Authors: Chelsea Cain
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General
“Did it help?” she asked. “Breaking your phone and smashing up your hand?”
“Actually, yes,” Archie said.
“Sit down,” she said, and she guided him to the toilet seat next to the sink. “This might take a minute.” She shot him a quick wry smile. “I wrote an article about
first aid once, so I’m practically a paramedic.”
She turned off the faucet and pressed some toilet paper against Archie’s wounded hand to stop the bleeding while she found a tube of Neosporin in the first-aid kit. Then she lifted the
toilet paper and squeezed out some Neosporin gel onto the places where Archie’s skin was open.
He could do it himself. Obviously.
She was kind of amazed that he was letting her. Maybe he felt bad about not returning her calls. Maybe he felt embarrassed for her, catching her snooping like that. Maybe he felt bad . . .
generally. She didn’t know. He seemed distracted, but that wasn’t exactly breaking news. He was always 15 percent somewhere else. Plus, it was a hundred degrees in his apartment. Her
forehead was starting to sweat. How he got any sleep in this sauna, she didn’t know.
The Neosporin slowed the bleeding a bit. Susan found a roll of gauze and pressed the end of it into Archie’s palm and then began wrapping the gauze around his hand.
“I noticed something that might be important,” she said.
“Right,” Archie said. “The local news.”
So he had listened to her message. That was good. At least he wasn’t deleting her messages on sight.
“Local news is often very revealing,” Susan said.
“What did you notice?” Archie asked.
Susan moved his hand from the edge of the sink to his lap, and knelt in front of him, still circling his hand with gauze.
“The trees,” Susan said.
“The trees on Mount Tabor,” Archie said.
The roll of gauze was smaller now, most of it forming a misshapen white mitten on Archie’s hand. Susan leaned her face close to the bandage, took the gauze in her teeth, and ripped it.
“The guy, your victim, he was tied to the tallest tree.”
“The tallest tree.”
tallest tree. That would be a sequoia named Hyperion in Redwood National Park. It’s over three hundred seventy-nine feet.” Susan caught herself.
“Sorry.” She had been a newspaper feature writer for so long that sometimes these facts just bubbled out of her. “Yes. The tallest tree. In the crime scene area. On Mount
“And you know this because?”
Susan took the end of the gauze, where she had torn it, and tucked it inside the rest of the bandage. “Because I saw it on the local news. They had aerial footage of the scene. Review the
tape. It’s taller than any of the trees around it. It’s the tallest tree.”
Archie was quiet.
“So that could be a clue, right?” Susan said.
“Maybe,” Archie said. “Or it might be a coincidence.” He was slouched forward on the toilet seat. Susan was sitting on the floor. She was suddenly aware of how small the
room was, and how close their bodies were. His shirt was buttoned wrong. She found that weirdly charming. It was really hot in there. Archie reached his good hand toward her face, and grazed her
cheek with his fingertips. Susan couldn’t move. “Your eye makeup is a little smeared,” he said.
She touched her face. “Oh,” she said. She could feel her cheeks warm. “Thanks.”
“Why don’t you ever call me back?” Susan asked.
“I have a lot on my plate, Susan,” Archie said.
“Is it because of Leo?” she asked.
“I’m too hot in here,” Archie said. He left the bathroom. Susan stewed for a second and then hopped up and stomped after him. She found him sitting on the black couch, his
bandaged hand in his lap.
“So?” she said, standing.
“Thanks for stopping by,” Archie said.
It was evening now and the apartment seemed strangely bright compared to the dark sky outside.
“I know you don’t like him,” Susan said.
“I do like him,” Archie said. “We have a history.”
She knew all about that. “You helped catch his sister’s killer,” she said. She sat down next to him on the couch, careful to leave a respectable eighteen inches between them.
“It’s not the ideal way to meet,” she said. “But you of all people know what he’s been through. He thinks the world of you.” It was more complicated than that,
Susan knew. Archie and Leo’s father went way back, and Archie knew exactly how Jack Reynolds made his money. “His father is hinky,” she said with a sigh. And by
a drug kingpin
. “Okay. I’ll give that one to you. But”—and she lifted her finger for emphasis—“he’s not like his father.” She
reconsidered this. “I mean, he’s not perfect. But he’s not Scarface.”
“You don’t need my permission to date Leo Reynolds,” Archie said.
She didn’t. Certainly. That was ridiculous. Why would she?
Still . . .
“What if I wanted it?” Susan asked.
Archie looked at her for a moment, and then rubbed his eyes with his good hand. “There are things I can’t tell you.”
“No duh,” Susan said. “You are like a walking vault of things you don’t tell people. People who have secrets should pay you to hold on to them for them. You could be like
a secret bank.” She rolled her eyes. “There are things you can’t tell me?” she asked. “Worse things than the things I know already? How is that even
Archie didn’t answer.
She wanted to remind him that she wasn’t with the paper anymore, that he could trust her, that she was his friend. She wanted to tell him that she wouldn’t betray him. But mostly she
wanted him to know it, without being told.
“So you won’t get dinner with us?” Susan said.
“Susan.” He could make her name sound so long sometimes.
“We could just swing by a food cart,” she said quickly. “No pressure. Some Belgian fries and a Korean taco or two.”
Archie crossed his arms and looked at her. “I saw Pearl today.”
Susan immediately lost her train of thought and tucked her socked feet up under her on the couch. Pearl? Here? If Archie was lying, it was verbal kung fu par excellence. “Seriously?”
“She lives at the halfway house where the victim was a volunteer. She may have been the last person to see him alive, besides the killer.”
It had been a year since they’d seen Pearl. “I thought she was back at her mother’s in Salem,” Susan said.
“Foster mother. I checked. She ran away again. The state put her in the house while they look for new placement.”
“How does she seem?” Susan asked.
“Like a defensive smart-ass with a chip on her shoulder,” Archie said.
“That’s called being seventeen,” Susan said. She’d liked Pearl. Pearl hadn’t meant to Taser Archie. Well, she’d meant to Taser him, but how was she supposed
to know that her then-boyfriend was going to drag Archie away, suspend him naked from meat hooks, and try to hack him up with an ax?
Hadn’t everyone had a bad boyfriend at some point?
Pearl had made some bonehead choices, but she had a good heart.
“She lied to me today,” Archie said.
“A teenager?” Susan said with faux surprise. “Lying to an authority figure? Impossible.”
“She told me that she was smoking outside, and that she hid when she saw Jake Kelly go by because he didn’t like her smoking,” Archie said. “Claire took a team to his
house this afternoon. Said it smelled like an ashtray.”
Susan was feeling self-conscious about the pack of American Spirits in her purse. “So he smoked,” she said. “That doesn’t mean he was cool with her doing it. Maybe he
thought she was too young.”
“Or maybe she lied to me,” Archie said.
“Do you want me to talk to her?” Susan asked. “Use my teen interrogation skills?”
Archie smiled. “You two do have a lot in common.”
Susan suspected that wasn’t a compliment. “Maybe we can go get piercings at the mall,” she said.
“I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning at ten.”
Susan studied him. He looked tired. “This is supposed to get me out of your hair, right?”
“Okay,” she said.
She stood up, and as she did, her phone rang. It was in her purse, which was more of a velvet sack with very long straps, and which Susan wore slung across her torso. She dug out the phone and
glanced down at the number. It was that guy from the Oregon State Hospital again. They’d been playing phone tag all day. She wondered if Archie had gotten a call from him, too. Then she
glanced over at the pieces of Archie’s phone and answered her own question.
“Need to get that?” Archie asked.
She knew that she should tell him that she had accepted Gretchen’s invitation to meet with her for an interview. He would want to know. He would want to talk Susan out of it.
Scratch that. He would want to forbid it.
And then Susan would have to go see her anyway, and then Archie would be disappointed and worried.
That was the thing Archie didn’t know about Susan. He was always working so hard to protect her that he didn’t realize that she was just as interested in protecting him. Archie had
nearly killed himself getting out from under whatever spell Gretchen had had on him.
She wouldn’t tell him. Not yet.
Susan turned off the ringer on her cell phone, already looking around for her beautiful, painful boots. “It can wait,” she told Archie. “For now.”
Archie Sheridan wasn’t the only one who could keep secrets.
t was the
noise from the construction crew this time.
Part of the esplanade walkway had buckled under the floodwater and they were using earthmovers to finally haul away what was left of the broken concrete. It sounded like giant metal teeth
chewing on boulders. Archie gave up trying to sleep and sat up in bed.
He looked at the clock. It was 2:59
His neck was stiff and as he reflexively reached up to rub it, his fingers found the scar across his neck where Gretchen, with a draw of her scalpel, had sliced open his throat.
That was the thing that Henry and the others didn’t understand. Why Archie could put himself in her path again and again after what she had done to him. He knew she wouldn’t kill
Not on purpose.
Even as he’d fallen to his knees, the blood draining down his chest, he’d known it wasn’t a fatal wound.
Archie sat on the edge of his bed. The fan tickled the hair on his naked body. Sweat crawled down his back. The air felt thick and warm, concentrated, like it was pressing in on him.
He kept his hand on his throat, the scar a fissure under his fingers. They had stitched the gash closed, and each stitch had left its own scar, very Frankenstein. He could feel his blood beating
in his fingertips. She had felt his pulse, too, when she had cut him, would have used it to gauge the location of the carotid artery, careful to miss it as she pulled the blade through his
Life was a series of near misses. Car accidents dodged by quick reflexes. Railings that broke falls. Antibiotics. Seat belts. Helmets. We should all be dead a hundred times over.
Archie had tried to kill himself with pills. Slow suicide, the shrinks had called it. Archie wasn’t sure he believed them. He had a gun. He knew how to put a bullet in his brain.
He hadn’t taken the pills to die, he’d taken them because they were the only way he could stay alive.
His artery throbbed.
He could feel the scar under his fingers.
She had missed his carotid by one centimeter. About the width of an average shirt button.
Lucky, they had said.
But bleeding out from an artery was not a bad way to go. He’d seen it. Death came quickly. He’d watched a young man die after Gretchen took her scalpel to his femoral artery. No
centimeter reprieve that time. She’d cut clean through it. That man’s life had seeped away in minutes.
Another person Archie hadn’t saved.
The screech of metal against concrete echoed through the open windows and Archie stretched his head to his shoulder until he heard a satisfying crack. Then he lowered his hand from his neck and
inspected it. His palm was wet with sweat where Susan had wrapped the gauze. He unwound the bandage, now specked with dry blood, and then got up and walked into the bathroom. He tossed the gauze in
the trash and ran his hand under the cold faucet for a few minutes, until it stopped throbbing, and then he splashed some water on his face.
When he looked up, he was faced with his reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror. His curly brown hair, gray flecks at the temples. Crooked nose. Skin scattered with broken blood vessels.
He’d gained back the weight he’d lost during the two years he’d spent on medical leave after Gretchen had tortured him, but he’d never look the same as he did before. The
deep wrinkles on his forehead and at the corners of his eyes made him look ten years older than his forty-one years. Even his pubic hair was graying.
Pearl had been right. He did look old.
He wondered what Gretchen looked like. Right then. Locked up at the State Hospital.
He hoped she had a mirror, too.
Archie lingered on that thought. The water from the sink ran in rivulets down his face and along his neck. His hair was damp with water and sweat.
Patrick’s kidnapper had been drenched—his hair matted with blood—in those last moments when they grappled with each other in the floodwaters.
Archie turned away from the mirror, pulled a towel off a rack, and dried his face and hair. He could still feel the resistance of the man’s head as Archie held it below water, his hand
knotted in the dying man’s hair.
Archie slung the towel around his neck and felt for his pulse in his throat. When he found it he dug his fingers into his neck and kept them there. He counted to ten.
There was something comforting about that throbbing. His heart was still pumping. His body hadn’t given up on him yet.
After a few moments, he was able to look in the mirror and see only himself, hair disheveled, face a little raw from the towel-scrubbing, but still Archie. He was still here, wasn’t he?
She had marked him with her fingerprints, the scars, literal and figurative, but he was still himself, he was still in control.