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It was a hellishly bad case, brought to the attention of the police and Child Services by the school - one of the teachers had noticed enough to make her very uneasy about the welfare of one of her pupils; nine-year-old Marina, the oldest of the three sisters, found the courage to tell Megan just what her stepfather had been doing... whispering too of the threats he had made, the things he had said he would do if any of them told anyone about him; and that her mother had done nothing to stop him, adding, "I think she was afraid of him too."
When we charged him, Eric Davis blustered, saying the child was lying and demanding that his wife support his story, insisting that in spite of everything he could do the child resented her mother's remarriage and wanted to make him look bad, but Vera Davis gave the police - specifically Sandburg and me - a horrifyingly detailed account of the abuse she had suffered if she opposed her husband. After the first time, she had not dared to protest his treatment of her daughters, but when we questioned her after he was arrested, she told us she was afraid that Davis had married her simply to get his hands on three very young girls.
"He seemed so nice before we married," she told us.
Although Davis was under arrest and denied bail, until he actually went to trial it was difficult for any of us who were involved in the case to relax. When Sandburg and I went back to the bullpen after Davis' trial and announced that he'd been given a thirty-year sentence without parole, there was a spontaneous cheer; and that evening I dropped a word in Sneaks' ear, knowing that from there that word would soon reach Starkville. Within a week, the man who had abused and terrorized three young girls and their mother was finding out just what it was like to be abused and terrorized.
Vera Davis had also had to stand trial, but we were satisfied when she was given a suspended sentence under the supervision of Child Services, the court having accepted that she too had been a victim, too afraid of her husband, too afraid that the authorities wouldn't act quickly enough to save her from him. She and her daughters had moved to a new house and were preparing for a better Christmas than the previous two.
The case had depressed all of us, though its successful conclusion had done a lot to improve the atmosphere in the bullpen. For some reason he didn't explain, though, the case seemed to have particularly affected Sandburg, and it made me wonder - not for the first time - how much personal experience he had of the ugliness life can throw at people. He talks plenty, but he doesn't say very much about himself. What he does say... To hear him speak, his life was a blast, with Naomi's various boyfriends all being nice to him. 'I went to three World Series, five NBA playoff games,' he told me once. But if 'every man Naomi met would fall in love with her. She never stayed with any of them for very long though', there might well have been some who didn't make nice with her son. Though because they moved around a lot, maybe when - if - Naomi saw any of them abuse him, she grabbed him and ran. Vera Davis didn't have that mindset.
I thought about it for a day or two, then contacted Steven.
By custom, married personnel were off over Christmas, and the unmarried ones were off at New Year. By a weird coincidence, the numbers were virtually equal. So along with several others in the bullpen, Sandburg and I would be off from December 30th until January 2nd.
Wanting to keep my plans secret in case they came to nothing, I phoned Steven from the bullpen while Sandburg was in Records picking up the sixteen-year-old files of a missing person cold case that Simon had given us as an undemanding follow-up to the Davis trial. He'll never admit it, but Simon is really very fond of Sandburg, and although he tried to hide it, everyone could see how affected Blair was by what had been done to those kids; but we all know that time off after a case like that isn't the best option - you sit at home brooding over things and it just makes things worse. Working something undemanding is the best therapy - hence the cold case - a second wife who had disappeared in early December, just four months after the wedding, at the same time as five million of her husband's money, and he had wanted her hit with the full force of the law. Every year like clockwork, on the anniversary of the theft, Charles Harvey phoned Chief of Police Warren to ask if his wife - and his money - had been found yet, was assured that the case hadn't been forgotten, and someone on light duty was assigned the undemanding job of looking over the case notes for two or three days.
When Blair came back carrying a not-very-thick file, I'd settled things with Steven, and was grinning cheerfully as I made my plans.
Blair raised his eyebrows at me. "Had some good news?" he asked quietly, with an apparent curiosity that I had no difficulty recognizing as false.
"Well, I hope you'll think so," I told him. "We've got four days off at New Year; Steven's giving us the use of his cabin in the mountains."
"That's nice of him," Blair said. "Just us, or can we ask any of the others along too?"
I looked thoughtfully at him for a moment, realizing that for some reason Blair would feel more comfortable if one or two of the other cops were there as well. Maybe he suspected that I'd push him for an answer about why the case had affected him so badly - though in fact, I wouldn't. I've got one or two secrets I'll carry to the grave, so it's only fair that I allow him one or two as well. "I thought of asking Simon and Megan if they wanted to come - the Davis case was hard on them." I carefully didn't add 'too'. "A break away from Cascade might do them good. Maybe H and Rafe as well. I know Joel has plans of his own, so there's no point in asking him along."
Blair nodded. "Shall we ask them now?"
We went over to Henri's desk, where he and Rafe were checking over some papers. "Hey, guys, how would you like a day or two away over New Year?" Blair asked. I knew he was making an effort to sound excited about it, but he was so good at putting on an act, I also knew the others would think he really was as happy as he sounded.
"Away? That sounds good," H said. "You planning something?"
"My brother's lending us his mountain cabin," I said.
"Cabin?" Rafe said doubtfully.
I couldn't help laughing. "That's what he calls it, but you can forget the words 'roughing it'. Steven likes his comfort. It's got four double bedrooms, a big kitchen/living room, electricity, indoor plumbing - "
"Wow," Rafe said.
"Sounds good, man," Henri said. "You can count me in!"
"Yeah," Rafe agreed.
"There's plenty of bedding," I went on, "but we'd probably be better to take sleeping bags - otherwise we'd have to bring the bedding back to wash it. We'll need to take in food, too, but there'll be plenty of wood for a fire."
"Who else is going?" Rafe asked.
"We thought of asking Simon and Megan," I said.
"Asking Megan what?" I knew Megan hadn't really been listening to the conversation, but mention of her name always caught her attention.
I repeated the invitation; she thought about it for a few seconds, then shook her head. "Thanks, Jim, but no thanks. I've no doubt the place is very comfortable in the summer, but New Year is the middle of winter. It'll be freezing!"
I looked at the other guys, catching them looking at each other. "I doubt it'll be that cold," I said.
Megan smiled, and said, with the quiet patience she might use when speaking to a child, "Jim, you're a native of Cascade. You're used to it being cold in winter. I'm from New South Wales. That's the equivalent of... oh, Southern California. The winters are colder than the summer, yes, but they're not cold. If you get your brother's cabin for a few days in the summer, I'd be happy to come along; but not in the winter."
I shrugged. "Your loss," I said, not entirely sorry that she had refused. While I don't dislike her, she often irritates me - Sandburg claims that in many ways our personalities are too alike, so we can't help clashing. He could be right.
"Let's go now and ask Simon," Blair said as Megan turned back to her work. We crossed to Simon's office; I knocked on the door and opened it.
Simon glanced up. "Something wrong?" he asked.
"Now why would you think that?" I replied. "We wondered if you had any plans for New Year."
"Well, yes, I do," Simon said. "Daryl's coming on the 31st, staying overnight, and going home again on January first."
"Ah." No way would Simon do anything to cut his time with Daryl. "It's just - we wondered if you'd like to spend the holiday with us at Steven's holiday cabin, but we'll be heading off on the thirtieth and not coming home till the second."
Simon smiled. "And I'd have loved to come, but I don't see as much of Daryl as I used to, now he's at college. He's working over the vacation, and just has one day off at Christmas - when he's going to Joan's - and another one at New Year."
"We'll miss you," I said, meaning it. "I'll try to get the cabin again in the spring - I think you'll like it."
"Does this mean you're going alone? Just the two of you?" Simon asked.
"No, Henri and Rafe are coming," Blair said.
"What about Megan?"
"We did ask her, but she thinks it'll be too cold."
Simon nodded. "She could do with the break, but from something she said, I think she's planning on hibernating for four days," he said.
Bearing in mind what she'd said about the cold, it seemed very likely.
As we returned to the bullpen, I mulled over the way Blair had let me do almost all the talking. If I'd needed anything to make me realize just how depressed he was - which I didn't - that alone would have been enough to show me something was wrong.
Rafe and Henri had clearly been discussing the break.
"I wonder if it'll snow," Henri said as we reached my desk. "A little snow will add something to the break."
"Cold hands and feet," Blair muttered mutinously when Henri and I spoke cheerfully of winters past, of snowballing and making snowmen and sliding on the ice. We'd both enjoyed (Blair shuddered at the word) a lot of winter fun when we were children. Rafe's childhood had been spent in a warmer country; Naomi had chosen to spend the Northern hemisphere winters in the southern half of the world - so neither had personal experience of playing in the snow as children.
Back in the loft, Blair challenged me, and it was good to see that much life in him.
"What you told me about your Dad," he said. "Did you really get much chance to play in the snow?"
"Before Mom left, yes," I said. "Even after that, we could make snowmen in the yard. And we could do some things at school, though snowballing was forbidden after one guy was hurt by a bit of ice in a snowball. You need to be careful not to make a snowball too hard, either. The idea is to have fun, not to hurt anyone."
"Hmmm," he said. "Why do I think you and H are planning to show Rafe and me what we 'missed' when we were young?"
"Well, if it snowed we could, but the long range forecasts don't say snow. No, Chief, all I'm planning is a nice quiet break for us - a chance to relax and recharge our batteries, so to speak."
Blair didn't look convinced, but he let the subject drop and went to prepare dinner.
Reading through the cold case files next day, Blair said, "Did anyone ever follow up the son's claim that his step-mother was totally besotted with his father, and he was afraid something bad had happened to her?"
I'd been looking at Charles Harvey's statement, and went to read the file over Blair's shoulder. Gerald Harvey, ten years old, the only son of Charles Harvey and his deceased first wife, had a pre-pubescent view of what he called 'soppy stuff', and it was clear that he took a dim view of the way 'MomEllen' kept 'hugging and kissing Dad'.
It was equally clear that he liked his step-mother. 'I don't really remember my real Mom, but she treated me the way I think my real Mom would have. Dad just gave me things, whether I was interested in them or not, just as long as they cost a lot,' he said. 'MomEllen paid attention to what I was doing, helped me with my homework if I was having a problem, baked cakes I liked, things like that. I don't think she would have just left us. I think something bad must have happened to her.'
I glanced on down the page, to the quiet brush-off the policewoman who had questioned the boy gave to his comment. 'I formed the impression that this was wishful thinking on Gerald's part, especially since Mr Harvey had commented on the way his missing wife had tried to spoil the boy, clearly to make them think she was interested only in being one of their family.' I nodded, having just read that myself in Harvey senior's statement.
We looked on through the files. The missing woman's car was also missing, and had never been traced. There was no sign that she had used a credit card in the days after her disappearance - but then, with a stolen five million in cash - in cash, for heaven's sake! Who keeps that much loose change around the house? - she wouldn't need to use one.
There was no record that Gerald Harvey had ever been questioned again.
I think," Blair said, "that unless we're to do what everyone else assigned to 'check' this case has done, and just go through the motions for a day or two, we need to speak to Gerald Harvey - and maybe Charles, too."
I might have known that Blair's conscientious soul wouldn't let him read through the files a couple of times before he returned them to Records with a notation that we hadn't found anything further that might help solve the case, which was what seemed to have happened for at least fourteen of the sixteen years. And I have to admit I wouldn't have been happy doing that either.
First of all, we went to see Dad. He and I have mended a few bridges since Aaron Foster tried to kill him, and I knew that even though he was retired he still had connections in the business world.
"Charles Harvey," he said, and the look on his face would have soured milk.
"You don't like him?" Blair asked. Dad and I might have mended fences, but Blair usually did most of the talking when we saw him. I wondered if Dad noticed how relatively quiet Blair was - asking his question in four words rather than forty.
"I don't really know him except by reputation," Dad said. "I know you always thought I was obsessed with success, Jim - " He had stopped calling me 'Jimmy' not long after the Foster incident. I don't think Blair said anything to him about it - it was more that he noticed for himself that Blair calls me 'Jim', and he accepted the change of name, slight thought it was, as giving us a fresh start. "Compared to what I've heard about Harvey, though, I was a mere beginner." He was silent for a minute, clearly thinking, and we waited patiently for him to gather his thoughts.
"The Depression was hard on my father," he said at last, "and when things picked up again in the forties he made up his mind that the family would never have to suffer poverty again. I was brought up to believe that it was the wife's job to look after the children, the husband's job to provide for the family and, if necessary, to work twenty hours a day seven days a week to do that; and if I had to cut the throats of all my work colleagues - metaphorically speaking - to make sure my family wouldn't go short, I shouldn't think twice about doing it. That was how a man expressed his care and affection for his family. I suspect that had been his father's attitude too. I thought that was the way it always was." He looked at me. "It was a shock when your mother left us. I thought she understood, but she didn't. Her family had weathered the Depression better than mine, and her father didn't have the same obsession with success that mine did. I thought it meant he was weak, and I set out to make sure you and Steven had the... well, the killer instinct that my father-in-law lacked. Even with him as an example, I honestly thought the man who didn't have that drive would never be successful, never be able to provide properly for his family." He was silent for a moment, then said, very quietly, "I failed. You both left as soon as you were old enough, and I knew why. But you know - I'm glad I failed."
He shrugged. "But at least I was doing what I believed was right, what I believed a man had to do to support his wife and children. And I did love you all, I just didn't know how to show it. And my dealings at work... I might have been ruthless, but I was always honest.
"Charles Harvey, on the other hand... There was never any proof, but the rumor was that he cheated more than one small businessman out of his business. Although he married, he had an ongoing love affair with money that supplanted all other relationships. And it was rumored that the day she died in a road accident, his first wife was actually leaving him. That she was leaving her son behind because she knew Harvey would pursue her to get the boy back, but he mightn't bother trying to get her back."
"Do you know anything about Gerald - the son?" Blair asked.
Dad gave a wry smile. "His father isn't best pleased about it, but he chose to study medicine. He's working at County General, and from what I hear, he's doing pretty well."
We went to County General - slightly smaller than Cascade General, it specialized in maternity and child care - and asked if it was possible to speak to Gerald Harvey. We were shown into a small waiting room while he was paged.
He joined us some twenty minutes later. "Detective Ellison?"
I stood to shake his hand. "Dr. Harvey. This is my partner, Detective Sandburg."
He turned to shake Blair's hand as well. "What can I do for you, gentlemen?"
"It's about your stepmother - "
"Ah. Of course. Dad's made his annual phone call to the Chief of Police?" There was a slightly mocking note in his voice that I was sure Blair hadn't caught.
"Yes," Blair said as he sat again.
"So why come to me?"
"It occurred to us, as we read through the file, that nobody has ever spoken to you again about your stepmother's disappearance," Blair said quietly. "What you said, at the time - you were sure she hadn't just walked out." At least when he was actually working he sounded more like himself.
Gerald Harvey looked at him. "Nobody listened to me."
"We're listening now," Blair said as he pulled notebook and pencil from his pocket. "You don't mind if I make notes?"
Harvey looked from Blair to me, and I nodded. He sank into a chair, and I returned to mine. "I don't mind, but you realize I haven't consciously thought about this for years," he said. "There didn't seem any point."
"Take as much time as you need," Blair said gently.
Harvey was silent for a minute or two, clearly gathering his thoughts. "MomEllen cared about me," he said at last. "She really did. She wouldn't have just walked out. She was making plans for Christmas, dammit! She was really looking forward to it. She told me she'd never celebrated Christmas, it had been just her and her Mom when she was growing up, and her Mom hadn't liked that time of year and pretended it didn't exist. She didn't know why. So she saw all the preparations in the shops, heard the other kids talking about it, and for her it was just nothing. No presents, nothing. She was going to make up for all that... And then in early December I got home from school to find that she was gone, and Dad was muttering about how she'd stolen his money, the money he had in cash in the house because he didn't really trust banks even although he kept his business account in a bank. But I didn't believe she would have done that. I was sure she'd had an accident of some sort, though the money was a mystery.
"And then two days after MomEllen disappeared, Sylvia moved in."
"Sylvia?" Blair asked. There had been no mention of a 'Sylvia' in the case notes.
"I thought Dad had maybe employed her as a housekeeper, or to look after me, but she mostly just sat around, watched television, played music. Occasionally she went shopping, but not very often. And it seemed as if she just had to ask Dad for money and he gave it to her, even though she didn't really do anything with it. I didn't much like her - at the time I didn't know why, but a few years later, I realized what was wrong with her; she was too like some of the girls I met at Dad's parties, once I was old enough for Dad to expect me to attend - a real gold-digger. But I tried to be friendly, until two days before Christmas I saw she was wearing one of MomEllen's necklaces and asked her about it. I know I must have sounded... well, accusing. I mean, 'what right did she have?' was a kid's thinking. She slapped me 'for my impudence' and told me it was none of my business what she was wearing."
Blair's lips were set in a tight line, and I could feel my teeth clenching. Nobody had spoken to Gerald after that initial interview, probably put off by that dismissing comment from Harvey that his missing wife had 'spoiled the boy' and what he was saying now was screaming 'Foul play!' to both of us.
"Looking back from an adult viewpoint - what do you think now?" I asked.
Harvey looked at me. "In hindsight, I realize that Sylvia was a tart, warming Dad's bed - and she was the first of several. Hell, he still does it. The last one was nearly two years ago - I imagine he'll find himself another one soon. I didn't really like any of them - I don't even remember most of their names - but Sylvia was the worst, and I don't think it was just the contrast with MomEllen. None of them lasted long - well, Sylvia barely lasted two months; she was gone by the end of January, and I wasn't sorry. But I always wondered, after that, why MomEllen hadn't taken any of her jewelry - it was hers, something she'd inherited from her mother, not anything Dad had given her. It made me more than ever sure that something had happened to her. But nobody spoke to me again about it, and as I got older, well, there didn't seem much point in trying to stir things again. We never seemed to be short of money even if five million had gone missing. Even Dad didn't seem too bothered most of the time, except for the way he phoned the Chief of Police every year."
"Did you ever see any of the jewelry again?" Blair asked. "You saw Sylvia wearing a necklace - did she, or any of the others, ever wear any of the rest of it?"
"Yes," he said. "Sylvia wore that one necklace a lot, but she didn't take it with her when she left - I saw at least one of the others wearing it. All of them wore something of MomEllen's - " He broke off abruptly. "But none of them took any of it away with them," he finished after a brief pause.
"Thank you," Blair said.
Back in the truck, Blair said, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"I'm thinking we need to have a word with Charles Harvey," I said. "Some of Gerald's phraseology sounded... odd. 'If five million had gone missing' - almost as if, as an adult, he had doubts about it."
"Mmm - you'd have expected him to say 'even though five million had gone missing', wouldn't you? And the jewelry... Why would a woman leaving her husband, even if she'd stolen his money, leave behind things that had sentimental value?" Blair said thoughtfully.
"And that's another thing," he went on. "If Charles gave it to his various mistresses - or even if they'd found it and 'acquired' it, wouldn't you expect them to take it away with them when they left?"
"Yes," I said. "Unless it was cheap costume jewelry."
"But if it was cheap costume jewelry, would a live-in 'girlfriend' bother with it?" Blair asked. "The sort of girl a guy like Charles Martin would pick up would surely know the difference between that and good quality, multi-thousand dollar pieces, and she'd expect her meal ticket to buy her one or two multi-thousand dollar pieces."
"You'd certainly expect it," I agreed as I started the truck and headed for the address Dad had given us for Charles Harvey.
"Nobody ever found Ellen's car," Blair said after a while.
I glanced at him. "Go on."
"Jack Pendergrast," he said. "His car lay in the river for four years, and it was only found because someone else happened to go off the road at the same place. How many cars go off the road and end up in the river?"
"Not many," I said.
"So it's no-one's first assumption, or even their second, if someone goes missing. But if one does, and nobody sees it happening or the driver doesn't get out?"
"A total, unexplained disappearance," I realized.
"And every winter there are spates that could carry something a little further downstream, maybe leaving it jammed in a spot just that little extra distance from the road where another vehicle is never likely to go in."
"But it's not practical to search the whole river," I protested, more to encourage him to go on than anything else.
"Serena said there were the bodies of two women found in that stretch of river during the four-year period Jack was missing. She didn't say how long they'd been dead, and we weren't interested in them because it was a man we were looking for... "
"Yes, but she did say 'bodies' not 'skeletons'."
"Oh. Yes, after more than twelve years, she would be just a skeleton." He sounded a little dispirited, and I regretted my comment.
"All the same, I think we want to have a word with Serena once we get back to the station," I said. "Only this time we want records going back sixteen years."
We found Charles Harvey in his office. At first his secretary - very young-looking to be holding down the position of secretary to a businessman of Harvey's reputation - tried telling us he was too busy to see anyone who didn't have an appointment. I've come across a few secretaries over the years who would have given Genghis Khan a run for his money, experienced dragons whose middle name was 'Great Wall of China' and who wouldn't budge an inch for God or the Devil, but this fashion plate would never be one of them. Come to that, I doubted that she was a secretary at all. When I glared at her - the sort of expression I usually reserve for the serial killers of two-year-olds - she folded instantly.
"I'll... I'll see if he can spare you a few minutes," she stammered.
"Just tell him we're here in connection with his phone call to the Chief of Police about his missing wife," Blair said amicably, and his friendly approach seemed to fluster her even more.
As she disappeared through a connecting door, I said, "All she is is an ornamental receptionist. His real secretary is probably a lot older and could run the business without Harvey's help, and is far too busy to waste time answering the phone and manning this desk."
We didn't have to wait long. The girl came back, and said, "Mr Harvey can give you five minutes."
I nodded and we went through to Harvey's office. He didn't stand to greet us, nor did he offer us seats. "Jeanine said you have some information for me," he said ungraciously.
"Not actually information," I said. "I'm Detective Ellison, this is Detective Sandburg. We're currently assigned to cold cases - " No need to let him know that it was only because of his annual phone call. "When we read through the file about Mrs. Harvey, it occurred to us that nobody had spoken to either you or your son about it since you first reported her missing."
"Gerald was prejudiced in her favor all along," Harvey growled. "She spoiled him until he couldn't see past her. He couldn't believe she'd walk out on him. Hell, she spoiled me, making it look as if she adored me. But all she was doing was ingratiating herself. My mistake was thinking she had a scrap of affection in her body for either of us. Once she knew where I kept my money hidden, she was off with it."
"Five million... in cash," I said. "It seems a lot of money to have in the house... and a lot of bulk to shove into a suitcase and just carry out."
"It was in large denomination notes," he said.
"Even so, it's still a lot of money to have in the house," I said. "I could see having a few hundred - even a thousand or two - tucked away for emergencies, but five million? That would get quite a lot of interest if it was in the bank."
"Ah, well... yes... " He hesitated for a moment, and I could hear his heart speeding up. "Well... If I'm honest... It was tax evasion. But I learned my lesson," he added hastily. "I had to do some fast talking to the tax officials back then, and I've not kept that amount of money in the house since."
Tax evasion. Yes, that seemed probable, and he had to be well aware that once the IRS noticed someone, it would never stop watching him.
"I know it's been a long time, sir," Blair said, "and we know you gave the police a statement at the time, but when we work cold cases, we find it's often helpful if the people concerned can give us another statement."
I kept my face expressionless, but inwardly I was cheering Blair's gift for misleading people. Giving Harvey the impression that we were used to handling cold cases, and that this was plain and simple routine, was inspired.
Harvey frowned. "I don't remember many details," he said. "It seemed to be a morning like any other. Ellen prepared breakfast as usual, then Gerald went off to school and I left for work a few minutes later. Everything seemed perfectly normal.
"I went home in the early afternoon - I'd a bad headache - and her car wasn't there. I didn't think much about it until I went into my study and noticed that the picture hiding my safe was squint. When I checked... the safe was empty. I went up to the bedroom and there were drawers open - at first I thought that someone had broken in, but then I saw there were some items of luggage missing from the closet... and some of her clothes. That was when I realized that *she* was the thief... "
"Right," Blair said, looking up from the notebook he was using to scribble down the statement. "It was just some of her clothes that she took?"
"And the money."
"What about jewelry?"
Ah - Harvey's heartbeat had suddenly speeded up, but I gave him points for making a quick recovery. "Jewelry?"
"Gerald told us that just a day or two later, you had a girlfriend living in the house, and he saw her wearing a necklace he recognized as belonging to his stepmother - something she had inherited from her mother."
"Oh - that. Fairly cheap stuff. It looked better than it actually was. She wasn't going to need it - not when she had five million of my money to use to buy some really good things. I don't deny I had a mistress," he went on. "You're both men of the world, I'm sure you know how it is - you see a pretty woman - or even a plain one with a good figure - and you need to have her. It's just physical, your emotions aren't involved. She saw the necklace in the bedroom and didn't know enough to know it was quite cheap. It let me give her a present that didn't cost me anything."
"Gerald said you had other live-in girl friends, and he saw one of the others wearing the same necklace," I told him.
"She got greedy. So when I threw her out a few weeks later, I made sure she didn't take anything I'd given her." He gave an unamused half laugh. "None of the others lasted either. They were all just out for themselves. If it proved anything to me, it was that I wasn't very good at picking my women."
"You never thought of marrying one of them?" Blair asked.
Ah - his heartbeat suddenly speeded up even more. "Detective, as far as I knew I was still married," he said, and I knew he was lying.
"You never thought of going to the court to get her presumed dead?" I asked.
"If I'd done that, I'd never have had any chance of recovering my money." Uh-huh. A realistic attitude, yes, and the sort of comment I would have expected from him given Dad's opinion of him, but it was another lie, though I nodded as if accepting his comment.
"And you've no idea where Mrs Harvey might have gone?" Blair had been watching me, and I knew how well he could read my body language. His question was just off-hand enough that Harvey would take it as pure routine, but I could tell that it was designed to trigger a subconscious response - and it worked. When Harvey replied, his heart was hammering so fast it was nearly drilling its way out of his chest.
"Her only relative was an aunt, but when I phoned her, she said Ellen hadn't contacted her."
I was pretty sure that was the truth. "Do you happen to have the aunt's address?" I asked.
"No, I'm afraid not. I contacted her several times in the first few months, but then she moved and the new people in her house didn't know where she'd gone."
As I started the truck, I said, "He was lying, Chief. I don't think there was ever any five million. I think he killed her, probably because he'd met Sylvia. And I suspect he killed Sylvia and probably most - if not all - of his other mistresses as he tired of them. It saved paying them off."
"I could see that was the way your questions were leading," Blair said. "But the man's got some nerve if he did kill her - phoning the Chief of Police every year to stir up the case again."
"Who's going to suspect the man who does that?" I asked. "Come to that, who's going to suspect the man who practically admits to the IRS that he was indulging in a bit of tax evasion?"
"So how do we prove it?"
"What you said about the river. I want a look at a map," I told him.
It was late enough that we went straight home, and while Blair prepared dinner, I studied the map, paying particular attention to where the road ran near the river. There was one place in paticular where the road ran very close to it for a short distance before the river veered away for a mile or two before returning to nearer the road - that was the stretch where Jack's car was found. I decided to have a word with Serena in the morning.
We ate and washed up, then settled down to watch television. I slipped my arm around Blair's shoulders, and he leaned against me with a tired sigh. "Only we could get an 'easy' cold case, and end up suspecting there's a murder involved," he murmured.
"Everyone else just looked at the five million," I said. "It took you to ignore that and take Gerald's statement at face value. We might not discover what happened to Ellen Harvey, but at least Gerald knows now that someone has listened to him and believed him."
"You think that's worth something?" he asked.
"Yes," I said.
He was silent for a while. Then, "You really think her husband killed her."
"And probably all the others, only nobody missed them. Maybe they'd been runaways he'd picked up who thought they were lucky getting a sugar daddy instead of a pimp. I doubt he'd have risked getting involved with anyone who had relatives in the area. Even Ellen didn't really have anyone."
"Makes you wonder why he actually married her, though," Blair said.
"It's possible she wouldn't go to his bed without a wedding ring," I suggested. "Or maybe he wanted another child - though that doesn't explain why it didn't last."
"Maybe he was already involved with Sylvia, and Ellen found out and objected; maybe she threatened to leave unless he dumped Sylvia. And by that time he'd already had long enough with Ellen to feel that the new woman was preferable..."
"Or Sylvia was more uninhibited in bed?"
"Wouldn't that be much the same thing?" he said.
In the morning we went to see Serena.
"Sixteen years?" she said, when Blair explained what we wanted. She sounded doubtful.
"We know," Blair said, "but we've been given this cold case to check - a missing woman - and we think she was probably killed. Since her car disappeared at the same time, we think she - and it - could have been dumped in the river. And we've discovered that some other women have disappeared from the same place in the years since then, so a list of unidentified women who have been found in the river during that time would be useful."
"There haven't been many cars recovered from the river," Serena warned as she turned to her computer.
"I've checked the map," I said. "In the ten miles or so directly upstream from Cascade, there's one stretch where a car could lie for ever without being found. Hell, even Jack's car was in there for four years, and it was close to the road. It was only found because another car went in at the same place."
"Certainly every time there's a spate the water could push a car further and further down river until it snagged on something," Serena said, almost absently, as she scrolled through several files. "Well, there weren't any bodies taken out of the river in December of 1983. There was a woman found in late January of '84, but she'd only been dead a couple of days. Suspected homicide - there wasn't any water in her lungs, so she hadn't drowned. The cause of death was never actually ascertained, though asphyxiation was suggested as a probable cause even although no traces of fibres were found in her respiratory tract, and she was never identified. There's a photo, and while it's not very good, it shows a very distinctive scar on the left cheek. They tried publicizing it at the time, without any luck."
"Can you print it out for me?" I asked.
"No problem," she said, and hit the 'print' button.
While it was printing, she checked the rest of the files. "In all, seven other women have been found in the river since 1984. Five were identified; only two, from four years ago, were never named, but because of the circumstances in which they were found, it seemed likely that one had fallen in, the other had tried to help her and they'd drowned together. Does that fit your MO?"
I shook my head.
"Where are we going?" Blair asked as I led the way back to the truck.
"First of all, to see Gerald Harvey again," I said. "See if he recognizes the woman in the photo."
"You think it could be Sylvia?"
"It's not impossible," I said. "And if it is... If it is, it gives us probable reason to suspect Charles Harvey of having killed her, and Ellen, and maybe his first wife too."
"Didn't she die in an accident?"
"Easy to arrange an accident, Chief. Remember Sanford Dent? Cut the brake fluid feed, and a few miles down the road, when you need the brakes suddenly you don't have any. Damage the steering wheel coupling - you come to a sharp corner, the steering doesn't respond, you go off the road. But for someone to lose two wives to motor accidents? That begins to look suspicious. And you can't really guarantee that the accident will kill the proposed victim; some people walk away from the most horrific of accidents with barely a scratch. So you arrange the second one a little more carefully, to look as if she's walked out."
Blair sighed. "And nobody thinks twice about a live-in girl friend walking out and disappearing; she's just moved on. He doesn't even have to report her missing."
Gerald Harvey took one look at the photo, and said, "That's Sylvia."
"You're certain? No doubts?"
"I'm certain. A lot of the others... like I told you, I don't even remember their names, and I wouldn't recognize them if I saw them again. But this one - I'd have known her again, even without that scar. I hated her, Detective." He looked at the photo again. "That's a photo of a corpse, and I won't pretend I'm sorry. How did she die?"
"Her body was pulled out of the river," I said.
"And she hadn't been drowned long for the police to get as good a photo of her as this."
"Even so, nobody identified her at the time." I chose not to let him know she hadn't drowned.
Gerald was silent for a moment, before saying, "I think... from something she said, I think she came from Chicago; Dad went there two or three times a year on business. I think she probably only moved to Cascade because Dad sent for her. And although she was with him for close on two months, and did a little shopping in that time, it's possible that not even the shop assistants knew her well enough to recognize her. Not if she'd only been in the shop once, or perhaps twice. And I remember now, any time she went out, she wore a hat or a scarf that hid the left side of her face. Nobody would get a good look at her face."
"You don't know her second name?"
"Sorry. I only ever heard Dad call her 'Sylvia' - I had to call her 'Aunt Sylvia'. I don't remember that she ever got any letters while she was here, either; and she wasn't going to bother being even marginally polite to her john's son. Certainly not when he was too young for her to take him to bed behind his father's back. Sorry - I know that's harsh, but that really is all she was. A - I'd say cheap tart, but I guess she cost Dad quite a bit, one way or another."
As we drove away from County General Hospital, I said, "We need to check the river, Chief."
"How do you plan to do it? Hire a helicopter?" I could tell he was forcing himself to... not quite argue, but sound as if he wasn't just passively agreeing.
"Well, not the entire river. Just a mile or so where it doesn't follow the road."
"I know I suggested it, but do you really think you'll find anything? There must have been people going up and down that stretch of river over the last sixteen years."
I shook my head. "Remember this isn't a fishing river; not this close to Cascade - and anyone going camping would head further away from Cascade than ten miles. I'm not expecting there'll be any kind of path we can follow, but even so, a mile of rough walking shouldn't take us too long - and it's a nice day for a hike." Without looking at him, I knew that he was watching me. "Chief, if I'm concentrating on watching the river, I need you along to keep me from walking into the damn' thing or tripping over a rock and breaking my leg. The sort of thing Burton's sentinels needed their guides for."
"Sure, Burton's sentinels were well-known for going hunting in the rivers for wrecked cars," he muttered, but - despite the gravity of the thing - there was an underlying chuckle in his voice that I was glad to hear.
I parked the truck close to where we'd pulled Jack's car out of the river, and we set off, walking briskly along the bank. On any other day I would have enjoyed the walk in the sunshine; as it was, I was working. The ground was rough, with withering vegetation that caught at our feet. I found it particularly difficult because more than half of my attention was on the river; Blair caught my arm fairly early on when I tripped and nearly fell, and kept holding it to support and guide me.
The first hundred yards or so were fairly level, and then the ground started to rise, with a steep and increasing drop to the river.
Trusting Blair to keep me safe, I watched the river more and more closely. I was half aware of him muttering about 'stupid sentinels who don't have the sense of a half-witted gnat' but by then I was concentrating fully ninety percent of my attention on the water. There was a car in there; I knew it, and it was up to me to find it and - with luck - get justice for a woman sixteen years dead.
We'd only gone another two hundred yards or so when I saw something, a glint in the water that shouldn't have been there, and stopped. Blair was so attuned to me that he halted in mid-stride. "What?" he asked.
"I need to look closer," I said. The bank at that point dropped sharply to the water some fifty or sixty feet below. I knelt, and crawled to the very edge of the drop.
Yes; there was a car there. The late autumn sunlight was shining on it, and what I had seen was a reflection glinting against the shadowed opposite bank.
It might be Ellen Harvey's car; it might not. Either way, however, it had to be reported.
In the end, it needed a diver and a helicopter to retrieve the wreck.
The car was lowered gently to the ground at almost exactly the same place as Jack's car had been, a couple of years earlier. There was a skeleton in the driver's seat, held in place by a seat belt. That in itself was interesting; not many people back then chose to wear seat belts before their use became mandatory. Or was the belt used in this case to hold the body in place inside the car?
The skeleton was fully dressed. Nothing about it indicated foul play.
When we checked the car, we found two cases in the trunk. One held some clothes, pushed into it with very little care. The other was empty.
More damning was the wedged metal bar that was still depressing the accelerator.
"We found your missing wife, Mr. Harvey," I said.
Charles Harvey stared at me even as his heart started pounding. He paused for a few seconds before he said anything. "I suppose she's spent all my money." But there was a note of bravado in his voice.
"Mr. Harvey, there was no money."
He looked at me, his mouth open and his heart racing.
"You said there was. You even took the risk of telling IRS that you'd had five million stashed in the house, knowing you had to do... what was it you said? 'some fast talking to the tax officials' and if you didn't talk fast enough or convincingly enough, you'd be looking at a stiff fine and maybe even a few months' prison time. But for some reason you thought it was worth the risk." I tossed the picture of Sylvia onto his desk. "You know her?"
He frowned at the picture. "I don't think so." But his body language was screaming recognition.
"That's interesting. Gerald knew her immediately. Who was she, Mr. Harvey?"
Harvey looked up from the picture, his lips twisted into the mockery of a smile as the fight left him. "She was a blackmailer... and my legal wife."
"So you married Ellen bigamously?" I accused.
"And the blackmail?"
"I met her in Chicago in 1980, started an affair with her. Then one night on the way back to her house, we were involved in an accident. I was driving. I'd had a drink, but I wasn't drunk. She was thrown out of the car, and her face was badly cut."
"Hence the scar."
"Yes. Although I wasn't charged with anything, not even careless driving - it was clear from the positions of the cars that it was the other driver's fault - she claimed that if I hadn't had that drink I could have avoided the accident, and said she'd ruin me unless I compensated her by marrying her. So I did. At the time, she didn't want to leave Chicago, and I was happy to leave her there, although obviously I had to support her. I went back half a dozen times over the next two years, and she seemed happy enough with the arrangement.
"Then I met Ellen here, and... She loved me. She didn't care about my money, she loved me, and she loved Gerald. But she had principles; she wouldn't just sleep with me - she said it was wrong, that a woman should only sleep with her husband... Sylvia was in Chicago, she seemed happy to stay there with a husband she only saw two or three times a year, so I married Ellen."
"Go on," Blair said, his voice gentle with apparent sympathy - though I knew he had no sympathy whatsoever for Harvey - as he played 'good cop' to my 'cop with attitude'.
"Somehow Sylvia found out. She arrived on the doorstep fairly early one morning, told Ellen who she was. Ellen wouldn't believe her at first, and when she finally did, she ran up to the bedroom. I could hear her crying. Sylvia told me that she was my wife, she was moving in, and to get rid of Ellen - permanently. Or else she'd create such a scandal that I'd be completely ruined. I went up to the bedroom, meaning to tell Ellen that I'd get rid of Sylvia somehow, only Sylvia followed me, and... When she saw I was reluctant to act, she killed Ellen. She hit her, and when Ellen fell she hit her head on something and was knocked out. Sylvia put a pillow over her face, and suffocated her. I... was too much of a coward to stop her."
"So instead of accusing Sylvia of murder, you drove Ellen's car into the river and pretended she'd walked out, having stolen money from you."
"And the annual phone calls to shake up the police?"
"I didn't think I'd be suspected if I did that."
"A mistake," I told him. "This year, the case landed on our desk - and my partner is very good at seeing the wood even when it's hidden by the trees. At the time, you managed to persuade everyone to discount Gerald's statement; Sandburg believed it.
"So. What happened to Sylvia?"
"She waited two days, then moved in. But her demands got more and more unreasonable - always with the threat of what she could do to me, to my reputation - and at the end of January I couldn't take it any more. I suffocated her - it seemed only fair that she should die the same way - and threw her body into the river. She'd lived a fairly reclusive life here, and when she did go out, she always hid the left side of her face - she was really sensitive about that scar - so I knew nobody would recognize her."
"What about your subsequent... er, attachments? Gerald said there were some, but they never lasted long."
"None of them really cared for me, the way Ellen did. But I didn't kill any of them," he added quickly. "I paid them well to leave Cascade."
I nodded; although I didn't altogether believe that, we had no names to follow up, no more suspicious bodies we could try to pin onto him. However, we did have him good and solid for one murder and as an accomplice in a second one. "Charles Harvey, you are under arrest for the murder of your wife, Sylvia Harvey, and for concealing the murder of your bigamous wife, Ellen Harvey. You have the right to remain silent... "
Christmas was relatively quiet. It seemed that a lot of the bad guys were taking a vacation, and those of us who were on duty found ourselves, a lot of the time, catching up on paperwork and checking old cases. Only Patrol had a busy time - there were too many drunk drivers, some of them inside the legal limit but whose driving ability was impaired to varying degrees, and who caused accidents of varying severity.
Blair and I had been invited to Christmas dinner with Dad, and we enjoyed the evening more than I'd expected to. It was good to see Blair behaving more like himself as he chattered about Christmas customs from several countries. We were late returning to the loft, well-fed and mellow, tired enough to just fall into bed and sleep.
The cops on vacation returned to duty on the 27th, and on the evening of the 29th Blair and I made our final plans with Henri and Rafe. The four of us went together to buy supplies for the vacation, then went home for the night.
We met early next morning at a filling station just outside Cascade, having agreed to take two vehicles - my truck and Henri's car. I led the way - well, I knew exactly where we were going.
As we drove higher into the mountains, we reached the snowline, but the road was clear; a snowplow had clearly been over it not long before, although from the look of the snow thrown up at the side there hadn't been a heavy fall. It seemed further than I remembered, but at last we reached the turn-off for Steven's 'cabin'.
This road hadn't been cleared, and the snow was about three inches deep. I shrugged - three inches was nothing for the truck - and set off up the track, confident that Sweetheart would make it. Henri, following, seemed less confident, especially as the snow gradually deepened; even driving in the ruts left by the truck, he obviously found it hard going; he was falling steadily behind, and when I checked the mirror, I could see that his car kept skidding sideways. So after about two miles, with the snow around six inches deep, when we came to a wider part of the road, I pulled off and stopped. Henri pulled in behind me.
I jumped out of the truck and went back to the car. "Three things we can do," I said. "Carry on like this, with me breaking the trail; leave your car here and we all go on in the truck; or just turn around and go home. I don't want to go home - the forecast isn't bad, and we do need the break. What do you think?"
"Leave my car here," Henri said. "I'm not happy driving through this," he added wryly.
He turned the car - with the help of the rest of us - we had to push when its underside sledged up on the snow - and left it at the side of the track facing back towards the main road. He and Rafe tossed their bags into the bed of the truck beside Blair's and mine, and squeezed into the cab.
It was only about another a mile before we reached the 'cabin'. There was, as I knew, a covered area big enough for at least three cars at the side of the house, and I backed into it. We collected our bags, and I led the way to the front door.
Inside was surprisingly warm and I laughed when Rafe commented on it. "Steven leaves heating on during the winter," I said. "Everything would get damp otherwise. The electricity cable is underground, so it's in no danger of breaking in a storm." Actually I was surprised at how warm it was - I'd thought Steven left it just warm enough to keep it frost-free, and the inside temperature was positively high. Or maybe it was just the contrast with the outside cold that made it feel so warm. However, I turned up the thermostat a little.
"That must have been expensive," Rafe said.
"He felt it was worth it. He comes up at least once a month as well, to check that everything is in good repair - there was a problem when a branch fell on the roof three or four years ago and did some damage. Water got into one of the bedrooms." I looked around at the others. "Okay, four of us, four bedrooms. Or we could double up - the rooms all have twin beds."
Rafe suggested it would be more cheerful if we doubled up - which Blair and I meant to do anyway - and we soon got our bags unpacked. I left Blair putting my things away in a drawer and went out to get the box of food we'd brought. I knew we'd all be hungry after the drive - I certainly was. As I unpacked the box, the others joined me.
Blair took over, and soon had a meal ready; then with a couple of hours of daylight left, we headed outside to investigate the area. Blair and I did know the place - we'd been there a couple of times since I started talking to Steven again - but we hadn't been there in winter, and the snow had changed the way everything looked.
We spent the next day quite literally playing. I was surprised to find that I'd spent more time playing in snow than the others, and introduced them to the joys of making a snowman and having a snowball fight, when Blair and I soundly defeated the other two - mostly because I cheated and used my senses to keep track of where the others were.
I was glad to see that Blair was enjoying the break, and by late afternoon the improvement I had seen at Christmas was well established; he was beginning to look much more like himself. As the light faded we retreated to the house, ate and washed up, then settled down in front of the living room fire - which was electric, but had a flame effect that made it look real.
"You know," Blair said, "there's a lot said about how stone age man had midsummer ceremonies - the standing stones in places like Stonehenge in Britain were supposed to be aligned to show sunrise at midsummer; but almost every society in temperate areas had some way of identifying midwinter as well - or instead of - and that was often geared to sunset rather than sunrise. Circles like Stonehenge actually showed both. But when you think of it, a midwinter ceremony makes more sense - the days have been getting shorter and shorter, the weather colder, then suddenly they start getting longer again - the sun is coming back! Whereas in midsummer, the days that have been getting longer begin getting shorter - the sun is disappearing... why would they want to celebrate that?"
"Maybe they were celebrating the crops beginning to ripen?" Rafe suggested.
"A lot of those tribes were hunter-gatherers, not farmers," Blair said. "Though they could have been thinking about a successful breeding season, with plenty of young animals to maintain the stock... But the winter solstice signified death and rebirth, the coming of a new year - though I'd doubt they called the passage of time from one midwinter to the next a 'year'. That sort of understanding of time was probably beyond their experience."
"You can only guess at that, Darwin," I objected. "If they had the sort of knowledge that let them build places like Stonehenge, designed to tell them a specific time of year, they were probably a lot more sophisticated than you're giving them credit for."
Blair grinned. "Gotcha!" he said.
I reached over, almost lazily, and slapped his shoulder. "Just you wait, junior. Tomorrow in the snow... "
We talked on, with Blair expanding on his comments about midwinter festivals, some of which were in mid-January rather than late December, checking our watches from time to time, until at last I said, "It's almost twelve."
We opened fresh bottles of beer each, and Blair produced a cake I hadn't known he'd brought and cut it into slices, saying, "Something to eat, something to drink. Warmth and shelter. A good augury for the coming year." He kept an eye on his watch. Finally, he said, "Midnight. Happy New Year, guys."
We toasted each other and drank, then made inroads into the cake, but having seen in the New Year, none of us particularly wanted to stay up much longer - which told me that Blair still wasn't quite back to normal, though he was getting there - and by half past twelve we headed for bed.
We woke to find that during the night there had been a heavy snowfall. Instead of the few inches of snow there had been on December 31st, there was now a blanket covering that was over two feet deep. It had fallen so softly that I hadn't been aware of it.
Over breakfast, the four of us looked at each other. Originally, we had intended to stay another night and leave the following day; in the face of the new depth of snow, I knew we all felt that it might be wiser to leave that day. I could tell that nobody else wanted to say so, so I said it. "We're going to have to dig our way out. Even the truck isn't going to be able to push through that depth of snow."
"How long will it take?" Rafe asked.
"That'll partly depend on how many spades there are," I said. "I know Steven keeps at least one here, but if there's only one, it'll be very slow going."
When we checked the small outhouse, though, we found three spades. "That's useful," I said. "Each of us can get fifteen minutes rest every hour, and - "
"Every hour?" Henri asked, horror in his voice.
I nodded. "It's about three miles to the road," I said, "and we've to clear a path wide enough for the truck. If we'd left the truck with your car, we could push through that mile on foot in less than an hour, taking turns breaking the trail, without having to dig through the snow. As it is... "
"Could we leave the truck here, and come back for it when the snow clears?" Blair asked.
I thought about it for a moment. It would be faster, certainly, if we did that, walked to the car and a path for it wouldn't have to be quite as wide as one for the truck; but although there hadn't been much snow even on the high ground up till then, I could smell more coming. Not immediately, not arriving for perhaps twenty-four hours, but definitely coming, and that probably meant a lot more snow over the next two months at least; and I really didn't want to leave myself without the truck for that length of time, even though it would be perfectly safe at the cabin, even though I could get the use of a car. "Yes," I admitted. "We could, but I'd rather not - not for just a mile, when we wouldn't be able to come back for it until the weekend. There might be more snow before then, making it impossible to get through." I looked straight at him, trying to tell him I knew there would be more snow soon. "There are four of us, and the snow's soft. It shouldn't take more than two, maybe three hours to get as far as Henri's car, and another five or six to break through to the road. It's a pity there wasn't a wind last night - if there had been, the track would probably have been blown clear of snow in places, and the truck could have forced a way through some of the smaller drifts."
"Couldn't we just stay here, phone in and tell Simon we're snowed in?" Henri asked.
It was Rafe who shook his head. "Are you forgetting that you and I, at least, have to get back for the third?" he said. "We're due in court - the Meyer case. If we don't show - "
"The Prosecution could ask for an adjournment, especially if the snow's hit Cascade too," Henri suggested optimistically.
"Or Meyer might walk," Rafe said. "I think we should at least try."
"In any case," I said, "if we were to be snowed in, really snowed in, we might be stuck here until the spring thaw, and we don't have enough food. Steven keeps a few cans and packets here for emergencies, but there's certainly not enough to last four of us for more than a couple of days."
That was the deciding factor.
It took only a few minutes to tidy everything, pack, turn the heating back down to 'frost-protect', make sure everything was secure and toss our bags into the bed of the truck. I started the engine, and tried to force a way forward, but after a few feet found - as I had expected - that the snow was piling up in front of the truck, making progress virtually impossible.
"Okay," I said as I killed the engine. "Rafe, Henri, the three of us can start digging. Sandburg, stay with the truck. Keep an eye on the time, and in fifteen minutes, drive it up to where we are. Then you can take over digging from Rafe, and he can wait fifteen minutes then bring the truck on, and so on. Henri, you take the third break, and I'll take the fourth."
We started digging. We didn't have to go right down to the ground, of course; it was enough to clear the top fifteen inches or so, but the snow was soft and although it was easy enough to gather a spadeful, the soft snow stuck to the spades. We could have dug larger spadefuls, and got on a lot faster, if it had been firmer. At least it was a nice day - the clouds had mostly blown away, and the sun was shining, though there was very little heat in it.
We dug on. I heard the truck starting, and a minute later it appeared. Blair stopped it just behind us, jumped out and took over from Rafe. We carried on digging.
I'd estimated how long it would take pretty well; in just over two hours we reached the mound of snow that covered H's car. We brushed it clear of snow, and Henri checked that it would start. As he stopped the engine again, I heard, in the distance, a heavy vehicle, and knew that the snowplow was out and clearing the main road. Although I hadn't mentioned it, that was the one thing that had been worrying me; whether or not the main road would be cleared on New Year's Day. If it hadn't, our work would have been wasted - at least as far as getting back to Cascade that day was concerned. Clearing a track for the truck had been relatively easy; but because the car had lower suspension, we had to dig away more snow so that we could get it down the track. Nobody suggested leaving it; we knew that Henri would be as reluctant to leave himself depending on a borrowed vehicle as I was. But it made progress slower. It had taken us two hours to cover a third of the distance; it would take more than four to get to the main road, and it would probably be dark before we reached it.
This time the one resting drove the truck down after ten minutes then walked back to collect the car. It meant our breaks weren't quite as long as they should be, and we all felt tireder for it. The one good thing was that none of us felt cold; the break wasn't long enough for us to lose the heat the exercise of digging gave us.
As we neared the end of the track, I knew that the snow I'd sensed six hours earlier was closer now, much closer; the setting sun shining on the clouds blowing in from the west gave us a spectacular sunset, but the light was beginning to fail, and it was imperative that we carry on digging; we had to get back to Cascade that night, or we wouldn't get back for heaven only knew how long.
We dug on. A half moon gave us some light, for which I was grateful, because it let the others see what they were doing, but the clouds kept covering it. At last we reached a huge pile of snow, and Rafe, who had brought the two vehicles up a few minutes earlier, groaned.
"It'll take an hour to dig through this!" he exclaimed.
I shook my head. "That's what the snowplow has thrown up," I said. "It's not too thick a pile. Stand aside."
I got into the truck, started the engine, put it into second gear and floored the accelerator. The truck burst through the snow barrier, slowed a little by it, and I rammed the brakes on. It skidded a little, slid across the road, and came to rest with its nose hard against the heap of snow on the other side.
Henri's trip through the passage I'd left was more sedate.
Blair and Rafe tossed the spades into the bed of the truck, then Rafe got in with Henri - I wasn't sure who had moved their bags from the truck to the car, or when, but guessed that it has been done early on by one of them - and Blair took his place in the truck, and we set off back towards Cascade.
We were about halfway there when it began to snow again - but this time instead of a blanket fall it was being driven by a steadily strengthening wind. Even I could barely see where I was going - the light from the headlights was reflecting off the snowflakes, making visibility very poor, and I knew that without my tail lights Henri would have been lost. By the time we reached Cascade, the snow was at least two inches deep, and it was clear that by morning traffic would pretty well be at a standstill until the plows cleared the streets. Maybe the Meyer case would be adjourned after all - but at least Rafe and Henri would be there.
Henri flashed his lights just before he turned onto the road that would take him home, and then we were on our own.
Once we reached Prospect I parked, we paused long enough to grab everything, including the spades, from the truck, and ran for the door.
Inside the loft, we dropped everything in the kitchen, deciding by mutual consent that we could deal with it in the morning; we were both very tired.
We were really too tired to be hungry, but left some soup on a low heat while we had a quick shower, ate and went to bed.
I lay thinking for a few minutes before I slept. I still didn't know what had bothered Blair so much about the Davis case, but for the moment he seemed to have put it aside; the break had helped. I wasn't about to forget it, though. I wouldn't push, but with luck the opportunity would arise some day, and I'd find out. And then, maybe, I could really heal what was clearly a major wound to his psyche.
Meanwhile, I fell asleep promising myself that I would keep reminding him, proving to him, that he was valued for who he was as well as what he did; that he was wanted and, above all, that he was loved.