“What do you mean by ‘considering who she was’?”
“You don’t know?”
“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.”
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?”
“Find who did this.”
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
“Did someone hit you?”
“No, it’s fine.”
“I wrecked the cruiser.”
“Last night. It’s not a big deal.”
“Did you go to the hospital?”
“You didn’t get checked out?”
“A rabbit or something ran out in front of the car. I swerved to miss it. Flipped.”
“We’re going to the hospital right now.”
He leaned down, kissed her forehead. “I’m not going to the hospital. Drop it. You look beautiful. What’s the story?”
“There has to be a story if I look beautiful?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Entirely possible. It’s been a crazy couple of days. What’d I forget?”
“We have dinner at the Fishers’.”
For a moment, she thought he might say they weren’t going. That they would just cancel. Could he do that? Did he have that power?
“All right. Let me get out of these nasty clothes, and I’ll be back down in five.”
Theresa had spoken to Mrs. Fisher two weeks ago at the Saturday morning farmers’ market—a friendly exchange after they’d both reached for the same cucumber.
Then one evening last week, the Burkes’ phone had rung. The voice on the other end introduced herself as Megan Fisher. She wanted to invite Ethan and Theresa over for dinner on Thursday the week following. Could they join?
Of course, Theresa knew that Megan hadn’t woken up that morning with a burning desire to make new friends. Megan had gotten a letter in the mail suggesting that she reach out to the Burkes. Theresa had received her share of similar letters, and she figured that on some level, it made sense. Considering the prohibition on real human contact, she would never take it upon herself to initiate get-togethers with her neighbors. It was all too strained and strange.
So much easier to just disappear into your own private world.
Theresa and Ethan walked down the middle of the street holding hands, Theresa clutching a loaf of bread in her right arm that was still warm from the oven.
With Ben at home, it felt like she and Ethan had snuck out for a date night.
The lush coolness of evening had settled into the valley. They were running a little late. Already a few minutes past seven. Dinner with Hecter had begun, the velvet beauty of his piano creeping through every open window.
“Do you remember what Mr. Fisher does?” Theresa asked.
“He’s a lawyer. His wife’s a teacher. Ben’s teacher.”
Of course Theresa knew she was Ben’s teacher, but she wished Ethan hadn’t mentioned it. The school was a strange place. Education in Pines was compulsory from age four to fifteen, and the curriculum was a mystery. She had no idea what her son was learning there. Kids never had homework and were forbidden from discussing what they learned with anyone, including their parents. Ben never shared, and she knew better than to pry. The only time they were allowed a window into that world was the end-of-year play. It happened in June, and around Wayward Pines, the celebration rivaled Christmas and Thanksgiving. Three years ago, a fête had been called on a parent who forced his way into the school. She wondered how much Ethan knew.