Authors: Janice Kay Johnson
What child didn't? John thought. Wasn't it a parent's job to
teach the virtues of hard work and charity?
"He was our only boy. We have two girls. Good girls. They
both have families now. One works for the county assessor's office. I don't
know, maybe we're the ones who spoiled Ronnie. But that boy. He was in trouble
with the law by the time he was twelve. Shoplifting. It's just been one thing
after the other."
"Ralph?" From the living room came his wife's
shaky voice. "Ralph, are you talking to that policeman?"
Moving wearily, feet shuffling, Ralph Floyd passed John and
went to his wife. He sat beside her on the couch, patting her restless hands on
her lap, and they both gazed with deep sadness and anxiety at John, who sat in
an armchair facing them.
He explained again how Ronald Floyd had died. "I'm
hoping you can tell me something that might help find his killer," he
said. "Can you give me names of friends? Was he working? Do you have his
They did have that. His father gave the names of some
friends from high school but shook his head when pressed for others. "He'd
mention people in prison—Joe or Buzz Saw or some such nonsense, but I have no
idea whether they're still locked up or not. He wouldn't have brought a cell
mate home. He knew better than that."
"Ronnie was working at a marina," Mrs. Floyd said
timidly. "He was good with boats, you know."
Her husband nodded. "He always liked boats. He did say
he had a job. I think he was taking out those whale-watching trips."
John made a note.
"Was he angry about his arrest? Did he ever mention the
officer who arrested him?"
Both shook their heads. "He said somebody had set him
up, but a couple of years ago he mentioned that the fellow was dead. Said he
would have liked to have punched his nose, and he guessed he wouldn't get the
"Did he give a name?"
They didn't remember if he had. Pretty obviously, they
didn't know this son who mystified them. To his credit, he'd stayed in touch,
but it came down to a few letters and phone calls a year, and one fleeting
visit when he got out of the pen. The job was likely a fantasy. John only hoped
the address wasn't.
He promised to call them once he'd checked out the
apartment, and to send any effects. They'd be in touch about the body, he told
"You'll let us know?" Mr. Floyd asked at least
three times. "When you find out why someone killed him?"
"I'll keep you informed as the investigation
progresses," he agreed. After offering his regrets again, he left the
couple standing on their front porch, their body language expressing the
inertia, disbelief and grief he so vividly remembered his mother showing when
his father was gunned down. But, because the Floyds knew in their hearts that
their son had brought on his own end, they wouldn't find relief in anger as
John's mother had.
As he crossed a sparkling blue neck of Puget Sound on the
high span of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, John brooded about the visit. Forget
the easy answers. Ronald Floyd had not spent his years in the clink planning
how he could wreak revenge on Officer Stuart Reed.
On the other hand, he had left Monroe and gone right back to
Port Dare. Less than a month later, he was killed in Natalie Reed's house,
which wasn't tossed. There had to be a reason he was there, and a reason he
But what the hell was it?
And how safe was Natalie while they hunted for hard answers?
ne hoof pawed
stallion's wiry tail snapped viciously across Natalie's face as she checked the
girth. Cross-tied in the barn aisle, Foxfire had been in one of his twitchier
moods from the minute she'd slung the saddle blanket across his back.
When she led him outside to the mounting block, however, he
followed like a lamb and stood obligingly still for her to swing her leg over
"You're setting me up, aren't you?" she muttered.
Taking a deep breath, she sprang.
He might have caught her by surprise if he'd been just a
tiny bit less docile. As it was, she was forewarned. The wretched animal bucked
before her butt even hit the saddle.
She grabbed at the horn and her dignity, slapping his neck
with her reins as she inelegantly shoved her toes into the stirrups. All the
while he whirled and tossed his head and shivered his skin.
Pam Reynolds, the stable owner, shook her head as she
watched. A once-pretty woman with a weathered face and a grip as callused and
strong as a construction worker's, she leaned against the white board fence,
hands shoved into the pockets of the down vest she wore over dusty jeans and a
"That horse is going to come back without you one of
Natalie gave the stallion one more reproving whack on the
neck. "Probably," she admitted.
Pam continued critically, "That horse was not bred for
The stallion flattened his ears and hunched his back.
"No," Natalie agreed, forcing him to tuck his chin
and go into reverse.
He scrambled back so quickly he sank onto his haunches, then
danced in place.
"I'd advise you to sell him."
"I know you would."
Pam's grin gave her the look of an aging elf. "Of
course, then I'd have to snap him up and risk my own life and limb, so maybe it's
just as well you keep him."
Natalie laughed. "You know, you're welcome to ride him
The stable owner shook her head. "The damn horse is
worth too much. I don't want him breaking a leg on my watch."
Foxfire spun in a circle.
Ruefully feeling as if she'd be seeing a chiropractor for
whiplash, Natalie said over her shoulder, "I wouldn't sue you. I'd know he
had it coming."
"You better get before he decides not to wait for
you." Pam jerked her head toward the gate. "But do stick to the trail
so someone can find your body if you break your neck."
Wincing at the idea of a body, even her own, sprawled on the
mist-dampened ground, Natalie simply nodded. "I'll be good." She
eased the reins and sat back only a minute amount, feeling the horse's
eagerness as he bounded forward. "Hey, guy," she murmured, "this
isn't a race."
He didn't want to trot and, to punish her, managed a stiff
gait that jarred her teeth as if she were driving a road that was wall-to-wall
Nonetheless, she held him to it, and as they left the gates
of the ranch behind, Foxfire's ears flicked forward and the ride smoothed. At
best, Arabians had a bouncy trot, showy in the ring but not comfortable. They
had been bred for endurance, for traveling all day in the arid desert without rest
Once the trail intersected the broader one used by horsemen,
runners and bicyclists, Natalie let the stallion stretch into an easy lope. The
gray mist clung to treetops and hid the mountains from her, beading on long,
autumn-gold grasses in the fields that sloped toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Foxfire's hooves thudded on the damp earth in a rhythm, a mantra. The cool,
moist air cleansed her; the power gathered beneath her gave Natalie an
intoxicating sense of control and invincibility.
Illusory, of course, she was reminded when a small bird
exploded from the underbrush to chase a hawk above, and the stallion shied,
shaking his head and kicking his heels, twisting beneath her in momentary
rebellion. She loosed the reins, urged him with tightened legs to go faster
and, in his eagerness, he forgot his pique. The adrenaline rush made Natalie
feel gloriously alive.
Best of all, she couldn't afford for even a second to let
her mind wander, to picture the body in the study, to wonder when she could go
home or if she wanted to. The chestnut stallion demanded that every grain of
her attention be on him. She needed to read his every quivering signal and
search the glistening Oregon grape and brown fronds of ferns beneath hemlock
and cedar for any creature or oddity that might spook him. Her body had to flow
with his. Too much tension, and the next time he leaped sideways she'd be flat
on her back on the trail, hard packed despite today's mist, breath knocked out
Oh, yes, her difficult horse and a damp day and the deserted
trail had been exactly what she needed.
, do you know where your daddy
Weary to the bone, John pulled into the detached one-car
garage off the alley and headed for the back door. The kids would be long since
asleep, he hoped. Hell, even his mother rarely stayed up past ten. Natalie, he
didn't know about. Wondering heightened his senses slightly as he inserted the
key in the lock. He didn't hear voices, real or canned from the TV, and from
the street he'd seen no light on in the living room.
He tried to be home for meals and to tuck his children into
bed at night. Their mother's diagnosis of multiple sclerosis was tough enough
for them, since it meant losing her as a part of their daily lives, having to visit
her in a place where illness couldn't be forgotten and they were reduced to
awkward kisses on her cheek and polite responses to her questions about school
and friends. They needed to be able to count on Daddy.
But his job wasn't nine-to-five, not in the first throes of
an investigation. Some of the lowlifes he'd needed to talk to didn't come out
from under their rocks until after dark. He was lucky to be home this early.
His mother's sporty Chevrolet was parked to one side of the
driveway. Even as irritated as he'd been at her this morning, John was grateful
that his kids had her and their uncles, that he wasn't their only close family.
But he was damned if he'd let her use chilly judgments and icy disapproval to
hammer his son into the avenging angel she'd wanted her own sons to be. Hell,
wasn't that what they were, cleansing the streets of the devil's spawn?
The house was quiet when he stepped in, one light left on in
the kitchen, a note taped to the microwave. He crossed quietly. Even Natalie
must be asleep.
Tidy block print read, "Leftover casserole in the
refrigerator. Heat for five minutes. I don't want to find it uneaten in the
He gave a rusty laugh. That was his mother all over. Caring
He should be hungry and wasn't, but he obediently took out
the plastic container, noted that it was one his mother made with cashews and
Chinese noodles that he liked, and stuck it in the microwave. Five minutes.
Listening to the hum, he thought how idiotic it was at his
age to have fleeting, wistful memories of the mother she'd been Before Dad
Died. He always thought of it that way, in capital letters. She had changed in
one horrific day, bewildering and terrifying her three boys. Instead of
progressing through all the stages of grief, emerging at the end as the mother
they knew, she'd seemed to get stuck part way, consumed by anger she still
carried. More of an optimist then, he'd actually hoped, back when Debbie was
pregnant, that in starting over with grandchildren his mother too could begin again.
Better than Hugh and Connor, he remembered her as a woman who had patiently
bandaged skinned knees and run breathlessly down the sidewalk holding up
two-wheelers, and not cared if paint happily slapped onto butcher paper dripped
off the edges onto the kitchen floor or table-top. Those memories of laughter
and tenderness and easy hugs were fading these days.
But he was still lucky she was here for Maddie and Evan.
They loved her, as much as she would allow.
Trouble was, he could foresee her getting harder and harder
on Evan. Opening the refrigerator again to look for something to drink, John
scowled. He'd been old enough when his father died to have some inner defenses.
His brothers, especially Hugh, hadn't been. His mother had messed with Hugh's
psyche but good, and he couldn't let her do the same to Evan. He didn't want to
hurt her by cutting her off from the kids, but the day was coming when he'd
have to find alternative baby-sitting—and either a tactful explanation of why
he had made the change, or the guts to be blunt.
"Is something spoiling in there?"