Faint of Heart

FAINT OF HEART, Archie/Gretchen book #7 sneak peek

So behind on this sucker, but not for lack of trying! Wanted to share the opening. I love these characters so much.  I'm sure this time nothing bad will happen to them. 



They are happy, and everything is fine.  

The house is on the west side, down one of the many winding sidewalk-less streets that knot through Portland’s west hills.  They have a yard. They have raised garden beds and a back deck and a covered woodpile.  They have a plum tree. They are ten minutes from downtown, but they still have deer in the yard most mornings, and once, a coyote.  They have lived in the house for ten months, but they have not finished unpacking.  

There are boxes in the storage room that Archie plans to never unpack.

He avoids the storage room altogether.

Susan’s mouth tastes like chardonnay and peanut butter.  “You’ve been snacking,” Archie says after he kisses her.

“You cook too slow,” Susan says.

He is making a meal from a subscription box.  The instructions always say it should take less than 30 minutes.  But it always takes him longer.  He takes his time.  He is wearing slippers..  His gun is in a safe in the hall closet. 

He touches Susan’s freckled face.  Her hair is a natural color for the first time since he’s known her - a mix of brown and light brown, though she has fancier words for it.  She wears it parted to the side so that a sheet of it falls over her ear, covering the scar  where her ear had to be surgically reattached, after a psychopath had severed it.    Archie threads the curtain of hair behind her ear, revealing the delicate surgical scar, a faint pink feather of flesh.  

Archie’s scars are much worse.

“You’re beautiful,” he tells her.

She blushes. The doorbell rings.  

They both turn and look at the door. They aren’t expecting anyone. Susan has painted the door aqua, like the bathroom door at a Mexican cantina.  Archie doesn’t know why.  There are things he’ll never understand about Susan; and things Susan will never understand about him.  They accept each other. 

Archie wipes his hands on a dish towel and walks to the security system monitor mounted just inside the door. The screen shows a hulking man with shaved head, a mustache, and a gun.

“It’s Henry,” Archie calls to Susan.

He unlocks the four deadbolts.  Each one has a different sound.  Click.  Clack.  Thunk.  Smack.  He’s aware of the fact that Susan has stopped moving.  She is still standing in the kitchen, watching him.  

Archie tries to come up with an explanations for this unexpected visit--Maybe he has invited Henry to dinner and then forgotten?  Maybe Henry has forgotten something at the house and decided to swing by and pick it up?  ---But a darker explanation is already forming in his mind.

Archie opens the door.

Henry’s eyes are bloodshot, his face grim.  “Are the kids here?” he asks..

This is not a good sign. 

“They’re at Debbie’s,” Archie says. 

Henry nods and scratches his chin. Then he wipes his cowboy boots on the mat and comes inside.  

Archie hears Susan pour herself another glass of wine.  It is a big glass, by the sound of it. Susan is the kind of wine drinker who drinks from Mason jars, a half-bottle of chardonnay at a time. 

“We need to talk,” Henry tells Archie.  No smile.  No eye contact.  

A sense of dread prickles at Archie’s stomach.  “I have a phone,” Archie says.  “For talking.”

“We all need to talk, in person,” Henry said.  He lifted his chin at Susan.  “Susan,” he called. 

Archie can feel her getting closer.  The smell of her chardonnay.  He’s  left mushrooms simmering in olive oil in a skillet.  Sizzle.  Pop.  Susan takes his hand in hers and seals herself to his side.  

Henry still isn’t making eye contact.  His black cowboy boots look freshly shined.  They barely make a sound as he paces.

Archie and Susan have a new couch.  Susan bought it from a website.  It’s emerald green, long enough to nap on.  Now they sit on it,  side by side.  Ginger noses out from under the coffee table and hops up onto the couch and lays her head across Archie’s knee.   Henry paces. 

The back doors are open, and Archie can hear song birds.  A couple of house finches have built a nest in the corner of the downspout.  Archie knows it’s not good for the house, but he doesn’t  have the heart to take it down.

He likes to listen to them sometimes, singing to each other.  

The male finch is red breasted.  The female is plain and gray.  

Henry exhales slowly and threads his hands behind his head. “I need to tell you something. And I’m not sure how you’re going to take it.”

“My… family?” Archie asks.

Henry shakes his head quickly.  “No, no.  Debbie and the kids are fine.” 

What then?

Archie tries to focus on the birds, on the sound they make, on the light coming through the window, on the weight of Ginger’s head on his leg, on the feel of Susan’s hand in his, the sweat of her palm.  

The mushrooms are burning.  They can all smell the smoke.  No one moves.

Susan‘s grip on Archie’s hand is a hard squeeze.  “What is it?” she asks Henry.  Archie is impressed by her voice, her ability to make herself sound unafraid.  “What’s happened?”  

That’s when Archie knows.  He can see it on Henry’s face.  Right there. It’s in his tense eyebrows and the twitch of mouth.   The tug of conflicting emotions.  So much concern,  apprehension, and underneath it, something else - a glint of joy in his eyes.   

It’s the joy.  That’s what gives it away. 

Archie lets go of Susan’s hand. 

“She’s dead,” Archie says.  “Isn’t she?”

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