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Authors: Nevada Barr

Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Suspense, #Mystery & Detective, #Mystery Fiction, #Women Sleuths, #Pigeon; Anna (Fictitious character), #Women park rangers, #Mississippi, #Natchez Trace Parkway

Hunting Season

BOOK: Hunting Season
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HUNTING

SEASON

Nevada Barr

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

G. P. Putnam's Sons
Publishers Since 1838
a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.

375 Hudson Street New York, NY 10014

Copyright © 2002 by Nevada Barr All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Published simultaneously in Canada Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Barr, Nevada. Hunting season / Nevada Barr.
p
. cm.

ISBN 0-399-14846-9

1. Pigeon, Anna (Fictitious character)—Fiction.

2. Natchez Trace Parkway—Fiction.

3. Women park rangers—Fiction.

4. Mississippi—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3552.A73184H86 2002 2001048386

813'.54—dc21

Printed in the United States of America

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

BOOK DESIGN BY AMANDA DEWEY ENDPAPER MAP BY JACKIE AHER

 

For
the people of Clinton, Mississippi, who welcomed me into their lives and supported my work.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thanks to Sheriff McMillan for his guidance, and apologies to the sheriff of Jefferson County for handing his jurisdiction over to Adams County.

 

1

 The priest was droning on inexorably toward "till death do us part," and Anna began to get nervous. At some point over the years, the well-worn phrase had come to feel more like a sinister threat than a romantic promise.

Death had parted Anna from her husband years before, sudden and pointless death delivered by a cab driver on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan. Judging from the internal damage to Zach's body, the NYPD accident investigator estimated the cab was traveling at fifty to sixty miles per hour on a city street. The impact had knocked Zach out of his shoes. They were found, still laced, sixty feet from his body, a detail Anna hadn't needed to know then and didn't like remembering now.

Nearly a hundred people had witnessed the accident; a baker's dozen stayed to tell their story to the police. No one had gotten the cab's license plate number. No one heard the squeal of brakes. There were no marks on the asphalt to indicate the cabbie had tried to stop or even swerve.

"Drunk or high," the accident investigator had offered. "Or maybe just didn't know where the brake pedal was. Some of these guys get their driver's licenses off Froot Loops boxes on the boat over from Iran."

Six hours after Zach died Anna identified his body at the morgue. Despite the violence of the collision, his body was almost completely unmarked. Still, he'd not looked as if he were sleeping. That was a story invented for comforting children. Without life inside, the human body looked like the awkward and asymmetrical compilation of parts it was. At the time she'd known seeing the face in death would eclipse a thousand memory pictures of him in life. And so it had.

Alarmed by the return of morbid visions she'd not suffered—or, as her sister Molly might have said, indulged in—for a long while, Anna shook herself, the tremor of an animal ridding its hide of biting flies.

A plump brown hand bearing a squirrel's weight in gold and semiprecious stones patted her knee reassuringly. The stately black matron beside her on the pew was a stranger, but this was Mississippi. In the South there were still people who believed "what you do to the least of these, you do also to me." Solace was not strictly reserved for friends and family.

Startled, Anna smiled at her benefactress and received a nod in return, a minute dipping of a fabulous crimson hat with a prow like a pirate ship, sequins glittering like plunder. On a white woman it would have looked absurd. Atop this substantial black woman it was grand and subtly defiant.

Made uncomfortable by random kindness, Anna looked away. Alarm at harboring funereal thoughts at a wedding crept up on her in the form of superstition, a race memory of evil fairies come to christenings with curses for the princeling child. She crossed herself, then felt guiltier still. She wasn't Catholic. She wasn't even Christian. It was merely a habit picked up from the nuns during her years at Mercy High.

Contemplating her megrims, Anna realized she'd not been in a church of any stripe in more years than she cared to remember. The Restin-Wells nuptials were oddly timed—a morning wedding with a brunch following. For the uninitiated, being at a holy edifice at 9 a.m. before one was properly fortified with sin and coffee was taxing.

St. James Episcopal Church in Port Gibson had been built in the 1800s. Dark wood and vaulted ceiling, glass stained with saints, most of whom died grisly deaths, invited belief, if not in the divine, then at least in a human history steeped in blood.

A laugh boiled hot in Anna's lungs. She only just caught it before it blew past her lips and she made a spectacle of herself. Who was she kidding? Gods, demons, death in its myriad forms, none of it scared her. Marriage was what gave her the willies. A marriage performed by Paul Davidson, the man it was possible she was vaguely, carefully falling in love with, was even creepier.

She was used to seeing Paul in his comforting gun-toting persona as the sheriff of Claiborne County. Knowing he was also an ordained Episcopal priest was one thing. Seeing him in the collar, a Bible in the blunt, capable hands, as sunlight filtered through glassine lambs and shepherds, dying his blond hair three shades of Paschal green, gave the whole experience the unsettling feel of a drug-soaked dream.

Naming her demons freed Anna of them, and she returned her attention to the ceremony. Lonnie Restin, one of Paul's deputies, was the groom. Anna had worked with him on the Posey murder the previous spring. She'd seen him face the corpse of a child and a crazy lady racist, but she'd never seen him as nervous as he was sliding a band of gold onto the finger of his young bride.

As Lonnie murmured "with this ring," Paul looked up for an instant. His eyes locked with Anna's, and she felt a jolt stronger than touch and heard the quick hissing intake of her breath. Then Paul was back with the bride and groom, eye contact broken. It was as if he had vanished from right before her to reappear forty feet away.

This sudden warping of the space-time continuum left her tingling. It took several seconds to realize at least part of the sensation was promulgated by the pager in the side pocket of her dress vibrating against her thigh. Though it made no sound, Anna was conscious that, in carrying it at all, she had become one of
them,
a member of the army battering down the last feeble remnants of graciousness, taking the final step in the cant of the "me" generation by dragging pagers and cell phones into theaters, churches, AA meetings, dinner parties and wakes. Ringing and buzzing declared priorities: My convenience takes precedence over your paltry event.

Now at Lonnie's sacred moment, Anna's thigh was vibrating with other peoples' priorities. She excused herself from the ranks of Miss Manners's nemeses by telling herself she
needed
to carry the beeper. The Trace from Natchez to Jackson was uncovered till she came on duty at noon. Randy Thigpen, one of her GS-9 field rangers, had demanded the four to midnight shift. The other, Barth Dinkins, on 8 A.M. to 3:30 p.m., had taken four hours of sick leave to visit the dentist.

Needed.

Sure.

As if beeping her in church could stop a crime wave or a spurting artery.

What the activity in her pocket might augur flashed through her mind as she steadfastly refused to fish the beeper out and look at it, at least not before the bride and groom had gotten their share of rice thrown. Highway death. Hunting accident. Domestic dispute. Visitors center out of toilet paper.

Lonnie and Showanda Restin were presented. Applause carried them down the aisle. Not rice but rose petals, handed out in paper cones before the ceremony, showered the newlyweds. Ushers began emptying the church pew by pew, starting at the front. Paul disappeared; after the service the priest was superfluous. He'd scuttled into a priestly sort of bolthole to slip into something less godly before going to brunch.

Paul was understanding of Anna's discomfiture with anything that smacked of The Cloth. He'd given her explicit instructions as if she were a small child in danger of becoming lost in the woods: "After the ceremony stay put. Don't move. I will come find you."

The kindly Christian in the crimson cap weighed anchor and was sailing out with the tide of people leaving the church. Anna slipped the beeper from her pocket. On the digital read-out was the number of Mt. Locust Visitors Center followed by 911. Not toilet paper.

She sat back down and rummaged through her purse. The South and dating again had had a feminizing effect. Several dresses now hung in her closet, along with an accumulation of National Park Service uniforms, and she was growing accustomed to female accoutrements. Her watch was in an inside zipper pocket. It read 9:22 A.M. Without even thinking about it, she registered the time she first got the call for the inevitable report that would follow.

The church emptied quickly and she was left along with saints, shepherds and chrysanthemums. Even in a church peace came with solitude. Anna let her mind float with the dust motes on the dyed sunbeams. Minutes passed and Paul emerged from some inner sanctum to the left of the altar. As he walked, he rolled up the sleeves of a green woolen shirt, exposing his forearms. When Anna's sexual triggers were set, during those confusing years between birth and senior prom, along with strong hands, the smell of Scotch whiskey and sun-warmed cotton, rolled sleeves on brown arms had been factored in.

For a moment she stayed still in the shadows, merely enjoying the sensation of enjoying watching a man.

"That's a
pretty dress, is it new?" Paul said as he walked down the side of the pews to where she waited, jewel tones from the stained glass washing across his face and hair.

The dress was pretty. And it was new. This wasn't the first compliment Anna had received from Paul Davidson. All the same she felt an upwelling of self-consciousness that only bald-faced truth could quell.

"Bought it new to impress you," she said, and he smiled in a slow southern way that reached deep into his eyes. "I can't make Lonnie's brunch," she said abruptly, not liking to feel in a church the sensations that smile engendered. "Duty calls." She showed him the beeper by way of explanation.

A shimmer ran through the denim blue of his eyes. The smile widened fractionally, then relaxed. The light was uncertain but Anna had seen relief enough times to know it. Intellectually, she couldn't blame him. There was a Mrs. Davidson who had crawled out of the woodwork. Paul and his wife had been separated for nearly four years: each with their own homes, jobs, finances, friends, and if you believed Paul and Anna did, no conjugal visits to talk over old times on either side of the sheets. But no divorce. Mrs. Davidson had not wanted one and Paul let it be. Till he'd met Anna and filed. Mrs. Davidson was contesting. Along with football and hunting, Mississippi still revered the institution of marriage and had hammered that reverence into law. There were three grounds for divorce in the state: commission of a felony, cruel and unusual treatment, and adultery. There had been adultery, but too damn little of it, as far as Anna was concerned. Sheriff Davidson had succumbed once or twice but in the end Father Davidson prevailed. A man who was true to his principles wasn't much comfort on hot summer nights.

Anna never pushed. She, too, had principles, though they hadn't been sanctioned by the bishop. She wouldn't be a part of Paul being defrocked for behavior unbecoming a representative of the church, and she wouldn't play a part in a scandal that would lose him his upcoming re-election for sheriff. Once she'd thought she'd never willingly form any part of a triangle, but it was too late for that. By keeping her clothes on and sleeping alone, she hoped to retain the dignity and self-respect they would both need if they were to be able to meet without shame after the divorce.

Though she was relieved they would not have to share a romantic social event while steadfastly being neither romantic nor social, Paul's obvious relief stung. Heart and ego are not big proponents of logic.

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