She prayed for herself too.
More noise in the brush. Snapping, rustling.
The day was lighter now but the sun didn't do much to brighten up Blackwater Landing. The river was deep here and fringed with messy black willows and thick trunks of cedar and cypress -- some living, some not, and all choked with moss and viny kudzu. To the northeast, not far, was the Great Dismal Swamp, and Lydia Johansson, like every Girl Scout past and present in Paquenoke County, knew all the legends about that place: the Lady of the Lake, the Headless Trainman....But it wasn't those apparitions that bothered her; Blackwater Landing had its own ghost -- the boy who'd kidnapped Mary Beth McConnell.
Lydia opened her purse and lit a cigarette with shaking hands. Felt a bit calmer. She strolled along the shore. Stopped beside a stand of tall grass and cattails, which bent in the scorching breeze.
On top of the hill she heard a car engine start. Jesse wasn't leaving, was he? Lydia looked toward it, alarmed. But she saw the car hadn't moved. Just getting the air-conditioning going, she supposed. When she looked back toward the water she noticed the sedge and cattails and wild rice plants were still bending, waving, rustling.
As if someone was there, moving closer to the yellow tape, staying low to the ground.
But no, no, of course that wasn't the case. It's just the wind, she told herself. And she reverently set the flowers in the crook of a gnarly black willow not far from the eerie outline of the sprawled body, spattered with blood dark as the river water. She began praying once more.
Across the Paquenoke River from the crime scene, Deputy Ed Schaeffer leaned against an oak tree and ignored the early morning mosquitoes fluttering near his arms in his short-sleeved uniform shirt. He shrank down to a crouch and scanned the floor of the woods again for signs of the boy.
He had to steady himself against a branch; he was dizzy from exhaustion. Like most of the deputies in the county sheriff's department he'd been awake for nearly twenty-four hours, searching for Mary Beth McConnell and the boy who'd kidnapped her. But while, one by one, the others had gone home to shower and eat and get a few hours' sleep Ed had stayed with the search. He was the oldest deputy on the force and the biggest (fifty-one years old and two hundred sixty-four pounds of mostly unuseful weight) but fatigue, hunger and stiff joints weren't going to stop him from continuing to look for the girl.
The deputy examined the ground again.
He pushed the transmit button of his radio. "Jesse, it's me. You there?"
He whispered, "I got footprints here. They're fresh. An hour old, tops."
"Him, you think?"
"Who else'd it be? This time of morning, this side of the Paquo?"
"You were right, looks like," Jesse Corn said. "I didn't believe it at first but you hit this one on the head."
It had been Ed's theory that the boy would come back here. Not because of the cliché -- about returning to the scene of the crime -- but because Blackwater Landing had always been his stalking ground and whatever kind of trouble he'd gotten himself into over the years he always came back here.
Ed looked around, fear now replacing exhaustion and discomfort as he gazed at the infinite tangle of leaves and branches surrounding him. Jesus, the deputy thought, the boy's here someplace. He said into his radio, "The tracks look to be moving toward you but I can't tell for sure. He was walking mostly on leaves. You keep an eye out. I'm going to see where he was coming from."
Knees creaking, Ed rose to his feet and, as quietly as a big man could, followed the boy's footsteps back in the direction they'd come -- farther into the woods, away from the river.
Copyright © 2000 by Jeffery Deaver. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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