The predictability of the surroundings had dulled Anna's natural curiosity. Remembering now her suspicion as to her hostess's family leanings, she took off the drugstore half-glasses she'd finally admitted to needing for close work and looked around the compact living area.
On top of the television, between a Kokopelli doll standing on an ojo de Dios and the skull of some large canid, were framed school portraits of two boys, either fraternal twins or very close in age. Both were stunningly beautiful, a pedophile's dream-come-true.
Thinking of the children in those terms brought Anna up short. Dark thoughts, dire predictions, a view of the world as a dangerous and dirty place was an occupational hazard of those in law enforcement-even park rangers, whose days were spent in beautiful places populated by largely benevolent if occasionally misguided vacationers.
Her promotion to district ranger on the Natchez Trace Parkway was taking its toll. The Trace was a road, hence Anna was a cop. Asphalt could be relied on to be a conduit for crime.
The boys in the picture frames: not potential victims but future promise made flesh. Attitude screwed around the right way, Anna asked, "Are those your sons?"
"Luke and John," Joan said.
Good apostolic names. Anna smiled. "What happened to Matthew and Mark?"
Anna's brain skidded to a halt; a feeble jest had struck the jugular. "Shit," she said sincerely.
Silence settled around them, oddly comfortable this time, more so given this silence's root.
"John graduates high school this year. Luke's a junior. I got pregnant while nursing. Another old wives' tale bites the dust. They live with their dad in Denver."
There was no need for elaboration. The park service, though sublime in many respects, was hell on marriages. Anna was all too familiar with the forlorn photographs of shattered families.
Accompanied by an alarming creaking noise that she hoped was the ladder-backed chair and not Joan's sacroiliac, the researcher rose. She crossed to the television, returned with the pictures and set them down amid the BIMS reports and scat sample tubes.
"They're good-looking boys," Anna said, to make up for her evil pedophilic thoughts.
"Their dad was a virtual Adonis. Still is. Still knows it. Still drives the little girls wild."
Another chapter in the same old story.
"Ah," Anna said.
"If I ever marry again, it'll be to a rich old hunchback with bad teeth."
Picking up a frame, Anna studied the photo simply because she thought Joan had brought the pictures that they might be pored over and admired. "John?"
"Luke. Though he's younger, he's the bigger boy."
Around the eyes-brown and, because of a slight down-turn at the outer corners, sad-looking-Luke resembled his mother. In all else he had followed along the Adonis lines. "Looks a little like Rory Van Slyke," Anna said. "Looks" wasn't quite the right word. The two boys did have a surface resemblance, but it was the eyes that made them so alike, a depth of vision that boys shouldn't have. As if, during what should have been carefree childhood years, they had seen enough of life to become weary.
"I noticed that," Joan said.
Wistfulness permeated the words. Joan missed her sons, maybe picked the Van Slyke boy from the Earthwatch litter because he reminded her of Luke. Evidently Joan heard her own vulnerability and was shamed by it. At any rate, the moment of intimacy was over.
"BIMS," she said overbrightly. "Never a dull moment. Let me read you one." The forms had been made up in an attempt to keep a record of every bear sighting in the park. They were filled out by visitors and park personnel alike to gather information on the activities and whereabouts of the grizzlies and their less alarming cousins, the black bears. Each form had places for writing the location of sighting, date, time, observer, color of bear, observer's activity and, the most entertaining if not always the most illuminating, the comments section where the activities of the bear were described.
Reprinted from Blood Lure by Nevada Barr by permission of Putnam Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2001 Nevada Barr. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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