Shelter in place, p.42
Shelter in Place, p.42Nora Roberts
Maybe a dumb-shit. Maybe not so dumb.
* * *
For the next week, Reed dealt with a rash of petty vandalism. Spray-painted obscenities on the window of the Sunrise, flowerpots stolen right off the porch of the mayor’s house, three cars keyed while their owners enjoyed dinner at the Water’s Edge, all four tires of another slashed as it sat in front of a rental overlooking the south inlet.
He sat in the mayor’s office as Hildy unloaded.
“You have to put a stop to this, Reed. Every damn day it’s something else, and it’s not the usual summer problems. I’m spending most of my time on the phone dealing with complaints. If this keeps up, it’s going to cost us revenue and damage our reputation. Dobson’s making noises about writing up a petition to have you removed as chief. You need to handle this.”
“We’re doing full-island loop patrols, on foot, in cruisers. I added night patrols. We’re on twenty-four hours.”
“And still can’t catch some nasty kids.”
“If we were dealing with nasty kids, we would have. This is too smart for that.” He rose, went to the map on her wall, tapped various points. “Every sector’s had a hit of some kind. That means whoever’s doing it needs to have a car or bike. And the time frames are all over the clock.”
“You think this isn’t some nasty, bored kid or kids, but a deliberate attempt to undermine the island?”
“Something like that. I’m going to shut it down, Mayor. This is my home, too.”
As Reed walked back to the station, he couldn’t blame Hildy for the anger. He had plenty of his own. He couldn’t blame her for the shaky faith in him, as he believed that was one of the purposes of the vandalism.
Hit every point of the island, he thought, see how he responded, how long it took, where he went, how he got there. Not bored kids, he thought. Hobart, and she was stalking him.
He’d checked the rental offices, the B&Bs, the hotel. No single check-ins. But she’d found a way around that because he knew she was on the island. And watching him.
He ran through the content of the last card—number four. A sympathy card this time, why be subtle?
Enjoying the summer, asshole? Soak up those rays because you’re going to spend a lot of time in the cold and dark. I won’t come to your funeral, though all those tears would be delicious! But I’ll come back, and spit on your fucking grave.
My luck’s in. Yours is running out. It’s time to die.
Pretty direct, he thought, but what had interested him more had been the scrawling handwriting, and the pressure of the pen on the card. She’d written this one while riding hard on emotion, and she hadn’t been as clever with the rental car she’d used for her last kill. Not when they’d tracked it with GPS within an hour of that kill. He had to leave it to the feds to track down if she’d taken a cab or bus from the airport, rented another car, bought one. Maybe she’d already had one waiting in the lot.
But whatever she’d driven out of Ohio, she’d driven onto the ferry in Portland and onto the island.
Because she was here.
* * *
Patricia opened the door to the twice-a-week housekeeper in a robe, her wet hair slicked back. “Oh my! We overslept.”
“I can come back.”
“No, no, please. It’s fine. We wouldn’t want to throw you off schedule. My husband’s still in the shower, but maybe you can start in the loft? He told me to tell you thanks for offering to at least vacuum in his office, but it’s fine.” She rolled her eyes. “I swear he thinks about his work like state secrets or whatever. I’m going to go get dressed. You’re welcome to make yourself some coffee. I sure miss being allowed that one cup a day.”
She patted her belly as she crossed the living area to the master. She opened the door to let the sound of the shower she’d left running spill out before she closed it again.
As she dressed—capris and a pink T-shirt, fancy hiking boots—she held a conversation with no one, added some laughter, opened and closed drawers, the closet door.
She inspected the room—bed tumbled on both sides—a spy thriller and a nearly empty glass of wine on one nightstand, a historical romance and teacup on the other. A man’s belt slung over the back of a chair. Damp towels in the bathroom—two toothbrushes—bristles damp. Male and female toiletries.
Satisfied, she opened the door, looked back over her shoulders. “Yes, Brett, I’m coming! Go ahead. We’re going for a walk, Kaylee,” she called out to the housekeeper. “You can do the bedroom anytime.”
“Oh, we will. We love it here. I’m just getting my water bottle and pack, honey. Men,” she said for the benefit of the housekeeper in the loft above. “So impatient.”
She left by the opposite door, and decided she’d take a stroll to the house a little chatter and gossip had revealed belonged to the chief of police.
A long hike for a pregnant woman, she thought with a smirk. But she felt up to it.
* * *
For the next few days, the vandalism eased off, making most conclude the troublemakers’ vacation had ended, and they’d gone off-island.
Reed didn’t buy it.
“She’s still here.” Reed drank a Coke on CiCi’s patio while the sun set like glory at water’s edge. “She’s smart enough to know screwing around could get her caught with the extra patrols, but she’s still getting the rhythm.”
He turned to them, these women he loved. “You could do me a big favor, get on the ferry in the morning, take a trip somewhere.”
“She won’t leave you,” CiCi said. “I won’t leave either one of you. Ask for something else.”
“If you were off somewhere,” he persisted, “Florence or New York—”
“Reed,” Simone interrupted.
“Damn it, staying just means I have to worry about you. She’s gearing up. It’s no goddamn coincidence she’s here—and she’s here—when we’re coming up on the thirteenth anniversary of DownEast. She slipped it in the card. My luck’s running out, hers is coming in. Unlucky thirteen. It’s less than a week, and I don’t need the two of you scattering my focus out of sheer, wrongheaded, female stubbornness.
“You’re in my way.” He didn’t shout, and his deliberate tone added edgy barbs to every word. “So get out of it and let me do my goddamn job.”
“That’s not going to work, either,” CiCi said, cool and calm. “Trying to pick a fight, make us mad isn’t going to change a thing. But damn good try.”
“Look, this isn’t—”
“I hid before,” Simone interrupted.
“Bullshit!” Now he did shout, and had Barney bellying under a table. “Don’t start that bullshit with me.”
“I did hide. I’m not saying it wasn’t the right thing to do because it was. But it’s not the right thing now, and it would strip away what it took me years to build back up again.”
“Simone.” At wits’ end, he pulled off his cap, dragged a hand through his hair. “I swore I’d keep you and CiCi safe.”
“You said you want to start a life with me. This is our life. You think she’ll try to … do this on the twenty-second?”
He’d try calm reason, again. “I think that makes a circle for her, yeah. I think she knows damn well you and I are together, and if she can take me out, she’ll come for you. Not you first,” he said. “You’re still higher on the chain than me. And she’ll want to eliminate the biggest threat. I’m the cop with a gun, you’re not. If the two of you went off-island until after the twenty-second, I wouldn’t have to factor your safety into the mix.”
“For me—and CiCi—not to be safe means she’d have eliminated you. You won’t let that happen. You won’t let that happen,” Simone repeated, rising and moving to him, “because you know if she kills you, she’ll kill me. Maybe not now, but sooner or later, and you won’t let her. I believe that, trust that, absolutely.
“Besides.” She framed his frustrated face with her hands. “
He dropped his forehead to hers. “That’s a damn sneak attack.”
“The twenty-third, Reed, because you’ll have ended this. I’m moving in. CiCi, you’ll come to dinner.”
“I’ll bring champagne.”
“I’ll need to keep my studio here until Reed and I finalize the design and plans for my workspace at … our house.”
“It’s always here for you, my clever, clever girl.”
“That day, the twenty-third, it’s going to be a symbol for us,” she told him. “A reminder that whatever terrible things happen, we’re together.”
“I think this calls for a big pitcher of sangria.”
Reed shook his head at CiCi. “I can’t. I’ve got to get back. Stay here,” he told Simone. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. Come on, Barney, we’re not going to get anywhere with these two. Cast in the same damn mold.”
“That’s why you love us,” CiCi called as Reed walked out. “I’m proud of you, Simone.”
* * *
As Reed completed another patrol, Patricia sat in her war room, sipping a gin and tonic—heavier on the gin as time passed. It felt like a waste to pour it down the sink.
And the gin made a nice change of pace from scotch.
A couple of drinks—or three—helped her sleep. How was she supposed to sleep without a little help when her mind was so full, so busy?
It wasn’t like her father—she didn’t get drunk, did she? It wasn’t like her mother. She wasn’t using the booze to wash down pills.
She just needed a little help to calm her mind. Nothing wrong with that.
So, sipping gin, she studied her maps, her time lines, the photos taken with her phone.
The fact that two of her top targets were lovebirds both infuriated and delighted her. They didn’t deserve even an hour of happiness. But then again, she would slit their happiness at the throat and watch it bleed dry. And with a little more time—she still had a little more time—to observe the bitch, maybe she’d kill two birds with one stone.
On the other hand, she thought as she rose to pace, she’d always planned to take out the bitch who’d called the cops last. She still had a half dozen targets on her board, leading up to the cunt cop who’d killed JJ, then finishing it off with the interfering little bitch who’d hidden like a coward.
She’d come this far following the plan, she assured herself, and had the cops and FBI running in circles. She should stick with the plan. If JJ had stuck with the plan …
It hadn’t been his fault, she thought, rapping a restless fist on her thigh as she paced and sipped, paced and sipped. Simone Knox killed JJ, and she wouldn’t forget it.
So, maybe if—and only if—the opportunity fell into her lap, she’d take the bitch out early. Otherwise.
She picked up her gun, aimed it at Reed’s picture. “It’s just you and me, asshole. And taking you out? Yeah, that’s going to break your little whore’s heart—and the cunt cop’s, too. Delicious tears. That works for me.”
Sometimes the gin and tonic, the pacing, the planning, didn’t work. To relax, to calm the increasing busyness of her mind, Patricia indulged in her favorite late-night pastime.
In the beach cottage she’d grown to hate—and planned to burn to the ground before she left the island—with the doors locked, curtains drawn, Patricia switched to scotch on the rocks and watched her video.
It enthralled and entertained her, no matter how often she viewed it.
She looked good! Damn good. Long gone was the fat girl with pimples and bad hair who’d sat in her room watching TV and learning how to hack.
In fact, she looked amazing, trim and fit in the camera-friendly red dress she’d chosen. “Body conscious” they called it, she mused as she started it over from the beginning. Flawless makeup, but her. No contacts to change eye color, no appliances, no wig.
She looked better than that hack reporter, that’s for sure. Younger, stronger, and damn it, prettier, too. Maybe she should have taken the time to press out the suit McMullen wore—it looked like she’d—ha ha!—slept in it.
But it didn’t matter. Patricia Hobart was the star, just as she was meant to be.
Gone was the girl who’d dreamed of being important, who’d curled up in the dark and imagined killing the boy who’d dubbed her Patty the Porker, the girls who’d stolen her panties and pinned them to the elephant, her mother, her grandparents, the perfect families she saw in the mall.
Dreaming, dreaming of killing all of them, all of them.
All of them.
Crunching on sour cream and onion chips (a well-earned reward, just this one time), she listened to herself. How clearly she told her story, told the world how mistreated and abused she’d been. Her parents, her grandparents, teachers, fucking bullying kids. She laughed, as she always did, when she got to the part about the asshole kid taking that header off the bike she’d rigged, busting up his face.
She wished, how she wished, he’d broken his neck.
See how smart she’d been? She’d been born smarter than anyone else. The video proved it.
And look how fascinated McMullen looked. Hear that awe in her voice? She’d known she’d been outclassed. She understood what kind of brains, what kind of will, it took to accomplish all Patricia Hobart had accomplished.
Too bad McMullen had started babbling, had shown herself to be what she’d always been. Just another opportunist looking to get rich, to get in front of the cameras and brag.
“Too bad you pissed me off,” Patricia muttered, pouring another finger of scotch before she fast-forwarded to the kill.
Her only regret there? She hadn’t thought to step out, move into camera range. She’d have enjoyed watching herself raise the gun and fire. But McMullen made up for it, made her laugh again.
“There it is, shocked face, and bang, bang, bang.” Howling with laughter, she grabbed more chips. “Talk about a ratings bonanza! But not for you.”
No, not for you, she thought as she went back, chose the clip. One where she was the star, one where she told the frigging world that before her fifteenth birthday, she’d had the brains, the skills, the freaking vision to begin to plan a mass shooting the size and scope of DownEast.
She studied it again, and once again, nodding, nodding, pleased with her own clarity, approving what she thought of as the stunned admiration on McMullen’s face.
There, only a scant mile and a quarter from Reed’s home, she hacked into some dumb-shit in Nashville’s Facebook account, attached the video to his wall.
Just the start, she thought, and decided she deserved another drink. After the twenty-second, after she—ha ha again—shot the sheriff, she’d send another clip to the FB fucking I.
With satisfaction, she looked up at her wall of targets, pointed a finger.
“Then, Chaz Four-Eyes Bergman, you’re up.” She lifted the scotch to toast him. “New York, here I come.”
She started the video over, watched it all again.
* * *
“I’m so glad you came.” In her studio, Simone clung to Mi. “I wish you didn’t have to go so soon. One day isn’t enough.”
“I’ll see you at Nari’s wedding in September. You and CiCi. You’ll bring Reed.”
“I will. Then you’ll come for Nat’s wedding in October.”
“Absolutely. And I’ll be back in December for CiCi’s big bash. A one, two, three. But … Come with me, Sim—I have to ask again. You and CiCi come back to Boston with me for a few days.”
“You know why I can’t. Reed shouldn’t have asked you to try to persuade me.”
“He loves you. I love you.”
“I know. It’s why he asked, and why you came
“That wouldn’t make me, but he made me swear I’d be on that ferry back to the mainland with or without you.” In frustration, Mi jammed her hands in her pockets. “I shouldn’t have given him my word. Tomorrow’s the twenty-second. Why wasn’t it enough for her, Sim? All that death her brother caused wasn’t enough.”
“It was always her underneath it all. I think he was just a defective weapon. Reed says she’s devolving, making mistakes. Jesus, Mi, she put that video clip on Facebook. She needed attention so much, she risked hacking an account and putting it out there.”
“But they haven’t traced the hack yet.”
“They will. But Reed’s going to stop her whether they trace it or not.”
“I’ve never known you to believe in anyone but CiCi the way you do him.”
“Thirteen years,” Mi said with a sigh, turning to the shelves holding the faces of the lost. “What you’re doing here matters so much. People forget, then there’s another nightmare followed by another. And still, after the grief and outrage, people forget. No one can forget when they look at what you’re doing.”
“I tried to forget.”
“But you never did. And Tiffany?” Carefully, Mi took down the bust. “Still right here.”
“To remind me that everyone who survived July twenty-second carries the scars. But we survived, Mi. We can remember those who didn’t, and still treasure the life we have. Tiffany didn’t intend to give me the gift of that insight, but she did. So I’ll keep her face in my studio as a thank-you.”
Mi replaced the bust. “You haven’t done Tish.”
“I want to do her last. She means more to me than anyone else, so I need to finish it with her.”
“I still miss her. Will you do me a favor? No, I’m not going to push you to leave,” Mi said when Simone tensed. “When you’re ready to start Tish’s bust, will you let me come? I know you don’t like anyone in your space when you’re working, but I’d like to be here.”
“I can do better. When I’m ready, you’ll help me. We’ll do it together.”
Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love / History & Fiction / Thrillers & Crime / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.7 out of 5 / Based on33 votes