Home > The Searcher(2)

The Searcher(2)
Author: Tana French

   But there have been things. No big deal, just stuff that flicks at the edges of Cal’s cop sense. Engines revving, three a.m. down faraway back roads, deep-chested bubbling snarls. A huddle of guys in the back corner of the pub some nights, too young and dressed wrong, talking too loud and too fast in accents that don’t fit in; the snap of their heads towards the door when Cal walks in, the stares that last a second too long. He’s been careful not to tell anyone what he used to do, but just being a stranger could be plenty, depending.

   Dumb, Cal tells himself, turning on the burner under his frying pan and looking out the kitchen window at the dimming green fields, Mart’s dog trotting beside the sheep as they plod peacefully towards their pen. Too many years on the beat in bad hoods, now farmhands look like gangbangers.

   Bored kids, ten to one. All the same, Cal has started keeping his music down so he won’t miss anything, he’s thinking about getting an alarm system, and this pisses him off. Years of Donna lunging for the volume knob, Cal, that baby next door is trying to sleep! Cal, Mrs. Scapanski just had surgery, you think she needs that blowing her eardrums? Cal, what are the neighbors gonna think, we’re savages? He wanted land partly so he could blast Steve Earle loud enough to knock squirrels out of the trees, and he wanted buttfuck nowhere partly so he wouldn’t have to set alarms any more. He feels like he can’t even, for example, adjust his balls without looking over his shoulder, which is something a man ought to be able to do in his own kitchen. Kids or not, he needs this put to bed.

   At home he would have solved this with a couple of good, discreet cameras that uploaded straight to the cloud. Here, even if his Wi-Fi could handle that, which he doubts, the idea of taking his footage down to the nearest station doesn’t sit well. He doesn’t know what he might start: neighbor feud, or the watcher could be the officer’s cousin, or who knows what.

   He’s considered tripwires. These are presumably illegal, but Cal is pretty sure this in itself wouldn’t be a big deal: Mart has already offered twice to sell him an unregistered shotgun that he’s got lying around, and everyone drives home from the pub. The problem is, again, that Cal is in the dark on what he might set in motion.

   Or what he might have set in motion already. Listening to Mart, Cal has started to get an inkling of how tangled up things get around here, and how carefully you have to watch where you put your feet. Noreen, who runs the shop in the brief double line of buildings that counts as Ardnakelty village, won’t order the cookies Mart likes because of a complicated saga that took place in the 1980s and involved her uncles, Mart’s father and grazing rights; Mart doesn’t speak to an unpronounceable farmer on the other side of the mountains because the guy bought a pup that was sired by Mart’s dog when it somehow shouldn’t have been. There are other stories like that, although Cal doesn’t have them all straight, because Mart talks in big sweeping loops and because Cal doesn’t fully have the hang of the local accent. He likes it—rich as the air, with a needle-fine point that makes him think of cold river water or mountain wind—but chunks of the conversation go right over his head, and he gets distracted listening to the rhythms and misses more. But he’s gathered enough to know that he could have sat on someone’s stool in the pub, or cut across the wrong piece of land on one of his walks, and that that could mean something.

   When he arrived here, he was ready for closed ranks against the stranger. He was OK with that, as long as no one set his place on fire; he wasn’t looking for golf buddies and dinner parties. But it didn’t turn out that way. People were neighborly. The day Cal arrived and started hauling stuff into and out of the house, Mart wandered down to lean on the gate and probe for information, and ended up bringing over an old mini-fridge and recommending a good building supplies store. Noreen explained who was what kind of cousin to who and how to get onto the group water scheme, and—later, once Cal had made her laugh a few times—started offering, only halfway joking, to set Cal up with her widowed sister. The old guys who apparently live in the pub have moved from nods to weather comments to passionate explanations of a sport called hurling, which to Cal looks like what you might get if you kept the speed, dexterity and ferocity of ice hockey but took away the ice and most of the protective equipment. Up until last week he felt that he had been, if not exactly welcomed with open arms, at least accepted as a mildly interesting natural phenomenon, like maybe a seal that had taken up residence in the river. Obviously he was always going to be an outsider, but he was getting the feeling that that wasn’t a big deal. He’s no longer so sure.

   So, four days ago, Cal drove into town and bought a big bag of garden soil. He’s aware of the irony of buying more dirt, when he just spent most of his savings on ten acres of it, but his personal dirt is rough and chunky, shot through with grass roots and small sharp rocks. For this he needed fine, moist, even stuff. The next day he got up before dawn and spread a layer of it by the outside wall of his house, under each of the windows. He had to pull weeds and creepers and scrape back pebbles to get a decent surface. The air was cold right down to the bottom of his lungs. Slowly the fields lightened around him; the rooks woke up and started bickering. When the sky got bright and he heard Mart’s faint peremptory whistle to his sheepdog, Cal crumpled up the soil bag to stuff at the bottom of the trash, and went inside to make breakfast.

   Next morning, nothing; morning after that, nothing. He must have got closer than he thought, the last time, must have given them a scare. He went about his business and kept his eyes off the windows and the hedges.

   This morning, footprints, in the dirt under his living-room window. Sneakers, going by the fragments of tread, but the prints were too scuffed up and overlapped to tell how big or how many.

   The frying pan is hot. Cal throws in four slices of bacon, meatier and tastier than what he’s used to, and once the fat sizzles cracks in two eggs. He goes over to his iPod, which lives on the same left-behind wooden table where he eats his meals—the sum total of Cal’s current furniture is that table, a left-behind wooden desk with a busted side, two scrawny left-behind Formica chairs, and a fat green armchair that Mart’s cousin was throwing out—and puts on some Johnny Cash, not too loud.

   If he’s done something that pissed someone off, the prime candidate has got to be buying this house. He picked it off a website, on the basis that it came with some land, there was good fishing nearby, the roof looked sound, and he wanted to check out the papers sticking out of that old desk. It had been a long time since Cal had got a wild hare like that and chased after it, which seemed like an extra reason for doing it. The estate agents were asking thirty-five K. Cal offered thirty, cash. They about bit his hand off.

   It didn’t occur to him at the time that anyone else might want the place. It’s a low, gray, undistinguished house built sometime in the 1930s, five hundred and some square feet, slate-roofed and sash-windowed; only the big cornerstones and the broad stone fireplace give it a touch of grace. Going by the website photos, it had been abandoned for years, probably decades: paint peeling in big streaks and mottles, rooms strewn with upended dark-brown furniture and rotting flowered curtains, saplings springing up in front of the door and creepers trailing in at a broken window. But he’s learned enough since then to understand that someone else might in fact have wanted this place, even if the reasons aren’t immediately apparent, and that anyone who felt they had a claim on it was likely to take that seriously.

Hot Books
» Buy Me Sir
» Daddy's Pretty Baby
» Ruckus (Sinners of Saint #2)
» The Greek's Forgotten Wife (The Boarding Sc
» Mastered (The Enforcers #1)
» Kept (The Enforcers #3)
» The Dom's Virgin: A Dark Billionaire Romanc
» Filthy Marcellos: The Complete
» The Chosen (Black Dagger Brotherhood #15)
» Wet
» White Hot (Hidden Legacy #2)
» Wake A Sleeping Tiger (Breeds #31)
» The Hot Shot (Game On #4)
» If You Were Mine
» Fallen Crest Home (Fallen Crest High #6)
» Latest books
» Hot Author