BY THE TIME HER UNCLE REACHED HER, VIOLET felt only a little more in control of herself. She was still terrified by the secret she was carrying, but her resolve had returned, strengthening her will and building an outer wall of composure. She had stopped crying and she was pacing around in circles while the team leader stood impassively, waiting to see how this played out.
She ran toward her uncle when she saw him heading like an unstoppable force in her direction. His arms closed up around her, and she felt safe at last.
She didn’t want to waste any more time, and she couldn’t afford for anyone else to hear what she knew. “He’s here,” she whispered against her uncle’s chest.
He didn’t let her go, and she thought that his grip might have even tightened a little bit. “What are you saying, Violet?” he asked, even though she thought he knew exactly what she was saying.
She pulled away, just enough to breathe but not enough to be overheard by listening ears. “I saw him. He’s just over there.” She nodded her head in the direction from which she’d come.
Her uncle Stephen stiffened like a statue, and Violet thought that he was probably deciding what to do next. “Are you sure?”
He mulled that over for a minute. “Have you sensed her?” He seemed to have a hard time asking the question. “Mackenzie Sherwin?”
Violet wasn’t sure how to answer that, so she answered the only way she could. She kept her voice to a pale whisper. “There’s someone there…buried. And he’s watching over the body.” She swallowed, only half wondering what she and her uncle looked like right now, huddled together and exchanging whispered words. “I think he’s making sure that no one finds her there.”
He chewed his lower lip as Violet looked up at him, watching and waiting to see what he planned to do. He looked down at her and it was no longer her uncle staring down at her, it was the police chief of a town terrorized by the disappearances of its own children. His resolve was matched only by her own. “What does he look like?”
Violet shook her head, wishing she could tell him. “I don’t know, really. Just ordinary-looking, I guess. I only knew it was him….” She struggled for the right words, and as always when she tried to put her feelings into words they somehow seemed inadequate. “…You know, because of what I sensed around him.”
“Violet! Violet!” The shouts were from her father as he came crashing toward where she and her uncle stood.
He pulled Violet away from his brother and buried her in an embrace that was as comforting as her uncle’s had been but in a completely different way.
“Oh my God, I’m so glad you’re safe,” he breathed against her head. “What are you doing out here? How long have you been here?”
Violet silently glanced at her uncle for help. She knew that her dad was going to freak out when he realized what she’d really been out there doing…and what she’d discovered.
Her uncle winked at her but offered no rope to save herself with. “By the way, I let your dad know you were here.” And then he looked over her head to her dad and, all business again, he said, “We need to talk.”
Normally this would have been the time when Violet was brushed aside so the adults could speak in private. But her father refused to release her, and everything her uncle had to say to him was the direct result of what Violet had just confessed. They moved away from the prying ears of both volunteers, who had begun to gather with the appearance of the police chief, and away from his own officers, most of whom he’d brought along with him when he’d gotten his niece’s distress call.
Stephen Ambrose quietly repeated what Violet had told him, about what she’d seen, and with each word she could feel her dad’s heavy arm tightening around her shoulders protectively until she felt as if she might splinter apart beneath his iron grip. Her dad asked almost the exact same questions her uncle had but directed them at his brother instead of at her, as though by pretending Violet wasn’t there he could somehow shield her from reliving the experience.
When they were finished with their hurried whispers, her uncle told her father the plan he’d come up with. Her father didn’t like it a bit.
“Greg, I need you to bring Violet with us…back to where she saw this guy,” her uncle said in his no-nonsense, chief-of-police voice.
“No way, Stephen. This is my daughter we’re talking about. She’s not going near that monster again. It’s bad enough she ran into him once.” Violet was surprised by the icy tone in her dad’s voice, especially since he was normally so soft-spoken and calm.
“Look, all she has to do is make sure we’re getting the right guy. She doesn’t even have to say anything; she can just squeeze your hand and then you can let me know.” Her uncle’s voice was tactfully diplomatic as he appealed to her father’s resolute sense of justice. “After she does that, you guys take off, head back to the house, and I’ll meet up with you later. No one will ever know that Violet was involved at all. But we need to catch this guy…we need to stop him before he strikes again. And Violet’s the only one that can point him out.” He waited to see if his words had the impact he’d been hoping for, and then he said, “Surely, as a father, you don’t want this maniac doing any more damage than he already has.”
Neither of them spoke for a moment as they faced off, each standing their ground. Violet thought that maybe her father would win this one. She could feel every muscle in his body tightly wound as he stood toe to toe against his younger brother.