Read Shadow Woman Online

Authors: Thomas Perry

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General

Shadow Woman (10 page)

BOOK: Shadow Woman
10.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

She paused and looked at him.
Why did she have to be the sort of person who already had calculated
everything and made the decisions? “Come sit with me,”
she said.

They sat together on the bed.
“This is one of the conversations we should have had before.
I’m through being a guide. I will never take another fugitive
and slip him to a new place with a new identity. But for a while,
this house is going to be a problem. I can’t place an ad in the
paper announcing that I’m going out of business. It’s
more than a little likely that one or two people are going to arrive
here in the next year or two expecting to find that kind of help. I
know that ahead of time, and I’m prepared to accept the way
I’ll feel if I find out one of them tried on his own and didn’t
make it.”

“How can you?”

“That’s not going to
be an issue between us. It’s like what the insurance companies
call a pre-existing condition. My problem.”

“So you’re going to
keep it here, empty?”

“If we sell it, then maybe
– no, probably – one night the new owners are going to be
sitting downstairs watching television, and somebody is going to
arrive and tell them things I don’t want them to hear. Or even
worse, one of the chasers will have followed him here. This isn’t
theoretical. It happened once.”

“It’s going to be a
hard place to unload. I suppose you don’t want the phone
company reassigning your number either.”

“I can afford to keep
paying the bills. In a few years there will be fewer people who
remember the address. The ones who do will know that it’s not
the solution to anybody’s problem anymore. Then we’ll
cancel the phone, sell the house, and use the money for a trip around
the world or something.”

He laughed. “Don’t
be ridiculous. I’m not going to use up your money. We should
have had that conversation before, too. I will support my wife. Keep
whatever money you have safe, in case of an emergency.”

“You’re wrong,”
she said. “This is the emergency, tonight. Things are happening
fast that will get set in cement, so we have to do all of them right.
We take each other on, unconditionally. What I used to do has put you
in jeopardy: not much jeopardy, but some enterprising F.B.I, agent
could still stumble on somebody I helped, and you could wake up one
morning to the smell of tear gas and the sight of men in bulletproof
vests and baseball caps knocking down the door with a battering ram.
There are also some very slimy people out there who still want to
find some victim they didn’t get to torment enough, and would
be very happy to step over your body for the privilege of asking me
questions.” She paused to let the two unpleasant possibilities
settle in his imagination. Then she smiled. “However. I did
make a lot of money at it. You’d better share the rewards,
because you’ve already taken on the risks.”

He shrugged. “We can use
it to buy a lot of life insurance.”

She laughed and kissed him. “I’m
serious. About once a month or so, you’ll see a lot of mail
from my two business managers. One is Stewart Hoffstedder. He’s
fictitious, basically just a mail drop in New York I use to pay bills
for imaginary people, so you don’t want to know about any of
that. The other one is named Michael Mesnick, and he’s real.
He’s a former I.R.S. agent. If you ever fall into the morass of
my finances, call him or his assistant, Kim Henmi, and they’ll
straighten it out. Do not say anything about how ill-gotten my gains
are. They think I’m a career consultant who spends too much
money on travel and not enough on pensions.”

He gave her a hug and stood up.
“I’ll try to remember.” But she was still sitting
on the bed. “That’s it, right?”

She sat quietly for a moment.
“Here is the rest of it. I don’t think I want to have to
say this twice, because it’s a little… embarrassing.
What I intend to do with the rest of my life is be your wife. I’m
not reserving anything, holding anything back. This is the only life
I expect to have, so I’m not willing to let it go wrong by
little increments because I wasn’t paying attention. I will
always be available to you, at any hour of the day or night. If you
want to talk, I’ll talk. If you don’t want to talk, that
probably means you should try even harder to talk. I’ll be
listening.”

Carey sat on the bed hard, as
though his legs had given way. “The sweet old-fashioned girl?
Jane Whitefield?”

“Jane McKinnon. Older than
old-fashioned,” she said. “Primal, actually.” He
hugged her again, but as he smiled at her, he saw she wasn’t
smiling. “The only thing I won’t do for you is play
dumb.”

The supple, gentle touch of his
arm around her seemed to stiffen, and after a second the arm dropped
away. “I hope this is because you’re getting everything
out of the way at once – housecleaning day.”

“It is.”

“Then I guess I don’t
have any grounds to feel insulted. So I’ll just say that I love
you. I married you. If I had any reason to imagine I couldn’t
live up to the agreement, I would have to be insane. I don’t
expect to ever give you any reason to feel… insecure. Okay?”

She gave him a peck on the
cheek. “Thanks. I’m sorry to bring that up again. Maybe
we just know too much about each other. You’re a very
attractive man, Carey. And you’re getting better instead of
worse. You like women, and we all sense it, and so we all nuzzle up
to you. And you’re also a very successful doctor in a
provincial town. Everybody likes to be around men like you. None of
that is going to change just because you’re married. What I’m
saying isn’t ‘Watch your step because I’m onto
you.’ I’m saying, I know you like women a whole lot. And
I like you a whole lot. You’re used to variety and excitement
and… whatever. I understand it. So here I am. I’m not
everybody in the world, but I’m going to try to be everything
to you. Just ask. No, you don’t even have to ask, because I’m
saying yes now, for all time.”

“The strawberries,”
said Carey.

She threw her arms around his
neck and squeezed him hard, rocking him back and forth. “I’m
so glad. You don’t know how relieved I am.”

“About what?”

“You’re nowhere near
as dumb as you look. It’s just the cheap haircut, after all.”

7

Earl Bliss had once taken a
locksmith course during the dead time while he was waiting for his
next job to find him. Everybody in his graduating class had been a
deep-bottom loser, with no serious hope of finding work fixing locks,
but every one of them had learned to handle a pick and a tension
wrench. Earl had gotten a great deal of use out of his set, and
tonight he held them in his teem until he and Linda reached the row
of mailboxes in the lobby of Pete Hatcher’s apartment building.
He quickly slipped behind Linda while she watched the hallway, then
set the tension wrench in the lock, pulled the pick out of his teeth,
and opened the little door that said #6 HATCHER.

He handed the mail to Linda and
walked on toward Hatcher’s apartment door. Linda had always
loved Las Vegas hotels, but the idea that the people who dealt cards
and waited on her actually lived in Las Vegas had always depressed
her. It reminded her of the summer when she was seven and her mother
had gotten two days of work in a bikini movie. Linda had been allowed
to believe that she was being permitted a rare glimpse at glamour.
She knew now that her mother just had not had a place to leave her
while school was out.

Linda had been dragged along and
had watched a whole group of them waiting in line for a turn to climb
into a dusty trailer on the hot, black road above the beach and
wriggle into swimsuits handed out off a rack, all of them women like
her mother – pretty, but at twenty-five already looking worn
and a little bovine.

They were just supposed to play
volleyball behind two men who got into a fistfight, but they knew
even less about volleyball than the two men did about fighting, so as
the sun rose higher and began to sear eyeballs and heat the sand
enough to burn their feet, they got breathless and fell and bumped
into one another, a couple of them crying. And then – she never
was told how her mother had managed it – they had gone to live
with Dwayne.

She recognized him as one of the
men who had been up at the trailer that day. He was in charge of
something or other – could it possibly have been lighting, on a
beach? She remembered the long, dull, hot days of the summer living
in that apartment on Winnetka Avenue, the doors of the apartments all
open on the blindingly bright, lying promise of the empty pool,
trying to catch a breeze that could never come because the building
itself blocked it from entering the courtyard. Her mother had thrown
Dwayne out in a rage one day and had to be reminded the apartment was
in his name.

Linda followed Earl and watched
him open the door lock with as little effort as he had needed with
the mailbox. When she joined him he was already blocking off the
bathroom window with towels and duct tape to keep the light from
shining through it.

When Earl had finished, she
closed me bathroom door, turned on the light, and took out the mail.
They sat on the rim of the bathtub together and opened it. Before she
even got to the bills, she could see they had something. It was a
thick monthly bank statement with a stack of canceled checks inside.
She curbed her eagerness and handed it to Earl, then opened the
bills, one by one. There was the power bill, which was worth nothing.
There was the phone bill, which was worth a lot because it would have
the numbers he had called and the cities. There was a bill for rent
on this apartment. When she saw the envelope with the Visa logo on it
she felt hopeful, but then she saw it wasn’t a bill at all but
an offer for a new card. Earl stuffed the mail into Linda’s
purse and stood up.

They put on the latex medical
gloves and began to search the apartment. She could tell that
Hatcher had not been given much time to prepare before he left. There
were objects here that were worth money and could have been sold or
pawned – gold cufflinks and rings, even a good watch with a
couple of small diamonds on the dial. But the same objects told her
that somebody had given him a lesson or two about disappearing.
Distinctive jewelry was as good as a scar or bright red hair. There
were a couple of empty frames on the mantel, but not one photograph
was left anywhere.

Earl came and shone his Maglite
into the fireplace and carefully examined a pile of ashes. Whatever
had been burned in there, it wasn’t done for heat in Las Vegas
in June. Linda could see that Earl wasn’t going to be able to
tell what it had been, so she left the room.

She found Hatcher’s
bedroom and systematically worked her way through it. From his pillow
and the sheets under it, she gathered a dozen hairs and put them in a
plastic bag. In the bathroom she made a list of all of the brand
names she could find – toothpaste, shaving cream, razors, soap,
shampoo, hairbrushes. She took the razors in case there was blood
from a nick and gathered more hair from the brushes. They were more
likely than the others to have been pulled out with the follicles.
She searched hard for prescription bottles, so she could find the
names of the doctors and pharmacies, but found none, so she moved to
the kitchen.

She studied his eating habits.
He didn’t own anything even mildly interesting – a crepe
pan or a wok or a can of jalapenos or a jar of saffron. She dutifully
noted the brand names in the cupboards and refrigerator, but they
were all just the ones advertised on national television, and he had
kept little food in the house. He probably had worked late at night
and eaten in the hotel restaurants. She lingered at the refrigerator,
opening bottles and unwrapping packages of food in the freezer
because amateurs sometimes left valuables there, and he had left in a
hurry.

Linda returned to the living
room and found Earl busy unzipping each cushion from the couch to
check inside the cover. The couch itself had been tipped over so Earl
could look up among the springs. He had also tipped over the coffee
table, chairs, and lamps. Earl heard her enter and said, “You
get started on the bookcase.”

Pete Hatcher had not been much
of a reader. Linda wrote down the title, the author, and a
description of each book, removed it from the shelf, looked behind
it, held it up, and flipped through the pages with her thumb to see
if anything fell out or had been taped inside, but found nothing.

At three in the morning Earl
began to tip the furniture back onto the depressions in the rug where
they had stood before, so Linda went from room to room making sure
she had left no signs of her presence.

It was after five when they
reached their motel. As soon as they were in the room Linda lay down
on the bed and closed her eyes, but Earl was restless. After ten
minutes, the sound of him shifting in the squeaky chair by the table
and scribbling things on paper made her open her eyes. “Aren’t
you tired?”

“Nope,” said Earl.
“I’ll sleep later.”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m trying to get a
picture of how to do this.” He frowned and let his eyebrows
bounce up once for emphasis. Linda hated that.

“How’s it going?”

“According to Seaver, he
had lots of friends. He was one of those guys who had everything.
Everybody loved Pete Hatcher. Especially women.” The contempt
and envy in Earl’s voice made Linda feel almost sorry for him.
“He may have changed his name, but that isn’t going to
change. He’s not the sort that’s going to be lying low
for long. He’ll need company. He’ll be out shaking hands
and telling lies about himself.” He looked at Linda and she
seemed to remind him of something. “He’ll be looking for
women. According to Seaver, he’s a regular old snatch-hound.”

“That doesn’t
exactly limit his movements,” said Linda. “Sex he can
find anyplace. It would be better if there was one woman he couldn’t
live without. Her we could find.”

BOOK: Shadow Woman
10.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

An Unexpected Love by Barbara Cartland
Moonlight by Lisa Kessler
Games of the Hangman by Victor O'Reilly
Fly Away Home by Vanessa Del Fabbro
The Haunting Hour by R.L. Stine
Home: A Novel by Rachel Smith
The Matchmaker Bride by Kate Hewitt
Caught: Contemporary Taboo Romance by Heidi Hunter, Taboo Firsts
The Last Supper by Rachel Cusk