Excerpt from St Albans Fire by Archer Mayor, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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St Albans Fire

A Joe Gunther Mystery

by Archer Mayor

St Albans Fire
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2005, 304 pages
    Oct 2006, 352 pages

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Chapter 1

Bobby Cutts lay on his bed, watching the bedroom ceiling, its shadowy surface painted by the downstairs porch light in a pattern he'd known forever. This room and the barn across the road had always been his sanctuaries—places of private celebration during high times, as when Beverly Cable allowed him a kiss in the eighth grade—and harbors to which he retired in pain, as now, when Marianne had once again suggested that they should try seeing other people.

He hated that euphemism, knowing too well what it meant. Marianne and he had been dating for a year, and it had happened twice already, counting this one. In fact, he'd been the one being "seen" when they first met, as she was dumping Barry Newhouse. He remembered the groping at the drive-in, the more serious stuff on her uncle's office couch one afternoon, and finally those hours in complete silence in her bedroom as her parents slept down the hall. Recalling that night—the smells of her, the taste of her kisses, her willingness at last to let him remove all her clothes—ran at odds with his frustration now, lust interfering with indignation.

He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, staring moodily out the window, his anger back on track, ignoring the winter chill radiating off the glass before him. He wondered who she was with right now, since sneaking boys into her bedroom had become a moot point, she being eighteen and her parents no longer caring. He ran a catalog of possibilities through his mind—from high school friends to some of the young men who worked on her father's farm. No one fit. Everyone fit. His own mother had told him she'd seen Marianne kissing a boy in the front seat of a car in the supermarket parking lot. In broad daylight. He'd asked if his mom had recognized the guy. She claimed not to have, but he had his doubts.

He got up abruptly and reached for his jeans, the room suddenly too tight to breathe in. The barn beckoned to him with its panoply of distractions. He'd been on this farm for all his seventeen years, making the barn as natural an environment to him as a ship might be to a man raised at sea.

And right now he needed every distraction he could stand.

Bobby made his way along the short, dark hallway to the narrow stairs leading down, the wall of framed photographs beside him a celebration of the lives sleeping all around—his smiling parents, his sister, Linda, and her husband and two children. Also, himself as a child, and later posing for the yearbook in his football uniform, crouched down, knuckles on the turf, ball tightly tucked into the curve of his other arm. A life of rural Vermont, spent on a dairy farm, as snug as that ball in the crook of a culture dating back a hundred and fifty years. Bobby Cutts, for all his present anxieties, had that if nothing else: He was a young man as firmly ensconced in his society as farming was in the only world he knew.

He paused in the kitchen to add a log to the wood stove, losing himself for a moment in the red embers at the stove's heart, the eddies of hot air reaching up for him as from the heart of a chunk of lava.

In the cluttered mudroom beyond, he removed his insulated coveralls from the hook on the wall, paying no attention to their pungent odor, and stepped into his equally soiled barn boots, all of which were banned from the rest of the house.

Encased in warm clothes, Bobby shoved the outer door open and stepped into the freezing night air, the shock of the cold a comfort to a boy who welcomed its biting familiarity.

By the porch light, he walked across the snowy yard, the soles of his boots creaking as he went, enjoying how his breath formed a cloud around his head with each exhalation.

Despite his dark mood, he paused halfway between the house and the hulking barn to take in his surroundings. His father had taught him this: Never just walk from one place to another. Take notice of what's around you. The beauty you find there is God's gift to the observant.

Copyright © 2005 by Archer Mayor

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