Shelter in place, p.36
Shelter in Place, p.36Nora Roberts
“I looked a long time for my place, and for you. It’s damn good luck I found them both.”
“You know what I thought when I came down the stairs earlier?”
“How easy you could be replaced?”
Laughing, she nuzzled in. “Besides that. I thought, I want to sculpt them—Reed and CiCi—just like that. Holding each other in a dance and smiling.”
“There’s art, Chief, and there’s weird and inappropriate. No, not naked.”
“Okay then. You looked happy when you came down.”
“I’d had an excellent day working on a fascinating new project.”
He nuzzled back. “You’re not going to let me have a look at it?”
“When it’s done. Stay tonight. Stay with me.”
“I was hoping you’d ask. I’ve got our gear, mine and my new deputy’s, out in the car.”
In the kitchen, CiCi watched them out the window. This, she thought, just this—the blush in the sky as the day wore down; the strong, good man; even the sweet-faced dog—filled all her hope pockets for her girl.
No bitch from hell would rip holes in those pockets.
* * *
Two days later Reed got a call from Essie.
“We’ve got a Missing Person’s out on Seleena McMullen.”
“How long has she been missing?”
“Over forty-eight hours now. Her assistant got a text that she was going to be out of town on a hot tip, but she’s missed appointments, and doesn’t answer her cell.”
“She fits the profile, Essie, but this would be the first abduction. Even killing her and dumping the body doesn’t fit Hobart’s MO.”
“There’s no sign of a break-in or a struggle at McMullen’s house or office. She got a call on her landline just before midnight on the day she went missing. Untraceable. A burner.”
“Lured her somewhere.” Reed frowned. “That’s not Hobart’s usual method, either.”
“The fact is, Hobart might not be the only one who’d want to cause her harm. She’s got an ex who isn’t fond of her, and plenty of people she’s burned along her way. But I’m having officers check for McMullen’s car at the airport. That is Hobart’s MO. Right now, with no direct link to Hobart, it’s with Major Crimes—because I snagged it. If we find that link, it goes to the feds.”
“Jacoby’s all right.”
“I agree. But, Reed, if we find that link, it means she’s back in the area. Watch yourself, partner.”
“I will. You, too.”
He hung up, thought it over. McMullen, yeah, that could fit. But coming after Essie now—way far up from the opportunistic blogger—didn’t fit. And coming after him right after sending the card? No, that didn’t fit, either. She had more to say first.
So, if Hobart grabbed or killed McMullen, came back to Portland for that? Why?
He had to think about it.
Two days later, the turnover crew for the cabin found McMullen’s body. Essie sent him a report on the rest.
A camera tripod, two theatrical lights on stands, food and drink enough for several days, traces of makeup on the floor, on two chairs, a number of cut zip ties.
And Hobart’s prints all over the cabin.
Why did someone kidnap a reporter/blogger with her own local show and hard-core Internet following?
It seemed to Reed that somebody had a story to tell.
Between the kidnapping/murder and the card, he decided Patricia Hobart wanted some attention.
He’d be happy to give it to her.
* * *
With Jacoby and Essie coordinating on the McMullen case, Reed concentrated on his own. He found a deputy badge charm on the Internet and, amused, ordered two. One for Barney, one for Puck when Essie and the gang came out.
He bought the dog a bed, and had to start out with it right next to his own or Barney ignored it and slept on the floor. Strategizing, Reed moved it away an inch or so every morning.
When he tried throwing the red ball he’d picked up, Barney looked at him without a clue.
They’d work on it.
April edged toward May, and flowers began to bloom. In a peace offering, he bought a pot of daffodils and took it, and Barney, to Ida Booker.
She came out, kept the cat inside.
“He’d like to apologize for the trouble he caused you.”
Ida folded her arms. “That dog’s a menace.”
“He’s being rehabilitated. Ms. Booker, when I took him to Doc, he had infections and all kinds of physical issues. He’s scarred from where somebody choked him with one of those chain collars.”
Her fierce frown deepened. “Somebody choked that dog?”
“Yes, ma’am, Doc and Suzanna said that’s what happened. He was so scared of people because somebody’d caged him up and hurt him. Doc said he maybe chased your cat because he wanted to play. Now, I can’t promise that, and I won’t bring him around your cat—or your gardens—off the leash. He was half-starved, Ms. Booker.”
“He looks better now.” She cursed under her breath. “I’m not much on dogs, but anybody who’d treat an animal that way isn’t worth spit on a skillet. I heard you were keeping him.”
“He’s Barney now, and he’s coming along. We’ve just come from Doc’s, and he’s on his way to a clean bill of health. He’s put on a few pounds, too. There’s not a mean bone in him, but he could be a habitual cat chaser. He runs at birds on the beach, too.”
“I guess that’s just the nature of things. I appreciate the flowers.” She huffed out a breath, took the pot. “I was on the side of those who thought it was a mistake to bring in someone from off-island to be chief. I may have been wrong about that. Time will tell.”
Reed drove back to the village, stopped off to watch the ferry come in. He had the two part-timers on that duty, but a look for himself didn’t hurt a thing.
Some families with kids young enough not to be in school, a couple of islanders coming back, delivery trucks, a couple of hikers who walked off.
Satisfied, he drove back to the station.
“What did Doc say?” Donna demanded.
“Barney’s back in tune. He’s cleared for active duty.”
She snorted. “You keep him from nosing in the trash or I’ll give him some active duty.”
“He was just looking for clues.” His desk phone rang, so he went back with Barney at his heel. “Chief Quartermaine.”
“Special Agent Jacoby. I’m in Louisville, Kentucky, following up a lead. We’ve got a witness—former cop—who’s followed the case. He swears he spotted her.”
“‘Kentucky’? She backtracked? How reliable’s the witness?”
“I’m buying what he’s selling.”
“Okay, where did he spot her?”
“In a mall here. He says he got a good look at her, and when the face clicked tried to follow her out of the mall. He lost her. The place was crowded. A popular shopping center anyway, and on top of it, Derby’s coming up. But he got lucky again, when he spotted her driving out of the parking lot. I’ve got the make and model, the color, the plate. You ready for it?”
“Yeah, I am.”
He noted everything down.
“She bought a pair of sunglasses, a couple of shirts, jeans. She’s a size six. Some workout clothes. We’re checking store by store, but our wit made a couple of the bags she had before he lost her. She charged everything to a Visa in the name of Marsha Crowder, bogus San Diego address. She had her hair in a tail—medium brown. We’ve got an all-points on the car and the plates. No luck yet.”
“This is good news. I don’t have Louisville, or Kentucky, on my list. No targets there I know of.”
“The Memphis lead turned shaky, but with those plates, it may have been more solid than we thought. She’s likely headed north. You watch for that car, those plates, Chief.”
“We’re on her. I’ve gotta move on this.”
“You want me,” she said, eyes firing up as she walked up. “You come out.”
“Get this information to the deputies, on and off duty. A white Toyota Sienna, maybe a 2016, Tennessee plates. Six-Eight-Three-Charlie-Kilo-Oscar. Hobart was spotted driving that car in Louisville.”
“I’ve got it.”
Reed opened the file, never far from hand, studied Hobart’s face. “Maybe we’ve got you.”
* * *
She switched the plates in a Walmart parking lot off I-64. She had an itchy feeling. She was damn, dead sure some old guy had trailed her for a while back in Louisville.
Better safe than screwed, she decided, and destroyed her current ID and cards, ditched them.
She went in the Walmart, to the hair products section. She bought auburn hair dye, paid cash. She took the back roads, winding around until she spotted a junker outside a double-wide with a FOR SALE sign on the windshield.
She bargained with the yahoo and told him she’d be back with the cash. Plenty of woods around to ditch the car.
She walked back, bought the junker, drove it rattling back to the Toyota. Once she transferred her luggage, she beat the crap out of the Toyota, released some tension.
She expected some other yahoo—or maybe the same one—would stumble on it eventually, and pick it clean for parts.
In the junker, she drove to a cheap motel, paid cash.
She dyed her hair, trimmed it, put in green contacts, and switched her ID before walking out. Though the junker coughed and shimmied, she managed to get to a decent-size town fifty miles away. She parked the junker, walked the half a mile to the car dealership she’d spotted.
She paid cash, did the paperwork, and got back on 64 inside an hour. With her things once again transferred, she drove off in a freshly washed secondhand Chevy Tahoe with fifty-three thousand and change on the odometer.
Carrie Lynn Greenspan, with auburn hair and green eyes, drove north.
She had a stop to make in Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.
Essie brought her family to the island for a pre–Memorial Day cookout. The Memorial Day weekend didn’t rate as the island’s biggest day, but it started them off. Reed would have his full team on the entire weekend, including himself.
He gave himself the weekend before to mark his second entertaining venture in his new home.
His first, earlier in the month with his family, had gone just fine.
His second looked to follow suit.
After an intense sniffing introduction, Barney fell in love with Puck. He romped with the other dog, romped with Dylan, and accepted the boy’s hugs and squeezes with eyes filled with bliss.
He accepted Essie; she probably carried scents of the kid and the dog—and maybe something of the baby inside her.
With Hank, he trembled and cringed.
“I think it’s the beard,” Reed told him. “My brother’s got one, and Barney wouldn’t come near him. I’d say whoever abused him has a beard.”
“Kids and dogs flock to me,” Hank claimed. “I’m a kid and dog magnet. I’m going to win him over before we get back on that ferry.”
Hank walked to the rail of the back deck where Reed had the grill heating up, looked out into the woods. “This is a hell of a nice spot. A hell of a nice house, Reed. I like your lady, too. Or should I say your ladies?”
“I plan to keep all of them.”
“I’d love to see CiCi Lennon’s studio. And more of Simone’s work.”
“You’ve got the weekend for it.”
Dylan, his deputy badge pinned to his T-shirt, raced over, leaped into Hank’s arms. Barney stopped dead, bellied down.
“Watch me win him.” Hank sat down on the top step of the deck. He found his son’s tickle spot, sent the boy into happy giggles.
Puck trotted over, shoved his pug face under Hank’s arm.
“That’s my name.” Hank kissed and cuddled—boy and dog—listened with apparent fascination to Dylan’s rapid-fire talk about dogs and fish and going to the beach.
“Why don’t you call Barney over?”
“Hey, Barney. Hey, Barney.”
The dog whined, bellied an inch back.
“Try this.” Reed pulled a biscuit out of his pocket, gave it to Dylan.
“Cookie! Get the cookie, Barney!”
Puck took that as an invitation, rushed right in for it.
“Try another.” Reed pulled out a second.
“Your turn, Barney!”
Obviously conflicted, Barney edged a little closer. He wanted the biscuit; he wanted the boy; he feared the beard.
“It’s a good cookie. Yum, yum, yum!” After feigning taking a bite, Dylan belly laughed at his own joke.
The laugh did it. Barney ran forward, snatched the cookie, ran back. Eyed the man as he ate it.
“Just the first step,” Hank claimed. He set Dylan down, watched him run off. “Are you thinking of having any of those? Kids?”
“I’ve got to talk her into moving in with me. Just the first step.”
Hank got up, retrieved the beer he’d set aside. “My money’s on you.”
* * *
“Your boy’s a charmer,” CiCi said as she walked with Essie into the kitchen.
“One of the nurses in the maternity wing swore he winked and smiled at her. It wouldn’t surprise me.”
“He told me I had pretty hair. He’s going to have girls sighing over him. Have a seat while I shake up these vegetables. Are you hoping for a girl or a boy this time?”
Taking a seat at the counter, Essie lifted her eyebrows. “How did you know? I’m not showing … much.”
“Aura,” CiCi said wisely, and shook the chunks of vegetables marinating in a sealed bag.
“‘Aura,’” Essie repeated. “Since the cat’s out, I’m hoping for healthy, and I’d be satisfied with half as happy as Dylan. He wakes up happy.”
“Some of that’s his nature, and some of it’s a testament to you and your man. You’ve been a steady compass point for Reed. His parents raised him right. They’re good, loving people, but you crossed paths with him at a defining moment, and you helped him look down the right turn.”
“I think crossing paths helped both of us. You know, I would never have imagined him here, chief of police, a house like this. But when he talked about it, I could.”
“Because you know him, and you love him.”
“I do. And seeing him here? I see a really good fit. You must know he’s completely in love with Simone.”
“Oh, I know it. She’s in love with him, but she’ll hold that back for a while. My girl’s strong and smart, but not as confident in some areas as our Reed is. They’re just exactly what the other needs.”
“A really good fit,” Essie said with a smile.
“Yes, they are. I saw that before Reed and I had finished our first stack of cranberry pancakes.”
At home, CiCi went to the refrigerator for a jug. She’d taught Reed the process and the value of sun tea, and refilled Essie’s glass with it.
“I’d say these vegetables are ready to grill.”
“Reed grilling vegetables.” Essie rose. “Something else I never imagined.”
“He’s a good boy, and ordered the grill basket I told him about. Now we’ll see if he makes good use of it.”
He made good use of it, and enjoyed seeing everyone dig in to a meal he’d put together. With some help, sure, but he’d actually pulled off his second entertaining experience with adult food.
“You’re officially a man,” Hank told him.
“I’m relieved to hear it.”
“A man is not a man, my friend, until he can grill steaks and grill them right,” Hank added.
“I believe Shakespeare said: A man’s worth is oft proved by the grilling,” CiCi countered.
Hank laughed, toasted CiC
“It’s now framed on the wall of his office at home,” Essie added.
“Come by tomorrow.”
“Really? A thrill of a lifetime. I’m not exaggerating. Simone, any chance I could see your studio while I’m there?”
“Sure. Not you.” She pointed at Reed. “I’m working on a sculpture of Reed. He doesn’t get to come into my studio until it’s finished.”
Essie nearly choked on her tea. “You got Reed to pose?”
“She vamped me.”
“Whatsa ‘vamped’?” Dylan wanted to know.
“It’s, like, if Pink Power Ranger got mind-control powers.”
“That’d be awesome!”
“It really is,” Simone agreed. “The power of the mind’s a strong weapon against evil, like the wicked Rita Repulsa.”
Reed sat back, stared. “You know Power Rangers?”
“Why wouldn’t I? I was Pink Power Ranger for Halloween when I was five or six.”
“She vamped me into getting her the costume,” CiCi confirmed. “I have pictures.”
“I’ve gotta see. I absolutely have got to see.”
“I’m adorable.” Simone stabbed the last grilled pepper on her plate.
“I just bet.”
“Can we go to the beach now?” Dylan tugged at his father’s arm. “I finished all my vegables.”
“I finished my ta-bles. Can we?”
“I vote for it.” Reed’s phone rang in his pocket. He hitched up, took it out. After a glance at the display, Simone saw his gaze cut to Essie. “Sorry, I need to take this. Don’t worry about the dishes. Take the kid to the beach. I’ll catch up.”
He started out of the room. “Chief Quartermaine.”
Simone put an easy smile on her face, rose. “Go ahead and head to the beach. CiCi can show you the best way. I’ll wait for Reed.”
“Yay! The doggies, too. Let’s go.”
Essie gave Simone a subtle nod. “Dylan’s personal paradise, dogs and the beach,” she said. “Yes, let’s go.”
Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love / History & Fiction / Thrillers & Crime / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.7 out of 5 / Based on33 votes