You know a dream is like a river, Ever changing as it flows.
And a dreamer's just a vessel, That must follow where it goes.
Trying to learn from what's behind you.
And never knowing what's in store, Makes each day a constant battle, Just to stay between the shores.
Garth Brooks, Victoria Shaw.
Rush headlong and hard at life, Or just sit at home and wait.
All things good and all the wrong Will come right to you: it's fate.
Hear the music, dance if you can.
Dress in rags or wear your jewels.
Drink your choice, nurse your fear In this old honkytonk of fools.
-The Book of Counted Sorry.
Tuesday was a fine California day, full of sunshine and promise, until Harry Lyon had to shoot someone at lunch.
For breakfast, sitting at his kitchen table, he ate toasted English muffins with lemon marmalade and drank strong black Jamaican coffee. A pinch of cinnamon gave the brew a pleasantly spicy taste.
The kitchen window provided a view of the greenbelt that wound through Los Cabos, a sprawling condominium development in Irvine. As president of the homeowners' association, Harry drove the gardeners hard and rigorously monitored their work, ensuring that the trees, shrubs, and grass were as neatly trimmed as a landscape in a fairy tale, as if maintained by platoons of gardening elves with hundreds of tiny shears.
As a child, he had enjoyed fairy tales even more than children usually did. In the worlds of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, springtime hills were always flawlessly green, velvetsmooth. Order prevailed. Villains invariably met with justice, and the virtuous were rewardedthough sometimes only after hideous suffering. Hansel and Gretel didn't die in the witch's oven; the crone herself was roasted alive therein. Instead of stealing the queen's newborn daughter, Rumpelstiltskin was foiled and, in his rage, tore himself apart.
In real life during the last decade of the twentieth century, Rumpelstiltskin would probably get the queen's daughter He would no doubt addict her to heroin, turn her out as a prostitute, confiscate her earnings, beat her for pleasure, hack her to pieces, and escape justice by claiming that society's intolerance for badtempered, evilminded trolls had driven him temporarily insane.
Harry swallowed the last of his coffee, and sighed. Like a lot of people, he longed to live in a better world.
Before going to work, he washed the dishes and utensils, dried them, and put them away. He loathed coming home to mess and clutter.
At the foyer mirror by the front door, he paused to adjust the knot in his tie. He slipped into a navyblue blazer and checked to be sure the weapon in his shoulder holster made no telltale bulge.
As on every workday for the past six months, he avoided trafficpacked freeways, following the same surface streets to the MultiAgency Law Enforcement Special Projects Center in Laguna Niguel, a route that he had mapped out to minimize travel time. He had arrived at the office as early as 8:15 and as late as 8:28, but he had never been tardy.
That Tuesday when he parked his Honda in the shadowed lot on the west side of the twostory building, the car clock showed 8:21. His wristwatch confirmed the time. Indeed, all of the clocks in Harry's condominium and the one on the desk in his office would be displaying 8:21. He synchronized all of his clocks twice a week.
Standing beside the car, he drew deep, relaxing breaths. Rain had fallen overnight, scrubbing the air clean. The March sunshine gave the morning a glow as golden as the flesh of a ripe peach.
To meet Laguna Niguel architectural standards, the Special Projects Center was a twostory Mediterraneanstyle building with a columned promenade. Surrounded by lush azaleas and tall melaleucas with lacy branches, it bore no resemblance to most police facilities. Some of the cops who worked out of Special Projects thought it looked too effete, but Harry liked it.
The institutional decor of the interior had little in common with the picturesque exterior. Blue vinyltile floors. Palegray walls.
Acoustic ceilings. However, its air of orderliness and efficiency was comforting.
Even at that early hour, people were on the move through the lobby and hallways, mostly men with the solid physique and selfconfident attitude that marked career cops. Only a few were in uniform. Special Projects drew on plainclothes homicide detectives and undercover operatives from federal, state, county, and city agencies to facilitate criminal investigations spread over numerous jurisdictions. Special Projects teamssometimes whole task forcesealt with youthgang killings, serial murders, pattern rapists, and largescale narcotics activities.
Harry shared a secondfloor office with Connie Gulliver. His half of the room was softened by a small palm, Chinese evergreens, and the leafy trailers of a pothos. Her half had no plants. On his desk were only a blotter, pen set, and small brass clock. Heaps of files, loose papers, and photographs were stacked on hers.
Surprisingly, Connie had gotten to the office first. She was standing at the window, her back to him.
“Good morning,” he said.
“Is it?” she asked sourly.
She turned to him. She was wearing badly scuffed Reeboks, blue jeans, a redandbrowncheckered blouse, and a brown corduroy jacket. The jacket was one of her favorites, worn so often that the cords were threadbare in places, the cuffs were frayed, and the inner arm creases in the sleeves appeared to be as permanent as river valleys carved in bedrock by eons of flowing water.
In her hand was an empty paper cup from which she had been drinking coffee. She wadded it almost angrily and threw it on the floor. It bounced and came to rest in Harry's half of the room.
“Let's hit the streets,” she said, heading toward the hall door.
Staring at the cup on the floor, he said, “What's the rush?”
“We're cops, aren't we? So let's don't stand around with our thumbs up our asses, let's go do cop stuff.”
As she moved out of sight into the hall, he stared at the cup on ho side of the room. With his foot, he nudged it across the imaginary line that divided the office.
He followed Connie to the door but halted at the threshold. He glanced back at the paper cup.
By now Connie would be at the end of the corridor, maybe even descending the stairs.
Harry hesitated, returned to the crumpled cup, and tossed it in the waste can. He disposed of the other two cups as well.
He caught up with Connie in the parking lot, where she yanked open the driver's door of their unmarked Project sedan. As he got in the other side, she started the car, twisting the key so savagely that it should have snapped off in the ignition.
“Have a bad night?” he inquired.
She slammed the car into gear.
He said, “Headache?”
She reversed too fast out of the parking slot.
He said, “Thorn in the paw?”
The car shot toward the street.
Harry braced himself, but he was not worried about her driving.
She could handle a car far better than she handled people. “Want to talk about whatever's wrong?”
For someone who lived on the edge, who seemed fearless in moments of danger, who went skydiving and breakneck dirtbiking on weekends, Connie Gulliver was frustratingly, primly reticent when it came to making personal revelations. They had been working together for six months, and although Harry knew a great many things about her, sometimes it seemed he knew nothing imrtant about her.
“It might help to talk about it,” Harry said.
“It wouldn't help.”
Harry watched her surreptitiously as she drove, wondering if her anger arose from man problems. He had been a cop for fifteen years and had seen enough of human treachery and misery to know that men were the source of most women's troubles. He knew nothing whatsoever of Connie's love life, however, not even whether she had one.
“Does it have to do with this case?”
He believed her. She tried, with apparent success, never to be stained by the filth in which her life as a cop required her to wade.
She said, “But I sure do want to nail this sonofabitch Durner. I think we're close.”
Doyle Durner, a drifter who moved in the surfer subculture, was wanted for questioning in a series of rapes that had grown more violent incident by incident until the most recent victim had been beaten to death. A sixteenyearold schoolgirl.
Durner was their primary suspect because he was known to have undergone a circumferential autologous penile engorgement. A plastic surgeon in Newport Beach liposuctioned fat out of Durner's waist and injected it into his penis to increase its thickness. The procedure was definitely not recommended by the American Medical Association, but if the surgeon had a big mortgage to pay and the patient was obsessed with his circumference, the forces of the marketplace prevailed over concerns about postoperative complications. The circumference of Durner's manhood had been increased fifty percent, such a dramatic enlargement that it must have caused him occasional discomfort. By all reports, he was happy with the results, not because he was likely to impress women but because he was likely to hurt them, which was the whole point. The victims' description of their attacker's freakish difference had helped authorities zero in on Durnerand three of them had noted the tattoo of a snake on his groin, which had been recorded in his police file upon his conviction for two rapes in Santa Barbara eight years ago.
By noon that Tuesday, Harry and Connie had spoken with workers and customers at three hangouts popular among surfers and other beach habitue's in Laguna: a shop that sold surfboards and related gear, a yogurt and health food store, and a dimly lighted bar in which a dozen customers were drinking Mexican beers at eleven o'clock in the morning.
If you could believe what they said, which you couldn't, they had never heard of Doyle Durner and did not recognize him in the photo they were shown.
In the car between stops, Connie regaled Harry with the latest items in her collection of outrages. “You hear about the woman in Philadelphia, they found two infants dead of malnutrition in her apartment and dozens of crackcocaine vials scattered all over the place? She's so doped up her babies starve to death, and you know all they could charge her with? Reckless gm” Harry only sighed. When Connie was in the mood to talk about what she sometimes called “the continuing crisis or when she was more sarcastic, ”the premillennium cotillion“; or in her bleaker moments, ”these new Dark Ages"-no response was expected from him. She was quite satisfied to make a monologue of it.
She said, “A guy in New York killed his girlfriend's twoyearold daughter, pounded her with his fists and kicked her because she was dancing in front of the TV interfering with his view. Probably watching 'Wheel of Fortune,' didn't want to miss a shot of Vanna White's fabulous legs.”
Like most cops, Connie had an acute sense of black humor. It was a defense mechanism. Without it you'd be driven crazy or become terminally depressed by the endless encounters with human evil and perversity that were central to the job. To those whose knowledge of police life came from halfbaked television programs, reallife cop humor could seem crude and insensitive at timesthough no good cop gave a rat's ass for what anybody but another cop thought of him.
“There's this Suicide Prevention Center up in Sacramento,” Connie said, braking for a red traffic light. “One of the counselors got sickof getting calls from this depressive senior citizen, so he and a friend went to the old guy's apartment, held him down, slashed his wrists and throat.”
Sometimes, beneath Connie's darkest humor, Harry perceived a bitterness that was not common to cops. Perhaps it was worse than mere bitterness. Maybe even despair. She was so selfcontained that it was usually difficult to determine exactly what she was feeling.
Unlike Connie, Harry was an optimist. To remain an optimist, however, he found it necessary not to dwell on human folly and malevolence the way she did.
Trying to change the subject, he said, “How about lunch? I know this great little Italian trattoria with oilcloth on the tables, wine bottles for candleholders, good gnocchi, fabulous manicotti.”
She grimaced. “Nah. Let's just grab tacos at a drivethrough and eat on the fly.”
They compromised on a burger joint half a block north of Pacific Coast Highway. It had about a dozen customers and a Southwest decor. The tops of the whitewashed wood tables were sealed beneath an inch of acrylic. Pastel flamepattern upholstery on the chairs.
Potted cacti. Gorman and Parkison lithographs. They ought to have been selling blackbean soup and mesquitegrilled beef instead of burgers and fries.
Harry and Connie were eating at a small table along one walla dry grilledchicken sandwich for him; shoestring fries and sloppy, aromatic cheeseburger for herwhen the tall man entered in a flash of sunlight that flared off the glass door. He stopped at the hostess station and looked around.
Although the guy was neatly groomed and well dressed in light gray cords, white shirt, and darkgray Ultrasuede jacket, something about him instantly made Harry uneasy. His vague smile and mildly distracted air gave him a curiously professorial look. His face was round and soft, with a weak chin and pale lips. He looked timid, not threatening. Nevertheless, Harry's gut tightened. Cop instinct.
Sammy Shamroe had been known as “Sam the Sham” back when he was a Los Angeles advertising agency executive blessed with a singular creative talentand cursed with a taste for cocaine. That had been three years ago. An eternity.
Now he crawled out of the packing crate in which he lived, trailing the rags and crumpled newspapers that served as his bedding. He stopped crawling as soon as he moved beyond the drooping boughs of the oleander bush which grew at the edge of the vacant lot and concealed most of the crate. For a while he stayed on his hands and knees, his head hanging down, staring at the alley pavement.
Long ago he had ceased to be able to afford the highend drugs that had so thoroughly ruined him. Now he suffered from a cheap wine headache.
He felt as if his skull had fallen open while he slept, allowing the wind to plant a handful of prickly burrs in the surface of his exposed brain.
He was not in the least disoriented. Because the sunlight fell straight down into the alley, leaving shadows only close along the back walls of the buildings on the north side, Sammy knew it was nearly noon. Although he hadn't worn a watch, seen a calendar, held a job, or had an appointment to keep in three years, he was always aware of the season, the month, the day. Tuesday. He was acutely cognizant of where he was (Laguna Beach), of how he had gotten there (every mistake, every selfindulgence, every stupid selfdestructive act retained in vivid detail), and of what he could expect for the rest of his life (shame, deprivation, struggle, regret).
The worst aspect of his fall from grace was the stubborn clarity of his mind, which even massive quantities of alcohol could pollute only briefly. The prickly burrs of his hangover headache were a mild inconvenience when compared to the sharp thorns of memory and selfawareness that bristled deeper in his brain.