“So you two had reconciled completely before he left?”
“Yeah. I mean, there were still really...tough feelings. What he did...”
“But we’d come through the worst of it. We were in counseling. We would’ve made it. And now...I’m a single mother, D.”
“Let’s get you to bed, Theresa. It’s been a long day. Don’t touch anything. I’ll come over in the morning, help you clean up.”
“Almost fifteen months he’s been gone, and every day I wake up, I still don’t believe this is really happening. I keep waiting for my cell to ring. For a text from him. Ben asks me constantly when Daddy’s coming home. He knows the answer, but it’s the same thing as with me...same reason I keep checking my phone.”
“Because maybe this time it’ll show a missed call from Ethan. Because maybe this time when Ben asks me, I’ll have a different answer for him. I’ll tell him Daddy will be home from his trip next week.”
Someone called Theresa’s name.
She turned carefully, unbalanced by the gin.
Parker, one of the young associates at the law firm where she worked, stood in the threshold of the sliding glass door.
“There’s someone here to see you, Theresa.”
“Who is it?”
“Guy named Hassler.”
Theresa felt a quiver in her stomach.
“Who’s that?” Darla asked.
“Ethan’s boss. Shit, I’m drunk.”
“You want me to tell him you can’t—”
“No, I want to talk to him.”
Theresa followed Parker inside.
Everyone had hit it too hard, and the party had crashed and burned.
Jen, her college roommate from her junior year, had passed out on the couch.
Several of her other girlfriends had gathered in the kitchen around someone’s iPhone, very drunk and attempting to call a cab on speakerphone.
Her sister, Margie, a teetotaler and possibly the only sober adult in the house, grabbed her arm as she passed and whispered that Ben was sleeping peacefully upstairs in his room.
Hassler stood waiting in the foyer in a black suit, black tie loosened, bags under his eyes. She wondered if he’d just come from the office.
“Hi, Adam,” she said.
They exchanged a quick hug, quick kiss on the cheek.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t come earlier,” Hassler said. “It’s been...well, it’s been a day. But I just wanted to drop by for a minute.”
“It means a lot. Can I get you a drink?”
“Beer would be great.”
Theresa stumbled over to the half-empty keg of Fat Tire and filled a plastic cup.
She sat with Adam on the third step of the staircase.
“I apologize,” she said. “I’m a little bit drunk. We wanted to send Ethan off like the good old days.”
Hassler sipped his beer. He was a year or two older than Ethan. Smelled faintly of Old Spice and still wore that same crew cut he’d had since she first met him at the company Christmas party all those years ago. A trace of red—just a day’s growth—was coming in across his jaw. She could feel the bulge of his firearm off the side of his hip.
“Are you still running into problems with Ethan’s life insurance?” Hassler asked.
“Yes. They’re dragging their feet paying. I think they’re going to make me bring a lawsuit.”
“If it’s all right with you, I’d like to call first thing next week. See if I can throw some weight, move things along.”
“I’d really appreciate that, Adam.”
She noticed she was speaking slowly and with extreme care in an effort to keep her words from slurring.
“You’ll send me the adjuster’s contact information?” he asked.
“I want you to know, Theresa, that it’s the first thing on my mind every day, finding out what happened to Ethan. And I will find out.”
“Do you think he’s dead?”
A question she would never have asked sober.
Hassler was quiet for a while, staring down into the amber-colored beer.
Said finally, “Ethan...was a great agent. Maybe my best. I’m not just saying that.”
“And you think we’d have heard from him by now, or—”
“Exactly. I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s...” He handed her a handkerchief and she cried into it for a moment before wiping her eyes. “Not knowing... it’s so hard. I used to pray that he was still alive. Now I just pray for a body. A physical thing to give me answers and let me move on. Can I ask you something, Adam?”
“What do you think happened?”
“Maybe now isn’t the time—”
Hassler finished off the cup of beer.
He went over to the keg, refilled it, returned.
“Let’s just take what we know as a starting point, all right? Ethan arrived in Boise on a direct flight out of Seattle at eight thirty a.m. on September twenty-fourth of last year. He went to the field office downtown in the U.S. Bank Building and met up with Agent Stallings and his team. They had a two-and-a-half-hour meeting, and then Ethan and Stallings left Boise at approximately eleven fifteen a.m.”
“And they were going to Wayward Pines to look into...”
“Among other things, the disappearance of Agent Bill Evans and Kate Hewson.”
Just the utterance of her name was like a knife sliding between Theresa’s ribs.
She suddenly wanted another drink.
Hassler went on. “You last spoke to Ethan on a cell phone call at one twenty p.m. from Lowman, Idaho, where they’d stopped for gas.”
“The connection was bad because they were in the mountains.”
“At this point, they were an hour outside of Wayward Pines.”
“Last thing he said to me was, ‘I’ll call you tonight from the hotel, sweetheart,’ and I tried to tell him good-bye and that I loved him, but the call dropped.”
“And yours was the last contact anyone had with your husband. At least anyone who’s still alive. Of course...you know the rest.”
She did, and she didn’t need to ever hear it again.
At 3:07 p.m., at an intersection in Wayward Pines, Agent Stallings had pulled out in front of a Mack truck. He’d been killed instantly, and because of the violence of the collision and the devastation to the front passenger side, the car had to be taken to another location to extricate Ethan’s body. Except once they’d torn the door off and pried up enough of the roof to get inside, they’d found the compartment empty.