“No, you’re not. Quiet.” He takes a thick pad of bandages and presses them tight to my head, and the pain comes back in a sullen roar. “Can you hold that for me? Hold it.” He presses my hand to the pad, and I manage to do as he says while he breaks out more bandages and wraps everything in place. “How much blood did you lose?”
“Lots,” I tell him. “Doesn’t matter. Where’s the cabin?”
“You are not going to the cabin.” I fumble for my gun. He effortlessly takes it away, empties the chamber and strips the mag in one move, then tosses the pieces in the back seat of the SUV. “You are not going anywhere but to the hospital. You need x-rays on that skull. I don’t like the look of that. You could have a depressed fracture.”
“I don’t care. I’m going.” And I will, in a minute. It seems a monumental effort to get out of the truck right now. “Did you get my text?”
He gives me an odd look. “When?”
“Never mind.” Graham was successful in that. He’d managed to break my phone before the text got sent. “How did you figure out he was bad?”
“He didn’t show up for the search,” Sam tells me. He’s busy checking my eyes with a penlight, which is annoying and painful, and I try to bat him away. “Kez did a little digging. Turns out he’d been gone a full day off work during the time of each abduction, and again on the days we figure he disposed of the bodies. She’d been having a feeling about him for a while. When we found out he showed up at the station and gave you a ride—”
“Thanks,” I tell him. He looks set and grimly angry.
“Yeah, not like we got here in time to do much good rescuing you.”
I still one of his hands that’s probing my neck for injuries and hang on to it. “Sam. Thank you.”
We look at each other for a few seconds, and then he nods and continues his evaluation.
Kezia’s gone to check on Graham. She comes back and takes the first-aid kit, and soon after that I see the flashing signals of the ambulance. Out here in the sticks, the ambulance comes with four-wheel drive, which allows it to pull up past the truck and toward the trail head, where I see Kezia tending to Graham in the wash of the headlights.
“Do you know where the cabin is?” I ask Sam. He’s found the pellets in my left arm. “Please. I need to know. I’m fine, Sam, leave it.”
He sighs and sits back, hands on his thighs. “It’s a long hike up, and you aren’t up to it.”
“I told you. I’m all right. Look.” I force myself into high gear, and I step out of the truck. I’m steady. I hold my hands out. No shakes. “See?”
I’m a little shocked when he pulls me into a hug, but it feels good. It feels safe. I’ve trusted all the wrong people, and I’ve pushed away all the right ones, and this upends everything I thought I knew about myself.
“You’re not okay, but I know you have to do this,” he says. “I know you’ll do it without me.”
“Damn right I will,” I tell him. “Give me back my gun.”
He doesn’t like it. He kisses me on the forehead, just below where the bandages are wrapped, and checks to make sure they’re secure. Then he ducks in the back, puts the spare bullet in the mag, slaps my Sig together, and hands it to me. I slide it in the pocket.
The paramedics are working on Lancel Graham, but Kezia has left them to it, and she comes back to us. She has on her uniform under a thick coat, and her gun strapped to her hip. She passes us and heads to her cruiser, where she opens up the trunk and takes out two bulletproof vests. She puts one over her head and carries the other over to us. She hands it to Sam.
Sam puts it on me. When I start to protest, he shakes his head. “No. Just no.” I let it pass. He and Kez get shotguns from the cruiser, and she has a supply kit that she slings over her head bandolier-style. Stuffed, I would bet, with survival supplies and ammunition.
Kezia goes back to talk to the paramedics, then takes out her phone and makes a call. When she returns to us, she says, “Prester’s got backup coming, but it’ll be a while for all the search parties to come back in and get over to us.”
“He said to go ahead?” Sam asks.
She gives him arched eyebrows. “Hell no, he didn’t. He said wait. You want to wait?”
He shakes his head.
I say, “Which way is it?”
Sam’s right, I’m not up to it, but that doesn’t matter. I don’t let my increasing dizziness slow me down, though Sam keeps a watchful eye on me. I feel smothered under the weight of the bulletproof vest strapped on under the down jacket; it’s hot, and I’m sweating freely now. The night is still cold. My body’s running at redline levels just to keep me moving up the hill.
Kezia is as surefooted as a cougar as she leads us up the trail—not the one I’d taken earlier, but the one I’d come slipping down. We pass the rock where I hit my head, and her flashlight shines on the wet, red glisten of my blood. There’s a lot of it. She doesn’t say anything. Neither does Sam, but he moves a step closer as we hike up.
The trail breaks off to the northwest, still wandering upward. The lightning has stopped now, and the rain, too, but there’s a wind kicking up through the trees that sways the pines overhead in a whispering dance. I find myself wanting to look behind me, in case Lancel Graham is creeping up. Graham’s in the hospital. He’ll be lucky if they can save his damn liver. But that doesn’t stop me from imagining the horror show. Once, I see him.
I’m starting to hallucinate. I can hear someone crying. Lanny. I can hear my daughter crying, and it makes me thin and raw inside, and I turn to Sam. The question is almost on my lips, do you hear that, but I know he doesn’t.
I’m losing control.
We come out half an hour later on a thin, slender shelf clear of trees. There’s a tiny shack of a cabin squatting in the overhang of a rock ridge. It’d be almost invisible from overhead. You had to know this thing was here to find it at all, and it’s old. Repairs have been made, but there’s something old-time country about the construction.
Kezia lights it up with her flashlight in a blue-white glare. “Kyle and Lee Graham! Come on out right now! This is Officer Claremont!” She has a commanding voice, like a teacher calling out students for bad behavior, and I think it would have worked on me at that age.
There’s a flutter of movement at a curtained window, and then the door cracks and a boy yells, “Where’s my dad?”
Kezia steps forward and motions the two of us to stay back. “Lee? Lee, you know me. Your dad’s okay. He’s on the way to the hospital. You come on out now. Look, I’m putting my gun away, okay? You come on out.”
The younger Graham boy slips out. He’s wearing a coat too big for him, and he looks pale and scared. “I didn’t want to,” he says in a rush. “I didn’t! I don’t want to get in trouble!”
“You won’t, honey, you won’t. You come on here.” Kezia motions him forward, and once he’s to her, she gestures to Sam, who comes forward, takes the boy by the elbow, and half drags him to where I stand. Lee opens his mouth to protest. I put a hand on his shoulder and crouch down to look him in the eye.
“Are my kids in there?” I ask him.
He finally nods. “It wasn’t my fault,” he tells me. “I told Kyle we shouldn’t have. But—”
“But you can’t say no to your dad,” I say, and I see the relief spread over his face. The trauma. And even though he stood between me and my own children, I want to hug him. I don’t, but I feel how lost he is. “I understand. It’ll be okay. You just stay right here. Sit down and don’t move.”
Kezia’s moved a little closer. “Kyle! Kyle, you need to come out. Can you hear me? Kyle?”
I turn to Lee, who’s hunched in on himself now, not looking at the cabin or anybody. “Lee. Is your brother armed?”
“He has a rifle,” he says. “Don’t hurt him! He’s just doing what Dad told him!”