“What? Telling a man he’s dead?”

The elevator arrived, the doors parted, but when Ethan moved to exit the car, Pam’s arm shot out in front of him. She wasn’t ripped in the cartoonish female bodybuilder sense of the word, but her muscle tone was damn impressive. Lean and hard.

“If you have to tell Mr. Johnson he’s dead,” she said, “you’ve missed the entire point. He needs to arrive at that conclusion under his own steam.”

“That’s cruel.”

“No, it’s going to save his life. Because if he honestly believes there’s a world still out there, do you know what he’s going to do?”

“Try to escape.”

“And guess who gets to hunt him down? Give you a hint. Rhymes with Beethan.”

She smiled that psychobitch smile and let her arm drop. “After you, Sheriff.”

Ethan headed through Pilcher’s residence and then down the corridor to his office, where he dragged open the double oak doors and strolled in.

Pilcher was standing by the window in the rock behind his desk, staring down through the glass.

“Come here, Ethan. I want to show you something. Hurry or you’ll miss it.”

Advertisement..

Ethan moved past the wall of flatscreens and around Pilcher’s desk.

Pilcher pointed through the glass as Pam arrived on the other side of him, said, “Now just watch.”

From this vantage point, the valley of Wayward Pines stood in shadow.

“Here it comes.”

The sun broke over the eastern wall.

Sunbeams slanting down into the center of town in a blaze of early light.

“My town,” Pilcher whispered. “I try to catch the first light that reaches it every day.”

He motioned for Ethan and Pam to take a seat.

“What do you have for me, Ethan?”

“I saw Kate last night.”

“Good. What was your play?”

“Total honesty.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I told her everything.”

“What am I missing?”

“Kate isn’t an idiot.”

“You told her you were investigating her?” There was heat in Pilcher’s words.

“You think she wouldn’t have immediately assumed that?”

“We’ll never know now, will we?”

“David—”

“Will we?”

“I know her. You don’t.”

Pam said, “So you told her we were onto her, and she said, ‘Great, here’s what’s going on.’ ”

“I told her that she was under suspicion, and that I could protect her.”

“Played up those old feelings, huh?”

“Something like that.”

“Okay, might not be the worst approach. So what’d you learn?”

“She says the last time she saw Alyssa was on Main Street the night she died. They parted ways. Alyssa was still alive.”

“What else?”

“She has no idea what’s beyond the fence. Asked me repeatedly.”

“Then why is she running around in the middle of the night?”

“I don’t know. She wouldn’t tell me. But I have a chance to find out.”

“When?”

“Tonight. But I need my chip taken out.”

Pilcher looked at Pam, back to Ethan.

“Not possible.”

“Her note explicitly said, ‘No chip or don’t bother coming.’ ”

“So just tell her you took it out.”

“You think they won’t check?”

“We can make an incision in the back of your leg. They’ll never know the difference.”

“What if they have some other way of finding out?”

“Like what?”

“Fuck if I know, but if there’s a microchip in my leg tonight, I’m staying home.”

“I made that mistake with Alyssa. Let her go dark. If she’d been chipped, we’d already know where she went. Where she was killed. I won’t make that mistake again.”

“I can handle myself,” Ethan said. “You’ve both seen that. Firsthand.”

“Maybe we aren’t as concerned,” Pam said, “with your safety as we are with your loyalty.”

Ethan turned in his chair.

He’d fought this woman once in the basement of the hospital. She’d come at him with a syringe, and he’d crashed into her at full speed, driven her face into a concrete wall. He relived that moment now like the memory of a good meal, wishing he could experience it again.

“She raises a point, Ethan,” Pilcher said.

“And what point is that? You don’t trust me?”

“You’re doing great, but it’s still early times. Lots to prove.”

“I want the chip out, or I don’t go. It’s that simple.”

Pilcher’s voice assumed a harder edge.

“You will be in my office crack of dawn tomorrow with a full report. Is that understood?”

“Yes.”

“And now I have to threaten you.”

“With what will happen to my family if I should decide to run or otherwise misbehave? Can’t I just imagine the worst and assume you’ll deliver? What I really need is to have a word with you in private.” Ethan glanced at Pam. “You don’t mind, do you?”

“Of course I don’t mind.”

When the door had closed behind her, Ethan said, “I’d like to get a better picture of who your daughter was.”

“Why?”

“The more I know her, the better chance I’ll have of finding out what happened to her.”

“I think we know what happened to her, Ethan.”

“I was down in her quarters yesterday. There were flowers and cards all around her door. A real outpouring. But I was wondering—did she have any enemies in the mountain? I mean, she was the boss’s daughter.”

Ethan thought Pilcher might erupt at this intrusion into his privacy and grief.

But instead, Pilcher leaned back in his chair and said, almost wistfully, “Alyssa was the last person to trade on her status. She could’ve lived in this suite with me in luxury, done whatever she wanted. But she insisted on keeping spartan living quarters and she took assignments just like everyone else. Never once sought out preferential treatment because of who she was. And everyone knew. And it made everyone love her even more.”

“Did you two get along?”

“Yes.”

“What did Alyssa think about all this?”