When she saw the glint of the revolver barrel through the broken glass in the window, Hadley Knox thought, I’m going to die for sixteen bucks an hour. Sixteen bucks an hour, medical, and dental. She dove behind her squad car as the thing went off, a monstrous thunderclap that rolled on and on across green-gold fields of hay. The bullet smacked into the maple tree she had parked under with a meaty thud, showering her in wet, raw splinters.
She could smell the stink of her own fear, a mixture of sweat trapped beneath her uniform and the bitter edge of cordite floating across the farmhouse yard.
The man shooting at her turned away from the porch-shaded window and yelled something to someone screaming inside. Hadley wrenched the cruiser door open, banging the edge into the tree. She grabbed for the mic. “Dispatch! Harlene? This bastard’s shooting at me!” Some part of her knew that wasn’t the right way to report an officer under fire, but she didn’t care. If she lived to walk away from this, she was turning in her badge and her gun and going to work at the Dairy Queen.
The radio crackled. “Hadley? Is your eighty still the Christie place?”
She could barely hear the dispatcher over the shouting and swearing from the farmhouse. She thought she made out two masculine voices. “Yes,” she yelled, getting a squeal of feedback from the mic. She tried again, forcing herself to speak in something like a normal tone. “He’s got a .357 Magnum.” She had recognized the sidearm. Hot damn. “There may be more than one of them. Men, I mean. Not guns. Although there may be more guns.” She could hear herself, close to hysteria. “For God’s sake, send help!”
There was a pause. The hell with this, she thought. The hell with it. I’ve got two kids at home who need me. As if invoking Hudson and Genny cleared her head, she suddenly realized the highest-pitched shrieking wasn’t coming from a woman. Oh, my God. Oh, shit. She squeezed the mic again. “Dispatch, it’s not just the sister and the caseworker. The kids are in there, too.”
This time, Harlene’s reply was instant. “We’ve got cars on the way and the state sharpshooter team is scrambling. See if you can keep him talking until backup gets there.”
Hadley stared at the mic. “Keep him talking? About what? Jesus H. Christ, I’m not a negotiator! I haven’t even finished the Police Basic course yet!”
“You talked to angry guys in prison, didn’t you? Think of something. Dispatch out.”
Talk to angry cons? Hell, yeah. The difference was, they were behind bars, weaponless, powerless, while she walked around free, armed with baton and taser. Cons didn’t shoot at you from a house full of hostages.
The kids were screeching, a woman sobbing, the man swearing. Think of something. Think of something. Hadley slithered out of the squad car and crouched behind the open door. She raised herself up until she could see out the window. “Hey!” she yelled. “Hey! You!”
The end of the .357 Magnum swung out of the farmhouse window, knocking a few more shards of glass onto the front porch. Goddamn, that thing looked as big as a cannon. She inhaled. The July sun beat down on the dirt drive, throwing up waves of heat. It was like breathing in an oven. “How ’bout you let me take those kids off your hands?”
“How ’bout you come up here and --- ” He launched into a graphic description of what he wanted her to do for him and what he was going to do to her. She hoped to God the children didn’t understand.
“Let the kids go and we can talk about it,” she shouted. “You want money? You want a ride outa here?”
“I want what’s mine!” the shadowy figure with the gun yelled. “It’s got nothing to do with you, bitch. Leave me alone and nobody will get hurt!” Something from the interior of the house caught his attention. He swiveled around. Yelled something she couldn’t make out. Then the gun went off again.
Hadley was up and moving without thinking, running toward the house, her Glock 9 mm awkward and slippery in her hand. If she had any plan at all, it was to get past the end of the porch to the corner of the house, where he couldn’t see her without opening a window and leaning out. He turned back toward her. She could see the outlines of his face now, his eyes glittering in the dimness of the front room. He brought up the .357. She heard the breath sawing in and out of her chest, the howling of women and children, the susurration of tires on dirt and gravel, and she knew she wasn’t going to make the shelter of the house in time.
Oh God oh God oh God oh God --- she heard the shot, higher and keener than the last two, and dove toward the hewn stone foundation, rolling hard into its cool dampness. The blow stunned her, numbed her, and she beat against herself with one hand while trying to raise her gun to a defensive position with the other, all the while wondering, Where is it? Where am I hit?
Then her head steadied and she looked back across the dooryard. A big red pickup straddled the drive --- defensively sideways, not head-on like her cruiser. Russ Van Alstyne, the Millers Kill chief of police, had his arms braced on the hood of the truck, his Glock .40 tight in a two-handed grip, pointing at the porch. The gun, she realized, that she had just heard discharging.
“You okay, Knox?” Van Alstyne didn’t take his eyes off the window.
“Yeah.” She struggled to sit up. “I mean, yes, sir.”
“Stay right there. Don’t move.” She glanced up. Some four or five feet above her, a closed window reflected the maple facing it. Hadley squeezed against the edge of the house, drawing her knees in close, doing her best to disappear.
“You shoot one more time and I swear I’ll cap one of ’em here,” the man screamed. “I’ll blow one of these bitches’ heads off!”
The chief raised one hand, showing it was empty, and carefully placed his sidearm on the hood of the truck with the other. Hadley heard the crunch of more tires. Another squad car pulled in, flanking the chief’s. The door popped open on the far side. She caught the glint of bright red hair and then a bristle brush of gray. Kevin Flynn and Deputy Chief MacAuley. MacAuley and the chief had a short and inaudible conversation.
“What’s going on?” the gunman demanded.
The chief had a way of making his voice big without yelling. “My deputy here says the state SWAT team is on the way. They’re not interested in talking to you. But I am.”
“Screw you!” the man yelled. His voice, so near, made Hadley’s skin crawl.
“C’mon, man, talk to me.” The chief sounded like he was about to buy the shooter a beer. “Whaddaya gonna do, shoot one of them? Shoot one of us? They’ll send you up to Clinton, life with no chance of parole. For what? Is one of those bitches worth the rest of your life?”
Hadley felt the shock of the chief’s words sizzle up her spine. Was this the same guy who said “Excuse me” when he accidentally swore within her earshot?
“C’mon,” the chief went on. “You put your gun down, I put my gun down, we’ll call it drunk and disorderly. You’ll get thirty days on the county, watching cable TV and sitting in air-conditioned comfort.”
“I don’t want no trouble,” the man yelled. “Me and my brothers just want what’s ours. You hear?” his voice shifted, as if he had turned away from the window and shouted to the people inside. “Yeah, I’m talking to you, girlie! You been holding out on me?”
In the drive, Flynn and MacAuley had taken up positions ranged to either side of the chief. Van Alstyne pointed at Hadley, then toward the back of the house, then at his eyes. See what’s around in back. She nodded. She rolled belly down on the ground and crawled knees-and-elbows toward the rear of the house. It reminded her of the funny salamander-style crawling Hudson had used when he was a baby, except he hadn’t been saddled with a bulky belt and an increasingly heavy gun.
The chief was going on about the weather and the heat, and --- Jesus Christ! --- he actually offered the guy a cold one. Hadley crawled out from beneath the maple’s shade, the sunlight pressing on her back like a hot iron taking the wrinkles out of her blouse. She paused at the corner of the building, wrestled her gun into a half-assed shooting position, and peeked around the side.
Peeling white clapboards. A wheezing air-conditioning unit dripping water on the ground. Five steps leading up to a narrow roofed porch. A rusty wheel supporting a clothesline bolted next to the back door...the back door that was half open to the room inside.
“Hel-lo, momma,” she whispered. If the chief could keep the guy in the front room distracted, she could sneak in and try to get the kids out. There wasn’t much cover --- the land sloped away from the house, the clothesline running maybe fifty yards over open grass until it connected with a lone birch tree. But if she could get them down the porch steps and around the corner, she could keep them against the foundation, out of the line of fire.
She crawled forward, one foot, two, then raised herself up to get a better view of the door.
Hadley was staring into the eyes of a dead woman. She was half in, half out of the doorway, mouth still open from her last word, her blood soaked into her shirt and puddling beneath a plastic laundry basket filled with towels.
Oh, my God.
Hadley collapsed back onto the ground, squeezing her eyes shut like a kid hiding from the boogeyman. She swallowed, dry-mouthed, against her rising gorge. I’m not going to throw up, she thought. I’m not going to throw up. With her eyes closed, she noticed the things she should have earlier: the bright copper tang of blood, the nose-wrinkling suggestion of human waste, the buzzing of full-bellied flies.
She could hear the timbre of Van Alstyne’s voice floating on the heat-saturated air. I have to let the chief know about this. Of course, to do that she was going to have to move, which she didn’t want to do, not now, not maybe ever. She didn’t want to deal with yet another dead person. What was this? The fourth? Fifth?
With that, she had another realization. The chief’s promise of thirty days in the county jail --- a lie to begin with, since the guy had shot at a cop, for God’s sake --- wasn’t going to seduce this man. He wasn’t going to give himself up. He was already headed for Clinton. He had nothing to lose.
Hadley reversed herself, staying as low to the ground as she could, then belly-crawled back around the side of the house. The chief was focused on the man with the gun, who was ranting about getting ripped off and not being able to trust anyone. Hadley ignored him. She stuck her hand up in the air to get someone’s attention. The chief’s eyes never wavered from the window where the shooter was hunkered down, but behind the squad car’s tail, Kevin Flynn poked his head up and nodded once. He had been the MKPD’s least experienced officer before she was sworn in, and his persistent attempts to be helpful and friendly didn’t lessen the gall of playing catch-up with a guy eight years her junior. She hoped he was good at charades --- there was no way she could use her radio this close to the house --- as she laid her gun on the grass next to her.
First she jerked her thumb toward the rear of the farmhouse: back there. She used two hands to make the universal feminine shape, out, in, out: a woman. She drew a finger across her throat: dead. She held one hand like a pistol and “shot” herself in the chest.
Flynn shook his head as if to clear it, then nodded again. His red hair disappeared, to pop up again moments later, behind the chief. The chief heard whatever it was Flynn said to him. His eyes narrowed and his skin seemed to stretch across his cheekbones. He murmured something to Flynn, who slid into one of the cruisers and grabbed a mic.
“What’s going on?” the shooter asked. “What’s he doing on the radio?”
“I just told him to ask the state troopers to stay back a ways.” Van Alstyne held up one hand. “I want you and me to have the time we need to talk our way out of this thing. Can’t do that with a bunch of staties with guns hanging around.”
More likely Flynn was telling the SWAT team to detour its sharpshooters farther along the road leading to the Christies’ half-mile drive. If they went the long way around and stuck to a narrow approach through the sheep pasture, they could make it to the barn without being seen. Once inside, they would have an ideal vantage point through the haymow and upper windows.
The same idea seemed to occur to the gunman. “You tell those bastards to stay away from us,” he shouted. “Anybody tries to mess with us, they gotta go through one of these kids to do it.” Within the house, a woman cried out. Hadley didn’t realize the man had left his defensive position at the front window until the chief shouted, “Knox! What’s he doing in there?”
She scrambled to her feet and peered into the window she had been crouched beneath. She got a beautiful view of the front hallway and the stairs. Useless. She covered the eight feet to the next window in two long strides. The sill was just low enough for her to see into a room in chaos, children scattering, a teenager clutching an infant, a woman struggling with the man as he yanked a little boy off his feet.
“He’s holding a kid,” Hadley yelled. “He’s --- oh, shit, no!” She watched, helpless, as the man clubbed the woman in the face with the butt of his gun. The woman dropped to the floor.
“Are there other shooters?” the chief yelled.
“I can’t tell!” she screamed. “Maybe in the front --- ”
The man holding the squirming child turned toward the window, aiming the revolver at Hadley. She ducked and covered just in time. The window shattered. Shards of glass sliced into her hands, stabbed the back of her uniform, caught in her hair.
The chief was yelling for her and Flynn to get to the back door. She heard the muffled thud of footsteps against grass and then Flynn was beside her. He tossed her a Kevlar vest identical to the one he was wearing. She caught it, rose, and took off for the rear of the house, glass tinkling as it flew off her like water off a shaggy dog. She struggled into the vest as Flynn rounded the corner, taking the steps up to the porch in two bounds. He went high, holding the door open, while she crouched low, stepping over the body of the murdered woman --- I’m sorry, ma’am, so sorry --- shouting, “Police! Put your weapons down!” to the empty kitchen. She moved aside for Flynn to pass through and almost fired when a straggly boy appeared in the doorway. “Porsche!” he bawled. From unseen rooms beyond she heard Van Alstyne bellowing, a girl shrieking, and then, Holy God, the sound of gunfire, one, two shots and the .357 Magnum going off.
“Get in here!” Hadley shouted at the boy, as one gun and then another gun fired, and fired, and fired, too many shots, way too many. She and Flynn pushed past him into the doorway, low, high, her heart beating so fast she thought she was going to die.
She thought she was going to die.
The teenager screamed, yanking one of the kids out of the way. They rounded the big table dominating the space and approached the front room. Through the doorway, Hadley could see the other woman, out on the floor, bleeding from a vicious cut in her forehead. Beside her, the gunman was sprawled half on and half off a sofa, his eyes staring unseeing at the ceiling, his chest a bloody mess. A second man slumped in the far doorway, folded over like a stringless marionette.
Hadley thought she might collapse on the spot from relief. Instead, she and Flynn fanned into the room. She froze. Flynn let out a keening sound like a banshee. Omen of death. There was another body crumpled on the wooden floor.
Russ Van Alstyne.
Lyle MacAuley looked up from where he knelt beside the chief. “Call nine-one-one,” he snapped at Flynn. He looked at Hadley. “Get me something I can use for compresses.” His voice was as sharp-edged as ever. She and Flynn stumbled into the kitchen, where Flynn whirled and ran out the door, while Hadley stood stupidly, thinking, Compresses? Then she remembered the basket of laundry. She stepped over the dead woman, dug into the basket, and emerged with two bath towels.
She dashed back to the front room, holding out the towels. MacAuley snatched them out of her hands. While he folded them into thick pads, she looked down at the chief.
“Oh, Jesus,” she said.
“Shut up!” MacAuley nodded toward the dining room. “Get these civilians out of here.”
Hadley turned around. The door between the two rooms was crowded with crying kids. The teenager with the infant stood weeping --- the scraggly boy’s Porsche, she supposed --- rocking the red-faced baby back and forth while it screamed. Best to start with her. Hadley stepped through the doorway, forcing the girl to retreat.
“Porsche? Are you Porsche?”
The girl nodded, openmouthed with crying.
“Is this your baby? What’s her name?”
The girl gasped. “Amari.” Her voice was wet and shaking.
“Why don’t you let me hold Amari for a sec while you catch your breath.” Hadley scooped up the baby and ran her pinkie knuckle over its toothless gums. The baby stopped wailing, a startled look on its face. Then it clamped around Hadley’s knuckle and began sucking with a vengeance. An old ploy, but it still worked. “Porsche.” Hadley moved her face so she blocked the girl’s line of sight. “Let’s get these little ones out of here. They don’t need to see this anymore.”
“The ambulance is on the way. The best thing you can do for her is help calm the children down.”
The girl nodded. Wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Let Hadley slide the baby back in her arms. The girl copied her pinkie-nursing trick. “C’mon, everybody,” she said, in a fake-calm voice that Hadley herself used when she was trying to keep it together in front of her kids. “We’re going outside.” She stepped into the kitchen, saw what was blocking the door, and whirled around. “No, Aston! Not that way! Out the front hall.”
Hadley helped steer the kids toward the mercifully blood-free front hall. The little boy she had seen in the kitchen stopped beside the door to the front room, his eyes fixed on the unconscious woman. He looked up at Hadley. “Is Izzy gonna die, too?”
Hadley scooped him up in her arms. “An ambulance is coming to help her, sweetie. She’ll have to go to the hospital, but she’ll be fine.” She prayed she wasn’t lying. She took the last child’s hand and followed Porsche out the front door and across the drive, to where a small grove of large maples cast a deep shade over the grass.
Kevin emerged from one of the squad cars. “Ambulances coming.” He headed for the house. “Harlene called them in before we got here. Support team from emergency services and Children and Family, too.”
Hadley shot a glance at the traumatized family, then followed Kevin.
Without the crying children, the farmhouse sank into the deep dreaming silence of a hot July afternoon. The only sounds were the clunk and rattle of cubes falling from the icemaker and a hoarse, wet churning as Russ Van Alstyne tried to breathe. MacAuley had folded one towel around the wound in the chief’s thigh and cinched it tight with his belt. As Hadley watched, a pulse of blood appeared on its white surface. MacAuley pressed the other towel, already sodden, against the chief’s chest. Flynn was dragging cushions off the couch, wedging them beneath the unconscious woman’s legs, getting more blood flow to her injured head. Hadley scooped some ice cubes out of the freezer, knotted them into a dishrag, and laid the improvised ice bag over the woman’s eyes and nose. None of them said anything, as if a single word would break open their pretense at composure.
A wracking, phlegmy sound split the silence.
“Can’t... breathe.” The chief’s voice was a whisper. Flynn nearly tripped over himself getting to Van Alstyne’s side.
“I think you’ve punctured a lung,” MacAuley said. “The EMTs will set you to rights. Listen.” Far away, a faint siren sounded. “They’re almost here.”
The chief inhaled. It was liquid, choking, horribly wrong. Hadley looked down. The towel around his thigh was crimson. Almost here, she realized, would not be fast enough.
“Lyle... tell Clare... ” --- the chief breathed in again --- “tell her....”
“You can tell her yourself when you see her.”
Hadley’s stomach turned. She looked at Flynn. Tears smeared his sunburned cheeks. Without thinking, she reached over and grabbed his hand. The siren was louder now.
“Russ?” MacAuley sounded panicked, which was almost as scary as the chief’s struggle to breathe. “Don’t you die on me, Russ!”
The sucking, gurgling sound was louder, accompanied by a hiss, as if Russ Van Alstyne’s air was pumping out of him along with his life’s blood.
“Clare,” he said. And then there was silence.
Hadley pulled into the parking lot across the street from the church with a sense of relief she hadn’t felt since she delivered Geneva. Maybe more. Three and a half days on the road with two kids under ten easily matched twenty-plus hours of labor in the awfulness sweepstakes.
She twisted around to check the backseat. Genny was asleep, her booster seat almost lost in a litter of stuffed animals, crayons, water bottles, and picture books. Hudson looked up from his Game Boy, his face pinched and tired. “Where are we, Mom?”
His eyes widened, giving him the appearance of a starving orphan. She kept stuffing food into him, but his jittery energy seemed to burn it all off before he could put any meat on his bones. The climate here was going to be hard on him.
“I don’t have a key to get in. We’re here sooner than I thought, so Grampy’s going to be surprised. C’mon, pull on your sweater and let’s go say hi.” He looked doubtfully at his sister. “Are we gonna wake Genny up?” Hadley unbuckled herself and twisted around to get a better look at her six-year-old. Out like the proverbial lightbulb. In LA, she wouldn’t have even considered it --- she never would have left one of the kids in the car. Here...she glanced at the ice-rimmed snowbanks framing the parking lot, the lead-colored
“They’re an inch open. Stop complaining.” She leaned over the seat and shook Geneva gently. “Wake up, baby girl.” Considered, as she wrestled her groggy daughter into her sweater, how much time and effort she took, every day, to avoid saying We can’t afford that. The bag of toys and books from Goodwill. The Styrofoam box of sandwich fixings and no-name sodas. The tote filled with books on CD --- which she had to mail back to the Glendale Public Library. All so that when she heard Can we go to Toys ’R’ Us? Can I get a book? Can we stop at McDonalds? Can we rent a DVD player? she had a plausible answer. Something that wasn’t we can’t afford it.
For a moment, the outside didn’t feel too cold. Then, as she waited for Hudson to finish saving his game, she could feel it against her bare skin and her hair, seeping in through her jeans and her sweater. She wondered if the frog-boiling analogy worked the other way. If you started out at normal temperature and it gradually got colder and colder, would you even notice when you froze to death? She shivered. This was where she had brought her children to, this cold place her own mother had abandoned at eighteen, never to return. Now she was doing the opposite, turning her back on the world and everyone who knew her.
Hudson spilled out of his door. Finally. “Close it!” she reminded him, then lifted Genny onto her hip. She hustled them across the street toward the church. Hadley had at least one parka stored in Granddad’s house that would still fit her, but the last time the kids had visited in the winter they had been one and four. She would have to get them coats. Hats. Gloves. Boots. She hoped there was a Goodwill around here somewhere.
The interior of St. Alban’s was marginally warmer than the outside. She had been here before, of course, over the ten years Granddad had been its caretaker, but the richness of the place, the stone pillars and the wood carvings and the elaborate stained-glass windows, always gave her goose bumps. Like walking into the Middle Ages.
Hadley choked back a screech of surprise. Beneath a window where stained-glass children were forever led toward the Throne of God, a woman emerged out of shadow and stone. Black shirt. Black skirt. It took a second before Hadley realized she wasn’t wearing a turtleneck but a white clerical collar.
“I’m Clare Fergusson.” She moved close enough for Hadley to make out her face, cheekbones, chin, and nose, all points and angles. “I’m the rector here at St. Alban’s.” She smiled a welcome, but there was a bone-deep sadness about her that the smile couldn’t dissipate.
Reverend Fergusson’s smile tried to brighten. “You must be Hadley Knox. Mr. Hadley’s been talking about your visit for two weeks now.” She glanced toward the church door. “Um, if you’re looking for him, I’m afraid he ran out to grab lunch and go to the hardware store. He’ll be another hour, I’m guessing.”
Reverend Fergusson looked at her. Then at the children. “You’ve been traveling a long way.” It wasn’t a question. “How ’bout you come with me. You can wait for your grandfather in the Sunday school room. We’ve got a comfy sofa and some squishy chairs --- and,” she said to Hudson, “a TV with a VCR.”
It did Hadley’s heart good to see her son’s tentative smile. Divorce, disruption, relocation --- these past months had been brutally hard on her little boy. She followed him down the stairs to the undercroft, watching him stick close to the rector.
The Reverend Fergusson’s whole body sagged as she plodded down the dimly lit hall. “I’m so ashamed,” she said. Hudson giggled again. “And here we are.” She opened a door. She switched on the light to reveal a room that had been made as cheerful as a windowless fluorescent-lit space could be. Hudson ran to check out the low bookcase filled with toys, and even Genny wiggled out of her mother’s arms to explore the play kitchen set in the corner.
Reverend Fergusson rolled the television, on its stand, away from the wall and plugged it in. “We don’t get any reception down here, so it’s already set to play videos,” she explained. “You just turn it on and press the play button.” She straightened. Looked at Hadley again, the same way she had upstairs, as if she could see beneath her skin. “What can I do for you?” she said, half asking, half musing to herself.
The answer popped out before Hadley could help it. “Tell me where I can get a job around here.” She wanted to call it back as soon as she had said it. The rector had meant something like Can I show you the bathroom or Can I get you a drink of water. Acting the hostess. Cripes, she thought Hadley was here for a visit with Granddad, not to repackage her life.
Reverend Fergusson, who probably had degrees up the wazoo, didn’t blink. “There’s a lot of seasonal work come summer. Agricultural work, construction. All the places in Lake George hire waitresses and chambermaids. But right now?” She frowned. “Shape’s not hiring. The Reid-Gruyn mill is letting people go, now they’ve been bought out. Let me ask around and see if anyone I know has a position open. What did you do in...where are you from again?”
Hadley thought for a moment before answering. “I wanted to be when I first went to California. I discovered when I got out there that gorgeous girls are literally a dime a dozen.” There wasn’t any bitterness in her tone anymore. It had been so long ago, it seemed as if those days were something she had seen in a movie rather than something she had lived. “The past few years I worked for a company that took inventories, I waited tables, stuff like that. Before that, I worked for the state department of corrections.”
The reverend’s eyebrows shot up. “Well.” Her mouth stretched, as if she was smiling about something not very funny. “I know one place in town that has an opening. One of their officers has left for the state police in Latham. The police department’s hiring.”
Clare sat mesmerized by the falling snow. With her sermon outline cooling on the desk in front of her, she watched the flakes float past the diamond-paned window, each one a spot of brilliance against the soot-gray sky. Flick. Flick. Flick. She had been like this all morning. Unable to focus on her tasks. Unable to care about them --- or about much of anything.
Mr. Hadley stuck his head in the door, bringing with him the odor of furniture polish and cigarette smoke. “Mornin’, Father.” His usual address for her. She figured he thought of it as a gender-neutral honorific --- like Captain, her other newly resumed title. “Thanks fer takin’ care of my granddaughter yesterday.” Mr. Hadley’s North Country accent made the word come out yestiddy.
“ ’Tain’t really her home, though mebbe it comes as close as never no mind. My daughter, God love her, dragged the girl all over the country. Never was able to settle, my Sarah. The only place Honey ever came to twice was here. Sarah
Clare looked at her hearth, the best thing about her mid-nineteenth-century office. On cold winter days, she could warm herself in front of its brick and iron surround. Now it lay dark and ashy. There was a metaphor there for her life, but she was too flat to pursue it. “I don’t think so, Mr. Hadley. I’m leaving for an ecumenical lunch in Saratoga soon.”
“ ’Kay. I’ll stock your wood up some, though. S’posed to be colder’n a Norwegian well digger’s you-know-what the rest of this week.” He withdrew, leaving the scent of lemon and tobacco to mark his passing. She heard him addressing someone in the hall --- “ ’Lo, Father” --- and was therefore unsurprised when her lunch date appeared in her doorway a half hour early, tall and gaunt and hunched forward like a fastidious vulture.
“I’m sorry. Were we doing a session today?” The diocesan deacon had fallen into the role of her counselor and confessor. It was not a comfortable relationship. Their talks were like scalding showers: cleansing but painful.
He let her tug her hand free. “Good enough, hmm?” He lowered his towering frame into one of the two admiral’s chairs fronting the empty fireplace. “I suppose it’s always a relief to know one isn’t about to be dragged off and tried for manslaughter.” Willard Aberforth was nothing if not blunt.
Upon hearing evidence in the matter of the death of Aaron MacEntyre, the grand jury has declined to indict. Therefore, in accordance with the Medical Examiner’s testimony, the state of New York rules your participation in the events leading to said death is consistent with self-defense as defined in N.Y.S.C Sec. II, p. 1–12.
“You were justified, girl. I know it and the bishop knows it and the state of New York in its magisterial wisdom knows it. Let it go. You saved three lives. Perhaps more.” He paused. “Have you heard anything from this police chief of yours?”
“Then who are you to presume that your errors, your mistakes of judgment, your faults are so grievous that they stymie God Himself? Do you think your ability to sin rises above God’s ability to forgive?”
She turned back to her desk. Gripped the back of her chair again to stop the shaking. Breathed in. Breathed out. Waited until she knew her voice wouldn’t crack. “You’re right. I need to let go of...my sense of complicity in her death. I’ll focus on that.”
“You are a very good priest in many ways. And someday, if your self-awareness approaches half your awareness of others, you might be an extraordinary priest.” He folded his hands. “I do not think that day will be today, however.”
Clare was profoundly grateful the ecumenical luncheon was arranged mixer-style. After the strained ride from Millers Kill --- not eased by the fact Father Aberforth insisted on driving his Isuzu Scout a conservative ten miles below the speed limit all the way to Saratoga --- she didn’t want to deal with any more togetherness with her spiritual advisor for a while. The deacon was seated at the other end of the Holiday Inn’s Burgoyne Room, while Clare was ensconced at a table with a nun, a Lutheran pastor, a UCC minister, and an American Baptist preacher --- all of whom were a good twenty-five to thirty years older than she was. The only other person attending who was close to her age was Father St. Laurent, a devastatingly good-looking Roman Catholic priest who made the RC’s vows of celibacy seem like a crime against the human gene pool. He had glanced at Clare with a sympathetic smile from the middle of his own collection of fossils. Experienced clerics, she corrected herself.
The blessing was given by a rabbi from Clifton Park, and the three men, who all seemed to know one another, fell into a discussion of their grandchildren before Clare had even buttered her roll. The nun rolled her eyes at Clare.
“Really?” Sister Lucia leaned toward Clare, heedless of the silverware in her way. “With a war on? And you say you’re a rector?” The nun’s sharp eyes seemed out of place on her wrinkled face. Clare suspected the sweet-old-thing look was a clever disguise. “Whatever did your bishop say about that?”
“I’ll drink to that.” The nun lifted her water glass and looked at it. She sighed. “That’s the only problem with these ecumenical things. No wine.” She glanced meaningfully at the Baptist preacher before swigging her water. “At any rate, my sympathies to you. I have bishop problems as well, and he’s not even my bishop.”
“Exactly. Over the last century, the order’s mission became focused on the plight of migrant laborers. The motherhouse relocated west during the dustbowl, and the bulk of our work has been in California and Arizona. I’m here as a missioner, the first one in the northeast dairy country.”
“I’d say...that surprises me. I didn’t think this part of New York had the kind of large-scale agriculture that requires importing labor.” She stabbed several green beans, wondering, for the first time, whose hands had picked them.
“It’s dairy farming country,” Lucia said. “Hard, thankless work. Dairymen have to be able to fix machinery, repair barns, bring in crops, deliver calves, and, most demandingly, milk. Corn or soybeans or wheat can wait twenty-four hours for attention, but cows have to be milked, morning and evening, three hundred and sixty-five days a year.”
“I grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont. Last year, I went back to Rutland for a family funeral and discovered my brother’s neighbor had six Guatemalans working for him. That’s when I realized we were needed back East again.”
“I have my superiors’ blessing. I have the Diocese of Albany’s permission. They weren’t too wild about giving it, either.” Lucia gave Clare a dry smile. “Caring for illegal aliens is Christian, but it’s not very convenient. Especially when you have a large conservative element in your diocese that believes everybody without papers ought to be rounded up and sent back to Mexico.”
“We start with basic services, like transportation away from the farms and translators to help them deal with government bureaucracies. Then we act as advocates. Guest workers don’t have the right to disability or unemployment insurance, to overtime, or even to a day of rest. The men who are here without papers won’t seek health care, won’t report safety violations, won’t complain if they get stiffed on their pay, because they’re scared of the authorities. They keep their pay in cash because they don’t have the ID to open bank accounts, and if one of them is the victim of a crime, he won’t go to the police. Some of them live in appalling conditions, in ancient trailers that wouldn’t have passed safety inspections in 1958, eight or nine men sharing a space.”
“No, the problem is, we’re stretched thin up here in the North Country. Small parishes, every priest responsible for two or three of them, donations down... Without the bishop behind me, my tiny little mission’s needs get squashed on the bottom of the pile every time.”
“Absolutely,” Clare said. Sister Lucia demurred, then watched with amusement as Clare emptied packet after packet of sugar into her cup. “I may be able to round up a few bodies for you as well.” Clare reached for her spoon. “We’ve had an uptick in our membership over the past year, younger people --- ” they could hardly be older, since the average age when she arrived at St. Alban’s had been fifty-seven --- “who haven’t found a spot in our current volunteer programs. I think your mission might be just the thing.” Her spoon ting-ting-tinged in the cup as she stirred clockwise, then counterclockwise. “When I started my ministry, I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to get anyone to reach out to the marginalized among us. But I’ve come to believe it’s not that people are unwilling, it’s that they just don’t see them. Look at me. I’ve lived here over two years without knowing about any of these workers.” She looked at the nun confidingly. “I didn’t really want to come to this luncheon. Now I’m so glad I did.”
“You bet,” Clare said. “I’m not sure if it’s a virtue or a flaw, but after thirty-six years, I’ve come to accept it’s who I am.” She took a sip of her coffee and sighed as the heat and sugar and caffeine hit her. “And thank you.”
Sister Lucia patted her hand. “Not meaning to be nosy. It’s just that I’ve found one of the great benefits of the celibate life is fearlessness. Especially for women. You can see what needs to be done and do it, without fear of how it’s going to affect your family or your reputation.” Where she had been patting, she squeezed, hard. “Don’t let anybody convince you it’s a flaw. We need more fearless women following Christ, not less.”
On the way back to Millers Kill, she and Deacon Aberforth had to stop at a Citgo station to gas up. When she went inside to pay --- leaving the deacon muttering about the wasteful extravagance of the tricked-out Hummer taking up almost two spaces at the next pump over --- there were five young Hispanic men getting sodas in the back. Five. Bumping into each other, joking around in Spanish, underdressed for the weather in sneakers and the ripstop jackets she saw kids in her congregation wearing. She shook her head.
Feeling well justified in her decision to aid Sister Lucia, she returned to the deacon’s Scout. “Father Aberforth.” She willed her eyes away from the speedometer as he more or less accelerated up Route 9. “Would you describe me as impetuous or fearless?”
“Father? I’m finished up. Them floral guild folks are still puttin’ up palms for the service tomorrow, so I’m not locking the sanctuary.” Mr. Hadley hovered in the doorway to the church office. Unless he was cleaning, repairing, or tending, Clare never saw him go into the offices. Fair enough. He had his own kingdom in the boiler room and the furnace room and the mysterious Sexton’s Closet.
“Honey’s out on another interview.” Mr. Hadley sounded out of breath. He clapped one meaty hand against his chest. “Sorry,” he said, panting. “Guess I come up those stairs too fast. Anyways, I don’t want them grandbabies of mine comin’ home to an empty house.”
The Reverend Elizabeth de Groot looked scandalized. She had been assigned as St. Alban’s deacon in January, and two months sharing an office had not accustomed her to Lois’s sense of humor. Clare was beginning to suspect it wasn’t going to happen.
“How’s Hadley’s job search going?” she asked, before Elizabeth could say anything. “I don’t mind tellin’ you, it’s been disappointin’. Used t’be plenty of good jobs for a body not afraid a hard work. Now what the Mexicans don’t come up and take, they ship overseas.” He made a gesture that said what ya gonna do? “Eh-nh. She’ll find sumpin’ sooner or later. She’s at the police station today.”
“Hard to picture her in uniform,” Mr. Hadley went on, unaware of the charged atmosphere. “Allus wanted to be an actress when she was little. Pretty enough for it, too. But I guess it’s hard to make a livin’ at it.”
“You’d better get going if you want to make that school bus.” Clare glared at the secretary, who was thumping herself on the chest. “We’ll make sure Lois doesn’t swallow any more words the wrong way.”
Clare decided discretion was the better part of valor. “Holy Week. We need three more readers, and somebody has to let the AA group know their meeting is going to conflict with the Stations of the Cross.”
“Why do you let that man call you Father?” Elizabeth smoothed her Chanelstyle jacket over her woolen shift. She was the only woman Clare had ever seen who managed to turn a Little Black Dress into clergy wear. “Don’t you worry he’s being satiric? Denigrating your authority?” Elizabeth was big on clerical authority.
“Only if followed by Superior.” Clare shook her head. “The only gender-neutral title that’s both proper and traditionally Anglican is bishop, so that’s what I’m going to shoot for. How do you think I’d look in a purple shirt, Elizabeth?”
Clare pelted down the hall, the flower guild member close behind her. The door to the sanctuary had been left open, and as she burst through into the church, she could see Mr. Hadley collapsed near the center aisle, his face half in a puddle of vomit.
Delia Hall, the other volunteer, was dancing back and forth, unable either to go to the fallen man’s aid or to back away. “Oh, Clare, thank heavens! He sat down on the pew, like he was tired, and then he simply toppled over! Do you think he’s --- could it be --- ” She tipped an invisible bottle to her mouth. The Sexton’s Closet was rumored to have its own stock.
The fifteen minutes before the Millers Kill Emergency Squad arrived was one of the longest in Clare’s life. She thought every heave of Mr. Hadley’s chest was going to be his last. The whoop and clatter of the ambulance was like the sound of an angelic host, and she could have kissed the paramedics when they hurried through St. Alban’s great double doors.
“Heya, Reverend Clare, whatcha got?” Duane Adams, who cobbled together a living as a part-time cop, part-time firefighter, and part-time EMT, didn’t spare her a glance in greeting her. He and his partner knelt by Mr. Hadley.
“Good.” Clare didn’t wait to see the paramedics remove Mr. Hadley. She dashed back to her office and grabbed her coat and keys. “Lois,” she yelled, “call the police station and see if they can pass on a message to Hadley Knox.” She stopped in the door of the main office, shrugging into her coat. “Mr. Hadley’s had a heart attack. He’s headed for Glens Falls. I’m picking up her kids and bringing them back here.”
As Clare slopped across the tiny parking lot, wet from the melt of the last stubborn snow piles, she heard the ambulance siren rise like a screaming bird into the air. Lord, be with them, she prayed. Be with us all.
Hadley picked a fuzz ball off her wool skirt. It was an old A-line, left behind in the closet of her grandfather’s house from a Christmas visit. She had needed something to go to Midnight Mass in, and back then she had enough money to buy something she was only going to use once. Well, she’d gotten her dollar’s worth from it now. She had worn it on every job interview in the past two months. Too bad the only thing it had gotten her were a few long looks at her legs.
The man scrutinizing her paperwork had certainly checked her out, coming up the hallway to the squad room and going toward his desk at the far end of the room. She hoped it was because he was a cop and not because he was going to be trouble. She eyeballed his desk. A mug with a bunch of pens. A brass nameplate: lyle macauley, deputy chief. No pictures of the wife. Not that that always meant anything.
Being a good-looking woman in a male-dominated field was tricky. She had always been able to handle her co-workers okay, but catching the eye of a superior meant trouble for everybody. There wasn’t going to be any privacy here; it looked like everyone on the force worked out of this room. Five desks, a bunch of chairs, and a big old wooden table. File cabinets, whiteboard, and maps squeezed in between tall, elegant windows from another age. We’re not in California anymore, Toto.
“Mm.” He glanced at the paper on his desk. He had bristly gray hair and bushy eyebrows that looked like they came out of a Halloween disguise kit. “You have a gap of almost two years between the end of your DOC job and now.”
“I was a stay-at-home mom for a while.” She had been a frantic paddling-to-keep-their-heads-above-water mom. The crap jobs she had been forced to take --- scooping ice cream, handing out brochures, walking around in high heels and a bathing suit at a car dealership --- weren’t worth putting down on paper.
“Look, I’m not supposed to ask this, so if you get pissed off you can report me to the EEOC, but have you thought about what you, a single woman, are going to do about your kids? We can’t guarantee mommy hours, you know.”
He was right. He wasn’t supposed to ask her this, and it did piss her off. She tried to keep it from showing in her voice. “We’re living with my grandfather, Glenn Hadley. He has a part-time job with flexible hours.”
The deputy chief slitted his eyes. Hadley could almost see a list of names clicking through his mind. He might look like an over-the-hill hayseed, but she suspected it wouldn’t do to underestimate MacAuley’s smarts. She wondered if the illegal question was just another kind of test.
“He was...with the minister of St. Alban’s when it happened. Not with her like there was anything funny going on,” he added, so quickly she couldn’t help but think there must have, in fact, been something funny going on. “It’s just that he feels if he hadn’t been with Clare --- with Reverend Fergusson --- he could have saved his wife. So now, being reminded of her bothers him. Being reminded of Clare. Reverend Fergusson. You understand?”
Hadley stood, working her face into the right expression. Ready, willing, and eager. Not desperate. She couldn’t afford to look desperate. The prisons were out of commuting range. The private security firms had turned her down. There were only a handful of places where a high school grad could make a decent living, and not one of them was hiring. If she couldn’t land this, it was going to be waitressing in Lake George or Saratoga, living off tips and praying nobody got sick or broke a leg. The MKPD had dental. Dental! It had been more than two years since she and the kids had seen a dentist.
She followed MacAuley into a messy office, heaps of magazines and papers piled on a battered credenza, the walls covered with posters and bulletins and a huge map of the tricounty area. A leggy philodendron was dying atop two old file cabinets.
The chief was on the phone, one hand cupped over the receiver. “Hang on,” he said. MacAuley tossed her folder onto an equally messy desk. She watched as the chief picked it up one-handed. Long, square fingers. Brown hair with an equal sprinkling of blond and gray, as overgrown as the philodendron.
“Yeah,” he told the phone. “Okay. Put us on the list if you find out anything.” He laid the folder down without opening it. “No, but send us any prints. We’ll run comparisons when we do the ground search in August.” Looking at Russ Van Alstyne, she found it hard to picture August. His face was winter-pale, with deep lines etched on either side of his mouth. Ice-blue eyes. She figured him to be about her dad’s age, although there was a solidness to the chief that her dad, the king of adult ADD, had never had.
“The rental truck.” He glanced at Hadley, including her in the story. “Somebody abandoned a Ryder truck last week at a local farm stand that’s still closed for the winter.” He looked at Lyle. “Stolen from Kingston. We’re getting copies of any prints CADEA pulls.”
“Capital Area Drug Enforcement Association. It’s a sort of regional cooperative, with investigators from departments all over the area.” The chief handed another folder to MacAuley. “Their lab tech agreed with your theory that the bales were shrink-wrapped. They didn’t find a trace of plant material or THC on any surfaces.”
For a minute, he studied her. If it had been someone else, she would have been getting the creepy vibes that came with unwanted sexual interest. But Van Alstyne wasn’t looking at her like a man looks at a woman. It was more like a doctor examining an X-ray. Diagnostic.
She shut her mouth. “I’ve got a family to support. I need a good-paying job here in Millers Kill. I don’t have any college, but my DOC training in California means I already qualify as a probationary peace officer, if I’m enrolled in the Police Basic course.”
She let out a puff of air. “When I was working as a prison guard, I met a lot of guys who claimed they were innocent. I don’t know. I figure, administering justice is somebody else’s job. As for getting --- uh, the bad guys... ” She trailed off. “I suppose everybody wants that.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but if you’re looking for Robocop, I’m not the right person. I guess I see policing as sort of like being a mom. I don’t want to catch my kids doing something wrong. I want to stop ’em before they do it. Or head them off before a little problem becomes a big one.” He was looking at her with an expression she couldn’t define. She snapped her mouth shut. Policing is like being a mom. Great. Maybe she should tell him she wanted to knit scarves and serve hot cocoa.
“If you’re hired, you’ll be the only woman sworn into the department. The first woman, actually.” There was an edge of discomfort in his voice, but she couldn’t tell whether it was from the prospect of letting a girl into the club or embarrassment that they hadn’t integrated the force up to now. “Have you thought about how you’ll handle that?”
“No. Well... ” --- he pinched the bridge of his nose beneath his steel-rimmed glasses --- “not most of ’em, of course not. I was referring to the job itself. It’s not like guard work. You’ll be doing traffic stops, pulling apart guys who’ve had too much to drink, walking into houses where the husband and wife have been beating up on each other. You’ll be shorter and lighter than any other officer here. How do you deal with that?”
That was a question she had prepped for. “Just like I did as corrections officer. The trick is to never, ever, let them think you’re vulnerable. That means controlling the situation, and that starts right up here.” She tapped her temple. “It doesn’t matter how big you are if you can’t project control. And if it comes down to using force, I have an advantage your other officers don’t. The drunk guys see these” --- she thrust her forearm beneath her breasts and hoisted them, and sure enough, his eyes followed --- “and they don’t see me coming in with this.” She touched the side of his head lightly with the magazine she had picked up with her free hand.
Harlene closed the door behind them and surprised Hadley by dragging her past the dispatch room into the hallway. “You don’t actually have a call. It’s a message. From St. Alban’s.” As she said this, she glanced around, as if ensuring no one could hear her. “It’s your grandfather. He’s been taken to the Glens Falls Hospital with a heart attack. Reverend Fergusson’s going to fetch your kids over to the church.”
Harlene was saying something about Glens Falls not necessarily meaning it was bad, and that she wasn’t to worry about her children, and all Hadley could think was that she had uprooted their lives and come three thousand miles and now her granddad was going to die and she’d be on her own again. All on her own. Again.
Margy Van Alstyne marched out of the tiny dining room. Cousin Nane must have been over with the home perming kit --- her white hair was curled so tightly it looked as if it could power the entire North Country electrical grid if you could figure out a way to release its chemical energy. She braced her hands on her hips, increasing her resemblance to a fireplug. “It in’t socializing when it’s family.”
“A woman of seventy-five has the right to develop a few little quirks. Now, are you going to take me, or are you going to sit here in my house, eating food I’ve made, with your big feet up on my hassock watching my television?”
He took the jacket. He had been living at her house since his wife died. No, since before. He had moved in with his mom when Linda had thrown him out of their house in what he had thought was going to be a temporary separation. It had become a permanent and irrevocable separation two weeks later, with her death. Her stupid, senseless, preventable death.
He couldn’t stand to go back to his own house, and he couldn’t stand to sell it, so he puttered along in limbo, buying groceries, fixing odds and ends, paying Mom’s bills when he could get hold of them before she did. She hadn’t asked him how long he was staying or what he was going to do. She hadn’t asked anything of him.
In his pickup, she chattered on about Janet and Mike’s girls, and about Cousin Nane, and about the latest meeting of her antiwar group, Women in Black. He let her words wash over and around him, as unnoticed as the late-afternoon sun slanting through chinks in the clouds or the faint green traces of spring emerging from the last clutches of winter’s gray and brown tangle. It was all part of a world that kept moving and changing, and he didn’t want anything to do with it.
They passed an enormous Hummer, pimped to the nines and radiating a bass line that rattled his windows. “Those vehicles ought to be illegal,” his mom huffed, and then she was on about greenhouse gases and blood for oil and American entitlement. Same-old same-old. In the dips and hollows, where snow still covered the ground, a thick white mist hovered knee-high, like a company of ghosts unable to break the bonds of earth.
Since my life went straight into the crapper. Since every other goddam song makes me think of Clare. He did not say what he was thinking. He had a great deal of practice, each and every day, in not saying what he was thinking. Instead, he said, “A man of fifty has the right to develop a few little quirks.”
“Huh,” his mother said, but she left him alone as the county highway twisted and turned through densely packed trees, skirting the mountains to the west of Millers Kill. Eventually, the forest gave way to a broad valley, the road falling away like a fast-moving stream to run up and down the gentle hills between one dairy farm and the next.
The neighbor’s place was a pretty bungalow, probably bought in kit form from Sears, Roebuck back in the twenties. He started to turn up the short drive. “No, not there.” His mother pointed. “The other side of the road.”
“The barn?” Like many of the newer farms in this part of the world --- newer meaning one century old instead of two --- the barn and outbuildings were across the two-lane highway instead of attached to the house, giving some breathing room, literally, to the residents. Between the main building, the double silos, and the cow byre stretching out toward the pasturage, the neighbors’ barn took up four or five times the space of their house.
A vision of hordes of well-wishers waiting inside, balloons tied to the rafters, filled his head. But there wasn’t any occasion for a surprise party, was there? His birthday was five months gone. It wasn’t the anniversary of his joining the MKPD.
He snorted. Margy Van Alstyne was about as weak and feeble as a steamroller. But there wasn’t anything to be gained by standing out in the cold and gathering dark. He wrapped his fist around one curved handle and rolled the door open.
They were greeted by the familiar farm smells of machine oil, hay, and manure, nothing more. His mother strode in, turning pale beneath the cool fluorescent lights dangling from the three-story-high ceiling. “Huh.” She put her hands on her hips. “They must be in with the cows.” She threaded her way between a tractor and a baler and disappeared through a small door beneath the haymow.
“Who? Mom, what’s going on?” He rolled the door shut behind him and followed her, dodging a conveyor belt that led from a hay cart to the mow above. Overhead, Russ could see a few scattered bales in the shadows, ready to eke out the five or six weeks remaining until the arrival of the tender grass of spring. He ducked his head and entered the cow byre.
It was long and low and bright and modern, and it made his heart start to pound. He found himself looking left, right, past the rows of neat stalls that stretched out and out, one silky black-and-white back after another, trying to pinpoint an exit. He took a deep breath to steady himself, but the smell of warm cow and wet straw stuck in his throat as if it would strangle him.
“There you are!” His sister’s cheerful voice focused him a little. Janet and Mike waved from halfway down the center aisle. They looked impossibly far away. A clank to his left made him jerk his head around, and he found himself face to face with a marble-eyed, wet-nosed heifer, staring incuriously at him while chewing its cud.
It reminds me of where I was when my wife died. He wanted to say it, so they’d have some idea of who he was and what was going on in his head. But he couldn’t. His mother would get scared and his sister would spend the rest of the evening being forcefully jolly. Trying to “make him feel better.” They didn’t want to know crap like that.
As always these days, the thought of her brought with it a wave of longing and loss and guilt and self-loathing. For once, he welcomed the acidic brew. It blew away the fog of fear and made this barn just another barn, just another place he had to be before he could climb into bed and achieve his fondest desire: total unconsciousness.
His brother-in-law grinned. “Well, we thought first we might raise a cash crop of wacky weed, but we figured that wouldn’t fly so well, with you being the chief of police and all. So we got a loan from the bank of Mom.” He put his arm around Margy’s shoulders and squeezed.
“An investment?” Russ gaped at the trio. “In a dairy farm? There’s been at least one farm closed in this county every year for the past twenty years!” He rounded on Janet. “You think that’s a safe investment for a seventy-five-year-old woman on a fixed income?”
“Oh!” Janet stepped toward him, her eyes --- the same eyes he had inherited from their father --- blazing hot blue. “All those years you were gallivanting all over the world in the army, who was looking out for her then? I was! I was the one who stayed here in Millers Kill and spent every Sunday with her year in and year out when the only thing she’d see from you was a postcard!”
Russ hadn’t heard that voice from her in years. He had no doubt she would tear his ear half off if he didn’t back down. He raised his hands in surrender. Janet did the same. Their mother let go. They both stumbled back a few steps, rubbing their respective injuries.
“Russell, I’m sorry you don’t approve of my investing in Janet and Mike’s farm, but I’ve been handling my own money for nigh on thirty-five years, and I’m not about to start having somebody else make my decisions now.” Janet’s tense shoulders relaxed until Margy turned on her. “Janet, if you’re trying to tell me the reason you stayed in Millers Kill after you graduated was to keep me company --- ”
“Yes, ma’am.” Jesus. Fifty years old, and she could still dress him down like he was a kid. He glanced at Mike, who had gotten very interested in one of the heifers during the argument, and then at Janet. She looked at him warily. He knew he ought to apologize, but he couldn’t. It was selfish and stupid to drag Mom into such a risky venture. “I guess I’ll see you later,” he said.
Janet nodded. He beat a retreat, out the byre, through the barn, into the frosty evening. Opened his truck door and stood for a moment, trying to settle. Across the road, a car had pulled into the bungalow’s driveway. A woman got out.
But a second later, he realized the woman was too short and slight to be Clare. She turned, maybe attracted by the light spilling out of his pickup, and he could see she was the new deacon from St. Alban’s. What was her name, Groosvoort?
“Our sexton, Mr. Hadley, had an acute myocardial infarction.” She said it with the careful pronunciation of someone repeating what she was told. “Poor man had to have a quadruple bypass. I stayed until he was moved to the ICU.