Authors: Brian Freeman
She headed his way, cutting diagonally across the land. As she got closer, she could see that the man was in his seventies, with slightly hunched shoulders. His white hair sprouted from the top of his head and settled on either side like water from a fountain. His dark eyes were cheerful and alert, and he whistled as he went from grave to grave. Lisa watched him bend down at his knees and pick up a flowerpot filled with weathered plastic roses and deposit it in the box he was carrying. He took one of the sad old white roses from the pot and poked it into the buttonhole of his lapel like a boutonniere.
“Excuse me,” Lisa called.
The man eyed Lisa from where he was, and his face showed his surprise that he wasn’t alone. “Oh, hello.”
“Do you work here?”
The man pushed himself up until he was standing again, and Lisa could hear an audible pop in one of his knees and saw a twinge of discomfort cross the man’s face. “No, I’m just a volunteer.”
“My name is Lisa Power,” she said, but her name drew no recognition from him.
“Tom Manno. Father Manno, actually.”
“You’re a priest?”
“Recently retired. I still do the occasional funeral service for parishioners I’ve known for a long time. Plus, I help the city keep the cemetery here in good order. People like to leave things behind when they visit. Flowers, trinkets, little memorials for their loved ones. Usually the city comes through before winter and gathers them up and throws them away. I’ve never liked that. So I get out here before the cemetery workers arrive and save what I can. I keep it all in storage at the church. No one has ever come back to get anything, but that doesn’t matter to me. These objects have meaning to someone, so I want them treated with respect.”
“That’s very nice,” Lisa told him.
Father Manno put down the box at his feet. He stared into the wind at the gravestones surrounding them. “Well, to be perfectly honest, these visits are selfish, too. I like spending time here by myself. I have a chance to catch up with old friends. I can reflect on what’s ahead for me, too. Not that I’m looking to rush it, but I’ve seen enough people unprepared that I’d rather get my head around it. People always assume that priests are just fine with death, as if going to a better world means you don’t regret leaving the one you know. How silly.”
“Well, I don’t mean to intrude,” Lisa told him.
“Not at all. Is there something you need?”
“I have a question, actually.” She pointed to the corner of the cemetery near the trees. “There’s a freshly dug grave back there. I assume someone was buried very recently. I was just wondering if you happened to know who it was, or know anything about it.”
Father Manno followed the direction of her finger and shook his head. “I’m afraid not. I’m not involved in every burial here, unless the deceased had a connection to my church.”
“Of course. I understand.”
“I did do a funeral here a few days ago, but the grave was nowhere near where you’re pointing. Besides, I’m sure you know about that one.”
Lisa cocked her head in confusion. “No, I don’t.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I assumed you lived in town.”
“I live an hour north,” Lisa said. “Plus, I haven’t felt like reading the papers in a while.”
“Well, the funeral was for a young woman. Her name was Fiona Farrell. It seemed like half the town was here to pay their respects. I suppose that was partly because of how she died and partly because of who her father is.”
“Her father,” Lisa murmured.
“Yes, Denis Farrell. The county attorney.”
Lisa found herself shivering as the wind sprayed snow across her face. “You just buried Denis Farrell’s daughter?”
“How did she die?”
“Oh, it was a terrible thing,” Father Manno told her. “The family is absolutely devastated. She was stabbed to death. Brutally murdered.”
The hospital administrator sat across the desk from Denis Farrell in the county attorney’s home office. Wilson Hoke was an annoying little man, one of those sycophants Denis never trusted because they would constantly dance around what they really wanted to say. Denis had no time for pussyfooters. Physically, Hoke was something of a Bill Gates lookalike, always in a wrinkled pin-striped suit, with a meek voice, messy brown hair, black glasses, and a thin little smile.
“I just wanted to say again, Mr. Farrell, how very sorry I am for your loss,” Hoke told him. “It’s so shocking. It’s so tragic.”
Denis didn’t need any more condolences, especially not from this man. “Yes, it is. Thank you.”
“I can’t imagine how difficult this time is for you and your wife.”
“To be very honest, we’ve barely had time to think about the reality of it. Grief will come later.”
“Oh, I understand,” Hoke replied, nodding his head repeatedly.
Denis found himself tapping his finger on the desk in time with Hoke’s head. He looked around his office and felt claustrophobic, because everything in here was a reminder. “This is a busy time for me, Hoke. I’m sorry to rush you along, but what do you want?”
“Oh. Well. I just wanted to follow up about the . . . well, the incident. I wanted to assure you that appropriate security measures will be taken.”
Denis shook his head. As expected, Hoke was covering his ass. Trying to make sure that none of the consequences fell on his head. “It’s a little late for appropriate measures,” he snapped at the man.
“Yes, I realize that. I’m sorry.”
“Have you contained the situation at the hospital?” Denis asked.
“As best we can. However, Thief River Falls is still a small town. We all know rumors have a way of getting around.”
“Then it’s your job to stop them before they start,” Denis insisted. “I assume we’re both clear on the mess that follows if people find out about this. Neither of us wants that, do we?”
“Of course not.” Hoke fiddled with the knot on his tie. As usual, he wasn’t saying what he wanted to say, which drove Denis mad. “I was wondering, not wanting to pry or anything, whether there had been any new developments.”
“So we haven’t . . . located . . . the boy?”
Hoke nodded uncomfortably. “Dr. March tells me that you think that Harlan is . . . with . . . Lisa Power?”
“We think so, yes.”
“And do you know where they are?”
Denis got up from his desk, not hiding his impatience. He ignored his cane and limped to the bookshelves on the wall. He knew exactly which book he wanted.
Thief River Falls.
He took it down and held it in his hands, and then he flipped forward to the dedication, ripping at each page.
And then to the prologue.
Down, down, down . . .
Denis slammed the book shut. The noise was as loud as the crack of a bullet. “No, we don’t know where they are, but Lisa came back to Thief River Falls yesterday evening. She’s like a moth to a flame, that one. I have people watching the roads, so she can’t leave town. Sooner or later, we’ll find her. We’ll find both of them.”
When Lisa heard his name, she knew that he was at the center of whatever was going on. She wasn’t surprised at all. He was a ruthless, arrogant son of a bitch who treated the town of Thief River Falls like his personal empire. She’d already seen once before how he reacted to loss in his family. If his life had now been touched by the murder of his daughter, he would be the blackest kind of avenging angel.
She and Denis had been antagonists for more than twenty years. He hated her, and she knew it. To this day, he refused to be in the same room with her. Yes, she’d shamed him into taking action against the man who’d assaulted Shyla Dunn when Lisa was only a young nurse, but the bad blood between them went back much further than that. It really had very little to do with Lisa and everything to do with Denis’s son.
The golden boy. The inheritor of the legacy. The young man who was going to expand Denis’s reach beyond the flatlands in their little corner of the state to the capitol building in Saint Paul. And maybe beyond, to Washington, DC.
Lisa could still remember the first time she’d met Danny’s father. She was fifteen years old, and she and Danny had only been dating for
a few weeks when the county attorney’s assistant called to invite her to dinner. Not the two of them. Just Lisa. Danny had sarcastically told her that his father was a force to be reckoned with, but even that warning hadn’t prepared her for what was ahead. She remembered standing in front of Denis’s desk in that dark, baroque office of his and trembling as he lectured her in a booming voice about everything that was not going to happen.
getting in the way of my plans for that boy.
following Danny to college.
marrying my son.
going to be in his life after high school. Period.
At that point, Lisa did something that she still regretted. His verbal assault had left her feeling small and abused, and she’d fired back at him with two words.
she said. Only she hadn’t phrased it so delicately. No one said those words to Denis Farrell. No one, and certainly not a teenage girl. From that moment forward, their relationship had become a cold war. It was no longer just about Danny following The Plan. It was about making sure he never ended up with
She took no satisfaction in the fact that she’d ultimately won the war, because it was a contest in which there were no winners. In the end, Danny chose her over his father, even though it meant living with Denis’s near-total rejection. She hated the idea that she’d been the source of a permanent split between father and son. When Danny went off to California to fight the fires, he hadn’t spoken to his father in nearly a year. And they never would again.
She blamed herself for that, and she wasn’t alone. Denis blamed her, too. He blamed her for everything that had gone wrong. He blamed her for letting Danny go when she could have made him stay. For ten years, ever since Danny’s death, there had been almost no direct contact between them. There were days when she wished for a thaw, for a chance to put the past in the past, but that was never going to come.
Not now. Not after she’d taken his name and made him the villain in
Thief River Falls
Denis Farrell. County attorney. Murderer.
She’d intended it as a malicious joke, but she was beginning to fear that Denis was the one who was laughing.
Lisa knew where to find Fiona Farrell’s house. In many ways, it was a carbon copy of where Lisa had grown up. A corner house with the same floor plan. Two stories. Looking out across the front yard to the lonely railroad tracks.
She did what she’d done at home, parking the Camaro at the end of the block where it wouldn’t be seen. She crept through the backyards toward Fiona’s house and approached it from the rear. Like her own house, the construction dated back to before the war, but Denis’s money had made sure that his daughter lived in a nicer style. The house was neatly painted in bright white, with hardly a speck of dirt on it. Crossbeams on the gable gave it a Tudor look. The roof had the deep-black color of new shingles. The backyard, situated under trees whose leaves were as orange as fire, was manicured, with decorative rocks around a flower garden and a wooden shed painted white to match the house.
What was most noticeable now was police crime scene tape, strung from tree to tree and surrounding the entire yard.
Lisa took note of the neighborhood, but she didn’t see anyone watching the property. There were no police vehicles left to guard the house. The crime scene tape itself had pulled away and torn in places, thanks to days of wind and rain. The murder had happened more than a week earlier. There had already been time for an autopsy and for the body to be released and for Denis to bury his daughter.
She darted across the lawn from the shelter of the trees. She ducked under the sagging crime scene tape and made her way to the back door. There had been a lock there, but no longer. Someone had kicked the door in, leaving it broken, barely hanging on its hinges. No one had repaired it yet. More crime scene tape had been adhered in an X across the frame, but she had no trouble squeezing through it into the house.