Their initial prickles about his presence subsided quickly when he explained who Maddie was and that this was the second attempt on her life this week. They set out to case the woods while he returned to ask her some more questions.
Could she have been followed here?
“I...I don’t think anyone was behind me.” Chagrin tinged her cheeks with color. “I wasn’t really paying attention. I mean, I was just wandering, not going home. Not even planning to stop anywhere.”
“Nell, where had you come from? Any previous stops this morning?”
Her parents’ house, where no one was home, then her father’s resort. Turned out both her parents had been there. He didn’t ask what was said, but could tell from her expression it wasn’t good.
“You parked in front at Arrow Lake, went straight into the lodge, then straight back to your car.”
He mulled that over. “Not a good place to set up for a shot.”
“There were quite a few people around,” she agreed.
Her eyes were aware now, the glassy look gone. She was scared, all right, but thinking again. “You believe somebody spotted me in town, followed me to Arrow Lake, then decided to stick behind me in case an opportunity arose?”
“That’s what I think.” As empty as the roads out this way were, Colin figured sooner or later the guy would have taken his chances and roared up beside her little Ford as if he planned to pass. With electronic windows, he could have rolled his down, pumped some bullets in her and kept going, nobody the wiser. Goddamn. He wasn’t letting her out of his sight. “Seems unlikely we have a random nut wandering around in these woods.” He rolled his shoulders and stood. “Have you had any problems before, Ms. Hale?”
She shook her head. “Never.”
“You’ll stay with Nell while I go outside?”
“Of course I will.”
Colin asked for permission to have Nell’s car towed to the Angel Butte P.D. impound yard. The deputies exchanged a glance and agreed.
The search turned up some trampled vegetation and a fresh wound on the trunk of a lodgepole pine. If snow had stayed on the ground out here, they might have found a good footprint or tire print. No such luck. None were clear enough to be worth taking a cast of. They didn’t find any cartridges; whoever he was, he didn’t believe in littering. A couple hundred yards beyond the Hales’ driveway was a gravel road that led to a cabin. When Colin jogged back, Roger Hale said it was a summer place. He didn’t think anybody had been there in months. The shooter had pulled in, probably knocked on the door to be sure no one was home and left his vehicle there, nicely out of sight of passing motorists as well as anybody at the Hales’, while he trekked through the woods and found a perfect blind to set up for Nell’s departure.
Colin suspected the first shot was the one that carved the groove on the tree trunk. Missed Nell. The shooter had corrected immediately, but she’d had time to react. He pulled the trigger a few more times, but likely knew people were at home at the Hales’, so he beat a retreat. By now, he could be anywhere.
Hale said he thought he had heard a vehicle about the time he was escorting Nell into the small lodge, but it was far enough away he didn’t think about it at the time.
The deputies agreed to wait for the tow truck. Nell thanked both the Hales half a dozen times and then allowed Colin to lead her out to his 4Runner. They were almost there when she broke away.
“I have to grab a couple of things from my car.”
Once he had her belted in and started forward, her gaze roved ceaselessly over the undergrowth pressing so close.
“He’s gone,” Colin said quietly.
“I know.” But he could tell she wasn’t convinced, and he couldn’t blame her.
He accelerated onto 253rd and left the former Bear Creek Cabins behind. Nell sat beside him, silent.
Colin waited until he’d reached the highway to ask his questions.
“Why the Hales’ place, Nell?”
She jumped. “I told you. It seemed familiar.”
“So you drove all the way in.”
“Did anything there nudge your memory?”
She bowed her head and stared down at her hands. “Not exactly.”
“Evasive maneuvers 101.”
She shot him an angry look. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You know what it means, Nell. You’re hiding something. Why?” When she didn’t answer, he contemplated what he’d seen out at the Bear Creek property. Ten or twelve cabins—he hadn’t counted. Run-down enough, they probably wouldn’t appeal much to vacationers, but they weren’t falling down, either. Glass sparkled in windows. He’d noticed the raw look of new wood on a couple of the cabins where porches had been replaced. Someone was doing maintenance. Room in the dining hall for as many as thirty people to eat together, if he had to guess. He hadn’t really been paying attention to what Roger Hale was saying, but was able to pull it out of his memory banks.