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Authors: Thomas Perry

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Shadow Woman (6 page)

BOOK: Shadow Woman
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“Where?”

“Beside the fence.”

The car slowed, and then the
tires ground on gravel, and the car stopped. “Oh, even better,”
she said. “Pull into that drive up there.”

“What are we doing?”

“Just do it.” She
cajoled, “I want to show you something. I promise you’ll
like it.”

He slowly drove the car through
the opening in the fence and up a dirt road into the orchard. The
road was pink with blooms that had spilled from the apple trees on
both sides. He bumped along deeper into the orchard as Jane stared
eagerly out the windshield. “Okay, stop,” she said,
opened the door, and stepped out.

She walked to the far edge of
the orchard and sidestepped a few paces down a little slope, then
stopped. She slipped off her shoes and walked down the hill a short
distance, paused at the edge of a thick patch of ankle-high wild
plants with round, serrated leaves that covered the lower slope, then
turned and looked up at Carey McKinnon. “Come down,” she
said. “I knew I could find some.”

He cautiously stepped toward
her, looking down to be sure of his footing. When he looked up she
was bent over, fiddling with something under the hem of her skirt.
Then she pulled off her stockings and handed them to him. “Put
these in your pocket for me, will you?” She walked barefoot
among the thick, soft plants, then bent over and ran her hands into
them, touching here and there in the dark.

Carey stepped closer and she
held out her hand. In the palm were a dozen little round shapes no
bigger than a half inch across. “What’s that?”

“Dessert,” she said.
“Wild strawberries.”

She popped one onto her tongue
and squeezed it against the roof of her mouth, then chewed it.
“They’re perfect.” She held out her hand again and
poured the little strawberries into Carey’s palm.

He tasted one and smiled.
“They’re good. Soft, sweet.” But she was already
bent over, running her hands quickly among the fuzzy leaves of the
little plants.

Carey knelt on the weeds with
her and picked strawberries until they had a double handful. Carey
gave them to her and then spread his new coat in the weeds and they
sat on it, feeling the warm June air and the intense darkness of the
new moon and eating strawberries.

They turned to each other and
kissed, then slowly and gradually the kisses grew longer and deeper
and they leaned back to lie on the coat, the tall weeds now
sheltering them on both sides like a nest. Carey’s hand began
to move along her body – breast, waist, hip – and the
clothes Jane had chosen didn’t need to be tugged up and pulled
down tonight. In the darkness they seemed to melt away, and she
hoped, knew he had asked her to wear them with this moment in mind.
Or maybe his asking and her compliance and this moment were part of
the same event, one long act of asking and complying, her wanting him
to ask, even turn his eyes in some direction so she could offer
before he even formed the desire. The kisses were long and hungry
now, and the hands – the long, gentle fingers and the wide,
smooth palms moving everywhere, touching and outlining her shape in
the darkness, the skin feeling itself traced and caressed so she
could see herself with her eyes closed, the smaller, graceful shape
and the curves she had somehow forgotten were her until now, when he
saw them, touched them, pulled her against him. The embrace defined
them both, his body all tense, hard muscles, the skin tickly with
hair, but the boundary between them gone.

There was only the smell of the
strawberries and the taste of them on her tongue, the warm, dark
motionless air that might never change at all, and this heartbeat and
this indrawn breath. But there was time because the feelings were
growing, moving down to her belly and thighs, too many breaths until
it grew into a longing, an ache, and he knew it. Then she was
relieved, so much better, happy, actually happy, out of time now
entirely, because if this feeling went on forever it would not be
enough, but it went on, and she heard her own breaths coming quicker,
and her voice coming out with them, and it was going to go on until
she was obliterated, burned up like a moth flying into a blast
furnace. And in this moment of wanting and having, that seemed just
fine to her… better, best. And then time came back because
this could not go on, was about to pass, not gasping for breath, but
filled with it, and then so light and cool, shivering almost and the
word
delicious
coming into her mind and passing away again
because contentment was too lazy and pleased to hold on to it.

They lay naked on the hillside
in the little space of flattened weeds, smelling the strawberries
again. She opened her eyes to extend the depth of her gaze far up
into the night sky.

For the first time in ages, she
heard his voice. “Were the strawberries what you wanted to show
me?”

“Sort of,” she
laughed. “It’s kind of a multidimensional experience. In
the old days, they used to court in strawberry patches.”

“I’ll bet it wasn’t
quite the same.”

“I’ll bet it was,”
she said. “See, they would slip out of their longhouses at
night and meet in a place like this.”

“I mean they didn’t
make love.”

“Of course they did.”
She laughed. “That was what they were doing out here in the
middle of the night. Maybe right here.”

“I can see why
strawberries grow on the way to heaven.” He ran his hand along
her hip, smoothing it gently. “Ripe and sweet and perfect and
rare.”

She sat up and looked at him
with a tiny hint of a wish. “Just the opposite. The reason they
were so precious was that they weren’t rare at all. They grew
from one end of Iroquois country to the other. No matter what, they
came up every May and ripened every June. They were easy –
always there, always as many as you wanted, and always just as good
as the first one you ever put on your tongue.”

He sat up and looked at her
closely, his eyes blue-gray and shining. “That was what you
wanted me to know.”

“You’re getting
better,” she said. “You have a shot at ‘Most
Improved Naked Man.’”

“I’d like to think I
was already smart enough to appreciate you, and never let myself
forget how special you are, even after a few years of getting our
strawberries in supermarkets like other people.” His hand moved
gently from her shoulder down her side to her hip, thigh, knee, shin,
foot. “But I’m glad you took me on the field trip.”

“Me too.”

He said quietly, “It’s
not like you to waste all this wisdom on the first naked man you meet
in a strawberry patch. To make it worthwhile, you’d almost have
to marry me.”

“Yes,” she said. “I
will.”

4

The
boardroom for Pleasure, Inc. overlooked the Polynesian water slide.
Somebody had once joked that the architect’s plans had been
folded and the contractor hadn’t noticed. It sounded true
because mistakes in Las Vegas were not little slipups that made a few
chips fall between the floorboards. They were hideous, gargantuan
blunders, like building a billion-dollar casino on ground that was a
foot lower than the adjacent square mile of parking lots, so the
whole place got inundated with water in a flash flood every five
years. But the location of the Pleasure Island boardroom had been no
mistake; it had been a suggestion from Calvin Seaver, vice president
for security.

Seaver stepped from the elevator
and stared out through the double layer of one-way glass at the
beautiful waterfall and the rocks and the lush tropical plants and
flowers. He saw a pair of boys – he guessed eight and ten years
old from the memory of his own boys – and then the father, a
guy in his late thirties with a little baby fat around his middle and
a U.S.N, anchor tattoo that showed he wasn’t troubled with neck
pains from holding up his brain. They stood on the platform ten feet
from Seaver, waiting for something. He guessed it was Mom. And there
she was. Not bad. A trace of cellulite in the haunches and sag in the
tits, but nothing for her to worry about. She plunked down at the top
of the slide with them, and all four went slipping down, around,
under the waterfall, and out of sight. Good for them.

Seaver was trained to feel a
presumptive hostility, watching the guests for some sign that they
were going to cause a need for his services, but the reason he was
the best was that he could tell the sheep from the goats. These were
sheep. They wouldn’t know how to cause trouble, because it
wasn’t in their nature. During their stay they would never know
that he was watching over them, protecting them while they played and
while they slept, making sure that nothing disturbed the artificial
tranquility around them.

Those four were evidence that
things were going beautifully. They would stay maybe five days. Mom
and Dad would get a taste of canned glamour and carefully controlled
risk. The boys would spend some time in the virtual-reality arcades,
getting the feel of paying money to get excitement, and ensure
Pleasure, Inc. of repeat business for the next fifty years. The
family would pay Pleasure, Inc. more than they spent on this year’s
taxes to their home state, and then they’d be gone.

The goats were different –
card counters and con men and shortchange artists and call girls and
pickpockets – always trying to fade in among the sheep, but
restless. He knew half of them by sight, but he didn’t need to.
He could detect it in their eyes the first time he saw them. They
were hungry. He had sensed something too eager in Pete Hatcher’s
eyes early on, but he had misinterpreted it. His mistake was in
accepting the bosses’ assurances that all Hatcher was after was
pussy.

He glanced at his watch and
moved on down the hallway. Seaver was probably the only one who could
see this part of the complex clearly when he looked at it. The
elevators and the long, narrow hallway gave his people plenty of time
and means to isolate anyone who had some business that wasn’t
on the board’s agenda. The double panes of one-way glass kept
anyone from amplifying the vibrations to pick up a conversation or
using any sort of photography. Being next to the water slide ensured
that nobody who wasn’t wearing a bathing suit could get close,
and anybody scanning with a directional microphone from a distance
would pick up the waterfall and eighty customers talking about
nothing.

It wasn’t the sort of
security that an underground room would have, but it had worked well
enough so far. What he was worried about these days was some kind of
futuristic emergency – some loser driving a car bomb through
the front entrance, or some Japanese cult releasing nerve gas in the
climate-control system. He had consultants working on
countermeasures, but so far nothing they had brought him was good
enough to bring to the big guys. All the plans involved lots of
rebuilding to make space for some strategy they could not guarantee
would work.

The big guys were never
reluctant to spend money on remodeling. What they hated was having to
shut anything down while they did it. But Seaver believed in outside
consultants, and he was confident that they would solve these
problems, one by one. Security was a matter of batting down specific
threats. Nothing worked all of the time for all purposes.

He opened the door to the
boardroom, stepped inside onto the thick carpet, and quietly took a
seat at the enormous rosewood table. The door closed silently behind
him. The automatic closer had been Seaver’s idea too. The time
when people were going in and out was a gaping breach in the room’s
integrity. Anyone who managed to defeat the other obstacles could
learn a lot by picking up a few seconds here and there and studying
what he had heard.

This time there was no meeting
of the Management Team. The only ones in the room were the big guys
themselves, Bobby Salateri, Max Foley, and Peter Buckley. They met
this way more often than people would think, to talk without the
twenty upper-level functionaries who ran housekeeping or finance or
public relations or security.

Peter Buckley first deigned to
notice Seaver. “Morning, Cal.”

“Peter,” said
Seaver. Then he added, “Bobby, Max,” as the others saw
him. Then he waited. They took their time, and it was a compliment to
him.

“Having water misters all
over the place is okay this year. It’s okay next year,”
said Salateri. “How does it look ten years from now? I mean
politically?”

“It’s not exactly
all over the place,” said Foley. “It’s just on the
golf courses. The sun shelters are already plumbed. It’s just a
matter of installing these little fixtures around the roof. That’s
thirty-six misters. They’ll make the players feel cool and
comfortable.”

“Yeah, I know,” said
Salateri. “It’s nothing, really. But every single time
some TV station does a report on wasting water I see footage of
misters over some hot dog stand.”

“The estimate says the
trees around the shelters will catch some of the water and the shade
will keep the mist from evaporating as fast. If there’s ever
rationing, it’s just that much more water grandfathered in.”

“That’s a point I
hadn’t thought of,” said Salateri. “I can buy it on
that basis. How about you, Peter?”

“Sure,” said
Buckley. “If things really get stupid, we’ve got
something we can give away: Pleasure Island shuts down misters to
save water.”

“I’ll have them go
ahead,” said Foley. He turned to Seaver. “Little problem
last night, huh, Cal?”

“Yes,” said Seaver.
“I wish I had some excuse. I don’t.”

“So where does that leave
us now?” asked Buckley.

“Hatcher wasn’t on
any flight leaving McCarran, or a train. A bus is too haphazard for
him. He undoubtedly drove out. If he had the sense to keep driving,
he could be in Chicago by now.” He reached into his breast
pocket. “My resignation is ready, if you want it.”

BOOK: Shadow Woman
12.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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