26

Wallys Channo reminded Jo of Abe Lincoln. Not because he looked like the Great Emancipator, although in his height and gauntness there was a certain similarity. It was more that Schanno seemed like one of those rails Lincoln had spent so much time splitting in his early years. Thin, dry, tough. Suited to the purpose of being part of a structure that delineated something. In the case of Lincoln’s rails, they were property fences. In Schanno’s case, he was the law in Tamarack County.

When he opened the front door of his home to Jo, he was dressed in a white shirt, dark tie, gray pants held up by gray suspenders. He gripped a coffee cup in his hand and he smelled of Old Spice aftershave.

“I’m sorry to bother you so early, Wally.”

“That’s all right, Jo. Just finishing my morning mud.” He held up his cup. “Come on in.” He stepped aside and put a finger to his lips. “Arletta’s sleeping.”

“How is she?” Jo asked in the foyer.

Schanno took her coat and hung it in the closet. “About the same. I count it as a blessing that she doesn’t seem to be getting much worse. Doc Gunnar says Alzheimer’s is like that sometimes. Plateaus, you know.”

Arletta Schanno was one of the finest, prettiest women Jo had ever seen. She’d been a schoolteacher before the disease hit her. Annie and Jenny had both passed through her classroom, and both still said third grade was the best year they ever spent at Aurora Elementary.

“May’s here now, you know,” Schanno said, speaking of Arletta’s sister. “She’s a big help.”

May stepped in from the kitchen. She was a darkhaired woman in her early fifties. She came from Hibbing and Jo didn’t know her well. She seemed a stern woman, not given to smiling, the way Arletta had always been. But she was obviously capable and willing to help. Goodness came in all kinds of packages.

“Would you like some tea or coffee?” May asked. It was a polite question, but not especially warm.

“Thanks, no, May. I just want to talk to Wally briefly.”

“All right.” She disappeared into the kitchen immediately, as if the room had sucked her back in.

They settled in the living room. Schanno took the big easy chair. Jo sat on the edge of the sofa.

“The men who went into the Boundary Waters with Cork. I think they may not be who they claim to be. You spoke with them. Did you ask them for identification?”

“Sure, I did. But-” A dour look came over his long, raggedy face.

“What is it, Wally?”

“I’m not saying anything for sure, but I have a strange feeling in my gut about this whole thing. Why are you asking?”

Jo told him about her visit from Benedetti and his entourage. Schanno listened quietly through the whole thing. Jo couldn’t recall hearing the man ever swear before, but when she finished, Schanno said, “Jesus.” He rubbed his clean-shaven jaw. “Like trying to decide which side of the razor blade to grab hold of.”

“There must be a way to check on these men,” Jo said.

Schanno sat back and thought a moment. “I’ll call Arnie Gooden. He’s one of the resident FBI agents in Duluth. He promised help if we needed it. Where can I reach you?”

“I’m in court all morning. You can leave a message for me at the courthouse.” She stood up and went to the closet with Schanno. As he handed over her coat, she said, “You told me last night if you had to, you could get to Cork and the others quickly.”

“Less than an hour.”

Jo felt a measure of relief. “Good.”

Schanno put his huge hand lightly on her shoulder. “If there’s anything strange going on, Jo, we’ll get their butts out of there fast, I give you my word.”

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