Authors: Laurie R. King
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Thrillers, #Suspense
By the same author
Kate Martinelli novels
TO PLAY THE FOOL
A GRAVE TALENT
Mary Russell novels
A MONSTROUS REGIMENT OF WOMEN
THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE
FOR MY SISTER, LYNN DIFLEY,
AND ALL HER FAMILY
When a writer of fiction makes shameless use of actual institutions, such as the Green Tortoise bus company or the police departments of various jurisdictions, it may be necessary to point out that the actual people affiliated with them and the fictional characters presented in the story are two separate things.
The real people are much more helpful and infinitely more efficient.
A book, like any other child, is a communal project. I would like to thank the members of my community for their help with this one, particularly Barbara Kempster and Leila Lawrence.
So it was settled:
Jules would come and stay with Kate from the wedding until New Year's.
With one adjustment to the plan.
On the phone, the afternoon before the wedding, Kate talked to her partner at his house on the other side of town.
"Al, I was thinking. If it's all right with you and Jani, I thought Jules and I might go north for a few days over Christmas. Maybe as far as Washington."
"To see Lee?"
"Possibly. If we feel like it. I had a letter from her last week, asking me to come to her aunt's island for Christmas if I could get it off."
"Does she know you're on leave?"
"She doesn't know anything. I didn't tell her about the shooting, or that I got hurt. I didn't want to worry her, and once I got out of the hospital, it didn't really seem like something I could put in a letter, somehow. She did say she was sorry not to make it to your wedding, that she's writing you and sending you a present."
"Are you two about to break up?" he asked bluntly.
"Jesus, Al, you do ask some good ones, don't you? I don't know. I just don't know anymore. I don't even know if I care. I haven't even talked to her in four months, just these damn stupid cards of hers. But there won't be any scenes, if that's what you're worried about. I wouldn't take Jules into that. If we do go - and I really haven't made up my mind one way or the other - then we'd just go for the day, maybe overnight, depending on the ferry schedule, but then we'd leave and go do something else. Does Jules ski?"
"Better than I do. Which isn't saying much, I admit."
"Maybe we could go to Rainier or Hood, then. If Jani approves."
"I'll talk to her, but I doubt she'll have any problems with it. Do you want the car?"
"I'm going to take the Saab off its blocks. And if driving turns out to be a problem, we'll come home. I'm not going to risk passing out or anything while I'm driving Jules. You know that, Al. I'd never put Jules into danger. Never."
Kate came awake to a question. She lay inert for a few seconds until it was answered, by the familiar groan of the Alcatraz foghorn, seemingly a stone's throw from the foot of her bed. Home. Thank God.
Fingers of sweet sleep tugged at her, but for a moment she held herself back, mildly, dutifully curious. Funny, she thought muzzily, I wouldn't have thought that noise would wake me up. I hear it all summer, like living inside a pair of asthmatic lungs, but the only time I noticed it was when they tried replacing it with that irritating electronic whine. The telephone? Don't think it rang. If so, it's stopped now. Let them call back at a human hour. The neighbor's dog? Probably the dream, she decided, which had been stupefyingly tedious even to a sleeping mind, a cop's variation on the 'moving luggage from one place to another - Oh God, I've lost one' theme, involving the transfer of prisoners, one at a time, from cell to hallway to van to hallway to cell, each step accompanied by forms and signatures and telephone calls. Better than the hell of the last few days, she thought, but thank God I woke up before I died of boredom. Poor old gray cells too tired to come up with a decent dream. Back to sleep.
She reached up and circled her right arm around the pillow, pulled it under her with a wriggle of voluptuary delight, reached back over her shoulders for the covers and pulled them over her head, and let go, deliciously, slippery as a fish into the deep, dark, still pond of sleep.
Only to be snagged on the viciously sharp point of the doorbell and jerked rudely up into the cruel air. Her eyes flew open. Seconds later, the message reached the rest of her body. Sheets and blankets erupted, feet hit the carpeting, hand reached for dressing gown and found only the smooth wood of the closet door, reached for suitcase and found it still locked tight, reached for keys and found - she waved the search away in a gesture of futility. From behind a pair of swollen, grit-encrusted lids, her eyes steered two distant feet through the obstacles of strewn suitcases, clothing, boots, jacket, toward the stairs, and all the while she was mumbling under her breath.
"It's Al, bound to be, I'll kill him, where's my gun? Hawkin, I'm going to blow you away, you bastard, I'm not on duty 'til tonight, and here you are with your jokes and your doughnuts at dawn" - she picked up the bedside clock, put it down again - "near enough dawn. Christ, where'd I put those keys? Why'd I lock the goddamn suitcase anyway, it was only in the trunk of the car, here's my gun, I could shoot off the lock, cutesy little padlock, break it off with my teeth. Oh, the hell with it, most of me's covered, it's only Al. No, it can't be Al; he's off with Jani somewhere, that conference with the name. Not Al, must be the milkman, ha, funny girl, just as likely to be a dinosaur or a dodo or - Christ Almighty!" This last was delivered in a shout as the sleeve of a denim jacket, discarded a very few hours before in the process of unburdening herself to fall into bed, caught at her bare ankle and tried to throw her down the stairs. She deflected herself off the newel and landed on all the knobs of the chair of the electric lift, which, as her last act before leaving the house, Lee had sent back up to the top, out of the way - an action Kate had thought at the time was merely thoughtful, but which, at some point during the last few days, she had decided was symbolic. Disentangling herself from the contraption and rubbing her left thigh, Kate limped down the stairs, muttering and unkempt as a street person, a young, muscular, well-fed street person wearing nothing but a navy blue silk tank top, a pair of Campbell plaid flannel boxer shorts, and a thin gold band on the ring finger of her left hand.
She flipped on the door viewer and was surprised to see only the small porch and the street beyond. No, wait - there was a head, the top of a head of dark hair bisected by a perfect sharp part. A child. Kate reached out both hands to turn bolt and knob.
"Look, kid, if you're out here at this ungodly hour selling Girl Scout cookies, I'm going to report you to... Jules? Is that you?"
The child on her doorstep nodded, a subdued movement so unlike the daughter of Jani Cameron that Kate had to lean forward to examine her. She wore a white T-shirt with some kind of foreign writing on it, cutoff shorts, sandals, and a backpack hanging from one thin shoulder; her glossy black hair was in its usual long, tight braids, and she had a Band-Aid on her left knee and a tattoo on the right - no, not an actual tattoo, just a drawing done in blue ink, smudged and fading. Her skin was browner than when Kate had seen her last, in the winter, but it had an odd tinge to it, Kate noted, and a strange, withered sort of texture.
"What's wrong with you?" she asked sharply.
"I just needed to see you, Casey. Kate. Do you think I could come in? It's kind of cold out here."
Kate realized simultaneously that she was huddled behind the door more from self-protection than from modesty, and that the reason the child looked so gray and pinched was that she was half-frozen, shivering and damp in the dripping fog on this lovely late August morning in sunny California. Perceptive of you, Martinelli, Kate told herself as she stood back to let Jules in. Just call me Shirley Holmes.
"It was warm when I left this morning," said Jules apologetically. "I forgot about the fog you get here. It comes over the hills like a giant wave, doesn't it? A tsunami, it's called, a tidal wave. It looked like it was about to crash down and wipe out everything from Palo Alto on up. It's the heat inland that brings the fog, you know. I read an article on it; it's a cycle, a cyclical thing, heating up, the fog coming in, cooling off, and then there's a few clear days while --"
During this informative monologue, Kate led her visitor into the kitchen, switched on the electrical baseboard radiator and waved her hand at the chair nearest it, walked over to the coffee machine, abandoned that, and went out of the kitchen (Jules raised her voice but did not slow down a fraction), coming back with the tan alpaca throw rug that lived on the back of the sofa, dropped it on Jules's lap, then returned to the coffeepot, where she went like an automaton through the familiar motions of beans and grinder, filter and water before switching it on and standing, one hip against the counter and arms akimbo, completely oblivious of Jules's voice, watching with unfocused eyes as the brown liquid began to trickle out into the carafe, the gears of her mind unmeshed, idling, blessedly near to stillness, to sleep...
"Are you angry, Kate?"
Startled into awakeness, Kate turned and nearly knocked a coffee mug from the edge of the counter.
"Jules! Hi. Yes. No, I mean, I'm not angry. Why should I be angry?"
"You looked annoyed when you opened the door. I must've gotten you out of bed."
"All kinds of people get me out of bed. No, I'm not angry. Are you warmer now? Want something hot to drink? You probably don't like coffee."
"I like coffee, if you have milk and sugar."
"Sure. Ah. This milk doesn't look very nice," she noted as the watery blue blobs slid from the carton into the cup. She squinted at the due date. "Looks more like yogurt. I don't suppose you want yogurt in your coffee? Doesn't smell very nice, either."
"No, thank you," said Jules politely. "Black with sugar will be fine, but just half a cup, please."
"Fine, fine," said Kate, and nodded half a dozen times before she caught herself and took the milk carton and the mug to the sink to empty them. She rinsed the mug, dumped the milk down the drain, pushed the carton into the overflowing garbage can under the sink (hurriedly closing the door), then took out sugar, spoon, and another mug, and resumed her position in front of the gurgling, steaming coffeemaker, watching the coffee dribble slowly, hypnotically out.
"Are you all right?" interrupted the voice behind her. Kate's head snapped upright again.
"Yes, of course. Just not awake yet."
"It is nearly nine o'clock," said Jules in mild accusation.
"Yes, and I went to bed at five. I haven't been sleeping well lately. Look, Jules, are you just here for a friendly visit? Because if so, I'm not very good company."
"No. I need to talk to you. Professionally."
Oh hell. Kate scrubbed her face with both hands. A lost dog or a playground bully. The neighbor exposing himself. Do I need this?
"I wouldn't bother you if it wasn't important. Weren't. And I have tried the local police."
"Okay, Jules, I'm not going to throw you out. Just give me ten minutes to jump-start the brain and then I'll put on my cop hat for you."
"I didn't think homicide detectives wore uniforms."
"A feeble attempt at humor." She poured the coffee into two mugs and carried both of them out of the room. "There's food if you want, Jules," she called from the stairs.
A minute later, Jules heard the shower start. At twelve, she was, both by nature and through her mother's distracted style of nurturing, quite able to look after herself. She stood up and folded the alpaca throw neatly over the back of the chair, and began a systematic search of the kitchen cabinets and drawers. She found half a loaf of rock-hard French bread and some eggs in the refrigerator, a few strips of bacon in the freezer compartment, a bowl and a frying pan behind the low doors, then began with deliberate movements to assemble them into breakfast. She had to lean her entire weight against the Chinese cleaver to chop the bread into something resembling slices, and substitute frozen orange juice concentrate for the milk, but she had just decided that necessity may have given birth to an interesting invention when a ghastly noise from upstairs, half shriek and half growl, froze her arm in the motion of shaking nutmeg into the bowl. Before the noise had faded, though, she resumed, realizing that Kate was only reacting to a stream of suddenly cold water. Al made the same sorts of noises in the shower sometimes, though not quite so loud. When she had asked about it, he told her that it helped him wake up. She'd never had the nerve to try it herself, and reflected that it must be something they taught you at the Police Academy. She found a sugar bowl and added a large pinch to the beaten eggs.
Kate bounded down the stairs a few minutes later and burst into the kitchen.
"God, it smells like a Denny's in here. What have you been making?"
"There's a plate of French toast for you, if you want it, and some bacon. I couldn't find any syrup, but there's warm honey and jam and powdered sugar."
Kate swallowed five thick slices and more than her share of the bacon, stopping only because Jules ran out of bread. She ran the last corner of the eggy, buttery fried bread through the pool of liquified honey, put it into her mouth, and sighed.
"I take back the insult. It smells like heaven and tasted like paradise, and what do I have to do to pay you back for it?"
"It's your food, you don't have to pay for it."
"Wrong. Rule one of being an adult: Nothing in life is free. So, what do you want, how did you get here, and do people know where you are?"
"I took the bus and walked from the station. I actually thought I'd have more trouble, because I've only been here once, but your house is easy to find from downtown. You just walk uphill."
"Well, that answers the least of the questions, anyway. Do we need to make a phone call so somebody doesn't report you missing?"
"Not really. I left at my normal time this morning - I'm going to a summer school course at the university on writing software. It's really interesting, and I'm sorry to miss today because we work in teams, so I'm wasting my partner's time, but he's always got something of his own he can do. He's a genius - a true genius, I mean, his IQ's even higher than mine. He sold a game to Atari when he was ten, and he's working on another version of it now, so he won't worry or anything if I don't show up. In fact, he might not notice; he has a strange sense of time when he's working. Anyway, nobody expects me home until three or four. Mom arranged for me to have dinner with the family next door while she's gone, and their daughter Trini, who's only two years older than I am and a real airhead - but because she's older, they think she's somehow magically more responsible - she stays the night with me. May I use your bathroom?"
"Huh? Oh, sure, it's under the stairs there."
Kate, detective that she was, had caught the one relevant fact as it shot past her, that she had six hours to return this short person back to her proper place. She began to shovel the breakfast things in the musty-smelling dishwasher, pausing first to pour the last of the coffee into her cup. Not that caffeine would enable her to keep up with Jules Cameron. Cocaine, maybe. Although, come to think of it, Jules had changed in the last year. Physically, of course: She was nearly as tall as Kate now, and she wore a bra between her T-shirt and the nubs on her chest. More than that, though, was her attitude: At eleven, she had brazened out her turmoil - braces, brains, no father, and a long-distance move could not have been easy - with an almost comic maturity, even pomposity, to her speech. That seemed to have been toned down, either by design or because she'd grown out of the need. Kate hoped the latter - it would be a pity to have this little gem shove her light under a basket because of the lesser minds around her. Particularly, Kate reflected, those inhabiting male bodies. Jules must be getting to the age where these things mattered.
She finished loading the dishwasher, turned it on, and went out into the living room, where she found Jules looking out into the fog, where the neighbor's garden was beginning to materialize.
"Was it this window?" Jules asked. It took an instant to click.
"The one above you." She watched Jules step back to peer up, then retreat farther until she could see the branches that had held the SWAT marksman on a night eighteen months earlier.
"From that tree?"
"It wasn't Al, was it? Who shot... that man."
"Of course not."
"I didn't think so. I mean, I was young then, and I sort of imagined it was Al up in the tree, even though I knew it wasn't."
"Al doesn't climb trees. It's in his contract. So," she said sharply before Jules could inquire about contract clauses or ask to see the bloodstains that lay, all but invisible to any eyes but Kate's, three inches to the right of her foot, hidden beneath the new Tibetan carpet, "what is it you want me to do for you? 'Professionally.' "