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Wolf Creek, Montana Early Spring
On a windswept hilltop a mile outside Wolf Creek, twelve-year-old Trey Harper hunched his shoulders against the spatter of raindrops that chilled his face and hands. Beside him, his twin sister Raine shivered and tucked her chin lower into the neckline of her hooded sweatshirt.
they lay flat on their bellies, hiding behind a three-foot-tall sagebrush. Scattered chunks of shale littered the hard clay and sand soil beneath them. When Trey leaned to his left and peered around the lowest branches of the bush, he had a clear view of the cemetery below. A single, uniformed officer stood several feet behind the grieving family while the other black-clad mourners clustered across the open grave.
"He looks different," Raine said, her voice troubled. "Don't you think Chase looks different, Trey?"
He stared intently at the group of McClouds. "He looks sad." Of course he does. His grandpa Angus is in that coffin. Trey knew about being sad at funerals. their older brother, Mike, had been buried barely three months ago. "And older. Maybe thinner. I wonder if he gets good food in jail?, And I wonder if he minds having that cop standing behind him, watching him.
"I hope so."
Below them the pastor lifted his Bible and began to read. the faint sound of his voice reached them, although Trey couldn't make out the words.
"I miss Mike," Raine continued, her voice breaking. "And I miss Chase, too. I wish this year had never happened."
Trey hoped she didn't start crying again but he thought she might. He always knew when Raine was upset, just as she seemed to know the same about him. their mother said twinswere telepathic. He didn't know why his mom seemed to think it was such a big deal. they were brother and sister, that's all.
"Well, it did." He couldn't look at her, afraid that if he saw tears on her face, he'd cry, too. Guys his age didn't do that.
"I don't believe Chase hurt Mike on purpose, do you?"
"People say he did. Mom believes he did." Trey didn't like to think about his mom. She'd started staying in bed after Mike's funeral. He rarely saw her dressed in anything except her nightgown and robe anymore. Sometimes he was afraid she'd never come out of her bedroom again. And the sound of her soft weeping behind the closed door made his heart hurt.
Even his dad had stopped smiling and, despite his and Raine's efforts to get him to eat the dinners they made after school, he was losing weight. His jeans hung loose on his hips and the bones of his face seemed to stick out more each day. And too often Trey could smell the sweet odor of whiskey when his Dad got home from work.
Maybe if Raine and I were better cooks, Dad and Mom would eat more, he thought gloomily. I'm really tired of mac and cheese and hamburgers, too.
"Dad said Chase says he didn't." Raine's comment broke into Trey's thoughts. "Do you think he did?"
"No." Trey looked at her. Her gray eyes were anxious. "I don't."
"Me, neither." Her gaze left his to focus on the group in the cemetery below. "But he's still gone away and we never get to see him just like Mike. Only Mike's dead and Chase isn't. Do you think Chase will ever come back?"
"I don't know." I want him to, he thought fiercely. I know Mike never can, but Chase could. He's like my other brother and he can help me make Lonnie Kerrigan pay for what he did to Mike. Maybe life would be normal again if Chase came home. He wasn't sure how he could change things, though, unless he could find a way to prove Chase hadn't been driving his truck when it crashed into Mike's car. But that seemed impossible.
"Maybe someday, when I find out what really happened."
"Do you think Mom will believe you?"
"Probably not." His voice was bleak as the swift mental image popped into his head of his mother as he'd last seen her, drifting around the darkened house like a ghost. But I'll find out, anyway. Chase wouldn't lie, and he said it was Lonnie's fault Mike wrecked his car. Losing their brother, Mike, had been devastating, but losing Chase, too, had made Mike's death that much worse. the two older boys had spent long hours hanging out at the Harper family home. Chase was cool. he'd let Trey tag along with them, even if Mike hadn't wanted him to. Now they both were gone, and he felt as if a giant hole had been blown in his world.
Down in the cemetery, the small crowd of mourners stirred, some paying their respects to the McCloud family while others moved toward the parked cars.
"Come on, Raine." Trey used his elbows and the toes of his sneakers to maneuver backward. "We don't want anyone to see us. We'll be in trouble with Dad for sure if he knows we came out here."
Rocks and twigs scratched his palms. When the slope of the hill hid them from view, he stood, and with Raine close on his heels, they raced to their bikes. Soon they were pedaling furiously down the little-used dirt road back to town, intent on reaching home before they were missed.
Fifteen years later Wolf Creek, Montana
"Raine, you're too sick to leave the house." Trey frowned at his sister. the afternoon sunlight slanted through the window, highlighting the slender form on the blue sofa. Her legs were tucked beneath her and her head rested against the cushion. Her face was flushed and her gray eyes seemed bright with fever.
"I have a summer cold," she insisted.
"That's all." She stopped talking as a sudden bout of coughing doubled her over.
Trey handed her a glass of water and a box of Kleenex from the coffee table. "it may be a cold but I bet you've got a fever." He laid his palm against her cheek.
Raine ducked away from him before he could do more than register the heat radiating from her skin. She glared at him and sneezed. "Sometimes I run a temperature when I have a cold." She dabbed at her watering eyes with a tissue. "it's no big deal. I'll be fine by tonight."
He sighed. "Be reasonable, Raine. Chances are this trip is a dead end and the letter just an attempt to con us into handing over money. the writer didn't say there was any hard evidence."
"Nevertheless" Raine's chin jutted with determination" it's the first new clue in fifteen years. Don't try to convince me you aren't dying to find out who wrote it, Trey, because I know you are."