Home > The Searcher(4)

The Searcher(4)
Author: Tana French

   The best he’s got is a piece of pipe, left over from the bathroom work and stashed in a bush. Even holding it, he feels empty-handed and too light, without his gun. He stands still for a minute, letting his eyes adjust and listening, but the night is speckled all over with small noises and he can’t pick out any one that seems more relevant than the others. It’s got dark; the moon is up, a sharp slice chased over by ragged clouds, casting only a faint unreliable light and too many shadows. Cal adjusts his grip on the pipe and moves, with the old practiced compromise between speed and silence, towards the corner of the house.

   Below the living-room window a huddle of denser darkness crouches, motionless, head just high enough to peer over the sill. Cal scans carefully, as best he can, but the grass all around is clear: looks like just the one. In the spill of light from the window he catches a buzz cut and a smudge of red.

   Cal drops the pipe and charges. He’s going for a full tackle, planning on flattening the guy and figuring out the rest from there, but his foot turns on a rock. In the second while he’s flailing for his balance, the guy leaps up and away. Cal lunges into the near-darkness, grabs hold of an arm and hauls with all his might.

   The guy flies towards him too easily, and the arm is small enough that his hand wraps right around it. It’s a kid. The realization loosens Cal’s grip a notch. The kid twists like a bobcat, with a hiss of breath, and sinks his teeth into Cal’s hand.

   Cal roars. The kid yanks free and takes off across the garden like a rocket, feet almost noiseless on the grass. Cal starts after him, but in seconds he’s disappeared into the scribble of shadow by the roadside hedge, and by the time Cal reaches it, he’s gone. Cal shoves his way through the hedge and looks up and down the road, narrowed to a faint ribbon by the moon-shadows of the hedges crowding in. Nothing. He tosses a couple of stones into the bushes in various directions, trying to flush the kid out: no.

   He doubts the kid had reinforcements—he would have yelled out, either for help or to warn them—but he jogs a circle around the garden just in case. The rooks are asleep, undisturbed. New footprints in the soil below the living-room window, same tread as last time; nowhere else. Cal backs himself up in the heavy shadow of the shed and waits for a long time, trying to quiet his panting, but there’s no rustle in any hedge and no shadow sneaking away across any field. Just the one, and just a kid. And not coming back, at least not tonight.

   Inside, he takes a look at his hand. The kid got him good: three teeth broke the skin, and one place is bleeding. Cal got bit once before, on the job, which led to a maelstrom of paperwork, interviews, blood tests, legal wrangling, pills and court appearances that went on for months, till Cal got fed up keeping track of what was for what and just handed over his arm or his signature on request. He finds his first-aid kit and soaks his hand in disinfectant for a while, then sticks on a Band-Aid.

   His food has gone cold. He nukes it up and takes it back to the table. Johnny Cash is still going, mourning his lost Rose and his lost boy, in a deep broken quaver like he’s already a ghost.

   Cal isn’t feeling the way he would have expected. Kids spying on the new guy were the thing he was hoping to find, the best-case scenario. He figured he would shout vague threats after them while they zoomed away yelling and laughing and calling insults over their shoulders, and then he would shake his head and go back indoors bitching about kids nowadays like some old geezer, and that would be the end of that. Maybe they would come back for another round, every now and then, but Cal was basically OK with that. Meanwhile, he could return to doing his renovation and playing his music loud and adjusting his balls whenever he damn well pleased, with his police sense put back to bed where it belongs.

   Except he doesn’t feel like that was the end of that, and his police sense isn’t going back to sleep. Kids screwing with the stranger for kicks should have come in a bunch, and they should have been rowdy, hopped up on their own daring like it was caffeine. He thinks of this kid’s stillness under the window, his silence when Cal grabbed him, the snake-strike ferocity of his bite. This kid wasn’t having fun. He was here for a purpose. He’ll be back.

   Cal finishes his food and does the dishes. He nails up a drop sheet over the bathroom window and takes a fast bath. Then he lies on his mattress in the dark with his hands behind his head, looking out the window at the cloud-patched stars and listening to foxes fighting somewhere out across the fields.

 

 

TWO


   The busted-up desk, when Cal gets it outside and takes a good look at it, is older than he thought and better quality: dark-stained oak, with delicate curls carved into the rail above the drop front and along the bottoms of the drawers, and a dozen little cubbyholes nested inside the drop. He had it stashed away in the smaller bedroom, since he wasn’t planning on getting to it for a while, but it seems like it might come in useful today. He’s hauled it out to the bottom of the garden, a carefully judged distance from the hedge and the rooks’ tree, along with his table to act as a work surface, and his toolbox. That toolbox is one of the bare handful of things he shipped over here. Most of those tools were his grandpa’s. They’re scuffed, nicked, paint-splattered, but they still work better than the crap you pick up in hardware stores these days.

   The main thing wrong with the desk is a big splintered dent in one side, like whoever went over the bathroom with a lump hammer took a swing at this on his way out. Cal is leaving that for last, once he gets his hand back in. He’s planning on starting with the drawer runners. Two of them are plain gone, and the other two are warped and split till the drawer won’t go out or in without a fight. He takes both drawers out, lays the desk on its back and starts drawing pencil outlines around the remaining runners.

   The weather is on his side: it’s a mild, sunny day with just a light breeze, little birds in the hedges and bees in the wildflowers, the kind of day where a man might naturally feel like taking some work outside. It’s mid-morning on a school day, but judging by the other incidents, Cal doesn’t reckon this necessarily means he’s wasting his time. Even if nothing happens straightaway, he’s got plenty here to keep him busy till school lets out. He whistles his grandpa’s old folk songs through his teeth, and sings a few of the words when he remembers them.

   When he hears the swish of feet in grass, a ways off, he keeps whistling and keeps his head down over the desk. After a minute, though, he hears a messy scramble through the hedge, and a wet nose shoves under his elbow: Kojak, Mart’s raggedy black-and-white sheepdog. Cal straightens his back and gives Mart a wave.

   “How’s she cuttin’?” Mart inquires, over the side fence. Kojak lopes off to check out what’s been in Cal’s hedge since he was here last.

   “Not too bad,” Cal says. “ ’Bout you?”

   “Sound as a pound on the ground,” Mart says. Mart is short, maybe five foot seven, wiry and lined; he has fluffy gray hair, a nose that got broken once or twice along the way, and a wide selection of hats. Today he’s wearing a flat tweed cap that looks like it’s been chewed by some farm animal or other. “What’re you at with that yoke?”

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