City of the Lost Page 15

“You expect me to take your word for that?” He shakes his head before I can answer. “Doesn’t matter. We don’t run a charity camp. Usefulness is as important as need. We don’t have any use for someone in—what is it—accounting?”

“Then she’ll learn a trade. She can sew—she makes most of her own clothes. You must need that.”

When he doesn’t answer, I think about what he’s just said. Two things—that he doesn’t want me in this town, and that they favour those with relevant skills. Now I understand why they rushed to grant us this interview.

“Your town needs a detective,” I say. “And something tells me it’s not because you’re low on your visible-minority quota.”

He frowns, pure incomprehension.

I continue, “Someone who outranks you wants a detective, and you don’t appreciate the insinuation that you—or your force—need help.”

I thought his gaze was steel before. I was wrong. It was stone. Now I get steel, sharp and cold. “No,” he says, enunciating. “I am the one who requested a detective. I just don’t want you.”

“Wrong gender?”

Again, that look of incomprehension. It’s not feigned, either, as if he genuinely doesn’t know why that would be an issue.

“My age, then. I’m too young.”

“You’re two months older than me, and I’m the sheriff. So, no, it’s not age. This isn’t open for debate. I need a detective, but I don’t want you. End of discussion.”

“Is it? Someone made you go through with this meeting, meaning it’s not entirely your decision to make, sheriff.” I look at the one-way glass again. “How about a deal? Take Diana. She won’t go without me, so tell her I’m coming. Tell her that I need training and debriefing before I arrive. After she’s there, I’ll change my mind.”

“Bullshit.”

“Not bullshit. I don’t want to go; I just want her to.”

He looks at me as if I’m on a dissection table and he’s peeling back layer after layer. At least a minute passes, and he still doesn’t answer.

“One more thing,” I say.

He snorts, as if to say, “I knew it.”

“I don’t believe in Santa Claus,” I say. “Never did. Not in Santa, not the Easter Bunny, not four-leaf clovers. Which is the long way of saying I don’t believe in your town. Give me proof, and you can have Diana.”

“Have her? I don’t want—”

“But you don’t want me even more. So this is the deal, sheriff … I ask questions, and if I’m convinced your town is plausible, I’ll proceed with my application. You’ll throw your support behind us getting in. Once Diana is safely there, I’ll change my mind. Fair enough?”

He studies me again. Then he gives a grunt that I interpret to mean I can proceed.

I ask for the population and basic stats. Just over two hundred people. Seventy-five percent male. Average age thirty-five. No one under twenty-five. No one over sixty.

“No children, then,” I say.

He pauses, just a split second, but it’s enough to make me wonder why. Then he says, “No children. It’s not the environment for them, and it would raise too many issues, education and whatever.”

“How does the town run?” I ask. “Economically.”

“Seventy percent self-sustaining. Game and fish for meat. Some livestock. Lots of greenhouses. Staples like flour are flown in.”

“Flown in? It’s remote, then.”

“No, it’s in the middle of southern Ontario.” His look calls me an idiot, but I’ve already figured out that if a place like this could exist, it’d be up north. I’m just testing him.

“And how do you stay off the radar?”

He eyes me before answering carefully. “The location handles most of that. No one wanders by out there. Structural camouflage hides the town from the rare bush plane passing overheard. Tech covers the rest.”

“Fuel? Electricity?”

“Wood for heat and cooking. Oil lamps. Generators, but only for central food production. Fuel is strictly regulated. ATVs for my department only and, mostly, we use horses. Otherwise, it’s foot power.”

“Which keeps people from leaving.”

He says nothing. That’s another question answered. They don’t live in a walled community—it’s just too far from civilization to escape on foot.

“No Internet, obviously,” he says without prompting. “No cell service. No TVs or radios. Folks work hard. For entertainment, they socialize. Don’t like that? Got a big library.”

“Alcohol?”

It takes him a moment to say, “Yes,” and the tone suggests that if he had his way, it’d be dry. I don’t blame him. I’ve met cops from northern towns, where entertainment is limited. Booze rules, and booze causes trouble.

“Police force?”

“One deputy. He’s former military police. Militia of ten—strictly patrolling and minor enforcement.”

“Crime rates?”

“Most of what we deal with is disturbances. Drunk and disorderly. Keeping the peace.”

“Assault? Sexual assault?”

“Yes.” His expression says that’s all I’m getting.

“Murder?”

“Yes.”

“In a town of two hundred?” I say. “When’s the last time you had a—?”

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