“We’re close to an arrest.”

“That’s good to hear, but I have something more pressing for you.”

Hassler takes a seat and studies Ethan across the desk. He isn’t wearing his black-and-whites today. His surveillance outfit is a gray jumpsuit, the shoulders still damp from the late-morning drizzle. He can just see the outline on Ethan’s left side of his concealed shoulder holster.

It crosses Hassler’s mind that he can still pull the plug on this. Until the words leave his mouth, he hasn’t committed a crime.

In his years in law enforcement, interrogating criminals, he’s always hearing about the nebulous line between right and wrong. They were only stealing for their family. They’d only intended to do it once. And his favorite: they didn’t even realize they’d crossed a line until they were deep into enemy territory on the other side, with no hope of ever getting back.

But as Hassler sits on this side of the desk, this side of the line, all that conjecture on the ambiguous nature of right and wrong feels like bullshit.

He sees his choice with crystalline clarity.

If he sends Ethan on this assignment, he has crossed the line forever.

No coming back.

If he ejects out of this entire enterprise, lets Ethan go back to his case in Everett, he stays a good guy who almost did a very bad thing.

Nothing confusing here. No gray area from his perspective.

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“Sir?” Ethan says.

Hassler pictures Theresa, a couple years back at the company picnic. Thinks of Ethan flirting with Kate while his wife cried by herself on the shore of Lake Union.

Theresa’s fears about Kate and Ethan were borne out last year when Kate put in an abrupt transfer request for Boise, Idaho. Ethan cheated on Theresa with his partner, and everyone knew it. He humiliated his wife, and a woman like Theresa deserves so much better.

“Adam?” Ethan says.

Hassler lets out a breath as rain ticks on the window behind him.

He says, “Kate Hewson is missing.”

Ethan leans forward in the chair. “For how long?”

“Four days.”

“She went missing on the job?”

“Her partner’s missing too. Guy named Evans. You and Kate had a . . . special relationship, right?”

Ethan doesn’t bite, just stares, intense.

“Well, I just figured you’d want to take on the search for your old partner.”

Ethan stands.

“Boise is e-mailing the case file,” Hassler says. “We’re booking you on a flight out of Sea-Tac first thing. Tomorrow morning, you’ll meet up with Agent Stallings in the Boise field office and the two of you will head north to the last place anyone heard from Kate.”

“Where’s that?”

“Little town called Wayward Pines.”

Hassler watches Ethan leave.

He’s done it.

Set it all motion.

And the weird thing is, he doesn’t feel any different. No regret, no fear, no anxiety.

If there’s one overriding emotion, it’s relief.

Spinning around in his chair, he stares out his window at the gray, wet gloom of downtown Seattle, the water droplets beading and running down the glass.

From his office on the thirty-first floor, he can see the building where Theresa works as a paralegal. Imagines her sitting in her lifeless cube, typing dictation.

He doesn’t know how exactly, but he will have her one day. He’ll love her like she’s meant to be loved. Somehow, and this is the biggest mystery of his entire existence, she has become the only thing that matters in his world.

Flipping open his prepaid cell phone, he dials.

David Pilcher answers, “Hello?”

“It’s me,” Hassler says.

“I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever hear from you again.”

“He’s coming to you tomorrow.”

“We’ll be ready.”

Hassler closes the cell, takes out the battery, and breaks the phone in half. He places the two pieces in the Styrofoam container at the bottom of his trash can that holds the remnants of yesterday’s lunch.

THERESA

Theresa and Ben reached the edge of the forest as the sun dipped behind the distant peaks.

She whispered to her son, “Wait here.”

Moving on, Theresa crawled through a grove of scrub oak, the dead leaves crunching too loudly under her knees.

Where the oaks ended, she peered through the branches.

They had reached the outskirts of Wayward Pines but had somehow traversed the entire forest to the north side of town. The streets that Theresa could see appeared empty. The houses dark. And not a murmur to be heard.

She glanced back at Ben, waved him over.

He crawled noisily through the leaves and squatted down beside her.

Putting her mouth to his ear, she whispered, “We need to travel ten blocks.”

“Where are we going?”

“Sheriff’s station.”

“Walk or run?”

“Run,” Theresa whispered. “But take a few breaths first, fills those lungs up with air.”

She and Ben both drew in deep pulls of oxygen.

“Ready?” she asked.

“Ready.”

Theresa scrambled out of the thicket and climbed to her feet, then turned and helped Ben up off the ground. They stood in the backyard of a Victorian she recognized—she’d sold this house to a young, expecting couple three months ago after their good behavior in town had been rewarded with an upgrade to a larger, nicer home.

What had been their fate these last twenty-four hours of hell?

Most front yards in Wayward Pines were enclosed by white picket fences, so she and Ben jogged up the sidewalk.

The valley was going dark.

Night always seemed to set in a little too quickly once the sun had gone behind the mountains, and considering there was no power in the entire valley, this would be a black evening.

They were coming up on the first dead body in the street.

Theresa looked back at Ben, and said, “Don’t look, honey.”

But she didn’t take her own advice.

The good news was that it had been eviscerated so completely it looked less like a human being than a pile of guts and bones. A buzzard roosted on the ribcage, glutting itself.

They reached the intersection of First Avenue and Eleventh Street.

Theresa could see the tall pine trees in the distance that soared out of the front lawn of the sheriff’s office.

“Almost there,” she said. “Block and a half to go.”

“I’m tired.”

“I am too, but let’s finish strong.”