In the cavern, the band was playing a new song, something fast.
People were jitterbugging.
Ethan said, “Was Alyssa even here three nights ago?”
“No, there was no meeting. Too risky. But she’d been here plenty of times before. The night she died, I met her in the crypt. We talked about what she was going to do. They were expecting a full report from her. They wanted her to name names, to turn us all in. So examples could be made.”
“What did you and Alyssa decide she should do?”
“Make up an excuse for why she didn’t get to see our group. It was the only option.”
“What time did you and Alyssa part ways? This is very important.”
“As I was walking home, I remember hearing the clock strike two.”
“And where was this exactly?”
“Corner of Eighth and Main.”
“Where’d she go after you left her?”
“I have no idea.”
“No, I mean which direction?”
“Oh. I think she started walking south down the sidewalk.”
“Toward the hospital?”
“And there’s no possible way one of your people killed her? Maybe someone who knew she knew the truth? Who was willing to do anything to get it?”
“You’re absolutely certain? Those boys who brought me here tonight had more than a few rough edges. And machetes.”
“Well, they don’t trust you. But they loved Alyssa. Everyone did. Besides, it’s no secret among my people that there’s a tunnel under the fence. Alyssa wasn’t stopping anyone from leaving.”
“Then what does stop them?”
“The people who left and never came back.”
He got that Johnnie Walker Blue after all.
Kate went behind the bar, requisitioned the bottle and two rocks glasses, and carried them to a small table out of the main current of the noise and the motion.
They drank and watched the crowd and listened to the music, Ethan studying the faces, becoming increasingly floored, because no one in this room was someone he would’ve expected to be in this room.
In Wayward Pines, this crowd walked the line like perfect little townies.
Followed the rules, caused nary a ripple.
He would’ve pegged most everyone here as full-on converts to everything that life in Wayward Pines entailed, and yet here they were, freed of their microchips, at least for a few hours, drunk and happy and dancing in a cavern.
After the next song, the band quit playing.
The dynamic in the room changed almost instantly.
People found seats at tables, or sat on the floor against the rock wall.
Ethan leaned over to Kate, whispered, “What’s happening?”
Kate’s husband walked over to their table.
“Harold Ballinger,” the man said. “I don’t believe we’ve actually met.”
They shook hands.
“You worked with my wife many years ago.”
“I’d love to hear about it sometime.”
As they sat down, Ethan wondered if Kate had even told her husband about their time together. He wasn’t getting that vibe.
A man was arranging torches in a half circle around the front of the stage.
He stepped down, and a woman in a strapless dress took his place in the firelight.
Only her blond dreads gave her away—it was the barista from the coffee shop.
She was smiling, holding a martini glass in one hand, a hand-rolled cigarette in the other.
There was no microphone.
She said, “It’s getting late. I think we only have time for one share tonight.”
A man stood, asked, “Okay if I go?”
“Sure. Come on up.”
He made his way to the stage in a dark suit that didn’t quite fit him—a little short in the cuffs, a little tight across the chest—and as he stepped into the spotlight and the candles lit his face, Ethan realized it was Brad Fisher. He and Theresa had eaten dinner at the man’s house just two nights ago.
Ethan scanned the crowd, but he didn’t see Mrs. Fisher.
Brad cleared his throat.
Nervousness in his smile.
“My third time here,” he said. “Some of you know me. Most of you don’t. Yet. I’m Brad Fisher.”
The room responded like an AA meeting, “Hello, Brad.”
He said, “First of all, where’s Harold?”
“Back here!” Harold yelled.
Brad turned slightly so he faced Ethan’s table.
“Harold came into my office two months ago, and without going into too much detail, made it possible for me to come here. I don’t know how to thank you, Harold. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to.”
Harold waved him off and yelled, “Pay it forward!”
Laughter shuddered through the room.
Brad went on, “I was born in Sacramento, California, in 1966. It’s funny—the week before I woke up in Wayward Pines, I thought I had finally arrived at the prime of my life. I actually remember thinking those exact words. I had this great new job in Silicon Valley, and I had just married my best friend. Her name was Nancy. We met at Golden Gate Park. Don’t know if any of you know San Fran. There’s this Japanese Tea Garden. We met on the moon bridge. It was…” His face softened at the memory. “So cheesy. One of those high arching bridges. I mean it was something out of a movie. We always laughed about it.
“For our honeymoon, we opted for a road trip instead of a tropical getaway. We’d only known each other six months, and there was something that sounded right about just being on the road together. Driving across the West. We kept it loose. We didn’t make plans. It was the best time of my life.”
Even from the back of the room, Ethan could see that Brad was steeling himself to go on.
“A week or so into our trip, Nancy and I hit Idaho. Stayed in Boise for the first night, and I still remember that morning over breakfast when Nance picked Wayward Pines off the map. It was in the mountains. She liked the sound of it.
“We checked into the Wayward Pines Hotel. Had dinner at the Aspen House. We ate on the patio, all those white lights strung from the aspen trees twinkling above us. It was one of those nights. You know what I mean, right? You talk about the future over a bottle of wine and everything seems possible and within reach.
“We went back to our room and made love and fell asleep and when we woke up, we were here and nothing has ever been the same. Nance lasted two months and then she took her own life.