Authors: Annie Solomon
Tags: #FIC027110, #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense, #Sheriffs, #General
Innocent blood. She rose to face the angel. They needed a black angel, her father and mother. They were weak. Unprepared for the pressure life steamrolled over them. People who retreated and hid. Ran away. Died.
But they had her now. She snapped off the light, leaving the darkness to coil around her like a shroud. Edie was back. And she’d make everything right.
die Swann.” Red McClure looked from the job application to Edie, who stood on the other side of the bar.
She held her breath, waiting to see if the name struck a chord with him. Did he recognize it? She’d debated using her real name. It wasn’t that dissimilar from the one she’d left Redbud with, so a false identity might have served her well. But using an alias picked at her. She wanted to come back as herself, right under the nose of the whole damn town, betting that the twenty years between then and now would have blurred memories. So far, she’d been right.
The look Red gave her was open, friendly. Free of shadows. It was a good round face, a plus for a bartender. One that invited small confidences.
Not that he was going to get any from her. “That’s right.”
She’d seen the help-wanted notice for Red’s in the
Wondered if the bar was named after the town or after the owner. When she got there, the thinning red thatch atop his freckled face was her answer.
He perused the application again, maybe for the third time. Edie tamped down her impatience.
“You’ve been around,” he said. “New York, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville.”
She shrugged. “Still trying to find my Eden.” She put that out there, waited for some hint of recognition, and got none. A shiver of satisfaction ran through her. It was hot outside, deep and thick with summer humidity, and the bar was air-conditioned to the hilt. It would be great once she started working, but right now her bare shoulders in the tight leather vest were freezing.
“And you think you’ve found it in Redbud?” Doubt trickled into his voice.
“You never know.” She smiled, giving him the blazing one she showered on customers. It worked like it always did. Well, that and a few other tricks of the trade. Like putting her elbows on the bar and leaning forward so her cleavage was even more visible.
“These are good places.” He tapped the paper, referring to the list of priors that was her bar girl résumé. “I know some. Well, by reputation, of course. Though I’ve been to the Sassafrass in Nashville. Quite a scene. You won’t get that here. This is a neighborhood place, just folks relaxing.”
Neighborhood was an exaggeration, seeing as it was on the edge of town, a bare half-mile from the Hammerbilt HVAC plant. The only neighbors were the truckers offloading steel sheeting and the steady stream of shift workers without whom Red’s would be dead.
“What I’m looking for.” And to underscore her assurance, she looked around the place. A clutter of small tables, high on the outside, low in the middle, stools at the bar. All squeezed into a cave of a room, dark and cool enough for hibernating. “Someplace comfortable. I’m tired of wandering. Be thirty in a few months. Time I put down some roots.”
“And you picked Redbud?” As if no one in his right mind would choose this tiny spot on the highway to settle down. Not if he had the options she’d obviously had.
She laughed, her story already worked out in her head. “Actually, Redbud picked me. Ran into some trouble with my bike and had to shell out a handful to get it fixed. Redbud was as far as the rest of my cash could take me.”
“Well as far as bartenders go, you’ve got the pedigree.”
“What about the job?”
He pursed his lips. “Can you make, ah… one of those apple martinis?”
She paused. Didn’t think there’d be much call for mixed drinks here. “I do a killer appletini.” She vaulted over the bar. Looked for the vodka and the apple schnapps. Found the former, not the latter. She asked for it.
Red-faced, the bar owner said, “Don’t have it. Don’t get much call for it here. Just—”
“—Wanted to see if I knew what I was doing?”
“Okay. Give me a second.” She took the time to peruse the shelves, found some brandy, a kid’s carton of apple juice in the bar fridge, and a lemon. She mixed the drink over ice, added a dash of vodka, and poured it into an old-fashioned glass garnished with a lemon twist. Made a second drink adding ginger ale and poured it into a highball glass. “Apple blossom. Apple blossom fizz.” She pushed the drinks toward him. While he sampled, she found a bottle of crème do cacao, blew off the dust, mixed it with vodka in an ice-filled shaker and poured the drink into a martini glass. “Chocolate martini. What do you think?”
He grinned. “Yeah, but can you draw a beer?”
She gave him that smile, leaned against the bar again. “Like nobody’s business.”
They shook on it, and agreed she’d start later that night. “Got a big to-do in town,” Red said. “The guy that heads the plant is leaving to run with the big dogs at IAT—International Ambient Technologies. They own Hammerbilt.”
“Oh, yeah?” Edie faked mild interest. But anything about Hammerbilt got her attention.
“Won’t be much alcohol at the picnic, so figure there’ll be a lot of spillover here. You should stop by the park. It’ll be a big send-off. I’ll introduce you around.” He handed her a flyer with all the particulars. She saw the honoree’s name and her heart started to thud. Sometimes the gods were smiling.
“Thanks.” She pocketed the flyer. “Maybe I will.”
She needed a place to flop, and Red showed her a room above the bar. He apologized for the dust, but they worked out a deal, and once the place was cleaned up it had everything she needed. Bed, hotplate, a table that could serve as living and dining room. Not what she’d call homey, but then again, she hadn’t really known homey since she left Redbud behind.
Oh, there’d been home—Aunt Penny’s apartment with its mess of three rooms, Edie’s the one with the pullout bed. Then again it had been a long time since she’d had a yard and a tree to swing on. It wasn’t as if she’d miss it.
Not like she had at first.
But that was years ago, and this was today. And she had things to do.
She hauled her bags up the iron stairs that overlooked the back alley. No one would bother her here. Perfect site to start things swirling.
She stuffed the few hanging things she’d brought with her—a couple of dresses in case she needed them—into the tiny closet. Cleaned up some abandoned crates lying in the alley and lugged them to the room to serve as a dresser.
By noon there was only one last thing to put away. Reaching deep inside an inner pocket of her duffel, she pulled out a plastic bag. Hefted its light weight in her hand, jiggling the forms inside. The corners of her mouth twisted into a small dark smile, and she upended the bag onto the bare mattress.
A dozen tiny black angels spilled out.
edbud was built by immigrants and easterners coming west to Tennessee for adventure and prosperity. They brought with them the square plan and built the town around it. As it grew, newcomers desperate for space stretched the boundaries, not always sticking to the order. Behind the original town with its neat map of squared-off avenues around a central quad, the streets were akimbo, alleys snaking off into meandering roads like a maze hiding secrets.
The signature redbuds, which once grew wild on the outskirts, had gradually given way to homes and progress. Town fathers had added them later, planting the trees in orderly rows to line the central square and its expansion—Redbud Park. Spring had long gone, though, and with it, the beautiful pink buds that had given the town its name. Now the trees bloomed green, and if you didn’t know what they were they could have been mistaken for anything. But Edie remembered what they were, and as she walked among them to get to the park, she pictured them fuzzed with pink.
Looked like the whole town had turned out to celebrate Fred Lyle’s departure from the Hammerbilt plant. Redbud Park was festooned with balloons and banners that read “Thank you, Mr. Fred!” in bright blue letters. Four grills on one side of the park kept up a steady stream of hot dogs and hamburgers. A small bandstand stood across the way, but it was empty now. According to the notice she’d read in the window at Red’s, the music wasn’t supposed to start until later that evening.
She plunged into the crowd. Various sponsor signs greeted her. The Redbud Community Church manned a dessert table. A teenager was handing out old-fashioned cardboard fans with Runkle’s Real Estate printed on one side. Red had his own corner—lemonade, water, and iced tea by the looks of it. No alcohol for Mr. Fred.
People weaved around her as she stood still, pivoting to embrace the feel of the place. She was sure she remembered the swings in the corner—
higher, Mommie, higher!
—and the water fountain and monkey bars. Or did she? Memories were tricky. Sneaky. She’d grab for one, and it dissipated like a handful of smoke.
New children clamored over the playground now, also screaming at their parents to be pushed higher. She found herself riveted by their innocence. It seemed foolish to be so guileless. As if the universe spared the young any more than it did their elders.
A microphone shriek drew her attention toward the bandstand. A kindly-looking white-haired man was tapping the microphone.
“Citizens of Redbud,” he began. “We are here to celebrate a lifetime of service to this town. For twenty years he’s been plant manager at Hammerbilt and an asset to this community, holding our future in his hands with expertise and commitment. It’s been an honor to work with him and with Hammerbilt’s corporate parent, International Ambient Technologies, and now, on the eve of his well-earned promotion to CEO over all of IAT’s North American holdings, I can only say, thank you, Mr. Fred.”
Applause and whistles broke out as Fred Lyle ambled to the microphone. But not everyone approved. Behind her she heard a few snorts and at least one muttered, “Bullshit.”
She turned, searching the crowd for the nay-sayer, but couldn’t find him. Meanwhile, Fred Lyle had started speaking. She let his self-congratulatory words drift over her as she conjured an image of him from years ago. But only the name and the hush it brought to her memory lingered. The living room in the old house. An impression of drapes hanging closed. Lamplight and shadows. The couch where she’d squeezed herself into the crook of her mother’s listless arm. And Aunt Penny creeping in.