Bringing Maddie Home - Page 14

She wasn’t safe. Somebody had recognized her. If this Captain McAllister were determined enough, he could find a way, legally or not, to get her fingerprints. The life she’d built so carefully could collapse, like a house carried down the crumbling bluff by a mudslide.

A terrible sound escaped her, a shuddering cry.

I have to run. I can’t be here when he comes looking for me again. I can’t.

She sank down, right there inside the door, her back to it, and let her purse and the books fall. Her breathing was loud in the silent apartment.

What if he meant it? What if she could trust him?

What if she couldn’t?

Nell drew her knees up, hugged herself tight and rocked.

The most insistent voice in her head was the one that whispered, Am I Maddie?


COLIN DIDN’T SLEEP well, and made his morning start early enough to be home in Angel Butte by midafternoon. I-5 south to Salem, then east through the Willamette National Forest to Santiam Pass. Not the easiest or quickest route home, but the most scenic. He didn’t know why he’d bothered, since he wasn’t in the mood for scenery. Every so often, though, he couldn’t help being pulled from his brooding by a glimpse of one or another of the ancient or newer volcanoes, the forests of lush Douglas fir and cedar, the clear waters of the North Santiam River. This pass would have been even more spectacular earlier in the fall. Somewhere he’d read that right here was the highest concentration of snow-capped volcanoes in the lower forty-eight states, and it was easy to believe.

Once he crossed over the pass to the drier eastern side, lodgepole and ponderosa pines replaced the fir and cedar. The six-thousand-foot-plus cone of Black Butte rose on the left, and he was swinging south. Through Bend, and he’d reached the home stretch.

Not once had his cell phone rang, although he’d laid it on the seat next to him and kept glancing at it. Once he even checked to be sure he hadn’t somehow reset it to vibrate without noticing.

It was too soon. He knew it was, but doubt about how he’d handled her and hope were both eating at him. The iPhone had changed from being an irritant to a beacon. He grunted with rueful amusement—there were cops who wouldn’t go to the john without their weapon; he wouldn’t go without his phone.

Even though he was starved when he reached Angel Butte, he still decided to stop by River Park before going home.

The scene wasn’t quite a replay from a few weeks ago. The heavy yellow equipment had been moved. The contractor had been relieved, Colin knew, for permission to go ahead with the job before weather made it impossible. He could see the bulldozer through the trees and hear the roar. Black smoke rose from a burn pile near the river.

Where the bones had been found, four officers were still combing through the heap of dirt. They were all bundled up against the below-freezing temperature. The pile of mixed dirt and brush was in the process of being shifted inch by inch. At least they were getting somewhere, he saw; he hadn’t come down here in over a week.

Jane Vahalik had a paintbrush in her hand and was gently whisking dirt from an object.

He strolled over. “How’s it going?”

She gave him a nasty look. “I’m freezing my ass off, that’s how it’s going.”

Her trainee radiated alarm at the disrespect his FTO was showing their captain. Colin only grinned, then studied the knob of bone Vahalik had unearthed. “Still finding bones, I see.”

“This is the biggest one in days.” She sighed. “Did you have a good trip?”

“In a way,” he said. “Glad to get over the mountains ahead of the storm they say is moving in.”

Sinking back on her heels, she mumbled something highly profane. Colin sympathized. It was early season yet, but if the forecasts were to be believed this crime scene could well disappear under a foot of snow by tomorrow. The ground was already crunchy; if it froze hard enough, the search would be over for who knew how long. Although recovering the bones was important, at this point they were all more interested in finding something, anything, that might have been buried with the kid. Even scraps of clothing could help with identification.

“Brewer come by today?” he asked.

“Yeah, I saw him not half an hour ago.” Vahalik turned her head and then nodded. “Right over there.”

Duane was coming toward them from where the heavy equipment was working. When he stepped over the sagging yellow crime scene tape, his mood looked as piss-poor as his detective’s. Colin walked to meet him.

“You know what?” Duane took off his gloves and shoved them into the pockets of his parka. He must have had a hat on earlier; his graying hair was spiking every which way. “I’d like to dig up the whole goddamn park! You know there are other bodies buried here. There have to be.”

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