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walked through the archway and plopped down in one of the big leather
recliners in the living room, about six feet from where flames flickered in
the oversized fireplace.
It was nice to be warm and off his feet, and life would be perfect if
"Coffee?" Karin Thorsen asked as she hurried in, a serving tray in her hand,
and set out another coffee cake and a plate of rolled lefse on the coffee
table before she followed through by offering him the cup.
"Please," he said, accepting the terra-cotta mug with both of his hands. It
warmed them delightfully, and when he sipped at the steaming black liquid it
warmed his insides like a shot of cheap whiskey.
"Good evening, Jeff," Dave Oppegaard said. His usual cable-knit sweater was
conspicuous by its absence he was wearing his minister's collar, although that
had been loosened and the first two buttons of his shirt unbuttoned. His hair
was white and cottony, and it was just as well he kept himself
clean-shaven with a beard he would have looked like a buffed Santa Claus, and
his voice was deep enough that a "Ho ho ho" would have been clichd enough to
be scary.
"Dave," Jeff said, leaning back in the recliner and letting the footrest come
up and support his feet.
But, as usual, his gun got in the way. Damn. He stood up and removed the gun
from his belt, paddle holster and all, and stuck it up high on a bookshelf
behind him.
In his two years on the job, his handgun had never been anything but part of
his uniform and an ongoing irritation and annoyance. Same thing had been true
for all the years old John Honistead had held the job. A cop really didn't
need a gun in Hardwood, but you carried it anyway.
It was part of the ritual that went with things like ticketing a speeder,
more like the badge than anything else. Hell, whenever he had to put a
car-struck deer or dog out of its misery, he went to the lever-action carbine
in the trunk of his car, just to be sure it would be over quickly.
It would have been nice to be able to do without hauling the iron around.
He snickered. And this from somebody who had spent the afternoon stalking
carefully through the woods, carrying a just-barely-legal short-barreled
Mossberg shotgun, looking for wolf tracks?
Bob Aarsted's broad face threatened to split with a grin that revealed a
shiny new gold cap on one of his front teeth, a very strange note in such a
wide, Norski face. "You'd think that you professional peace officer types
would learn to handle your shooting irons," he said.
There was a serious undertone in that that Jeff didn't much care for, but he
didn't say anything. Not the time or the place for that. Bob was his
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father-in-law, after all, and if he had a problem with him he could take it up
later, privately. There were some problems that had to be dealt with by the
unofficial but very much de facto town council of Hardwood, but that wasn't
one of them.
"And you'd think," Jeff said, "that somebody who has been driving as long as
you would know that his side view mirror should be angled so that he can see
what's behind him."
Minnie Hansen looked at him over her glasses. "That means, Bob, that Jeff
accidentally knocked your van's mirror out of line," she said, eyeing him
levelly for just a moment, not missing a stitch as her needles clicked. She
was working on something blue and generally tubular the arm of a sweater,
Jeff nodded. "Guilty as charged. Sorry."
"Enh." Aarsted shrugged. "No problem. How is Kathy doing?"
"Fine, she's fine," Jeff said. It wasn't like Bob Aarsted didn't see his
daughter almost every day. Hell, she was on the phone with her mother and her
sisters so much that he was surprised she didn't have a divot in her shoulder
from where she held it.
"Good. Dinner tomorrow?"
"It's Wednesday," he said, agreeing. Jeff liked the regularity. There was
Wednesday supper at the Aarsteds; Sunday dinner with his parents, right after
church. The first Monday after the first Tuesday of every month was the
official town council meeting, followed by the unofficial bull session over at
the Dine-a-mite. Women's Club on alternate Thursdays, which gave Kathy more
time with her mom and sisters, and Scouts every Friday.
You tended to count your life with ticks of regularity in Hardwood, and while
that wasn't for everybody, it suited Jeff Bjerke just fine.
"Am I the last?"
Minnie didn't look up. "Michael's late, but I don't think we should wait."
She glanced up at the ceiling, as though she could see through it. It wouldn't
have entirely surprised Jeff if she could; back when she was his second-grade
teacher, she had apparently had eyes in the back of her head.
"Let's begin," she said, her voice carrying.
Doc Sherve and Thorian Thorsen trooped in from the kitchen, Dave Oppegaard
trailing. For once, Thorsen seemed uncomfortable; he stood, uneasily, next to
the fireplace, as though he felt like he didn't belong.
Well, normally he didn't.
"Okay." Doc Sherve set his coffee cup down in his usual spot next to the
outflow. "Unless anybody's got something I don't know about, we've got five
major items on the agenda tonight."
"Five," Minnie nodded.
"Well, do we take the obvious problem first, or last?" Aarsted asked, jerking
a thumb toward the ceiling.
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"Last," Dave Oppegaard said. "I'd be uncomfortable deciding on that without
Aarsted nodded, and took a last long swig from his coffee mug before setting [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]


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