...Masterson put all the dogs inside and flipped on a light over the door. The bulb didn’t illuminate much. The yard appeared small, but it was hard to see in the dark. Masterson came back out and closed the door behind him. He stood on the top step as Cavan joined Ben, who could see the neighbor’s house to his left. The kitchen had a clear view of the backyard in spite of the high fence and a lot of foliage from a long trail of bougainvillea topping it.
Ben asked Masterson to open his garage.
“There’s nothing in there,” he grumbled, but he went inside and got his keys.
“He’s been building,” Cavan said, keeping his voice low. “I smelled sawdust. He’s got traces of it in his hair and on his shoulder. And that T-shirt. I know that lumber company. It’s from Klamath Falls, in Oregon.”
Masterson came outside and unlocked the garage. He yanked a long cord above him and fluorescent lights flickered to life. The garage was filled with even more videos in bookshelves lining the walls. Some building materials stood in boxes. Ben looked at Cavan, who had detected a whiff of something else.
Under the canopy of a dark, starless night, Cavan stepped into the backyard. He could hardly see, but he kept up a sweeping arc of the flashlight.
He could hear Ben talking to the man now. Cavan concentrated. He had figured out the plants looked jumbled together but the farther he walked, the more they created a small, narrow path to the back of the property. Something made him swing his flashlight to the left. He almost missed it, except the smell of new wood was so strong.
He turned and caught Ben’s eye. Ben came right to him, tripping over a stone.
“What is it?”
Ben arced his flashlight in the same direction. It was very well hidden.
“There’s nothing in there. I don’t keep my dogs in there.” The man kept babbling. “You can’t go in there. That’s private.”
They inched toward it, the big silver bolt on it glinting under the flashlights’ beams. Cavan saw a dark stain on the door. He was sure it was blood.
“Unlock this please,” Ben insisted.
“No. There’s no dogs in there. Come back with a search warrant.”
They reached the shack, Cavan touching the lock. The padlock had not been pushed all the way down.
Inside the house, the dogs started barking like crazy, as if sensing something was very wrong. Cavan pulled out his iPhone with his free hand and surreptitiously began recording.
“The lock,” Ben said again.
Unbelievably, Luke Masterson took off running.
Cavan heard Ben shouting something to him, but he didn’t respond. He wondered what horrors awaited him as he lifted the lock off the hinge, slid back the bolt and prepared to enter the shack. He heard Ben running and realized he’d gone after their suspect. Cavan braced himself as he got the door open and, flashlight in one hand, camera phone activated, began searching the small room. There in the corner sat a huddled creature chained to the wall, shackles on…his feet. It wasn’t a dog. It was a beaten, shivering, shaking, bloodied man. Cavan would never forget how the man tried to make himself smaller. Defenseless. Petrified.
Suddenly, his head came up. His swollen eyes looked right at Cavan.
“Don’t worry,” the man said. “I’m tame...”