Chapter 1: The Present
"Someone's going to get hurt out there," said Dr. Claire Elliot,
looking out her kitchen window. Morning mist, thick as smoke, hung
over the lake, and the trees beyond her window drifted in and out
of focus. Another gunshot rang out, closer this time. Since first
light, she'd heard the gunfire, and would probably hear it all day
until dusk, because it was the first day of November. The start of
hunting season. Somewhere in those woods, a man with a rifle was
tramping around half-blind through the mist as imagined shadows of
white-tailed deer danced around him.
"I don't think you should wait outside for the bus," said Claire.
"I'll drive you to school."
Noah, hunched at the breakfast table, said nothing. He scooped up
another spoonful of Cheerios and slurped it down. Fourteen years
old, and her son still ate like a two-year-old, milk splashing on
the table, crumbs of toast littering the floor around his chair. He
ate without looking at her, as though to meet her gaze was to come
face to face with Medusa. And what difference would it make if he
did look at me, she thought wryly. My darling son has already
turned to stone.
She said again, "I'll drive you to school, Noah."
"That's okay. I'm taking the bus." He stood up and grabbed his
backpack and skateboard.
"Those hunters out there can't possibly see what they're shooting
at. At least wear the orange hat. So they won't think you're a
"But it looks so dorky."
"You can take it off on the bus. Just put it on now." She took the
knit cap from the mitten shelf and held it out to him.
He looked at it, then finally, at her. He had sprouted up several
inches in just one year, and they were now the same height, their
gazes meeting straight on, neither one able to claim the advantage.
She wondered if Noah was as acutely aware of their new physical
equality as she was. Once she could hug him and a child would hug
back. Now the child was gone, his softness resculpted into muscle,
his face narrowed to a sharp new angularity.
"Please," she said, still holding out the cap.
At last he sighed and jammed the cap over his dark hair. She had to
suppress a smile; he did look dorky.
He had already started down the hallway when she called out:
With a look of exasperation, he turned to give her the barest peck
on the cheek, and then he was out of the door.
No hugs anymore, she thought ruefully as she stood at the window
and watched him trudge toward the road. It's all grunts and shrugs
and awkward silences.
He stopped beneath the maple tree at the end of the driveway,
pulled off the cap, and stood with his hands in his pockets,
shoulders hunched against the cold. No jacket, just a thin gray
sweatshirt against a thirty-seven-degree morning. It was cool to be
cold. She had to resist the urge to run outside and bundle him into
Claire waited until the school bus appeared. She watched her son
climb aboard without a backward glance, saw his silhouette move
down the aisle and take a seat beside another student -- a girl.
Who is that girl? she wondered. I don't know the names of my son's
friends anymore. I've shrunk to just a small corner of his
universe. She knew this was supposed to happen, the pulling away,
the child's struggle for independence, but she was not prepared for
it. The transformation had occurred suddenly, as though a sweet boy
had walked out of the house one day, and a stranger had walked back
in. You're all I have left of Peter. I'm not ready to lose you as
The bus rumbled away.
Claire returned to the kitchen and sat down to her cup of lukewarm
coffee. The house felt hollow and silent, a home still in mourning.
She sighed and unrolled the weekly Tranquility Gazette. HEALTHY
DEER HERD PROMISES BOUNTIFUL HARVEST, announced the front page. The
hunt was on. Thirty days to bag your deer.
Outside, another gunshot echoed in the woods.
She turned the page to the police blotter. There was no mention yet
of last night's Halloween disturbance, or of the seven rowdy
teenagers who'd been arrested for taking their annual
trick-or-treating too far. But there, buried among the reports of
lost dogs and stolen firewood, was her name, under VIOLATIONS:
"Claire Elliot, age forty, operating vehicle with expired safety
sticker." She still hadn't brought the Subaru in for its safety
inspection; today she'd have to drive the truck instead, just to
avoid getting another citation. Irritably she flipped to the next
page and was scanning the day's weather forecast -- cold and windy,
high in the thirties, low in the twenties -- when the telephone
She rose to answer it. "Hello?"
"Dr. Elliot? This is Rachel Sorkin out on Toddy Point Road. I've
got something of an emergency out here. Elwyn just shot
"You know, that idiot Elwyn Clyde. He came trespassing on my
property, chasing after some poor deer. Killed it too -- a
beautiful doe, right in my front yard. These stupid men and their
"What about Elwyn?"
"Oh, he tripped and shot his own foot. Serves him right."
"He should go straight to the hospital."
"Well you see, that's the problem. He doesn't want to go to the
hospital, and he won't let me call an ambulance. He wants me to
drive him and the deer home. Well, I'm not going to. So what should
I do with him?"
"How badly is he bleeding?"
She heard Rachel call out: "Hey, Elwyn? Elwyn! Are you bleeding?"
Then Rachel came back on the line. "He says he's fine. He just
wants a ride home. But I'm not taking him, and I'm certainly not
taking the deer."
Claire sighed. "I guess I can drive over and take a look. You're on
Toddy Point Road?"
"About a mile past the Boulders. My name's on the mail box."
The mist was starting to lift as Claire turned her pickup truck
onto Toddy Point Road. Through stands of white pine, she caught
glimpses of Locust Lake, the fog rising like steam. Already beams
of sunlight were breaking through, splashing gold onto the rippling
water. Across the lake, just visible through fingers of mist, was
the north shore with its summer cottages, most of them boarded up
for the season, their wealthy owners gone home to Boston or New
York. On the south shore, where Claire now drove, were the more
modest homes, some of them little more than two-room shacks tucked
in among the trees.
She drove past the Boulders, an outcropping of granite stones where
the local teenagers gathered to swim in the summertime, and spotted
the mailbox with the name Sorkin.
A bumpy dirt road brought her to the house. It was a strange and
whimsical structure, rooms added haphazardly, corners jutting out
in unexpected places. Rising above it all, like the tip of a
crystal breaking through the roof, was a glassed-in belfry. An
eccentric woman would have an eccentric house, and Rachel Sorkin
was one of Tranquility's odd birds, a striking, black-haired woman
who strode once a week into town, swathed in a purple hooded cape.
This looked like a house in which a caped woman might reside.
By the front steps, next to a neatly tended herb garden, lay the
Claire climbed out of her truck. At once two dogs bounded out of
the woods and barred her way, barking and growling. Guarding the
kill, she realized.
Rachel came out of the house and yelled at the dogs: "Get out of
here, you bloody animals! Go home!" She grabbed a broom from the
porch and came tearing down the steps, long black hair flying, the
broom thrust forward like a lance.
The dogs backed away.
"Ha! Cowards," said Rachel, lunging at them with the broom. They
retreated toward the woods.
"Hey, you leave my dogs alone!" shouted Elwyn Clyde, who had limped
out onto the porch. Elwyn was a prime example of an evolutionary
dead end: a fifty-year-old lump bundled in flannel, and doomed to
eternal bachelorhood. "They're not hurtin' nothin'. They're just
watchin' after my deer."
"Elwyn, I got news for you. You killed this poor creature on my
property. So she's mine."
"What you gonna do with a deer? Blasted vegetarian!"
Claire cut in: "How's the foot, Elwyn?"
He looked it Claire and blinked, as though surprised to see her. "I
tripped," he said. "No big deal."
"A bullet wound is always a big deal. May I take a look at
"Can't pay you..." He paused, one scraggly eyebrow lifting as a sly
thought occurred. "'Less you want some venison."
"I just want to make sure you're not bleeding to death. We can
settle up some other time. Can I look at your foot?"
"If you really want to," he said, and limped back into the
"This should be a treat," said Rachel.
It was warm inside the kitchen. Rachel threw a birch log into the
wood stove, and sweet smoke puffed out as she dropped the cast iron
lid back in place.
"Let's see the foot," said Claire.
Elwyn hobbled over to a chair, leaving smears of blood on the
floor. He had his sock on, and there was it jagged hole at the top,
near the big toe, as though a rat had chewed through the wool.
"Hardly bothering me," he said. "Not worth all this fuss, if you
Claire knelt clown and peeled off the sock. It came away slowly,
the wool matted to his foot not by blood but by sweat and dead
"Oh God," said Rachel, cupping her hand over her nose. "Don't you
ever change your socks, Elwyn?"
The bullet had passed through the fleshy web between the first and
second toe. Claire found the exit wound underneath the foot. There
was only a little blood oozing out now. Trying not to gag on the
smell, she tested movement of all the toes, and determined that no
nerves had been damaged.
"You'll have to clean it and change the bandages every day," she
said. "And you need a tetanus shot, Elwyn."
"Oh, I got one of them already."
"Last year, from ol' Doc Pomeroy After I shot myself."
"Is this an annual event?"
"That one went through my other foot. 'Tweren't a big deal."
Dr. Pomeroy had died back in January, and Claire had acquired all
his old medical records when she'd bought the practice from his
estate eight months ago. She could check Elwyn's file and confirm
the date of his last tetanus shot.
"I guess it's up to me to clean that foot," said Rachel.
Claire took out a small bottle of Betadine from her medical bag and
handed it to her. "Add that to a warm bucket of water. Let him soak
in it for a while."
"Oh, I can do that myself," said Elwyn, and got up.
"Then we might as well just amputate right now!" snapped Rachel.
"Sit down, Elwyn."
"Gee," he said, and sat down.
Claire left a few packets of bandages and gauze wrappings on the
table. "Elwyn, you come into my office next week, so I can check
"But I got too much to do --"
"If you don't come in, I'll have to hunt you down like a
He blinked at her in surprise. "Yes, ma'am," he said meekly.
Suppressing a smile, Claire picked up her medical bag and walked
out of the house.
The two dogs were in the front yard again, fighting over a filthy
bone. As Claire came down the steps, they both spun around to stare
The black one trotted forward and growled.
"Shoo," Claire said, but the dog refused to back down. It took
another few steps forward, teeth bared.
The tan dog, spotting opportunity, snatched the bone in its teeth
and began dragging away the prize. It got halfway across the yard
before the black dog suddenly noticed the thief and streaked back
into the fight. Yelping and growling, they thrashed around the yard
in a tangle of black and tan. The bone lay, forgotten, beside
Claire's pickup truck.
She opened the door and was just sliding in behind the steering
wheel when the image registered in her brain. She looked down at
the ground, at the bone.
It was less than a foot long, and stained a rusty brown with dirt.
One end had broken off, leaving jagged splinters. The other end was
intact, the bony landmarks recognizable.
It was a femur. And it was human.
Ten miles out of town, Tranquility Police Chief Lincoln Kelly
finally caught up with his wife.
She was doing about fifty in a stolen Chevy, weaving left and
right, the loose tailpipe kicking up sparks every time she hit a
dip in the road.
"Man oh man," said Floyd Spear, sitting beside Lincoln in the
cruiser. "Doreen got her snookerful today."
"I've been on the road all morning," said Lincoln. "Didn't get a
chance to check up on her." He turned on the siren, hoping that
would induce Doreen to slow down. She sped up.
"Now what?" asked Floyd. "Want me to call for backup?"
Backup meant Hank Dorr, the only other officer on patrol duty that
"No," said Lincoln. "Let's see if we can't talk her into pulling
"At sixty miles an hour?"
"Get on the bullhorn."
Floyd picked up the mike and his voice boomed out over the speaker:
"Hey, Doreen, pull over! C'mon, Sweetheart, you're gonna hurt
The Chevy just kept dipping and weaving.
"We could wait till she runs out of gas," Floyd suggested.
"Keep talking to her."
Floyd tried the mike again. "Doreen, Lincoln's here! C'mon,
Sweetheart, pull over! He wants ta 'pologize!
"I want to what?"
"Pull over, Doreen, and he'll tell you himself!"
"What in hell are you talking about?" said Lincoln.
"Women always expect a man to apologize."
"But I didn't do anything!"
Up ahead, the Chevy's brake lights suddenly lit up.
"See?" said Floyd as the Chevy rolled to a stop at the side of the
Lincoln pulled up behind it and climbed out of the cruiser.
Doreen sat hunched behind the steering wheel, her red hair wild and
tangled, her hands shaking. Lincoln opened the door, reached over
his wife's lap, and removed the car keys. "Doreen," he said
wearily, "you gotta come back to the station."
"When are you coming home, Lincoln?" she asked.
"We'll talk about that later. Come on, Honey, let's get in the
cruiser." He reached for her elbow but she shook him off and
slapped his hand for good measure.
"I just want to know when you're coming home," she said.
"We've talked about this and talked about this."
"You're still married to me. You're still my husband."
"And there's just no point in talking about it any more." Again he
took her elbow. He already had her out of the Chevy when she hauled
off and slugged him in the jaw. He staggered back a few steps, his
whole head ringing.
"Hey!" said Floyd, grabbing Doreen's arms. "Hey now, you don't
wanna go doing that!"
"Lemme go!" screeched Doreen. She broke out of Floyd's grasp and
took another swing at her husband.
This time Lincoln ducked, which only made his wife madder. She got
in one more swing before Lincoln and Floyd managed to get her arms
"I hate to do this," said Lincoln. "But you're just not being
reasonable today." He snapped the handcuffs on her wrists. She spat
at him. He wiped his sleeve across his face, then patiently guided
his wife into the backseat of the cruiser.
"Oh man," said Floyd. "You know we're gonna have to book
"I know." Lincoln sighed and slid in behind the wheel.
"You can't divorce me, Lincoln Kelly!" said Doreen. "You promised
to love and cherish!"
"I didn't know about the bottle," said Lincoln, and he turned the
They drove at a leisurely speed toward town, Doreen cussing a
purple streak the whole time. It was the drinking that did it; it
seemed to pop the cork off her bottle of demons.
Two years ago, Lincoln had moved out of their house. He figured
he'd given the marriage his best effort and ten years of his life.
He wasn't by nature a quitter, but the despair had finally gotten
to him. That and the sense that, at forty-five, his life was racing
by, joyless and unfruitful. He wished he could do right by Doreen,
wished that he could recapture some of that old affection he'd felt
for her early on in their marriage, when she'd been bright and
sober, not bubbling over with anger as she was now. Sometimes he'd
search his own heart for whatever trace of love might still linger,
some small spark among the ashes, but there was nothing left. The
ashes were cold. And he was tired.
He had tried to stand by her, but Doreen couldn't even see clear to
help herself. Every few months, when her rage boiled up, she'd
spend the day drinking. Then she'd "borrow" someone's car and go
for one of her famous high-speed drives. People in town knew to
stay off the roads when Doreen Kelly got behind the wheel.
Back at the Tranquility police station, Lincoln let Floyd do the
booking and locking up. Through the two closed doors leading to the
cell, he could hear Doreen yelling for a lawyer. He supposed he
should call one for her, though no one in Tranquility wanted to
take her on. Even down south as far as Bangor, she'd worn out her
welcomes. He sat at his desk, flipping through the Rolodex,
trolling for a lawyer's name. Someone he hadn't called in a while.
Someone who didn't mind being cussed out by a client.
It was all too much, too early in the morning. He shoved away the
Rolodex and ran his hand through his hair. Doreen was still yelling
in the back room. This would all be reported in that nosy Gazette,
and then the Bangor and Portland papers would pick it up because
the whole damn state of Maine thought it was funny and so very
quaint. Tranquility police chief arrests own wife. Again.
He reached for the telephone and was dialing the number for Tom
Wiley, attorney at law, when he heard a knock at his door. Glancing
up, he saw Claire Elliot walk into his office, and he hung
"Hey, Claire," he said. "Got your safety sticker yet?"
"I'm still working on it. But I'm not here about my car. I want to
show you something." She set a dirty bone down on his desk.
"It's a femur, Lincoln."
"A thigh bone. I think it's human."
He stared at the dirt-encrusted bone. One end was splintered off,
and the shaft showed the gnawings of animal teeth. "Where did you
"Rachel Sorkin's place."
"How did Rachel get it?"
"Elwyn Clyde's dogs dragged it into her yard. She doesn't know
where it came from. I was over there this morning, after Elwyn shot
himself in the foot."
"Again?" He rolled his eyes and they both laughed. If every village
had an idiot, then Tranquility's would be Elwyn.
"He's okay," she said. "But I guess a gunshot wound should be
"Consider it done. I already have a folder for Elwyn and his
gunshot wounds." He gestured to a chair. "Now tell me about this
bone. Are you sure it's human?"
She sat down. Though they were looking directly at each other, he
felt a barrier of reserve between them that was almost physical. He
had sensed it the first time they'd met, soon after she'd moved to
town, when she had attended to a prisoner suffering from abdominal
pain in Tranquility's three-cell jail. Lincoln had been curious
about her from the start. Where was her husband? Why was she alone
raising her son? But he had not felt comfortable asking her
personal questions, and she did not seem to invite such intrusion.
Pleasant but intensely private, she seemed reluctant to let anyone
get too close to her, which was a shame. She was a pretty woman,
short but sturdy, with luminous dark eyes and a mass of curly brown
hair just starting to show the first strands of silver.
She leaned forward, her hands resting on his desk. "I'm not an
expert or anything," she said, "but I don't know what other animal
this bone could come from. Judging by the size, it looks like a
"Did you see any other bones around?"
Rachel and I searched the yard, but we didn't find any. The dogs
could've picked this up anywhere in the woods. You'll have to
search the whole area."
"Could be from an old Indian burial."
"Possibly. But doesn't it still have to go to the medical
examiner?" Suddenly she turned, her head cocked. "What's all that
Lincoln flushed. Doreen was shouting in her cell again, letting fly
a fresh torrent of abuse. "Damn you, Lincoln! You jerk! You liar!
Damn you to hell!"
"It sounds like somebody doesn't like you very much," said
He sighed and pressed his hand to his forehead. "My wife."
Claire's gaze softened to a look of sympathy. It was apparent she
knew about his problems. Everyone in town did.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"Hey, loser!" Doreen yelled. "You got no right to treat me like
With deliberate effort, he redirected his attention to the thigh
bone. "How old was the victim, do you think?"
She picked up the femur and turned it over in her hands. For a
moment she held it with quiet reverence, fully aware that this
broken length of bone had once supported a laughing, running child.
"Young," she murmured. "I would guess under ten years old." She lay
it on the desk and stared down in silence.
"We haven't had any missing children reported recently," he said.
"The area's been settled for hundreds of years, and old bones are
always turning up. A century ago, it wasn't all that unusual to die
She was frowning. "I don't think this child died from natural
causes," she said softly.
"Why do you say that?"
She reached over to turn on his desk lamp, and held the bone close
to the light. "There," she said. "It's so crusted over, you can
barely see it through the dirt."
He reached in his pocket for his glasses -- another reminder of the
years' passage, of his youth slipping away. Bending closer, he
tried to see what she was pointing at. Only when she'd scraped away
a clot of dirt with her fingernail did he see the wedge-shaped
It was the mark of a hatchet.
Excerpted from BLOODSTREAM © Copyright 1998 by Tess
Gerritsen. Reprinted with permission by Pocket Books. All rights