When Mitch Pembroke and his bodyguard, Kit Moran, agree to help their housekeeper find her daughter, they get more than they bargained for. Miss Egan is not the only resident of her Maine logging town to have gone missing in recent weeks and her terrified neighbors are desperate for answers. Are the disappearances really tied up in an old Native American legend or is there a more sinister solution? Time is running out. Can Mitch and Kit find Miss Egan before they too end up victims of the Deceiver?
It was 11:00 p.m. and Sheriff McCauley was waiting for them behind his desk. The lines in his face and the shadows beneath his eyes spoke of exhaustion and of a deep and abiding concern. A pallet in the corner suggested that the sheriff would be sleeping in the jail house tonight, and possibly had already done so the night before. He stood up and offered each man his hand. “Did Mrs. Egan get settled in all right?”
“She’s talking with Mrs. Baxter now,” Mitch answered.
The sheriff sighed, returning to his seat. “I guess that’s what I expected. Still it’s a shame to burden that poor woman with more concerns when we still really don’t know what happened.”
Mitch placed a chair in front of the sheriff’s desk and sat in it. Kit came over to stand behind him. He was purposeful, not nonchalant; protective in his movements. The sheriff noticed all of this, then clearly considered how to begin saying what he wanted them to know.
“As I already said, I still don’t know what happened, but there are a few facts in the case. Not cold facts, not hard, but they’re most of what I have to work with.”
Mitch waited expectantly. Kit offered no expression at all. The dichotomy of attitude was already beginning to work on the sheriff—the one man clearly desiring information, the other just as clearly intending to see that he received it. A lesser man might have grown nervous or angry. Sheriff McCauley merely began to share that which he had already intended to give.
“Last Sunday, that’s April 11, Miss Egan fixed a picnic lunch and went off by herself into Shadow Valley. She had done this a couple of times before, despite suggestions that it wasn’t a good idea. Miss Egan said she liked to get away to work on her lesson plan for the coming week. My deputy went looking and couldn’t find her, but no one was really concerned until she failed to show up at the boarding house for dinner. Mrs. Baxter alerted me, and I organized a search. We scoured Shadow Valley for three days with no sign of Miss Egan.”
Mitch continued to wait expectantly, politely refraining from asking if the sheriff had questioned Deputy Howland. You didn’t have to be a local to see that Howland was infatuated with Emily Egan. And it didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to wonder if infatuation—especially if it was unrequited—could have led to something less innocent.
The sheriff changed course. “Well that’s the crux of it as far as Miss Egan is concerned, but it’s only a small part of the larger picture. You see, we’ve had a number of other disappearances in Shadow Valley which look much the same. Well,” he amended, “a number of recent disappearances. People have been disappearing in the valley for the better part of two centuries. It just hasn’t happened quite so regularly before.”
The sheriff swallowed a sort of half laugh, as if what he was about to say embarrassed him, but he was going to say it anyway. “The Abernackie, the local Indian tribe, have known about the place for centuries. They won’t go there. The whole valley is taboo. But white folk have always been too smart to listen to Indians. So we hunt there, and now we log there, or at least we do in the half of the valley that doesn’t belong to the reservation. And the Indians they just turn around and shake their heads, especially when someone disappears.”
“Just how many disappearances are we talking about, Sheriff?” Mitch asked. He had the uneasy feeling that he knew where this conversation was going. Not specifically, of course, but there was an aura of strangeness settling about the office, and Mitch didn’t like the way it felt.
“Six really,” the sheriff answered. “Miss Egan, and five others, all in the past seven months.