Jonas didn't like the question, and he liked the possible answers even less. His stomach clenched as he thought of Verity. As long as she stayed in the bedroom she would be all right, he told himself. There was no reason why she and Spencer should have encountered each other this morning.
The flashlight darted past, accompanied by a lot of heavy breathing. Spencer was in a state of panic—Jonas could literally smell the fear on the man.
Jonas stepped out from behind a fir and threw himself forward.
"No!" Spencer shrieked as he was toppled to the ground. "No, goddammit, no. Let me go, you frigging bastard. Take your damned hands off me. Let me go!" He lurched beneath Jonas's weight, swinging wildly with the flashlight and something else—a gun.
Jonas slashed at the Sailing arm holding the pistol. Spencer fought back with an unnatural strength. The man was clearly hysterical and he struggled with frantic energy.
The flashlight caught Jonas on his jaw. He reeled backward, seeing a few bright lights in his head. But he had a grip on Spencer's gun arm and he hung on with grim determination, squeezing until he was sure the small bones in Spencer's wrist had to crack.
Spencer screamed, a high, thin wail of despair and fury, and then the gun tumbled to the soggy ground.
Jonas drew back his arm for a solid blow, then abandoned the effort in disgust. There was no point in hitting his victim again. Spencer was racked with heavy sobs, totally incapacitated by his emotions.
"It was an accident," Slade gasped between gulping sobs. He lay in the mud, one arm over his face. "A damned accident. I didn't plan it. She just showed up at the wrong time. Started yelling at me, saying she knew all about me. I had to do something, don't you see? I had to shut her up."
Cold terror swept over Jonas. He grabbed a fistful of Slade's shirt and jerked him to a sitting position.
"Who did you shut up, Spencer? Who?"
Spencer blinked, his gaze oddly vague. "That old bag Frampton. What else could I do? She knew, I tell you. Somehow she figured out who I was." Spencer swallowed more sobs. "Shit, I didn't think she'd recognize me. I lost a lot of weight in the clinic—got contacts—shaved my beard. I was so damn sure.
But she knew me, the old bitch. She knew me. So I hit her and she fell, like a sack of laundry. She just fell, I tell you. I didn't mean to kill her."
In spite of what he was hearing, a sickening sense of relief swept through Jonas. His first thought had been that it was Verity whom Spencer had killed.
"You killed Maggie? This morning?" He shook Spencer. "Answer me, dammit!"
"Have to get away. Everything's gone wrong." Spencer gazed wildly about, his eyes glazed. "Hazelhurst said it would. He always claimed the treasure was protected with a curse or something. Stupid old man—crazy. He was crazy, you know. I mean, those ass**les in the clinic said I had a few screws loose, but Hazelhurst was downright insane."
Jonas had his doubts about who was crazy and who wasn't, but this wasn't the time to explore them. It sounded as if Verity was all right, but he had to get back to the villa and make certain. Then he had to find poor Maggie Frampton.
"You crazy son of a bitch," Jonas said. "You killed Hazelhurst, didn't you?" He unbuckled Spencer's belt as he spoke. "You were the student who showed up two years ago to help him look for the treasure.
Maggie finally recognized you this morning, didn't she? Is that what happened? She said she knew who you were?"
"I had to kill Hazelhurst," Spencer explained, his expression suddenly, chillingly sane. "He was afraid, you see. Lost his nerve. Wouldn't tell me what he'd done with the treasure, said no one must ever touch it. All that was left in the chest was a ring, a scrap of metal, and a stiletto. I knew Hazelhurst had gotten there first and found the rest. I tried to make him tell me, but he wouldn't. The old bastard just kept saying the chest was empty when he found it. But I knew better."
"So you killed him with the stiletto you found in the chest, right?" Jonas dragged Spencer to his feet and secured his wrists behind his back with the belt.
"I had to kill him. He was so freakin' scared. The old fool wouldn't tell me a thing, but I knew I could find it on my own. It had to be there in the villa. I didn't need him to tell me where it was."
"But you never found the treasure, did you?" Jonas asked as he jerked Spencer back toward the villa.
"You've killed two people but all you ever got was a ring, a drug and alcohol problem, and a few loose screws. Maybe Hazelhurst was right. Maybe the treasure is cursed. You should have left well enough alone. Tell me something, how did you get that rental boat over here? Doug brought you here in his launch, didn't he?"
"That was easy. As soon as I knew about the plans to spend a week at the villa, I rented the boat. Then I hired a kid who had his own boat to follow me here. I hid the boat in that first cove and the kid gave me a lift back to the other island. I told him I planned to use the skiff for a fishing party this week."
"Why did you think you'd need a boat?"
Spencer looked at Jonas as if he were the crazy one. "To get off this damned island in case things went wrong."
"The way they did this morning?" Jonas asked harshly.
"I got scared after I had to hit that old busybody. But you know, now that I think about it, there's no need to be afraid, is there? Nobody can prove I killed Hazelhurst, even if someone does find his body.
Except the old bag. When she recognized me, she started getting suspicious. Told me she'd been watching me, even went through my things one night. She found me in that torture chamber this morning."
"What were you doing in the torture chamber at this hour?"
Slade wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, his eyes haunted. "I finally decided I had to have another look at that goddamned treasure room. I didn't want to go back into that horrible tunnel but I had to. The secret's in there somewhere, I'm sure of it. I was awake all night thinking about it. I've been afraid you might stumble onto the tunnel somehow, even though I tore the last pages out of Hazelhurst's diary. I finally figured out that I had no choice but to go back inside. Jesus, I hate that tunnel. So much darkness."
"And Maggie found you there?"
"She must have been watching me all night, waiting for me, the bitch. Accused me of having done something to Hazelhurst a couple of years ago. Started screaming like a madwoman, wouldn't shut up.
The damn bitch would not shut her goddamned mouth."
"So you hit her."