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Being retired had its pluses. For one thing, it was good to be ruled by the tide tables instead of department shifts and schedules. Patrick Murphy kept the small Hartford Courant tide card tacked up by the chart table, but he barely needed it anymore. He swore his body was in sync with the ebb and flow of Silver Bayhe'd be pulled out of bed at the craziest hours, in the middle of the night, at slack tides, prime times to fish the reefs and shoals around the Stone Mill power plant.
Stripers up and down the Connecticut shoreline didn't stand a chance. They hadn't for the two years, seven months, three weeks, and fourteen days since Patrick had retired at the age of forty-three. This was the life. This was really the life, he told himself. He had lost the house, but he had the boat, the truck. This was what people worked their whole lives for: to retire to the beach and fish the days away.
He thought of Sandra, what she was missing. They had had a list of dreams they would share after he left the Connecticut State Police: walk the beaches, try every new restaurant in the area, go to the movies, hit the casinos, take the boat out to Block Island and Martha's Vineyard. They were still youngthey could have a blast.
A blast, he thought. Nowinstead of the fun he had thought they would have together"blast" made him think of the divorce, with its many shocks and devastations, the terrible ways both lawyers had found to make a shambles of the couple they had once been.
Fishing helped. So did the Yankeesthey had snapped their losing streak and just kept on winning. Many the night Patrick combined the twocasting and drifting, listening to John Sterling and Charlie Steiner call the game, cheering for the Yanks to win another as he trolled for stripers, as his boat slipped east on the current.
Other things pulled him out of his bunk too. Dreams with dark tentacles; bad men still on the run after Patrick's best waking efforts to catch them; a lost girl; shocks and attacks and bone-rattling fears that gave new meaning to Things That Go Bump in the Night. Patrick would wake up with a pounding heart, thinking of how terrified she must have been.
Whether she was murdered, dead and buried all these years, or whether something had happened to drive her from her house, her grandmother's rose garden, to someplace so far away she had never been seen again, her fear must have been terrible.
That's the thing he could never get out of his mind.
What fears had Mara Jameson felt? Even now, his imagination grabbed hold of that question and went wild. The case was nine years old, right at the top of his unsolved pile. The paperwork had been his albatross, his constant companion. The case was the rock to Patrick's Sisyphus, and he had nevernot even after it promised to ruin his marriage, not even after it made good on that promise, not even now, after retirementnever stopped pushing it up the hill.
Mara's picture. It sat on his desk. He used to keep it right beside his bedto remind him of what he had to do when he got up. Look for the sweet girl with the heartbreak smile and the laughing eyes. Now he didn't really need the picture. Her face was ingrained into his soul. He knew her expressions by heart, the way other men knew their wives, girlfriends, lovers. . . .
She'd be with him forever, he thought, climbing out of bed at five-thirty a.m. He had only the vaguest idea of what his dream had beensomething about blood spatter on the kitchen floor, the spidery neon-blue patterns revealed by the blood-detecting luminol, trickles and drops . . . spelling, in Patrick's dream, the killer's name. But it was in Latin, and Patrick couldn't understand; besides, who could prove she'd been killed when her body had never been found?
He rubbed his eyes, started the coffee, then pulled on shorts and sweatshirt. The morning air felt chilly; a front had passed through last night, violent thunderstorms shaking the rafters, making Flora hide under the bed. The black Lab rubbed up against him now, friendly bright eyes flashing, knowing a boat ride was in their future.
Heading up on deck, he breathed in the salt air. The morning star blazed in the eastern sky, where the just-about-rising sun painted the dark horizon with an orange glow. His thirty-two-foot fishing boat, the Probable Cause, rocked in the current. After the divorce, he'd moved on board. Sandra had kept the house on Mill Lane. It had all worked out fine, except now the boatyard was going to be turned into condos. Pretty soon all of New England would be one big townhouse village, complete with dockominiums . . . and Patrick would have to shove off and find a new port.
Hearing footsteps on the gravel, he peered into the boatyard. A shadow was coming across the sandy parking lot; Flora growled. Patrick patted her head, then went down below to get two mugs of coffee. By the time he was back on deck, he saw Flora wagging her tail, eyes on the man standing on the dock. Angelo Nazarena.
"Don't tell me," Patrick said. "You smelled the coffee."
"Nah," Angelo said. "I got up early and saw the paper; I figured you needed company so you wouldn't get drunk or do something really stupid. Longest day of the year's tomorrow, and the articles are starting already. . . ." He held the Hartford Courant in one hand, but accepted the heavy blue mug in the other as he stepped aboard.
"I don't drink anymore," Patrick said. He wanted to read the story but didn'tat the same time. "As you well know. Besides, I'm not speaking to you. You're selling my dock."
"Making millions in the bargain," Angelo chuckled. "When my grandfather bought this land, it was considered crap. The wrong side of the railroad bridge, next to a swamp, stinking like clam flats. But he was smart enough to know waterfront is solid gold, and I'm cashing in. Good coffee."
Patrick didn't reply. He was staring at Mara's picture on the front page. It had been taken in her grandmother's rose gardenten miles from here, at her pretty silver-shingled cottage at Hubbard's Point. The camera had caught the light in her eyesthe thrill, the joy, that secret she always seemed to be holding back. Patrick had the feeling he so often hadthat if he leaned close enough, she'd whisper to him, tell him what he so desperately wanted to know. . . .
"These papers really get a lot of mileage out of nothing," Angelo said, shaking his head. "The poor girl's been gone nine years now. She's fish food, we all know that."
"Your Sicilian lineage is showing."
"She's gone, Patrick. She's dead," Angelo said, sharply now. He and Patrick had gone to school together, been altar boys at St. Agnes's together, been best man at each other's weddings. He and
Patsy had introduced him to Sandra.
"The husband did it, right?"
"I thought so, for a long time," Patrick said.
"What was his name, though . . . he had a different last name from Mara. . . ."
"His name is Edward Hunter. Mara had her own career. She kept her own name when she married him."
And now Patrick saw Edward Hunter's handsome charm-boy face, his stockbroker's quick, sharp smileas wide and bright as Mara's, but without one ounce of her heart, soul, depth, integrity, authenticity, spark. . . . As a state cop, Patrick had encountered smiles like Edward Hunter's thousands of times. The smiles of men pulled over for speeding on their way home from places they shouldn't have been, the smiles of men at the other end of a domestic violence callsmiling men trying to convince the world they were better than the circumstances made them seem and reminding Patrick that "smile" was really just "slime" spelled sideways.
"Everyone thought sonot just you. But the bastard didn't leave a body behind. So you can't try him, and it's time for you"
"We could have tried to pull a Richard Crafts," Patrick said, naming Connecticut's infamous killer convicted of murdering his wife, whose body was never found, on the basis of a few fragments of hair and bone found in a rented wood chipper. "But we didn't even have enough for that. I couldn't even find enough evidence for that."
"Like I was saying, it's time you moved on."
"Okay, thanks," Patrick said, his expression saying why didn't I think of that?, his Irish rising as he faced his friend Angelowho had brought over the morning paper with Mara's face on the front page, who was about to sell his boat slip right out from under him. Flora had gone for a run around the still-deserted parking lot, and now she leapt back aboard the boat.
"What I mean is . . ." Angelo said, trying to find the words to fill the hole he'd opened up.
"What you mean is, it's time I got a life, I know," Patrick said, giving his old friend an old-friends glancethe kind of look that tells them they know you better than anyone, that you take their point, that they were right all along, when what you really want is to just shut them up and get them off your case.
"Yeah. To be honest, that's what I mean," Angelo said, chuckling with relief even as Patrick was folding up the newspaper and tossing it through the hatchpurportedly for disposal but actually to save forever.
As he saved all of Mara's pictures.
Because, he thought as he started up the engine and Angelo cast off the lines, as they headed out to the fishing grounds, it was one of the ways he had found to keep her alive. That, and one other way . . .
The whole world assumed that Mara Jameson and her unborn baby had died all those nine years ago, and they still did. Patrick thought back to his Catholic childhood, that phrase in the Creed: We believe . . . in all that is seen and unseen. It was pretty much impossible to have faith in what you couldn't see. And the world hadn't seen Mara in over nine years.
Backing out of the slip, hitting the bow thrusters, he eased into the channel. The boat chuffed through the deepening water as gray herons watched silently from shadows along the green marshy shore. The rising sun shone through scrub oaks and white pines. Bursts of gold glittered on the water ahead.
The dead never stayed hidden. The earth gave them up, one way or another. Patrick knew they were relentless in their need to be found. The Tibetan Book of the Dead described the hungry ghosts, tormented by unbearable heat, thirst, hunger, weariness, and fear. Their realm seemed familiar to Patrick; having spent his career investigating homicides, he believed that the dead had their own emotions, that they haunted the living until they were found.
And Mara had never been found.
After all the work he'd done on her case, Patrick believed he would knowdeep inside his own bodyif she were dead. He felt Mara Jameson in his mind, his skin, his heart. He carried her with him every day, and he knew he'd never be able to put her down until he knew for sure what had happened to her. Where she was . . .
The birds were working up ahead, marking a school of blues just before the red nun buoy. Angelo got the rods ready. Flora stood beside Patrick's side; her body pressed against his leg as he hit the throttle and sped toward the fish and tried in vain to escape the thoughts that haunted him wherever he went.
And he knew that when he got back, he'd be ready to write her this year's letter.
Ah, it was about to start again. As it did every year at this time. Just as the last traces of New England's long chill were gone from the air, just as the birds had returned north from their winter's journeys, just as the roses were coming into bloom and the gardens were awash with color, just as summer solstice was upon them, with its gift of the longest day . . . the time had come around again.
Maeve Jameson stood in her garden, pruning. She wore a wide straw hat, white linen shirt, and hot-pink garden gloves. In spite of all the cover-ups, she also wore sunscreen. They hadn't known about sun damage when she was a girlthey had all thought the sun was the great healing forcethe more of it the better.
But she'd had a small skin cancer removed from her cheek last year, and was determined to do her best to keep it from happening again, to stay as healthy as she could, to stay alive until she knew the entire truth.
She had always been fastidious about putting lotion on her granddaughter. Mara had had such fair skinso typically Irish, pale and freckled. Her parentsMara's, that ishad been killed in a freak ferry accident on a trip to Mara's mother's hometown in the west of Ireland.
Maeve had taken over raising their daughter, their only child; every time she'd ever looked at Mara, she'd seen her son, Billy, and she'd loved her so much, more than the stars in the sky, more than anythingbecause she was a direct link to her darling boy, and she'd dutifully put sunscreen all over her freckled skin before letting her go down to the beach.
"You have the soul of your father in your blue eyes," Maeve would say, spreading the lotion.
"And my mother?"
"Yes, Anna too," Maeve would say, because she had loved her Irish daughter-in-law almost as if she'd been her own child. But the truth was, Mara had been all-Billy to Maeve. Maeve couldn't help herself.
So now she just stood in her garden, clipping the dead heads from the rosebushes. She tried to concentrate on finding the three-leaf sets, but she was distracted by the two news people standing out by the road. They had their cameras out, clicking away. Tomorrowthe anniversary of Mara's disappearancethe headlines would no doubt read, "Grandmother Still Waiting after All These Years" or "Roses for Mara's Remembrance" or some other malarkey.
The local news people had always made a cartoon of the situationtried to boil everything down into an easily palatable story for their readers to understand. When no one knew the whole truthexcept Mara. Edward had played his part in the terrible drama, and Maeve knew some segments, but only Mara knew it all.
Only Mara had endured it.
The state police detective had learned some of it. Patrick Murphy, another Hibernian, although not in the tradition of Irish cops that Maeve remembered from growing up in the South End of Hartford.
Those fellows had been tough, all steel, no nonsense, and they'd seen the world in black and white. Everything was one way or another. Not Patrick.