Shelter in place, p.33
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       Shelter in Place, p.33

           Nora Roberts

  By the time she was done with him, he had decided that if this was the payment scale, he might make naked modeling a career.

  * * *

  He woke groggy, in desperate need of coffee, and remembered the dog when he tripped over him.

  “Sorry. I got it,” he said when Simone murmured.

  He yanked on clothes, took the dog out through the kitchen, grabbing a Coke on the way because it was faster than coffee.

  He needn’t have bothered with speed, as the dog used the patio before he could lead him off and toward the woods.

  After dealing with that, he went back in, fed the stupid dog, made coffee, drank it while the dog bolted down the food. He went through the medicine routine, headed back up for a shower.

  Stopped halfway when he saw the dog had, once again, gotten his head stuck in the pickets.

  “What is your deal? Are you just a fucking moron?” He did the angle/reangle shift, then herded the dog upstairs in time to see Simone getting out of bed. “I named the dog.”

  “What’s his name?”

  “Fucking Moron.”

  “You’re not naming that sweet dog Fucking Moron.”

  “It fits, and a name’s gotta fit. He can be FM for short.”

  “Think again.”

  “He crapped and peed all over the patio, and he got his head stuck in the railing again. How is that not Fucking Moron?”

  As Reed spoke, the dog stared up at him with eyes full of love.

  “At least he waited until he was outside,” Simone pointed out. “He should have a sweet name. Like Chauncy.”

  “Chauncy’s a—” He stopped himself before he said pussy name. “I wouldn’t have a dog named Chauncy,” he amended. “I need more coffee. I need a shower. Shower. You’re coming with me.” He grabbed Simone’s hand. “You’re not,” he told the dog.

  Sex in the shower put him in a better mood.

  * * *

  Dressed, with her first cup of coffee drained. Simone grabbed her jacket. “Bring Herman over to CiCi’s tonight.”

  “I’m not naming him Herman. But I’ll bring him over.”

  “Good. I’ll see you then.” She kissed Reed. “And you, too, Raphael.” Kissed the dog’s nose.

  “He’s no Raphael, either.”

  Reed gathered dog supplies—pills, pockets, food, the chewy things, a couple of biscuits.

  “We’re going to work. It’s time you started earning your keep.” He led the dog out, stopped when he noted things starting to poke out of the ground. “How about that? Spring’s coming. You dig in all that, there’ll be no Milk-Bones for you. Get in.”

  The dog happily obliged, immediately rapped his head against the closed window.

  “See, Fucking Moron. You are what you are.” Despite the chill, Reed lowered the window. “I guess I’m going to have to deputize you, if I’m hauling your ass to work every day. That makes you Deputy Dog. Get it?”

  The dog just stuck his head out the open window.

  “Is that it? My amazing detective abilities lead me to conclude you think the damn pickets are a window, and the wind’s going to blow your ears back. Some dumbass deputy that makes you.”

  Shaking his head, Reed backed out of the drive, turned toward the village. Inspiration struck. “Dumbass, yet loveable, deputy. Barney Fife, right? That’s it. You’re Barney. Deal is done.”

  Barney seemed fine with it as his tongue lolled and his ears blew.

  Reed unlocked the station, went to his office. He filled Barney’s water bowl, gave him one of the chew sticks. “Don’t make me regret this.”

  He got a cup of coffee, and heard Donna come in—she almost always arrived first—as he went to his desk to boot up his computer.

  “Are you going to bring that dog in every day?”

  “Barney’s been deputized.”

  “Barney?” She set her fists on her hips. “Like the purple dinosaur?”

  “No. Like Barney Fife. Deputy Barney Fife.”

  “Isn’t that show before your time?”

  “It’s a classic.”

  “I can’t argue there. You can just stop giving me the spook eye,” she said to Barney. “I picked up the mail on the way in.”

  She walked over, dropped a short stack on his desk.

  She and the dog exchanged another look before she went out.

  As he started opening the mail, his phone rang. Suzanna Dorsey, doing a follow-up. He ran her through, then listened to her response when he asked about the dog’s insistence on using walkways and patios.

  “Considering the rest of it? I’m going to say he was kept in a pen most of the time. Concrete floor. He only knows hard surfaces, poor thing. He’ll learn, Reed, but it may take a little time.”

  “I’ll keep a shovel handy.”

  After the call, he looked down at Barney. Barney looked back, bellied a little closer, gave him that look of trusting adoration.

  “We’ll work on it,” Reed told him, giving his head a scratch before he went back to the mail.

  The letter addressed to him at the station, postmarked Coral Gables, Florida, stopped him cold.

  He pulled out a pair of crime scene gloves, took out his pocketknife to carefully unseal the flap. Drew out the greeting card.


  The foil letters shined over colorful bursts of fireworks. He opened it with a gloved fingertip, read the printed sentiment inside.


  She’d drawn skulls and crossbones around the words, then added a handwritten message.

  You lived! Enjoy that while you can. We’re not finished, but you will be when I come for you.

  XXOO, Patricia

  P.S. Here’s a little souvenir from the great state of Florida.

  He picked up the little sealed plastic bag, studied the lock of hair inside.

  It would be, he had no doubt, Emily Devlon’s.

  “Okay, bitch, it’s on. You let it get personal, and that’s a mistake.”

  “Hey, Chief, you—” Cecil pulled up short at the cold glint in Reed’s eyes. “Ah, I can come back.”

  “What do you need?”

  “I thought I should tell you they were painting over at the Beach Shack, and knocked a whole gallon of paint off the ladder. It’s splattered over some of Jewels of the Sea, and on Cheryl Riggs as she was out there washing the display window. She’s pretty mad, Chief.”

  “Can you handle it?”

  “Yeah, well, I was walking to work when it happened, so I did what I could. Paint’s all over the sidewalk, too. But Ms. Riggs wants you to come down there.”

  “Tell her I’ll be down, but I have to take care of something first.”

  “Sure thing.”

  “Do it in person, Cecil. Block off the sidewalk so people don’t end up walking through wet paint. And have Donna contact village maintenance to see about getting it off the sidewalk.”

  “Yes, sir, Chief.”

  “And close the door, Cecil.”

  Spilled paint, angry shopkeepers had to be dealt with, Reed thought. But they’d just have to wait.

  With his phone, he took pictures of both sides of the envelope, of the front, inside, back of the card. Another of the lock of hair.

  Then he dug Xavier’s card out of his drawer, made the call.


  Seleena surfaced and moaned. A terrible hangover, she thought, groggy and queasy. Her head pounded, her eyes throbbed, her throat felt sandpapered, her stomach roiled.

  How many drinks had she …

  And she remembered.

  She shot awake with a jolt, and light ice-picked into her eyes. When she tried to lift her hands to shield them, she felt the bite of restraints.

  She let out a wild, crazed scream.

  “Boy, you wake up cranky.” Sipping coffee from a mug, Patricia walked into view. “You probably feel pretty rough, and screaming’s just going to make you feel worse. Nobody’s going to hear you, so do yourself a favor.”

  “Where are we? Why are you doing this? God, don’t kill me.”

  “Where we are is deep in the north woods. I already told you why—I want to tell my story. If I was going to kill you, you’d be dead. Relax.”

  She offered a glass with a straw. “Just water. I need you awake and ready to go. Sorry about the needle in the neck, but I wasn’t sure I could trust you. It’s better this way, for both of us.”

  Her body quaked as she looked into Patricia’s eyes. Her bladder threatened to release. “You don’t have to do this. I told you I wouldn’t call the police.”

  “Yes, I trusted that part. You want the story, so you wouldn’t start off calling the cops. But it’s still better this way.” With a roll of her eyes, Patricia used the straw and sucked down some water. “See? Just H-two-O.”

  Desperate, Seleena accepted, drained the glass.

  “Can’t make you a macchiato—that’s your coffee drink, right? But I bet you’d like some coffee, get your brain up and running.”

  “Yes. Please.”

  “Let me lay out some ground rules.”

  “First? I’m sorry. I need a bathroom.”

  “Understandable, but hold your water, Seleena. You’d better hear the rules first, so we don’t have a spat. I’ll release you, and you use the facilities.” Patricia pointed. “I took the door off. Hey, we’re both girls, right? Then you’ll come back, sit. I’m going to put restraints back on your left hand, your ankles, but I’ll leave your right hand free so you can drink your coffee, eat a yogurt bar—keep up your strength. If you try anything, I’ll start by breaking your fingers. I won’t kill you—we need each other—but I will hurt you.”

  “I understand.”


  When Patricia pulled out clippers—long, sharp points—Seleena cringed back.

  “For cutting the plastic. I’ve got plenty more zip ties.”

  She snipped them off, stepped back, took the gun out of her belt holster. “Go on and pee.”

  Seleena’s legs wobbled when she pushed to her feet.

  “The sedative—you’re just a little shaky yet. Take your time. We’ve got plenty.”

  “People will look for me.”

  “Maybe. I sent your assistant a text from your phone, letting her know you got a hot tip and you’d be out of town for a day or two. But that may not fly for long.”

  “A day or two.” Struggling to take in details—a cabin, she realized, with the shades pulled down. Rough, rustic furniture, no sounds of traffic. No sounds.

  “It won’t take us longer than that. Then you’ll have your big story.”

  “And you’ll let me go.” Blocking embarrassment, Seleena lifted her skirt, did what she had to do.

  “Why wouldn’t I? That’s the deal. I tell you my story, you get it out there. I want it out there. I want people to listen to me.”

  “You’re going to turn yourself in?”

  “Well, I did lie about that.” Patricia grinned. “And the business about killing myself. But look.”

  She gestured.

  “I’ve got the tripod, a professional video camera, the lights, the works. Consider this our on-location studio. We’ll sit here. You can ask questions. I’ll talk. I’ll lay it all out. That’s what I want. It’s what you want.”

  Out of the corner of her eye, Seleena spotted her purse. Inside her purse was a gun. “I would have kept all this confidential. You don’t have to strap me to the chair.”

  “Think about this. Some of what I’m going to tell you is, well, we’ll say graphic. You might get upset, or scared. You might think: Oh no! She’s going to kill me, too, and try to run or pull something. Like, right now you’re wondering if you can get to the cute pink Glock you had in your purse. Then? Ouch. Broken fingers.”

  She reached back, drew the gun out from where she’d tucked it into the back of her belt. Held it up.

  “So you’d have all pain with no gain. I’m saving you from that.” She smiled, all charm. Then her lips peeled back. “Sit the fuck down, or instead of breaking a finger, I’ll shoot you in the foot with your own girlie gun.”

  “I’m going to cooperate.” Keeping her eyes direct, her voice calm, Seleena walked back to the chair. “I want to hear your story.”

  “You will.” Patricia holstered her own gun—an all-business Sig—kept the Glock pointed at Seleena. The pink was growing on her.

  She picked up some zip ties, tossed them onto Seleena’s lap. “Do your ankles to the legs of the chair. Then your left hand to the left arm.

  “We’ll have some coffee, a little bite to eat, and talk about how we’ll set this up. Your makeup’s faded off and smeared, and your hair’s a wreck. But don’t worry, I’ll fix you up. I’m good at hair and makeup, trust me.”

  * * *

  While Patricia made coffee, Reed dealt with the incident of the paint, calmed the shopkeepers, worked things out with the clumsy painter—barely out of his teens and terrified he’d lose his job or get arrested.

  On the walk back with his canine deputy, Barney started to squat on the sidewalk.

  “Don’t you do it!” Risking his jeans, Reed grabbed the dog up, quickened his pace. Barney shook, lapped nervously at Reed’s chin.

  “You just hold that in. Just hold it.”

  He rushed into the station, startling Donna and the human deputies. “I need an evidence bag. Fast!”

  Matty leaped up with one. “What is it?”

  “Town Ordinance 38-B.”

  Matty rolled her eyes as Reed ran back out. “Scoop the poop,” she told Cecil.

  Reed set Barney down on the grass behind the station.

  “Now you can go.”

  Since the dog looked anxious and bewildered, Reed walked him back and forth on the grass.

  “She’s pissed. She didn’t kill me, and worse yet, I put a hole in her somewhere. And because of that she had to run. Shot her own grandmother right off her walker. Imagine that.”

  Barney sniffed dubiously at the grass.

  “So she didn’t inherit that big house. Worth an easy million and change right there. And everything in it? A lot more change. Add frozen bank accounts. She’d already skimmed plenty there, but there was plenty more.

  “Yeah, I cost her, and that burns her psycho ass. Psycho,” he repeated, looking across to shops, eateries, some with apartments above them that he knew the owners rented out to summer workers.

  “That’s a big part of it. She always got her way before me. Her brother screwed things up, but he’s her brother, and blood’s thicker, right? But before me, she hit all her targets. A hundred percent success rate, and she was just getting started.”

  Rolling it around in his head, he stopped walking. “I didn’t just knock down her batting average, right? I cost her a fricking fortune she, in her psycho brain, figured she’d earned. It’s like I stole it from her. And I hurt her. I made her bleed. She’s been breaking down since, that’s what’s happening.”

  He thought back, the look on her face when he’d fired at her—the shock and fear. More, he thought, the sound of her voice as she’d screamed at him, and ran.

  Insult and tears as much as fury and fear.

  “I always knew she’d be pissed, and want another try at me. But sending the card? She wants to make sure I don’t forget her. She wants to make me feel what she felt, that shock, that fear. But that’s a mistake. Once you make a mistake, it’s easier to make the next.”

  Barney whined, tugged on the leash.

  “It’s the grass or nothing. She mailed that before she left Florida. She mailed it fresh off a kill, feeling full of herself. She’ll be heading north, that’s how I see it. Maybe not all the way back, but coming this way.”

  He looked down at the dog. “We’ll be ready for her.”

  In answer, and looking apologetic, the dog squatted.

  “Now, that’s how it’s done.” When he finished, Reed gave Barney a good rub. “Looks like we both worked things out. That’s a good boy
. That’s what I’m talking about. Too bad I can’t teach you to clean up after yourself, but that’s what partners are for.”

  Back inside, bag or no bag, he scrubbed his hands, then went out to the bullpen. “Donna, I need you to call Nick and Leon in.”

  “What for?”

  “Because I need to talk to everybody.”

  He went into his office for the file he kept there, just in case. He took out Patricia Hobart’s photo.

  “Cecil, I need you to make copies of this—the full-color ones.”

  “How many?”

  “Start with fifty.”

  “‘Fifty’?” Cecil blinked. “That’ll take awhile.”

  “Then you’d better get started. Donna, the feds are coming in. I know your stand on it, but I’d appreciate if you’d make a pot of fresh coffee when they do.”

  “I’ll make an exception. Leon and Nick are on their way.”

  “Good. You take calls as they come in, but anything that isn’t urgent waits for a response until after the briefing.”

  He sat down across from Matty. “Give me your opinion on the summer deputies. On who can handle more trouble than fender benders and spilled paint.”

  “You’ve read their files, you’ve talked to some of them.”

  “I have, and did, and I’ve got my opinion. Now I want yours.”

  She frowned, but she gave it. He nodded, then stood as Leon came in.

  “We got a problem, boss?”

  “Not yet. Take a seat, Leon.” He went to take one of the photos Cecil had run off, and as Nick came in, pinned it to the main board. “Have a seat, Nick. Cecil, that’s enough for now. Finish it after the briefing. I want everybody to take a good look at this picture. You’ll all have copies, and we’re going to distribute some around the village, to the rental agencies, to the ferry personnel. This is Patricia Hobart, age twenty-eight. So far she’s killed ten people, that we know of. Add an attempted on me.”

  Though he figured they knew the history, at least most of the particulars, he ran through it anyway. He wanted it fresh, and he wanted them to hear it from him.

  “She sent me this today.”

  Out of his file, he took an evidence bag containing the card, the envelope, the lock of hair. “I’ll be turning this over to the FBI when they get here.”

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Comments 1

admin 22 September 2018 10:55
new Nora Roberts book