He said, “A surveillance report came across my desk this morning.”
“Who was the subject?”
“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?”
“I get a report anytime anyone does anything strange.”
“You think it’s strange it pisses me off when your peeping toms watch me with my wife?”
“Watching intimate moments is strictly forbidden. You know this.”
“The only way an analyst would know that it was no longer an intimate moment was if he had been watching during the intimate moment. Right?”
“You acknowledged the camera.”
“Theresa didn’t see.”
“But what if she had?”
“You think there’s anyone in town who’s been here longer than fifteen minutes who doesn’t know they’re under constant surveillance?”
“Whether they know or suspect, I don’t care. As long as they keep it to themselves. As long as they walk the line. That includes not ever acknowledging the cameras.”
“Do you know how difficult it is to f**k your wife with a camera over your bed?”
“I don’t care.”
“It’s against the rules and you know it.” For the first time, anger laced his words.
“Say it won’t happen again, Ethan.”
“It won’t happen again. But don’t ever let me find out that your analysts are watching. I’ll leave them where I find them.”
Ethan took a big, hot swallow that burned his throat.
“How you feeling, Ethan? You seem cranky.”
“I feel rough.”
“First thing, we’re taking you to the hospital.”
“Last time I was in your hospital, everyone tried to kill me. I think I’ll just tough this one out.”
“Suit yourself.” Pilcher took a sip and made a face. “It’s not terrible, but sometimes I could kill to sit outside a café in a European city and drink a proper shot of espresso.”
“Oh, come on, you love this.”
“Love what, Ethan?”
“What you’ve created here.”
“Sure, it’s my life’s work. Doesn’t mean there aren’t parts of the old world I still miss.”
They drank coffee and the mood lightened just a touch.
Pilcher finally said, “She was a good woman. A great woman.”
“What was her name?”
“You didn’t know where she was until I told you. Does that mean she wasn’t chipped?”
“We allowed her to take it out.”
“You must’ve trusted her.”
“Implicitly. Remember the group I told you about?”
“I’d sent her to infiltrate. These people—they’ve all managed to remove their chips. They meet at night. We don’t know where. We don’t know how many. We don’t know how they communicate. I couldn’t send her in with a microchip. They’d have killed her outright.”
“So she got in?”
“Last night was supposed to be her first meeting. She’d have seen all the players.”
“They have meetings? How’s that possible?”
“We don’t know how, but they understand the weaknesses in our surveillance. They’ve gamed the system.”
“And you’re saying these people are responsible for her death?”
“That’s what I want you to find out.”
“You want me to investigate this group?”
“I want you to pick up where Alyssa left off.”
“I’m sheriff. They’d never let me get within a thousand miles.”
“After your tumultuous integration, I’m thinking the jury is still out on where your loyalties lie. You sell yourself right, they might consider you a prized asset.”
“You actually think they’d trust me?”
“I think your old partner will.”
It became very quiet in the kitchen.
Just the hum of the refrigerator.
Distant, ebullient noise coming through an open window—children playing somewhere.
Shouts of You’re it!
Ethan said, “Kate is a Wanderer?”
“Kate was Alyssa’s point of contact. Kate showed her how to remove her microchip.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Reach out to your old flame. Discreetly. Tell her you’re not really with me.”
“What do these people know and what do they want?”
“I believe they know everything. That they’ve gone beyond the fence and seen what’s out there. That they want to rule. They’re actively recruiting. Last sheriff, they made three attempts on his life. They’re probably already making the same plans for you. This is what I want you to investigate. Top priority. I’ll give you every tool you need. Unlimited access to surveillance.”
“Why aren’t you and your people handling this from the inside?”
“Alyssa’s death has been a big blow to all of us. There are a lot of people in the mountain not thinking very clearly right now. So I have to lay this on your shoulders. You alone. I hope you understand the stakes here. Whatever your personal feelings about the way I run this town—and you’ve shared them with me—it works. This can never be a democracy. There’s too much to lose if everything goes to shit. You’re with me on that, right?”
“I am. You run a mostly benevolent dictatorship with occasional slaughter.”
Ethan thought Pilcher would laugh, but he just stared across the island, the steam coiling off the surface of the coffee into his face.
“That was a joke,” Ethan said.
“You with me or not?”
“Yes. But I worked with Kate for years. She’s not a murderer.”
“No offense, but you worked with her in another time. She’s a different person now, Ethan. She’s a product of Pines, and you have no idea what she’s capable of.”
Theresa watched the second hand pass the 12.
She tidied up the items on her smooth, clean desk and gathered her purse.
The brick walls of the office were papered with real estate brochures that few people had ever studied. She had rarely used the typewriter or received a phone call. For the most part, she read books all day, thought about her family, and occasionally her life before.