Blood Knot Chapter 1

As the widower of a very fine church musician, Frank couldn’t bear to listen to Irene play. When he occasionally got in a churchgoing mood, he headed down to the Congregationalist Church in Keene Valley, where the organist put on a creditable show. Frank’s flagrant disloyalty did not go unremarked in his adopted hometown. He was, after all, the police chief of Trout Run, and should set an example.

So he had chosen the first Sunday in November, All Saints’ Day, to rejoin the fold now that a heart attack had taken Irene off the organ bench for good. And it hadn’t been bad. The service had ended with a rousing rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In” that made sitting through Pastor Bob Rush’s meandering sermon worthwhile.

He was still humming under his breath when Reid Burlingame and Ardyth Munger cornered him during fellowship hour.

“Good to see you here, Frank,” Reid said. As chairman of the town council, Reid was his boss, so Frank was glad his attendance had been duly noted. “What did you think of today’s music?”

Frank swallowed the last morsel of his crumb cake. “Terrific. Stepping outside the hymnal with that last number, no?”

“Matthew wanted to play it, and Bob said it was okay,” Ardyth explained.


“Matthew Portman. That was him playing the piano during the service.”

“Ah, that Matthew.” Matthew Portman was only fourteen years old when he had filled in on piano last year while Irene visited her sister in Toledo, and church attendance had risen dramatically. After that, Pastor Bob had thoughtfully encouraged Irene to take more vacations, but she had clung to her organ bench with barnacle-like tenacity, and Matthew hadn’t gotten another shot.

“Did you see this?” Ardyth tapped the back page of her bulletin, which proclaimed in boldface print: Hymn Sing and Pie Social, Saturday, November 14. “It’s a fund-raiser so we can send Matthew for organ lessons.”

Reid beamed. “We’ve had a real stroke of luck. Oliver Greffe, the music teacher at the North Country Academy, is quite an accomplished organist. He’s agreed to instruct Matthew. It’s another example of the good things that school is doing for our town now that it’s under new management.”

Frank braced himself for another one of Reid’s rah-rah speeches. He’d hardly had a conversation with the man lately that didn’t revolve around what a boon to the local economy the new North Country Academy was proving to be. The Academy used to be a third-rate boarding school catering to kids who couldn’t get into—or had been kicked out of—better institutions. But its remote location and indifferent academic reputation had finally driven it out of existence at the end of the last school year. Trout Run greeted the news with a big yawn–although technically within the town limits, the school had never seemed like part of the community. Only one person from Trout Run taught there, and all the local kids went to Trout Run Elementary, then on to High Peaks High School.

Then, at the end of the summer, a man named MacArthur Payne had bought the North Country Academy and the place had been reborn as what Reid liked to call a “therapeutic school.” Frank, who hadn’t mastered political correctness, referred to it as “that high-priced private reform school.”

“So Matthew’s going to the North Country Academy for organ lessons, huh,” he said. “What’ll they do if he doesn’t practice—lock him up?”

Reid glared at him. “Frank, that’s a very unfair remark. You—”

“Joking, I was joking!” Geez, Reid had really lost his sense of humor over this place.

“The lessons will be here in the church, where the organ is,” Reid explained. “Plus, Matthew will be able to walk here.”

“His father won’t help out at all,” Ardyth interjected. “He wasn’t going to let Matthew take the lessons until Pastor Bob went and spoke to him. Those poor kids are really struggling without their mom.”

Ardyth had a tendency to dwell on misfortune, while Reid was a determined optimist. “That’s why the organ lessons are such a godsend. And, have you heard about the latest two people to get good jobs at the Academy? Lorrie Betz and Ray Stulke.”

Frank’s hand hung suspended over the Danish tray. Lorrie had crammed more heartache into thirty years of living than most people manage in a lifetime. And Ray was Trout Run’s foremost blockhead. “What in the world are those two qualified to do at a school? Cleaning?”

“Oh, no. They’re going to be Pathfinders.”

“The only path Ray can find is from his barstool to the john. What kind of position is a Pathfinder?”

“Fine for you to be so cavalier, Frank,” Reid said. “You have a good, secure job. Most people in this town aren’t so lucky. We’re losing our young people because there are no opportunities for them here. And with Clyde being so sick, we can’t count on Stevenson’s Lumberyard to continue as our prime employer.”

Reid straightened the lapels of his tweed sports coat. “This town needs to diversify. If MacArthur Payne makes a success of this school, it will be a source of good steady work with benefits for years to come. Steady work keeps people out of trouble—you should appreciate that.”

Ardyth studied her shoes as if she’d never seen patent leather before. The thump of the big coffee urn being hauled away broke the uncomfortable silence andFrank grabbed the opportunity to leave as Ardyth began helping with the cleanup.

He trudged across the green toward his truck, trying to shake off the sting of Reid’s words. Last night’s jack-o’-lanterns mocked him, their cheerful gap-toothed grins now transformed into grotesque snarls by the gnawing of hungry squirrels.

Unspoken in Reid’s tirade was the fact that Frank was an outsider who’d taken the position of police chief away from a local. True, the job didn’t pay well enough for a man to support a family. For twenty years his predecessor had combined the police chief’s job with furniture refinishing to make ends meet.

Herv’s retirement had touched off a great debate: increase the pay of the chief’s position and induce a local man to train for the job at the police academy, or abolish it altogether and turn Trout Run’s law enforcement over to the state police. In the middle of the fray, Frank had washed up on the town’s doorstep: a man with twenty years’ experience marred by one big mistake that had forced his resignation, willing to work cheap because he had a decent pension from the Kansas City force. His hiring had been an uneasy compromise, and Frank knew, even though Reid would never be so crass as to remind him that he had cast the deciding vote in Frank’s favor.

Now, with a few unguarded wisecracks about the North Country Academy, he’d given Reid the impression that he didn’t care about the fortunes of other people in town as long as his own bread was buttered.

Frank looked up at the towering peak of Mount Marcy in the distance, and the smaller mountains that tumbled toward the town, shutting out the problems of the wider world. If he knew what was good for him, he’d start showing some enthusiasm for the North Country Academy. But really, how excited could he get about a school that imported scores of juvenile delinquents into his jurisdiction?

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