Thief River Falls Page 2

That was a phone call she would always remember. She could still hear that famous, unmistakable voice on the phone, telling Lisa how much she loved her book and wanted to play the lead role herself. In the tally of best days of Lisa’s life, the day of Reese’s call would be near the top.

Two years ago.

Before all the tragedies began. Before the Dark Star came into her life.

Lisa was wet and cold, and she needed a shower. She peeled off her clothes, kicking off her boots, unbuttoning her flannel shirt, unzipping and stepping out of her messy jeans, and wriggling out of her soaked underwear. Naked and shivering, she padded to the cold wrought iron staircase that twisted up to her bedroom, which took up most of the second floor. She went straight into the bathroom, still not turning on any lights. She had a walk-in shower made of opaque glass blocks, and she stood under the hot water, pummeled by body sprays that washed away the dirt and pinked up her skin. The warm, wet darkness enveloped her, and she inhaled steam as if it were fine whiskey spreading fire through her whole body. She lost track of time as she stood there.

When she finally returned to her bedroom, she wandered to the wall of windows overlooking the highway. There was no letup in the rain. Seeing the ghost of her reflection in the glass, Lisa Power stared at Lisa Power. She was bony and not too tall. She had shoulder-length brown hair that usually had a mind of its own, like an unruly nest. Her face was pretty, but she’d always believed that her nose was a little bit too big for the rest of her features. Her pale lips were slightly open, as if she were always deciding what to say next. The faint creases in her forehead reminded her of her age, thirty-nine years old. But everyone who met her talked about her eyes, those big, wide, impenetrable brown eyes. As a writer, Lisa had always believed that she could look at someone’s eyes and know exactly what they were hiding, but that wasn’t true of her own. Right now, the woman looking back at her in the window was a stranger.

The time on her bedroom clock finally registered with her. It was after ten o’clock in the evening in Minnesota. That meant in California it was now after eight o’clock.

“Oh, crap,” she said. She was late.

She rushed to put on clothes and then dried her wet hair as best as she could. She had to turn on lights to do so, and the brightness sharpened the pain behind her eyes. When she was as put together as she was going to be, she hurried downstairs to the finished basement. She had a specially constructed theater there, with a large custom screen and a row of plush movie seats. Near the screen, she kept a whiteboard where she’d written down the dates, times, and phone numbers for her call-in book clubs.

Tonight’s discussion was right there on the list. October 10. Palo Alto, 8:00 pm PDT, contact Aria Dhawan.

Lisa booted up a laptop and loaded the video software that connected to the oversize screen. She dialed the number she’d written down for the California book club, and as the phone rang, she took a seat in the centermost chair of the theater. She forced herself to relax. She did these discussions several times a month with book clubs around the country, and they were always the same: the same questions, the same women, the same wineglasses, the same jokes, the same compliments. No one invited her to a book club if they didn’t enjoy her books, and yet these things always made her cringe. She could see her image on camera in a little box in the corner of the screen, and she had to remind herself: smile.

Seconds later, a high-definition image of a Palo Alto living room filled the screen. Seven thirty-something women, fit the way only young Californians could be, erupted with happy smiles when they saw her. They were spread across modern furniture in a high-rise apartment that overlooked San Francisco Bay, and they already had their glasses of chardonnay in hand. In the middle was the hostess—smart, jet-black hair; red glasses on her face; a woman with the upscale look of a young executive at a tech giant.

“Ms. Power?” the woman said. “Welcome. I’m Aria Dhawan. It’s so kind of you to join our book club tonight. I have to tell you, we all just loved Thief River Falls. We don’t typically read thrillers in our group, but we made an exception for this book because of the recommendation from Reese, and we’re very happy we did.”

“I’m so glad,” Lisa replied.

“The ending made me cry, but there was something uplifting about it, too. When the boy Purdue comes back as the woman is dying? That was so moving. I don’t have children myself, but it was definitely a mother’s book.”

“Yes, believe me, I cried when I wrote that scene, too.”

“Well, we have a lot of questions for you, but I know it’s late there, so we promise not to take up too much of your time.”

“That’s okay. This is what I do. When I’m not writing, that is.”

One of the other women put down her wineglass and jumped into the conversation. “The setting of your book is so remote! And the name of the town is very romantic. Is Thief River Falls a real place? Is that where you live?”

Lisa forced another smile. Always the same questions.

“Oh, yes, Thief River Falls is a real place. It’s located in far northwestern Minnesota, not too far from the Canadian border. And yes, I lived there my whole life until very recently. I purchased a house about an hour north of town last year, but you’ll still find me in Thief River Falls several times a week.”

“You must be famous there,” one of the other women said.

“Or infamous. I was a little nervous about bringing so much mayhem to my hometown, but my neighbors didn’t seem to have a problem with it. I’m not so sure about the chamber of commerce, though.”

The women laughed. They always did.

Lisa knew which laugh lines to use and which stories tugged at people’s heartstrings. For nearly every question at a book club or library visit, she had an answer memorized, because she’d talked to so many readers over the years who all wanted to know the same things.

Where do you get your ideas?

“I wish I could tell you. I see the world—people, places, whatever—through the lens of thrillers. I always have, since I was a girl. To me, everything in my life is about plots and characters. It’s a little scary sometimes.”

Was it hard to break through as a writer?

“Incredibly hard. It took me years to sell my first book. I didn’t make a living at it until Thief River Falls, which was my fourth book. That’s only because of Reese and the movie deal. Until then, I was working full time as a nurse at the local hospital.”

Where do you write?

“Well, I built a little writer’s cottage for myself at my new place. I used to live in a very small two-bedroom house next door to my parents, and there wasn’t much room. So either I’d take my laptop up to the attic and hang out with the spiders, or I’d be out in the backyard working next to the kiddie pool and the jungle gym.”

She didn’t need to think about the answers she gave. They just rolled off her tongue. Sometimes she had to stop herself to let them get the questions out of their mouths before she began answering.

And then there were the questions she hated. The personal ones.

“Are you married?” one of the Palo Alto women asked.

Lisa got that question every time. She wondered if male writers did, too. As always, she had a throwaway line ready to be delivered.

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