Shelter in place, p.30
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       Shelter in Place, p.30

           Nora Roberts

  Annoyance flipped over puzzlement. House rule, he thought, for both of them: If you’re going to be late, you call.

  He reached for his phone, remembered he’d stuck it in the charger beside the bed. He went into his office, off the living area, to use the landline, saw the blinking message light.

  He tapped for it, frowned. Why the hell was some police chief from an island off of Portland … He heard Hobart’s name, and felt his blood run cold.

  He called her cell, felt sick when he heard her cheery voice-mail message. “Call me. Call me, Emily. Right now.”

  He paced, back and forth, telling himself she was fine. Just had too many glasses of Pinot, that’s all. She was fine.

  But he went out, checked the pool, the hot tub.

  Took a shaky breath of relief.

  He didn’t even think of the garage, or her car, for nearly ten minutes. He wobbled between relieved and shaky when he didn’t see her car.

  Then he found her.

  * * *

  Reed didn’t get the call—from a Homicide cop—until three in the morning. He grabbed the phone, rolled up to sit on what he remembered was Simone’s bed instead of his.


  “Chief Quartermaine, Tranquility Island, Maine?”

  “Yeah. Who’s this?”

  “Detective Sylvio, Coral Gables PD. I got your name and contact number off a message machine—”

  “Emily Devlon.” He held on to hope for ten seconds. “Did she contact you?”

  “No, Chief Quartermaine.”

  “Are you Homicide?”

  “That would be affirmative.”

  “Goddamn it, goddamn it. When? How?”

  “We’re working on that. I’ve got some questions.”

  “Ask them.” He shoved open the door, walked out on the long terrace overlooking the water. He needed air.

  Simone turned on the lights. She felt that air, a strong, chilly flow of it, rush into the room. She got up, put on a robe, walked to the open door to see Reed standing naked in some fitful moonlight, snapping answers into his phone.

  He didn’t feel the cold, she realized. Not with all that rage burning off him. She’d never seen him angry—hadn’t been sure he ever got there. At least not raging.

  He didn’t rage now, but the rage was in there.

  She listened because after he snapped out answers, he snapped out questions. Obviously the answers didn’t satisfy him.

  “Give me a break, Detective. Give me a fucking break. She might be alive if I’d made that call sooner, if I’d connected with her. Because it’s Hobart, goddamn it. She’ll have stalked in person, through social media. She’ll have a place—or had one—within an easy walk or drive. She’ll know Emily Devlon’s routine. Where she shops, banks, drinks, eats. She’ll have documented every last detail. Did Devlon routinely go out on Sunday nights?”

  Reed shoved at his hair, paced.

  “For fuck’s sake, call the FBI. The SAC is Andrew Xavier. But right now you’re standing over a dead mother of two. I was there with her in the DownEast Mall. I didn’t know her, but I was in there, too. And I … Jesus fucking Christ, are you trying to be a dick? Then give me TOD, and I’ll tell you where the fuck I was.

  “I was at the home of my former partner and her family. That’s Detective Essie McVee.” He rattled off her phone number and address. “She’ll verify. I left her place, drove to the ferry back to Tranquility. I contacted Emily Devlon, left the message while on the ferry. Prior, I contacted Max Lowen in Fort Lauderdale, as I believed Hobart to be in Florida. The message has a time stamp, goddamn it, you know damn well I called her right before or right after TOD.”

  He listened and, oh yes, Simone could see that rage in every line and muscle of his body.

  “You do that. Fucking do that. You know where to reach me.”

  He spun around, and the wild fury on his face had Simone taking a step back. He caught himself.

  “I need a minute.”

  But when he reached for the door, to close it between them, she stepped forward.

  “Don’t do that. Don’t shut me out. I heard enough to understand she killed someone else. Someone you tried to warn. Come in, Reed, put some clothes on. You don’t know it yet, but you’re freezing.”

  “A lot of fucking good it did. She didn’t answer the phone. Maybe already dead. Too fucking late.” He tossed his phone on the bed, grabbed his pants. “And this Homicide asshole’s grilling me about why I left the message, why I left the Portland PD, how I know so much, where I was during the time in question. Fucking cocksucker.”

  He caught himself again. “Sorry. I have to go.”

  “To do what? Put your fist through a wall somewhere else? Once the fucking cocksucker does a minimum of checking, he’s going to know he’s a fucking cocksucker.”

  “That won’t make Emily Devlon any less dead. She had two little kids. I was too late.”

  She moved to him, wrapped around him.

  “Damn it, Simone. I was too late. She got by me.”

  “You?” She squeezed hard, eased back. “Why you, and you alone?”

  “I’m the only one she’s tried to kill who’s looked her in the eyes and lived.”

  “So you’re not going to stop. Right now you don’t think that counts for much, but it does. I predict the cop in Florida will call you back, apologize, and ask for your help.”

  “I don’t want his fucking apology.”

  “You’re probably going to get it anyway. But now, we’re going to take a walk on the beach.”

  “It’s cold, it’s the middle of the damn night. I need to go,” he insisted. “You should go back to bed.”

  Odd, she thought, he usually held on to his calm. Now that his had slipped, she had a good grip on her own.

  “You’re going to wait until I get dressed, then we’re going to walk. It’s something that helps me, at least sometimes, when I’m really pissed off. Let’s see if it helps you.”

  She went to her dresser for a sweatshirt, sweatpants. “Seeing you in full-blown rage? I realize just how lucky the island is to have you.”

  “Yeah, nothing like a pissed-off chief of police.”

  “You have a right to be pissed, and still, already, you’re banking it down. And part of the pissed, the part that’s still showing, is sad. I knew you were smart and clever as a cop. I knew you respected the job you do, and want to do it well. And I knew you cared about people, but tonight I saw just how much you care.”

  She got a scarf, wound it around her neck. “We’re lucky to have you, Chief. I’ve got a warm jacket downstairs. We’ll get it, and yours, on the way out.”

  “I’m in love with you. Dear Christ, don’t let that scare you off.”

  It stole her breath for a minute, and she had to take a firmer grip on her calm. “It scares me. It’s not scaring me off, but I need a little more gathering myself together before I’m sure what we’re going to do about it. I’ve never felt about anyone the way I feel about you. I just need to figure that out.”

  “That works for me. And I’m less pissed off now.”

  “Let’s take that walk anyway. You’re the first man who’s said that to me I’ve believed. I think we both need a walk on the beach.”

  It helped, and though he didn’t go back in, back to her bed, she knew he’d steadied himself. He kissed her, drove away after he waited for her to go inside.

  She didn’t go back to her bed, either. Instead, she made a large cup of coffee, went to her studio.

  There she found the sketch of Emily Devlon she’d made from the photo on Reed’s board. And gathering her tools, began to do what she could to honor the dead.


  Proof of Life

  Life is real! Life is earnest!

  And the grave is not its goal;

  Dust thou art, to dust returnest,

  Was not spoken of the soul.

  —Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

  He did get an apology—stiff and obviously on orders—from the Florida detective. And a follow-up call from the detective’s lieutenant, who didn’t appear to have his head up his ass.

  They exchanged information and promises for updates as they came.

  Donna rapped on his doorjamb. “We got a call from Ida Booker over on Tidal Lane, and she’s fit to be tied.”

  “About what?”

  “Some dog got into her compost bin, and dug up her flower bed where her daffodils were just coming up, and chased her cat up a tree.”

  “Whose dog is it?”

  “It’s nobody’s dog, that’s the other problem. She’s saying it’s the second time in two days its treed her cat, and she asked around having never seen the dog before. The thinking is somebody dumped it. Came over with it on the ferry, went back without it.”

  “Do we have a stray dog problem on the island I don’t know about?”

  “We didn’t, but it appears we’ve got one now. Ida says if she sees that dog again, she’s going to shoot it in the head. She loves that cat.”

  “We’re not going to have anybody shooting a dog.”

  “Then you’d better find it before she does. Her blood’s up.”

  “I’ll handle it.” He could use the distraction.

  He drove to Tidal Lane, a pretty neighborhood of eight permanent homes where the residents took pride in their gardens and had formed a kind of informal commune of craftspeople.

  Ida, a sturdy woman of fifty, wove textiles, had raised two sons, and loved her cat.

  “He scared Bianca, and God knows what he might’ve done if she hadn’t made it up the tree. And look what he did! Dug up my bulbs, spread my composting all over hell and back. And when I came out, he ran off like a coward.”

  Reed thought he’d rather deal with a cowardly dog than an aggressive one. “Did he have a collar?”

  “I didn’t see one. For all I know he’s rabid.”

  “Well, we don’t know that. Give me a description.”

  “Some brown mongrel dog, and dirty. Fast. First time he came around and chased Bianca, I was right over there, prepping that bed for planting. I stood up, yelled, and he ran off. Same thing today. I heard the barking and carrying on. Bianca likes to nap on the porch. I came out, and he lit out.”

  “Which way?”

  She pointed. “Tail between his legs. He’s lucky I didn’t have the shotgun.”

  “Mrs. Booker, I’m going to advise you against getting that gun and firing it.”

  “My cat, my property.”

  “Yes, ma’am, but deploying a firearm in a residential area’s against the law.”

  “Self-defense,” she said stubbornly.

  “Let’s see if I can round up the dog. You say he ran off, so he didn’t come at you?”

  “He went after Bianca.”

  “I get that, but he wasn’t aggressive toward you?”

  “Ran the minute he saw me. Coward.”

  Not aggressive with people then. Probably. “Okay. I’ll look for him. If I don’t find him, I’ll send a couple of deputies to look around. We’ll round him up. Sorry about the daffodils.”

  He checked the neighborhood, found those who’d spotted the dog—usually after he’d knocked over a trash can and run off.

  He cruised awhile, wondering where he’d go if he were a dog who liked to chase cats and dig up daffodils. It calmed him, he realized, the simple task of searching for a stray dog, crisscrossing that area of the island in his cruiser and on foot.

  Still, he’d nearly given up and decided to send Cecil out on the hunt, when he heard the barking.

  He spotted the dog on a stretch of beach, chasing birds and the lap of the surf. He got the loop leash and the hamburger he’d stopped for earlier, walked down slow and easy as he considered his quarry.

  Not rabid to his eye, the way he splashed and ran, and not much more than a puppy. Skinny—ribs showing—so maybe the food would do the trick.

  He sat, unwrapped the burger and set half of it beside him.

  The dog’s nose went up, sniffing, then his head turned. The minute he spotted Reed, he froze.

  Reed sat, waited, let the breeze carry that seductive scent of meat. The dog hunched down, crept closer. Long legs, Reed noted, floppy ears, and, yes, tail tucked.

  The closer the dog got, the lower he got, until he bellied over like a combat trooper. Eyes on Reed, he nipped the burger, ran back to the surf. Devoured it.

  Reed set down the second half, got the loop leash ready.

  The dog bellied over again, but this time Reed slipped the loop around his neck when he lunged for the meat.

  The dog tried to pull back, eyes wide and wild.

  “Uh-uh, none of that. You’re under arrest. And no biting.”

  At the voice, the dog froze, then began to tremble.

  “I’d say somebody gave you a bad time.” Reed picked up the burger, and his movement had the dog hunching and cringing. “A very bad time.” Keeping his movements slow, he offered the rest of the burger.

  Hunger overcame fear. The tucked tail gave a hesitant wag.

  “Gotta take you in. Attempted assault on a feline, destruction of personal property. The law’s the law.”

  Slow, slow, Reed laid a hand on the dog’s head, skimmed it back and over, felt the bumps of scars at the neck. “I’ve got some of those myself.”

  He stroked for a few minutes, was rewarded with a tentative lick on the back of his hand.

  The dog cringed again when Reed stood up, then shifted his gaze up when the expected blow didn’t come. He learned quickly the dog didn’t like the leash. He pulled, twisted, froze each time Reed stopped and looked down at him. With that process, they made it to the car.

  The tail wagged with more enthusiasm. “Like riding in cars, huh? Well, this is your lucky day.” He started to put him in the back, but the dog looked at him with such soulful eyes, the beginning of hope.

  “Don’t barf up the burger in my official vehicle.”

  The instant he opened the door, the dog leaped in, sat in the passenger’s seat—and banged his snout on the window.

  Reed decided a dog could look surprised. He rolled the window down, and his prisoner’s floppy ears waved out in the air all the way back to the station.

  “Gotta write you up, and see if I can get the vet to come in and take a look at you. Then we’ll figure out the rest.”

  He noted the black SUV in the lot, and knew he had a federal visitor.

  In the bullpen Donna took another call, Cecil and Matty sat at their desks, and Special Agent Xavier sat in a visitor’s chair with a cup of coffee while he scrolled something on his phone.

  The sight and smell and sound of so many humans in one place had the dog shaking, tail tucked, head down.

  “Aw, you found the puppy.” Cecil started to get up. Reed held up a hand to stop him.

  “He’s scared of people.”

  “Doesn’t seem to be scared of you,” Matty pointed out.

  “A little yet, but we came to terms over the burger I fed him. Donna, call the vet.”

  “Vet’s only open Wednesdays and Saturdays, except for emergencies.”

  “I know that. Call him at home, tell him the situation. I need him to look over the dog, make sure he’s not sick. Cecil, why don’t you take him back to the…”

  As he held out the leash to his deputy, the dog whined, pressed against Reed’s leg, and trembled. “Never mind. Hang on a minute.” Leading the dog, he went to the break room, hunted up a bowl, a bottle of water. “Special Agent Xavier,” he said as he came back, “why don’t we go into my office?”

  “You’re bringing the dog?”

  “He’s in my custody.”

  In the office, Reed gestured to a chair, then sat behind his desk. Immediately the dog crawled under the desk. Reed poured water into the bowl, set it down.

  “So, what can I do for you?” Reed began, over the sound of wet, rapid lapping.

I felt a face-to-face might make it crystal clear that neither I, nor the Bureau, appreciate your interference with an active investigation.”

  “Well, you didn’t need to take a ferry ride for that, but maybe you needed one to define my interference.”

  “Detective, you contacted two people—that we’re aware of—related information to one of them—that we know of—and stated your personal belief that Patricia Hobart intended to kill them.”

  “First off, that’s Chief. And clearly my personal belief became fact when Hobart killed Emily Devlon.”

  Xavier pressed his palms together, folded down all but his index fingers. “We have no evidence, at this time, that Hobart is responsible for the death of Emily Devlon.”

  Reed just nodded. “Would you mind shutting that door? If I get up to do it, this dog’s just going to follow me over and back again, and it looks like he’s finally settling down.”

  Reed waited while Xavier obliged.

  “I asked you to shut the door because I’d rather my bullpen doesn’t hear me calling an FBI agent an asshole.”

  “You’re going to want to be careful. Chief.”

  “Oh, I don’t think so. I think what I have to be here is straight. You may not have any physical evidence, to date, or a handy eyewitness, but you’ve got everything else. Devlon fits Hobart’s pattern down the line. She survived DownEast, and while she was at it, she saved a life. She got kudos— No, my office,” he said as Xavier started to interrupt. “She got some kudos at the time, write-ups and so on. More, she benefited financially when the life she saved died of natural causes years later and left Devlon a hundred thousand in her will. Every one of Hobart’s victims so far got press and benefited in some way.”

  “You were ordered, specifically, to stay out of this investigation.”

  “I don’t work for Portland PD now. I’m not interfering in dick-all, and I hope like hell the FBI brings her down, and fast. Until you do, I’ll do what I do.”

  “By tampering with potential targets—”

  “Tampering, my ass. I contacted Lowen, laid it out for him because I had information that led me to believe Hobart shifted her gears to Florida.”

  “And didn’t share that so-called information with officials?”

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admin 22 September 2018 10:55
new Nora Roberts book