“So what I’m wondering is...why’d you really come to Wayward Pines?”
“I told you.”
“The”—in air quotes—“investigation?”
Ethan took a deep breath, felt the anger rattling in his chest like sand in a bleached-out skull. His head was killing him again, and he knew it was in part owing to the trauma to his face courtesy of Pope. But it also felt like that old, familiar pounding at the base of his skull that had plagued him ever since he’d woken by the river, not knowing who or where he was. And there was something more—the disconcerting déjà vu surrounding this interrogation.
“There’s something wrong with this place,” Ethan said, the emotion gathering like black clouds in his chest—accumulation of four days’ worth of pain and confusion and isolation. “I saw my old partner this evening.”
“Kate Hewson. I told you about her. Only she was older. At least twenty years older than she should’ve been. How is that possible? Tell me.”
“And how can I not make contact with anyone on the outside? How is there no road out of town? Is this some kind of experiment?”
“Of course there’s a road out of town. You got any idea how goddamned crazy you sound?”
“There’s something wrong with this place.”
“No, there’s something wrong with you. I have an idea.”
“How about I give you a sheet of paper. Let you have some time to write down everything you want to tell me. Perhaps I’ll give you one hour to do it.”
The offer chilled Ethan.
Pope continued. “Or maybe you’d answer my questions faster if I were wearing a black hood? Or if I hung you up by your wrists and cut you. Do you like being cut, Ethan?” Pope dug his hand into his pocket, tossed Ethan something across the table.
Ethan said, “You had it?” He lifted the wallet, flipped it open—Secret Service credentials in the clear plastic sleeve, but they weren’t his.
The badge had been issued to William V. Evans.
“Where’s mine?” Ethan asked.
“Yeah. Where. William Evans. Special Agent. Secret Service. Boise field office. How again did you know it was him in the abandoned house?”
“I told you. I was sent here to find him and Kate Hewson.”
“Oh, that’s right. I keep forgetting. I called your Agent Hassler in Seattle, by the way. He’d never heard of you.”
Ethan wiped more blood out of his face and leaned forward in his chair.
“I don’t know what you’re trying to do, what game—”
“My theory, Agent Evans had been pursuing you, finally caught up with you here in Wayward Pines. So you kill him and kidnap his partner, Agent Stallings, intending to flee town in their car. Only on the way out, a little piece of bad luck catches up with you, and you get into a car accident. Stallings is killed, you take a hard blow to the head. Maybe it jars a screw loose, and when you wake up, you actually start believing you’re this Secret Service agent.”
“I know who I am.”
“Really? You don’t find it odd that no one can locate your identification?”
“Yeah, because it’s deliberately being—”
“Right, we’re all involved in some big conspiracy.” Pope laughed. “You ever consider that maybe no one can locate the badge of Ethan Burke because it doesn’t exist? Because you don’t exist?”
“I think you may be projecting, partner. You killed Agent Evans, didn’t you—”
“—you sick, psychopathic nut job. Beat him to death with what?”
“Where’s the murder weapon, Ethan?”
Ethan could feel the ire exploding within him. Pure, flammable rage.
“See,” Pope said, “I don’t know whether you’re just a damn good liar, or if you actually believe this elaborate lie you’ve constructed.”
Unstable on his feet.
A deep blossom of nausea spreading in the pit of his stomach.
Blood poured down his face, dripping off his chin into a tiny pool on the concrete.
“I’m leaving,” Ethan said, motioning to the door behind the sheriff. “Open it.”
Pope didn’t move. Said, “You go on and sit back down now before you get yourself really hurt.” Said it with the confidence of a man who had many times done the thing he was threatening, who would gladly do it again.
Ethan stepped around the table, moving past the sheriff to the door.
Tugged on the handle.
“Sit your ass back down. We ain’t even started yet.”
“Open the door.”
Pope rose slowly to his feet, turned, and crowded into Ethan’s airspace. Close enough now to smell the coffee on his breath. See the stains on his teeth. He had four inches on Ethan and probably forty pounds.
“Do you think I can’t make you sit down, Ethan? That it’s beyond my ability to do such a thing?”
“This is an illegal detainment.”
Pope smiled. “You’re thinking all wrong, boy. There’s no such thing as law or government inside this room. It’s just you and me. I am the one and only authority in your little world, whose borders are these walls. I could kill you right now if I wanted to.”
Ethan let the tension knots in his shoulders relax, lifting both hands, palms open, in what he hoped Pope would mistake for a sign of deference and defeat.
He drew his head back, dipped his chin, said, “OK, you’re right. We should keep talk—”
—and came off the balls of his feet like they’d been spring-loaded, driving the plate of his forehead straight into Pope’s nose.
Cartilage crunched, and Ethan felt blood gushing down into his hair as he scooped Pope by his cedar-plank thighs, lifting with his legs, the sheriff struggling to catch Ethan’s neck between his biceps and forearm, but too late.
The heels of Pope’s boots slipped out from under him, greased with some blood that had slicked the floor, and Ethan felt the man’s substantial weight go airborne.