Read The 37th Hour Online

Authors: Jodi Compton

Tags: #Mystery, #Detective, #Mystery & Detective - Women Sleuths, #Minneapolis (Minn.), #Police, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction - Mystery, #Mystery & Detective - General, #General, #Suspense, #Women Sleuths, #Thrillers, #Missing persons, #Fiction

The 37th Hour (6 page)

Shiloh rolled onto his side and watched me get dressed. “Don’t get too hungry,” he said. “I don’t want to start a panic, but the kitchen shelves were looking very bare the last I checked.”

“No shit?” I said. “Well, this is bad.”

I went out into the kitchen. Outside the window, I saw, twilight was deepening. When Shiloh came out, I was sitting on my heels, checking out the contents of the refrigerator. He’d been right: they weren’t promising.

“I could walk over to Ibrahim’s,” I said.

“Ibrahim’s” was our name for a Conoco gas station and mini-mart in the neighborhood. Despite the fact that there were plenty of full-service grocery stores in Minneapolis that were open late, if not all night, Ibrahim’s seemed irresistibly convenient to us when we needed milk or wanted coffee at an odd hour. We went there often enough that Shiloh had once remarked that it was too bad we hadn’t had a traditional wedding; we could have had the reception catered by Conoco.

“Maybe,” Shiloh said. He sounded unenthusiastic about the kind of food available in the freezer section of a mini-mart.

“Or,” I said thoughtfully, “we’ve got those slivered almonds and olives and some rice. If we went out and got some tomatoes and lemon—”

“And chicken, I know. I see where this is going,” Shiloh interrupted.

Neither of us would ever put cooking very high on our list of skills, but Shiloh was better than I was. Of the several staple recipes that he made from memory, my favorite was a Basque-style chicken. Shiloh fixed it every second or third week, but he seemed to wait for me to ask him for it. I thought that he liked my prodding, liked it that I enjoyed his cooking so much, and that was why I suspected his current reluctance wasn’t genuine. I wheedled a little more.

“I know it’s kind of labor-intensive, with the prep work,” I said.

As I’d thought, Shiloh shook his head negligently. “No, I’ll do it. If you’re willing to drive to the store and pick up what we need.”

“I don’t mind,” I said, already heading back to the bedroom for my shoes. His words, though, reminded me of something. “Hey, where is your car, anyway?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said from the kitchen. I could hear him taking a can of Coke from the refrigerator, fixing himself a drink. “I sold it.”

“Really?” I was startled. “That was kind of sudden,” I said. Despite his threats to get rid of it, Shiloh had seen his car through so many mechanical ailments that the news of its sale took me by surprise. I picked up my running shoes and a pair of socks and walked back to the kitchen doorway, where I sat on the floor to put them on.

“I didn’t trust it to get me all the way to Virginia,” Shiloh explained. “I’m just going to fly instead. I’ll worry about a new car later, after I’m finished at Quantico.”

“You’ve got some time left before you leave,” I reminded him, lacing up my shoes. “You could buy a new car in that time.”

“I’ve got a week,” he said, peeling the papery husk off a clove of garlic. “I could buy a car in that time, but I can also live that long without one.”

“I’d go nuts,” I said, getting to my feet. “It’s not that I mind walking, but just knowing I didn’t have a car if I needed one, that’d bother me.”

“I know what you mean,” Shiloh said. “A car is a lot more than transportation. It’s an investment, an office, a locker, a weapon.”

“A weapon?” I said doubtfully.

“If people really thought about the physics of driving, the forces they control, some of them would be afraid to leave the driveway. You’ve seen the accident scenes,” he said, rounding up stray pieces of chopped garlic with the flat of the knife.

“Yeah,” I said. “Too many.” Then another thought hit me. “When you were downtown, were you looking for a ride home?”

“Yes,” he said. “I had to drive the car out to the guys who bought it, then I went to find you. But Vang said you were in court.”

“You should have waited,” I said. “That was a long walk.”

“A couple of miles. Not so long.” Then he said, “Have you heard from Genevieve?”

The question seemed to come out of nowhere. I picked up his glass of Coke and took refuge in a sip of it before answering. “No,” I said. “She never calls me. And when I call her, she’s nearly monosyllabic. I don’t know if that’s better or worse than how she was before. For a while, all she wanted to do was talk about Royce Stewart.”

Genevieve lived an hour north of where her daughter’s murderer had gone to ground in his hometown of Blue Earth. But she knew sheriff’s deputies down there, and some of them were apparently willing to give her information on Shorty’s whereabouts and activities. Genevieve had told me that he was working construction again by day. At night he was a barfly. Even though his driver’s license had been revoked, and he lived outside of town, Shorty would drink in his favorite bar rather than at home. He could often be seen, Gen’s sources said, walking home along the county highway late at night. No one had ever caught him driving without a license, and he was apparently a well-mannered enough drinker that he hadn’t had any arrests for disorderly conduct or the like.

“I remember,” Shiloh said. “You told me.”

“She’s stopped talking about him. I don’t know if that means she’s stopped thinking about him,” I said. “I wish she’d come back to work. She needs to be busy.”

“Go see her,” Shiloh said.

“You think?” I said idly.

“Well, you said you were thinking about it.”

And I had mentioned it to him. How long ago had that been? Weeks, I realized, and in the meantime I hadn’t acted on the idea. I felt ashamed. I’d been busy, of course. That was the classic excuse, and cops used it as often as CEOs.
I’m busy, my job is demanding, people depend on me.
Then you realize that the needs of strangers have become more important to you than the needs of the people you see every day.

“You’ve got a couple of personal days coming up,” Shiloh added.

I was warming to the idea. “Yeah, I’d kind of like that. When exactly did you think we should go down?”

“Not me. Just you.” He was at the refrigerator, turned away from me, so that I couldn’t see his face.

“Are you serious?” I was perplexed. “I asked for those days off to spend with you, before you leave for Virginia.”

“I know that,” Shiloh said, patiently, turning to face me again. “And we’ll have time together. Mankato’s not far away. You could just go overnight.”

“Why don’t you want to come along?”

Shiloh shook his head. “I’ve got things to do up here, before I leave. Besides, asking Genevieve’s sister to put up one guest is one thing, two is something else. I’d be in the way.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” I said. “You’ve known Genevieve longer than I have. You were a pallbearer at Kamareia’s funeral, for Christ’s sake.”

“I know that,” Shiloh said. A quick flash of pain registered behind his eyes, and I regretted bringing it up.

“I’m trying to say,” I put in quickly, “that if you can’t come with me, I’ll put off the visit until after you leave for Quantico. I’ll have plenty of time to visit Genevieve while you’re in Virginia.”

Shiloh looked at me in silence. It was a look that made me feel self-conscious, the way I had when I was trying to explain my jump from the railroad bridge.

“You’re her partner,” he said. “She needs you, Sarah. She’s in a bad way.”

“I know,” I said, slowly. “I’ll think about it.”

Shiloh wasn’t trying to shame me, I thought, watching him take a jar of olives from the refrigerator. He was just being Shiloh. Direct, on the verge of blunt.

“I don’t want to hurry you, but I’m going to need that chicken and the other things fairly soon,” he reminded me. Then he gave me an olive, wet from the jar. He knew I liked them.

 

Out on the street, as I drove toward the grocery store, the first electric light was shining from the windows of Northeast’s tall, pale houses. They looked warm and inviting, and made me think of winter and the holiday season coming.

I wondered how we’d celebrate them this year.

“No, I’m listening,” Genevieve said. “Elijah in the wilderness. Go ahead.”

Genevieve’s house in St. Paul had a big kitchen, with lots of room for several people to work, and plenty of tools for a serious cook. She lived only with Kamareia, which was why Shiloh and I had come over to make Christmas dinner with them.

While a roast crusted with a thick rub of herbs baked in Genevieve’s old, speckled roasting pan in the oven, Shiloh was working on garlic mashed potatoes, and Genevieve was slicing red peppers and broccoli to be cooked at the last minute. I, the least talented in the kitchen, had been assigned to peel and quarter the gold-skinned potatoes, so my work was done. Kamareia, who had made a cheesecake in advance, had been likewise excused from further duty, and was now absorbed in a book in the living room.

Shiloh had mentioned to Genevieve that he had a theory of investigative work based on the Old Testament story of Elijah in the wilderness.

“Explain, please,” Genevieve urged, cupping a glass of eggnog in one hand. It was nonalcoholic; the flush in her cheeks was kitchen heat, not liquor.

“Okay,” Shiloh said, with the temporizing tone of someone mentally rounding up the elements of a story that he knows well but hasn’t told in a while. “Elijah went out to wait for God to speak to him,” he began. “As he waited, there was a strong wind, and God was not in the wind. And there was an earthquake, and God was not in the earthquake. And there was a fire, and God was not in the fire. And then there was a still, small voice.”

“And the still, small voice was God speaking,” a soft voice said from behind us.

None of us had heard Kamareia approach, and we all looked toward the archway leading into the kitchen, where she stood watching us with her lambent hazel eyes.

Kamareia was taller than her mother, and slender where Genevieve had the roundness of muscle. In a heather-gray leotard and faded jeans—we’d all agreed we weren’t going to dress for this dinner—and with her dozens of cornrows pulled back and tied at the nape of her neck, Kamareia looked more like a dancer than an aspiring writer.

“Exactly,” Shiloh said, acknowledging her erudition.

Kamareia was generally confident and talkative around her mother and me. When Shiloh was with us, she was much quieter, although I noticed she tended to follow him with her gaze.

“And the point is?” Genevieve asked Shiloh.

“The point is”—Shiloh threw a small handful of garlic into the olive oil heating in a saucepan—“that a major crime investigation is kind of like a circus sometimes.”

“A circus?” Genevieve repeated lightly. “Wasn’t Elijah in a forest? I love freshly mixed metaphors.”

“Well, actually, Elijah was on a mountain,” Shiloh said. “But what I mean is, a major investigation is frenetic and distracting. In the middle of it all, you’ve got to ignore the fire and the whirlwind and listen for a still, small voice.”

“You should have been born Catholic, Shiloh,” Genevieve said. “You could have been a Jesuit. I’ve never met anyone who can quote the Bible like you.”

“Even the Devil can quote Scripture to his purpose,” Kamareia interjected.

Apparently undisturbed by being compared to Satan, Shiloh winked at her. Kamareia quickly glanced away, pretending to take interest in the vegetables her mother was preparing, and I thought that if she had the pale skin of a white girl, her own audacity would have reddened her cheeks.

Then she surprised me by meeting Shiloh’s eyes again. “Are you saying that in your work you try to listen to God?”

Shiloh poured milk into the saucepan, soothing the heat and noise of the browning garlic. He didn’t answer right away, but he was thinking about her question. Genevieve, too, looked toward him for an answer.

“No,” Shiloh said. “I think the still, small voice comes from the oldest and wisest part of the mind.”

“I like that,” Kamareia said softly.

Shiloh and I didn’t discuss Genevieve again that night, nor work, nor his impending sixteen-week absence. His Basque chicken was as good as the first time I’d had it, and we ate in the near-silence of true hunger. Later we found
Othello
on one of the cable channels: the 1995 version, with Laurence Fishburne in the lead. Shiloh fell asleep before it was over, but I stayed awake in the darkened living room to see the tragic lodging of the bed.

 

chapter 4

Shiloh was a morning person.
I tended to stay up late. As long as we’d lived together we’d pulled at each other like tides. I got up earlier because of him; he stayed up later because of me. The day I left for Mankato, though, he didn’t wake me; I didn’t feel him slip out of bed at all.

In the end, Shiloh’s words had weighed on my conscience—
You’re her partner
—and I’d taken his suggestion. I’d called Genevieve, and also spoken to her sister, Deborah. It was arranged: a quick overnight trip on Saturday, time enough to assess Genevieve’s state of mind and, hopefully, raise her spirits. Not long enough so that the time would drag if nothing I said could rouse her from her dark mood.

When I came out of the bathroom, dressed and wet-haired from my shower, Shiloh was sitting at the living-room window, which had a wide sill and faced east. He’d opened it and the fresh air was making the room cold.

It had rained in the night. In addition, the temperature had dropped sharply enough to create sleet; there had been a brief ice storm. Outside the window, the bare branches of our trees were coated with silver shells of ice. The snows weren’t due for another two weeks or so, and yet our neighborhood had turned into an icy wonderland, something a set dresser would be proud of.

“Are you all right?” Something about his stillness made me ask.

Shiloh looked over at me. “Fine,” he said. He swung his legs down. “Did you get enough sleep?” He followed me into the kitchen.

“Yeah,” I said. It was nearly ten by the clock over the stove. “I wish I’d woken up earlier.”

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