Authors: CJ Lyons
A hollow thud echoed through her body as the bottle smacked against the wood siding.
Lena held her breath. Could anyone hear?
No sounds came. She pulled the bottle free and checked the siding. The slit between
the top edge of one piece and the bottom of another had widened slightly. Should she
try again? Or work on making the interior hole large enough for her entire body and
kick out a large chunk of siding all at once, knowing that would make a huge clatter?
But who could resist a glimpse of sunlight? She told herself it was to survey the
terrain in the daylight, to plan her escape route.
Really, she was simply desperate for any contact with the outside world. She replaced
the bottle, this time angling it over the corner of the bottom edge of siding. The
gap was large enough that the bottle stuck there on its own. That was hopeful.
She leaned back and kicked again. This time the thud was accompanied by a splintering
Quickly she slid the case of water over the fist-sized hole in the plaster. But no
one came to investigate.
Emboldened, she exposed the hole once more and pulled the bottle free. Its mouth was
hopelessly cracked, the plastic folded in on itself. That was okay, she had plenty
more where it came from. Prone on the floor, she shimmied as close as she could to
the hole, pressing her face against the plaster wall.
The bottom corner of siding had splintered. She reached in with her fingers, fought
for purchase, ignoring the wire scraping her knuckles as she wiggled the corner free.
Suddenly it came loose in her hand and a stream of sunlight hit her in the eye. She
blinked, crying with pain and joy.
Thank you, Lord! Thank you!
She tilted her face one way and then another, trying to see more than the tiny patch
of dirt the hole in the siding exposed. She put her fingers through it, trying to
wiggle more of the siding free, but it stubbornly resisted.
Pulling her hand back inside, she peered through the hole once more, inhaling the
crisp air, smelling freedom.
Then the sunlight vanished. Replaced by a large almond-shaped brown eye with no white
showing at all and surrounded by heavy ridges of brown-gray skin.
She gasped. The eye blinked. Then pulled back and was replaced by a snout with flattened
nostrils flaring above short gray whiskers. Accompanied by the undeniable sound of
Lena rolled away from the hole, so overwhelmed with terror that all she could do was
press her back against the far wall and curl her body into a small ball. Goose bumps
shivered across her flesh, and she hugged herself harder. Where was she? Locked up
in some kind of zoo?
“What do you want from me?” she cried out, tears garbling her words. Anger lanced
through her. Anger at God, at the men who’d brought her here, at her father—if it
weren’t for his deceit, she wouldn’t even be here. She screamed in fury and frustration
Her only answer was the sound of fists drumming against the outside wall and more
Boone led Caitlyn to a small office in the administration building.
utilitarian lettering on the door labeled it. Inside was a scuffed wooden desk layered
with folders, an office chair behind it and two wooden visitors’ chairs in front.
Its most prominent feature was a box of generic facial tissues, economy-sized.
The man behind the desk stood as Caitlyn and Boone entered. He was a short, balding
white man in his fifties wearing a long-sleeved brown shirt with a clerical collar.
“Agent Tierney? I’m Pastor Whitford. We spoke on the phone last night.”
She shook his hand; his grip was firm but not antagonistic. Neutral, as was his expression
when they sat down. Boone stood beside the door, watching. Waiting for some slip of
information that would make sense of Hale’s murder. Caitlyn had the feeling he might
be waiting a long time.
Technically the investigator’s case was closed—he had the two men who killed Hale.
Hell, the murder was caught on camera. But like any good detective, he wasn’t satisfied
with just closing a case; he wanted to understand why Hale had been targeted and if
there were any further threats to Butner’s precarious tranquility.
Whitford reached below his desk and brought up a carton of notebooks and loose papers.
“Eli could have been an architect,” he said, unrolling a large detailed drawing across
the jumble of folders. It was a rendering of the Sistine Chapel drawn on brown butcher’s
paper, complete with architectural details. Somehow the beauty of the building increased
with its skeleton exposed, enhanced by intricate breakout sketches of its most intimate
details. “Gorgeous, isn’t it? He’s helped a bunch of the guards plan additions and
renovations, even submitted a design for the new Butner Three facility. Not that they’d
ever use an inmate’s design.”
Boone chuckled. “Be like giving the other team your playbook before the Super Bowl.”
“I honestly don’t think Eli ever imagined escape,” Whitford said thoughtfully. “I
met him almost ten years ago, and from the very beginning he seemed, well, content.
Working the grounds crew got him outside more days than not, visiting with his family
every week, even teaching me to play chess. Compared with the other inmates I’ve counseled,
he’s always been rather detached from it all. Like this was the life he was meant
“So why’d he try to kill himself?” Boone asked the question foremost in Caitlyn’s
mind. She wished he’d sit down. It was irritating having him behind her. She edged
her chair sideways so she could keep both him and Whitford in view. “You don’t do
that if you’re all content and Buddha-like.”
“I wish I understood the answer to that, Investigator, I really do. But I’m not sure
anyone here really understood Eli Hale.”
Boone answered with a
noise that said he was as tired of the holier-than-thou mumbo-jumbo as Caitlyn was.
Whatever Eli Hale was, he was no saint.
“So all this is mine?” she asked, gesturing to the box.
Whitford rolled the drawings of the Sistine Chapel back into a neat cylinder. He tilted
his head to meet her gaze. “Yes. It’s all yours.”
She took the box. No larger than the milk crates she’d hauled all her earthly possessions
in during college. “Okay, then. Guess I’ll head back home.”
Boone scowled at her as she turned to the door. Not liking the unanswered questions.
She didn’t blame him. After a beat, he opened the door for her.
“You both have my numbers,” she said in parting—more for the chaplain’s sake than
Boone’s. She had the feeling Whitford wanted to say more, but not in front of the
Boone walked her to the lockbox station out front, where she retrieved her service
weapon. “Stay in touch, Agent Tierney,” he said as he escorted her to her car. “If
there’s something more brewing here I need to know about it.”
“I don’t think you have anything to worry about.” The danger wasn’t inside Butner;
it was outside and aimed at Lena Hale.
“Oh really? That’s funny coming from someone who says she doesn’t even know why the
hell she was called down here to talk with Hale.” His glare said it was anything but
funny; Boone’s professional pride had been wounded. “Real goddamn funny.”
He turned his heel and left. Caitlyn placed the box of drawings and notebooks on the
Subaru’s passenger seat and retrieved her phone from the trunk. She wasn’t surprised
when it rang as soon as she sat down in the driver’s seat. Whitford.
“I couldn’t talk with Boone here,” he said in a rushed voice. “But before Eli left
the infirmary this morning we spoke. He feared something might happen to him—guess
he was right.”
“Why was he afraid?”
“I didn’t tell you the entire truth last night. You see, Lena’s spent the past three
years going through court transcripts, police reports, trying to prove her dad’s innocence.
Eli kept asking her to quit. A few weeks ago they had a big blowup over it and she
said she was through with him.”
“I told you. Hale’s guilty. So maybe she did run away.” Except that didn’t explain
why Hale was killed.
“That’s just it. She did run away. Or at least stopped answering Eli’s calls. But
she came back a week later. Told her dad she wasn’t going to keep working on his case,
she was giving up. Said she was going to clear her family name, try to make up for
all the harm Eli’d done.”
“How the hell was she going to do that?”
“I don’t know and I don’t think Eli did, either. But he was real worried. Kept talking
about you and your dad. Said Lena must’ve stumbled into something and gotten the wrong
people worried that he might have talked.”
“Talked about what?” If the man thought he might be killed, why not give some specifics
to help her? Or was this all some paranoid delusion spun out of control?
“He wouldn’t say. I think it was something to do with the crime that got him here
in the first place because he said something about her digging up the past.”
“So why’d he try to kill himself? He couldn’t help Lena if he was dead.”
“Eli told me that he didn’t try to kill himself. Said he’d sent a message that Lena
knew nothing, that if they left her alone he’d stay quiet.” Again with the mysterious
“they.” Frustrating. “The next night someone spiked his drink and he woke up in the
infirmary half dead.”
Shit. “We need to tell Boone the truth.”
“No. I promised him. He said they’d kill her.”
“With him dead, what’s to stop them from killing her anyway? If they haven’t already.”
Hell, now she was beginning to sound just like Hale. Paranoid. Delusional.
“You. He said you could save her. Said you were the only one.”
Great. A self-confessed killer her number one fan. “I don’t even know where to start
looking for her. Surely he gave you some specifics?”
“He said she’d gone home to Evergreen. It’s a small town in the mountains, near Cherokee.”
Evergreen. Caitlyn’s mom’s had left her entire family behind when she’d moved Caitlyn
away from Evergreen, trying to distance Caitlyn from the memory of her dad. It hadn’t
worked, but Caitlyn still felt a chill at the mention of the town. She’d been nine
years old when she’d last seen Evergreen.
“Yeah, I know the place,” she told Whitford.
“Eli said everything you need is in that box.”
A bunch of old drawings and notebooks that it’d take her a week to go through—and
that Boone and his men had already examined. What did Hale think this was, the freaking
Da Vinci Code
? Twenty-five years being locked up had driven the man insane. Sending her on a wild
goose chase after a girl they didn’t even know for certain was missing and a mysterious
conspiracy that probably existed only in a convicted killer’s mind.
Then she remembered the look of anguish in Hale’s eyes as he lay dying, using his
final breath to call out his daughter’s name. He’d trusted her, believed she could
But Caitlyn was no miracle worker. She was already breaking every rule in the book
just by being here. She might have even gotten Hale killed by coming to see him. The
expression on Hale’s face as he lay there dying … the face of her father, blood everywhere.
Too many memories, too much pain.
All leading back to Evergreen. Didn’t mean she had to play the game, follow the bread
crumbs. Caitlyn yanked the gearshift to put the Impreza in reverse. “If you think
of anything else, call me. Anytime, day or night.”
“What are you going to do about Lena?”
“I can make some calls. I still have family in Evergreen. It’s a small enough place
that if she’s there, someone will know.”
“That’s it? Some calls?”
“There’s not a whole lot I can do without an official case. And it’s out of my jurisdiction,
His exasperation broke through the airwaves. “So where are you going?”
“Home. Back to Quantico. Where I belong.” She hung up, just as frustrated as the chaplain
was but for different reasons. She’d done everything she could—more than she should.
Hell, what more did he want from her?
She’d been right there when her father died and couldn’t save him. Ten feet away from
Eli Hale and couldn’t save him. How could anyone expect her to be able to save Lena?
Hunger and a need for caffeine fueled Caitlyn’s exasperation as she drove east on
Gate 2 Road back to I-85. There was a large truck stop at the interstate, and she
pulled in there.
Talk about a day not going as planned. Images of Hale’s killing replayed through her
mind, over and over at different speeds; each time her frustration at being forced
to watch, unable to help the man, etched the images deeper into her psyche. By the
time she dragged Hale’s box into an empty booth and ordered a large serving of chicken
and dumplings, coffee and a glass of milk, her frustration had morphed into anger.
True, the killers were caught and already behind bars, but someone had been pulling
the strings. If what Whitford said was true about Hale’s overdose being an initial
attempt on his life, then there were others inside Butner responsible. While she waited
for her food she sipped at her coffee, sorted through the papers lying loose in Hale’s
box, and called Boone.
“SIS, Boone speaking,” he answered in a clipped tone.
“It’s Tierney. I was wondering. Could Hale’s overdose have been non-accidental?”
“Of course it was non-accidental—he tried to kill himself. Oh, you mean someone else
slipped him the drugs?” He paused. “He told the docs he took them himself, said he
was”—there came the sound of papers being rustled—“despondent over not seeing his
daughter because of an argument they’d had.”
So Hale hadn’t told the doctors about Lena being missing. But someone had been worried
that whatever Lena was doing would give Hale a reason to start talking … and as far
as she knew the only thing Hale had to talk about was the murder he was convicted
of twenty-five years ago.