Authors: Terry Odell
Copyright © 2012 by Terry Odell
Cover design by
To everyone at OSCO for all they do.
And of course, for Dan, for always being there.
That’s a buck to you, Mac.”
Sorry. What did you say?” Colleen MacDonald picked up her cards. The shapes blurred, and she blinked. Right. Detweiler’s kitchen. Poker night.
A buck. Are you in or out?” A deep voice floated in from somewhere.
Colleen glanced around the table. Kovak, to her left, studied his cards, his fair skin flushing red into his blond hair. To her right, Grady’s stubby fingers rearranged his chips.
Two missing chairs. Did they think she wouldn’t notice Montoya and Cooper weren’t here simply because the extra chairs were shoved in a closet? Tears prickled, and she swallowed past a lump in her throat. It was her fault Montoya wasn’t here. Would never be at another game—or anywhere else—again. Cooper was another story. Colleen knew he hadn’t come simply because she was here.
She looked across the kitchen table into the serious brown eyes of Randy Detweiler, her best friend on the Pine Hills Police force. He’d included her in the game over Cooper’s objections. She wasn’t sure she’d made the right decision by coming.
You okay, kid?” Randy asked.
The compassion in his tone was more than she could take. “I’m fine. Just daydreaming while you bigshots take your sweet time.” She slapped her cards facedown on the table in front of her. “I’m out.” Definitely out. She glanced at the piles of chips on the table and couldn’t remember how the stack in front of her had grown so large. Great. Her best night in as long as she could remember, and she had no recollection of how she’d done it.
She pushed back her chair and went to the counter for another soda, knowing three pairs of eyes followed her. The crack of the tab popping sent a shiver down her spine. Gripping the counter to hide the trembling in her hands, she took a deep breath. Three months. She’d never make detective this way, that was for sure.
Detective? Who was she kidding? If she couldn’t get over a bust gone south in three months, maybe she had no business being a cop at all. She took a pull of her drink. The chilled liquid did nothing to settle the roiling in her stomach.
Be right back,” she said, forcing a smile. “Too much soda.” Once she was out of view, she snatched her purse and jacket from the easy chair in the living room and sneaked out the front door. They were gentlemen—they’d give her at least ten minutes before they’d wonder what was taking so long. Maybe longer if their cards had fallen right.
She hurried down the street, working her way into her jacket against the autumn night air. Scarecrows, pumpkins and pretend cemeteries decorated front yards as she made her way down the block. She jerked back as a bedsheet ghost swung from an overhanging tree branch and brushed her cheek. Heart thumping, Colleen reached for her absent weapon.
Shooting at bedsheets now?
And if the threat had been real, would she have fired?
She leaned against the door of her Bronco and counted to ten. Got inside and counted again. When she stopped shaking, she peeled away from Randy’s house. Everyone was trying so hard to pretend nothing had changed. Well, things
changed. Maybe the answer was to leave Pine Hills. Find a place where she wouldn’t be reminded of that July night every time she turned around. Not wonder what people were thinking when they looked at her. Not pretend she didn’t notice the silence when she approached, the exchanged looks when she passed. Maybe then she’d be able to sleep through the night.
A red light at the highway entrance forced her to stop. Images of that night returned. With her sleeve, she swiped tears from her eyes. She gripped the steering wheel and tried to slow her breathing. Beads of sweat trickled down her neck, and she couldn’t gather enough spit to swallow. She flicked her blinker up instead of down and headed west toward the coast, concentrating on the drive through the mountainous terrain and forcing everything else from her mind.
Three hours later, she sat in a booth nursing another Scotch in a dim bar near the waterfront, letting the alcohol send her into that numb place where the images couldn’t intrude. Cold air smelling of brine and fish crept through the open window next to the door and she huddled deeper into her jacket.
Want to talk about it?” came a soft female voice from the edge of the booth, a voice she recognized. Sarah Tucker, Randy’s girlfriend.
Colleen stared into her glass. “No. I don’t.” She wouldn’t look up, although she sensed Sarah sliding across the vinyl bench across from her. “What are you doing here? And how did you find me?”
The guys heard you burn rubber when you left and when you didn’t show up at your place, Randy called me. I told him I didn’t know where you were, so he called in a lookout order for your car. A trooper spotted it about half an hour out of town and—”
And the good old boys kept an eye out for poor little Mac. At least he didn’t call my mother.” She gave Sarah a piercing stare. “He didn’t. Tell me he didn’t.”
No, he didn’t.”
Thank God for small favors.”
Sarah gripped Colleen’s hand. “We’re worried about you.”
We?” Colleen blinked to clear her vision. “Who else is here?”
Just Randy. Outside. In the car.”
Damn it to hell, Sarah! Why can’t you two mind your own business and leave me alone.”
Sarah didn’t flinch. “Because I’m your friend.” She leaned forward. “Tell me the truth. Do you do this often?” She dipped her head toward the glass.
Get drunk? No. Look, things got a little overwhelming. I needed to get away and I ended up in a bar. Drinking seemed like the right thing to do at the time. But no, I’m not a drunk.” She forced herself to meet Sarah’s blue eyes. “I’m not.”
Asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of.”
Colleen wrenched her hand free. “I’m out of here.” She gulped the rest of her drink and slammed the glass on the table. She stood and the room spun. Shaking her head to clear it didn’t help at all, and she reached for the table to steady herself.
How many of these did you have?” Sarah asked.
According to the bartender, this is her fourth.”
Colleen cringed at the sound of Randy’s voice. “Why can’t you mind your own business, Detweiler?”
Colleen felt Randy’s arm slide under hers. For a split second, she relaxed into the protection of his six-foot-six frame. Just as quickly, she jerked away. “Let go of me, Detweiler. I don’t want you here.”
Too bad, Mac. And watch that Scottish temper of yours. I outrank you, remember.”
Not while I’m on leave. Leave. That’s a good idea. Why don’t
Come on, Colleen. Let’s leave together.” Sarah’s arm wrapped around her waist before everything went dark.
In the steamy cocoon of the shower, Colleen McDonald fingered the dimpled scar the bullet had left on her thigh, and the long, straight one where they’d repaired her femoral artery. She knew the scars were no longer a garish red, but she refused to look at them. Thankfully, the exit wound on the back of her leg was out of sight unless she worked at it. The physical pain had gone, but not the ugly reminders that screamed “failure.”
She watched the sudsy water swirl down the drain, willing it to take her memories along.
Get a grip. It’s over. Forget Pine Hills. You made your choice, so get on with your life.
She declared yesterday a do-over. Hell, as long as she was changing the rules of time, the last three months had never happened. But then she’d still be a cop in Pine Hills, Oregon, instead of a basket case in Orlando, Florida.
Wrapped in a towel, another turbaned around her head, Colleen padded into the living room of her new home, looking for the carryon suitcase she’d abandoned last night. She dragged it into the bedroom and dumped the contents onto the bed, mumbling a quick thanks to her mother’s advice to pack a day’s worth of essentials into her carryon.
A distant rumbling, like an approaching thunderstorm, reverberated through the room. She slid a corner of the curtain aside and peered out at a cloudless blue sky. Not a leaf or branch moved. She had a lot to learn about Florida weather.
The doorbell rang, and she grabbed her robe. Who came calling at seven in the morning? The airline delivering her luggage? That would be too much to hope for. More likely Mrs. Walters, her new landlady. Another ring, followed by a determined knock.
She wriggled into her robe. “One minute. Who’s there?”
Orange County Sheriff.”
Her pulse raced. She yanked the towel off her head, shook out her hair and went to the door. Tightening the belt on her robe, she squinted through the peephole at a man in a dark green uniform.
God, had someone on the Pine Hills force called in a favor, asked the locals to check on her?
Hey, I’ve got a friend who’s close to the edge. Drop in, make sure she’s all right.
Right. As if they cared.
Take it easy. Find out what he wants.
Colleen pulled the door open enough to talk, not enough to invite him in. Tall as he was, and with his eyes obscured behind mirrored sunglasses, Colleen fought the urge to slam the door.
What do you want, Deputy?” She heard the raspy tone of her voice and cleared her throat. Her eyes automatically sought the nametag pinned to his broad chest. Graham Harrigan.
I’m looking for Jeffrey Walters,” he said, removing his sunglasses.
Not for her. Exhaling with relief, she talked to his nametag. “I don’t know any Jeffrey Walters. Only Doris Walters, my landlady, and I’ve never met her in person. I got here last night. Try the main house.”
I did, but there was no answer.”
Is there something wrong?” That low-pitched sound rumbled through the air again, but if the deputy heard, he gave no indication. She fixed her gaze on his chin and waited.
His daughter said he wasn’t returning her calls. Asked us to look in on him.” He pulled out a small notebook and pen. “Can I have your name, ma’am?”
His voice was more bored than belligerent, but he was a man, a cop, and she wanted him gone. She paused. No need to piss him off.
His tone warmed twenty degrees. “Good morning, Colleen McDonald. Scottish or Irish?” He gave her a congenial smile.
Scottish.” As if he could disarm her that easily. She pulled her robe tighter and put her hand to the doorknob. “Why don’t you leave me your card, Deputy Harrigan, and I’ll tell Mrs. Walters, or this Jeffrey person—if I see him—to call you. I have things to do.”
He pocketed his notebook and handed her a business card. “As one Celt to another, thanks. I’m sure it’s nothing.”
Colleen tucked the card into the pocket of her robe. Before she closed the door, she heard the rumbling again. “Can I ask a question?”
Sure.” His expression was guarded.
What’s that noise? The one that sounds like Dorothy and Toto should be flying by?”
He grinned. “You
new around here. Roller coasters. Universal Studios runs them empty for testing every morning at seven. It’ll quiet down once the park opens. You might hear screaming if the wind is right.”
Roller coasters. Screaming people. Right. Thanks.” She gave him what she hoped would pass for a smile.
Yes, ma’am.” He slipped his sunglasses on and headed up the driveway.
Colleen went to get dressed, working past her nervous reaction to finding a cop giving her the once over. Harrigan was doing his job and had no reason to know anything about her past. No reason to judge her.
Yet she suspected Harrigan had been studying her with those deep blue eyes. His face appeared before her, with its dark wavy hair, straight nose, cleft chin, light bronze skin.
Holy shit, where had that come from? She snorted. She’d reacted like a cop, automatically assessing a person. Six two, broad-shouldered, early thirties. A man in uniform. Exactly what she wanted to avoid, why she’d left Pine Hills. She’d ask Doris Walters about Jeffrey, have her call Harrigan, and be done with him.
Deputy Graham Harrigan sat at his computer in the Sheriff’s Office substation, the normal sounds of office activity fading to white noise as he hunted and pecked his way through the report he needed to file. As he’d told himself countless times, he should take a keyboarding class so he could get through the drudgery faster. The smell of stale, burnt coffee permeated the air, and he wished he’d taken a few minutes to stop at Starbucks.