Home > Wayward (Wayward Pines #2)(7)

Wayward (Wayward Pines #2)(7)
Blake Crouch

Theresa said, “I guess I just see Pines as a new phase of my life.”

“What’s the hardest thing about it?”

“About what? Living here?”

“Yeah.”

“Hope.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Why am I continuing to breathe in and out? I would think that’s the hardest question for everyone stuck in this place to answer.”

“And how do you answer it, Theresa?”

“My son. Ethan. Finding a great book. Snowstorms. But it’s not like my old life. There’s no dream house to live for. No lottery. I used to fantasize about going to law school and starting my own practice. Becoming fulfilled and rich. Retiring with Ethan somewhere warm with a clear blue sea and white sand. Where it never rains.”

“And your son?”

Theresa hadn’t seen it coming. Those three little words hit her with the sneaky power of a surprise right.

The ceiling she’d been staring at disappeared behind a sheet of tears.

“Ben’s future was your biggest hope, right?” Pam asked.

Theresa nodded, and when she blinked, two lines of saltwater ran out of the corners of her eyes and down her face.

“His wedding?” Pam asked.

“Yeah.”

“An illustrious career that made him happy and you proud?”

“It’s more than that.”

“What?”

“It’s what I was just talking about. Hope. I want it so badly for him, but he’ll never know it. What can the children of Pines aspire to be? What foreign lands do they dream of visiting?”

“Have you considered that maybe this idea of hope, at least the way that you conceive of it, is a holdover from your past life, that serves no purpose?”

“You’re saying abandon hope all ye who enter here?”

“No, I’m saying live in the moment. That maybe in Pines there’s joy to be had in just surviving. That you continue to breathe in and out because you can breathe in and out. Love the simple things you experience every day. All this natural beauty. The sound of your son’s voice. Ben will grow up to live a happy life here.”

“How?”

“Has it occurred to you that your son may no longer share your old-world concept of happiness? That he’s growing up in a town that cultivates exactly the sort of in-the-moment living I just described?”

“It’s just so insular.”

“So take him and leave.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes.”

“We’d be killed.”

“But you might escape. Some have left, though they’ve never returned. Do you secretly fear that, as bad as you think it is in Pines, it could be a million times worse on the outside?”

Theresa wiped her eyes. “Yes.”

“One last thing,” Pam said. “Have you opened up to Ethan about what happened prior to his arrival? Your, um… living situation… I mean.”

“Of course not. It’s only been two weeks.”

“Why haven’t you?”

“What’s the point?”

“You don’t think your husband deserves to know?”

“It would only cause hurt.”

“Your son might tell him.”

“Ben won’t. We already talked about it.”

“Last time you were here, you rated your depression on a scale of one to ten as a seven. How about today? Are you feeling better, worse, or the same?”

“The same.”

Pam opened a drawer and took out a small white bottle that rattled with pills.

“You’ve been taking your medication?”

“Yes,” Theresa lied.

Pam set the bottle on the desktop. “One a day, at bedtime, just like before. It’ll last you until our next appointment.”

Theresa sat up.

She felt like she always did after these things finished—emotionally ragged.

“Can I ask you something?” Theresa said.

“Sure.”

“I assume you talk to a lot of people. Hear everyone’s private fears. Will this place ever feel like home?”

“I don’t know,” Pam said as she stood. “That’s entirely up to you.”

5

The morgue was in the basement of the hospital through a pair of windowless doors.

Far end of the east wing.

Pilcher’s men had arrived ahead of Ethan with the body, and they stood in jeans and flannel shirts outside the entrance. The taller of the two, a man with Nordic features and head of Pilcher’s security team, looked visibly upset.

“Thanks for bringing her down,” Ethan said as he moved past and shouldered through one of the doors. “You don’t have to wait.”

“We were told to wait,” the blond said.

Ethan shoved the door closed after him.

The morgue smelled like a morgue. Antiseptic not quite masking the embedded musk of death.

The flooring was white tile, badly stained, and slightly concave with a large drain in the center.

Alyssa lay na*ed on the stainless-steel autopsy table.

The sink behind the table was leaking, the sound of dripping water echoing off the walls.

Ethan had only been inside the morgue once before. He hadn’t liked it then, and he found it infinitely less charming with a corpse in situ.

There were no windows, no other source of light but the examination lamp.

Standing next to the autopsy table, everything beyond was lost to darkness.

Over the drip-drip-drip came the hum of the refrigerated morgue drawers—a stack of six stationed against the wall beside the sink.

The truth was he didn’t know what he was doing. He wasn’t a coroner by a long shot. But Pilcher had insisted he examine the body and produce a report.

Ethan set his Stetson on the organ scale above the sink.

Reaching up, he took hold of the lamp.

In the hard light, the wounds looked clean. Neat. Impeccable. No ragged skin. Just dozens and dozens of black windows into devastation.

The woman’s skin was the color of primer under the burn.

He went appendage by appendage studying the punctures.

It grew harder with her lying dead on a table under this cruel clinical light to think of her as Alyssa.

He raised her left arm into the light and studied her hand. There was dirt under her fingernails. Or blood. He imagined her hands desperately pushing into the fresh wounds, fighting to stanch the blood that must have been pouring out of her.

So why, aside from the oak leaf fragments in her hair, was she otherwise clean? Without a trace of blood or bloodstain on her skin? He hadn’t seen any blood where he’d found her in the road. She’d obviously been killed elsewhere and moved to that place. Why had they drained her blood? To transport her without leaving a trail? Or something more sinister?

Ethan studied her other arm.

Her legs.

He didn’t want to, but he shined the light briefly between her thighs.

No bruising or damage evident to his untrained eye that might suggest sexual assault.

Because he couldn’t help but handle her body gently, it took him three tries to roll her over.

Her arms clanged against the metal table.

He brushed the bits of gravel and dirt off her back.

There was a recent wound on the back of her left leg.

A scarred-over incision.

The cut made—he guessed—to extract her microchip.

He pushed the light away and eased down onto the steel, adjustable stool. The way she lay draped across the cold table—exposed, degraded—ignited something inside of him.

Ethan sat in the dark wondering if Kate could really have done this.

After a while, he got up and walked to the door.

Pilcher’s men stopped talking when he stepped out. He looked at the tall blond and said, “Could I speak with you for a minute?”

“In there?”

“Yeah.”

Ethan held the door and the man walked into the morgue.

“What’s your name?” Ethan asked.

“Alan.”

Ethan pointed to the stool. “Have a seat.”

“What is this?”

“I’m asking you a few questions.”

Alan looked dubious. “I was told to bring her here and put her into cold storage when you were finished.”

“Well I’m not finished.”

“Nobody said anything about answering questions.”

“Quit flexing and sit down.”

The man didn’t move. He had a good four inches on Ethan. His shoulders were miles apart. Ethan could feel his body priming for a fight, heart rate ramping, battle trance coming on. He didn’t want to throw first, but if he didn’t have surprise, if he didn’t bring Alan down in the first few seconds, the likelihood of beating this man who was built like a Norse god seemed a bit of a stretch.

Ethan dropped his chin an inch.

A half second before he exploded off the balls of his feet and drove his forehead into the man’s face, Alan turned and took a seat as instructed.

“This isn’t what I was told,” Alan said.

“David Pilcher, your boss, has given me unlimited access, unlimited resources, to find out who did this. You want me to find out, don’t you?”

“Of course I do.”

“Did you know Alyssa?”

“Yeah. There are only a hundred and sixty of us in the mountain.”

“So it’s a tight-knit group?”

“Very.”

“Were you aware of Alyssa’s activities in Pines?”

“Yep.”

“So you two were close?”

Alan stared at her body on the table. The muscles in his jaw fluttered—rage, sadness.

“Had you been intimate with her before, Alan?”

“Do you know what happens when a hundred and sixty people live in close quarters, knowing they’re all that’s left of mankind?”

“Everybody f**ks everybody?”

“You got it. We’re a family in that mountain. We’ve lost some of our own before. Mostly nomads who never returned. Got themselves eaten. But never anything like this.”

“Everybody’s shaken up?”

“Big time. You know that’s the only reason Pilcher’s letting you do this, right? He banned everyone from investigating her death.”

“Because of retaliation.”

A subtle, raging smile tugged at the corner of Alan’s mouth.

“Do you have any concept of the slaughter I could rain down on this town with a team of ten armed men?”

“You understand not everyone in Wayward Pines is responsible for her death.”

“Like I said, there’s a reason Pilcher’s letting you run this show.”

“Tell me about Alyssa’s assignment.”

“I knew she was living with the townies. But no details really.”

“When’s the last time you saw her?”

“Two nights ago. Sometimes, Alyssa would come back to the mountain to stay the night. It was strange. You ever seen our barracks?”

“I think so.”

“There are no windows. We’re talking small, cramped, impersonal spaces. In Pines, she got to live in a house all to herself, but she missed sleeping in her room in the mountain. Go figure. Considering who she was, she could’ve lived anywhere. Done whatever she wanted. But she pulled her weight. She was one of us.”

“What do you mean by ‘considering who she was’?”

“You don’t know?”

“Know what?”

“Fuck. Look, it’s not my place to talk about this.”

“What am I missing?”

“Forget it, okay?”

Okay. For now.

“So where’d you see her last?” Ethan asked.

“Mess hall. I was finishing up my meal when she walked in. She got her tray and came over.”

“What’d you talk about?”

Alan stared off into the dark beyond the light.

He looked briefly at peace, as if the memory of it pleased him.

“Nothing profound. Nothing memorable. Just about our day. We’d both been working our way through the same book and we talked about our impressions so far. Other stuff, too, but that’s all that sticks out. She was my always friend and my sometimes lover. We were at ease with each other, and I didn’t know it was the last time I would ever see her alive.”

“You didn’t discuss her work in town?”

“I think I asked how her mission was coming along. And she said something like, ‘It’ll all be over soon.’ ”

“What do you think she meant by that?”

“I don’t know.”

“And that was it?”

“That was it.”

“Why would Pilcher ask you to transport her body? Kind of insensitive considering—”

“I requested the assignment.”

“Oh.”

Ethan was annoyed to discover that he was beginning to like Alan. He’d been to war with men like him. Recognized that hard decency. Fearlessness and loyalty backed by awesome physical strength.

“Was there anything else, Ethan?”

“No.”

“Find who did this.”

“I will.”

“And hurt them.”

“You want a hand putting her in the drawer?”

“No, I’ll take care of it. But first, I’d like to sit with her for a little while.”

“Sure.”

Ethan reached over and grabbed his hat off the organ scale. At the doors, he stopped and glanced back. Alan had scooted the stool within range of the autopsy table, and he was reaching out for Alyssa’s hand.

6

Theresa sat on the front porch waiting for her husband.

The leaves of the aspen tree in the front yard were fluttering and making shushing noises, and the light passing through the branches smeared quivering shadows across the greener-than-AstroTurf grass.

She spotted Ethan walking down Sixth Street, moving slower than his usual pace. His gait was off, and he favored his right leg.

He turned off the sidewalk and came up the stone path. She could see that it was hurting him to walk, but the tension in his face vanished behind a wide smile when he saw her.

“You’re hurting,” she said.

“It’s nothing.”

Theresa got up and moved down the steps into the grass that was already cool against her sandaled feet.

She reached up and touched a lavender-colored bruise on the left side of his face.

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