“Right.” She hitched her head toward the door. “Got time for a quick trip?”


“Molalla. Thirty or forty miles southeast. Be there in less than an hour.”


“Been there before. As a kid. Got themselves a hella rodeo.”

“I’ve heard,” she said dryly. “They also might have a witness.” She filled in the blanks as Double T had already heard part of the information. “I know that Carter and Sparks already went out there, but I’d like to talk to Nelson, if she’s there, and Sonja Watkins if she’s not. Nelson lives with Watkins’s family. Sonja’s a hairdresser, her husband currently unemployed.”

“Why go out there if Sparks already covered it?” He looked at the clock. It was long after five. “It’s Friday. Traffic will be a bitch.”

“I know, but it could be worth it. I just want to meet Sonja Watkins face-to-face since it seems that Belva Nelson is MIA. She’s the one I really want to talk to.”

“Maybe we’ll get lucky.”

“Since when?” She snorted a laugh. “Sparks thinks the woman’s in hiding. He and Carter both are sure that Watkins was lying, probably about knowing where her missing aunt is holed up. Anyway, I’m already working on a warrant for the place and the phone records, but I need a little more reason for the judge to issue one; maybe Sonja or her ex-con husband Mick will give us what we need if we rattle their cage a bit.”

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“Okay. I’m in.” He was already reaching for his jacket and his service weapon. “After all, who doesn’t like a little drive in the country?”

“Trust in God, my child. He will help you make the right decision,” the priest had said, his words comforting. For a few moments in the safety of the confessional, the dark cloud of guilt that she’d borne for over thirty years had been lifted from Belva Nelson’s shoulders. And the priest on the other side of the partition had appeared young, but it didn’t matter. His words had been a balm. For a few minutes she’d managed to convince herself that her faith was her strength. As she’d walked out of the hundred-year-old building with its stained-glass windows and spire that seemed to pierce the heavens, she’d held onto her faith, felt that God would guide her.

Save her.

Oh, that it were so.

But now, as she drove through the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, returning to the small cabin her father had built nearly a century earlier, her doubts assailed her again. The warmth and safety of the church in Mount Angel was far behind, and she was all alone in the world, driving on a narrow winding road far from civilization. Away from the danger into which she’d placed herself.

Her Hyundai was lugging down, the road getting steeper, the forest darker and more dense. She switched on her wipers, setting them to the slowest speed as the air was thick and damp, heavy with fog, moisture collecting on the glass.

She’d only seen one other car on the road, a vehicle that had sped from behind, its headlights nearly blinding before it had passed her on a straight stretch. For a second she’d thought the idiot behind the wheel was going to crash into her, but at the last minute he’d swerved into the oncoming lane and blown by until she saw only the red taillights of the car disappearing.

That was it.

No other car or truck behind her, none ahead and none going the opposite direction. Which was just as well. For now.

So what’re you going to do? You can’t hide out here forever. It’s not safe! Why not go to the police? Expose what’s happening, no longer be a part of it. There will be ramifications, of course, there always are, but you need to come clean. People are dying, Belva! Dying!

Her hands tightened over the wheel. She didn’t really know that the recent murders had anything to do with this other matter, that seemed far-fetched. Yet the timing was too much of a coincidence to be ignored.

And she was scared.

So she’d gone to the church, seeking solace, searching for answers.

The forest seemed to close in on her, her headlights thin illumination against an obsidian darkness that surrounded the car and cut her off from civilization. Belva had never felt so alone. So isolated.

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