"Breathtakingly chilling...eerie and wholly immersive...A tightly plotted mystery." Kirkus Reviews starred reviewIt's been a year since the Catalog Killer terrorized the sleepy seaside town of Camera Cove, killing four people before disappearing without a trace. Like everyone else in town, eighteen-year-old Mac Bell is trying to put that horrible summer behind him—easier said than done since Mac's best friend Connor was the murderer's final victim. But when he finds a cryptic message from Connor, he's drawn back into the search for the killer—who might not have been a random drifter after all. Now nobody—friends, neighbors, or even the sexy stranger with his own connection to the case—is beyond suspicion. Sensing that someone is following his every move, Mac struggles to come to terms with his true feelings towards Connor while scrambling to uncover the truth.
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TO BE HONEST, I'm not sure I expected anyone to show up, but when I come to the end of the overgrown path, pushing through a tangle of bayberry and wild roses into the clearing, Ben is already there.
He's still dressed in his graduation clothes, khakis and a button-up, his tie undone so that it hangs limp around his neck like a rope. His bike has been tossed off to the side, and he's hoisted himself up onto one of the granite ledges that shelter the space, his feet dangling. He raises a hand as I approach.
"Hey." I smile, trying to act normal, as if we still hang out here every day. As if we hang out at all, anymore.
"You managed to get away," he observes.
"Finally," I say. "My parents dragged me out to dinner with my grandparents. I thought it would never end."
He lets out a half laugh, one dead syllable that drops straight to the ground.
"My parents can't even be in the same room together," Ben says. "They started arguing in the school parking lot over who would get to take me out to eat, so I slipped away and came here instead."
"You've been here that long?" I ask, surprised. It's been over two hours since our graduation ceremony ended.
He shrugs. "I like it here. It's nice."
I scramble awkwardly up onto the ledge to sit next to him, and we stare out at the water. He's right, it is nice. It's a beautiful June evening, still bright, although the sun is starting to drop towards a bank of thick clouds painted on the horizon.
From up here on the bluff we have a perfect bird's eye view of Camera Cove: rows of brightly painted wooden houses; the commercial district, with its quaint shops and restaurants; town hall's elegant brick clock tower; the boardwalk twisting along the stretch of sandy beach to the jagged, cave-riddled cliffs at its far end.
From a distance, you would never think that there was anything more to the town than the postcard prettiness that's always been its claim to fame; was its only claim to fame, before last summer.
We both turn at the sound of the voice. Doris has materialized at the base of the path, as if from thin air. She's the kind of person who looks exactly the same now as she did when she was a little kid, and probably still will when she's eighty. Pin straight, shoulder length black hair, bangs sharp enough to slice your finger, tortoise framed glasses, wide strapped canvas shoulder bag. Every piece of clothing is perfectly clean and neat and pressed, every hair in place.
"Congratulations. Or should I say, 'congraduations?'" she says, in a pretty accurate impression of Anna Silver's perky valedictory speech. "Jesus that was tough to get through. I was dying for a Xanax."
Something else that will never change about Doris: her sarcasm. She might be neat and tidy on the outside, but inside she's all barbs and sharp edges. I've known her since we were kids, but she's a tough nut to crack.
"It wasn't that bad," says Ben. "I thought she did an okay job."
"Are you kidding me? She actually used the term 'now it's time to spread our wings.' I thought she was going to break into song."
I don't say anything. Anna's speech might have been a bit chipper, but it would have been a hard job for anyone this year, under the circumstances.
"No family party for you?" I ask instead.
Doris rolls her eyes. "Fat chance of that. I'm surprised my parents even showed up at the ceremony." She points at the sun as it begins to dip behind the clouds. "Looks like I'm just in time. Let's get this show on the road."
We all turn to look at the ancient, gnarled oak, the only tree on this windswept bluff.
"Do you think we should wait for Carrie?" asks Ben.
"I was sure she'd be here," I say, which isn't really true. I wanted her to be here. The Carrie I grew up with wouldn't have missed it, but I've barely spoken to her since last summer.
He shrugs. "Maybe she'll still show. It's kind of important."
"Important," scoffs Doris. "Give me a break. Carrie's not coming, guys. She's done a better job of forgetting things than the rest of us."
"If it isn't important, why are you here?" Ben asks her, with an uncharacteristic flash of irritation.
I look back and forth between them as they bicker, vaguely aware that the sun has disappeared behind the clouds and the light has shifted. They look distant to me, as if I'm watching characters in a movie, rather than people who used to be my best friends.
"It seemed like a good way to wrap things up," says Doris. "I'm ready for this year to be over. I'm sick of thinking about it. I'm sick of knowing that everyone else is thinking about it. I'm ready to start thinking about something else."
"You make it sound easy," he says.
"No it's not easy, Ben," and now Doris is the one who sounds irritated, "but it's necessary, so let's have our little ceremony or whatever and start getting the hell over it."
She walks over to the oak tree and crouches at the base, and Ben and I follow her.
"Why did you come, Mac?" Ben asks me as we kneel down beside her.
"Because we made a promise," I say.
They glance at each other. It's a quick, instinctive thing, almost imperceptible, but I notice it. It occurs to me for the first time that they might only be here for my benefit. Because they feel sorry for me, their weird friend.
Even though we're not friends. Not really. Not after last summer.
The three of us stare into the thick claw of roots at the base of the tree, muscular and knotted. It's easy to imagine them continuing down in a death grip beneath the surface. In front of us is a hollow, packed tight with rich, dark earth.
"How are we going to do this?" I ask. "I wasn't really thinking. I could run home and get a shovel or something."
But Doris has already unslung her bag and opened it in front of us. She pulls out a large Ziploc. Inside, cocooned like police evidence, is a gardener's trowel, caked with dirt.
"It's my mother's," she explains. She opens the bag and pulls out the trowel, then twists forward into the hollow and starts to dig awkwardly.
"Let me do it," says Ben. "My arms are longer than yours."
Doris pulls back without protest and hands him the trowel. It's only a few seconds before Ben hits something, and after he clears away a bit more dirt, he reaches in and pulls out a metal tube.
"That was easier than I thought," I say.
"We didn't really bury it all that deep," says Doris. "It's not like anyone was going to think to look for it."
Ben carries the object out from the tree and puts it on the ground in the middle of the ledge. We sit in a circle, staring at it; an old stainless steel Thermos.
"This was always your idea, Mac," says Doris. "You do the honors."
I reach over and grab the Thermos. It's lighter than it looks. I hesitate, just for a moment, then I use the sleeve of my hoodie to brush away some of the grime that covers it like a skin. The revealed metal dully reflects the sunset back at me. I glance up at Doris, to my left, and Ben, to my right. They're watching me, waiting, and in the weird vivid light they look almost unreal — familiar faces seen through a blur of stained glass.
I twist the top of the Thermos, and with a scrape of grit it opens.
There's a piece of paper folded up inside, on top of everything else. I pull it out and open it, read aloud my pompous junior high handwriting.
"On this, our last day of school, in our eighth grade, we the undersigned do bury this time capsule."
"This must have been during your Ben Franklin phase," says Doris.
I ignore her and continue reading. "Having spent our young years together as friends, the undersigned do solemnly declare that we will unearth this time capsule on the day of our high school graduation, four years hence."
I stare at the signatures, frozen. For a moment, I feel like I can't breathe. But then Doris nudges me and I manage to pull my eyes away and pass the paper along to her.
Once we've all had a chance to read it, I turn the Thermos upside down and shake it. Envelopes, folded tightly and wrapped in rubber bands, fall out, followed by small school photos of each of us, floating like feathers to the ground.
I sift through the envelopes, reading the names and handing them around.
Doris opens hers, and Ben and I watch and wait. She shakes it onto her palm, and a small pendant falls out — a silver heart on a chain.
"I remember that thing," I say. "You always had it on."
"My aunt Marie gave it to me," she says, and for a moment, her cynicism fades away, and she smiles slightly, remembering. "It was a gift for my twelfth birthday. I told my mom I lost it. She was pissed."
"What was your prediction?" asks Ben.
She pulls a piece of paper out of the envelope and reads to herself. Her face reddens and she shoves the paper into her pocket.
"What is it?" I ask. "What did it say? You have to tell us."
"No," she says. "It's stupid."
"Come on, Doris," says Ben. "This is the thing. This is what we came here for."
He sounds genuinely disappointed in her, and she shakes her head at him, exasperated, but she pulls the paper back out.
"I'll get a full scholarship to Cornell," she reads, her voice flat.
Ben and I look at each other, confused.
"You did get a scholarship," I say. "You've been saying you wanted to go to Cornell since you were a kid."
"Yeah," she says. "I know that. I just ... it seems conceited or something."
"You earned it, Doris," says Ben, quietly.
She looks to me, and I can tell from her expression that she wants to change the subject, so I rip open my envelope. Inside, there's a keychain, a memento from a trip I took to visit my cousins in Boston. Up to that point, it had been the best week of my life, but it seems cheap and insignificant now, compared to Doris's contribution.
"Lame," I say. Nobody disagrees. I unfold my prediction. "We will all still be best friends on graduation day."
There's another long pause, and the air around us grows thick.
"Wow, Mac," says Doris, finally, with forced sarcasm. "You should really get a job writing greeting cards."
Ben doesn't even smile. He's lost in thought.
"Ben," I say, and he snaps back to the present. He rips open his envelope, pulls out some hockey cards, flips through them quickly. "Garbage," he says, tossing them onto the ground. He unfolds his paper and reads. "I'll be captain of the hockey team."
"Sad trombone," says Doris.
"Whatever," he says, crumpling up the paper and tossing it over the hill. He might pretend he doesn't care, but I still feel bad for Ben. As long as I've known him, he's been obsessed with sports, and although he played pretty much everything — basketball, soccer, and his beloved hockey — he was only ever good, never great. After everything that happened last year, he went into a bit of a nosedive. Not only did he not make captain, he didn't even make the team for our senior year. But that's not something I've ever talked to him about, and I'm not about to start now.
Instead, I say, "We haven't opened all the envelopes."
We all look at the pile in the middle of the circle.
"It doesn't really seem right to open Carrie's without her here," says Ben. "Maybe one of you guys can give it to her?"
Doris throws her hands up. "Don't look at me. We're not what you'd call 'close' these days. Anyway, you live right next door to her, Mac."
"Fine," I say. "I'll do it." I grab Carrie's envelope and shove it into the pocket of my hoodie.
My eyes drift back to the center of the circle. To the envelope still sitting there.
"We have to," I say, after a moment.
"I don't know if it's such a good idea," says Ben. "That's not really why we came here, is it?"
"Then why did we come here?" I ask. "If we don't remember him, who will?"
At the first mention of him, the air becomes charged with an unsettled energy, as if we've released the unanswered questions that we've all tried so hard to put behind us.
Ben and I turn to look at Doris. Tiebreaker.
She reaches out and picks up the envelope, stares at the signature scrawled across the paper.
"He would have wanted us to," she says finally, handing me the envelope.
"How can you know that?" asks Ben. "I wouldn't want you to open mine if —"
"Yeah well, he was a different person than you, Ben," I snap. I realize that I'm glaring at him, and drop my eyes, not sure where the wave of anger came from.
Ben shakes his head at me, pissed, then sighs. "To hell with it," he says. "What do I care?"
I rip open the envelope and tilt it. Something slides out and bounces off my hand and onto the ground. Ben reaches over and picks it up. It's a dog tag, a flat piece of blue aluminum, shaped like a bone. A registration number punched into one side, Prince engraved on the other.
Doris turns away, with a harsh, ragged exhalation. It's the first real display of emotion I've seen from her today.
"Prince," I whisper. "The Andersons' old dog. He died right around the time we buried the time capsule. He loved that dog, remember?"
I look up, smiling at the memory, and realize that Ben is crying. He turns away from us, pulling the back of his hand up to his face.
"Ben," I say, tentatively, reaching out but not quite putting my hand on his shoulder. "Are you going to be okay, man?" "I'm fine," he says, his voice muffled but aggressive.
"Are you sure?" I ask.
Doris stands up, steps back from us, scowling. "There's no sense crying about it, Ben. It's done. He's dead."
"Jesus, Doris," I say, feeling like the wind's been knocked out of me.
"We should be thinking about his parents," she says, her voice tight with anger. "What they're going through. What all this must feel like to them."
"Yeah," I say. "Of course, but —"
"She's right, Mac," says Ben, turning back to face us. He wipes his eyes with the back of his hand and takes a couple of deep breaths, pulling himself together. "All that matters is that it hasn't happened again."
"It won't happen again," says Doris, decisively. "It's over. It's been a year, and the cops say it's done. Whoever did it has moved on."
"Yeah," says Ben, although he doesn't sound convinced.
Doris turns to me. "What about his prediction?"
I realize I'm still holding the envelope tight in my hand. I dig inside and pull out a folded piece of paper. My fingers tremble, and for a brief unhinged instant, I'm sure that I'm going to open it and find the whole thing written out, a clear and horrible prediction of his own shocking death.
But when I unfold the paper, there's no prediction at all. No words, even. Just a sketch.
Even at thirteen his talent was obvious. His hands were never still, constantly doodling and drawing and sketching.
The portrait in front of me takes my breath away. It's the five of us, still just kids, smiling into the future. There's only one word on the page, the perfect block letters that I could probably forge from memory if I had to. A signature.
LAST SUMMER, a serial killer paid a visit to Camera Cove.
By the time the dust settled, four people were dead. George Smith, 44, who had only just moved to Camera Cove with his wife and kids. Joanna "Joey" Standish, a sixteen-year-old girl from a trailer park outside the town limits. Maria Brindle, 28, a new mother, and the wife of a popular town councilor. The so-called "Catalog Killer" always left a calling card: a page ripped from an old catalog, pinned to the victim's clothes. All of his victims were overpowered, tied-up, poisoned, and posed ... with one notable exception.
Seventeen. Tall and good looking. Always smiling. Loved by everyone. The kind of guy that adults liked to say had "a bright and promising future ahead of him."
One of my very best friends since childhood. One of my only friends, if I'm being honest.
The last person to die before the Catalog Killer disappeared without a trace.
* * *
With the time capsule open and all mysteries solved, things get awkward. There's nothing more to say to one another. It's time to go home.
When Ben stands up, he's smiling. It's like his breakdown didn't even happen.
"I'm going to head out," he says. "I need to grab a shower before the grad party. Maybe I'll see you guys there."
Before Doris or I even have a chance to respond, he's grabbed his bike and is pushing it through the shrubs back towards the road.
"Did you see that?" Doris asks. "He couldn't get away from us fast enough. He's such a pussy."
"He's upset," I say, a bit surprised. I'm used to Doris's sarcasm, but this is harsh even for her.
"He's a mess," she says. "He keeps breaking down in public. It was an awful terrible thing that happened, and everyone is shook up, but he's still acting like chief mourner, when the rest of the universe is trying to move on. I mean, suck it up, right?"
"Come on, Doris," I say. "They were really close."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Keep This To Yourself"
Copyright © 2019 Tom Ryan.
Excerpted by permission of Albert Whitman & Company.
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