“Yeah, it’s...just having a little trouble getting through to my SAC.”
Pope came inside and closed the door. He sat down at the end of the table opposite Ethan.
“You said there were two missing agents?” Pope asked.
“Tell me about the other one.”
“Her name’s Kate Hewson. She worked out of the Boise field office, and, prior to that, Seattle.”
“Did you know her there?”
“We were partners.”
“So she got transferred?”
“And Kate came here with Agent...”
“...on this top-secret investigation.”
“I’d like to help. Would you like my help?”
“Of course, Arnold.”
“OK. Let’s start with the basics. What does Kate look like?”
Ethan leaned back in his chair.
He’d so thoroughly trained himself over the last year not to think of her that it took him a moment to retrieve her face, the memory of it like tearing open a wound that had just begun to scar over.
“She’s five-two, five-three. Hundred and five pounds.”
“Little gal, huh?”
“Best lawman I’ve ever known. Short brown hair last time I saw her, but it could have grown out. Blue eyes. Uncommonly beautiful.”
God, he could still taste her.
“Any distinguishing marks?”
“Yeah, actually. She has a faint birthmark on her cheek. A café au lait about the size of a nickel.”
“I’ll put the word out to my deputies, maybe even have a sketch of her drawn to show around town.”
“That’d be great.”
“Why did you say Kate was transferred out of Seattle?”
“I didn’t say.”
“Well, do you know?”
“Some sort of internal reshuffling was the rumor. I’d like to see the car.”
“The black Lincoln Town Car I was driving when the accident happened.”
“Oh, of course.”
“Where might I find that?”
“There’s a salvage yard on the outskirts of town.” The sheriff stood. “What was that address again?”
“Six-oh-four First Avenue. I’ll walk you over.”
“I want to.”
“I don’t want you to.”
“Was there anything else you needed?”
“I’d like to know the results of your investigation.”
“Come back tomorrow after lunch. We’ll see where we’re at.”
“And you’ll take me to the salvage yard to see the car?”
“I think we can swing that. But for now, let’s go. I’ll walk you out.”
* * *
Ethan’s jacket and shirt smelled marginally better as he slid his arms into the sleeves and started down the street, away from the Wayward Pines Sheriff’s Office. He still reeked, but figured the offensive smell of decay would draw less attention than a man walking around town in nothing but dress slacks.
He pushed as strong a pace as he could manage, but the wooziness kept coming in waves, and his head was alive with pain, each step sending new tendrils of agony into the far reaches of his skull.
The Biergarten was open and empty save for one bored-looking bartender sitting on a stool behind the bar reading a paperback novel—one of F. Paul Wilson’s early books.
When Ethan reached the bar, he said, “Is Beverly working tonight?”
The man held up a finger.
Ten seconds passed as he finished reading a passage.
At last, he closed the book, gave Ethan his full attention.
“What can I get you to drink?”
“Nothing. I’m looking for the woman who was tending bar here last night. Her name was Beverly. Pretty brunette. Midthirties. Fairly tall.”
The barkeep stepped down off his stool and set the book on the bar. His long, graying hair was the color of murky dishwater, and he pulled it back into a ponytail.
“You were here? In this restaurant? Last night?”
“That’s correct,” Ethan said.
“And you’re telling me that a tall brunette was tending bar?”
“Exactly. Beverly was her name.”
The man shook his head, Ethan detecting a whiff of mockery in his smile.
“There’s two people on the payroll here who tend bar. Guy named Steve, and me.”
“No, this woman waited on me last night. I ate a burger, sat right over there.” Ethan pointed to the corner stool.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, buddy, but how much did you have to drink?”
“Nothing. And I’m not your buddy. I’m a federal agent. And I know that I was here last night, and I know who served me.”
“Sorry, man, I don’t know what to tell you. I think you must’ve been at a different restaurant.”
Ethan suddenly lost his focus.
Dug his fingertips into his temples.
He could feel his pulse now in his temporal artery, each heartbeat carrying the punch of those cold headaches he used to get as a kid—that fleeting, excruciating pain that followed too ravenous a bite of popsicle or ice cream.
“Sir? Sir, are you all right?”
Ethan staggered back from the bar, managed to say, “She was here. I know it. I don’t know why you’re doing...”
Then he was standing outside, his hands on his knees, bent over a pool of vomit on the sidewalk that he quickly surmised had come from him, his throat burning from the bile.
Ethan straightened up, wiped his mouth across the sleeve of his jacket.
The sun had already dropped behind the cliffs, the coolness of evening upon the town.
There were things he needed to do—find Beverly, find the EMTs, and recover his personal belongings—but all he wanted was to curl up in bed in a dark room. Sleep off the pain. The confusion. And the base emotion underlying it all that was getting harder and harder to ignore.
The strengthening sense that something was very, very wrong.
* * *
He stumbled up the stone steps and pushed through the doors into the hotel.
The fireplace warmed the lobby.