Someone is shooting poachers in Tennessee, and Canadian journalist Alexis Jule wants to investigate. So she wangles an assignment to show up before hunting season starts, hoping to get her bearings and talk to some of the locals. Her first interview is with a female hermit. But Faye Carson is like no hermit Alex could have ever imagined. Faye also turns out to be a prime suspect in the murders.
Part I - Faye and Alex
Picking her way along a faint footpath in a well-established forest, journalist Alexis Jule was on her way to interviewing a female hermit.
Fall was begrudging its winter replacement throughout much of the South that year, with most of eastern Tennessee catching too much rain all summer and, to cap that off, the northeastern part of the state, nestled beneath Appalachian foothills, could not work up a hard frost. The few leaves that had found the ground earnestly devoted themselves to decaying on the rich, warm forest floor, and their intimate odor blended itself with Alex’s rising anticipation of the interview.
She was deep in the woods when a menacing commotion not far from her feet, the flailing of something either frightened or angered, gave her a heart-stopping burst of fear. It ended with the clumsy, floppy-winged flight of a wild turkey she had disturbed from his nap. He lurched from the thick undergrowth next to the path up to a high hickory limb and sat there blinking himself awake. Boosted by the leftover adrenalin rush, Alex continued her steep ascent.
Not much farther up, the trail broke into a bright spot where tree cover vanished courtesy of a cattail-rimmed pond, and Alex thought it might be a good place to try her cell phone again. This time, the call to her editor went through.
Chloe Magnussen, chief editor of the Toronto Courier, answered this number directly. First thing she did was jump all over Alex for not keeping in closer touch. “Okay, champ, here’s how this assignment is going to be run from now on. You give me a daily schedule and I tell you at what points during it you call in. I may have let you logic your way into this scheme, but if I have to sit here and worry about you every minute for the next four or five weeks, you’re cancelled.” And that was before either of them had said hello.
“You’re right, Chloe. How about I fill you in on what I’m up to right now, then later this evening I’ll email a tentative schedule for tomorrow. It will have to be tentative, but I’ll really try to stick to it.”
“Sounds good. Now, where are you?”
“On my way to the cabin of, get this, a woman hermit.”
“What does she have to do with the murders?” Chloe swiveled around to her PC and got busy typing.
“Well, for starters, one of the earlier murders was committed on her property, and she lives relatively close to the restaurant where I ate lunch, so she’ll make as good a starting point as any.”
“Do you have her name yet?” Chloe paused to listen, and then asked, “Are you breathing heavily?”
“A little. I’ve started hiking again and am on a fairly sharp incline.”
“Hiking?” Chloe stopped punching the keyboard.
“You have the concept of hermit, right Chloe? Very few of the real ones live in condos, you know.”
The keyboard clatter started again. “I can’t wait to hear this story. Betcha twenty dollars her legs haven't seen a razor in way too long.”
“You’re on. I just hope she’ll talk to me about the shootings. Tell you one thing, since I stepped onto her land I haven’t passed a single spot where a fresh POSTED sign isn’t visible if you look hard enough. She definitely has strong feelings about people hunting her wildlife.” Alex crested the slope and her wind evened out.
Sounding a little distracted, Chloe said, “Mmm, she either wants it all for herself, or she’s an animal lover, or she’s some kind of religious freak.”
Alex made a puzzled face. “Where do you get religious freak?”
“I’m online, and a search for ‘female hermit’ brings up a lot of religious fanatics. Here’s one saint who it says stayed alive by eating a single bushel of lentils over the course of 17 years.”
Alex snorted. “Hairy legs, lentil breath and very skinny. Sounds cute. Anyway, her name is Faye Carson and her place is at the end of a county road, Mill Creek Road. This phone is starting to break up, want to say goodbye for now?”
Their connection broke.
Pine boughs hung dense and low on each side of the path as it hooked gracefully leftward and opened abruptly onto the little cleared away spot where Faye Carson had built her home. Alex had to admire the woman’s choice of location. Up there, tall cedars scrubbed their scent into the air all day, and heavy pines hanging high above a thick carpet of fallen needles put a still, sacred hush over the clearing. The house sat on a locally high point for good drainage, the front door faced south for best sun exposure, and the trees softened the wind.
Alex crossed the few feet from forest edge to two shallow porch steps and knocked on the cabin door. When no answer came she sat down on the top step hoping her afternoon hadn’t come to a dead end and feeling frustrated, until the immediacy of nature’s presence overwhelmed her. Up there, one felt the very air mass as the true fluid it is. The tangible flow of it emphasized the great depth at which we live on the Earth’s surface, the sky’s floor.
Soundless movement drew her attention to a narrow gap in the trees where, looking like a pleasant thought the forest might be having, a sweat-streaked and muddy-booted woman pushed a worn wheelbarrow full of firewood into the clearing. A large, confident dog walked alongside her. Just a few long strides brought woman, dog, and wheelbarrow to the foot of the steps.
Alex said, “What a majestic animal.”
The woman inclined her head and then broke eye contact to look down at the dog. “I agree. He is handsome.”
“Pardon me,” Alex offered her hand, “I’m Alexis Jule, call me Alex.”
The woman returned a hand to shake but didn’t seem overly welcoming, just tactful enough to avoid being rude. Her hand was cool and strong, surprisingly smooth for the hard work it surely did.
Again there descended silence and that measuring gaze, so Alex prompted, “I guess you’re Faye Carson?”
“That’s right.” With that, the woman gripped the wheelbarrow handles and pushed her firewood to a large pile next to a neat stack snugged up against her house. She dumped this load with the rest and started adding to the stacked pieces.
Since there was no acrimony in Ms. Carson’s demeanor, Alex risked following her onto the porch and helping. The wind picked up and they worked for several wordless minutes with that pine and cedar scented breeze washing over them.
Alex noticed that the dog truly was a beautiful animal. He was black and gray, maybe even part wolf, with steady brown eyes that matched, at least in late afternoon light, the color of Faye Carson’s hair. And his manner was as calm, assured, and inscrutable as hers. Except for the species difference, they could have been siblings.
The rhythmic choonk! choonk! of thrown wood was so pleasing that Alex felt comfortable with verbal silence longer than she normally would have in the presence of a stranger. Finally, without stopping the work, she began explaining her trespass on Faye Carson’s land. “Ms. Carson, I’m a journalist with the Toronto Courier. My newspaper sent me to cover the hunter murders here in Loudoun County. I understand one of them took place on your property.”
“Well, yes, a lady named Delia, over at the Teakway Eatery, said it was, I believe, the third one?”
“Maybe the third. I’m sure anyone from this area could be of more help to you than I.”
Alex pushed a little more. “Sure, if I were after gossip and local theory, which I’ll get my share of during the next few weeks. But something tells me you might have a unique perspective on the facts and the issues involved here. The amount of time you must spend keeping your property so thoroughly posted surely comes from a strong desire to keep poachers away. Is that a reaction to having a man killed here two years ago?”
They tossed the final sticks of firewood against the house, and as Faye Carson reached for her wheelbarrow handles she said, “Yes, I understand how you might think that. But believe me, the police have far more information about all of this than I can supply for you.” She and the dog stepped from the porch and headed toward the path they’d come in by.
Alex took a few catching up steps and said, “If you ask me not bother you again and to stay off your property, I promise to respect that. You must find it so peaceful here.” She paused to briefly marvel at the foliage-insulated tranquility. “But I’ll be in Loudoun County for two weeks before hunting season even opens, and I want to be as prepared as possible for when, you know, for when the shootings start. As I mentioned, you might have something useful to say, whether you realize it or not.” Alex somehow made it through that whole spiel from her deep confinement within the allure of Faye Carson’s dark brown eyes.
“Does your pursuit of this story seem at all vulture-like to you?”
“I prefer the term raptor-like.” Alex considered what she was about to say next and decided to take a chance. “Ms. Carson, my personal feeling is that this situation is victimless, in the usual sense of a victim. The so-called victims are poachers, they are out there trespassing, killing animals on the property of people who, for whatever their reasons, do not want those animals killed. Poachers don’t need the animals for food. Maybe they deliberately break the law to put a little more personal danger in hunting. I mean, are hunters never embarrassed for themselves? They dress up in their Elmer Fudd outfits and feel macho, but at some level they must dimly realize how cowardly they really are. It’s just a party, but they so badly want to strut around and be big men. It’s a sport, but not much of one, considering the dice are so heavily loaded in their favor. This sniper is actually introducing the poachers to some real danger for a change. In a weird way—and this just came to me, so I haven’t thought it through—in a weird way, the killer is lending their actions some dignity by leveling the field a bit, by lessening their shameful advantage.” For this, Alex was rewarded with her first glimpse, barely, of a Faye Carson smile. Alex reined herself in. “Of course, those are my personal views, which will be undetectable in the eventual articles I write about this. True objectivity does not exist, but my work is always objectively presented.”
Faye Carson focused on something in the distance until she had control of another smile that almost got out. Before she and the dog ducked back into the trees, she turned to state, “Nellie Bly had her biases too, if I recall my history correctly.”
Alex tilted her head appreciatively and watched the foliage close behind them.
Back at the end of Mill Creek Road, which had dwindled to a dirt path at the edge of Faye Carson’s property, Alex climbed inside the rented white panel van and booted up her laptop. Chloe would be waiting for the promised email. It read: Hi Chloe, I’m back and have decided to sleep here in the van. The motel room is there for taking showers, but you know how much I love my sleeping bag/hate skuzzy motels. Yes, the doors are locked and my cell phone is handy. Faye Carson threw you a real curve—not a rosary bead or lentil in sight. She’s intelligent and seems well educated. Bad news is she’s unbelievably difficult to engage concerning the murders or … anything! She didn’t come right out and tell me not to come back, though I offered that option. So, maybe sometime later she’ll have something for us. Tomorrow’s schedule – breakfast at the Eatery (‘cause I know how to get there and will be HUNGRY), then I’m off to the County Sheriff’s office to talk with Mark Lindegaard, local officer in charge of the poacher murders investigation. Promise to call after that to let you know where it leads me. Bye for now. Love, Alex. P.S. Unable to verify hair status on Faye Carson’s legs due to presence of jeans.
Alex pressed the send button and shut down her computer. She nestled into her sleeping bag, and as a lead sinker caught her consciousness and dragged it slowly downward to deep sleep, she could not stop imagining Faye Carson’s bare legs.
The Teakway Eatery sure did a lively breakfast trade. Alex hit the door ready to eat her weight in pancakes, so the crowd, which probably meant slower service, was a disappointment. She nabbed the one empty counter seat, and Delia soon made it over with coffee and water. Coffee helped. And the pancakes didn’t take very long, either. Once hunger let go a little, other senses kicked in, and Alex noticed some of the customers were sneaking peeks at her, so she asked Delia what was up with that.
“Well, yeah, almost everybody knows your line of business and what you’re here for. I was the one that mentioned it, was that okay?” Delia barely slowed down to say, on a swing-by with the coffee pot. Then on the decaf return trip she added, “Partly it was because it was good gossip, but partly I thought if people knew who you were and what you’re here for, it’d save you a whole lot of time having to make introductions and everything.”
“Thank you, Delia, I appreciate that.” It was hard for Alex not to like the short, stout, energy-packed lady.
When Delia scooped up Alex’s empty plate, replacing it with the bill, a heavyset gentleman swooped onto the freshly vacated adjoining stool. He launched into a ten-minute exposition of the facts, as he knew them, in the murders and tried to move on to his theory of how to solve them. Alex stopped him there, explaining that Sheriff Lindegaard was expecting her at the County Building in a few minutes. Excusing herself, she paid up and left. The guy had zero information beyond what had been in the papers. Busybodies like that could waste a lot of time for you if you gave them a chance, and Alex had learned to dread the approach of a stranger with that wait-til-you-hear-what-I-think look. In a small community like this, though, you had to handle them with care to avoid a reputation for being abrasive. Nobody would talk to you if it got out that you were somehow not on their side. One day people simply would not shut up, and then somebody’s feelings get hurt, news spreads, and like a valve shutting off, there’s not another cooperative word.
Mark Lindegaard met Alex out in front of the County Building. “Thought I’d come down and show you to my office. This is an odd building and there’s no receptionist to give directions.”
The second floor was, indeed, a maze of offices. His was unpretentious, bearing only a small room number over the door, but not his name. They sat down and Sheriff Lindegaard invited Alex to begin.
On the way upstairs they had established using first names, so she said, “Mark, I know you’ve consistently declined mentioning suspects, but what about a motive—just generally?”
“We’ve turned that issue ever which way but loose. Best case scenario woulda been if we coulda found some commonality—outside of the fact they were all shot in the act of hunting on posted property and with the same .22 rifle—among the victims. But so far…” His voice trailed off for a moment. “So far there is no common thread. Among the victims we’ve got old men and young guys, married and single, intoxicated and sober, novice hunters and seasoned. Hell, we’ve even got Republicans and Democrats.” He tried out a weak, hollow laugh then resumed soberly, “Seems like this person just goes out and takes the first clean shot that comes along.”
“Sort of like how the hunter chooses which deer to shoot,” Alex reduced it.
“Guess so. And that sure strips our gears.”
Lindegaard was a clean-cut man in his late thirties, athletic-looking, and obviously absorbed with this investigation. Alex had sensed him checking her out as they were climbing the stairs to his office, and since men were usually attracted to her looks, she was counting on him to want to impress her, so she made sure her questions kept the shortcomings of his investigation front and center. By sticking with ways the killer had so far foiled Lindegaard, she hoped to draw out some information he didn’t intend to release. He might forfeit a secret small victory to save face.
She began, “Is it true there exists not one piece of physical evidence beyond the eight bodies themselves?”
“It’s hunting season, for shit sakes. There are guys out there shooting rifles everywhere. Somebody finds a fresh shell casing on the ground somewhere and big deal, there are hundreds of ‘em spread all over the county.”
Trying to sound as if she were thinking this through for the first time, Alex said, “And the rifle shot, where it seems to come from, wouldn’t mean anything either, would it?”
Lindegaard winced. “Report bounces like crazy in these hills.” His gathering discomfort gave Alex hope he might be scanning his brain for some bit of success to reveal.
“Any anti-hunting activist groups in the county or nearby?”
“What are the usual reasons for posting property?” Alex pictured the red and yellow signs nailed to Faye Carson’s trees.
“Oh, anything from worrying about the kids getting hit, to providing sanctuary for the deer, to being fed up with the dogs bringing rotted body parts into the yard, to being sick of picking up empty beer bottles and cans.”
“And the crime scenes have been posted for a good mix of those reasons?”
Becoming interested in the clicker on his pen, Lindegaard thought for a moment before hazarding, “The person we’re after has most factors in their favor. But you mentioned motive. Say there’s some pre-existing motive, something that lets us narrow it down to a few people, then we can monitor these individuals, especially with the federal manpower that we’re taking on this year, and maybe come up with something.”
He was deliberately vague, offering this as conjecture, but Alex figured they already had a list of people to watch closely once the season was underway. She also noticed Lindegaard’s gender-neutral references to the killer. He was not a politically correct sort, which told her there was at least one female in the group he wanted to surveil.
She gave her curls a jiggle and said, “You’ve lost me. What would an example of a pre-existing motive be?”
“Oh, I don’t know, say you have a grudge against one of the victims, maybe, but you put him in with a random bunch for confusion’s sake. Or, maybe you want general revenge for something.” He tossed the pen onto his desk calendar, a gesture of futility.
Alex assumed a similar attitude and thanked him for his time, saying she should let him get back to work.
Lindegaard’s manner had regained some starch by the time they got down to the curb. Smiling, telling Alex to stop by with any other questions that might come up, no appointment needed, he saw her to the van. She remembered to ask about the people on whose properties there had been shootings. Had any of them moved since the killings? She had a list of names from the local newspaper articles, but if any had moved, could she get their new addresses? Lindegaard told her he kept a file on them and that only two had moved. He’d dig out the file, and she could stop back up to the office anytime after tomorrow for the addresses. Alex shook his hand, thanked him again, and started the van.
From yesterday’s parking spot at the end of Mill Creek Road, Alex phoned the paper. Recounting the Lindegaard meeting to Chloe while making notes on her laptop, Alex distilled the new information—there were suspects, probably at least one was female, and the authorities had a motive or two in mind, maybe revenge.
She told Chloe, “That’s about it. Next, I need to make myself available for the local busybodies to regale me with their theories. The revenge particulars might emerge, and that could tell me who they’ll be watching when the action begins.”
“You sound tired, honey. Do I still get to call you honey? Especially when you’re out of town and I miss you? What does the rest of your day look like?”
Getting back to business, Alex said, “The rest of my day looks like hanging out in town and listening to a few dozen, okay maybe just several, amateur sleuths’ crime-solving ideas.”
“Hey, I’ll bet you ten dollars at least one theory involves aliens or UFOs.”
“That’s a sucker bet. How about we talk percentages, Magnussen? I’ll pay up if ten percent or more of the people I talk to mention space or space creatures. And I swear to be honest.”
Alex had been talking from inside the van because her phone had needed to be on its charger, which plugged into the cigarette lighter. When the battery indicator read full, she detached it and got out to stretch her legs. Pacing around, talking, she noticed a tilt to Faye Carson’s pickup. The old tan truck, parked at the mouth of the path up to the cabin, had been part of Delia’s directions for finding the place yesterday. Now, both of its left tires were flat. She walked to the opposite side, where the tires were fine, but a collection of empty liquor bottles littered the ground.
Alex interrupted whatever Chloe was saying. “Well isn’t that sweet?”
Stopping short, Chloe asked, “What? I was just talking logistics and…”
“No, not you Chloe, sorry. Faye Carson—the reclusive woman, remember?—parks her truck here at the end of the road I told you about last night. Anyway, it’s been vandalized since I left here yesterday.”
“What are you doing back there?”
“I don’t know, it’s just that I spent the night here and it’s familiar now, away from town and kind of pretty. I automatically drove back here from the sheriff’s. Guess this is becoming home base.” Alex was already mentally rehearsing how she’d tell Faye Carson about the vandalism.
“Nice home base! They probably did their dirty work while you were there sleeping last night. Better find a safer spot. Or stay at the motel. The paper sure is paying for an expensive shower. A little leftover semen on the bedspread won’t kill you.”
“Making me nauseous now, Chloe, really. Listen, I’m going up to tell Faye Carson about this. Maybe she’ll regard it as a favor, which it is, and open up to me a little.”
“This is going to be a long few weeks. Will you call me later?”
“Call you on the hike back down. Bye for now.”
“I don’t have a problem with you still calling me honey.”
“I don’t know, now I’m kind of over it. How about goofball? May I call you goofball? Huh, honey?”
“Hanging up now.” Alex turned the phone off. Truth was, she was closer to Chloe than to anybody else in the world.
This time Faye Carson answered Alex’s knock. She didn’t show surprise at finding Alex there, but Alex couldn’t help wondering what surprise might look like across those closely guarded features. It was, naturally, up to Alex to speak first. “Hello, again.”
“Sorry to intrude once more, but I happened to notice that someone has liberated the air from two of your tires. They freed vodka from several fifth bottles, too, and left them by your truck. I thought you should know in case you wanted to report it or at least to keep it from being an unexpected hindrance next time you try to go somewhere.”
“How did that happen?”
“Well, I don’t know, I didn’t see it happen.”
“I mean how did you come to notice the truck?”
Alex felt a little embarrassed to admit spending the night parked at the edge of Faye Carson’s land and going back there today. Short of saying, ‘I feel very drawn to you and blah, blah, blah…’ there was no logical, casual way to explain it. And anyway, what was this woman’s problem? Could she not simply say thank you for walking all this way to save me trouble, and would you like to come in for tea or something before you hike back? To hell with Faye Carson’s provisional politeness, carefully kept just this side of rudeness.
With poorly concealed irritation, Alex looked straight into Faye Carson’s eyes, which reflected the essence of detached indifference, and snapped, “That’s all, just wanted to give you that message, and I’ll certainly never bother you again, Ms. Carson.” She turned and walked—marched, really—from the porch, across the clearing, and back to the footpath.
Faye stood motionless in her doorway. They say doorways and arches are good places to be during earthquakes. Even though this wasn’t a full-blown quake, the slightest tremor across an emotional landscape that had been so perfectly undisturbed for so long had its effect, and Faye registered a definite shift.
Yesterday, stacking firewood alongside Alexis Jule, Faye had felt a flicker of the long-forgotten pleasure to be found in another’s easy company. Their encounter lasted only moments, but afterward Faye’s mind had insisted on replaying it over and over. Her favorite part, after the firewood, was Alex’s diatribe on hunting, or rather, the opportunity it had provided for observing Alex’s gray-green eyes, perfectly hued to complement soft, very dark auburn hair worn in loose curls that reminded Faye of illustrations in her favorite edition of “The Little Prince.” There was an organic regality about Alex, and at the slightest movement of her head, hundreds of ringlets danced happily. Now, thanks to years of genuine disinterest in other human beings, Faye had failed to extend herself even a little, so this sunny, opinionated journalist with a hot temper and some odd ideas about where to spend the night was stalking away. Probably for good.
Faye’s demeanor turned resolute. She threw together two peanut butter sandwiches, hastily wrapping them in a light blue cloth napkin, and looked down at the dog. “Colt, think it’s time we made a friend? Come on, if you don’t like her, we’ll forget the whole thing.” With that, the two started down their path, five minutes behind Alex.
Faye and Colt kept a little distance the whole way down, Faye thinking the hike might mellow Alex’s mood. As Alex opened her van door, Faye called out, “Well, at least they simply let the air out and didn’t slash them this time.”
In the middle of being delighted that Faye had followed, Alex realized what had just been said. “Do you mean this has happened before?”
“Once or twice a year.”
“Why? Who does it?” Primed by the recent annoyance, Alex flushed with full-blooded anger.
“Probably kids. Having an atypical lifestyle seems quite enough reason to make a target of someone. This is nothing to get worked up about.” Faye was halfway amused, not showing it of course, at Alex’s zero-to-sixty-in-five-seconds temper. Had Faye been prone to suicidal acts she’d have commented on how cute Alex looked wearing that frown and set jaw under such angelic curls.
“I’d say it is something to get worked up over. A couple times a year? This harassment shouldn’t be shrugged off.”
Faye said, “Yes, it should. It should most certainly be shrugged off. I have an air pump at the cabin and will bring it next time down. Fixing this will take less than five minutes.”
“But the jerks who do it shouldn’t get off so easily.”
Faye looked down at her feet for a moment, and then back up at Alex. “If raccoons break into your garbage, make a huge mess once in a while, what do you do? Probably clean it up and nothing else.” Faye lowered the truck’s tailgate and laid the little blue bundle on it.
“But these aren’t raccoons. People should know better.” The linen napkin was serving its purpose of distracting Alex.
“That’s why you’re worked up and I am not. My expectations of the human animal’s capacity to ‘know better’ are extremely low—comfortably and realistically low. So low that this means no more than raccoons raiding garbage cans.” Faye sat down on the tailgate.
Alex said, “What could it hurt to report it, though?”
“Easier to put the garbage back than to hunt down old mama raccoon and warn her to keep her heathens under control, which wouldn’t help anyway. Now I’m wishing I’d used a more appetizing analogy. Garbage messes do not make for nice conversation right before eating.” Faye picked up the food. “It occurred to me, as you departed my cabin a while ago, that I hadn’t thanked you for helping with the wood yesterday. So, thank you.” She handed Alex the napkin.
“Not necessary. It was fun.” Alex joined Faye on the tailgate and unwrapped the peanut butter sandwiches, one with jelly and one without.
Faye decided not to have one when she saw Alex’s eyes widen. “Go ahead, dig in, they’re for you.” Faye talked so Alex could eat. “And it was good of you to come all the way up the hill to warn me about the tires.”
Alex was really bolting those sandwiches. She pinched off a piece and caught herself before offering it to the dog. “May he have this?”
“Of course. Colt thought you’d never ask.”
“Here you go, Colt Carson, and what a solid name you have. That’s your real name, too, isn’t it, not just something made up?”
“Colt certainly is his true name. He was here almost two weeks before letting me know it. I believe that’s when he made the final decision to stay. Colt Carson has a sturdy sound, but you may call him Colt, and please call me Faye.”
Alex gave Colt a couple more pinches of food and polished off the second sandwich.
Faye asked, “What have you had to eat since yesterday?”
“Pancakes this morning at the Teakway Eatery. But I’ll have to get a jar of peanut butter and some bread to have handy. I didn’t realize how hungry I’d gotten. Looks like food might emerge as a practical problem, unless I resign my arteries to the diner’s grease du jour or drive all the way to Bristol every day. Peanut butter’s a good idea. Thanks again.”
Faye made eye contact with Colt, who was shouldered up beside Alex’s dangling leg, and thought, ‘Well, you certainly seem to have no objections. If we’re going to extend ourselves, let’s do it.’ She said, “Colt and I would like for you to come to dinner at the cabin tomorrow afternoon.”
Alex smiled so big, Faye thought, ‘Poor thing, much less combative when her blood sugar normalizes.’