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He had spent a lot of time during those hours grappling with his disbelief at what was happening, and racking his brain for an explanation. He had strained to listen over the vehicle’s noise, but could not hear any conversation. If his captors had been talking, they had done it very quietly.

But Glenn kept coming more clearly into focus in his mind as the center of whatever this was about.

Monks and his son had had a lot of trouble with each other, starting when Glenn was still very young, and getting worse as he reached his teens. Glenn had finally dropped out of high school and left home at seventeen; he had last been heard of living on the streets of Seattle, panhandling, doing drugs and God knew what else. His IQ had been measured in the 160s. He was a natural math whiz and able to do anything with computers. But he was also diagnosed as moderately antisocial, psychology’s euphemism for sociopathic-not overtly violent himself but seeing others as pawns to be used for his own purposes.

The other side of the story had to do with Monks himself, who had done a poor job of controlling his own impatience with the insolence of youth. It hadn’t helped that his anger had often been fueled by alcohol.

Still, it was hard to believe that Glenn had a strong enough thirst for vengeance to harm him. It seemed more likely that he had gotten in with criminal companions, and they had cooked up an extortion scheme-treating Monks roughly to show that they meant business, betting that he would cough up money and stay quiet about it rather than prosecute his own son. He admitted that they were probably right.

The vehicle’s doors opened and closed as the passengers got out. The same two men came around to the rear and lifted Monks out, laying him on the ground. The sky was thick with faintly luminescent fog, allowing him to see a little in spite of the darkness. The men had changed clothes at some point, into the uniform of the backwoods: logger boots, jeans, and wool shirts. Monks glimpsed a couple of patches of light-windows in a nearby building-before the thin-faced one named Taxman knelt on his back, pressing his face into the earth.

“Hammerhead,” Taxman said commandingly. “Go tell Freeboot we’re back.” The bigger man trotted away, carrying his shotgun like a toy in one hand.

Monks felt Taxman’s knife slicing the duct tape free. It just grazed his skin, moving with smooth precision.

Then a woman’s voice cut the air.

“Where’ve you been, pet? I thought you were just going to be gone a couple of hours.”

This was not Marguerite, the young woman who had come to his door, Monks was sure. The voice was older, sharper, its tone sweetly cool-the tone of a woman who suspects that she has been deceived.

Taxman stopped his knife work and turned toward her. But it was a younger man, standing farther away, who answered:

“On a mission.” He inflated the word mission with importance, but his voice had a nervous, blustery edge.

Monks recognized it, deep in his bones, a voice that he had heard make its first newborn squall-Glenn’s.

Monks quietly turned his head toward the talkers. He could just make out the figure of a small slender woman, walking closer with folded arms. Glenn was standing beside the SUV, fidgeting.

“So, you lied to me?” she said, still with that dangerous sweetness.

Taxman answered this time. “Stay cool, Shrinkwrap. It was Freeboot’s call.” His voice was quiet, but hard-edged and authoritative.

“Really? Something too important for me to know about?”

Taxman hesitated, then said, “Freeboot decided to get a doctor. So we got one. Coil’s old man.”

“What?” Her voice rose sharply in disbelief. “You brought his father here?”

Then she seemed to realize that there was someone lying on the ground. She took three or four quick steps toward Monks and bent forward to stare at him, arms held away from her body in a posture of shock.

“Oh, my God,” she breathed. She whirled and spoke furiously to Glenn. “Why didn’t you tell me, you little shit? I could have stopped it.”

“Hey, you can work it out with Freeboot, okay?” Glenn retorted, his own voice heated and sullen.

“Are you insane? This is serious trouble. You think people aren’t going to be looking for this guy?”

“It’s all going to be cool.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“Because,” Glenn said, “he owes me, bigtime.”

An instant of crystalline stillness followed in Monks’s mind, an interlude when all sound and motion seemed to stop completely, even the beating of his heart.

A dining room littered with broken dishes and food on the floor, from another of Glenn’s endless tantrums. Monks, trembling with anger, left hand clenching the taunting boy’s collar, right hand raised to slap him. Gail, Glenn’s mother, clinging to Monks’s arm and screaming at him to stop.

He pushed the memory back into the ugly shadows where it lurked, along with too many others. But it went a long way toward explaining this. By Glenn’s lights, Monks had it coming.

Glenn started walking away. The woman called Shrinkwrap said, “Wait a minute, pet, we’re not done talking,” and strode after him. Monks heard their voices for another half minute-hers, harsh and controlling; his, defiant. Then they faded with distance.

She had called him “pet” twice. Monks had not been able to see her clearly, but he was sure that she was in her thirties, and maybe older. Glenn was twenty-two.

Taxman was busy with his knife again. He finished slicing through the tape, and finally unlocked the handcuffs. Monks rolled onto his back and rubbed his sore wrists, grimacing at the hot shooting pain of returning circulation.

“Empty your pockets,” Taxman said. Monks could see now that he was built like a ferret, his body as thin as his face. With his light, close-cropped hair, his head was a pale orb, giving him a spectral presence.

Monks rose stiffly to his knees and dropped his possessions on the ground: wallet, keys, Kershaw folding knife, and a few coins.

“Your watch, too.”

Monks unstrapped it and added it to the other items. It was a sturdy Casio diver’s watch, which he liked because it remained unscathed by punishment and occasional dousings of body fluids in the ER. It had a small compass on the wristband, an affectation in most circumstances, but useful if you took a wrong turn on a back road. He tried to get a glimpse of the compass to orient himself, but there wasn’t enough light.

“You want to take a piss, go ahead,” Taxman said.

Monks managed to stand up, staggering as the stinging prickles shot down his legs. Marguerite was still standing beside the SUV. She seemed anxious, as if she were waiting for something. He hesitated, expecting her to at least turn away as he unbuttoned his fly, but she paid no attention to him. Apparently, those kinds of social graces were not an issue here. He turned his own back and urinated copiously.

He could see now that he was in a clearing the size of a football field, with the dim shapes of several buildings scattered around. One, made of logs, had the lit windows that he had seen earlier. The others were dark. The air was significantly colder than at his own place, and heavy with the scent of conifers. He could just make out the trees’ tall shapes around the clearing. The fresh wind rustled their branches and blew against his face, bringing the smell of woodsmoke.

What it all added up to was that they were somewhere deep in the mountains of north-central California. There were thousands of square miles of alpine forest up here, most of it far from any town or even a paved road.