Thief River Falls Page 3

“No, I’m not married. That’s one downside of living in a remote area. There are a lot of farm animals around here, but not much in the way of single men.”

More laughter.

They were a good group. She could feel their intelligence. She thought about telling them the truth: I was engaged once, but Danny died more than ten years ago. That was two months before our wedding. She thought about pouring out her soul and confessing everything that had happened to her in the past two years. About the Dark Star and how it had taken away her family. But people didn’t want to hear those things, and Lisa didn’t need the sympathy of strangers. She wanted to be done answering questions for the night. All she wanted now was to go to bed and sleep.

She grabbed a hardcover copy of Thief River Falls from the theater seat next to her. She kept the book there for these moments, because it was always a good way to hurry the video chats along to their conclusion.

“Would you like me to read a little from the book?”

The women on the screen murmured their enthusiastic approval. People liked hearing her read. Lisa enjoyed it, too, because it gave her the opportunity to act out the characters. It helped make the people in the books real to her. Human, three dimensional, full of emotion, not just creations on a page.

She turned to the prologue, which was where she always started. But before she could begin, a voice interrupted her.

“Actually, I have a question for you.”

Lisa looked up at the screen in surprise. The voice belonged to a man, but she saw only women in the Palo Alto condo. “I’m sorry; who’s that?”

Aria Dhawan glanced sideways at someone standing out of camera range. “Oh, that’s my husband. Sometimes he lurks at our discussions. You should be honored—I don’t think he’s ever asked a question of one of our authors before. Come on, Rohan; if you’ve got something to say, at least let the woman see you.”

Lisa waited, and Rohan Dhawan wandered into view. He had red wine where the others drank white. He was older than his wife, well into his forties, with thinning black hair that left only a few tufts on his forehead and a neatly trimmed beard. He was tall and thin, wearing a black sport coat that fit him loosely, a black T-shirt, and tan khakis. The clothes were casual but expensive. He had thick, inquisitive eyebrows, and his dark, unblinking eyes bored through the screen. Even two thousand miles away, those eyes, combined with a condescending little smirk, made Lisa uncomfortable.

“Ms. Power,” he said politely.

“Mr. Dhawan. What’s your question?”

“I wanted to know if you have ever been afraid that someone will bring your books to life.”

Lisa blinked with surprise. “I’m not sure I know what you mean.”

“I mean your books are about violence. Killing. Terrible things happen. Aren’t you concerned that some deranged person might be inspired to do evil by what you write?”

Lisa’s head throbbed. The brightness of the screen made her want to close her eyes. Her migraine was back. “Actually, my thrillers aren’t about violence, Mr. Dhawan. There’s violence in them, but that’s not the point of the books. They’re about people.”

“And yet they could be considered a road map to murder, could they not? In the wrong hands, that is.”

“Rohan,” his wife murmured, disapproval in her voice.

“No, it’s a fair question,” Lisa replied, straining to keep a smile on her face. “I guess I’d say that if someone’s inclined to do evil, they don’t need me or my books to carry it out. They can get plenty of inspiration from the real world.”

“I’m sorry, Ms. Power, but isn’t that a bit of a cop-out? You titillate people with the reality of what you create. That’s the point of a thriller, isn’t it? You want us to think your plots could really happen. Would it be so surprising if someone took it too far? It has happened to other writers, has it not? What would you do if some copycat killer came along and decided to bury a child alive because of something he read in your book?”

“Rohan,” his wife interjected.

“Truly, Ms. Power,” the man went on, grilling her like a prosecutor with a hostile witness, “is that something you could live with? Wouldn’t you feel at least partially responsible?”

“No. No, I wouldn’t.” Lisa stood up. She felt dizzy and short of breath. “I hate to cut this off, but I’m afraid it’s late, and I have a terrible headache.”

“Ms. Power, I’m very sorry,” Aria began. “Please excuse my husband—”

“That’s all right. My apologies for ending so abruptly. Good night.”

Lisa reached down to the laptop with trembling fingers and ended the call. The video disappeared immediately, and all she could see in front of her now was the huge bright-white screen, so white that it hurt her eyes. She felt herself breathing quickly, hyperventilating.

She tried to walk, but the whole world spun like a carousel, and she found herself collapsing to her knees.

Down, down, down . . .


Lisa awoke sometime later in bed, dreaming that someone was outside her front door. It was after midnight. The last thing she remembered was getting up off the floor in the basement theater and coming upstairs and changing into her nightgown. Outside, through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the bedroom, she could see that the rain had finally stopped. The clouds had cleared out, leaving an open sky, and the moon was a bright searchlight, casting its milky glow across her body. She lay atop the heavy blankets. The house was so silent that she felt lonely.

Then it happened again.

Downstairs, someone pounded heavily on her front door. She realized that the noise hadn’t been part of a dream; it was real. She heard a muffled voice shouting her name from the porch.

“Ms. Power! Are you home? We need to talk to you.”

Lisa didn’t recognize the voice. It wasn’t anyone she knew, and strangers typically didn’t show up here unannounced in the middle of the night. She slipped out of bed, but she stayed away from the windows, where the curtains were open. She had never felt a need to close them for privacy, because her nearest neighbor was two miles away. But right now, she was conscious of the white moonlight that would make her visible to anyone outside. Until she knew who was there, she didn’t want to announce the fact that she was home and alone.

She crept to the bedroom wall and nudged just far enough past the edge of the window frame to look down. The slant of the roof made it impossible to see who was on the porch, but she could see a vehicle parked in her gravel driveway. It was a black SUV, and she could make out large gold lettering on the doors. Someone from the county sheriff’s department was paying her a visit.

But not the sheriff in Kittson County, where she lived.

The SUV was from south of her in Pennington County, where the county seat was Thief River Falls.

As she watched, a police officer stepped down from the porch. She could hear the crunch of his boots as he walked into the middle of her front yard. He wore a deputy’s uniform, but the wide brim of the man’s hat made it impossible to see who it was. He turned around to stare up at the house, and Lisa instinctively backed away to make sure he didn’t see her. She didn’t know why she was hesitating about opening the door to the police. She knew most of the deputies in Pennington County, and they knew her.

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