The second murdered doe was discovered in the morning. Spearheaded by some of the younger, more fitness-conscious residents of Bonny Oaks, the Neighborhood Association had hired a landscaping firm to cut walking trails through the woods. The route forked and twisted for nearly six miles, and there were benches tucked into arbor-y nooks, meant for breath-catching and meditative sit-downs but which were mostly used by teenagers for smoking cigarettes in private. There were also exercise stations established at quarter-mile intervals with little plaques instructing passersby to drop here and knock off twenty push-ups or execute a set of lunges. It was at the lunge station that Marjorie Kress, who lived two streets over from Mrs. LaPointe, came across the body.
Within the hour, a third doe was found floating bloated in the shallows of a manmade lake, but it didn’t take long to deduce that it had been dead for several days, that this third deer had been killed before the first. Mrs. LaPointe heard the news from Sadie Petty, who had the story of the doe on the walking trail by way of the Kress’s nanny, of the doe in the lake from her grandnephew, James C. Petty, a member of the Bonny Oaks grounds crew. Sadie Petty had been employed by the LaPointes for two decades, and Mr. LaPointe had used his influence to get James C. Petty the job.
It was Mrs. LaPointe’s habit to drink a cup of coffee with Sadie Petty while they discussed the day’s routine. The house was always quiet at that hour, and sunlight drizzled in through the kitchen windows, softened by its passage through the trees. Mrs. LaPointe enjoyed Sadie Petty’s company, relied on it, had grown so accustomed to it she could hardly imagine her life without their mornings, their coffee, their pleasant but meaningless inquires into one another’s lives. As Sadie Petty told the stories of the murdered deer, however, she found herself boiling up with irritation. There was, thought Mrs. LaPointe, a trill of titillation in Sadie Petty’s voice, as if she were relaying gossip rather than tragedy. She knew, even as Sadie Petty rattled on, that she was overreacting, but she couldn’t shake the image of her murdered doe—she thought of it in just such possessive terms—sprawled in the street and of the police rolling away from her house with their windows down, elbows poking out, obviously unconcerned. Her own experience was compounded by the fact that Mrs. LaPointe felt a certain propriety regarding the safety and happiness of the residents of Bonny Oaks, even the ones, like Marjorie Kress, whom she’d never met. She was on the verge of excusing herself when Blackmon appeared with his bathrobe belted loosely across his middle.
“What happened to the books?” he said.
Mrs. LaPointe ignored the question. At the sight of the stubble on his cheeks, his messy, greasy, thinning hair, her irritation transferred to her son. After breakfast, if he hadn’t been called to substitute, Blackmon would hole up in his room writing short stories with the door locked. He often went entire days without a shower or a shave, without changing out of his robe. His father would never have brooked such slovenliness, and Mrs. LaPointe sometimes wondered if Blackmon cultivated dishevelment to spite her.
“You’re not going to say hello to Sadie Petty?”
Sadie Petty was leaning against the counter by the coffeemaker. Blackmon bear-hugged her ample waist, kissed her sloppily on the cheek.
“Sadie Petty and I are beyond such outdated proprieties. Isn’t that right, Sadie Petty?”
Sadie Petty chuckled into her mug.
“That’s right, Mr. Blackmon. We sure are.”
“But seriously, Mother, the books? How am I supposed to find—”
Mrs. LaPointe didn’t wait for him to finish. She scraped her chair back and left them, a feeble morning shadow listing along beside her through the dining room and the living room and up the stairs.
By 10:30, Mrs. LaPointe had bathed, fixed her hair, hunted up the Kress’s address in the neighborhood directory, and arrived at their front door. Marjorie Kress answered the bell wearing a pink sweatsuit over a fitted white t-shirt.
“It’s not right you had to see a thing like that,” said Mrs. LaPointe.
Marjorie Kress said, “I’m sorry, have we met?”
Mrs. LaPointe blinked, introduced herself. She studied Marjorie Kress for signs of recognition but saw only fading youth and blankness in her face.
“I found the first deer yesterday,” said Mrs. LaPointe.
Marjorie Kress said, “Could I make you a smoothie? I was about to make one for myself. It’s just as easy to whip two up while I’ve got the blender out.”
Mrs. LaPointe allowed herself to be lead into a sunroom while Marjorie did the smoothies. Everything in sight—the sofa, the rug, the blinds, the quilt draped over a chair—had the commonplace allure of mail-order purchases. When the blender paused in its whirring, Mrs. LaPointe said, “It’s just so awful. I don’t know what to do. There must be something.”
Marjorie Kress’s voice trailed in from the kitchen. “I’ve had it with those deer to tell the truth. Every night one comes nosing around. The dog barks like crazy and gets the baby all worked up.”
The dog, a toy Doberman, was curled up in a wicker basket in the corner. She was about to inquire about his size, how they managed to breed Dobermans so small, but Marjorie Kress arrived bearing the smoothies, bent-necked straws poking up from the froth.
“Bananas,” she said, “blueberries, wheat germ, low-fat vanilla yogurt, skim milk. I’m addicted. I drink like three a day.”
She set the smoothies on matching coasters. “Are you going to the meeting tonight?”
“Meeting?” said Mrs. LaPointe.
“There’s an emergency meeting of the Neighborhood Association. I got an email.”
The irritation Mrs. LaPointe had felt toward her son and Sadie Petty, the irritation she’d hoped to stave off by turning its vigor toward some purpose, flared again, coloring her cheeks and neck. How had she not been notified? She had no email, true, but given the circumstances, you’d have thought somebody might have bothered to pick up the phone.
“Will you be there?” she said.
Marjorie Kress pulled an apologetic face. “I really would, but we’ve got a ballroom class, me and Tyler. We’re taking lessons.”
“I see,” said Mrs. LaPointe.
They sipped their smoothies. In the silence, Mrs. LaPointe could hear the nanny’s lilting Caribbean accent as she read to the baby down the hall.