Hide and Seek Page 2

Maybe Nate was right for once. “Fine, let’s do it.”

They both yanked hard, and the joint cracked and looked as if it would break clean until it caught and split right up the center just as he’d feared. Seconds later the wood fell, and he jumped back. The large splinters dropped around him as decades of dust filled the air.

Quick on the heels of the grime, a big object barreled down the partially opened chute and struck him on the shoulder. Flinching as he turned, he prayed his rotator cuff hadn’t been retorn. What the hell had hit him?

Sherman wiped the fine coating of muck from his face. “Did you look down the damn chute?”

The kid shrugged. “Didn’t think there’d be anything after all this time.”

“Dumbass.” Sherman glared at what had damn near fractured his shoulder and discovered it was a faded red backpack. As he reached for the pack, his gaze was drawn to the objects that were strewed around. He picked up what looked like a stick and then quickly dropped it. He leaped back and released a string of curses.

Scattered around him was a collection of bones.


Monday, November 11, 11:30 a.m.

When Mike Nevada ended a fifteen-year career with the FBI, his intention was never to become a small-town sheriff or a gentleman farmer. His strategy had been to take a few weeks off from the Quantico-based profiling team tasked with finding and capturing the most vicious serial killers. He wanted to reflect on some of the choices he’d made and work on the house he had inherited from his grandfather.

And yet, here he stood, the newly elected county sheriff.

Within days of his arrival in Deep Run for what was supposed to have been a vacation, he had received an anonymous tip about untested rape kits. The tip had led to a meeting with the sitting sheriff, but their conversation had quickly degraded into a pissing match. Frustrated, he had left the sheriff’s office, resigned from the FBI, and immediately declared his intention to run against the incumbent. The move hadn’t been his most logical. But once he started down a trail, he never doubled back.

It was an election nobody, himself included, thought he would win. But he did. And now, two weeks after the votes had been tallied, he was responding to a potential homicide.

Dave Sherman was a good ol’ boy who was well liked and had a solid reputation as a contractor in the Deep Run area. When he called 911 a half hour ago with his discovery, Nevada knew it wasn’t a prank call or a novice hunter mistaking animal bones for human.

He parked his black Suburban SUV behind the old blue pickup truck, where Sherman’s work crew sat on the tailgate. One was smoking. Another was drinking an energy drink. Sherman was on his cell phone, pacing, no doubt counting the dollars he was losing.

The barn was collapsing on the north side, and it looked as though it would tumble upon itself with one good storm. It was located twenty miles outside of the county seat of Deep Run and years ago had been a meeting spot for high school kids looking to party. Finally, law enforcement caught on to the gatherings and started routinely chasing away trespassers. From what Nevada could tell, no one had been out here in years.

Out of his vehicle, Nevada bent the stiff bill of his ball cap a couple of times before settling it on his head. The hat’s front panel read SHERIFF in white block letters. Other than the Glock and cuffs holstered on his hip, the hat was his only concession to an official uniform. His plan was to limit the starch and brass to board of supervisor meetings and the occasional parade.

Nevada grabbed his forensic kit from his vehicle. Like all his deputies, he collected basic forensic evidence. Complicated crime scenes were turned over to the state police.

Nevada walked up to Sherman, and the man ended his call immediately. They shook hands. “Hear you found something.”

“Thanks for coming so fast, Sheriff Nevada.”

Sheriff. Still didn’t sound right. “What do you have for me, Mr. Sherman?”

Sherman’s sun-etched face testified to decades of working in the open. However, he was clearly pale this morning. “At first I hoped it was an animal carcass. They can sometimes look human if you don’t know what you’re looking at. But then I saw the skull.”

“The barn is owned by the Wyatt family, correct?” Nevada had been gone for twenty-plus years from the valley, but he had grown up here and still knew many of the older families.

“Yeah. They wanted it moved. Apparently, one of the great aunts is thinking about selling the land. I purchased the structure for next to nothing.”

“Reclamation. Some money in that, I would imagine.”

“Yep. Until a half hour ago, I thought I’d hit a jackpot.”

By the look of Sherman’s red eyes, he had celebrated the windfall last night. “Show me what you found.”

Sherman tucked his cell phone in his pocket, and Nevada and he walked into the dimly lit barn. “Watch your step. There are nails and piles of wood everywhere.”

“Appreciate the warning.” Fine dust coated his steel-tipped boots as he moved toward the pile of rubble in the corner.

“We were breaking down this section over here,” Sherman said, pointing to a long three-sided chute that ran from the ground to the loft. The fourth wall had split and fallen on its side.

Nevada had grown up on his grandfather’s farm not far from here and had done his fair share of mucking stalls and pitching hay in a barn that looked very much like this one. Since his return to Deep Run, he’d been immersed in the painful process of strong-arming his pop’s homestead into the twenty-first century. The old place was fighting him every step of the way—and winning.

“The backpack was wedged in the chute,” Sherman said. “I guess that’s what kept the body from falling. The pack was protected from the sun and rain, so it’s still in pretty good shape.”

Nevada clicked on a flashlight and directed the beam onto the red backpack, which lay on its side. The initials TET were embossed on the outside, and there was a yellow yarn pom-pom attached to the zipper. It was old. Clearly long forgotten.

“I’ve got daughters of my own,” Sherman said. “I can’t imagine one coming home without her pack. They carry everything in it. Like my wife’s purse.”

Nevada removed latex gloves from his pocket and tugged them on. “Did you open it?”

“Shit, no. Soon as I spotted that skull, I had my men clear out.” Sherman rubbed the back of his neck. “Still makes my skin crawl when I look at it.”

Nevada took several pictures of the bag and the bones scattered around it with his phone. He looked up at the chute and tried to imagine how the bag and the body had gotten in there. The pack would have gone in first and then the individual after it. This could be a case of murder or just a damn tragic accident.

He pulled out a roll of yellow crime scene tape and tied it to one post, wound it around another, and knotted the ends to the horse stall gate.

With Sherman standing outside the tape now, Nevada spread out a white cloth and set the backpack on it. The red fabric was heavily stained on the top with a dark substance that smelled faintly of must and death. When the body had decayed, it would have bloated with gas until it burst, secreting its contents onto the pack.

“When’s the last time this barn was used, Sherman?” Nevada asked.

“It’s been close to thirty years,” he said. “When I played ball, we came out here on Thursday nights before the games. Hell of a lot of fun.”

“Did you play on the Dream Team?”

“I wish. Those boys came along about five years after me. Took it all the way to the state championship.”

“When did the bonfires stop?”

“Sheriff Greene put an end to them shortly afterward.”

Nevada bent down and carefully tugged on the zipper. It slid smoothly for several inches, then caught in a crimp. Carefully, he added pressure until the zipper gave way.

Inside were books, along with a pair of girl’s jeans, a dark cable-knit sweater, and sneakers. He set the still-folded clothes aside on the cloth and picked up a book for advanced calculus.

Many of the pages were seized together, but after he gently tugged the cover a few times, it opened. On the inside flap was a LEASED TO stamp followed by five lines. The names on the first three rows were crossed out. The last name was written in clear block letters. It read TOBI TURNER.

TET. Tobi Elizabeth Turner.

Anyone who’d lived in Deep Run was familiar with the girl.

In early November 2004, Tobi Turner, a junior at Valley High School, had borrowed her parents’ van to attend an evening study session. However, Tobi had never arrived. No one had sounded any alarm bells until she didn’t make it home by curfew. The girl’s father had called Greene, who made a critical mistake in the investigation: he didn’t launch a full-on search until morning.

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