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“I got news,” Zeb said, handing Mary a bouquet of herbs wrapped in newspaper. “Here. From our garden. Basil, and dill, and whatever else the wife planted.”

“Thank you, Zeb.” Mary smiled graciously. “How is Bernice?”

Zeb shrugged. “Better some days than others.” He nodded at Asa’s bandaged right hand. “How’s that? Hurt much?”

“Don’t feel a thing,” Asa replied. “Like I never had a thumb there at all.”

Zeb ignored the sarcasm. “Yeah, just wait till you get what they call ghost pain. I bet Mary can tell you all about that. She prob’ly seen lots of guys with their legs and arms and worse blown off in combat, yelling for drugs ‘cause they think they can still feel pain in those missing parts. Huh, Mary?”

“You said you had news?” Mary reminded him curtly. “Something about Muriel?”

“Naw, she’s still the same. Alive, but not so good. The cops arrested Bill McCurdy’s son, though. Figures. Boy’s got more than one kink in his fishing line.”

Asa’s face paled. “They think Josh McCurdy’s got something to do with the shooting?”

“You oughta reckon,” Zeb said with a wink.

“What does that mean?” Mary asked.

“That means Zeb’s never heard a conspiracy theory he didn’t like.” Asa’s cell phone rang. He ignored it. “Thanks for stopping by, Zeb.”

“Oh, now, wait a second, you can’t just leave it at --“ Mary rubbed at the ache that was beginning to throb in her temples. “Asa, if that’s your mother, she’ll freak out if you don’t answer, and rush over here. Please pick it up.”

“Your mama, she’s friends with Rev’rend Tom’s housekeeper, isn’t she?” Zeb asked.

Asa shrugged. “Yeah, so what?”

“So, I wouldn’t cross neither of them ladies. That Mrs. Heller, she’s real protective of Tom. Says he’s fine, though he had a whale of a headache and a pretty good bruise where he smacked his noggin. I don’t know -- haven’t seen him. Got to go through Mrs. Heller to get to him, and even I ain’t that nosy.”

In the center of town, at Rev. Thomas Pratt’s modest cottage next to the chapel, a pair of local-boy cops adjusted to the realization that freshly baked slices of Mrs. Heller’s world-class peach cobbler weren’t in their near future. The aroma was pure torture, made worse by the housekeeper’s stony expression.

“Just making our rounds, ma’am. Securing the area so people can feel safe going about their lives, coming into town, going to church.”

“You can do that without ringing the doorbell every time, can’t you?”

“That must happen a lot, what with all the well-wishers Rev. Tom must get. Anybody come by today? You see anyone around the place?”

“Just me and him all day. Until now.”

“And the Reverend is --“

“Sleeping. And if you wake him,” the housekeeper promised, “I might break some laws.”

The younger cop’s eyes wandered to a window where a curtain fluttered. For a second he thought he saw a woman’s face staring back at him.

“Somebody’s lying,” he said to his partner later.

Control Shadoe Lake
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