Everything was smaller than it used to be.
That was Jericho Crewe’s first thought as he drove down Main Street. Things hadn’t actually changed that much in the fifteen-odd years since he’d left Mosely, Montana: there were one or two new stores and a few missing, and an extra stoplight bringing the town’s grand total to three, but otherwise, things seemed the same. Except smaller.
The town didn’t shrink, asshole. His inner voice had never been kind to him, but he knew it was right in this case. He’d just gotten used to bigger things.
But now he was back. He pulled into the clinic parking lot on the edge of town and wondered again why the hell he was there. The woman who’d called him had said he should hurry, but that made no sense; if his father’s injuries were serious enough to be life-threatening, he would have been airlifted to the bigger hospital in Missoula, not left in the clinic next to the fevers and gas pains and broken wrists. But the woman had sounded serious, so Jericho had come.
Now, though, standing in the parking lot, he was tempted to turn around, get back in his rented SUV, and get the hell out of Dodge.
Coward. Quitter. He wasn’t sure if that was his own inner voice or one borrowed from his father, but either way it could shut the fuck up.
He made himself jog up the stairs of the redbrick building into the scruffy waiting area. There was no one behind the plexiglass at the reception desk, so he waited for a couple of breaths, looking for a bell to ring and finding none, and then took a few steps toward the back and leaned through the nearest doorway.
A young woman wearing floral scrubs lifted her gaze from her paperwork. “This area is for staff only,” she said firmly.
He nodded. “Yup. Got it. But there’s no one out here to help me. I’m looking for Eli Crewe. Can you point me in the right direction?”
She didn’t seem impressed. “Who are you? Another cop?”
Jericho liked to think he didn’t wear the job as obviously as some did, so maybe the woman was just making a lucky guess. Guessing that the police would have an interest in talking to Eli Crewe wasn’t exactly a long shot. “I’m his son. Somebody called me and said it was serious. She said I needed to get here in a hurry.”
The woman squinted at him. “Somebody called you? Who?”
“I didn’t get her name. She said she was calling from here.” This was getting annoying. “I’m sorry to bother you. I can get out of your hair if you can just let me know—is my father here? And, if so, where?”
She frowned and looked over his shoulder as if hoping the receptionist would magically appear and save her from all this. Obviously seeing no one, she exhaled deeply. “I don’t know who called you. But there was no real reason for you to hurry. Your father is here, technically . . .”
He stared at her. Technically. “I’m going to need some more detail on that.”
She stood up, threw another hopeful look over his shoulder, and then said, “Your father was brought here after his fall. But his injuries were too severe for us to do anything for him.” She paused as if waiting for Jericho to catch up.
And apparently he did need that little bit of time. Not to understand what she was saying—he’d given enough family notifications over the years to recognize the patter. But understanding the words was different from identifying or controlling the emotions they caused in him.
“He’s dead,” he finally said, and was surprised by how level his voice was.
“I’m sorry. Yes. He was— The fall was from a significant height. Death was instantaneous. He didn’t suffer.”
Yeah, that was what they always told families, any time there was the faintest possibility that it was true. “I don’t . . .”
“Would you like to sit down, Mr. Crewe? Can I get you a glass of water?”
Water was not what Jericho wanted to be drinking. His head was pounding, and he tried to find something concrete to focus on. “The police have been by? You made it sound like— Is there an investigation? What happened?”
The poor woman looked over his shoulder again.
“I don’t know what happened,” she said reluctantly. “The police—yes, they seem to be investigating. They’ve been here several times. They’re arranging to have the body sent to Missoula for an autopsy.”
An autopsy. So there was something suspicious about the death. Or maybe it was just the identity of the victim that had caught their interest. If there was ever anyone who could commit a crime from beyond the grave, it would be Eli Crewe.
“Was there an officer in charge of the investigation? Can you give me a name or anything?”
“Uh, sorry, I don’t know. If you’d like to sit down I can try to find somebody who might know more. It’s lunchtime, though, so I’m not sure who’s around—I mean, obviously someone’s with the patients! And there really should be someone at the front desk . . .”
“I could just drive over to the sheriff’s station and ask.” Jericho didn’t want to go back out and sit in the waiting room, waiting for someone else to come and look at him with awkward sympathy he wasn’t sure he deserved. He didn’t want to sit still, with nothing to distract him from his thoughts and memories.
The woman smiled, clearly relieved at the thought of being rid of him. “Okay, sure, that makes sense. You know where it is?”
“The sheriff’s station? Out on the highway?”
“That’s the old one. It’s empty, now. The new one’s on the far side of town, last block before the trees start.”
Jericho should probably be asking more questions, maybe about bills or making arrangements for after the autopsy or . . . something. But the woman seemed happy to let him go, and he wanted to get out of the building as soon as possible. He was starting to feel claustrophobic, as if the place actually was smaller than it should be and the walls were pressing in closer and closer.
So he headed outside, took a deep breath of cool spring mountain air while gripping the metal railing along the stairs, and tried to stabilize. He felt like he’d literally lost his bearings. Eli Crewe hadn’t been part of Jericho’s life for a long time, but he’d still been a presence, a lurking, unseen force. He’d been like the opposite of the North Pole for the needle of a compass; instead of being what Jericho had always been drawn toward, Eli had been the force Jericho had always been driven away from. And now he was gone, and Jericho wasn’t sure what the hell that meant for his sense of direction.
You can still navigate the physical world, you melodramatic bastard. The sheriff’s office was the only logical destination at this point, so he might as well make his way over there. Even in its new location, maybe it would be familiar enough to reorient him.
Two stoplights later, Jericho was on the other side of town and turning into the asphalt parking lot for the county sheriff’s department. The town of Mosely didn’t have its own police force, so the sheriff looked after the urban area, such as it was, in addition to a sizeable chunk of Montana wilderness. And it did all that with a pretty small staff. This building was bigger than the old one, but not huge: two stories, with bars on the windows to the left, indicating the county jail. The architecture was completely nondescript, just like the old version had been, but at least this one had the extra story.
Well, he wasn’t there to appreciate the design. Still, he sat in the rental for a few moments, trying to gather his thoughts. His father, Eli Crewe: Tough, irritable, smart, and cruel. Sarcastic and sadistic. Dead.
It was going to take some getting used to.
In the meantime, Jericho unfolded his long limbs from the SUV and headed inside. He’d been right about feeling at home in the police station, even one that he’d never entered before. Just like his station in LA, the air here somehow managed to simultaneously smell sanitized and overfiltered and rich with a variety of scents: stale coffee, photocopier chemicals, and just the faintest whiff of gunpowder. He didn’t love his job, but he’d apparently developed a soft spot for its trappings.
His shoulders relaxed as he approached the reception desk, up until he saw the heavy-gutted, gray-haired man sitting behind the counter.
Deputy Garron had been old when Jericho had been a teenager running around and getting in trouble. How was it possible for the man to still be on the job a decade and a half later? But there was no mistaking the jowly, pockmarked face or the perpetual scowl on it.
“Jericho Crewe,” the deputy growled. He didn’t sound surprised, just disappointed. “You’re back.”
“Not permanently. But, yeah. I’m here.” He briefly considered trying to make peace with his old nemesis, but decided it would be a waste of energy he didn’t have to spare. Better to stick to business. “I was hoping to talk to somebody about my father’s death. The hospital said there’s an investigation?”
The deputy was silent for so long Jericho started to think that maybe he was going to refuse to cooperate. But finally he shrugged beefy shoulders and rumbled, “Have a seat. I’ll see if anyone can talk to you.”
Not too promising, and Jericho wasn’t ready to sit down quite yet. So he stepped away from the desk and wandered over toward the waiting area, which consisted of a long pleather bench, plastic ferns bracketing it on each end. The whole room looked like it could be hosed down if anything unpleasant happened in it. Good planning.
Jericho stood at one end of the bench, then slowly paced to the other end, then back again. He’d packed his running gear, thank god, so maybe when he was done here he’d find a motel where he could get changed and then burn off some energy. Running was always a good way to keep himself from thinking. Hell, running was a good way to deal with whatever happened in this damn town, and not just running for exercise.
“Jay Crewe,” a female voice said, and Jericho turned in response to a nickname he hadn’t heard since he’d left Mosely.
“Holy shit. Kayla.” They’d been friends all through high school, and if their occasional groping and messing around had never quite elevated them to “dating,” it had also never gotten in the way of their genuine affection for each other. Leaving Kayla Morgan had been the second hardest part about getting the hell out of Mosely. And now she was standing in front of him, wearing a uniform. He squinted at her insignia. “Jesus, Kay, you’re the sheriff?”
“Pretty crazy, huh?” Her smile was as warm and open as it had always been. “When my dad retired last year, the community seemed to think it’d still like a Morgan in the position, even if the only one they could find happened to be female.” Her face grew more serious as she stepped closer. “I’m really sorry about your dad, Jay. I mean, I know you guys weren’t tight. All the same, though. It’s got to be hard. I’m sorry.”
“I hadn’t talked to him for almost ten years,” Jericho confessed. Cutting ties had been his father’s choice, but Jericho hadn’t fought the decision. At the time it had seemed like a great way to complete his escape, but now it felt like disloyalty, or abandonment. Whatever the verdict on that, he’d had no relationship whatsoever with his dad, and he didn’t want to lay claim to an emotion he didn’t deserve to be feeling, especially not with Kayla. “It’s not like—you know. It’s weird, but it’s not a tragedy. Not for me.”
Kayla nodded. “Okay, yeah, I can see that. So, come upstairs. I’ll give you what we’ve got so far. And . . . look, Jay, this is kind of awkward, but the sheriff’s department isn’t working alone on this one. We’ve got significant federal interest, and they’re likely going to want to ask you some questions. If this isn’t a good time, you can probably put them off for a while, but not indefinitely. Might be good to get it over with.”
“The feds? What branch? Why?”
For the first time, Kayla’s expression wasn’t easy to read. “A couple different agencies. Come upstairs and we’ll get started.”
Jericho followed Kayla through a security door and up a flight of stairs. She moved easily, clearly confident in her environment. Kayla had always been athletic and pretty, and neither of those qualities seemed to have changed with the added years and responsibility. She was still attractive by any objective standard. And she happened to be one of the few women he’d ever slept with. It had mostly been curiosity that had driven him to her back then. He’d known there was something not quite right, but he’d liked her and any pressure and friction had felt good to his teenage body, and Kayla had never complained. That was all it had been, beyond friendship, and it was long over with now. Still good to see her, though. Good to be reminded that things in Mosely hadn’t been completely bad.
Kayla reached a doorway and stepped aside to let him precede her in. He felt a tug of apprehension as he realized he wasn’t entering an office, but an interrogation room. That wasn’t quite as friendly as things had seemed downstairs. He turned to look at her, an eyebrow raised, and she shrugged. “Might as well talk in here,” she said calmly.
He frowned toward the mirrored window that dominated one wall and said, “And do we have an audience?”
“Would it be a problem if we did? And is it okay if I record our conversation?” She gestured to a beat-up old voice recorder on the table, but there’d be a video camera set up behind the glass as well if Kayla was as competent as he expected her to be.
He thought he’d left his issues with authority long behind, but he could feel his hackles rising. Damn it. Maybe it wasn’t that he had a problem with authority in general; maybe he just didn’t like small-town, small-time sheriffs who got high-handed for no good reason. He sank into the metal chair on the far side of the table. “I think I’m here to hear from you, aren’t I? So, no, unless you’re shy, I don’t think I need to worry about an audience, or about a recording of what you say.”
“I’d like to ask you a few questions as well. We’re trying to figure things out, Mr. Crewe, and your cooperation would be appreciated.”
Mr. Crewe. Downstairs it had been Jay. Jericho had no idea whether the shift was a message to him or an unconscious reflection of Kayla’s new attitude. He didn’t know if he’d been tricked downstairs or not.
He decided not to care. “What are you trying to figure out?”
“To start, maybe we could get some background on you? Where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing, that sort of thing.”
“What are you investigating? I just found out my father’s dead. I was told he fell, but based on all this fuss, I’m guessing the circumstances were suspicious. Are you looking at murder?”
“We’re looking at everything, Mr. Crewe. Now, I think we have a fairly good record of your years in the Mosely area. Could you please tell me where you went when you left Mosely in June 1998?”
He frowned thoughtfully at her. They’d been friends. Good friends. Maybe he should be cooperating for old times’ sake. But she’d made it clear that she wasn’t asking him as a friend; she was asking as a sheriff. And he had a long and distinguished record of annoying the Mosely County Sheriff’s Department. “When I Left Mosely,” he said, as if it were the title of a story. “By Jericho Eli Crewe.” He smiled, first at Kayla and then toward the one-way glass. “When I left Mosely, it was early morning on a beautiful June day. The air was cool, but scented with pine and something else—something I’ve always thought of as opportunity. I was a young man hungry for adventure, and I’ll tell you, I managed to find plenty. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”
He leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers behind his head. “I hitchhiked. A common practice for me in those days, although it’s been some time since I’ve indulged. I’m afraid the exact make of the car that picked me up is lost to the fog of memory, but I remember the ride being comfortable, the driver pleasant. He was a middle-aged man, overweight but not immense, with dark hair and dancing eyes.”
“Mr. Crewe,” Kayla interrupted. Her gaze was level, her voice calm. “We’ll be typing this up and asking you to sign it, swearing that it’s a true statement. Please ensure that you limit yourself only to those details that you can remember with absolute certainty. And please hit the highlights, rather than giving us the full picture.”
“The problem is, Sheriff Morgan, that I have no idea what you’re looking for. I’m trying to cooperate, but without any information about your investigation, it’s impossible for me to filter out irrelevant details. So since I don’t know what might be of interest, and since I really want to cooperate, I think I’m going to have to give you all of it.”
Kayla stared at him, her expression unreadable. Jericho waited politely for a response, then after a few moments smiled again at her and at the window. “So, where was I? Hmmm . . . I’d better just start at the beginning to make sure I don’t miss anything. So . . . That June morning smelled of pine needles and hope. I didn’t have any breakfast. I’ve never been a big breakfast eater, really; I’m just not hungry for the first few hours after I wake up. Brunch, on the other hand, I adore. Especially a nice social brunch in a pub-style restaurant, one of those places you can go for brunch and stay all day, drinking beer and watching sports on TV and catching up with friends.
“But I left Mosely when I was too young to legally drink, so of course I wouldn’t have been consuming alcohol back then. I do remember going to brunch at my Aunt Diane’s, though, when I was a little kid. I don’t think we called it brunch, but none of us were early risers, so by the time we all got up and ready to go and drove over to Diane’s, you sure wouldn’t call the meal breakfast, would you? Or maybe you would. Is brunch dependent on the time of the meal, or is there a requirement of different foods being served as well? I’m not sure about that. I’m also not sure how to reconcile my love of brunch with my understanding of sound nutritional theory, which seems to suggest we should be adding meals to our daily routine, not taking them away.”
Jericho was absolutely prepared to go on like that until his throat was sore, at which point he’d ask for some water and then start up all over again. But there was a sharp knock on the door just before a uniformed deputy pushed it open, strode into the room, and handed a sheet of paper to Kayla. “It’s from—” He jerked his head toward the mirrored window.
Kayla took her time reading the sheet, then looked up at Jericho. “Eight years in the Marines, four tours of Afghanistan, several commendations including a Purple Heart and a Silver Star. You earned your bachelor’s degree while serving. After your honorable discharge you joined the LAPD and are currently a detective in their robbery and homicide division.” She frowned at him. “You couldn’t have just told me that?”
“You couldn’t just have told me what’s going on with my father?”
A sigh. “There’s a procedure for these things.” She tapped the paper in front of her. “It seems like you should know how that goes.”
“I know that the right procedure is the one that works. Did it seem like your hard-ass routine was going to work in this situation?”
She stared at him a moment longer. Then something in her gaze clicked off, or maybe on, and she sounded much more relaxed as she told him, “Your father was found by hikers at the bottom of a cliff in White Horse Canyon. We figured out where he’d fallen from, and discovered signs of a struggle. It seems like he was pushed. We’re investigating all possibilities related to that.”
Jericho made himself nod. Faced with the grim reality of it all, he wished he could go back to talking about brunch. “What were the signs of struggle? It’s solid rock along most of that ridge, isn’t it? Not the sort of terrain that would show footprints.”
She paused, her gaze cutting to the mirrored window, then back to him. “We found blood at the top of the cliff. It’s been identified as belonging to your father. And just spray, with no sign of what caused the injury, so our assumption is that whatever hit him must have been removed from the site, presumably by the perpetrator.”
Yeah, that seemed like a reasonable interpretation of the evidence. “Is there a theory? Motive, suspects? Anything?”
Another sigh. “Plenty of suspects with plenty of possible motives. You can’t be surprised by that. I mean, you said you hadn’t spoken to him for almost ten years, so maybe you were hoping he’d changed after you left?” She smiled wryly. “He did, a little. He got worse.”
No, Jericho really hadn’t been hoping for a change. He’d just been done with it all and trying to escape from the frustration. “So, how has the investigation gone so far? All these suspects and motives—you been able to narrow it down?”
“The investigation is still in the preliminary stages.”
“Well, where are you starting?”
Kayla’s lips thinned. “We’re starting where practically every Mosely investigation starts these days. We’re looking at Wade Granger.”
Wade Granger. It had been a long time since Jericho had last heard the name, but apparently not long enough to lessen its impact. Luckily, he’d had a lot of practice at appearing calm even when his mind was racing. “Wade, huh? So I guess he hasn’t changed all that much either?”
That was when the door banged open—no knock—and two men in dark suits strode in like they owned the place. Kayla visibly disengaged, leaning back in her chair and looking at the wall. He could sympathize: it was easier to not care than to try to fight the implacable power of the feds.
As annoyed as Jericho had been with Kayla only a few moments earlier, he suddenly felt like her ally against these rude new arrivals. He angled back in his own chair and squinted at the men. “Not cool enough for FBI. Not quite douchey enough to be Homeland Security. I’m gonna say DEA. Am I right? Do I get a prize?”
“Special Agent Hockley.” The slightly taller, slightly older agent didn’t offer his hand as he spoke. He glanced at his partner and added, “Special Agent Montgomery.”
There was a moment’s silence, and then Jericho leaned forward. “It’s lovely to meet you both. I’m not sure I caught what agency you’re being so special at . . .”
Hockley jerked his head in an approximation of a nod. “DEA.”
“And is there a prize for my superior guessing skills?”
Hockley frowned and ran a hand roughly over his own face. “Mr. Crewe, forgive me for saying so, but you are not behaving in a way that we would expect from a man who has recently lost his father. Nor are you behaving in a way that appears consistent with your position in law enforcement. You don’t seem to be taking any of this as seriously as we might have anticipated.”
Jericho nodded. “That must be a little annoying for you.”
Hockley’s shrug made it clear that he considered himself too far above it all to be annoyed. “It’s one more piece of the puzzle, I suppose.”
“Must be a pretty big puzzle if I’m even a tiny part of it.”
Hockley pulled a chair from against the wall and swung it in next to Kayla’s. He sat down without ever breaking eye contact and said, “It is a big puzzle, Mr. Crewe. And we’re just fitting in the last few pieces.” His smile was greasy. “I thought I’d come in and make sure you haven’t forgotten we’re all on the same team, here. We’re all law enforcement. But you’re on the bench for this one. Sometimes I think we can get a little worked up, when our professional concerns overlap with our personal lives. So I wanted to remind you of your place in this situation.”
“I surely do enjoy being reminded of my place.”
Another oily, insincere smile. “It’s not a pissing contest, Mr. Crewe,” Hockley said with the complacency of someone who knew that if it were a contest, he, or at least his agency, would win. “I’m sorry for your loss. The sheriff said you’ve been out of contact with your father for ten years—is that accurate?”
It was hard to think of a smart-ass answer to such a direct question, so Jericho just nodded.
Hockley said, “As you’ve been out of touch with your father for so long, I don’t think you’ll have much to add to the investigation, but if we need any deep background, I will certainly contact you. Until then, though, please focus on your family. This isn’t a time for you to be trying to solve crimes.”
His family. Well there was Aunt Diane, she of the brunch visits, but Jericho had lost touch with her soon after his mother’s death. There was nobody else, and Hockley probably knew it; Kayla certainly did, if she cared enough to remember. But it wasn’t as if the agent was actually making a suggestion that amounted to anything more than Fuck off. “So that’s it?” Jericho asked. Hockley might be done with him, but that didn’t mean he was done with Hockley. “You’re investigating his death as a murder, but that’s all you’ve got? Wade Granger is a suspect; is that just because he’s a suspect for everything, or is there something specific tying him to this?”
“Mr. Crewe, your name has come up several times in association with Mr. Granger in the local arrest records. You were actually convicted of a few misdemeanors with him as codefendant. Is that correct?” Hockley didn’t wait for an answer. “I’ve got to say, I’m a little surprised that the LAPD accepted you as a candidate after all that.”
A Silver Star will go a long way toward making people forget dumb shit you did as a kid. But Jericho didn’t feel like defending himself to this guy. “I guess they must have been pretty desperate.”
“You hadn’t been in contact with your father for a significant period of time. What about Mr. Granger? When was the last time you spoke to him?”
Jericho was once again glad of his training. He kept his voice level as he said, “Before I left Mosely.” Right before. They’d woken up together, bundled into the same double sleeping bag that had sheltered them during so many nights out in the woods, and Wade had asked him to stay. Jericho had known he couldn’t; if he didn’t get away, he’d be lost. But he’d still been tempted, because being lost with Wade was surely better than being found anywhere else, with anyone, ever. “I left, he stayed, and I haven’t seen or heard from him since.”
“And do you plan to see him now?”
“Plan to?” Hell, no. And also Hell, yes. “I have no plans. Of any sort. I got here thinking my father had taken a fall and I was maybe going to have to figure out who’d take care of him while he got better. Something along those lines. Obviously those plans have changed, and I haven’t had time to come up with a new set.”