By Marcia Muller
Published by Warner Books
May 2002 in paperback; 0446611360; 338 pages
Things look different when you're scared. And I'm scared now. Little Chryssie's scareder than she's been her whole life. Jude told me I'd never get away with it, but I thought I had, and then somebody saw me up there in all those trees, and now this damn Mercedes is dead on the coast highway where my cell phone won't work. God, I'm in trouble. Making Jude right. Again. Always.
Yeah, things look different. On the drive up from where I stayed outside San Francisco last night-not a lot of miles, but over four hours on these twisty roads--the sea was pretty, sparkly, deep blue. Made me feel good. Still is pretty, but now I don't want to look at it. All I can think is that people drown in there. And the pines in the canyon-walking through them, I felt like a little girl in church. Then the memories came back, and I felt like a little girl, all right. But not in church. No way.
Jesus, this is an awful place to break down. Turnout, but it's on a blind curve, and I could just barely get the car off the road before it conked out for good. Middle of nowhere, nothing on the bluff but pampas grass and burned trees from when they must've had a forest fire. Nothing but more trees on the other side of the highway. Dead-looking truck over by the fence.
Lots of traffic, but nobody'll stop to help me. Hood's up, they can see I'm broke down, but does anybody give a shit? No. They just keep zooming by in their sports cars and campers and SUVs, having a good time. Acting like I don't exist.
Sheriff 's car. Woman driving. For sure she'll stop. Nope. She's around the curve already. Gone. Our tax dollars at work, like Leo used to say. Well, not my tax bucks. Little Chryssie don't pay no taxes in California.
So what do I do now? I'm a great big target sitting here by the highway. Whoever saw me in the canyon knows what I look like, maybe what the car looks like, but I didn't see them. They could drive right up and I wouldn't know who they were or what hit me. I could be dead before-
Damn this car! Damn it!
Okay, come on, calm down, think now. You're not playing this smart.
Maybe they didn't see me clear up there. Or see what I was doing. And even if they did, it might not've meant anything to them. Just because somebody hollers at you...
Two choices. Stay by the car and take my chances. Walk away and maybe take a bigger chance. Two choices, but either way the first thing to do is lose the evidence. Lose it good like it was before.
So what've we got here? Pampas grass, big clump of it. Stuff just takes over, specially along this part of the coast. What did Jude always say about that? Something to do with the plants being scouts for an alien life-form, staking out the edge of the continent for the arrival of the mother ship. God, she could be weird sometimes! She said she did it on purpose to drive us crazy, but I think it might've been the dope talking.
Well, aliens got no use for what I'm gonna hide here. This pampas grass is fine for what I got in mind.
Somebody coming! Cover it fast. There, that's good, real good. Where the hell are they? Oh, over there by the cliff. Oriental guy and a white girl, climbing up the slope with a big cooler between them. They're fighting. Wind's blowing this way, I can hear every word. She says he's paranoid about Fish and Game. He tells her to shut up. She says she used to think things weren't working out between them because of their cultural differences, but now she knows it's because he's an asshole. Jesus, they sound like Jude and Leo.
I could hide here till they're gone, but maybe they'll call a tow truck for me. Leave a message for Jude that I got in and out okay, too. That way I wouldn't have to take my chances hitching on the highway. If they ask, I'll tell them I came down here to take a pee.
It's getting cold, even inside the car with the windows rolled up. Better dig that sweater outta the trunk. Jesus, I wish the tow truck would come.
Keep on wishin'. Pretty woman with the weird Oriental guy said it might take two hours. Don't they have Triple A garages up here in the boonies? Don't their cars ever break down? That old pickup of theirs looked like it was ready to.
Oriental guy sure acted spooky. Wonder if he saw what I was really doing in that clump of pampas grass. Nah, they were too far away, dragging that big cooler. Bet they had something illegal in there. Drugs off some boat outta Mexico? Nah, nobody'd make a drop while it's still light. Didn't the girl say something about Fish and Game? I read someplace there's a lot of abalone poaching going on up here. Bet that's what they were doing. Take more than the limit, sell it to some restaurant, make big bucks.
That's okay, though. None of my business. What matters is they said they'd make my calls. Meantime the evidence is gone till I can come back for it. And little Chryssie's just a dumb tourist with car trouble.
Dumb, anyway. Real dumb.
A pickup, and it's slowing down. Old man driving. Slowing down some more... yeah, to stare at my ass while I'm leaning into the trunk. I don't believe it! See anything you like, buddy? Now he's speeding up. Old fool doesn't know I'd be happy to give him a piece if he'd help me.
Wish I'd packed warmer clothes, but how could I know it'd be so fuckin' cold on the coast? Was even warm in San Francisco. Lucky I dragged this old sweater of Leo's along.
There, that's better. I love this sweater. Hangs all the way down to my knees. I'll crawl in the car, lock the door, wait.
Weird how the fog blows south, curls around the point, heads back north at me. Ugly, dirty-looking stuff. Makes me feel lonesome. Well, what's new about that, Chryssie? When haven't you felt lonesome?
At least I'm warm now, even though I'm scareder than ever. It's the dark coming on that's spooking me. The dark and the fog and every set of headlights that flashes round the bend. There's no radio reception and I forgot to bring any tapes along and I sure as hell don't want to think about the stuff I remembered in the canyon.
An unexamined life is not worth living, Chrystal.
Jude's voice. It's like she came along inside my head. She was always nagging at me with lines like that, but I never noticed her doing any deep thinking of her own. And besides the canyon, what is there to think about? Leo, long dead and all I've got of him is this ratty sweater? Jude, sick and needing me like I never needed her? Dave, who's into bondage, or John, who talks about killing his parents, or Timothy, who always cries? Sean, who seriously likes to hurt women? The other pathetic middle-of-the-night voices?
No, thanks. I'd rather count cars on the highway.
Camper, going north. SUV tailgating it. Sports car hugging the southbound curve and disappearing in the fog. Big white pickup, jacked up on oversized tires, a bar of lights on top of the cab. Got a lotta those here in redneck country. I've seen at least ten just like it. Another camper. Another. Got a lotta them too....
Fifty cars later, and I can't keep from thinking. About that last night in the canyon. About Jude and Leo, too. Him I miss in a weird way, but her-God, she's been a pain in the ass. Some people die graceful, but not Jude, oh no. Bitch, whine, erase the few good memories I had of her.
And that canyon... What was it Jude said? Oh yeah: "We all have a place that our minds return to long after it's been altered by time and its inhabitants are gone. The canyon is mine."
I oughta remember, she said it three times Saturday night. Real proud of herself for thinking of it, even if she was in a bad way. Still claims she's a poet. Poet, my ass!
It's been almost two hours now, and no tow truck. He's gotta be coming soon. I can't stay in the car much longer. I'm so scared my skin feels tight, and it's hard to breathe. I'll stand outside for a while, duck down if anybody but the tow truck stops.
Funny, now I'm more scared of what's inside of me than what might be outside in the dark.
Pickup, turn signal on, slowing down. Help, or-?
No help. No nothing. It's speeding up and the signal's off. Man and a woman inside, heading south. They saw me, I didn't duck in time.
Jesus, do I look that scary? I mean, I'd never pass for no Girl Scout, but I don't look like an escaped con either. And this Mercedes sports car is about as respectable as cars get.
I'm starting to hate this place. Really hate it. What's wrong with the people here?
God, it's dark, except when a car comes along. I hate the dark, always sleep with a light on-
Something coming. Get ready to duck. But wait a minute- It's the tow truck! About time, dammit.
Lights shining in my eyes. Come to Chryssie. And don't make no excuses about how long it took. Just get me outta this miserable hole.
He's climbing down, walking over here. Big and slow and probably stupid. He's not saying anything and he's not looking under the hood. He's-
Oh no! No!
Oh my God not this!Copyright © 2001 the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust
Reprinted with permission.
Marcia Muller created one of the first modern female detectives in the memorable Sharon McCone over two decades ago. Now, in a major departure from her critically acclaimed series, she introduces us to a new heroine, one who wears a badge and a gun, in a dark, edgy thriller that is complex and relentlessly chilling.
Rhoda Swift, Sheriff's Deputy in California's Soledad County, lives with her haunting dreams of an unsolved mass murder thirteen years earlier. In a remote spot on the rocky Pacific coast two families were found riddled with bullets. Two children lay among the dead. And rookie Rhoda Swift was first at the scene. Unjustly blamed for losing the blood samples that might have cracked the case, Rhoda watched her reputation and marriage crumble. It's taken her all this time to prove herself a damn good cop. But another death is about to shake Rhoda's world. The body of a young woman, pretty in a way that says trouble, is found in the sea off Point Deception. Coming almost on the anniversary of the massacre, the new killing revives a community's fears and suspicions that a monster still walks among them. Further stirring the brew is Guy Newberry, a bestselling New York author and journalist determined to write about the unsolved crime and its dark legacy.
Soon Newberry's digging is dividing a town between those who want the truth and those who want to forget it. Like an incendiary device, the new Point Deception murder is inflaming memories and strong feelings for both Rhoda and Newberry, a man with secrets of his own. They cautiously join forces during the investigation, sharing leads and troubling conclusions.
What they are about to uncover will cut close to the bone for Deputy Sheriff Rhoda Swift, testing her as a cop and a woman...and forcing her to face how far she is willing to go for justice. Or for love.(back to top)
Marcia Muller is the author of more than twenty novels and many short mystery stories. She has also established a brilliant reputation as an anthologist and critic of mystery fiction. In 1993 she was awarded the Private Eye Writers of America Life Achievement Award, and Wolf in the Shadows was nominated for the 1994 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Crime Novel and won the Anthony Boucher Award. She lives with her husband, mystery writer Bill Pronzini, in northern California.