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Troy Davis had been with the sheriff's department in Cedar Cove for most of his working life. He knew this town and he knew these people; he was one of them. Four times now he'd been elected to the office of sheriff by an overwhelming majority.
Sitting at his desk on this bleak January day, he let his mind wander as he sipped stale coffee. The department stuff was never good, no matter how recently it'd been brewed. As he sat there, he thought about Sandy, his wife of more than thirty years. She'd died last year of complications related to MS. Her death had left a gaping hole in his life. He'd often discussed his cases with her and had come to appreciate her insights. She usually had opinions, carefully considered ones, on what led people to commit the crimes that brought them to his attention.
Troy would've been interested in her views on one of his current cases. A couple of local teenagers had come upon skeletal remains in a cave not far from the road leading out of town. Partial results of the autopsy were finally in, but they raised more questions than they answered. Additional tests were forthcoming, and they might provide further information. He could only hope…. Hard though it was to believe, the body had gone all this time without discovery, and no one seemed to know who it was.
Despite this perplexing—and very cold—case and, of course, the loss of his wife, Troy had reason to count his blessings. He had a comfortable life, good friends and his only child, Megan, was married to a fine young man. In fact, Troy couldn't have chosen a better husband for his daughter had he handpicked Craig himself. In a few months, Megan would give birth to his first grandchild.
As far as finances went, Troy had no complaints. His house was paid off and so was his car. He enjoyed his work and had strong ties to the community.
And yet… he was miserable.
That misery could be attributed to one source.
Troy had reconnected with his high-school girlfriend, and almost before he realized what was happening, he'd fallen in love with her all over again.
Neither of them possessed an impulsive personality. They were adults; they'd known what they wanted and what they were doing.
Then the relationship that had seemed so promising had come to a sudden end—thanks to his daughter's reaction and to some undeniably bad judgment on Troy's part.
When Megan learned he was dating again so soon after her mother's death, she'd been very upset. Troy understood his daughter's feelings. It had only been a few months since they'd buried Sandy; however, Sandy had been ill for years, and in some ways, their farewells had been said long before. But the fact that Troy had hidden his relationship with Faith from his daughter had contributed significantly to the whole mess.
On the evening of Troy's first visit to Faith's home in Seattle, the first time he'd kissed her, Megan had been at the hospital. She'd had a miscarriage. And while she and Craig were at the hospital, they couldn't reach Troy— because he'd turned off his cell phone. Because he hadn't wanted his hours with Faith interrupted.
His guilt had been overwhelming. The baby had meant everything to Megan and Craig, especially so soon after Sandy's death.
In retrospect Troy saw that he'd completely mishandled the situation. Immediately after Megan's miscarriage he'd broken off the relationship with Faith. He'd acted out of remorse but he hadn't taken Faith's feelings into account; her shock and pain haunted him to this day.
He'd dedicated himself to his daughter and her needs ever since. That didn't mean he'd stopped thinking about Faith—far from it. Thoughts of her filled his every waking moment.
To complicate this already complicated situation, Faith had sold her Seattle home and moved to Cedar Cove to be closer to her son, Scott—and to Troy. Seeing her around town these days was torture. Faith had made it clear that she wanted nothing to do with him. Troy didn't blame her.
"I have that missing-persons file for you, Sheriff." Cody Woodchase stepped into his office and set the folder in Troy's in-basket.
"Thanks," Troy murmured. "You checked the appropriate dates?"
Cody nodded, dutifully efficient. "And came up blank. The only major case I can personally recall was Daniel Sherman a few years back."
Troy was well aware of the outcome. His old highschool friend had walked away from his family for no apparent reason. He'd simply vanished. The case had bothered Troy for well over a year. As it turned out, Dan had committed suicide, his body eventually found in the woods.
"That one was solved," Troy pointed out.
"I remember," Cody said. "Anyway, I pulled all the pertinent missing-persons files and printed them out for you."
"Thanks." Troy reached for the folder as soon as Cody left his office. Cedar Cove was fortunate enough to have a low crime rate. Oh, there was the occasional public disturbance, domestic violence now and then, a break-in, a drunk driver—the sort of crime common to any small town. There was a mystery every once in a while, too. The biggest that came to mind was the man who'd shown up at Thyme and Tide, the Beldons' B and B. The stranger had the misfortune to die that very night. But that case, which was actually a murder, had been solved, too.
And now…the human remains, found just before Christmas.
According to the autopsy, they were those of a young man. A teenage boy between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. Based on those bones, there was no obvious cause of death. No blunt-force trauma, for instance. He'd been dead as long as twenty-five to thirty years.
Twenty-five to thirty years!
Troy had been with the department back then, untested and eager to prove himself. Sandy was pregnant after miscarrying twice, optimistic that this time they'd have their baby.
If a missing teenager had been reported in the late '70s or early '80s, Troy was confident he would've remembered it. The files Cody had printed out indicated that he was right. Not a single case involving a missing teenager, male or female, had been left unresolved.
To be on the safe side, he checked five years before and five years after. Twelve boys, mostly runaways, had been reported missing in that time. They'd all been found, either returning of their own accord or located by friends, relatives or the authorities.
Surely this young man had family, a mother and father, who must have wondered and waited in anguish. Troy closed his eyes and tried to think of boys he'd known during that time. Random names and faces rushed through his mind.
Around 1985, he recalled, Cedar Cove High School had won the state baseball championship. He could picture the first baseman, Robbie something, and Weaver, one of his deputies now, who'd been the team's star pitcher. Troy had attended all the play-off games. Sandy had gone with him and, although she wasn't a real baseball fan, she'd clapped and yelled her heart out.
Oh, how he missed Sandy….
Troy had visited her grave a couple of times over the holidays. Even at the end, when her body had failed her and MS had stolen much of her dignity, she'd been cheerful. He missed her appreciation of life's simple joys.
At least he and Megan were over the firsts—the first Thanksgiving without Sandy. The first Christmas. The first birthday, wedding anniversary and Mother's Day… Those were the big ones, when her loss felt like a burden that would never grow lighter. When he and his daughter both acknowledged that nothing would ever be the same.
Troy was startled out of his reverie by someone calling his name.
"Am I interrupting anything important?" Louie Benson asked, standing in the office doorway.
"Louie." Troy rose to his feet. It wasn't every day he received a visit from the mayor of Cedar Cove. "Come on in. Good to see you." He gestured toward the chair in front of his desk.
"Happy New Year," Louie said as he slid into the seat. He rested one ankle on the opposite knee, striking a relaxed pose.
"Same to you," Troy said and sat back down. "What can I do for you?" The mayor was a busy man and didn't waste time on unnecessary visits. The fact was, Troy couldn't remember when Louie had last sought him out. Oh, they ran into each other often enough; that was unavoidable, since they worked in the same office complex. Socially they were acquaintances and he saw Louie at civic functions or the occasional party.
Louie's expression grew serious, and he leaned forward. "I've got a couple of things I want to discuss with you."
Louie looked down at the floor. "First, I want to remind you that I'm up for reelection this November. I was hoping for an endorsement."
"It's yours." Troy was surprised the other man felt the need to bring it up so early in the year. Besides, he'd supported Louie's previous campaigns. Nothing had changed. To the best of his knowledge, no other candidates had declared their intentions to run against him.
"I value your support," Louie said. "And of course you have mine." His gaze fell on Troy's desk. "On another matter… What can you tell me about those remains that were recently discovered?"
"I got the autopsy report a few days ago," Troy told him. "Jack Griffin ran an article about it in the Chronicle over the weekend. I'd hoped someone might step forward with information as a result. Dental evidence is useless because without a name we can't get a chart for comparison. To date, I have nothing."
Louie leaned back in his chair and eyed the open folder on Troy's desk. "So…no clue who that unfortunate soul might be?"
This didn't appear to please the mayor. "The reason I'm pushing you on this is that I got a call from the Seattle paper. Apparently Jack's story aroused some interest there. They want to do a piece on those unidentified remains." The mayor's frown deepened. "I tried to steer the reporter away from the subject, but she seems determined to find out whatever she can. I gave her your contact information, so expect a call."
"Must be a slow news day." Troy appreciated getting advance notice. "Thanks for the heads-up." Over the years he'd dealt with the press many times and was accustomed to handling reporters. He had nothing against them as long as they didn't probe where they didn't belong or print misinformation.
"My fear," Louie went on to explain, "is that a negative story will hurt Cedar Cove's reputation. We want to attract tourists, not drive them away with… with ghoulish stories about our town."
"At this point there's nothing for them to report," Troy reassured him.
"Have you found out anything?" Louie inquired.
"Not really." Troy shrugged. "Pretty much what Jack wrote in that article. The remains are those of a male, between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. He's been dead since 1980, give or take a few years. No indication how he died."
Louie seemed uninterested in the details. "The thing is, Cedar Cove doesn't need any bad press. Our initiative this year is to attract more tourists to the area. I hate the thought of Cedar Cove becoming the center of some macabre story about unidentified remains and an unsolved mystery."
Troy nodded. "Yeah, I hear you."
"Good." Louie rose to his feet. "Do your best to solve this as quickly as possible."
Standing up, too, Troy opened his mouth to assure the mayor he was doing the best he could, but he wasn't given the opportunity.
"I'm not saying I want you to sweep anything under the rug, you understand?" the mayor said.
"Of course I won't."
"Good." Louie extended his hand and Troy shook it. "Make sure nothing sensational or misleading gets printed, okay? Like I said, I want Cedar Cove to become a tourist destination, not some freak sideshow."
"Do you remember the reporter's name?" Troy asked.
"I doubt I'd forget it. Kathleen Sadler."
"Kathleen Sadler," Troy repeated. "Not to worry, I'll set her straight."
"Thanks." Louie gave him a relieved smile. "I knew I could count on you."
When the mayor had left, Troy went back to the paperwork on his desk. The phone rang frequently that afternoon, but there was no call from the reporter. He just hoped Kathleen Sadler hadn't taken it upon herself to investigate the actual location. The cave was still taped off, but a piece of yellow crime-scene tape wasn't always a deterrent to determined reporters.
Troy had kept the names of the two teenagers who'd discovered the body out of the Chronicle. However, that didn't mean Sadler wouldn't be able to track them down.
After they'd stumbled upon the remains, Troy had spoken to the teens twice. He was confident Philip "Shaw" Wilson and Tannith Bliss had told him everything they knew, which wasn't much. The conversations had been straightforward. Although Tannith— Tanni—had done a good job of pretending to shrug off the incident, Troy could tell she'd been badly shaken. He was glad to turn the sixteen-year-old over to her mother.
The last thing Tanni needed was to be questioned by the Seattle press. Shaw was a bit older and Troy felt the young man would cope admirably with a barrage of questions. It might not hurt to give the two of them some warning.
His phone rang and Troy grabbed it, prepared to talk to the elusive Kathleen Sadler. "Sheriff Davis."
"Uh, I hope I'm not disturbing you unnecessarily." It was Cody Woodchase.
Troy caught the hesitation in his voice. "You're not. What's up?"
"I just got a call from the 9-1-1 dispatcher and apparently there's been a break-and-enter at 204 Rosewood Lane."
"Faith?" Troy's reaction was immediate as he bolted to his feet. That was the address of the rental house where Faith had recently moved. She'd been there a little more than two months.
"I believe I heard she might be a… friend of yours."
"Yes," Troy said curtly, his throat muscles tight.
"I thought you'd want to know."
"I do, Cody. Thank you." Within seconds, Troy had thrown on his coat and reached for his hat. He charged out the office door, unable to think of anything but Faith. He needed to know she hadn't been hurt, that she was safe from harm.