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Authors: Thomas Perry

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Shadow Woman (8 page)

BOOK: Shadow Woman
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She had let him put her in a
dark mood, and now she began to construct a fantasy about him. He
would come in from burying the bloodhound. He would go to the sink in
the kitchen to wash his hands. She would come in behind him while his
hands were engaged and wet. She would put her left hand on his
shoulder softly to show him she didn’t give the dog issue undue
importance, then use it to tousle his hair while she freed her right
to reach into her robe.

But he was Earl, so it would
take him a half second to realize from the feel of her fingers or the
sound of her breathing that something was up. She knew she would not
be able to say anything or he would hear the tension in her voice.
She would use that half second to tighten her fingers on his hair,
jerk his head back, and bring the fillet knife across his throat. She
had been composing these little plays about him since she was in high
school, when she first went to work filing and running errands at his
detective agency, and as she had known it would, this one began to
change.

He would sense her excitement
instantly and give that little snort of a laugh as his right hand
shot up like a striking snake to catch her left. The knife was still
hidden under her robe, held there by the tie-belt on the outside, and
she was afraid it would fall out, so she turned away and leaned her
hip against the edge of the green marble surface of the island in the
middle of the kitchen to keep it there.

The move gave him an idea, so he
reached around her and pulled the belt of the robe so it opened, and
put his big hand between her shoulder blades. He pushed her forward
and she felt the shock of the cold, hard marble, first on her
breasts, and then her belly, and the hard corner of the marble
against her pelvis. She had no choice but to wriggle farther onto the
marble to keep the fillet knife flat under her belly so it wouldn’t
slice her open or clatter to the floor, only that brought her
buttocks up and parted her legs, and she had to hold herself
absolutely rigid to keep from moving against the blade. And he –

The ring of the telephone beside
her bed was like something breaking. She snatched the receiver off
the hook and punched the button that was lit. She was too annoyed to
see which number it was, so she said, “Linda Thompson.”

“Hello, Linda.” She
recognized the voice, and her anger began to turn into hope. “Can
you and Earl meet me someplace for lunch?”

A job, she thought. Thank God.

5

Linda
sat beside Earl in the front seat and watched each shopper pull into
the big parking lot, drive up and down a couple of aisles, coast
between two diagonal slashes of white paint, then go through the
ritual of checking the whole car: the mirrors to be sure the car’s
ass wasn’t hanging out far enough to get clipped, the passenger
seat to collect purses or glasses or hide a bag they bought in the
last mall from the smash-and-grab crowd, then the lock buttons. The
excruciating sameness of it was getting on her nerves. People were as
predictable as gophers. You knew the next three things they were
going to do before they did.

The car smelled like dogs, that
nauseating dog-food smell they exuded from every pore. Earl had used
the car instead of the truck again. She decided not to say anything,
because it would spoil the next hour.

Earl was brilliant in his own
way. Raising and training attack dogs was a great sideline for a
detective agency that didn’t do much business. In a city the
size of Los Angeles you could pick up any breed you wanted from the
pound for the price of the shots, which was up to sixty bucks now.
Some of them had papers. You trained the dog to sit, heel, shit
outdoors, and maul people, and you could sell it for fifteen
thousand.

But Linda was ready to work now,
and that was Earl’s fault too. He had trained her practically
from childhood to his rhythms. He was only really alive when he was
hunting. Between times he only played at it and got more and more
irritable.

Seaver was precisely on time, as
she had known he would be. He was one of those guys who seemed to see
himself as though he were still in the military. For the ones like
him, that wasn’t some kind of interruption in his existence but
his initiation into manhood. She saw him pull the rental car between
the diagonal lines, but he didn’t behave like the others. He
was out and walking as soon as the keys were out of the ignition. He
still carried himself straight, only now there was a little gray at
the sides of his short hair. The aviator sunglasses he used to wear
had been replaced with plain black frames, but the gray summer suit
with the bright white shirt still had that animal-in-clothes look
because it was cut too snugly and the collar was too tight, the way
the army had taught him to dress.

He got into the back seat and
Earl drove off. “Hello, Cal,” said Linda. “You’re
looking good.”

“You too,” said
Seaver. She knew that he had thought of a compliment, but he had
pressed his tongue against the back of his teeth because he had known
better than to say it in front of Earl.

“Let’s go to Ivy at
the Shore,” said Seaver. “We can talk business while
we’re on the freeway, and then eat in peace.”

“When’s your plane
out?” asked Earl.

“Four o’clock,”
said Seaver. “If I’m back in my car by three, I’ll
make it. If not, I’ll take another flight.”

As Earl accelerated down the
ramp onto the San Diego Freeway Seaver stared at the bottom of the
first overpass. Some time soon it was going to be a bad idea to
transact this kind of business on a freeway. Already the California
Department of Transportation had tried placing cameras on the
overpasses so when there was a traffic jam they could see what had
caused it. And lately thieves had put machines on the bridges to
capture cellular phone numbers and codes they could program into
clones. He opened his coat, took out a thick manila envelope, and
handed it over the seat to Linda. “In there is all the
information I have about a target I want found and taken out.”

Earl glanced at the unopened
envelope. “What is all that?”

“Photographs, a
surveillance videotape, two audiotapes – one on the phone, one
live – his employment history. I thought I could save you some
time.”

Earl smiled. “He must be
important.”

Seaver felt a distaste for the
tactics of bluff and baiter. “The price is going to be three
hundred thousand for him. We’ll cover legitimate expenses.”

“Hear that, Earl?”
said Linda. “No illegitimate expenses this time.”

“I mean,” said
Seaver, “that I’m not the client. I just picked you for
the job. If it’s too outrageous, the client is capable of
getting rid of me and hiring somebody else to deal with you.”

“I hear you,” said
Earl. “Why is this guy worth that much? Does he have something
I have to bring back, or what?”

“No,” said Seaver.
“He’s got information in his head. He can’t hand it
off or sell it, because nobody else can testify to what he saw. He’ll
have to be alive to do it.”

Linda smiled at Seaver and he
thought about what a strange creature she was. She had what used to
be called cupid’s bow lips, big, liquid green eyes. The smile
would have been merely beautiful if it had been prompted by something
else, but death seemed to excite her, and when her pulse went up the
eyes got more green and there was a delicate flush in the pure white
complexion. Her face was hypnotic, and the need to keep looking at it
was like an itch. “Smell something, Earl? A Green Beret, right?
No, I know. C.I.A. Forced retirement.” She turned the eyes
away, toward Earl, and the blond hair hid them like a curtain.

When she took the light of that
face away from him, the frustration made Seaver involuntarily suck in
a breath through his teeth. He quickly dispelled any hint that he had
been thinking about anything but business by blowing the breath out
through his lips in a contemptuous huff.

“The price is high because
the client doesn’t ever want to think about him again. I hire
you, and you handle it. The end,” said Seaver. “I don’t
think he’ll put up any resistance. But I have no idea where he
is. When he disappeared, he had professional help, so he’s
probably got reasonably good cover in place.”

“How long ago?”
asked Earl.

“Day before yesterday,
about midnight, he drove out of Las Vegas. We don’t know
anything about the car.”

“So the trail’s
cold. What about the professional help?”

“We don’t have much
on that, either. It was a woman, mid-twenties to thirty, tall, dark
hair, probably brown eyes, but there are two versions. Very fit.”

Linda laughed aloud, her voice
somewhere between a taunt and a seduction. “‘Very fit.’”
She imitated a man’s voice the way a child would have: “Have
I ever told you you’re very fit? I want to look deep into your
probably-brown eyes.”

“She beat the shit out of
one of my security men,” said Seaver. “But even he said
she was pretty. He didn’t volunteer it, because it wasn’t
what he remembered most about her, but he didn’t deny it.”

“She sounds interesting,”
said Earl.

“Oh, now I’m getting
jealous,” said Linda. The lips came together like a kiss in a
studied pout that Seaver knew should have been repellent but made him
wish that Earl were dead. She brightened again. “Got her on
tape, or any fingerprints? She might be the way to find him.”

“Sorry.”

“She would have been the
one to leave the car for him,” said Linda. Her voice was
wheedling now. “She was there before he left Las Vegas, and she
must have stayed somewhere.”

“I know,” said
Seaver. “I’ve had my men watching surveillance tapes for
twenty-four hours, and she hasn’t turned up. The first time
anybody saw her was the night she took off.”

Earl Bliss swung onto the Santa
Monica Freeway and watched his rearview mirror. Nobody in a car
behind them seemed to change his mind and follow. The others said
nothing while he pretended to be considering the offer. After a
decent interval he said, “We’ll get started on it after
lunch.”

*
* *

It
was after dark. Linda could hear him out in the kennel, giving the
dogs their dinner. She had already heard him call Lenny on the phone
and tell him they were leaving and to pack up and move in at seven in
the morning. Linda walked through the house to make sure everything
was as it should be. Windows had to be closed, valuables hidden away,
checks written for the bills. She took the Heckler & Koch .45 out
of the cabinet by the kitchen sink and the Para-Ordnance P-14s from
the bedrooms, the den, and the garage and locked them in the gun
cabinet behind her closet. Lenny would just stumble onto one of them
and blow a hole in something. If he had some kind of trouble while
they were gone, he would be more likely to survive it with the gun he
always brought with him. Anyway, with a couple of the dogs running
the perimeter he’d be safe enough. Nobody cared enough about
Lenny to kill him.

Earl always left most of the
packing to Linda, because she was the woman. She supposed that meant
she was too fastidious to put dirty clothes in by mistake.

She heard his heavy feet on the
walk outside, then heard them clomping into the hallway. She called,
“You want to take these Colts, right?”

He came in and looked at the
pistols she had taken out of the gun cabinet and set on her dresser.
They were Colt Model 1911A Is, the most common handgun in the United
States, and probably the world. Colt had made them since 1925, over a
million of them during World War II alone, and other manufacturers at
least that many. The government had kept issuing them for forty years
after that, and every army and police force in the Western world had
carried some copy with minor variations. The sheer age meant the cops
had lost track of most of them long ago, and ballistics
identification was a fantasy. Seven .45 rounds were plenty if you
didn’t plan to have anybody shooting back, and the bulk of the
gun was only a problem on the way. You could drop it after it was
fired.

Earl said, “These will do
fine.”

She could tell by the look on
Earl’s face that it was time for the ritual to begin, so she
started. “I’m worried.” She had to be the one who
said the first words, because he liked it that way.

“There’s a lot to
worry about,” he said. “This is a big job, and it won’t
be easy.”

“I could tell as soon as
Seaver started talking,” she fretted. “He didn’t
want to look in my eyes. You spent the afternoon on the computer.
Didn’t you find anything?”

He pursed his lips and shook his
head. “Seaver didn’t miss much. No criminal record. No
marriages, no out-of-town property. The only car he owned is the one
that’s still there. I found court records for probate when his
old man died. He inherited a few bucks, and there were no other close
relatives mentioned in the will.”

Linda frowned. “Not much
for us there. It will be hard.”

“But this is one we’ve
got to win,” he said. “The money is good. If we do this
one, it will get better on the next one.”

“If we blow it, Seaver’s
bosses will send somebody to look for us.” She knitted her
brows. “He as good as said that, didn’t he?”

“It’s a Las Vegas
hotel. It’s got to be Mafia.”

“Got to be,” she
agreed. “We do it right and we get lots of jobs and lots of
money. We fail – don’t find him, or try, and botch it –
and they’re not going to leave us alone.”

“It’s an important
job. More important than anything we’ve ever done. Life or
death.”

It was working, and Linda could
feel it. Already her breaths were quick and shallow, and her stomach
had little quivers in it. The adrenaline was pumping into her veins.
She could see Earl’s eyes were beginning to get that narrow
long-distance gaze. She searched for a way to turn up the pitch, and
found it. “We’re starting out dead, really. Because they
already have us – know who we are, where we live. They’ll
kill us unless we get him.”

BOOK: Shadow Woman
7.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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