Shelter in place, p.26
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       Shelter in Place, p.26
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           Nora Roberts

  She would live longer than the woman she’d saved, but her clock was ticking down.


  Reed dressed for his first day as chief. He had a uniform—khaki shirt and pants, even a billed hat—but chose jeans and a light blue shirt. He’d pull out the uniform for special occasions, but—snagging one of his grandmother’s sayings—he’d begin as he meant to go on.

  He pulled on boots—not new, not too beat-up—and, since March blew brisk, a leather jacket he’d had for about a decade.

  He clipped his service weapon to his belt.

  He opted to walk the three-quarters of a mile to the village. Reduce the carbon footprint, he thought, and as chief he had a car available at the station.

  The walk gave him time to take some stock. He wasn’t nervous. He’d lived on the island for nearly three months now, had felt its pulse. Plenty of the 1,863 islanders—ages from seven months to eighty-eight—hadn’t figured he’d last the winter.

  But he had.

  Some of them calculated he wouldn’t finish out the summer as chief.

  But he would.

  He didn’t just like his life here, it was his life.

  He had a separate mission, and he’d work the Hobart case until the crazy bitch heard the door slam on her cell; but his priority now, from today on, had to be the island.

  He spotted a couple of deer in what he thought of as his woods, took that as a positive sign. Snowmelt made the ground soft under his feet, and the white stuff lay in pools and patches. They weren’t done with it, at least according to the old guys who hung out at the Sunrise, drinking coffee, playing cards, and bullshitting in the afternoons.

  Their consensus called for one more good nor’easter to blow winter out into spring.

  He wouldn’t bet against them.

  He passed some of the vacation homes that would be closed up until summer came along. Vandalism, even the kid shit, was rare. Everybody knew every damn body, and everybody who knew every damn body also knew that the island economy largely depended on the summer people.

  A few more houses—islanders. He’d made a point to find a way to make at least a passing acquaintance with all the year-rounders.

  Artists, photographers, shopkeepers, cooks, gardeners, retirees, bloggers, teachers, lobstermen, craftspeople. A couple of lawyers, a scatter of medical types, mechanics, handymen (and women), and so on.

  All of them kept the island humming.

  Now he did, too.

  He watched the ferry glide toward the mainland. Some had business there, or took jobs off-season. A few sent their kids to private school. The forty-minute commute wasn’t bad, to his mind. No traffic, after all.

  He passed the ferry dock, where he knew, from his own memories, cars would line up by the dozens for the trip home after a summer day on Tranquility Island.

  He wound his way into the village. Like the rentals, most shops and restaurants stood closed until the season. Some would get a fresh coat of paint once spring bloomed, so faded clapboard would become bright, drawing in visitors and disposable income.

  From there the marina and beach offered everything the summer people could want: sun, sand, water, and water sports.

  He wound his way to the Sunrise, stepped into the smell of bacon and coffee.

  Val, the counter waitress with bright blond hair and a pink apron, offered him a cheerful smile. “Morning, Chief.”

  “Morning, Val.”

  “Got the first-day jitters, do ya?”

  “Not so much. I’m going to need six large coffees to go. Two black, one with cream only, one cream and one sugar, one cream double sugar, and one with that vanilla cream you’ve got and triple sugar.”

  She gave him a nod as she went for the pot. “Treating the station?”

  “It seems like the thing to do on day one.”

  “Good thinking. I’ll mark them with what’s what for you. Maybe you want some coffee cake to go along with it.”

  “I’ve got an order for a dozen doughnuts from the bakery. Cops, doughnuts. It’s what we do.”

  While Val put the order together, Reed greeted some of the breakfast regulars: the two grizzled men with New England accents so thick he had to retune the frequency of his ears to understand them; the manager of the seasonal Beach Buddies; a birder blogger with his camera, field glasses, notebook; the bank manager; the island librarian.

  “Thanks, Val.”

  “Good luck today, Chief.”

  He carried the take-out tray down to the bakery, picked up his dozen doughnuts, and chatted briefly with the woman who ran Island Rentals while she waited for an order of sticky buns for what she called a brainstorming meeting.

  He continued down, took the right at the corner, and walked to the faded white single-story building with its narrow covered porch. The sign on the strip of grass between sidewalk and porch read: TRANQUILITY ISLAND POLICE DEPARTMENT.

  Juggling the coffee and doughnuts, he fished out the keys his predecessor had given him the night before over a transitional beer. Reed unlocked the door and, taking one good breath, walked into what was now his house at seven-twenty sharp.

  CiCi, who claimed to be a solitary witch as well as a little bit psychic, had insisted on doing some sort of ritual. Cleansing or opening or whatever. He hadn’t seen the harm in letting her light a couple of candles, wave around a sage stick, and chant.

  He looked around now at what the city cop in him thought of as a bullpen. The desks where his deputies worked—four in facing pairs, with the other two shared by the summer deputies. The dispatch station ran along the right wall. Visitor chairs were lined up on the left. A map of the island on the wall, a really sad-looking plant of some sort in a pot in the corner.

  The steel door led back to three cells. Another to the small armory. One bathroom, unisex, a tiny break room with a hot plate for coffee, a small refrigerator, and a microwave. A table with a chipped linoleum top that he hoped to replace if he could find the means in his budget.

  He had a budget. Wasn’t that a kick in the ass?

  He moved through the bullpen to the narrow hall that led one way to the break room, the other to the john, and straight ahead to his office.

  He went into his office, set down the coffee and doughnuts, took off his jacket, hung it on the tree by the door. His desk faced the office door, and he’d keep it that way. He had a decent chair, a computer, a whiteboard for scheduling, a corkboard, filing cabinets, a single window that brought in some sun.

  He had his own hot plate—and eventually he’d replace that with an actual coffee maker.

  “Okay then,” he said aloud.

  He went behind the desk, sat, booted up the computer, entered his password. He’d created the document the night before during CiCi’s magic ritual, and now opened it, gave it another look, sent it.

  When he heard the station door open, he rose, got the coffee and doughnuts, and went out to the bullpen.

  It didn’t surprise him Matty Stevenson was the first to arrive.

  “Chief,” she said—a little cool, a little clipped.

  “Thanks for coming in early. Coffee, black.” He pulled her cup out of the tray.

  She frowned at it. “Thanks.”

  “Doughnuts.” He flipped the lid on the box. “You’re first, so first choice.” When she continued to frown, he set the box on the closest desk. “When I call everybody in a half hour early, the least I can do is bring coffee and doughnuts.”

  While she mulled them over, Leon and Nick came in.

  “Chief Quartermaine,” Leon said, friendly but formal.

  “Coffee,” Reed said, passing out the cups. “Doughnuts.” He waved a thumb at the box.

  Cecil strolled in. “Hey. Am I late?”

  “Right on time,” Reed told him, passing him his coffee.

  “Wow, thanks, Chief. Hey, just how I like it.”

  “Grab a doughnut, take a seat.”

  “That damn dog!” Donna rushed in. “I don’t know why
I let Len talk me into that damn dog. What’s all this?” she demanded as she took off a puffy jacket, pulled off a boa constrictor of a scarf. “Is this a party or a police station?”

  “It’s a meeting.” Reed handed her the last coffee. “Have a doughnut.”

  “Doughnuts. We’ll end up with a bunch of fat cops.” But she took one.

  “I appreciate you all coming in early. I had a beer with Chief Wickett last night, and he wanted me to tell you all again thanks for the work you’ve done under him. I won’t be changing much around here.”

  “‘Much’?” Donna sniffed as she bit into a jelly-filled.

  “That’s right. I’m going to play with the budget some, see if I can find a way to get us a new table in the break room. I will be keeping Chief Wickett’s open-door policy. If my door’s closed, there’s a reason for it. Otherwise, it’s open. If Donna hasn’t already given everybody my cell number, get it. And I need yours. I need you to keep your cell charged and with you at all times. On or off duty. I know Chief Wickett used the whiteboard for scheduling. I’m using the computer. I’ve worked out next month’s shift schedule. It’ll be on your computers. If anybody needs to switch up, needs time off, you can work that out among yourselves. I just need to know. If we can’t work it out, we’ll find a way.”

  “Is your schedule on there?” Matty wanted to know.

  “It is. While we’re out here, somebody tell me, what the hell is that thing?”

  They all looked at the sickly plant.

  “It’s an eyesore,” Donna said. “The chief’s wife gave it to him for some damn reason. We ought to put it out of its misery.”

  “Ah now, Donna,” Cecil began.

  “The chief had a black thumb—no offense, Cecil.”

  Cecil, the only black person in the room, just grinned. “I got two of those. But we can’t just toss it out. That ain’t right.”

  “Anybody here got a green thumb?” Reed asked. “I don’t know what color mine is. I’ve never tried growing anything.”

  As one, the group turned to Leon.

  “Okay, Leon, you’re in charge of the thing over there. If it dies, we’ll give it a decent burial. And before the growing season hits, maybe you can tell me something about lupines and whatever else I’m going to have coming up at my place. I don’t know a damn thing.”

  “I can help you out there.”

  “Great. One more personal thing. I think I’m going to need somebody to give my place a going over, like, once or twice a month. I’m not looking at you.” He had to laugh, as the faces ranged from stony to appalled. “I’m asking for suggestions.”

  “Kaylee Michael and Hester Darby handle turnover for Island Rentals,” Donna told him. “They bring in extra hands for that during the season, but Kaylee and Hester are islanders.”

  “I met Hester.”

  “Seeing as you’re one messy man in that big place, you’d be smarter to hire both of them. In and out quicker, and they’re a good team.”

  “Thanks. I’ll talk to them. If anyone’s got any questions, comments, snide remarks, now’s the time. If they’re more personal questions, comments, snide remarks, you can see me in my office.”

  “Do we get written up for snide remarks?”

  He gave Matty a level stare. “I guess we’ll have to find out. I’m not much of a hard-ass, but I’m not a pushover. You’ll have to figure out the sweet spot. Check your schedules. I’ll be in my office.”

  He grabbed a doughnut on the way out.

  It took less than ten minutes for the first to tap on his doorjamb. “Come on in, Nick.”

  “You’ve got me scheduled for next Saturday night. It’s my six-month anniversary, and I promised to take Tara, my wife, over to Portland for a fancy night out. Cecil said he’d switch with me.”

  “I’ll fix it. How’d you meet Tara?”

  “She took a summer job with a friend of hers on the island a couple years ago. A lifeguard. She pulled this guy out—he had a heart attack it turns out, damn near drowned. She pulled him out, gave him CPR, brought him back. I was on beach patrol, so I talked to her, got her statement and all. And that was that.”

  He smiled, stars in his eyes. “Anyway, thanks, Chief.”

  Minutes later, Matty came in, sat, folded her arms.

  “Is this going to be a snide remark?”

  “That depends. It’s starting as comment and question. The snide remark depends on your answer.”

  He sat back. “Fire away.”

  “Chief Wickett was a good cop, a good boss, and a good chief, but he had one blind spot. We’ve got one bathroom.”

  “We do, and I don’t see how I can stretch the budget to add a second.”

  “I don’t care about that. I care that the chief’s blind spot meant he expected me and Donna to rotate cleaning the bathroom. Because we’ve got the ovaries, to his way of thinking.”

  “I don’t share that way of thinking. Unless I can, once again, stretch the budget to have somebody come in once a week—”

  “Men are smelly and sloppy. Once a week doesn’t cut it.”

  “Okay then, twice a week, if I can stretch it for somebody to come in and deal. Otherwise, daily, full rotation. Including those without ovaries. I’ll send out a staff memo on it.”

  “Are you on that rotation?”

  He smiled at her. “I’m the chief of police. That means I don’t scrub the toilet. But I’ll do my best not to be smelly and sloppy.”

  “Toilet paper goes on the holder, not on the damn side of the damn sink.”

  “I’ll add that in.”

  “Toilet seat goes down.”

  “Jesus.” He scratched the back of his neck. “How about this, the lid and all goes down after each use. Seat alone? I’m playing favorites.”

  “That’s fair.” But she hesitated.


  “It ought to be just the deputies on john-cleaning duty.”

  “Why not Donna? She doesn’t use the toilet?”

  “You have to get down to scrub the floor. She’s fit and she’s agile, but I know it hurts her knees.”

  “Okay, just deputies. Thanks for telling me.”

  She nodded, rose. “How come you have me patrolling with either Nick or Cecil instead of Leon?”

  “Because they both need more seasoning, and you and Leon don’t.”

  “The way it was before—”

  “This isn’t before. Take your toilet victory, Deputy.” He heard the phone ring in the bullpen. “If that’s a call, you and Nick are up first. Let’s keep it safe out there.”

  By the end of his first day, he made more adjustments—gave some, held the line more. He took a couple calls himself, just to keep his hand in.

  At the end of his first week, he locked up the station feeling satisfied and steady. He left his cruiser at the station, opted to walk. If he got an after-hours call, he’d take his personal vehicle. He picked a couple things up at the market, made his way home in air that tasted of storms.

  His weather forecaster at the Sunrise said that nor’easter was barreling in. Since the official weather station agreed, he intended to batten down his own hatches, to be ready if he got a call involving storm damage, accidents, or downed trees.

  His trees swayed in that whooshing wind, but they’d come through storms before. He angled to go in the back, the kitchen.

  He spotted Simone’s car parked beside his, and thought: Oh yeah. Finally!

  He didn’t see her, so he walked around to the water side of the house. And there she was, standing in the wind, hair blowing. Hair now the color of his grandmother’s treasured mahogany sideboard.

  Thump, thump, thump went his heart. He wondered if it always would.

  “Hey there,” he called out. “Nice breeze, huh?”

  She turned, eyes alive, face glowing. “Nothing like a storm gathering itself up.” She walked over to him. “How’d week one go for you?”

  “Not bad. You want to come in?”

; “Yeah.”

  She walked around with him, watched him slide the glass door open to the kitchen. “You don’t lock up?”

  “If anybody wanted in, they’d just break the glass.” He set the market bag on the counter. “You want a drink?”

  “What are you offering?”

  “I’ve got CiCi’s wine.” He got a bottle of each, held them up.

  “I’ll take the Cab.”

  She wandered through. “Nice couch. You need some throw pillows.”

  “Women need throw pillows. I’m a guy.”

  “A guy who probably wants women on this couch.”

  “You have a point. Throw pillows it is. I don’t know anything about buying throw pillows.” He opened the Cab.

  “You’ll figure it out.” She walked to the painting. “Now, this is just wonderful.”

  “Best gift ever.” He got a beer for himself, brought her the wine. “Do you want a tour?”

  “Yes, in a minute. You’ve made a good start down here. You need more art, a couple of chairs, another table or two, including one for over there so you have an actual table when you have someone to dinner.”

  “I can’t cook. Well, scrambled eggs, a GCB.”


  “Grilled cheese and bacon. House specialty along with frozen pizza. Are you hungry?”

  “More curious.” Perching on the arm of the sofa, she sipped wine. “The last time I saw you, and that’s been more than two weeks, you kissed me and told me I was the most beautiful woman you’d ever seen.”

  “I did. You are.”

  “You never followed up.”

  He gestured with the beer, drank. “You’re here, aren’t you?”

  Her eyebrows lifted, one disappearing under a sweep of mahogany. “That might make you smart, strategic, or lucky. I wonder which?”

  “I’ll take some of all three. I figured pushing equaled mistake.”

  “You’d be right. And you figured waiting would bring me around?”

  “I hoped it would. I should also tell you I only had another couple days of waiting in me before I headed your way. I was working on how to be subtle about it.”

  “Okay then.” She rose. “I have something for you in the car. I wasn’t sure I’d give it to you. For one thing, I wasn’t sure it would suit. I think it will.”

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admin 22 September 2018 10:55
new Nora Roberts book
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