Line of Fire (Paperback)
Some secrets are best left alone.
Autumn Rain is back to work, along with handsome Detective Shannon Martin, but this time her investigation is personal. She must prove whether or not Cody Beckett is responsible for the disappearance of a young girl. His record makes him the main suspect, even if there's not enough evidence to arrest him, and Autumn's unique ability to read imprints may be the only way she can uncover the truth.
What Autumn discovers, however, is far bigger than she or Shannon expected. Secrets, lies, missing evidence, and Autumn's own volatile feelings regarding Cody muddy the case until they aren't sure whom to trust, even among their own allies.
Soon Autumn and Shannon are running out of time to save their own lives and the lives of more than one little girl.
- Size: 6 x 9
- Pages: 320
- Published: 08/2012
About the Author
Rachel Ann Nunes (pronounced noon-sh) learned to read when she was four, beginning a lifelong fascination with the written word. She began writing in the seventh grade and is now the author of more than thirty published books, including the popular Ariana series and the award-winning picture book Daughter of a King.
Rachel and her husband, TJ, have seven children. She loves camping with her family, traveling, meeting new people, and, of course, writing. She writes Monday through Friday in her home office, taking frequent breaks to take care of kids or go swimming with them.
Rachel loves hearing from her readers. You can write to her at Rachel@RachelAnnNunes.com. To enjoy her monthly newsletter or to sign up to hear about new releases, visit her website, www.RachelAnnNunes.com.
People don’t usually feel strongly about countertops, so they don’t contain many imprints, especially those at a gas station. Maybe a hint of impatience at a new checker or frustration if a person was in the middle of a long road trip—temporary, fleeting emotions that fade almost as soon as the customer moves on. That kind of imprint meant only minor discomfort. Nothing that would cause me to wear gloves or stare in glazed horror.
That I stopped in the middle of my question to the clerk, one hand splayed on the counter, was my first clue that this counter was different.
Most people develop maybe ten percent of their brains. I happen to be one of the lucky few who develop a bit more. But I wasn’t gifted in mathematics or music or something that people recognized as a boon to the world. No, I read imprints, emotions left behind on beloved personal objects or imprinted during events that evoked great emotion—love, hate, fear, terror. Unfortunately for me, most of these latter imprints are negative. Psychometry is the scientific name for my skill, and it’s a questionable one at best, but it helps me save lives and find missing people.
“Autumn, you okay?” Shannon’s voice came to me as if from far away. Strange when I could feel the pressure of his hand on my back. When the imprints are strong, I live them as if the events happened to me and they become part of my memory. At the moment the Autumn he knew couldn’t answer.
It was easy. Just take out the gun, point it at the clerk, and get what I’d come here for. And more. They’d had a lot of traffic that morning, and the cash drawer should be full. Do it now, during this lull. With the other employee out for an early lunch and the last customer driving away. The feel of the gun in my hand. Small and hard. Racked and ready to fire. If that clerk hesitated, I’d shoot him. I’d do it anyway when I had what I wanted. Wipe that smug look off his face permanently.
Wait. A couple was coming into the store. I hadn’t seen them drive up to the gas pump. They must not have seen the closed sign I’d placed out front to stave off potential traffic. Frustration and anger waved through me. An urge to shoot, to get what I needed.
No, better to wait. It wasn’t just the money. I could never forget that.
It was odd watching Shannon and me walk up to the glass doors, and it reasserted my sense of self as nothing else could. This was not my experience or my feelings but someone else’s, a man, if I could tell by the thin, callused hands in the imprint. Sometimes hands were misleading.
“I forgot something,” I/he told the clerk, my voice rough with frustration. “I’ll be right back.” Heart pounding, I/he picked up the bag of chips he’d brought to the counter, and the scene vanished.
Another imprint followed, weak and faded by comparison. This one came from two weeks earlier, a vague frustration as a clerk stopped to answer a question from another customer in the middle of ringing up an order. I managed to lift my hand from the counter and it vanished.
“Autumn?” Shannon said again. His hand was heavier on my back now, and I turned my head to meet his concerned gaze, the blue-green color of his eyes brighter and more intense than I’d ever seen them. Probably because of the light streaming in through the glass doors and windows behind me. The premature wrinkling around his eyes was also more pronounced. He wasn’t tall for a man, which meant he was only a few inches taller than I was, but the graceful way he moved his compact body with no wasted effort always attracted women’s gazes. He’d attracted me right from the beginning, even when he’d been so irritating I could barely stand him.
“Trouble,” I whispered. Because the man from the imprint was still in the store, and he was planning to rob it. Part of me wanted to run to the door and leave as he expected, but the other part knew our presence was the only thing preventing him from carrying out his plan. If we left, I didn’t have any hope for the clerk making it through this day alive.
“Did you decide not to buy the drinks?” the clerk asked me. Kirt, according to his name tag. He was young, probably in his mid-twenties, a strong, handsome guy with dark hair that hung straight and a little shaggy over his ears. Would he hand over the money easily to the robber or would he try to be a hero? Given the emotions in the imprint, I didn’t believe it would make a difference in the final outcome.
“Just a minute,” I said. The antique rings on my fingers were exuding their usual comforting imprints, dulling the intensity of the counter experience. It was why I always wore them, to protect me against unexpected negative imprints.
Kirt shrugged and stepped back from the cash register, picking up a magazine lying open on the counter.
Shannon’s hand left my back and inched toward the concealed weapon he always carried at his waist, even when he was off duty. As a consultant to the Portland police, I’d been through the training and my concealed-carry permit was in my wallet, but I didn’t usually carry. Today was no exception.
Shannon scanned the store, trying to pinpoint the danger. At least he’d learned enough about my talent to take me seriously. I didn’t stop as I usually did to ponder how that tied in with his attraction for me—a feeling he’d fought since the minute we’d met. Or had until a few weeks ago.
I spotted the man behind Shannon, pretending to look at a row of cold cereal boxes. He was of average height and wore a tan coat that seemed a little large, a blue baseball cap pulled low on his forehead. A few light-colored locks escaped, curling tightly up over the base of the cap. His eyes met mine—and held.
Uh-oh. I’d never been good at masking emotions.
Something in his expression changed. Fire raging. He went for his gun, his movements a blur.
“Down!” I yelled, pulling at Shannon, my left arm screaming at the strain. Though I’d removed the bandage from the fleshy part of my arm where I’d been shot several weeks ago, the muscles were still tender.
A shot whirred over our heads. Not good—except at least now the clerk had also dropped to the floor. Hopefully, the bullet hadn’t found him first.
The man came toward us firing, his face grim with determination. Shannon rolled me behind him and went up on his knees, drawing his own gun, but the man ducked behind a shelf of toiletries. Shannon shoved something in my direction—his backup weapon, a compact 9mm of a brand I didn’t recognize.
I froze with the weapon in my hand, steeling myself for a flood of gruesome imprints, but he’d used this gun solely for target practice, so the only thing I picked up were hints of frustration or satisfaction, depending on how well he’d shot at the range on any given day. Barely a distraction to me.
“Find a place to hide,” Shannon said through gritted teeth. “Shoot him if he comes after you.”
We’d had the gun argument before—my last gunshot wound had come from a gun he’d made me carry—but now wasn’t the time to get into it again.
“Police!” Shannon shouted, edging around an aisle. “Put down your weapon and come out. Keep your hands where I can see them.”
Another shot answered his demand. The clerk yelped, though he was behind the counter and presumably safe, except perhaps from ricochet. Shannon returned fire, and the glass case in the freezer section shattered. That caused the man to pause, and for a moment I hoped he’d run away. I mean, it was one thing to attack three civilians but quite another to face an armed police officer. Though the robber couldn’t know it, Shannon was a crack shot and the best homicide detective in Portland, maybe in all of Oregon.
I heard a metallic clang, and black smoke oozed into the space around me. Great, just great, I thought. Apparently, this guy had come prepared. I crab-walked backward down the aisle, hoping to find a safe corner where I could pull out my cell phone to call for help. It was a long way to go, and my left arm burned.
Another shot and splintering glass.
Shannon ducked behind a display of donuts. A least I think it was Shannon. Hard to tell with all the smoke.
A flurry of shots followed that had me cringing, wondering how they could even see to shoot in such thick smoke. One of the huge outside windows shattered, following closely by two more. Smoke billowed toward the openings.
Then I heard the slam of feet on the floor and saw a blur near the counter.
“Put down your gun,” said a voice I recognized from the counter imprint. “Or I’ll shoot him. I swear.”
“Please,” whined the clerk, his voice cracking. “Don’t hurt me.”
Under the cover of smoke, the perp had somehow managed to get behind the counter. Though the smoke was now slowly clearing, I couldn’t see where Shannon was, but I hoped he wouldn’t give up his gun. I suspected the guy would shoot us all anyway. Though I couldn’t read people as I could objects, I didn’t need any unusual ability to feel the desperation leaking from him. He was angry and had something to prove, something I hadn’t picked up in the imprint.
I’d crept far enough into the store that I was near a wall, huddled behind a display of canned foods. Behind me was a swinging door—an employee office or stockroom. I wondered if there might also be a back entrance so I could go for help.
I didn’t think Shannon or the clerk could wait that long.
The weight of the semiautomatic pistol felt heavy in my hands, though it was small compared to a full-sized weapon. If I were Tracy Reed, Shannon’s partner, I’d rush the man from behind, jab the gun in his ribs, and demand surrender. Or I’d save the day by somehow shooting the perp without endangering the clerk. All while still looking as if I’d just come from a high society party. But I wasn’t Tracy. My weapons of choice were my hands and feet. My agility. I was a good shot on the range, better than good, but using those skills on a real person was quite another matter.
“Put down your gun,” the man repeated. “Now! Or I swear I’ll shoot him through the head!”
“And then what?” Shannon asked. “Tell you what. You give up your gun now, and it will go a lot easier on you. No one has been hurt yet.” From the sound of his voice, I guessed that Shannon was farther from me than I’d thought and much closer to the far end of the counter. Good. One distraction would be all he’d need to rush the gunman.
Yet even from my position, I saw the man’s hand tighten on his weapon. The clerk moaned. “Say good-bye,” the man said, his voice gaining a lilt, as though in anticipation.
“There’s no hurry,” Shannon said. “Let’s talk about this. What’s your name?”
“What’s my name? My name?” yelled the man, punctuating his words with spittle. “You don’t care what my name is. This is all you understand.” As he said the last words, he moved his gun and fired.
The bullet ripped through the clerk’s right shoulder. He screamed in an agony I well remembered.
“Next one is in his head.”
“Okay,” Shannon said. “I’ll put it down.”
“Kick it my way.”
No, I thought, as I heard Shannon’s Glock slide over the tiled floor.
It was now or never. Thrusting the 9mm in my coat pocket, I grabbed a can of pork ’n beans. I hoped Shannon was as good as I thought he was or this might be the last thing I ever did. I rushed the counter, throwing the can as soon I was close enough to hit my target. Sensing me, the man turned, his gun swinging in my direction.
I was already diving for cover but that didn’t mean I’d make it.
The can caught him on the side of the head.
Using the distraction, Shannon hurtled over the counter, slamming into him. They disappeared from view. The clerk screamed again.
Jumping to my feet I hurried around the counter, my hand once again gripping the weapon Shannon had given me. Terror at what I might see made my heart pound double time. It had taken Shannon and me months to admit there was something between us, and I desperately wanted time to explore exactly what that something was.
Neither of the men had a gun, but they were on the ground, slugging each other. The gunman had lost his cap. The clerk crouched nearby, agony on his face, his hand covering the wound in his arm. He would be no help.
I knew without checking that the gun I carried had a bullet in the chamber. I liked to have to rack a gun before I knew it could fire, but Shannon always carried his weapons ready.
Squeezing the trigger, I shot once, the bullet pounding into the floor by the perp. Both men froze. Shannon recovered first, slamming a fist in the other man’s face before reaching for my gun. “That was kind of close,” he said mildly.
I relinquished the pistol. “I’m a good shot.” I spoke as though my heart wasn’t still having trouble finding a normal beat. Shannon wasn’t dead. We were okay. I wanted to melt to the floor with relief.
Shannon smiled. “That you are.” He forced the man to lie facedown on the linoleum. “Get me something to tie his hands, okay? Then I’ll call this in.”
“You don’t have handcuffs? I thought those were something you never left home without.” I smirked because it kept me from doing something else, like weeping. Though I was only a lowly police consultant, dealing with men like this had become my job. I was still deciding if I was going to keep at it.
“They’re in my glove compartment,” Shannon said. “With the way trouble finds you, I really should have them in my pocket.”
I lifted my hands. “Hey, I had nothing to do with this.”
He spared me a smile that brought warmth to my face and pushed back my urge to run from the store.
Moans from the clerk penetrated my brain. “I’ll be right there,” I told him, as I began rifling through the drawers and cupboards under the counter. Finding some twine that might have once held a stack of newspapers together, I threw it to Shannon before hurrying to the clerk.
I didn’t think he was in danger of bleeding to death, but there was enough blood for concern. “Do you have a first-aid kit, uh, Kirt?” I asked, looking at his name tag to remember his name.
“Through that door back there, by those cans. It’s hanging on the right.”
“I’ll be right back.”
I passed Shannon, who was barking into his phone, sounding annoyed. Though we were out of his jurisdiction, he’d work it out. He was good at law enforcement politics.
I found the kit and put on a pair of rubber gloves before using all the gauze on the clerk’s wound, as well as a couple packages of car rags they had for sale in the store. I finished by wrapping his shoulder with the duct tape I’d discovered earlier in one of the drawers. “There,” I said. “That will hold you until the paramedics arrive. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything for the pain. Sorry.”
“Thank you,” Kirt said. “If you two hadn’t been here . . .”
“Maybe he just would have robbed the store and left.” I didn’t believe that, but there was no sense in giving him worse nightmares.
“I don’t know. He seemed to have it out for me.” He grimaced in pain. “I’m getting married in two weeks. I—I—” He stopped, and I patted his undamaged shoulder until his shaking subsided.
“Have you ever seen him before?” I asked
Kirt shook his head. “He must have known this was our slow time. He must have watched and waited.”
“Probably. The police will be here soon.”
Customers arrived before the police did, hesitant at first when they saw the wounded clerk and the tied gunman but voicing enthusiasm once Shannon flashed his ID and they realized the danger was passed. Men and women alike gave me the once-over, and I knew they thought I was Shannon’s partner. Probably a good thing I was wearing my black dress pants and red sweater instead of my normal jeans and T-shirt. More official looking.
“Stay outside!” Shannon ordered the crowd, but since much of the glass in the large windows was now missing, it didn’t make much difference. I hoped the local authorities arrived soon so we’d have help maintaining order.
“Maybe he has something to do with that missing girl,” said a woman with a pinched face, her head and shoulders leaning through the missing window next to the counter. “He looks the type.”
“Shove it!” the perp said, punctuating his command by a slew of foul words and threats. “You don’t know anything about that girl!”
An admission of guilt? Maybe. If so, it would make what I came to do in Hayesville a lot easier.
“What do you know about Jenny Vandyke?” I asked.
He shot off more vicious words that included creative ways he would see me suffer. While the customers outside gaped at him in disbelief through the shattered windows, I tore off a piece of duct tape and plastered it roughly over his mouth. He glared at me, but I refused to react. My heartbeat was back to normal, and I liked it that way.
“He’s just yanking your chain,” said a broad, older man with more muscles than most men half his age and less hair than most men twice his age. “My bet for the girl is on that old recluse who makes those tree sculptures. Didn’t you hear the police were questioning him?”
I stiffened and glanced toward Shannon. He met my gaze, but his eyes didn’t reveal his thoughts. That “old recluse” was the reason we were on our way to Hayesville and the reason I wasn’t in jeans. I’d told myself the dressing up was for Shannon, but he’d seen me enough times at my worst that even I had to admit my logic was thin.
“I don’t think it was the old man,” the Kirt said. The clerk was pale, but he hadn’t moaned since I’d bandaged him. He might be afraid I’d try a second time. I didn’t exactly have a gift of healing. “He comes in here sometimes. He’s a nice guy. Quiet.”
“He’s a pervert, is what he is,” the woman retorted. “The quiet ones are always the worst.”
“Yeah, I bet he’s guilty,” said a young woman who had somehow come inside and now held a handful of candy bars. “My husband has a friend who works for dispatch at the sheriff’s office. He told us they found one of the girl’s boots on his property a couple days ago.”
“That wasn’t in the news,” said a man with a thick head of graying hair.
The young woman shrugged. “Must be keeping it quiet for now.”
“They ought to call for volunteers to search his land,” the first man said. “I’d go.” There was a ripple of agreement from several others.
I wanted to leave, more anxious than ever to get to our destination. The information about the boot bothered me more than I wanted to admit. Though I knew he’d done terrible things during his life, I’d been hoping the old artist was innocent of kidnapping Jenny Vandyke. But if he was responsible, I’d make sure he paid.
“Would you please wait outside?” I asked the woman with the candy bars in a tone that was far more polite than I was feeling. I thumbed at the clerk. “He really can’t sell them to you right now.”
“Oh, sure.” Taking the candy bars with her, she sauntered toward the glass door that was remarkably unscathed.
We’d gathered nearly a dozen people by this time, including the other employee, who kept loudly voicing his desire to let the people inside the store so he could start cashing in on the interested bystanders. Apparently, this section of road outside Hayesville was more popular today than our gunman had anticipated. Or maybe the growing pile of cars outside convinced people to stop here instead of waiting to buy their gas in town. This was suddenly the happening place.
A murmur went through the crowd. “Sheriff’s deputies are here. Ambulance, too.”
Shannon took out his badge and waved the deputies over. In the light streaming through the broken windows, his sandy hair appeared lighter than usual, the ends curling as they always did when he needed a haircut.
“You’re going to be fine,” I told Kirt as the EMTs hurried over to us.
“Thanks.” His gaze went to the gunman, his eyes narrowing. He said he hadn’t seen the man before, but could he be wrong? He shrugged and turned to leave with the paramedics.
“Wait,” I said. “Do you know the way to that artist’s house? Cody Beckett, the old guy you said comes in here sometimes.”
He nodded. “He lives even farther out of town than we are, in an unincorporated section of land. Just take the road behind the station. Keep going about a mile. Turn right and go another mile or so. Not sure how far. I’ve only been out there once since he finished the big scarecrow. But it’s on that road. Just keep going until you see his sculptures. Can’t miss ’em.”
“You’ve seen his work?” He was the first person I’d talked to who’d actually seen Beckett’s work in person, and I was curious as to what he thought.
He shrugged. “Everyone goes out there at one point or another. Great place to take a date after dinner. You know, artsy but private. If a guy’s lucky, he might get a kiss or two. Last time I was out there, I proposed to my girl.” He grinned. “Wasn’t paying much attention to the sculptures then, if you know what I mean. His work is out in his fields, and the road in front of it is public land for anyone to see, but nobody goes to his house. He keeps a shotgun handy.”
I guess there wasn’t much in the way of entertainment in Hayesville if going to see an old man’s log sculptures was a favorite pastime of the local youth. I wondered if they all kept their distance or if the man used that shotgun to stave off vandalism.
“He’s kind of a local celebrity,” Kirt went on, “but shy about it, you know? The fact that he’s been in prison, well, that just adds to the mystery.” Kirt glanced over his shoulder. “Those people don’t know him. They’re looking for someone to blame. They’re scared.”
“And you’re not?” That a fourteen-year-old had gone missing was huge news in this community.
“I think she just ran away. Kids do that.”
“The police don’t think so,” I said. Shannon had checked up on the case. Jenny Vandyke was fourteen but a young fourteen, tiny, slender, and blonde. I’d seen her picture, and she was a beautiful child. Nothing in the girl’s room was missing except her backpack, and she hadn’t mentioned anything to her friends. Two weeks ago, she’d simply never arrived at school. That was part of why I’d come to Hayesville to see Cody Beckett. I needed to know if he was guilty. “Do you know the girl’s family?”
Kirt shrugged. “No. It’s just a guess.”
The paramedics led him off. I hoped they’d take him to the hospital before removing the makeshift bandage so the bleeding wouldn’t start again, but he was in their hands now.
I walked over near the door where Shannon was standing with the sheriff’s deputies, who’d finally managed to send away most of the gawking crowd. “This is Autumn Rain,” Shannon said. “She’s a consultant with us in Portland. Autumn, these are Detective Sergeant Greeley and Detective Levine. They’re deputies with the Marion County sheriff’s office. Hayesville and the unincorporated areas here don’t have a police department, so the sheriff’s office has jurisdiction. Detective Greeley is over their criminal investigations unit.”
“Nice to meet you.” Having left my gloves in Shannon’s truck, I kept my hands in my coat pockets. I couldn’t read people by touching them, but both detectives were wearing rings on their right hands, and I didn’t want to peek into their lives.
“You, too.” Greeley pulled back his hand, the line between his eyes deepening. That was the way it often went—I offended people even when I was trying to be courteous. They had no idea how long it had taken me to learn not to offer my hand so that I wouldn’t invade their privacy. I’m involved in a constant struggle to maintain my own identity. Where once I, the adopted child of hippie parents named Winter and Summer, used to be open and accepting of everyone, I have become reluctant to reach out to others for fear of coming in contact with objects that contain their innermost feelings.
Some feelings should never be revealed, not even those of people you love. Maybe especially not those you love.
“I’ll come in later to make a full statement,” Shannon said. “Right now, we’re on our way somewhere.”
“First we need to call your precinct.” Greeley pulled out a phone. “Just to check your story. Protocol, you understand.” He was taller than Shannon by half a foot, several inches of it wavy brown hair. He had an impressive build and a face that brooked no nonsense. Maybe he was even a little mean. Detective Levine was nearly the same height but slender with a pleasant face framed by short dark hair. His face was rounder, almost boyish, though he had to be nearing forty. He gave me a warm smile and a slight shake of his head that told me he didn’t agree with his partner.
Shannon’s jaw clenched as he bit back a retort. He pulled out a pad and jotted something on it. “Look, this is my cell phone number and where I’m staying for the weekend. You can contact me if you need to. I promise, I won’t leave town.” He turned his back on them. “Let’s go,” he growled in an undertone. “It’s not as if I actually shot the man.”
I didn’t bother to hide my grin. “Wait, I never got my drinks.” I found them on the counter where I’d left them. As I laid a few bills on the counter for payment, Detective Greeley was talking into his phone, his small brown eyes on Shannon. Hopefully, he’d figure out Shannon was legit in the next few minutes or we’d end up in jail ourselves.
Detective Levine nodded at us as we passed, the hint of his former smile still on his lips as he glanced at his companion over our heads. I grinned back. At least we might have one ally among the local authorities.
We left without further trouble, though the other gas station employee and the few remaining locals gave us odd stares as they noted the tension between us and Detective Greeley.
Outside, another car from the sheriff’s office had pulled up, but the deputies who jumped out of it rushed past us without speaking. A breeze had come up, and I pulled my duffle coat tighter around me. The brown wool blend held up well to the rain, but it was damaged in the under part of the upper left sleeve where I’d been shot. I couldn’t afford a new coat of the same quality, so I’d have to make do until the end-of-season sales. As it was only December, I had a bit of a wait. Fortunately, I was handy with a needle, and unless people had really good eyes, they probably didn’t notice the repair.
Shannon’s hand was on my back, the gentle pressure urging me forward. “You really know how to show a girl a good time,” I drawled. “Not even noon and I already got to dodge bullets.”
He laughed, the tension draining from his face. “I’m just glad I came with you.”
I was glad, too. And I was glad my sister had kept her promise to stay home with her baby. Though she wanted to meet Cody Beckett as much as I did, I’d put them in enough danger in the past.
Cody Beckett. That’s what this trip was all about—seeing if it was safe to open a dialogue with the man, even though he wouldn’t likely welcome either of us.
Since this was a private case, not something authorized by his captain, we’d brought Shannon’s truck instead of his unmarked white police Mustang. I still wasn’t comfortable in the truck because it underscored the recent change in our relationship from reluctant associates to something more. Just what that more was I didn’t know yet. Things had been much clearer when he hadn’t believed in my abilities and had fought his unwelcome attraction to me. Back then I’d treated him in the same mocking, standoffish, annoying way he’d treated me. Now I had to decide where my feelings would take us.
The directions Kirt had given us were better than those on my phone’s GPS, as was sometimes the case in remote areas, but with several odd turns in the path, I was glad Shannon was along to decipher them. Both my sister and I were directionally impaired.
Kirt was also right about the sculptures—they were hard to miss. We would have found them even without his help. Standing sentinel in the middle of a barren field of week-old snow, they were huge, some spiraling as tall as a two-story house. The first was a tall, thin scarecrow, his log legs looking unsteady. Next, a mammoth ear of corn, partially painted and looking as though it had exploded from the fat log from which it had been carved. Following these was a farmer, his head and hat carved from the bottom part of a tree, a few roots painted to resemble loose straw. These first three sculptures sported a weathered look, as though they’d endured the elements several years, but the aging only added to their appeal. Looking more recent was a half-finished boat bursting from yet another massive log. The artist’s work in progress, I assumed.
Bales of straw, some in tall stacks lay scattered among the sculptures like lesser entities. With no ladder in sight, I figured the artist must use the bales to reach the tops of his works. Somehow it was fitting that he used the straw, the effort of climbing adding to his unusual style. A stark loneliness clung to the sculptures as though a testament to their uniqueness. Almost, they seemed sentient, and I wondered how Cody Beckett had been able to part with any of his creations.
“Impressive,” Shannon said, slowing the truck.
I nodded. “No wonder the locals come to ogle.”
“He must charge a pretty penny when he sells them. Bet they take up to a year or more to complete.”
Then we were past them. We drove through a thicket of leafless trees, where it looked as if the vegetation had tried to reclaim the narrow asphalt road but had been beaten back by the arrival of snow, and came upon our destination suddenly. A long gravel drive, layered with dirty, compacted snow, intersected the road, leading to the house I’d seen once in the newspaper and once in a drawing made by my sister. A house she’d never seen before. That was her talent, as potent and unpredictable as mine.
Shannon turned the truck down the drive. We hadn’t yet reached the house when a grizzled old man came onto the porch dressed in worn jeans and a thick flannel shirt, a shotgun in his hands. Not exactly the welcome I might have hoped for. Of course, he didn’t know I was coming or even who I was.
I knew him, though we’d never met.
As Shannon brought the truck to a stop, I could see familiarity beneath the white stubble on the old man’s chin, the wrinkles around the eyes, and the too-long white hair that was uncombed. I was too far away to see them, but I knew that his right eye was hazel and his left blue. Like my twin sister. Like me.
This was Cody Beckett, my father.