The Obsession Page 88

“Yes, they have ways.”

When they came out of the forest she saw the two patrol cars, Xander’s bike.

“If he didn’t kill her there, why take her all that way? Why not dump her body in the forest, or bury it there? Or drop her in the water?”

“I don’t know, Naomi. But if you hadn’t gone down there this morning, it’s likely she wouldn’t have been found yet. You wouldn’t see her from the house, not as close as she was to the foot of the bluff. And from the water? Maybe if somebody came close to shore, maybe. So maybe leaving her there gave him more time to get away.”

As they approached the house he looked over at her. “Do you want me to have Kevin pull the crew off for the day?”

“No. No, for once I think I prefer noise to quiet. I think I’m going to paint.”


“The second guest room—my uncles’ room. I wouldn’t be any good at work, and I don’t want to go into town. Errands can wait.”

“Okay. I’ll give you a hand.”

“Xander, you’ve got a business to run.”

“I get not wanting a lot of there-theres.” He had his arm around her waist now—a step closer to just carrying her—and kept his voice level. “I’d suck at giving them anyway. But I’m not going anywhere, so we’ll paint.”

She stopped, turned to him, into him, let herself just hold on. “Thank you.”

Because it soothed him, and hopefully her, he ran his hands up and down her back. “I’m a crap painter.”

“Me, too.”

She went upstairs to set up without him. She knew he lingered below to tell Kevin so she wouldn’t have to. When he came up, he set down a cooler.

“Some water, some Cokes. Thirsty work, painting.”

“Especially when you’re crap at it. You told Kevin.”

“The chief’s going to come up, check on you, so yeah. He’ll keep it to himself until then, and the crew will do the same to give the chief time enough to tell her mother, and Chip.”

“Mason says that’s the worst part, the notifications. I always wonder if it’s that hard to give, how much harder it is to get.”

“I think it has to be worse not to know. If she hadn’t been found, or not for a while longer. It’s got to be harder not knowing.”

She nodded, turned away. Some of the girls her father had killed had been missing for years. Even now, after all this time, the FBI wasn’t sure they’d found all the remains.

Bowes gave them another every few years—for some new privilege. And, as Mason had told her so many years ago, for the fresh attention.

“So . . . you don’t like this piss-yellow color?”

She tried to center herself, studied the walls. “I knew it reminded me of something.”

He didn’t fill the silence with small talk while they worked. Something else to be grateful for. Rolling the primer on the walls, covering something ugly with something clean, soothed.

The dog wandered in and out, and finally settled on stretching himself across the doorway for a nap, so they couldn’t leave the room without alerting him.

They’d finished priming two walls, and had begun to debate which of them had a lousier hand at cutting in, when the dog’s head shot up and his tail beat on the floor.

Sam stepped up to the doorway.

“Got yourself a guard here.”

Naomi clasped her hands together to keep them still. “Are you— I’m sorry, there’s nowhere to sit down in here. We can go downstairs.”

“I won’t be long. I just wanted to see how you were doing.”

“I’m all right. I wanted to keep busy, so . . .”

“I hear that. First off, if you’re nervous about being alone up here, I can have one of the men sit on the house tonight.”

“She won’t be alone.” As Naomi started to speak, Xander glanced at her. “Consider it the fee for the crap paint job.”

“It’d be good to have someone stay with you. I just want to get your timeline, if you remember about what time you left the house this morning.”

“Ah. It was maybe quarter to eight. I don’t know exactly how long it took me to walk down to where I caught the track. I took some shots, wildflowers, along the way. I can show you.”

“I’m not doubting your word,” Sam assured her. “Just trying to get a sense.”

“I think I was at least an hour in the forest. And I took some shots from where it thins and you can see the channel. And after I went down, I took more from that big flat rock—the first one you come to from the track. That’s when Tag ran up with the shoe. I didn’t notice the time, but it had to be after nine. Then the dog kept barking and whining and I turned to tell him to knock it off, and I saw her.”

“Okay. I’m sorry about this, Ms. Carson.”

“Naomi. Naomi’s fine.”

“I’m sorry about this, Naomi, and I have to say I’m grateful you walked that way today. It might’ve been another day or two before anyone found her otherwise.”

“You’re going to tell Chip,” Xander put in. “I know he’s not next of kin, but you’re going to tell him before he hears somebody talking about it.”

With a nod, Sam took off his ball cap, scraped fingers through gray-streaked brown hair, set it back on again. “I’m going to see him right after I talk to her mother. If you think of some other details, Naomi, or if you just need to talk it through, you give me a call. This house is looking better than it ever did—well, in my lifetime. I’m a phone call away,” he added, and gave the dog a quick rub before leaving.

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