'May I have a cigarette?'

He handed her one and lighted it for her.

Karyn took several quick puffs before speaking. 'I really do want to talk to someone, Chris. Someone who cares about me as a person, not as a case history to read at the next psychiatric convention.'

She mashed the cigarette into the ashtray. When she spoke again the words came out in a rush. 'Chris, Roy and I haven't had good sex together since that day. There's nothing wrong physically, but it's just not working. Roy and I have talked and talked about it, and God knows we do try. We go to bed, and I want it so much… I go through all the motions. That's the trouble, all I'm doing is going through the motions. There's no feeling, and Roy knows it. He can't help but know it — he's not a fool. He's been awfully sweet and patient with me, but I can't expect him to put up with this forever. I just don't seem to be getting any better.'

'Did you talk the problem over with your doctor?' Chris asked.

'Oh, hell yes.'

'Did he give you any advice?'

'Nothing I couldn't have gotten out of The Reader's Digest. Good, sound, logical advice, but I still don't feel anything.'

'Give it a while,' Chris said. 'Two months isn't much time to get over what happened to you.'

Karyn nodded distractedly.

'Anyway,' Chris went on, 'that's what you're moving out here to the woods for, isn't it? Rest and rejuvenation?'

With an encouraging smile, he started the car, pulled back onto the road, and drove down into the valley. As they descended, the mountain loomed up behind and cut off the sun. The air grew cold, and they rolled up the windows. When the road leveled out into the main street of Drago, Chris switched on the headlights against the gathering gloom. They drove slowly along past the buildings, which had a dusty, unused look. There were a couple of stores, a cafe, a gas station, a tavern, and a theater with an empty marquee. The only sound they heard was the singing of their tires over the pavement.

Karyn shivered slightly in the cool dusk of the tree-lined street. In the back seat Lady whined softly. Karyn reached back without turning around and rubbed the soft fur at the dog's throat.

'Where is everybody?' Chris asked. His eyes ranged along the blank fronts of the buildings.

'I don't know.' Karyn shivered again.

'Is your house in this street?'

'No, it's up one of these little cross streets. They all look alike, though, and I'm not sure which it is. We'll have to ask someone.'

Chris eased the Camaro along for a hundred yards, then braked to a stop as a powerful-looking man in khakis and a Stetson appeared from the shadows.

Karyn rolled down her window and smiled at the man. 'Hello, there. I wonder if you could tell us how to get to the old Fenno house?'

For a moment she thought the man had not heard. He did not answer her smile, nor did he make any move to respond. His eyes continued to watch from the shadow of the Stetson. Then the man came toward them, moving with a deliberate measured gait. He planted both hands on the window sill and looked in. Involuntarily, Karyn drew back in the seat.

'You want the Fenno place?' the man said. His voice rumbled up from the deep barrel chest.

'Yes. I'm Karyn Beatty. My husband and I are leasing the house, and I can't remember which of these side roads it's on.'

The man thumbed his hat brim up a fraction, and a faint smile twitched on his mouth. 'Pleased to meet you. I'm Anton Gadak. I'm sort of the sheriff here in Drago. Fact is, I'm sort of the whole police force. But then, we don't need all that much policing.' He looked pointedly past Karyn at Chris.

'This is our friend Chris Halloran. He drove me in from Los Angeles. My husband is waiting at the house.'

Anton Gadak nodded, apparently satisfied. 'The Fenno place is up the last road that turns off to the left, just before you start up into the hills again.'

Karyn thanked him and Chris started away from the curb. He found the last turnoff with some difficulty. It was little more than a wide weed-covered path into the woods.

'As I remember, it's up here about a mile,' Karyn said.

They passed two weathered old houses, dark and nearly hidden from the road by the brush. At each Chris looked over at Karyn, who shook her head. They came at last to a small clearing with a white frame cottage trimmed in apple green. A fireplace chimney trailed a ribbon of pale smoke across the slate-gray sky. Lights shone in all the windows, pushing the forest back. Chris pulled onto the clearing and parked behind Roy Beatty's Galaxie.

Karyn clapped her hands delightedly. 'What an improvement! You wouldn't believe the dismal brown color the house was when we first came out. And the whole place was strangled with brush and weeds. Roy's done a marvelous job.'

Chris got out of the car and walked back to open the trunk. As he brought out Karyn's bags the front door of the little house swung open and Roy Beatty came out. He shielded his eyes against the headlights for a moment, then waved a welcome and hurried toward the car.

Karyn jumped out and ran to his arms. 'Roy, it's… it's beautiful.'

'Didn't I tell you it had possibilities?' said Roy. 'Wait till you see the inside.'

With his arm around Karyn, Roy walked back to the car. 'Come on in, Chris, and take a look at how us rural folk live.'

'Thanks, but I've got to get back to the city.'

'Are you sure? There's steaks in the freezer, and the martini makings are already set out.'

'It's tempting, but I'll pass this time.'

'Got a date with a live one?'

Chris smiled and gave a noncommittal wave of his hand. 'Bring her out some weekend,' Roy said. 'We've got an extra bed and plenty of blankets.'

'Maybe I'll do that.'

Roy hefted Karyn's two suitcases, then looked around, puzzled. 'Where's Lady?'

'She's been acting funny,' Karyn said. 'I don't think she knows what to make of the woods.'

At that moment, the dog put her nose out for a tentative sniff of the surroundings, then bounded out of the car and frolicked happily around Roy's feet. He knelt and scratched her ear.

While Roy and Karyn watched the dog, Chris slid into his car and pulled the door closed. Roy walked over and reached through the window to shake his hand.

'Thanks for bringing the family out, buddy,' he said. 'Sorry you can't stay.'

'Maybe next time. I hope the place works out for you, Roy.'

'It will,' Roy assured him.

Karyn came over and kissed him lightly on the cheek. Chris backed out onto the narrow lane and drove back the way they had come. Soon the glow of the Camaro's tail lights was lost among the trees.

'I wish Chris had stayed for dinner,' she said as they started toward the house. 'I think he's lonely.'

'Are you kidding? A handsome thirty-year-old bachelor with a good-paying job and an apartment at the marina? You call that lonely?'

'You sound a little jealous, mister.'

Roy set down one of her bags, and gave her a swat on the bottom. 'That's right, I can hardly wait to dump you so I can grow a mustache, buy a Porsche, load up on stereo equipment, and be a swinging bachelor.'

Laughing together, they continued up to the front stoop. Roy stood aside and gestured her into the living room.

Karyn started in, then hesitated. She ran her fingers down the surface of the heavy wooden door. Under the fresh green paint a series of deep vertical grooves like scars slashed the panel at about shoulder height.

'What do you suppose made these?' she said.

'Who knows?' Roy shrugged and went on inside.

Karyn followed, thinking about the marks. Absurd though it was, the angry furrows in the wood suggested only one thing.

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