38 • Family
“For some folks around here, making a cake from a box mix would be a worse crime than having your husband murdered.”
“I am not. You need to go to a few more small town potluck dinners and you’ll see what I mean.”
“Okay. Well, what about Joe, then?” Cameron asked.
“Joe? He’s full of secrets.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Why else does a guy leave the city and move to the middle of nowhere if he’s not trying to bury secrets?”
“I don’t know, Will, ” Cameron said. “Why else would a guy do that? Or a girl for that matter? At least Joe moved out here to retire. You and I left the city in the prime of our careers.”
“You’re saying you moved here to bury your secrets in the tall grass of the prairie?”
Cameron cocked her head. “What? No, wait. That’s not what I was saying.”
“Uh huh.” Will smirked.
“Look, we were talking about Joe. What do you think he’s hiding?”
“Right. Noted. Talking about Joe.”
“I think it’s embezzlement, ” Cameron said. “Joe embezzled money and ran away.”
“Embezzled?” Will chuckled. “You haven’t been to Joe’s place. If he was hiding money, he’d have no idea where he put it. Nah, I think Joe is a spy.”
“A spy?” Cameron laughed out loud. “Well, his cover is brilliant, if that’s the case.”
“It’s perfect. He could have so many state secrets hidden in all his books, nobody could crack it.”
Cameron picked up the wine bottle and held it to the light. “So, what was Barbara’s secret, Will? What did being with you expose in her that made her leave?”
Will took the bottle from Cameron and twisted out the cork. “Barbara had no secrets, except that she colored her roots.”
In fact, Barbara’s biggest secret was Will. She had always understood this, and had always depended on him not to.
Will’s phone buzzed and he felt instinctively for his hip, then remembered he’d left the phone on the dresser with his wallet when he pulled Leviathan from the shelf.
“Hang on.” He shifted to a knee and stood.
“You’re one of those guys, huh?” Cameron said, not really asking.
“You know. Those guys who can’t let their phones go to voicemail.”
“Ah.” He turned to Cameron with a wink as he reached for the phone. “You mean a claims guy. No, we can’t ever let the phone roll.”
This was, of course, another of Will’s secrets: He cultivated the myth that claims calls were on par with 911 calls and had to be taken at any hour of the day. The benefit to him was that a well-timed call could save him from a date that had gone bad (as most did) or, as in this case, offer a needed change of subject. Earlier in their partnership, he and Mad Dog actually had an agreement to phone each other at odd intervals after hours in case one or the other was needing a diversion. And as much as he hoped it wasn’t Mad Dog calling, he surely could use the diversion now.
Will tapped the phone. “I don’t know the number. I should take it just in case.” Cameron rolled her eyes.
“Phillips, ” he said, pressing the phone to his ear. Cameron started to get to her feet. Will motioned with his hand for her to wait. “Sure, I know Joe Murphy.”
Cameron leaned toward Will, crinkling her eyebrows.
“His what? No, I think you’re mistaken. No relation.”
Will shrugged and held open his free hand toward Cameron. She crossed her arms over her chest.
“Oh, god. You’re kidding me.” Will’s face went pale and he lowered his hand to the dresser. “Yeah. Of course, yes. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
He tapped his phone and pushed it into his back pocket.
“What is it, Will? Did something happen to Joe?”
Will opened his mouth to speak. “I—“
“What happened? Who was it on the phone?” Cameron had stood up and her hand on Will’s shoulder now, her voice in a pitch Will hadn’t heard from her before.
“I— He— That was the hospital in Colbyville. Joe has me listed as his next of kin.”
“He what?” Cameron stepped back. “Wait— Why is the hospital calling in the first place? Is Joe okay?”
Will shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair. “No, he’s not.”
He sat down on the bed and stared at nothing in particular.
“Will.” Cameron sat down beside him on the bed. “Is Joe—” Her voice disappeared.
“No, no, ” Will said quietly. “He’s alive. Unconscious. Heart attack. I—” He looked at Cameron. “I need to go. I’ll walk you out.”
“No, you won’t. I’ll go with you.” Cameron stood up.
He felt Cameron tugging at his sleeve but Will had already sunk below the surface, the weight of eleven feet deep pinning his outstretched arms and legs to the rough, speckled floor of the pool, his reddening eyes wide against the chlorine infused water holding him in place. Clouds eased their way across the surface until the sun was fully covered and the blue above him turned into an undefined mass of gray.
Through a blur, Will tried to speak, his words passing through his mouth as unformed sounds got lost in the thickness of the water. He breathed in deep, his lungs filling with water and pushing back out with long exhales and he wondered at the ease of breathing under water, not at all like he’d been taught at the city pool when he was a boy. He took in long draws, pushing water in and out and finding a comforting equilibrium with the immobilizing pressure of the water inside and outside his body. He saw a dark shape rise above the surface growing first smaller, then larger and larger before it crashed through, coming straight for him. He tried to roll left to avoid the collision but his body remained in place, pinned to the floor until the shape took hold of the front of his shirt and the sound, at first muffled in the enveloping water, became more defined and the tugging more urgent.
“Will— Will, come on. Let’s go.”
He turned and saw Cameron standing above him beside the bed, tugging at his shirt. “Hey. You’re scaring me. Snap out of it. Let’s go find Joe. I’ll drive.”
Will shook off the funk and stood. “Yeah, no. I’ll be fine. Let me walk you out.”
“I’m sure you’ll be fine. I’m going anyway. If it makes you feel any better we can take your truck. But I’m driving.”
Cameron picked up Will’s keys and wallet from the dresser. “Now let’s go.” She pointed to the door.
Will looked at Cameron, his eyes red and his body feeling as though it had forgotten how to move.
“I’m not going to carry you, Will.”
“No, I don’t imagine you are.” He pushed a foot forward and walked out the door, Cameron following closely behind.
Will sat quietly in the passenger seat the entire drive, only speaking to give directions where to turn as they made their way to the hospital. As they pulled off the Interstate at the Veblen exit, Cameron asked Will how he met Joe.
“It’s crazy, ” Will said. “I’ve only known the man a few weeks.” He looked out the window, the twinkling of clustered and scattered farm lights as they drove down into the valley looking as much like the approach to a small city as to the open prairie. “There’s no reason I should even care much. He’s a customer, for crying out loud.”
“And yet somehow in these last few weeks he’s updated his records to include you.” Cameron put on the blinker. “Interesting.”
“You’ve met him, Cameron. He’s not an ordinary old man.”
“No indeed. Quite extraordinary.”
Cameron pulled into the hospital lot and parked. “Let’s go, ” she said, pulling the keys from the ignition.
Will slumped in his seat. I’m not going in. I don’t owe Joe anything.” He held out his hand. “Give me the keys, please. I’ll drive us back home.”
Cameron closed her fist around the keys. “No. You’re here. If I have to lose a night of sleep it’s going to be for doing a good thing. Not driving here and back to watch you be afraid to find out why an old man cares about you.”
Will’s head drooped. Cameron got out of the truck and walked around the cab. She opened Will’s door. “Out you go. We’re going in.”
“Damn, ” Will murmured under his breath. “Woman’s got backbone.”
“Nothing, ” he said. “Just hoping you can sleep when you get back home.”
“Right.” She put her hands on her hips. “Out of the truck, Phillips.”
By the time the pair reached the nurse’s station, Will had gathered most of his professional composure. He smiled at the gray-haired nurse in floral printed scrubs who was staring over silver framed glasses at a computer screen. She glanced up and raised her eyebrows.”Yes?”
“Will Phillips. I’m looking for Joe Murphy? He came in tonight.”
The nurse picked up a chart from the counter and flipped it open. “Of course. Mark, ” she called to a young nurse across the U-shaped desk who was wearing navy scrubs and scuffed orange Crocs on his feet. “Mr. Murphy’s son is here.”
“Oh, no. I’m not—” Will started.
The nurse snapped the chart closed. “Take him to his room, please.” She looked back at Will. “He’s been asking for you.”
“Come this way, Mr. Phillips.” The young nurse turned to Cameron and pointed to a nook with three egg-shaped aqua fiberglass chairs and a small flat screen television where Rachel Ray was telling viewers how to prepare French onion baked potatoes. “You can wait in there, ” he said.
“She’s with me, ” Will pointed out.
“Sorry, she’ll have to wait. Family only.” The nurse started down the hall.
“Will, it’s okay, ” Cameron said, patting his arm. “Go see Joe. I’ve been wanting to learn something new with potatoes anyway.”
“But I—” Will stopped, waiting for someone to interrupt him.
No one did, and he followed the orange-shoed nurse down the hall, his mouth still open with no words to speak.
(to be continued)