City of the Lost Page 29

“The last time I was drunk, I wasn’t even legal drinking age. The last time I got high was on pot at eighteen, and it made me throw up. I don’t drink, and I don’t do drugs, and I’m not going to start because the job’s rough or I get bored. But if somehow I do, then you can throw me in your cell or fire me. I wouldn’t say ‘all right’ if it wasn’t, and I don’t appreciate being growled at for agreeing with you.”

I expect a snapped reply, but instead he seems to contemplate this. Then he walks to the bookcase, takes a mug, and pours a rough shot of tequila in it. I consider telling him—again—that I don’t want it, but after what I saw and heard at the clinic, I wouldn’t mind that shot. I’m just wondering if he’s testing me. After he pours my shot, though, he takes a beer from the icebox. So I down the shot before he can uncap his beer. His brows lift. I put the mug on the table.

“Can I see those files?” I ask.

“That’s what we’re here for. I thought you could use a drink while you read them.”

“It’s tequila. You don’t sip it.”

He grunts and, beer still in hand, unlocks a file cabinet and flips through, pulling files. Then he passes the stack to me. I look around at my choice of chairs, but before I can pick one, he says, “Weather’s still good,” and motions me to the back deck.

I start toward it. He says, “Grab a chair.”

“I’m fine.”

We go outside. He takes the Muskoka chair. I lower myself to the deck. He looks at me.

“Get a chair, Butler.”

“I’m fine.”

His lips move in a “Fuck,” and he shakes his head. I feel like there’s some expectation here, and I keep falling short, and I’m not quite sure why. I’ve been in town only a few hours, and I’ve already held my own in a bar fight. I didn’t complain when he roughed up a local. I didn’t puke over a grisly corpse. I figured out that the council is taking kickbacks for letting in criminals and I determined what happened to that corpse. Yet what does make an impression—the wrong one—is when I decide I don’t need a chair. There’s a code here, and I can’t decipher it yet, so I just settle in with the files.

Two hours pass like that. I’m reading the files, and Dalton is thinking. Or I presume that’s what he’s doing. For two entire hours he sits, sips his beer, and stares—just like Anders said—into “that damned forest.” At first I think he’s there to answer my questions, but several times I look over expectantly, even clear my throat. He ignores me.

I read the files. I do some thinking of my own. Then I go inside and get my notebook, and I come back out and make notes, and Dalton never even glances my way. Finally, when I’m done, I say, “Can we talk? About this?”

He doesn’t even look over, just says, “Tomorrow. It’s getting late.”

While it’s barely past six, the sun is dropping fast. I walk to the front railing and sit on it, not directly in front of him but no longer behind him, either.

“I’d like to meet the people in charge,” I say. “I don’t want to question them or confront them—I just think it’ll help me get a better handle on things.”

“You’ve already met Val.”

“And the others?”

He shifts, as if it takes genuine effort to turn and look at me. “Val’s the only one in Rockton, and she’s just their hired spokesperson. Ignore her. I do.”

“Is she involved in …?”

“Green-lighting criminals?” He shrugs. “Doubtful. Does she know about it? Maybe. If she knows about it, she pretends she doesn’t.”

“So the rest of the council lives … down south?” That seems to be their term for anywhere that isn’t Rockton.

“Do you think they’d let in murderers if they actually had to live with them?”

“Exactly how many murderers do you suspect are here? After everything Diana’s been through, I sure as hell didn’t expect her to be trapped in a town with—”

“What about you?”

“If you’re pointing out that her best friend is also a murderer—”

“Would you tell me you’re different?”

“No, I would not.”

That should be the right answer. But his jaw sets, as if this isn’t the response he wants.

“Your friend is safer here than she is down south,” he says. “Our murderers aren’t psychopaths or serial killers. Powys is the closest thing I’ve found, and in his case it was all about profit, and there’s no illegal organ trade up here. The last two murders we had were alcohol and frustration and a basic lack of self-control … by people who came to Rockton legitimately. That doesn’t mean I want these other sons of bitches here. Anything I can do to kick their asses out, I will.”

I’m processing that when he rises and says, “Time to show you your quarters. Best to get an early night.” As we walk inside, he says, “I’m going to insist on that early night. Once you’re in, you’re in. Someone will have dropped off basic supplies and dinner. I’ll come by at eight tomorrow to collect you.”

“I’m under house arrest? What have I done to deserve that?”

“You arrived in a town full of bored people looking for novelty. And you arrived on a day one of our residents was found murdered.”

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