She nudged Chloe into a deep armchair, then pulled her hair over her shoulder and sank down into the opposite one. "Wally was here. Don't try to deny that. What did he want?"
Chloe shrugged. "He said he wanted to talk," she sputtered. "Ten years later and now he wants to talk?"
"Why did you let him in?" Arlo asked. She waved a hand and shook her head, as if that would erase her words. "Never mind. Stupid question." She leaned forward and clasped Chloe's hands into her own. "Tell me what happened." She wasn't sure she wanted to know all of it. But Chloe was her best friend and she had to give her the chance to say her piece.
Chloe took a deep, shuddering breath. "He came by to talk." She snorted. "Talk. Imagine. And just like that, I got sucked up again." She sniffed and looked up at the ceiling, a ploy, Arlo was sure, to keep the tears from falling.
"And you thought 'what's the harm?'"
"So you made the two of you a cup of coffee."
"I made him a coffee."
Of course. Chloe made the best coffee drinks this side of the Mississippi but only drank tea. "Was the shop open?"
"Not yet. It was barely six."
Arlo blinked. Had he been lying out there for hours? It was unthinkable.
Each morning Chloe came into the store at five. She baked for two hours, then opened the shop for the rest of the Main Street vendors to stop by for a pastry and a fresh cup of coffee.
"He said he wanted to see Jayden." The words fell between them like a wet bag of cement.
"He what?" Arlo had to whisper the words to keep from yelling them.
"Wally is his father."
Arlo pffted. "Who gave up his rights." Wally might be Jayden's father, but he had never been a father to the boy. It had always been only Chloe, right from the start.
Chloe shook her head sadly. "He's got attorneys working on the contract, trying to find loopholes. Good attorneys."
Better than she could afford. But Arlo hated to see Chloe give up without a fight.
Now Wally was dead. There would be no custody battle. A detail she felt sure she needed to keep to herself.
"How did he get onto the roof?" Arlo asked.
Chloe pulled her fingers from Arlo's grasp and stood. "How am I supposed to know? Through Phil's I guess." She propped her hands on the back of her hips and stretched, a gesture Arlo had seen her perform countless times over the years. Then Chloe shook out her short blond curls and sniffed once again. The action held a note of finality. "I guess there's no going back now."
"I suppose not." Death tended to do that to relationships. But Chloe and Wally's had been poison from the start. It needed ending. Maybe now Chloe could get on with her life, though Arlo knew if she said anything, Chloe would swear that she hadn't been waiting for Wally for the last ten years. Just as she had waited for him all prom night.
"Phil's, huh?" Arlo said after a few moments. Wally came by the bookstore, then left after...well, Arlo didn't want to speculate about that in too much detail. And he went to Phil's video store for...what?
Phil's was what a sane person would call a throwback sort of place. Yes, they rented a few DVDs and there were still a couple of VHSs hanging around on some of the back shelves. Mostly he rented video games to the younger teens while the rest of Main Street wondered how he stayed in business.
"I guess. How else would he have gotten up on the roof?"
How else? Their building only housed the two stores. The top two floors of Phil's were used for storage. She supposed Wally could have jumped over from another building, but why would he have done that?
"What did you say to him?" Arlo asked.
"Nothing. Why?" The frown puckering Chloe's brow was made of innocent confusion.
Arlo cleared her throat. She wasn't sure how to say the words without restarting Chloe's waterworks. "He left here, went next door, then jumped—"
"From the roof?" Chloe shook her head. "Wally's not the jumping kind. He was pushed."
This excerpt is from the paperback edition.
Monday we begin the book The Siberian Dilemma by Martin Cruz Smith.