Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sacrifice (excerpt)

Catch My Drift 

         I drove the Crown Vic to the ambush site. Joan had tossed me the keys without a word after we rented the motel room. She climbed into the passenger side, her face drawn and haggard. She sagged for a moment against the door before struggling half-heartedly into her seatbelt.
“You think Pink's one of them?” I said, trying to inject energy into my voice to counter the sense of defeat Joan conveyed.
“I think Gladys is. I've never trusted her.” Her voice was flat and she didn't bother to look at me. I waited for more, and when it became apparent she was finished speaking, I said, “Why?”
Now she turned her head and looked at me. She was frowning and one side of her mouth was stretched in a sneer. This told me she found my question irritatingly stupid, and, upon reflection, I had to agree. I added, “I mean, why always? I suspect her now, too, obviously because of her unusual disappearance and what's been happening since...”
Joan interrupted my rambling. Her face had relaxed some, and the sneer was gone. “I can't put my finger on it,” she said. “There was just something about her. The way she sort of glommed onto Pink, wrapped him around her pinky haha. Too much personality, too manipulative for someone who's supposed to be a nerd.”
“Woman's intuition?” I regretted it soon as I said it. It won me another sneer.
“How about just plain intuition? Or maybe a cop's sixth sense?” I kept my eyes on the road ahead. She let her words hang awhile, then added, “OK, maybe you're right. She definitely has a way with men that...I wouldn't call it jealousy, but I found it annoying how easily she handles men and how obvious she is about it. And maybe it doesn't have a damned thing to do with what we have now.” She sighed and I could see one of her shoulders lift in a shrug.
“It might have made you more observant of her, you know, if you don't trust somebody, or even if you just don't like them you're apt to watch them a bit more closely.”
“I suppose I did.”
“So maybe you'll remember something you noticed but it didn't mean anything at the time and now it'll be like finding a piece to a puzzle, you know?”
“You read too many mysteries, Al. Or is it TV? You never used to watch TV.”
“Never had time. Don't watch it much now.”
“I caught you reading a mystery once in your office, before I 'died'.”
“I remember that, Joan. You needled me about it, too.”
“I did. Said I'd tell Ruth you needed more to do. I think I can even remember the name of the book. Something with a song title...wait, don't tell me...Bad Moon Rising! Ha! Am I right? I am! That's what you were reading!”
“Wow, talk about a cop's memory! That was a while back, too. You got it. Bad Moon Rising. One of Ed Gorman's Sam McCain series. Set in Iowa. I've read 'em all.”
“I had a crush on John Fogerty. Still do, truth be told. Creedence.” She reached to the dash and ran her fingers over the buttons. Finally looked up at me, smiling. “Know how to turn this radio on?”
“I haven't a clue, Joan. There should be a power button there somewhere.”
She fussed some more and finally gave up. “We need a child here to show us how. Kids know all that tech stuff.”
She'd gotten fidgety, squirmed in her seat, looked out the windows as if trying to be casual, but her movements were abrupt. Were she a smoker I'd've figured that was the problem, that she needed a cigarette.
“You don't smoke, do you, Joan?”
She turned her head, frowning. “You ever see me with a cigarette, Al?”
“No, but that could mean you're just careful. It was just a question. You seem antsy.”
She barked a laugh. No mirth. “I'm worried. Are you surprised?”
“That sounds a little defensive, Joan. I guess I am surprised in a sense. You're usually the cool professional.”
“I'm usually driving.”
“Hey, you want the wheel, it's yours. You tossed the keys, remember?”
“I was fucking tired, OK? I'm still tired. And worried, but I'm OK. Don't be worried about me, Al.” After a long pause she said, her voice still strained but not as cutting, “Al, what the fuck's going on?
“It's Liz, isn't it.”
“Did you say 'Liz'?”
“I did.”
“So what are you trying to say, Al? Why don't you just come out with it?”
“An odd choice of words.”
“Oh, shit. Al. What the fuck?”
“What, you don't trust me?”
“Al, Jesus Christ. Gimme a break, huh?”
“Why don't you come out with it, Joan? It's just you and me.”
“Goddammit, Al...LOOK OUT!!”
       We'd come up too fast behind a farm truck loaded with implements. The truck was pooping along. Before I realized the difference in our speeds it was too late to do anything but whip the steering wheel and get around it, hoping the damned truck driver wouldn't try to swerve into the lane to let me by, thereby guaranteeing I'd hit the sonofabitch as we both swerved, and likely kill us both.
We were lucky the road was dry. It shouldn't have been. It was late April and what looked to be another nasty storm front had been inching up from the west all afternoon. Whipping the Crown Vic in a sharp maneuver on wet asphalt would have sent us spinning into an existential future Mother LaMarr, Palmist & Crystal Ball Gazer Supreme, could have forecast in naught but a mushroom dream. As it was, horns blasted, tires scritched and oaths gasped, and in an instant we were around the clog and I could see a middle finger extended out the truck driver's window in my mirror. My nervous laugh was not shared.
“Jesus Christ, Al, maybe I should drive.”
“Asshole was going too slow. I'da been alone I'da rammed his ass.”
“Oh, big bad Al, huh? So what was it you were asking me before you lost control of the car?”
“I didn't lose control.”
“You sure as hell did. You recovered quickly and you – we – were lucky, but if you'd been paying attention you'd have seen that asshole in time to avoid scaring the piss out of me.”
“Really what?”
“Secret Service Agent Joan Stonebraker pees pants in harrowing highway...something or other. I tried journalism before I got into law. Couldn't get the hang of headlines.”
“Don't change the subject. You know I know all that. It was me had to vet your skinny ass when you came on board. I know more about you than your shrink does. So you want me to come out to you, huh? Right here, right now?”
“Why not?”
“Because my sexuality is none of your god damned business, that's why.”
“Who's talking business? I was just...”
“What, you hitting on me?”
“Not if...”
“Oh, shit! 'Not if!' What a chickenshit thing to say. You hitting on me or not? Out with it!” She was grinning now.
“Well, Joan, that grin does tell me quite a lot.'s telling my libido quite a lot, if you catch...”
“I catch. Keep it down for now, cowboy, OK? Let's finish the mission. We can explore this new development, the development is still developed, if you catch my drift, and if there is a later.” She patted my thigh. High enough. I was grinning now, too.

Download Sacrifice for 99¢ at Amazon

No comments:

Post a Comment