A song of shadows, p.3
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       A Song of Shadows, p.3

           John Connolly
 

  Soames recalled those two ‘security consultants’, and felt slightly ill at the memory of raising his voice to them.

  In many ways – in his movements, his labored breathing, even the texture of his skin – Parker resembled someone older than his years, except for his eyes, which were unusually bright and piercing. Soames had never met the man before, so he couldn’t say if they had always been that way, but they had an extraordinary clarity and – for want of a better word – insight. They were how Soames imagined the eyes of one of Christ’s apostles might have looked as he came to understand the true nature of the being to whom he had devoted his life. They were the eyes of one who has suffered, and out of that suffering had come knowledge. Soames figured that being shot and almost killed might do that to a man.

  Soames did not speak with Parker for long. He simply confirmed that the house was in order, and supplied him with an information file about the town, containing a list of bars, stores and restaurants; details of houses of worship and the times of services; and the names of various carpenters, plumbers, mechanics and other tradesmen who could be relied upon in the event of a mishap. Soames had also underlined the contact numbers for the doctors in the area, and moved them from the rear of the file to the front, just in case.

  ‘My card is in a pocket at the back,’ said Soames. ‘Call me any time, if I can be of assistance.’

  ‘Thank you,’ said Parker.

  The wind blowing in from the sea had only the slightest edge of cold to it. The tide had recently gone out, and gulls swooped down for stranded shellfish. Farther out, Soames could see the graceful ellipse of a cormorant’s neck, just before the bird submerged itself beneath the waves.

  ‘I hope you’ll be happy here,’ said Soames. He didn’t know where the words came from. They weren’t just a Realtor’s niceties; he meant them sincerely. Perhaps it was the sight of the cormorant that brought them out. ‘It’s a beautiful spot.’

  ‘It is.’

  They appeared to be running out of conversation. Soames wanted to ask Parker how long he might be staying, although the rent had been paid three months in advance. Aside from any worries he might have had about reprisals against the detective, the additional income – ‘caretaking’ bonus included – was welcome, and it would be nice to have a couple hundred extra dollars in his pocket. He decided not to pursue the subject until a month or more had gone by, and instead half-heartedly occupied Parker with small talk.

  ‘Well,’ said Soames, ‘I just wanted to make sure everything was okay. I’ll be on my way now. Any questions, just give me a call.’

  They shook hands. Parker might have looked frail, but his grip was strong.

  ‘Thank you for your help,’ said the detective.

  ‘I’m sure I’ll see you around town.’

  ‘Probably.’

  Soames had returned to his vehicle and driven away. His radio came on, and the transmission was briefly interrupted at exactly the same point in the driveway. Soames paused, glanced to his left, and saw something flashing in the sunlight as he passed: a metal object, small and circular. Discreetly, as though to retrieve something from his glove compartment, he leaned over as though to fiddle with the glove compartment. Yes, there it was: another little device set in the ground directly across from the first. Soames had continued on his way and said nothing about what he had seen, not even to the chief of police.

  Now, three weeks since the detective’s arrival in Boreas, Soames shielded his eyes with his right hand as he looked down on the beach and the sea beyond. The weather was growing warmer and warmer with each day, but out here at Green Heron Bay Soames was still glad that he was wearing a jacket. Farther along the strand, two figures walked – one tall, one smaller, their backs to him, their fair hair blown behind them by the breeze: the Winters, mother and daughter, out for a stroll by the high dunes.

  Movement came from the house below, and the detective appeared on his porch. He was carrying a stick, and took the steps down to the beach carefully, and at an angle, using his free hand to support himself on the railing. It was only when he was already on the sand that he saw the woman and the girl walking north along the beach. Soames saw him stop and turn to go back to the house. He paused as he glimpsed the car on the road above. Soames raised a hand uncertainly in greeting. After a couple of seconds the gesture was returned, and then the detective was gone.

  ‘They’re nice people,’ said Soames to himself. ‘Wouldn’t have hurt you to say hi.’

  But who was he to judge?

  He got back in his car and left the detective to his solitude.

  4

  Amanda Winter did not fully understand why she had been forced to move to this house by the sea. She was aware only of an argument between her mother and grandmother, although she was not privy to the cause. She had simply learned to judge her mother’s moods, for the two of them were close in the way that only a mother and daughter could be who had grown up without a man in their lives, and she understood that questions about the fight would not be welcomed.

  Amanda’s father had died while she was as yet unborn, and her mother rarely spoke of him. Amanda knew only his name – Alex Goyer – and that he had been a mechanic. Her grandmother had once used a funny word to describe him: ‘feckless.’ Amanda had looked it up online, and found that it meant irresponsible or worthless. There were other words too, but those were the ones that she understood. She didn’t like to think of her father as having no worth, for if she was part of him, then it meant that something of her lacked worth too. Her mother had tried to reassure her on that front. She insisted that her father wasn’t worthless, no matter what Grandma Isha said.

  Now that Amanda was older and growing accustomed to the nuances of adult speech and behavior, she had learned – mostly through Grandma Isha – more about the relationship between her father and her mother. She knew that Grandma Isha had been angry because Amanda’s mother had become pregnant outside marriage, and her father hadn’t wanted to marry her when he found out, instead cutting off all contact. The fact that her father had abandoned her mother while Amanda was still in the womb made Amanda sad, and seemed to confirm Grandma Isha’s view of him.

  Someone had murdered her father – shot him at the repair shop where he worked. The revelation was recent, and came from Grandma Isha. Amanda wondered if that might be one of the reasons for the big fight. She wasn’t sure how she felt about her father’s murder. Grandma Isha had mentioned drugs. Did that make her father a bad man? Amanda hoped not. Being bad was worse than being feckless. Her father didn’t seem to have much family of his own: his mother was dead, and his father, again according to Grandma Isha, wasn’t much better than the son. Her father’s father – she couldn’t really think of him as her grandfather – had died when Amanda was still a baby. His liver didn’t work right, and then it stopped working altogether. Her mother went to his funeral, although, like so much else concerning the Goyers, Amanda didn’t find that out until years later.

  So Grandma Isha was Amanda’s only grandparent, because Grandpa Dave, her husband, was dead too. Amanda could just barely remember him. He had gray hair and wore thick glasses. Her mother said that Grandpa Dave used to call Amanda ‘Manna’, like the bread from heaven. Sometimes her mother would call her that too, which made Amanda happy.

  Grandma Isha loved Amanda. She doted on her, spoiled her, and inhabited every facet of her life. Amanda and her mother had even lived in a house not far from Grandma Isha’s, on land she owned. Amanda missed living there. She missed Grandma Isha. There had been no word from her since they had moved to Boreas. She wanted to ask her mother about it, but her mother was lost in concerns of her own, and whenever Amanda tried to broach the subject, her mother would grow angry, or sad, and Amanda didn’t like to see her mother that way.

  So, when Amanda was not at school – which was often, because she had an illness, and the doctors didn’t seem to know what to do about it – she whiled away the days dozing, or reading, or w
atching TV until her head and eyes hurt. She had hated it in Boreas at first, hated being separated from her friends in Pirna, and from Grandma Isha. But slowly and surely the sea was beginning to lull her with its rhythms and sounds, for it was the same sea that broke near their old house, even if the view was different. She could not imagine being able to fall asleep without the shushing of waves, or waking without the scent of salt in the air and the tang of it on her skin.

  The man who lived in the only other house on the bay had drawn her attention almost immediately. She had seen him walking on the beach that first day, as she sat on her new bed and stared out at the ocean. He stepped slowly and carefully, as though fearful of falling, even though the sand wouldn’t have hurt him much if he had. He stayed close to the soft areas near the large dunes, and he used a stick. He wasn’t old, though, which surprised her. In her limited experience, only old people like Grandma Isha used sticks, so she deduced that this man must be injured or disabled.

  Because of the relative absence of males in her life, Amanda was curious about men. Not boys – she already understood them well enough to disregard them almost entirely, finding them temporarily amusing at best and irritating for the most part – but grown men: adults, like her mother. She could not quite conceive of the reality of them; their thought processes and actions were alien to her. They seemed like another species from the boys in school, and she could not imagine how someone as dumb and useless in every way as Greg Sykes – who sat behind her in class, and had once spat in her hair – could possibly grow up to become capable of, say, driving a car or holding down a job. Greg Sykes smelled like pee, and would walk around with his hand down his pants when he thought that no one was looking. She could only picture a grown-up Greg Sykes as a larger version of his current self: still spitting, still smelling like pee, and still juggling his junk because he couldn’t tell the difference between ‘private’ and ‘public.’

  So, on that first day, confused about this sudden upheaval in her life, she watched the man walk slowly along the strand, one hand on his stick, his head down, his lips – she thought – moving ever so slightly, so that he appeared to be talking to himself or, perhaps, counting his steps. He had paused for a moment to take in their house, noting the car parked outside, and the boxes and suitcases on the porch. His gaze moved up, and for a moment Amanda was certain that he was looking at her, even though she already knew that the angle made it hard to see her if she was lying on her bed. She’d checked when they first arrived, moving between her bedroom and the sand, gauging the room’s suitability as an observation post. No, he almost certainly couldn’t see her, and yet she felt the force of his gaze, and for a moment he might have been in the room with her, so aware was she of his presence.

  Then he walked on, and she shifted position so that she could continue watching him. She wasn’t the kind of girl who spied on people. Grandma Isha had once caught her rummaging in her closet, Amanda’s infant eyes drawn by the old dresses that her grandmother kept but never wore, the boxes of shoes that remained new and unsullied, and other unknown treasures that might be concealed inside. Grandma Isha had been really annoyed, and gave Amanda a long lecture on the right to privacy. Since then, Amanda had always been careful not to pry, but the man was walking on a beach, in full view of anyone who happened to be around, so it wasn’t like she was doing something wrong by watching him. Even so, her attention might have drifted elsewhere, leaving him to become an object of ever-decreasing interest, until she finally failed to notice him at all, were it not for what he did next.

  He stopped, reached down to the sand, and picked up something black and red before continuing on for another while. Finally, he stepped to his left, on to the clean white sand beyond the reach of the incoming tide, and dropped the item. He then turned and walked back to his own house, moving even more slowly and carefully than before. The expression on his face was one of tiredness and, she believed, pain.

  She waited until he was out of sight, and, when she was certain that he had returned to his home, left her bedroom and wandered on to the beach. It didn’t take her long to find the small bundle, for the breeze grabbed at the strip of red fabric that marked its position.

  The man had discarded a cloth bag of what felt like stones, its mouth tied shut with the red material. The knot wasn’t very tight, so it didn’t take her long to open it. The contents, when revealed, didn’t appear to be terribly interesting. They were just plain old stones, with no pretty patterns, no unusual striations. She examined them all, just in case there might be a gem hidden among them, but she found none. When she was done, she returned the stones to the bag, retied the knot, and replaced it in the little depression in the sand from which she had lifted it.

  Later, the rain came. They listened to it beat upon the roof of their new home while they ate takeout pizza at the kitchen table, surrounded by possessions both boxed and unpacked, and Amanda asked her mother if she knew anything about the man who lived in the other house.

  ‘No,’ her mother replied, but she was only half-listening. She was always only half-listening, half-speaking, half-noticing. She had been that way ever since she’d announced that they were leaving Pirna for Boreas. ‘I think his name is Mr Parker, but that’s all. Why?’

  ‘Nothing. I just saw him walking on the beach, and I was wondering.’

  ‘Maybe we’ll introduce ourselves, once we’ve settled in. Until then, you know about talking to strangers, right?’

  ‘Yes, Mom.’

  ‘Good.’

  Her mother’s attention wandered again. She’d been nibbling at the same slice of pizza for so long that it must have grown cold in her hand. Amanda had eaten two slices already, and was now on her third. She was ravenous. She finished that final slice and asked if she could be excused.

  ‘Sure, honey,’ said her mother. ‘We’ll be okay here, you know?’

  But she didn’t really look at Amanda when she spoke, and Amanda thought that she was trying to convince herself as much as her daughter.

  And still the rain fell, washing away sand, and dust, and not far to the south of where they sat, a little blood …

  That night Amanda had a strange dream. She was standing on the beach in her pajamas, and in the distance the strip of red material flapped like a flag above the sand. A figure knelt over it, but it was not Mr Parker. This one was smaller, and as Amanda drew closer she saw that it was a little girl, younger than she. The girl wore a nightgown, although she didn’t appear to feel the cold. Her long blond hair obscured her face. Her right hand toyed with the red fabric.

  Amanda stopped. In her dream, she sensed that it would not be right to approach this girl. She wasn’t frightening. She was simply other.

  ‘Hello, Amanda,’ said the girl.

  ‘Hello. How do you know my name?’

  ‘Because I’ve been watching you. You had pizza for dinner. I saw you eating. Later you went up to your room, and I saw you there too.’

  ‘How?’

  ‘Through the window.’

  ‘But it’s high up.’

  ‘Yes. You have a lovely view.’

  And even in her dream, Amanda shivered.

  ‘What’s your name?’ she asked.

  ‘My name is Jennifer.’

  ‘Do you live around here?’

  ‘I suppose I do, now.’

  A part of Amanda wished that she could see Jennifer’s face. Another part of Amanda was glad that she could not.

  ‘You saw him drop the bag, didn’t you?’ said Jennifer.

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘And you picked it up.’

  ‘Yes. Did I do something bad? I didn’t mean to.’

  ‘No. You put it back where you found it, and that’s the important thing. Do you understand what it is?’

  ‘No, I don’t think so.’ Amanda paused and reconsidered. ‘Maybe.’

  ‘Go on.’

  ‘It’s a marker, but I don’t know what it’s supposed to be marking.’

  ‘P
rogress,’ said Jennifer, and Amanda thought that although she looked like a little girl, she spoke like someone much older. ‘Each day he tries to walk a little farther. Often it’s only a few steps. And he marks the spot, so he will remember to take at least one step more the next day.’

  ‘Why does he do that?’

  ‘He’s been hurt. He’s still hurting. But he’s getting stronger.’

  ‘Is he—?’

  But Jennifer stood and turned her back on Amanda. Their conversation was over.

  ‘Why can’t I see your face?’ shouted Amanda, and she was sorry for asking as soon as the words left her mouth.

  Jennifer stopped walking.

  ‘Do you want to see it?’ she said. ‘Do you really?’

  Slowly she turned, her right hand lifting, pushing the hair away from her face.

  And Amanda woke up screaming to find sand in her bed.

  5

  Cory Bloom had been Boreas’s chief of police for two years, and remained the youngest person ever to have occupied that position. By contrast, her predecessor, one Erik Lange, had been the longest serving chief in the state when he retired, and even then the town pretty much had to force him out at gunpoint. Lange died soon after retiring, a fact that Bloom didn’t particularly regret, although she kept such thoughts to herself. It was said by Lange’s admirers – of whom, by the end, there were few – that the old chief’s heart couldn’t bear a life of relative indolence, although Bloom would have been surprised if his autopsy had revealed a heart larger than an acorn.

 

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