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I Shall Not Want



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.

“Hurry, Knox!”

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.”

“M-m-my aunt.”

“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.

Six Months Earlier


January and February


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?”

“We’re here, lovey. Millers Kill. This is the church where your grampy works.”

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.

“Why aren’t we at Grampy’s house?”

“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

snow-heavy clouds. Air weighted with chill slid in through her partly open window. “It’s too cold,” she said. “She’ll have to come with us.”

“Mo-om,” he protested. “You could leave the car running. Nobody’s going to steal it.”

Wasn’t that the truth. She opened her mouth. Transformed I’ve been smelling something since we left Ohio, and I’m afraid we have another exhaust leak into, “Fresh air will do her good.”

“Fresh air,” Hudson said, with all the scorn a nine-year-old could muster. “We’ve had two windows wide open since we got into New York.”

“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.

Geneva lifted her head off Hadley’s shoulder. “Momma, is this a castle?”

Hadley laughed. “No, baby, it’s a church. C’mon, Hudson, this way.” She headed for the door leading to the offices.

“Can I help you?”

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.

“I know,” Hadley said. “I mean, I’ve heard about you. My grandfather’s Glenn Hadley.”

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.”

Hadley let out an, “Oh, no,” before she could catch herself.

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.”

“Do you have movies?” Hudson asked, as they entered the hallway leading to the church offices.

“Yep. But I have to warn you, they’re all religious. We’ve got Veggie Tales, and The Prince of Egypt, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and the Star Wars movies.”

Star Wars isn’t religious!” Hudson said.

“It’s not?” Reverend Fergusson paused at the head of the stairs, her mouth open. “Darn it, why doesn’t anyone ever tell me this stuff?”

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.

“Next you’re going to tell me Power Rangers aren’t religious.”

Hudson giggled. “They’re not.”

“Dang it, somebody is going to have to answer for this. Who bought these unsuitable movies?” Her eyes widened, and she pressed her fingers against her mouth. “Uh-oh.”

Hudson laughed openly, guessing the joke. “You did! You did!”

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.

Except her eyes narrowed and she got an abstracted look, as if she was thinking hard. “What are you looking for?”

Something where I don’t have to speak to another human being. Yeah, that sounded great. “Anything that doesn’t require college. I only have a GED.”

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?”

“California. LA.”



The Reverend pinked up. Embarrassed. “I was thinking you don’t look as if you come from around here. Your tan, for one thing. And your hair.”

Hadley ruffled her short hair. “What about it?”

“Well, it’s... trendy. We don’t have a lot of trendy here in Millers Kill.”

Hadley almost laughed. “It’s a cosmetology school special. Fifteen bucks. Twenty if you want the shampoo and blow-dry. Which I didn’t.”

“Were you” --- the rector paused, as if she were searching for the tactful word --- “an actress? Or a model?”

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.”

“As a secretary?”

“As a guard.”

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.

“How’re they doing?”

He grunted. “They’ll all be better now she’s left that turd of a husband floatin’ in the bowl. Sorry, Father.”

“Mmm.” She squelched her smile. “It must be good to have her back home.”

“ ’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

used to send her to me an’ my wife every summer.”

Clare had lost track of the players. “Honey?”

“That’s her christened name. She changed it to Hadley when she was in her teens.”

I can see why.

“Anyhow, I was just checkin’ to see if you wanted me to get you a fire goin’.”

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.

“Father Aberforth.” She got up from her desk to greet the elderly deacon, best known as the bishop’s hatchet man.

“Ms. Fergusson.” He surprised her by trapping her hand within his much larger ones. He studied her with his penetrating black eyes. “How are you?” he asked. It was not a pleasantry.

“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.

“Sarcasm ill becomes you. How are you?”

She let her eyes slide away to the vine-and-fruit pattern of her carpet. “Okay. Good enough.”

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.

She turned to her desk. The letter from the District Attorney for the state of New York, Washington County, was still there, half covered by the sermon draft.

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.

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “I dodged the bullet on that one.” She could hear the bitterness in her voice.

“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?”

“No.” Her tone would have warned off a lesser man, but the deacon, a survivor of the Battle of Cho-San Reservoir, wasn’t deterred.

“He is newly widowed,” he said reasonably.


“Grief takes time.”


“Perhaps you might approach him in a month or two.”

She folded her hands over her chair back and watched her knuckles whiten. “He isn’t going to want me to approach him in a month or two --- or four. I’m the reason his wife is dead.”

There was another pause. “Would you do me the courtesy of turning around so I can talk to your face instead of your scapulae?”

She turned around.

Aberforth was looking at her through half-closed eyes. “Do you believe that?”


He shook his head, sending his bloodhoundlike jowls swaying. “Good God, girl, your pride is truly monumental.”

“My pride?”

“Your pride. Did you or did you not make a full confession and repentance to the bishop?” He folded his black-coated arms.

“You know I did.”

“Did he, in the name of our Lord, absolve your sins?”

She knew where this was going, and she didn’t like it. “He did.”

“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 blinked hard. She shook her head. “I can’t --- ”

“You cling to your faults like a woman clinging to a lover.” He leaned forward. “A lover who has betrayed her.”

She shook her head again.

“Are you angry with your police chief?”

She set her jaw. “Of course not. He’s the one who’s suffering.”

“I seem to recall that he entertained the possibility that you may have been responsible for a murder.”

“For an hour! God, why do I tell you this stuff?”

“Who else can you tell?”

Russ. But that time was gone. Now there was no one else.

“He chose his marriage over you,” Aberforth went on.

“I chose his marriage over me, too.”

“But as soon as he was in crisis, he was back at your door, asking for your help. Then, in his moment of deepest need, he turned his back on you.”

“His wife had just died!”

“And since then he has steadfastly ignored your existence. Yet you harbor no anger toward him. None whatsoever.”

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 sense of complicity in her death. I’ll focus on that.”

“Oh, my dear Ms. Fergusson.”

She turned around at 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.

“This is just like the get-togethers in my town.” Clare kept her voice low. “Dr. McFeely and the Reverend Inman always wind up getting out their brag books.”

The sister laid her hand over Clare’s. “I can guarantee you I don’t have any grandkids. That I know of.”

Clare almost expelled her bite of salad.

“Sorry,” the nun said. “My favorite soap opera just managed to introduce a secret-baby story line where the father knew but the mother didn’t.”

Clare had to ask. “How? Amnesia?”

“Split personality.” The nun speared a cherry tomato. “So I figure, you never can tell.”

Clare’s laugh drew attention from several tables away. She covered her mouth with her napkin and coughed. “I’m Clare Fergusson. Rector of St. Alban’s, in Millers Kill.”

“Lucia Pirone of the Sisters of Marian Charity.” She nodded as the waitress reached for her salad plate. “I’m guessing from your accent you’re not from this neck of the woods. North Carolina?”

“Close,” Clare said. “Southern Virginia. Then around and about a bit with the U.S. Army before seminary.”

“Really? One of my brothers was career army. He’s retired now, of course. What was your MOS?”

“I flew helicopters.” She caught herself. “I fly helicopters. I’ve just recently reupped with the National Guard.”

“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?”

“It was...he supported my reenlistment. He felt it would help me clarify... where my vocation lies.”

“This is supposed to help you see if you have a true calling?” The sister’s glance went to Clare’s white collar. “Bit late in the day for that, isn’t it?”

“It’s not my calling that’s in doubt. Just... what it is I’m called to do.” She dropped her voice. “I think the bishop’s hoping Uncle Sam will take me out of his hair.”

Sister Lucia’s eyes lit up. “Ah. You have bishop troubles.”

“I’m sure the bishop would say he has Clare Fergusson troubles.”

“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.”

Clare leaned back to let the waitress deposit a chicken breast on a bed of wild rice in front of her. “Not your bishop?”

“Are you familiar with the Sisters of Marian Charity?”

“Sorry. I’m not as knowledgeable about Roman Catholic orders as I probably should be.”

Sister Lucia thanked the waitress for her salmon. “The order was founded in 1896 by a pair of rich sisters who wanted to better the lives of impoverished immigrants in Boston.”

“You mean like Jane Addams and Ellen Starr in Chicago?”

“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.”

Clare paused before forking a bite of chicken into her mouth. “Why? I mean, Washington and Warren counties are whiter than mayonnaise. Shouldn’t you be in --- I don’t know --- Albany or somewhere?”

“What would you think if I told you there were upwards of three hundred year-round Hispanic farm workers in Washington County alone?”

Clare blinked. “Three hundred?”

“Or more. Some with guest-worker papers, most illegal. The number may double in the summer.”

“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.”

“You sound like someone speaking from experience.”

“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.”

“So you got your superiors to send you.” She cut a slice off her chicken breast. “But they must have had to get the diocese’s support.”

“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.”

“So what is it you do?” Clare wiped her mouth. “I mean, it sounds as if you’re shooting for more than getting these people to a Spanish-language Mass.”

“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.”

“Wow.” Clare pushed her plate away so she could prop her elbow on the table, a bad habit she had never gotten rid of. “That sounds amazingly challenging. And worthwhile.”

Sister Lucia nodded. “I’m glad you see that. Now I just have to find some congregations to partner with me.”

“Doesn’t your order support your mission financially?”

“I get a modest amount. And by modest, I mean it’s swathed in a burka, unseen by human eye.”

Clare laughed.

“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.”

“Let me help you.”

The nun sat back in her seat. “I beg your pardon?”

“I have some friends at the Episcopal Development Fund. This sounds like just their sort of thing: small, grassroots, helping individuals in a tangible way.”

Sister Lucia’s face was a mixture of interest and doubt. “There is a spiritual component to the work, you know. It’s definitely Catholic. Spanish-language Masses and all.”

Clare grinned. “Not to worry. In the Episcopal Church, we are all over the ecumenical like white on rice. In fact, we are kinda the white on rice.”

The waitress replaced their empty plates with fat slices of cheesecake. “Coffee?” She held up a pot.

“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.”

Sister Lucia smiled. “Do you always leap into things so...ah... decisively?”

“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.”

“For what?”

“For calling it decisiveness instead of ‘jumping in without thinking things through.’ ”

“Oh, I see it as fearlessness.” The nun glanced at Clare’s left hand, bare of rings. “You’re not married.”

Clare shook her head.


“No! I mean, no.... I’m not.”

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.

The people we don’t see.

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?”

He glanced at her. “I would describe you, Ms. Fergusson, as the vehicle through which God shows me He still has a great deal of work for me to do.”



“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.

Lois, their church secretary, glanced at the clock. “School bus time?”

“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.”

“Absolutely not. When my children were small, I was always there when they got home. Give them a good snack, make sure they’ve started their homework, and then you can have Happy Hour in peace.”

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.”

Lois and Elizabeth did not look at Clare.

“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.”

“I’m praying for her,” Clare said. “Let me know if there’s anything more concrete I can do.”

“Eh.” He fished a less-than-clean handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his face with it. “If you know anybody in the police department, you can put in a good word.”

Lois choked, coughed, and grabbed for her water bottle. “You okay?” the oblivious sexton asked.

Red-faced, Lois waved him off. “Fine,” she gasped.

“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.”

“ ’Kay. See ya tomorrow. ’Bye, Father.” Mr. Hadley thumped off up the hall.

Lois blinked several times, then ran her fingers through her strawberry-blond bob, restoring it to its usual razor-cut perfection. “Let’s see. Where were we?”

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.

“People can call me what they want. At least it’s grammatical, which is more than you can say about Reverend.”

“How about Mother?” Lois suggested.

“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?”

A shout down the hall saved the older woman from coming up with a tactful lie.

“Clare! Reverend Clare!” Laurie Mairs appeared in the doorway. “It’s Mr. Hadley! Come quick!”

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.

“Oh, my God,” Clare said.

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.

“No.” Clare knelt by the sexton. His face was pale, damp with sweat where it wasn’t smeared with vomit. She touched his cheek. “Mr. Hadley?” He was clammy beneath her hand.

He pawed at his chest. “Heavy.” His gravelly voice was so low she could barely hear him. “Can’t... ” He worked like a baby with croup, struggling for each breath.

“Clare?” Elizabeth’s voice was calm. Clare hadn’t seen her come in. “What can I do?”

“Call nine-one-one. I think he’s having a heart attack.” She glanced up at the flower guild ladies. “Delia, get a wet soapy towel. Laurie, something to dry him with. We can at least clean him up.”

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.

Clare backed out of their way, bumping into Elizabeth, who had returned to keep watch with her. “His name’s Glenn Hadley. He’s --- um, seventy-four.”

Duane’s partner was strapping an oxygen mask over Mr. Hadley’s face, sliding a blood pressure cuff on his arm.

“Any history you know of?” Duane asked.

“He smokes. He’s got diabetes, but he doesn’t take insulin shots for it.” She rubbed her arm. “I didn’t know what to do for him, other than try to make him comfortable.”

“You called us,” Duane said. “That’s what you do.” His partner unslung a radio and was rattling off a string of jargon and numbers. The only thing Clare recognized was “MI.”

“They’re calling it in at Glens Falls,” the EMT said.

“Okay.” Duane stood. “Let’s get him on the stretcher.”

“Glens Falls Hospital? Why not Washington County?” As soon as she said it, she knew. It was serious. Too serious for their small local hospital to handle. The bad stuff always went to Glens Falls.

“They’ll want him straight to the cardiac cath lab. Any next of kin?” Duane asked.

“Oh, my Lord, his grandkids.” Clare looked at Elizabeth. “I don’t even know how to reach Hadley.”

“You go get the children,” Elizabeth said. “I’ll follow the ambulance to the hospital.”

“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.”

“I’m on it.” Lois reached for the phone.

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.

“You’ve got great scores here.” Lyle MacAuley held up the results from her NYS Police Test.

“Thanks.” She shifted in her sturdy metal seat.

“And your scores from the California Department of Corrections are good, too. You worked for them two years?”

“Three.” She knew what was coming next. “I got laid off in a budget cutback. If you look on my résumé, you’ll see my supervisor is one of my references.”

“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.

“How come you’re applying for a position as a patrolman? I mean, patrol officer. I’d’ve thought you’d be looking for a job with the New York DOC. The pay’s better.”

She shook her head. “The nearest correctional facility they’re hiring women guards for is Dannemora. I need to stay in this area.”

“Because of the kids?”

She shrugged.

“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.

“Glenn Hadley.” His eyes popped open. “Works at St. Alban’s?”

“Yeah. He’s the sexton. That’s what they call the custodian there.”

“Don’t mention that when you talk to the chief.”

The surge of hope --- she was going to talk to the chief! She was a serious candidate! --- almost made her ignore MacAuley’s weird advice. Almost.

“What, that granddad’s a janitor?”

“Just don’t mention St. Alban’s or anything to do with it.”

She frowned. “He doesn’t have something against Christians or something, does he? Because I’m not super devoted or anything, but I do go to church.”

“No, no, no, nothing like that.” MacAuley compressed his lips. Thought for a moment. “The chief lost his wife this past January.”

“I’d heard that.”

“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?”

“Uh-huh,” she said, not understanding. Not caring. “I won’t mention St. Alban’s.”

“Okay.” He shoved his chair back. Stood up. “Let’s go see the chief.”

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.

MacAuley led her down a short hall, through the dispatcher’s station, and rapped on a door with a pebbled glass window and chief russell van alstyne painted in gold. “C’min,” a voice said.

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.

Van Alstyne hung up the phone. “Chief, this is Hadley Knox,” MacAuley said. The chief nodded to her. “What’s up?” MacAuley went on.

“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.”


Both men looked at Hadley. Uh-oh. Maybe she was supposed to know what that was?

“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.”

MacAuley tapped his sizable honker. “They don’t have this.”

“Mmm. Maybe we should hire you out.”

“What was it?” Hadley asked. In for a penny, in for a pound, she figured. “In the truck, I mean.”

“Marijuana,” MacAuley said.

“Pot?” She didn’t mean to sound so disbelieving, but pot? Who cared?

“Ten million dollars’ worth.” Van Alstyne tapped the paper on his desk. “If the truck was full.”

“Holy shit!” The second it was out of her mouth, she wanted to call it back. Swearing on a job interview. Genius. “Sorry,” she said.

MacAuley looked amused. “I’ll just leave you both to it, shall I?”

“Thanks, Lyle,” Van Alstyne said. MacAuley exited the office, leaving the door ajar. “Sit down, Ms. Knox.”

There was only one chair that didn’t have junk on it. She took it.

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.

“You ask questions,” he said.

Was that a complaint? A compliment? She swallowed. “I have two kids, and I’m always telling them there’s no such thing as a bad question. I guess it’s rubbed off on me.”

“Why do you want to be a cop?” His question caught her off guard. Damn, she had prepped for this. What had she been going to say?

“I worked as a prison guard for three years in California.” She nodded toward the folder still lying on his desk, unopened. “I found it challenging and fulfilling --- ”

“Why do you want to be a cop?”

She was left with her mouth half open from her incomplete canned response.

“Just give it to me straight.”

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.”

“What about administering justice? What about getting the bad guys off the street and behind bars?”

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.”

He tilted his head to one side and gestured for her to keep going.

“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?”

He had said he wanted her to give it to him straight. “Are the men in your department likely to require handling?”

“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.

He let out a short laugh. “It’s not always that simple.”

“Nope. But men still tend to underestimate women.”

His smile changed to something wistful. “Yeah. I know --- I knew --- a woman who used to take advantage of that fact.”

“Did it work for her?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, it did.... ” He shook himself. “Okay.” His voice was once again no-nonsense. “If you want it, you’ve got the job.”

“I do? I mean, great! Yes! I do want it.”

“You’ll be on probation until you’ve completed the Basic course. I don’t want to throw away the time and money we’re going to spend training you, so I expect you to pass. With high marks.”

“I will. I’ll be in the top ten percent. You won’t be disappointed.”

“Plus, you’ll have to put in some serious time on the firing range.” He tapped the folder, which he still hadn’t opened. “The scores from your shooting test are way too low.”

“Absolutely,” she said. “That won’t be a problem.”

Van Alstyne stood up. Hadley stood up. He held out his hand and she took it. “Welcome to the Millers Kill Police Department, Officer Knox.”

A rap on his door kept her from gushing her thanks. The dispatcher, a square stack of a woman with an iron-gray perm, stuck her head in. “If you’re all finished, Ms. Knox has a phone call.”

“Me?” She looked at Van Alstyne. He waved her off.

“Go ahead. Harlene here can set you up with the paperwork.”

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.”

Hadley stood there. “I’m sorry. Did you say --- ” and then her mind caught up to Harlene’s words and her eyes flooded. “Oh, shit,” she said. “Oh, shit.”

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.


“Don’t take your coat off. We’re going to your sister’s for dinner.”

Russ paused by the coat hooks in his mom’s kitchen, halfway out of his jacket. “That’s okay,” he said. “I don’t feel much like socializing.”

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.”

“I’m tired. It’s been a long day. Give Janet my regrets.” He shrugged the jacket off and hung it on a hook. His mother grabbed its collar and thrust it back at him.


“I want you to drive me. It’ll be dark coming back, and I don’t like to drive in the dark.”

“Since when?”

“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 glowered down at her. “Now you’re trying to guilt me into going.”

“You’re darned right I am. Is it working?”

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.

“All right.” He jammed an arm back into his jacket. “I’ll take you. And I’ll pick you up. But I’m not staying for dinner.”

“We’ll see about that.”

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.

He was startled into awareness by guitar strings thrumming their way out of the cab’s speakers. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“Well, since you weren’t listenin’ to me, I thought you might like to hear some music instead.”

He reached over and snapped the CD player off. “No,” he said. “No music.”

His mother looked at him. “No music.”

“I don’t like listening to music.”

“Since when?”

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.

They were closing in on Janet and Mike’s quarter-mile-long driveway when his mother said, “Go on past. We’re meeting them at the neighbor’s.”

Russ took his foot off the gas. “Mom. This isn’t some sort of setup, is it?”

She looked --- not guilty, she never looked guilty as far as he could tell --- but like a kid caught with her hand in the cookie jar. “I’m not sayin’. It’s a surprise.”

“Listen, Mom. If they’re fixing me up with some sweet little widow woman or divorcée, I’m turning this truck around and heading home right now.”

His mother made an exasperated noise. “It’s not that sort of surprise. Honestly, Russell, it’s not all about you all of the time.”

There wasn’t any good reply to that. He mumbled something that might have been either an apology or an accusation and accelerated up the road.

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.

“Just pull into the drive.”

Russ obeyed, parking his truck on the least-muddy section of the short wide road leading to a pair of tractor-sized doors. “Mom, what’s this about?” he asked.

His mother, ignoring him, slipped down from the cab and squelched toward the double doors. He jumped out and hurried after her. “Open this for me, will you?” she said.

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.

“Criminy’s sake, Russell. You going to make a poor old lady haul this back by herself?”

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.

His brother-in-law laughed. “Look at him. He’s gotten all wide-eyed.” He spread his arms. “It’s pretty impressive, isn’t it?”

No, it pretty much reminds me of the cow barn I nearly got shot in two months ago. Where the best person I know had to kill a sociopathic monster to save my life.

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.

Clare would understand.

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 relations were looking at him expectantly. “Yeah,” he said. “Impressive.”

Janet and Mike beamed at each other. “I knew you’d think so,” Janet said. “It’s ours.”

“Well, ours and Mom’s.” Mike put his arm around his mother-in-law.

Margy grinned. “Surprised ya!”

“What?” Russ stared at them. “Yours?”

“The Petersons wanted to sell out and retire,” Mike said. “It was the perfect opportunity to expand our operation.”

“We’re doubling our herd to two hundred and forty head!” Janet said. “Plus an additional fifty acres with hayfields --- ”

“We’ll be able to grow most of our own feed corn,” Mike broke in.

“ --- and produce three million more pounds of milk a year!”

Russ held up his hands. “Wait a minute, wait a minute. I’m no farmer, but even I know doubling the size of your herd means a big jump in expenses. Not to be nosy, but how are you swinging this?”

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.

“Not all Mom,” Janet added. “We took out a mortgage on our place.”

“I’m a partner.” His mother beamed. “It’s an investment.”

“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?”

“Russell!” His mother sounded shocked.

“Mom, I can’t believe you’d do something so irresponsible.”

“It’s my money,” she said, at the same time Janet said, “Who are you to tell Mom what she can and can’t do?”

“I’m looking out for her future. And if you thought a little bit more about her and less about yourself --- ”

“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!”

“And that gives you the right to get her involved in this idiotic --- ow!”

Janet let out a similar screech of pain. Margy had reached up --- way up, since they had also both inherited their dad’s height --- and pinched hold of their earlobes.

“Ow! Ow, Mom, stop it!”

“Not until you two stop behaving like a pair of brats fighting over a lollipop.”

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 --- ”

“No! I mean... no.”

“Good. Didn’t think so. One of you stayed and one of you went and it never made no difference in how I felt about you. So don’t start with that now.”

Janet shook her head.


“Yes, ma’am.”

She sighed. “I think you better go on home, after all. Give us all a chance to cool off. Mike’ll drive me back after supper.”

“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.

A woman in black clericals.

Oh, no. Not this on top of everything else.

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?

“Chief Van Alstyne? Is that you? Is there some trouble?”

“Uh, hi” --- the name came --- “Deacon de Groot. What? You mean because I’m here? No. No trouble.” He kept his voice neutral. “My sister and her husband --- uh, farm around here.”

“Well. How nice to see you again.” She pushed at her immaculate mass of ash-blond hair. “Excuse my appearance. I’ve been at the Glens Falls hospital since this afternoon.”

She didn’t do hospital visits, did she? Wasn’t that Clare’s job? Had something happened to --- “I hope everyone’s all right,” he managed to squeeze out.

“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.

No visitors there, so I figured it was time for me to come home.”


Even in the half-light, he could see her charmed smile. She pointed to the bungalow with pride. “No more commuting down to Johnstown for me. I’ve just bought the Petersons’ house.”

I Shall Not Want
by by Julia Spencer-Fleming

  • Genres: Fiction
  • hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 0312334877
  • ISBN-13: 9780312334871