In the Clearing (Tracy Crosswhite #3)

In the Clearing (Tracy Crosswhite #3)

Robert Dugoni




PROLOGUE


Friday, November 5, 1976

Klickitat County, Washington Buzz Almond informed dispatch he was rolling, punched the accelerator, and smiled at the roar of the 245-horsepower V-8 engine, the g-forces nudging him back against his seat. Word in the office was that the politicians would be phasing out the gas-guzzling dinosaurs and downsizing to more fuel-efficient vehicles. Maybe so, but for now Buzz had one of the big boys, a Chevy Caprice hardtop, and he intended to keep it until they pried his fingers from the steering wheel.

The shot of adrenaline made him sit up, his brain synapses firing and sending out electrical impulses. Fully operational. In the Marine Corps, they’d called it “combat ready.” He saw no reason to change now that he was a Klickitat County deputy sheriff.

Can I get an oorah?

Buzz slowed, lowered the driver’s-side window, and adjusted the spotlight, searching for the cross street. Most of the streets around here were marked, but not all; some were nothing more than narrow, unpaved paths. With no street lamps, and with a dense cloud layer shrouding the area, it was dark as ink. You could drive right past a road without ever seeing it.

The light hit upon a cluster of battered mailboxes atop wooden posts. Buzz inched the beam up a metal pole until he saw a reflective green street sign: “Clear Creek Rd.” That was it. He made the turn. The car bounced and pitched in the ruts and potholes. The residents groomed some roads in spring and summer. Not this one.

He continued a quarter mile through heavy scrub oak, pine, and aspen. At a bend to the left, a light shimmered in the tree branches. Buzz drove toward it, onto a gravel drive leading to a double-wide. Before he’d parked, a man pushed out the front door and descended three wooden stairs, crossing a dirt yard cluttered with unstacked firewood, scrap metal, and an empty clothesline.

Buzz checked the name he’d jotted on his pocket notepad and got out. The air, smelling of pine, was heavy with the weight of impending snow. First of the season. His girls would be excited.

The ground, starting to freeze from the quick drop in temperature after a week of punishing rains, crunched beneath his boots. “Are you Mr. Kanasket?” Buzz asked.

“Earl,” the man said, extending a rough, dry hand. From Earl Kanasket’s dark skin and black hair, which he wore pulled back in a ponytail, Buzz surmised he was a member of the Klickitat tribe. Most had moved northeast to the Yakama Reservation decades earlier, but not all. Earl wore a heavy canvas jacket, jeans, and thick-soled boots. His face was pocked with dark moles and had the weathered look of someone who worked outdoors. Buzz figured him to be early forties.

“You called about your daughter?” Buzz asked.

“Kimi walks home after work. She calls from the diner before she leaves. She’s never late.”

“The Columbia Diner?” Buzz asked, taking notes. He’d passed the one-room log cabin less than a mile back on State Route 141.

A woman hurried out the door, wrapping a long coat around herself. A young man followed, likely a grown son, given the strong resemblance.

“This is my wife, Nettie, and our son, élan,” Earl said.

The hem of Nettie’s nightgown extended from beneath her coat. She wore slippers. élan stood barefoot in jeans and a white T-shirt. Buzz felt cold just looking at him.

“What time does Kimi usually get home?”

“Eleven. Never late.”

“And she called tonight?”

“Every night. She calls every night she works,” Earl said, starting to sound impatient.

“What did she say?” Buzz asked, trying to remain calm but getting a sense this was not just a girl late for her curfew.

“She said she was on her way home.”

Nettie put a hand on her husband’s forearm to calm him. “This is not like Kimi,” she said to Buzz. “She wouldn’t upset us. She’s a good girl. She’s going to the University of Washington next year. If she said she was coming home, she would be home.”

élan turned his head and folded his arms across his chest, which Buzz thought an odd response.

“So she’s in high school?”

“She’s a senior at Stoneridge High,” Nettie said.

“Could she have gone to a friend’s house?”

“No,” Earl said.

“And she’s never done this before? Never been late?”

“Never,” Earl and Nettie said in unison.

“Okay,” Buzz said. “Is there anything going on at home or at school that could have caused her to break her routine?”

“Like what?” Earl said, now sounding angry.

Buzz kept calm. “Recent disagreements. Teenage-girl drama at school?” Buzz had no real point of reference—his daughters were four and two—though he recalled that his own sisters and their friends had become royal pains in the butt when they hit puberty.

“She broke up with her boyfriend,” élan said, stopping the conversation cold.

Buzz looked to the young man. When he didn’t elaborate, he redirected his attention to Nettie and Earl. From the blank expressions on their faces, Buzz could tell this was either news to them or something they didn’t think worth mentioning.

“When did that happen?” he asked élan.

“Couple days ago.”

Now we’re getting somewhere, Buzz thought. “Who’s her boyfriend?”

“Tommy Moore,” élan said.

“You know him?”

“Went to school with him, but he wasn’t her boyfriend then. I introduced them after.”

“When was that?”

“Two years ago.”

“They’ve been dating for two years?”

“No,” Nettie said, emphatic.

“No, I was in high school two years ago,” élan said.

“élan didn’t graduate,” Nettie said.

Buzz got a strong sense that Earl and Nettie had not approved of their daughter’s relationship. “How long did Kimi and Tommy Moore date?” Buzz asked.

Nettie gave a dismissive wave. “It wasn’t serious. I told you, Kimi is going to college.”

Buzz looked to élan. “Six months,” he said. “They started dating end of last year.”

Buzz put a star next to the name “Tommy Moore” in his notepad. “Do you know where he lives?”

élan gestured toward the trees. “Husum.”

Buzz would call it in and get an address. “What does he do?”

“He’s a mechanic. And he boxes. He’s a Golden Gloves champ.”

“Why’d they break up?”

élan shook his head and hunched his shoulders against the cold. “Don’t know.”

“Did your sister ever tell you they were having problems?”

“We don’t talk.”

That caused Buzz to make another mental note. “You and your sister don’t talk?”

“No. Tommy said things weren’t all that great. Kimi can be a bitch.”

“élan,” Earl said, clearly upset.

“Hang on,” Buzz said. “Did Tommy say why things weren’t great?”

“Just that Kimi got kind of full of herself.”

Earl intervened. “It wasn’t serious.”

élan rolled his eyes and turned away.

Before Buzz could ask another question, Earl and Nettie looked past him, and he turned and saw a procession of headlights through the trees.

“Could this be her?” he asked.

“No. These are people I called to come and help.”

Three vehicles came around the bend into the dirt yard. They parked beside Buzz’s patrol car. Men and women emerged, doors slamming shut. The women went to Nettie, consoling her. The men looked to Earl, who turned to his son. “Go with them.”

Buzz raised a hand. “Hang on, Earl. Who are all these people?”

“Friends,” Earl said. “They’re going to look for Kimi.”

“Okay,” Buzz said, “but I want everyone to just hold on a second.”

“Something has happened to her,” Earl said. “Go,” he said to élan.

élan grabbed a pair of boots from the steps and followed the men to their cars, which quickly departed.

“Why do you think something could have happened to her?” Buzz asked.

“Because of the protests.”

“The protests at the football games?”

The Stoneridge Sentinel and the more widely circulated Oregonian had covered the Yakama tribes’ protests against Stoneridge High School’s use of the name “Red Raiders” and its mascot—a white student wearing war paint and a feathered headdress, riding onto the field on a painted horse and burying a spear in the turf.

“Has somebody threatened you?” Buzz asked. “Or her?”

“It has been a source of unrest in the community. Kimi is my daughter. As an elder, I am a symbol of the protest.”

Buzz rubbed at the stubble of his chin. “I’m going to need a recent photograph and a physical description of Kimi, as well as a list of her closest friends.”

Earl nodded to the women, who went quickly into the double-wide. “My wife will provide you names and start calling Kimi’s friends.”

“You know the path your daughter walks home?” Buzz asked.

“Yes.”

“Let’s go back over it before the snow starts falling.”

They hurried to his patrol car and slid inside. Sensing Earl’s unease and thinking of his own children, Buzz said, “We’re going to find your daughter, Mr. Kanasket.”

Earl didn’t respond; he just stared out the windshield, into the darkness.





CHAPTER 1
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