Bringing Maddie Home - Page 35

Word of her reappearance would spread rapidly, though, and that reawakened his unease. He might suggest she emphasize the amnesia when she talked to people, instead of hinting at the memories that did float through her head. They needed to keep in mind that there was somebody out there who wouldn’t like the idea of Maddie Dubeau remembering what happened that night in the park.

Brooding, Colin wished she knew why she’d slipped out of her house and was riding her bike through the dark park. He’d like to feel more confident that she was safe with her parents.

Groaning, he looked at the fat, open personnel file on his desk. He had too much to do to be mentally tracking Nell’s every movement.

Nothing to worry about today anyway, he told himself. Certainly not at the high school or at the historic inn where she was to meet her mother for lunch.

Tomorrow, though... Tomorrow, he would really start worrying.

* * *

NELL USED THE hour before she was to meet her mother to drive around town. She drove the circular route to the top of Angel Butte and got out at the viewpoint to look at Angel Butte and the volcanic landscape stretching to the horizon in one direction, the Cascade Mountains in the other. There were glimpses of lakes here and there, and when she looked at one she knew suddenly that her father’s resort was on the shore.

The angel that gave the town and butte the name gazed serenely out over the same landscape. Eight feet tall, carved of marble. According to local history she had been put in place in 1884. There wasn’t much here then but a trading post and stagecoach stop. But farther northeast, in the ranching country around Prineville, a Wild West culture had arisen. Vigilantes strung supposed wrong-doers up without the bother of a trial. They came to suspect the man who ran the trading post of some kind of skullduggery and attempted to hang him. His story was that an angel appeared to protect him, glowing white and fierce in her holiness. The vigilantes retreated in disarray, and the saved man kept a promise and ordered the marble statue to be shipped all the way from Italy. Getting it here unbroken was miracle enough; carrying it up to the crater rim when there was no road must have taken a dozen men and a lot of unholy language.

How he could have afforded the gesture was left unstated. Nobody wanted to challenge a man with an angel straight from heaven on his side.

The previous name had been Carlson’s Butte—for the first owner of the post and stagecoach inn. But that quickly disappeared from the records. Everyone knew it as Angel Butte. There she was, watching over them.

She’d weathered over the years, and, according to the sign telling her history, she had been hoisted onto her current granite-and-concrete pedestal the year Maddie had turned ten. Trees clinging to the cinder sides of the butte had grown to the point where the angel could no longer be seen from below. A little selective logging, plus the pedestal that boosted her up five feet or so, and once more she commanded a wide swath of Oregon. Nell thought she remembered a political debate about whether spending the money for a fancy pedestal was justified. Her father, she thought, had been for it—probably because the angel was good for business.

Turning away, she breathed in the sharp, cold air with its distinct scent that seemed to light up every receptor in her brain. Was it the tang of ponderosa pines? The gritty, volcanic soil? She could stand here inhaling forever, but didn’t let herself.

There had been flashes of the familiar in town. A red brick elementary school. Old West–style false-fronted buildings along the main street, decorated with Christmas lights and swags of pine with red bows. There were mostly boutiques and brew pubs and coffee shops instead of the more mundane businesses she could almost remember—a dry cleaner, she thought, old-fashioned cafés, a dime store. The town boasted some distinctive buildings she had read were turn-of-the-last-century, like the original stone-and-brick county courthouse complete with cupola, and the sprawling timber inn where she was to have lunch.

The big Nordic ski development outside town was probably responsible for much of the growth that sprawled even outside the city limits. Someday she would drive out to see it, but not today. She wouldn’t find any memories there.

She had to hunt to locate grocery and hardware stores and the like, and suspected most had been downtown but had been displaced because of tourism. Only once did she brake sharply, her heart jolting when she set eyes on a small hardware store with attached lumberyard.

That’s where I crawled into the trunk to unlatch the backseat and fold it down.

That memory that had saved her life when she regained consciousness in the trunk.

But she wasn’t in the mood to dwell. With glimpses of snow-peaked mountains and the volcanic landscape of lava beds and tree-clad cinder cones, the area was beautiful. No wonder tourists had found this pocket of central Oregon. Despite the cold, she left her window cracked so she could keep smelling the air that called to her.

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