“You send it back?” She didn’t look amused.
“You’re pretty goddamned difficult to please, you know that?”
“I’m aware,” he said, and dove in.
He chewed for a good ten seconds.
“Well?” Beverly asked.
Ethan set the burger back on his plate, swallowing as he wiped his hands on the linen napkin.
He pointed at the burger. “That’s an amazing piece of work.”
Beverly laughed and rolled her eyes.
* * *
By the time Ethan had finished the last crumb on his plate, he was the only customer left in the restaurant.
The barkeep took his plate away and then came back to refill his water.
“You gonna be all right tonight, Ethan? Got a place to stay?”
“Yeah, I sweet-talked the desk clerk at the hotel into letting me have a room.”
“She bought your bullshit story too, huh?” Beverly smirked.
“Hook, line, and sinker.”
“Well, since this is on me, can I offer you dessert? Our death-by-chocolate is out of this world.”
“Thanks, but I should probably get going.”
“What is it exactly that you’re doing here? In your official capacity, I mean. I understand if you can’t talk about it—”
“It’s a missing person’s investigation.”
“Who went missing?”
“Two Secret Service agents.”
“They disappeared here? In Wayward Pines?”
“About a month ago, Agent Bill Evans and Agent Kate Hewson came here on a classified investigation. As of this evening, they haven’t been heard from in ten days. A total loss of contact. No e-mail. No phone calls. Even the GPS tracking chip in their company car went dark.”
“And they sent you to find them?”
“I used to work with Kate. We were partners when she lived in Seattle.”
“Is that all?”
He could feel a tremor of something—sadness, loss, rage—vibrating through him.
But he hid it well.
“Yeah, we were just partners. Friends too, though. Anyway, I’m here to pick up their trail. Find out what happened. Bring them home.”
“You think something bad happened?”
He didn’t answer, just stared at her, but it was an answer.
“Well, I hope you find what you’re looking for, Ethan.” Beverly pulled a check out of the front pocket on her apron and slid it across the bar.
“So this is my damage, huh?”
Ethan glanced down at the check. It wasn’t an itemized bill. Beverly had handwritten an address across the columns.
604 1ST AVE
“What’s this?” Ethan asked.
“That’s where I live. If you need anything, if you run into trouble, whatever...”
“What? You worried about me now?”
“No, but with no money, no phone, no ID, you’re in a vulnerable state.”
“So you believe me now?”
Beverly reached across the bar, let her hand rest on top of his for just a second.
“I always believed you.”
* * *
Outside the pub, he took off his shoes and started down the sidewalk in bare feet, the concrete cold, but at least he could walk without pain.
Instead of going back to the hotel, he followed one of the streets that intersected Main and headed into a neighborhood.
Thinking about Kate.
Victorian houses lined both sides of the block, set off by the glow of their porch lights.
The silence was staggering.
You never got nights like this in Seattle.
There was always the distant moan of some ambulance or car alarm or the patter of rainfall on the streets.
Here, the complete, dead quiet was broken only by the soft slap of his feet against the pavement—
No, there was another sound—a solitary cricket chirping in a bush up ahead.
It took him back to his childhood in Tennessee and those mid-October evenings sitting on the screened porch while his father smoked his pipe, staring across the soybean fields when the chorus of crickets had dwindled down to a lonely one.
Hadn’t the poet Carl Sandburg written about this very thing? Ethan couldn’t recall the verse verbatim, knew only that it had something to do with the voice of the last cricket across the frost.
A splinter of singing.
There it was—that was the phrase he’d loved.
A splinter of singing.
He stopped beside the bush, half-expecting the chirping to abruptly stop, but it kept on at a rhythm so steady it almost seemed mechanical. Crickets rubbed their wings together to make that sound—he’d read that somewhere.
Ethan glanced at the bush.
Some species of juniper.
Strong, fragrant smell.
A nearby streetlight threw a decent splash of illumination down onto the branches, and he leaned in to see if he could catch a glimpse of the cricket.
The chirping went on, unabated.
“Where are you, little guy?”
He cocked his head.
Now he was squinting at something barely poking up between the branches. But it wasn’t the cricket. Some sort of box instead, about the size of his iPhone.
He reached through the branches and touched the face of it.
The chirping grew softer.
He took his hand away.
What the hell was the point of this?
The chirp of the cricket was emanating from a speaker.
* * *
It was nearly ten thirty when he unlocked his hotel room and stepped inside. He dropped his shoes and stripped naked and climbed into bed without even bothering to turn on the lights.
He’d cracked one of the windows before leaving for dinner, and he could feel a thin, cool draft breezing across his chest, driving out the day’s stuffy accumulation of heat.
Within a minute, he was cold.
He sat up, turned back the covers and the sheet, and crawled under.
* * *
Fighting for his life, losing, the creature on top of him frenzied as it tried to tear his throat out, the only thing keeping Ethan alive the crushing grip he had around the monster’s neck—squeezing, squeezing—but the thing had pure, brute strength. He could feel the hard ripples of muscle as his fingers dug into the milky, translucent skin. But he wasn’t stopping it, his triceps beginning to cramp and his arms bending back as the face, the teeth, inched closer...