XX

“Been a while since the Strangler did anybody,” Gabe Sanchez remarked. “Not since the supervolcano went. Maybe he was at Yellowstone when it blew.”

“Too much to hope for,” Colin said. All the same, he imagined the son of a bitch watching Old Faithful when everything for miles around fell down onto the magma. Yes, he knew that was ridiculous. The area around Old Faithful had been off-limits for months before the big eruption. All the same… “Less than he deserves, too, you know.”

“Oh, yeah. Lethal injection!” Gabe snorted contempt. “If we ever do drop on him, here’s hoping some of the big, muscle-bound studs at San Quentin get some action with him. Let him find out about some of what he gave the old ladies.”

“That’d be nice,” Colin agreed. Before he could go on, his phone rang. He picked it up. “Lieutenant Ferguson.”

“Hello, Colin.” His former wife had been calling this number since before either of them had a cell phone. No doubt she did it now from force of habit.

“What’s up, Louise?” he asked. Whatever if was, it wasn’t good. She sounded as if she’d just watched a cement mixer run over her puppy.

“I don’t want to talk about it on the phone,” she said. “Could you pick me up here at the ramen office for lunch?”

“Okay.” He tried to hide his astonishment. Since she left him, she’d made a point of not wanting to see him. “What time?… Twelve straight up? All right, I’ll be there… Yes, of course I know where it is. ’Bye.”

“Your ex?” Gabe knew the variations on this theme, too-probably better than Colin did. His kids were young enough to live with their mother most of the time, so he had to keep dealing with her. However painful it was, Colin’s break was clean. Or it had been, till now.

“Yeah, that was her. Something’s wrong. I don’t know what yet, but I’ll find out at lunch,” Colin said.

“Lucky you.” Sanchez rolled his eyes. “What’ll you do to help?”

“Damfino.” Colin shook his head. “Have to see what it is first. I don’t aim to buy a pig in a poke. Things aren’t the way they were right after she trotted out the door.”

“Nope. You found somebody else.” Gabe didn’t sound-very-jealous. He’d dated a double handful of women since his breakup. Nothing lasted long.

“Uh-huh. If she thinks she can walk back in the same way she walked out…” Colin shook his head again. If Louise had wanted to do that a few months after she left, chances were he would have dumped Kelly to get his old life back. Now? The train had rolled on.

He thought it had, anyhow.

“Luck,” Gabe told him.

“Thanks a lot.” For the rest of the morning, Colin went through the motions at his desk. He went through the emotions inside his head. When the time came, he drove north up Hesperus Avenue to Braxton Bragg, then hung a right to the ramen place. He shook his head when he turned in to the lot. He hadn’t remembered how heavily fortified the perimeter was. One more sign of San Atanasio’s changes-not for the better.

Louise came out at twelve on the dot, a couple of minutes after he got there. She looked the way she always looked-which is to say, she looked good to him. But no, not quite the way she always looked: she was pale and she’d been crying.

“Thanks,” she said as she got into the Taurus.

“It’s okay. Where do you want to go?”

“How about that Carrows on Reynoso Drive?”

“You got it.” Colin nodded. “Want to tell me about it now or after we get there?” Colin pulled back onto the street. He noted the way the armed guard kept an eye on him till he did. If that guy wasn’t a vet, and likely a combat vet, he’d eat his shoes.

“Teo left me yesterday,” Louise said. “He skipped. He’s gone. He took his things and he bailed. I have no idea where he is.”

“Okay.” Colin didn’t say anything more until he got into the left-turn lane that would put him back on Hesperus. Then he asked, “Did he… hurt you before he left? Am I looking at a domestic-violence case? Last time I talked to you, you said everything was fine with you guys.”

“The last time we talked, everything was fine.” Louise laughto the sttterly. A moment later, she yawned and covered her mouth with her hand. “I keep doing that,” she said, as if annoyed at herself. “No, he didn’t hurt me, not the way you mean. Not so you could bust him for it.”

“Then what do you want from me?” He tried to sound patient, not pissed off. “If you need a shoulder to cry on, I’m not your number-one candidate any more. I’m sorry, but I’m not. When I called you, you know, it was to tell you I’m gonna marry Kelly.” Louise was the kind of person who could forget things like that when forgetting them looked convenient.

“Colin, I’m going to have a baby. That’s why he ran out on me.”

It was a good thing traffic on Hesperus was light, with no cars anywhere close to his. The Taurus jerked out of its lane for a split second. He had to haul it back over the yellow stripes. He hadn’t been so surprised since-since the day she walked out on him.

He started to ask if she was kidding, but he swallowed that question. She wasn’t. She’d never hurt him for the sake of hurting him-if anybody in the family enjoyed pulling wings off flies, it was Vanessa. He asked something else instead: “Are you sure?”

“Oh, you betcha,” Louise said. “The home pregnancy tests they have nowadays are just about as good as the ones doctors use. It says I am. And I feel like I am. I know what it’s like, even if it’s been a while. You don’t forget.”

“If you say so.” Colin hung a right on Reynoso Drive. “Do you, ah, know what you’re going to do about it?”

“No. Teo wanted me to get rid of it right away. I may, but I’m not going to do it like that-” She snapped her fingers. “I didn’t mean to get pregnant, but I may have it anyway.”

The Carrows was on the south side of the street. He waited in the center lane till he could turn left against the eastbound traffic without getting creamed. Most of the shops and eateries in the little center catered to Japanese. The lot was crowded. He finally found a space and slid in. He and Louise walked to the restaurant a few inches farther apart than they would have before they broke up.

He didn’t say anything till they were seated at a table that gave them a fine view of the cars going back and forth on Reynoso Beach. “What exactly do you want me to do about all this?” he asked then, picking his words with great care.

“Are you ready to order?” The waitress couldn’t have been more than twenty, and sounded as if she had not a care in the world. That was what twenty was for. Too goddamn bad it didn’t last.

“I’ll have the BLT,” Louise said.

Colin ordered a cheeseburger. The waitress went away. He repeated the question.

“I heard you the first time,” Louise said sharply. “Can you find out where he’s gone? Phone records or his plastic or whatever? His parents don’t know or they won’t say-I’ve already tried them.”

“Maybe,” Colin said. “If he’s left the county, I don’t have so many contacts. If he’s out of state, it gets a good bit harder. I can try, I guess. Where does he have relatives?”

“Some down in San Diego. Some in Mexico, too.” Louise looked rueful. “If he’s south of the border, it’s impossible, isn’t it?”

“Pretty close,” Colin agreed. “Nobody down there would get excited about that kind of case.” Not many people up here would, either, although he might be able to call in some favors. On the other hand, he might not. The supervolcano and its disruptions made small stuff too small to worry about. And if Teo felt like disappearing into a refugee camp, he might not surface for years, if he ever did.

The food came then, interrupting his gloomy thoughts. The cheeseburger was… a cheeseburger. Better than fast food or Denny’s, nothing to jump up and down about even so. The way Louise demolished her sandwich said morning sickness hadn’t kicked in yet.

“Why did he just split like that?” Colin asked. “You two have-uh, had-been together a while now. Wasn’t it something you could have worked out between you?”

“I thought so, but he freaked. He didn’t want to be a daddy-no way, nohow.” Louise’s mouth twisted. “Sometimes you don’t find out what somebody’s really like till it’s crunch time. I got crunched, all right.”

“Yeah, you did. Sorry about that.”

“What am I going to do?” Her eyes filled with tears.

“Either you’ll have the baby or you’ll decide you don’t want to have it and you’ll take care of that.” Colin was no enormous fan of abortion. He could see, though, that a woman might not want to bear the child of a man who’d abandoned her-especially if she was a woman with some gray in her hair unless she touched it up. Raising a kid on your own was never easy. It got harder as you got older and tireder.

Through the tears, his ex looked indignant. She eyed him as if this were somehow his fault-or, at any rate, anyone’s but hers. “I can figure that much out for myself, thank you very much,” she said tartly. “What I wanted to know was how much help from you I could count on.”

“Huh? What kind of help? I’m not made of money, especially when I’m putting Marshall through school and he never seems to graduate.”

“But he sold that story! To a magazine! For money! Isn’t that wonderful?”

“Well, it’s pretty good. But what he got is not quite a week’s rent on his place, and that’s before you chop taxes out of it. Besides, you pretty much cleaned out my bank account when you left.” He’d kept the house. She’d taken just about everything else they’d built up over all the years they were married. The lawyers called it a fair split. Colin hadn’t loved lawyers before the divorce. He was even less fond of them now.

“You’re being mean!” Louise exclaimed.

He exhaled through his nose to try to hide how angry he was. “Louise, you walked out on me. You were in love with Teo, and he was in love with you, and the two of you were going to live happily ever after. You got your half of the community property. Except for that, you didn’t want thing one to do with me any more. Months could go by without us talking. But now Mr. Happily Ever After finds out you’ve got a bun in the oven, so he takes off. And all of a sudden I look a lot better by comparison, huh? Is that where we’re at, or did I miss something?”

“You’re not going to help me?” If the Mask of Tragedy had a voice, it would have been hers then.

“You were the one who didn’t want me darkening your towels any more. You called me every name in the book. We are divorced, remember? Why should I care about the bastard of the guy you left me for?”

“Never mind the baby,” she said impatiently. “Didn’t you love me?”

“Yeah. I did. Past tense. I loved you longer than you loved me, as a matter of fact. I was a mess after you dumped me.” Colin bit back several other things he might have said. This was more than bad enough without looking for ways to make it worse. The waitress chose that moment to bring the check, too. After she hurried away, he went on, “Now I’ve found somebody else, too. I’ll do the best I can with Kelly. I think we’ve got a decent chance. That’s about as much as anybody can hope for these days.”

“And so you’ll throw me under the bus.” Louise would have been a star in Victorian melodrama.

You did that to yourself. One more thing Colin swallowed. “Look,” he said, “if I have a little extra, maybe I can chip in something. But if you think I’m going to go one inch further than that, I’m here to tell you it ain’t gonna happen. It’s over, Louise. I’m sorry-Christ knows I’m sorry-but it is.”

She glared at him. “You are a cruel, hard man. Your Kelly doesn’t have the faintest idea what she’s getting into, poor thing.”

“For all I know, you’re right,” he answered. “But I’ll tell you one other thing.”

“What is it?” Louise spat the words at him.

“If I’d knocked you up, I wouldn’t’ve run out on you. And you know darn well that’s so.”

She did. He could see it in her face. He could also see that she would sooner have been dropped into the supervolcano than admit it. “Maybe you’d better take me back to work,” she said glacially.

“Okay.” He tossed a five on the table, then paid the bill at the register. Rain started spattering down as they walked across the lot to his car. He held the passenger-side door open for her. She got in with the air of Marie Antoinette heading for the guillotine.

Neither one of them said much as he drove north to Braxton Bragg Boulevard. Just before he turned in to the fortified lot, Louise murmured, “I wish… I wish things could have been different.”

“A lot of people do,” Colin agreed. Cops saw that every hour of every day. “But by the time they make the wish, it’s already too late. Take care of yourself, Louise, whatever you decide to do.”

“Like it matters to you!” she flared.

“It does,” he said. “We can’t go back to square one, though. You’ve got your life to live, and I’ve got mine, and they aren’t on the same track any more.”

She slid out and slammed the car door. Then she hurried inside; the rain was coming down harder now, and she didn’t have an umbrella with her. The guard nodded to Colin as he left the lot. He gave back a wave that was half a salute.

When he sat down at his desk again, Gabe asked, “Do I want to know how that went?”

Colin thought for a moment. “Even worse than I expected,” he said judiciously.

“Aii!” Gabe winced. “They said it couldn’t be done!”

“Oh, it could, all right.” In a few bleak words, as if he were summarizing a case on the witness stand, Colin explained how.

“Oh, man. Oh, wow, man.” Sanchez shook his head. “That happened to me, I wouldn’t’ve come back here. I’d’ve found somewhere quiet and got loaded.”

“I’m on city time now not on mine,” Colin said. “And I did too much drinking right after we broke up. It’s a bitch, all right, but she’s just not my problem any more.” He packed the words with more emphasis than he usually used. Was he trying to convince himself as well as his friend? He wouldn’t have been surprised.

“You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din,” Gabe told him. “Now, are you gonna give your new squeeze the good news?”

That was a more interesting question than Colin really liked. Reluctantly, he nodded. “Don’t you think I’ve got to? If we’re going to make some kind of life together, she needs to know what’s going on with me.”

“I guess.” Gabe sounded anything but sure. “I don’t know who it’ll be rougher on, though, you or her.”

“Oh, my God, Colin! How totally awful for you!” Kelly exclaimed when her fiance reached the end of his story. Here and there getting through it, he’d sounded more like a machine running on clockwork than a flesh-and-blood human being. She had the feeling he couldn’t have made it through without shutting down most of what he was feeling.

“I’ve had lunches I enjoyed more,” he allowed. “Hey, I’ve had teeth pulled I enjoyed more.”

“I believe you. I wish I could be down there to give you a hug,” Kelly said.

“That’d be good,” Colin said. “So now I’ve got to set up a skip trace on this clown. Just what I want to do.” He couldn’t get it out of his mind.

“You could just tell her to forget it. She’s got a lot of nerve, dropping that on you after she sashayed out the door.” Kelly thought she needed to remind Colin of that. If Louise wanted to sashay back into his life, how interested would he be? They’d had a lot of years together. If she could work it so the ones that had passed since she left him somehow didn’t count…

Carrying her lover’s baby made that harder. But if she decided to visit a doctor, she wouldn’t have to carry it long. Then again, Colin had never struck Kelly as being good at forgetting.

His electronically transmitted sigh in her ear did everything a real one would have except ruffle her hair. “Hon, if some guy ran out on a woman I’d never heard of before and left her pregnant, I’d put out a skip trace on the so-and-so.” He sighed again. “I wish this were some gal I never heard of. I wouldn’t get all messed up inside dealing with her then.”

“I bet you wouldn’t!” Kelly exuded righteous indignation. “She gave you one in the eye, and now she wants your help? Some nerve!”

“Yeah, well, I pretty much told her the same thing.” Colin hesitated, then went on, “In case you’re wondering, like, I wouldn’t take her back on a silver platter. That’s all over now. I’m better off, and I’ve got the sense to see it. Just so you know.”

The supervolcano had shot global warming right behind the ear. The ice pack in the Arctic Ocean and the one around Antarctica were both spreading and thickening. Kelly had some satellite data on her kitchen table somewhere. She could dig it out…

Thickening ice packs or no, a glacier in the middle of her chest suddenly melted all at once. Glorious warmth spread from the spot where it had been. “I did know,” she said, which was true and false at the same time in a way scientific data couldn’t be. She’d been pretty sure of the one thing, while still worried about the other.

“Happens I love you,” Colin added, as if he’d been an innocent bystander when that somehow happened to him.

“It works both ways,” Kelly assured him. She didn’t like to get mawkish. She had no intention of going Bridezilla when they made things official. She still marveled that he’d got up the nerve to propose, and that she’d had the nerve to say yes, or even sure. The percentage of women who passed thirty single and stayed that way permanently was large, and getting larger by the year. She was bucking the odds.

“Okay. Good.” He sounded like someone who needed assurance, or at least reminding. Then he said, “Keeping that in mind makes it easier to cope with Louise.” He chuckled harshly. “Teo was always everything I wasn’t. He was sweet. He was caring. He listened to Louise-”

“You listen!” Kelly interrupted. “Whenever we talk, I always think how I’ve never known anybody who listens like you.”

“Louise didn’t think so. She wanted out, and Teo was her way out.” Another chuckle. “Then he wanted out, too.”

“He was everything you weren’t,” Kelly said. “You never would have done anything like that. Even if you had got somebody pregnant, you would have stuck around afterwards.”

“One more thing I told Louise. I do like to think so,” Colin said. “But who knows? Sometimes you just can’t cope, so you run.”

Kelly snorted. It was much easier to imagine Colin sticking like glue even when that made him a goddamn nuisance than to picture him breaking and running. She wouldn’t have minded had he run from Louise-just the opposite, in fact. But that wasn’t his style, and never would be.

“Anyway, now you know,” he continued. “You needed to, because I’ll have to give Louise whatever cop-style help I can.” No, he wouldn’t run. He said, “If she ends up having this kid, though, you’ve got to remember it ain’t mine.”

That made her laugh in surprise. “I promise,” she said.

“Okay.” Another pause from Colin. Then he said, “Son of a-” and broke off very abruptly indeed.

Kelly had long since seen that he didn’t like to cuss in front of her. He must have bitten off something juicy. And he must have had reason to bite it off. “What?” she asked.

He sounded thoroughly grim as he answered, “Somebody’s gonna have to tell the kids about this. Two guesses who draws the short straw. Won’t they be thrilled to find out they’re gonna have a new half brother or half sister?”

Quite a few words for grown children’s reactions to news like that went through Kelly’s mind. Thrilled didn’t make the list. “Don’t say anything right away,” she urged. “Maybe your ex will take care of it for you-”

“Ha!” Colin delivered a one-word editorial.

“-or maybe she’ll decide to get rid of the baby, and in that case there won’t be anything to tell.” Kelly resolutely pretended he hadn’t broken in.

“No, huh?” he said. “She’ll have to explain-or I’ll have to explain-how come dear, sweet, wonderful, loving Teo isn’t in the picture any more. He just disappeared for no reason at all, right?”

“If there’s no baby, you don’t officially have to have any idea why he flew the coop.”

“Maybe.” Colin sounded dubious, and proceeded to explain why: “Way it looks to me is, there’ll be a baby. Teo wanted her to get rid of it. Teo got rid of himself when she didn’t go okey-doke fast enough to suit him. She’d have the kid now just to spite him, even if she wasn’t looking for any other reasons.”

That made a crazy kind of sense to Kelly: just enough to worry her. It wasn’t something she would do herself, but it was something she could see somebody else doing. “If Louise thinks that way, let her tell your children,” she said again.

“I won’t spill the beans right away,” Colin said. “If I did, that might look like I was gloating about it. But if she decides-chooses: that’s the word they always use these days, isn’t it? — if she chooses to have the baby, the kids will need to know.”

“I guess so,” Kelly said unwillingly.

“And what have you been up to?” he asked. “I hope like anything you had a better day than I did.”

“I’m working on a paper about increased geyser activity as a warning sign of a supervolcano eruption,” she said. “Whoever’s in charge of Yellowstone three-quarters of a million years from now can dig it out of the archives if their geyser basins start getting frisky.”

“For a second there, I thought you meant that,” Colin remarked.

“You never can tell, but I won’t hold my breath,” Kelly said. “This lets me use some of the photos I took at the end of my first hike to Coffee Pot Springs after things started heating up.” Her eyes welled with tears. “All that stuff is gone forever. No one will see Yellowstone again.”

“I’m glad I got the chance. I’d be glad even if I hadn’t met you there, but I’m especially glad now,” Colin said.

“Good,” Kelly answered. “Me, too.”

By the time Squirt Frog and the Evolving Tadpoles could have got to Greenville, going there had lost its point. The local promoter wasn’t wrong to say that nobody in that part of Maine could have got to their show. People in Maine understood snow, and they understood how to keep roads passable. But even they weren’t used to dealing with weather like this.

If they weren’t up for it, the guys from California who were stranded in Guilford were, not to put too fine a point on it, freaking out. “Doesn’t the Iditarod start somewhere around here?” Rob asked Dick Barber.

Before the proprietor of the Trebor Mansion Inn could answer, Justin started doing background vocals: “Rod, rod, ditarod, I ditarod! Ditarodrodrod, I ditarod!” It was as if the Beach Boys had met a denizen of the State Home for the Terminally Loopy.

“Would you please stick that in the deep freeze?” Rob asked him, in lieu of suggesting that he stick it up his ass. He amplified the request: “Go outside, in other words.”

“Cold out there,” Justin observed accurately.

“Cold in here, too,” Rob said, which was also accurate, if to a lesser degree. He quickly turned back to Barber. “We’re not looking a gift horse in the mouth, believe me.”

“I know it’s cold. That’s why God made long underwear,” Barber answered. “I’ve been running the furnace as little as I thought I could get away with, trying to stretch the fuel oil as far as I could. It’ll run dry in the next few days no matter what I do, though.”

“When does more fuel oil get to Guilford?” Rob asked. He was used to gas or electric heat. As far as he knew, nobody in California used fuel oil.

“Good question!” Barber said. “The way things are, I have no idea. I have no idea if any fuel oil is getting into the state. It doesn’t grow on trees, you know. Quite a few people in town are already out.”

Rob believed that. Barber was one of the more stringently efficient people he’d met. His military background might have had something to do with it. Dad was the same way, only not quite so much.

He tried a different question: “What if no more fuel oil gets here?”

Dick Barber clicked his tongue between his teeth. “In that case, things do get more… interesting, don’t they? The way it looks to me is, we have two choices in that case. Either we freeze to death or we start cutting down trees.”

“That doesn’t sound like two choices to me. More like one,” Justin said.

“Oh, I agree with you,” Barber replied. “But I promise, there will be folks who don’t. Some people in this state-influential people, too-feel it’s not just wrong but evil to harm a tree for any reason. They feel that way very strongly, and they’re not shy about saying so.”

“There are people like that in California, too,” Rob said.

The proprietor of the Trebor Mansion Inn let one eyebrow climb toward his shock of graying hair. “Why am I not surprised?”

“I don’t know. Why aren’t you?” Rob had a crooked grin of his own. “I’m kind of a tree-hugger myself, but-”

“That but suggests you’re young enough to get over it,” Barber said.

Rob shrugged. “Whenever you can take care of trees without hurting people, that’s a good thing to do, I think. But if people are going to freeze to death unless they’ve got logs in the fireplace, that’s the time to break out the axes and the chainsaws.”

“Sounds reasonable. Are you sure you’re from California?” Barber said. “The other thing is, all the questions about fuel oil apply to gasoline, too. The Shell station’s closed, in case you hadn’t noticed. So the chainsaws won’t keep working forever, or even through the winter… assuming the winter does eventually end.”

“I’ve checked out the Year without a Summer online,” Rob said. “Snow in June! That doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun.”

“No. And the Yellowstone supervolcano is a bigger, nastier beast than the one in the nineteenth century,” Barber agreed. “So it may come down to men working up a sweat even in our lovely winter weather chopping down pines the old-fashioned way. But chances are they won’t be leveling old-growth forest. There’s still quite a bit of that farther north, but not around here. A lot of the woods in these parts have grown up since the war. People stopped trying to farm. They gave up the land and moved to the cities-or else they pulled up stakes and headed for the Sun Belt. There are more people in Maine now than there were in 1950, but there aren’t three times as many or six times as many, the way there are some places.”

“I believe that,” Justin said. “You’re more settled here than we are on the other coast.”

“And nobody moves here on account of the weather,” Rob added. “Nobody moved here on account of the weathr even before the supervolcano.”

“You forget the summer people,” Barber reminded him. “I can’t afford to do that, no matter how tempting it is. I make my living off them. They come to Maine to get away from Boston and New York City and Philadelphia. If there’s no summer next year, there won’t be any summer people. I don’t know what I’ll do then.”

Rob wondered how many times he’d heard that since the supervolcano erupted. More often than in all the years before then, he suspected. It was too big to plan around. You just had to wait and see what happened next and try to roll with it as best you could.

“Suppose there isn’t just a year without a summer,” Justin said. “Suppose there are five or six or ten years like that all in a row. What does Maine look like by the end of that time?”

“Hell,” Barber answered promptly. “Dante’s hell, I mean. The book is called The Inferno, but Satan’s buried in ice. At the end of ten years like that, we’d probably have enough ice to keep Old Scratch from getting loose for quite a while.”

A cat wandered in, a cat almost big enough to be a bobcat. The Barber family semiprofessionally bred Maine Coons. They handled the weather in these parts as well as a critter was likely to. And they were also uncommonly good-natured. Vanessa would go gaga over them, at least at first. Rob suspected she’d get bored with them, though; they weren’t contrary enough to suit her.

This beast rubbed his leg. It made motorboat noises when he bent down and stroked it. “I ought to keep one or two in the bedding, the way the Australian Aborigines did with their dogs,” he said. “They’re like hot-water bottles with ears, you know?”

Justin nodded. “A three-dog night was really cold. That’s how that turkey of a band got its name.”

“Once upon a time, I liked them,” Barber said. “I got over it.”

Thinking about warmth made Rob think about electricity. He rather wished he hadn’t. “How long will the power stay on?” he wondered out loud. “Won’t storms start knocking the lines down? And if even the utility companies can’t get gas to send out repair crews…”

“In that case, we welcome back the nineteenth century in all its glory.” Barber made his tongue-clicking noise again. “Whether that level of technology can support this level of population… Well, we’ll all find out, won’t we?”

“Won’t be as much fun playing acoustic sets all the time,” Justin said.

Rob stabbed a forefinger at him. “I was just thinking the same thing! You came out with it before I could.”

“You two might as well be married. I was married once upon a time,” Barber said. “I got over that, too, but it was expensive.”

That only reminded Rob of his own parents’ divorce. And he didn’t know what was up with Teo suddenly running out on Mom after such a long stretch of not-quite-wedded bliss. He had the feeling more was going on than Mom was telling. If Dad knew what, and chances were he did, he wasn’t talking. All he said about it was Ask your mother. He wanted to know what the chances were for Rob’s coming back to California when he tied the knot with Kelly.

Rob feared those chances were anything but good. Getting from Guilford to Dover-Foxcroft was a major undertaking these days. Getting from Guilford to Bangor or Portland might not be impossible, but it sure wldn’t be easy. Rob would have liked to go to his father’s second wedding. If he did, though, how would he make it back here? He didn’t want to run out on the band. Justin and Charlie and Biff and the polymorphously perverse thing that was Squirt Frog and the Evolving Tadpoles seemed more like family these days than did the people connected by arbitrary ties of flesh and blood.

Justin said, “I’m getting hungry. You want to go down to Calvin’s Kitchen for breakfast?”

“Do I want to?” Rob echoed. “Not so you’d notice. But we’ve got to eat, don’t we? Are Biff and Charlie up yet?”

As if to prove they were, they chose that moment to thunder down the stairs. Off to the diner they all went. It was only about a five-minute walk. The place just didn’t cut it for dinner. Despite Dick Barber’s opinion, Rob didn’t think it was all that wonderful for breakfast, either.

Still, you couldn’t mess up eggs and sausages and bacon and hash browns too badly. What got to Rob more than the food was the isolation. The waitress and the cook behind the counter were polite enough, but they were serving strangers. They knew the locals-and vice versa-the way Rob and Charlie and Biff and Justin knew one another. A black Baptist family moving onto a street full of Chasidim could have felt no more cut off from the neighborhood.

He was almost done with his breakfast when it occurred to him that isolation could have more than one meaning. If fuel oil and gasoline had trouble reaching rural Maine north and west of the Interstate, how about food? You could cut down trees and burn them, and maybe you wouldn’t freeze, yeah. But could you feed half a state’s worth of people on moose and ducks and whatever else you could shoot?

It didn’t seem likely. What were people going to do if the food ran low, though? All the L.L. Bean gear in the world didn’t help against hunger. Only eatables could. But where would they come from?

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