Home > Wayward (Wayward Pines #2)(5)

Wayward (Wayward Pines #2)(5)
Blake Crouch

“Not your problem. Pilcher will handle.”

“And tell them what?”

Pam stopped, turned.

She was twenty feet away and barely visible in the trees.

“I’m guessing whatever the f*ck he feels like telling them. Was there anything else?”

Ethan glanced at his shotgun leaning against the tree.

A mad thought.

When he looked back at Pam, she was gone.

Ethan stayed with Peter for a long time. Until it occurred to him that he didn’t want to be here when Pilcher’s men finally came for the body. He struggled to his feet.

It felt good to walk away from the fence, the noise of its current steadily fading.

Soon, he moved through silent woods and mist.

Thinking, That was so fu**ed up and you have no one to tell. Not your wife. No real friend to speak of. The only people you can share this with include a megalomaniac and a psychopath. And that’s never going to change.

After a half mile, he climbed a small rise and stumbled out onto the road. He hadn’t returned the way he’d intended, but still he’d only missed his Bronco by a few hundred feet. Exhaustion hit him. No idea what time it was, but it had been a long, long day, a long, long night, and the dawn of a brand-new one loomed.

He reached the Bronco, emptied the shotgun, stowed it on the rack.

So tired he could’ve lain across the console and slept.

The stench of the electrocution was just as potent—would probably take days to leave.

At some point tomorrow, Theresa would ask him if everything was okay, and he would smile and say, “Yeah, honey. I’m fine. And how are you?”

And she would answer with those intense eyes that seemed completely disconnected from her words, “Just great.”

He cranked the engine.

The rage came out of nowhere.

He pinned the gas pedal to the floorboard.

The tires squealed, bit blacktop, launched him.

He tore around the curve and down the straightaway toward the outskirts of town.

The billboard disgusted him more every time he saw it—a family with bright white smiles waving like something out of a 1950s sitcom.

WELCOME TO WAYWARD PINES

WHERE PARADISE IS HOME

Ethan sped alongside a split-rail fence.

Through the passenger window, he could see the herd of cattle congregated in the pasture.

A row of white barns at the edge of the trees glowing in the starlight.

He looked back through the windshield.

The Bronco bounced over something large enough to jar the steering wheel out of his hands.

The vehicle lurched toward the shoulder, beelining for the fence at sixty-five miles per hour.

He grabbed the wheel, cranked it back, felt the suspension lift up on two tires. For a horrifying second, the wheels screeched across pavement and his right side dug into the shoulder strap.

He felt the g-force in his chest, his face.

Through the windshield caught a glimpse of the constellations spinning.

His foot had slipped off the gas pedal and he could no longer hear the engine revving—just three seconds of silence save for the wind screaming over the windshield as the Bronco flipped.

When the roof finally met the road, the collision was deafening.

Metal caving.

Glass crunching.

Tires exploding.

Sparks where the metal dragged across pavement.

And then the Bronco was motionless, upright on four wheels, two of them still holding air. Steam hissing up through the cracks along the hood.

Ethan smelled gasoline. Scorched rubber. Coolant. Blood.

He clutched the steering wheel so hard it took him a moment to pry his hands open.

He was still strapped into the seat. His shirt covered in safety glass. He reached down, unbuckled the seat belt, relieved to feel his arms working without pain. Shifting his legs, they seemed okay. His door wouldn’t open, but the glass had been completely busted out of the window. Up onto his knees, he dragged himself through the opening and fell to the road. Now he felt the pain. Nothing stabbing—just a slowly building ache that seemed to flood out of his head and down into the rest of his body.

He made it onto his feet.

Swaying.

Tottering.

Bent over, thought he might be sick, but the nausea passed.

Ethan brushed the glass off his face, the left side stinging from a gash that had already streamed blood over his jawline, down his neck, and under his shirt.

He glanced back at the Bronco. It stood perpendicular across the double yellow, right-side tires robbed of air, the SUV slouched away from him. Most of the glass was gone and there were long scores across the paint job like the claws of a predator had raked it.

He staggered away from the Bronco, following gas and oil and other fluids like a blood trail up the road.

Stepped over the light bar that had been ripped off.

A side mirror lay on its side on the shoulder like a plucked eye, wires dangling from the housing.

Cows groaned in the distance, heads raised, faces turned toward the commotion.

Ethan stopped just shy of the billboard and stared ahead at the object lying in the road, the object that had nearly killed him.

It looked like a ghost. Pale. Still.

He limped on until he stood over her. Didn’t immediately recall her name, but he’d seen this woman around town. She’d held some position of authority at the community gardens. Midtwenties he suspected. Black hair to her shoulders. Bangs. Now she was na*ed and her skin a serene, dead blue like sea ice. It seemed to glow in the dark. Except for the holes. So many of them. Something clinical, not desperate, in the pattern. He started to count but stopped himself. Didn’t want that number rattling around in his head. Only her face had been left untouched. Her lips had lost all color, and the largest, darkest slit in the center of her chest looked like a small, black mouth, open in surprise. Maybe that was the one that had killed her. Several others could have easily done the job. But she was clean of any blood. In fact, the only other mark on her skin was the tire track where his Bronco had rolled across her abdomen, the tread clearly visible.

His first thought was that he needed to get the police.

And then: You are the police.

There’d been talk of him hiring a deputy or two, but it hadn’t happened yet.

Ethan sat down in the road.

The shock of the wreck had begun to fade, and he was growing cold.

After a while, he got up. Couldn’t just leave her here, not even for a couple of hours. He lifted the woman in his arms and carried her off the road into the woods. She wasn’t as cold as he would’ve thought. Still warm even. Bloodless and warm—an eerie combination. Twenty feet in, he found a grove of scrub oak. He ducked under the branches and set her down gently on a bed of dead leaves. There was nowhere to take her now, but it felt wrong just leaving her here. He folded her hands across her stomach. When he reached for the top button on his shirt, he discovered that his hands were still trembling. He tore it open, took it off, covered her with it.

Said, “I’ll be back for you, I promise.”

Ethan walked out to the road. For a moment, he considered putting the Bronco into neutral, rolling it off onto the shoulder. But it wasn’t like anyone would be driving out here in the next few hours. The dairy wouldn’t be making its milk deliveries until late tomorrow afternoon. He’d have time to clean this up before then.

Ethan started back toward town, the lights of the houses of Pines twinkling in the valley ahead.

So peaceful.

So perfectly deceptively peaceful.

Dawn was on the verge as Ethan walked into his house.

He drew the hottest bath he could stand in the clawfoot tub downstairs. Cleaned up his face. Scrubbed off the blood. The heat dimmed the body ache and the throbbing behind his eyes.

There was light in the sky when Ethan climbed into bed.

The sheets were cold and his wife was warm.

He should’ve called Pilcher already. Should’ve called him the moment he walked inside, but he was too tired to think. He needed sleep, if only for several hours.

“You’re back,” Theresa whispered.

He wrapped an arm around her, drew her in close.

His ribs on his left side ached when he breathed in deeply.

“Everything okay?” she asked. He thought of Peter, smoking and sizzling after the shock. The dead, na*ed woman lying in the middle of the road. Of almost dying, and not the first clue as to what any of it meant.

“Yeah, honey,” he said, snuggling closer. “I’m fine.”

3

Ethan opened his eyes and nearly leapt off the mattress.

Pilcher sat in a chair at the foot of his bed, watching Ethan over the top of a leather-bound book.

“Where’s Theresa?” Ethan asked. “Where’s my son?”

“Do you have any idea what time it is?”

“Where’s my family?”

“Your wife’s at work just like she’s supposed to be. Ben’s in school.”

“What the hell are you doing in my bedroom?” Ethan asked.

“It’s early afternoon. You never showed up for work.”

Ethan shut his eyes against a crushing pressure at the base of his skull.

“You had a big night, huh?” Pilcher said.

Ethan reached for the glass of water on the bedside table, his entire body stiff and brittle. Like he’d been broken into a thousand pieces and haphazardly patched back together.

He drained the glass.

“You found my car?” Ethan asked.

Pilcher nodded. “As you can imagine, we were deeply concerned. There are no cameras near the billboard. We didn’t see what happened. Only the aftermath.”

The light coming through the window was sharp.

Ethan squinted against it.

He stared at Pilcher—couldn’t tell what book he held. The man was dressed in jeans, a white oxford, gray sweater-vest. The same gentle, unassuming style Pilcher always sported around town where people believed he was a resident psychologist. He and Pam were probably seeing patients today.

Ethan said, “I was driving back to Pines after Peter McCall. Assume you heard what happened there?”

“Pam briefed me. So tragic.”

“I glanced into the pasture for a split second, and when I looked back, there was something in the middle of the road. I hit it, swerved, overcorrected, flipped my Bronco.”

“The damage was severe. You’re lucky to be alive.”

“Yeah.”

“What was in the road, Ethan? My men didn’t find anything except debris from the Bronco.”

Ethan wondered if Pilcher really didn’t know. Was it possible that the woman in the road had been a Wanderer? There was rumored to be a group of residents who had discovered their microchips and cut them out. Who had knowledge of the camera placements and blind spots. People who kept their chips with them during the day, but on occasion, would extract them and leave them in bed to wander undetected in the night. Word was they always wore hooded jackets or sweatshirts to hide their faces from the cameras.

“It makes me nervous,” Pilcher said, rising to his feet, “when I see you wrestling with a simple question that should require no thought at all to answer. Or perhaps your head is still cloudy from the wreck. Does that explain the delay? Why, when I look in your eyes, I see the wheels turning?”

He knows. He’s testing me. Or maybe he only knows that she was there, but not where I put her.

“Ethan?”

“There was a woman lying in the road.”

Pilcher reached into his pocket, pulled out a wallet-sized photo.

Held it up to Ethan’s face.

It was her. A candid shot. Smiling or laughing at something off-camera. Vibrant. The backdrop was blurred, but from the color, Ethan guessed that the photo had been taken in the community gardens.

He said, “That’s her.”

Pilcher’s face went dark. He returned the photograph to his pocket.

“She’s dead?” He asked it like all the air had gone out of him.

“She’d been stabbed.”

“Where?”

“Everywhere.”

“She was tortured?”

“Looked that way.”

“Where is she?”

“I moved her out of the road,” Ethan said.

“Why?”

“Because it didn’t seem right to leave her na*ed out in the open for anyone to see.”

“Where is her body right now?”

“Across the road from the billboard in a grove of scrub oak.”

Pilcher sat down on the bed.

“So you tucked her away, came home, went to bed.”

“I took a hot bath first.”

“Interesting choice.”

“As opposed to?”

“Calling me immediately.”

“I’d been up for twenty-four hours. I was in agony. I just wanted several hours of sleep first. I was going to call you first thing.”

“Of course, of course. Sorry to doubt you. The thing is, Ethan, this is kind of a big deal. We’ve never had a murder in Wayward Pines.”

“You mean an unsanctioned murder.”

“Did you know this woman?” Pilcher asked.

“I’d seen her around. I don’t think I’d ever spoken to her though.”

“Read her file?”

“Actually, no.”

“That’s because she doesn’t have a file. At least not one that you have access to. She worked for me. She was due back in the mountain late last night from a mission. Never showed.”

“She worked for you as what? A spy?”

“I have a number of my people living in town among the residents. It’s the only way to keep a finger on the true pulse of Wayward Pines.”

“How many?”

“It’s not important.” Pilcher patted Ethan’s leg. “Don’t look so offended, boy. You’re one of them. Get dressed, come downstairs, we’ll continue this over coffee.”

Ethan walked downstairs in a clean, newly starched sheriff’s uniform into the smell of brewing coffee. He took a seat on a stool at the kitchen island as Pilcher pulled the carafe out of the coffeemaker and poured into a pair of ceramic mugs.

“You take it black, right?”

“Yeah.”

Pilcher carried the mugs over and set them on the butcher block.

He said, “A surveillance report came across my desk this morning.”

“Who was the subject?”

“You.”

“Me?”

“Your little temper tantrum upstairs yesterday caught the attention of one of my analysts.”

Pilcher raised his middle finger.

“You got a report on that?”

Recommended
» Fallen Too Far (Rosemary Beach #1) read online
» Breakable (Contours of the Heart #2) read online
» The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1) read online
» Rush Too Far (Rosemary Beach #4) read online
» Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2) read online
» Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3) read online
» Eclipse (Twilight #3) read online
» The Darkest Seduction (Lords of the Underwo read online
» Easy (Contours of the Heart #1) read online
» Divergent (Divergent #1) read online
» I Am Legend read online
» New Moon (Twilight #2) read online
» Forever Too Far (Rosemary Beach #3) read online
» Breaking Dawn (Twilight #4) read online
» Insurgent (Divergent #2) read online
» Never Too Far (Rosemary Beach #2) read online
» Midnight Sun (Twilight #1.5) read online
» Unseen Messages read online
» Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies #1) read online
» Allegiant (Divergent #3) read online
» Twilight (Twilight #1) read online