Shelter in place, p.29
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       Shelter in Place, p.29

           Nora Roberts

  He knew they’d added another kid, too.

  He pulled the hydrangea out of the car, walked toward Leticia’s welcoming smile.

  “Aren’t you a fine sight on a sunny day.”

  “Not as fine as you.” He bent down to kiss her cheek. “I hope you like hydrangeas.”

  “I surely do.”

  “Then pick your spot, and tell me where I can find a shovel.”

  She wanted it right in front, where she could see it when she sat on her porch. While he dug, she went in the house, came back out with a plastic container.

  “Coffee grounds, some orange peels I haven’t taken out to the compost yet. You bury these with the roots, boy. They’ll help keep the blooms blue.”

  “You’d like my father. I just delivered one there, and he said just the same. What do you know about lupines?”

  They talked gardening, though most of it was like a foreign language to him.

  After, he sat on the porch with her, drinking iced tea, eating cookies.

  “You look healthy and happy. Island life agrees with you.”

  He hadn’t forgotten she’d come to see him at the hospital—twice. “It really does. I hope you’ll come over sometime, let me show you around. We can sit on my porch.”

  “What you need is a pretty young woman sitting there with you.”

  “I’m working on it.”

  “Well, praise be.”

  “How are the neighbors doing?”

  She looked across the street as he did. “Chloe and Rob and their two girls are doing fine. Sweet family. We’ve got new ones right across now, in that poor woman’s place.”


  “The family who built the house there—and it’s a nice house, too—they just outgrew it. Young couple in there now, expecting their first next fall. Nice as nice can be. I took them over an apple pie to say welcome, and didn’t they ask me right in, show me around? And the night before trash day every week, he and Rob, they take turns coming over here to take my bins down to the curb.”

  “I’m glad to hear that.”

  “You’re still thinking about what was.”

  “She’s still out there.”

  With a shake of her head, Leticia rubbed the cross she wore around her neck. “A person who’d kill her own mama, kill her grandparents, that’s not a person at all. It’s something else that doesn’t even have a name.”

  “I have a lot of names for her. I know you didn’t talk to her much, but you saw her, Ms. Leticia. Coming and going. I’m looking for patterns, and breaks in them.”

  “Like we’ve talked about, she’d drive up with groceries, stay awhile. Mother’s Day, Christmas, she’d bring something. Never looked happy about it.”

  “Did she ever change her look—like her hair, her style?”

  “Not to speak of. But now, I did see her once in one of those outfits the girls exercise in. Like for the gym or running around. Wasn’t her usual morning, and she looked downright annoyed. I have to say she had a better figure than I’d have guessed.”

  “She ran most mornings. We’ve verified that. Interesting.”

  “Now that I think on it, I’m putting that at a time her mama took sick.”

  “Could be Marcia Hobart called Patricia, nagged her into coming by before, and Patricia didn’t bother to change from her morning run.”

  “Now you’re putting me in mind of something else.” Leticia tapped a finger on her knee. “She didn’t look any different that day, or act it all that much, but maybe it’s a break in the pattern, like you say.”

  She rocked, eyes closed, trying to bring it back.

  “Wintertime—I can’t say just when. But the young ones were building me a snowman right out here, and thinking of the ages, I’m guessing five or six years ago this was. My grandson—the police, you know—was shoveling off my steps, my walk, and he was wearing the scarf I made him and gave him for Christmas, so it was after that. I was out here supervising—brought the young ones a carrot for the snowman’s nose—and she drove up.”

  She opened her eyes again, nodding as she looked at Reed. “I could tell she was annoyed right off when she got out because the walk over there hadn’t been done. I called out to her, asked if she wanted one of my kids to do some shoveling, as the girl who did for her was down sick with the flu.”

  Leticia rocked awhile, nodding again. “I’m remembering now. I walked over while I talked, seems to me, and she ducked her head as she usually did. I just took the bull by the balls, told my grandson to go on over there, shovel off that walk for the lady, told the oldest of the young ones to go get those groceries.”

  “How’d she handle it?”

  “She was kind of stuck, wasn’t she? She needed the help, and help was already moving in. I said how it looked like she’d gotten some sun—as it did, I recall. She said she’d taken a little vacation. My boy’s shoveling her walk, the young one’s carting the two bags of groceries up to the little porch, so she’s stuck, and plainly irritated. She said she hated coming back to winter, wished she could spend all her winters in Florida.”

  “She said ‘Florida’ specifically?”

  “She did. They had sun and palm trees and swimming pools in Florida, and here we had snow and ice and cold. I suppose that’s the most she said to me in our whole acquaintance, so I said it was nice she got a holiday, and where in Florida did she go? She just mumbled about having to get inside to her mother, and went off. Now, she did stop and offer to pay my grandson, still shoveling, but he wouldn’t take any money. He’s raised better.”

  “She killed a woman in Tampa, February of 2011.”

  “Well, my sweet Lord. Her vacation tan hadn’t yet faded, so this couldn’t have been long after. She’d gotten a tan while taking a life and stood over there bitching about the snow. Do you think she went to Florida again after she shot you?”

  “No, I think she went up to Canada. I shot her—she left a blood trail. And she had to move fast.”

  “She had time to kill her own grandparents.” Her fingers reached for her cross again. “Rest their souls.”

  “She hated them, like she hated her mother. And she had to be hurting. Why not take it out on them? But she was hurting, and I don’t see her trying to drive all the way to Florida with a gunshot wound. Canada’s closer. Fresh ID, over the border, dig a hole, and hide. She had plenty of cash, we figure, and credit cards under fake IDs. But I think she’s in Florida now. She had a good time there.”

  He glanced back at Letitia. “And I think two of her targets are living there now.”

  “You’ve got to warn them, Reed. Don’t say how the FBI’s in charge. Those people should have a chance to take precautions, protect themselves.”

  After he kissed her goodbye, Leticia watched him drive off. She worried about that boy. The person who wasn’t a person but something so bad she didn’t have a name for it in her vocabulary had tried to kill him once. Surely he knew she’d try again. She had to pray, and she would, that he was smart enough, and good police enough to catch her before she did.

  * * *

  Essie looked dumbfounded when Reed offered her a hydrangea. “You should plant it with coffee grounds for reasons that make no sense to me. I’ll trade you the plant for a beer.”

  “It’s a nice plant. Hank!” she called out. “Reed brought us a plant.”

  Dylan and Puck came first, on the run.

  “My man.” Reed slapped high fives with the boy, bent down to rub the wagging dog.

  “Are we going to the island? Can we go right now?”

  “Gotta hold off on that.”

  “Aw! Me and Puck wanna go!”

  Reed hauled him up. “Not much longer. When you come, I’m making you and Puck the Pug deputies for the day.”

  “With badges?”

  “Can’t be a deputy without one. Hey, Hank.”

  “Reed. That’s a nice hydrangea. Nikko Blue. Needs acidic soil to keep it that way.”

  “Then I’m passing
it to the guy who knows.”

  He had a beer with Hank, admired Dylan’s Power Rangers action figures and dinosaurs. Hank caught the subtle signal between his wife and her former partner.

  “Hey, Dylan, let’s go dig a hole. I’ve got just the spot.”

  “Another beer?” Essie asked after her men went outside to dig.

  “No, thanks. I’ve got to catch the ferry back and don’t have much time. I stopped by to talk to Leticia Johnson,” he began and relayed the new information.

  “We always knew she went to Florida, Reed.”

  “That’s right. But I think something about it caught her. She talked about it, and she usually made a point of saying next to nothing. She mentioned it—and the woman at the bakery where she used to stop in the mornings? She said Hobart told her she was taking a few days at a health spa in the mountains.”

  “She’s a liar, which we already know, too. But you’ve got a point. She slipped. She was pissed off,” Essie decided. “Just back from sun and palm trees, and now she’s got snow and cold, and nobody’s shoveled the damn walk.”

  “Ms. Leticia had her sort of cornered for a minute, so she let go a little, bitched a little.”

  “Why would it matter really, what she said to some nosy old woman in her mother’s neighborhood? She’s irritated with the snow, irritated the kid hadn’t shoveled it, fresh off a kill. Yeah.” Essie nodded. “She slipped.”

  “She’s in Florida, Essie. I know it.”

  “Reed, we’ve got no trail leading there.”

  “Two targets, and it’s been a cold winter.” He pushed up, paced. “What did you think when you saw this house, when you bought it?”

  “Here’s home.”

  “Yeah, and I felt the same about mine. She lived with her grandparents, and hated them—with her mother before, same thing. She killed them all. Those places were never home for her. I’m betting she thinks Florida is. She comes out of Canada—and even the feds believe she holed up there—and hits Bermuda. You know what I think?”

  Nodding, Essie puffed out her cheeks. “It reminded her she loves sun and palm trees.”

  “Exactly. We figured south already, and I’ve been leaning toward Florida. Now I’m damn sure of it. I know it’s gut, Essie, but it fits.”

  “I can trickle this to the special agent in charge.”

  “Not if it brings heat on you.”

  “Are they getting there? No, they’re not. And she’s added to the body count. I’ll go through channels. Look, Sloop knows you keep in touch with his grandmother, and he can verify. You went by to check in on her—”

  “Took her a hydrangea, planted it.”

  “So much the better. And she hands you this new conversation. You passed it to me. I pass it up the chain. Simple as that.”

  “Okay. As the person who gathered the information, and as a chief of police sworn to protect and serve, I’m contacting the two likely targets.”


  “It’ll take time for the feds to process what you pass up, and even then we can’t know what action they might take. I’m contacting them, Essie. What can they do to me?”

  “Maybe not a lot, if anything.”

  “They can’t slap at you if I make the contacts.”

  “The contact might have more weight coming from me, a detective on the Portland PD.”

  “Detective, chief.” He grinned at her. “Come on.”


  “I’m telling you because we’ve never bullshitted each other, and I don’t want you hearing it after the fact. I’ve gotta go.”

  He moved to the window first, looked out. “Man, boy, and dog. It’s a nice picture.”

  “My favorite. I’m pregnant.”

  “Huh?” He spun around. “Seriously? Why didn’t you say so right off? It’s good, right?”

  “It’s a lot more than good. I’m only about seven and a half weeks, and you’re not really supposed to say before you hit twelve. But…”

  She looked out the window with troubled eyes. “I’m going to have two kids. Hank found an agent who’s going to shop his book around, and by God, he’s already started another. He’s happy writing, staying home. I’m happy. Dylan’s just full of happy. I want the bitch caught, Reed. Sooner or later she’ll come after me, too. I’m the one who killed her brother.”

  “We’re going to get her, Essie.”

  “She doesn’t target families. They don’t interest her. But now, I’ve got family inside me.”

  “Get the word out. Don’t wait for the twelve weeks. Look, I think you’re high on her list—no bullshitting between us—so it’s too soon for her to come after you. But knowing you’re pregnant might hold her back if she’s bumped you up.”

  “That’s not a bad thought.” Because it had tensed up, she rubbed the back of her neck under her short ponytail. “I can let it get out. She came after you, and you were the second nine-one-one caller.”

  “The second doesn’t matter. I didn’t bring the cops. Simone did. Simone,” he added, “who I’m crazy in love with.”

  “You—” Essie managed to get her jaw off the floor. “Now it’s my turn. Seriously?”

  “As serious as it gets. It’s either you or Simone on the top of her list. No way she’s getting to either of you.”

  “Is she in love with you?”

  “I’m working on it. I’ve gotta go.”

  “But it’s just getting interesting. How are you working on it?”

  “Come to the island, see for yourself,” he said as she followed him to the door. “I can’t miss the ferry. I’m the chief of police.”

  * * *

  On the ferry, Reed made the calls. He spoke to Max Lowen in Fort Lauderdale, identified himself, and said that during a tangential investigation he’d gathered information that caused him to believe Patricia Hobart might be in Florida.

  After scaring the crap out of Lowen, Reed spoke of basic precautions, asked relevant questions, gave Lowen his cell number, and suggested he pass that to local law enforcement and contact the SAC at the FBI. He’d be happy to speak with them and verify.

  With Emily Devlon, he got an answering machine, left his name, number, and asked her to contact him as soon as possible about information on Patricia Hobart.

  Then he got out of his car, watched the island slide into view.

  Home, he thought. Where the heart is.

  He pulled out his phone again, texted Simone.

  On the ferry, about five minutes out. I’m thinking about picking up a pizza and spending some time watching the sunset on the patio with a couple of beautiful women.

  She answered back.

  CiCi’s making what she calls Vegetable Soup For The Ages. And she roped me into kneading bread dough, so no need for pizza. It’s too chilly for sunset on the patio. We’ll sit by the fire instead.

  Deal. Nearly home.

  He slid his phone back in his pocket. He’d try Emily Devlon again in the morning if she didn’t give him a call back. But for now he put it away.

  * * *

  Emily heard the phone ring as she closed the kitchen door behind her. She hesitated a moment, nearly went back to answer, then kept going. With her husband and kids already off for a little beach time and pizza, she wouldn’t worry about it. If Kent needed her, he’d have called her cell.

  They had the landline because Kent wanted one for clients and messages. So it had to be a client or another annoying political call or solicitation.

  Besides, this was her night. Her girls’ night out disguised as a book club, the first and third Sundays of the month—she ran one and just participated in the second. And tonight, she wasn’t in charge.

  She stepped into the garage—one her husband never used, as he had it so packed with sports equipment, tools, and lawn crap, it barely had room for her car.

  She heard a sound, felt a burning flood of pain.

  Then heard and felt nothing.

  Patricia opened Emily’s purse, flipped
through her contacts to one of the names on the committee. Texted:

  Something came up, explain later. Can’t make it. Boo!

  In the event a neighbor looked out, Patricia adjusted her wig—same style and color as Emily’s. She took Emily’s keys, slid into the minivan, hit the garage control.

  She drove through the neighborhood, out again, took a direct route to the open-air shopping center a convenient mile and a half away, and parked.

  She ditched the wig in her oversize purse with the gun, fluffed up her hair—screw DNA, she wanted them to know she’d won again.

  She strolled through the mall, basking in the balmy spring evening. Man, she loved Florida! She window-shopped, picked up a couple of things, and walked back to her own car, parked there before she’d taken the mile and a half hike to kill Emily.

  Her bags were already in the cargo area.

  She let out a sigh. She hated leaving Florida, wished she could stay and just bask awhile. But she had places to go, people to kill.

  “Road trip!” she said with a laugh. She opened the bag of jalapeño chips, the Diet Pepsi she’d picked up for the drive. Turned the satellite radio up.

  As she drove away, she decided Emily Devlon had been her easiest kill yet.

  Her luck was in.

  * * *

  Her luck held. Emily’s husband didn’t check the garage when he got home. He had no reason to. The kids—hyped up from pizza, and the ice cream he’d been weak enough to indulge them in after—kept him busy and distracted. He didn’t expect his wife home until at least ten in any case.

  He let the kids go crazy in the tub because they made him laugh even if it did mean some serious mopping up before Mom got home.

  He read them a story, tucked them in, mopped up, got what he considered a very well-earned vodka tonic. He didn’t check the machine, never thought of it, and fell asleep in the sixth inning of the baseball game on the bedroom TV.

  He woke just after midnight, disoriented, then more puzzled than annoyed when he found himself alone in bed.

  He shut off the TV, went into the bathroom to pee. Yawning, he checked on the kids and peeked into the guest room where Emily sometimes slept when he snored.

  He went downstairs, called for her.

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admin 22 September 2018 10:55
new Nora Roberts book
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