Today's Reading

(The copy in this email is used by permission, from an uncorrected advanced proof. In quoting from this book for reviews or any other purpose, it is essential that the final printed book be referred to, since the author may make changes on these proofs before the book goes to press. This book will be available in bookstores June 2019.)


CHAPTER ONE

When I stepped in from the snow and cold and pushed open the precinct doors, the first thing I saw was my face on the wall. A composite sketch that didn't look anything like me, faxed and faded, copied too many times, likeness unintelligible. Should've asked my ex-wife for a picture. No wonder they hadn't caught me.

Heads glanced up from desks, bodies twisting from the vending machine and water cooler, gazes frozen, locked on the eyes of a stranger. Their confusion was understandable. I had been gone a while. My beard was heavier and, for whatever reason, it had grown out much darker than the sandy mop up top. With my ragged, padded layers, hobo hat and gloves, Ashton PD probably thought I was just another bum wandering in from the Turnpike seeking shelter from the storm.

One by one, they came around and the faces dropped. I thought Claire, the receptionist who used to go around with my dead brother, might collapse from an aneurysm. Another cop, a recruit who must've joined while I was away, reached for his gun, until Sheriff Rob Turley came beside him and eased his itchy trigger finger. Kid couldn't have been more than twenty-five, fresh from the academy, all jitters and methy, hopped-up pupils. Must've been champing at the bit over the chance to nab a real fugitive. Ashton, New Hampshire, population two cows short of graze, didn't see a lot of America's Most Wanted. At least before the drugs started coming in.

"Jay," Turley said, calm and authoritative, taking control of the situation and his tiny team. "A lot of people have been looking for you."

"Yeah," I replied, disinterested. "Heard. Came in to clear that up." I scratched giant ice chunks loose from my bushy beard.

Out the long windows, fat snowflakes lazed like balls of eiderdown through the haze of streetlamp. Patrol cars sat idle in the parking lot, buried beneath the snows of November. Blizzards could hit as early as October up here, folks digging their way out long into April. Life on the Mountain.

Turley asked if I wanted some coffee, and I said sure, swatting the snow and sludge off my knit cap, clumps plopping to join the puddles by my boots. Turley motioned for Claire to bring me a cup. No handcuffs came out, no rights were read; I wasn't brought into a cell. Turley acted like he was extending a courtesy. Of course, I knew they'd caught the real killers or I wouldn't be here.

The town sheriff escorted me to the interrogation room, a communal space that doubled as a place to chowdown on hump-day. An empty Dunkin' Donuts box lay ravaged in the middle of the table, a trail of powder and sprinkles, fat gobs of jelly squirted out the blow hole, evidence of carnage left behind at the scene.

Turley took a seat, squeezing his big belly between the chair and countertop. I peeled off my winter coat and placed my damp cap on the table, facing him on the other side. I offered my best country boy smile.

"Where you been, Jay?"

"Around."

"Around?" Turley leaned back, adjusting the belt around his gut. The weight he'd shed last time I saw him, he'd put back on, another fifteen added for good measure. "Doing what?"

"The usual. Working."

"Working? Any particular outfit? Town?"

"I moved around."

"Moved around?"

"Are you going to repeat everything I say, Turley?"

"You're telling me you didn't know New England's had an all-points bulletin out for you? A BOLO. Be on the lookout. From Maine to Connecticut."

"I just learned the authorities wanted to talk to me. Which is why I came in. Sorry for the misunderstanding."

"Misunderstanding?"

"Will you stop fucking doing that?"

"Sorry, Jay. It's just that you've been wanted...in connection to a murder... for the better part of the past year."

"Murder?" I tried my best not to laugh. I'm not sure my mouth was visible beneath my wooly bum beard anyway.
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