who is loved
Wednesday, August 12th
Maggie laid on the table for two pounding heartbeats, then slid off and onto her feet, and scrambled over to Sky’s chair.
“Mom, what just happened?” Sky asked, her voice near hysterical.
“I don’t know,” Maggie managed to croak, squatting behind Sky’s chair and furiously working the ropes that bound her wrists.
“What did he do?”
“I don’t know, Sky!”
The wind was whistling like a train outside, and it seemed impossible that it could be louder than it had already been. Maggie looked up toward the kitchen window as something small but hard hit it, and she caught Kyle’s eye. He was staring at the front door, his eyes wide.
“I’m coming, Kyle,” Maggie said. He looked at her, but didn’t say anything.
Sky wiggled her fingers. “Hurry, Mom!”
“Hold still, baby, please,” Maggie said.
She yanked the ropes free and jumped up as Sky pulled her arms around to the front. They were stiff from hours of being bound behind her, and she rolled them gingerly.
“Sky,” I need you to grab the Glock,” Maggie said, as she squatted behind Kyle and started working on the ropes. His thin wrists were bleeding, and the ropes had left welts on them that made Maggie want to scream.
Sky ran over to the kitchen counter and picked up the Glock, where it lay with the Mossberg and her great-grandfather’s .38. “Do you want me to bring it to you?”
“No, I need it for you,” she said. “Do you remember how to use it?”
“Yeah, but…I guess. Why not the .38?”
“This is not the time for a revolver, baby,” Maggie answered. “Just take it. I want you take it, and I want you to take Kyle, and I want you guys to go in my room, and you don’t come out unless I come get you.”
“You don’t come out unless I come get you, do you understand me?” Maggie yelled.
A branch slammed into the window behind Sky, and she ducked instinctively, but the glass didn’t break. The branch fell away again as she straightened up and grabbed the rounds from the counter and shoved them into her pocket.
Maggie finally pulled Kyle’s wrists free, and she rubbed them for just a second before she pulled him up from the chair. “Kyle, you go with Sky, and you guys stay in there. Do you hear me?”
“Yeah,” he said, his voice a croak.
“Go!” Maggie barked at Sky, and the kids ran down the hallway. As soon as she heard their steps, Coco started barking and scratching at the door again. Maggie watched Sky open the door, watched the kids go in and slam the door behind them, then she ran over to the kitchen counter.
She glanced up at the front door several times as she loaded the Mossberg, shoved a couple of extra rounds in her shorts pocket, and then ran over to the door. The floor was wet from when he had burst through, and she slipped and nearly went down before catching herself.
She put an ear to the door, but it was a ridiculous thing to do. On the other side was nothing but noise, and she could hear nothing beyond the pounding of the rain on the deck.
She took a deep breath, slammed back the action on the shotgun, and flung open the door.
Boudreaux was in the yard, a few feet from the bottom of the stairs. He was almost knee deep in water from the creek, and the water closest to him was colored a deep, dark red.
He looked up at her, the wind buffeting him and pushing him, his hair whipping wildly.
Maggie raised the shotgun and felt a catch in her throat as she looked into those eyes, so deeply blue even from this distance. She hadn’t wanted him to be the one, and she felt, ridiculously, the heaviness of disappointment in her chest.
“I wish you hadn’t come here, Mr. Boudreaux.”
Tuesday, August 11th
8:10am – 28 hours earlier
Her name was Faye. According to the Tallahassee paper, Tropical Storm Faye had visited herself upon Cuba without too much mayhem, but might be upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane in the near future. If so, she was expected to make landfall somewhere between New Orleans and Biloxi.
Bennett Boudreaux set the paper aside, and poured himself another chicory coffee. He’d moved from Houma, LA to Apalachicola, FL decades before Hurricane Katrina, and he still enjoyed a good hurricane. He hoped they’d at least get some nice thunderstorms from Faye as she passed through the Gulf.
Judging by the sunlight streaming through the twelve-pane windows and the French doors that led out to the porch, it wouldn’t be today.
Boudreaux ran a hand through his brown hair, still thick and with only a touch of silver above his ears to show his age. At sixty-two, he was youthful and slim, and his deep blue eyes hadn’t lost any of their intensity. He smoothed his hair back down and reached for the sugar spoon.
Amelia, Boudreaux’s middle-aged Creole cook and housekeeper, stood at the kitchen island, frying one slice of maple bacon in a cast iron skillet.
“I appreciate you don’t mess with her none this mornin’,” she said to the skillet. “I got to take her over to the hospital for her bone scan in forty-five minutes.”
“What’s the bone scan for?” Boudreaux asked, stirring pure cane sugar into his coffee.
“Make sure she still got bones,” Amelia answered. She used a set of tongs to lift the bacon from the pan and laid it on a small plate next to one over-medium egg and a slice of toast.
Boudreaux watched her, and thought how much more relaxed Amelia seemed since his beloved wife Lily had made her departure for Grand Isle. She’d left three weeks ago, just after the funeral service for his older stepson, Patrick. With any luck, she would find a more appealing husband while she was there. Maybe a more successful crime lord, who took frequent and lengthy trips to Newfoundland.
The French door opened, and Miss Evangeline’s aluminum walker clattered through it, with Miss Evangeline herself in tepid pursuit.
Miss Evangeline was Amelia’s mother, and Boudreaux’s childhood nanny. She was well into her nineties, and often reminded him of a hatchling, tiny and featherless, a creamy yellowish-brown.
Boudreaux got up and walked around to pull out Miss Evangeline’s chair as she made her way to the table, the tennis balls on her walker making a soft swish against the hardwood floor.
“Mornin’, Mama,” Amelia said.
“Mornin’, baby,” Miss Evangeline answered, her voice like dry palm fronds rubbing together.
Boudreaux waited until Miss Evangeline reached the table, then kissed her on each papery cheek. “Good morning, Miss Evangeline,” he said.
“We gon’ see,” she answered, and got settled into her chair with a great deal of care and precision. Boudreaux walked back to his seat as Amelia set the plate and a cup of tea in front of her mother.
“You need to eat and get on with it,” Amelia said. “You still got to change for the doctor.”
“Why I got to change?” her mother asked, tilting her Coke-bottle glasses up at her daughter.
“You ain’t goin’ in that house dress,” Amelia said.
“I ain’t changin’ into somethin’ else just so they can tell me to take it off and put on them paper towel.”
Amelia heaved out a sigh and walked back to the island. “At least put a sweater on,” she said. She took the skillet to the sink and started wiping it out, as Boudreaux opened up the paper again. Miss Evangeline commenced to scrape butter on her toast, staring at the back of the newspaper.
“What in the paper?’ she asked.
“Some intellectual giant called in a bomb threat from the customer service phone at a Walmart in Tallahassee, the Governor says we really are making some real headway on drugs, and Tropical Storm Faye is thinking about becoming a Category 1 hurricane.”
Miss Evangeline stopped buttering her toast and pushed her glasses back up the bridge of her nose. “I won’t have no hurricane comin’ round here this flat place, floodin’ everything.”
“It’s not going to flood,” Boudreaux said smoothly.
“How you know?” she snapped. “Water come up over here, dump the shark in the yard. I won’t tolerate it, me.”
“We’re too far from the bay,” Boudreaux said. “All the sharks will be downtown.”
Amelia looked over her shoulder at him from the sink. “I got forty minutes now, to take this woman to the doctor.”
Miss Evangeline poked at her lower plate with her little tongue and fastened her magnified eyes on the back of Boudreaux’s paper. “You thinkin’ it’s a good day to sass me some,” she said.
Boudreaux lowered his paper and looked at her mildly. “No, I’m just pointing out to you that a little surge from some Cat 1 out in the Gulf isn’t going to make it all the way over here to Avenue D.”
“You say that now. But when the shark swimmin’ all ’round my mango, I ain’t gon’ put up with it, me. I buzz his face off and make me some gumbo.”
“That’s a good idea,” Boudreaux said, catching Amelia glaring at him. “You stand in your house shoes out there in the flooded yard and start shooting your Taser around.”
“You makin’ fun of me, then,” she said.
“No, I’m simply pointing out a gaping flaw in your offense,” he said.
“Stop talkin’ to her,” Amelia said, and Boudreaux winked at her, then gave Miss Evangeline a sly smile.
“Smile at me again,” she said. “I come there and slap your head right off your neck.”
Boudreaux picked his paper back up, and had a sudden vision of having to ride along with Amelia and Miss Evangeline to the hospital. The local paper would love to report that the town gangster had been beaten up by his hundred-year-old nanny.
The florist downtown wasn’t very far from Boudreaux’s low-country plantation house in the historic district, but then, few things were.
Apalachicola had a population of fewer than three thousand people, and while there were some outlying, semi-rural residential areas, most everything was located within the confines of Apalachicola proper, which took up just a few square miles on the bay.
The downtown area put many people in mind of a New England fishing village, and like many New England fishing villages, it had turned most of its old warehouses and industrial buildings into quaint shops, galleries, and seafood restaurants.
Maggie Redmond and her sixteen year old daughter Sky had treated themselves to breakfast at Café con Leche around the corner, and walked the couple of blocks to the florist on Commerce Street.
Maggie and Sky could have passed for sisters from a distance. At thirty-seven, Maggie had a youthful appearance, thanks to her own mother’s genetic generosity, and she and Sky were both small and slim, with long, dark brown hair. They also shared the same green eyes, though Sky had the longer lashes and a cute cleft chin from her late father.
The bell over the door jingled as Maggie and Sky entered, both of them carrying to-go cups of café con leche. The flower shop was owned by William and Robert, and William, a small, slight man in his fifties with unnaturally-blond hair, was behind the counter at the back.
“Good morning!” he crooned, and looked up from the counter. “Oh, hello.” He looked over his shoulder and called to the back. “Robert, the little sheriff is here.”
Sky snorted just loudly enough for Maggie to hear, as the two of them approached the counter.
“Hi, William,” Maggie said.
“Hidy-ho, Sheriff,” William said.
“I’m not the Sheriff. I’m just a lieutenant,” Maggie said, smiling politely.
“Whatever,” William said, dismissing that with a wave. Then he raised his eyebrows at Sky. “Oh, for Pete’s sake, is this your progeny?”
“Yes, this is my daughter, Skylar.”
Robert walked out from a back room just then, smoothing his black hair and coming to stand head and shoulders over William.
“Oh, look at that, she’s your spitting image,” he said.
“The chin, though, I think,” William said.
“Yeah, the chin,” Robert agreed. “But beautiful.”
“Thank you,” Sky said shyly. She had always been uncomfortable with any kind of compliment.
“So. Tell me you’re not here about something gruesome and bad for tourism,” William said.
“No, I’m just here for flowers,” Maggie said.
“Oh, good, because we’re just getting back on our feet,” William said. “Things have been downright peaceful around here since you shot the guy from GQ.”
“Uneventful,” Robert expounded.
They were referring to State’s Attorney Patrick Boudreaux, Bennett Boudreaux’s elder son, whom Maggie had shot after he had shot the actual sheriff, Wyatt Hamilton.
“Yes. Well,” Maggie said.
“You must be so proud of your mom,” William said to Sky. “She’s like…Rooster Cogburn, but with a uterus.”
“Or Jack Lord,” Robert said, and Maggie wished they’d come up with a woman, or at least a pretty man.
“Yeah, she’s pretty bada—” Sky started, then jerked her head toward her mother as Maggie gasped. “Sorry. Yeah, she’s pretty cool.”
“So what can we do for you today?” William asked Maggie.
“We need a bouquet, something simple. Do you have any wildflowers or something similar?”
“Hm,” William said, tapping a finger on his chin.
“No wildflowers, but how about some pansies and Sweet William?” asked Robert.
“Oh, yes!” William said. “We’ve got some beautiful Sweet William. They’d be very nice with some pansies.”
“Purple pansies,” Robert added, and walked towards the room in the back.
“We should throw some of the orange larkspur in there as well,” William said. “For height.” He looked at Maggie. “What kind of vessel are you putting these in?”
“Um, none, actually,” Maggie said. “We’re just going to the cemetery.”
“Oh,” William said, looking crestfallen. Then he perked back up. “Well, we still want the larkspur.”
“I have the larkspur,” Robert said from the back.
Maggie watched Sky as she wandered around the shop, and stopped to look at bridal bouquets behind glass. The bell over the door jingled again, and a man Maggie didn’t know walked in hesitantly.
Their eyes met, and he seemed surprised to see someone else in the store.
“Good morning!” William sang out behind Maggie.
She watched the man as he approached the counter. He was about five-ten, slightly built, and wore a thin flannel shirt over his jeans, despite the August heat. His dark brown hair was streaked with gray, and hung over his collar. He was probably about fifty-five, but it looked like the last fifty years had been rough ones.
Maggie wandered over to Sky as the man approached the counter.
“How may I help you, sir?” she heard William ask.
“I want some flowers. Nothing expensive,” the man said, his voice quiet, but rough and sandy.
“May I ask the occasion?”
“What? Nothin’ special. Just something for the kitchen table.”
“Oh. Well, how about some mums? They’re just coming in.”
“We can make a nice little bunch for you, with some Gypsophila and a little Dracaena Massangeana. How does that sound?”
“Twelve ninety-nine,” William said flatly.
“Yeah, I guess that’s all right then,” the man said.
Maggie started as Sky elbowed her gently in the side. “Mom, that dude’s checking you out,” she said in a whisper.
Maggie looked over her shoulder and caught the man looking over his. She felt a little tingle as the hairs on her forearms bristled. He didn’t look threatening, but there was something about him that she didn’t like. His eyes narrowed just a bit, then he turned back to face the counter. William was at a table on the back wall behind the register, putting together the man’s bouquet.
“Here we go,” Robert said, coming back out to the counter with Maggie’s flowers.
“Oh, that’s nice,” William said over his shoulder.
Maggie walked back to the counter and stood at the register. She didn’t look, but she felt the stranger watching.
“Those are really pretty, thank you,” she said. “How much do I owe you?”
“Nine ninety-nine,” Robert said, then glanced at the strange man. “Law enforcement discount,” he said.
The man glanced over at Maggie and she looked down, grabbed her wallet out of her purse.
“Sky?” she called, looking over her shoulder. Sky walked over, and Maggie handed her daughter her coffee. She glanced back over at the man to find him watching Sky, and heat welled up in her chest. It didn’t match the cool look she gave him when he caught her eye.
Maggie handed Robert her debit card, and he began to ring her up. “So are you going to batten down the hatches in case that storm turns into something?” he asked her.
“Well, I might batten them down, but we’ll be across the state,” she said. She felt the stranger looking at her.
“Where are you going?’ William asked over his shoulder.
“My parents took a cruise to the Bahamas for their anniversary. They’re getting back into Jacksonville tomorrow at ten. We’re going to head over there early tomorrow morning to pick them up, then we’ll all go over to Orlando for a few days,” Maggie said.
“Ugh, are you going to Disney?” Robert asked. “It’ll be a madhouse the last week before school.”
“No, just relaxing a little,” Maggie said, feeling a little bad about lying.
“Well, have fun,” William said. “Mind those freaks on I-4. Bunch of heathens.”
“Maniacs, those people,” Robert agreed.
Maggie smiled and took her receipt from Robert. “We will. Thanks, guys.”
“Toodle-oo,” William said.
“Bye,” Robert said.
Maggie glanced over at the stranger as she turned away, but he was staring out the window on the other side of him. She and Sky walked out the door, the bell tinkling above them, and stepped back into humidity that almost required goggles.
“Dude, that guy was totally scoping you out,” Sky said once they were on the sidewalk.
“No, I think he was looking at you,” Maggie said.
Maggie took her coffee back from Sky and took a swallow. The guy had set off her radar a little, and she was glad to be out of his line of vision. She was glad for Sky to be out of his line of vision.
Inside the store, William handed the stranger his change and thanked him, and the man walked out without a reply. Robert came to stand next to William as they watched him walk out the door.
“We don’t like him,” William said. “Creepy.”
“Skeevy, even,” Robert added.
“And I’ll have you know that the little sheriff was still in here on behalf of a dead person.”
“Always about the dead,” Robert agreed.