- 4 -
The music was too loud at Clyde’s bar for the patrons to hear the coming and going of sirens. Somebody had the jukebox playing 90’s hits for a few couples to dance, while a merry group drank at the counter. There, Alex raised her beer once more. The others did the same: Markus and Alice, Sandy, Bass and his little brother Jack. They toasted yet again to George’s first six months in town, recalling his outsider’s funny moments.
Bass tried to overcome Guns N’Roses’ Sweet Child O’Mine. “And then he asks, ‘Diner? Which one?’ Can you believe it?”
“Hey! I didn’t know Jill’s is the only diner in town!” argued George, laughing with the others. He pointed his beer at Markus. “This man here is to blame. He gave me the best advice ever.” All of them turned to Markus, curious. “He told me trading one city for another wasn’t the real change I was seeking. And then he told me about Bold Peak.”
“Look at you!” said Alice, elbowing Markus.
He shrugged with his cheerful smile. “I’m happy you listened,” he said to George. “You’d just earned me a lot of money, selling that house, and I thought you deserved more than just a check at that particular moment of your life.”
Alex sipped her beer with a mild smile. She felt so fine there, with the friends she’d known all her life—well, save Markus and George. This was her place, her people. This was home. This small town cuddling in Mount Baker’s shadow where nothing ever happened, where nothing ever changed. That was what Alex loved the most about it. Stress, danger, fear, rush? None got past the wooden welcome sign by Sandy Creek, at the south limit of Bold Peak. They belonged in the outside world, not there.
George leaned to her. “It was Markus’ advice that brought me here, but it wasn’t why I stayed,” he whispered.
She met his eyes, still smiling.
Times in a small town had nothing to do with the urban haste. It was no secret that Alex and George had been sort of dating for three months already. However, if George sought something more formal with her, he needed to prove two things. First, that he actually loved her, because three months were but an itch. Second, since Alex wasn’t about to leave town, he had to prove that he really meant to settle down in Bold Peak. And according to the locals, that took two winters. The first long season of ruthless cold, wind, ice and snow might seem picturesque for an outsider. But when the short gorgeous summer ended and the temperature dropped again, most outsiders decided they’d had enough and fled back to their cozy cities.
George had moved to Bold Peak by the end of last fall, and had already endured his first winter in town. So everybody was ready to grab popcorn and watch him try to win the heart of the eldest Corban by the time his second winter was over.
Not that Bold Peak was home only to saints. There had always been and there would always be secret affairs and one-night stands enough to write a saga. However, when it came to formal relationships, the new generations found some kind of pride in sticking to the old ways: do whatever you want behind closed doors, but keep it proper out the door.
Alex held George’s eyes for a moment and glanced at the door behind him. His surprise didn’t keep him from gulping up his beer and put a bill on the counter. Alex smiled at her friends.
“Night, guys. Take care,” she said.
As soon as Alex and George left, the others traded doubtful looks.
“She came back different,” Sandy said.
“You think she met somebody else while she was away?” asked Alice.
Markus chuckled. “Jeez, girls! Different? She drove like ten hours today! She’s just tired.”
“I don’t know,” Alice murmured, not convinced.
“If you’re expecting Al to confide on anybody other than Claire, don’t hold your breath,” said Bass.
“We should kidnap Claire and make her confess Al’s secrets,” said Clyde from behind the counter.
Fifty, tall and fit, twenty years living in Bold Peak hadn’t smooth Clyde’s tough-guy attitude. All of them were pretty sure he’d spent his younger years on a big bike, terrorizing people on the road and at rock festivals. With his tattoos, his earring, his thick mustache and his biceps always threatening to rip the seams of his black rock tees open, his words would’ve sounded ominous to strangers. But they were no strangers, so they spent a funny while planning how to abduct Claire without Alex going homicidal berserk on them.
Three streets away, at the police station, sheriff David Graham talked with Albert Malher when Ollie and Claire came back from the Thompsons house. Malher finished signing some form and left without a word, still shocked.
“Any idea what happened?” Graham asked, refilling his coffee mug.
Ollie shrugged. “I think they tripped and fell while carrying an ale barrel upstairs together. I saw no signs of a shuffle, or anything out of place.”
Claire left them talking by the front desk and headed to the door past Graham’s office. It led to the hall of the two cells, the restroom and a tiny refrigerated room. The morgue at the small local hospital only had room for two bodies, and it was currently full until the undertaker opened in the morning, so Lila’s body would spend the night at the station.