The long arm of sheriff Leia Thao could be felt all across Tortus Bay. Police tape appeared overnight around the park, forbidding entrance. Similarly, at most hours of the day a deputy sat parked on Glosspool Lane, turning any would-be visitors away from Mathas Bernard’s old estate. “We’re here at the request of Beth Brihte,” one of them said, when asked. “The woman deserves a bit of peace and solitude, don’t you think?”
Henry couldn’t fathom why it would be that she could command such a sizable percentage of the village’s police resources. Especially when there were people they were trying to find. Clair, Mathas, and now himself. The village hardly seemed large enough to conceal three fugitives for long.
He stood a safe distance down the road, wondering to himself how Leia was able to be everywhere at once. Her squad car was parked in front of Horizon Foods. What was Howard telling her? Nothing good—of that he was certain. And nothing true. People stared as they passed him, and he tried not to meet their eyes. Did they know he was wanted? Would they rat him out, if they did? He half expected to see his face on posters plastered down main street.
The sheriff stepped out with a sour look on her face, and wasted no time peeling away from the scene. She was heading in the general direction of Glosspool. Henry waited a few beats, then strolled into the grocery store in as casual a manner as he could muster. He ignored the eyes on his back, and the drumming sense of impending doom which told him to turn around.
Howard, face ruddy like an aged beet, seemed content for the moment to ignore him. Pointedly, he busied himself flicking through the contents of the store’s register. He didn’t speak until Henry had nearly reached the door to the storeroom. “Do you have any idea who I was just talking to?”
He turned to survey the empty store. “Yourself?”
“The sheriff.” Howard rounded the counter, but kept a healthy distance between them. “Do you know what we talked about?”
“Myself, I presume.”
“You!” he said, eyes then widening when he registered Henry’s response. “So you know. You’re avoiding her. I told you—I knew you were some sort of criminal! You think you can lay low here? Do you really think that I’m going to let you bring this whole establishment down with you?”
Cold sweat prickled his skin. “You have a flair for the dramatic, Howie. What did she say she wanted?”
“To talk with you.”
“Right. Nothing so suspicious about that. I’m going to head down to the station as soon as I’m done here, but I figured you wouldn’t appreciate me being late for another shift.”
The manager’s face flushed through several more variations of red, before landing on purple. “What did you do?”
“It’s nothing that I did. Only something that I saw.” Henry took a step closer to the storeroom. “Do you really want to be implicated with that knowledge?”
“This has something to do with Clair, doesn’t it?”
“Let me take care of the shelving, Howard. Then by all means, let the sheriff know where I am. Or let me hoof it over to the PD myself.” He didn’t wait for a response. The door swung shut behind him, and he jogged through the rows of unmarked and unsorted goods. Speed was key.
The can of beans with the torn label was right where he left it. He unfurled the hidden paper, and saw that a line had been added: Treading beans. Couldn’t hurt to know where the life preservers are stashed. He considered that a moment, before jotting down his response: Not many to go around. Might need one soon myself.
Henry replaced the can, straightened up, and was on his way to the exit when his pocket started vibrating. This time, he repositioned his phone before answering. “Ah, Henry Cauville’s face,” Aria Bethel said. A smile spread across her pointed face. “Much improved. Hello.”
“Hello,” he whispered, as he slipped by the back office. Just as he feared, Howard was hunched over the phone.
“Are you busy right now?”
Howard looked up. Henry ducked, scurried past the door, and shouldered his way out of the exit. Fresh air met his face like freedom. “No, not at all. What can I do for you?”
“You seem quite sweaty, if you don’t mind my saying.”
He took the side way around the main street intersection, and hurried down the street. “Caught me in the middle of a walk.”
“Can you take a break for a minute? I’m afraid all the movement is making me nauseous.”
“Afraid not. Have to maintain heart-rate. You should understand that.”
“I suppose so.”
Henry turned on to Fuller, where he saw the first squad car. It crept down the road. He stopped, spun, and went off the other way. “You don’t have to look at the camera,” he said. “We could pretend this is a normal phone call.”
“That might be a good idea.” There was the sound of Aria setting her mobile down on a desk. “I wanted to congratulate you on your tenure in the village so far. You know, so few people stick around for longer than a few weeks. And I hope there’s no bad blood between us about the job.”
“Not at all.” He circled down to Fourth, where a second squad car again forced him to double back. They were surrounding him. A woman he didn’t recognize pointed in his direction. “I understand.”
“Glad to hear. And in fact, I’m calling because I’ve changed my mind. I would be honored if you accepted the position.”
Henry’s heart thundered in his chest. He ran, now. He wasn’t sure which street he was on. Sirens wailed in the distance. “I can’t do that.”
“That’s surprising to hear. You’re enjoying your current gig?”
His feet, more than his head, brought him where he needed to be. He stepped onto Hyacinth a few blocks down from the Anderson warehouse. So too did one of the squad cars. “Don’t know if I would go that far,” he said. “But I’ve got a few independent projects that have been taking up a lot of my time.”
He sprinted, and the squad car turned on its siren. Tires squealed on the pavement. Unthinking, he dodged back onto Sixth, leapt a white picket fence, and tore through a backyard. Somebody yelled in his direction. He barreled through a hedge, tripping, and emerged in the Anderson’s parking lot.
The siren rounded the corner. They were entering the lot from the street. Henry headed for the docking bays. Red and blue lights lit the cement. He dove, landing hard on his side, and rolled into one of the sheltered enclaves beneath the docking mechanism. His back slammed against the wall.
Leia Thao sat behind the wheel of the squad car. She drove slowly through the lot, her head swiveling left to right. She had not seen him.
He brought the phone to his ear, after the danger had passed. “Are you still there?” Aria was asking. “Hello?”
“You take interesting walks.”
“We all make sacrifices for our cardiovascular health.” He breathed out. Adrenaline coursed through his system. “There is something you could do for me, if you’re interested.”
Aria licked her lips. At some point she had picked up her phone again. “What’s that?”
“I need to talk to Beth Brihte.”
“That’s a difficult ask. And a peculiar one.”
Henry stretched out on the hard, broken concrete. Somewhere not too far away, the sheriff was circling. “It’s important. If you trust Kara, you can trust me as well. And if you do it, I’ll consider the job.”
“Do you mean that?”
She scratched her chin, and frowned. “She’s become a reclusive woman. I’ll see what I can do.”
The wailing of sirens trailed off into the distance, then disappeared. Thick saliva filled Henry’s mouth. He lay there, trying to catch his breath, and looked up into the sky. Clear blue.