Home > A Bone to Pick (Widow's Island #2)

A Bone to Pick (Widow's Island #2)
Author: Melinda Leigh

1

“Where did the screams come from, ma’am?” Deputy Tessa Black stood under the porch overhang. The night wind whipped dead leaves around her boots.

“Over there.” In the open doorway, Mrs. Driver lifted one hand from her walker and pointed behind Tessa.

Tessa glanced over her shoulder. On the other side of a quarter-acre field, the thick forest of the state park abutted Mrs. Driver’s property. Lights shining from the house couldn’t penetrate the darkness. Everything beyond the tree line was inky black. Tessa cocked her head and listened intently, but all she heard was the wind rustling through branches.

“What time did you hear them?” Tessa asked.

“Twenty minutes ago.” Mrs. Driver’s eyes narrowed with reproach. “I called you immediately.”

The What took you so long? was implied.

Tessa had been on call, not on duty, when the complaint had come in. She’d been on the road in less than three minutes. But navigating tight switchbacks in the dark had taken time. Slow emergency response time was a part of life that every resident of Widow’s Island well knew. But that fact never stopped anyone from complaining.

An owl screeched, the high-pitched sound startling Tessa.

She blew out a breath. “Could you have heard an animal?”

Mrs. Driver lifted an indignant chin. Despite standing barely five feet tall, including her fluffy white curls, the old woman managed to look down her nose. “I’ve lived on this island all my life. I know what I heard. It was no animal. It was a person screaming.” She pursed her lips, concentrating. “A man, I think.” She nodded. “Yes. I’m almost certain it was a man.”

Could she have heard teenagers?

The state park beach, a popular hangout spot, was close by.

“Have you seen or heard anything else tonight?” Tessa asked. “Motorcycles or quads?”

“No.” With a shudder, Mrs. Driver lowered her hand and clutched the edges of her blue robe together. “But I heard more than a single yell. The screaming went on for a full minute or two. It sounded so . . . terrible.” She paused, her lips puckering with wrinkles as she pressed them together. “Bloodcurdling.”

Goose bumps lifted on Tessa’s arms. “I’ll check it out. Be sure to lock your door, ma’am.”

“Yes. I will. Thank you,” Mrs. Driver said solemnly. Then she shuffled her walker backward and closed the door.

Tessa turned away from the house. As she stepped off the porch, she heard the dead bolt slide home with a metallic scrape. She walked to her county-issued SUV in the driveway. Across the street, a spotlight shone on the wooden arch that marked the entrance to Bishop State Park. Beyond it, the forest was murky and black. Tessa had no desire to traipse through it alone in the dark.

Three deputies lived on Widow’s Island, including Tessa. Veteran deputy Kurt Olson was off the island tonight. His daughter had had a baby earlier in the day at the mainland hospital. Bruce Taylor, a new hire from Oregon, was on duty, but he had been tied up with a vehicle accident when Mrs. Driver’s call had come in. There would be no backup for Tessa from the sheriff’s department.

Other than the tiny satellite sheriff’s station, the only other emergency service unit located on Widow’s Island was a two-bay fire station manned entirely by volunteers. There was no hospital, no urgent care, and no ambulance. The community had only recently replaced the doctor who had died ages ago. The sheriff’s deputies served as first responders to any situation one of the five thousand island residents considered urgent. Since Tessa had left the Seattle PD eighteen months before and joined the local sheriff’s department, she’d handled everything from loose sheep to drug overdoses to domestic violence.

Tessa eyed the woods again. She was no coward, but neither was she foolish. She slid into the SUV, took her phone out of her pocket, and called state park ranger Logan Wilde. The ranger’s station sat near the park entrance, with the ranger’s residence just behind it. At nearly midnight, Logan would likely be in his cabin.

“Logan, it’s Tessa.” She explained about Mrs. Driver’s report of a man screaming. “Did you hear anything strange around eleven thirty?”

“I don’t know.” His voice sounded rough. “Maybe.”

Maybe?

She wanted to press him for an explanation, but the harshness of his tone stopped her, and she wished she could read his face and body language. Her interrogation experience had taught her that some questions were better left to in-person discussions.

He cleared his throat. “It was probably kids. If they’re not drinking on the beach, they’re parking in the woods or ripping up the trails on their quads. I can’t run them out of the park fast enough.”

“Especially on a warm night.”

Widow’s Island was located in the same sun belt as the San Juan Islands. Shielded by the Olympic Mountains, it received about half the precipitation of Seattle. But even for the temperate island, early December had been unusually warm and pleasant.

“Yes,” Logan agreed. “I’ll check out the most likely spots and let you know if I see anyone.”

Tessa remembered Mrs. Driver’s shudder. The older woman was not a frequent complainer. She had definitely heard something. “I’m going with you. I’ll meet you at the clearing.”

She dropped the phone on the console, backed out of the driveway, and headed toward the park. Fog crawled across the road as she drove under the arch. A half mile down the tract, Tessa turned into a small gravel parking lot and lifted her foot off the gas pedal. A familiar Jetta sat near the entrance to the trail.

Tessa backed into a parking spot across the lot from the old car so that her headlights shone on the license plate. She recognized the MAY THE FOREST BE WITH YOU bumper sticker. The Jetta belonged to Jerry Hooper, the owner of the local pot shop and a lifelong friend of her mother’s. The car was older than Tessa, but Jerry didn’t drive it often. Worry twisted in Tessa’s belly. Since her mother’s dementia had accelerated, Jerry had ridden his mountain bike to the house weekly to deliver new holistic treatment options. He was a nice man. A little weird, but nice. She pulled out her cell phone and called his house, but he didn’t answer, which wasn’t unusual. Jerry believed constant connectivity was killing mankind. He also refused to put a cell phone anywhere near his brain.

The park closed at dusk. What would he be doing out here in the middle of the night? Like Tessa’s mom, Jerry was a nature-loving, crunchy, hippie type. Maybe his vehicle had broken down earlier and he’d left it to retrieve the next day. Tessa hoped the screaming Mrs. Driver had reported hadn’t come from Jerry.

Don’t jump to conclusions.

Chances were that Jerry was just fine. Who knew what Mrs. Driver had heard?

Tessa stepped out of her SUV and opened the rear cargo door. She opened the backpack she kept in her vehicle and checked the contents. She kept it loaded with everything from protein bars to Mylar emergency blankets and evidence collection bags. After zipping the pack closed, she grabbed warm gloves and slid a camera into her pocket. She wasn’t planning on a long hike, but one did not go into the five-thousand-acre park without being prepared.

Headlights swept across the parking area, and a dented Range Rover slid into the next space. Logan climbed out of his vehicle and walked toward her. Tall and rangy, he wore dark cargo pants, hiking boots, and a dark-green jacket with the Washington State Forest Ranger patch on the bicep. He entered the pool of light cast by her vehicle.

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