Unfortunately he was right. Not being able to contradict him, I murmured something noncommittal and went down the outside stairs. Facing the inevitable was something I did well.
At street level I emerged into the town circle. A half-circle really, like a half moon. Harold Burrywood, town father, had been a fervent admirer of Bath, England where the finest streets are curved, so he made the main street of Burrywood rainbow-shaped and put a grassy park in the middle. He built a white, octagonal, wood-railed bandstand there and stuck an ornate brass sundial between it and the water. A few misplaced sun-worshipers call the sundial "Harold's Hoax." Let them move to California. Personally, I like rain.
The bottom of the park was flat, bordering Waterfront Way and the fishing docks. Around the arc were places of business - Neal's office above the drugstore at one end, The Banner office at the other. In between were the post office, bakery, grocery, and other shops people need to function. Right now I needed the police station, two doors from the drugstore.
It was in a fifty-year-old building which had started life as a general store. Now it was furnished with wanted posters, a couple of old church pews, and a scarred wooden counter which protected Lester and his staff of one from all us regular folk. Ginger Hall looked up from a computer screen as I entered. As always, I marveled at the sight of her. She did her best to fit into a uniform, but any garment that was right for her waist could barely contain the rest of her. Now she grinned. "Diana, it's nice to see you." We enjoy each other. I'm old enough to be her mother but we think alike. And Ivy, her twelve-year-old daughter who was the reason she moved to this small town, considers me to be part of the family. Ginger stood and came to the counter. When she got a good look at me her smile faded. "What's wrong? Something's happened."
"It's Neal." My hand gripped hers to offer support. Even police officers had to find it shocking to hear this kind of news. "He's been killed." It was hard to say it now. What would it be like to tell Charlotte? "It happened in his office and Lester's there. He needs you."
For the first time I wondered what had taken Lester to Neal's office this morning, and about the coincidence that had him arriving so soon after I had. Lester was a hometown boy, born to the Methodist minister when I was in high school. I'd known him his whole life - changed his diapers now and then - and I knew he was pretty smart. I didn't think he was psychic though. So what had taken him to Neal's office?
Ginger had gone white, a dusting of freckles standing out on her smooth skin. One frozen moment, then she moved to the phone. She rapped out some numbers, told someone to answer all calls, and quick-stepped to the door with me in her wake. She spun the hands on a cardboard clock to say the office would be open at noon and took off toward the drugstore at a trot. Her red hair bounced. I didn't try to keep up. She turned into the walkway toward the office stairs and disappeared.
When she was gone I took a shaky breath. I wanted to head across the circle to The Banner, lock the door, and recover the equanimity for which I was famous. Of course I couldn't. It was time to face Charlotte.
I dragged one foot after the other down the street, following Ginger. Overhead gulls wheeled and screeched, borne on a mild breeze. Ahead of me, beyond the empty docks, the water of the sound sparkled in thin sunshine. In the distance a ferry crossed to the opposite shore where snow-capped Olympics loomed. It all looked so peaceful. What a sham!
On the corner of the drugstore building an arrow pointed toward the outside stairway and a sign said, "Neil V. Thomas, Mayor." People ascribed various names to the initial - vermin, viper, villain. My own choice had been vacuous. I passed the sign and went on to the streetside door of the store.
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