Chloe Parker waved. "Welcome back, Gemma. Guys, I got a call about a suspicious man, a prowler, at Valley Academy. The caller wouldn't leave a name and the number came through with a New York area code. You two want to check it out? Twenty bucks says it's a prankster. I can radio patrol if you'd rather stay here. It's terrible weather."
I looked at Finn and stood, then began shrugging back into my heavy parka. "No, save patrol for the roads. There will be at least a few accidents for them to respond to before tonight is over. Maybe it's your Reaper artist, Finn."
Chloe added, "I'll call campus security and have someone meet you at the school. They'll need to open that front gate if you want to get on the property."
Across the aisle, Finn stood, too, and reached for his jacket. On the radio, the commercial for acne cream ended and the Temptations came on, wishing for rain. Finn danced along with an imaginary partner. Chloe giggled and retreated back into the tiny room that was the dispatch call center.
"Oh, but I wish it would stop snowing," Finn muttered along to the song. I joined in, "But everyone knows that a man ain't supposed to cry."
Finn rolled his eyes and made a gagging sound. I know I'll never win American Idol but I'm not that bad. I've heard worse.
I rounded up my hat, gloves, and flashlight and followed Finn down the short hallway that led from the squad room to the front door. He paused so I could button up my parka, then he opened the door. The storm had picked up in intensity and the screaming wind seemed to tear the oxygen from the air.
"Jesus," I muttered. No one in their right mind would be out in a blizzard like this. I was sorry I'd returned to work, tonight of all nights. I should have been home, with Grace and Brody, in front of a roaring fire with a hot cup of cocoa and a gossip magazine in my hands.
I thought I was ready to be back, but all of a sudden, I didn't feel so sure.
In early February, at the peak of winter, darkness comes early to the Rockies. A particular coldness takes hold and the wind blows in hard, gathering speed and strength as it races down from the high peaks and crosses the continental divide before hitting the Great Plains and dispersing its energy like seeds tumbling from a farmer's hands.
It was that same dark, cold, hard wind that fed the snowstorm we found ourselves in. We drove to the Valley Academy in whiteout conditions on roads that were slick with low to no visibility. The air smelled of wet steel. The scar that curved around my neck like a comma felt tight, as though it was made of piano string, tuned just past the right key.
Some people feel the weather in their bones, or in the acting up of old injuries. I felt it in the one physical reminder I have of the car accident that left my parents dead.
Finn drove in silence.
He was hunched over the steering wheel, peering through the windshield, while I controlled the heat, letting the defroster run for a few minutes and then spinning the dial over to warm our feet and hands. We sat in his personal car, a heavy Suburban. The big truck crept along like a tank, and I felt a hell of a lot safer than I would have felt in any of the department Jeeps or sedans.
Finn muttered something underneath his breath.
I pulled the hood of my parka to the side. "What was that?"
"Who the hell is out on a night like tonight, able to spot a prowler?" he said, slowing down and carefully pulling around a thick tree branch that lay in the middle of the road. "Let's drag that thing out of the road on the way back."
I nodded absentmindedly. "I bet it's some busybody that lives in that tiny trailer park across from the school, Shady Acres."
Finn barked a laugh and then swore as his breath fogged up the window.
I sighed and changed the heat back to the defroster. I leaned over and wiped the windshield with the sleeve of my parka. "Is that what it's called? That doesn't sound right...."
Finn said, "Shaded Acres. Shady Acres would be something out of a comic book, like a suburb outside Gotham."
"It's the perfect name for a villain's estate," I said, humming the theme song to Green Acres.
Finn flinched and then punched my shoulder. "You know, you have the worst singing voice I've ever heard. It's terrible. You could skin a cat with a voice like that."
I rolled my eyes and rubbed my shoulder. I tried to think of a biting comeback but nothing came to mind. I watched him out of the corner of my eye and remembered how infuriating he could be.
He returned my side-eye with a look of his own. "What?"
"Nothing. We're here."