"John, this is Allison Quimby," said a bold voice. "My place is falling apart. I need a handyman. Everyone I've used before is still working up at Hook's. Is it too late to put in an ad?"
"No, but you want the sales desk. I'll transfer you." He put her on hold, jogged across the room, and picked up the phone at the sales desk. "Okay." He slipped into the chair there and began at the computer. "I'm pulling up classified ads. Here we go. Do you have something written?" He suspected she did. Allison Quimby owned the local realty company and was the quintessential professional. Of course she had something written.
"Of course I have something written."
She read. He typed. He fiddled with the spacing, helped her edit it to make it work better, suggested a heading, quoted her a price, took her credit card number. As soon as he hung up the phone, he made a call of his own.
A tired voice answered. "Yeah."
"It's me. Allison Quimby needs a handyman. Give her a call?" When he heard a soft swearing, he said, "You're sober, Buck, and you need the work."
"Who are you, my fuckin' guardian angel?"
John kept his voice low and tight. "I'm your fuckin' older cousin, the one who's worried about the girl you knocked up, the one who's thinking you may not be worth the effort but that girl and her baby are. Come on, Buck.. You're good with your hands, you can do what Allison needs done, she pays well, and she's got a big mouth if she likes what you do." He read the phone number once, then read it again. "Call her," he said and hung up the phone.
Seconds later he was back at the window by the editorial desk. Seconds after that he had a grip on his patience. All it took was a good long look at the lake and the reminder that people like Buck and Jenny didn't have that. They had the Ridge, where houses were too small, too close, and too dirty to uplift anyone, much less someone battling alcoholism, physical abuse, or chronic unemployment. John knew. He had the Ridge in his blood as well. He would hear it, feel it, smell it until the day he died.
A movement on the lake caught his eye, the flash of red on a distant dock. He focused in on it; then, half smiling, took a pair of binoculars from the bottom drawer of the desk and focused through those. Shelly Cole was stretched out on a lounge chair, all sleek and oiled in the sun. She was a well-made woman, he had to say that. But then, Cole women had been sorely tempting the men of Lake Henry for three generations. For the most part they were kind creatures who grew into fine wives and mothers. Shelly was something else. She was heading back to Florida in a week, when the weather here became too cool for her to flaunt her tan. John wouldn't miss her. He might be as tempted as any man around, but he wasn't touching her with a ten-foot pole.
With a slight shift of the binoculars, he was looking at Hunter's Island. Named after its first owners, rather than any sport there, it was another of the tiny islands that dotted the lake, and it did have a house, albeit a seasonal one. The Hunter family had summered there for more than a century, before selling it to its current owners. Those owners, the LaDucs, were teaching their third generation of children to swim from its small pebbled beach.
Strange family, the LaDucs. There were nearly as many scandals woven through its generations as there were Hunter scandals. Growing up, John had heard rumors about both families. Returning as an adult who knew how to snoop, he had done research, asked around, made notes. They were locked in his file cabinet now, along with the rest of his private stuff, but none were crying out to be a book. Maybe he hadn't read them in the right frame of mind. Maybe he needed to reread them. Or organize them. Or chronologize them. Maybe something would hit him. After three years he should have come up with something.
Copyright © 1999 by Barbara Delinsky
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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