Home > The Searcher(7)

The Searcher(7)
Author: Tana French

   “You’ve all got a bit of Irish in ye over there,” Mart says, with supreme confidence. “One way or another.”

   “Guess I oughta hang on to that stuff, then,” Cal says, giving Kojak a final pat and turning back to his toolbox. Annie doesn’t sound like she’s sending kids round to scope out the ancestral home. Cal would love a lead on who the kid might be—he thought he had a fair handle on all his near neighbors, but he isn’t aware of any kids—but being a middle-aged male stranger asking questions about the local little boys seems like a good route to a hiding and a couple of bricks through your windows, and he has enough going on as it is. He rummages through the toolbox for his chisel.

   “Good luck with that yoke there,” Mart says, straightening up off the fence with a grimace. A lifetime of farm labor has ground Mart’s joints to rubble; he has trouble with his knee, his shoulder, and everything in between. “I’ll take the firewood off your hands when you’re done with it.”

   “Ham,” Cal reminds him.

   “You’ll have to face Noreen sooner or later. You can’t be hiding away up here hoping she’ll forget. Like I told you, bucko: once a woman gets an idea, it’s going nowhere.”

   “You can be my best man,” Cal says, working the chisel under the runner.

   “Them ham slices is two euros fifty,” Mart tells him.

   “Huh,” Cal says. “So’re those cookies.”

   Mart wheezes with laughter and slaps the fence, making it bounce and rattle alarmingly. Then he whistles to Kojak and they head off.

   Cal goes back to the desk, shaking his head and grinning. He sometimes suspects that Mart is putting on the gift-of-the-gab yokel act, either for shits and giggles or in order to make Cal more amenable to the cookie run and whatever else he has in mind. Betcha, Donna would’ve said, back when they used to love coming up with stuff to make each other laugh, betcha when you’re not around he wears a tux and talks like the queen of England. That or else he’s in his Yeezys, busting a move to Kanye. Cal doesn’t think about Donna constantly, the way he did at first—it took months of dogged work, blasting music or reciting football lineups out loud like a loon every time she came into his head, but he got there in the end. She still crops up from time to time, though, mostly when he runs across something that would make her smile. He always loved Donna’s smile, quick and complete, sending every line of her face flying upwards.

   From having seen his buddies go through this process, he expected that getting drunk would give him the urge to call her, so he stayed away from booze for a while, but it didn’t turn out to work that way. After a few beers Donna feels a million miles away, in some other dimension, like no phone could reach her. When he goes weak is when she takes him by surprise like this, on an innocent fall morning, blooming right across his mind so fresh and vivid that he can almost smell her. He can’t remember why he shouldn’t pull out his phone, Hey, baby, listen to this. Probably he should delete her number, but they might need to talk about Alyssa sometime, and anyway he knows it by heart.

   The drawer runner finally comes free, and Cal pulls out the old rusted nails with a pair of pliers. He measures the runner and scribbles the measurements on it. First time he was in the building suppliers he picked up a few bits of lumber, different sizes, because he had that toolbox and because you never know. One long piece of pine is just about the right width for the new runners, too thick but not by much. Cal clamps it to the table and starts planing it down.

   Back home his plan would have been to grab the kid again, in a better hold this time, and deliver a fear-of-God speech about trespassing, assault and battery, juvie, and what happens to kids who fuck with cops, maybe finished off with a slap upside the head and a good hard shove off his property. Here, where he’s not a cop and where that feeling of not knowing what he might set in motion is settling in deeper, not one bit of that is an option. Anything he does, he needs to keep it smart and careful, and do it with a light touch.

   He gets the wood planed to the right thickness, rules two lines down it and saws along each of them, a quarter-inch deep. A part of him wondered if he would still know what to do with these tools, but his hands remember: the tools fit like they’re still warm from his last grip and move smoothly through the wood. It feels good. He’s whistling again, not bothering with tunes this time, just tossing out amiable little trills and riffs to the birds.

   The day warms up till Cal has to stop and take off his sweatshirt. He starts chiseling out the strip of wood between the two sawn lines, taking his time. He’s in no hurry. The kid, whoever he is, wants something. Cal is offering him the opportunity to come and get it.

   The first time he hears a sound, off behind the hedge, it’s blurred by his whistling and the slide of the chisel, and he’s not sure. He doesn’t look up. He finds his tape measure and checks the groove he’s making: long enough for one runner. When he moves around the table to get his saw, he hears it again: a sharp rattle of twigs, someone ducking or dodging.

   Cal glances up at the hedge as he stoops for the saw. “If you’re gonna watch,” he says, “you might as well get a good view. Come over here and gimme a hand with this.”

   The silence from behind the hedge is absolute. Cal can feel it thrumming.

   He saws off the runner, blows away the dust and measures it against the old one. Then he tosses it, underhand and easily, towards the hedge, and follows it with a sheet of sandpaper. “Here,” he says to the hedge. “Get that sanded down.”

   He picks up his chisel and hammer and goes back to cutting the groove. The silence lasts long enough that he thinks he’s struck out. Then he hears the rustle of someone easing, slowly and warily, through the hedge.

   Cal keeps working. In the corner of his eye he sees a flash of red. After a long time he hears the rasp of sanding, clumsy and inexpert, with gaps between the strokes.

   “Doesn’t need to be a work of art,” he says. “It’s going inside the desk, no one’s gonna see it. Just get the splinters gone. Go along the grain, not across it.”

   A pause. More sanding.

   “What we’re making here,” he says, “is drawer runners. You know what those are?”

   He glances up. It’s the kid from last night, all right, standing on the grass about a dozen feet away and staring at Cal, with every muscle poised to run if he needs to. Mousy buzz cut, too-big faded red hoodie, ratty jeans. He’s maybe twelve.

   He shakes his head, one quick jerk.

   “The part that holds the drawer in place. Makes it run in and out nice and smooth. That groove, there’s a piece on the drawer that’ll fit into it.” Cal leans over towards the desk, good and slow, to point. The kid’s eyes follow his every move. “The old ones were falling apart.”

   He goes back to his chiseling. “Easiest thing would be to use a router for this, or a table saw,” he says, “but I don’t have those handy. Lucky for me, my grandpa liked carpentry. He showed me how to do this by hand, when I was about your size. You ever done any carpentry?”

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