Shelter in place, p.38
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       Shelter in Place, p.38

           Nora Roberts


  “The TP.”

  “I removed it, of course—at considerable time and trouble—and disposed of it.”

  “Well, that’s a shame. I might have been able to find prints. Can’t guarantee that, as the perpetrators might have worn gloves. But at this time, no one, including you, saw anyone, heard anything, and the evidence has been disposed of by your own hands. You could give me a list of names, people who would wish you harm.”

  Dobson’s mouth popped open in shock. “No one wishes me harm! There are several teachers in this school, any number of students, and certainly some parents who have issues with me, but—”


  “Many who don’t approve of my teaching methods or philosophies.”

  “‘Many,’ ‘any number,’ ‘some,’ and ‘several.’ That’s a lot in a school this size. Did any of them threaten you or your property?”

  “Not in so many words.”

  “Mr. Dobson, I’m going to keep my eyes and ears open, as will my deputies. But without a witness, without the evidence, without you being able to name individuals who might have had the time, opportunity, and motive for committing this act, we don’t have a lot to go on.”

  “I expect better! I expect justice.”

  “Mr. Dobson, if I identified the individual or individual responsible, the most justice would offer is a few hours of community service, maybe a negligible fine. And by pursuing that, demanding that, you’d have more people than you do now who have issues with you.”

  “I’m going to speak to the mayor again.”

  “Okay. Have a good day.”

  He led Barney out. A handful of students began to file in, bringing color and chatter and the smell of wet hair.

  Reed went outside, waited.

  Mathias spotted him at the same time he spotted Mathias with two other boys.

  Mathias looked instantly guilty. Reed sauntered over.

  “Mathias, how you doing?”

  “Fine, sir. Ah, we’ve got to get to class.”

  “There’s time yet. Jamie Walker?”

  The kid wearing the hipster hat with his hair shaved on the sides and floppy front and back shrugged.

  “I need to talk to you about the party the other night,” he said loudly enough for anyone passing to hear. “Let’s walk over here. You, too,” he said to the third boy—the one with the hood of his orange hoodie over ginger hair. Adding more of his cool by wearing sunglasses in the rain.

  “We already caught it for that, Chief,” Mathias began. “I’m grounded for two weeks.”

  “You do the crime, you do the time. Who else is grounded?”

  Both the other boys raised hands. “I’m eighteen,” Jamie said with overt disgust, “and I’m grounded for having a party.”

  “In your parents’ house, without their permission. With beer—and weed.”

  “Nobody found any weed,” Jamie insisted.

  “Because you were smart and quick enough to get rid of it. My officers smelled it. But that’s done, and you’re lucky, as they could have hauled you in.”

  “It was just a party,” Jamie grumbled.

  “I might agree, but you were stupid enough to make enough noise and get caught. Be smarter next time. Now, where’d you get the TP?”

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  Reed turned from Jamie to Mathias. Cecil’s brother had his hood up, too. “You know Donna the dispatcher.”

  “Yes, sir. She’s grandmother to a friend of mine, and friends with my mom.”

  “Here’s the deal. She had me take an oath with my hand on the damn Bible—shit, she’d skin me for saying ‘the damn Bible’—I’d keep her grandson, who I suspect was in on this, and the rest of you out of trouble.”

  “She would.” Mathias ducked his head, but Reed saw the grin.

  “I’m not risking the wrath of Donna to slap you back for TPing a house. I’m asking because if you were stupid enough to buy it, that’s going to come out, and I’ll have to do something.”

  Mathias hunched his shoulders, scuffed the ground with his already scuffed Nike KD’s. “We each took a couple of rolls from home.”

  “Not completely stupid. Don’t do it again—and pass that to the ones I haven’t caught. Yet. Meanwhile, stay away from Dobson outside the classroom, keep your heads down. Don’t go around his house, and for Christ’s sake, don’t go bragging about doing this. You hold to that, all that’s going to happen is you’re all—plus Donna’s grandson, who I have caught but haven’t talked to yet—going to do some community service. Two weekends of yard work, or whatever your mother needs around the house. No bitching about it. I’m going to check.”

  “You’re not going to tell Mr. Dobson?” Mathias asked.

  “No. You’re all going to college or into the world of employment. You’re going to run into more Dobsons, trust me. Figure out a better way to deal with them. Get to class.”

  “Thanks, Chief,” the three of them said, almost in unison.

  Reed walked off satisfied. Yeah, he thought, it was good to be back to work.


  Mail took its time getting to the island. Reed got the next card five days after his weekend off, and right before the Memorial Day weekend with its village parade, LobsterFest, early bird summer specials, and the first influx of summer people.

  As always, Donna picked up the mail on the way in and arrived shortly after him. He’d made his first cup of station coffee from the machine he’d paid for himself. He’d settled the dog down with a chew bone and, though it humiliated, the little stuffed dog Barney loved.

  Reed expected Barney to chew the toy to bits, but Barney habitually clamped it gently in jaws or paws and did no real damage.

  As he booted up his computer with an eye toward looking over the June calendar again, Donna came to his open door.


  “Yeah. So this Arts and Crafts Festival the second weekend in June? I remember my mother being all about that one year. Do we have an estimate on…”

  He trailed off as he glanced up, saw her face.

  “Problem.” It wasn’t a question.

  “You got another card in the mail. It’s the same handwriting, I know it. The postmark’s from West Virginia. I only touched it by the corner to stick it in my tote.”

  “Let’s have it.”

  He hadn’t expected another card as much as he’d hoped for one.

  Another trail. Another break in control.

  Donna set it carefully on his desk, sat.

  “I’ve got something to say first, before you open it.”

  “I need to get to this, Donna.”

  “I know you need to get to this, but I’ve got something to say first.” She clutched her big summer straw purse in her lap. “I want to say it before you open it, because we both know this is another threat against you.”

  “Go ahead then,” he said as he got out a pair of gloves, his penknife.

  “You kept your word. I believe you’d have kept it whether or not you took an oath on the good book. But that’s a kind of insurance. You did the right thing and didn’t let those boys—including my grandson—off scot-free, but you didn’t mess up their lives over a prank. Dobson hammered at you, pushed at the mayor, but you did the right thing.”

  “It was toilet paper, Donna, probably biodegradable.”

  “That’s not the point. I didn’t know what to think about them bringing you in as chief, but I didn’t think very well. You’re young, you’re from the mainland, and you’ve got a sassy way half the time.”

  He had to smile, even with the slow burn working inside him over the card waiting on his desk. “I’m sassy?”

  “That’s not a compliment. But you do a good job, you treat the deputies with respect, and you kept your word. You’re good to that idiot dog.”

  “He’s only half an idiot these days.”

  “I didn’t like the idea of you bri
nging him in here, but I’ll tell the truth and say I’ve got a fondness for him now.”

  Her fondness, Reed knew, included sneaking the dog tiny bone-shaped treats from a bag she now kept at her station.

  “Barney grows on you.”

  “I think you need a decent haircut and real shoes instead of old beat-up sneakers.”

  Reed frowned down at his high-tops. They weren’t that beat-up. “Noted.”

  “Otherwise.” She sniffed. “You’re doing reasonably all right. More or less.”

  “I’m touched.”

  “And you’re chief, so that’s that.” She dug into her bag, pulled out a black ball cap with CHIEF over the crown in white. “So this is for you.”

  “You got me a hat.”

  “I watch these TV movies all the time and the chief of police has a hat like this one.”

  Touched, sincerely, Reed took it, settled it on his head. “How’s it look?”

  “Well, you need a decent haircut, but it’ll do.”

  He took it off, studied the CHIEF, put it back on. “I appreciate it, Donna. I’m proud to wear it.”

  “At least people will see it and not think you’re some beach bum with that ragged hair and those beat-up sneakers.” She pushed up from the chair. “I’ll call in the off-duty deputies, so you can brief them after you’ve looked at that card.”


  She paused at the door. “You be smart and you be careful.”

  “I intend to be both.”

  “See that you do. I paid good money for that hat. I don’t want anything to happen to it.”

  He smiled for a moment as she walked out, then put on the gloves, slit the envelope with his knife.

  This one read:


  On a floral background.

  Inside, over a rainbow and more flowers, the sentiment read:




  She’d signed it XXOO Patricia, and on the inside cover had written her personal message.

  I can’t wait until we’re together again. It’s been too long! I hope you think of me as often as I think of you, and with the same—should we call it passion?

  Enclosed is another token of my undying loathing.

  Until … Patricia.

  He lifted out the lock of hair inside the sealed bag.

  It wouldn’t be McMullen’s, he thought. McMullen, the abduction, the video, the killing, all that had been not just personal for Hobart, but intimate.

  This lock of hair was Tracey Lieberman’s.

  He took photos, sealed the original and the lock of hair in an evidence bag.

  “Just come, bitch. Just stop screwing around and come. We’ll finish this.”

  He contacted Jacoby, shot her the photos, did the same with Essie.

  Then he swiveled in his chair, gazed out the window at the flowering bushes. Azaleas—even he knew that much. They made a nice show. He had a couple of them at his house, in flaming red, and the wild dogwood—CiCi had identified—had burst out in late March between snowstorms.

  The fishing boats would be out, and the lobstermen. Before long they’d be joined by sailboats, powerboats, boogie boards, sunbathers, and sandcastles.

  Whenever she came, however she got there, he’d find a way to stop her from leaving a scar on the island.

  He flicked a finger down the bill of his cap, got up to brief his deputies. The dog, toy in his mouth, followed him.

  * * *

  In her studio, Simone circled the clay. She searched for imperfections, for possibilities of improvements. For the last few days, she’d touched up details, cutting minute bits of clay with hook and rake tools, smoothing out with kidney tools, delicately brushing with solvent to remove those tool marks.

  She knew, from experience, an artist could cut and rake and smooth a piece—searching for perfection—and destroy the soul of it.

  Her hands itched for her tools, but she walked out, called down the stairs to where she knew CiCi sat with her morning coffee.

  “CiCi, could you come up, take another look at Reed?”

  “I’m always ready to look at Reed. You haven’t let me look for days—covering him up even when you had Hank and Essie up there.”

  “I know. He wasn’t ready. I know he’s ready now, but I can’t stop looking for reasons to tweak just a little more. Stop me,” she said as CiCi reached the landing. “Or tell me to keep going.”

  CiCi stepped in, flipped her long braid behind her back, then circled as Simone had.

  The image stood two feet in height on a base she’d created to resemble a platform of rough stone. She’d caught him, as she’d envisioned, in mid-swing, the sword gripped two-handed over his left shoulder, his body turned at the hip, legs braced, with the right foot planted ahead of the left, and in a pivot.

  His hair, tumbled and with that hint of curl, seemed to flow with the motion. For his face, she’d sculpted the barely banked rage and cold purpose.

  Behind his left leg, Barney stood, leaning in, head up, eyes full of hope and trust.

  “God, he’s gorgeous,” CiCi stated as she circled.

  “In person, or here?”

  “Both. Absolutely both. Simone, this is brilliant. It’s stunning, and it’s absolutely Reed. The Protector you said you called it. And that’s just perfect. Leave it alone. Perfect’s often the enemy of done, but you’ve already gotten perfect.”

  She traced a finger a hairbreadth from the scars. “Perfectly flawed. Real. Male. Human.”

  “It got more important to me every day. And the more important … I want to cast it in bronze.”

  “Yes. Yes. Oh, I can see that.” CiCi shifted, slipped an arm around Simone’s waist. “Will you let him see the clay model?”


  “Good. Let him wait.”

  “I’ve let it dry. Most of me knew it was done. I can start the molding process this morning.”

  “I’ll let you get to it. My talented girl? It’s going to be a masterpiece.”

  “Okay then,” she murmured when she was alone.

  She got her brush, the latex rubber mixture. Stopped herself, got a bottle of water, turned on music, going with one of CiCi’s New Agey playlists. Soothing harps, bells, flutes.

  With the brush, she painted the mixture onto the clay. Avoiding air bubbles while coating every millimeter took patience and care, and time.

  She knew his body so well now, the length of torso, the line of hip, the exact placement of the scars.

  Once done, she stepped back, searching for any tiny area she might have missed. Then she cleaned her brush, put the mix away.

  This process took more patience. She’d apply the next coat the following morning, then another. Four coats, she determined, before she made the mother mold of plaster.

  When that dried, she’d remove the mother mold, cut the rubber away from the clay. She would have the negative image, and could pour the wax replica.

  She decided she’d wait until she reached that stage before booking the foundry she used on the mainland. Pouring the wax replication took several steps, then she’d need to chase that—repair imperfections, remove seams and mold lines.

  Painstaking, but she preferred doing her own wax chasing as she’d learned in Florence.

  But by then, even with the steps that followed, she’d have a good sense of when she’d be ready to have it poured.

  Sipping water, she turned toward her board, and the faces that waited. Time, she thought, to get back to her mission. A walk on the beach to clear her head, then she’d go back to work.

  * * *

  Reed walked Barney home in air soft with spring. Buildings, many freshly painted for the season, stood in soft roses, bright blues, quiet yellows and greens. Sort of like a garden, with touches of more in baskets of pansies or window boxes spilling with—he didn’t really know, but
it looked nice.

  Walking instead of driving reaped benefits. People along his stroll knew him now, stopped to have a word, ask a question. The best way, in his mind, to weave yourself into the fabric of a community was regular visibility—and compliments on flowerpots, paint, a new hairstyle didn’t hurt.

  Barney still shied, but not as much, and not with everyone. The dog had his favorites on their comings and goings.

  Barney’s top favorite—and Reed’s—got out of her car in his driveway as they approached. Barney let out a happy yip, wagged all over, so Reed unclipped the leash and let him go.

  “Perfect timing.” Simone bent down to rub and stroke. Her gaze tracked up, amused. “Nice hat, Chief.”

  “I like it. Donna gave it to me.”

  “Donna?” Now her brows shot up as she straightened. “Well, well. You are accepted.”

  “Seems like it.”

  “Congratulations,” she said, moving in, winding around him, and capturing his mouth in a long, deep, steamy kiss.

  “Wow. That’s an amazing way to end the workday.”

  “I had a really good workday myself, so.” She kissed him again until he fisted a hand on the back of her shirt.

  “Why don’t we just—”

  “Mmm-mm.” She gave his bottom lip a quick bite. “Things to do first. You can carry in the supplies.”

  “We have supplies?”

  “We have pasta salad—another draw from my limited culinary repertoire— and some marinated chicken breasts—courtesy of CiCi. She says if you don’t know how to grill chicken, Google it.”

  “I can do that, and supply the wine.”

  He got out the bag as she took a square package out of the other side. He’d seen enough of them now to recognize a wrapped painting.

  “What’s that?”

  “Your mermaid, as promised. Get me that wine, I’ll unveil her.”

  “Hot damn.” He smiled over at her as they started inside—across the porch he’d—with Cecil’s and Mathias’s help—painted orchid. “You must’ve had a really good workday.”

  “I did. How about you?”

  “Let’s get that wine, then we’ll talk about it.”

  He’d started to develop a taste for wine, so he poured two glasses while she unwrapped the painting.

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admin 22 September 2018 10:55
new Nora Roberts book
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