Copyright ? 2007 by Archer Mayor All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this
publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or
stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the
publisher. Grand Central Publishing Hachette Book Group 237 Park Avenue New York, NY 10017 Visit our Web site at www.HachetteBookGroup.com. The Grand Central Publishing Books name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc. First eBook Edition: October 2007 ISBN: 978-0-446-40975-9 Contents Copyright Acknowledgments Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27
Other books by Archer Mayor THE SECOND MOUSE ST. ALBANS FIRE THE SURROGATE THIEF GATEKEEPER THE SNIPER’S WIFE TUCKER PEAK THE MARBLE MASK OCCAM’S RAZOR THE DISPOSABLE MAN BELLOWS FALLS THE RAGMAN’S MEMORY THE DARK ROOT FRUITS OF THE POISONOUS TREE THE SKELETON’S KNEE SCENT OF EVIL BORDERLINES OPEN SEASON
Acknowledgments As always, I found myself happily dependent on the knowledge and expertise of others in the
preparation, writing, and editing of this book. Also, as always, I’d like to thank them while
taking full responsibility for any stumbles that I may have committed in applying their wisdom
to the following tale. My gratitude, therefore, to the following: John Martin Erik Johnson Kathryn Tolbert Michael Mayor Elaine Sopchak Andrea Moriarty The Weathervane Music Hall Eric Buel Julie Lavorgna Scott Passino Jesse Bristol JB Auto Rick Bates Jennifer Morrison Scout Mayor Brattleboro Police Dept. Castle Freeman Jr. And, of course, Kate and Melanie
,” Leo quoted theatrically, his words shrouding his head in“Made it, Ma. Top o’ the world
the cold night air. “What would you think if I went out like that?”
His mother twisted around in her wheelchair to look at him balefully. “I don’t understand whysuch a wonderful dancer would do a movie like that.”
Leo smiled down at her as he pushed her gently along a shoveled path, across the broadcourtyard before Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center for the Arts, universally nicknamed The Hop. “Iwarned you, Ma. I told you it wasn’t Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
“You said it was a gangster movie,” she persisted, “not an ode to a psychopath.”
Leo burst out laughing. “Wow. You make it sound pretty deep. I just liked it when he shot thecar trunk full of holes to let the guy inside breathe, or when he went nutso in the prisondining hall after finding out his mother died.”
She faced forward again as they neared the curb. “How did I end up with such a disturbedchild?” she asked meditatively.
“Hey,” he told her. “You got one son who’s a cop. Stands to reason the other should go tothe dark side. It’s nature’s balance.”
He went to pass by her on his way to unlock the car, when she grabbed his wrist in a quick-moving, wiry hand.
This time, her expression was soft and appreciative. “I’ve been doubly blessed, Leo,” shetold him. “Both my boys are just right.”
He leaned over and kissed her wrinkled cheek, warm in the evening’s chill. “I love you, too,Ma. I hear they’re playing Polanski’s Repulsion next week.”
She tapped the side of his head playfully as he moved away. “Oh, now, that sounds like a
“You have no idea,” he admitted.
She watched him bustling about, unlocking doors, starting the engine to get the heater going.It wasn’t all that cold, even though it had been dark for several hours. Dartmouth’strademark Green was coated with a new layer of snow, which shimmered under the glow of dozensof traditionally designed streetlamps. These, along with the formal brick buildings loomingdarkly beyond them, and the enormous library’s beautifully lighted clock tower at the far end,lent the entire scene a timelessness, as if she might have been waiting for her son to hook upa horse and sleigh instead of a Subaru.
“All set,” he said, stepping behind her once more and easing her chair off the sidewalk towhere it nestled beside the car’s open door.
She reached out and took hold of the two handles Leo had attached just inside the opening, onehigh and one low, and nimbly used them to assist herself inside. Her legs were too weak tosupport her, but they did move, which was a godsend in situations like this. She was alreadyattaching her seat belt by the time Leo opened the car’s rear door to slip in the foldedwheelchair.
He joined her moments later, making the car rock as he virtually fell into his seat. Anenthusiast by nature, he never did anything by half measures, including the most mundane ofactions.
“You want to stop somewhere for ice cream or cocoa or something?” he asked.
Now she was looking at the facade of The Hop, from which they’d just come on their weeklyFriday night outing. Designed by the same architect who later did Lincoln Center in New York,it looked like the kind of place that would offer a broad sampling of the arts—modern by onelight, slightly worn by another. She and Leo came here frequently, local beneficiaries of thecollege’s mission to be a generous cultural neighbor.
“No,” she answered him. “Not tonight. Drive me around the Green, though, will you? I lovethe buildings.”
Leo backed out of their parking space and slipped into the thin traffic, taking his first leftto engage the long eastern reach of the Green.
“Feeling touristy?” he asked.
She was watching the buildings go by, but also the students, huddled in their winter clothing,marching determinedly in small groups or singly, intent on their mysterious goals, which couldas easily have been the next beer or a rendezvous as some scholarly pursuit. Although she’dbeen a local her entire life, even if from Vermont, just across the river, she’d never had theenvious, resentful view of the college so many other “townies” harbored, nor had she
Animal House. She worshippeddelighted in the supposed depiction made of the place in the movie
education, and while her sons had become a police officer and a butcher and hadn’t benefitedfrom Dartmouth’s offerings, she had made sure they developed an appreciation of music andliterature and art, and she’d trained them to be analytical, appreciative, mindful, and kind.
She knew that college students could be self-indulgent, narcissistic, and careless with thegift they’d been offered. Those were the clichés. But as Leo slowly circled the Green, quietlyallowing for her meditation, she relished the fantasy she’d held forever, of places like thisbeing the incubators of the mind, where kids learned to think, sometimes despite their bestresistance.
“You should’ve gone here, Ma,” Leo finally said.
She turned away from the buildings to look at him. “I came close enough,” she said after athoughtful pause. “I got access to that library and passed along what you and Joe could bear.It would have been fun to actually sit in class, but I can’t complain—I’ve read what a lotof their professors wrote.”
Leo laughed again. “And you got to fall asleep in class. We were always taking books off yourlap after you dozed off.”
She whacked his shoulder. “Once in a blue moon, after spending all day chasing you twoaround.”
“You did good, Ma,” he said after a pause.
It was a gentle taunt. He delighted in mangling English around her, since she worked so hardnot to do so herself. But this time, instead of correcting him, she chuckled and admitted, “Ithink I done good, too.”
He smiled and hit his right turn indicator at the stoplight, preparing to go down NorthWheelock and across the bridge into Vermont, at the bottom of the hill. Of course, much of whatthey’d just been talking about dated back a few years. His mother had slowed down recently,reading less and watching more television. And since landing in the wheelchair, she’d retiredthe use of that library card.
Their years together were numbered, clearly.
In the darkness of the car, his smile faded away. As silly as it sometimes sounded when headmitted it out loud, he’d lived with his mother all his life so far, and he was fair andsquare beyond middle age. His older brother, Joe, had been the restless one, leaving home earlyto join the service, seeing combat halfway around the world, going to college for a few yearsin California. Even now he lived in Brattleboro, near the Massachusetts border, sixty miles tothe south.
But Leo had never seen the attraction. He and their mom lived in the farmhouse he’d been bornin, and his room overlooked the fields his father had once tilled. When the old man died somany years ago, leaving behind two boys and a young widow, the three survivors had looked toone another for their grounding. Joe had used that as a springboard to go forth into the world;Leo had seen it as all he really needed. He began working at the market in Thetford Center,just down the hill from the farm, and settled into a life of dating girls lacking in serious
intentions, working in the barn on old cars from the sixties, becoming the most highly prizedbutcher for twenty miles around, and establishing an easy and permanent friendship with hismother.
Which he knew was closing in on a natural end.
“You’re awfully quiet all of a sudden,” she said softly.
They had just reached the bridge spanning the Connecticut River, a newly rebuilt structure,which its designers had accessorized with a series of gigantic, evenly spaced concrete balls—asource of some humor in a school renowned for its testosterone.
“Just thinking about the movie.”
White Heat didn’t merit an excess of reflection. Leo hadShe let it go. Whatever its virtues,
something private on his mind, and she had a pretty good idea what it was, or what she fearedit might be. While grateful for a lifetime of Leo’s company, she was not unaware of thepeculiarity of a middle-aged son still living with his mother. The thought that she—or hercircumstances, first as a widow and then as an invalid—had encouraged this situation only madeher feel guilty. That said, she was also a pretty good observer of people, and her take on heryounger son was that he was not only happy with the status quo, but increasingly worried aboutwhat to do after she died.
She could sympathize. She’d been in much the same boat when their father died. A good anddecent man, much older than she, he’d had his greatest influence on them all only after hisdeath, when they discovered the huge void he’d so quietly filled.
She suspected that Leo, more than Joe, would find the world an oddly empty place, at least fora while, once she followed her late husband’s example.
She stole a glance at him as he turned right onto Route 5 on the Vermont side of the bridge andbegan heading north, parallel to the interstate, which he knew she didn’t enjoy as much.
“Thank you, Leo,” she said.
He looked at her quickly, both his hands on the wheel, a good and practiced driver. “What for?I thought you hated the movie.”
“For taking me anyhow, for not choosing the interstate, for being a good son. I’m not sure Itell you enough how grateful I am for everything. You’ve given up a lot for me.”
He laughed, though a little cautiously. His mother wasn’t prone to such comments. “Totallyselfish, Ma. Do you know how many times I’ve used you as an excuse to shake off some femalewith big plans? Unbelievable. There are women up and down this valley who think you’re theworst thing since Cruella de Vil. You should be calling a libel lawyer instead of patting me onthe back for being such a wonderful son.”
She smiled and shook her head. She should have known better. Leo was her showman, quick to graba joke when faced with a serious moment.
She decided to allow him his choice. “Really?” she reacted in kind. “No wonder I’ve beengetting those strange looks. Good Lord. I always thought it was my breath, or maybe somethinghorrible coming out of my nostril.”
They were surrounded by darkness now, moving quickly and alone along the smooth, twisting road,paradoxically comforted by the dark, semifrozen expanse of the large river to their right. NewEnglanders often felt at home while isolated in the cold. It was that aspect of theirenvironment that most outsiders compared to their demeanor, but which they themselves saw assimply encouraging strong character.
Leo was surprised. “Are you kidding about that?” he asked. “Have you really noticed . . .?”
He suddenly stopped speaking, his hands tightening on the wheel. “Damn . . .”
Alarmed, she looked first at him and then out the window, expecting a deer to be standing inthe middle of the road—an almost common experience. Instead, the road was beginning to shift
away as they slid out of control on a slight curve.
“Shit,” Leo said through clenched teeth. “Hang on . . .”
She was ahead of him there, clutching both the dashboard and the uppermost handle beside her.“Leo,” she said, almost a whisper.
Ahead of them the landscape changed from the comfort of the black macadam to a blizzard ofwhite snow as they plowed through an embankment that exploded across their windshield. Theycould hear beneath them the tearing of metal against the remnants of a hidden guardrail, alongwith their own seemingly disconnected shouting. They were first jarred by several abruptencounters with buried stumps or boulders, and then became weightless as the car began tobarrel roll, causing their heads to be surrounded by flying maps, CDs, loose change, and anassortment of now lethal tools that Leo normally kept in the back.
In the sudden darkness following the loss of both headlights, Leo’s mother focused solely onthe muffled sounds around her, coming from all sides as they continued farther and fartherdownhill. She began thinking about the cold water that might be waiting at the bottom—if thatwas the way they were headed.
And then it was over. In one explosive flash, she felt a shocking blow to the side of her head,the sense of some metallic object, perhaps a lug wrench, passing before her face, and thennothing.
Leo opened his eyes briefly before shutting them again with a wince, brought up short by aburst of pain in his left eye. He paused a moment, trying to sort through the throbbing at histemples, to remember what had happened.
“Mom?” he asked suddenly, attempting to see again, ignoring the pain. He shifted in his seat,looking in her direction. The car was black and utterly silent. Carefully, he reached out andtouched her, the tips of his cold fingers slipping on something wet on the side of her head.
“Oh, Jesus,” he murmured. He made to turn toward her and shouted in agony, the entire leftside of his chest suddenly spiking as if electrified. He sat back, panting, and coughed,feeling as if his lungs were full of phlegm. He gingerly pushed through his overcoat at hisribs with his good hand and winced.
“God damn it,” he said, mostly to hear his own voice. “Mom?” he repeated then, reaching outa second time, but lower, groping for her shoulder, which appeared to be fine—maybe merelybecause it was there at all.
But she wasn’t moving.
It was cold, and the other thing his fingers had felt was snow. Somewhere there was a brokenwindow. He had no idea how long they’d been here, had no clue if they were visible from theroad. He didn’t even know if they were both alive.
He followed her shoulder up to her neck and burrowed his index finger between her collar andthe scarf she was wearing, probing for a pulse. He was a butcher, he thought ruefully. At leasthe knew his way around a body.
His fingers were too cold. If her heart was beating, he couldn’t feel it, but he doubted hecould have anyway. At least that was the comfort he gave himself.
“Okay, okay,” he said softly. “Probably just as well. No pain, no struggling. She’s got hercoat on. Could be worse.”
Still using his right hand, he touched the window next to him. Intact. He didn’t feel asthough they were on their side, and he couldn’t hear running water, which meant they hadn’treached the river. So far, so good.
He felt down to the door latch and pulled it. Nothing. Probably jammed. With even fewerexpectations, he tried the electric window toggle. He was rewarded with a gentle whirring soundand a cool waft of air against his cheek.
“No shit,” he muttered, noticing how hard it was to breathe, to actually move his lungs. Thewindow had lowered all the way. He considered shouting, but with the cold air had also come a
wider silence, as from a chasm without bottom. He knew this road—it either had traffic or wasempty. There were no pedestrians and few homes.
He had to get out.
He moved his feet and found his lower body uninjured. That was good. But even at 100 percent,struggling out the side window of a small car wasn’t easy. And, he knew by now, he was farfrom 100 percent, just as he knew that wasn’t phlegm in his lungs.
“Ma?” he said, barely whispering by now. “Can you hear me? I got to try to get help.”
He sighed, gritted his teeth, took hold of the steering wheel with his good hand, and pushed upwith his feet, hoping to launch himself at least partway out the window.
The pain was beyond imagination. It felt like lava, filling him with heat and blinding redlight, exploding inside his head and making him gasp for air. Beyond that, he could feelsomething fundamental shift within him, as if the cellar of a house had suddenly vanished intothe earth, leaving everything above it precariously poised above a void. For a split second, hecould almost see himself hovering in the air, somewhere between heaven and oblivion.
And then he, too, collapsed into the blackness and the utter, all-encompassing quiet of awinter night.
Brett: so wut u doing
gIRl: chatting with u
Brett: u in school
gIRl: home - school get out at 220
Brett: oh cool
Brett: so u ain’t got no bf to be hanging with
gIRl: nope broke
Brett: that sucks
gIRl: i guess
It was postcard serene—trees coated in white snow, hanging low over a tumbling brook whoseboulders were collared with sugar halos of ice, sparkling in the sun. The painfully blue skyoverhead daubed the darkly rushing water with the hint of a bruise as it emerged, cascading,from a large, cavernlike culvert projecting from under a quaint backcountry dirt road.
Joe Gunther studied that road a moment. It emerged from the woods like a fairy-tale prop,entered the sunshine, its snowy shoulders dazzling in the light, leaped the culvert, andvanished as magically into the darkness of the trees on the far side. There were no railingshemming it in as it spanned the water, not even a curb. In fact, if viewed from a low enoughangle, the road appeared to cross the brook as if by the stroke of a paintbrush.
“What do you think?”
Joe glanced over at Sammie Martens, his only female squad member and as close as he had to alieutenant.
“I think it’s dangerous as hell,” he said. “Bet more than one driver’s gotten whiteknuckles crossing this thing.”
“Not to mention the odd pedestrian,” she added ruefully.
Joe nodded and grunted his agreement, approaching the edge overlooking the water. Sam joinedhim to stare down at the swirl and tumble of the stream gushing out below them. There was apile of boulders right at the mouth of the culvert, then a widening where one of the bankstabled out slightly to form a small beach before the trees downstream crowded in once more andnarrowed the channel to create a miniature whitewater chute that raced off around a bend.
At the edge of the snow-clad beach, the water slowed and flattened enough to create a pool—nodoubt a popular swimming hole during the summer. Not that Joe had been hard-pressed to conjureup such an image, since floating facedown in the middle of the pool was the body of a fullyclothed man.
“You think that’s what he was?” he asked her.
Instead of answering, Sammie merely shrugged.
By the water’s edge, a diver for the Vermont State Police was adjusting the last piece ofequipment on his cold-water suit. Before lowering his face mask, he called up to Joe. “Youready for me to go in?”
Joe gave him a thumbs-up.
Another state police officer, this one looking cold despite his zipped and snapped bulky skiparka, approached from the other side of the short bridge. Joe and he had just been introducedminutes earlier. He was Jeff Dupree, originally from Virginia, and he was still getting used tothe cold weather, even after five years up here.
“You find anything up that way, Jeff?” Joe asked as he drew near.
The young man shook his head before reporting in a soft Southern accent. “A couple of housesabout a third of a mile up. One’s empty; the other had no idea—older couple that keep tothemselves. They told me the road dead-ends about a mile up, at least in the winter. The towndoesn’t plow it. I didn’t see any tracks by the side of the road along the way that told meanything.”
Joe nodded. “Thanks. You got their names and information?”
Dupree tapped his chest with a heavily gloved hand. “Sure do.”
Joe smiled at the sight. His own jacket was unzipped and he was without gloves, consideringthis an unusually warm day. He returned to watching the diver below.
He and Sam were the only representatives from the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, the state’sindependent major-crimes unit. The others, and there were five of them by now, were all fromthe state police. It hadn’t always been so. In the not so distant past, the troopers wouldhave owned this scene and been led by detectives from their own BCI division. But, recently, by