."The parking lot was clogged with cars. At the far end, Spencer saw two Rosewood police cars. Just beyond that, blond twins climbed out of a black SUV. They looked about thirteen and both were dressed in puffy jackets, wooly white hats, and the matching sweatpants that said KENSINGTON PREP FIELD HOCKEY in collegiate-style letters down the legs. Spencer and Ali sometimes used to wear their field hockey sweats on the same day, too. She wondered if anyone had ever glanced at them and thought they were twins. Spencer's breath caught in her throat."Mom," she said, her voice cracking.Her mother turned. "Yes?"Say something, a voice in Spencer's head screamed. But her mouth felt welded shut."There she is!" Two figures were illuminated by floodlights across the parking lot, waving wildly at them. Mr. Hastings had changed from his work clothes into a blue polo s.h.i.+rt and khakis. Next to him, Melissa smiled primly, wearing a blue tulip-skirt dress and clutching a satin purse under her elbow. "Sorry I didn't call you back," her sister said as Spencer approached. "I was afraid if we talked, I'd ruin the surprise!""Surprise?" Spencer bleated weakly, distracted. She glanced at the police cars in the lot again. Say something, a voice in her head screamed. Your sister is counting on you.Mrs. Hastings started toward the door. "Well? Should we go in?""Absolutely," Mr. Hastings agreed."Wait!" Spencer cried.Everyone stopped and turned. Her mother's hair looked glossy under the lot's fluorescent floodlights. Her dad's cheeks were red from the cold. They were both smiling expectantly at her. And suddenly, Spencer realized her mother had no idea what Spencer was about to say. She hadn't seen the photo of Mrs. DiLaurentis that Spencer was holding. She hadn't known what Spencer and Ian had been IMing about just seconds before that. For the first time ever, Spencer felt sorry for her parents. She wished she could throw a blanket over them and protect them from this. She wished she'd never found this out in the first place.But she had."Why did you guys do it?" she said quietly.Mrs. Hastings took a step forward, one of her high heels making a solid clunk against the stone walkway. "Why did we do what?"Spencer noticed then that cops were sitting inside the cars. She lowered her voice, directing her words at her mom. "I know what happened the night Ali died. You found out about dad and Mrs. DiLaurentis's affair-you saw them at Ali's house. And you found out how Ali was my . . . was Dad's-"Mrs. Hastings head jerked back like she'd been slapped. "What?""Spencer!" Mr. Hastings cried, appalled. "What the h.e.l.l?"The words were spilling out now. She barely even noticed that the wind had picked up and was biting into her skin. "Did it start when you were in law school together, Dad? Is this why you never told us that Mr. DiLaurentis was a student at Yale the same time you were-because something between you and Jessica had happened then, too? Is that why you never spoke to Ali's family?"Another car pulled into the lot. Her father didn't respond. He just stood in the middle of the parking lot, bobbing ever so slightly back and forth like a buoy. Melissa dropped her clutch and bent quickly to retrieve it. Her mouth was open and her eyes looked turned to her mother. "How could you have hurt her? She was my sister. And, Dad, how could you cover it up when she was your daughter?"The bones in Mrs. Hastings's face seemed to turn to ash. She blinked slowly, as if she'd just woken up.She turned to her husband. "You and . . . Jessica?"Spencer's father opened his mouth to speak, but only a few unintelligible syllables came out."I knew it," Mrs. Hastings whispered. Her voice was eerily calm and steady. A muscle in her neck twitched. "I asked you a million times, but you always said it wasn't true."And then she lunged for Mr. Hastings and started pummeling him with her Gucci purse. "And you used to go over to her house? How many times did you do that? What the h.e.l.l is wrong with you?"It felt like all the air had drained from the parking lot. Spencer's ears buzzed, and she processed the scene as if in slow motion. Everything was unfolding all wrong. Her mom was acting like she didn't know. She thought back to Ian's IMs. Was it possible that her mother hadn't known any of this, that this was the first she'd heard of it . . . ever?Her mother finally stopped hitting her dad. He wheeled back, gasping. Beads of sweat dripped down his face."Just admit it. For once, just tell me the truth," she gasped.The next few seconds stretched out forever. "Yes," her father finally admitted, his head hung low.Melissa shrieked. Mrs. Hastings let out a shrill wail. Her dad paced nervously.Spencer closed her eyes for a long minute. When she opened them again, Melissa had disappeared. Mrs. Hastings turned to her husband again. "How long did this go on?" she demanded. Ropy veins stood out at her temples. "And was she yours?"Mr. Hastings's shoulders shook. A thin, guttural sound escaped from his lips. He covered his face with his hands. "I didn't know about the kids until later."Mrs. Hastings backed up, her teeth bared and her fists clenched. "When I come home tonight, I want you gone," she roared."Veronica-""Go!"After a pregnant pause, her father did as she asked. A moment later, his Jaguar revved to life and he gunned his way out of the parking lot, leaving his family behind."Mom." Spencer reached for her mom's shoulder."Leave me alone," her mother snapped, collapsing against the stone wall just outside the restaurant. Happy Italian accordion music tinkled out through the outdoor speakers. Inside the restaurant, someone let out a high-pitched laugh."I thought you knew," Spencer said desperately. "I thought you found out about this the night Ali went missing. You seemed so distracted the next day, like you'd done something awful. I thought this was why we couldn't ever talk about that night."Her mother whirled around, her eyes wild, her lipstick smudged. "You honestly think I could have killed that girl?" she hissed. "Am I really that much of a monster to you?""No!" Spencer squeaked in a tiny voice. "I just-""You just nothing," her mother growled, shaking a finger at her so violently, Spencer took a couple of frightened steps back into the flower beds. "You know why I told you we should never talk about that night, Spencer? Because your best friend went missing. Because Ali's disappearance has taken over your life and you need to move on. Not because I murdered her!""I'm sorry!" Spencer wailed. "It was just that . . . I mean, Melissa couldn't find you that night and she seemed so-""I was out with friends," her mother boomed. "Late. And the only reason I even remember that is because the police asked me about it nearly fifty times over the next few days!"There was a cough behind them. Melissa was crumpled next to a small topiary. Spencer grabbed her arm. "Why did you tell Dad over and over that you needed to find Mom?"Melissa shook her head, baffled. "What?""You guys were at the door that night and you kept saying, 'We need to find Mom. We need to find Mom.'"Melissa gaped at Spencer helplessly. Then, her eyes doubled in size, the memory coming to her. "You mean when I asked Dad about needing a ride to the airport to catch my flight to Prague?" she said weakly. "I knew I'd be too hungover, but Dad basically told me tough luck. I should've thought about that before getting drunk." She blinked at Spencer in bewilderment.A family with a young girl got out of a minivan. The husband and wife were holding hands, smiling at each other. The girl stared curiously at Spencer, her thumb in her mouth, before following her parents inside the restaurant."But . . ." Spencer felt dizzy. The smell of olive oil floating from the restaurant was suddenly overpoweringly putrid. She searched her sister's stricken face. "You weren't fighting with Dad because Mom found out about the affair? You didn't run back to Ian and say, 'My dad is having an affair with Mrs. DiLaurentis, and I think my mom went and did something horrible' ?""Ian?" Melissa interrupted, her eyebrows shooting up. "I never said that. When did he tell you that?"Spencer ground to a halt. "Today. He said he's been IMing you, too.""What?" Melissa exploded.Spencer clutched the sides of her head, feeling disoriented. Ian, Melissa, and her mother's words mixed together in a hazy swirl, twisting and blending until she had no idea what was the truth.Was Spencer even IMing Ian at all? She'd been IMing someone who claimed he was Ian, but did she really know for sure?"But what about what you and Mom have been whispering about all week?" Spencer begged, desperate to make sense of the situation, to justify what she'd just done."We were planning a special dinner for you." Her mom looked up, the fight suddenly draining from her voice. Melissa uttered a sigh of disgust and walked away. "Andrew and Kristen Cullen are in there. We were going to take you all to the new production of The Importance of Being Earnest at the Walnut Street Theater."Goose b.u.mps rose on Spencer's arms. Her stomach roiled. Her family had been trying to show how much they loved her, and look what she'd done.Tears began to cascade down Spencer's cheeks. Of course her mother hadn't killed Alison. Her mother hadn't even known about the affair. Whoever had IMed her had lied.A shadow fell over her. When she turned, she saw a gray-haired, stern-looking Rosewood cop. His gun gleamed in his belt."Miss Hastings," the cop said, shaking his head solemnly. "You're going to have to come with me.""W-what?" Spencer shrieked. "Why?""It would be better if you did this quietly," the cop murmured. Wordlessly, he stepped in front of her, nudging her mother out of the way. He pinned Spencer's hands behind her back, and she felt cold, hard metal on her wrists."No!" Spencer cried. It was happening so quickly. She looked over her shoulder. Her mother just stood there, mascara running down her cheeks, her mouth a small O. "Why are you doing this?" she begged the officer."Communicating with a criminal on the lam is a serious crime," he said. "Conspiracy after the fact. And we have the IMs to prove it.""IMs?" Spencer repeated, her heart sinking into her gut. The IMs from Ian. Had one of the cops overheard what she just said to her family? Had Melissa run to the police and told on her?"You don't understand!" she pleaded. "I wasn't conspiring with anyone! I don't even think those IMs are from Ian!"But the cop wasn't paying any attention. He opened the door to the backseat, placed a hand on Spencer's head, and shoved her inside. He slammed his own door shut, then pulled out of the lot, sirens blaring, lights flas.h.i.+ng, heading straight to the Rosewood police station.

Chapter 28

Now Who's the Crazy One?.

Hanna skidded down the Preserve hall past the cafeteria, arriving at the entrance to Iris's secret lair. "Let me in, Iris," she snarled. She pressed her ear to the door, but there weren't any sounds from upstairs.Hanna had been looking for Iris for the past hour, but Iris seemed to have vanished. She wasn't in the theater watching Ella Enchanted with the other patients. She wasn't in the dining room, the gym, or the spa. Aggravated, Hanna leaned against the locked door. There were a few doodles on the jamb. At the top left corner was the name Courtney, Iris's old roommate. Next to Courtney's name was a winking smiley face. Hanna was dying to get back inside the attic and see the drawing of Ali-she had no idea how she'd missed it when she was up there.Hanna was sure Iris knew Ali, she just didn't know how. From Jason, perhaps? Iris had said she'd stayed at different facilities besides this one; perhaps she'd been at the Radley, where Jason had been treated. She could have met Ali when she came to visit her brother, instantly striking up a friends.h.i.+p that turned to jealousy. The day after Ali went missing, Ali's mom grilled them with questions they couldn't answer. Did Ali ever talk about anyone teasing her? Certainly no one from Rosewood would tease Ali . . . but someone from a mental hospital might. When Hanna and Ali had been trying on clothes in her closet and Ali had gotten that prank call, maybe it had been Iris moaning on the other end, not Jason. Perhaps Iris was furious that Ali was able to come and go from the hospital, whereas she was condemned inside. Or maybe Iris was simply jealous that Ali was Ali.She's psychotic, Tara had warned Hanna in the hall a few days ago. Don't cross her. Hanna should have listened.And maybe . . . just maybe . . . Iris had killed Ali. Iris had told Hanna that she'd been out of the hospital at the exact same time Ali had vanished. Hanna thought of that letter with the slash through it on Ali's Time Capsule flag-it might have been a J, but it also could've been an I. For Iris. Had A sent Hanna to the Preserve so she'd learn about Iris . . . or was Iris A, leading Hanna right into her trap?She wants to hurt you, Ali had said.Hanna jogged down the hall, her Tory Burch flip-flops smacking against the soles of her feet. As she rounded the corner, a nurse stopped her. "No running, honey."Hanna paused, out of breath. "Have you seen Iris?"The nurse shook her head. "No, but she's probably watching the movie with the other girls. Why don't you go in too? There's popcorn!"Hanna wanted to smack the cheerful grin off her face. "We need to find Iris. It's serious."The nurse's smile wilted a little. There was a flicker of fear behind her eyes, as if Hanna was a homicidal maniac. Then Hanna spied a red phone on the wall."Can I use that?" Hanna begged. She could call the Rosewood PD and tell them everything."Sorry, sweetie, but that phone is switched off until four P.M. on Sunday. You know the rules." The nurse gently took Hanna's elbow and began guiding her back toward the patient rooms. "Why don't you get some rest? Betsy can bring you an aromatherapy eye mask."Hanna wrenched away. "I. Need. To. Find. Iris. She's a killer. She wants to hurt me, too!""Honey . . ." The nurse's gaze flickered to the red emergency b.u.t.ton on the wall. Staff could press it to summon help with a patient disturbance."Hanna?"Hanna spun around. Iris stood about ten paces away, leaning casually against the water bubbler. Her blond hair gleamed, her teeth so white they almost looked blue."Who are you?" Hanna whispered, walking toward her.Iris pursed her ultra-red lips. "What do you mean? I'm Iris. And I'm fabulous."A bolt of electricity slashed through Hanna's chest as Iris parroted Ali's old mantra. "Who are you?" she repeated, louder.The nurse swept forward and stepped between them. "Hanna, honey, you seem really excited. Let's just calm down."But Hanna didn't listen. She stared into Iris's wide, glowing eyes. "How do you know Alison?" she cried. "Were you in the hospital with her brother? Did you kill her? Are you A?""Alison?" Iris chirped. "That friend of yours who was murdered? The one you told me you wanted dead? The one you thought got what she deserved?"Hanna backed up, keenly aware that the nurse was still standing right behind her. A few stunned seconds crept by. "I was just . . . talking. It's not true. And I told you that in confidence. When I thought we were friends."Iris threw her head back in cruel laughter. "Friends!" she hooted, as if it was the punch line to a joke.Her laughter made Hanna's hands quiver. This was all painfully familiar. Ali laughed just like this when she teased Hanna about overeating. Mona laughed like this when Hanna's too-small Sweet Seventeen court dress ripped and split its seams on the dance floor. Hanna was everyone's punch line. The girl everyone loved to ruin."Tell me how you knew Alison," Hanna growled."Who?" Iris teased."Tell me how you knew her!"Iris giggled. "I have no idea who you're talking about."Something inside Hanna stirred, struggled, and then broke free. Just as Hanna lunged for Iris, a loud boom sounded behind them. A bunch of nurses and guards burst through a side door, and two strong arms grabbed Hanna from behind. "Get her out of here," yelled a voice. Someone dragged Hanna into the hallway and pressed her up against the far wall. Searing pain shot through her shoulder.Hanna kicked her bare legs, fighting to get free. "Let go of me! What's going on?"A security guard swam into view. "That's enough," he snarled. There was a click, and then Hanna felt hard metal handcuffs close around her wrists."I'm not the one you want!" Hanna screamed frantically. "It's Iris! She's a killer!""Hanna," the nurse scolded sharply."Why isn't anyone listening to me?"The guards began to push her down the hall. Every other patient in the ward was standing outside the theater room, gaping at the commotion. Tara looked thrilled. Alexis had her knuckles in her mouth. Ruby looked Hanna up and down, giggling.Hanna twisted around and stared at Iris. "How do you know Alison?" But Iris just gave a mysterious smile.The guards marched Hanna through a door and down an unfamiliar hallway. The vinyl floors were dingy, and the overhead fluorescent lights snapped and buzzed. There was a strange smell in the air, too, kind of like something in the walls was decaying.A tall figure in a police uniform came into view at the end of the hall. He calmly watched as the guards dragged Hanna to him. As they got closer, Hanna realized it was the Rosewood chief of police. Her heart lifted. Finally, someone who would listen to her!"h.e.l.lo, Miss Marin," the chief said.Hanna breathed a sigh of relief. "I was just going to call you," she blurted. "Thank G.o.d you came. Ali's killer is here. I can lead you right to her."The chief chuckled reproachfully, looking almost amused. "Lead me right to her? That's a good one, Ms. Marin." He leaned down until his face was parallel with hers. His skin glowed red under the neon EXIT sign. "Considering that you're under arrest."

Chapter 29

Master of Puppets.

When they reached the Rosewood police station, the cop undid Aria's cuffs and showed her into a dark interrogation room. "We'll be back for you later."Aria stumbled inside, her hip banging against the sharp edge of a wooden table. Slowly, her eyes adjusted. The room was small and windowless and reeked of sweat. Four chairs surrounded the table. Aria dropped into one of them and started to cry silently.The door squeaked, and someone else staggered into the room. It was a girl with long, auburn hair and thin legs. She wore a pair of black yoga pants, a long-sleeved striped T-s.h.i.+rt, and gold flats. Aria shot to her feet."Hanna?" she cried.Hanna slowly raised her head. "Oh," she said in a numb, subdued voice. "Hi." Her eyes were glazed over. There was a small cut near her mouth. Her eyes darted to and fro."What are you doing here?" Aria gasped.Hanna's lips parted slowly. A sarcastic smile flickered across her face. "Same reason you are. Apparently we were part of some conspiracy to kill Ali. We helped Ian escape and obstructed justice."Aria clutched the sides of her head. Could this really be happening? How could the cops believe such a thing?Before she could answer, the door opened again. Two more people were thrust inside. Spencer wore a green sheath and tall black heels, while Emily had on a prairie dress, thin leather shoes, and a small white skullcap. Aria gaped at them in astonishment. They stared back. For a moment, everyone was speechless."They think we did it," Emily whispered, walking to the table. "They think we killed Ali.""The cops found out about Ian's IMs," Spencer admitted. "I talked to him online earlier today. And they thought . . . well, they thought we were conspiring together. But, guys . . . I'm not sure it is Ian we were talking to. I think it's A.""But you swore it was Ian!" Aria spouted."I thought it was," Spencer said defensively. "But now I'm not sure." She pointed at Aria. "The cops said they know about Ian's ring. Did you give it to them?""No!" Aria cried. "But maybe I should have. They thought I was keeping this huge secret.""How could they have known about Ian's ring?" Hanna wondered aloud, her eyes fixed on a black stain on the linoleum floor."Jason DiLaurentis was at the cemetery," Aria said. "The cop said he told them, but Jason claimed he didn't. I don't know what to think. I have no idea how Jason could've known about the ring." She thought of the other thing Jason said after Aria exposed that he'd been a mental patient. You've got it all wrong. What did she have wrong?"Maybe Wilden told him," Hanna whispered. "He could have heard us talking at the hospital. He was outside the room."Aria slumped in her chair and watched as a spider climbed industriously up the gray cinder-block wall. "That doesn't even make any sense," Spencer piped up. "Wilden's a cop. He wouldn't tell Jason-he'd just handle it on his own.""And why would Wilden wait days to ambush me?" Aria added. "Besides, I thought Wilden was on our side."Emily snorted. "Right."Aria glanced at Emily, really taking in her bizarre outfit. "What on earth are you wearing?"Emily bit her chapped lip. "A sent me to an Amish commune and then told me to get the DNA report from the evidence room." Her green eyes were wide. "Some cop found me before I could get inside."Aria squeezed her eyes shut. No wonder the cops thought they were guilty. They probably figured Emily was tampering with evidence."But, guys, Wilden is lying about the DNA of the body in the hole," Emily went on. "It's not Ali-it's an Amish girl named Leah Zook."Spencer's mouth fell open. "You still think Ali is alive?""I saw her," Emily said, shrinking against the wall. "I know it sounds crazy, but I did, Spencer. I can't let this go. I tried to tell the cops, but they wouldn't listen."Spencer snorted. "Of course they didn't listen."Aria wrinkled her nose. "Emily, it was definitely Ali in that hole. Ali killed herself. That's what A helped me to figure out."Spencer whirled around and stared at Aria. "Is this what the psychic told you?""It might be true," Aria protested. "It's as good a theory as anything else.""No, a crazy girl named Iris killed Ali," Hanna inserted loudly, trying to smooth her tangles. "A sent me right to her."Then everyone looked at Spencer, waiting to see what her theory was. There were goose b.u.mps on Spencer's arms. "A told me my mom killed Ali because . . . well, because my dad had an affair with Ali's mom. Ali's my sister.""What?" Aria gasped. Emily just stared. Hanna looked disgusted, like she might throw up into the dented metal trash can in the corner."But my mom didn't do it," Spencer explained. "She didn't even know about the affair. I probably ruined my parents' marriage. A was just . . . messing with me. I think A messed with all of us."Everyone stiffened. The realization hit Aria like a heavy boxing glove to her temple. A had messed with all of them. A was behind all of this. Jason hadn't told the cops about Ian's ring-A had. Maybe A had even planted it in the woods so Aria would find it. A had sent Emily to look for the DNA report in the evidence room, only to report her to the on-duty cop. A told the police about Ian's IMs, too, making it look like they'd conspired with him.A had been toying with them all along, pulling all the strings. And now they were in jail for a murder they didn't commit.Aria gazed around at the others. By the stunned looks on their faces, it seemed like they'd just come to the same conclusion. "A's our worst enemy," she whispered. She patted her pocket, reaching for her cell phone. Surely A had sent them a group text to show just how gullible and stupid they all were. Gotcha! it probably said. Or, Who's laughing now!But then Aria remembered-the cops had confiscated all their phones. If A had sent them a message, they wouldn't get it.

Chapter 30

Free at Last.

About thirty minutes later, there was a knock on the holding-cell doors. All the girls jumped. Emily's heart catapulted to her throat. This was it. They were going to be interrogated . . . and then they were going to jail.A woman police officer peered into the room. There were purple circles under her eyes and a coffee stain on the chest of her uniform s.h.i.+rt. "Get your things, girls. You're being released."Everyone fell silent, stunned. Then Emily collapsed with relief. "Really?""Did you find A?" Aria asked."What happened?" Hanna said at the same time.The cop's expression was stony. "All charges against you are dropped." But there was an uncomfortable look on her face, like there was something else she wanted to say. "Let's just say circ.u.mstances have changed."Emily followed the others out of the room, working the words over in her mind. Circ.u.mstances have changed? That could mean only one thing. Her heart leapt."That body in the hole wasn't Ali's, right?" she cried. "You found her!" So they had been listening when she told them that Wilden was a murderer!Spencer nudged Emily's ribs. "Would you shut up about that?""No," Emily snapped. A might have sent them to jail, but Emily's theory was still right. She knew it at the bottom of her heart. She turned back to the cop, who was walking briskly down the hall. "Is Ali okay? Is she safe?""You girls are going home," the cop answered. Her keys jingled on her belt. "That's all I can tell you."They received their personal items from another officer at the front desk. Emily immediately checked her phone, thinking that perhaps Ali had texted, but there were no new messages. Not even a derisive note from A, laughing that Emily had walked right into the trap.The female cop hit a buzzer, and double doors opened to the parking lot. It was crammed with police cars and news vans. Emily hadn't seen so much commotion since the fire in the woods."Emily," a voice said.Darren Wilden ran at them from across the dark parking lot, his quilted police jacket flapping open. "Good. They let you out. I'm sorry about this."Emily recoiled, her heart jumping to her throat. Why was Wilden here? Shouldn't he be arrested?"What's going on?" Aria demanded, stopping near an empty patrol car. "Why did they suddenly set us free?"Wilden guided them away from the crowd, not answering. "Just be glad you're out of this mess. We're getting guys to escort you home."Emily planted her feet. "I know what you did," she said in a low voice. "And I'm going to make sure everyone else knows it too."Wilden swiveled around, staring at her. His walkie-talkie made a noise, but he ignored it. Finally, he sighed. "What you think you know isn't true, Emily. I know you went to Lancaster. And I know what you were led to believe. But I didn't hurt Leah. I'd never do that."The blood drained from Emily's head. "What? How do you know where I was?"Wilden stared at the glowing parking s.p.a.ce lines in the lot. "You guys were right about your new A. I should have listened."Aria stomped her foot. "Oh, now you believe us? Why couldn't you have listened last week, maybe before we were almost fried alive in a forest fire?""And before A sent me to the Preserve at Addison-Stevens!" Hanna wailed. "I was locked up with crazy people!"Emily shot up. The Preserve at Addison-Stevens. That name was in Ali's evidence file. It was a mental hospital?"I'm sorry I didn't believe you guys," Wilden was saying, striding past a chain-link fence. Behind it were unused police vehicles and a large white school bus. "It was a mistake. But we know everything now. We have all the notes he sent you."The girls stopped dead. "He?" Spencer squeaked."Who is he?" Hanna whispered. "Ian?"Just then, another police car wailed into the lot. Policemen ran over and started to pull someone out of the backseat. There were shouts, and then a kicking leg, then a flash of teeth. The cops finally managed to get whoever it was out of the car and began marching him toward the station. When there was a break in action, Emily saw a tall, lanky man with greasy blond hair and a moustache. Her stomach curdled.There was a worried crinkle between Spencer's eyes. "Why does he look familiar?" she murmured."I don't know," Emily whispered, her mind frantically searching.Members of the press rushed to the cops and started snapping pictures. "How long have you been planning this, Mr. Ford?" they screamed. "What made you do it?" And finally, rising above the rest, "Why did you kill Alison?"Aria grabbed Emily's hand hard. Emily's knees went weak. "What did they say?""He killed Alison," Spencer murmured. "That guy killed Alison.""But who is he?" Hanna blurted."Come on," Wilden said gruffly, shoving them away. "You shouldn't see this."None of the girls could move. The man's untied shoelace dragged along the pavement as the cops shoved him toward the station. His head was hung low, exposing a bald patch. Emily raked her nails up the side of her arms. Ali was . . . dead? What about Leah? What about the girl Emily had seen in the woods?The reporters kept screaming, their voices blurring incoherently. Then one reporter shouted louder than the others. "And what about the body that was just found? Are you responsible for that murder, too?"Hanna turned to Wilden. "Another murder?""Oh my G.o.d." Emily's insides turned to mush."Girls," Wilden said sternly. "Come on."By now, Ali's alleged killer was at the front steps, only twenty or so feet away from Emily. He noticed Emily and smiled lewdly, revealing a gold front tooth.Electricity crackled in Emily's veins. She knew that smile. Nearly four years ago, workers began pouring concrete into the hole in the DiLaurentises' backyard the day after Ali went missing. Wilden had been there . . . but so had a lot of other guys, too. After Mrs. DiLaurentis interrogated them, Emily cut through Ali's backyard to the woods. One of the workers turned and leered at her. He'd been tall and lanky, and when he smiled, he'd had that same horrible gold front tooth.Emily turned to Spencer, aghast. "That guy was one of the workers who filled in the gazebo hole the day after Ali went missing. I remember him."Spencer was very pale. "I saw him a few days ago. On my street."

Chapter 31

The Very Good and the Very Evil.

Four junior Rosewood cops arrived to escort Spencer and the others home. Spencer climbed into the back of the cruiser that would drive her back, choking on the smell of fake car leather, vomit, and sweat. A dark-haired cop slid into the front seat, started the engine, and pulled to the exit.Out the window, the press was clamoring at the police station door, eager for another glimpse of the killer. Spencer stared hard at the windows in front of the police station. All the blinds were shut tight. Could that guy really have done it? He was such a stranger, an outsider. It seemed so out of the blue.She wrapped her fingers around the metal cage separating the front seat from the back. "Who else did that guy kill?" she called. The cop didn't answer. "How did you find out he killed Ali?" she tried. He merely turned up his CB radio. Frustrated, Spencer kicked the back of his seat hard. "Are you deaf?"The cop gave her a chilling glare in the rearview mirror. "My orders are to bring you home. That's all."Spencer let out a small whimper. She wasn't exactly sure she wanted to go home. What kind of state would her house be in right now? Was her dad still there? Had he fled to be with Mrs. DiLaurentis?It was all so surreal and unthinkable. Spencer was certain that within minutes, she'd wake up in her bed, discovering it was just a dream. But another minute pa.s.sed. And another, and she was still here, living her worst nightmare.All of a sudden, she realized something. When her mother begged her dad to admit the truth, he'd blurted, I didn't know about the kids until later. He'd said kids, not kid. Was that a mistake . . . or a slip? Was Jason her father's child-and Spencer's half brother-too?They pa.s.sed downtown Rosewood, a quaint, brick-paved shopping district full of chic furniture stores, antique shops, and homemade-ice cream parlors. Spencer plunged her hand into her gold Kate Spade satchel and found her Sidekick at the bottom. Amazingly, there were no new texts from A. She called her house. The phone rang and rang, but there was no answer. Then, she typed CNN's Web address on the keypad. Officer Tight Lips might not tell her anything, but the news would.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 G.o.d the workers aren't here, Ali had said when they pa.s.sed the half-dug hole on the night of their seventh-grade sleepover. They keep hara.s.sing 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 gla.s.s, 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 flas.h.i.+ng. 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 G.o.d," 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 flas.h.i.+ng lights, her limbs aching. Her house was ahead. She pa.s.sed 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 gra.s.s.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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About Heartless. Part 2 novel

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