Shelter in place, p.23
Shelter in Place, p.23
“No. No, it’s perfect actually.”
“I was there that night.”
She nodded slowly, kept her eyes on the sculpture.
“I don’t want to get into all that. It’s a party. I’m saying it because I’m not sure if it hits me deeper, somewhere deeper, because I was there. I’ve seen more of your work—CiCi took me up to your studio, and I’ve seen other pieces here and there. It’s all, like, magical. But this one, well, kind of grabs me by the throat and punches straight to the heart.”
He took a sip of beer. “Anyway.”
“You were shot.” She looked at him then, directly into his eyes. “Not that night, last summer. But it’s connected.”
“How are you?”
“I’m standing here with a beautiful woman, drinking a beer. I’d say I’m pretty damn good.”
“Would you wait here a minute?”
“Just wait here. I’ll be right back.”
He watched her walk away, and took an internal scan. His heart appeared to be beating normally again, and his brain seemed to be back at full function.
Just some weird reaction, he concluded. Just some strange jolt to the system, and all better now.
Then he saw her coming back, felt that same damn jolt, and had his second uh-oh of the night.
She had a pretty woman in a red dress in hand. He recognized her face as well.
“Mi, this is Reed.”
“Mi-Hi Jung. Dr. Jung,” Simone added.
“Mi.” Smiling easily, Mi held out a hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Reed bought the Dorchet house—the one with the widow’s walk, with its back to the woods.”
“Oh, that’s a great house.”
“He’s going to be the new chief of police on the island. He was a police detective—is, I guess—in Portland.”
“Was,” he said after he shook Mi’s hand.
“He was there that night.” Simone didn’t have to say what night. They all knew. “The three of us were all there. It’s odd, isn’t it? We were all there. Now we’re all here. Reed became a cop. Mi’s a doctor, a scientist, a biomedical engineer. And I…” She looked toward the sculpture. “Did you become a cop because of that night?”
“It pointed me in that direction. It and Essie. Essie McVee.”
Simone’s gaze held his, intensely now. “Officer McVee. She’s the one who found me. She’s the one who responded first. You know her.”
“Yeah. She’s a good friend. She was my partner the last few years.”
“I remember now,” Mi said. “You grabbed the little boy, got him to a safe place. You weren’t a cop then.”
“No. College kid. I was working at Mangia, the restaurant.”
“You weren’t hurt that night,” Simone remembered out loud. “But later. Mi was hurt. A cop and a scientist. Tragedy, you said, Mi, brings out more of who we are. Excuse me.”
“I upset her,” Reed began as Simone walked away.
“No.” Mi laid a hand on his arm, watched her friend. “No, you really didn’t. Upset, she’d have been frigid or molten. She’s thinking, and she’s looking at something she’s refused to look at for a long time.”
Mi turned back to him, positively beamed. “I don’t know what you said or did, but I’m even happier to meet you.”
Reed’s on-the-job training began in January, in earnest. He knew how to be a cop, how to be an investigator, how to interview a suspect, a witness, a victim. How to a build case. He knew the demands and reasons for procedure, for paperwork. He understood the value of community relations and connections.
He wasn’t as confident in his skills as an administrator, a boss, or with politics, and in particular, island politics. And he understood, clearly, he came into the job as an outsider.
He did what he could to counteract the outsider status. He walked or biked into the village every morning, had coffee and tried out the menu of breakfast items at the Sunrise Café—open all year from six a.m. to ten p.m. He chatted up waitresses, shopkeepers, bought his first snow shovel from the local hardware, and when January dumped a couple feet of the white stuff on the island, went back and invested in a snowplow.
At CiCi’s suggestion, he hired Jasper Mink to deal with a handful of the take-it-as-is items in the house that actually needed addressing.
He hit it off just fine with the Willie Nelson look-alike contractor with the Def Leppard tee under his flannel shirt.
He shopped at the local market, warmed a stool at Drink Up—the only bar open winters—and generally made himself visible and accessible.
He learned the rhythm of the island in winter. Slow, weather-obsessed, self-contained, and proud of it. He made a point of talking to the volunteer firefighters, the local doctors—and got scooped up for an exam.
Same damn thing happened at the dentist.
Because politics had to play a part, Reed sat in on his first town hall meeting, listened to complaints about the power outage on the south side of the island during the last storm, concerns about erosion on the north end. He noted the bitter exchange about mandatory recycling and those—called out by name—who ignored the ordinance routinely.
He hadn’t expected to do any more than listen and take note, and felt his stomach sink when the mayor called out his name.
“Stand up there, Reed, so people can see you. Most of you know, or should, that Reed’s taking over as chief of police when Sam Wickett retires in a couple months. Come up here, Reed, introduce yourself. Tell people a little about yourself and why you’re here.”
Crap, he thought, crap, crap, crap. He caught the gleam in Hildy’s eye. She was a savvy mayor, knew her people, her politics, and didn’t suffer fools.
He’d better not make a fool out of himself at the town hall.
He walked to the front of the room, scanned the few dozen faces of those who’d bothered to show up.
“I’m Reed Quartermaine, formerly a detective with the Portland police department.”
“Why ‘formerly’?” somebody called out. “You get fired?”
“No, ma’am. I don’t think Mayor Intz or the town council would’ve offered me the job if I had. I guess the best way to say it is, like a lot of people I know in Portland, I spent some time in the summer on the island. I liked it here.”
“Summer’s one thing,” someone else shouted. “Winter’s another.”
“I found that out.” He added a smile with it. “I bought a snowplow from Cyrus at Island Hardware and Paints, and I learned how to use it. I bought a house on the island last fall, when I was here for a couple weeks, because I remembered the house from when I was a kid, and because when I saw it again, when I went inside it, I knew it was the one. I’d been looking for a home for a while, and I found it on the island, in that house.”
“The Dorchet place is a lot of house for a single man.” A woman with steel-gray hair wound in a braid eyed him more than a little dubiously while she continued to knit something out of bright green yarn.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m working on finding enough furniture so it doesn’t echo. A lot of you don’t know me, but I’m around. Chief Wickett’s showing me the ropes, and when he leaves, I’m going to continue his open-door policy. I’m going to do my best for you. This is my home now. You’re my neighbors. As chief of police, I’m sworn to serve and protect you and this island. That’s what I’m going to do.”
He started to go back to his seat, stopped when a pudgy guy with a gray-speckled beard stood up in the front row.
“You’re cozied up with CiCi Lennon, aren’t you?”
“If you mean that in a romantic sense, I can only say: I wish.”
The answer brought some laughter, and gave Reed enough time to flip through his mental files and identify the questioner. John Pryor, he recalled—year-rounder, plumber, owned a couple of summer rentals with his brother.
“It seems to me you wouldn’t have this job if CiCi hadn’t pushed you for it.”
“Now just one minute,” Hildy began, but Reed held up a hand.
“It’s okay, Mayor. It’s a fair enough question. It’s true I wouldn’t have known about the job or the house coming up for sale if CiCi hadn’t told me. I’m grateful she did, so I had a shot at both.”
“You got shot back in Portland. Maybe you figure being chief of police here’s going to give you a safe, easy ride.”
Mutters rose up, disapproving ones, and Pryor’s face only hardened.
“It’s not about me getting a safe, easy ride, John. It’s about doing my duty, about ensuring a safe ride for the people who live here, for the people who come here during the season to fill the hotels and B&Bs. You and your brother—that’s Mark, isn’t it?—own one of those B&Bs. You’ve got a nice place,” Reed added. “If you have any trouble after March, you give me a call. Meanwhile, if you’ve got any more questions for me, we can head over to Drink Up after the meeting. I’ll buy you a beer.”
* * *
Pryor didn’t take him up on the beer, but others did throughout January, including his four year-round deputies, his dispatcher, and two of the three part-time deputies who came on from June through September. The third spent six weeks every winter on Saint Lucia.
His only sticky beer came with the sole female deputy. Matty Stevenson had served four years in the Army, put in three years with Boston PD before moving back to the island where she’d been born. She’d taken another eighteen months to work as full-time caregiver to her mother, a widow, when her mother contracted breast cancer, before becoming the first female full-time deputy on the island force. She’d served as deputy for nine years.
Her mother, nine years a cancer survivor, owned and operated a seasonal island gift shop.
Matty sat across from him at a two-top, her hair short, straight, ashy blond, her eyes blue and hard. She wore a flannel shirt, brown wool trousers, and Wolverine boots.
He’d done his research, which was as much a matter of talking to people as reading her file. So he knew, after an angry marriage and divorce, she’d “taken up with” or “started seeing” longtime bachelor John Pryor.
He didn’t have to do any research to glean she wasn’t particularly pleased with her new, incoming boss.
He decided to play it straight and to the point.
“You’re pissed they’re bringing me in as chief.”
“They snuck you in from the outside. I’ve got close to ten years on the island force. Nobody so much as asked if I wanted the job.”
“I’m asking you.”
“Doesn’t make a damn bit of difference now.”
“I’m asking you,” he repeated. “I’m not chief yet.”
“You’ve got the contract.”
“Yeah. I’m still asking you. You’ve got four years military, a dozen years with the police, and a long time on the island. You’re probably more qualified than me.”
She sat back from her beer, folded her arms over her chest. “I am more qualified.”
“Why do you figure they didn’t offer you the job?”
“You’re male. You took a couple bullets. You’re one of the heroes of the DownEast.”
He shrugged. “All that’s fact—except hero’s a stupid word for what happened that night. You served in Iraq. You’ve got a Purple Heart. Hero’s not a stupid word for that. I’m male,” he repeated. “Are you telling me you think they passed you over because you’re not?”
She opened her mouth. Shut it. Picked up her beer and drank. “I want to say yes. I want to because they never gave us a heads-up. The chief never let us know he planned to retire until it was a done deal. I went at Hildy about it, too, went right at her. I dated her brother when we were in high school, goddamn it.”
She drank again. “But I can’t say yes because I’m not a liar.”
“You already know why.”
“I don’t know what you think.”
“I’ve got a temper. I got written up a few times—in the Army, in Boston, and here, too. Not in the last couple years. Not since I got rid of the asshole I was stupid enough to marry. I freaking meditate every morning now.”
He stopped himself from smiling, only nodded. “Does it work?”
Now she shrugged. “Most of the time.”
“Good to hear. I don’t care how you button your shirt.”
She smirked at him. “This is a man’s shirt.”
“Don’t care. Other than the chief, who’s leaving, you’ve got more time as a cop than any of the other deputies. I’m going to need to depend on you, and I’m going to need you to give me a chance before you write me off as a dumbass off-islander.”
“What if that’s my conclusion after I give you a chance?”
“Then I won’t last long as chief.”
She considered. “That’s fair.”
“Okay. One more thing? If I need a plumber and call John Pryor, is he going to fuck with me?”
Now she snorted. “He shouldn’t have given you grief at the meeting.”
“It wasn’t that much grief.”
“He shouldn’t have anyway. Makes us both look like assholes. And bringing CiCi into it made him look like an even bigger asshole. The answer’s no. He takes too much pride in his work.”
“Also good to know.”
* * *
Thinking of CiCi, he drove over to her house on his next day off. When she didn’t answer, he walked around, as he often did, to her studio.
He could see the art through the glass, but not the artist.
He felt a little tug of worry, told himself it was just the cop always looking for worst-case, but he walked around to the patio. He’d try the door, he thought, just step in and call out.
Then he spotted the woman sitting on the rocks on the snowy beach.
He made his way down, enjoying the slap of the wind, the sound of the water, and the look of it. As hard a winter blue as the sky overhead.
She heard him, turned her head. That face, he thought. That instant sucker punch in the chest.
He climbed up, sat beside Simone.
“Hell of a view,” he said.
“Yeah, mine, too.”
She’d wound a scarf with a half dozen bold colors around her neck, pulled a cap of bright blue over her hair.
She looked vivid, Reed thought, and just downright amazing.
“CiCi’s not here,” she told him. “She’s taking a couple days at a spa with a friend. Spur of the moment.”
“I wondered when she didn’t answer. Her car’s out front. Yours, too.”
“I drove her to the ferry this morning. He picked her up on the other end.”
“‘He,’ huh?” Reed slapped his chest. “Heartbreak.”
“They’ve been friends for decades. And he’s gay.”
“And hope springs yet again.” He waited a beat, enjoyed her smile. “Am I in the way here?”
“No. I heard about the meeting the other night. Apparently you handled yourself well.”
“People need time to get used to me, judge whether I suck at the job or not.”
“I don’t think you’ll suck.”
“I won’t, but they need a chance to decide.”
“Most islanders like you. I hear.”
“I’m a likeable guy.” He shot her a smile to prove it. “I can even slide into affable. How about you?”
She looked back out, over the water. “I don’t think I do affable very well.”
“No, me. Let’s talk about me. Am I likeable?”
She turned her head again, gave him a long look with those tiger eyes. “Probably. I don’t really know you.”
“I could take you to dinner. It’s meatloaf night at the Sunrise, or there’s Mama’s Pizza.”
She shook her head. “I’m taking a break, but I plan to work tonight.” She took a deep breath of that slapping wind. “The cold’s getting through.”
When she shifted, he climbed down, offered her a hand.
“It’s the meatloaf, right?” he said, making her laugh.
“It factors, but I really do intend to work. I needed some air first. Some … mind airing.”
“As long as it’s not me asking you out that’s the problem.”
She tipped her head this time, sort of slid her gaze up. “I don’t know if it is or not, because I don’t really know you. And because I’ve opted not to go out with your gender the last few months.”
“Hey, me, too—with yours. I bet we’re due.”
“Because,” he said as they walked through the lumpy path in the snow they’d both formed in the drifts, “you’ve got to break the fast sometime.”
“No, why are you on a fast?”
“Oh.” He concluded a woman wasn’t brushing a guy off—altogether—if she kept talking to him. “Well, got shot, had to brood and bitch over that awhile, came here, met the breathtaking CiCi, changed my life. Not a lot of time for meatloaf with a woman in there. You?”
“I’m not really sure. Lack of interest. There may have been some SBZ in there.”
“Simone Brood Zone. I sometimes reside there. But primarily, I’d say a lack of interest.”
“I can be interesting as well as affable.” He started up the beach steps with her. “I could clear these off for you.”
“That’s the affability. It’s appreciated, but we’re getting another few inches tonight anyway.”
“Have you got everything you need in case there’s more? Food, drink—Sorry,” he said when his phone signaled. “I need to go by the…” He trailed off, studied the text. “Ah, I need to go by the market anyway, so—”
“What is it? I know faces,” she said as they reached the patio. “You’ve got a good poker face, or maybe that’s cop face, but it slipped for a second. Is your family all right?”
“Yeah. It’s nothing like that.”
“I know faces,” she repeated. “You should come in, have coffee.”
She crossed the patio, opened the door. “CiCi would insist, and would be disappointed in me if I didn’t.”
Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love / History & Fiction / Thrillers & Crime / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.7 out of 5 / Based on33 votes