To Darkness and to Death

A Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne Mystery

Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries (Volume 4)

Julia Spencer-Fleming

Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books

Chapter One

Morning Prayer
 
When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.
 
Ezek. 18:27
 
Saturday, November 14, 5:00 a.m.
 
Cold. The cold awoke her, creeping underneath her blanket, spreading like an ache along her hip. She tried to move, to burrow into some warm space, but the cold was beneath her, and then there was a hard, hot twinge of pain in her shoulders and she had a panicky moment of Where? What? She tried again. She couldn’t move her arms. They were pinned behind her back, her wrists fastened by something sticky and implacable.
 
Scream. Her cheeks and lips didn’t move. Her eyelids felt glued together, but she blinked and blinked until the sting of cold air brought tears to her eyes. Open, closed, the darkness was the same. The darkness, and the cold.
 
Her brain didn’t want to make sense of anything she was feeling. Was she drunk? Was this some sort of game? What had she done? She couldn’t remember. She remembered dinner. She had chickpea stew. Homemade bread. Red wine. She could picture the table, laid with her mother’s best china. She could remember looking down the long table to where her father’s picture hung on the wall, thinking, I know he’d approve. I know he would. But then what? Nothing. A blankness more frightening than the cold blackness around her. Because it was inside her. A hole in her mind.
 
She suddenly remembered a trip to Italy they had taken. She had been ten or eleven then. It was the summer after Gene’s mother had died, the only summer they didn’t come up to the camp. Daddy had hired a driver to take them on the drive through the mountains to Lake Como, but the morning they were to leave Pisa, he had canceled. An American had been kidnapped. She had been whiny, bored with the university town, eager for the water-skiing and boat rides she had been promised. Daddy pulled up a chair and explained they couldn’t risk it. That they would make very good targets. That was the word he used, targets. Because we’re American? She had asked. Because we’re rich, he had answered. It was the first time, the only time he had ever said that. Because we’re rich.
 
Kidnapped. Oh, God. She squeezed her eyes shut against a spill of hot tears and wished, for the thousandth time, that her father was still alive. To make everything all right.
 
5:15 a.m.
 
Ring. Ring. The phone. She snarled, rolled onto her stomach, and pulled her pillow over her head, but the damn thing wouldn’t give up. Once. Twice. Three times. With an inarticulate curse, she reached out from under the covers and grabbed the receiver. “H’lo,” she said.
 
“Reverend Fergusson? Did I wake you?” She was spared coming up with an answer worthy of the question, because her caller went on. “It’s John Huggins, Millers Kill Search and Rescue. I’m calling you on official business.”
 
I’m so glad it’s not personal, she thought, but the only thing her mouth could manage was “Me?”
 
“You signed up, didn’t you?” She could hear the rustle of paper over the line. “Air force training in survival, search, and rescue? Nine years army helicopter pilot? Physically fit, has own gear?”
 
She shoved the pillow beneath her and propped herself up on her elbows. The only word her sleep-sodden brain latched on to was “pilot.” “You want me to fly?”
 
“Not hardly. We got a young woman reported missing. Went out for a walk last night, never returned. Her brother called it in this morning after he discovered her bed hadn’t been slept in.”
 
This morning? She squinted at the blackness outside her window. Didn’t look like morning to her. “Why me?”
 
“Because we’re down to the bottom of the list.” Huggins said, his voice laced with exasperation. “Two-thirds of the crew are off on loan to the Plattsburgh mountain rescue. They got an old lady wandered away from her home and a pair of hunters who haven’t reported in for three days. Can you do it or not?”
 
The bishop’s visit. She pushed away the last of her muzzy-headedness. Half the congregation of St. Alban’s would be at the church today, preparing for the dog-and-pony show that was the bishop’s annual visit. She should be there. But . . . the search and rescue team needed her. She did sign up. And hiking through the woods is a lot more appealing than counting napkins and polishing silver, a treacherously seductive voice inside her pointed out. “Sure, I can do it,” she said. “Where should I meet you?”
 
“A place called Haudenosaunee.”
 
“What’s that? A town?”
 
“Naw, it’s an old-time estate. What they call a great camp. Inside the Blue Line.”
 
“The Blue Line?”
 
“Inside the boundary of the Adirondack State Park.” Huggins sounded as if he were having second, maybe third thoughts about calling her.
 
She rolled out of bed. There was a pencil and a pad of paper on her nightstand. “Give me the directions,” she said. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
 
5:15 a.m.
 
Ed Castle was sitting in the dark. There was no reason for it, really. He had crept out of his unlit bedroom to avoid waking his wife, but with their door safely shut, he could have snapped the hall lights on. Or turned on one of the lamps in the living room when he unlocked the gun cabinet and tucked his rifle under his arm.
 
Maybe it was because for so many years he had been up early winter mornings, long gone before his family awoke or the sun rose. Tiptoeing past the doors that had once led to his daughters’ bedrooms, he felt a tug, like a hook from out of the past embedded in his heart, and he had wanted to open the doors once again to see them sleeping, all silky hair and boneless limbs.
 
In the kitchen, he had started the coffee and found his Thermos by touch and the green glow of the microwave clock. He thought maybe he’d need some light to find the box of cartridges he kept hidden behind Suzanne’s baking tins on the top shelf, but he hadn’t. Now he sat in the dark and thought about the years of his life, which were doled out, it seemed to him, winter by winter, tree by tree, marked by a chain tread and a scarred path leading into the woods. Leading to where he could not see.
 
The light snapped on, starting him upright in his chair. Suzanne stood in the orange and gold halo of the hanging tulip lamp, zipped into her velour robe, her graying hair every which way. “What on earth are you doing here, sitting around with no lights on?” She stepped toward him, her slippers shush-shushing over the vinyl floor. “You didn’t get a call about a fire, did you?” Ed was a member of the Millers Kill Volunteer Fire Department.
 
“No.” He shrugged. “I was thinking about when the girls were little. This was the only quiet time I had back then.”
 
“Well, you’re going to get a chance to relive those days.” She crossed to the counter and opened a cupboard to retrieve her coffee cup. “I’m watching Bonnie’s boys while she’s finishing up that big sewing job, and Becky’s coming home for the weekend.”
 
He grunted. She waved the pot in his direction, and he held out his mug. “She coming up here to gloat?”
 
“Stop that,” Suzanne said sharply. “She didn’t force you to put the business up for sale. You can’t make the Adirondack Conservancy Corporation the bad guy in all this. It was your decision.”
 
“I wouldn’t have had to make any decision if the ACC wasn’t going to cut off my lumbering license.” He buried his nose in his coffee cup. “I can’t believe my own daughter turned into a damn tree hugger.”
 
Suzanne seated herself at the table. “It’s your own fault. You used to sneak her out to your cut sites when she wasn’t big enough to tie her own shoes.”
 
One half of a smile crooked his cheek. “You used to carry on something fierce about that.”
 
“A lumbering camp is no place for a four-year-old.”
 
He laughed. “Remember how she would stomp around in a fit if she couldn’t come with me?”
 
“Uh-huh.” Suzanne looked at him pointedly over the rim of her cup. “So now she’s grown up into someone who loves the woods, is hot-tempered, always speaks her mind—and you can’t figure out where she gets it from.” She snorted. “The only thing she doesn’t favor you in is her hair.”
 
Ed ran his hand over his nearly bald scalp and grinned.
 
Suzanne rolled her white crockery mug between her hands, a gesture he had seen her make on a thousand cold mornings like this one. “What’s really bothering you?”
 
“Sellin’ off the business.”
 
“Thought so.”
 
“I know it makes sense. If this land trade-off goes ahead like it’s supposed to, by this time tomorrow the van der Hoeven wood lot is gonna be off-limits to lumbering. By this time next week, the crew and I’d have to head fifty miles north to the nearest open woods. A hundred extra miles a day. Six hundred a week. With fuel prices the way they are, Suze—”
 
“I know.”
 
“Not to mention the increase in the insurance premium once we start putting that many open-road miles on our trucks.”
 
“I know.”
 
“And we’ll be getting hit with more maintenance on the trucks.”
 
“I know.”
 
“I just don’t see how we can take the increased cost and survive.” He looked down at the rifle resting in his lap. It had been his dad’s, along with the timber business. For a moment, he felt cut loose in time, unsure if he was sixty or sixteen. The gun, the woods, the coffee, even. All the same in his father’s time. In his grandfather’s.
 
“I always hoped to keep it in the family somehow. Maybe leave it to Bonnie’s boys. They love the woods.”
 
She nodded. “They do. On the other hand, do you want them risking their necks sixty hours a week to bring home twenty-five thousand a year?”
 
He looked at her, surprised. “You never complained.”
 
She laughed quietly. “I was a lumberman’s daughter. I knew what I was getting into when I married you.”
 
He put down his coffee and took her hand. The feel of her skin under his thumb was another bright spot against time and the dark. “I called the boys on the crew yesterday. Told ’em I wasn’t going out this winter. It’s a hell of a thing to do, to tell a man he ain’t got the job he’s been counting on. But if I sell out now to one of the larger companies, I can get a good price for the equipment. Not great, not with fuel prices high and interest rates low, but decent. Good enough so’s we could get a place in Florida. Become snowbirds. Would you like that?”
 
He watched her roll the thought around in her mouth, tasting it. “It’d be nice,” she finally said. “Wearing short sleeves all the time. Gardening year-round.”
 
“No more dark mornings,” he said.
 
She smiled a bit at that. “I’d miss seeing Bonnie and the boys, though. And it would be odd having Christmas where it’s sunny and warm.” She looked at him more closely. “What are you going to do? I can’t imagine you not timbering.”
 
He glanced down at the old rifle in his lap. That was the question, wasn’t it? “Man and boy, I’ve hauled wood out of those mountains forty years now. I don’t know what I’ll do if I’m not a lumberman. But change is coming, Suze.” He rubbed his thumb over her hand again. “And if we don’t change with it, we’ll get left behind.”
 

 
Copyright © 2005 by Julia Spencer-Fleming
 
The quotes at the beginning of each section are from The Book of Common Prayer, 1979 ed., published by the Church Publishing Company.