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Like the suffocating, squeezing atmosphere of D.C., the small, tattered banquet room at the Montgomery County Fraternal Order of Police closed in, one friendly handshake at a time. Smoke and lively conversation drifted from the bar that was attached to the back of the building. Laughter spilled forward, reaching Vance and Captain Barra just as Vance was about to thank the captain for his kind words.
“We’re going to miss you around here, Graegan,” Barra said, slapping him on the shoulder and causing his seltzer to slosh.
“Thanks.” Vance shook the liquid off his hand.
“Come on, let’s go see if Detective Short is wearing her favorite red blouse.” Barra winked and wandered toward the commotion of the bar, holding his Solo cup high in the air like something from the linoleum might jump up and grab it.
Finally Vance found himself alone. He hightailed it to the back exit, where he indulged in his only vice: fresh air. The sounds of the city swarmed like angry bees, but he didn’t care. They sounded like old friends.
“Hey.” Andy Drakkard hung out the door. “What are you doing, man? We were just about to give a big toast when we realized you weren’t even in the building!”
Vance laughed. “Sorry, man. Just needed some air.”
“I know what you mean.” Drakkard joined him, leaning against the cold concrete wall. The dim light of the setting sun colored the sky in a way that reminded Vance of campfires and cold nights.
“So you and Lindy gonna be okay?”
Vance nodded. Offered the reassuring smile that came free with every handshake he gave out tonight. “This is going to make us okay.”
“A deli? I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around it. You serving up cold cuts? Not seeing it. I mean, yeah, Lindy makes the best Monte Carlo I have ever eaten in my life, but still . . .”
“Lindy’s the genius behind it. I’ll just be crunching numbers.”
“Sounds like more excitement than you can handle.”
“Funny.” Vance sipped his drink. “I think I’ve seen enough excitement in my lifetime.”
Drakkard blinked slowly. “Yeah, I know, man. We all have. But you gotta push through it all.”
“I’m not running,” Vance said. “I would’ve done that a long time ago.”
“You were never the same, though. Maybe none of us are.” He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. “Short’s in there with that famous red blouse.”
Vance smiled. “What am I going to do without you guys?”
“Serve up salami.”
“Seriously, your wife makes outstanding sandwiches. Never had better.” Drakkard puffed on his cigarette, killing the fresh air that was there just moments ago. He flicked the ash into the metal bucket beside them and opened the door. “You coming?”
“In a sec.”
“This is your party, man. You can’t be scooting out early.”
“Don’t make me come hunt you down again.”
Drakkard shut the door, and Vance breathed in the dense air. He closed his eyes. He was tired and just wanted to leave. What was the use in all this celebration? Twenty years on the force. Five years short of retirement. Leaving the only world he knew.
Familiar images flickered through his mind. A bench by a bus stop. Blood dripping onto the concrete.
The sound of a rifle, distant. Cold. Vanishing into the night like a ghost. It never let him rest.
And that’s why, somehow, the deli made sense. At least it used to. Until the reality of it was one road trip away.
He pushed out the despairing thoughts and focused on Lindy. He smiled at the thought of when he first fell in love with her. They were at lunch on a Saturday afternoon, and he was complaining about having to be on hold with the phone company. She told him she always pushed 2 for Spanish.
“You don’t speak Spanish, do you?” he asked.
She smiled wryly. “No. But they speak English. There’s never a wait because fewer calls come in, and when you apologize for hitting the wrong number, they offer to help you anyway.”
She then went on to deconstruct the sandwich she was eating, offering an explanation of why the quality of salami matters.
It seemed like two lifetimes ago.
The disappearing sun left only cold air, chilling him quickly. He stepped back inside to say his final good-byes.
The zipper sound. Again.
Lindy sighed and put down the packing tape. Three more boxes to go. The house always seemed so small, but now it looked expansive. It reminded her of when they bought it. She’d walked in and known it was to be their home.
“Mom, I’m uncomfortable. This floor is hard. I want my bed.”
Lindy walked to the living room, where the tent was pitched right in the middle of the floor. Conner’s black hair emerged, followed by the sweetest face she knew. The flashlight in his hand tilted toward him, highlighting the apprehension in his eyes.
He crawled out and sat on the carpet, picking at the edge of his Star Wars pajama top. “I know this is supposed to be an adventure, but it doesn’t seem like very much fun.”
“You’ll get to see new parts of America. Some people go their whole lives and don’t get to see as much as you’ll see on our drive.” She tickled his tummy, and he cringed with laughter. “Plus, hotel rooms! You love hotel rooms.”
He smiled, his deep dimples emerging, just like his father’s. Where the black hair came from was anyone’s guess. But his piercing eyes, speckled green with a dark ring of hazel encircling each pupil, had charmed many women in his life. Luckily, at eight he could hardly comprehend what they were capable of.
Pulling him into a hug, she let him rest against her body for a little while. He looked up at her. “I might cry, Mom.”
“When the truck takes all our stuff.”
“I know. But we can’t move all our stuff by ourselves. And they’re professionals. They know how to get it there safely.” She stroked his hair. “It’s okay. This is a new start for us, and I know it’s scary, but you’re going to love California. It’s very warm and sunny. And we can go to the beach and play in the sand.” She stood and pulled him to his feet. “Now, you have to get some sleep or you’re going to miss our whole trip tomorrow because you’ll be sacked out in the backseat.”
“Backseat? Can’t I ride in the front? I’m eight.”
“I know how old you are, and no, you cannot.” She guided him back to the opening of the tent. “I’ll be in there a little later on to sleep with you. I’ve got a few more things to get packed before we leave tomorrow.”
“I really like this house. I was born here.”
“It holds . . . a lot of memories.” She sprouted a smile as her words trailed off. “We’ll never forget it, right?”
“Right.” He folded his arms. “Well, I’m going to pray, Mom. I’m going to pray hard that we don’t move.”
Lindy groaned. “Conner, please. Not this again. Not right now.”
Hurt flashed across his eyes, and she hated that she couldn’t be more patient with him, but she had little tolerance for his infatuation with prayer. It all started two years ago, when he was six and couldn’t find the Sunday morning cartoons. He somehow landed on a religious program and hadn’t been the same since, insisting on praying and talking about God. And every once in a while, she’d catch him watching a televangelist again. It got so bad that at one point they took him to a specialist, afraid a vaccination might’ve gone haywire in his system. The doctor assured them he was fine and that in due time it would go away. But it hadn’t.
Conner dropped to his knees and started praying, one hand shooting up like a disco move. Lindy rolled her eyes and was about to tell him to quit it when the phone rang.
She caught it on the third ring.
“Hello? Vance?” Lindy listened carefully but heard nothing. She hung up the phone.
“Mom? When is Dad going to be home?”
Lindy leaned against the counter, her head resting on its cold surface. That was always the question these days --- and one that she could hardly ever answer.
Excerpted from POSSESSION © Copyright 2011 by Rene Gutteridge. Reprinted with permission by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
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