Authors: Katherine Hall Page
A FAITH FAIRCHILD MYSTERY
To Ginny and David Fine,
who know what's important in lifeâa good sense of humor, chocolate, and true friendship
“There's no use trying,” she said: “One can't believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven't had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Â Â Â Through the Looking Glass
“Tell me about the voices.”
Patsy, sorry to wake you. It's Faith.”
The beginning. Faith let her gaze soften as she castâ¦
Faith put her head down on Patsy's wooden table. Itâ¦
Millicent and Y2K. It actually made sense. Her forebears wouldâ¦
Tom found his voice first. “This is monstrous, George, andâ¦
The Tiller Club's annual autumn game dinner was one ofâ¦
It was done so neatly. The head had been severedâ¦
Tom was sitting in the wing chair, staring at theâ¦
The Druids had been right. Saman, the Lord of Death,â¦
Faith was feeling distinctly at loose ends. Despite the accoladesâ¦
The whole silly business will be over on Sunday,” Tomâ¦
Millicent Revere McKinley sat in front of her tiny black-and-whiteâ¦
“Tell me about the voices.”
“Not voices, a voice. My voice, I think. But that's not how it starts. When I hear the words in my headâthe voiceâI know what to do. I know it will be over soon.”
“How does it start?”
“I wake up at nightâvery suddenly. I'm terrified and I don't know where I am. Then, during the following day, it seems as if people are talking to me from far away. They sound as if they're at the end of a tunnel. Even people I know. Especially people I know.”
“This must be very frightening.”
“It is. Frightening. More than frightening. But it's not the worst part.”
“What's the worst part?”
“The panic. The terror. My heart races. Usually when I'm driving. I can't think. I can't breathe. I have an impulse to steer off the roadâor straight into the oncoming traffic. I pull over and my fingers are numb from gripping the wheel. I'm sweating and nauseous. The roof feels like it's pressing down on top of my
head. When I close my eyes, it gets worse. A bright light starts to pulsate. Flesh-coloredâround and shiny. It feels hot, and if I don't open my eyes immediately, it will explode. When I start to drive again, I tell myself I only have to make it to the next exit or the next stoplight. Whatever I can see ahead of me. That's how I make it home.”
“When did this all begin?”
“I can't remember. Last spring? Maybe last winter. But it's always the same. Then I hear the words. I know what I have to do and everything stops. I can function. I can sleep. It stops sometimes for a long time, but not for good.”
“What you needâ”
“No! I've told you. One personâthat's enough. And you can't repeat it to anyone else. Not a living soul.”
“You're right. I can'tâ¦. Now tell me again what the voices tell you to do.”
Patsy, sorry to wake you. It's Faith.”
Fully awake, even though it was only 6:30, Patsy Avery got out of bed and walked into the hall, away from her sleeping husband.
“What's wrong? I can hear it in your voice. What's happened?”
“I think I may need you; that is, I think I may need a lawyer.”
“Don't say another word. I'm on a cell phone. Get over hereâor do you want me to come to you?”
“I'll come, but I'll have to leave in time to get ready for church.”
“Heavens above,” Patsy said mockingly, “I certainly wouldn't want to be responsible for the minister's wife missing the service.”
Faith said good-bye without either laughing or responding to the quip with one of her own.
Things must be very bad.
Patsy pulled a dressing gown over her large frame and debated whether to awaken Will. He was a lawyer, too. She'd wait and ask Faith.
She went downstairs to the kitchen, pausing at the thermostat to hike it up several degrees. It was October, and she knew that by New England standards she shouldn't even have the heat on until the first snowstorm forced a grudging acknowledgment that it could be a mite nippy out. She went back and flicked it again, hearing the furnace respond with a satisfying rumble. She was from New Orleans, and as far as she was concerned, it started getting cold up north just about the time you thought summer might finally have arrived. Damn cold.
The days were getting shorter and by the end of the month daylight saving time would end. It would be dark when they got home from work. It was dark now, but an early-morning dark already starting to thin to gray. The birds were up and creating their usual bedlam. Traffic noise didn't bother her, yet when they'd left the city for bucolic Aleford, it had taken months for Patsy to learn to sleep through this avian chorus.
Her eye fell on the calendar hanging near the phone. There would be a full moon tonight. The house gave an appropriate groan. Just the wood expanding and contracting, the Realtor had hastened to explain when a bansheelike wail accompanied their ascent up the attic stairs. Patsy didn't believe in ghosts, especially northern ghosts. She chuckled to herself, remembering her mother's comment: “Don't worry, honey, from what I've heard, those old Yankees don't like giving space to tenants who don't pay any rent.”
Patsy had spent most of the fall traveling back and
forth to the Midwest on a case, returning from the latest trip only on Friday. She and Will had spent the day before getting reacquaintedâand that did not include a trip to the marketâbut she knew Will would never let them run out of coffee beans, and their freezer was always full of food. She quickly brewed a large pot, then dug around for some of the sticky buns her mother-in-law regularly sent up, along with vats of gumbo and the occasional sweet-potato pie. Faith Fairchild wasn't just the minister's wife but also a successful caterer. Besides a whole lot of other things in common, she and Patsy shared the sincere belief that food was an antidote to misfortune, easing the pain as well as loosening the tongue.
Why on earth would Faith need a lawyer? A criminal lawyer? Patsy worked mostly with juveniles, but she kept her hand in with a few adult cases now and then. She put the rolls in the microwave to defrost and poured herself a cup of coffee. Despite the urgency in Faith's voice, Patsy knew it would take her awhile to get to the house, although they lived within walking distance. The parsonage was one of the white clapboard houses tidily arranged around the Aleford village green, a hop, skip, and a jump through the old burying ground to the First Parish Church, where the Reverend Thomas Fairchild held forth. The Averys' move from Boston's South End last year had taken them to one of Aleford's “modern” architectural offerings, a large Victorian on a side street off the green. But Faith wouldn't be able
simply to walk out the door. She was a woman with responsibilities.
Patsy stood at the kitchen window, holding the oversized cup in both hands, bringing the fragrant steaming liquid to her mouth. Still too hot to drink. She turned off the overhead light she'd switched on when she'd entered the room and looked outdoors. The tomato plants, blackened in late September by an unusually early frost, and other horticultural detritus filled a rectangular plot in the back corner of the yard. Neither Will nor she had had time to put the garden to sleep, as they whimsically expressed it in these parts. Patsy hadn't even had a chance to harvest the green tomatoes. Dipped in cornmeal and fried, they were one of Will's favorite vegetables. How did the man stay as thin as a rail? She smiled reminiscently, savoring the day before. He didn't want a skinny woman, thank God. Next year, she'd make sure she harvested the tomatoes or, if she had to be away, leave a reminder for Will. It had obviously slipped his mind. He was even busier than she was. No, she wouldn't wake her husband unless there was a very good reason.
It was almost day now, and she had a sudden impulse to go outside and sit on the bench next to the bluestone path that wound its way through the yard. Will had given her a fountain for her birthday, turned off now. The grasses surrounding it, bleached out, dry, and swaying ever so slightly in the morning air, looked beautiful. But Faith would be here soon, and besides, there was the cold.
There weren't any swing sets, sandboxes, bicycles left outâevidence of younger Averys. But there would be someday. That's why they'd moved to white-bread land, “moving-on-up” land. “Schools and safety, baby,” Will had argued. “We owe our kids that.” Driving down Aleford's Main Street Friday on her way home from the airport, Patsy had seen three middle-aged women sprawled motionless on a bench, waiting for the trainâbronze statues, weariness etched deep on each face. Their hands were clutching the bags that held their work clothesâand maybe an old tired-out shirt or pair of scuffed-up shoes, gifts from a charitable employer. They weren't even talking to one another. Bone-weary. Their long day was ending as it had begun, with a long ride, a welcome ride, coming and going, before the work started up all over again. She felt ashamed for the whole world and, catching her own reflection in the rearview mirror, saw her own guilt. She was tired, too, but like it or not, she was home.
“Schools and safety” uh-huhâand here was the minister's wife needing a lawyer.
Thirty minutes later, Faith arrived, breathless. “Had to feed the kids, then popped good old
in the VCR and Amy in her playpen.” Benjamin Fairchild was five and viewed his sister, Amy, at two, as a cross between an amusing sort of pet and total moron, incapable even of intelligible speech. “Tom is frantically rewriting his sermon, as usual.”
Patsy nodded. Part of her yearned for motherhood
with an intensity that often surprised her. Part of her flinched in abject terror at the thought of no deposit, no return.
She poured Faith a cup of coffee and placed the plate of warm rolls on the table. “Sit down and tell me all about it. You haven't been arrested?”
Faith shook her head. “Not yet.” She took a deep breath. Where to start? Coming to talk to Patsy was exactly the right thing to do, but now that she was here, she didn't know where or how to begin. Last night? Last month? Last summer? Her childhood?
“Begin at the beginning.” Patsy had sensed her quandary. “I'm not going anywhere. Do you want Will to hear all this?”
Faith shook her head. Too distracting to look from one sympathetic face to the otherâand besides, Patsy was a woman, and there were some things Faith didn't want to talk about with a man, any man, not even her husband. Last night couldn't have been her fault. She knew that for certain. Yet the agitation and the thoughts that had followed were her responsibility alone. She grabbed her pocketbook and took out a dollar bill, shoving it across the table.
“You're on retainer. It's all privileged information now, right? You can't repeat it to anyone else. Not a living soul.”
Patsy took the money and put it in her pocket. “All right. I'm on retainer.” Whatever Faith wanted.
On the way to the house, Faith had thought about her choice of confidante. Pix Miller, who lived next
door to the parsonage, was her closest friend and they had been through a great deal together. Patsy was a new friend and didn't really know the Fairchilds that well, but it was what Faith wanted now. Legal advice and someone who wasn't enmeshed in their lives. Tom and Faith's life. Someone who wasn't a member of the congregation.
Patsy Avery was used to clients who had trouble getting to the point. With kids, it sometimes took weeks. Sometimes, it never happened. Faith was picking at the sticky bun and Patsy kept quiet. The hum of the refrigerator sounded unnaturally loud.
“I don't mean to be so melodramatic and I
start at the beginning, but you have to know where we're going. I was catering an event last night and someone died. Someone died after eating one of my desserts. The police are calling it a homicide.”
“Holy shit!” Patsy said, shocked from her normal calm. She paused a moment to place her warm, smooth hand over Faith's, then reached for the pad and pencil she'd taken from her study. “Okay, let's go.”