Authors: Robert B. Parker
Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Detective, #Mystery, #Crime & mystery, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction - Mystery, #Suspense, #Hard-Boiled, #Crime & Thriller, #Mystery & Detective - Hard-Boiled, #Mystery fiction, #Boston (Mass.), #Political, #Mystery & Detective - General, #Private investigators, #Spenser (Fictitious character), #Escapes, #Private investigators - Massachusetts - Boston
WE BOUGHT A ROAD ATLAS IN A Waldenbooks on Market Street, and then we went to a flossy sporting goods store near the corner of O’Farrell and outfitted for our assault on the lodge.
To drive north from San Francisco you had your choice of the Golden Gate Bridge and the coast road, 101. Or the Oakland Bay Bridge and connection to Interstate 5. For people on the run toll bridges were bad places. Traffic slowed, and cops could stand there and look at you when you paid your toll. It was a favorite stakeout for cops.
“They’ll stop every car with a black guy and a white guy in it,” Hawk said.
“We’ll go around,” I said.
And we did. With me driving and Hawk reading the road atlas we went south on secondary roads all the way to Palo Alto and swung around the tip of the bay and headed north along the east side of it. We never went on a big throughway until we finally went on to Interstate 5 north of Sacramento, in a town called Arbuckle.
From Arbuckle it took us seventeen hours to get to Route 12 in Washington State, south of Centralia, and another two hours to get ourselves up into the Cascades near Crystal Mountain, northeast of Mount Rainier. Near Chinook Pass, where Route 410 makes a kind of Y fork, we found a store and snack bar. A sign out front said BREAKFAST SERVED ALL DAY. In front of the store was a gravel parking lot. It had been fenced by embedding truck tires halfway into the ground so that the lot was outlined with black half-moon shapes. An oil drum had been converted to a trash barrel and placed near the front door. As far as I could tell it hadn’t ever been emptied. Styrofoam cups, sandwich wrappers, beer bottles, cigarette packages, straws, chicken bones, and a lot of stuff that was no longer recognizable spilled out of it and littered around it in a spread of maybe eight feet. The store itself was one story and looked as if it had once been a bungalow, the kind they put up in a couple of days right after the Second World War so that the returning GI’s could get going on the baby boom. It had brick red asphalt shingles for both siding and roof. A front porch had been scabbed onto the front, running the entire length of the store, and it had a rustic look that may have been intentional, or may have been bad carpentry. A pair of antlers hung over the two steps that led onto the porch, and the glassy-eyed head of an elk stared down at us from over the door.
Inside the store was a lunch counter and six stools, along the left wall. The rest of the store had shelves and tables that sold canned goods and frypans and fishing gear and toilet paper and insect repellent and souvenir mugs shaped like Smokey the Bear.
Behind the counter was a fat guy with thin arms and a patch over his right eye. On both forearms were tattoos. The one on the left said For God and Country. The one on the right said Valerie and had a wreath around it. The fat guy wore a T-shirt and a blue cap that said CAT on it. He was reading a paperback book by Barbara Cartland. We sat at the counter. No one else was in the store.
“You guys want to eat,” he said.
“Breakfast,” I said. “Two eggs, sunny side, ham, home fries, whole wheat toast, coffee.”
“Got no whole wheat. Got white.”
“No dark?” Hawk said.
The counterman looked at him sideways. “No,” he said. “Just white.”
“I’ll have white toast,” I said.
“Me too,” Hawk said. “Same order as his. ‘Cept over easy on the eggs.”
The counterman drew us two cups of coffee and put them before us. He still didn’t look directly at Hawk. Then he turned to the grill and got going on the breakfast.
“We’re looking for Russell Costigan’s place,” I said.
“Know where that is?”
“Feel like telling us?” I said.
“Wait’ll I get through cooking,” the counterman said. “You know? One thing at a fucking time.”
“Things are simpler in the country,” Hawk said to me.
I drank some coffee. Hawk and I had alternated driving and trying to sleep on the drive up. My eyes felt like there was sand under the lids.
The counterman had the eggs and ham and home fries on the plate just as the four-slice toaster popped. He brushed melted butter on the toast and served us breakfast. I took a bite. The home fries had been frying for a long time.
“Now what was it you wanted to know?”
“Russ Costigan,” I said. “We want to know how to get to his place.”
“Yeah, well, it’s easy enough. Biggest goddamned place in the mountains. Russ has got a bundle, you know? Good guy though. Acts just like folks. Just like folks, you know. No airs. Nothing fancy. Just comes in here buys his stuff and goes. Always got a pretty good story to tell, too, Russell.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Russ is a sketch, all right, and I’m dying to hear some good jokes. How do we get to his place?”
“Easy,” he said, and told us.
“Thank you,” I said. “Who thought of the nice fence idea outside?”
“The tires? Ain’t that something. The wife thought of it.”
“Dynamite,” Hawk said.
“When you see Russ,” the counterman said, “tell him it was me gave you directions.”
We finished breakfast and went out to the Volvo and headed up Route 410. Towering evergreen rain forest, bright air, streams splashing vigorously downhill.
THE ROAD TO THE LODGE WAS WHERE THE counterman had said it would be. A dirt road that curved up into the high evergreen forest without a sign of life. It was ten thirty on a warm fall morning. There was birdsong in the woods and the faint soft scent of Puget Sound easing in on a light breeze. I drove on past the road and parked a mile away.
“They ain’t going to buy Br’er Rabbit here,” Hawk said.
We got out of the car and stepped into the woods. The trees were so tall and dense at the top that the forest floor was relatively uncluttered and dark, with only modest undergrowth.
“We’ll go straight east,” I said. “Keep the sun in front of us. Then in maybe half an hour we’ll turn south, see if we can circle in around the lodge. If we miss it short we’ll cut the road.”
“We miss it long we walk to Oregon,” Hawk said.
The people at the lodge would expect us. But they didn’t know when to expect us. We had time. We could be patient. We could look carefully. Susan maybe wasn’t happy but she was probably safe. Put her one up on me. The ground beneath our feet was thick with the accumulated autumns of a century. The trees through which we moved reached straight up, bare-trunked and austere, until the branches thickened near the sunlight and spread out and interlaced. Sometimes we had to skirt a tree that had fallen, the barrel of the trunk maybe five feet in diameter, its branches broken by the fall, the root mass suspended and higher than my head. There were birds in the woods but no sign of anything else. At eleven o’clock we turned south, keeping the sun now to our left.
At twenty past eleven I smelled woodsmoke. I looked at Hawk. He nodded. We stopped, sniffing the air and listening. There was no human sound, only the bird sounds and the light wind moving in the woods.
“They waiting for us, they going to have people out in the area,” Hawk said softly.
I nodded. The smell of the smoke lingered. We began to move slowly and carefully through the woods. It was hard to locate the direction the smell came from, but it seemed vaguely ahead and right and we inched along in that direction. I had the automatic out, a shell up in the chamber, the hammer half cocked. Ahead and off to my right I saw a glint of sunlight reflected off something. I touched Hawk’s arm. He nodded and we moved toward it, putting each foot carefully down on the soft floor of the woods, walking very carefully, looking before each step, straining to listen and smell and see. Watching for people with guns, watching for sticks that would snap loudly if we stepped on them. Watching for electrified wire or television cameras.
Then below us, across an open area on the opposite wall of a small hollow, was the lodge. A huge chalet with a lot of glass and a high steep roof. There was a wide fieldstone chimney rising on the north end of the building and the smoke we had smelled had drifted from it. A balcony ran the length of the building across the second floor. The railing had fancy carved risers in it, and behind the balcony the wall was of glass sliding doors that faced southwest.
Hawk murmured beside me, “The hills alive with the sound of music, babe.”
In front of the lodge, on level ground on the floor of the draw, was a macadam drive with a turnaround circle. The drive was lined with a rustic fence and at intervals a streetlight that was made to seem a lantern. There was a red jeep with a white canvas top parked in the turn around beside a black jeep Wagoneer with fake wood side molding. The only movement was the woodsmoke curling up from the chimney.
“Homey,” I said.
“Y’all come,” Hawk said. “Walk on in and have some mulled cider by the fire.”
“No trouble expected.”
“Sure do look that way,” Hawk said.
“Think we ought to stroll in?” I said.
“Be easier just to shoot each other up here, save the walk.”
I nodded. “Let’s sit and watch for a while.”
We sat among the low spread of a big evergreen with our backs against the bare trunk beneath the limbs and looked at the lodge. Nothing happened. It was a pleasant fall day in the rain forest of the Pacific Northwest and the smell of woodsmoke spiced the easy wilderness air.
“You figure they staked out around the house in the woods?” Hawk said.
“Yes,” I said.
“They probably work in shifts,” Hawk said.
“And if we sit quiet maybe we can watch the shift change.”
We could see the whole lodge area maybe a hundred yards away in its little valley. Rustic with its shining glass and carefully fitted fieldstone. The power lines ran along one side of the road and crossed over and tied into the lodge near the southwest corner of the balcony.
“Takes a lot of discipline to sit quiet for hours in the woods without any idea when someone going to show up,” Hawk said.
“Too much,” I said. “We’ll spot them in a while.”
“How long we going to sit.”
“Until something happens,” I said. “We got time. We’ll sit and watch until we see what’s going on.”
“Be nice to know what we’re doing,” Hawk said. “Been scrambling since we came out here.”
THE SHIFT CHANGE CAME AROUND THREE IN THE afternoon. Four men with long guns came out of the lodge and went into the woods at four points around the clearing. Four other guys came out of the woods and went to the lodge.
“Rifles,” Hawk said. “Look like .30-.30’s.”
“Okay,” I said. “We know that setup. I wonder what’s in the house.”
“Some guns,” Hawk said. “But we don’t know where or how many.”
“And maybe Susan,” I said.
“Doubtful,” Hawk said.
“Got to know,” I said.
There were some squirrels in the woods, looking oddly out of place away from the city. And there was bird sound. When the sun went down around five thirty it began to get colder.
“The best thing for Susan would be to save herself,” I said.
“Don’t look like she can right now,” Hawk said.
“Maybe we just get her out and away and then let her save herself.”
“Course we eliminate Russell and then maybe there be nothing to save herself from.”
“Maybe that wouldn’t be good for her.”
Hawk was silent for a while. When the sun went down floodlights went on all around the lodge, lighting the entire area.
“Photoelectric switch,” I said.
Hawk said, “You saying we go easy on Russell?”
“I don’t know, exactly, what I’m saying. I don’t know enough. I am trying to make sense out of stuff I don’t understand.”
“That called life, babe,” Hawk said.
“Maybe she needs to be able to save herself and that may mean dealing with Russell.”
“I been working on the assumption,” Hawk said, “that Russell is a dead man. I owe Russell some things.”
“I know,” I said. “I been thinking about how we’d decide which one gets him. But maybe not.”
“Ah’s jess a simple darkie, bawse. Killing the motherfucker seem like a good idea to me.”
“But if it’s bad for Susan?”
“Then we don’t,” Hawk said. “Ah ain’t that simple. We not here to fuck her up. I don’t need to kill Russell, I’d just like it.”
“I’d like it too,” I said. “Maybe more than you.”
“I would guess, maybe more than anybody,” Hawk said.
“At the moment I think we shouldn’t unless we have to,” I said.
In the light that spilled into the woods from the floodlit clearing I could see Hawk shrug. “Delayed gratification, babe,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said.
Lights went on and off inside the lodge but there was nothing in the pattern that told us anything. We couldn’t see enough through the windows to help. The outdoor guard shifts changed. Hawk and I put our hands into our pockets and sat and watched. We ate some granola bars and some trail mix. We dozed a little, but not much. The night went on. The lights inside the lodge went off, except for one downstairs. The outside floods stayed on. The outdoor shifts changed again. Toward morning it rained. I stood slowly in the downpour and shrugged my back and neck. I felt like a junk car.
“Russell show up now,” Hawk said, “I think we overmatched.”
“Have some trail mix,” I said.
Hawk took a handful and chewed it without pleasure.
“I look like fucking trail mix to you?” he said. “I look like a fucking granola bar? I eggs Benedict, and mimosa, I room service, man.”
“The rain is nice,” I said.
“Refreshing,” Hawk said.
Along with the woodsmoke I could smell coffee, from the lodge.
“If they start to fry bacon in there,” I said, “I’m going to cry.” We were both on our feet, stretching quietly, talking softly, trying to get warm and loose without disturbing the lodge patrol. It was raining steadily and still dark.
“We plug that chimney,” I said, “and the smoke will back up into the house and drive people out.”
“What if Susan in there?”
“They would bring her out too,” I said. “They got no reason to want her dead. I assume Russell likes her.”
“Means one of us got to get up on the roof,” Hawk said.
We stood in the rain watching the house. There were no birds today, no squirrels. I was looking at the power and phone cable where it ran to the house.
“We need to do some stuff,” I said. “We need to confuse and distract them. We need to cause a diversion.”
“We good at causing diversions,” Hawk said.
“Think we could shoot that power cable out?”
“From here?” Hawk said. “Not with a handgun.”
“We could get a rifle,” I said.
Hawk smiled. “Yes, we can. I know where there’s four.”
“Closest one is down there,” I said. “Maybe seventy-five yards.”
Hawk said, “I’ll get the rifle. You circle around behind the house on the hill back of it. When I shoot out the power cables they’ll all come charging over here. You get on the roof and stuff something in the chimney.”
“While they’re chasing you.”
“While I shooting their ass with my new rifle,” Hawk said.
“I like it,” I said. “Give me time to get around there. I’ll go for the roof when you start shooting.”
“No hurry,” Hawk said. “I be getting my new rifle while you circling.”
I moved off through the woods, staying crouched, moving slowly through the rain. Stepping carefully in the spongy wet leaf mold on the forest floor. The sound of the rain spattering down among the evergreens deadened the sound of my movement. I took a careful slow half hour to get around behind the house. From the slope behind it I could see that the lodge was built into the side of the hill and from a tree I could jump to the roof. Maybe.
I found the best tree and crouched beside it. The rain had soaked through my jacket and some of it trickled down my neck and along my spine. I stayed in the tree, crouched among the bottom branches, for maybe another fifteen minutes. Then I heard the first shot. It was a rifle, and there was a second and a third. The third shattered the porcelain mount on the lodge where the power cables went in. All the floodlights went out. The cable fell free and sparked as it hit the wet ground. There was movement in the woods below, and from the guesthouse some of the security people appeared. The rifle sounded again and one of the security people fell. Gunfire started back toward the woods. I went up the tree in the faint gray light, got high enough and launched out onto the roof of the lodge. The roof was covered with handsplit shakes and made a decent footing, even in the rain. I scrambled up to the roof ridge and along it to the chimney opening. There were two flues in the chimney. The woodsmoke was heavy and hot close up as it rose from the open flue. I shrugged out of my jacket, jammed the ammunition into my hip pocket, and shoved the wadded-up jacket into the flue. It made a sodden solid mass and no more smoke escaped. Below, the gunfire increased. Most of it aimed into the woods, and I was peripherally aware of movement in the open yard. I slid along the wet shakes down the front slope of the roof and landed on the cross balcony, and flattened out on the floor with the automatic in my hand. I could hear footsteps moving in the house and men’s voices. There was yelling. The outside security people were firing at random into the woods. Smoke began to seep out from the glass doors. I heard doors open below and more voices and the sounds of confusion. I edged along the floor of the balcony and peered down into the yard. Four men came out of the house with handguns. One carried a flashlight. Two more men came out behind them.
A voice came up out of the hubbub, “What the fuck happened?” Humanity’s cry.
“Must be something blown in the wiring, the lights went out and there’s a fire somewhere.”
“How many shooting?”
“I don’t know.”
Rifle fire came from a different part of the woods.
“Jesus, they’re shooting at the vehicles.”
The flash trained on the jeep Wagoneer and I saw it cant slightly as the air went out of a tire. “Everybody out of the house?”
“I think so. How many of us were there?” Another rifle shot from the woods and the flashlight spun and skittered along the ground. “Jesus, they got Gino.”
“Fan out, God damn it, fan out.”
I turned and snake-walked across the deck on my stomach and slid open one of the glass doors. Smoke billowed out. I stayed on the floor and slithered along into the house. Close to the floor there was still breathable air. And I had an advantage on everyone else. I knew the house wasn’t on fire.
There were four bedrooms on the top floor of the lodge, organized in a square around an interior balcony that opened onto a cathedral-ceilinged first-floor space that ran the length of the lodge. I moved as fast as I could on my stomach. My eyes were stinging and watering. It was hard to breathe. There was no one in any of the bedrooms. In the dawn half-light, muddled by the smoke, it was hard to see much more than that. I took a deep breath at floor level after the last bedroom proved empty. Then I stood and went down the stairs into the main room. There was no one there. I went to the fireplace that covered one wall at the far end, and raked the burning logs out onto the floor with a hooked poker. The carpet began to smolder. I was fighting to hold my breath. I moved the length of the room and dropped to the floor and breathed as shallow as I could: There was no one in the main hall. I hadn’t thought there would be, but the disappointment that she wasn’t here felt like something heavy in my chest. The back side of the lodge was set into the hillside so there were no windows on the first-floor back wall. Holding my breath I went back up to the second floor and out a back window. It was barely a five-foot drop into the woods on the hill. Behind me the floor of the lodge had caught and I could see the tips of the flames shimmering against the secondfloor windows.
The rain was pelting down now. I had shipped to Korea out of Fort Lewis some time back and I remembered how often it rained in Washington. I was moving through the woods in a crouch, circling back toward the road and the place where we’d parked the car. The rain was cold, and without my jacket it soaked through my black turtleneck sweater. Behind me I heard a large huff as the flames burst out of the second-floor windows of the lodge. We hadn’t found Susan yet, but we were certainly annoying the Costigans. Better than nothing.