There was quiet for a moment. “You really think?”
“I think.” Choking on his rage, he ended the call. If only her father had said something back then. Said something since she’d come home. He’d known how vulnerable she was, stripped of memory.
Marc Dubeau had felt so guilty, he hadn’t wanted to believe.
He’d kept his mouth shut, but he hadn’t invited his brother-in-law to his home to see Maddie after she returned, Colin realized. It wasn’t only chance that Nell hadn’t seen Duane until Colin himself had committed the catastrophic mistake of bringing the two face-to-face while giving Duane reason to suspect where she was living.
Where she could be found and grabbed, in a horrific replay of the night she had saved herself.
And through his smug belief that he’d known what he was doing, that he could keep her safe, Colin was responsible for her coming home in the first place.
So I could feel good about finding her, he thought, sickened.
He circled the 4Runner and got in. It wasn’t too late. He couldn’t let himself give in to the fear that he and Marc were both wrong.
He had one chance to rescue Nell. Only one. He was throwing the dice, believing his friend and mentor was a monster. If they found Duane, and he had nothing to do with Nell’s disappearance...
Colin held on to the steering wheel so hard it creaked. It was all that kept him from being swept away by the vicious, dark current of despair.
Finally, he was able to loosen his fingers and reach again for his phone. Go to “missed calls.” Hit “reply.”
* * *
BY SCRUNCHING HERSELF into the back of the trunk, Nell managed to pry up a corner of the mat. The ripping sound of velcro parting made her cringe, but the car didn’t slow. She stuck her hand blindly into the hole. Almost immediately she felt a smooth surface that, when she wrapped her fingers around it, felt like...a can? Pop or beer, maybe? But it was too lightweight and yet didn’t have the give of an empty aluminum can. Exploring, she discovered one end had a nozzle. Oh. She carried one of those in the trunk of her own car, to add air to a low tire.
She set it aside and kept groping. She’d just gripped hard metal when she caught the flash of red from taillights. Unable to brace herself in time, she was abruptly flung to one side, banging her head.
Her eyes burned with tears. The ride, she realized immediately, was rougher. The driver had turned off a main road. Earlier, she’d heard passing cars, but now there was only silence except for the rumble of the engine. Her sense of desperation increased.
Nell levered herself back to where she could reach the hole. Had to pull up the carpet again. This time, she closed her fingers right away on what felt like metal pipe. With tugging and maneuvering, she pulled the tire iron out.
“Yes,” she whispered.
Then, despite the pounding in her head, she tried to reason out whether it would be better to pretend to be unconscious and let her assailant pull her out of the trunk...or to surprise him immediately by swinging the tire iron.
The car braked and came to a stop, but although she froze in dread, the engine remained running. The car door opened; were those footsteps she heard? A second person joining the first? Or...? No, the driver had gotten out. Now she heard him returning, getting back in. Had he picked something up? Dropped something off? All she knew was that the door slammed, and the car started forward again.
He opened a garage door—
No, she’d have heard the rumble of it on its tracks.
She didn’t have long.
* * *
“WHY DON’T YOU answer your phone?” snapped Jeremy Bronecki, the department’s electronics whizz.
“I had another call.”
“That other cell phone you wanted me to trace?” Clearly Jeremy didn’t care what Colin’s excuse was. “It’s on the move. It was going north on 97, but it just veered off. East.”
“It’s not between here and Portland.”
“Huh? No. Damn, I think it may be that road to Quail Butte.”
Another volcanic cinder cone. Not as large as the better-known Lava Butte but possessing a modest interpretive center for visitors and a road to the summit. A field of rough lava stretched to the north. A few paved paths wound through it, one providing access to a lengthy lava tube, locked and closed off except during tours. A gate closed the road leading into the butte at night—maybe for the entire winter, Colin didn’t know—but it could be smashed. Or Duane might not try to drive to the top at all. He could carry Nell’s body far enough to bury her in the loose cinder cones. Shove her in one of the smaller, seldom visited lava caves that riddled the area.
Colin remembered the gruesome story the Crook County sergeant had told him, about the teenagers sliding down the side of Lava Butte. One boy’s foot smashing a human skull.