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.

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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."

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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.

Next>>

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.

Chapter Seven, Part Two

Luckily I had done laundry recently. I pulled on some clean black denims and from the back of the closet, I pulled out a remnant of my previous life: a cashmere sweater in a shade of cobalt that always made me think of bluebirds and springtime. I brushed my teeth, swiped a comb through my hair, added a little powder, mascara and lipstick, and my fifteen minutes were up. I stepped inside my new shoes, threw on my coat and scarf, and headed out.

If I had run into Father Cash on the steps, I would've considered it only my just desserts for being so confident last night that I had no feelings for Cade. But the good priest didn't make an appearance, Cade was patiently reading a newspaper at the corner store, and just like that, we were off across town in his old pickup.

"How long have you been in Cold Haven?" he asked, by way of conversation, as we navigated what passed for evening rush hour.

"About a year," I said. "I plan to leave as soon as I can."

"It's not for everyone, that's for sure."

"Not for anyone, more like." I adjusted the heater vent nearest me so that it would warm my hands.

"You meet an interesting cross-section of people here, though. Seems like everybody is from someplace else."

"That's true," I agreed, but it's less like the American Dream than what the cat dragged in. Present company excluded, of course."

Cade grinned. "No need to reassure me on that point. There've been days I wondered if I was the only person in town who wasn't wanted for something back home."

"It's not as extreme as all that," I said, not liking the drift of the conversation. "I think a lot of people who come here are just disappointed with life."

"Well, this place sure won't cure that. Not unless you approach it with the right attitude, at any rate."

By now we were on the east side of town, which wasn't exactly richer than the west, but had a decidedly more genteel cast to it. Instead of somber gray concrete and weathered clapboards, the buildings were of red brick or tidy shingles. Shops and apartment buildings had clean windows and sometimes a bit of rock art or wooden sculpture for landscaping. Shady characters didn't lurk in doorways or on corners, and although drug and alcohol abuse were no less rampant here than in my own neighborhood, this was not a place where you advertised your vices.

Cade navigated a few narrow streets, then pulled up to the curb and killed the engine. "It's up the block," he said. "They're too small to have their own parking lot."

I shrugged. "I never mind a little bit of walking."

The bricks of the building housing Luigi's Pastaria were faded and buffeted by age, and on the inside, the dark hardwood floors had been rasped and polished, but still showed the faint marks of many decades of use. But the narrow dining room was redolent of the warm aroma of garlic and had been furnished for modest charm in unoriginal but tidy square tables covered with red-checked tablecloths. Candles in glass jars flickered at each table, and the framed posters on the walls depicted scenes of Rome and the greats of Italian opera. It was the type of place I would've rolled my eyes at in my previous life, but now I found the clich├ęd decor oddly comforting.

Since there was no hostess to seat us, we took a table underneath a photo of a bellowing Pavarotti and examined the menu cards tucked into a little wire holder. As Cade had cautioned, the offerings were limited, but it was all so much more than what I was in the habit of eating that my stomach growled at the prospect of even a single slice of garlic bread.

"I've been here a couple times for their lunch specials," Cade said. "The spaghetti, lasagna and ravioli are all pretty good."

What caught my eye was the chicken scaloppini, but it was one of the more expensive dishes, so that wouldn't do. Neither would the spaghetti, since ordering the cheapest item might imply that I doubted Cade's ability to pay. So when the waitress came by, I ordered ravioli and a Coke.

"You sure about that Coke?" Cade asked. He ordered a carafe of Chianti.

"I hope you're not trying to get me drunk," I teased after the waitress left.

He shook his head. "I just think dinner should include an adult beverage."

I had no argument with that. The wine arrived quickly, along with a basket of garlic bread and cups of minestrone soup, so that by the time our entrees were served, I was feeling warm and relaxed.

As promised, the food was quite good, or maybe it had simply been so long since I had eaten an average meal that almost anything would have tasted like gourmet cuisine. Regardless, I was thoroughly enjoying my dinner and the company when Cade brought me up short.

"Tell me about Father Cash."

I stared at him over a mouthful of garlic bread, and reached for my napkin so I could wipe my chin. "I told you pretty much all I know at the funeral, I think."

"I mean, how's he doing? Has he had any luck reaching Sella's mother?"

I shook my head and reached for my wine. "He says he's been trying, and that it's not like Lena to go incommunicado, but I have to wonder how hard he's really looking. I mean, I offered to go to the library and do an internet search, but he blew me off. If he was really serious..."

Cade nodded. "He'd try anything. I know I would, if it was my sister."

"He thinks there's some sort of conspiracy going on and that Sella's death wasn't an accident."

"Really?" he leaned back, startled. "It looked like an ordinary suicide to me, and I've seen a few."

I shrugged. "I've tried to reassure him, but I think it's his Catholic guilt getting in the way. Suicide is a sin, you know."

"So is fornication, but from what you've told me, I don't have the impression the good father is terribly worried about that one."

"Say enough Hail Marys, and I'm sure it will all get taken care of. But if you're dead, that option is off the table." I returned my attention to my ravioli.

"I guess I can see that." Cade frowned. "Didn't Catholics use to pass off suicide as mental illness, so they could say the person didn't die a sinner?"

"I tried suggesting that, but it didn't go over well. He's pretty married to the idea that it was foul play, and that Sella's mother was a victim of it, too."

"People don't get murdered for no reason." Cade pointed out. He ate the last bite of his lasagna and pushed the plate aside. "Were they involved in drugs or something?"

"Not that I know of."

"Domestic?"

I thought about Sella's cryptic diary entry. "That's always a possibility, but nothing I've seen so far has me convinced."

Cade leaned forward. "Sounds like you know more than what you're telling."

I finished my ravioli and reached for my glass of wine. I took a good long sip before answering. "Not really, and why are you so curious?"

He looked away. "It sucks to pull a dead girl out of the water. It's the sort of thing you want to attach a meaning to, even if there probably isn't one."

I nodded. Without intending to, he had described Father Cash's dilemma. "That's probably why it's easier for her uncle to call it murder than admit that she wanted to die, and nothing he could do made any difference."

"He thinks he failed as both a priest and as an uncle."

"Maybe in his own mind," I said. "But failing at playing Sherlock Holmes isn't going improve matters."

"Agreed." Cade signaled to the waitress. "Tirimisu and coffee?"

"Where would I put it?" I asked. "I'm so full I could burst."

Cade asked for the check and after he had given the waitress his credit card, he turned back to me. "What if he's on to something, though? Father Cash, I mean."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "Are you serious? You said yourself that it looked like an ordinary suicide."

"Yes, but..." he shrugged, "What if it's not?"

"If it's not, then the cops need to handle it," I said.

"No point looking for trouble," he agreed, and I couldn't tell if he meant it or not. The waitress brought the credit card slip and although I tried not to look, I couldn't help noticing that he tipped generously.

"We all need to earn a living," he said, noticing where my gaze had drifted.

Indeed we did, and I cast a furtive glance at my watch. Although we had been out longer than I had planned, there was still plenty of time to hunt down Arlo or Crazy Eddie and see if I could make a buck or two.

"I assume you don't want me to take you home," Cade said as we left the restaurant. "The store, then?"

I had been wondering throughout the meal if he was going to try to leverage dinner into something more, even though nothing in what I had seen so far suggested he was that type. I was surprised to feel a little sad, though, when he obediently let me out in front of Lucky's without so much as an attempt at a kiss, and just a cheerful, "Thanks for the company."

"I enjoyed it," I said, and I meant it.

"We should do it again sometime."

"We will," I promised. "I'll call."

He smiled like he wasn't sure if he should believe me or not. "You have my number."

Chapter Seven, Part One

The next morning I woke up groggy and hung over after a late night at the pub wasting my meager earnings from a drug handoff. I had a stale, bitter taste in my mouth and no toothpaste, so after counting my spare change, I threw on some jeans and a sweater, and headed to the corner store. There were only two brands of toothpaste to choose from, and I was puzzling over the merits of gel versus tartar control, when I heard a familiar voice.

"Judith! How have you been?"

Didn't it just figure Cade would turn up here, of all places, when my hair was uncombed and my breath smelled like a sewer?  "Uh, hi. Doing great. Busy. Work, life..."

"Don't I know it?" He grinned like he hadn't even noticed that I hadn't been in touch. "I found a great spot for herring - one of my crew has a sixth sense for that sort of thing - but it's meant a lot of long hours bringing it in before anyone else finds it."

I didn't have much to say about this, since I knew nothing of fishing. "That's great, uh...congratulations." I grabbed a tube of toothpaste and glanced toward the counter. "It's been great running into you like this, but I need to go."

Instead of taking the hint, Cade followed me to the cashier. "Have you had dinner yet? I know it's kind of early, but there's a little Italian place just opened on the other side of town. Very small, informal, limited menu but what they've got is as good as anything I've had back home in Portland."

Dinner? I suppressed an urge to laugh. What would he think if I told him I had hadn't even had breakfast yet? He'd lump me in with every other loser in this town, no doubt. "It's a nice idea, but..."

"Just as friends. My treat."

I was sliding coins across the counter and the cashier met my eyes, then glanced away with a little twitch of his shoulders, as if to say I might as well. And who was I kidding? Unless some work came through quick, this was probably my best shot at a decent meal for today. "I should at least fix myself up a little."

"You look fine," he assured me. "It's really very casual."

"No," I insisted. "If you're going to treat me to dinner, the least I can do look like a girl worth being seen in public with. I'll have to meet you somewhere, though. It wouldn't be appropriate for you wait outside my apartment."

"You in the witness protection program or something?"

It was a smart-ass remark, but said with such gentle good humor that I smiled. "How about I meet you back here in fifteen minutes?"

Cade gave a little shrug. "Works for me. I still haven't gotten what I came for, anyway. But I have one condition. Give me your phone number this time, so I can text you if you take longer than expected."

"I'll let you know if I'm running late," I assured him, but I gave him my number anyway, and nervously watched as he added it to his contacts. I was committed now. "I'll see you in a few," I said, and darted out the door.

Chapter Six, Part Two


Like last time, Father Cash was hungry to talk about Sella afterward.

"I know you think I'm crazy, Judith, but there really is something going on. Something ominous."

"I can see why it might look that way," I mumbled.

"If Sella's death were the only part of it, I might agree with you, but—"

"I know, Lena is incommunicado, and that's out of character." I pulled myself out of his embrace. "You sure are good with the pillow talk these days."

Ignoring my words, he sat up and swung his feet out of bed. "There's something I think you need to see."

He padded into the other room and returned a few minutes later with a leather-bound book the color of dark cherries. A page had been bookmarked with a receipt and he handed it to me. "Read that, then tell me you don't think she was running from someone."

I took the diary and it found it smooth and surprisingly heavy for its size, with thick creamy pages. I opened it to the marked section, and after a brief glance at the receipt (a 16 oz. Coke and packet of peanuts) I read the entry. Sella's handwriting was tidy and stylish - almost a calligraphy. After reading the entry twice, I handed it back.

"She felt threatened. She was running from someone," Father Cash said, giving me a pointed look.

"You might call it that," I said cautiously. "But it's pretty vague."

"'I have to get away. I have no choice any more,'" he read. "What's so vague about that?"

I lay back among the covers and sighed. "Only that she was a teenage girl, and teenage girls see the drama in everything: a zit, a bad grade, not enough pepperoni on a pizza..."

"Judith..."

"I'm not saying it couldn't be something bigger than that. It's just that I was a teenage girl myself, not so long ago, and you're going to need more evidence than that one page to convince me." I frowned. "Is there more?"

Father Cash turned away. "I see we're not going to get very far with this."

While he returned the diary to wherever he had been stashing it, I sat up and started pulling on my clothes, wondering if he was pissed at me again. What a waste of time this afternoon had been.

When several minutes passed and Father Cash still had not returned, I wandered into the living room, where I found him wrapped in a faded bathrobe, watching the documentary again with the sound off. "I'm sorry," I told him.

He shrugged in answer.

"I really am concerned about Lena," I told him. "If you give me her full name and an address, I can go down to the library tomorrow and use their computers to do an internet search."

"No need."

I stood silent, pondering. "Well," I finally said, "If you find out anything more, anything that might bolster your theory, I really would be happy to help, it's just that in the absence of any other evidence—"

"I know. You've made yourself very clear."

"Fine," I said. "You know where to find me." I let myself out and trudged up the stairs. To hell with him. Maybe I would call that nice fisherman, after all. Or better yet, maybe I'd just call Arlo. Rent would be due soon and I could use a little work.

Chapter Six, Part One

Of course I didn't call him.

For the next few weeks I settled back into my usual routine of making drug deliveries and turning tricks, earning enough to keep the bills paid, plus a little left over for a new-to-me pair of shoes from the thrift store. Thinking I might raise some steady money, I applied for a waitress job at one of the chowder shops but never got a call back. I began feeding a stray cat in the hope that it might intimidate some of the rats that hung around the back stoop of our apartment building where the garbage was collected for weekly pickup. And in an attempt to brighten my dismal flat, I bought a nasturtium, guaranteed to grow, and put it on my living room windowsill.

Most importantly, though, I tried to reconcile with Father Cash.

It wasn't an easy decision. If life had taught me anything, it was to avoid lopsided relationships and not let anyone think I might need them more than they needed me. But Father Cash had been kind and probably would have been no less generous with food and quilts if I had never allowed him into my bed. And so I gathered a few coins and dollar bills, bought some peanut butter and Ritz crackers, and waited, reading by the window, until I saw him coming up the walk. When I knocked on his door a few minutes later, I hardly knew what to expect, but after what seemed a long time, he finally answered.

"Hello, Judith."

His posture was stiff and erect. His voice was gentle, but he didn't smile.

I held up the plastic grocery bag. "I know it's supposed to be a casserole, but I thought I'd spare you my attempts at cooking and bring you something edible."

"That's very thoughtful of you, but—"

"Just let me in, would you?"

He stepped out of the way, but he wasn't happy about it. I set my offerings on the scuffed and blemished coffee table and looked around. Nothing had changed much, except for a cardboard box in the corner that I assumed contained Sella's things. "How have you been?" I asked.

"About as well as can be expected."

"No luck reaching Lena?"

Father Cash shook his head.

"Surely she has friends or an employer who—"

"There's no need to pretend that you care, Judith."

I turned on him in exasperation. "I'm not pretending anything. Just because I don't want to follow you on a goose chase doesn't mean I'm not sad about what happened or concerned about you. You're my friend."

Our eyes locked and he looked away first. "I was just getting ready to watch a Ken Burns documentary. You're welcome to stay."

It wasn't what I had in mind, but since I didn't have a TV or laptop, a show of any kind was a treat. I settled in on the sofa and accepted a glass of greenish wine and a Ritz cracker. The documentary was, appropriately enough, about the Great Depression, and the black and white vistas of blowing dust put me in no fit frame of mind to deal with what Father Cash said when he finally spoke again.

"It was very inappropriate of you to flirt at my niece's funeral."

For a moment all I could do was stare.

"You were rather taken with that fisherman."

"He seemed like a nice guy." I reached for a cracker. "But if making polite conversation counts as flirting, then I guess I flirt with everyone."

"It's okay," he said. "You're young, far from home, and in a precarious position. Of course you want a relationship with someone close to you in age; a provider who can give you a little stability."

"I do want stability," I told him, offended now. "But I have no intention of latching on to a man to get it. I can straighten things out for myself."

"I see."

He turned back to the television, and so did I. A few minutes later, though, he hit the mute button. "You need to decide what you want, Judith. That young fisherman is the sort who wants a girl he can marry, and you—"

"I know what I am," I snapped. "And I have had no contact with him since the funeral. He gave me his number, but I didn't call it. He asked for mine, but I refused. I wouldn't even let him bring me home, so he doesn't know where I live. If you want to make some kind of grand romance out of that, go for it, but for now will you please drop it?" I reached for the remote and turned the sound back on.

For a long time, it was just him and me, and the soothing sounds of Ken Burns describing a long-ago catastrophe. Finally Father Cash said, "I'm sorry, dear. I didn't mean to offend."

"Yes, you did," I said. "You're jealous."

"Maybe so, but I obviously have no right to be."

I shrugged and reached for my wine glass.

"So since you aren't...involved with anyone, perhaps we can kiss and make up."

Why hadn't I seen this coming? I suppressed an inner sigh of annoyance. "There's nothing to make up, and you were never much into kissing, anyway."

"You're right. We can skip the kissing."

I took a big gulp of my sour wine and figured once a whore, always a whore. I stood up and let him lead me to his bedroom.

Chapter Five, Part Three


As we approached the iron gates of the cemetery, we filed in behind the other cars in a motley procession that wound its way through the plots. Since this was a relatively new cemetery, there were few markers, making Sella's gravesite both a relief from the bare, flat land, and a monstrous thing at the same time with its yawning pit torn from the tundra. A couple of people were removing the flowers that had been at the church from one of the cars and placing them around the head of the grave, offering the only spot of color for miles around.

I stepped out of the truck and immediately regretted having gone to so much trouble to borrow a dress. The cold wind whipped my skirt and chilled my legs, and the only things that kept me from jumping back in the cab were Cade's encouraging smile and the sense that I needed to make a good showing in front of Father Cash. Gritting my teeth and huddling in my coat, I tried to find a place among the small knot of mourners where I would be blocked from the worst of the wind.

Thankfully the priest didn't seem any more keen on the weather than I was, and hurried through the little ceremony, in spite of the annoyance in Father Cash's eyes. Well, what of it? We were all stomping our feet and shivering, and nothing said on earth was going to help Sella now.

Father Martinez asked if anyone wanted to say any words. Of course Father Cash did, and strode to the head of the grave. "Friends," he said, "Thank you for being here today." He went on to tell us a little of Sella's history. "When she called me from the bus station just a few short weeks ago, I went to meet her and found a girl much changed. She was nurturing a great hurt and a great fear, but deep inside, I know she was still the same sweet child. I believe that what happened on the waterfront was more than what it appeared, and although God longs to have each and every one of us by his side, this is not how He would have had it."

A few people in the crowd raised their eyebrows and Father Martinez gave him a warning look.

"Evil lurks in this world, and Satan tries to leave his mark." He caught Father Martinez's alarmed expression and gave a tight smile. "But we take comfort in knowing that evil cannot win, and even now Sella has her victory in the arms of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ."

"Amen," Father Martinez said firmly. "Would anyone else like to speak a few words?"

I ducked my head, hoping frantically that Father Cash wouldn't expect me to say anything. I had hardly known the girl, and my last attempt at public speaking had been in eighth grade.

To my surprise, Cade spoke up beside me. "If I may, Father."

The crowd parted to let him approach the coffin, and Father Cash stepped aside with chilly good manners. Cade hardly seemed to notice, and turned to face the group.

"I'm just a fisherman, and I don't always have the right words for things," he said, "but when I found Sella in the water, I felt like I was finding my own child. She was a beautiful young lady, full of potential for happiness and good works, and it's a sad day when someone like her is lost to us. The world can be a pretty mean place, and we need good, kind, wise people to balance things out. Even though I never knew her alive, I feel like she would have been one to tip the scales of good in our favor. Her departure is a loss to us, and a gain to Heaven."

There were nods of approval and a few amens as Cade returned to his spot by my side and Father Martinez asked if anyone else wished to speak. Getting no takers, he wrapped things up as quickly as he could, much to Father Cash's annoyance. After we had all filed past the lowered coffin for the last time, Father Cash took him aside with a frown, and I turned expectant eyes on Cade.

"I want to talk to him a minute," he said, gazing in Father Cash's direction.

Just my luck. A conversation with him right now could easily turn into a grilling as to why I hadn't offered to share a reminisce about Sella. "Could I go sit in your truck, then? I'm freezing."

Cade led me back to the truck and opened the door, still casting glances toward the two priests, who were deeply absorbed in what appeared to be a tense conversation.

"It may be awhile," I warned him.

"Yeah, he's pissed about something." With a sigh, Cade went to the other side of the truck and got in.

"It's just not how he would've done it," I said. Cade cranked the engine and turned on the heater. I stretched my hands toward the blast of warm air.

"How come he didn't perform the ceremony? Do Catholics have rules about what churches a priest can use?"

"Not that I know of. It's just that Father Cash is defrocked."

"Oh." Cade put the truck in gear and we backed out onto the cemetery road. "Do you know why?"

I tried to suppress a smile. "He likes women a little too much."

Cade gave a knowing nod. "That's got to be tough. He should've gone protestant. They would've let him marry."

"I don't get the impression one woman would've been enough."

"Old-school Mormon, maybe?"

In spite of myself, I smiled, imagining Father Cash trying to manage a bevy of wives. "I guess he missed his true calling."

"A lot of us do."

We both lapsed into silence and it was only as the gray clapboards of town came into view that Cade remembered to ask where he was taking me.

"You can drop me back at the church."

"I don't mind taking you home."

I hadn't been looking forward to walking in the cold in Donna's thin dress, but that didn't mean I wanted Cade seeing the run-down tenement where I lived, either. "Thanks, but the church is fine. Really."

"Suit yourself."  He drove to the church in such a state of silence that I wondered if he was angry at me. But when he pulled up to the church door, he merely turned to me with concern in his eyes. "You sure you don't want a ride home? I really don't mind. I don't have anything else to do today."

For a moment, I reconsidered. Surely he didn't think I was well-off, so why should I be embarrassed at letting him see my poverty? Nevertheless, I shook my head. "I'm going to pray a little while."

Cade grinned, but didn't challenge my lie. Instead, he fumbled among some stray items in a cupholder and scribbled on a gas receipt. "Here."

I took the slip of paper. It was his phone number.

"Call me sometime. I'll buy you a cup of coffee." Then, misreading my hesitation, he added, "Just as a friend. I haven't met very many people here who I'd like to know better."

"Me, either."

"Can I get your number, too?"

"No." I reached for the door handle. "It's nothing personal, I swear. And I'll call you. I promise."

I jumped out of the truck and darted into the church, my heart pounding. Wasn't it just my luck that in this, of all places, I'd meet a nice guy. And wasn't it my rotten luck as well that I wasn't the type of girl he should be getting mixed up with. 

Chapter Five, Part Two

I had already decided that I wasn't going to go to the graveside. I felt too awkward and had no love for the misery of standing outside in the cold. Nevertheless, when Cade asked after the service if I was going, I hesitated.

"You can ride with me, if you don't mind my truck's a little messy and smells like fish."

It was at that moment Father Cash walked up to us. Betraying nothing in face or manner of our earlier falling out, he took my hands in his. "I'm so glad you came, Judith."

"You knew I would be here."

He gave a tight little smile and turned to my companion.

"This is Cade Dermott," I said. "One of the fishermen at the pier that day."

Father Cash shook Cade's hand.

"I'm sorry for the way all this came about," Cade said, "But I feel privileged to finally meet you. You've done good work in my neighborhood."

"I'm just the hands and feet; the Lord does the work," Father Cash said. "Thank you for all that you've done. I know that can't have been an easy day for you."

"That's for sure."

Father Cash turned to me. "The cemetery is too far to walk, but I think there is room in Father Martinez's car for one more."

Before I could answer, Cade spoke up.

"I told her she can ride with me, if she likes. My pickup isn't much, but it does the job."

While I held my breath, Father Cash looked from Cade to me and back again. Then with that same polite smile and a glare of accusation in his eyes, he said to me, "Whatever you like, Judith. You have the directions?"

I told him that I did, and he turned away. I stared at his back as he headed toward the rear of the church and a little cluster of church people who were waiting for him.

"You ready go?"

I looked up into Cade's ice-blue eyes and saw only warmth. "I think so."

#

The cemetery was a new one outside of town, at the end of a bleak road off the main highway in and out of town. Cade's truck wasn't as messy as he had warned, nor did it smell too offensive, although there was a distinctly stale and fishy cast to the air. The heater worked, though, and I was grateful to settle in and relax in the luxury of Cade's inconsequential talk punctuated by silences that felt as comfortable as a pair of old slippers at the end of a long day.

As I watched the landscape go by, I found my thoughts drifting toward home. Like Sella, I had left a green and sunny place, trading it for this brown tundra, and just like her, I was letting it kill me. Yes, I was physically safe, but did that really count for much when I wasn't truly free? Poverty could confine as much as any coffin or jail cell, perhaps even more.

"Where are you from, originally, Judith?"

Had Cade been reading my mind again? "South," I said. Then, in the hope of distracting him from further inquiries, I added, "You?"

"Maine."

"You're a long way from home, and not much warmer."

Cade grinned. "That's for sure. I used to work in lobster. Tried to make a go of being independent, but I had a few setbacks."

"So you came here instead?"

"It's not as crazy as you think. I could've stayed in the northeast and worked for one of the big fishing corporations, but this place is wide open; only a couple big guys, and lots of ways to make a name for yourself."

I nodded slowly. "Make your fortune, then go back home?"

"That's the plan, unless it changes."

"I can't imagine wanting to stay here any longer than necessary."

Cade gave a little shrug. "I've seen prettier places, but life is what you make it." He waved a hand in the direction of the dun-colored landscape. "Even this has its uses, and in the right hands, I bet it could be made pretty nice, too."

This made me smile. "You're an optimist."

"No point living any other way. Seeing the gloom in everything is just a fast track to dying."

I had nothing to say to this, and returned to gazing out the window.

Chapter Five, Part One

Whether he raised the funds somehow, or simply cajoled the right people, I'll never know, but Father Cash managed to get a full Catholic service at St. Ignatius. I had heard from some of the locals that the little church near the center of town wasn't named after the Ignatius who founded the Jesuits, but after the one who was fed by the Romans to wild beasts. This felt appropriate to me as I walked up the jagged stone walk in my badly-fitting, borrowed dress, unsure of my welcome but well aware of Father Cash's resentment.

I stepped inside and paused a moment in the gloom to examine the row of votives in red and green glass holders. Although I wasn't Catholic, the intimacy of the close room and flickering lights calmed me. I removed my hat, shoved it in the pocket of my jacket, and headed into the nave.

I saw no one I knew, not even Father Cash, and for a moment I wondered if I was at the wrong funeral. I had forgotten to look for a program on my way in, but there was a sign with a photograph and flowers by the closed coffin at the front of the church, so I made my way forward, as self-conscious as though this were my own funeral and I was sneaking in, hoping to go unnoticed.

The enlarged photo of Sella showed a pretty girl of about nine or ten, wearing a pink dress and beaming at the camera. Father Cash must not have had a more recent picture, and Sella probably hadn't brought any photos with her in her flight from home. I gazed into the brown eyes of the honey-skinned little girl and wondered how such a cheerful-looking child became in just a few short years the sullen, nearly catatonic teenager who could barely stir herself from Father Cash's sofa.

"Life is full of strange turns."

I looked around and was met by the same arresting blue gaze I had seen on the dock when they brought Sella's body to shore. "You read my thoughts."

The fisherman shrugged his heavy shoulders in their boxy jacket. "It's the obvious conclusion in a situation like this." He stuck out his hand. "Cade Dermott. Sorry I didn't properly introduce myself the first time."

"I think we were both a little preoccupied." I shook his hand. "Judith McGillum. I'm Father Cash's neighbor."

Cade nodded. "I wondered what the relationship was."

I wasn't sure how to answer this, and just then the music started. I glanced around for any clues that there were special seating arrangements.

"I think we can sit anywhere," Cade said.

Of course. With no friends or family of the deceased, other than Father Cash, why not let people sit where they wanted? Lacking any better ideas, I followed Cade to a pew a few rows from the front, empty except for a couple of thin gray women at the far end, who looked to be recipients of Father Cash's charitable efforts. We took our seats, and Cade removed a spindled program from his pocket. I glanced over his shoulder and saw that it would be a fairly simple ceremony. As simple as the Catholics could make it, that is, what with the full Mass and all.

I was searching my memory, trying to remember a few of the responses to the Mass from the couple of times I had been to a Catholic service back home, when a movement at the front of the church caught my eye. Father Cash, solemn in a black suit but not daring to wear his renegade priest's collar, had emerged from a room behind the altar and was taking his seat on the front pew. I wondered if he had seen me, then let the thought pass. No doubt he was worrying about his sister and wishing he had the authority to perform today's ceremony himself. I was the farthest thing from his mind, and that was for the best.

Beside me, Cade leaned in and whispered in my ear. "That's the uncle, right?"

I nodded.

"I've seen him around my neighborhood. Nice guy. Brings food to people who are old and can't get out."

I nodded again, but although my gaze was fixed firmly on Father Cash, it was Cade that I was thinking of. He was warm and solid, his muscles tight underneath the cheap suit. I had been with so many men for money since arriving in Cold Haven that I had thought myself immune to them, but there was something about Cade's presence that calmed and comforted me, as if I were one of those flickering votives in the vestibule; a weak light with only a little warmth, but still real, still alive. Had the moment continued even a second longer, I might've slipped my hand into his like a child thirsting for comfort and connection. Instead, Father Cash turned his head and locked eyes with mine. I sucked in my breath, grabbed the nearest hymnal, and cast my eyes on the first page I opened it to.

How great are the works of the Lord.

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Chapter Four, Part Two


I used to have nice clothes; things that would've been appropriate for a funeral. But most of what I didn't leave behind, I had long since sold, leaving me in a quandary over what to wear to Sella's funeral.

The service would be small, and limited to Father Cash and the neighborhood rabble, so it wasn't as if a high standard of dress would be required. Nevertheless, for the first time in a year, I found myself peering into a mirror and actually giving a damn what I looked like. I told myself it was just because it wasn't proper to go to a funeral looking like the whore and drug mule that I had become, but the issue ran deeper than that. Although Father Cash had informed me of the time and place for the service, he hadn't exactly invited me, either. He had merely left a note of the date and time, stuck to my door with a piece of tape.

I couldn't not go to this thing, but I couldn't show up in boots, faded leggings, and a jacket. I needed to look like I cared enough to wear my best, and my best sucked.

I had just gotten my heat turned back on, otherwise I would've probably bought something appropriately solemn at the thrift shop. Lacking that option, I called Arlo. It took him a few rings to answer, and when he did, he sounded hung over, so I got straight to the point.

"I've got a funeral I've got to go to today," I said. "I got nothing to wear."

Arlo muttered something that sounded like, "Not my problem."

"Yeah, well, I was wondering if you could float me some cash. Just enough to buy, you know, a dress or something."

"I don't do loans. You know that."

"Well..." I thought fast. "I meant like, if you've got something I could do for you tonight, you can maybe pay me now, more like an advance..."

"Don't do advances, either."

I sighed in frustration and tried to think if I had any other arguments I could bring to bear. Before I could give up and tell him thanks for nothing, Arlo spoke again.

"Come over. We'll figure something out."

This sudden shift was in some ways more disconcerting than his earlier refusal. Arlo never fucked his subordinates, so I knew I wouldn't have to worry about that, but did he have some even more unpleasant task for me? Lacking other options, I told him I'd be right over.

By the time I got to Arlo's little walk-up over a liquor store, I had allowed so many crazy scenarios to populate my mind that I almost turned around and went home, clothes be damned. But I hadn't walked all this way in the cold just to leave empty-handed, so I knocked. After a moment, there was a shadow at the peephole, and then a scrabbling at the lock.

The door opened and instead of Arlo, I saw his skinny girlfriend, Donna. She was tousle-haired and bare-faced, with only a smudge of gooey lip gloss on her fleshy lips to indicate she had made any effort at her appearance. She let me into the room and motioned toward an item on the sofa. "Arlo says you need a dress."

She said it with such piercing contempt that I considered telling her to keep her dress and go fuck herself, but that would've pissed off Arlo, who had obviously leaned on Donna for this favor. I couldn't afford to get on the bad side of anyone who could get me some work, no matter how degrading, so I picked up the black dress and held it out in front of me to see if it would fit.

"It's all I got for a funeral," Donna said. "I want it back by tonight, and if you mess it up, you buy me a new one."

"Right."

She opened the door again. "See you later."

I folded the dress and forced a smile as I left, but once the door had slammed behind me, I wadded it up and shoved it into my satchel. The apartment had been too dark for me to assess it properly, but I could tell by touch that the fabric was thin and cheap, hardly worth Donna's protective attitude.

When I got home and could examine it more closely, I was even more annoyed. The dress was clean but faded, with pilling around the underarms and back of the skirt. It also needed ironing, and of course I had no iron. I did have gas again, though, so I heated a clean skillet on the stove, spread the dress on a table with a towel for padding, and did the best I could to get out the wrinkles.

Once on, the dress's other shortcoming was revealed. Although it seemed to fit well enough, it had been constructed badly and with every movement, the seams moved and the bodice twisted, so that I had to periodically grab the skirt and jerk the dress back into place. In the mirror, though, this defect wasn't immediately obvious, and with some black tights and boots, my hair neatly combed and a dab of lipstick, I figured I looked fairly presentable, as long as the lights were dim. It was the best I could do, anyway, so why worry? I grabbed a hat, scarf and jacket, and headed to the church.

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