To Darkness and to Death (Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Series #4)

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Overview

Award winning author Julia Spencer-Fleming does it again in this third mystery featuring Rev. Clare Fergusson and Sheriff Russ Van Alstyne in the small town of Millers Kill, N.Y. As the small town's gossip increasingly speculates about the Rev.'s ambigous relationship with the married Sheriff, a more urgent problem is the disappearance of the doctor of Millers Kill's free clinic, a town institution with roots in events from the 20s and 30s. Digging into the roots of these disturbing happenings, Russ and Clare ...
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To Darkness and to Death (Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Series #4)

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Overview

Award winning author Julia Spencer-Fleming does it again in this third mystery featuring Rev. Clare Fergusson and Sheriff Russ Van Alstyne in the small town of Millers Kill, N.Y. As the small town's gossip increasingly speculates about the Rev.'s ambigous relationship with the married Sheriff, a more urgent problem is the disappearance of the doctor of Millers Kill's free clinic, a town institution with roots in events from the 20s and 30s. Digging into the roots of these disturbing happenings, Russ and Clare find that painful events from the town's past can still roil the peace of Millers Kill.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
For Clare Ferguson, former army helicopter pilot turned Episcopal priest, Lent should be a time of quiet reflection and preparation. Instead, two crises are disturbing the spiritual peace of her home in the rural New York town of Millers Kill.

First, the leaks in the church roof have reached the point where everyone agrees that some kind of fix is finally necessary. Whether to go the cheap-and-ugly or expensive-and-lovely route is the last remaining decision facing the vestry. Despite the cost, Clare is pleased when they vote for expensive and lovely. But others are less pleased…especially after local philanthropist Lacey Ketchem Marshall kicks off the fundraising by announcing she's pulling the endowment her mother left to the family-founded Ketchem Clinic to help pay for the new church roof.

At first, Clare can't understand why the news comes as such a blow to the clinic's physician. After all, the income from the Ketchem fund is such a small part of the clinic's operating budget. But when the irate physician disappears, Clare has to consider the possibility of foul play…especially after a bloody confrontation with a patient's mother suggests he may not have taken a long-overdue vacation -- or made good on his long-standing threats to leave the clinic entirely. Used to listening carefully to people in times of stress, Clare begins to put together the pieces of this complicated puzzle; and as she does, she comes to realize that the key to recent events may lie in the long-unsolved mystery of Lacey's father's disappearance more than 70 years ago.

Julia Spencer-Fleming paints a complex picture of the charming community of Millers Kill at two very different points in time -- during the Great Depression and today -- and interweaves a mystery that ties long-hidden events with current deadly secrets. Sue Stone
Marilyn Stasio
Spencer-Fleming writes with grace and clarity about the environmental ideal of turning tracts of developed land back to their natural wilderness state. But she shows even more sensitivity in depicting the human cost when those complicated root systems that connect people to their communities are yanked out from under them.
— The New York Times
The New York Times
The rich heritage of this Adirondack Mountain region also gives depth and complexity to the crimes that the well-matched pair must solve together. Here, the disappearance of the doctor who manages the local clinic dovetails with a family tragedy that dates back to the Depression era but was never put to rest. So, yes, this is a very small town, but under Spencer-Fleming's grave and tender touch it becomes a world that you want to visit and hate to leave. — Marilyn Stasio
Publishers Weekly
Set during a single day, Agatha-winner Spencer-Fleming's explosive fourth mystery (after 2004's Out of the Deep I Cry) takes Rev. Clare Fergusson and Millers Kill, N.Y., police chief Russ Van Alstyne far from the tranquility offered by the Anglican services of morning prayer, Order for Noonday and Evensong. A phone call at 5:15 on a cold November morning leads Clare-ex-army helicopter pilot and rector of St. Alban's Episcopal Church-to join the local search and rescue team to look for the missing sister of recluse Eugene van der Hoeven, head of the 250,000-acre Haudenosaunee estate. On a day when she should be at St. Alban's preparing for the bishop's annual visit, Clare finds herself involved with Russ in an investigation involving brutal beatings, kidnapping and murder. As the day unfolds, Clare and Russ are compelled to examine their own relationship when the diocesan deacon arrives early to discuss a "serious matter" with Clare. Given her seminary training and her army background, it's not surprising that Clare deals with all that comes her way with energy, expertise, sensitivity and humor. Spencer-Fleming has brought alive the people and environs of Millers Kill in another riveting mystery. Agent, Jimmy Vines. (July 7) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Global Woods Products is set to purchase thousands of Adirondack timberland, but some residents of nearby Millers Kill, NY, are less than happy about the sale. Arrogance, greed, and, at times, stupidity combine with kidnapping, assault, and murder to achieve an engrossing, well-written thriller that spans a single day. Clare Fergusson, Episcopal priest, and Russ Van Alstyne, police chief, team up again as a search and rescue becomes a murder investigation. Their ambiguously platonic relationship and mutual attraction are still evident as they work their way through the tangle of events. Less time is given to the interplay between these two characters, which may disappoint some series fans. But overall the riveting plot melds with solid characterization and a fine reading by Suzanne Toren. At times credulity may be stretched a bit as events are connected, yet the solid plot creates an entertaining thriller. Recommended.-Denise A. Garofalo, Astor Home for Children, Rhinebeck, NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Quite a departure for Episcopalian priest Clare Ferguson and the man who loves her, police chief Russ Van Alstyne (Out of the Deep I Cry, 2004, etc.): a Rube Goldberg plot that crams all manner of secrets and crimes into the most hectic 21 hours in Millers Kill's history. Foreign-based behemoth Global Wood Products has arranged with the Adirondack Conservancy Corporation to purchase Haudenosaunee, the van der Hoeven's family's spread inside the Adirondack State Forest, and turn most of it over to the Conservancy's care while retaining an option to repurchase tracts it wants to log. GWP gets a tax break and ACC the chance to return much of the land to its natural state, but local logger Ed Castle and paper manufacturer Shaun Reid are headed for extinction. This explosive situation is touched off by the disappearance of Millicent van der Hoeven, who's visiting her reclusive brother Eugene to sign the transfer documents. But Millie's kidnapping is only the beginning of a fantastically intricate plot. Before midnight, there'll be a murderous assault, three accidental deaths, two accidental rescues, half a dozen impromptu criminal schemes and acts of heroism by intersecting citizens who had no idea what they were in for when the sun rose, and a long-awaited meeting between Clare and Linda Van Alstyne, Russ's wife. The results show that God has both endless compassion for mortal screw-ups-and a terrific sense of humor. Author tour
From the Publisher
“Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne make a fresh and unusual detective partnership, and I always welcome Clare’s impetuous but wise take on the world around her.”—Sara Paretsky, author of the V. I. Warshawski novels

“Add harrowing tension à la TV’s 24 to Julia Spencer-Fleming’s always lyrical prose and beautifully drawn characters, and you have one of the year’s must-reads! Spencer-Fleming has topped an already shining series with this fourth outing.”—Deborah Crombie, award-winning author of Dreaming of the Bones and In a Dark House

"A Rube Goldberg plot that crams all manner of secrets and crimes into the most hectic 21 hours in Millers Kill's history...the results show that God has both endless compassion for mortal screw-ups—and a terrific sense of humor."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"A rich and fulfilling story...time spent with these characters is to be cherished."—Chicago Sun-Times

"Disparate elements fuse with elegant plotting...Spencer Fleming parcels out the excitement until the stunning conclusion. She also continues her sensitive handling of the tension between Clare and the very married chief of police she's fallen in love with."—Rocky Mountain News (Grade: A)

"Spencer-Fleming makes effective use of her vividly realized Adirondack setting, and she keeps the story moving at a good clip...the fourth installment in a satisfying series."—Booklist

"The friendship of these solid, down-to-earth characters moves closer to romance, and the intrigue continues to build, revealing a riveting, well-plotted criminal adventure."—Romantic Times BOOKclub Magazine (starred review)

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Julia Spencer-Fleming was born at Plattsburgh Air Force Base and spent most of her childhood on the move as an army brat. She studied acting and history at Ithaca College and received her J.D. from the University of Maine School of Law. She lives in a 185-year-old farmhouse outside of Portland, Maine, with three children, two dogs, and one husband.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Morning Prayer

When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.

Ezek. 18:27

Saturday, November 14, 5:00 a.m.

Cold. The cold awoke her, creeping underneath her blanket, spreading like an ache along her hip. She tried to move, to burrow into some warm space, but the cold was beneath her, and then there was a hard, hot twinge of pain in her shoulders and she had a panicky moment of Where? What? She tried again. She couldn't move her arms. They were pinned behind her back, her wrists fastened by something sticky and implacable.

Scream. Her cheeks and lips didn't move. Her eyelids felt glued together, but she blinked and blinked until the sting of cold air brought tears to her eyes. Open, closed, the darkness was the same. The darkness, and the cold.

Her brain didn't want to make sense of anything she was feeling. Was she drunk? Was this some sort of game? What had she done? She couldn't remember. She remembered dinner. She had chickpea stew. Homemade bread. Red wine. She could picture the table, laid with her mother's best china. She could remember looking down the long table to where her father's picture hung on the wall, thinking, I know he'd approve. I know he would. But then what? Nothing. A blankness more frightening than the cold blackness around her. Because it was inside her. A hole in her mind.

She suddenly remembered a trip to Italy they had taken. She had been ten or eleven then. It was the summer after Gene's mother had died, the only summer they didn't come up to the camp. Daddy had hired a driver to take them on the drive through the mountains to Lake Como, but the morning they were to leave Pisa, he had canceled. An American had been kidnapped. She had been whiny, bored with the university town, eager for the water-skiing and boat rides she had been promised. Daddy pulled up a chair and explained they couldn't risk it. That they would make very good targets. That was the word he used, targets. Because we're American? She had asked. Because we're rich, he had answered. It was the first time, the only time he had ever said that. Because we're rich.

Kidnapped. Oh, God. She squeezed her eyes shut against a spill of hot tears and wished, for the thousandth time, that her father was still alive. To make everything all right.

5:15 a.m.

Ring. Ring. The phone. She snarled, rolled onto her stomach, and pulled her pillow over her head, but the damn thing wouldn't give up. Once. Twice. Three times. With an inarticulate curse, she reached out from under the covers and grabbed the receiver. "H'lo," she said.

"Reverend Fergusson? Did I wake you?" She was spared coming up with an answer worthy of the question, because her caller went on. "It's John Huggins, Millers Kill Search and Rescue. I'm calling you on official business."

I'm so glad it's not personal, she thought, but the only thing her mouth could manage was "Me?"

"You signed up, didn't you?" She could hear the rustle of paper over the line. "Air force training in survival, search, and rescue? Nine years army helicopter pilot? Physically fit, has own gear?"

She shoved the pillow beneath her and propped herself up on her elbows. The only word her sleep-sodden brain latched on to was "pilot." "You want me to fly?"

"Not hardly. We got a young woman reported missing. Went out for a walk last night, never returned. Her brother called it in this morning after he discovered her bed hadn't been slept in."

This morning? She squinted at the blackness outside her window. Didn't look like morning to her. "Why me?"

"Because we're down to the bottom of the list." Huggins said, his voice laced with exasperation. "Two-thirds of the crew are off on loan to the Plattsburgh mountain rescue. They got an old lady wandered away from her home and a pair of hunters who haven't reported in for three days. Can you do it or not?"

The bishop's visit. She pushed away the last of her muzzy-headedness. Half the congregation of St. Alban's would be at the church today, preparing for the dog-and-pony show that was the bishop's annual visit. She should be there. But . . . the search and rescue team needed her. She did sign up. And hiking through the woods is a lot more appealing than counting napkins and polishing silver, a treacherously seductive voice inside her pointed out. "Sure, I can do it," she said. "Where should I meet you?"

"A place called Haudenosaunee."

"What's that? A town?"

"Naw, it's an old-time estate. What they call a great camp. Inside the Blue Line."

"The Blue Line?"

"Inside the boundary of the Adirondack State Park." Huggins sounded as if he were having second, maybe third thoughts about calling her.

She rolled out of bed. There was a pencil and a pad of paper on her nightstand. "Give me the directions," she said. "I'll be there as soon as I can."

5:15 a.m.

Ed Castle was sitting in the dark. There was no reason for it, really. He had crept out of his unlit bedroom to avoid waking his wife, but with their door safely shut, he could have snapped the hall lights on. Or turned on one of the lamps in the living room when he unlocked the gun cabinet and tucked his rifle under his arm.

Maybe it was because for so many years he had been up early winter mornings, long gone before his family awoke or the sun rose. Tiptoeing past the doors that had once led to his daughters' bedrooms, he felt a tug, like a hook from out of the past embedded in his heart, and he had wanted to open the doors once again to see them sleeping, all silky hair and boneless limbs.

In the kitchen, he had started the coffee and found his Thermos by touch and the green glow of the microwave clock. He thought maybe he'd need some light to find the box of cartridges he kept hidden behind Suzanne's baking tins on the top shelf, but he hadn't. Now he sat in the dark and thought about the years of his life, which were doled out, it seemed to him, winter by winter, tree by tree, marked by a chain tread and a scarred path leading into the woods. Leading to where he could not see.

The light snapped on, starting him upright in his chair. Suzanne stood in the orange and gold halo of the hanging tulip lamp, zipped into her velour robe, her graying hair every which way. "What on earth are you doing here, sitting around with no lights on?" She stepped toward him, her slippers shush-shushing over the vinyl floor. "You didn't get a call about a fire, did you?" Ed was a member of the Millers Kill Volunteer Fire Department.

"No." He shrugged. "I was thinking about when the girls were little. This was the only quiet time I had back then."

"Well, you're going to get a chance to relive those days." She crossed to the counter and opened a cupboard to retrieve her coffee cup. "I'm watching Bonnie's boys while she's finishing up that big sewing job, and Becky's coming home for the weekend."

He grunted. She waved the pot in his direction, and he held out his mug. "She coming up here to gloat?"

"Stop that," Suzanne said sharply. "She didn't force you to put the business up for sale. You can't make the Adirondack Conservancy Corporation the bad guy in all this. It was your decision."

"I wouldn't have had to make any decision if the ACC wasn't going to cut off my lumbering license." He buried his nose in his coffee cup. "I can't believe my own daughter turned into a damn tree hugger."

Suzanne seated herself at the table. "It's your own fault. You used to sneak her out to your cut sites when she wasn't big enough to tie her own shoes."

One half of a smile crooked his cheek. "You used to carry on something fierce about that."

"A lumbering camp is no place for a four-year-old."

He laughed. "Remember how she would stomp around in a fit if she couldn't come with me?"

"Uh-huh." Suzanne looked at him pointedly over the rim of her cup. "So now she's grown up into someone who loves the woods, is hot-tempered, always speaks her mind--and you can't figure out where she gets it from." She snorted. "The only thing she doesn't favor you in is her hair."

Ed ran his hand over his nearly bald scalp and grinned.

Suzanne rolled her white crockery mug between her hands, a gesture he had seen her make on a thousand cold mornings like this one. "What's really bothering you?"

"Sellin' off the business."

"Thought so."

"I know it makes sense. If this land trade-off goes ahead like it's supposed to, by this time tomorrow the van der Hoeven wood lot is gonna be off-limits to lumbering. By this time next week, the crew and I'd have to head fifty miles north to the nearest open woods. A hundred extra miles a day. Six hundred a week. With fuel prices the way they are, Suze--"

"I know."

"Not to mention the increase in the insurance premium once we start putting that many open-road miles on our trucks."

"I know."

"And we'll be getting hit with more maintenance on the trucks."

"I know."

"I just don't see how we can take the increased cost and survive." He looked down at the rifle resting in his lap. It had been his dad's, along with the timber business. For a moment, he felt cut loose in time, unsure if he was sixty or sixteen. The gun, the woods, the coffee, even. All the same in his father's time. In his grandfather's.

"I always hoped to keep it in the family somehow. Maybe leave it to Bonnie's boys. They love the woods."

She nodded. "They do. On the other hand, do you want them risking their necks sixty hours a week to bring home twenty-five thousand a year?"

He looked at her, surprised. "You never complained."

She laughed quietly. "I was a lumberman's daughter. I knew what I was getting into when I married you."

He put down his coffee and took her hand. The feel of her skin under his thumb was another bright spot against time and the dark. "I called the boys on the crew yesterday. Told 'em I wasn't going out this winter. It's a hell of a thing to do, to tell a man he ain't got the job he's been counting on. But if I sell out now to one of the larger companies, I can get a good price for the equipment. Not great, not with fuel prices high and interest rates low, but decent. Good enough so's we could get a place in Florida. Become snowbirds. Would you like that?"

He watched her roll the thought around in her mouth, tasting it. "It'd be nice," she finally said. "Wearing short sleeves all the time. Gardening year-round."

"No more dark mornings," he said.

She smiled a bit at that. "I'd miss seeing Bonnie and the boys, though. And it would be odd having Christmas where it's sunny and warm." She looked at him more closely. "What are you going to do? I can't imagine you not timbering."

He glanced down at the old rifle in his lap. That was the question, wasn't it? "Man and boy, I've hauled wood out of those mountains forty years now. I don't know what I'll do if I'm not a lumberman. But change is coming, Suze." He rubbed his thumb over her hand again. "And if we don't change with it, we'll get left behind."

Copyright © 2005 by Julia Spencer-Fleming

The quotes at the beginning of each section are from The Book of Common Prayer, 1979 ed., published by the Church Publishing Company.

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

Chapter 1

THEN

Friday, June 26, 1970

Russ Van Alstyne had just gotten a tug on his line when he saw the old lady get up from between the headstones she had been trimming, lay down her gardening tools, and walk into the reservoir. She had been tidying up a tiny plot, four moldering grave markers tucked under the towering black pines, so close to the edge of Stewart's Pond Reservoir that a good motorboat wake could have kicked spray over the stones. She had appeared at some point after he and Shaun had launched their rowboat, and he had noted her, now and then, while they had drifted in the sunshine.

They had been fishing a couple hours already, enjoying the hot weather, and some brews, and some primo grass Shaun's older brother had scored down to Albany, but Russ had only landed a few sunnies, crap fish he threw back as soon as he had them off the hook.

So when his six-pound test tightened like a piano wire and his bobber disappeared beneath the water, he sat up, excited. He knew he had something good. Maybe a trout. He had just stowed his can of Pabst Blue Ribbon in the bottom of the boat and flicked off his safety to let the fish run some more line when he noticed the old woman. She had on a loose print dress, like one of the housecoats his mom had had forever, and it rose around her legs as she waded slowly away from the shore.

"Shaun, check this out," he said, uncertain that he was reading the situation right. "What's it look like that old lady's doing?"
Shaun turned his head, swinging his graduation tassel, which he had attached to his fishing hat. He twisted his upper body around for a better view."Swimming?"

"In a dress?"

"Works for me, man. I don't want to see her in a swimsuit." Shaun turned back, facing away from the sight of the old woman marching into the water. His line jerked. "I got a strike!" He unlocked his reel and played out his line. "Relax, I've run the boat over that way before. The bottom slopes out a long ways."
She was up to her chest now, moving steadily forward, not stroking with her arms or ducking under the surface like people do when taking a dip. "She's not swimming," Russ said. "She's not even trying." He looked past her, to where a patchy trail led from the little cemetery, through the trees, and eventually up to the county road. There wasn't anyone there to keep an eye on her. She was alone. He thrust his rod at Shaun and tugged off his sneakers. He could reach her faster swimming than he could rowing. He stood up, violently pitching the little boat.

"Hey! Are you crazy? You're gonna swamp us!" Shaun twisted on his seat in time to see the old woman's chin sliding into the water. "Oh, shit," he said.
Russ shoved his jeans down and kicked them off, knocking over both their beers in the process. He balanced one foot on the hull's edge and launched himself into the water.

Even in mid-June the reservoir was cold, still gorged on the icy spring runoff from the Adirondacks. His whole body flinched inward, but he struck out for the shore: long, hard strokes through the water, his face dipping rhythmically in, out, in; sacrificing his view of her for the speed. He drew up to where the shadow of the somber pines split the water into light and dark. He treaded water, spinning around, looking for a sign of her. She had vanished.

"She went there!" Shaun yelled. He was struggling to get the rowboat turned around. "There, a couple yards to your left!"

Russ took a deep breath and submerged. In the deep twilight of the water, he could just see her, a pale wraith flickering at the edge of his vision. As he arrowed toward her, she emerged from the gloom like a photograph being developed. She was still walking downward, that was what was so creepy, toes brushing against the coarse-grained bottom, flowered dress billowing, white hair floating. She was still walking downward like a drowned ghost, and then, as if she could hear the pounding of his heart, she turned and looked at him, open-eyed under the water. Her eyes were black, set in a white, withered face. It was like having a dead woman stare at him.

He was an easy swimmer, confident in the water, but at her look, he panicked. He opened his mouth, lost his air, and struck up wildly for the surface, thrashing, kicking. He emerged choking and spluttering, hacking and gulping air. Shaun was rowing toward him, still a couple dozen yards away, and he knelt up on the bench when he saw Russ. "Can you find her?" he shouted. "Are you okay?" Unable to speak, Russ raised his hand. Shaun's hand froze on the oar. "Jesus! She's not dead already?"

She wasn't yet, but she would be if he didn't get his act together and haul her out of the water. Without letting himself think about it any further, Russ took a deep breath and doubled over, back into the deep. This time when she appeared in his sight he ignored her face and concentrated on wrapping his arm around her chin in the standard lifesaving position. She struggled against him, clawing at his arm and pulling his hair, which was almost a relief compared to her weird, ghostlike walking. Something normal, something he could deal with. He tightened his grip and churned upward, his free arm aching with the effort, her dress tangling his legs. Before he reached the surface, he felt her go limp. How many minutes since she walked in? Time yawned open. It felt like he had been under the lake forever. When he split the water, hauling her with him, she drifted, slack, held up by his arm beneath her chin.

Oh no you don't. He turned onto his back and stroked hard toward shore, floating her near his chest, so lost in the rhythm of pull and breath and kick that he didn't realize he was there until he reached back and hit coarse grit instead of cold water. He rolled to his knees and half dragged, half carried the old lady onto the grass. He pinched her nose, tilted her head back, and began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Blow. Breath. Blow. Breath.

He heard the scrape of the rowboat's keel and then Shaun was there, falling to his knees on the other side of the old lady's head. He pushed against Russ's shoulder. "Let me take a turn, man," he said. "You need to get a breath for yourself." Russ nodded. He watched as Shaun picked up his rhythm, and then Russ let himself collapse into the grass.

He heard a gargling cough and shoved himself out of the way as Shaun rolled the old lady to her side. She gasped, choked, and then vomited up a startling quantity of water. She started to cry weakly. He met Shaun's eyes over her shoulder. Shaun spread his hands and shrugged. Now what?

Russ staggered back onto his feet. Curled up on her side, weeping, the woman didn't look scary anymore, just old and lost. "I think we ought to get her to the hospital," Russ said. "Run up the trail and see if she parked a car beside the road."

Swinging wide around the tiny cemetery, Shaun loped to the overgrown path and disappeared from view. Russ returned to the rowboat and dragged it up onto the grass as far as he could. He retrieved his jeans-stinking of beer-and his sneakers, and had just finished getting dressed when Shaun ran back down the trail.

" 'Sup there," he panted, pointing toward the road. "Keys in the ignition and all."

"Good." Russ knelt by the old woman and carefully pulled her into a sitting position. "Ma'am? Can you walk? What's your name?"

The old lady leaned against his shoulder. She wasn't exactly crying anymore, but making deep, shaky sounds like a little kid. She didn't seem to hear him. He wondered if she was senile, and if so, what she was doing driving around by herself. He looked back at Shaun. "I think we need to carry her."

"What about our stuff?" Shaun pointed to the boat. "It's not just the fishing tackle, man. I still have"-he dropped his voice, as if a narc might be hiding behind one of the headstones-"almost an ounce of grass in there."

The woman gave a rattling sigh and lapsed into a still silence that made Russ uneasy. "Bring it," he said. "Or hide it. This lady needs help. We gotta get her to a doctor."

"Oh, shit," Shaun said. "Okay." He strode to the rowboat and grabbed the backpack he used to carry his paraphernalia. "But if anything happens to the boat, you're gonna be the one who explains it to my dad."

Russ laughed, a short, sharp sound. "Fine. I'm not gonna be around long enough for him to kick my ass."

They laced their hands together and eased the woman into a seat carry. With Shaun on the other side, she didn't weigh as much as some of the sacks Russ toted for customers at Greuling's Grocery. The trail up to the county road was less than a half mile, and within ten minutes they burst out of the shade of the pines and into open air and brilliant sunshine. Shaun jerked his head toward a '59 Rambler wagon. Two-toned: baby-shit brown and tired tan. Russ pulled open the back door and shut his eyes for a moment against the wave of thick, moist heat that rolled out of the car.

"Where should we put her?" Shaun asked.

"Lay her down in the backseat." Russ looked in the rear for a blanket or a coat to lay under her, but there was nothing except more gardening equipment.

They stretched the woman out on the sticky plastic seat. She looked clammy and paler than before. Russ had a sudden image of himself and Shaun driving into town in an overheated granny car with a corpse in the back. He shuddered.

"You okay?"

"Yeah, sure. You want to drive?"

Shaun held up his hands. "No way, man. If we get stopped, I don't want the cops getting too close to me." He sniffed his shirt. "Can you smell it on me?"

Russ rolled his eyes. "You know it's good stuff if it's making you 'noid." He slid into the driver's seat and adjusted it back to fit his long frame. "Hop in."

The ride into Millers Kill passed in silence. Russ was concentrating on driving as fast as he could. Shaun was tense, hissing between his teeth whenever Russ took a corner too tightly, gripping his seat if another car went past them. And in the back was-nothing. Russ couldn't even hear the old lady breathe. As they passed from the forest down into the rolling farmland, the back of his neck began to creep. He couldn't shake the idea that if he turned around, he would see her lying there, wet, unbreathing, looking at him with her black eyes. He was grateful when they came to the town and he had to focus on navigating through the stop-and-go traffic.

He pulled into emergency parking at the Washington County Hospital and killed the engine. Shaun looked at him. "Well?" he said. "Let's get her in there."

Russ forced himself to twist in his seat and check behind him. And, of course, he saw nothing except an unconscious old lady. His shoulders twitched at the sudden release of tension. "Yeah," he said to Shaun.

If he had been less weirded out and more on top of things, he would have gone into the emergency room, fetched out a couple of nurses, and had them wheel the old lady into the place themselves. He thought of it, later, but at the time, sliding her out of the Rambler seemed like the most logical thing to do. He took her feet and Shaun took her shoulders. He was so intent on avoiding a collision while walking backward that he didn't see the commotion their entrance caused. Shaun did, though, and nearly dropped the woman on her head.

"For Chrissake, Shaun, don't just-"

"What are you boys doing?" The nurse bearing down on them had a bosom like the prow of a battleship, and the face to match. In one swift move, she caught the old woman's wrist lightly in one hand while digging her other fingers bone-deep into Russ's shoulder.

"Ow!" he said. "We're not doing anything!"

"Is this your grandmother?"

"I don't know who it is! We just found her. At Stewart's Pond. She walked into the water. She tried to drown herself."

She sized him up with a single flick of her eyelashes, and even though she barely came up to his chest, she somehow managed to speak over his head.

"Skelly, McClaren, get that gurney over here." She glared at Shaun, who was looking longingly at the exit doors. "Don't even think about moving, young man."
Two nurses scarcely older than Shaun and Russ rolled a pallet over. One of them glanced sympathetically at Russ. The battleship let go of his shoulder in order to ease the old woman onto the gurney.

"Into the examination room," she said to the other nurses, who obeyed her with such speed that Russ figured she must terrorize everybody she came into contact with. She hooked her hands around his and Shaun's arms and followed the gurney, towing them past the admissions desk and through the swinging double doors into the examination room. She bulldozed through a square of limp blue curtains shielding the old woman from public view. "Get Dr. Hansvoort," she said firmly.

One of the young nurses disappeared. "Well, don't just stand there," she told the remaining nurse. "Get her vitals. Ah, Dr. Hansvoort. Thank you for coming so promptly."

The young resident who had parted the curtains looked as if he wouldn't have dared take his time. "Nurse Vigue?"

She rattled Russ's and Shaun's arms. "All right, you two. Tell Dr. Hansvoort here what happened." She narrowed her eyes. "Truthfully."

Russ and Shaun fell all over themselves trying to get their story out. While they described the woman's strange actions, Russ's dive to rescue her, and the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, Dr. Hansvoort clicked on a penlight and looked into his patient's eyes, nose, and throat.

When they had finished their recital-Shaun's last comment had been
". . . and so we'd like to go now, please"-the doctor frowned.

"Attempted suicide," he said to Nurse Vigue. "Or perhaps senile dementia. You had better put a call in to the police."

"My thoughts exactly," she said, nodding her approval at the doctor's performance. She captured Shaun and Russ again and sailed them back through the swinging doors into the waiting room. "You boys sit here. The police will have questions about this incident."

And if they don't, Russ thought, she'll make sure to tell them they ought to.

"But," Shaun began.

"Sit." She arched a thinly plucked brow at them and seemed to soften a little.

"We have quite a few back issues of Boy's Life magazine. I'm sure you'll enjoy reading them."

"For God's sake, sit down and read," Russ muttered to Shaun, taking a chair himself and opening the first magazine at hand.

Two issues of Popular Mechanics later, the emergency-room doors opened and Russ looked up to see the weather-beaten face of Chief Liddle. He was neither large nor intimidating-in fact, he looked more like a farmer than a cop-but both boys sank in their seats when he glanced their way.

The chief spoke briefly with Nurse Vigue and then vanished into the examination room. "Now you're screwed," Shaun whispered. "He's had his eye on you ever since he caught us torching tires at the dump."

Russ shook his head. "I'm not scared of him," he said, and it was true. He had seen the chief a few too many times, back before his dad passed away, gently steering the incoherent and maudlin Walter Van Alstyne up the front walk and into the parlor. The chief always said the same thing: "He's had a few too many, Margy. I guess he needs to sleep it off." Then he'd look real close into Russ's mom's face and ask, "You be all right here with him while he's like this?"
And she would get all brisk and efficient and tell him they would make out fine, and then they'd help Dad to his bed and she'd press a cup of coffee-usually refused-on the chief.

It wasn't until after his dad was dead that Russ realized what the chief had really been asking his mom, and when he did, it enraged him, that anyone could think his gentle, soft-spoken father would ever harm his mother. But later, he thought about how the chief had always acted as if Walter Van Alstyne's drunkenness was a onetime thing, and how careful he was of his mom's pride. And he realized the question wasn't that far-fetched after all. Because in his own way, his dad had hurt his mom a lot.

When the chief had caught him drinking Jack Daniel's and leading a group of seniors in lighting tires on fire and rolling them downhill from the dump, he had hauled Russ behind his cruiser for a talking-to. To the rest of the guys, it must have looked as if Russ had missed getting arrested by the skin of his teeth. But in truth, Liddle hadn't threatened him with the lockup. Instead, he had looked at Russ as though he had been stealing from a church, and said, "Russell, don't you think your mother's been through enough without you grieving her with this kind of foolishness? How are you going to look her in the eye if I have to bring you home . . ." he didn't say just like your father. He didn't have to.

Russ didn't have the words to tell this to Shaun, so he just grunted and snapped open a year-old Life magazine. It showed pictures of a massive antiwar demonstration. He shut it again, leaned back against the vinyl seat, and closed his eyes. This was supposed to have been a fun day fishing, one last day when he didn't have to be anywhere or do anything. Now it was all turned to crap.

"You boys want to tell me what happened?"

Russ opened his eyes. Chief Liddle stood in front of them, his thumbs hooked into his gun belt. Russ and Shaun clambered to their feet, and Russ let Shaun rattle on about the fishing and the old woman and the rescue and the resuscitation. He wound it up by explaining how they had driven the old woman's car to the hospital, then said, "Can I please go and call my mom to come get us? Because I just now realized we need a ride back to the lake to pick up my car."
The chief looked at both of them closely. He sniffed. "You two smell like the Dew Drop Inn on a Saturday night."

Shaun's eyes got wide and white.

"It's me, sir," Russ said. "I had a couple beers. But it's not as bad as it smells-I knocked 'em over when I took my jeans off to go after the old lady. That's why I stink so bad."

The chief shook his head. "Russell-," he began.

"Russ is leaving for the army next week," Shaun blurted. "You know what they say, Chief. 'If you're old enough to fight for your country . . . ' "

"You aren't going, are you?" Chief Liddle asked Shaun.

"Ah, no."

"Then I suggest you hush up and stay away from booze where I can smell you. Go on, go call your mother." Shaun didn't have to be told twice. He took off for the pay phone at the other end of the hall. Liddle looked straight at Russ, and the fact that the chief now had to look up to meet his eyes gave Russ a weird, disoriented feeling, like the time after his dad's service when Mr. Kilmer, the funeral director, had asked for 'Mr. Van Alstyne's signature' and he had realized that that was him, that he was 'Mr. Van Alstyne' now.

"Is it true?" the chief said.

"Yes, sir."

"You volunteer, or did your number come up?"

Russ paused. "My number came up."

"And you're leaving next week?"

"Wednesday."

The chief bit the inside of his cheek. "How's your mom taking it?"

"About as well as you'd expect."

"I'll make sure to drop in on her now and again. To keep an eye on things."

To do Russ's job for him. "I'm sure she'll appreciate that."

The chief looked as if he were going to say something else, but he merely extended his hand. "Good luck to you, then." They shook. "I don't need you to make a statement. You can go."

"Sir?"

The chief cocked an eyebrow at him.

"Who is that old lady? And why was she going into the reservoir like that?"
The deep lines around the chief's eyes crinkled faintly. "Curious, are you?"

"Yes, sir."

Liddle glanced toward the emergency-room doors. "That's Mrs. Ketchem."

"Ketchem? Like the clinic? And the dairy?"

"That's the one."

"But she must be rich!"

The chief smiled at him. "If she is, you can't prove it by me. Rich or poor, all folks have troubles, Russell."

"Was that why she was trying to, you know, kill herself?"

The chief stopped smiling. "I'm going to call that an accident. She's an old woman, working out in the sun, getting up and down . . . it's natural she became disoriented. Her daughter and son-in-law moved back to the area recently. I'll have a talk with them. Maybe we can persuade Mrs. Ketchem that it's time to give up her house and move in with them."

"But she wasn't disoriented. She was walking into that water like you'd walk into the men's room. She knew exactly what she was doing."

Chief Liddle gave him a look that somehow made him draw closer. "Attempted suicide is a crime, Russell. It might require a competency hearing and an involuntary committal at the Infirmary. Now, as long as she has family to take charge of her, I don't think she needs to go through that, do you?"

"But what if she's . . . I don't know, sick in the head or something?"

Liddle shook his head. "She's not going off her rocker. She's just old and tired. Even her sorrows are older than most of the folks around her these days. Sometimes, the weight of all that living just presses down on a person and sort of squashes them flat."

Russ thought that if that's what old age brought, he'd rather go out young in a blaze of glory. His feeling must have shown on his face, because the chief smiled at him again. "Not that it's anything you have to worry about." He shook his hand again. "Go on with your friend there. It looks like he's done with his phone call. And keep your head down when you're over there. We want you to come home safe."

And that ended his day's adventure. At least until that night, when he woke up his mother, yelling, from the first nightmare he could remember since he was ten. And in later years, even after he had walked, awake, through nightmares of men blown to a pulp and helicopters falling out of the sky, he still sometimes remembered the sensation of sinking into the cool, dark water. The pale, withered face. The black, black eyes. And he would shiver.

Copyright 2004 by Julia Spencer-Fleming
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 40 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 40 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2011

    Jeez......

    Can anyone write a review without providing an entire synopses of the plot?????? All I want to know is if you liked it! Spare me the quick notes version people, please!!!!

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 18, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    The fourth book in the Clare Fergusson Russ Van Alstyne series


    The fourth book in the Clare Fergusson Russ Van Alstyne series describes a very eventful day in the Adirondack Mountain town of Millers Kill, New York. That may be a gross understatement. As one character states: “A murder, a missing person, and an assault case all in one day? It’s like one of those signs of the Apocalpyse.”

    As the book, and the day, begins, the only event of major import is that it is Police Chief Van Alstyne’s 50th birthday. He is doing some serious soul-searching, as he and Reverend Clare Fergusson are coming to terms with their strong mutual attraction, and Russ has to make a decision on whether to tell his wife about his love for another woman. But that is pushed to the background as sinister events occur. There is a land buyout about to come to fruition, 250,000 acres of timberland involved, affecting as it will the lives and livelihoods of many of the townspeople. Tempers flare, things get horribly out of hand, and violence ensues. A more traumatic and fateful birthday for a protagonist would be hard to imagine.

    The concept of stewardship of the land (and the local businesses) comes into play. Generations of landowners find that their values may no longer be shared by their children and grandchildren. Russ and Clare find that they have to go beyond their primary vocations to smooth the troubled waters, and try to find out what, and who, is behind the crimes. It is hard to find a sympathetic character among these people, most of whom have known each other – or their families - all their lives.

    As always, the author lays out the lives and backgrounds of the Millers Kill inhabitants very thoroughly, and in interesting fashion, and as the book approaches its denouement, the suspense increases immeasurably. (Parenthetically, I loved the tip-of-the-hat to Lee Child and his protagonist, Jack Reacher.)

    The constantly shifting p.o.v. did make the read difficult at times, but the good writing and intriguing plot made it worthwhile, and the book is recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 4, 2012

    It twists, it turns, it makes you laugh, it makes you sad. The

    It twists, it turns, it makes you laugh, it makes you sad. The relationship between Russ and Clare is on the back burner, at a low simmer and we finally get to meet Russ's wife Linda. Meanwhile urgent business keeps all three of them on their toes. Another winner in the series.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    Where are the main characters? I LOVED this series until now.

    Where are the main characters?

    I LOVED this series until now. The lead characters I care about have only made cameo appearances as of the first 110 pages. I don't like any of the characters the author is introducing us to. Not sure if I'll finish the book. I should be at least interested in the story by now. Disappointed.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2012

    Disapointed Fan.

    While I have been enjoying this series, the plot and characters in this book were not even close to believable. I skimmed through a good part of the book because of this. I do intend to read other books in this series and hope that they stick more to the " who done it" style that I have enjoyed from this author.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2012

    Not as good as the first three

    Simply because the plot is sometimes just unbelievable and the characters don't make sense. I found myself reading and thinking, "Oh, come on."

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2013

    Highly enjoyable read

    She is dealing with real time issues and lots of humor.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2013

    To fatalstat

    Suddenly a blast of thunder is heard. Its starts raining poptarts.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2013

    Icepaw

    Hi Blazefur you are my mentor

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2013

    Snowkit

    Sh curl up and sleeps. Gtg

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2012

    Morph

    A large musquler bull runs in@ askks can i join

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2012

    Darknessstar

    "Could be a cat?"v

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2012

    Ninjaflash

    "Shapeshifter..."

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2012

    Gripping.

    A well crafted mystery with characters I cared about. Now I have the whole series.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2007

    A reviewer

    What do a kitnapped girl, a lady priest, a man whose logging business is threatened by his own daughter's activities and a man looking for job security have in common? Or any of the many other characters involved in this intriguing tale of murder that stems from misunderstandings and motives that aren't what they seem? A girl is missing, presumed lost in the woods and search is instituted. She isn't found, but another girl, badly beaten, is discovered. Are these incidents related? How? Who could do such a thing? Is the missing girl dead? Those and many other questions drive the plot of this complex tale. Desperation is an unseen character in this story, but his hand is felt in all scenes as a single act by one person impingeson the intents and actions of another. Follow Reverend Clare Fergusson as she tries to unravel the tangle caused by the simple act of a society trying to preserve a forest. Highly recommended. An excellent read by a very talented author whose other works you'll be searching out. Enjoy. I sure did.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    very enjoyable

    John Huggins of the Millers Kill Search and Rescue asks volunteer Episcopalian Priest Clare Fergusson to help look for a missing woman lost in the Adirondacks. The nine year Air Force veteran joins the team learning that the missing woman is twenty-six years old Millie van der Hoeven, who was staying at her brother¿s home for the past three months, but failed to return from a walk....................... At about the same time, Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne feels guilt over falling in love with Revered Fergusson though he is married to Lindy, who lovingly has been at his side every step of the way for twenty-five years. Adding to his discomfort Lindy gives him a special rifle for his fiftieth birthday while he struggles to say the words I love you to her. The missing person¿s case leads to a homicide and a land deal going bad all within the Blue Line that demarcates the Adirondack State Park. As Russ and Clare team up once again, their feelings for one another remain deep, but both fears the first step because it means telling Lindy.................. . The fourth entry in the Millers Kill, New York investigative series is a wonderful tale that provides an atmosphere of a small mountain town struggling with a deadly land deal. The lead couple remains an interesting pair in love, but trying not to hurt the kind innocent third party to their triangle. The who-done-it is cleverly developed so that the storyline, like the roads in the area, serpentine around the mountain. The audience obtains a tense terrific thriller that builds up from one scenario to a different one until the final altercation.................... Harriet Klausner

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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