His voice made Addie think of coffee, deep and dark and rich, with a texture that slid between her senses. "That would be me."
"Oh." He seemed surprised by this. "Okay. Well. I, um, I'm here because -- "
A wide smile spread over Addie's face. "Because I called you!" She shook his hand, trying not to notice how the man froze in shock. "I was just telling Mr. Pettigrew, here, from the board of health, that the repairman was on his way to fix our refrigerator and dishwasher. They're right through here."
She began to tug the stranger into the kitchen, with Pettigrew in their wake. "Just a moment," the inspector said, frowning. "You don't look like an appliance repairman."
Addie tensed. The man probably thought she was insane. Well, hell. So did the rest of Salem Falls.
The woman was insane. And God, she'd touched him. She'd reached right out and grabbed his hand, as if that were normal for him, as if it had been eight minutes rather than eight months since a woman's skin had come in contact with his own.
If she was covering something up from the board of health, then the diner was probably violating a code. He started to back away, but then the woman bowed her head.
It was that, the giving in, that ruined him.
The part in her dark hair was crooked and pink as a newborn's skin. Jack almost reached out one finger and touched it but stuffed his hands in his pockets instead. He knew better than anyone that you could not trust a woman who said she was telling the truth.
But what if you knew, from the start, that she was lying?
Jack cleared his throat. "I came as quickly as I could, ma'am," he said, then glanced at Pettigrew. "I was paged from my aunt's birthday party and didn't stop home to get my uniform. Where are the broken appliances?"
The kitchen looked remarkably similar to the one at the jail. Jack nodded to a sequoia of a woman standing behind the grill and tried desperately to remember any technical trivia he could about dishwashers. He opened the two rolled doors, slid out the tray, and peered inside. "Could be the pump...or the water inlet valve."
For the first time, he looked directly at the owner of the diner. She was small and delicate in build, no taller than his collarbone, but had muscles in her arms built, he imagined, by many a hard day's labor. Her brown hair was yanked into a knot at the back of her head and held in place by a pencil, and her eyes were the unlikely color of peridot -- a stone, Jack recalled, the ancient Hawaiians believed to be the tears shed by the volcano goddess. Those eyes, now, seemed absolutely stunned. "I didn't bring my toolbox, but I can have this fixed by..." He pretended to do the math, trying to catch the woman's eye. Tomorrow, she mouthed.
"Tomorrow," Jack announced. "Now what's the problem with the fridge?"
Pettigrew looked from the owner of the diner to Jack, and then back again. "There's no point in checking out the rest of the kitchen when I have to return anyway," he said. "I'll come by next week to do my inspection." With a curt nod, he let himself out.
The owner of the diner launched herself across the line, embracing the cook and whooping with delight. Radiant, she turned to Jack and extended her hand...but this time, he moved out of the way before she could touch him. "I'm Addie Peabody, and this is Delilah Piggett. We're so grateful to you. You certainly sounded authentic." Suddenly, she paused, an idea dawning. "You don't actually know how to fix appliances, do you?"
"No. That was just some stuff I heard in the last place I worked." He saw his opening and leaped. "I was on my way in to ask about the HELP WANTED sign."
The cook beamed. "You're hired."
"Delilah, who died and left you king?" She smiled at Jack. "You're hired."
Copyright © 2001 by Jodi Picoult. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Pocket Books.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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