I was waiting for the sun to rise.
Earlier I had watched fishing boats pull out, boxy craft with lobster traps piled on deck, others with nets gathered up like folded wings. It was silent after they left except for the occasional cry of a gull. I sat in my car, the window open to let the cold air keep me awake, as the sky slowly filled with light the same milky color as the sea. I closed my eyes and smelled brine and seaweed, heard waves slap against the pilings.
Then I sensed a wall of body heat near my open window. "Damn," I muttered, blinking in the brightness of the sun on the water.
"Sleeping it off?" A man in a leather jacket rested his arm on the roof of my car. His short-cropped hair was white, but his build was still solid with muscle. He hadn't shaved and looked bone weary, but his eyes were sharp and watchful. Two uniformed officers stood nearby, one with his hand tensed on the butt of the .38 holstered at his side.
"Didn't mean to fall asleep. I wanted to see the sun come up over the water." I shifted and rubbed my stiff leg.
"Missed it. Been up for a while. See you have Illinois plates. What are you doing here?"
"In this town. On this harbor."
"Guess I ran out of land."
"Guess you're some kind of smart-ass. Let's see some ID."
I reached for my wallet and pulled out my license, still sticking out from when I debated the definition of "complete stop" with a state trooper in Vermont. A crumpled citation lay on the dashboard to remind me who won the argument.
His eyes flicked between me and my picture. "Chicago, huh?"
"Hog butcher for the world," I told him. "My kind of town."
He handed the license back and I stowed it. When I looked up again his eyes were fixed on the backseat. His casual stance had tightened. "What's that?"
"That stain there?" I didn't say anything. He jerked the door open. "Step out of the car, sir. Hands where we can see them."
"All right. Don't get excited." I showed them my palms, but when I turned to get out my right leg wouldn't cooperate.
"Come on, come on." One of the uniforms now had his weapon in both hands, yelling, "Out of the car."
"Give me a chance." Without thinking, I reached a hand down to shift my leg. They misunderstood my intentions and yanked me out of the car. The one with the .38 shoved me down across the hood and held me there as someone else snapped on cuffs and patted me down. Gulls called, disturbed by the commotion.
The white-haired cop paced around the car, ducking his head to check out the stains on the backseat. "So, where'd all that blood come from?"
I looked at the sunlight breaking up on the water, followed the course of a gull as it swooped up into the bright sky. The one with the gun leaned over me. "He asked you a question."
"Back off, asshole," I said through my teeth.
He jerked me up abruptly, making red streaks of heat tear across my skull. The barrel of his weapon trembled inches from my chest.
"Neil? Easy," the old man said, locking eyes with the cop holding my collar twisted in his fist. After a moment's standoff, Neil released me and holstered his gun. "Tell us about the blood," the old man said softly.
"It's old. Check it out."
"You're giving us permission to search your car?"
"Be my guest. Can you take the cuffs off? I'm unarmed, I can't run."
He nodded. Neil looked away in disgust as the other uniform, a round-faced kid, took the cuffs off.
"Mind if I sit while you do this?" I asked. Neil ignored me, but the rookie put me into the backseat of one of the cruisers. Then the three of them donned gloves, started the search. They took up the floor mats, went through the shirts and underwear in my duffel bag, looked in the trunk. The rookie got excited when he opened the glove compartment and saw the Glock. The old man slid into the passenger side to examine the gun before putting it back. Then he poked through the ashtray with a pencil and picked up a cup from the floor that bore the logo of a diner on Route 1 where I'd picked up coffee last night. He found the ticket on the dashboard, smoothed it out, and looked at it.
The squad car I was sitting in had seen better days. Foam leaked through tears in the seat and a pine-tree-shaped air freshener didn't counter the stale smell of too many fast-food meals. The town these cops served wasn't flush with tourist dollars. No effort had been made to improve the waterfront with T-shirt shops and ice cream stands. The buildings were weathered and sagging as if the nor'easters that scoured across the Gulf of Maine over the years had beaten them into a state of resentful submission.
I heard the trunk of the Mustang creak as it was lowered. The old cop opened the cruiser door and squatted down to my eye level. He handed me the cane he'd taken from my car. "What happened to your leg?"
"Workplace injury. Nothing to do with whatever's been keeping you up nights."
"Still want to talk to you. Let's head up to the station house."
"You got coffee there?"
He suppressed a sigh. "I can get you coffee." All the eager tension, that bright, jumping hope he'd been barely holding in check, was gone. He knew as well as I did that whoever they were looking for was still out there.
Three men in camo stood in front of the dispatcher's counter. As we came in, they looked over at us, but the old man ignored them. "Anything?" he asked the dispatcher. Two of the men looked away, disappointed.
"No news, Chief."
The third man scowled at me. Apparently he held me responsible for not being the guy they were looking for.
The chief led the way to a room with a battered table, four wooden chairs, a Coke machine, and coffeemaker. The carafe was dry, rings of brown marking previous high tide marks. The walls were dingy industrial beige, decorated with posters on gun safety and first aid for choking victims. "Neil, keep him company. Bobby? Got a job for you."
I sat. Neil took up position beside the door. "How about we start a fresh pot of coffee?" I suggested.
He acted as if I hadn't spoken. I felt for my cigarettes, but there was a hand-lettered sign taped to the wall: This Is a Smoke-Free Building. I sighed and sat back to wait.
The chief appeared ten minutes later and murmured to Neil, "They didn't find anything out at the old quarry."
"I didn't think they would."
"They want to do the fields up by Northhaven next. Go on out there, keep it under control. Just the fields. Not the old school; the owner hasn't got back to us yet. Don't want anyone charged with trespassing."
"That would be real serious, wouldn't it."
"Neil." There was some kind of warning in his tone, a line being drawn. The back of Neil's neck bloomed with red patches as he stalked out.
"Who's missing?" I asked.
"A kid." The chief pulled a chair out and sat. He waited, giving me an opportunity to break down and confess to something. "What did you say you were doing here?"
"I didn't say."
"So, tell me."
"I have some time off. Thought I'd take a trip. Didn't you mention something about coffee?"
"Brimsport isn't on the beaten path. What brought you here?"
"I was heading east on Route One. I wanted to see the sun rise over the water, so I took the turnoff." I remembered the highway unrolling hypnotically in front of my headlights, the lights flashing over a blurred name on a sign barely glimpsed, but familiar somehow. When the road curved inland I turned onto a road headed toward the water and within two miles saw the name again: Entering Brimsport, Pop. 12,320. Past sleeping houses, down a hill, through a silent, darkened business district, finally rolling to a stop where the road ended.
"Where were you early Wednesday morning?"
"Let's see." I pulled out my wallet, took out receipts. "This is . . . nope. Here's one from last night. Got gas in . . . Can you read that?" I passed it over. "Shit. Why do I save all this garbage? I got a receipt from last year here. Okay, I filled up at a Starvin' Marvin in South Bend. Tuesday night, near midnight. And I stopped at this bar after. They probably remember me."
He took the two receipts from me, spread out the wrinkles and read them over carefully. "You have a lot of drugs in your car," he said, finally, his frown thoughtful, like he really wanted to give me a chance to explain.
"Drugs? I don't . . . oh, the Percocet."
"Five bottles, fifty each. That's a lot of Schedule Two controlled substances."
I took the sixth bottle out of my pocket and shook two pills out. "I got extra for the trip, that's all." There didn't seem to be much chance of coffee anytime soon, so I swallowed them dry. I knew it would be a while before they kicked in. Nicotine, now, that wouldn't take long. I could taste the cigarette I couldn't light up in here.
"Look, you're going to have to explain that blood in your car."
"It isn't connected to this kid you got missing."
He put his hands flat on the table and leaned toward me. "Just tell me about it." The eyes fixed on me were an unusual color, almost golden. They seemed to shimmer with a smoldering glow like hot embers.
The young cop with the round face tapped the doorframe. "What?" the old man barked, startled.
"Made those calls, Chief. They know him, all right."
"A sheet? Outstanding warrants?"
"You won't believe this. He works there."
"He's a cop. There was this shooting. What I heard, that blood in his car? He drove his partner to the hospital."
The old man turned to glare at me. "You had to jerk me around? I'm up all night and you play these fucking games? Why didn't you just say?"
"I'm sorry about this missing kid."
"What about it?"
"I hope he turns up, that's all."
"She. Seven years old, missing for over two days now and you show up and play these stupid, these fucking, you stupid son of a bitch, wasting my time--" He was roaring at me now, his face mottled, and it must have felt good because he looked fully recharged. He stood, shoving the chair back so hard it tipped over. "Get the fuck out of here. Bobby? Run him back to his car. Then get out to Northhaven, make sure things are under control."
"Northhaven?" Bobby seemed startled.
"They're doing the fields up there. We don't have permission on the school grounds yet. The women that live there must be out, they aren't answering their phone. Neil's there but--"
The old man left. Bobby followed behind me as I limped out into the hall.
I settled into the passenger seat of a cruiser. Bobby walked over to a car that had just pulled into the parking lot behind the station, had a word with the driver, then climbed behind the wheel swearing under his breath. "Have to take a little detour." He pulled around the corner onto the main drag and put on his lights. We sped through town, then climbed a hill that rose to the west.
"Nothing, I hope." He flicked the siren to get a slow-moving car out of the way. "Some of these volunteers get a little overexcited. You're not in any hurry, are you?"
The road left the town behind, running through trees and fields. Soon we came on a dozen cars and pickups parked on the shoulder along a fenced field. Bobby pulled up between crumbling gateposts that framed a driveway that looked abandoned, grass and moss spilling out of cracks in the pavement. A metal sign that said Private Property--No Hunting was nailed crookedly to a tree beside the drive, its message punctuated with bullet holes.
Men were milling around with the unfocused energy of a pack of hounds waiting to be let loose on a scent. Neil stood frowning over a map spread across the hood of his cruiser, listening to a man in a flak jacket. I thought I picked out the three that had been in the station house, but it was hard to tell. Everyone was wearing plaid and camo.
"Wait in the car." Bobby strolled across the road into the crowd, his hand resting easy on the butt of his .38. I opened the window and lit a cigarette. "What's going on?" I heard Bobby ask amiably.
"Can you explain to us why we aren't in there searching the school grounds?" The guy in the flak jacket jabbed a finger at the gateposts and the driveway that wound into the woods.
Bobby's voice stayed reasonable. "We haven't heard back from the residents yet. We go in without their say-so, it's trespassing."
"You want to wait till they give us permission? We got a kid missing. You know what happened before." Some in the crowd nodded, muttering their agreement.
"That's the law, Simons." Bobby smiled ruefully and spread his hands. What can you do?
"Are we going to let some legal technicality hold us back? A child's life hangs in the balance."
"They got a point," Neil said, not quite looking at Bobby. "I think we should check it out. Those women up there are pretty strange."
"Strange? They're fucking perverts," one of the volunteers yelled. There was a rumble of assent.
"This is just like twenty years ago," an angry voice called out. "Whose side are you on, Munro?"
"The same side as you, Alvin. Jesus," Bobby answered, exasperated. "We all want to find her. Let's get moving. We're searching the fields." He yanked the map off the hood of the car and started to fold it up.
Neil flushed. "Hey, that's my map."
Bobby ignored him. "Let's form up a line. I want each of you standing approximately five feet apart. We'll do this in grid formation." He looked around. The guys looked back sullenly, not going anywhere.
"Give me the map, Munro." Neil's voice was thick with fury.
They were standing toe to toe all of a sudden. Neil tore the map, trying to snap it out of Bobby's hand. I reached for the radio.From the Paperback edition.
Excerpted from On Edge by Barbara Fister. Copyright © 2002 by Barbara Fister. Excerpted by permission of Dell, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.