She was used to seeing Paul in his comforting gun-toting persona as the sheriff of Claiborne County. Knowing he was also an ordained Episcopal priest was one thing. Seeing him in the collar, a Bible in the blunt, capable hands, as sunlight filtered through glassine lambs and shepherds, dying his blond hair three shades of Paschal green, gave the whole experience the unsettling feel of a drug-soaked dream.
Naming her demons freed Anna of them, and she returned her attention to the ceremony. Lonnie Restin, one of Paul's deputies, was the groom. Anna had worked with him on the Posey murder the previous spring. She'd seen him face the corpse of a child and a crazy lady racist, but she'd never seen him as nervous as he was sliding a band of gold onto the finger of his young bride.
As Lonnie murmured "with this ring," Paul looked up for an instant. His eyes locked with Anna's, and she felt a jolt stronger than touch and heard the quick hissing intake of her breath. Then Paul was back with the bride and groom, eye contact broken. It was as if he had vanished from right before her to reappear forty feet away.
This sudden warping of the space-time continuum left her tingling. It took several seconds to realize at least part of the sensation was promulgated by the pager in the side pocket of her dress vibrating against her thigh. Though it made no sound, Anna was conscious that, in carrying it at all, she had become one of them, a member of the army battering down the last feeble remnants of graciousness, taking the final step in the cant of the "me" generation by dragging pagers and cell phones into theaters, churches, AA meetings, dinner parties and wakes. Ringing and buzzing declared priorities: My convenience takes precedence over your paltry event.
Now at Lonnie's sacred moment, Anna's thigh was vibrating with other peoples' priorities. She excused herself from the ranks of Miss Manners's nemeses by telling herself she needed to carry the beeper. The Trace from Natchez to Jackson was uncovered till she came on duty at noon. Randy Thigpen, one of her GS-9 field rangers, had demanded the four to midnight shift. The other, Barth Dinkins, on 8 A.M. to 3:30 P.M., had taken four hours of sick leave to visit the dentist.
As if beeping her in church could stop a crime wave or a spurting artery.
What the activity in her pocket might augur flashed through her mind as she steadfastly refused to fish the beeper out and look at it, at least not before the bride and groom had gotten their share of rice thrown. Highway death. Hunting accident. Domestic dispute. Visitors center out of toilet paper.
Lonnie and Showanda Restin were presented. Applause carried them down the aisle. Not rice but rose petals, handed out in paper cones before the ceremony, showered the newlyweds. Ushers began emptying the church pew by pew, starting at the front. Paul disappeared; after the service the priest was superfluous. He'd scuttled into a priestly sort of bolthole to slip into something less godly before going to brunch.
Paul was understanding of Anna's discomfiture with anything that smacked of The Cloth. He'd given her explicit instructions as if she were a small child in danger of becoming lost in the woods: "After the ceremony stay put. Don't move. I will come find you."
The kindly Christian in the crimson cap weighed anchor and was sailing out with the tide of people leaving the church. Anna slipped the beeper from her pocket. On the digital read-out was the number of Mt. Locust Visitors Center followed by 911. Not toilet paper.
She sat back down and rummaged through her purse. The South and dating again had had a feminizing effect. Several dresses now hung in her closet, along with an accumulation of National Park Service uniforms, and she was growing accustomed to female accoutrements. Her watch was in an inside zipper pocket. It read 9:22 A.M. Without even thinking about it, she registered the time she first got the call for the inevitable report that would follow.
From Hunting Season by Nevada Barr, Copyright © February 2002, The Putnam Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.
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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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