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Margaret Maron grew up on a farm near Raleigh, North Carolina, but for many years lived in Brooklyn, New York. When she returned to her North Carolina roots with her artist-husband, Joe, she began thinking about a series based on her own background and went on to write the first in a series of seven mystery novels set in North Carolina and featuring the adventures of Deborah Knott. Maron has been nominated for, and won, the Agatha Award for Best Novel and her first book was a Washington Post best-seller. She joins Bookwatch to discuss her seventh book in the Deborah Knott series, Storm Track.
Baby Doll Games
One Coffee With
'Shooting at Loons
The Right Jack
Up Jumps the Devil
[We met Stan Freeman briefly in Home Fires. As Storm Track opens, the eleven-year-old is planning to track the hurricane season as it moves toward North Carolina. Unknown to him, an even larger storm is about to break over his family.]
August 31 - Hurricane Edouard is now 31 North by 70.5 West. Wind speed approx. 90 knots. (Note: 1 kt. = 1 nautical mile per hour.) (Note: a nautical mile is about 800 ft. longer than a land mile or .15 of a land mi.)Math was not Stan Freeman's strongest subject. In the margin of his notebook, the boy laboriously scribbled the computations so he'd have the formula handy: 90 kts. = 90 + (90 x .15)
He rummaged in his bookbag for his calculator.
The fan in his open window stirred the air, but did little to cool the small bedroom. Perspiration gleamed on his dark skin. His red Chicago Bulls tank top clung damply to his chest. It'd been an oversized Christmas present from his little sister Lashanda, yet was already too tight. His distinctly non-stylish sneakers lay under the night stand so his feet could breathe free. Three sizes in six months. After he outgrew a new pair in one month, Kmart lookalikes were all his mother would buy "till your body settles down."
At eleven-and-a-half, it was as if his limbs had suddenly erupted. The pudginess that had lingered since babyhood was gone now, completely melted away into bony arms and legs that stretched him almost as tall as his tall father. He was glad to be taller. Short kids got no respect. Now if he could just do something about his head. It felt out of proportion, too big for his gangling body, and he kept his bushy hair clipped as short as his mother would allow so as not to draw attention to the disparity.
At the moment though, he wasn't thinking of his appearance. Using his light-powered calculator, he multiplied ninety by point fifteen, then finished writing out his conversion:
90 + (13.5) = 103.5 mph.
For a moment, Stan lay back on his bed and imagined himself standing in a hundred-and-four miles per hour wind.
And never going to happen this far inland, he reminded himself. He sat up again and picked up where he'd left off in his main notes: Hurricane warnings posted from Cape Lookout to Delaware, but forecasters predict that Edouard will probably miss the North Carolina coast.
Gloomily, he added, Hurricane Fran downgraded to a tropical storm last night.
With a sigh as heavy as the humid August air the fan was pulling through his open window, Stan took out a fresh sheet of notebook paper and made a new heading.
NOTES -- Meterolg
He paused, consulted the dictionary on the shelf beside his bed, tore out the sheet of paper and began again.
NOTES -- Meteorologists say we're getting more tropical storms this year because of a rainy summer in the deserts of W. Africa. (Reminder -- look up name of desert) (Reminder -- look up name of country) This makes tropical waves that can turn into storms. At least they think that's what caused Arthur and Bertha so early this year.
He couldn't help wishing for the umpteenth time that he'd known about this new school's sixth grade science project earlier in the summer. If he had, he might have thought about documenting the life and death of a killer hurricane in time for it to do some good. Unfortunately, nobody'd mentioned the project till this past week, a full month after Bertha did her number on Wrightsville Beach. Cesar and Dolly had been right on her heels, but both of them wimped out without making landfall.
Like Hurricane Edouard was about to do.
Just his luck if the rest of hurricane season stayed peaceful. When he came up with the idea of doing a day-by-day diary of a killer storm, Edouard was still kicking butt in the Caribbean and had people down at the coast talking about having to evacuate by Labor Day. Now, though . . .
He wasn't wishing Wilmington any more bad luck, but a category 3 or 4 hurricane would sure make a bitchin' project.
Sorry, God, he thought, automatically casting his eyes heavenwards.
"Son, I know you think you have to say things like that to be cool with the other kids," Dad chided him recently. "But you let it become a habit and one of these days, you're going to slip and say it to your mother and how cool will you feel then?"
Not for the first time, Stan considered the parental paradox. His father might be the preacher, but it was his mother who had all the Thou Shalt Nots engraved on her heart.
As if she'd heard him think of her, Clara Freeman tapped on the door and opened it without waiting for his response.
"Stanley? Didn't you hear me calling you?"
"Sorry, Mama, I was working on my science project."
Clara Freeman's face softened a bit at that. Guiltily, Stan knew that school work could always justify a certain amount of leeway.
Yet school work seldom took precedence over church work.
"Leave that for later, son. Right now, what with all the rain we've been having, Sister Jordan's grass needs cutting real bad and I told her you'd be glad to go over this morning and do it for her."
Without argument, Stan closed the notebook and placed it neatly on his book shelf, then began cramming his feet into those gawdawful sneakers. His face was expressionless but every cussword he'd ever heard surged through his head. Bad enough that this wet and steamy August kept him cutting their own grass every week without Mama looking over the fences to their neighbors' yards. Sister Jordan had two teenage grandsons who lived right outside Cotton Grove, less than a mile away, but Mama could be as implacable as the Borg--which he'd only seen on friends' TV since Mama didn't believe in it for them. If ever she saw an opportunity to build his character through Christian sacrifice, resistance was futile.
Any argument and she'd be on her knees, begging God's forgiveness for raising such a lazy, self-centered son, begging in a soft sorrowful voice that always cut him deeper than any switch she might have used.
On the other hand, if he spent the next hour cutting Sister Jordan's grass, Mama wouldn't fuss about him going over to Dobbs with Dad this evening.
This was the second time they'd made love. The first had been in guilty haste, an act as irrational as gulping too much sweet cool water after days of wandering in a dry and barren land.
And just as involuntary.
Today they lay together on the smooth cotton sheets of her bed, away from any eyes that might see or tongues that might tell. Despite the utter privacy, and even though her mouth and body had responded just as passionately, just as hungrily as his, her love-making was again curiously silent. No noisy panting, no long ecstatic sobs, no outcries.
Cyl moaned only once as her body arched beneath his, a low sound that was almost a sigh, then she relaxed against the cool white sheets and murmured, "Holy, holy, holy."
"Don't," Ralph Freeman groaned. "Please don't."
She turned her face to his, her brown eyes bewildered. "Don't what?"
"Mock? Oh, my love, I would never mock you."
"Not me," he said miserably. "God."
She traced the line of his cheek with her fingertips. "I wasn't mocking," she whispered. "I was thanking Him."
Margaret Maron's Storm Track [ISBN 0-89296-656-4] was published in April 2000 - 2002 by Mysterious Press. Copyright (c) 2000 - 2002 by Margaret Maron. All rights reserved