universe doesn’t always hear what you say.”

“So a promise is like a wish,” he said. He stood up.

Jane had tears in her eyes now. “No. Or I guess it’s yes. What I’m trying to say is that this isn’t fair. I did something good. I can’t forget what I know, or who I am. If the same thing happened in the same way tomorrow, I would do it again. Just because I risked my life a year ago to save Dahlman, I shouldn’t lose the kind of closeness to my husband that I had.” The tears came, and she stood to face him. “Don’t you see? I don’t want you to shut up and stand aside. I want you to say what you think—that your breakfast tastes like soap, or my haircut looks funny, or—”

“You’d drop me like a twelve-point buck on the first day of hunting season.”

“No.” She threw her arms around his neck and held him. “No, I wouldn’t. Especially if it was that you loved me and would rather I didn’t go out and get killed. Maybe we’ll get to choose what will happen, and maybe we won’t. I told you what I wanted if I get to choose.”

Carey pulled her closer and gave her a long, tender kiss. Suddenly, she put her hands on his chest and held him farther away. “Now get your hands off my ass and go to work. Honestly.”

Carey smiled. “Sorry. I’m just a romantic at heart.”

“More like that twelve-point buck,” she said. She hugged him again, then spun him around. “It’s twenty minutes to seven. Get going.”

He took three long steps into the back entry, stopped, and looked at her once more. Then he was out the door. Jane walked through the dining room listening to the car engine, then watched through the living room window as he backed his black BMW out the driveway and drove off toward the hospital.

Jane made her proprietary tour of the house. When she was not here, Carey seemed not even to pass through the rooms that weren’t in his way during his routine movements. He came in the back entrance near the garage, used the kitchen, climbed the stairs to the master bedroom, and went to sleep. He was not an especially neat person, but his profession had given him a cold-eyed view of microbes, so the kitchen was spotless. All she had to do was keep an eye out for the pots, pans, and utensils that he had put in the wrong places, and move them back where they belonged while she put away the dinner dishes and washed the new batch.

An hour later she backed the rental car out of the long driveway. She drove west to the Niagara, turned and headed north looking at the river until she reached the house where she had grown up in Deganawida.

Jane pulled the car all the way into the garage so it wouldn’t attract attention, then stepped to the front porch, unlocked the door, and used the next few seconds to scan the neighborhood for any sight she had not seen a thousand times before.

She swung the door open and stepped inside to punch the code on her keypad to turn off the alarm. Then she lingered in the doorway for a few seconds. There was no sound. The air was still and a little stale because the house had been tightly sealed. She closed the door and lifted the telephone beside the couch off the hook to hear the dial tone reassure her that the wires had not been cut. She relaxed her muscles. Nobody had been here while she had been away.

Jane walked the first floor of the house, glancing at each door and each window, then went upstairs. The house always seemed tiny after she’d spent a night in the McKinnon house. Jane stopped at the answering machine in her bedroom. The red glowing display said zero. Until she had looked at it, she had dreaded the possibility that there would be another call.

She went to the vanity. She picked up the large perfume bottle on the end, unscrewed the little gold cap, and sniffed. It was still fresh enough. The juice of water hemlock and may-apple would still kill quickly. She set the bottle on the vanity with the others, and left the room.

She went downstairs, through the kitchen to the cellar. Down here was the only place where the real age of the house was visible. The cellar had been dug with a shovel and built of blocks of stone, and the beams were just logs that had been cut near here. A few of the square-headed, hand-forged nails that held the floorboards could be seen here, pounded into the beams near the wall so somebody long ago could hang something there.

Jane walked to the far end of the cellar, where the coal bin had once stood, and moved the stepladder under one of the old round heating ducts that led along the ceiling to a point where it had once curved upward to a big floor register. The coal furnace had been replaced long before Jane was born.

She pulled apart two sections of the duct and reached inside for the metal box she kept there. She placed it on the top of the ladder and looked inside. There was the supply of identities she had grown for runners but never used—credit cards, birth certificates, licenses.

Jane began to unload her purse. She put all of the false identities she had brought from Chicago into the box. Then she put the few thousand dollars she had not spent inside. She dug deeper into the purse and found the tissue paper Bernie had put there. She opened it once more, looked at the collection of sparkling stones, and hesitated. Mrs. Carey McKinnon could probably afford to have a few of those diamonds set, and even get away with wearing them. But Mrs. McKinnon couldn’t afford to forget that she was still Jane Whitefield. And Jane Whitefield lived in a world where the only practical use for diamonds was to transport a great deal of flight money in a small space. Jane folded the paper and put it into the bottom of the box, under the money, where she kept a special set of identities that nobody else knew existed. These were particularly good ones, grown in pairs and carefully renewed and tended so that all of the licenses, passports, and credit cards were kept current. The pictures on them were hers and Carey’s.

Jane pushed the metal box into the dark duct, closed the two sides, and moved the ladder across the cellar to its space beside her father’s old workbench. She climbed the stairs. Before she turned off the light, she took a last look at the heating duct to reassure herself that the two sections had come together tightly to keep her hiding place secure and invisible.

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