He was suddenly standing in front of her, pouring hot water into her cup and trying to hand her a fresh tea bag. Her eyes shot wide open. "Good grief, you startled me."
"That's what you get for falling asleep."
"I wasn't sleeping."
"You could have fooled me. I was asking if you've ever known a little town like Grand Junction with so many big-city problems."
She accepted the tea bag, took it out of the paper shield and began dipping it in the hot water. "With so many murders, you mean? I still read the local paper online and it seems like every six months or so there's another murder. Do you think it's because of drugs?"
"That'd be my guess." Sam returned the teakettle to the kitchen and put it on a back burner of the stove. Then he grabbed a plate he'd prepared earlier, with sugar cookies on one side and chocolate chip cookies on the other. He put it on the end table between them and sat back down. "I've made a few drug arrests myself, but its kids mostly."
"I bet you have. You know, I don't remember ever seeing drugs when we were teenagers, but there was one murder. Her name was Patricia Haywood and she got shot in the alley behind her house on the 4th of July. Everyone thought it was firecrackers and no one went to see, so she bled to death. She was a friend of mine and I was devastated."
"I remember that. Did they ever catch the guy who shot her?"
Mattie snickered. "Are you kidding? When did they ever arrest anybody but teenagers drag racing down North Avenue?"
"Now you've done it, young lady, you're making me confess that I was the only teenager they caught. Do you remember Officer Leonard...someone who hid his patrol car behind the billboard a block from the hotdog stand? He and my dad were fishing buddies and when he caught me, my dad hit the roof!"
"My dad would have thrown a fit too. It's not easy living in a town where your parents know everything you do. Aside from that however, I thought we lived in the best little valley in the world. We had this purple mountain in the east, magnificent rock formations on the other three sides and two great rivers that came together before our very eyes. There were fruit trees galore and vegetable gardens, two high schools, one junior college and a long street for drag racing, just like in American Graffiti. Then I moved away and realized it wasn't all that terrific. It was actually the edge of the desert and big cities had a lot more to offer."
Sam returned her smile, and then thoughtfully blew on the hot tea in his cup. He took a careful sip, set the cup down and looked into her eyes. "Are you ready to tell me about...?"
"You're a hard woman, Mattie Rhoades." He got up, walked to the bookcase, grabbed a book and came back. As soon as he sat down, he opened it to the first page and began to read in silence. Time passed slowly and the ticking of Sam's wall clock seemed to grow louder and louder. The only other sounds came from the crackling fire and after she took a sip of her own tea, Mattie finally looked at him. "You're not really reading that book, are you?"
"Not a word." He quietly closed the book and laid it down on the table. "Have you made a decision?"
"Sort of. The thing is, if I tell you the truth-all of it, I need your word that you won't tell anyone. It's complicated, but the bottom line is this: I learned something I wasn't supposed to know and managed to make a few people very uncomfortable. I wouldn't want to stir things up again, so do you promise?"
He thought about it, but not for long. "You've got me over a barrel I'd promise you the moon to know who really committed those murders."
Mattie grinned. She was beginning to feel a little more at ease, and found herself actually liking Sam. "Goo