“I’m sorry to be a bother, but I’ve been waiting about twenty minutes now.”
“The sheriff’s real busy today.”
“I’m sure he is, but I need to speak with him right away. Now you can either get him on the phone again and tell him I’m done waiting, or I’m gonna walk back there myself and—”
Her desk phone rang.
She answered, “Yes?...OK, I sure will.” She shelved the phone and smiled up at Ethan. “You’re welcome to go on back now. Right down that hallway. His office is through the door at the very end.”
* * *
Ethan knocked beneath the nameplate.
A deep voice hollered from the other side, “Yep!”
He turned the knob, pushed the door open, stepped inside.
The floor of the office was a dark and deeply scuffed hardwood. To his left, the enormous head of an elk had been mounted to the wall opposite a large, rustic desk. Behind the desk stood three antique gun cabinets brimming with rifles, shotguns, handguns, and what he calculated were enough boxes of ammo to execute every resident of this little town three times over.
A man ten years his senior reclined in a leather chair, his cowboy-booted feet propped on the desk. He had wavy blond hair that would probably be white within a decade, and his jaw was frosted with a few days’ worth of grizzle.
Dark brown canvas pants.
Long-sleeved button-down—hunter green.
The sheriff’s star gleamed under the lights. It looked like solid brass, intricately etched, with the letters WP inset in black in the center.
As he approached the desk, Ethan thought he saw the sheriff let slip a private smirk.
“Ethan Burke, Secret Service.”
He extended his hand across the desk, and the sheriff hesitated, as if holding some internal debate over whether he felt like moving. Finally, he slid his boots off the desktop and leaned forward in his chair.
“Arnold Pope.” They shook hands. “Have a seat, Ethan.”
Ethan eased down into one of the straight-backed wooden chairs.
“How you feeling?” Pope asked.
“I’ve been better.”
“I’ll bet. You’ve probably smelled better too.” Pope flashed a quick grin. “Rough accident you had a couple days ago. Tragic.”
“Yeah, I was hoping to learn a few more details about that. Who hit us?”
“Eyewitnesses say it was a tow truck.”
“Driver in custody? Being charged?”
“Would be if I could find him.”
“You saying this was a hit-and-run?”
Pope nodded. “Hauled ass out of town after he T-boned you. Long gone by the time I reached the scene.”
“And no one got a license plate or anything?”
Pope shook his head and lifted something off the desk—a snow globe with a gold base. The miniature buildings under the glass dome became caught in a whirlwind of snow as he passed the globe back and forth between his hands.
“What efforts are being made to locate this truck?” Ethan asked.
“We got stuff in the works.”
“I’d like to see Agent Stallings.”
“His body is being held in the morgue.”
“And where’s that?”
“In the basement of the hospital.”
It suddenly came to Ethan. Out of the blue. Like someone had whispered it into his ear.
“Could I borrow a piece of paper?” Ethan asked.
Pope opened a drawer and peeled a Post-it Note off the top of a packet and handed it to Ethan along with a pen. Ethan scooted his chair forward and set the Post-it on the desktop, scribbled down the number.
“I understand you have my things?” Ethan said as he slipped the Post-it into his pocket.
“My cell, gun, wallet, badge, briefcase...”
“Who told you I had those?”
“A nurse at the hospital.”
“No clue where she got that idea.”
“Wait. So you don’t have my things?”
Ethan stared at Pope across the desk. “Is it possible they’re still in the car?”
He struggled to keep the tone of his voice in check. “The one the tow truck hit while I was in it.”
“I suppose it’s possible, but I’m fairly certain the EMTs took your things.”
“Nothing. Would you mind if I made a few phone calls before I leave? I haven’t talked to my wife in days.”
“I spoke to her.”
“Day of the accident.”
“Is she on her way?”
“I have no idea. I just let her know what had happened.”
“I also need to call my SAC—”
“He sent you here?”
“Did he also instruct you not to bother calling me ahead of time to let me know the feds would be rolling up in my world? Or was that all you?”
“You think I had some obligation to—”
“Courtesy, Ethan. Courtesy. Then again, being a fed, maybe you aren’t familiar with that concept—”
“I would’ve contacted you eventually, Mr. Pope. There was no intent to cut you out of the loop.”
“Oh. Well, in that case.”
Ethan hesitated, wanting to be clear, to communicate the information he wished to impart and not a shred more. But his head was killing him and the double vision threatened to split the sheriff into two ass**les.
“I was sent here to find two Secret Service agents.”
Pope’s eyebrows came up. “They’re missing?”
“For eleven days now.”
“What were they doing in Wayward Pines?”
“I wasn’t provided a detailed briefing on their investigation, although I know it involved David Pilcher.”
“Name sounds vaguely familiar. Who is he?”
“He always shows up on lists of the world’s richest men. One of these reclusive billionaires. Never talks to the press. Owns a bunch of biopharmaceutical companies.”
“And he has a connection to Wayward Pines?”