Shelter in place, p.25
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Shelter in Place, p.25
Download  in MP3 audio

           Nora Roberts

  On the first whiteboard, he had tacked Patricia Hobart’s photo dead center. Along with photos and crime scene shots of her victims, he’d written in time lines, added copies of reports.

  Lines, solid or dotted, fanned out, intersected.

  On the second board he’d pinned the three shooters from the DownEast Mall, time lines again, weaponry, and photos, names, ages of the dead. Separated by a red line, he’d displayed photos, names, ages, locations, employment of survivors.

  The room held three gunmetal-gray filing cabinets, a couple of folding chairs leaning against a wall—drywalled, mudded, sanded, but not painted—his old mini-fridge—also from his college years—and a kitchen-size trash can half-full of empty cans of Coke and Mountain Dew, water bottles, and take-out coffee cups.

  The open closet held office supplies—paper for the printer, the scanner, file folders, a tub of markers, a stack of legal pads.

  On the floor of the closet sat a case of water, a case of Cokes, another of the Dew—all opened and pillaged.

  Essie moved to the boards, studied them.

  “Good, thorough work, Reed.”

  “It’s quiet here now, and I’m not chief yet. I’ve had the time. Still, she got to another, and she’s back in the wind. There’s no telling who she’ll target next, when or where. Might as well toss the names in a hat and pick one.”

  “The twisted bitch is more logical than that. To her mind, every target so far got some sort of splash out of that night. A little fame, a little fortune—and a routine she could document or exploit. We can go right down the line on that, ending with Bob Kofax.”

  “All over his Facebook page,” Reed agreed. “Where he was going, when, why. More when he got there. She took herself a working vacation.”

  “Yeah, she did. The feds tracked her to a room at the same resort.”

  Reed whipped around. “You’re sure?”

  “I know how to keep my head down and my ears open. You can add this name to your board: Sylvia Guthrie. She won’t use that name again, but she used it to book and pay for the room and her expenses—American Express. And to book her flight, round-trip, first class, direct from New York. JetBlue out of JFK.”

  “Chaz is in New York. He got a promotion and moved to New York.”

  “They don’t think she had her hole there. They’re of the same mind as we’ve been. Canada.”

  “She won’t stay there now.”

  “Unlikely. I’ve got copies of her Guthrie passport and driver’s license photos down in my bag. It listed a New York address, but it’s bogus. You can have them for your board, too. My information is she flew into Bermuda the day before the target, got herself a fucking massage, charged a hundred dollar bottle of wine and a damn fine meal to her room. Charges also include a couple of virgin daiquiris from the drink service on the beach, on the third day—the target and his family racked up some bar bills there, same time frame, before the target became short of breath, keeled over, and died, thanks to the cyanide in his mai tai.”

  “The second time she’s used poison. Dr. Wu.” Reed gestured to the board. “Crowded beach instead of a crowded bar for Kofax, cyanide in his drink instead of jabbing him with a toxin like Wu, but it rings the same. I think she likes to shoot,” he added. “I think she likes the impact, the blood, but sometimes poison’s easier.”

  “Same page,” Essie told him. “The Kofax family was in and out of the water,” she continued as she wandered the room. “Boogie boards, horsing around, using the shaded lounge chairs the resort provides. Target ordered his mai tai—his second of the afternoon—a drink for his wife, a lemonade for one of the grandkids, then dragged his wife up to hit the water with the kids again. He came back, plopped down, started on his drink. And died at forty-nine, a day before his fiftieth birthday.”

  “All she had to do was stretch out somewhere, mark where he sat, what he drank. Dump the poison in while he’s in the water, walk the fuck away.”

  “Which she did, before she strolled back to the resort spa and enjoyed a facial. Prebooked. It was always going to be poison for this one, I’d say. If not on the beach, then at the pool bar, or the open-air bar, one of the restaurants. She saw her chance, and she took it.”

  “Did they question her?”

  “Busy season at the resort, but the locals spoke with her briefly. She stated she’d been on the beach about that time, had even noticed the big, happy family. She’d left for her spa appointment, and hadn’t noticed anyone near the family group. But she’d been engrossed in her book. By the time the feds got wind, she’d poofed.”

  “That’s luck as well as smarts and planning.” Studying the board, Reed slipped his hands into his back pockets. “That’s a lot of luck.”

  “She’s got plenty of it. The only time we know of she ran low was with you.”

  “Yeah.” Absently, he rubbed a hand on his side.

  “How’s the side, the shoulder?”

  “I’m good. I’m still doing fricking yoga.”

  “That, I’d like to see.”

  “No, you really wouldn’t. Let me get you that coffee.”

  “I’ll let you practice making the girl of your dreams a latte, but let’s have it up here.” She looked back at the board. “Bounce things around, see if anything shakes.”

  “I was hoping you’d say that.”

  She gave him two hours before she had to drive back to the ferry. Reed couldn’t say anything had shaken, but they both speculated Hobart might settle down in warmer climes for a while.

  Why not?

  Taking that angle, they’d both study survivors who’d relocated south.

  “I’m really glad you finally made it out. Next time,” he told her, “steaks on the grill for the whole family.”

  “Do you have actual dishes?”

  “Ah … sort of.”

  “Buy dishes, and a bed. Feather your nest, partner. It’s a really great nest.”

  “Okay, okay. Jeez, my mother said the same thing, and even threatened to make my dad haul stuff from the attic out here.”

  “Buy your own.” She jabbed him in the chest. “You’re a big boy now.” She started to kiss his cheek, then glanced over at the knock on the door.


  He went to the door, grinned when he opened it to CiCi. “Hello, gorgeous. You’re just in time to meet one of my favorite people.” Taking her hand, he tugged her in. “CiCi Lennon, Essie McVee.”

  “We’ve met.” CiCi, a bright green tam over flowing red hair, strode over in her ancient UGGs, took Essie’s hand. “You might not remember.”

  “I do. I met you, briefly, outside of Mi-Hi Jung’s hospital room.”

  “I didn’t realize,” Reed said.

  “You wanted to check on her and Simone,” CiCi said. “My impression at the time was of a dedicated and caring woman. I’m never wrong. You’re here to spend some time with Reed.”

  “I’ve spent it. What a terrific house. Better when it’s got some actual furniture.”

  “Okay, Mom.”

  “I’ve got to run, make the ferry. I’m glad I got a chance to see you again, Ms. Lennon.”

  “CiCi. Reed, next time, you bring Essie over to see us. I hope you bring your husband and little boy.”

  “I’m planning on it. Reed.” Essie hugged him, kissed his cheek. “I’m proud of you, Chief.”

  “Go on and walk Essie out to her car,” CiCi ordered. “There’s a package for you in mine. You can bring it in.” She unwound a bright green scarf as she spoke. “I’m going to help myself to a glass of wine, if you have some, Reed.”

  “Got the white and the red you like.”

  “My man. Come back soon, Essie.”

  CiCi tossed her coat, scarf, and hat on a truly deplorable sofa. Essie was right about furniture, CiCi thought, deciding on the white Reed had chilling in the refrigerator, as she liked it.

  She poured two glasses. He’d rather have a beer, she thought, but she hoped her housewarming gift rated
the wine.

  He came back, loaded down with the package. “You had to drive with the window down to fit it in there. It’s cold, CiCi.”

  “We islanders are sturdy stock.”

  “It’s a painting.” A big one, and he could feel the frame under the thick brown paper she’d wrapped it in. “You did a painting for me.”

  “I did, and I hope you’ll like it.”

  “I don’t even have to see it to know I’ll love it.”

  “It’d be more fun if you did see it. Come on, come on, get the paper off. I have a strong opinion where it needs to go. We’ll see what you think.”

  He had to lay it on the kitchen island to peel off the tape, pull the protective cardboard from the corners of the frame. He flipped it over, took a sheet of cardboard from the front.

  And stared, stunned, grateful, overwhelmed.

  “Holy shit, CiCi.”

  “I take that as approval.”

  “I don’t even know what to say. It’s amazing.”

  The beach, the rocks, the strip of sand, all the colors so vivid and strong. Birds winged over the water; a white boat glided toward the horizon. The bluest of blue skies spread, and one of the filmy white clouds formed a dragon like the one guarding her guest room.

  A few shells, exquisitely detailed, dotted the sand like scattered treasures.

  And two figures sat on the rocks, angled toward each other, looking out.

  “It’s us,” he murmured. “It’s you and me.”

  “It won’t be the last time I paint you, but it’s a good start.”

  “I don’t know what to say.” He looked at her. “I honestly don’t know how to thank you. It’s magic. Just like you.”

  “That’s a perfect thing to say. We look right, don’t we? Kindred souls reunited.”

  “I really love you, CiCi.”

  “I really love you right back. Where do you think you want to hang it?”

  “It has to go there, over the fireplace. It has to be where you can see it from everywhere.”

  “You’re exactly right. No time like the now. I’ve got hangers.” She reached in her pocket for them. “And a drill in the car, if you don’t have one.”

  “Yeah, I got one.”

  “And a tape measure. Let’s get it done, and done right.”

  She proved fussy about the accuracy of measuring, and beat him to hell and back on the math part of it. But with her fussing, calculating, and assistance, he hung his first piece of art in his new home.

  “I have an original CiCi Lennon. Hell, I’m in an original CiCi Lennon. And it’s awesome.”

  She handed him his glass, tapped hers to it. “To you and your happy home.”

  He drank with her, then drew her in. “Where would I be now if you hadn’t walked down that morning?”

  “You were meant to be here, so here you are.”

  “Sure feels like it.” He kissed the top of her head. “I guess I’m going to have to get serious about furniture. Nothing down here’s worthy of the painting.”

  “You’re right. Start by getting rid of that ugly couch.”

  He felt a little pang for the memories made on that ugly couch. The naps taken, the sports watched, the girls he’d gotten naked.

  Then he looked up at the painting, and thought of memories yet to come.

  * * *

  The island didn’t have an actual furniture store, but it did offer a kind of flea market antiquey sort of place. He found some things there, and at the single year-round gift shop he liked, used the Internet for more.

  He tried not to think too much about the seeping wounds on his credit card.

  Still, the island shopping served the dual purpose of public relations. And trading a six-pack for help hauling, assembling, placing the furniture with Cecil gave him the opportunity to get to know the deputy better.

  For instance, he learned Cecil had a more experienced hand with tools. The man wasn’t fast, but he was tireless.

  Together, they stood back and studied the bed—Reed’s first purchase, because he definitely wanted the girl of his dreams in it. He’d even gone for a new mattress set.

  “That’s a nice bed, Chief.”

  “You think? Yeah, it works.”

  Simple, he thought, but not so basic it looked like he didn’t give a damn. He liked the vertical slats, the low footboard that wouldn’t get in his way, the faded charcoal color.

  “You wanna put the sheets and stuff on it?”

  “I’ll deal with that later. Let’s get the rest loaded in. I appreciate it, Cecil.”

  “Hell, I don’t mind. I like putting things together. And it’s a cool house.”

  By the time he passed Cecil the beer, he had a furnished bedroom, a new couch, a second bed—queen-size, as ordered—set up in the guest room along with nightstands and lamps. Not too matchy, he hoped.

  Exhausted, he flopped down on his new bed, sans sheets. Considered, bounced a little.

  How the hell had he slept on that old piece of shit mattress all this time? He thought about reaching for the beer on his new nightstand—on a coaster, he wasn’t a fool. Thought about it again.

  And drifted right off.

  He dreamed of drills and hammers, screws and screwdrivers. Not so surprisingly, that slid into a rather stupendous sex dream starring Simone.

  In the dream, his new headboard banged against the wall as Simone locked her legs around his waist.

  He woke hard as iron, a little breathless. And realized the banging didn’t stop.

  “Shit, fuck, damn.” He shoved up, did his best to adjust himself. “Down, boy,” he muttered and started downstairs.

  The burly deliveryman had been there before.

  “Sorry, I was upstairs.”

  “You got another one.” The driver held out his tablet for Reed to sign.

  “You know, if I don’t answer or I’m not here, you can just leave stuff.”

  “You gotta say so, in writing.”

  “Okay. I’ll do that.”

  The driver hulked back to his truck, leaving Reed with a big, ridiculously heavy box on his doorstep.

  He hauled it in, pulled out his pocketknife to cut the seal.

  “Dishes. Oh yeah, I bought dishes.”

  White, he remembered, because once he’d started looking, all the colors and patterns made his head hurt. White was easy.

  Except now he had to unload them, and he probably had to wash them, which meant loading the dishwasher, then unloading it again, then putting them away.

  The idea made him long for another nap.

  Plus he still had to put sheets on the bed, and he hadn’t unpacked the new towels. Did he have to wash those, too?

  How the hell was he supposed to know?

  No point calling to ask his mother because she’d just say yes right straight off. He just knew it.

  “It can wait,” he decided, going back up for his beer. Not altogether warm, he told himself, taking it into the shower.

  But the dishes, and towels, the every damn thing nagged at him until he gave up.

  He dressed, loaded dishes in the dishwasher, towels in the washing machine. He reminded himself he had a flat-screen coming. Two, in fact, as he’d ordered one for the master. The one downstairs wouldn’t go above the fireplace as he’d imagined because he had the magic painting. But he had other walls.

  And he had a full week before he took over as chief.

  He’d get it done.

  He went up to put sheets on the bed—also new (had he lost his mind?). His mother would, undoubtedly, claim they needed washing first, but to hell with it. He couldn’t do everything.

  He’d gotten a duvet in a color called indigo—mainly because that’s what they’d shown on the bed in the picture, and it seemed good enough. It came with shams, which seemed like a lot of fuss and bother, but he finished it up.

  He didn’t have it in him to go out for food, so went with the reliable frozen pizza.

  He switched beer for Coke, cart
ed his dinner up to his office.

  He sat, eating pizza, studying his boards.

  “Where are you, Patricia, you murdering bitch? I bet it’s warm where you are.”

  He shifted his gaze to his targets board, to the group he’d separated out. One in Savannah, another in Atlanta, one in Fort Lauderdale, another in Coral Gables.

  Add the kid who’d joined the navy and was currently stationed in San Diego, and the woman who’d moved to Phoenix with her husband and daughter.

  “Which one? Where are you hiding now?”

  * * *

  Patricia, currently Ellyn Bostwick, had a pretty little vacation bungalow in Coral Gables.

  Every day she went out with a camera, a wide-brimmed hat, and a backpack. She put on her disguise, had friendly conversations with the neighbors. She was, she told them, a freelance photographer taking three months to do her own photography book of the area.

  She cheerfully took shots of the brats next door for their idiot mother. She printed them out, even framed them.

  Recently divorced, she told her neighbors, she’d wanted to take some time on her own, and time away from the cold and crowds of Chicago.

  Emily Devlon (née Frank) had been eighteen on the night of the DownEast Mall massacre. She’d been coming back from her break from her summer job at Orange Julius when the war broke out.

  She knew gunfire when she heard it—her father was a cop—and started to sprint away from the sound. But then it came from both directions.

  She knew what to do, even as panic spun through her. You find a hole, and you hide. She aimed for the closest store, ramming through the rush of people. A woman fell in front of her; she nearly tripped over her. Moving fast, Emily had grabbed the woman under the arms—old, frail, moaning—and dragged her into the store.

  Glass exploded; they both suffered cuts, but Emily managed to pull the woman behind an entry display of summer tops and sweaters.

  A clerk ran by her, eyes wheeling. In her head Emily screamed: Don’t, don’t.

  She closed her eyes at the sound of the scream, the thud of a body.

  She held on to the old woman, who’d live another eight years before she died of natural causes. She left Emily a hundred thousand dollars in her will.

  Emily, now a wife and mother, used part of her inheritance to buy a house in a pretty community far away from Maine winters and bad memories.

Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up

Comments 1

admin 22 September 2018 10:55
new Nora Roberts book
Add comment

Add comment