The trip back to base camp was both uphill and into the sun. Gervase, Boxner, and West stood in a cluster, arguing. West had taken off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. Like everything, it was a good look on him.
“What’s up?” Sam asked, inserting himself in the circle. West flinched, his eyes tracking up to Sam’s face. Sam considered him as he waited for an answer. West’s tie was pulled low, exposing the tempting dip of his collarbone but otherwise he still looked crisp and clean, like he’d spent the afternoon standing around, doing nothing. Or maybe it was the restlessness in his frame making that suggestion.
“Everyone in Kingsfield is here looking for Rebecca,” Boxner said. “Except Tony McEnroe.”
“Not everyone,” Gervase said quellingly.
“Everyone’s who’s free to lend a hand is here,” Boxner retorted.
Sam glanced over at Gervase, who dipped his head in acknowledgement.
“McEnroe is the boyfriend,” Sam stated. He’d wanted to speak to the boyfriend. Now was as good a chance as any.
“The boyfriend,” Boxner confirmed. “And what a piece of work that guy is.”
So Sam had heard.
Sam looked at West to see where he fit into this conversation.
“I’ve confirmed he’s not officially on one of the search teams,” West said, recognizing his cue. Sam noted his precise use of ‘officially.’ Just because Tony McEnroe hadn’t signed in didn’t mean he wasn’t out there somewhere.
“If McEnroe was also missing, I’d have said they took off together,” Gervase said. “But we talked to McEnroe first thing this morning.”
“Waste of time on a waste of space,” Boxner announced. Tell us how you really feel, Boyd. Gervase and Boxner bickered further about McEnroe but Sam’s mind was made up.
“Maybe we ought to have a chat with Mr. McEnroe,” he suggested.
West completely missed his cue. After an awkward moment, he caught on that Sam was talking to him and sputtered out a belated, “Sure! Yeah!” Sam managed not to groan.
Gervase offered to drive them out to McEnroe’s place, which Sam accepted, and offered his opinions on McEnroe’s role in the matter, which Sam generally discarded as useless.
Then he offered, “I saw you finally solved that case in Wisconsin.” Finally. No kidding. “Did you really throw that sheriff out the window?”
“No,” Sam said. Truthfully, although for all the flack he’d gotten, he should have had the satisfaction. “Thought about it plenty.”
“Well, I guess you’ll weather that okay,” Gervase said with a laugh. “Your record ought to speak for itself.”
That was the question, wasn’t it? Sam didn’t answer and neither did West. Sam probably shouldn’t have said what he did about wanting to throw Sheriff Abernathy out a window, but he’d be damned if he was going to censor himself in front of Jason West. Instead, he settled for keeping his mouth shut.
The car bumped along in contemplative silence for a while, broken only by Gervase’s genial comments until West said, “Isn’t this near Martin Pink’s property?”
Sam twisted around to look at West. he knew West was more familiar with the original case than he’d been letting on. He couldn’t read West’s eyes behind his sunglasses.
“I guess you’ve done your homework,” Gervase said cheerfully, as if he hadn’t accused West of never having heard of the case a mere three hours earlier. “Yep. Pink lived over that ridge to your right. Lived there with his crazy old mother and his pothead brother. They’re all gone now. Even the house is falling down. Of course it always was.”
The car hit a pothole, as if to punctuate the Chief’s last comment.
“How long has McEnroe lived in the area?” Sam asked, calculating in his head. McEnroe was twenty-two. Ten years ago he would have been twelve. Too young, then, but Pink might have been validation for the early signs of dissociation typical of prepubescent psychopaths. McEnroe might have been out here killing squirrels and raccoons before ramping up for his debut.
“Four or five years,” Gervase said. “Unfortunately.”
Sam had been thinking the same but almost certainly for different reasons. He shifted in his seat to look at Gervase. “Trouble?”
“We’ve got an ongoing situation regarding a little patch of so-called medicinal marijuana he’s cultivating on his property.”
Again with the marijuana. Sam had no interest in the stuff himself, but he was from Wyoming, where what a man did on his own property was his own business. Generally speaking, anyway. The only reason he could see Gervase should care was if McEnroe was selling to the teenagers he hung out with, which was a reasonable possibility. But Sam wasn’t here to bust teenagers for pot.
“McEnroe is twenty-two,” Gervase picked up when neither Sam nor West commented on the marijuana. “Rebecca is seventeen. So yes, there is always going to be trouble in that kind of situation.”
Fair, Sam supposed.
He glanced back at the side mirror to watch West’s face. West was definitely not in town ten years ago when Sam led the hunt to capture Martin Pink. But he knew Pink - where he lived if nothing else. Ten years ago, West would have been in his early twenties, most likely, but sixteen years ago, he would have been in his teens. Sixteen years ago, he would still be vacationing with his parents, when Honey Corrigan was taken and killed. Had he known Corrigan? Or Theresa Nolan, maybe? Was this personal for him? Was that what the awkwardness at the station had been about? Was he hiding a stake in this investigation?
Sam contemplated as Gervase turned the truck down a dirt road where the trees shaded away the sun, casting the road and the truck into shadows. The gate was dilapidated, the ranch-style building dusty and faded. A white pick-up truck sat in the yard, in sore need of a good scrub-down. The air outside was heavy with humidity, and stale.
Sam thumbed open the snap on his holster. It would be stupid not to expect trouble. Not one person had a good word to say about McEnroe and even if he was entirely innocent of Rebecca’s disappearance, his role as her ne'er-do-well lover might have put him in danger of his own.
Gervase banged on the door, which shuddered in its frame, bits of paint flaking off and drifting to the small wooden platform that served as a porch. Nothing. Gervase banged again and Sam heard some rustling deep in the structure.
It took a third round of banging for the front door to swing open. The occupant slouched against the frame. If this was McEnroe, he was definitely a douchenozzle.
He was the kind of skinny that usually involved surviving on cigarettes and breakfast cereal, but otherwise looked like a beach bum who’d wandered 300 miles too far north. His hair was long and blond, but lank, and he had neither a full beard nor was his stubble groomed enough to look deliberate. No pants, and his boxers had a comic book villain printed on them. His thin shoulders hunched in a flannel shirt that was maybe new when Kurt Cobain had been alive, and not buttoned. Definitely more than Sam needed to know about Tony McEnroe.
“I already told you, she’s not here!” he whined.
“Okay,” Gervase agreed evenly. “You already told us. We’d still like to talk to you.”
“Who would?” McEnroe tilted his chin up to look over Gervase’s shoulder at Sam. “Who are you?” Sam watched the cogs turn slowly - so slowly - in McEnroe’s brain. “No way!” he burst out when he’d finally put it together. “You brought the goddamned ATF out here?”
Swing and a miss. But Sam was tired of waiting for McEnroe’s fried synapses to fire. “You’re thinking of the goddamned DEA,” he deadpanned. “We’re the goddamned FBI.” No one as much as cracked a smile. Tough audience. “And yes, we’d like a word.”
“How about fuck off?”
Besides being dumb as a rock, McEnroe was predictable. Sam grabbed the edge of the door Tony tried to slam in their faces and gave it a sharp shove inward. The move had the gratifying side effect of knocking Tony on his ass. “That’s two words,” Sam pointed out.
“Get up, Tony,” Gervase said. “We’re not here about your crop, so don’t make a bigger ass of yourself than you have to.”
McEnroe got up and sulked his way out to the couch in the front room. “I don’t know what the hell you want from me,” he whined. “I don’t know where Becky is.”
The place stunk, cigarettes and grease and some kind of solvent and looked like it was maybe in some stage of demolition.
“You do remember she’s only seventeen, right?” Gervase asked.
“What did you argue about last night?” Sam asked, cutting right to the chase. He subtly blocked the path to the front door. Gervase sat down in a nearby recliner. He must not have a lot of faith in McEnroe actually being a murderer, Sam thought. In the corner of his eye, he saw West position himself at an angle to see an approach from the kitchen. Not that Sam thought McEnroe had an accomplice, but at least West was behaving like an agent.
“I don’t - how did you know? We didn’t!”
Except that they had and everyone had said so. “Why did you leave the party early?” Sam countered.
“I-I just felt like it. It was boring. Too many stupid, snotty kids clogging up the place.” He was a fidgeter. Currently, he was fidgeting with his hair.
“Aren’t those stupid, snotty kids the same age as your girlfriend?” Sam asked. McEnroe just shook his head. The thing about serial killers is that they were, as a group, pretty smart. The ones who weren’t didn’t tend to make it to “serial.” But Tony didn’t necessarily have to be a serial killer. He just had to have had a bad day. “Tell us about the party,” Sam asked more evenly. “Walk us through the evening again.”
McEnroe glared up through his curtain of hair. “There isn’t anything to tell. I showed up about nine-thirty, which was when the party started. Becky was in a bitchy mood. So after an hour of it I left. That’s it. That’s the entire night right there. I went home and went to bed. The first I heard she was missing when you knocked on my door this morning.”
“Alice Cornwell contacted you before she phoned us,” Gervase pointed out before Sam could.
“Well, okay. Whatever. I just mean I didn’t see her again. She didn’t come here.”
“You don’t seem particularly broken up over your girlfriend going missing,” Gervase said.
“She’s not missing.”
Sam narrowed his eyes at McEnroe. “What does that mean?”
“She’s just doing this for attention,” McEnroe insisted. “I know Becky. This is her idea of getting back at me.”
For what? “Getting back at you?” Sam repeated, a technique he sometimes used to make the interrogee feel that Sam believed his bullshit. “Why would she want to get back at you?”
“Because she can’t stand it when everything doesn’t go her way,” McEnroe finally said after a lengthy pause. “When she isn’t the center of attention. When she isn’t the one in control.”
When she isn’t the one in control. Interesting phrasing. Interesting sentiment.
“I see,” Sam said. He waited.
“Is that it?” McEnroe asked, wiping sweat off his face with a flannel shirt sleeve.
“How did you get those scratches on your arm?” West asked from his corner.
Sam glanced back. West’s face was impassive, arms crossed. He couldn’t see McEnroe’s arms - Sam checked - so it must have been a calculated guess. Or a wild guess. Either way, it had an electrifying effect on McEnroe.
“What? I don’t - I was playing with the cat. Becky’s cat. Snowball. She scratched me. The cat scratched me.” For the first time, McEnroe didn’t look sulky and mad. He looked scared.
Sam’s pulse jumped. Until that moment, he had not really thought Tony McEnroe was capable of murder. He never ruled anything out, but McEnroe didn’t seem able to coordinate a bowl of cereal, let alone feign a disappearance. But he’d seen plenty of sociopaths play dumb.
“I think we’d better finish this conversation back at the station,” Gervase interrupted. He sat forward, like he was going to stand and McEnroe leapt to his feet.
“What!” McEnroe yelped. “You’re crazy, old man! I already told you I had nothing to do with Becky running away! I don’t know anything about it. I don’t want to know anything about it.”
Dammit. They’d just gotten their first reaction out of McEnroe. Sam wanted to push forward a little more before taking him in - he didn’t want to give McEnroe time to collect himself - but he also didn’t want to undermine Gervase’s authority.
“Maybe you did,” Gervase allowed, “Maybe you didn’t. There are still questions that have to be answered.”
“I don’t know anything!”
“Son, you can cooperate and come in voluntarily, or I can arrest your ass. Up to you.” This, Sam realized, was what had felt off. This was the first time Gervase had sounded anything like the tense, determined ex-soldier whom Sam had met ten years ago. Maybe Kingsfield had softened him up. Since the conviction of Martin Pink, it hadn’t been a particularly dangerous beat.
“This is crazy!” McEnroe was still going on. “I didn’t do anything!”
“What are you getting so worked up about, McEnroe?” Gervase asked. “You’re the boyfriend, you’re going to be questioned. If you’re innocent, you’ve got nothing to worry about. It’s a couple hours out of your life.”
“I’m not under arrest?” McEnroe’s demeanor evened out at this news. He stopped shaking, took it down a few notches. He looked pleadingly at Gervase.
“Not so far,” Gervase told him.
McEnroe swallowed. “Can I at least put my pants on?”
“Please do,” Gervase with the tone of a man who was saying what everyone else in the room was thinking. “Please do.”
McEnroe stood up and rabbited down the hallway. Sam heard the creak of a door and the muffled slide of drawers and cabinets. He wanted to pursue, make sure McEnroe wasn’t pulling a fast one on them or tucking away a weapon they were going to have to take off him later. This wasn’t standard procedure but then Kingsfield wasn’t a particularly dangerous town, since its last serial killer was put away, and Gervase appeared to have a good grasp on his troublemakers.
“You won’t need your toothbrush.” Gervase didn’t project his voice, but it carried through the tiny, shambling house.
“I’m going to cover the back entrance,” West said.
Sam nodded at him. At least he seemed to be taking this seriously. More seriously than Gervase, who said,
“Don’t worry. He’s not going anywhere,” and leaned back in the chair.
Sam listened to the front door close behind West. He listened to the closet door open and close. He listened to another drawer open. He listened to the shuffling noises stop. He didn’t hear West at all. The guy wasn’t a half-bad agent. Sure, he was young and brash, but Sam couldn’t hold that against him. He tracked down stolen art, which seemed like a job for, well, anyone but the FBI, but his investigative skills were on point. The question about the scratches had clearly been a shot in the dark, but it had found its mark. Of course West clearly hated Sam, that was a definite strike against him, but he was hardly alone in that opinion. And Sam did ruin his vacation.
Sam dragged his thoughts away from West. Suspect now, field assessment later. Tony McEnroe was hardly a criminal mastermind - he was barely a criminal - but even the idiots could be dangerous and Sam had not stayed in the game this long by ignoring his instincts.
It was taking too long. It was too quiet. Gervase was too comfortable. Sam gut tightened uncomfortably.
“I’m going to hustle him along,” Sam said quietly, and walked in the same direction McEnroe had without giving Gervase a chance to respond.
The hall was dark, the bathroom grungy, and Sam folded his palm around the butt of his gun before tapping the bedroom door with his fist. It swung open with a creaky sigh. “Really?” he muttered, and then, “Tony?”
The room was empty. The curtains fluttered in the breeze like - like the window was wide open. Sam crossed the room in three long steps - it wasn’t a large room - and shoved the curtain aside.
Jason West stood framed in the window, his service weapon drawn and pointed toward the woods. There was no sign of Tony McEnroe.