Chapter Ten, Part Two

The walk home didn’t seem quite so cold and my apartment building not as bleak as before. Even the stray I had been feeding seemed a little friendlier and purred when I knelt to scratch its ears before going inside.

Was Cade really going to forgive my evasiveness and bad behavior? I climbed the creaking steps and fumbled with my key. A romantic relationship was still a little too much to ask, but maybe we could at least be friends. A normal friendship with someone who had no agenda would be a nice change. As if to make a nasty cosmic joke of this last thought, I heard heavy footsteps on the stairs below.

“Judith? Do you have a minute?”

I hesitated, half-in, half-out of my doorway. “I was just about to have dinner.”

Father Cash appeared at the top of the stairs. “I’m sorry to interrupt, my dear. I’ll only be a minute.” He offered a conciliatory smile. “How was work?”

“Great. We’ll be ready for that audit in no time.”

“That’s good to hear.”

If he was pleased, it didn’t show in his voice.

“I’ve had some news about my sister.”

I set my dinner, still in its paper bag, on the table. “Everything’s okay, I hope.”

“She’s alive.” He sat down on my hard wooden chair. “It would appear she hadn’t been coping well for quite some time, though. She’s been in rehab. Didn’t want anyone to know.”

“And now she’s out and you had to tell her what happened.”

Father Cash sighed heavily. “In seminary, they train us in these types of situations, and certainly my time in Cold Haven has given me plenty of opportunity to practice, but…”

“There are some things nothing can prepare you for.”

He nodded and buried his face in his hands.

I cast a wistful look at my dinner, suppressed a sigh and went into the kitchen to heat a kettle of water. A few minutes later, I handed him a cup of tea.

He took it in his hands but didn’t drink any “Lena blames herself, of course. She says Sella ran away because of her.”

“That may have been part of it,” I offered, “but lots of kids have parents with substance abuse problems. They don’t generally run away unless there are other problems too, and when they do leave they usually don’t go any farther than a friend’s house.”

“I know. I assured her there must have been other factors, but she was in no mood to listen.” Father Cash took a sip of his tea. “She wants Sella sent home.”

“That’s understandable.”

He set the cup on the floor. “I have no money to do that. I had to borrow just to give that poor child a proper Christian burial. And Lena has no money after being in rehab for three months, but somehow she thinks this is my problem.”

“Well, it’s not like there’s any great urgency,” I pointed out. “Sella’s not going anywhere. When your sister has the money, she can make the arrangements then.”

Father Cash fixed me with a look. “That’s not how she sees it. She even suggested that this was all my fault; that I hadn’t watched Sella properly.”

I glanced again at my dinner. “People say crazy things when they’re grieving. She just needs time to process.”

“I hope that’s all it is. Tragedy is supposed to bring people together, not tear them apart.” He got to his feet. “Thank you for listening, dear. And I’m sorry to have interrupted your dinner.”

I told him to think nothing of it and accepted his blessing. Once he was out the door and I could hear his footsteps on the stairs, I ripped open my bag from the diner, my stomach growling in anticipation.

As I ate my cold burger and fries, it occurred to me that having a simple explanation for Lena’s disappearance and Sella’s decision to run away might convince Father Cash to quit imagining that Sella’s death was anything more than an ordinary suicide. But of course there was still the matter of Crazy Eddie seeing her talking to Arlo before her death. Like mother, like daughter, it would seem.

Why did it still seem fishy though? It was a little too convenient, too obvious. I wiped my greasy fingers on a paper napkin. There was something about all this that didn’t add up, and in spite of my previous assertions that it was a business I wanted no part of, my curiosity was now starting to get the better of me.



Chapter Ten, Part One

Rain and sleet pattered on the window, but the church office was cozy and a small heater warmed my feet as I frowned at the computer screen. A month had passed since the gruesome evening when I came out of a blackout at Crazy Eddie’s place, and my numbers weren’t balancing, but I was more irritated than concerned. For someone who couldn’t budget her personal finances, I was finding I had a knack for putting the St. Ignatius charity books in order.

The arrangement had been made by Father Cash, at his insistence, and although I was reluctant to be beholden to him, it was a chance to earn a little money in a way I didn’t have to hide. My pay wasn’t enough to keep me from having to make the occasional drug drop-off, but I hadn’t needed to turn a trick in weeks. The church paid cash, too, which was helpful.

I peered at my spreadsheet, found the discrepancy and corrected it. What a shame not all problems were solved so easily. I printed my report, shut down the computer, and went to say good bye to Miriam, the aging full-time church clerk who I had been hired to help for the next few months. She was on the phone when I laid my reconciled budget in front of her, so she merely waved and mouthed the words “thank you.”

At the bottom of the stairs, I stepped into my boots, put on my coat and grabbed my umbrella. It was a nasty afternoon and I wanted to go straight home, but had nothing to eat. Going to the store was cheaper, but the Elk Diner was along my way and offered takeout. I was sitting at the counter, waiting for the waitress to bag my order when the door opened and two men in heavy jackets blew in with the wind. One of them glanced my way and I caught my breath.

Cade’s eyes widened in surprise, then he gave me a quick, enigmatic smile and turned his attention to his colleague as they sought an empty booth. While they pored over menus, I feigned absorption in my phone, all the while acutely aware of Cade’s presence. Each time I glanced his way, he was looking elsewhere or engaged in conversation with his friend, but there was still something tangible in the room, as if the air itself had been drawn tight as a bowstring, ready to snap.

"Here you are, Miss. That’ll be $6.78.” I fumbled in my purse and handed the waitress a twenty. She moved with agonizing slowness to the register, while I kept my head down, pretending to check my order, check my receipt, look at anything but where Cade was sitting. I was desperate to flee, but at the same time wished the waitress would take all night counting my change so I could be in Cade’s presence just a little longer. I was facing my bills, smoothing them neatly into my wallet as if the process was of utmost importance, when I felt him approach.

"Imagine running into you here.”

I offered what I hoped was a polite but not chilly smile. “I could say the same of you. My excuse is that it’s near my work. What’s yours?”

“Where do you work? I don’t think you ever told me.”

“It’s a new job.” I shrugged as if it were no big deal, but I was secretly pleased to be able to talk about work like normal people did. “I’m doing a short-term assignment at St. Ignatius, helping get their charity accounts ready for an audit.”

“Helping the poor.” He nodded in approval. “That can be very rewarding.”

“I don’t know how much help I am to the needy,” I admitted. “I mainly make sure that the invoices for baby formula and canned tuna match the budget and were paid with the right type of funds.”

“If the books aren’t kept straight, no one eats.” Cade thrust out his hand. “Well, nice seeing you. I need to get back to my colleague. We’ve got a deal we’re working on. Sort of a partnership."

“Good luck with that,” I said. I grasped his hand and found I didn’t want to let it go. The next words tumbled out before I could stop them. “Can I call you? I feel like I owe, or just want to say—"

Cade smiled, and although it wasn’t the warm grin that I loved, the kindness in his voice made up for it. “Call me. We’ll talk."


Chapter Nine, Part Two

Although this wasn't the sort of place patronized by classy folk, I felt filthy and suspected I looked like a fright, so I ordered a slice of pepperoni to go. It was just as well that I not have to tip or pay for a drink, since it was possible that the money in my purse was for a drug handoff and needed to be given to someone. Mouse, maybe? Arlo?

I sighed as I thought of Arlo, took my pizza box and my change. Then I headed back into the cold, pondering as I walked toward my apartment. It wasn't likely that Sella would've known Arlo before coming to Cold Harbor, and it was equally unlikely that our brief encounter on the street the day I took Sella to the docks would have resulted in a second meeting. But according to Eddie, she had business with him, and I tried to get my muddled brain to parse this piece of information.

By the time I reached my apartment building, I was no wiser. I was fumbling with my key when I heard footsteps on the stairs behind me. I turned and saw Father Cash on the landing, gazing stony-faced at me. "Hi," I offered.

"Are you okay? You've been gone for two days and you look terrible."

Two days? Things were worse than I realized, but I was in no mood to deal with Father Cash, of all people. "Nice to see you, too," I said. I unlocked my door, and he followed me inside.

"Where have you been?"

"What, are you checking up on me now? I thought we weren't friends any more." I dropped my coat on the floor and took my pizza into the kitchenette, defying him to follow.

"I'm not heartless, Judith. It's obvious that you haven't been yourself lately."

"Hm."  I started to put the pizza on a plate, but then decided why bother? It would only mean I'd have to wash a dish later on. I grabbed the pizza out of the box and took a bite. It was cool from the chilly walk home, but it was greasy and salty, which was what my body craved.

Father Cash came into the doorway. "You're killing yourself, and I can't stand by and let that happen."

"Why not?" I gulped another bite. "I'm not your responsibility."

He sighed and his dark eyes took on a mournful cast. "We are all each others' keepers. I've been wrong to push you away over our little disagreement. You're entitled to your opinions." He looked away. "And perhaps you're right. I made excuses for Sella so I wouldn't have to see the truth, but I can't keep doing that with you."

I gnawed the crust of my pizza, wondering if I understood him correctly. "You may be more right about Sella than I gave you credit for," I told him.

He shook his head, not understanding.

"We thought she never went anywhere, but one of my contacts says he saw her talking to Arlo Pontoski - you know, the oxy distribution guy. Says it looked like a drug deal."

"My Sella?"

My mouth felt dry and the pizza crust was like glue. I fumbled in a cupboard for a glass, filled it with water from the tap, and took a few gulps before explaining. "He saw a girl who matched her description, including the coat and scarf, talking to Arlo. He says something changed hands." I took another sip of water, my body craving it after the salty pizza. "He assumed it was drugs, but he had no proof. I suppose it could've been anything."

Father Cash turned away, his brow furrowed in thought. "I would need more than hearsay to believe it, but I suppose if she had an addiction of some kind, it would explain a lot."

Now that I had a little food in my stomach, my head was starting to clear a little. With that came the realization that I was exhausted to the core. "Well, it's something to think about. If you don't mind, I want to get some sleep."

"Yes, you look like you need it, dear." Still frowning, he moved slowly toward the door. "I'd like to talk about this later - maybe you could try to get more information?"

The last thing I wanted to do was go near Crazy Eddie again, but explaining would have started a whole new conversation I wasn't willing to have. "Maybe," I said. "I need to rest now."

"Of course you do. And maybe you'll let me help you. Perhaps I could find you a little job or something. No strings."

I must have given him a skeptical look because he smiled sadly."You are one of God's children. Be good to yourself, dear." Then for the first time in weeks, he blessed me before going on his way.


Chapter Nine, Part One

After the disastrous date with Cade, I through myself into my work. What else could I do? He had awakened dangerous feelings, and I made it my mission to do everything I could to put him out of my mind.

Anything that would make me forget, I did. I delivered drugs for Arlo. I helped Mouse cook a batch of meth. I turned a few tricks and tried not to think about Cade while I let a stranger use my body. When I had money to spare, I drank and took pills, staying wasted and insensible for long stretches of time, until night and day become jumbled in my mind. Father Cash never knocked to check on me, and Cade never called. Only the threat of eviction or having my electricity cut off could get me to answer my phone or work yet another shit job until finally one gray afternoon, I came out of a blackout in Crazy Eddie's living room.

The television was showing a football game, but the sound was turned down and Eddie was talking about an upcoming vote before the state legislature. From his tone, I guessed it was a mutual conversation, and he was disagreeing with something I had said.

"You obviously don't know how the game is played, Judith. He wouldn't dare use his veto power. They'll block his highway bill, which he needs to pass if he's going to get reelected."

"But not vetoing would cost him his other constituents," I said, seizing on the most general thing I could say that wouldn't give away that I had no memory of what we were talking about.

"You keep coming back to that."

Obviously I was on the right track.

"I'm telling you, his base isn't as conservative as you think. Legalization's time has come."

Oh, so that was what we were talking about. Eddie had a struggling grow room in a warehouse on the outskirts of town, and was convinced that he could make a killing in the marijuana business if only it would be legalized. Unfortunately, Eddie was the sort who could wither plants just by walking into a room, but I wasn't going to be the one to tell him that legalization would only allow him to fail out in the open, instead of behind closed doors.

"Specialization is where it's going to be at. That's where you're going to be a big help to me."

"Hm." He rambled on tediously, but I ignored him, having just now noticed that the seams of my leggings were twisted, as if I had put them on hastily, and my shirt was misbuttoned and open to my sternum. I frowned. Had I fucked Crazy Eddie? There was a glass on the coffee table in front of me and I picked it up and sipped it warily. Ginger ale. I took a few greedy gulps, hoping it would settle my sudden nausea.

"So that's all you've got to do. Easy, huh? You don't need to worry that it'll piss off Arlo or any of your other contacts. You're not diverting their business, just getting a sense of what the market really wants. That way when legalization does come, we can target that market and win them over legit, no undercutting needed, because we'll be providing what they've been looking for all along."

"I'll do what I can," I said, trying unobtrusively to button up my shirt, only to find that my fingers felt thick and clumsy. "But I mostly deliver meth and oxy, you know. Pot isn't usually part of the deal."

Eddie scoffed. "Everyone smokes, whether they buy it from your guys or not. Just ask around, okay?"

The ginger ale was starting to settle my queasy stomach, and my mind was growing clearer by the minute. I still had no memory of how I came to be here, but the thought that I might've slept with Eddie threatened to make me sick. I stood up, willing myself not to wobble. "I should probably be going now."

"Let me get your coat."

He walked away and came back a moment later with my coat, which he helped me into. Since he wasn't usually so solicitous, this only confirmed my suspicion that something had happened between us, but it was his next words that chilled me though. "Thanks for stopping by. I hope you can do something with the information about Sella." His hand, which had been adjusting my collar, slipped inside the coat and squeezed my breast. "It was a fair trade, don't you think?"

Now I realized what had happened, and I floundered for a few functioning brain cells to help me out of this dilemma without coming right out and admitting I had no memory of what we had done, much less what he had said. "Fair for you, I guess. But how do I know what you said is true?"

"Don't be like that, babe." He pulled me to him and put his hands on my ass. "I saw them with my own eyes."

I tried to pull away, but he held me firm, his breath stale and stinking on my face. "It could've been something other than what it looked like," I pointed out.

He kissed me sloppily, forcing his tongue into my mouth while grinding his hips into mine. I tried to feign at least some willingness, but it was almost too much. I wasn't going to have to go to bed with him again, this time remembering every repulsive moment of it, was I?

I forced myself away and faked a small laugh. "That's no answer." I pulled my coat tightly around myself.

Eddie scowled. "What else could it have been? She gave him something, he gave her something...didn't look like they were exchanging Hallmark cards."

"But how would they have even known each other? Sella was a stranger here."

He gave a little shrug. Maybe he was friends with that uncle of hers, or maybe they met at the corner store sometime when she was out buying tampons or something, how would I know?"

"But Sella never left the house and hardly spoke at all."

"Obviously you're wrong about that, because she knew Arlo at least well enough to make a deal with him." Eddie took a step closer and touched my hair. "You're too hung up on this, babe."

I forced a smile. "You're right. I gotta go now." I grabbed the door and fumbled with the lock. Eddie reached over to help and I stepped out into the cold.

"We should do it again sometime," he called after me as I hurried down the steps.

I managed what I hoped was a cheerful-looking wave. "Sure. See you around."

I heard the door of his apartment close as I reached the ground floor, then I ran a little, stumbling in the cold, as I tried to put some distance between me and Eddie. When I reached the pizzeria at the corner, I paused to catch my breath.

Sella had bought drugs from Arlo? That didn't seem likely, for a number of reasons. But although Eddie was always looking to make a quick buck, I didn’t know him to be a liar. If he had had bribed me into sex with information, it was the truth, or at least the truth as he understood it. 

The door of the pizzeria opened and a customer darted out with a takeout box, trailing the aroma of garlic and pepperoni. My stomach growled. A slice of greasy pizza was exactly what I needed right now, and I checked my purse to see if I could afford it. Inexplicably, there were two crumpled twenties inside. Where had they come from? Had I made a delivery for someone, in which case not all of it was mine? Or had I been to bed with a paying customer, in addition to Eddie?

I needed to do some reflecting and get my life together. But first, I needed some food. I shoved the bills back in my purse and went inside.

Chapter Eight, Part Three

I wouldn't have noticed it if he hadn't pointed it out. The Peregrine seemed to me like any other fishing boat, painted white and battered by the ocean and its sun, salt and storms. We walked down the dock and boarded, and I found the deck and small enclosed cabin to be clean and well-maintained, although a bit dingy with wear.

"I know it's not much to look at," Cade said, "But I'm close to having her paid off and then I can look at growing my business a little."

"You mean more boats?"

He shrugged. "Maybe. I have a few options I'm considering. Haven't decided which way I intend to jump, though. Things could change, and I like to stay flexible."

For the next few minutes he showed me around, explaining the different screens and electronic equipment used for finding and tracking schools of fish.

"I thought only governments had these. I had no idea an ordinary guy could have his own sonar," I said.

"And echosounders." He grinned. "It's pretty standard in the industry, but if you haven't seen one before, it can seem kind of special."

"I suppose it's better than having to guess where the fish are. Or go to a lot of trouble to catch them only to find out they're not the right kind."

"Fishing has come a long way," Cade admitted. "There's a lot of science involved now. You still need to have an instinct for it, though. And you need to not mind being cold, wet and in danger. Lots of strange people in this business, too. No real vetting process. You could end up on a boat with just about anyone, and once you're out at sea, not much you can do about it. You learn a lot of tolerance out on the water."

"I would imagine so," I said. "There are a lot of strange people in my life too, but at least I don't have to live with them."

"It's an acquired skill," he assured me. "But there's no point acquiring it if you don't have to. Save your energy for more interesting things."

He showed me around the rest of his boat, including a small kitchen, cramped bunks that were rarely used for more than brief naps, and a vast hold where the catch had to be stored at just the right temperature and precise weight distribution so as not to tip the boat.

"If your cargo isn't balanced right, a storm or a rogue wave can tip you over just like that. and in the cold waters around here, you've got twenty minutes to live under optimal conditions. Most guys that happens to aren't so lucky."

Over the next half hour Cade told me more about fishing than I ever thought I'd want to know, but in his frank, unpolished way he made it seem, if not exactly fascinating, at least not dull. By the time he took a couple beers out of a fridge, I was feeling at home on the Peregrine and was content to sit with him near one of the windows and look out over the metallic gray water.

By now the sun was little more than a pale glow on the horizon. Sunsets aren't much to look at in Cold Harbor and I found myself longing for the vivid reds and golds of home instead of anemic silver. "Are the sunsets pretty in Maine?" I asked.

"Not as pretty as the sunrise, since the sun sets over land, not water." As if reading my mind, he added, "I miss home sometimes."

I didn't trust myself to answer, and only nodded.

"Maybe you'll let me show it to you someday."

I sat back, startled. "Maine?"

"Or just a pretty sunrise." He looked away, abashed. "Sorry if that was a little awkward. I don't spend much time around women. I'm out of the habit of knowing what's the right thing to say."

In that moment he looked so vulnerable that I forgot my worries, set my beer aside and scooted closer. "Offering to show me a pretty sunrise is just fine. I'm a little out of the habit of good manners myself."

He drew me into his arms and it felt like the most natural thing in the world to settle into the hollow of his body, warm and safe, watching the light fade from the sky while the boat gently bobbed with the waves. I wasn't prepared when he brushed his lips over my hair and then found the bare spot on my neck where my hair had fallen forward. The sensation was warm and electric. I froze for a moment, then felt his lips on my neck again, and a long-forgotten fire coursed through me. I turned and kissed him, my body and mind burning with a desire I had thought myself too jaded to feel any more. Cade pulled me to him, as hungry as I was, but then unbidden, Father Cash's warning repeated itself in my mind and brought me back to reality.

"I'm sorry." I pulled away and stood up, dizzy and weak in the knees. "I need to leave."

Cade reached for my hand. "I didn't mean for that to happen. Really. Please sit back down."

I shook my head. There was no way I could explain, so I gave the most classically lame excuse anyone has ever made for walking away. "It's not you, it's me." I grabbed my coat and headed out the door, but he followed me onto the deck.

"Let me at least walk you home, Judith."

"I'll be fine," I shouted, then I jumped onto the dock and started running. I ran through the docks, across the street, and into the warren of lanes and alleys full of fishing shops, chowder houses and pubs. Although I didn't hear any footsteps behind me, I kept going until I reached a familiar area. Brook Street and Gaslight Avenue weren't exactly the best part of town, but here I was on my own turf, and I slowed to a walk, trying to catch my breath.

What an idiot I had been. I had thought myself immune to men after going to bed with so many, but I was only fooling myself. From the moment I laid eyes on Cade at the dock, I had wanted him, and no amount of survival sex could change that.

But I wasn't the kind of girl Cade deserved. Father Cash was right about that. He was better off without me, and even friendship was a bad idea, since how could I just be friends when I wanted so much more?

As I walked the dingy streets toward home, my treacherous mind spun fantasies of what things could be like if only I were an ordinary waitress or bookkeeper, or better yet, if we had met before I had made so many costly mistakes with my life. Cade and I could travel the sea on his boat, or maybe get a little cottage together on the coast of Maine. We could be lighthouse keepers, supplementing our income with the revenue from a fleet of fishing boats. On sunny afternoons, I would sit outside and paint, and at night me and Cade—

"Hey, Judith. Been trying to reach you for the last hour. How come you're not answering your phone?"

I squinted at the darkness, scrambling to bring my mind back to reality as Arlo stepped out of the shadows.

"I got a job for you, if you want it. If not..." he shrugged.

So much for cottages in Maine. "Yeah, I want it," I said. The rent would soon be due and no amount of fantasizing was going to change my empty wallet. "Whatever you've got, I'm game."

Chapter Eight, Part Two

Cade suggested we meet at a place he was familiar with, and luckily it wasn't very far away. Jimmy's was a cheerful-looking place relative to its gray surroundings near the docks. I had never been inside before, since it was frequented by the fishing caste, but today I took a deep breath and pushed open the door. Dark wood paneling was draped with old fishing nets and shellacked, taxidermied fish, and a few obligatory neon beer signs glowed from the wall behind the bar, but it was otherwise well-lit and unintimidating. The strains of Patsy Cline emanated from a jukebox as I scanned the room. Not seeing Cade, I approached the bar and gingerly took a stool.

While the bartender was busy with another customer, I checked my phone. No messages from Cade, so he would probably be on time. I had arrived a little early, just to play things safe.

As I was tapping on my phone, a burly man a couple stools down asked, "Company around here too boring for you, Miss?"

I suppressed a sigh. If men knew how tedious and predictable they were, would they still behave the way they did? "I'm waiting on my date," I said, not so much to be polite but in case the guy knew Cade. It wouldn't do to have any of his acquaintances telling him I was rude, when I was enough things already.

"Well, no point being lonely. If he doesn't show up, I'll keep you company."

"I'll remember that." I returned to my phone and pretended to be texting, even though I was only looking at my web browser.

Not two minutes later, the bartender walked over and slapped a coaster in front of me. "What can I get you?"

I hesitated. If I ordered a beer, would Cade think I was an alcoholic, arriving early to start drinking? But if I ordered nothing, or only water, would I look like I had no confidence he would show up? My dilemma was solved by the pub door opening, and Cade walked in, wearing faded jeans, well-worn boots and a brown leather jacket. He suggested we get a table and I gratefully followed him to a quiet corner, where a rough-looking woman brought us a basket of pretzels and took our beer order.

"I really didn't think I was going to hear from you," Cade said with such genuine pleasure in his eyes that I was as overwhelmed as the first time I saw him.

"Well, it would've been rude not to return the favor..."

"And here I thought it was the pleasure of my company you wanted, and not just good manners."

In spite of myself, I smiled. "That too, of course."

We spent the next half hour in idle chat about the safe topics of food, fishing, and what passed for society in Cold Haven. I was feeling relaxed and happy that I had called him, when he broke my mood with a single remark.

"So how did you end up here, Judith? You clearly aren't enjoying it much, but I don't see any chains holding you down. It's a big world out there."

I forced a smile. "I'm still planning my next move."

"I see."

"I'm glad you do."

A long silenced passed between us and I was wondering what to say next when the awkward moment was broken by the waitress asking if we wanted another round. Instead of answering her, Cade turned to me. "Want to see my boat? It's not far from here."

All fishing boats looked alike to me, but it was a chance to stay near him without the pressure of a conversation that might drift into dangerous territory. I agreed, and Cade paid for our beers over my objections. Then I followed him out into the weak gray light of early evening. 

Chapter Eight, Part One

I did call, although not right away. I could hardly call him up and invite him to buy me dinner again, and it wasn't like Cold Haven had any free parks or similar venues for a cheap date, so that meant scraping together enough money to invite him for a beer, or at least a cup of coffee.

Since it was the first of the month, I got my bogus pseudephrine prescription filled and handed it over to Mouse for a profit so he could cook it into meth. Arlo had a few deliveries for me to make, and sent a trick my way. Crazy Eddie turned out to be my best source of money, though. I did some temporary home care for his shut-in aunt, whose dementia made her sweet-tempered and befuddled one day and a screeching maniac the next. I sat lookout while Eddie and a friend stole some cash and home brew from a guy who was an even bigger thief than they were. And, most troubling, I got asked to scrub down an apartment where a friend of a friend had blown his brains out after one heartbreak too many and more gin than any human had any business drinking. That last job left me disturbed for days, never quite certain that the stench of blood was gone from my clothes and hands. Nevertheless, the pay was excellent and I could now call Cade and invite him for a beer and maybe even a pizza.

I chose a quiet afternoon, sat down on my lumpy sofa, fought back a sudden wave of shyness, and punched in his number, willing myself to take deep breaths. Cade was a nice guy, totally harmless, and I wasn't hung up on him or anything, so there was no reason in the world for my heart to be racing as his phone rang and rang. Then I heard a click, and a voice.

"Hi, this is Cade Dermott. Please leave a message."

I turned off my phone and threw it away from me in disgust. Didn't it just figure that I would finally work up the courage and the money to call him, only to get his voice mail? I went to the window, leaned against the sill and sighed. As a fisherman, Cade could be anywhere. Stupid of me to forget that. He might be halfway around the world, chasing herring, and who knew when he would return?

On the sidewalk below, the ginger cat I had been feeding strolled by. Craving a little companionship, no matter what its form, I grabbed the bag of Friskies and my coat, and hurried downstairs.

It took a bit of coaxing, since the cat was still aloof, but I made a kibble trail and soon had the cat lounging uneasily near my feet while I sat on the steps and gazed at the cars and people going by. I didn't have anything planned for the evening, but after building up my hopes for a possible date with Cade, the thought of being alone or having to scare up some work depressed me. Clearly I had been looking forward to seeing Cade again more than I was willing to admit.

That would never do. I had bigger issues to deal with if I was to ever get out of Cold Harbor. Forming an attachment here would only be a distraction. And since no way would Cade want anything to do with me once he learned what I really was, maybe it was for the best that he hadn't answered my call. We would only waste each others' time.

I rubbed the cat's ears, which he didn't seem to appreciate, and got to my feet. I was just heading back inside when I ran into Father Cash heading out. We both paused in the doorway staring at each other, and then Father Cash put on his best benevolent priest's face and wished me a good day. Before I could do more than stammer a "Same to you," he was gone.

Wholly out of sorts now, I stomped up the stairs to my flat. On the floor by the sofa, my message light was blinking. Arlo? Crazy Eddie? Mouse, with a meth delivery for me to make?

I picked up the phone. It was Cade, returning my call.