I’m not sure who’s speaking.
“What were they thinking?” asked Tom McDonald.
“Dunno,” said the first voice. “Kimberly did something that set Wayne off.”
“Ten straight days’ KP for her,” ordered McDonald. “All meals.”
“Where are they going to sleep? We’re currently full.”
“They can stay in the bunkhouse that’s nearly finished and spread out some sleeping bags in there. The cold will be good for them,” declared McDonald.
Murmuring voices agreed.
“Now, Chip. Explain to me how we caught the notice of the FBI,” said McDonald.
There were a pause and a few boot steps as, Cade assumed, Chip stepped forward. From the volume of the voices, it sounded as if McDonald was a few feet from the pass-through while the other men stood in a group and faced him.
Except for his two shadows. Cade imagined them standing to the right and left of McDonald.
“I don’t know, sir.” Cade had never heard such a polite tone from Chip. “Somehow they connected Pence with the ranch. They had his picture and asked if we knew him.”
“What’d you say?”
“Mitch and I said we didn’t recognize him. Cade said he was unsure and then proceeded to mention that a lot of men come and go from the ranch.”
McDonald cursed, and another assenting murmur sounded from the small group. Cade wiped the sweat that had formed on his upper lip.
“The kid did okay.”
Cade perked up at Mitch’s words.
“For someone with two FBI agents staring at him, Cade played it cool,” continued Mitch. “I thought he seemed genuine. He acted how you would expect from someone who knows nothing but is trying to be helpful to the cops.”
The room was silent, and Cade hoped Mitch wouldn’t regret sticking his neck out in his defense.
“Watch him,” McDonald ordered. “I’m holding you responsible for keeping him out of sight and his mouth shut if they show up here again.”
“Yes, sir,” Mitch replied.
Cade’s spine relaxed a fraction.
“What about their questions about Pence?” asked the first voice.
“Answer them. We know nothing about him,” said McDonald. “And figure out why they think we do. Someone had to say something that led them here.”
“Are you going to call them?” Chip asked.
“This is my property and I don’t owe them anything. Pretty soon we won’t have to put up with them anymore.”
The men made pleased sounds along with a few “Damn right” responses.
“You’ve all chosen to be here,” McDonald said in a solemn tone. “You’ve put your faith in me, and we have a common goal. I’m going to see we achieve that goal. Pence screwed up and he paid the price. It’s a lesson that we all need to keep our eyes on the prize. I see a grand existence in our future. The one we were supposed to have as Americans.”
More replies of “Damn right!” This time with volume.
“What about Owen?” asked a second voice Cade didn’t recognize. “His sister is one of the FBI agents.”
“I’ll handle Owen,” promised McDonald. “Don’t worry about him one bit. He can barely stand the sight of his fibbie sister.”
“I can stand the sight of her just fine,” muttered one man. Laughter shot through the group.
“She won’t be a problem. And don’t worry about having women to look at. They’ll be flocking here soon enough. You’d be surprised how women are strongly drawn to men in power. Deep down they want to be taken care of, and they’ll soon see that this is the place for that.”
Appreciative noises reached Cade’s ears. Along with the sound of the kitchen door suddenly scraping open. On his hands and knees he scrambled behind a stack of produce boxes, hoping the person wouldn’t turn on the lights. He leaned his back against the boxes, pulling his long legs as close as possible to his belly. A faint light came on and the boxes cast a shadow over Cade. He slowly slid his right boot out of the light that’d found his toe.
Please God, please God, please God.
The light blinked off and he realized someone had opened and closed the fridge. Boot steps walked behind him and to the door between the kitchen and mess hall. It opened and closed, and Cade buried his head in his knees in relief.
I need to get out of here.
He unfolded his legs and silently crawled back toward the door, his heart pounding in his ears. He was nearly to the door when the word dynamite reached him. He halted and listened, trying to hear past his heartbeat.
Laughter filled the mess hall. Whatever McDonald had suggested, it’d been hilarious.
Cade couldn’t think of anything hilarious about dynamite.
Fear drove him out of the kitchen and through the door. He hurled the sandwich into the brush, knowing he’d vomit if he ate. He jogged back to the bunkhouse, straightened his tools for the next day, and got in his truck. His limbs shook as he drove off the property, and he felt the weight of Special Agent Kilpatrick’s business card in the pocket of his coat.
Did McDonald order Joshua Pence’s death?
Can you meet me for lunch?
Giddiness swept through Kaylie as she read Cade’s text. She immediately replied that she could, and then spent the next thirty minutes of third period staring at the clock, barely able to sit still and listen to Mr. Hausman drone on about the creepiest book she’d ever read, Lord of the Flies. How could she focus on child-aged murderers when Cade was coming?
The bell finally rang, and she bypassed her locker and tore out the front door of the school, ready to make the most of her thirty-minute lunch. Her nerves tingled at the sight of Cade’s truck idling at the front of the school.
I wish I was out of high school.
It was hard to attend school each day when the man you loved did not.
She opened the passenger door, hopped in, and slid across the bench seat, admiring the sight of him in jeans and leather coat. He pulled her close and kissed her deep.
“Why aren’t you at work?” she asked once the kiss ended and he put the truck in gear.
“I needed to come to town for some supplies. I don’t think they’ll notice if it takes me a bit longer than it should.”
“Can we go to Dairy Queen?” A burger sounded heavenly.
She snuggled into his shoulder as he drove, inhaling the scent of fresh-cut lumber that clung to him.
I can’t skip the rest of the day. But boy was she tempted. It was a good thing he needed to get back to the job site.
“Has your aunt said anything about me?” he asked.
“Nope. We still need to figure out a day you can come over for dinner so she can meet you.”
“She brought that up again?”
“No. She hasn’t mentioned it since our huge discussion the other day, but I told her we’d schedule something.”
He nodded and hit his blinker to turn into the Dairy Queen parking lot.
“What kind of cases does she work on at the FBI?” he asked.
“I know she’s working on the murder of those two county deputies. That includes the guy who was found murdered a few nights ago. They believe the cases are connected . . . along with some other minor fires. She doesn’t talk about it at home very much.”
“She’s probably not supposed to.”
“True. And she needs a break from thinking about them. I try to distract her during dinner because she gets so quiet and I know she’s having a hard time getting them out of her head.”
“So she works murder cases,” he said, his voice catching on the word murder.
“Not always. Since she’s transferred to Bend, she gets a little bit of everything. In Portland she was assigned primarily to domestic terrorism. Out here they have a lot fewer agents, so everyone works on everything.”
He parked but turned to look at her instead of opening his door. His brown eyes were thoughtful. “Did you know any of the men who were murdered? The deputies . . . or that other guy?”
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