Home > The Searcher(8)

The Searcher(8)
Author: Tana French

   He takes another glance. The kid shakes his head again. He’s built wiry, the type who’s as fast as he looks and stronger, both of which Cal already knew from last night. In the face he’s ordinary: a little of the baby softness left, not strong-featured or fine-featured, or good-looking or ugly; the only things that stand out are a stubborn chin and a pair of gray eyes fixed on Cal like they’re running him through some CIA-level computer check.

   “Well,” Cal says, “now you have. Drawers nowadays, they’ve got metal runners, but this is an old desk. I can’t tell you how old, exactly; that’s not my area. I’d love to think we’ve got ourselves some Antiques Roadshow material here, but more’n likely it’s just a piece of old crap. I’ve taken a shine to it, though. I want to see if I can get it up and running.”

   He’s talking like he would to a stray dog in his yard, steady and even, not bothering much about the actual words. The kid’s sanding is getting faster and more confident, as he gets the hang of it.

   Cal measures his groove and saws off the next runner. “That should be done enough by now,” he says. “Lemme see.”

   “If it’s for a drawer,” the kid says, “it oughta be real smooth. Or it’ll stick.”

   His voice is clear and blunt, not broken yet, and his accent is almost as thick as Mart’s. And he’s not stupid. “True,” Cal says. “Go ahead and take your time.”

   He angles himself so he can see the kid out of the corner of his eye while he chisels. The kid is taking this seriously, checking each surface and edge with a careful finger, going back over it again and again till he’s satisfied. Finally he looks up and throws Cal the runner.

   Cal catches it. “Good job,” he says, testing with his thumb. “Look.” He fits it over the tenon at the side of the drawer and slides it back and forth. The kid cranes his neck to watch, but he doesn’t move nearer.

   “Smooth as butter,” Cal says. “We’ll wax it up later on, just for a little extra slide, but it hardly even needs that. Have another one.”

   When he reaches for the second runner, the kid’s eyes go to the Band-Aid on his hand.

   “Yeah,” Cal says. He holds up the hand so the kid can get a good look. “This gets infected, I’m gonna be real pissed off with you.”

   The kid’s eyes snap wide and his muscles snap tight. He’s on the verge of flight, toes barely touching the grass.

   “You’ve been keeping a pretty good eye on me,” Cal says. “Any reason for that?”

   After a moment the kid shakes his head. He’s still ready to run, eyes fixed on Cal to catch the first signs of a lunge.

   “There something you want to know? Because if you do, now would be a real good time to go ahead and ask straight out like a man.”

   The kid shakes his head again.

   “Got any problems with me?”

   Another head-shake, this one more vehement.

   “You planning on robbing me? ’Cause that would be a bad idea. Plus, unless this turns out to be Antiques Roadshow stuff after all, I got nothing worth stealing.”

   Hard head-shake.

   “Someone send you?”

   Incredulous grimace, like Cal just said something bizarre. “Nah.”

   “You do this as a regular thing? Watch people?”

   “No!”

   “Then what?”

   After a moment the kid shrugs.

   Cal waits, but no further information is forthcoming. “OK,” he says, in the end. “I don’t much care why you were doing it. But that shit stops now. From now on, you get the urge to watch me, you do it like this. Face-to-face. This is the only warning I’m gonna give you. We clear?”

   The kid says, “Yeah.”

   “Good,” Cal says. “You got a name?”

   The kid has relaxed a notch or two, now that he knows he’s not going to need to run. “Trey.”

   “Trey,” Cal says. “I’m Cal.” The kid nods, once, like this confirms what he already knew. “You always this chatty?”

   The kid shrugs.

   “I gotta get some coffee inside me,” Cal says. “And a cookie or something. You want a cookie?”

   If the kid’s been trained in stranger danger, this is a bad move, but Cal doesn’t get the sense he’s been trained in much of anything. Sure enough, he nods.

   “You’ve earned it,” Cal says. “Back in a minute. You sand this down meanwhile.” He tosses Trey the second runner and heads up the garden without looking back.

   Inside, he makes himself a big mug of instant coffee and finds his pack of chocolate chip cookies. Maybe those will get Trey talking, although Cal doubts it. He can’t get a handle on this kid. He might have been lying, in one or more places, or he might not. All Cal gets off him is urgency, so concentrated that it shimmers the air around him like heat coming off a road.

   When Cal goes back outside, Kojak is snuffling in the undergrowth at the base of the shed, and Mart is leaning on the fence with a packet of ham slices dangling from one hand. “Well, begod,” he says, inspecting the desk, “it’s still alive. I’ll have to wait for my firewood.”

   The half-sanded runner and the sandpaper are lying on the grass. The kid called Trey is gone, like he was never there.

 

 

THREE


   Over the next few days there’s no sign of Trey. Cal doesn’t take this to mean that the matter is concluded. The kid struck him as a wild creature, even more than most, and wild creatures often need some time to percolate an unexpected encounter before they decide on their next step.

   It rains day and night, mildly but uncompromisingly, so Cal takes the desk inside and goes back to his wallpaper. He enjoys this rain. It has no aggression to it; its steady rhythm and the scents it brings in through the windows gentle the house’s shabbiness, giving it a homey feel. He’s learned to see the landscape changing under it, greens turning richer and wildflowers rising. It feels like an ally, rather than the annoyance it is in the city.

   Cal is reasonably certain that the kid isn’t going to screw with his place while he’s out, certain enough that on Saturday night, when the rain finally clears, he heads down to the village pub. It’s a two-mile walk, enough to keep him at home in bad weather. Mart and the old guys in the pub find his insistence on walking hilarious, to the point of driving home alongside him calling out encouragement or making herding noises. Cal feels that his car, a loud, grumpy, geriatric red Mitsubishi Pajero, is noticeable enough to attract the attention of any bored officer who might be tooling around, and that it would be a bad idea to score himself a DUI while he’s still waiting for his firearm license, which can be denied if he’s known to be of intemperate habits.

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