Shelter in place, p.20
Shelter in Place, p.20Nora Roberts
Why had they put those cool Edison lights over the peninsula? He really had a weak spot for those lights.
He turned as he heard someone coming down the stairs, chattering all the way.
“CiCi! I barely heard you with all the noise. Cody’s redoing one of the bedroom closets. I don’t know what I’d do without that boy.”
She was a tiny woman, and made Reed think of a busy bird as she gave CiCi a hug, still chattering.
“He’s staying a whole month this time. And he’s going to come back this winter to finish up, if need be, so we can get the house on the market come spring. Spring’s the best time, everybody says, though I had my heart set on listing it before the first of the year. I’m going home with him when he leaves, to start looking for a little place, maybe a condo. I don’t know, but I know I just don’t want to spend another winter here alone.”
“We’ll miss you, Barbara Ellen. Come meet my Reed.”
“Oh my goodness, of course! How do you do? CiCi’s told me all about you.” She put her little hand in Reed’s, smiled up at him with dark brown eyes through dusty glasses. “You’re a policeman. My uncle Albert was a policeman in Brooklyn, New York. CiCi said you remember my house from when you came to the island as a boy.”
“Well, it’s some different now in here. Cody’s been working like a mule.”
“It looks great.”
“I hardly recognize the place. It’s just not mine anymore. But I will say the kitchen’s a treat. Let me get you some tea and cookies.”
“Now don’t worry about that.” CiCi patted her hand. “Cody tucked a pretty little powder room under the stairs here, didn’t he?”
“He did. That boy’s so handy. I don’t know what I’d do without him.”
Singing Cody’s praises, Barbara Ellen—nudged by CiCi—showed off the first floor. Reed had to steel himself against the views of the woods, the water. With CiCi leading, they headed upstairs.
Four fricking bedrooms including a newly remodeled master suite. Gas fireplace, killer views, attached bath nearly as big as the bedroom in his old shitcan.
Everything about the house pulled at him, and pushed against his reality. He met the handy Cody, talked a little construction before CiCi waved him off.
“Go on up to the widow’s walk.”
“Oh yes, you should!” Barbara Ellen agreed. “It’s the crown of the house. I don’t go up anymore. Just don’t trust myself on the narrow stairs, but you should take it in.”
Narrow, yes, but sturdy—Cody at work again, Reed thought.
Then he stepped out onto the circling deck, and couldn’t think at all.
He could see everything. The water, the woods, the village, CiCi’s amazing house to the west, then the fanciful lighthouse to the east. The world in all its color and beauty spread out for him like one of CiCi’s paintings.
It could be his.
Not once, he thought, in all the houses he’d walked through, studied, considered, had he ever felt not that it could be his, should be his, but already was.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck.” When he, without thinking, dragged a hand through his hair, his shoulder snarled.
“It’s crazy. I’m crazy.” He rubbed absently at his shoulder. “Maybe not. Shit. Investment property. What about that? Rent it out during the season, use it for long weekends, for vacation time off-season. What’s wrong with that?
“Can’t do it. Can’t,” he muttered as he took one more stroll around the railed deck. “Can’t.”
As he went back down, he heard CiCi asking Cody what he planned to ask.
“Well, once we get the last bathroom up here gutted and redone, and the last bedroom remodeled, a little more trim here and there, and some this and that. Give everything a nice, fresh coat of paint, and some more landscaping…”
He named a price that made Reed wince. Not because it was out of his range, but because it wasn’t that much out of his range.
“Of course,” Barbara Ellen put in, with a twinkle of a smile toward Reed, “if somebody wanted it before we put it on the market, saved us that trouble, those fees, we’d adjust that price. Wouldn’t we, Cody?”
“Some, sure. But we’ve still got the work left.”
“What if you didn’t?” Reed heard himself ask, knew he’d just tied a rock to his leg. “I mean, if you didn’t gut the bathroom, add more landscaping, the paint, the bedroom. If, say, you finished what you’re doing in here with the closet, and that was that?”
“Well now.” Cody sniffed, rubbing his chin. “That’d make a difference, wouldn’t it?”
Enough of one, when Cody ballparked another figure, to tie on the next rock.
He didn’t commit—wouldn’t let himself. He needed to run some numbers, give some hard thought to what it would mean to his life. He’d never afford a house in Portland if he did this. But … he didn’t want a house in Portland.
“You want it,” CiCi said as they rode home.
“I want a lot of things I can’t have. Like you.”
“What if you could?”
“Have you? Pedal faster.”
She laughed her glorious laugh. “I’m mad for you, Delicious. You said, and I agree, a cop lives where he works.”
“Yeah, that’s a sticking point.”
“What if you could do that? Live and work on the island. Chief Wickett’s retiring. He isn’t saying so officially as yet, but he told me. He’s giving it until February, maybe March, so he’s telling the island council next month. To give them time to find his replacement.”
Chief of police? That was just more craziness.
CiCi let it drop on him, then blithely went into her studio.
So he took a solo walk on the beach, hoping the air would blow his brain back to sanity.
He sat on the rocks and brooded. He walked some more.
When he finally went back, CiCi sat on the patio, a cozy throw over her legs and a bottle of wine, two glasses, on the table.
“You need a nice glass of wine.”
“I can’t be a police chief.”
“Why not? It’s just a title.” She poured the wine.
“It’s not just a title. It’s being in charge of a department. It’s administrative.”
She patted a hand at the chair next to hers. “You’re smart, and the current chief would work with you until you got your rhythm. You’ve told me enough over these past days and entertaining evenings for me to know you’re not happy in Portland. You’re not happy with the box your own chief or captain or whatever put you in. Get out of the box, Reed.
“You have a purpose,” she continued. “Your aura absolutely pulses with it.”
“My aura pulses with purpose?”
“It does. And you’d fulfill that here. You’d also fulfill your just-as-essential purpose of working on the investigation of that Hobart psycho. The off-season here isn’t without work for a police chief, but you’d have that time and space.”
She looked at him. “Tell me you’re happy where you are, and I’ll stop.”
He wanted to, but shook his head. “No. I’ve thought about transferring, but there’s Essie. And some others. My family.”
“You’re less than an hour from your friends and family here. You want that house. I don’t have to be psychic to know that because it was all over you. But since I am a little bit psychic I know you’ll be happy here, happy in that house—because it’s your place. Clear as day. You’ll have your purpose, your home. You’re going to find the love of your life.”
“I already did,” he interrupted.
She reached over and took his hand. “You’re going to find the one who’ll share that home with you. You’re going to raise a family there.”
“I can barely afford the house. Who knows if I’m qualified for chief of police, or if the island council would offer me the position?”
She smiled over the rim of her glass. Silver hoops with bloodred drops gli
“You’re biased because you love me, too.”
“I do, but if I didn’t think this was right for you, for the island—not even just right for you, but the answer—I wouldn’t have spoken with Hildy yesterday.”
“Mayor Hildy Intz. She’d love to talk with you.”
Laughing, she poked him in the arm. “Shit’s getting real, am I right? It makes me think of Simone. I told you how she tried to fit in the box, and finally realized she couldn’t. When she took that leap, she found the answer. Or one of them. Don’t let them keep you in their box, Reed. Damn, that’s my phone. I left it inside.”
“I’ll get it.”
He hurried in, brought it back to her.
“Huh. Barbara Ellen.” With a wiggle of her eyebrows, she answered. “Hi, Barbara Ellen. Yes. Hmm.”
She listened, nodded, sipped wine.
“I see. Oh, I absolutely will. It was wonderful to see you, too. And Cody. Yes, he’s done beautiful work. It’s no wonder you’re proud of him. Uh-huh.” She gave Reed an eye roll. “I know you will. Let me get back to you? Bye now.”
She ended the call, set the phone down, took another sip of wine.
“Barbara Ellen’s anxious to pack up and move, just go back with Cody and be done. Factoring that, she’s nagged Cody into lowering the price—for you, if you take it as discussed—another seventy-five hundred.”
“She knows you’ll love the house she loved, the house where she raised her children. Obviously, she’s right about that.”
“I shouldn’t have gone up on the widow’s walk.” More rocks, he thought, sinking fast. He rubbed a hand over his face. “It was bad enough before that. It was bad enough just feeling that place, but going up there did it. I can’t talk myself out of it.”
“I’ve never understood why people are always trying to talk themselves out of things they want. You just got another signpost, my man. You ought to follow it.”
“Why don’t I call Hildy, invite her over for a drink?”
He looked at her, nodded. “Why don’t you do that?”
* * *
As soon as he returned to Portland, Reed contacted Essie, asked her to meet him at the park. He sat on the same bench where they’d sat more than a decade before. He’d taken a new direction right there, with her help.
Now he prepared to do just that again.
In the brisk November breeze, he watched the water, the people, thought back to that hot summer day. Angie’s funeral—a girl who’d never had the chance to change directions.
Maybe that was part of the whole—part of his whole anyway. He’d been given the chance—twice—and believed he had to make the best of it.
After DownEast, he’d wondered and worried if there was a bullet on pause, waiting for somebody to hit the play button. Patricia Hobart had hit that button, and two, not one, bullets found him.
And he’d survived.
No wasting time or opportunities, he thought. No looking back later and thinking: Why didn’t I?
So he sat while the wind kicked through his hair, while winter began to poke its chilly fingers through the balm of autumn and thought of yesterdays and tomorrows. Because, hell, the right now was already here.
He watched her come, his partner, his mentor, his friend. Quick strides in sturdy boots, dark jacket zipped against the wind, dark ski cap over the short, careless do she called mom/cop hair.
Without her, he’d have bled to death on a refinished hardwood floor. As much as he loved his family, Essie was the person he most wanted never, never to disappoint.
“Okay, let me take a look.” She did just that, eyes narrowed and critical on his face. Then she nodded. “Yeah, you look good. A couple weeks on Tranquility worked for you.”
She sat, looked him in the eye. “How do you feel?”
“Better. A lot. Walked every day, jogged a little. Kept up the PT. Fell in love with a sexy, fascinating woman.”
“That didn’t take long.”
“Boom.” He snapped his fingers. “Have you heard of CiCi Lennon?”
“Ah … Artist, right? Local. Isn’t she … like, your grandmother’s age?”
“Maybe. It occurs to me, women have had a profound influence and effect on my life. My mom, sure, and my sister, too. And in a strange, awful way, Angie. You and I sat here the day of her funeral.”
“You. You’ve had a profound influence and effect.”
“You made your own way, Reed.”
“I like to think so, but you helped me find it. I love being a cop. I hated seeing that worry on my parents’ faces in the hospital, and I hate knowing that’s going to be inside them from now on. But I know they’ll deal. I need to be a cop.”
“I never doubted it.”
He studied the water. “The thing is, neither did I. Even lying on the floor, wondering if that was it. Game over. The decision I made right here—or at least started to make—was the right one. A big part of that decision was Angie, and that night. I can’t stop pursuing that, Essie. I can’t stop trying to take Patricia Hobart down.”
Essie angled toward him. “The bitch shot my partner. Look, I’m pissed we got locked out, and I can still hope the feds run her to ground. But either way, we’ll work it, Reed. We’ll work it off the books, on our own time.”
“They’ll keep me on the desk for a while. Three to six months, I figure. The department doesn’t have our backs on it. You’ve got a family, Essie. We could carve out some time to work it, sure, but by the time they let me come back to full duty, they’re going to have you with another partner.”
“I’m pushing back on that,” she began.
“We’ve got to work the actives. That’s priority. They’re never going to let either of us work the Hobart investigation, even peripherally—and I can’t get too pissed about it. But Hobart’s the key to the rest, and I’m not letting it go. By the time I’m cleared, they’ll put me with someone else. We can both push back, but that’s a big, gaping maybe. And we’ll both have cases that have to come first.”
“You’re circling around something, and I’m not feeling good about it. Are you thinking of requesting a transfer?”
“Not exactly. I found the house. I found it on the island. It’s everything I want and need, and it’s the reason I never found that here.”
“Well, Jesus, Reed, I get how much you want to find a place, but—”
“The place, Essie, that’s the thing. I stayed in CiCi’s house most of the time I was on the island. Not like that,” he said with a quick laugh. “Though if she’d give me a shot … Anyway, I found a lot of things. Bloody Marys and pancakes, yoga on the beach—”
Jaw dropping, Essie held up a hand. “Wait. You did yoga on the beach?”
“CiCi’s got a way. The thing is, I ended up sitting on the rocks down from her place because her house was one I remembered, especially, from a million years ago when we had a couple of vacations on the island. And she ended up asking me to stay because she recognized me—from the shooting, and from my connection to the mall. Her granddaughter was there.”
“Wait, wait, that’s it.” Now Essie punched her palm at the air. “Nagging at me. She’s Simone Knox’s grandmother.”
“Right. You answered Simone’s nine-one-one. I’m looking at all of it, Essie. Angie—I talked to her, made a half-assed date with her minutes before she died. I end up hiding with Brady in her kiosk, with her blood on me. And I end up on this bench with you. I end up on the island because of all of it. I don’t want to get all metaphysical or whatever, but it just means something.”
“Are you telling me you bought CiCi Lennon’s house?”
“No. There were two that hit me back then, back when I was, like, ten years old, and I t
“I said okay, fine, I could think of it as an investment, rent it out, take some vacation time there. Because a cop has to live where he works, and I need to be a cop. But the thing is, I don’t want to rent it out.”
“Reed, please tell me you’re not going for an island deputy job. You’re an investigator. You’re—”
“No, not a deputy.”
“Then what the hell?”
“Chief of police.”
“You—” She stopped, let out a whoosh of air. “Seriously?”
“I don’t have it yet. The island council has to vote and all that. But I did an interview—a couple of them. And I wrote up a résumé. They’re going to call you, Bull, the lieutenant pretty soon. If I don’t get it … I’m young, not from the island—those are strikes against me. I’m a police detective with a few years under my belt, a good closed-case history, who’s already got a contract on a house there. Those are pluses for me. And the big guns? CiCi. So I rate my chances at about seventy-thirty.”
She sat awhile, saying nothing, working through it. “You want it.”
“Downside? Farther away from the family than they’re going to like. And not working with you. Not being able to drop by, see you and Hank and Dylan, and mooch a meal. I’m hoping to offset that by having you guys come and hang out. Because, yeah, I want it. I want it because I found things I needed there. And because I think I could do good work. I want it because I’ll have the time and space, especially in the fall and winter, to work Hobart. I can’t be a cop, look at myself in the mirror, and not work Hobart.”
“I hate this.” She pushed herself off the bench, walked toward the bay and back. “I just hate it.”
She threw up a hand to stop him as he rose. “I hate it because it feels right for you. It just feels like the right thing. And I’m going to miss you dropping by to mooch a meal. I’ll miss working cases with you.”
Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love / History & Fiction / Thrillers & Crime / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.7 out of 5 / Based on33 votes