A burst of static came from the police radio.
“I can’t just hibernate in that little house, waiting for my father to come back. I’ll go insane. How long do I wait? What if he never—”
Sara couldn’t finish. Her throat closed up and she felt her face flush. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the sheriff looking at her. After a moment he returned his focus to the road. It had been warm the week before—unseasonably warm for Maine, though it was late winter. Today the sun still shone, but the cold was back. The snow had all melted, but somehow that made it worse, icy wind whipping across frozen tundra. It got down into her bones.
Atlanta would be beautiful by now. Soon, the whole city would blossom.
She had to go home.
“You could be a photographer up here, you know,” the sheriff said.
“For who, Downeast magazine? I don’t think they’re looking for a fashion photographer.”
Sheriff Norris smiled. “Who knows? You could meet a guy…”
He let the words trail off, having brought the topic up several times over the past few months, the way an uncle might. Sheriff Norris had always been a sort of uncle to her. A sweet man, but he had never been that quick on the uptake. Since subtlety didn’t work, she decided it was time for the direct approach.
The sheriff glanced at her. “Yeah?”
Sara waved at him. “See me? Over here? Gay. I like girls.”
He blinked. To his credit, he hid his astonishment well. The thought had never even occurred to him.
“Oh,” he said after a moment. “Well, then, you’ve got a hell of a lot better chance of meeting someone nice in Atlanta than up here.”
With a laugh, she drew herself across the front seat and kissed his slightly stubbled cheek.
“Thank you,” she said.
“For being a good friend to me and to my father.”
A sadness came over the sheriff then. He felt at least partially responsible for Ted Halliwell’s disappearance and it weighed on him.
“You really have to go, huh?”
“I really do.”
They rode in silence for a while, tires crunching on sand left over from the snowmelt.
After years away from Maine, she had come home when word had reached her of her father’s disappearance. Yet months had passed without any sign of his fate or clue as to how he’d vanished in the first place. She had flown to Bangor just before Christmas, her schedule clear until after the first of the year. When she called her clients—most of them advertising and fashion people—during the first week of January and explained her situation, they had all been understanding. They didn’t want to use another photographer, but they would make do until she was back in town.
Now it was the middle of March, and her phone had been ringing for weeks. It wouldn’t do to abandon her clients so long that some fell so much in love with her replacements that they abandoned her. That was pretty much what had happened in all of her relationships—she’d gone off on some assignment and come home to find her latest girlfriend had moved on.
But she had to earn money to live, and maybe a return to Atlanta and her friends and her routine would help to stave off her sorrow.
Before she went, however, she had asked Sheriff Norris to arrange a meeting for her.
He signaled for a left and then took the turn, following driving regulations without even thinking about it. The heater whirred, though it wasn’t very effective, and Sara huddled deeper into her thick winter coat. The trip to Freeport had been one of many distractions she had engineered in the past two months. None of them had been terribly effective.
Sting stopped singing and an ad for the local television news came on. The DJ hadn’t identified the song. Sara could remember when they had always told you what song you had heard and never could understand why they stopped doing that. If you liked it and wanted to go buy the CD—or if you wanted to download it—how were you supposed to know what it was called?
Sheriff Norris pulled into the driveway of a beautiful home, the kind of place she always wished she could live but knew she never would. Sara made an excellent living as a photographer. Maybe one day she’d even have enough money to think she was rich. But she didn’t think she was destined for a place like this.
The car went silent. She blinked and looked over to see the sheriff taking the key from the ignition.
“You all right?” he asked.
Sara smiled. “If we wait for that, I’ll be sitting in this car the rest of my life.”
She popped open the door, shut it behind her, and led the way up the walk toward the front door. The sheriff had to hurry to catch up. On the steps, Sara reached out to ring the doorbell, but before she could, the door opened.
The woman who stood inside had been beautiful once. In some ways, she still was. But despite the elegance of her clothes—a counterpoint to the blue jeans, boots, and bone-white turtleneck Sara wore under her coat—she looked faded, like dried flowers or antique furniture. Her lips were folded in a tight line, so that when she blinked and smiled, she looked as though the act pained her.
“You must be Sara,” Mrs. Whitney said. “Please, come in. You too, Jackson. It’s freezing out there, and I’ve made hot cocoa.”
“Thank you,” Sara replied, stepping inside. “That sounds perfect for a day like today.”
The sheriff followed her in and, while Mrs. Whitney closed the door behind them, they took off their coats. She hung them in a closet so as not to mar the immaculate house. It looked more like a museum than anything else.
“I’m afraid that my husband was called away at the last moment to meet with a client,” the woman said. “So it will just be the three of us.”
Sara glanced at the sheriff, who didn’t seem at all surprised. It was Saturday morning. She suspected that Julianna Whitney’s father simply didn’t want to talk to a stranger about his vanished daughter. Though Sara did not like the pretense this forced on Mrs. Whitney—the poor woman shouldn’t have to lie for her husband—she understood.
“That’s all right. We won’t take up too much of your time, anyway,” Sheriff Norris said.
“Oh, please,” Mrs. Whitney said, waving away his concern. “Time is all I have, these days.”
She brought out a tray with a pot of cocoa and a plate of shortbread cookies. Sara had never tasted better hot chocolate. It had to have been made from scratch and she let it warm her. Very little could.
When they had all sipped at the cocoa for a few minutes and the sheriff was on his third shortbread cookie—this strange pantomime of civilized behavior a soothing mask over their grief—Mrs. Whitney fixed Sara with her gaze.
“I’m glad of the company,” she said. “But I think perhaps it’s time for you to tell me what it was you wanted to talk about.”
Sara managed a smile as she set down her cup. “More than anything, I just wanted to meet you. I’m…well, I’m making plans to go back to Atlanta soon. That’s where I live. I don’t think there’s anything else I can do here, and I have responsibilities.”
“Of course you do,” Mrs. Whitney said kindly, but there was a kind of sad envy in her expression, as though she wished that she too had responsibilities that would take her away from this place and the specter of her daughter’s disappearance.
As she tried to continue, Sara’s breath hitched and she paused, fighting not to cry.
Mrs. Whitney reached out and laid a hand over hers. Whatever differences were between them—age, social status—none of it mattered. As of last December, they were now far more alike than they were different.
Sara nodded, though the woman had said nothing.
“I just thought maybe you could tell me a little about Julianna,” she said, studying Mrs. Whitney. She gnawed her bottom lip a moment, then shrugged and gave a soft laugh. “I guess I thought if I knew her, knew who she was, I mean, then I’d feel like maybe my dad wasn’t out there alone. Wherever he is.”
Julianna’s mother put a hand across her heart. Her eyes were moist.
“I think that’s a lovely idea.”
Jackson Norris sat and sipped cocoa and ate shortbread cookies while the two women talked. They shared stories about Julianna, and about Sara’s father, and before they knew it more than an hour had passed.
Sara saw the clock and sighed.
“We should go. I really wanted the sheriff here to introduce us, but I hate to have taken so much of your time, and his.”
“Oh, Jackson doesn’t mind,” Mrs. Whitney said. “Do you, sheriff?”
“Not at all,” he said. But Sara knew that the man had other things to do. There were politics involved in his position, but there was police work as well.
“Still, we should go.”
Mrs. Whitney stood up with them and fetched their coats. As the sheriff put his on, the woman’s hands fidgeted.
“I presume there’s nothing new, Jackson?” she said.
Sheriff Norris zipped his coat. “It’s on my mind every day, Margaret. And it will be until I find them.”
The woman nodded, and then a frown creased her brow.
Sara noticed. “What is it, Mrs. Whitney?”
One hand fluttered in front of her. “Nothing, I’m sure. It’s just that I’ve been thinking lately about Friedle.”
“Who?” Sara asked, turning to the sheriff.
“Marc Friedle,” he replied. “He was the Bascombes’ household manager; basically, the butler, valet, driver, and everything else in one. He hired and fired gardeners, cooks, painters, that sort of thing.”
The sheriff looked at Mrs. Whitney. “Margaret, you know I looked into Friedle. We have no reason to suspect him of anything. His fingerprints were everywhere, but he practically lived in the house. There’s no evidence he had anything to do with Max Bascombe’s death or the disappearances of Max’s kids.”
The woman nodded. “I’m sure you’re right. But more and more, lately, I’ve been thinking about him, and about how odd it seems to me that he rushed out of Kitteridge so quickly when Max Bascombe was killed. Oliver and Collette had vanished, and everyone was searching for them frantically. But Friedle was the manager of the house. It was his responsibility, and he left so fast it was almost like he was the one person who never expected them to come back.”
Sara turned toward Sheriff Norris. A dark twist of suspicion began to tighten in her chest and she knew the moment she saw the sheriff’s brows knit together that he had the very same feeling.
It seemed her return to Atlanta might be delayed after all.
Halliwell felt the anger burning inside the Sandman. The creature had no veins through which poison might flow, but the anger churned in him just the same. It was part of the storm of his essence, just as Halliwell himself had become part of the Sandman. He was integral to the creeping, murderous thing, and its iniquity stained his soul. The Dustman was still there as well, a grave voice rising up from within Halliwell’s own mind like an echo down a canyon or a conscience long subdued.
Subdued, Halliwell thought. Is that it? Have I been subdued?
The question rankled. He had never been subdued in his life. Oh, he’d taken orders from superior officers and employers, certainly. But he had never kept silent when the situation called for someone to speak up. He wondered if that had changed. Between discretion and cowardice, where did one draw the line?
At murder, his conscience told him. Or perhaps it was the voice of the Dustman, the monster’s grim, less savage brother. One draws the goddamn line at murder—at the bloodthirsty mutilation of children.
Of course. Such a thing should not even have had to be considered. What kind of man would hesitate to agree with such an assertion?
But he was adrift within the Sandman’s essence and powerless. Briefly, when he had realized his fate, Halliwell hoped that perhaps he would be the poison that would infect and cripple the monster. But the Sandman didn’t seem even to notice his presence, or that of the Dustman.
It was the worst horror imaginable. It was Halliwell’s own poison, twisting his heart with hatred and his mind with hopelessness. He had heard the screams of the Sandman’s victims and seen the terror in their eyes—seen the monster reflected in the mirror of children’s eyes, just before he plucked them out and placed them between his teeth.
The nightmare had no end. He could not command the hands that murdered or the black lips that pulled back in a leer. In every way that mattered, he was the Sandman. The atrocities were not within his control, but he suffered through each moment, mind screaming in silence.
Lemon-yellow eyes glanced upward at the sky. The moon was a sliver, the heavens sable black. The stars seemed withdrawn, as though they dared not come too close to the world of the legendary in these ugly days. The monster had learned that Oliver Bascombe was being held in the dungeon at the king’s palace in Palenque. Bascombe wasn’t going anywhere, so he would kill Kitsune first. He would shred the fox-woman’s flesh, just as soon as he found her.
A rasp accompanied the Sandman as he slipped through the nighttime streets. The village slept, but fitfully. Spectral, little more than a wraith, he moved toward a building whose first floor was a candy shop. A soft glow illuminated the eyebrow windows set into the gables of the roof—an attic room, a candle still burning.
There would be children here.
Halliwell felt the thrill run through the Sandman, so much like lust. Were those terrible lemon eyes his own, he would weep.
The Sandman clambered up the side of the shop as though carried by the wind. His cloak billowed around him and then he collapsed into a flurry of sand, slipping through the open window. Once within, the sand skittered across the wood floor and the small throw rug at the center of the room. Grain by grain, he reconstructed himself, a shell that now housed three beings.