by S. M. Harding
Welcome to McCrumb County, Indiana, where retired Marine Corps Colonel Win Kirkland and Sheriff Sarah Pitt had hoped that their deepening relationship might bring some peace and order to their complicated lives.
Freed from the closeted life after 25 years in the military, Win is fiercely out and proud—and ready for Sarah to move in. But the newly out Sarah has serious doubts about living as an open lesbian among her county’s conservative population. She longs to overcome her fear of exposure, especially since several gorgeous and exotic women seem intent on seducing Win—and she knows she could lose Win to them or to a bullet.
Win and Sarah’s personal struggles are soon overshadowed by a series of local and international crimes that will blur the lines between hostility and horror, friend and foe, sacrifice and survival.
A Woman of Strong Purpose is the heart-pounding follow-up to S. M. Harding’s popular romantic mystery I Will Meet You There.
GCLS Goldie Awards
A Woman of Strong Purpose —Finalist, Romantic Suspense/Intrigue/Adventure.
Lesbian Reading Room
The main characters are great, well rounded, complex and on deep personal journeys. The supporting cast is solid, growing in depth and breadth as we get to know them from both actions and words. The story is well done, the arc and the balance between the three main story lines works well, as does the alternating point of view and voice from Win to Sarah, and thankfully the author avoids the pitfall of repeating a scene or explanation from both points of view. It's a great fun, breathtaking rollercoaster adventure with a serious undercurrent of the impact these adventures have on those involved, both physically and emotionally. Looking forward to reading book three.
glanced at my watch to see how much time I had before the Friday
faculty gathering called the Sherry Hour. Although I’d never
seen any sherry at the bar, every other kind of booze was plentiful.
This was the last one of the academic year and Dr. Kemat Fitzgerald
had urged me to come.
good politics, Win,” she’d said. I’d taken that as
longer I knew her, the more of a mystery Kemat was to me. The
director of Central Eurasian Language Institute, she was generous
with stories about growing up in Cairo and her arrival in the US in
the late 1980s. She never spoke about the time between.
it was just my background in Military Intelligence, but I always
listened for what wasn’t said. CELI had begun its life as the
Army Specialized Training Program for Central Eurasian Languages
sometime during WWII. The military still sent their people for
training here. She must’ve been vetted thoroughly. Maybe I was
listening too hard. These days, I found it hard to judge.
packed the unfinished student papers into my briefcase, took a detour
and dropped it in my truck. Then I took a deep breath and headed into
Sherry Hour. I grabbed a beer from an iced tub and examined the room.
Despite the efforts Kemat had made to warm up the place with
beautiful rugs and wall hangings, it was a room from the 1960s. Long,
narrow windows. No blinds. Minimal white. I wondered where the Boston
ferns in hanging macramé had gone.
knew few of the other faculty because I was part-time, or in academic
dialect, adjunct faculty. I only taught Wednesday through Friday and
took off when duty was done. Though I’d met a few of the people
standing around in groups, they’d remained distant
acquaintances. I didn’t have time to chitchat because I was
trying to learn how to teach the subtleties of a subtle language.
gaze wandered to a stunning woman dressed in modified Afghani garb of
an earthy gray color, her hijab a complicated pattern in gray, brown
and red. I watched her talking to two men, both bearded but in casual
Western dress. Whatever she was saying, the frown that ruffled her
brow told me she was upset. She turned away from them, caught my gaze
and steamed toward me.
pigs!” she said in heavily accented English. “Do you
still call them that?”
heard it in a while,” I said, trying to place her accent. “I’m
smiled. “I know. I have seen you on this campus.”
much of a window of opportunity to see me. Stalker or spy? I tried to
remind myself I was no longer active military. A lifetime of
suspicion was hard to overcome. “And you are?” She’d
remained looking at my eyes through long lashes. Now she raised her
head, opened her eyes wide. “Oh, I am so sorry, how rude of me.
I am Noor Bhatti. I am visitor scholar.”
she flirting? Shit. I should know. But nationality now made sense.
The last name was Pakistani. Her clothes, not Afghan but Punjabi.
“Are you Pakistani?”
from Gilgit in the north.”
nodded. South of where I’d been my last couple of tours, but
loaded with Taliban who moved across borders easily. My
border. I knew it was irrational, but I felt my hackles quiver.
did you learn?”
spent some time in the Hindu Kush, learned from the people.” I
was beginning to get uncomfortable.
is beautiful country, more dramatic than my own. But there are…things
never been to Kashmir.” A lie. Plus, I’d studied the
satellite images, looking for Pakistani Taliban. I glanced around the
room. Kemat watched us with an intense gaze. I wondered why.
would love to tell you about my country,” she said, subtly
leaning toward me. “Would you like to go for a drink?”
yeah. Definitely flirting. I held up my bottle. “I have one.
when I am in this country. It seems the, ah, social thing to do.”
long will you be here?”
will remain all of summer.” She took a step forward and smiled
up at me.
maybe we can go for coffee sometime.” Was that vague enough?
you live in Bloomington?”
Out in the country.” I almost laughed. Two years ago I wouldn’t
have hesitated to take her up on the offer, but now I was a married
woman. “It’s a long drive. I should get going.”
put the bottle down, smiled at her, found my jacket and began the
trek to the door. So much for being political.
I got there, Kemat intercepted me. “Leaving so soon?”
could I say? Noor was hitting on me? Cause Noor problems when I could
handle her advances by myself? “It’s a long drive home
and my dog’s waiting for me.” In the studio apartment I
rented in Bloomington because it cut down on the travel.
really tired, Kemat. I promise I’ll be better next year.”
first year is always the most difficult.” She patted my arm.
“I’ll be in Greenglen next week. I would like to talk
with you then. Could we arrange a time to meet?”
I wondered what I’d done wrong. Would I have a next year
giving a series of classes to the high school teachers in the
mornings, every Wednesday. Could we meet for lunch?”
pick you up at the high school at noon. If that’s all right?”
would be lovely.”
you going to fire me?” So much for subtlety. Good going, Win.
no, Win. This is a private matter. I need to ask you for a favor. Now
go, I’m sure you want to get home to your wife. Sarah is a
grinned. “I think so too.”
eyebrows edged up. “I should hope so.”
* * *
I drove home, I turned the worn gold band on my left hand. Even
though it had been four months, I found it difficult to believe I was
married. As word spread among my old marine buddies, so did they. In
the most graphic terms.
when she’d asked me to marry her, promised we’d make it
official. An early January vacation in Vermont at a small inn that
catered to gays. Micah, Sarah’s Dad, and Nathan, our friend
since childhood, had come up to give us their blessing on the union.
They’d only stayed overnight, but in the time they’d been
there, garnered quite a few “Aw, that’s sweet”
looks. I didn’t think they quite understood. Micah was in his
early seventies, Nathan our age.
Green Mountains had been white, the fire in the fieldstone fireplace
welcoming. We’d cross-country skied every day, eaten our way
through every restaurant in the area. Loved every part of one
another’s bodies. Most of all, we spent time together.
Unabashedly together. She kissed me at a candlelit table in a
restaurant. I’d returned the favor as we tapped snow off our
boots at the ski rental place.
what hurt. Now that we were back in McCrumb County, we were back
living in the shadows. Sarah had started her second term as sheriff.
Most weeks during the winter, our time together was on Tuesdays, her
day off and one of my nonteaching days. When the weather improved
with spring, she’d driven into Bloomington more often. We’d
shared movies and music and dinner out. Dancing together at Ruby
for the time being, but I knew Sarah chafed at the secrecy. I missed
the openness of the inn and environs. Ruby Slippers in Bloomington
was a part-time substitute where we were surrounded by other gays. We
both wanted something full-time. I’d put the decision in her
hands. When the time came, we’d step forward. Hand in hand.
picked up Des and a suitcase and hightailed it to the country. I
pulled into my driveway, saw Sarah’s SUV parked to one side of
the clearing that harbored my home. Des leaped through the open
window of the truck and barked at the front door before I’d
stopped. When I walked through the front door, I put my briefcase
down. Sniffed. The aroma of something tomato with spices. Des swarmed
Sarah, got a kiss on her snout and went to lap her water.
stood at the stove, a silly grin on her face as she turned. “Well?”
I’m home. What’s for dinner?”
had become a running joke between us because it depended on who
walked through the door from work. We had no role we couldn’t
trade, June and Ward Cleaver be damned. A gentle tribute to our
was work?” she asked on cue.
took off my jacket, hung it on a peg. Let my gaze travel down her
body. She took my breath away as much now as our first kiss. Not a
classically beautiful face, but strong with a jawline I could stroke
forever. More silver in her hair than when we’d first met. Her
height matched my own, her body as athletic as mine. But her breasts.
Ah. I slipped my hands under her Angel Mounds sweatshirt and pulled
her to me. We kissed until we ran out of breath.
Mounds, indeed,” I said, moving my hands to her full breasts.
archaeological site, Win,” she said, leaning into my hands.
“Not my breasts.”
me to my own interpretation.” I kissed her again.
she pulled back. “Can you tell what I’m cooking?”
that thought on the back burner for now,” she said with a
raised eyebrow. “Remember when we were kids and you’d
come over for lunch? Mom made tomato soup?”
make us grilled cheese sandwiches to go with it,” I said,
sniffing again. “Perfect for the weather.”
change your clothes and dinner will be on the table.” She
kissed me, a June peck on the lips.
dinner, I told her about Kemat at the Sherry Hour. “I can’t
imagine what personal favor I can do for her.”
from your Intelligence background?”
picked up the gooey sandwich. Not her mother’s. I still
couldn’t identify the cheese she’d grilled between two
slabs of locally made focaccia. “She shouldn’t have any
knowledge of my background. Bill scrubbed all that stuff from what he
Maybe you’ve given yourself away in conversation. On second
thought, I doubt if that’s possible.”
took a bite, reveled in the blend of tastes. Watched Sarah as she
spooned her soup the proper way. The low light struck one side of her
face. I wondered at the blue of her eyes. How the blue changed from
the early morning sky then, when she was upset, to the darker purple
gromwell I’d seen in Afghanistan. Right now, they matched the
sky at midday. “I was hit on by a gorgeous Pakistani woman.”
flirted outrageously, wanted me to go for a drink.”
Muslim? Then she shouldn’t be drinking alcohol.” Sarah
dipped her spoon into the soup.
that’s not what she wanted to drink.”
heard the warning in her voice. “Come on, Sarah. It felt good
to have a stranger look at me like I’m attractive. Besides, I
made it clear I wasn’t interested.”
I was finishing up the dishes, Sarah came up behind, slipped her hand
down the front of my sweatpants. “You want to pretend we’re
knees went wobbly. I swallowed. “I think we’re far too
engaged right now for that scenario.”
* * *
no longer had an uncontrollable urge to mess up the Zen sandbox in my
therapist’s waiting room. Perhaps unreasonably, I was proud of
that. The door opened and Dr. Emily Peterson beckoned me in. I sat in
the same comfortable chair I’d been sitting in for the past two
years as I tried to get a handle on my PTSD. The serious symptoms
hadn’t visited me in months. Being hypervigilant would probably
never leave me, especially married to the sheriff of McCrumb County.
was doing her New Age checking-my-aura stuff through half-closed
eyes. “Good couple of weeks?”
A gorgeous woman hit on me, and I wasn’t interested. Semester’s
over, my grading’s done. I’m a woman of leisure until the
She skipped the gorgeous woman. “Yeah. It terrified me at
first. But once I got into the rhythm, understood the students
better, I enjoyed it. I like sharing a culture I love.”
think of Azar often while you’re teaching?”
feel like she’s by my side, helping.”
conflict with that, now that you’re married to another woman?”
shook my head. “I have a really strong sense that Azar isn’t
just blessing my teaching, but my union with Sarah.”
Does she feel the presence of a ghost?”
Sarah realizes if I hadn’t had Azar in my life, I wouldn’t
value what we have.” I closed my eyes a moment. Gather your
thoughts, Win. “Without loving Azar, I would’ve seduced
Sarah without thought, without meaning. It would’ve been
another fling for me.”
nodded. “How’s the secrecy going?”
a pain. Sarah’s getting restless, but I’m okay hiding
until she gives the all clear.”
nodded and jotted a few notes. She closed the file and laid it on the
table beside her. “You’ve made wonderful progress. You’re
healing well. Just remember, the PTSD may lay dormant for years. I
don’t think anyone recovers completely. If you notice symptoms
you giving me the brush-off?”
Win. But I think it’s time to test your wings. No more regular
appointments. How does that sound?”
I’m being pushed out of the nest, to use your metaphor.”
does it feel?”
closed my eyes. Probed my own psyche for an ouch. “Okay. Not
great, but generally all right. Makes me sad that I won’t see
you anymore. But mainly, I feel blessed. I know Sarah and I will hit
rougher winds. But for now, I couldn’t be happier.” I
hesitated. “What do I do if things fall apart?”
I don’t think they will. We try to talk so things won’t
build up. It’s not our marriage I’m worried about. It’s
life. I seem to have the ability to attract, uh, situations.”
you and Sarah do. Is your antenna telling you something’s up?”
Don’t know yet.”
you find that to be the case and you’re feeling stressed, call.
This doesn’t mean an end to our therapeutic relationship. You
need to talk, don’t hesitate to call. If you and Sarah run into
a rough patch, come in for couples’ counseling. But I don’t
think we need regular appointments.” She smiled. “Use the
money you save to take Sarah out for a nice dinner.”
stared at the bottom of a narrow ravine that had been cleaved by
water over eons. Pristine beauty that now was blackened and scarred
with the charred remains of a skeletal RV and the chemicals that it
this creek empty into No Name a mile or so south of here?”
a mile and a half,” Fire Chief Hubler said, with a spit of
tobacco over the bridge. “We got three booms, two hundred feet
apart, across the crik. Doubt if anything can get through all three,
certainly hope to hell not. We’re not sure what chemicals they
We started calling it the Grey Ghost about six months ago because as
soon as we got a sighting, they’d move. I would’ve liked
to catch up with them before this.”
Bryer, the head of the Fatal Accident Crash Team, walked up. “Real
mess. Don’t know how we’re gonna get it out.”
have any idea what caused the crash?” I asked.
a guess now—still have to take statements, like from you,
Chief, and whoever answered the call with you.”
only have one truck with the same volunteers we’ve had for the
past ten years. You know where they are.”
examined Gary Hubler’s face. Everything sagged with exhaustion.
Even his bushy eyebrows.
you wait until tomorrow morning, Mike?” I asked. “I can
sketch in what Gary’s told me for you.”
Sarah. No problem.” He opened his notebook, looked at the basic
diagrams he’d drawn. “At a guess, these guys were
traveling too fast for this road in good weather. Last night wasn’t
good weather. When the storm went through, we had gusts up to
fifty-five. Looks to me like this place is a good wind tunnel.”
fast, wind grabs them and pushes them over the bridge?” I
a guess at this point. When Doc does the autopsies, I hope he tests
will. An impaired driver would be the last element for a perfect
storm.” I turned to Chief Hubler. “Go home, get some
shower first.” He shoved his helmet on his matted hair and
on, Sarah, you scram too,” Mike said. “The mop-up’s
gonna take all day. No use you standing around, waiting.”
but first, any idea how much chemical waste got through before the
booms went up?”
what I’ve heard, the water was on fire. So, maybe not so much.”
keep my fingers crossed. You’ll have my report from the chief
on your desk when you get back.”
don’t have to do that. I’ll talk with the Morrowburg VFD
tomorrow. This wreck ain’t going nowhere.”
turned to the creek for a last look. “Damn, I really wanted to
nail these guys.”
glanced at me. “They got a longer sentence this way.”
drove back to Greenglen undistracted by the beautiful spring day. I
kept thinking how smug Win looked when she told me about the woman
who’d flirted with her. No, not smug, more like pleased or
gratified with just a tad of preening.
could hear Dad’s voice in my head. “Don’t go
borrowin’ trouble, Sarah Anne.” And Mom’s. “Keep
the green-eyed monster in the basement, Sarah.” A little voice
in my heart saying, “Don’t screw this up with unfounded
jealousy. If something had happened, do you really think Win would
have told you about it?” Would she?
I hadn’t been generous enough with my compliments, though I
didn’t think I needed to say anything. I thought my actions
showed how much I appreciated her. Her body and her soul. “Tell
her, Sarah. Open your damn mouth and tell her how beautiful she is.
How generous. And fun. And…” Everything.
pulled into my parking place in back of the narrow, three-story brick
building that housed the sheriff department. My home away from home
and away from Win. I tugged out the gold chain that held the wedding
band she’d placed on my finger when we’d married. She
knew I couldn’t wear it at work, so she’d given me the
chain I could wear around my neck to remind me of her love. I kissed
it, tucked it back inside my uniform shirt and opened my car door.
“Don’t doubt her. Don’t fall into that damn
green-eyed monster’s trap. Trust her. Period.”
to keep my mind fully on the job.
* * *
I got to the early Indiana homestead I shared with my dad, I laid the
pizza on the kitchen table and divested myself of all traces of my
office except the shirt: jacket, cap and duty belt all went on their
it on in, Sarah,” Dad said from the living room. “We’ll
pretend we’re havin’ a picnic an’ watch IU whup
that dang Kentucky team.”
grabbed a handful of napkins, two plates, piled them on the box and
walked into the living room expecting a replay of the IU-Kentucky
basketball game on TV. “Baseball?”
got a great team this year,” Dad said. “Since we can’t
be there, thought pizza in here’d be the next best thing.”
was the last time you went to an IU baseball game?”
you was little an’ I took you. Big mistake ’cause you was
so bored I spent more time lookin’ after you than watchin’
laid out everything on the coffee table and scooted it toward Dad’s
recliner. “Baseball is inherently boring.”
cranky, Sarah.” He slid a piece onto his plate. “Heard
’bout the RV crash. Shame they done themselves in like that. Be
harder to discover their distribution network now.”
but that’s not what’s really bothering me.”
leaks that let ’em stay a step ahead of you?”
just can’t believe anybody from the department would tip them
off.” I settled on the floor, plate in hand. “I can run
the financials, but hell, I hate to do that.”
thinkin’.” He took a bite and made me wait. “Mac
had time in that building after you was elected, afore you was swore
to do what?”
he mighta bugged the place for sheer spite. You know it’s
somethin’ Mac would do. You might have your friend Bill do a
sweep seein’ as he owes you.”
he did. Colonel Bill Keller, Marine Corps Intelligence Agency, was
rumored to be getting his first general’s star, thanks in great
part to what my department contributed to his last investigation, not
to mention what Win had done. “Good idea, Dad. But, if we do
find bugs, how did that intel get from Mac to Larry Fellows and his
good question, ain’t it?”
love to nail Mac on drug charges. It’d finish his cabal forever
in this county.” I ate another bite and relished the complex
flavors. I settled into dinner, glanced at the TV screen now and then
and thought about Rob “Mac” McKenzie. He’d almost
bankrupted the trust of the people of the county in his two terms as
sheriff. Graft, favoritism and kickbacks were his hallmarks. He’d
been behind the candidate who’d opposed me in the last
election, busy pulling strings, including trying to out me.
still didn’t know if the people had voted for me in a landslide
despite believing I was gay, or because they hadn’t believed
the accusation. Maybe I’d never know and maybe it wasn’t
important. Or at least, less important than I keep my integrity.
Coming out was a battle still raging in me, mind, heart and soul. I
was bone-weary with the issue always looming.
what other fleabite ain’t you itchin’?” Dad asked.
glanced at the screen and guessed it was the seventh-inning stretch.
Or maybe the game was over. I’d been woolgathering, trying not
to think about Win. I sighed and told Dad about Win’s meeting
with “the gorgeous woman.”
sound proud?” Dad asked.
a little I think. Why?”
it was her way of sayin’ ‘I weren’t even tempted
’cause I love you too much.’ Afore you two got together,
I imagin’ she woulda viewed a gorgeous lady as a challenge an’
not thought twice ’bout acceptin’ it.”
thought about it. Win had told me about her footloose days, before
she’d met Azar. She’d described it not as an emotional
garden, but a barren place of sex only. She couldn’t afford
attachments, not in the marines. As much as she loved sexual
gratification, the lack of a real relationship had left an arid and
empty place in her.
may be right, Dad. How could I have missed that?”
ain’t lived long enough, Sarah Anne.”
* * *
when do I get to call you General Keller?” I asked the next
morning. I’d called from a pull-off as I headed back into
Greenglen from a meeting with state cops. The spring smells, that
light mingling of earth and water and warmth, had seduced me. I’d
been tempted to stay on the road this morning as long as possible. I
inhaled deeply and felt the rebirth in my bones.
two months, from what I hear,” Bill said with a laugh. “Where
do you get your intel?”
never know.” We both knew Win still kept active contacts. I
outlined the possibility of bugs, the electronic variety, in the
sheriff’s department. “Can you help?”
course. But I’m tied up for a couple of days—preparation
for my promotion in D.C.—so would it be okay to send down a
couple of my officers?”
help would be greatly appreciated, Bill.”
disconnected and took another deep breath of spring. My phone rang
before I’d had a chance to pull out. Win.
morning, my love. Any chance you’ll be free Friday night?”
she asked. “Wonderful singer at Ruby’s.”
chance in the world.” Unless a pressing case came up, but Win
knew that. “You sound chipper this morning.”
my grading and sent them in. I’ll have to go in to turn in the
paperwork, but for now, I’m a free woman.”
too free, I hope.”
I love you, Sarah.”
love you too, Win.”
I got to the station, the first item on my agenda was meeting with my
newly formed SWAT deputies, headed by Willy Nesbit. Although he’d
run against me for sheriff, backed by Mac, he’d turned out to
be a good guy and someone I trusted. Between us, with Win’s
input, we’d hired three more members for SWAT who were all
ex-military. They were back from the academy for standard police
training and ready to pick up patrol duties. I worried how much they
might chafe under our procedural restrictions for normal patrol duty.
walked into the conference room, my notes in a file folder clasped in
my sweaty hand. These people were seasoned veterans and I had so
little to contribute to their success here. Except the ‘here’
part. “Good morning and let me officially welcome you to the
sheriff’s department.” I smiled at them as I sat at the
head of the table. “Before we start with my notes, I’d
like to know what you thought of the academy.”
grinned, glanced at the others. “The only one who had an easy
time is Thea.”
my foot,” she said, grinning back at Willy. “Being an MP
isn’t the same.”
lot of procedure to learn in a short time,” Brandon said. “But
I think we got the job done.”
the fourth member, nodded.
got copies of the criminal statutes for the county and you’ll
need to get them down pat.” I leaned forward and met the gaze
of each of them. “When I interviewed each of you, I think I
made it clear you won’t be sitting around waiting for ops,
you’ll be on patrol. You have a high wire to walk. While you
patrol, you need to remember that you’re not at war with the
citizens. At the same time, you’ve got to realize there’s
no ‘routine’ traffic stop or domestic call. You’ve
got to keep your balance. Do you think you can serve and protect—and
nods, no hesitation.
I realize more than these guys that the most tedious patrol can be
deadly,” Thea said. She rubbed the table with a long finger.
“Yet we can’t think about a shoot/no shoot situation
every time we respond.”
couldn’t have said it better. I can’t emphasize enough
the danger if you drift into the complacent zone, nor viewing
citizens as innately dangerous and the enemy.” I opened the
folder. “Here are your assignments. You’re partnered with
deputies for the first six months. Listen to them. You’re the
went through the rest of my list, then asked for questions or
four-man unit is small,” Willy said. “Can we do some
training with other deputies, bulk up our presence some—just in
I’d hoped you’d be willing to do that kind of training,
but I won’t begin it until you’ve all settled in.”
handed each their shiny new badges and shook hands.
I walked back to the bull pen, I watched two guys move slowly around
the area, gadgets in hand. Bill’s troops had arrived.
lesbian community in Bloomington had slowly enfolded Sarah into its
arms. She’d relaxed into the embrace. Friday night, we’d
shared a table on the patio with two other couples for dinner. Sarah
laughed and joked with them, no longer fearful of being outed. At
least not there. When we’d moved into the back room, the
performance space, she’d leaned into my arm. Snuggled while we
listened to a pitch-perfect singer deliver her smoky lyrics about
women loving women.
we were staying home. Sarah’s turn to say, “Honey, I’m
home.” My turn to cook. As we ate my version of narenj
an Afghani dish, I could tell she was preoccupied. With work. Shit. I
wished she’d find a job that wouldn’t devour her energy.
Yeah. Dream on, Win.
what’s up?” I asked.
is so delicious. You’re going to have to teach me the names of
these dishes so I can ask for them.”
to me, Sarah.”
glanced at me. “Bill’s guys found electronic bugs all
over the department. I can’t seem to stop worrying about them,
but they’ll keep. Can I enjoy this wonderful dinner now, and
after dinner we’ll talk?”
was suspicious that talking was the last thing that would happen
later. I was wrong. After dinner, we walked to the garden, Des
scampering into the underbrush. As we sat on the bench swing in the
garden, watching night come on, Sarah began talking.
sonofabutt! He makes me furious, Win. He salted the whole place with
hidden mics and listened to every op we planned.”
course. We have evidence. Dave Howard gave him up.” She paused
in her outburst. “I’m sorry, Win, I can’t remember
what I’ve told you and what’s happened since.”
let me debrief you. Who’s Dave Howard?”
of Mac’s deputies. I didn’t want to ‘clean house’
when I was elected for the first term and get rid of all of Mac’s
hires. I thought it’d make me look like a sore winner.”
She pushed us into motion with a nudge of her foot. “Dave
seemed okay, did a good job. Not outstanding, but thorough.”
you turn him?”
they found the bugs, Leslie printed them in situ and got enough
partials to get a hit. Our own Dave Howard. When we questioned him,
he gave up Mac and the whole damn scheme. I should’ve followed
my gut and fired them all, damn the consequences.”
you can do about that now.” I rubbed her arm. “The other
end of the scheme? You know where the receiver is? You’ll need
that for evidence, won’t you?”
catching onto this sheriff stuff,” she said with a small smile.
“Nathan’s tracking it, but it’s slow because he’s
doing a grid search. I told him to begin the grid at Mac’s, but
he said that wouldn’t be kosher.” She jerked when Des
snorted her way between us. “Finally, Nathan and his electronic
magic found the damn signal. We served the warrant this morning, and
Mac’s in jail with a list of charges. DA’s having fun
searching the statutes for more. We think Mac sold the task force
information to the meth dealers, but we haven’t got the
then it’s over.”
she said, leaning against me. “When the case hits the news,
things are going to explode. Mac still has a lot of supporters who
thinks he walks on water.”
afraid they’ll kill the messenger?”
a double whammy, Win. I hate him because he was not only a lousy
officer, but a felon. I can’t believe he’d bug the
department—well, yes I can. But to sell the info to meth
dealers is beyond my comprehension.”
wanted you to look bad. Probably started out hoping he could find
some dirt or incompetence. When that didn’t work, he went one
step further.” I pulled her closer. “Not everyone has a
sense of honor, Sarah.”
was a bug in my office.”
thought back. I’d been on good behavior when I was in her
office. Hadn’t I? “Are you worried you let something slip
think he probably recorded my end of conversations between us. Maybe
that’s what he fed that horrible pastor who raised the ruckus.”
knew you were talking to a woman, but not who?”
Or he knew I was involved with someone and thought if it was a woman,
it’d cause a scandal that would sink me.”
nuzzled Sarah. Giving comfort as only a dog can.
is the gift that just keeps on giving.” She took Des’s
head in her hands and planted a big kiss on her muzzle. “Let’s
go in, Win. Maybe you can distract me, help me forget this train of
kissed her. “That’s a distinct possibility.”
* * *
gone hiking Tuesday, a long trail that wore out both of us. Which was
the purpose. It’s hard to worry about something when all of
your concentration is required to set one boot after another. When
we’d gotten home, we’d gone to bed. To sleep. We’d
made up for it this morning.
Sarah went to work. Back to the buzzing of doom in her head. So
little I could do to help her lift the load.
wanted to catch Kemat’s presentation at the high school, part
of a broad-reaching “tolerance for difference” campaign
they’d embarked on after a young girl committed suicide. She’d
been targeted because she was gay by a gang of boys who’d raped
her. I didn’t think “tolerance” was a strong enough
stood in front of the assembled faculty and students. She’d
dressed in Western garb from head to foot. Red power suit, hair swept
into a tight French twist, higher heels than were safe. The only clue
was a small golden pin on her lapel. The ankh. Kemat’s
presentation should’ve been called “myth busting.”
She tackled all the boogeyman rumors about Middle East countries and
the Muslim faith. Well done, Kemat.
met her afterward, asked where she wanted to eat.
there any vegetarian places here?” she asked.
if you want good coffee, we’ll have to go to another place
after we finish eating.”
took her to the restaurant where I’d met Emily once or twice.
At least their wraps were decent. When we’d settled at a table,
she fussed a bit. Moved her purse and tote bag from one chair to
another. When she’d finally settled, I asked what favor could I
do for her.
need your help to find Bassir.”
Arab? Why me? You must have an extensive network of your own.”
do, but I have made little progress.” She frowned, examined my
face. “I am well aware of the pattern of your deployments. You
were not military police, at least, not for long. Yes?”
stared at her.
right, I can accept you cannot talk about what you did. But I believe
you were part of MCIA. Or perhaps, CIA. You did not learn Tajik so
well policing military personnel.”
was grateful the waiter chose that moment to deliver our orders.
began eating, a little chitchat between bites. When we finished, she
took the bill. “Now, if you have time, let us go for coffee.”
restarted her earlier conversation as soon as we’d placed our
order and found a quiet table. “I want you to find Bassir
Sadeeq Zulficar.” She handed me a file. “All that I have
found is in this file.”
even if I’d been involved with MCIA, I’m no longer an
active military member. There’s no intelligence service I have
access to. At the very best, I could only hand over the file to a
friend who’s still active.”
shook her head. “I trust you.
I have spoken with Tajik friends about you. You have garnered acclaim
and affection. That is what I trust, not Bill. Do what you can, and
if you fail, then let it be on my head.”
scanned the first few pages of the file. Journalist, got out of
Syria. Disappeared. I looked at Kemat, tried every argument I could
think of. She was adamant. No one but me. Finally I said, “I’ll
try, but I’m not sure I can do more than ask around about him.”
what you can, Win. That is all I ask.”
* * *
didn’t refuse because I couldn’t. It was part of the
hospitality code in the Middle East. I lugged the file home, set it
on my desk. Went for a long walk with Des who was ticked at me
because I hadn’t taken her with me for a ride. She loved riding
in the truck. I wondered if she thought every time we went out, it
was a job for her sensitive nose or killer teeth. Retirement didn’t
have meaning for her. How could it?
we got back, I went through the file as I started making dinner.
Wished Sarah was here to share it. As I chopped, I wondered how the
hell I could find anyone now. No access to MCIA database or any of
the dozen or so databases it opened. Bill had access, but I hesitated
asking him. Kemat knew him. How well? But she’d asked me to
dig. Conundrum. Depending on what the whole file contained, I could
poke around on my own. Kemat asked for my help. I couldn’t say
finish reading the file tonight.
phone rang. I leaned over as I wiped my hands. Sarah. “Are you
checking up on me?”
You find more bugs?”
I just called to ask if I can come over.”
just finishing up dinner prep. Hungry?”
Be there in five minutes.”
disconnected. Hadn’t sounded upset. But we usually kept her
visits to a minimum. She was worried that neighbors would think the
sheriff was patrolling here way too much. By the time I’d
chopped extra veggies to sauté, I heard her car coming up the
drive. When she walked through the door, Des gave her a greeting that
said, “I haven’t seen you in such a long time!”
grinned at me. “Dad’s ‘bowling’ night, which
means he’s hanging out with Dog. So I won’t stay the
night, but I missed you.”
kissed. Certainly not a June and Ward peck.
have to eat first,” I told her. “The quorma’s
no fun, although eating is a pleasurable pursuit too. Tell me what
goes on the table.” She cupped my breast and gave my nipple a
tweak through my sweatshirt.
why are you so restless tonight?” I asked as we ate.
transcribing all the stuff Mac recorded. I’m nervous what’ll
come to light.”
nodded. “I’m not doing the transcription. John Morgan and
his detectives are.”
can’t backspace time, Sarah. Just hope you were oblique enough.
That they’re more interested in nailing Mac. You’re
working on his phone records aren’t you?”
and Caleb are. I’m trying to stay away from the hands-on
investigation—why, I don’t know. I named Caleb my chief
deputy, gave John Morgan his promotion and Nathan’s a best
friend. All my people. When the shit hits the wind, it’s going
to land on me.” She ate a few bites, smiled. “What’s
up with you? Just tell me every detail so I can listen and not
understood what Sarah was feeling. It’s the moment before you
begin the op with no idea of what you’ll really face. Or maybe
an actor waiting for the curtain to rise, not knowing if an audience
is out front. Keep the action going. Don’t think about taking a
bullet. Or a curtain call. “Emily cut me loose.”
That’s great…isn’t it?”
She thinks I’m healing well enough to fly solo. But I can
return to the nest if I need to.”
hasn’t been easy, has it?”
isn’t. At times. Having you in my life has made it possible for
me to move forward, stop living in the past. I love you, Sarah.”
smiled, a lovely opening of eyes and lips.
have a side job.” I outlined the quest Kemat had given me. “I
can’t say no. Hell if I know what I can do. Except try.”
you need help, Win, ask. As long as it’s legal.”
a lot of my life, asking for help had been a nonstarter. I didn’t
depend on anyone else for anything. Survival. That had begun to
change when I started working with small units in the field. We had
to depend on one another. Had to ask for what we needed. For all the
nightmares those missions caused me, they had pushed me onto the road
toward trust. So had the kids, the beautiful and trusting kids I’d
met in dusty villages.
road had led me to Azar. She’d pushed me farther along. To
cleared the table together and settled on the couch.
need to feel you in me, Win,” she said, wrapping her arms
around me. Straddling me. “It’s in those moments I feel
centered, in balance.”