Shelter in place, p.28
Shelter in Place, p.28Nora Roberts
Lightning flashed again as she opened the office door, and she thought of him out in it because someone needed help. She’d come for the sex, she admitted—primarily for the sex. But she stayed, she waited, because of who she’d begun to discover he was.
She switched on the lights, thought he hadn’t lied about the mess. Piles of files on a boxy old desk—and a teddy bear with a gun and badge. Folding chairs against the wall, an open trash can loaded with bottles and cans. Maps pinned right to the unfinished walls.
But, hello, a stack of legal pads—they’d do in a pinch—in the closet that had no door.
She walked in, took one, turned to the desk to hunt down pencils.
And saw the boards, saw what was crowded on the two big boards.
“God. Oh God.” She had to grip the back of his desk chair, breathe in, breathe out.
She knew the faces, so many of the faces. She’d formed some of them already with her hands.
There, the boy she’d thought she loved. There, her best friend. There, Reed’s Angie.
He had photos—not just the faces, but of bodies, blood, broken glass, guns. One of those guns, she realized, had killed Tish, had shot Mi.
She looked at the faces of the killers—boys, just boys. Hobart, Whitehall, Paulson.
And on the second board, Patricia Hobart—her photo and a sketch. She looked different in the sketch, but Simone saw her.
And that face, she realized, had been the one Reed had seen when she’d tried to kill him.
Other faces, other names, other bodies. Times and dates, cities and towns.
He looked at this every day, she realized. He looked, studied, and tried to find the answers.
“My face,” she murmured, touching the photos of the girl she’d been, the woman she’d become. “My face on his board. His face and mine. He doesn’t look away. He never has.”
So she sat at his desk and didn’t look away.
* * *
When Reed got home, soaked, at just before two a.m., he found Simone wearing one of his shirts, sitting by the fire, drinking a Coke, and reading Bradbury.
“Hey. You didn’t have to wait up.”
“Couldn’t sleep.” She rose. “You’re soaked.”
“Yeah. I think it’s starting to ease off some, but it’ll probably blow another couple hours.” He dragged off a black slicker with POLICE in reflective letters across the back and front. “Laundry room,” he said with a gesture, disappearing inside.
When he came out, feet bare, she stood at his fridge, pulling out a carton of eggs.
“It’s too late for pizza.”
“It’s never too late for pizza,” he countered. “Didn’t you eat?”
“Not yet. I can scramble eggs, too. What happened? How bad was it?”
“Do you know the Wagmans?”
“Priscilla—goes by Prissy—and Rick. They live out by the school.”
“They had a fight. Apparently they’ve been having some marital troubles.”
“He had—and likely still is having—an affair with a woman who worked at Benson’s Lobster Shack last summer. From Westbrook. Double divorcée.”
“So, you know the background. Want a latte?”
“It’s too late for lattes.”
“You’re drinking a Coke.”
“Makes no sense, does it? I’ll have a latte. Off topic for one moment,” she said as she put a pad of butter in a skillet to melt, began breaking eggs in a bowl. “You could use some herbs and spices that aren’t salt and pepper and red pepper flakes.”
“Write them down, and I’ll get them.”
“What happened with Prissy and Rick?”
“Big fight, apparently, because, yeah, he’s still seeing the woman from Westbrook. Prissy chose tonight, during the storm, to tell Rick—a drunk Rick—she was getting a lawyer and filing for divorce.”
“You can’t blame her.”
“No, you can’t,” he agreed. “She found a receipt from some lingerie shop in Westbrook in his pocket—which proves he’s a cheater and a dumbass. This when they’ve been having some money issues, and he swore he’d ended things with the recipient of the sexy lingerie. Prissy started dragging his clothes out of the closet, threatened to light them on fire, busted his MVP trophy from high school softball. He claims she threw it at him. She says she threw it against the wall. I’m going with her because I don’t think she’d have missed, and he was too drunk to duck.
“Anyway.” He set her latte on the breakfast bar while she scrambled the eggs. “He stormed out in the storm, drunk and pissed. Lost control, hit a tree. Most of the tree fell on Curt Seabold’s truck. Seabold runs out, a little bit drunk himself, and he and Wagman get into it, bust each other up, with Seabold having the advantage of only being a little drunk and not already bloodied up from running into a damn tree. Seabold’s wife, Alice, runs out, sees Wagman on the ground and her husband staggering around with blood pouring out of his nose, and calls nine-one-one.”
“At least somebody acted sensibly.”
“Yeah, well. I had to arrest them both, haul their sorry asses to the emergency clinic. Seabold’s back home—I figured house arrest until we sort through it all. Wagman’s in the clinic with a cracked rib—and I know that’s no fun—a mild concussion, busted lip, banged-up knee, and so on. Prissy, who has no sympathy, suggested I tell him to call his slut, which I declined to do.”
“Wise.” She toasted some of the bread he’d picked up at the market, and set a plate down for him, then one for herself. “This will keep the island entertained for weeks. I hope she doesn’t take him back.”
“She seems pretty hardened there.”
“She took him back at least once before that I know of—another summer worker. They’ve only been married three or four years. He’s never going to be faithful to her, or the slut. He hit on me just last week.”
“In an idiot sort of way.” She sampled the latte. “Good latte.”
“I’ve been practicing. The eggs are great.”
“They’d be better with some thyme.”
“Thyme’s on the list.” He tapped his temple. “So how did you spend your evening?”
She set down the latte, looked into his eyes. “I have a confession to make.”
“At least you could let me interrogate you first. I can already see you’ve stolen one of my shirts. There’ll be consequences.”
She laid a hand over his. “I’m going to apologize first. I was rude and intrusive.”
“Did you find my stash of porn?”
“You have a stash of porn?”
He stared back, face deliberately blank. “Of what?”
She let out a half laugh. “God, you really are so damn appealing. I was restless after you left. I’m going to say something else because it hit me. With anyone else, I’d have gone home. I’d have said to myself, Well, that was fun, left you a chirpy note, and gone home. Party at CiCi’s. But I didn’t, and I’m really going to have to think about that. I never even considered leaving.”
“I asked you not to.”
“It wouldn’t have mattered,” she insisted. “With anyone else, it wouldn’t have mattered. I majored in one-night stands in college.”
“Long time ago, Simone.”
“Yes, but I have to think about why, when I was restless and alone in a house that’s not mine, I didn’t even consider leaving. But being restless, I thought I could sketch. Some of you, and maybe a mermaid for your bathroom wall. Only I didn’t have a sketch pad with me. So I went into your office to look for a pad.”
“Oh.” The shutters came down over those interesting green eyes. “Okay.”
“You closed the door.”
“I didn’t lock it,” he pointed out. “I didn’t say: Don’t go in there if you know what’s good for you.”
“God. You’re so steady, so solid.” Not feeling as steady, she pushed her hands through her hair. “I saw the legal pads in the closet—no door there.”
“I’d just have to open and close it. What’s the point?”
“Then I saw your work. Those big rolling boards. I realize some of what’s on them is official. What? Crime scene photos and reports.”
“Yeah. Since you’re not a suspect, we can let that slide. But I’m sorry you saw some of that.”
“It’s what you see. The dead and destroyed, the bodies, the people who kill. You look right at it, because somebody has to. Isn’t that right? Don’t say it’s part of the job, Reed.” She squeezed his hand. “Don’t say that.”
“It is part of the job, the job I choose to do. It’s part of my life. It’s a kind of … mission, if that doesn’t sound too lame.”
“Not in the least.”
“I won’t stop until I take her down. If the feds beat me to it, that’s fine. Either way, it closes out. When it does?” He reached over, brushed her hair back from her face. “I take down the boards. I file it all away.”
He sat back with his coffee. “What happened that night’s part of us, and always will be. But it doesn’t, and it can’t, define us. Not you or me, or who you and I are going to be together. We need—however hackneyed the word—closure. And some fucking justice.”
“Yes.” She let out a breath. “We, none of us, ever had either.”
“I’m going to work to get both. Then I’ll think about Patricia Hobart sitting in a cell for the rest of her life, and I’ll be good with it. Better than.”
“You’re made that way. That’s how it is for you. The good guys go after the bad guys.”
“That’s how it should be. What are you doing, Simone? You’re creating a memorial. You’re working on the heart and the soul, honoring the dead, comforting those they left behind. That’s a job, too, but it’s not just a job. That’s your mission.”
“I’m pretty late in getting to it.”
“You’re awfully good for me,” she stated. “That scares the crap out of me.”
“I’m going to get even better for you, so you’ll either get used to it or live scared.” He picked up their plates, took them to the sink.
“Will you talk to me about your work? Like, how you believe Patricia Hobart’s going to try to kill one of the survivors who’s moved south. The two in Florida are top of your list.”
“It’s what I think, and mostly a hunch. The problem is hundreds of people survived. She’s got a lot to choose from. I will talk to you about it, and you’ll talk to me about your work. But not tonight.
“Did you check in with CiCi?”
“I did. You got a woo and a hoo.”
“She’ll probably never make hot, sweet love with me now.” He turned around. “I guess I have to settle for you.”
She cocked her head. “There’s a gorgeous Italian cellist in Florence named Dante with whom I made hot, sweet love many times. And could again. But since I’m not in Florence, I guess I have to settle for you.”
“That’s a solid snap back. I did promise you more sex.”
“I’m a man of my word.”
He held out a hand. She took it.
Reed managed a couple hours of sleep before a bright, blustery dawn. He told Simone to sleep and stay as long as she wanted before he headed out with a to-go cup of coffee and an I-had-a-lot-of-sex spring to his step.
He walked, despite the icy patches and slick mud, because he wanted to survey storm damage. He saw plenty of downed branches and hefty limbs—but no trees as unlucky as Curt’s.
Needed some cleanup, he decided. He’d have to buy a chain saw, and be careful not to kill himself or others with it. The water might have been bright blue, but it rolled with some violence, white horses galloping.
He spotted a crew of three surveying damage on some of the rentals, stopped to check.
Shingles blown off here and there, plenty of storm debris, and as one of the crew told him, a muddy, bitching hell of a mess, since rain poured in again after the ice.
He found a crumbled bike on the road, but no blood or sign of the passenger. He hauled it up to take with him. Somebody’s flag—pink with a flying white horse—lay tattered and soaked in a puddle. That he left behind.
Some, already out clearing their yards, paused to call out to him, asked how he’d fared in his first nor’easter on the island.
He didn’t say he’d spent most of it in bed with a beautiful woman.
But he thought it.
He left the crumpled bike outside the Sunrise when he went in to get a refill for his coffee, and caught up with the news there.
Branches and limbs, a collapsed dock, some low-lying flooding. But the big news centered on the Wagman/Seabold incident. Though pressed for details, Reed demurred.
Gossiping about arrests in a café set a bad tone.
He carted the bike to the station, found Donna and Leon already doing some gossiping of their own.
“Where’d you find young Quentin Hobbs’s bike?” Donna demanded.
“About a mile out of the village. How do you know it’s Quentin Hobbs’s bike?”
“I’ve got eyes. And his mother, who’s as ditzy as a drunk cancan dancer, just called in saying how somebody stole her boy’s bike during the storm.”
“A drunk cancan dancer?”
“Have you ever seen one?”
“Not drunk or sober.”
“Take my word. And I said back to her, Did your boy secure that bike in the shed, did he chain it, which he did not, as he takes after his mother and never does either. That bike took flight, that’s what happened.”
“I’m with Donna,” Leon said. “Nobody’s going to steal the kid’s bike. And nobody’s going out in the teeth of a storm to steal it for certain.”
“It’s trash now. You can tell her we recovered it.”
“She’ll probably demand you dust it for fingerprints and launch an investigation.”
“She’ll be disappointed. Leon, I’d appreciate it if you’d go over to the clinic, where I have Rick Wagman handcuffed to a bed, check on his condition. If he’s cleared, you can bring him back, lock him up. He’s already been charged and read his rights.”
“I heard some about that. Did he slap Prissy around?”
“No, he did not, or he’d be charged with that, too. He’s charged with OWI, reckless driving, assault—on Curt Seabold—destruction of private property, and resisting, as he tried to take me on when I got there.”
“He swing at you?” Donna said, eyes narrowed.
“Half-assed. He was drunk, concussed, and stupid. I charged Curt with assault, as the two of them tried beating the hell out of each other. I let him stay home, and don’t see any cause to lock him up.”
Frowning, Leon rubbed at his chin. “It seems to me Curt was defending himself.”
“He took the first swing, Leon, and said so himself. He’d had a few drinks, but he wasn’t driving—and he won’t be driving his truck ever again from the looks of it. I expect we’ll end up dropping the charge against him, but it has to stand for now. How would he take it if I asked Cecil to go over there with a chain saw and help him cut up the tree on his truck?”
“I’d say he’d take that as good.”
“Then that’s what we’ll do. Nick and Matty are on second shift, but I’ll pull them in if we need them. I want Wagman in a cell as soon as he’s medically cleared, Leon. I filed the paperwork on him last night. He can get a lawyer, try for bail, but he’s in a cell or cuffed to his bed at the clinic. Nobody’s going to drive while intoxicated on the island under my watch and shrug it off.”
“Yes, sir, Chief.”
“You look pretty perky and bright-eyed for somebody who was up half the night dealing with drunks.”
Reed smiled at Donna. “Do I? It must just be my sunny disposition. I’m in my office. Send Cecil in when he gets here. And if he isn’t here in ten, Donna, you call him and tell him to get moving.”
He went in, sat d
Rick Wagman got sixty days, a revoked driver’s license (not his first drinking and driving rodeo), and mandatory rehab. Since adultery wasn’t a crime, Reed decided it was a suitable punishment for being a drunk asshole.
April arrived with a two-day snow. Plows plowed, shovels shoveled while the dawn of spring took the island back to midwinter. Then the sun burst out, popping the temperature toward fifty degrees. The rapid snowmelt gurgled its way into forming streams, chewing potholes into asphalt, swamping the beaches.
Reed spent the lion’s share of his first three weeks on the job dealing with weather-related incidents. Off-hours he made himself visible in the village, walking or biking around the island, often with CiCi, Simone, or both. He spent as many nights as he could manage with Simone in his bed.
And dedicated at least an hour every evening to Patricia Hobart.
On his day off in mid-April, he ferried to Portland. He hadn’t persuaded Simone to join him. Probably shouldn’t have mentioned meeting his parents, he realized.
He drove off the ferry, stopped to buy flowers, ended up choosing a madly blue hydrangea bush instead. Rethought, bought three.
His parents weren’t his only visit on this spring Sunday.
He had brunch with his family, played with the kids, bullshitted with his brother, teased his sister, more or less helped his father plant the well-received hydrangea.
And took away an enormous care package of leftovers.
At his next stop he found Leticia Johnson sitting on her front porch potting up pansies. She brushed off her garden gloves when he pulled up.
He thought it amazing she looked exactly the same as she had the night he’d met her.
He glanced across the street, thought the same couldn’t be said.
The landlord had indeed sold the lot. The new owners had razed what was left of the house, built a nice little place—currently a soft blue with white trim. They’d added a porch, a concrete walkway, a short, blacktop driveway, some foundation plants.
Next door, Rob’s and Chloe’s fixer-upper had long since been fixed up into a pretty two-story in a sage green with the addition of a garage on the far side and a bonus room topping it.
Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love / History & Fiction / Thrillers & Crime / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.7 out of 5 / Based on33 votes