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Authors: Mary Logue

Lake of Tears

BOOK: Lake of Tears
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LAKE OF TEARS
A Claire Watkins Mystery
MARY LOGUE
F+W Media, Inc.

“War is a big and sprawling word that brings a lot of human suffering into the conversation, but combat is a different matter.
… There is a profound and mysterious gratification to the reciprocal agreement to protect another person with your life, and combat is virtually the only situation in which that happens regularly.”

Sebastian Junger,
War

Contents

Afghanistan, Konar Province

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Copyright

AFGHANISTAN, KONAR PROVINCE

He was so tired he could hardly walk when
zing
, a shot screamed by. Sounding like the zip of a mega-mosquito, or maybe like a rusty door hinge moving fast, or like that inhalation of breath when you hit your toe and don’t want to scream.

Back at the outpost, they’d always talk about what a bullet sounded like when it came close. It was like a contest, trying to name the sound.

First he was falling out, then he was on fire. The whole valley exploded. They were caught on a ridgeline, a hell of a place to be. An ambush, major contact. Sounded like the enemy was all around.

He started running; he’d never known how fast he could move with sixty pounds of gear. Another zip and he went to a low crawl. Then he was pinned down by gunfire. Caught. His buddies were there, then gone, sliding down the side of the mountain, ammo from an M2 tearing them up.

When he got hit, he knew it but couldn’t believe it. Like he got punched in the head. From nowhere. Nasty.

All he could do was watch the other guys getting blasted. Falling.

One over the cliff, hanging on.

The world darkened. He was counting on the promise to never leave anyone behind, to never let go.

Promised with blood and swearing.

Then he saw those hands falling away.

He saw it all, then he, too, was gone.

CHAPTER 1

The tattooed flames on the man’s shoulder were illuminated by the fire. He was standing right in front of Meg. She wanted to touch it. In truth, she wanted to put her lips to it. The roundness, hardness of the flesh that held the flames drew her. Had she turned into a moth?

She was standing just to the side of the man, packed in the crowd. Everyone had pushed toward the beach as the longship was set on fire by the torches that had been carried triumphantly through the crowd as the sun set.

The tattooed man stood about a head taller than her. He wasn’t thin, but he wasn’t fat. His muscles pushed at his skin, shouting energy. She had caught glimpses of his face, but couldn’t tell how old he was. Maybe a few years older than her, but not too many. She guessed mid-twenties.

Meg hadn’t thought she’d come down to the beach for Burning Boat, this weird, kind of new-agey thing some artists did annually down on the shore of Lake Pepin, which was actually part of the Mississippi. Her mom was all jazzed about it, but it had sounded kinda pseudo-cool to her. Like what old folks thought was far out. Build a Norse longship out of recycled pallets, and then burn it. Come on, a Norse longship? Where did that come from?

But Meg had nothing else to do. All her friends had gone off to college. Curt had left two months ago. Because Madison was so expensive, Meg had decided to postpone going to college until winter so she could earn more money at the Harbor View—the best and most lucrative season at the restaurant was fall, when the leaves turned.

After her mom and Rich went to the park, Meg had reluctantly followed them, walked down to the beach, figuring she could just go home if it was too boring.

But there was something about the ship on the shore that had grabbed her. It had been built on a small peninsula that stuck into the bay of Fort St. Antoine. As the sun set, the ship stood out in silhouette. Brave and alone, it awaited its fate, the dragon head facing the lake.

She had moved in closer, joined the throng that gathered on the sand close to the shore. Even though it was late September, the night was warm and still. People were wearing little. As the fire was lit, she noticed the shoulder of the man in front of her. The blue and red flames etched into his skin drew her eyes.

He shifted his weight and bumped her hip. He turned toward her, squinted his eyes, and said, “Sorry.”

“S’all right,” she said, and couldn’t help smiling. He looked like a farm boy, with broad cheeks, ruddy skin, sun-kissed short blond hair. And so healthy. Like he drank a gallon of milk a day, and ran ten miles, and harvested wheat in his sleep. But a smart farm boy, who knew his way around a barnyard and knew how to coax animals to do what he wanted.

“Cool, huh?” He nodded his head toward the fire.

“Absolutely,” she said, and it was.

“It’s going to go fast,” he said.

“How’d you know?”

“I know fire.”

And Meg believed him. He was that kind of man. He didn’t brag, but he let you know what he could do.

“That why you have it on your shoulder?” She reached out and did what she had longed to do—she touched a finger to his flames.

He jerked. Then he was embarrassed and moved back toward her. “I just had it done. Still tender.”

“So it’s brand new?”

“Yeah, last week.”

“What inspired you?”

“To remind me of something. You know. Couldn’t do it before, it was against regulations.”

“What regulations?”

“Army. Got out a few months ago.”

That’s why she hadn’t seen him around. “How long were you in the army?”

“Four years.”

“Wow. That’s a long time.”

“You’re telling me.”

The longship was all afire, fore to aft. An amazing sight, as if a dragon had licked its tongue the length of the vessel. Meg watched it, but she was even more aware of the man standing next to her, only inches away.

“Where did you go?” she asked.

“Where?”

“In the army.”

“I was in it deep. Afghanistan.”

“Really?” While Meg knew about the war, knew that they had been fighting there for years, she hadn’t really given it much thought. “What was it like?”

He had been smiling. He had been looking down at her with an amused look. But now he turned away, saying, “Too long to tell.”

She felt like she had made a mistake. They had been talking so comfortably, and then she had asked the wrong question. Maybe it was private. Maybe he didn’t want to talk about it. She had touched his tattoo, and it had hurt. She had asked a question, and that had hurt, too. Time to move to comfortable ground.

“Nice fire,” she said.

“Not bad,” he said, and gave her a quick glance.

The sound of crackling filled the air. The sky grew darker, and the ship sparked high in its light and flames. The orange and white flickering against the dark, the brightest yellow.

Meg could feel his body heat next to hers. “I’m Meg.”

The tattooed man, the army man, turned to her and leaned over, his face close to hers, his smile a hint, and said, “I’m Stickler. Andrew Stickler.”

Andrew, she thought. Not a bad name. Kind of old-fashioned, but that was okay. Her name was, too.

“You live around here?” he asked.

Meg took this as a good sign. She was glad he asked. She didn’t have a boyfriend anymore. After almost three years, Curt and she had decided to release each other from their going-steadiness, as much as it had hurt. This decision had seemed very grown up at the time, two months ago. But she had been feeling very lonely since he had left, and looked forward to his frequent e-mails. Now she was glad that she was free.

“Yup. Just outside of town.”

“I live by Durand. For the time being.”

Not far away. Still in the county. “Oh, yeah.”

The ship began to sink into the fire. The dragon’s head tilted, then fell. The crowd sighed and moaned with the conflagration. Meg felt small jolts inside her body. Andrew was standing closer than he needed to be, closer than the crowd demanded. He was a hair’s breadth away from her. She had touched him.

“Can I get your number?” he asked.

“Sure. You got something to write it down with?”

He pulled a pen out of his jean pocket, but had no paper. He offered his hand to her, and she wrote her cell phone number on his palm.

“Don’t take a bath,” she said.

“Not before I call you,” he said.

The ship collapsed. Something inside her was falling, too. She wanted to get away. She couldn’t stand being so close to him but not touching him. She didn’t know why. This had never happened to her before. Like she was in lust, in rut, whatever you wanted to call it. Maybe it was the heat of the day, the fire, but whatever it was—she wanted him.

“Okay, then,” she said. “I’m going to head out.”

“Be careful,” he said. He reached out and tugged on a lock of her hair. “Don’t get lost in the dark.”

“I love this ritual—offering a bonfire to the gods—but it reminds me we’re losing the light.” Claire leaned her chin on Rich’s shoulder. He rubbed the top of her head as they watched the fire burn down to embers.

“The autumnal equinox. Yup, the nights are winning.”

“But it was a nice summer. Nice and uneventful,” Claire sighed. The worst crime that had been committed since April was a kid who had gone on a crime spree and stolen three computers from the high school. They’d caught him the next day when he tried to sell them on Craigslist. She called that a pretty good season.

“Don’t jinx it.”

“Maybe we should try to get away for a long weekend. Go up north now that the leafers are gone. Meg can take care of the pheasants.”

“Claire, she can’t take them to market.”

“Just a couple of days?”

“If we went before next weekend I could squeeze it in.”

“I’ll find us a cozy cabin and we can snuggle for a few days. Leave the daughter alone.”

“She seems a little lost without Curt.”

“I know. It’s sad. I was afraid that she would follow him to his college in Vermont when he couldn’t get in to Madison. I’m proud of her decision to go forward with her own plans.”

“Oh, she takes after her mother—too self-sufficient.”

Claire thought of Meg, how she had seemed to bloom in the last year or so, growing her wavy brown hair into a long braid down her back, wearing clothes that suited her lanky body, even putting on a dab of lipstick once in a while. Her awkwardness was fading as she grew up. Too bad she couldn’t find a new boyfriend for the next few months, someone to gang around with, to show her that there were more men in the world than Curt. Although Curt had been perfect for her in high school and might be perfect again, Claire wanted her daughter to know more men, to choose a man to be with because he was the best, not because he was the only.

BOOK: Lake of Tears
12.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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