Like a homing pigeon, I headed for The Banner office across the park. I wanted to go inside, lock the door, and take stock. For an hour I'd been turning like a weathervane on a windy day, a circumstance I did not like.
The weekly was housed in a two-story brick building built by the paper's founder, the man my dad had bought from. Like Neal and Charlotte, I lived in an apartment above the store - windows on three sides, fireplace, oak woodwork, tiled kitchen, old gas stove, and a view of the water. But I spent most of my time downstairs digging out stories, setting them down, and seeing them published. The occupation had always satisfied me completely.
Well - this says it all. A sign in the window, next to one of Mady's "Brighten Burrywood" posters, read, "For Sale."
I opened the door without a key as usual, mentally reviewing my open-door policy. I'd always turned the bolts at night, but during the day it had never seemed necessary. We hadn't had many murders in town.
I shut the door behind me and started for the desk, then stopped and blinked in disbelief. Leaning back in my chair and reading my mail was Sam Patterson! Memories kicked up my heartbeat, excitement raised the hair on my neck, and resentment poured acid into my stomach. Just your regular mixed emotions.
I repressed them all. With age you learn to do that. "Sam," I said in a mild greeting. I moved behind the counter and stood next to my chair. Knee-jerk politeness forced him to his feet. I moved forward and he edged back. When there was room, I sat down and looked up at him.
He grinned. "Well done." He went around the desk and took another chair, stretching his booted feet out in front of him. His smile was as warm and lazy and provocative as it had been forty years before, and the few times I'd seen him between then and now. How did he do that?
Questions rattled through my head. I settled for, "When did you get back?"
"Evasive, Sam. Evasive." He'd always been good at dodging. But it was damned odd that he'd timed his arrival to coincide with the murder of Neal, a man who'd enraged him since high school. Not that I thought him capable of killing anybody. Sam would have a hard time with any action that involved more commitment than baiting a fishhook. Just ask me.
Today he wore an outfit quite normal for him, an old red and black lumberjack shirt and well-worn jeans. His iron-grey hair was still bushy and curly. His face was more creased than wrinkled. He looked pretty good for very late middle age. I sniffed at the air. He hadn't just come off his fishing boat, the office smelled only like paper and ink and the basket of eucalyptus leaves I'd placed on the counter some months ago.
"Neal's dead." I watched him with a lot of interest.
His jaw dropped. You read the phrase often but you seldom get to see it happen. He straightened up. "When?"
"Last night. This morning." I waved my hand. "Too soon to know."
"But doesn't Charlotte " He looked puzzled now. "Was it a heart attack?" Everyone's first question.
"My gaaawd!" The cry was long and drawn-out. He stumbled to his feet and began pacing the office. Papers fluttered off my desk in the breeze he created. Noting his manly strength and fitness, my heart fluttered a little too, just experimentally. There had been a time But now the flutter died, squashed by maturity and common sense.
Sam flapped his hands. "I picked a great day to reappear, didn't I?"
"You think they'll hold that last confrontation against you?" He and Neal had quarreled when he'd come home two years before. The fight - verbal for the most part - had been violent and scary. Sam didn't like the way Neal was treating Sam's sister, Rose.
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