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Authors: Thomas Perry

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Shadow Woman (9 page)

BOOK: Shadow Woman
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That seemed to work for Earl.
“He’s got our life. We’re dead until we get him. We
have to find him to take it back.”

Earl’s anger transported
Linda. Her energy was beginning to crackle out in little bolts of
rage. “And who the hell is he to do that? He knew he was going
to die – deserved to die – but he decided it wasn’t
going to be him. It was going to be somebody else.”

“He knew what he was
doing,” said Earl. “He knew there would be somebody who
had to come along and clean up the mess he left. Somebody like us
would be put in his place, in a deep hole, and have to dig their way
out of it.” His throat was choked with anger.

“Oh, he’s not
worried about us,” she muttered. “He’s someplace
laughing at us. Both of them are. That woman who got him out of
Vegas. They think they’re smarter than anybody who would need
the money bad enough to come for them.”

Earl stood up and began to pace.
“Not just smarter. Better than us. Like even if we did luck
onto him it wouldn’t matter, because he’d beat us.”

Linda’s pulse was fast,
hard, and strong now. She was transfixed with hatred and fear. Her
jaw was clenched and her long fingernails were jabbing into the palms
of her hands, leaving little red crescents. She could see the veins
standing out in Earl’s neck. He was moving again, too full of
energy to keep still. He was picking things up and tossing them into
his suitcase. He seemed to see what a mess he was making of it, so he
went and gathered the two Colts from the dresser and headed for the
door. He stopped in the doorway and said, “Just be sure you’re
ready by six.”

6

Jane
sat on the couch and stared around her at the baseboards in the
living room. There were nicks that her father had patched with the
best synthetic wood mixtures they had sold at the time, then painted
over, but she knew where they were twenty years later. The one by the
kitchen door was from the new refrigerator he had bought as a
surprise for her mother, which was still on the other side of the
door running right now. Jane remembered seeing the man pushing the
two-wheel hand truck it was strapped to miscalculate and nick the
doorway. The man who was supposed to be guiding him saw it, spit on
his finger, and rubbed the spot, trying to believe it was just a dirt
mark but feeling the groove.

The imperfections in the
surfaces were events. Her greatgrandfather had built most of the
house himself, and her grandfather and father had painted and
varnished it, and her grandmother and her mother had rubbed every
square inch of it clean a thousand times, so if she put her hand
here, or here, she was touching their hands.

She said aloud, “I got
married yesterday,” as a test, and it failed. The words didn’t
sound convincing, because they didn’t have behind them the
resonance of wonder. All of the people who would have come rushing in
from the kitchen and the dining room, making noise and smiling –
or maybe looking worried – were just memories now. Birth,
marriage, death. That was all they put on tombstones, and that seemed
to be about all anyone wanted to know unless you were pretty
remarkable. Jane Whitefield had spent the past twelve years straining
every nerve to keep from being remarkable, because attracting
attention was dangerous. It seemed she had succeeded, and now she
would have to succeed some more, because she had Carey.

Jane turned her attention to the
pile of mail that Jake had left for her, setting the bills beside her
and the advertisements on the floor for the wastebasket. She came to
a stiff white envelope with no return address. Probably it was
another wedding card. It would have the usual flowered bower with
bells, and beneath it would be the archetypal stiff little people,
one in white and the other in black. There was no way anybody could
be expected to obtain one that was remotely evocative of a marriage
between actual human beings. For some reason there was no market for
such a thing. But this mail was old. It had come while she was in Las
Vegas, and she had forgotten about it in the rush and excitement of
getting married. This couldn’t be a wedding card.

She tore it open and saw that it
was a plain white folded sheet. Printed in ballpoint pen was “You
told me I would be thinking of you just about now. So here’s a
present. Chris.” Inside was a cashier’s check with the
purchaser listed as Christine McRea. The stub attached to it said
“Repayment of Principal.” Jane glanced at the machine
printing on the check: one hundred thousand and 00/100 dollars.

Christine McRea had come a long
way since the night when she had knocked on the door of this house.
Her name had been Rebecca Solomon then, and she had made the mistake
of assuming that when a judge said the names of people serving on a
jury were confidential, that meant an enterprising reporter wouldn’t
be able to find hers and print it later. When Jane had met her, she
had already used all the money she had saved on her secretary’s
salary just to get as far as Cleveland, and had hitched a ride the
rest of the way with a pair of itinerant heavy-equipment operators
who had begun to hint at things she could do to repay their kindness.

Jane tore up the note, slipped
the check into the pile of bills, and got up off the couch,
determined to accomplish something before Carey got here. She would
need the address book in her office for the thank-you notes. A few of
the people Carey had invited were reachable only through his
secretary’s computer, but almost everybody else was in her old
book. She had known him for so long that their friends were nearly
all shared. Most of Jane’s relatives lived on the roads along
Tonawanda Creek – Sandy Hill Road, Sky Road, a few on Judge
Road. She could have sent all of those notes in care of the
reservation, but the older ladies would not have approved. She set
the floppy old leather book by the door and went upstairs.

She took a few favorite outfits
and laid them carefully on the bed, then heard the front door open
and close. “Carey?” she called. “I’m
upstairs.”

Jake’s voice called, “Are
you decent?”

Jane laughed. “No, Jake.
But I’m married now, so I can be as indecent as I want.”

“I mean am I invited up?”

“If you can make it up the
stairs.”

Jake came along the hallway
toward her room. “It was a near thing, but I rested frequently
and phoned my doctor for advice on the landing. Where is that quack,
anyway?”

“He’ll be here in a
few minutes. He’s helping me move a few things, so I thought
we’d need both cars. Now that I look at it, I don’t think
we will.”

“I wanted to tell you that
I had a good time at the wedding.”

“That’s because your
daughters came. Thanks for giving me away, though, Jake. There was
never a man who looked as relieved to get rid of anybody as you did.
Everybody make it to the airport on time?”

“Oh, yeah,” said
Jake. “The kids will make it to their final exams and the
husbands will be at work Monday morning to keep my girls wearing the
latest fashions and a bit too broad in the beam to fit them. The
reception reminded me of when your parents got married. All the food
and everything, a lot of the same faces, too, but of course we’re
all a bit the worse for wear.”

Jane selected some of her shoes
and set them in a cardboard box. “Last night wasn’t
really a reception. It was another wedding. In the old days you just
asked the two clan mothers if it was okay, and then everybody had a
feast.”

“I wish your parents could
have seen it. God, I remember your mother in her white gown. She was
probably the most beautiful woman I ever saw, close up. You’re
a pleasant-looking female citizen from a thousand yards out on a
cloudy evening. But she could knock a rooster off a full henhouse
with a veil over her face. She could have been an actress.”

“She was an actress,”
said Jane. “She made herself up.”

Jake was silent for a moment.
Little Janie had gotten those arctic-blue eyes from her mother, but
that penchant for saying the unexpected, like dumping a bushel of
apples in your lap to show you what the bottom ones looked like, that
came from Henry Whitefield without any dilution. He backed away from
that part of it. “She was a wonderful woman.”

He had never figured out how
much Jane could have known about her mother’s past. She had
somehow found herself at the age of nineteen in New York City without
visible means of support. No, that was exactly the wrong term.
Spectacular, sure-fire means of support were still visible on her,
well into her forties. Jake had never heard anything specific about
how she had spent the years from one to nineteen, or even what part
of the country she had started in. Maybe that was the deepest secret
of all, and maybe his wife, Margaret, had heard all of that from her
too, and found it too ordinary to repeat to her husband.

But she had spent the next few
years downstate in the company of a succession of men who were
accustomed to having their pictures taken twice – head-on and
in profile. Maybe she had not made a choice. Women had a way of
dancing with the man who asked, and a lot of the natural-selection
business that determined who was first in line, or even who
considered himself worthy, got settled among the men themselves.

Jane smiled. “She was a
very smart woman. She had figured out that your life is pretty much
what you decide it is. She picked the right person to be and spent
the rest of her life being that person as hard as she could.”

It was true. Whatever had
happened to Jane’s mother in the first years of her life, it
had taught her something she never forgot. Whatever decisions she
needed to make were all behind her before Jake had met her. Henry had
a wife and Jane had a mother who could have come out of the
television shows of the time – house neat and clean, something
hot bubbling on the stove, and her looking fresh and crisp and
reassuring.

Jake watched her daughter
bustling around in the same house, and he unexpectedly had a vision
of the future. It wasn’t a vision he could take credit for. It
was more like a prophecy that he had merely overheard. She was busy
inventing Mrs. Carey McKinnon, the way her mother had invented Mrs.
Henry Whitefield. He guessed the perfect wife wouldn’t act the
same these days as she had thirty years ago.

On that score alone, he expected
that watching Jane over the next year or two would provide a
supplement to his education. And Jane wasn’t the same woman as
her mother. Henry had made sure she got raised in the old Seneca way,
where you didn’t waste much breath telling kids what to do, so
their self-reliance didn’t get stifled. God knew the
Whitefields had gotten a whopping return on that investment.

And Janie had a different order
of determination entirely. She had consciously chosen to do something
with the first part of her life that was more than heroic, because if
you saved somebody’s life once, that was bravery. When you did
it a hundred times, that was pure stubbornness. If she had now chosen
to be somebody else, the perfect wife, then letting your feet get in
her path on her way to it would be a good way to lose a foot. This
new person, this Jane McKinnon, was not going to be somebody you
faced down eye-to-eye.

He heard the sound of Carey
McKinnon’s tread on the front porch and looked down at him
through Jane’s window. Henry would have been pleased. Jake
could see Carey’s head beginning to shine through the thin,
sandy hair, so he was no kid anymore. Jake hoped he had enough sense
by now to understand the nature of the gift he had been given, but he
supposed he probably didn’t. It often seemed to Jake that
wisdom had settled on his own head like a wreath from heaven some
time around age sixty, after it was too late to do him much good and
was more of an irritation than a pleasure. He said, “Well, I’ve
got to move on, or the damned dandelions will get a foothold on my
lawn again and I’ll spend the whole summer on my knees digging
them out with a knife.”

“Good. I thought you were
just hanging around to get free medical advice.”

“Not me. I want mine duly
recorded in an office in front of witnesses so I can sue for
malpractice. See you, Mrs. McKinnon.”

“See you, Jake.”

Jake met Carey carrying boxes up
the stairs. “Take good care of her,” said Jake. “I’ll
tell you why at your fiftieth anniversary, if you’re not senile
by then.”

“Better write it down,
Jake. Don Herbick keeps calling me from his mortuary to ask about
your health. I say, ‘Not yet, Don. But keep the motor tuned
up.’”

“I suspected you probably
worked closely with an undertaker, Dr. McKinnon. But I won’t
desert you now that you’ve got a wife to support.”

“It’s always good to
have your unqualified endorsement, Jake. I could hardly ask for
anybody more unqualified.”

“It’s a pleasure to
serve.” He walked out and closed the door.

Carey set the empty boxes on the
floor and put his arm around Jane. “He’s right about you.
When I walked in, I could hardly believe it. You actually married
me.”

She smiled, craned her neck, and
leaned back against his chest to give him a gentle kiss. “I’m
glad to know that you’re not here about a refund. But don’t
assume everything Jake has to say about me would make you happy. He’s
got no excuse left for illusions about women.” She stepped away
from him, picked up the dresses on hangers from the bed, and slipped
the hooks over his hand. “To business. Take these down and hang
them on the pole I’ve got across the back seat. Do not toss,
crumple, or otherwise render them unsuitable for wear. Then report
for further orders.”

He walked off down the hall and
clomped down the stairs. She looked around and began to pull things
out of her dresser drawers and put them into boxes. Carey came back
and stood in the doorway. “It just occurred to me,” he
said. “What are you going to do with this house? Sell it?”

BOOK: Shadow Woman
6.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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