"I say we split up to do the interviews," Dante proposed. "Jaime and I will talk to Sawyer, since I think he's more likely to talk to a Beta, since he's so eager to be one. We'll also have a chat with Shirley." Dante turned to Makenna. "You're good at getting people to open up, so you go see Cynthia and Duncan with Ryan."
At Makenna's nod, Dante straightened. "Then let's get going."
Shirley's cabin was close by, so Dante decided they should speak with her first. Fingers linked with Jaime's, he made his way to the small building that was almost an exact image of their guest cabin.
Shirley took her sweet time opening the front door. Then she stood in the doorway, arms folded, peering down at them like a princess glaring down at the peasants. His wolf growled.
Still, he offered her a cordial smile. "I'm Dante, and this is-"
"You shouldn't have come here."
"I'm sure your Alpha warned you that we would," said Dante.
Shirley leaned a little toward him. "I'll tell you what I told him. I don't believe that anyone from the flock is the gunman. Your pack mate's original theory is the only one that makes sense."
"From what I've heard," began Dante, "you've always felt that someone manipulated your son into shooting those ravens four years ago."
Shirley straightened, face softening slightly. "My Wade was a gentle boy. Caring. He didn't have an aggressive bone in his body. Even if he was depressed, I don't believe he went through the trouble of finding himself a gun to kill all those people. No way." She shook her head, adamant. "If it was someone from the flock, it could only have been Riley."
Dante bit back a growl. Riley was his pack mate, whether she was prepared to accept it or not, and he didn't like hearing someone make such an accusation about her. Apparently, neither did Jaime, because her hand was clenching his tightly. "Why?"
"Because he let her live."
She said it as if that were proof. Dante forced himself to speak calmly. "Maybe he let her live because that caring part of Wade reared its head just enough to recognize that, unlike the others, she was his friend."
Shirley looked away.
"If you're right and someone gave your son that gun, it could be that they're now intent on finishing the job. Don't you want to know who it is? Don't you want to know who might have done that to Wade?"
Shirley didn't say anything, but the hostility seemed to slip out of her expression.
"Did anyone spend a lot of time with Wade before his death?" asked Dante.
Shirley sighed, rubbing her temple. "I don't know."
"I understand that this is difficult for you," Dante began, "but I need you to think real hard. Was there anyone who visited him a lot back then?"
"Riley and Lucy."
Shirley was about to say no, but then her brow creased. "Sawyer came around here a few times, come to think of it. It surprised me, because they weren't friends. He hadn't exactly disliked Wade, but he'd always been aloof toward him at best."
"Do you know what they talked about?" Dante asked.
Shirley shook her head. "Now that I think about it, Wade used to get a lot of text messages back then too."
"I'm not sure. I'd ask him who it was, thinking maybe he had a girlfriend, but he'd always mumble, 'No one' and walk off."
After a moment Dante nodded. "Thank you for speaking with us." Still in possession of Jaime's hand, he pulled her down the path.
"Delightful woman," muttered Jaime when she heard the door close
. "I agree with Riley. Shirley's pissed and has a major hard-on for Riley, but she doesn't have that killer's edge. So where do we find Sawyer?"
Dante kissed her, just because. "Riley called Hugh before we left; he said that Sawyer is patrolling the southern perimeter."
"Then let's head that way."
It didn't take long to find Sawyer, and he didn't seem at all surprised or daunted to see them striding purposefully toward him.
Dante stopped a few feet away. "I'm Dante, and this is my mate, Jaime. We were wondering if you had a few minutes to talk. Like it or not, you're a possible target of whoever went after Riley and Lucy. We need your help to find out who's behind this."
Sawyer studied them intently for a minute. "You're Betas."
Dante nodded. "We are."
That fact alone seemed to be enough to make Sawyer drop his guard. "What do you want to know?"
"Do you know of anyone with a grudge against the ravens in your age-group?"
"Only Wade. I'm sure Riley told you what it was like for him growing up."
"She did," Dante confirmed. "If someone is targeting the few of you who didn't attend the party, it would suggest that they feel Wade's actions were justified and that his job was left undone. It could even be that someone gave Wade a little push in that direction four years ago."
Sawyer's look was doubtful. "Shirley believes the latter, but that's only because it's hard for her to accept that Wade did what he did. But though Wade was a lot of things, he wasn't weak. Peer pressure never worked on him. And he was a smart kid. If someone had been trying to brainwash him into doing something so against his nature, he would have seen it."
"Did anyone seem especially eager for you to be at the party that night?"
Sawyer pursed his lips. "No."
"Did anyone try to persuade you not to go?"
Sawyer seemed surprised by the question. "Cynthia tried to lure me to her house that night. She'd heard Riley and I broke up."
Dante's brow lifted. "Did you go to Cynthia's?"
"No, I went looking for Riley. She'd already left."
Dante was quiet for a moment. "You allegedly spent a lot of time with Wade before the shootings. Shirley says she found it strange, since you weren't friends."
"Riley was worried about him."
"You thought helping him would impress her?" asked Jaime. "That it might make her go back to you?"
"Maybe, but then I saw just how right she was to be worried," said Sawyer. "He'd lost a lot of weight, he wasn't taking care of his hygiene, and there was no drive in him-no motivation to even get out of bed. And he had all these drawings in his room."
Dante cocked his head. "What kind of drawings?"
"They were dark and violent," said Sawyer. "Pictures of demon-type monsters, like something out of a nightmare. He only ever used the colors black and red. I asked him about them. He said the demons talked to him; they wanted blood. I thought he meant his own blood-that he had some kind of inner demon he couldn't face and he wanted to hurt himself."
"Did you tell anyone?" Jaime asked.
"I told Shirley. She didn't see how him drawing dark pictures meant anything was wrong. She said he'd suffered from nightmare disorder since he was a kid and he'd always drawn the things he'd seen in the dreams, that I was making a fuss about nothing." Sawyer sighed. "I listened to her, and now he's dead, and so are a bunch of other people. I have to live with that."