Art of Deception
By Ridley Pearson
Published by Hyperion
August 2002; 0786867248; 384 pages
She lay on her side, her head ringing, her hair damp and sticky. She understood that she should feel pain --- one didn't fall onto blacktop from a three-story fire escape without experiencing pain --- and yet she felt nothing.
She saw the Space Needle in the distance, regretting that she had gone up it only once, at the age of seven. Perhaps that had been the start of her fear of heights. Images from her childhood played before her eyes like a hurried slide show until she heard a car start and the first trickle of sensation sparked up her broken legs; she knew undeniably that this was only the beginning. When the floodgates opened, when nerve impulses reached their mainline capabilities, the pain would prove too great, and she would surrender to it.
For this reason, and a desire to glimpse the glimmering black mirror surface of Lake Union, she pushed herself off the pavement with her shaky right arm, its elbow finally propping her up.
She could feel her father's locked elbows on either side of her, smell his boozed-up breath, although he'd been dead in his grave for two years now. She shrank from the contact of sweaty skin, nauseated by his sour smell and the repetition of his needs, and sought sight again of the body of water that had been a kind of bedtime prayer for her.
She clawed herself high enough to catch a moonlike curve of shoreline, just to the left of a bent Dumpster, pitched toward its missing wheel, that loomed over her and made her think of a coffin.
The two white eyes that winked and quickly narrowed before her were not headlights, as she first had believed, but taillights, meant to keep drivers from striking objects in the their rear path.
"Stop!" But her faint voice was not to be heard.
Her head led the way to the pavement this time, and she answered the call of the pain.
Below her she saw the waters she had come to think of as her own, flat black like wet marble. Darkness punctuated by pinpricks of light swirled as he carried her away from the humming car to the bridge's railing.
She had no strength to fight, no will. Not even her acrophobia could power her to kick and claw for her life. Tears brimmed in her eyes, blurring any image of him, blurring the lights, blurring the boundary between the living and the dead.
In the next few moments, she would be both.
When he threw her over, it felt like the act of someone distancing himself from something undesirable, like hearing a rat in the garbage bag on the way out to the cans. But as she dropped, she though of a ballerina's majestic beauty; she saw herself as elegant and refined; she found a balance, a weightlessness that was surprisingly pleasant. And she wondered why she had feared heights all these years. This was the ride of a lifetime.
Daphne Mathews negotiated the aisle between the cots occupied by, among others, a spaced-out seventeen year-old methadone addict, a girl shaking from the DTs, and a street-worn fifteen-year-old seriously pregnant. With the continuing spring rains and cool weather, like mice and spiders, the young women migrated inside as conditions required.
The basement space held an incongruous odor: of mildew and medicine, spaghetti and meatballs. Bare bulbs, strung up like lights at Christmas tree sale, flickered and dimmed over twenty-some teens, two resident RNs, and two volunteers, including Matthews. This was the Shelter's third home in three years, a cavernlike basement space accessed via the Second Presbyterian Church, one of the five oldest structures still standing in Seattle. A thirty-block fire in 1880 had taken all the rest, just as the streets would take these girls if the Shelter ceased to exist.
For the past five months Matthews had doubled her volunteer time at the Shelter, less out of a sense of civic duty than the result of a combination of guilt and grief over the loss of a despondent teenage girl --- a regular at the Shelter --- who had taken her life. The girl, also pregnant, had jumped to her death from the I-5 bridge.
Matthews knew the young woman on the cot before her only as Margaret --- no surnames were used at the shelter. She asked if she could join her, and the girl acquiesced, less than enthusiastically. Mathews sat down beside her onto the wool blanket, leaning her back against the cool brick wall.
Sitting this close, Matthews could see a curving yellow moon of an old bruise that lingered on the girl's left cheekbone, an archipelago of knitted scars curving around the same eye. No doubt Margaret told people they were sports injuries or the result of a fall. She was fifteen going on forty.
"We spoke the other night," Mathews said, reminding the girl. The methamphetamine, booze, and pot wreaked havoc on the short-term memories of these kids. Not that they listened to the counselors anyway. They tolerated such intrusions only to serve the greater purpose of a warm mean, a shower, free feminine products, and a chance to wash their clothes.
"You're the cop. The shrink. I remember."
"Right, but here, I'm a counselor, and that's all. You were going to think about calling your grandparents."
"I wasn't thinking about it. You were."
"After five days you have to leave the Shelter for at least one night."
"Believe me, I know the rules."
"I don't like to think of you up there in the weather."
"That's your problem. I live up there." Defiant. An attitude. But behind the eyes, fear.
Matthews rarely lost her temper, though she could pretend to when needed. She debated her next move in what to her was a chess game that could make or break lives. "You can call for free. It doesn't have to be collect."
"I wouldn't mind getting out of here so much," the girl conceded.
Mathews saw an opening and seized it. To hell with the regulations. She pulled a Sharpie--- an indelible marker--- from her purse, grabbed hold of Margaret's forearm, and wrote out her cell phone number in letters the size of the top row of an eye test. Clothes came and went with these girls. Notes in pockets came and went. Forearms were a little more permanent.
"Day or night," Mathews said. "No questions asked. No police. You call me and it's woman to woman, friend to friend."
Margaret eyed her forearm, angry. " A tattoo would have lasted longer."
"Day or night," Mathews repeated and pulled herself off the cot with reluctance.
"Can I ask you something?" the girl asked.
"You think this place is haunted?"
Matthews bit back a smile. "Old yes. Creepy, maybe. But not haunted."
"Haven't you felt it?"
It wasn't the first time Matthews had heard this. "Maybe a little," she confessed.
"Like somebody watching."
"There's no such thing as ghosts," she said aware she was sounding like a schoolmarm. "The imagination is powerful. We don't want to mislabel it."
"But you've felt it, too," Margaret said.
Matthews nodded, stretching the truth. It took a long time to establish anything close to trust with one of these kids.
"I heard this place used to be a storeroom or something. Pirates, or smugglers, or something. Like a hundred years ago."
"I've heard it called lots of things: a slaughterhouse, a jail, a house of ill repute." She delivered this comically, and won the first signs of light in that face.
"Smugglers? Why not?" Matthews hesitated, unsure if she should leave it here---the first tendrils of rapport connecting them--- or drive home her point once more. "If you do call your grandmother, we have funding for transportation No one's kicking you out, you understand. But I want you safe, Margaret. The baby, safe."
The girl glanced around the room, uncomfortable. "Yeah," she said. "We'll see."
As Matthews reached the surface and her car, her police radio crackled. And the dispatcher announced a 342-a harbor water emergency--- a body had been spotted. The location was the Aurora Bridge. Matthews ran four red lights on the way there.Copyright © 2002 Ridley Pearson, Hyperion
Reprinted with permission. (back to top)
Friendship comes at a cost. For beautiful Mary-Ann Walker, who struggled with the challenges of a difficult family history, that cost proves to be her life. With Mary-Ann's past as its only guideline, the Seattle homicide unit must delve into the relationships between a misguided young woman, her family, friends and lover.
Let the psychological duels begin.
Seattle Police forensic psychologist Daphne Matthews, who volunteers as a teenage runaway counselor, is haunted by the loss of a suicide, a "jumper," of a year earlier. When a woman's body is found beneath the Aurora Bridge, Matthews is one of the first at the scene -- and begins a puzzling investigation that is entangled with the pasts of Matthews, the victim, and even Seattle itself.
Mary-Ann's boyfriend has a record of physical abuse, and an attitude that Matthews finds difficult to crack. When the victim's grieving brother surfaces, throwing blame onto the boyfriend and craving revenge, Matthews gains an unstable ally she does not want. Then the stalking begins: the eerie phone calls, the noises outside the house, the shadows that move in the night. Someone has their eye on Matthews -- but to stop her, kill her, or to help her solve the crime? While her colleagues, police lieutenant Lou Boldt and sergeant John LaMoia, pursue a hotel room peeper in hopes of solving a series of disappearances, the police and Matthews herself are led into the "Underground" -- a perfectly preserved city-under-a-city, hidden beneath present-day Seattle.
Faced with the stalking that is wearing her down and terrifying her, Matthews engages in a mental game of cat-and-mouse, never knowing whom she can trust. She knows that she is caught up in something that could kill her if she can't solve the homicide. Crisscrossing Seattle, diving below the streets to ancient tunnels, running for her life, Matthews must unlock the psychological secrets behind Mary-Ann's death, before she herself is buried alongside her. Matthews' very survival will depend on her skills at the art of deception.
Filled with the kind of research and an eye for detail that has made Ridley Pearson's novels national best sellers, The Art Of Deception takes his writing and plotting to a new level. Spine-tingling, fascinating, and impossible to put down, The Art Of Deception is a novel not quickly forgotten.
Ridley Pearson raised in Riverside, Connecticut was the first American to be awarded the Raymond Chandler/Fulbright Fellowship in detective fiction at Oxford University, and his novel No Witnesses was selected by the ALA as one the best fiction books of 1994. Pearson's Lou Boldt series is being produced as an A&E original movie. For eleven years, Pearson was on the road as a folk-rock musician and has been a member of the Rock Bottom Remainders along with Stephen King and Amy Tan. Pearson lives in Hailey, Idaho with his wife, Marcelle, and young daughter, Paige and their adopted daughter, Storey, from China.