Shelter in place, p.32
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       Shelter in Place, p.32

          

  “It’s—it’s Patricia. Patricia Hobart. Please, don’t call the police!”

  “‘Patricia Hobart’?” Doubt dripped. “Prove it.”

  “You came into the—you called it the green room—before they took me out for the anniversary report last July. You sat with me and you said if I ever remembered anything about my brother, any little thing I hadn’t told the police, I should call this number. I could tell you.”

  “I’m here for you, Patricia.” Now excitement rang clear. “I’m glad you called me.”

  Patricia heard the rustling, imagined McMullen grabbing a recorder, a notebook. And smiled. “I don’t know what to do!”

  “Tell me where you are. The FBI’s looking for you. And a lot of cops.”

  “It’s not like they say, none of it, none of it. I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t understand. I’ve been running, but I’m scared all the time. I’m going to turn myself in, but I need to talk to somebody first. I need to talk to somebody who’ll listen and tell the truth.”

  She added broken sobs. “You don’t know, you don’t know what they did to me.”

  “Who?”

  “My grandparents. Oh God, I need to tell someone. I can’t keep running, but nobody will believe me.”

  “You can tell me. I believe you. What did they do to you?”

  “No, no, not like this. In person. I need you to record everything so it’s, like, on the record. You can’t tell anyone or they’ll kill me. I know it. Maybe I should just kill myself and end it.”

  “You don’t want to do that, Patricia. You need to tell your story. I’ll help you.”

  Patricia smiled, let her voice quaver with hope. “You—you’ll help me?”

  “I will. Why don’t you tell me where you are?”

  “I— You’ll call the police!”

  “No, no, I won’t. You said you’re turning yourself in. But you want to tell your story first. You want me to make sure people hear your story. I won’t call the police.”

  A weak voice, Patricia thought, with just a touch of desperate hope. “You swear?”

  “Patricia, I’m a journalist. I only want the truth. I only want your story. I’d never betray you. In fact, when you’re ready, I know a lawyer who’ll help you. We’ll arrange for you to turn yourself in so no one hurts you.”

  Patricia studied the flask of scotch she’d sipped while McMullen spoke. “You’d do that?”

  “Tell me where you are, and I’ll come meet you. We’ll talk.”

  “If you tell the police, and they come, I’ll kill myself. I—I have pills.”

  “Don’t take any pills. I won’t do that. Where are you? I’ll come now.”

  “Right now?”

  “Yes, right now.”

  “I’m at the Traveler’s Best Motel, off Route 98, right before the Portland exit. Please help me, Ms. McMullen. There’s no one else.”

  “You sit tight, Patricia. I can be there in forty minutes.”

  “Someone has to listen.” Patricia sobbed again. “You’re the only one.”

  She hung up, toasted herself in the mirror with the scotch she’d developed a taste for.

  Seleena raced to change into an on-camera suit. If things went well, she’d have the crazy woman in her studio inside two hours. The biggest exclusive anywhere, and it fell in her lap.

  Once she had that in the pipe, she’d call the FBI. First the mother of all exclusives, then she’d rake it in as the intrepid reporter who brought down Patricia Jane Hobart.

  She checked the time as she grabbed her laptop—she’d start with digital remote. Nearly midnight. She’d beat that forty minutes if she pushed it.

  She packed up her recorder in case Patricia was initially shy, a still camera, her phone, tossed in a makeup bag, checked her Glock with its hot pink frame, and was in her garage in five minutes flat.

  Emily Devlon could have warned her about Patricia’s skill with garage doors, but dead women don’t talk.

  Seleena slid behind the wheel.

  Her eyes widened in the rearview mirror when Patricia sat up in the back seat. Even as she grabbed for her purse and the gun, the syringe jabbed into her neck.

  “Night-night,” Patricia said.

  When Seleena slumped, Patricia got out, popped the trunk. She hauled Seleena out, fixed plastic restraints on her wrists and ankles, added a gag just in case Seleena came out of the sedative and made a fuss.

  With some effort, she dragged her to the trunk, hoisted her up, and rolled her inside. “You just take a nice nap,” Patricia told her. “We’ve got a long drive ahead of us.”

  She closed the trunk.

  * * *

  Simone didn’t tell him; she wasn’t ready. And in any case, the moment didn’t seem right for declarations of love.

  She knew he’d keep the dog. If he wasn’t already in love, he was—as she’d been—slipping and sliding in that direction.

  Because he’d done a very good deed for the day, she did one of her own and fixed a simple pasta dinner. She didn’t mention she’d learned how to make it from a certain Italian cellist.

  As Reed explained how easily the dog spooked around people, and why, Simone strategically ignored him.

  Reed fed the dog, who ate as if he’d been starved for weeks. Her heart ached as she wondered if he had.

  By the time she had their meal together, the dog had stopped hiding behind Reed and was curled up under the table asleep beside his empty food bowl.

  “He needs a name.”

  Reed shook his head as they sat down to eat—at a drop-leaf barnwood table he’d bought from a friend of CiCi’s. “If he goes somewhere else, they’ll name him something else, and it’ll just add more confusion. Man, this is great,” he said after a bite of pasta. “You’ve been holding out on me. You can cook?”

  She shook her head. “I can make a couple of things well, a few other things reasonably edible. That’s surviving rather than cooking.”

  “It’s cooking on my scale. Thanks. How’d things go for you today?”

  “They went well, but I realize I need a break from my … mission. A change of pace. I need those sketches of you.”

  “How about a loincloth? I could wear a loincloth.”

  “Do you have one?”

  “No, but maybe I can rig one up. The naked thing…”

  “I’ve seen you naked.”

  “It’s different seeing me naked and studying me naked, drawing me naked. You’re on the other side of that.”

  “I’ve been on both sides.”

  “What?” He stopped eating.

  “I subsidized my income in New York by modeling.”

  “Naked?”

  “Figure studies.” Amused, if unsurprised, by his reaction, she stabbed a noodle. “It’s art, Reed, not voyeurism.”

  “I can guarantee some of the guys—and probably some of the girls—were voyeuring.”

  She laughed. “I got paid either way. So, tonight’s perfect. I brought my sketchbook. You can consider it a trade for the meal—and what I’ll give you after the session.”

  “Bribing me with sexual favors? That will … completely work.”

  “I thought it might. You haven’t mentioned the FBI paying you a visit today.”

  “Grapevine,” he said.

  “It drips with juice. Did you not mention it because you thought it would upset me?”

  “It didn’t amount to all that much.”

  She’d heard differently, but wanted his side of it. “So tell me what it did amount to, and trust me to handle it.”

  He picked up the wine she had insisted went better with the pasta than beer. He couldn’t say she was wrong. “It’s not about you handling it. I guess, it was more about bringing work home.”

  Arching her brows, she angled to look deliberately down at the dog under the table.

  “Okay, you got me there.”

  “Proving your work doesn’t come to a hard stop, and neither does mine. So?”

  “Special Agent Dickhead didn’t like some LEO with a cushy job in bumfuck stepping on his sensitive toes.”

  “He called you a lion?”

  “A—oh. No.” On a laugh, Reed ate more pasta. “LEO as in ‘law enforcement officer.’ L-E-O.”

  “Oh. And he considers the island bumfuck.”

  “It kind of is. I’m fine with serving and protecting our bumfuck. I’m not fine with him coming into my office trying to strong-arm me.” He gave her the gist, shrugged, and added, “So basically I told him to blow me, and he left.”

  “Didn’t it matter to him that a woman’s dead?”

  “I have to believe it did, and does, which is one of the reasons he decided to take a swipe at me. Swing and a miss. Look, most FBI I’ve crossed paths with are dedicated, want to catch the bad guys, and are willing to cooperate with local LEOs—to integrate them into investigations where it makes sense. This guy? He takes the special in ‘Special Agent’ literally. He just thinks he’s better than cops.”

  “I don’t like him.”

  “Hey, me, either. He’s a raging dick. That doesn’t mean he’s not good at his job.”

  “Then why hasn’t he caught Hobart?”

  “She’s slick. Smart, slick, and fucking canny. She’s got skills, focus, and a boatload of money. I wouldn’t punch at Special Agent Dickhead for not taking her down yet.” He jerked a shoulder. “I did it for him being so self-important and territorial that he flips off information and assistance from outside sources—especially, for whatever reason, me.”

  “CiCi knows people. I bet she knows people who know the head of the FBI, or people who know people who do.”

  “Don’t go there.” He gave her hand an easy pat. “I’ve got this, and if it turns out I don’t?” He polished off his wine. “Then we can revisit the idea of pulling out the awesome power of CiCi.”

  He rose to clear the pasta bowls. The dog jumped up immediately, smacking his head on a chair leg in his haste.

  “Jeez, chill. I’ve got to give him another pill, do another ear deal. The pill’s easy. They’ve got this little flavored thing you push it into. The ear deal could get ugly.”

  “I bet he’s a very good dog.” Simone turned in her chair as the dog followed Reed to the sink. “I bet he’s very brave.”

  Glued to Reed’s leg, the dog watched her.

  “You’re so handsome, and you have such kind eyes.” As she spoke, she eased down to sit on the floor. “How could anyone have been mean to you? But it’s going to be okay now. You landed in a big bowl of Milk-Bones.”

  The dog took a cautious step toward her, retreated, but she kept talking.

  “And weren’t you smart to find Reed? He’s going to keep you. He’s telling himself he’s not, but he will.”

  Another cautious step, then one more.

  Standing still and silent so he didn’t distract, Reed watched, thought the dog looked half-hypnotized. He bellied over to where Simone laid a hand on the floor. Sniffed it, tried a lick.

  He cringed when she lifted the hand, trembled when she put it on his head.

  “There now. No one’s going to hit you anymore.”

  He edged closer, eyes on her face as she stroked.

  “I feel the scars,” she murmured. “He’s got heart and fortitude. He must have a very pure soul to be able to trust any human. They couldn’t turn him mean. He doesn’t have mean in him.”

  She bent down, kissed the dog on the nose. “Welcome home, stranger.”

  Reed took out one of the pills, pushed it into the soft little pocket. And accepted he’d gotten himself a dog.

  The downside of that showed itself when he took the dog out to walk him. Eventually, he thought, the dog would learn the territory, just go out on his own. But for now he’d walk him over into the woods.

  If bears shit in the woods, so should dogs.

  When the dog didn’t mimic a bear, Reed assumed he didn’t have enough food in him yet to pass it along.

  Until they hit the slate walk, then the dog squatted and relieved himself.

  “Goddamn it, what’s wrong with the woods? Now I need a shovel.”

  When he got one, the dog cowered and quaked.

  “Ah, Jesus, it’s not for you.”

  He found his gut burning in fury at the idea of someone beating some poor dog with a shovel.

  Back inside, he got one of the dog biscuits, crouched down, offered it. “That’s not a reward for crapping on the walkway because, man, that’s just uncivilized. It’s just because. Now, I have to go upstairs and get naked, and not for fun and sex. I’m already mortified.”

  He started upstairs, the dog at his side. Then looked back when he reached the top and heard the whining.

  “How’d you do that?” Stumped, Reed walked halfway down to where the dog now had his head through the pickets, and was stuck. “Why did you do that? Hold on. Stop squirming.”

  He managed to angle the head, shift the body, reangle, and work the head free.

  “Don’t do that.”

  This time the dog followed close on his heels to the bedroom.

  Simone sat in the chair by the fire doing random sketches in her pad. Of body positions—naked body positions. His naked body?

  If that wasn’t weird enough, he glanced toward the bed. Took a step toward it.

  “That’s a sword. There’s a sword on the bed.”

  “I told you I wanted you holding a sword.”

  “You’ve got a sword.”

  “I borrowed it from CiCi.”

  “CiCi has a sword.” He picked it up—weighty—studied its long, carved sheath.

  It looked old, he realized. Not all jeweled up and fancy, but old and … battle-tested.

  “This is so cool.” He drew it out, wondered at the shine and sleekness. Battle-tested, he thought again, spotting a few nicks. Steel against steel.

  “This is just out-and-out cool. Why does CiCi have a sword?”

  “It was a gift. From some ambassador. Or maybe it was Steven Tyler. She has a katana that I considered, but you’re an all-American boy and a katana’s too exotic for this.”

  “She has a katana and a … Is this a broadsword?”

  “I couldn’t say. Strip it off, Chief.”

  Holding the sword, giving it a slow swing right, left, because you just had to, he frowned back at her. “A man would have to be crazy to swing a sword around naked.”

  “The Celts did.”

  “But they got crazy first.”

  “Strip it off,” she said without mercy. “There’s a bottle of wine for courage.”

  “Maybe you should spell out the sexual favors first.”

  “Then they wouldn’t be a surprise, would they? Don’t be shy. I repeat, I’ve seen you naked.”

  “The dog hasn’t,” he countered, but set the sword down to undress and get it over with.

  “It was sweet of you to get the little stuffed dog for the dog.”

  “I didn’t. Donna tossed it in. No dog of mine plays with dolls.”

  “Really? You’d better tell him that.”

  Shirt off, hands on the button of his jeans, Reed looked over to see the dog, curled up, one paw on the stuffed toy while he lovingly licked its face.

  “He’s already an embarrassment to me.” Heaving out a breath, he stripped down to the skin.

  “Stand closer to the fire—it’s nice light. With the sword,” she added. “Pivot to the left, but angle back toward me from the waist. We’re going to try a couple with you holding the sword at the hilt, point down. You can talk.”

  “I have no words.”

  “The island’s starting to gear up for the season.”

  Naked small talk. Naked small talk with swords. Jesus. But he gave it a try. “Yeah, a lot of spring-cleaning and painting going on.”

  She wove casual conversation through directions to turn or to change his stance.

  “I want you to raise the sword over your left shoulder, as if you were going to strike down. Just hold it there a minute.”

  Good lats, she thought, strong biceps, a lean torso. The scar puckering over the right oblique, the latissimus dorsi, the deltoid added that tangible proof of violence.

  “Lower it for a minute, shake it off.”

  She got up, got him some wine. “Relax.”

  “We done?”

  “Not yet. I want you to turn your head, look at the doorway. Imagine your enemy there, coming at you.”

  “Can it be Darth Vader?”

  “Not Kylo Ren? He killed Han Solo, and Vader never could.”

  “It matters that you know that.” He handed her back the wineglass. “But nobody out-dark-Forces Vader.”

  “Darth Vader it is.” She took the glass, set it down, went back to her chair. “I want you to take a couple breaths, then look toward the door. There’s Vader. Then keep your eye on him and swing the sword up, and hold that. Hold the look, the pose. I want you tensed, primed for the first blow. Got it?”

  “Yeah, yeah.”

  “Make it real. Believe it, and it’ll look real. When you’re ready.”

  He tried to make himself hear that spooky Vader breathing, and when he had it in his head, looked, swung.

  “Hold it, just hold that.”

  Perfect, she thought. The angle, the muscles in his glutes, hamstrings, quads. The ripple along the shoulders and arms. The tension in the jaw, the back.

  “I’ve got it. I’ve got it,” she muttered, bringing him onto the paper. “Just hold the pose.”

  She grabbed her phone, took three quick photos to back up the sketch.

  “That’s it. You’ve defeated the Empire. Relax.”

  He lowered the sword, rolled his shoulders. “We’re done?”

  “I’ve got what I need. You’re an excellent model.”

  “Let’s see.”

  “Uh-uh.” She slapped the sketchbook closed.

  “Come on.”

  “I want you to see the finished piece. Besides.” She rose, walked to him. “Now that we’re done with the session, I’m thinking I have a naked man all to myself.”

  She took his mouth, gave his lower lip a teasing nip.

  “Watch the sword,” he told her.

  Trailing a hand down his chest, over his belly, she asked, “Which one?”

  “Ha.”

  “Put the metal one away. There’s a full moon tonight. By the time I’m done with you, you’ll be howling at it.”

 
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admin 22 September 2018 10:55
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new Nora Roberts book
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