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When he first opened his eyes, Cal Whittier had no idea what time it was. Squinting against the light from his bedroom window, he focused on the ceiling above him.
Memory came back in bits and pieces. Piling on top of him, weighting him down to the bed.
He'd had dinner with Joy the night before. Their standing Thursday night date. He and the petite banker had been dating for four monthslonger than usual for Cal. He liked Joy.
But then he'd liked all of the women he'd dated. One thing he'd never had a shortage of was women.
He and Joy had each had a glass of wine at the restauranta steak place, he thought. He could remember ordering his medium-rare. They'd had patio seating. Joy had commented about the mistersan outdoor staple during Tennessee summersmaking her hair frizzy.
She'd ordered a salad. And they'd decided to try the house wine.
Cal was careful about his drinking. He had a nightly ritual. A glass of whiskey before bed to help him sleep. And if that didn't workif he was still up writinghe allowed himself another. But he never got drunk. And he almost always drank alone.
Last night he'd broken both self-imposed rules. After dinner, he'd consumed most of a new bottle of wine back at Joy's placeand done it in front of her.
Like a bad movie, the reasons for his rudeness replayed with what seemed like sarcastic clarity in his mind's eye.
Thursday had not been a good day from the start.
A promising student had appeared in his office the morning before, just weeks before her end-of-the-summer graduation, to tell him she was dropping out of school to join her boyfriend's band. He'd been Courtney's undergraduate adviser all four years of her college career. He'd had her in several of his classes, as well. She was carrying a perfect grade average. Dr. Caleb Whittier, Wallace University's youngest English professor and department chair, was all for love and togethernessas long as it didn't involve himbut to throw away a lifetime of work, a more secure future, because of a new relationship?
And then his father had called to tell him that he'd canceled his fishing trip that weekend. It had taken Cal months to get the old man to agree to goa thousand nonrefundable bucks to hold his spot for the seniors' adventure holiday and to reserve a private room at his father's behestand the old man didn't go.
He'd rushed home to load the car with the things he'd helped his dad pack the day before, determined to get the old man from the home they shared to the center where Frank would be loaded into a van and whisked away for the time of his lifeonly to discover that he'd have had to restrain his dad and then haul his ass out of bed, dress him and physically carry him to the Durango to get him out of their neighborhood.
The man might need Cal to prepare his food to get him to eat, but he was not in any way weak or disabled. He could still take Cal if he had a mind to.
He'd had a mind to when it came to him going on that fishing trip.
Then, because of Frank's bullheadedness, Cal had been late for the lunch meeting with some bankerspossible supporters of the young artists' leagueJoy had arranged for him, it was hard to beg when you'd just kept your targets waiting for half an hour. He'd left the meeting without any kind of commitment for the scholarship money he'd been hoping to win for some very talented kids.
His body might be slow to move this morning but his mind wasn't giving him any breaks. The day before continued to play itself outas if living through it once hadn't been enough.
After lunch he'd come back to his fourth-floor office at Wallace University in Tyler, Tennessee, to find an unwanted message on his answering machine.
Some dude named Ramsey Miller. A detective from Comfort Cove. The man gave up no other details about himself or the reason for his call, but he'd said that it was imperative that Caleb Whittier contact him immediately. Cal would bet his life the call he didn't return regarded a cold case. A twenty-five-year-old ice-cold case.
Comfort Cove, Massachusetts. The place where two-year-old Claire Sanderson had lived when she'd been abducted from her home.
It was about that time in his mental wanderings that Cal realized he was lying on top of his still-made bed. And wearing the shirt he'd pulled from his closet the morning before.
His pants were undone; they'd slipped a bit, but he hadn't taken them off, either.
And then he remembered.
Joy's expressive green eyes.
The cups of coffee.
And the short drive home.
Morgan hadn't slept well. They were having their annual summer sock-hop and picnic on Saturday at the day care where she worked, and Morgan, as the nondegreed employee with the most seniority, and as executive assistant to the director, was in charge of most of the physical details, like organizing the game and food committees, the table setup and decorating.
She'd spent most of Thursday night cutting and pasting many mediums of primary colors because the woman who'd volunteered to do so several weeks before had forgotten. In spite of the many calls Morgan had made to ensure that the party's decor was on track. She really should have asked to see some finished product when the woman had offered to provide samples.
But with her university courses, the day care and schoolwork she did in the evenings, she hadn't had time to babysit a parent.
And rather than letting anyone else know that she'd done it againshe'd placed her faith in someone who hadn't proven trustworthyshe'd taken care of the fallout on her own.
Someday she might learn not to always think the best of people, not to be so quick to believe they were going to do what they said they wouldbut she doubted it.
"Let's consider Twain's 'The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg,'" Dr. Whittier said, looking straight at Morgan at that Friday morning's lecture. She was sure he was looking at her because she'd been working on day-care decor yesterday evening rather than rereading the short story as she'd intended. You'd think, with only one last class to complete before graduation, she'd be able to keep up with the homework. He'd assigned the reading material at the end of Wednesday morning's class, and although she'd read everything by her favorite American writer, she hadn't read "Had-leyburg" since before Sammie was born.
Her son was ten.
"Twain was sixty-three years old and in Vienna when he wrote this story," Whittier was saying. Didn't matter how blistering the Tennessee sunshine made their city, the man always wore a tie. He'd left his jacket and long sleeves at home, but still
Of course, the man did thingssexy thingsto that ordinary tie. Things she was convinced no man had ever done before.
"Someone provide us with a quick overview of the plot," Whittier said. He glanced her way.
Morgan's stomach gave an irritating leap. She remembered the basics, but.
His gaze moved on. Her stomach didn't settle.
Yes, she was attracted to her English professor. She and every other female student at Wallace University.
"It's about, um, the corruption of an honest town." One such female creature quickly grabbed the opportunity to snare Whittier's attention. Bella Somethingor-Other was thin, blonde, about twenty, and didn't have one responsibility on those perfect shoulders or one line on her equally perfect face. "Hadleyburg is known for its honesty. Then some guy sends money to someone in town for a good deed and everyone in town tries to claim the good deed to get the money."
The Richardses, Morgan remembered. They were the old couple in Hadleyburg that the stranger sent the money to for safekeeping.
"Right," Whittier said, and Bella preened. Sick. The girl was just sick.
Morgan tried to let her sleepless night catch up with her. To be bored in English class just for once. More to the point, she tried to be bored with the man who taught her favorite class.
"Hudson Long, a Twain biographer, claims that Twain uses this story to depict the pessimistic attitude that he had toward himself and the human race in general. Would you agree with that?"
He was asking the class.
"No." Morgan blurted the word against her better judgment. She was as bad as the kids, preening for the man's attention. Her better judgment had deserted her sometime between leaving her mother's womb and landing in her cradle.
"Why not?" Whittier's gaze was all hers.
In four years of being in the man's classes, she should be over getting warm every time she had his attention.
But, recently, they'd been talking more.
"Because I think it's unfair to label the man as pessimistic just because he had the ability to see deeply inside the human condition and then was giving and talented enough to bring out his vision in such a way that we can all take honest looks at ourselves."
"So you think you know more about Mark Twain than an official Twain biographer?" His brown eyes were not unkind as he met her head-on. Instead, they had that peculiar light of enjoyment that kept her up nights.
"I'm not saying I know more than a Twain scholar," Morgan replied, aware of the other, mostly younger students watching her. She felt ancient at twenty-nine. "But I agree with another Twain biographer, Jerry Allen, who says that Twain wrote 'Hadleyburg' because of all the maliciousness that he saw in mankind and the hopelessness that was our plight if we didn't change. I think Twain was giving us a view of ourselves, exaggerated, as an analogy."
Whittier's responding smile did it to her again. "Good answer," he said, walking back over to the other side of the room.
His legs were long and firm and he moved with the grace of an athlete.
"I happen to agree with Ms. Lowen." he was saying when Morgan's phone vibrated against her hip.
She never went to class without that phone. Being the single parent of a strong-minded boy wasn't easy work. Sammie always came first.
Morgan tried not to be too obvious as she glanced down at the screen, although Whittier knew about Sammie. Knew why she kept her phone on during class, and encouraged her to do so.
The vibration signaled a text from Julie Warren, the office administrator at Rouse Elementary where Sammie was in summer school taking art and swimming. Julie was also Morgan's friend.
The message was one word: Call.
They had a lunch date. Maybe Julie had to cancel. Wouldn't be the first time.
She typed her response.
In class. Emergency?
She sent the text off with one hand, leaving the phone in its clip.
The reply was almost instantaneous. Like Julie hadn't waited for her reply before sending it.
The phone vibrated again, but Morgan didn't take the time to look down. Closing the lid on her notebook computer without shutting the thing down, she threw it on top of its case in her backpack. She had the bag slung on her shoulder before she was completely standing and was already digging in the side pocket for her car keys.
"My son " She wasn't even sure what she ended up blurting out as she ran from the room.