A muzzle flashed in the darkness in front of me. Two shots rang out.

Return fire from the direction of the voices. The ping of a bullet ricocheting off rock.

A thud, an expulsion of air. The sound of a body sliding down the rock wall.

Running feet.

Hands on my throat, my wrist.

“—pulse is strong.”

Faces above me, swimming like a mirage on a summer sidewalk. Ryan. Crowe. Deputy Nameless.

“—ambulance. It's O.K. We didn't hit her.”


I struggled to sit.

“Lie back.” Gentle pressure on my shoulders.

“I have to see him.”

One circle of light slid to the cliff where my assailant sat motionless, legs stretched in front, back against rock. Slowly, the light illuminated feet, legs, torso, face. I knew who he was.

Ralph Stover, the not-so-happy owner of the Riverbank Inn, the man who would not let me into Primrose's room. He stared sightlessly into the night, chin forward, brain slowly oozing onto a stain on the rock behind his head.

I LEFT CHARLOTTE AT DAWN ON FRIDAY AND DROVE WEST THROUGH heavy fog. The shifting vapors lightened as I climbed toward the Eastern Continental Divide, vanished outside Asheville.

Leaving Highway 74 at Bryson City, I drove up Veterans' Boulevard, past the cutoff to the Fryemont Inn, turned right on Main, and parked opposite the old courthouse, now a senior citizens' center. I sat a moment watching sunlight glisten on its little gold dome, and thought of those seniors whose bones I'd unearthed.

I pictured a tall, gangly man, blind and nearly deaf; a fragile old woman with a crooked face. I imagined them on these same streets all those years ago. I wanted to put my arms around them, to tell each of them that things were being put right.

And I thought about those who had perished on Air TransSouth 228. So many stories had only begun. Graduations not attended. Birthdays not celebrated. Voyages not taken. Lives obliterated because of one fatal voyage.

I took my time walking to the fire station. I'd spent a month in Bryson City, had come to know it well. I was leaving now, my work completed, but a few questions remained.

When I arrived McMahon was packing the contents of his cubicle into cardboard boxes.

“Breaking camp?” I asked from the doorway.

“Hey, girl, you're back in town.” He cleared a chair, gestured me into it. “How are you feeling?”

“Bruised and scraped but fully functional.”

Amazingly, I'd sustained no serious injury during my romp in the woods with Ralph Stover. A slight concussion had sent me to the hospital for a couple of days, then Ryan had driven me to Charlotte. Assured I was fine, he'd flown back to Montreal, and I'd spent the rest of the week on the couch with Birdie.


“No thanks.”

“Mind if I keep working?”


“Has someone regaled you with the whole strange tale?”

“There are still gaps. Take it from the top.”

“H&F was some kind of hybrid between Mensa and the Billionaire Boys Club. It didn't start out that way, was originally just a bunch of businessmen, doctors, and professors coming to the mountains to hunt and fish.”

“Back in the thirties.”

“Right. They'd camp on Edward Arthur's land, hunt during the day, drink and party all night. Applaud themselves on their extraordinary intelligence. The group got to be very close over the years, eventually formed a secret society which they called H&F.”

“The founding father being Prentice Dashwood.”

“Dashwood was the first prior, whatever the hell that means.”

“H&F stands for Hell Fire,” I said. “Hell Fire Clubs flourished in eighteenth-century England and Ireland, the most famous being the brainchild of Sir Francis Dashwood. Prentice Dashwood of Albany, New York, was a descendant of Sir Francis. Mama was an unnamed Hell Fire lady.” I'd done a lot of reading during my time on the couch. “Sir Francis had four sons named Francis.”

“Sounds like George Foreman.”

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