Shelter in place, p.9
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       Shelter in Place, p.9
 

           Nora Roberts

  She became a passionate, vocal advocate for gun regulation. She helped launch For Shelby, an activist organization dedicated to Safe, Sane Solutions.

  Their website and Facebook page ran totals daily of the number of gun deaths in the country—murder, suicide, accidental.

  Her marriage died, another victim of DownEast.

  She gave speeches, organized rallies and marches, appeared on television—always wearing the heart locket that held a photo of her sister.

  In tragedy she became a warrior, a name, and a face, a well-known voice not only locally but nationally.

  For that reason, she fit Patricia’s needs perfectly.

  Patricia took a full month to study, to stalk, to take notes and photos, to plan. Back in Rockpoint for most of the summer, ostensibly to spend time with her grandparents, she made meticulous records of Roberta’s habits, routines.

  In the end, she found it ridiculously easy.

  Early one morning, before daybreak, she slipped out of her grandparents’ house, jogged a half mile to the home of one of her grandmother’s friends. After slipping on a short blond wig and latex gloves, she removed the spare key to the car from the magnetic box under the wheel well. She drove, carefully at the speed limit, to Roberta’s quiet neighborhood, parked, took the gun and the silencer—taken from her father during one of his drunken stupors—out of her backpack.

  At sunrise, like clockwork, Roberta came out of her back door. On a normal day she would have cut across her own backyard, through a neighbor’s gate, and met up with the first of her two morning jogging companions.

  But on this morning, Patricia waited.

  She stepped out from behind a sturdy red maple.

  As Roberta, adjusting her earbuds, glanced over in surprise, Patricia took her down with two quick shots to the chest. The silencer kept the sound to a harmless pop. The third shot—a kill shot to the head—popped louder, but it had to be done.

  She took the sign she’d made out of the backpack, tossed it on Roberta’s body.

  HERE’S YOUR SECOND AMENDMENT, BITCH!

  She policed her brass, secured them with the gun and silencer in the backpack. Light streaked in reds and pinks across the eastern sky as she drove back to the neighbor’s, replaced the key.

  With the wig and gloves in her backpack, she took out earbuds, put them in, and began to jog.

  She felt … nothing special, she realized. She’d expected to feel some elation or amazement. Something. But she felt no more than she did when she completed a necessary task well.

  A little satisfaction.

  She jogged, as she’d made a habit to do since observing Roberta’s morning routines, toward a bakery a full mile away.

  She listened for the news reports—and the speculation that Roberta’s visible and vocal advocacy had made her the target for some gun-rights nut.

  Time to wait again, she decided. To wait and plot and study. But the test? She’d aced it. Killing was easy if you just made a plan and stuck to it.

  She went into the bakery, got a big welcoming smile from the woman—Carole—who opened it every morning. “Hey there, Patricia. Right on time.”

  “Gorgeous day!” Beaming back, Patricia jogged lightly in place. “How about three of those apple muffins today, Carole.”

  “You got it. It’s real sweet of you to get your grandparents a treat every morning.”

  “Best grandparents ever. I don’t know what I’d do without them.” Patricia dug the money out of the side pocket of her backpack, and angling it away, unzipped the main pack to tuck the bag of muffins in with the wig and the gun.

  She got home and stowed the wig, the gloves, the gun, and the silencer. After a quick shower, she took the muffins to the kitchen and put them in a little bowl on the counter.

  She’d just started the coffee when her grandmother shuffled in.

  “You’ve been out running already!” she said, as she said every fricking day.

  “Up with the sun, and what a gorgeous morning. Apple muffins today, Grammy.”

  “You just spoil us, sweetie pie. Just spoil us to death.”

  Patricia just smiled. She’d spoil them all right, and when they finally died, she’d get everything.

  She could do a lot with everything.

  * * *

  That evening Essie and her fiancé hosted a summer barbecue in the little backyard of the house she’d talked herself into buying when she made detective.

  It squeezed her budget, but by God, it made her happy to have her pretty three-bedroom house with its small, cheerful yard.

  And since Hank had moved in, the budget could breathe just a little easier—and everything was happier.

  Right now she had a house and a yard full of cops and teachers—with some family and neighbors tossed in. And it worked pretty damn well.

  Hank, adorable to her eye with his trim goatee, scholarly glasses, and WILL COOK FOR SEX bib apron, manned the grill. He’d also made the potato salad, the deviled eggs, and other sides. She’d peeled and chopped, even stirred, but Hank’s apron spoke truth—and he’d proven himself a damn good cook.

  She poured herself a margarita—those she could make—and watched the man she loved joke with her former partner.

  She and Barry hadn’t parted ways, not personally, when she’d traded her uniform for a gold shield. It made her feel settled to see how well the cop she liked and respected blended with her man.

  Maybe it surprised her that they blended, even that she blended with Professor Coleson, the Shakespearean scholar with his classy horn-rimmed glasses.

  She certainly hadn’t been looking for love, and had only gone on the blind date (her first and last) because a friend had nagged the resistance out of her.

  She’d fallen into smitten over drinks, into sincere like during the main course, and into lust over dessert.

  And into bed after the thin excuse of a nightcap—a word she’d never used before in her life.

  When he’d cooked her breakfast in the morning, she’d made it all the way to love.

  She walked to the grill, and her whole body smiled when he bent down to give her a casual kiss.

  “Need any help here?”

  “Soon as I flip these burgers onto the platter, you can take them and the dogs over to the table.”

  “Can do. Did you get your incinerated dog yet, Barry?”

  “Got two. Place looks damn good, Essie. The trouble is, Ginny’s looking around and starting to complain we don’t have flower beds as nice.”

  “She needs a Terri.” Essie gestured toward an energetic blonde running herd on a pair of toddler twins. “Our next-door neighbor’s a genius with plants. She’s teaching us.”

  “She’s prevented several flora murders this summer,” Hank added. “Essie’s thumb’s turning green. Mine’s still questionable. Here you go, beautiful.” He flipped burgers onto the platter, added the hot dogs.

  “I’ve got it, and that ought to hold the horde awhile. You should take a break, get some food, Hank.”

  “Good idea. How about we get a cold adult beverage first, Barry?”

  “I’m all in.”

  She wound her way toward the table—lost a few burgers and dogs on the way as people snagged them right off the moving platter.

  She set it down, picked up the nearly empty bowl of potato salad. She took it and an empty plate that had held sliced tomatoes (Terri’s garden) into the kitchen for refills.

  She found Reed leaning on her counter, drinking a beer, and in what appeared to be a serious discussion with her current partner’s ten-year-old son.

  “No way, just no way, man,” Reed said. “I’m going with you on crossing the streams on this, but there’s no way Batman takes down Iron Man. Iron Man’s got the suit.”

  Quentin—moonfaced, freckled, and bespectacled—begged to differ. “Batman’s got the suit, too.”

  “He can’t suit up and fly, bro.”

  Essie listened to the debate while she reloaded the bowl a
nd plate.

  “I’m going to write the story,” Quentin claimed. “And you’ll see. The Dark Knight rules.”

  “You write it, and I’ll be the judge.”

  Obviously delighted, Quentin ran back outside.

  “You’re good with him,” Essie observed.

  “Easy to be. The kid’s just great. Even if he’s wrong about Tony Stark.”

  “Who’s Tony Stark?”

  “I don’t think I can even talk to you right now.” With a shake of his head, Reed downed some beer. Still, he reached for the bowl to carry it, and right then the phone in Essie’s pocket signaled.

  She pulled it out, frowned, then sighed. “Shit.”

  “You’re not on the roll.”

  “Not that. I’ve got an alert set up that notifies me if anybody from the mall shooting comes over the wire. And we’ve got one.”

  “Who? What?”

  “It’s Roberta Flisk. Found dead in her backyard early this morning. Shot three times. She was—”

  “I remember.” Reed kept his own files. He’d pored over every report and news article, read every book on that night, and still did. “Her sister was listed as the first victim outside the theater. She took a couple hits herself. Major player now for gun regulation.”

  “Details leaked claim a sign was left with her body. ‘Here’s your Second Amendment, Bitch!’ Fuck.”

  “Who found her?”

  “A couple of friends. It’s saying they jogged together every morning, sunrise.”

  “Every morning?”

  Cop eyes met cop eyes as Essie glanced up, nodded. “Yeah, routine. Somebody knew her routine. Either knew her or watched her. More than some sick fuck with a Second Amendment fetish.”

  “Divorced, right? Did she ever remarry? Boyfriend? Ex?” Reed asked her.

  “Bucking to make detective?”

  “Just follows you’ve got to look there first.”

  “Yeah, it does.” No longer a rookie, she thought, and Reed had the makings of a smart, solid investigator. “Not my case.”

  “But you’re going to look,” he countered. “She was there. We were there. You’ve got to look.”

  “Right again, but not now. Not today.” She handed him the bowl, picked up the plate. “I’ll reach out tomorrow to whoever caught it.”

  “Can you keep me in the loop?”

  She nodded, looking out the back screen door. “It’s never going to be really finished. It’s the kind of thing you never just close and box away. But you can’t live with it every day, either.”

  “The media will cycle it again. It’s how it goes.”

  “Keep your head down, do the job.”

  “But you’ll keep me in the loop?” he insisted.

  “Yeah, yeah, now put it aside for today. Let’s get you another beer.”

  * * *

  Over the next few days, Reed spent any time he could carve out compiling information on the Flisk investigation. Good as her word, Essie kept him in the loop, even nudged the lead investigators to clear him to visit the murder scene.

  He studied the yard—established trees and plantings offered plenty of cover for lying in wait.

  The victim comes out her back door, he thought, as multiple statements confirmed that routine.

  He walked it off himself, moving from the back door, crossing the patio, stopping at the bloodstained grass.

  Take her out deeper in the yard, he concluded. Less chance for her to run back into the house, more difficult for anyone in the neighboring houses to witness the killing, and the view from the street was cut off.

  Smart.

  Three hits, two center mass, then the head shot.

  Now he walked off the angle designated by the medical examiner and investigative team. Plenty of cover, he noted, off to the right while the target moved toward the gate in the fence.

  Had the killer said anything? It seemed to Reed that if someone decided to murder a woman over her stand on gun regulations, he’d want to let her know why.

  But all he heard, as he imagined it, was silence.

  Had she flashed back, he wondered, to that moment in the mall, the moment she saw Whitehall raise the AR-15?

  He sometimes caught himself wondering if fate was waiting to send a bullet into him that had missed that night. One caught in the air, like a video recording on pause, that would rip into him when fate hit the play button.

  Had she?

  Since he’d already concluded he could do nothing to change whatever button fate opted to push, he worked to live, and to make a difference, to try to at least. He thought Roberta Flisk had done the same.

  He put the picture of her in his head. Black cap with its logo of a handgun in a circle with a slash through it over short, medium blond hair, earbuds in place. A dark blue support tank and dark blue running shorts on an athletic frame—scars on her leg a constant reminder of a nightmare—her house key tucked into the inner pocket at the waistband. Pink-and-white Nikes and white socks.

  In his mind, she stopped her forward motion just for an instant.

  Shock, awareness, resignation? That he’d never know.

  Two soft pops, he thought, as ballistics verified a .32, silenced. Both struck center mass. Victim falls, he thought, once again crossing to the stains baked onto the grass by the summer sun.

  Third pop—louder as the silencer weakened—angled from above to the back of the head.

  Then the flourish of the sign, the message.

  It struck him as wrong, just off. The killing had all the elements of a cold, even professional, hit; but the sign showed heat—angry and careless.

  The killer had taken the time and caution to police the brass, to leave no trace but the bullets in the body, then adds a hand-printed sign announcing himself as a pissed-off defender of the Second Amendment?

  It rubbed wrong because the killer hadn’t been pissed-off, the murder didn’t feel personal.

  They’d cleared the ex-husband, Reed considered as he walked the scene one more time. He and the victim maintained a cordial relationship. He didn’t own a gun, and, in fact, gave an annual donation to her organization in their son’s name.

  At the time of her murder, he’d been helping make breakfast—plenty of witnesses—for a couple dozen Boy Scouts, including his son, at a campground on Mount Desert Island.

  She hadn’t had a boyfriend, dated rarely and casually, no problems with neighbors, volunteers, or the staff of her organization.

  Some death threats, sure, from the very type who’d have written that message. But it just didn’t fit.

  Or fit too well.

  He walked back to his car, recalling that two people had crossed from their own yards to ask him what he was doing there when he’d parked. He’d had to show his police ID.

  While statements from neighbors claimed they’d either still been in bed or been just getting up at the time of the murder, it seemed to him that the killer, in order to stalk the prey, had to have blended easily into the quiet, upper-middle-class neighborhood.

  He got into his car, wrote careful notes on his observation and theories. Maybe his leading theory was just a rookie mistake, but he outlined it anyway.

  The killer had patience and control, could blend in the victim’s neighborhood, had killed with efficiency and precision. And the message?

  A countermeasure.

  Of course, none of his notes, theories, and speculation helped Roberta Flisk or her now motherless son one damn bit. But he’d transcribe all of it, file it.

  And he wouldn’t forget it.

  * * *

  When Simone heard about Roberta Flisk, and the violent death of a DownEast Mall survivor, she switched off the television.

  She made it a point to forget.

  She’d given Mi what she’d wanted: She sublet the apartment, went home.

  And after one short week of sharing the house with her parents and sister, she’d fled to the island.

  She loved her parents, truly. And if
her sister’s perfection—like mother, like daughter in this case—bugged the crap out of her, she loved Natalie, too.

  She just couldn’t live with them.

  CiCi gave her space, literally, in the doll-like guest house over the glass-walled art studio. And she gave her space emotionally as well.

  If she wanted to sleep half the day, CiCi didn’t ask if she felt well. If she wanted to walk on the beach half the night, CiCi didn’t wait up with a worried look on her face.

  She didn’t get a furrowed brow over quitting her job, a long sigh over the color of her hair.

  She ran as many of CiCi’s errands as she could, prepared some of the meals—though her cooking was nothing to brag about. She agreed to pose whenever asked.

  As a result, after two weeks, Simone had to give Mi a virtual thanks. She felt more relaxed and easy than she had for months. Enough that she started to paint a little.

  She set down her brush when CiCi came out on the patio with a tray holding a pitcher of sangria, glasses, a bowl of salsa and chips.

  “If you don’t want a break, I’m taking this to my studio and drinking the whole pitcher.”

  “Can’t have that.” Simone stepped back to study the seascape she’d worked on for the last three hours.

  “It’s good,” CiCi told her.

  “It’s not.”

  “It certainly is.”

  Since CiCi, floppy-brimmed hat over her black-and-white-streaked braid (her newest look), poured the sangria, Simone dropped down in one of the patio chairs.

  CiCi’s latest tattoo wrapped Celtic symbols around her left wrist like a bracelet.

  “That’s my grandmother talking, not the artist.”

  “It’s both.” She tapped her glass to Simone’s, sat, stretched out her legs, crossed her Birkenstock-clad feet at the ankles. “It is good—you’ve got a sense of movement and mood.”

  “The light isn’t right, and screwing with it’s made it less right. I love your seascapes. Your portraits are just incredible, every time, and you don’t do seascapes often. But when you do, they’re moody and magic.”

  “First, you’re not me, and you should celebrate your youness. Second, I do sea- and landscapes, still lifes when I need calm, or my own mood strikes. Mostly I’d rather just sit here and look at the water. Portraits? People are endlessly fascinating, as is painting them. Painting, period, is my passion.

 
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admin 22 September 2018 10:55
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new Nora Roberts book
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