IN THE AFTERNOON they joined the search party and moved inland as the breeze grew swollen, warmer. So much of the island was overgrown, clogged with weeds and thick fields of tall grass threaded with grasping tendrils of ancient oak and green vines covered in thorns. In most places, human passage was impossible even with the machetes some of the guards carried. Rachel Solando wouldn’t have had a machete, and even if she had, it seemed the natureof the island to push all corners back to the coast.

The search struck Teddy as desultory, as if no one but he and Chuck truly had his heart in it. The men wound their way along the inner ring above the shoreline with downcast eyes and sullen steps. At one point they rounded a bend on a shelf of black rocks and faced a cliff that towered out past them into the sea. To their left, beyond a stand of moss and thorns and red berries curled into an overgrown mass, lay a small glade that dropped away at the base of some low hills. The hills rose steadily, each one higher than the last, until they gave way to the jagged cliff, and Teddy could see cuts in the hills and oblong holes in the side of the cliff.  “Caves?” he said to McPherson.

He nodded. “A few of them.”

“You check ‘em?”

McPherson sighed and cupped a match against the wind to light a thin cigar. “She had two pairs of shoes, Marshal. Both found back in her room. How’s she going to get through what we just came through, cross over these rocks, and scale that cliff?”

Teddy pointed off past the glade to the lowest of the hills. “She takes the long way, works he: way up from the west?” McPherson placed his own finger beside Teddy’s. “See where the glade drops off? That’s marshland right there at the tip of your finger.  The base of those hills is covered in poison ivy, live oak, sumac, about a thousand different plants, and all of ‘em with thorns the size of my dick.” “That mean they’re big or little?” This from Chuck, a few steps ahead of them, looking back over his shoulder.

McPherson smiled. “Might be somewhere in between.”

Chuck nodded.

“M1 I’m saying, gentlemen? She would’ve had no choice but to stick hard to the shoreline, and halfway around in either direction, she would’ve run out of beach.” He pointed at the cliff. “Met one of those.” AN HOUR LATER, on the other side of the island, they met the fence line. Beyond it lay the old fort and the lighthouse, and Teddy could see that the hghthouse had its own fence, penning it in, two guards at the gate, rifles held to their chests.

“Septic processing?” he said.

McPherson nodded.

Teddy looked at Chuck. Chuck raised his eyebrows.

“Septic processing?” Teddy said again.

NO ONE CAME to their table at dinner. They sat alone, damp from the careless spits of rain, that warm breeze that had begun to carry the ocean with it. Outside, the island had begun to rattle in the dark, the breeze turning into a wind.

“A locked room,” Chuck said.

“Barefoot,” Teddy said.

“Past three interior checkpoints.”

“A roomful of orderlies.”

“Barefoot,” Chuck agreed.

Teddy stirred his food, some kind of shepherd’s pie, the meat stringy. “Over a wall with electric security wire.”

“Or through a manned gate.”

“Out into that.” The wind shaking the building, shaking the dark.


“No one sees her.”

Chuck chewed his food, took a sip of coffee. “Someone dies on this island—it’s got to happen, right?--where do they go?” “Buried.”

Chuck nodded. “You see a cemetery today?”

Teddy shook his head. “Probably fenced in somewhere.” “Like the septic plant. Sure.” Chuck pushed his tray away, sat back. “Who we speaking to after this?”

“The staff.”

“You think they’ll be helpful?”

“Don’t you?”

Chuck grinned. He lit a cigarette, his eyes on Teddy, his grin turning into a soft laugh, the smoke chugging out in rhythm with it.  TEDDY STOOD IN the center of the room, the staff in a circle around him. He rested his hands on the top of a metal chair, Chuck slouched against a beam beside him, hands in his pockets.  “I assume everyone knows why we’re all here,” Teddy said. “You had an escape last night. Far as we can tell, the patient vanished. We have no evidence that would allow us to believe the patient left this institution without help. Deputy Warden McPherson, would you agree?” “Yup. I’d say that’s a reasonable assessment at this time.” Teddy was about to speak again when Cawley, sitting in a chair beside the nurse, said, “Could you gentlemen introduce yourselves?  Some of my staff have not made your acquaintance.”

Teddy straightened to his full height. “U.S. Marshal Edward Daniels. This is my partner, U.S. Marshal Charles Aule.” Chuck gave a small wave to the group, put his hand back in his pocket.

Teddy said, “Deputy Warden, you and your men searched the grounds.”

“Sure did.”

“And you found?”

McPherson stretched in his chair. “We found no evidence to suggest a woman in flight. No shreds of torn clothing, no footprints, no bent vegetation. The current was strong last night, the tide pushing in.  A swim would have been out of the question.”

“But she could have tried.” This from the nurse, Kerry Marino, a slim woman with a bundle of red hair that she’d loosed from the pile atop her head and unclenched from another clip just above her vertebrae as soon as she’d walked into the room. Her cap sat in her lap, and she finger-combed her hair in a lazy way that suggested weariness but had every guy in the room sneaking glances at her, the way that weary finger-combing suggested the need for a bed.

McPherson said, “What was that?”

Marino’s fingers stopped moving through her hair and she dropped them to her lap.

“How do we know she didn’t try to swim, end up drowning instead?”

“She would have washed ashore by now.” Cawley yawned into his fist. “That tide?”

Marino held up a hand as if to say, Oh, excuse me, boys, and said, “Just thought I’d bring it up.”

“And we appreciate it,” Cawley said. “Marshal, ask your quesffons, please. It’s been a long day.” ,, Teddy glanced at Chuck and Chuck gave him a small tilt of the eyes back. A missing woman with a history of violence at large on a small island and everyone seemed to just want to get to bed.  Teddy said, “Mr. Ganton has already told us he checked on Miss Solando at midnight and discovered her missing. The locks to the window grate in her room and the door were not tampered with. Between ten and twelve last night, Mr. Ganton, was there ever a point where you didn’t have an eye’s view of the third-floor corridor?” Several heads turned to look at Ganton, and Teddy was confused to see a kind of amused light in some of the faces, as if Teddy were the third-grade teacher who’d asked a question of the heppest kid in class.  Ganton spoke to his own feet. “Only time my eyes weren’t on that corridor was when I entered her room, found her gone.” “That would have taken thirty seconds.” Copyright 2016 - 2024