A Fugitive Truth: An Emma Fielding Mystery - By Dana Cameron

Chapter 1

I STARED, UNCOMPREHENDING, AT THE BLOOD AS IT welled up into a perfect sphere, balanced precariously on the ball of my thumb. Finally the surface tension broke and the globe turned into a trickle, running down my hand. That transformation also broke the spell on me, and I stuck my thumb into my mouth as the vibrant pain of the slice brought itself to my utmost attention. The excruciating sensation did nothing, however, to mitigate the triumph at hand, and I knew that if I was still capable of making puns like that, I needn’t call the undertaker just yet.

It wasn’t the paper cut that was causing my good mood to evaporate, however. I was sitting, freezing, in my faithful, though beat-up Civic outside the gates of the Shrewsbury Foundation, and as their newest Fellow, I really hadn’t expected the kind of treatment I was receiving. All I wanted to do was get up to my room, unpack, and get ready for the four weeks of research that awaited me, but the supercilious guard who had so thoughtlessly snatched my acceptance letter away was taking his time checking his clipboard.

I sighed while he looked at the letter again suspiciously, like the barbarian hordes were crouched just behind me, waiting to storm the gates of Shrewsbury. I was tired; at three o’clock in the afternoon it had already been a long day. As excited as I was to be here, it had taken forever to pack, and of course I’d postponed it until the last minute, delaying the moment when I would have to abandon my husband, Brian, to the rigors of solitary household renovation for the next month. As a result, I’d left nearly two hours later than I’d expected, but the drive from our home in Lawton, in northern Massachusetts, out to Monroe in the western part of the state had perked me up immeasurably, perhaps even encouraging me to push the Civic beyond its present capacity and ignore the speed limit.

The views of the Berkshires were wonderful from the highway, vistas of craggy, wind-buffeted trees and steep gray cliffs, and I realized, a little guiltily, at how much I was looking forward to getting away from the never-ending home improvements and escaping into work that was purely my own. Libraries had always been where I’d gone to make sense of the world, and this one had the added lure of primary sources directly related to my work. I even had a chance to visit friends who worked nearby. I was on my own, and it was a good day for driving: clear, cold, and just a little overcast. After a couple of uneventful hours, I found myself in Redfield County, where the hilly terrain made my ears pop regularly and the pines and bare oaks stood out against the empty March sky. There the driving got a little more interesting; I was wrestling for the steering wheel with the wind, resisting the pull to the edge of the road and the cliff.

And then I didn’t resist. I pulled over, got out, and considered the vista before me, cataloguing it as would a social scientist and someone with a nodding acquaintance with geology and environmental studies. My stomach contracted even before I reached the guardrail and considered the drop down to the icy river below. I forgot to wonder whether the area had been formed by volcanism or tectonic smashing and forced myself to edge over and look straight down. I craned my neck to see, as if the mere act of moving closer to the cliff meant that I would immediately hurl myself over the side. The black water one hundred feet below me looked as though it sucked all the light and heat from the surroundings, keeping the town on the opposite rocky bank firmly entrenched in late wintry gloom. As if that weren’t enough, the little factory town—I didn’t even know what its name was—appeared to have seen better days since its founding; there was no smoke coming from the stack and there were no lights in the windows. A lone car moved along the street on the opposite bank, and I shivered. It might have been that the mill or factory was now converted to a high-technology haven, and the light was wrong for me to tell that there was any life inside; it might have been that the town was enjoying a well-earned rest before they geared up for a thriving summer tourist trade,