Today's Reading

I'd known Caleb most of my life, after all; he and my grandfather Buford "Bull" Weston had been colleagues and friends for decades. Both men had started their careers as attorneys and then moved into judgeships in Cedar Valley. Caleb was armed with an analytical mind and a sharp wit. Years in the courtroom had left him all too aware of the darkness that lies in the hearts of every one of us, but he was more likely to seek scientific explanations (nature versus nurture, that sort of thing) than find refuge in melancholy musings.

I realized suddenly that it had in fact been months since I'd seen Caleb or his wife. Perhaps there was something going on in their family, an illness or a financial worry.

I tried to lighten the mood. "You're not getting soft on me, are you?"

Caleb smiled grimly. With the tip of his finger, he pushed the manila envelope across the desk to me. I picked it up, noting a tiny spot of blood at the edge of the flap.

"Paper cut?"

"Nosebleed." Caleb grew impatient. "I didn't call you in to discuss my health, dear. There are letters in there, letters you should read. Though they might give you nightmares." I didn't bother telling him that come dark, nightmares were my most constant companion. I'd been living with them for years. Part of it stemmed from my work as a detective in Cedar Valley, work that had led me down bleak, hopeless roads. In my dreams I often found myself stuck on those same roads, traveling them over and over again, walking alongside the dead, the victimized. Never far behind us were the murderers, the rapists, the men and women who had black clouds in their heads and hearts.

And some of the nightmares had planted their seeds the terrible night my parents were killed in a car accident. Just a child, I was in the station wagon with them, and I knew the images and sounds from that night would stay with me forever, even as the days and years took me farther and farther from that time.

I glanced at the large manila envelope again. "I take it they're not love notes?"

Caleb sighed. He slumped down even farther into the chair. "They're threats. Death threats. It's ridiculous—it's been six months since I left the bench. I'm out of the game, I have no influence. My clients now are widows who want to amend their wills and bored divorcées looking to squeeze a few more pennies out of their ex-husbands. You make a threat if you want something done, an opinion swayed, a conviction overturned. Me? I'm powerless."

"Did the threats start arriving before or after you left the bench?"

"Just after." Caleb leaned forward and rested his hands on the desk. They were pale, like his hair, and as I saw now, like his face. He was a washed-out version of himself, a faded man.

It was a strange thought to have; Caleb was, to my knowledge, healthy. He wasn't quite seventy, and while he carried an extra ten or fifteen pounds on his belly, he was an avid hiker and fly fisherman. The man before me looked as though he hadn't seen the sun in weeks.

Caleb continued speaking. "The first letter showed up four, maybe five months ago, at the house. Since then, I've gotten one every couple of weeks."

"Do you have gloves?" Not expecting to be involved in official business that night, I'd left my small evidence kit in the trunk of my car.

Caleb retrieved an old pair of leather driving gloves from a drawer in a file cabinet behind him. He handed them to me and as I slipped them on, I asked the obvious question.

"Why haven't you turned these over the police?"

"This will sound crazy, but . . . well, they're like a puzzle. There's something so familiar about the words, the language, and yet it's just out of my grasp. I guess I've been reluctant because I have to know who's sending them. I have to know, Gemma. And I thought I could figure it out myself."

I upturned the manila envelope on the desk, wondering just how ugly of a business I was about to step into.

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