NORTH OF FALCON RIDGE
May 13, Sunday
Will drove in silence for several minutes after leaving the cabin. He needed to be at the office the next day, so had no choice but to head back. His employer had been more than generous allowing him to telecommute as long as he had. A big meeting with one of his major clients was scheduled that he couldn't miss. They left early to get beyond the treacherous mountain passes before dark, but it felt wrong leaving Sara behind.
They tried one more time to get her to go home with them. Much to their dismay, again she refused. She thanked them for all they'd done and promised to call if she got lonely, depressed, needed help, or changed her mind.
"I'm worried about her," he said grimly. "She should have come with us."
Connie reached over and patted his arm. "Sara's a grown woman, Will. And quite competent. I'm sure she can take care of herself."
"I know. And stubborn."
"Ha! I wonder where she got that?"
He scoffed. "Actually, she's doing remarkably well. I'm proud of her. But it's more than that."
Her squinty-eyed look suggested she knew more than paternal instincts precipitated the comment. "Oh? Then what?"
"Now that she's out of the woods, I've had time to think about that accident. I can't get it out of my head. Something about it isn't right. When I was at the Bureau, we saw this sort of thing a lot. I think someone wanted Bryan, maybe both of them, dead."
Her gasp didn't surprise him, but its reasoning did. "I know. I felt the same thing. I just didn't want to say anything and sound crazy."
He glanced her way. "Okay, woman. What exactly does your female intuition tell you?"
"Well, that's all it is, intuition. Like something lurking in the air. Tension, darkness, as if facts are being suppressed or covered up. I even feel there's something she's not telling us. It almost felt as if she wanted us to leave."
"I agree. It's rather odd Bryan added that accidental death clause so recently. Maybe it was coincidence, but I doubt it. Do you mind if we turn around and backtrack a bit? I want to take a look at the accident site."
"No, not at all."
As soon as they reached a straight stretch of road with enough shoulder, he pulled in and cranked the steering wheel hard left, grateful for the Benz's tight turning radius. He thought about going by the site earlier, but couldn't bring himself to do so. Now that Sara was on the mend, it was less terrifying.
A short time later the car's data screen indicated they were approaching the location. With no one behind him, he slowed as the blind switchback turn came into view. Tires hugged the pavement's edge, inches from sheer rock looming hundreds of feet above. Gratefully, the drop-off of similar depth was on the opposite side, the road a mere notch in the canyon wall.
The car inched toward the accident site. He checked the rearview mirror, then stopped. The hood lined up perfectly with where the pickup tumbled over the cliff. A lone aspen, proudly clothed in its Dalmatian-spotted bark, stood as sentry nearby.
His chin rested on the steering wheel while a hollow feeling sucked the life from his gut. Connie's audible breathing suggested a similar reaction.
"Something coming from this direction could've hit them broadside," she said. "Drunk driver, maybe."
"Exactly. It's criminal they don't have guardrails on sections like this. Can you imagine driving this road in icy weather?"
"I don't even like it now."
"Me, either. There was snow on the ground when it happened. The roads were probably clear, though. Any ice usually melts by afternoon. That shoulder is only a few inches wide. It wouldn't take much—a blowout, perhaps—to lose control and go over the edge. Or something could have hit them. Spring thaws are notorious for rock slides and loose boulders."
He felt Connie's questioning look without turning to face her. "Seriously, Will? I suppose either of those things is possible. But if it was a simple accident, then why do we both have such a dark feeling?"
His stomach lurched. The site's sheer brutality demanded denial. A deliberate wreck, especially with his daughter a target, was too much to bear. While suspicions teased him all along, the logistics supported hostile action all too well. He drew a slow, even breath, mustering courage to face the truth.
"You're right. It's just too—too horrifying to imagine. No wonder she doesn't remember. Who'd want to? Let's find some place to park. I want a closer look."
The cutout a short distance away was barely wide enough, but served the purpose. Unable to open her door, Connie crawled across the console and driver's seat to get out. They walked in silence until they came to a section of marred shoulder. He stooped over to examine it, finding remnants of rubber along its edge. He stood up, rubbing it between his thumb and forefinger.
The sheer drop loomed before him. His heart floated toward his throat. The inside wall was invisible from his vantage point, the gorge's opposite side covered by a medley of evergreens and deciduous trees united by brush.
He edged forward until the ledge where the pickup initially landed came into view. The small tree that held it in place dangled precariously, trunk severed and bent as if pointing to what lay below.
Without it Sara would have died, too.
He took another cautious step. The crumpled vehicle looked like a toy, its chassis partially inundated by some random mountain stream.
Connie raised a hand to wipe her eyes. "Oh, Will. Who would do such a horrible thing?"
Too troubled to answer at first, he took her hand. "I don't know," he replied at last. "But I'm sure as hell going to find out."
He captured a few photos with his phone, noting there were no skid marks from either direction. After one final look at the wreckage, he draped his arm around her shoulders and returned to the car.
He was so worried about Sara that he hadn't paid that much attention to the wreck or its cause. Losing one woman he loved was bad enough. Now that he'd acknowledged his suspicions, further reinforced by his wife, it was time to see the accident report. He set his jaw, mad at himself for not doing so weeks before.
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