“I never said anything about a picnic basket,” she snapped back. “And stop calling me ‘sweetheart.’ That’s supposed to be a term of endearment. You growl the word.”
His cell phone rang. She poked him in the arm. “If that’s Simon, you’d better ask him.”
“I will,” he said.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t Simon. It was Ben with more information about the missing eyewitness, Greg Roper.
Max finished the call and said, “Agent Hughes doesn’t think Roper’s been killed. He thinks he’s running. Someone got to him and scared him.”
“What happens now? Can they even hold the Landrys without witnesses?”
They discussed the possibilities for several minutes and ended up frustrated with no answers. “Ben said he’ll call me later, after he’s had a chance to talk to all the agents involved.”
“Hughes will expect me to take the stand if the Landrys do go to trial someday. I’ll have to tell what I saw, even though I can’t point them out. Right?” Ellie asked.
He shook his head. “I don’t know what the prosecutors will decide, but I’ll do everything I can to keep you out of this. It’s a wait-and-see game now.”
Max was taking his time getting to his destination. He was on the highway for a little while, then took an exit and drove down a side road for several miles before getting back on the highway again. He watched the traffic ahead of them and in the rearview mirror as he drove. She knew he was making certain no one was following them.
He spotted a sign for a pharmacy at the next exit. “Want to stop there and get the pregnancy test?”
“Too close to home,” she said.
He got the same response the next three times he asked. Finally, he said, “Are you going to buy this pregnancy test soon, or do you want me to drive to Miami?”
“You can stop at the next one,” she said.
“What would you do if you found out you were pregnant?”
She didn’t hesitate. “I’d have a baby.”
“That’s what Annie said.”
“I’ll help her any way I can.”
“Would you tell the father?”
“Yes, of course I would. I would have the responsibility to tell him. Did you ask Annie that question?”
“She just took the bar exam.”
He nodded, indicating that Annie had also mentioned that. How long had they talked? she wondered.
“Where are we meeting Agents Clark and Hershey?”
“A restaurant called Hathaways. It’s about a mile off the highway.”
A sign for a national pharmacy chain appeared, and Max pulled into the parking lot. Ellie bought three pregnancy tests, each a different brand.
“Just to be sure,” she told Max at checkout.
The clerk behind the counter, a stout woman with rosy cheeks and short, curly hair, gave Ellie her change and, looking at Max and then back at Ellie, said, “I’ll be rooting for you.”
Ellie smiled. “Thank you. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.”
Once they were back in the car and on their way, Max said, “You’re keeping your fingers crossed?”
“I didn’t want to disappoint the woman.”
He shook his head. “You’re something else, you know that?”
“I bought dessert,” she said and held up a Hershey bar and a Clark bar.
He laughed and shook his head again.
They reached the restaurant a few minutes later. They were early and had their pick of tables. Max chose one in the corner for more privacy. From where he sat, he could look out the window, and their backs were to the wall.
“Do you know Agents Clark and Hershey?” she asked.
“I’ve talked to them a couple of times, but I haven’t worked with them. I’ve been told they’re good,” he added.
“How are they going to blend in?”
“You won’t know they’re there.”
“Max, it’s a small community. Every stranger sticks out.”
The waitress brought glasses of water and handed them menus.
His cell phone rang.
“If that’s Simon . . .”
“It isn’t,” he said. “And stop obsessing about football.”
She looked appalled. “That’s un-American.”
He answered the call on the fourth ring. “Agent Daniels.”
He didn’t say another word for several minutes but the look on his face told her the news wasn’t good. When he put the phone back in his pocket, he turned to her.
“That was Spike,” he began. “He said he got a call from a friend who runs a guns and ammo shop near Winston Falls. He told Spike that, about five minutes after he opened the store, Evan Patterson walked in and tried to buy a gun.”
TWENTY – FOUR
“This isn’t bad news,” Ellie insisted. “And don’t give me that look. Now I know where Patterson is, and hopefully he’ll come after me again, and you can arrest him.”
“Ellie, he’ll find a gun.”
“Would he know how to get one from the street? Where to go? Who to talk to?” Agent Clark asked the questions. He and Agent Hershey had joined Ellie and Max just minutes after Max had talked to Spike.
Max had been right when he’d said the two agents could blend in. John Hershey was under six feet and slight of build, though muscular. Ellie guessed him to be a runner, maybe even a marathon runner. With his thick, wiry hair and glasses, he reminded her of a professor at her father’s university. Pete Clark had a stocky physique and a balding head, and his jovial round face made him look like everyone’s favorite cousin.
“This Patterson guy’s mental, but that doesn’t mean he’s stupid,” Hershey said.
Clark had a photo of Patterson and another of Willis Cogburn downloaded to his phone. Ellie looked at Cogburn’s photo and thought he looked like a normal person. Certainly not a hired killer. But then, she thought, what do those men look like? What would be so different about them?
Her attention was drawn back to the conversation about Patterson when Max said, “He won’t shoot to kill. He would try to kill anyone who is with her, but he likes using his fists. He’ll want to wound her so she can’t run. If he gets a chance, he’ll try to beat her to death.”
Ellie didn’t disagree with Max’s conclusions. Clark had read part of Patterson’s file and so had Hershey. Both of them felt the same as Ellie. This was an opportunity to get him once and for all.
“If he has a gun and goes after her, we could put him away for years,” Clark said.
“All right, we’re looking for two men now. We’ve got their photos, and we all know what we need to do,” Hershey said.
“Put them down,” Clark answered. “Like rabid dogs. That’s what I’d like to do.”
“But you’ll arrest them instead,” Ellie said.
Max smiled at her. “You’re the voice of reason.”
“It’s my understanding you’ll be leaving directly after the party, right?” Clark asked.
“I’m not leaving until Patterson is behind bars,” Ellie vowed.
“Ellie . . . ,” Max began.
She wouldn’t let him finish his thought. “If I have to knock on his parents’ door and taunt him to get him to attack me, I will. I want you to catch him and put him away. Please. I want this nightmare to end.” Her voice shook with emotion, and she took a deep breath to calm down.
Hershey nodded. “Let’s get this mother . . .”
“And Cogburn,” Clark added.
Hershey agreed. “Maybe we’ll get lucky and get him this weekend, too.”
Ellie was quiet on the ride back to Winston Falls. Although it didn’t show on her face, Max knew she was upset because she had ordered milk at the restaurant and downed it as though it were Pepto-Bismol.
“Do you have an ulcer?”
Ellie looked up with a quizzical expression. The question came out of the blue. “No.”
a lot of milk.”
“I like milk. It soothes my stomach.”
“You ordered it right after you heard that Patterson tried to buy a gun.”
“Yes, I did,” she admitted.
Neither one of them said another word for a while, and then Max broke the silence. “Come on, Ellie. Tell me what’s going on in your mind. I know you’re worried.”
Worried? That didn’t even come close to describing the way she was feeling. “I want to stay in Winston Falls and catch Evan Patterson. You have no idea what it’s like not knowing where he’s been hiding, but now he’s here, and I have an opportunity to draw him out. Hopefully, he’ll do something that will get him arrested.”
“That has to scare you.”
“Seeing his face again will probably freak me out,” she admitted. “But right now I’m not scared. You’ll be there. You won’t let him hurt me.”
Her faith in him was humbling. “Damn right.”
She crossed her legs and shifted in her seat as she turned toward him. “His parents have been enabling him and making excuses for him and blaming me for years,” she said. “They’re on record saying I’m the reason their son is tormented.”
“I know, sweetheart. I read your file. I think it’s time I had a little chat with Mr. and Mrs. Patterson.”
“Why would you go there? If Evan is hiding in their house, they’ll lie and say he isn’t. They’ll do everything in their power to protect him.”
“Probably,” Max agreed.
“Then why would you go over there?”
“To put the parents on notice. They need to hear that their son is trying to buy a gun.”
“I don’t think it will make a difference.”
The closer they got to Winston Falls, the more anxious she became. Her palms were sweaty and she was finding it difficult to breathe, signs of a post-traumatic disorder. Who could blame her? The name Patterson was synonymous with pain.
She wanted to drive him out of her thoughts, but each time she erased his name from her mind, the name Cogburn rushed in. Same game. Different player.
Seeing the distress in her eyes, Max reached over and took her hand.
His phone rang. It was Ben calling back. Max put the phone on speaker and set it on the console.
“Ellie’s with me, Ben,” Max said. “Tell us what’s going on.”
“Hughes thinks the Landrys are going to call off Cogburn,” Ben said.
“Greg Roper,” he answered. “No one knew about Greg Roper until he came forward. And now he’s disappeared. The only logical explanation is that there’s a leak. Someone’s feeding the Landrys information about our investigation. We’ve already appointed a task force to find out who it is.”
“And that means the Landrys know that Ellie couldn’t identify them from the mug shots,” Max concluded.
“That’s right,” Ben said. “According to Hughes, the Landrys now have no reason to get rid of Ellie. He thinks she’ll be fine on her own.”
“Has anyone found Cogburn yet?” Max asked.
“Then I’m not leaving her alone,” he stated emphatically.
“I agree,” Ben said. “I think Hughes is jumping the gun here.”
After he’d ended the conversation, Ellie turned to Max. He was frowning.
“You think I’m still in danger from the Landrys?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “But I’m not letting you out of my sight until I know where Willis Cogburn is.”
TWENTY – FIVE
The forecast for Saturday was gloomy. Rain showers were expected to develop in the early evening. The morning of the garden party, however, was sunny, and there wasn’t a cloud in sight to mar the blue skies.
Ellie’s parents were sitting at the kitchen table with William’s aunts, Vivien and Cecilia, when she walked in with Max.
“I don’t think it will rain tonight,” William predicted.
“It wouldn’t dare,” Ellie said. “This is Ava’s big night.”
“No, dear, the wedding is her big night. This is her second big night,” Claire said.
Ellie was about to laugh until she realized her mother was serious. “Does Ava have a list of big, bigger, and biggest?”
“Don’t start, Eleanor.”
William introduced Max to his aunts. He shook their hands and smiled while they talked over each other greeting him and telling him their plans for the day. He caught the words museum and boutique, nodded because they looked expectantly at him, and laughed out loud when Aunt Cecilia patted Ellie’s hand and asked her how she was doing in school.
“You remind me of my late husband,” Cecilia told Max.
“I was thinking he looks more like my late Edgar,” Vivien said. “He was a handsome man.”
Max wasn’t sure how to respond, but Ellie saved him from having to say anything when she asked the aunts, “Did you have a restful evening? I hope you were comfortable upstairs.”
“Oh yes,” Vivien declared. “It was so nice of Annie to give up her room for us.”
“It’s such a lovely room,” Cecilia interjected. “The new color is just beautiful.”
Ellie shared a quick smile with Max, then said, “Where is Annie?”
“She left early this morning,” her father said. “Poor thing looked exhausted. She was white as a ghost.”
“She just took the bar,” Ellie said. “She should be exhausted. She probably studied night and day for months.”
“That’s right. Of course, she’s tired. She took that exam.”
“Where did she go so early?” Ellie asked.
“Ava picked her up at eight, and Annie took her dress for the party with her.”
“The hem was torn,” her mother explained. “Ava has a seamstress on call for her boutique. She’ll mend it for her.”
“Shouldn’t we get going, Claire?” Vivien asked.
The three women stood and headed to the door.
“We’ll be back at four,” her mother said. “We’re deliberately going to be gone all day so that the cleaning people and the caterers Ava hired can get their work done. We’d only be in the way.”
“Won’t you come with us, Ellie?” Vivien asked. “We’re going to have lunch at that new restaurant downtown. We’d love your company.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t,” she said. “I’ve got too much to do,” she lied.
“We’ll bring you two a little treat,” Cecilia promised.
Her aunt acted as though Ellie were still eleven years old, but she wasn’t offended. “That would be nice.”
“Do you have a dress to wear tonight?” her mother asked.
“Yes, I do.” She actually had brought two dresses, one that was periwinkle and a bit snug and another that was pink with a full skirt.
“Because we could take you to the boutique, and Ava could find something for you to wear.”
“I have a dress, Mom,” she repeated. “When will Annie be home?”
“Ava wants to make an entrance, and Annie will ride with her and John. They’ll be here promptly at seven forty-five.”
“The party starts at seven.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Ava wants to be late?”
“Fashionably late,” Claire explained. “That’s what she told me.”
“But it’s her party.”
“I mentioned that to her, dear.”
“Shouldn’t she be on time? And Annie’s hosting the party. She certainly should be here to welcome guests.”
“Ava has two sisters. You can welcome guests until Annie gets here.”
“Aha,” Ellie said. Of course. Now she could see the plan. Those vicious rumors would go away if Ellie greeted the guests and welcomed them to the party. Ellie would be letting everyone know that she approved of Ava and John. Oh yes, Ava had it all figured out.
“Aha, what?” her mother asked.
bsp; Time to let it go, she decided. No more resentment. No more anger or embarrassment. Ava and John belonged together, and it was time for Ellie to be happy for them. She was never going to have a great relationship with her sister because they were so different, but she was okay with that. And she would try to get along.
“Tonight has to be perfect for Ava,” Claire said.
Ellie knew her mother’s comment was a warning. “Why are you frowning at me? I’m not going to do anything to ruin her perfect evening.”
TWENTY – SIX
The Pattersons weren’t pleasant people.
After Hershey and Clark arrived at the Sullivan house late in the afternoon, Max gave them instructions and made Ellie promise she would stay with them, then walked the few blocks to the Patterson home.
The couple opened the door together, but neither invited Max to come inside. Resentment etched Mr. Patterson’s face, and anger radiated from Mrs. Patterson.
Max showed them his badge and said, “My name is Agent Daniels, and I’m with the FBI.”
“Why don’t you people leave us alone?” Mr. Patterson demanded.
“I want to talk to you about your son.”
The couple edged their way out onto the porch, and Mr. Patterson pulled the door closed behind him.
“What is it you want with him this time?” he asked.
“First of all, I want to know where he is,” Max said calmly.
“Why?” Mrs. Patterson asked in a gravelly voice. “So you can harass him again?”
“Or do you want to lock him away again?” Mr. Patterson asked. He folded his arms across his chest and glared at Max. “Evan hasn’t done anything wrong, and I know the law. You can’t touch him.”
“He was a good boy until she came along,” Mrs. Patterson said. Only the slightest hint of disappointment flashed across her face before the anger took over again. “We had such high hopes for him. He was going to make something of himself. He was so smart and clever. All the teachers told us so.”
“She ruined his life, getting the police involved and all. He didn’t mean any harm.”
Max wanted to argue, to remind them that Ellie was eleven years old the first time their son attacked her, but he knew it was useless to point out the facts. They had already twisted them to fit their agenda, and nothing he could say would change their minds. They wanted to believe their son was a victim.