Shelter in place, p.41
Shelter in Place,
To beat the heat—and there was plenty of it—people bobbed, swam, floated in the water. Boats glided in and out of the marina, white sails rising, motors humming.
The air smelled of sunscreen, peanut oil fries, sugar, and summer.
Reed worked twelve-hour shifts and realized that, without the little problem of a serial killer, he’d have enjoyed every minute of it.
In the winter, the island held the quiet, peaceful beauty of a snowglobe. In the spring, it bloomed and awakened. But in the summer, it burst bright with sound and color and crowds and clashing music.
Like a daily carnival, he thought.
And with summer, two ferries ran, one disgorging cars and pedestrians at the island dock, while the second loaded up departures and sailed them back into reality.
On the Fourth, as he did every day he could manage it, he watched the ferry dock, watched cars, trucks, campers, people spill off.
Beside him, Simone scanned faces as he did.
“You think she’ll come today.”
“I think today’s the biggest influx of people, and it’s a good day to slip through. The ferry operation has people at both docks looking for a lone female. And I’ve got two deputies down there.” He lifted his chin toward the cruiser. “They’ve spotted a few since June, and all of them checked out. The marina’s doing the same with private boats and charters.”
“But a lot of people.”
“Yeah. On the other hand, she’s smart enough to know that we’d look and look hard on the holiday weekend and the Fourth. If I’m her, I wait.”
“Like you’re waiting for the next card.”
“No mail service on the Fourth.” He watched the last passenger, a minivan loaded with kids, drive down the ramp. “Barney and I have to go to work.”
“You could deputize me.”
“Can’t afford you.” He gave her a kiss. “I’d feel better if you stayed out of the crowds today. You said you and CiCi avoid most of it anyway, and watch the fireworks tonight from the patio. Just do what you always do.”
“I’d feel better if you did that with us.”
He tapped the CHIEF on his cap.
“With the parade, the park, and the beach activities, the general craziness in the village, she could be anywhere, Reed. She could, God, get you in the crosshairs from a window in the Overlook Hotel.”
“She won’t come at me that way. She won’t. It’s personal. She needs to see my face, needs to look in my eyes, and have me look in hers. And she needs to get away with it. Trust me.”
“I am.” She gripped his hands. “I’ll wait for you.”
“At CiCi’s. Stay there tonight. I’ll be there after the fireworks. She’s not here yet. Maybe some of CiCi’s a little bit psychic’s rubbing off, but she’s not here yet.”
It didn’t stop him from searching crowds, picking out women, watching for someone watching him. After the long day, he stood with the crew of volunteer firefighters and watched the sky fill with color, listened to air ringing with blasts like gunfire.
Not yet, he thought as people cheered. But soon.
She came three days later, sliding the secondhand SUV into the line waiting at the mainland dock. Like many who waited, she stepped out of her car to wander.
She’d let her own hair grow to her shoulders, colored it a beachy blond. She’d used self-tanner religiously over the past few weeks, and with careful layers of makeup, she’d achieved a healthy glow. Under big, stylish sunglasses, contacts turned her eyes into bluebells.
And under her breezy blue summer dress—one with short sleeves to hide the scar under her armpit—she wore a fake baby belly filled to simulate a woman at about twenty weeks. On the third finger of her left hand, she sported an impressive wedding set—cubic zirconia, but sparkly enough to pass for real.
She’d sprung for a good mani/pedi, French for class, and carried a Prada summer bag to go with her sandals.
She looked like a polished young pregnant woman of some means.
She spotted the pair of hikers—man and woman—sitting on their packs while they waited to board. Young, too, she thought, and the woman looked hot and tired.
She wandered over, a hand on her fake baby as she’d observed pregnant women did. “Hi. I hope you don’t mind if I ask if you know any easy—really easy—hiking trails on Tranquility? My husband’s a serious hiker, and when he gets here later in the week, he’s going to be all about it. I’m just not up for the serious hikes.”
She smiled as she said it, rubbing that bump.
“Sure.” The woman answered Patricia’s smile. “You can get a map at the information center back there.”
“You can get them on the island, too,” the man told her. “The ones at the info centers are free, but they have better ones at some of the shops. They don’t cost much, I guess.”
He got a map out of his pack. “We can show you a couple nice, easy beach hikes. The one out to the lighthouse is a little longer and tougher, but it’s worth it.”
“Great. Mostly I just want to sit on the beach, read, watch the water, but Brett loves to hike. Where are you coming from?”
She chatted them up. She—Susan “Call me Susie” Breen—had driven up from Cambridge. Her husband—Brett—had been called out of town suddenly on business, but she was happy to have a couple of days to get the cottage, one they’d rented for six wonderful weeks, ready, lay in supplies, have that time to sit and read and watch the water.
They—Marcus Tidings and Leesa Hopp—chatted right back.
“Say, why don’t I give you a ride over? I have to pay for the car anyway, and they don’t charge for passengers. It would save you the pedestrian fee. Plus I can take you into the village, at least as far as the rental office where I have to pick up my keys.”
Grateful, they walked to her car before Patricia realized she’d missed changing plates at the rest stop with the Massachusetts plates on a Suburu. Smiling as she cursed herself for the slip, she came up with a cover story—borrowed her brother’s car.
But her friendly hikers didn’t notice as she chat, chat, chatted.
She told Leesa to sit in the front with her, so she didn’t feel like a taxi driver.
They embarked, a group of three, having hung out at the rail on the trip over.
When Patricia drove off at Tranquility dock, the deputies on ferry duty didn’t look twice at the SUV with Ohio plates carrying three passengers and a cargo space full of luggage.
* * *
As Patricia stopped at the rental office for her keys and welcome package, Simone used a blowtorch to heat the bronze until it turned gold. She brushed ferric nitrate over Reed’s hair, over Barney, over areas she wanted hints of red and gold to shimmer with the bronze.
She’d use silver nitrate on the sword, on the collar she’d given Barney to bring out a silvery-gray patina. The work would take hours—but she considered it an improvement on the ancient method of burying the bronze to oxidize it. And this gave her control, allowed her to highlight, add a kind of movement and life.
She’d worked and studied with patineurs in Florence and in New York to learn the art, the science, the techniques. For this, a piece that had become so intimate to her, she called on all she had, asked herself for more.
When she paused in the work, she walked her studio, drinking water, clearing her mind. And she studied the faces on her shelf. More now. Throughout the finishing of the bronze, she’d taken breaks, worked on those faces.
The last one she’d completed looked back at her with wide, smiling eyes. Trent Woolworth, the boy she’d loved—as a young girl loves. He’d never had a chance to become a man. She’d thought he’d broken her heart, but he’d barely pricked it. She knew that now, and felt for him only regret and grief.
She’d join his face with the others, all the others, and cast them in bronze as she had Reed. Cupric nitrate, she thought, for the subtle and beautiful greens and blues, to mirror the water.
She put on her gloves, turned back to the sculpture of Reed.
Hours later, her shoulders stiff from the final steps of sealing—waxing and buffing—she went down to CiCi’s studio.
Through the glass she saw her grandmother at her framing station, so she walked in.
“I wondered if you’d surface.”
“So did I, but I— Oh, CiCi, I love it. Reed’s house, the lupines like a sea of color, the woods, the light! Fairies in the woods, just a hint of them in that dappled shade.” She murmured, “And Reed standing on the widow’s walk with Barney, with me.”
“That’s how I see it. I’m going to give this to him—and, as I see it, you—for Christmas. You’ll be living with him by then unless my granddaughter’s an idiot. Which she’s not. I think this would work in the master bedroom.”
“It’s perfect. You’re perfect.” She took CiCi’s hand. “Can you stop for a minute, come outside?”
“If there’s an adult beverage involved, I can.”
“That can be arranged.”
“Give yourself and Reed a break,” CiCi said as they walked out and across to the patio. “Go to his place tonight. You’ve both been working crazy hours. You’re both tense waiting for that next shoe to drop since that last ugly card arrived. Go, crack a bottle of wine, and have a lot of sex.”
“I’m on that same path because, you see? I finished him.”
CiCi’s breath caught—the artist and grandmother felt her heart soar. “Oh, oh, Simone.” She walked to the counter where it stood in the late afternoon light. “It has life, a pulse, a soul, and more. Oh, the patina, such light and depth and movement. The detailing, the flow.”
She let the tears burning her throat free. “Get me that wine, baby, and a tissue. I’m overwhelmed.”
She took a breath, moved around the sculpture as Simone opened a bottle. “Years ago, back in Florence, at your first show, your use of Tish, your Emergence, grabbed me just this way, brought me to tears this way. You do beautiful work, Simone, some of it stunning. But this, like Emergence, has your heart and soul in every line, curve, angle.”
She took the glass, the tissue. “He’s magnificent. He breathes. You won’t have to tell him you love him when you show him this. Unless he’s an idiot. Which he’s not.”
“I’m ready to tell him.”
“Then go do it.” CiCi drew Simone close. “Go get your man.”
* * *
In her beach cottage, Patricia used the second bedroom for weapons—guns and ammo, a night-vision scope, poisons, syringes, knives. Her HQ, she thought. She would put up maps of town, document her target’s routines, his close associates. She’d learn where he drank his beer, ate his lunch, who he fucked.
She’d keep the door locked, tell the housekeeper her husband was territorial about his office space. No entry allowed.
She set men’s toiletries in the master bathroom, put men’s clothes in the master bedroom closet, the dresser. Later in the stay, she’d leave men’s shoes here and there and other items carelessly tossed around.
She set out a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, which she’d dog-eared and marked up in advance. Hiking gear that read male, a bottle of top-shelf gin, which she’d pour out into the sink a bit now and then, her unblended scotch—which she’d drink herself—a couple bottles of fancy wines and craft beers, the food supplies she’d bought at a stop at the market.
Satisfied, she went out for her first stroll through the village.
Easy to mix and meld with groups and crowds, simple to wander into a shop and buy a few trinkets—including a pair of bathing trunks and a Light of Tranquility T-shirt she told the shopkeeper her husband would love.
She spotted Reed within a half hour, holding a dog on a leash while he—from the looks of it—gave a bunch of people some directions.
You’ve come down low, big-shot detective, she thought.
She didn’t follow him directly. She strolled, crossed the street, window-shopped. But she kept an eye on him all the way back to his rinky-dink police station. And considered it a good start.
* * *
After Simone’s text, Reed decided, for once, he could go home before dark. Maybe the day only seemed quiet after the craziness of the holiday, but it was quiet enough.
He walked Barney toward home. The itch between his shoulder blades had him circling a little, scanning a lot, but he saw nothing and no one that drew his attention.
“Can’t let the waiting psych us out, Barney. Take it a day at a time.”
Seeing Simone’s car parked in front of the house lifted him up. Seeing her sitting on the porch, sipping wine, finished the job.
“Pretty quiet today. The chief of police is taking the night off.”
“That’s handy. So am I. I’ve missed nights off with you.” She pulled a chew bone out of her pocket. “And you, too, Barney.”
“Just sit right there. I’m going to get a cold beer, and we’ll sit awhile.”
“Actually, I have something to show you.” She took his hand. “And things to say,” she added as she drew him inside.
She’d found a stand for it at the flea market—knowing he’d appreciate that sentiment, too. It stood in the entryway, a statement, to her mind: He’d protect all within.
And there, the bronze caught the early evening light just as she wanted.
He stared, speechless, and she saw on his face what she’d hoped to see. The stunned wonder changed to something else when he looked at her.
No, she thought, he wasn’t an idiot. And still, cautious.
“I … I need a second. Or an hour. Or a month. It’s hard to take in. I never expected—I don’t know why I never expected … when I’ve seen your work.”
“It’s different when it’s you.”
“That, yeah, but…” He just couldn’t wrap his brain around it. “It’s— You put Barney in it.”
“I thought at first I’d use a woman, or a child. And then I watched you with him, him with you, saw how his trust in you has changed his life, his world. Like mine for you has changed mine.”
“It’s the most amazing thing. You made me look—”
“Exactly as you are,” she interrupted. “Every hour I spent on this work showed me more and more of who you are. More of who I am. And we are. I didn’t fall in love with you during the work.”
She laid a hand on his heart. “You can give Barney some credit for when I did, how I fell when I saw you, the first time with him, washing that poor, skinny, scared dog, laughing when he soaked you and licked at your face. I fell realizing you had that inside you.”
He closed his hand over hers. “Say it, okay? I don’t care if he gets the credit. I’ll buy him caviar Milk-Bones. But I really want you to look at me, Simone, look at me and say the words.”
“This is who you are to me.” She touched the sculpture. “This is who you are,” she repeated, pressing her other hand on his heart. “This is the man I love. You’re who I love.”
He lifted her to her toes, then an inch higher, capturing her mouth as she hung suspended, holding it as he brought her down. “Don’t ever stop.”
“I cast your heart, and mine, together in bronze. That’s forever.” She gripped him tight, pressed her face to his shoulder. “You waited for me. You waited until I could tell you.”
“Waiting’s over.” He took her mouth again, circled her toward the stairs. “Come with me. Be with me. I need—”
His phone went off. “Fuck. Just fuck.”
He yanked it out. “Yeah, yeah, it better be—” His eyes went flat, cold. “Where. Anybody hurt? Okay. I’m on my way. Sorry. Damn it.”
“I’ll come with you.”
“No, no, cop business.”
“What cop business?”
“Somebody shot through the w
“Oh my God.”
“Nobody’s hurt. Cecil’s already there, but … I need to go.”
“Probably some asshole trying to shoot a deer, and probably long gone. Let’s go, Barney. I’ll be back.” He caught Simone’s face in his hands, kissed her.
* * *
When Reed arrived at the cabin, one neatly tucked into the inland woods, Cecil walked out.
“Hey, Chief. I heard the dispatch go out when I was on my way home, so I radioed Donna I’d take it, since I was close.”
“What’ve we got?”
“Family from Augusta renting the cabin for a week—couple and two kids. They’re having some ice cream, talking about going for a walk, and hear a shot—a sort of pop—and breaking glass. This window here.”
He walked Reed over to examine a side window with a hole and radiating cracks from it in the glass.
“Hit a lamp inside, too,” Cecil told him. “The wife grabbed the kids up, kept them down and away from the windows. The husband called nine-one-one. He looked around out here some after, but didn’t see anything.”
Reed examined the damaged window, turned to study the trees and the shadows deepening in them with dusk.
Inside, he spent some time soothing nerves and tempers before hunkering down by the broken lamp. Avoiding the shards from the globe, he pulled out a penlight, shined it under a chair.
And came up with a BB.
While he soothed, reassured, apologized to the frazzled family, Patricia watched the cabin through field glasses. She’d noted Reed’s response time, the make, color, tags of his car for future reference. When he stepped out again, she lifted the BB rifle onto her shoulders, softly said, “Bang!” and laughed.
“No island kid’s stupid enough to shoot a BB gun like that, Chief. It has to be some dumb-shit summer kid.”
“We’re going to go by all the cabins and cottages in this area, see if we can find a dumb-shit. I appreciate the overtime, Cecil.”
“Aw, that’s no problem.”
They split up to handle it, but Reed’s thoughts kept circling. A small cabin, he thought, four people inside. But the pellet hits in an area no one’s near at that time. And bull’s-eyes a lamp.
Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love / History & Fiction / Thrillers & Crime / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.7 out of 5 / Based on33 votes