Today's Reading

We reached the end of Main Street, where the businesses faded into stately residential homes and low-slung bungalows. Grace was sleepy, her eyes nearly shut.

It was quieter here, with the bulk of the trick-or-treaters still to the north.

Brody adjusted his monkey suit and moved Grace higher on his shoulder. "What do you say? It's been a long evening."

It had, but we had one more stop to make. "I promised Caleb we would come by. He's dying to see Grace in costume. Anyway, it's just up here."

The small, tidy, single-story redbrick bungalow was set back from the street on a quarter-acre lot. A gleaming white Mercedes sedan, parked along the sidewalk, got an appreciative whistle from Brody. Together, we read the placard mounted on the black wrought-iron fence: Montgomery and Sons, Estate Planning and Legal Services, though I, and everyone in town, knew there were no sons to be found inside. There was only retired Judge Caleb Montgomery and a part-time paralegal who favored heavy gray cardigans, even in the heat of summer, and smelled, incongruously, of coconuts and tropical sunscreen.

We pushed open the gate, wincing as the rusty bolts screeched, and stepped onto a narrow path that led from the gate to the front door. Caleb, or most likely his wife, Edith, had lined the path with carved pumpkins. They glowed, lit from within by tea lights.

The door opened slowly as we reached the front porch. Caleb Montgomery greeted us with a smile and a bowl of hard butterscotch candies.

"Come in, come in!" he called softly, noting the nearly-sleeping Grace in Brody's arms. "A rabid camel! How original! Wherever did you find a costume like that?"

I shrugged. "Colfax, of course."

"Beautiful car, Caleb," Brody said and shook the older man's hand. "Early Christmas present?"

Caleb grinned. "You could call it that. A man's got to live a little, right?"


The house was small; the front living area had been converted into a reception area, and the two bedrooms turned into Caleb's office and an office for his paralegal. In the rear of the house, closed French doors likely led to a kitchen, bathroom, and perhaps a closet or two.

A small white dog dressed in a bee costume darted toward us. The dog's bark was all Grace needed to perk up; she squealed with delight and then fussed in Brody's arms until he relented and set her down. The dog fell over with happiness, squashed its tiny wings, and offered up its pale speckled belly for rubs.

"When did you get a dog?" I asked.

"I didn't. It's the neighbor's, but Cricket—the dog—prefers to hang out with me. He's highly intelligent that way. I'll take him home before I leave for the night."

We watched dog and baby play for a few moments, then Caleb cleared his throat. "May I speak to you a moment, Gemma? In private?"

He gestured to his office. I followed him, smiling at the white lab coat he wore. The retired judge had always reminded me of Albert Einstein, with his shock of white hair and matching mustache. The costume he wore now only served to reinforce the image. Once we were inside his office, Caleb gently closed the door and slipped into the enormous chair behind his desk. A slight man, he was nearly swallowed by the leather and brass-studded throne.

He rubbed at his face. "This life. It's exhausting, isn't it? When I was a kid, I was terrified of dying. Now, the thought of living forever is enough to make me want to scream. Mankind was created with an expiration date, and for good reason. Our hearts are too soft, our emotions too brittle to go on forever."

I took a seat across from him in one of the two guest chairs. A single nine-by-twelve manila envelope lay on the mahogany desk and Caleb stared at it, falling silent. For the first time, I felt a sense of trepidation at what he might wish to discuss. It was unlike him to be especially morose or sentimental; seeing him this way was unsettling.

It was almost as though he were afraid.

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