Apart from the fact that the reconstitution of the crime for
oneself is the only effective method, it is the only interesting
one, the only one that stimulates the inquirer and keeps him
awake at his work.
Dr . Hans Gross,
At the sound of footsteps in the alley, Maggie Keene dimmed the gas
lamp and sidled up to the room's only window. She eased the curtains
aside, her fingers barely touching the paper-thin material for fear
it might tear and crumble. The gap between two neighboring tenement
houses allowed a slice of moonlight to pierce the narrow passageway
below. A man in a brown derby hurried past, stepping over the remains
of a smashed crate. The splintered boards lay scattered on the ground
like animal bones bleached a ghastly white by long exposure.
Maggie cupped a hand against the glass and peered in the other direction. There was still no sign of John. Her eyes drifted past the lights of the Grand Trunk Railway Station, down toward the waterfront of Portland, Maine. The harbor was a dark canvas, interrupted only by a scattering of ships' lamps bobbing on the tide. She smiled at a faint memory: fireflies hovering over a field on a summer night. She clung to the image for a few seconds until the distant lights began to blur. The laudanum mixture made her feel remote and empty. It threatened to lull her to sleep until a familiar pain twisted in her gut. A vague, unformed prayer sped through her mind, begging God to let her be all right.
She reached for the small brown medicine bottle on the nightstand. Against the light of the gas jet, Maggie saw that it was almost empty, even though John had given it to her only yesterday. It helped the cramps, but she worried that she'd be doubled over again when she woke, the same as most mornings that week. She sat on the edge of the bed and gazed around the room, searching for a distraction from the pain. The place bordered on spare, but it was clean, with a sitting area, a fireplace, and even a private water closet. The only thing she missed was a clock.
John had promised to be back no later than midnight. Maggie knew he'd return, since he paid for the room. He'd even left behind his precious notebook, the one he was always patting his coat for, making sure it was safe in his pocket. The desire to peek inside it washed over her, but she let that thought tumble back into the deep. Even if she could undo the book's locked clasp, she had never been to school and struggled with even simple passages from a child's primer. Another cramp snaked its way through her gut. She drained the last of the little brown bottle, then poured a glass of water to rinse the taste from her mouth.
Maggie wished John would hurry up and get back. Then he could finally show her what he'd been hiding. He would reveal to her the truth of all things; that was how he'd phrased it. Then they would toast his shattering success. Just John puffing himself up, of course, but the thought still made her smile. It would be nice to celebrate something more than turning out a drunk stiff's pockets and finding loose change. She reached for the black hat she'd bought that day and looked at her reflection in the window. It was impossible to tell from the faint image staring back, but she knew she was paler than usual.
The sound of a step on the outside stairs stirred her back to the moment. There was the quick ascent of boots, and she met him at the door as the knob twisted.
"I was starting to wonder," she said. "Everything all right?"
"Everything is" - he struggled for several seconds to produce the right word - "perfect."
He had these moments of silent effort, and Maggie had already learned to act as if she didn't notice the awkward pauses. John brought her forward onto the landing. He slipped into the room and extinguished the light. Maggie heard him fumbling in the dark before he reappeared and led her down the stairs
Excerpted from The Truth of All Things by Kieran Shields. Copyright © 2012 by Kieran Shields. Excerpted by permission of Crown. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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