Authors: Carla Neggers
Tags: #Detective and Mystery Stories, #General, #Romance, #Suspense Fiction, #Missing persons, #Suspense, #Fiction
Hannah faced her without a hint self-pity. “I never tried to pretend I was anything but Devin and Toby’s older sister. We’re a family, but I’m well aware that my brothers grew up without a mother and father.”
So had Hannah, when it came down to it. Jo handed her Devin’s daypack. “You might want to hang on to this. He dropped it when he fell. Does Nora know about his and Drew’s project?”
“No one does that I’m aware of. It’s a haul up there.”
“But that’s why Devin was on the north side of the mountain in April. That’s why he was able to find Drew.”
“He said it never occurred to him Drew would go up there at that time of year. He was so sure he was wrong. Otherwise he would have told the search teams.”
Jo thought of her own unsettling conversation with Drew two weeks earlier and understood.
“It hasn’t been good since then,” Hannah said quietly.
“Have you talked to this Rigby guy?” Jo asked, nodding to him as he edged their way.
“Yes, briefly, earlier this morning.” Hannah tightened her jacket around her. “I didn’t tell him about Drew’s project. I haven’t told the Camerons, either. No one, Jo, except you.”
Jo acknowledged the statement with a nod.
“Look, I should go,” Hannah said. “I’ll let you know if I hear from Devin. I have nothing to hide.” She glared back toward the lodge.
“Something happened to that money, Hannah. Do you think Nora—”
“No, I don’t. I don’t know what happened to it.”
Hannah headed off briskly, in the opposite the direction of Rigby. Jo studied the map with its detailed designations of trails, streams, knolls, gullies, sags and peaks. The north side of Cameron Mountain bled into a remote wilderness area with few recreational trails. It wouldn’t be a good place for an inexperienced hiker like Nora Asher to get lost.
“It’s beautiful country up here,” Rigby said as he approached the map. “I’ll say that. I’m guessing, based on this morning’s festivities, that Nora is sticking close by. Hannah Shay have any idea where her brother took off to?”
Jo shook her head. “There’s no reason to think he’s a danger to Nora.”
“Maybe not, but if anything happens to her, he’ll be the first one police will want to talk to.” He squinted out toward the mountain. “It could be a tad warmer for my tastes. I’ll grab my pack out of my car and get moving. From what I’ve been able to learn about her, Nora’s emotional, but if she set up camp and got through the night, she’s got her act together. That’s a good sign.”
“If you need assistance, or if you feel she’s in trouble—”
“I know what to do. Keep me posted, Agent Harper.”
She let him go and returned to the lodge, scooping herself a bowl of piping-hot chili bubbling in an iron pot in the dining room. A month ago, at the height of foliage season, the lodge would have been bustling with guests. Now the place was almost empty, just a handful of diners enjoying a late lunch and the views.
She took her chili out to the fireplace in the lobby, where Elijah and A.J. were on their feet and still looking aggravated. She gave an exaggerated shiver. “Brr. I forget how cold it is here in November.”
“You should come back to Black Falls more often,” A.J. said.
“I should. Your wife and I could become best friends and give you Cameron boys a hard time.”
“What is it you want, Jo?”
A barrel of laughs A.J. was. But Jo didn’t blame him for his mood. “Answers,” she said. “The three of us need to work together. We’re on the same side.”
A.J.’s eyes narrowed, reminding her of his father. “Are we?”
She debated a moment, then relayed what Hannah had told her about Drew’s enlisting Devin’s help with some project on the north side of Cameron Mountain. Elijah and A.J. listened without interruption. When she finished, she added, “I’ll bet your father finally found that old cellar hole he’d been looking for all these years. Or some old cellar hole.”
“Devin should have given that information to the police,” A.J. said.
Or at least to Drew’s children, Jo thought. But she said diplomatically, “I imagine it’s been hard for him to have this on his mind. Provided he didn’t actually lie, he’s in the clear as far as the police are concerned. Hannah says he told the truth.”
“He just left out what in hell Pop was doing up there. Do you know how many times I’ve asked myself—” A.J. broke off. “Never mind. He had his chance to tell us, too, and he didn’t.”
“Hannah says he wanted whatever he was doing to be a surprise.”
Elijah’s eyes darkened and he looked at his brother. “I’m leaving. A.J.?”
“I’ll let you know if Devin or Nora show up.”
Short of finding a pair of handcuffs or shooting him, there wasn’t much Jo could do to stop Elijah. So she plopped down on a warm, comfortable chair in front of the fire and dipped a spoon into her chili. “You’re thinking I should go back to the lake and clean the cobwebs out of my cabins, aren’t you, A.J.?”
“I imagine your boss back in Washington would approve.”
He had a point there. But A.J. abandoned her, too, with a curt goodbye.
Jo set her chili onto a rustic oak table arranged with brochures, guidebooks and a cheerful autumnal display of pumpkins, mums and little figurines of wild turkeys. Lauren’s doing, again. A.J. would have left a stack of kindling there.
With her feet as close to the flames as she could get them without sliding out of her chair or setting herself on fire, Jo called Thomas Asher’s cell number. “Why’d you hire Kyle Rigby?” she asked when Thomas picked up. “And who is he?”
“He’s an objective professional—”
“A licensed investigator?”
“He’s acting as a friend.”
“Is he a friend? You’re paying him, aren’t you?”
“Jo, why are you so defensive? I thought you’d appreciate not having to take on Nora as your responsibility. Melanie and I are on our way. We’re at the airport now—”
“D.C. or up here?”
“We’re at Reagan National. We’ll be in Black Falls after dark. The Whittakers have invited us to stay with them. Alex and Carolyn loved it there. I…” His voice caught, reminding Jo that he’d lost a friend, never mind his and Alex Bruni’s complicated history. “Carolyn’s on her way home. I can’t imagine what she must be going through right now. For Nora to act out—” He broke off, then said more calmly, “I don’t approve of her solo camping trip, of course, but Kyle has assured me there’s no reason to sound the alarm.”
“How did you find him?”
“Melanie recommended him. They met skiing in Colorado last winter and exchanged business cards. It’s strange how that can happen. Serendipity, she calls it.”
“Then you’ve never met him?”
Thomas didn’t answer.
“You haven’t,” Jo said.
“He can handle the Vermont terrain and find my daughter. That’s all I care about. Not that I don’t trust you, Jo, but you’re not objective. You’re from Black Falls. You have preconceived ideas about the people there.”
Jo leaned forward in her chair, the flames hot on her face. “Thomas, do you suspect someone up here was involved with Ambassador Bruni’s death?”
“No. Good heavens, Jo. Listen, our flight’s boarding. I have to go.”
Jo decided not to tell him about Devin and the missing money, his friendship with Nora, taking off on Elijah. Let Rigby tell him what he knew. She wasn’t working for either one of them.
She finished her chili and returned her empty bowl to the dining room, then headed back outside and checked down at the shop. But it was closed and locked, and there was no sign of Devin. No sign of anything.
Had Elijah let Devin give him the slip and get away with it? Where was Devin going?
And what was Nora’s plan?
Were she and Devin together? Planning to meet somewhere? Avoiding each other?
Jo hoped they both would hike down the mountain before Thomas arrived in Vermont later tonight.
In fact, maybe they were on their way down now. But she didn’t think so.
An hour later, after hiking back down to her cabin for her car, Jo stood in the kitchen of her childhood, watching her father cut up apples—northern spies, a late variety that kept well—into a bubbling pot on the stove. Her mother was spending the day at the outlets in Manchester. Her grandmother was reading a book in the front room.
The smell of cooking apples filled the air, as it had every autumn in the rambling old Harper farmhouse for as long as Jo remembered.
Retirement seemed to agree with her father, but she knew he was still tapped into the goings-on in town. She seldom discussed her work with him. But Alex Bruni’s likely murder yesterday and his stepdaughter’s flight—or whatever it was—onto Cameron Mountain had nothing to do with her work.
Charlie Neal’s talk of assassins did, but only peripherally, because he was trying to get back into her good graces after his prank. What he didn’t understand was that he didn’t need to be in her good graces. He just needed to be safe.
She grabbed a paring knife and an extra cutting board and lifted an apple out of the sink. As she cut it into pieces, she ran everything past her father—except the part about kissing Elijah Cameron. That, she decided, wasn’t anything Wes Harper, former town chief of police, needed to know. Whether he could guess on his own or not was another question.
He listened without interruption, then batted ideas around with her, asked her questions, examined her options. But he offered no advice.
Finally, he put down his knife and leaned back against the counter. His hair was almost white now, but he was still the vibrant, strong man she’d loved—and battled—her entire life. Neither of her parents had wanted her to move away. No matter how many visits she made back to Black Falls, she wasn’t down the road like Beth or Zack. They’d hated her postings in faraway places and had been relieved at her assignment to Washington eighteen months ago.
She’d never told them about Drew’s visit in April.
She told her father now, because somehow, she thought, it was a part of what was happening.
“I can’t help you with that one,” he said. “Drew didn’t tell me about his comings and goings.”
“The investigation into his death—”
“I wasn’t a part of it.”
“But you heard things,” she said.
“There’s a difference between something that raises the hairs on the back of your neck and something you can prove.” His deep green eyes settled on her. “Drew Cameron regretted what he did fifteen years ago—the way he did it, anyway. He knew he had to draw the line with Elijah, but he was sorry he hurt you in the process.”
“Drew wasn’t the one who hurt me,” she said.
“He embarrassed you. I’d have handled things differently, but it might have been worse. I don’t know. I remember I couldn’t think straight. I had you and Elijah on your way to Las Vegas. Not Drew—he knew you were sticking close to Black Falls.”
“Elijah and I just weren’t meant to be.”
“That’s for you two to decide. It always was, even back then.” He set his knife on top of a stack of apple peels and lowered the heat under the pot. “Elijah’s disciplined, and in my book, he’s a hero. But I don’t know if he’ll find a place for himself back here the way he always thought he would. Sometimes it’s hard to come back home. His experiences might have changed Black Falls forever for him.”
Jo nodded, dropping her apples into the pot. “Maybe so.”
“But don’t be fooled,” her father said. “There’s a lot of the old Elijah left.”
Good, she thought, remembering how much she’d loved the old Elijah—his energy, his stubbornness, his sense of loyalty and justice. His courage. Drew and her father had focused on his youth and inability to make a living—and her oft-stated desire to get out of Black Falls.
But it was never just that they were afraid of him ruining her life. They were also afraid of her ruining his.
“Even before the military, Elijah was mission oriented,” her father said. “He set his sights on something, and he got it. He has questions about his father’s death, Jo. He’ll find the answers.”
On her way out, Jo thanked her father and extracted a promise that he’d save her a jar of applesauce. She stopped in the doorway. “Do you trust Elijah, Dad?” she asked.
“With my life.” He reached for a pot holder. “With your life.”
Unspoken was her father’s worry—an old worry—that he didn’t know how far Elijah would go, how many rules he would break, to get his answers.
ou’re playing with fire,”
Moose said in that way he had—direct, sardonic, insightful. He stood next to Grit on a narrow, curving Georgetown side street. It was another warm, gloomy November afternoon inside the Beltway of the nation’s capital.
Grit nodded. “I know. My left shoe feels like it’s on too tight. The right one—the one with a real foot in it—feels fine. I fell in the shower this morning. I have 877 PT appointments coming up. Myrtle’s right. Life sucks.”
“One day at a time, my friend.”
“Scares me when you’re nice. It must mean I’m even more pathetic than I think I am.”
“Yeah. And it’s only half over.”
Grit had been talking to people who didn’t necessarily like to be talked to. He’d gotten kicked out of a few offices and buildings, but he didn’t really care.
When he glanced to his left again, a compact, buff man with classic good looks had taken Moose’s place on the Georgetown street. Early forties, Grit decided. Fed of some kind. Just a question of which kind. Probably Secret Service, since one of the places Grit had been that morning was Jo Harper’s office. He’d been politely kicked out.
His cell phone trilled.
The fed gave a slight incline of his head. “Go ahead. Answer it.”
Grit did, and a kid’s voice said, “Ask Myrtle Smith about the Russian diplomat killed in London in August. He was poisoned.”
It had to be Charlie Neal. “How did—”
“I can’t talk. I have to take a calculus test in a few minutes. I know you and Ms. Smith are investigating Ambassador Bruni’s murder.”
“And you know this how?”
“Sergeant Cameron told me.”
“Bet he didn’t. And my cell-phone number? How did you get it?”