Last week we announced that David K. Anderson’s Portal Through the Pond is our Kids Corner Book of the Week and the sponsor of our student reviews and of thousands of great bargains in the Kids Book category:
When 13-year-old Christy’s grandmother dies, she leaves Christy a mysterious packet of information revealing an amazing secret: the pond in her yard is in fact a portal to another world. And what’s more, her grandfather had disappeared in that world nine years earlier.
Christy is determined to honor her grandmother’s wish to keep the secret, even if it means alienating her best friend Trevor. However, things spiral out of her control when nosy classmate Rob accidentally crosses into other world, the grown-ups think he has drowned, she’s forced to tell Trevor, and Danny–the nine-year-old deaf boy next door–follows her through the portal to rescue Rob.
Will Trevor be able to convince the grown-ups to trust Christy to get them all home? Or will they let the police drain the pond, stranding the children in an alien world?
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And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
Portal Through the Pond
Book 1 of the Empty World Series
By David K. Anderson
Summer, Ten Thousand Years Ago
When they came to build their devices, they already knew of the world. They’d been studying it and many other worlds from afar for thousands of their own planet’s rotations around its star. When they finally perfected how to cross over and not just observe, they had a reasonable idea what this geologically active, uncontrolled world would do.
Since they had been observing this world throughout its violent geological history, they knew that its last ice age was recently past, and what would later be known to the native intelligent species as New York, Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire were very much like what they would be ten thousand years into the future. Of course, they didn’t care nor would they ever know what the native species would call the land they settled on. They only cared that summers could produce hot, muggy, stale air that hung over the mountains and valleys, and, by late in the day, bring violent thunderstorms to the region. The prevailing winds were from west to east during those weather events and tended to sweep the hot electrically charged storms with them.
They had come to this region because they saw in it the best combination of power and predictability for their needs from the storms generated by the buildup of heat. Predictability being relative, they were desperate and time was short. They would rather have controlled the whole process from their world but they had found in this one an acceptable alternative—even if it was only for about one-sixth of the world’s yearly cycle when the axis wobble brought the hottest temperatures to the area. Their own world had no such large swings in weather from season to season. They’d conquered and controlled their environment millennia ago, and that process was irreversible.
They knew that other, more appropriate areas closer to the planet’s equator existed for the violent storms needed but they were too hot for the natural devices they were hurrying to construct. The water that was a major component of their hurried setups had to stay below a certain temperature that seldom was achieved where there wasn’t a larger swing in seasonal temperatures than in the tropics or semitropical land areas. So they settled on the temperate zones, and especially areas in the temperate zones where there were sufficient landmass upheavals that helped channel the storms down into the valleys between. Ready-made funnels for electrical energy, so to speak.
Besides, their own world, or this emerging young one and the many others like it they had found, was really irrelevant. Shortly it wouldn’t matter where they constructed the devices or where the power came from: they as a race would be gone and wouldn’t care.
Eight Years and Ten Months Before the Present
Lillian was thin, almost too thin. She wore stiff dark blue jeans and a bright yellow, hooded sweatshirt that overwhelmed her frailness. To anyone watching her, the outfit would have seemed out of place on the hot, muggy evening. But she knew what she was doing. Her brown-dyed hair was tied back tightly and only added to her austere appearance.
She walked slowly, picking her way down the narrow worn path from her house. Erosion from frequent violent thunderstorms made the path a bit tricky in the summer. To keep her footing, she had to focus on carefully putting one foot in front of the other despite knowing the way so well.
The rolling hills and elegantly kept old house behind her were reflected in the gray water of the pond. She stopped only when the path ended abruptly at the weedy shoreline. There she waited, standing very still and facing the pond while the rising wind pushed at her back. A lone duck took exception to her intrusion and gracefully took off for parts unknown. The songbirds and the bullfrogs were silent, perhaps anticipating the storm along with her.
Lillian’s alert green eyes gazed out over the murky water. They were her most arresting feature and, over thirty years ago, had helped to win her husband. She stared into the black depths below her, hoping those eyes would bring him back to stay.
After several minutes, she was dissatisfied standing on the shore, so she walked out onto the fifty-foot-long wooden dock, stopping halfway. Her husband had built it two years before for just these occasions. The new vantage point pleased her. She scanned the several acres of the pond she knew so well, her head weaving side to side slightly as she waited.
The pond was a natural body of water surrounded on three sides by the property she and her husband inherited nearly thirty-one years ago from his parents. They moved into the large Victorian house that her husband’s great-grandfather had built in 1899, on the little rise of land they called a hill overlooking the pond.
She had come to that house as a new bride. Since that time, she and Jack had added the studio on the back of the house facing out toward the pond, as well as built the house down the hill for their daughter’s family. The Jacksons’ place had also been built across the pond on the piece of land that Jack’s father sold just before he died those many years ago. She’d had many occasions to curse Grandpa Renfrew for that weakness in selling even that small plot on the other side of the pond. Since the Peters family had bought the house from the Jacksons six years ago, they were a constant irritation with their snooping and nosy meddling. Thankfully not much else had visibly changed in all those years. Lillian was now fifty-eight years old.
She frowned after her quiet reminiscing was over. Night was overtaking the hills, and that worried her. She turned from the pond and looked back up the path toward the house. The gray clouds raced overhead, outrunning the rumbling thunder not far behind. A big storm was brewing, the oppressive heat and humidity building toward the intense finish. Sometimes, though, the onset of darkness cooled things down enough that the gathering elements of the storm dissipated—defeated before ever getting started. That usually only happened earlier in the summer, before the really humid weather settled in. But you could never be sure.
Lillian allowed herself a smile at the thought that she was worried not because the storm was coming, but because despite the signs, it still might not come. The storm finally did arrive, though, building up gradually. She smelled it first, its distinctive odor being carried on the strengthening breeze. That smell did its best to trigger pleasant childhood memories, but she was focused on the problem at hand and resisted with an effort.
The rain came then, marching over the hills. It began as a soft buzz that grew louder on its way toward the pond. Then it came more swiftly in heavy sheets over the house and started dappling the pond before quickening into a pelting relentless deluge.
The wind picked up next, sudden and fierce, turning the water’s surface into a million churning whirlpools. She swung back toward the pond, smiling again, ignoring the heavy wind and rain. She was grateful for her choice of clothes. Her only visible concession to the storm was to cross her arms over her chest and hunch up her shoulders a bit in a vain attempt to stop water from pouring down her collar. Finally she remembered the hood and pulled it over her head. Still she waited.
The lightning followed last of all. Sharp cracks of it lit up the darkening sky and forced her to flinch ever so slightly at its brutal power. Twice she leaned toward the water as lightning lit the pond. But both times, she wasn’t satisfied with something, didn’t see what she was looking for, so she relaxed slightly, straightening back up as the storm continued. A third crack sounded so loudly she put her hands over her ears. The pond seemed to glow for a second with the lightning strike. Eagerly she removed her hands from her ears. Finally satisfied with what she saw, she sighed and started counting down from one hundred.
At the count of sixty-three, a man’s head popped out of the water a few feet from the dock. He swam closer and grabbed the dock with one hand while pushing a large watertight bag almost nonchalantly up and over the edge onto the dock with the other hand. Then he nimbly scrambled up, showing an easy familiarity with the process and surprising athleticism for his years.
Even though Lillian was only a few feet away, the sounds of the man’s efforts were drowned out by the continuing wind and rain. She didn’t offer him help, and he didn’t expect it. They were both used to the routine. Once he was standing on the rough planks, he grinned at her.
“You’re wet,” he deadpanned, shouting to be heard above the storm.
“You’re late, Jack dear, and look who’s talking!” she replied just as loudly, smiling and hugging him.
“Let’s get up to the house and dry off,” he said, disengaging himself from her embrace. “I’ll show you what I’ve done once we change.” He indicated the watertight container with a gesture.
“How many?” she asked.
“I finished four and I have some more photos,” he replied. “Now let’s hurry!”
They started up the path toward the house. The storm began to let up just then, and she stopped in her tracks. Jack continued for two steps, then must have sensed she wasn’t following. He slowed and turned with a questioning expression.
“Will you go back?” she asked.
Jack’s shoulders sagged at the not unexpected question. “It’s a chance of a lifetime, not to mention the place is exhilarating and inspiring. Yes, of course I’ll go back.” He hesitated, then added, “You could come with me, you know.”
It wasn’t the first time he’d made that offer, not even the second or third time.
“No, I won’t, I can’t, and you know that.”
It was the same answer, old now, all explained and argued out a dozen times over.
He nodded, neither accepting it nor outright rejecting it, and turned again toward the house. She followed more slowly so that he wouldn’t see the fear and sadness on her face. But after thirty-one years together, she just knew he felt it all the same.
Two Months Later
Lillian was back at the pond waiting for Jack again as a storm gathered overhead. This time, she was worried for different reasons than her usual uneasiness. She’d seen Mrs. Peters snooping once more with the binoculars just after Jack had jumped back into the pond three weeks ago. He was going so often now, and Mrs. Peters was noticing the activity. If Jack didn’t show up soon, she knew that Abigail Peters would tell her husband, Wendell Peters, who was a police officer in town. From there, it would get to Police Chief Lockhart. That wouldn’t be good. She gave another mental curse to Grandpa Renfrew for selling the land.
Her next worry was that this storm could possibly be the last thunderstorm of the season, and Jack’s final opportunity until next summer. Any rare January or February thunderstorm triggered by a nor’easter coming up the coast would find the pond frozen solid to a depth of at least a foot from the hard New Hampshire winter and would be useless to him.
The biggest worry, though, was that she’d seen her husband only fleetingly during the most recent thunderstorm a couple of days before. At that time, a lightning strike that seemed perfect had lit up the pond. But the moment passed and he was gone, and she didn’t understand why. But then again, this was all beyond understanding anyway, so predicting an outcome to this amazing set of variables was futile.
The woman weathered the elements, deep in thought. She was so used to recognizing the right moment, despite its unpredictable nature, that she had time to reflect and play out the various scenarios that her growing fears imagined. The storm lasted longer than usual, which increased her fears to borderline panic. There were several false alarms. Just when it seemed the storm was abating and she was ready to give up, a final crack of lightning illuminated the sky and pond just right. She waited, counting as was her ritual. The expected happened right on queue as it had so often in the past—but again, Jack didn’t surface.
Disappointed and afraid, Lillian was turning to leave when an object shot up out of the water and flopped on its side, floating with a slight bobbing motion, barely out of her reach. Deciding against jumping in from the dock after it, she walked back off the dock and entered the water from the shore to retrieve it. She was up to her waist when she reached the object that had drifted closer to shore while she walked off the dock. It was her husband’s airtight bag. It had been inflated before being sealed so that it would float. She turned around and, using the dock for support, waded back out of the water. Once on shore, she opened the bag to the rush of escaping air. Inside was another finished canvas and a note. She took the note out and read Jack’s strong, clean handwriting:
It seems to be closing, narrowing somehow. I couldn’t get through. I hope it changes back again, opens up some more. I will keep trying. If you get this, then you’ll have my latest work. The storm must be almost over on your side, so I have to get the bag sealed and inflated before it’s too late.
Ignoring the finished canvas and weeping uncontrollably, she headed up the path to the house, fearing she would never see him again and knowing that what she’d been dreading for the last couple of days was all going to come true.
Christy Walker sat softly crying, staring out at the front lawn, her slim form cradled in the bay-window seat. The day was gray and heavy with rain. It was a miserable Saturday in more ways than one. The wind hurled the water in irregular sheets against the side windows that rattled at each new assault. Each time a new wave of water hit, the wind entered somewhere amongst the old window frames and whistled and moaned loudly throughout the room, the drapes flapping as if trying to hold back the intrusion. Christy used to think that sound meant the house was haunted, and her grandmother used to encourage the idea. Today the sounds were all but ignored by Christy as she waited for everyone to return from her grandmother’s funeral.
Sitting there thinking back to the morning, Christy could still hear the echoes of her mom’s heels clicking on the wood floor, and the snap of her mom’s purse as she rounded the corner and saw Christy huddled on the window seat, hugging her knees, not yet dressed. Christy had dreaded that moment. Her mom had momentarily been startled, but after an uncomfortable, almost angry second or two, she had nodded with sympathy and approached Christy, jasmine scent and all, kissing her lightly on the top of the head. That perfume lingered in the room long after as Christy sat alone, relieved there had been no shouting match.
When her parents left, her mom had asked Christy to keep an eye on things in the ovens and to make sure everything was out waiting. Not that old Mrs. Pike needed any help. Christy wiped tears away for the umpteenth time that morning and wished she’d gone with them. At thirteen, she felt she should have handled the whole funeral thing a little better—but, geez, wasn’t all this just a little too much too soon for anyone to handle?
She turned and looked around the room that she’d known all her life as her grandmother’s front room. The only things left of her grandmother’s were the beautiful quartz crystals sitting on the knickknack shelf. The divers had found them while searching the pond for her grandfather years before. Everything else was gone, replaced with her mom’s and dad’s stuff since the house was now theirs.
Bringing herself to look over toward the side window again, Christy could just see the roof and top floor of the house next door some one hundred and fifty yards in the distance. Most of the house was hidden from view because of the sharp slope downhill. She stood up to see it better. That was her house down there; at least it used to be. And this was her grandmother’s; at least it used to be. Now Mrs. Lake and her son Danny owned Christy’s old house, had in fact just a few weeks ago bought it. Christy had barely settled into this new routine. Even though she’d spent her whole life over here as much as at her house, this was still too new and strange to her.
Despite Christy and Mrs. Pike being the only two in the house at the present time, a lot had been done, most if not all of it by Mrs. Pike. The ovens were on—one regular, one portable, offered and brought in for the occasion by someone Christy couldn’t remember. The required plugs were all plugged in for the warmers, with slow cookers and toaster ovens and all the necessary dials and switches in their correct positions. All the proper foods were where they belonged, in cooking or out on tables and sideboards and makeshift serving tables—old-fashioned folding card tables also borrowed for the occasion. Yes, Mrs. Pike had everything under control.
“Now, now, Connie,” she’d said to Christy’s mom earlier, “you just go, and I’ll stay and make sure everything is ready when you get back. I can’t see any reason to see Lillian in there again. I said my good-byes to her at the wake last night. I can do more good here this morning.”
Mrs. Pike had left Christy alone to cry all morning, only peeking in on her once or twice before continuing the food preparation for the day.
Christy still had on the sweatshirt and sweatpants and slippers that earlier had signaled her decision to stay home from the funeral. Realizing it was getting time for everyone’s return, she went to change into the black dress her mom bought her just yesterday. She hated wearing dresses! But she knew that if she wasn’t ready when everyone returned, she would be handed over to her dad. That happened only when her mom was too stressed to deal with her. Christy rightly figured this would be one of those times, if she wasn’t dressed when they got back.
A little later in her new room upstairs—until recently, her grandmother’s guest bedroom—she straightened out the dress and looked at herself in the mirror. Groaning with the realization that she wouldn’t be able to hide the red and swollen eyes, she wished again that her mom would give in and let her wear some makeup. Not much—just enough to help. At least three-quarters of all the other girls in her grade were wearing makeup, and she was beginning to get self-conscious about herself being in the minority. School was almost through for the year, and maybe when she went to the big dance in two weeks, her mom would change her mind. She brushed her short blonde hair and tied it into a small ponytail (that would please her dad). She fidgeted with her pantyhose in front of the mirror, and despite the red swollen eyes, ponytail, lack of makeup, and the fact she really didn’t like dresses, she thought she looked quite grown up.
The cooking smells drifted upstairs, and her stomach growled in protest. She suddenly remembered she hadn’t eaten a thing all morning. If she could be hungry on a day like today, she began to feel she might survive it after all.
She heard the first of the cars pull into the driveway with a sloshing sound as the tires hit some standing water on the pavement. Then they made a very familiar crunching sound as they pulled onto the gravel beyond the paved driveway before pulling off onto the lawn. That would be her dad moving off the driveway to make room for the rest of the cars that were expected.
The gravel signaled the beginning of the driveway to her old house. When her parents and grandparents had begun to build the house down the hill, they had just extended the new driveway off the old one and covered it in crushed stone. The sound of that gravel driveway was unmistakable and lately brought a pang of sadness each time Christy heard it.
She went downstairs in a little better mood despite her reflections because she knew Trev would be there soon. Trevor Hanson was her best friend and had been for years. Actually she, Trevor, and Ginny Wentworth had all been best friends together since before even first grade, but Ginny had gone to private school in Maine for this past year, and it had somehow changed their wonderful, comfortable, crazy friendship.
She hadn’t seen Ginny or talked to her in months, not since at least Christmas, and neither had Trev. She was a little disappointed with that fact. Hadn’t the three of them come through grade school together doing everything, inseparable? People called them “the triplets.” Trev was the only brown-haired one of the three. But since he started bleaching the top and trimming it short on the sides, he looked almost blond too. Ginny and Christy were true blondes with the blue eyes to match, and all three were slim built. Trev had the deep brown eyes like his mom. In the past year, he had shot up and now towered over her by four inches or more. It annoyed her that she didn’t know if Ginny and she were still the same height.
Christy was waiting again on the window seat when her mom and dad walked in. Her mom handed her raincoat to her dad, and then, smiling a quick greeting to Christy, she walked through into the kitchen to find Mrs. Pike. Her dad took off his raincoat while nodding to Christy, then he came over and planted a kiss on the top of her head (it seemed to be the preferred target area for both her mom and dad).
“How are you, sweetheart?” he asked, concern showing on his face. He waited for a response, smiling as he always did.
“I’m okay, Daddy, thanks.”
“Good. Well, I’ll put these away,” he said, indicating the coats over his arm with a small gesture. “You look nice in a dress,” he added, heading upstairs to put the coats on his bed. “Nice ponytail, too!” he called down as he went, the old staircase creaking and groaning with every step, mixing with his rich, warm voice.
The hall closet was now reserved for as many guests’ coats as it could handle. On a rainy, gloomy, cold, late May day, it would fill up fast.
Christy’s mom came back in and slowly walked over and sat on the window seat beside her, giving her a little hug before speaking. “My, you look very pretty. I see the dress fits you fine.” Taking Christy’s face gently in her hands, she turned it and stared into Christy’s eyes. “Hmm,” she said. “Why don’t you run up to my bedroom quickly and put just a touch of my makeup on. You know which drawer it’s in?”
“Really, Mom?” Christy asked.
Her mom smiled. “Yes, really. I’d let you use what I brought with me today, but I’ve used most of it myself.” Christy noticed her mom’s own red and swollen eyes. “And hurry back down,” her mom continued. “Trevor and his mom will be here shortly to help. Everyone else, I suspect, is giving us a decent amount of time before they show up. If your dad is still there, send him down. I could use his help too.”
Christy was still sitting on the edge of her mom and dad’s bed finishing up applying a little blush—she hoped it wouldn’t be too obvious—when Trevor walked in.
“Your mom said I could find you up here.” Then he saw what Christy was doing. “Oh no! Dum da dum dum—the first step!” he said.
“Oh, shush up. Does it look alright?” she asked, turning toward him.
“Sure, it looks fine,” he said as he plopped down beside her. “Guess who I saw?” he asked as he loosened his tie and unbuttoned his blazer.
Christy rolled her eyes at him. “Okay, I give up. Who did you see?”
“And the answer is … Ginny!” he said, miming the opening of an envelope and pulling out the answer. Then he looked closer at Christy’s handiwork with the makeup. “You missed a spot.” He indicated where by pointing to his own face.
Christy turned toward the mirror and squinted. Taking up the makeup brush, she said, “Thanks, I don’t want to look like a jerk.”
She proceeded to attack her face with the brush. Trevor sat tapping his foot and staring down at his own hands, waiting for her to finish.
When she was done, she put the brush down and surveyed her handiwork by tilting and turning her head as she stared at the mirror.
“Trev,” Christy began while still looking in the mirror. When she sensed that he had lifted his head up to look at her, she said, still staring at the mirror: “You know that tapping annoys me.”
Trevor let out a “Huh!” from deep within his throat. Then he slapped his hands on his knees and said, “What? I was just waiting for you to finish.”
“Badly if you ask me,” she said.
Trevor grinned in spite of himself.
“Okay, what is it, spill it,” she said.
“Ginny said to say hi,” Trevor said, “and that she was sorry about your grandmother.”
She turned toward Trevor, opening her eyes wide and dropping her jaw before smiling at him. “Well, I would have hoped she said hi! How is she?”
“Oh, she got fat!”
“Noooo,” Christy said, bouncing up and down twice.
“Well, not really, but she did put on some weight.” He grinned.
She punched his arm like she always did when he set her up like that. He grabbed her fist as she was starting to punch him again, but something in his face made her stop. His grin was gone. He released her hand, and she waited for him to continue. He avoided looking at her face.
“What is it, Trev? Like I said, spill it,” she whispered.
He stared down at his hands again before continuing. “She also called your grandmother a loony toon, a nutcase, a complete whacko! Her words, not mine.” Then, still not looking at her, he said, “I gotta tell you Christy, I wasn’t impressed.”
Christy’s eyes filled with tears, and she gripped Trevor’s arm. “Why would she say those things?”
“I don’t know,” he said, shaking his head. “I saw her and her mom at the mall. We started talking about this year, and of course she asked about you. Then Mrs. W butted in to say I should tell you how sorry she was about your grandmother. Mrs. W walked off while we were still talking, and then Ginny said that she thought it was sad your grandmother was crazy.”
Trevor looked up then, locking eyes with Christy, and continued. “I defended your grandmother, and she laughed at me and started saying how your grandmother wandered around the pond all these years since your grandfather drowned, looking for him as if he was still alive. She even refused the insurance money when he was declared legally dead. Did she really do that, Christy?”
“I … I don’t know,” Christy said. “I remember when the lawyer came about the death certificate. That was two years ago, I think. He drowned almost nine years ago now.”
“But they never found his body, did they?”
“No, but I don’t ever remember her telling me she thought he was still alive,” Christy said.
“Well, Ginny seemed to get embarrassed after that, and we changed the subject. She started telling me about her school and new friends—all highbrow stuff. Do you know she goes to luncheons now?” Trevor pressed on not waiting for a reply: “She rambled on and on about all her new friends and clothes and didn’t I think that she looked so much better than she did when she went to public school with us and blah, blah, blah. Then she asked what I did to my hair.”
Trevor paused and raised his right hand. “She told me I was soooo childish,” he said while bending his hand up and down at the wrist and sticking his nose up in the air.
“Why, Trev? Why would she say those things about my grandmother?” Christy felt close to tears again.
“Don’t sweat it, Christy. Maybe she listened to Mrs. Peters telling those old stories about his disappearance one too many times. This is a small town, and that was big news. We were only—what?—about four when he drowned, but even I can vaguely remember the sirens and lights and my parents driving by when the divers were searching for him.”
Just then, Christy’s mom walked through the door and smiled at them. “There you are, you two. Come on downstairs. People are beginning to arrive.” She looked at Christy’s face and must have noticed both of their tense postures. “What’s going on? Did something happen?”
“No, not really, Mom, but Trev met Ginny at the mall.”
“Oh, that’s nice! How is she?” she asked, focusing on Trevor.
Trevor squirmed. “Uh, she’s … she’s okay, I guess.”
Christy plowed through Trevor’s uncomfortable pause: “Trev was telling me what she said when you came in. Ginny said Grandma was crazy. Do you think that’s true?”
Christy’s mom showed anger in her eyes for a moment, and then she sighed and gently pushed Christy aside to make room for herself between them on the bed. She sat down and put an arm around them both and squeezed. Then she said, “No, honey, your grandmother wasn’t crazy. But when my dad, your grandfather, drowned, she did sort of fall to pieces a bit. But that was just denial. It was worse that they never were able to find his body in the pond. That would have helped to put closure on it for her. She did for a time act like he was alive but soon accepted that he was gone.”
“But what about her constant visits to the pond like she was looking for him? Even I’ve seen her do that a million times. Why do that?” Christy asked.
Christy’s mom looked first at Trevor then at Christy before staring straight ahead, frowning. It took her a few seconds before answering: “Haven’t you ever seen someone, even if only on a TV show, go visit their loved ones in a cemetery and talk to them like they were alive? It makes them feel closer to them. I’m sure your grandmother was doing something like that. Remember, she didn’t have a grave to visit, so maybe she went there to feel closer to him.”
Christy and Trevor both nodded and leaned forward to look at each other for a second.
Christy’s mom gave a final squeeze and stood up. “Some people can be insensitive, that’s all,” her mom said. “I’m surprised at Ginny, though. I wouldn’t have thought it of her. But let’s go downstairs. There is someone who wants to meet you, Christy.”
Christy stared, waiting, but her mom just stood there smiling for a second, then she walked out the door and started down the stairs. Christy and Trevor exchanged questioning looks. Trevor shrugged, and they followed Christy’s mom down the stairs.
Most of the people arriving to pay their respects were congregating in the front room or central dining room. Mrs. Pike and Christy’s mom and dad had spread most of the food on various tables throughout the two rooms and connecting hallway leading to all the rooms and the staircase. A few people were gathered in the hallway, nibbling on chips or neatly cut vegetable sticks, gazing at the half dozen or so paintings hung on the walls. Christy’s mom went past everyone, nodding as she went, and Christy and Trevor followed.
Christy’s mom led them to the kitchen, where a man was just turning to look at them as they entered. He was about to put a celery stick into his mouth but stopped when he saw who had come in. Christy saw that the man was dressed in a nice gray suit, and under his left arm, he had a fat manila envelope. His hair was jet black and very short, and he had a nice smile, which he turned on Christy when he noticed her staring. He was shorter than her dad but she wouldn’t have called him short, and he was sort of stocky to her way of thinking. He looked very familiar, but Christy couldn’t remember why.
“Christy, do you remember Detective Lockhart?” her mom asked. “Of course, he was Police Chief Lockhart when you last saw him.”
Christy hesitated until the memories fit the man and her mom’s words made some sense. “Oh! Hi, yeah, I think I remember you.”
The detective smiled and held out his hand. “Hi, Christy, nice to see you again.”
Christy shook his hand, and he turned to Trevor.
“And this must be Trevor Hanson,” Detective Lockhart said. “I remember you and your parents.”
He offered his hand, and Trevor shook it with a bit more enthusiasm than Christy had shown.
“Yeah, I remember,” Trevor said. “You were the cool police chief. My mom and dad liked you.”
Detective Lockhart smiled. “I don’t know about cool, but I certainly enjoyed my time here as police chief.”
Christy listened to the exchange and then, almost without thinking, asked, “Why did you leave?”
“Christy!” her mom said.
Detective Lockhart kept his smile and dismissed the inappropriateness of the question with a little wave of his hand. “No, that’s quite all right. No secret why I left. I received a nice offer of a position as a city detective in Boston and couldn’t pass it up. This town doesn’t have a lot of chances for advancement, and at the time, I was looking for something more.” He chuckled. “But to tell you the truth, I miss it here and very often think about returning … especially when I think about your grandmother and that pond out there.” He pointed to the pond through the kitchen windows, then turned to Christy’s mom. “Mrs. Walker?”
“Please, call me Connie.”
“Connie, then. May I speak with Christy …” He hesitated, frowned, and then with an exaggerated exhale of breath continued. “Umm, in more private surroundings?” he asked.
That caught them all by surprise, but Christy’s mom recovered quickly. “Well,” she said, then glanced out the window over the sink, looking at the porch. “It’s just about stopped raining, but nobody else is outside. The love seat won’t have been rained on since it’s up against the house. We could take two folding chairs and go out there.”
Christy watched Detective Lockhart. He seemed uncomfortable and about to say something, but instead he searched an inner pocket of his suit jacket and withdrew a letter-sized folded piece of paper. He took an unusual amount of time unfolding it.
Finally he shrugged and said, “Let me start at the beginning. Last week, I received a call from Morris and Quigley, the attorneys in town here. Paul Morris Jr. told me that Lillian Renfrew had passed away and that he had instructions from her that concerned me. I came up yesterday and visited their offices, where I received a handwritten letter from Lillian dated some six months ago. Apparently she had at that time just come down ill and wanted to make sure that what she had in mind would come to pass.”
“Is that the letter in your hand?” Christy’s mom asked.
“No,” he said, talking directly to Christy’s mom, “and that is why I hesitated when you suggested that we”—and he emphasized the “we”—“go out to the porch. This letter here is a list of the people that Lillian wanted to be present when I hand over this large manila envelope to Christy and tell the story of Lillian’s and my little game. You’re … not on the list, Connie. I’m sorry.” He sounded genuine in his apology. “In reality,” he continued, “Lillian wanted Christy to have the final say as to who other than herself gets to hear my story and see what’s in the envelope. But they must be on this very short list. Of course, you can ask me to leave now if that isn’t acceptable to you. It was your mother’s wish that it happen this way, but legally the lawyers couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything to force it … and Lillian thought that her wishes would be enough for you, Connie.”
He paused for a moment, shifting his weight from one foot to the other before continuing. “I will tell you this: if you say no, then I am to take this envelope and destroy it without opening it. And I for one hope you won’t say no, since I don’t know what’s in this envelope, and neither does the law firm. Only Lillian knows what’s in here. I think it would be a shame if it went to the grave with her, whatever it is in here.”
He stopped and stared directly at Christy’s mom, then slowly turned his eyes on Trevor before settling his penetrating eyes on Christy. She broke from his stare, uncertain what to say or do. A quick glance told Christy that the faces of her mom and Trevor were just as bewildered and confused as her own.
Christy’s mom recovered first. “You are to know what’s in there when Christy opens it, Detective?” She said it more as a question than a statement, and the hurt was thick in her voice.
“No,” he said quickly. “Not if Christy chooses not to let me.” He waved the envelope. “I am only to tell my side of the story.”
Christy’s mom stood there shaking her head. “I still don’t quite understand. What story? What game?”
“What game?” Detective Lockhart repeated. “Your mother—Lillian—and I came to view my investigation of your dad’s drowning as a game. She doesn’t want me to say more, except to the people on that list, pending Christy’s approval. But if you disapprove, Connie, then I leave now and throw this envelope into the fire.”
Christy’s mom stood mute, tears welling in her already red and swollen eyes. Detective Lockhart waited patiently, letting his information sink in.
Finally Christy’s mom took a deep breath and, through her tears, said, “I suppose I’ll have to trust Mom on this one.”
Turning to Christy, Detective Lockhart said, “There are only three names on this list: yours, Trevor’s, and Ginny Wentworth’s. Is she here today? I certainly remember her family but haven’t seen them here.”
Christy frowned and said, “No, she isn’t here. Trev and I will go outside with you. That’s … if you want to, Trev.”
“Want to?” Trevor said. “I wouldn’t miss this for a pair of box seat tickets to the Red Sox!”