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Authors: Thomas Perry

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Shadow Woman (7 page)

BOOK: Shadow Woman
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“Stick it in your ear,”
said Salateri. “This isn’t the fucking army, where you
get to resign your commission and hand in your sword and go write
your memoirs. We’ve got a parasite that could eat us alive. We
need you more than we did yesterday.”

“Thank you,” said
Seaver. It was the only thing Salateri had ever said to him that
could have been a compliment.

“How did he lose your
people?” asked Foley. “Maybe that’s the place to
start.”

“He met a woman at the
Inside Straight for the midnight lounge show. The Miraculous Miranda
picked him out of the audience, made him disappear a couple of times,
and brought him back. The last time, she didn’t. He probably
slipped out the stage door. My men got suckered. They followed the
woman and a decoy out of the show, then lost the decoy too. The woman
was a pro. She got them to watch her for an hour, then split them up
and cornered one of them in the elevator. She left him with a broken
leg, a broken nose, and some damage to his eye.”

“A professional what?”
asked Salateri. “Boxer?”

“I don’t know what
term she uses on her business cards,” said Seaver. “But I
don’t think Hatcher could have set this up for himself. I don’t
know what part in this Miranda played – maybe just picking him
out of the crowd was enough, and magicians will sometimes do that as
a favor if you send a waiter backstage and ask. Maybe – ”

“It doesn’t matter,”
interrupted Buckley. “I’m not about to start grilling
Miranda, and I hope you’re not.”

“Only if you asked me to,”
said Seaver. “If she knows anything, there’s no reason
for her to tell me, and no way I can make her. If the woman is a pro,
then Miranda probably doesn’t know much.”

Salateri shrugged and made a
face of distaste. “I’ll see if I can talk to Vincent.”
He sat quietly for a moment, then noticed the others staring at him.
“Why not? You think if Vincent Bogliarese wanted to do us harm
he’d do it this way – have his girlfriend sneak the guy
off in a puff of smoke? Get real. He’d send eight hundred guys
in shiny suits to pull our guts out and set fire to them.” He
added, to no one in particular, “I say that, of course, with
the greatest respect, and in confidence. The man is a friend of mine.
I’m not saying he’ll find out anything for us, but it
won’t hurt to ask.”

Max Foley looked at Seaver. “It
looks to me as though we really have to handle this ourselves, Cal.
This screw-up is yours, but the underlying problem isn’t. It’s
ours, the three of us. We picked out Hatcher, we misjudged him, and
we trusted him with a lot of things we shouldn’t have.”

“That’s right,”
said Buckley.

Salateri nodded sadly. “He
was smart, easy to be around, he behaved like a man. Now we’re
in trouble, and we don’t even know what kind.”

“We can guess,” said
Foley. “No matter what he thinks he’s going to do now, at
some point he’s going to end up in the hands of the F.B.I.”
He added, “Unless he doesn’t.”

Buckley leaned back in his big
chair. “Do we have anybody on our payroll who can take care of
this kind of problem?”

“No,” said Seaver.
“We’ve been very careful not to hire anyone like that
full-time. They’re not the sort of people you want to have
around year in and year out. Other employees figure out what they’re
there for, and so on.”

The three men sat in a row and
looked at him. “You’ve been in the security business for
a long time,” said Foley.

“And a cop before that,”
added Salateri.

Foley continued. “Yes. You
must know someone who would be able to do it. I mean a full-service
specialist, who can find him and handle the rest.”

“There’s someone I
can probably get,” said Seaver. This was going to be the
delicate part. He wasn’t sure they knew what this involved.
“I’ll need a lot of cash. Maybe a hundred thousand to
start, and more later.”

“Cash?” said
Buckley. “Well, hell, Cal. Cash is what we do. Go downstairs
and give this to Eddie.” He rapidly scribbled a note and handed
it to Seaver, who glanced at it: “Give Seaver whatever he
wants. P.B.” Buckley folded his hands across his belly. “Who
is this guy?”

“It’s a
Mickey-and-Minnie team. I’ll talk to them today.”

“Just don’t bring
them here,” said Salateri. “I don’t want to meet
anybody like that.”

“And if you’re going
to hire them, don’t call them from here, either,” said
Foley. “A year from now I don’t want some prosecutor
going down the hotel phone bills and finding their number.”

Seaver nodded. “Of course.
I’ll be flying to Los Angeles to talk to them in person. There
are just a couple of things I should tell you. They’ll give me
a price, but expenses will be on top of that.”

“This goes without
saying,” said Buckley. “What else?”

“Once they leave their
house, it’s done. I won’t be able to call them off.
They’ll keep at it as long as it takes, and they won’t
check in with me or be any place I can reach them. If we find out
tomorrow that Pete Hatcher was the most loyal employee the world has
ever seen, it’ll be too late. He’ll already be dead.”

“I guess this is the time
to ask.” Buckley looked at his two partners. “Are we all
sure we aren’t going to change our minds?”

“I’ll chance it,”
said Foley.

They both looked at Salateri. He
knitted his brows and held up both hands. “You know it would be
too bad if we were just being paranoid. I mean, an innocent guy
suddenly has his bosses decide he’s the enemy, and then they
get him tossed in a Dumpster somewhere. But he already knows we had
him watched, and he knows we were considering getting rid of him. If
he was our friend, he’s not anymore. What good would he be to
us now?”

Linda Thompson sat in her
bedroom and rubbed the creamy mask onto the perfect white skin of her
cheeks and forehead, staring into the lighted mirror. This one was
blue, and it left three small round holes for her eyes and mouth. The
white towel wrapped around her blond hair above her blue face made
her look ghostly in the intense glow of the makeup light. She walked
to the bed and lay down to wait. The blinds were closed, but the
window behind them open, so they clacked back and forth in the dry,
hot southern California breeze. She opened her robe and let the air
blow across her naked body while it dried the facial mask. She had
already covered herself with lotion, and the air made her skin
tingle.

Linda was beautiful. She had
never been anywhere since she was nine when somebody had not
mentioned it, or looked at her in a way that made mentioning it seem
like saying it twice. She knew it was the kind of beauty that was
startling, because it seemed to take up space of its own. It was the
initial premise of every transaction she had with other people. They
didn’t seem to understand that it wasn’t a gift. It was a
torment, because it was perfection, and maintaining perfection was a
lot of work. Linda hated work.

It was only eleven in the
morning and she had already done five point five miles on the
stationary bike, worked for an hour on the exercise machines, and
done a half hour in the pool. She knew she would have felt less
bereft now if she could have had four fried eggs and a half pound of
bacon, which was what Earl had eaten in front of her before he had
gone out to work the dogs. Linda had not eaten since the cracker and
asparagus last night, and Earl had thrown that nauseating mess into a
pan in front of her and set off a racket of sizzling and popping and
smelly grease. When she had said she didn’t want any he had
given that crooked smirk and eaten all of it himself. Wolfed it down,
was the expression, and it was made for Earl.

He was tall and lean with big
knuckles and a jaw that showed what he was: ten generations of white
trash in assorted depressing hollows out of God’s line of
vision in the South, and probably the ten generations before that
being the same thing in England, all twenty generations of them
screwing with people only one or two branches over on the family
tree, so they were all completely devoid of common consideration and
never gained an ounce.

The air seemed to tear itself
apart with a sound that wasn’t quite a bark but a scream. She
sprang from the bed amid low growls and the howl of the hound as it
turned to defend itself. Linda didn’t have the patience to run
down the hallway to the living room, into the dining room, and out
the door, so she raised the blinds, sat on the windowsill, swung her
legs out, and jumped to the grass. She sprinted toward the kennel,
muttering to herself, “He’s absolutely retarded.”

When she reached the high
chain-link fence she could already see the bloodhound backed into the
corner trying to keep the Rottweilers away from his hamstrings. His
left ear had been chewed, and there was blood dripping from his
muzzle.

Earl was standing in the corner
of the pen, absently rubbing the bristle of his unshaven chin as he
watched the big, heavy black dogs hurl themselves at the hound.

Linda spoke loudly enough for
him to hear. “Call them off, Earl.”

He turned slowly and looked at
her, but she didn’t wait. She barked,
“Halt! Aufhören
damit!”
The two Rottweilers stopped and backed up until
they were beside the fence.

“Oh, it’s you,”
said Earl. “The face didn’t ring a bell.” She
traced his line of vision and found herself looking down. She hastily
closed the robe and tied it.

“What are you doing?”
she asked wearily.

“Trying to see how two of
them work when they’ve got something cornered.”

“They bite the hell out of
it until it bleeds to death. What more could you possibly find out?”

“I wasn’t sure.
That’s why I did it. Now I know.”

“And?”

“It might come in handy
some time. I think I could beat two of them. Don’t know anybody
else who could.”

“So what are you going to
do with this thousand-dollar purebred bloodhound you brought home a
week ago? You can’t enter it in a show now that it’s all
chewed up. You can’t even put it out to stud.”

Earl glanced at the dog cowering
in the corner of the exercise yard, not daring to move. He shrugged.
“Science.”

Linda walked into the house and
opened the cupboard beside the sink. She pulled out the Heckler &
Koch .45 A.C.P. pressed the button at the rear of the trigger guard
to release the magazine, and checked it. She had to be sure Earl
hadn’t left it unloaded the last time he had pissed her off.
No, there was a full load often Federal Hydra-Shok hollow-points. She
slipped the big pistol inside her robe, clamped it there with her
left arm, and stepped out the door.

When she reached the kennel, he
had already let the bloodhound out of the pen into the run, and he
was busily giving the Rottweilers chunks of red steak. She walked
beside the fence of the long, narrow track to the spot where the
bloodhound was lying on its belly trying to lick some of the gashes
in its chest, but not really able to. She flicked off the safety,
pushed the muzzle of the pistol through the links of the fence, aimed
at the dog’s round, bony cranium, and blew it apart.

The report of the big pistol
brought Earl around the kennel into the exercise run. He looked at
her blue face with the staring eyeholes, but he didn’t speak.

She answered him anyway. “Any
vet who got a look at him would have called the police.”

He said, “You going to
bury that?”

She had already started back
across the lawn. Her blue mask had hardened, and now it burned
against her skin as she whirled and snapped, “You know
goddamned well I’m not”

Linda walked back into the
kitchen, released the magazine, and left the pistol on the counter
for Earl to clean. She knew if she cleaned it, he would clean it
again. In her bathroom, she gently washed the mask off and patiently,
thoroughly rubbed moisturizer from the tiny jar onto her face with
her fingertips, staring into the mirror over the sink.

That was Earl. She had no doubt
that he had figured out how to kill two Rottweilers attacking him at
once. But the part that made him Earl Bliss was that if he hadn’t
been sure, then tomorrow or the next day she would, likely as not,
find him out there in the pen with a Ka-Bar knife doing it. He was a
severe annoyance between jobs. He could not rest.

She knew that this afternoon he
would be out in the Angeles National Forest sighting in the new rifle
for the fourth time. It was a British Arctic Warfare suppressed
military sniper rifle with an olive-drab stainless-steel barrel and a
Schmidt & Bender 50-millimeter scope. Everything about it was
adjustable, from the pull and travel of the trigger to the recoil
absorption of the butt plate, so Earl would spend days and days
adjusting them. The plain A.W. military-issue model started at over
three thousand dollars, but the suppressed model with the silencer
was highly illegal and had probably set him back five times that,
because he had never told her what the Mexican cop had asked for it.
Earl always needed the latest and fanciest piece of equipment, and
then he had to take it completely apart and put it back together to
see exactly how it worked.

That combination of constant
self-improvement and morbid curiosity was what she would have
extracted as the most horrible part of Earl, but she could not even
hold that thought firmly, because it was also the best part of him.
And cutting things away from him wasn’t possible. Earl had no
surface, like other people: he was the same all the way through, like
a chunk of steel. All you could do was move your head to look at the
same qualities from different angles. That was how she had come to
love and hate him at the same time.

He looked at everything the same
– dismantling gadgets, testing the dogs to see how they worked,
or her. Every time he heard or read or saw something that could be
done to a woman’s body, he would do it to her, watching with an
expression between detached curiosity and, maybe she just hoped,
fascination, to see how it affected her: to see how she worked. The
result didn’t seem to matter to him in any emotional way. It
didn’t matter if he had her panting like a bitch in heat,
crawling to him and begging for more, or sent her whimpering into her
room to lock the door for three days. He didn’t take care to
repeat the good things to make her happy, or avoid things that would
remind her of something that had hurt her. He just wanted to see how
she worked.

BOOK: Shadow Woman
6.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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