Monday, September 22, 2014

First Shot (56)

She was waiting by the door. Her face, distorted in worry and refracted light, peered intently at them through the glass. The eyes darted quickly from Salzwedel to Blow, then softened as her features melted into a welcoming smile. She released the latch and nudged the door open. The inviting aroma of food cooking reached them an instant before Helen Kellam spoke.
“Come in.” Her voice sounded friendly, almost timid. She was dressed in faded jeans and a plaid flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled halfway up her forearms. Her smile brightened when Salzwedel introduced Blow, and he saw that she was beautiful. The smile seemed natural, giving her face an innocence that was enhanced by light-brown hair she wore in a casually tended pageboy. Only the wearied caution in her chocolate eyes betrayed this illusion.

She led them through the front room past an elderly man and three women seated on chairs and a couch nibbling from plates in their laps. The man looked vaguely familiar to Blow. He nodded, and the man nodded back. Mrs. Kellam led them toward the rear of the house, through a smaller room that looked to be a study and through an archway on the left that put them between the kitchen and a stairway. The food smells had grown stronger and more enticing as they walked through the house, and now Mrs. Kellam asked if they would like something to eat. Blow realized he was famished, but he declined.
“Thanks, Mrs. Kellam, it smells awfully good, but I've just eaten. I wish now I had waited.” This won another smile. Salzwedel passed, as well
“I'll pack you two something before you go. That's my sister in there. She's magic in a kitchen.” Blow caught a glimpse of the magician as she whisked past the doorway carrying what looked to be a large salad bowl. Mrs. Kellam suggested they could talk in Sarah's room, and they followed her up the stairs.
Sarah's room was near the end of a narrow hallway past two other rooms, one with its door closed, which Mrs. Kellam noted had been her father-in-law's. The door to the other, across the hall and next to Sarah's, was open. Mrs. Kellam stopped there and spoke to someone in the room.
“Luke, you've been in there all day. Aren't you hungry? Margaret's fixing chicken and dumplings.” Blow heard a boyish mumbling. Then, “You need to eat something, Son. And you need to put that phone down. Staring at that thing all the time is gonna ruin your eyes.”
She turned to Blow and Salzwedel and shrugged. “Lucas is at that age. He's twelve. He misses his grampa something awful and he's worried about his sister.” She shook her head and continued to the next room, opening the door and standing back to let the men enter. As Blow passed Luke's room he saw the boy, slumped on a bed, look up from a smart phone he was holding and squint in his direction. Blow raised a hand in a quick wave but saw no response.
Sarah's room was a mess. Bed unmade, clothes, books and empty fast-food containers scattered over the floor. The walls were plastered with posters of youth celebrities and movies. The only one Blow recognized was for The Hunger Games.
“Looks like a tornado's been through here. Maybe we'd be better off in Cy's room.” She stepped back into the hall. Before Blow followed, he stuck his head in a closet and saw a rifle leaning just inside the door.
“Did you know she has a gun in her closet?” Blow asked the mother.
“Oh, yeah. Cy used to take the kids out hunting in the marsh back there.” She nodded toward the rear of the house. “Rabbits, squirrels, tin cans.” She laughed. “It's just a .22.” Blow caught Salzwedel's eye. The teacher raised his eyebrows but said nothing.
The grandfather's room seemed to empower the anxiety Blow had seen in the mother's eyes. She made to close the door once all three were inside, but stopped just short, leaving it ajar. When she turned back to the room Blow saw the change in her face. The easy smile was gone, and her cheeks and mouth had gone pale and sagged, adding a decade or more to her appearance. The spring in her step moments before had left, and she moved toward the neatly made bed as if fatigued and in pain. She sat on the edge of the mattress and lowered her head in her hands briefly, her fingers pressing against her temples. When she looked up, the face was composed but lifeless.
She'd neglected to invite her guests to sit. Salzwedel stood tentatively facing the foot of the bed, and Blow leaned his back against a weathered dresser near to the door. The room was sparsely furnished, as neat and impersonal as if in an old hotel. Other than a shaving kit and some personal items including several framed photos atop the dresser, the only evidence in the room of its former resident was a faint odor of sweet pipe tobacco.
“This must be a hard time for you,” said Blow into what had become an awkward silence.
There was no sigh, despite the appropriate timing for one. She seemed to have disappeared within herself, staring listlessly at the partially open bedroom door. In a small voice she said, “I'm just so scared.”
“Do you have any idea where she might have gone?” Blow spoke softly. She kept her eyes on the door, moved her head, barely, slowly side to side.
“It was that thing on the computer, the Internet. They said that old musket was what killed Mr. Gunther. Sarah's the only one cared about it, that old gun. Cy hated it. I...” Her voice trailed off. She held her lower lip between her teeth.
“Do you think Sarah might have taken it with her? To get rid of it, I mean?”
She took a long time to answer, and when she did her voice was nearly inaudible. She moved her head negatively again, and turned to look up at Blow. “I don't know.”
A new voice entered the conversation, from outside the door: “She did. She has it.”
“Lucas! This does not concern you!” The mother's voice was sharp. The door opened wider. Blow nodded at the boy when he saw his face, and Luke stepped into the room.
“I'm not a little boy, Ma,” he said in a mature voice. “I'm scared for Sarah, too. She's my sister, and I want to help.”
“We all do, Luke,” her voice was softer. “We just don't know where Sarah is.”
“Turtle Island,” the boy said, startling his mother. She stood.
“How do you know? Did she tell you?”
“No, she didn't say. But I know that's where she is. That's where we always go to get away from things.” Embarrassed at having revealed this, he looked at the floor. In a higher pitched, boyish voice then, he said, “It's our secret place.”

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