“Do you think he’s dead?”
A question she would never have asked sober.
Hassler was quiet for a while, staring down into the amber-colored beer.
Said finally, “Ethan...was a great agent. Maybe my best. I’m not just saying that.”
“And you think we’d have heard from him by now, or—”
“Exactly. I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s...” He handed her a handkerchief and she cried into it for a moment before wiping her eyes. “Not knowing... it’s so hard. I used to pray that he was still alive. Now I just pray for a body. A physical thing to give me answers and let me move on. Can I ask you something, Adam?”
“What do you think happened?”
“Maybe now isn’t the time—”
Hassler finished off the cup of beer.
He went over to the keg, refilled it, returned.
“Let’s just take what we know as a starting point, all right? Ethan arrived in Boise on a direct flight out of Seattle at eight thirty a.m. on September twenty-fourth of last year. He went to the field office downtown in the U.S. Bank Building and met up with Agent Stallings and his team. They had a two-and-a-half-hour meeting, and then Ethan and Stallings left Boise at approximately eleven fifteen a.m.”
“And they were going to Wayward Pines to look into...”
“Among other things, the disappearance of Agent Bill Evans and Kate Hewson.”
Just the utterance of her name was like a knife sliding between Theresa’s ribs.
She suddenly wanted another drink.
Hassler went on. “You last spoke to Ethan on a cell phone call at one twenty p.m. from Lowman, Idaho, where they’d stopped for gas.”
“The connection was bad because they were in the mountains.”
“At this point, they were an hour outside of Wayward Pines.”
“Last thing he said to me was, ‘I’ll call you tonight from the hotel, sweetheart,’ and I tried to tell him good-bye and that I loved him, but the call dropped.”
“And yours was the last contact anyone had with your husband. At least anyone who’s still alive. Of course...you know the rest.”
She did, and she didn’t need to ever hear it again.
At 3:07 p.m., at an intersection in Wayward Pines, Agent Stallings had pulled out in front of a Mack truck. He’d been killed instantly, and because of the violence of the collision and the devastation to the front passenger side, the car had to be taken to another location to extricate Ethan’s body. Except once they’d torn the door off and pried up enough of the roof to get inside, they’d found the compartment empty.
“The other reason I came by, Theresa, was to share a little bit of news. As you know, we weren’t satisfied with the internal examination we had performed on Stallings’s Lincoln Town Car.”
“So I called in a favor from the FBI’s scientific analysis team, CODIS. They do amazing work, the best work, and they just finished spending a week with the car.”
“I can e-mail you their report tomorrow, but long story short, they didn’t find anything.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean they found nothing. No trace of skin cells or blood or hair or even residual sweat. Not even what they call degraded DNA. If Ethan had ridden in that car for three hours on the drive from Boise to Wayward Pines, this team would’ve at least found some molecular trace of him.”
“How is this possible?”
“I don’t know yet.”
Theresa grabbed the banister and struggled onto her feet.
Made her way over to the makeshift bar on the dry sink.
Didn’t even bother with another G&T. Just scooped some ice into a rocks glass and filled it with premium vodka.
She took a long pull, staggered back over to the staircase.
“I don’t know how to process this, Adam,” she said, and with the next sip, she knew this would be the drink that pushed her firmly over the edge.
“I don’t either. You asked me what I thought had happened?”
“I don’t have any answers for you. Not yet. Strictly between you and me, we’re taking another hard look at Agent Stallings. A hard look at everyone who had access to the scene of the accident prior to my arrival. But so far, we’ve gotten nowhere. And as you know, this happened over a year ago.”
“Something isn’t right,” she said.
Hassler stared at her, his hard eyes troubled.
“No shit,” he said.
* * *
Theresa walked him out to his car and stood on the wet street getting rained on and watching the taillights grow smaller and smaller before disappearing over the top of the hill.
All up and down the street, she could see the lights of Christmas trees inside their neighbors’ houses. She and Ben hadn’t put one up yet, and she doubted they’d get around to it this year. The gesture would feel too much like an acceptance of this nightmare, the final acknowledgment that he was never coming home.
* * *
Later, after everyone had cabbed home, she lay on the couch downstairs in the aftermath of the party, fighting the spins.
She couldn’t sleep, couldn’t pass out.
Every time she opened her eyes, she’d focus on the wall clock as the minute hand trudged between two and three a.m.
At two forty-five, unable to stand the nausea and the dizziness for another second, she rolled off the couch, climbed to her feet, and moved unsteadily into the kitchen.
She took one of the few remaining clean glasses out of the cabinet and filled it under the tap.
Drank and refilled two more times before her thirst was quenched.
The kitchen was a disaster.
She dimmed the track lighting and started loading the dishwasher, something satisfying about watching it fill up. She initiated the wash cycle and then walked around the house with a plastic bag, collecting beer cups, paper plates, discarded napkins.
By four a.m., the house was looking better, and she didn’t feel nearly as drunk, although a pounding had become noticeable behind her eyes—the first indication of the approaching headache.
She popped three Advil and stood at the kitchen sink in the predawn silence, listening as the rain pattered on the deck outside.
She filled the sink with hot water and squirted in the dish soap, watching bubbles begin to populate the surface.
Thrust her hands underwater.
Left them there until the heat became unbearable.