When Matt reached her bedroom door, the lone bodyguard who had been standing watch since Coleman had been discovered acknowledged Matt and went downstairs to leave him to the private moment.
Matt walked through the bedroom and instantly smelled the scent of lavender, his aunt’s favorite. He looked at the unmade bed, felt the warmth of the sun drenching the room through the glass slider that opened onto the deck. She had often done yoga, raced through a Gray Man novel, or dealt with the nation’s national security there, and then he saw her, lying in peace, covered by the familiar rustic patchwork blanket that had brought her comfort there for years. He knelt beside her, slowly pulled the light blanket down from her face, and smiled. Her expression, the one he would remember forever, was peaceful. She hadn’t been a very religious person but had seen to it that Matt was brought up in the Catholic faith when he visited. They had debated, many times in front of the blazing replace, about the presence of a God in such a world where both of them had seen such evil exist. But he had faith and said a prayer before covering her face for the last time. As he stood up and headed for the door, he stopped and remembered her ring.
She had never married but wore a simple turquoise ring that had been passed down from her mother and from generations before them, dating back to the days when the family set up stake in the region. It was the only jewelry she ever wore, and he wanted it to remember her by. She’d want him to have it; perhaps for Claire someday, she had often teased him.
Matt knelt back down and reached under the blanket for her right hand. He found it, cold and still, but there was no ring. He frowned. Something wasn’t right.
It was always there on that hand, on her third finger. Always. He turned toward the door to make sure they were still alone. He stood up and checked the top of her bureau. That was the only place it might have been if she took it o at night. It wasn’t there. He walked to the other side of her body and reached under the blanket to search for her left hand.
Found it, he thought to himself grimly. The peacefulness he’d felt in the room changed. Matt and his aunt had a secret signal. If she ever felt threatened or something was amiss, she told Matt she would switch the ring to her other hand.
Matt remained crouched there, gathering his thoughts and developing an action plan. If Coleman had felt in danger, she couldn’t just call him as any ordinary person might do. In the intelligence business, everything was monitored and recorded. There were no secrets anywhere, except ones that NSA or CIA never revealed. If his aunt feared for her life and knew it might be at someone’s hands, switching the ring would alert Matt if she had the time and the strength to do it. Calls for help might put her beloved nephew’s life at risk, and that was one thing she would never have allowed to happen.
If this was an inside job, that means there’s a killer down- stairs, he thought. Maybe an accomplice. Matt shook his head. Could all of this be a mistake? he wondered. Could she have moved the ring for some other reason?
He continued to hold her hand and then slowly removed the ring from her finger, placing her hand back beneath the blanket.
He had just stood up when the sheriff knocked at the doorway. “Is there anything you want us to do, Matt?” he asked in a respectful, subdued tone.
Sam Horton had been a family friend as far back as Matt could remember. They were the same age, had spent summers together climbing the hills, spotting big game at dusk, chasing the two-legged locals into the night, and using the Tetons and nearby Yellowstone as theirs to conquer. Horton was a cowboy through and through, raised on a horse ranch just over the hills in Idaho. He loved to hunt, fly fish, hike, ride horses, and Helene Coleman. She, too, had provided the mothering figure both young men had been without growing up. Matt and Sam had been like brothers but their time apart had made them more like acquaintances as the years went by. Matt hadn’t turned to face Sam yet. He needed to formulate a plan and fast. He wasn’t sure he could trust him.