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While Seattle’s Underground has been the setting for several mysteries by other authors (Earl Emerson, J.A. Jance), Pearson makes the most of its creepy-crawly atmosphere in a gripping thriller whose solid plotting pulls all of Daphne’s, LaMoia’s, and Boldt’s cases together. It also wisely reconfigures the personal relationships among the three central characters, which bodes well for their future adventures in this long-running series (Middle ofNowhere, The Pied Piper). –Jane Adams
For Bob and Ellen
1 The Ride of a Lifetime
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 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 thought 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.
2 Of Mice and Spiders
Daphne Matthews negotiated the aisle between 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 a 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 1889 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. Matthews 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 that 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,” Matthews 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 meal, 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.
Matthews 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,” Matthews 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,” Matthews 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.
3 The LaMoia
John LaMoia awoke from a two-hour afternoon nap (he was on night tour for all of March) wondering where his next Oxy-Contin would come from. Then he remembered he’d quit.
The California King contained his feet despite the fact that he liked to sleep with his arm under the pillow and out toward the headboard. At an inch over six feet, he’d been hanging ten off the ends of mattresses for his entire adult life, so he thought of the California King as a “spoiler,” a luxury item that, once used, makes you wonder how you ever lived without it.
LaMoia could get around the bedroom blindfolded, as he’d built it himself, hammer and nail, two-by-four and Sheetrock, as the first element of Phase One of his refurbishing the cannery warehouse loft, a stone’s throw from Elliott Bay. He was currently in Phase Three—the last of a series of storage closets by the guest bedroom.
At nearly four thousand square feet, the loft gave him plenty of space to play with.
It remained a quirky space with a bachelor’s sense of independence, a cop’s sense of budget, and a man’s sense of decor. There was no long line forming at the door to shoot it for a magazine spread. But for the view alone it was worth the price of admission.
He rolled over and petted his dog, his nagging dry throat reminding him of his former addiction. He wondered if it would ever fully go away.
The treatment that had begun following a broken jaw suffered in the line of duty had matured from medical necessity to medicinal abuse, an addiction of legendary proportions. LaMoia still couldn’t understand how he had allowed it to happen; and even now, three months into rehab, he found himself still in the unforgiving grasp of need.
LaMoia felt warm breath glance his neck, followed by the wet nose of an Australian sheepdog, formerly called “Blue,” but renamed “Rehab” when LaMoia found himself using the dog as a sounding board. LaMoia wasn’t entirely comfortable with the responsibility the dog’s existence perpetrated upon his bachelorhood. But then again, bachelorhood didn’t feel so right either; since recovery, his world had turned upside down.
LaMoia did not run his life as a democracy, but as a dictatorship. He sat on the throne, he chaired the board, he dropped the gavel, he made the choices, and to hell with those who misunderstood him. It had always been so—or certainly since puberty and his discovery that women of every age, shape, size, and color could not do without him. This interest on their part had long since gone to his head. Sex was an addiction all its own. He had lost himself to the sport of winning women for the better part of his adult life. Only OxyContin and prescription drugs had finally lifted him into another realm, where indulging himself in new, untested flesh no longer mattered. In the end, only the pills mattered. Time-release pain medication. What kind of geniuses were these guys? When finally he could neither see nor have any desire to see the benefits of sobriety, he had stood his ground, defiant in his right to self-destruct.
During those long months, work had become a tolerated distraction, a necessary evil. That it was police work might have struck him as ironic had he been capable of conceiving of irony. But such conceptions escaped him, especially objectivity. To the contrary, during this period he had been as self-absorbed as any other time in his thirty-odd years, and entirely blinded to it. Beyond caring. A living illusion. And entirely without hope.
Six months ago, with his lieutenant, Boldt, on leave at the time to assist a capital murder investigation in Wenatchee, Washington, LaMoia had found himself in charge of the Seattle Police Department’s Crimes Against Persons Unit. It had been like putting a kid in the cockpit of a 747. He had floundered his way through insignificant homicide investigations that might have meant something to him had the OxyContin not dominated his every thought. A domestic here; a gang bang there. Could do them in his sleep. Morale at Homicide hit at an all-time low under his stewardship. When Boldt returned, he pasted things back together and identified LaMoia’s addiction. At that point, things had gone to hell in a handbasket.
LaMoia had wrecked the Camaro, totaling his only one true love, and requiring hospitalization and more painkillers. He took a leave of absence, and that proved his undoing—too much free time. One November night, Lou Boldt and Daphne Matthews had performed an intervention—confronting LaMoia with his drug problem and offering him a chance to save himself or to face the inevitable consequences. The intervention had worked. By Christmas, LaMoia was prescription-free and enjoying turkey at Boldt’s house. By New Year’s Day, he’d been back on the job.
But a dark, cold March evening in rainy Seattle could own a bite, could drill an ache into formerly broken bones and make it hurt just to walk across the room to the toilet.
Heaven came in all shapes and sizes: whether a 34C, a hot Seattle’s Best, or a clear head. With sobriety, solid thinking had returned, but oddly enough, not the overriding need to have every woman who eyed him. LaMoia wanted something different now. More connection, less infatuation. He wasn’t sure what love was, but he thought that might be it. As a result, he stayed away from the “badgers” at the cop bars, the coworkers, the waitresses who came on to him, avoiding the urge to slip his hand between the jeans and the soft skin and light them up. God, how he had lived for that power, the ability to reduce a grown woman to outright need. They still called, leaving casual messages on his answering machine, the implications and invitations subtle but not misunderstood. They wanted him. Only months ago, he had let that want of theirs run his life, dictate his arrogance, demand his attention. And now he had to live with that past, and he found it embarrassing.
When the phone rang, he peeked at the caller-ID, dreading to play that role—the flirtation that came packaged with expectation. But the phone number proved familiar to him: the fifth floor. A case. Something to get him outside himself. He answered the phone: It was a jumper, a drowning. As good a way to start a night tour as any.
4 Bridge Over Troubled Waters
The bridge shook with traffic, making her knees dance. Daphne Matthews tucked her rain-dampened hair behind her right ear in a gesture that was more automatic than necessary because of the headband. Her hair fell into her face if she let it because of a haircut she didn’t like but could do nothing about. The result was a black velour headband that put a speed bump just behind her forehead and, she feared, made her ears stick out.
The blue emergency strobe lights from patrol cars, the amber lights of Search and Rescue, and the blinding white pulses from an ambulance whose services would not be required hurt her eyes to the point of headache. This, along with the rain and the vibrations coming up her legs, gave her a bout of vertigo. She reached out to steady herself but stopped at the last moment, discovering she had not yet donned the latex gloves required at any crime scene. Her hand locked instead around a forearm, nearly as hard as the steel bridge railing. When she realized this arm belonged to King County Deputy Sheriff Nathan Prair, she let go and stepped back and away.
“It’s been awhile, Daphne.”
“Deputy Prair.” She addressed him like a hostess to an uninvited dinner guest. Nathan Prair had been a client of hers—a patient. Departmental counseling following a shooting. She’d had to pass Prair off to a civilian colleague when he’d attached to her, professing he loved her. It had gotten to the point where thanking him or even speaking to him risked leading him on, sending some unintended signal.
The question was why he was here. This bridge was within city limits, SPD jurisdiction. Why the involvement of the King County Sheriff’s Office? Either one of their guys had spotted the body—she hoped it wasn’t Prair—or perhaps the lake itself fell into KCSO jurisdiction. The way politicians drew the maps, anything was possible.
“How have you been?” Prair moved to fill the space she’d made between them. He was in that group of patrolmen that spent a couple of hours a day at the gym, though he lacked the jutting jaw and heavy brow that seemed ubiquitous features of the other G.I. Joes. In fact, Prair’s overly round face housed narrow-set soft brown eyes that left him a confusing mixture of boyishly handsome and mean-spirited. Even with the Marine cut, Matthews had always thought his blond hair was more that of a surfer than the take-no-prisoners cop he hoped to portray. Prair’s biggest problem was that he believed women found his looks irresistible. It had gotten him into all sorts of trouble. It had gotten him dismissed from SPD and later moved over to the Sheriff’s Office.
“Deputy Prair, I don’t think it appropriate that we have this, or any conversation.” She looked around the bridge for John LaMoia, who was supposed to be on the scene already.
Prair shook his head, smile still in place. “That was what… over a year ago? I got a little jiggy—it happens. Tell me that’s never happened to you before, one of your couch potatoes getting hot for you.”
“I’m glad you found reassignment,” she said as a concession. “I hope it works out for you on the job.”
“You sound like my grandmother, or something. This is me, Daphne!”
“It’s Matthews, and it’s lieutenant. Your charm is lost on me, Deputy.”
He leaned closer and he lowered his voice into a whisper that cut through the damp air. “So it was you the Titanic hit. Mystery solved.”
She stepped back as John LaMoia called out her name and approached in a stiff-legged hurry.
John LaMoia didn’t walk, he swaggered, carrying his entire personality in a confident stride, for all to see. Most of all, LaMoia existed to be noticed. His trademark ostrich cowboy boots easily cost him a month’s salary, and he was not shy to replace them when they scuffed up. The thick brown hair, cascading in waves and curls, proved the envy of every woman on the job. The deerskin jacket seemed an anachronism, a relic of the flower power generation into which LaMoia barely fit, having been born too late to be certifiably hip and too early to be a yuppie. Equally loved by the brass and the patrol personnel—not an easy feat—as a detective LaMoia got away with behavior that would have won others suspension. He crossed boundaries and even violated ethics, but always with that contrived, shit-eating grin of his, and always in the name of right and good. Like everyone else, she had a bit of a soft spot for him, though she would never admit it.
LaMoia’s timing couldn’t have been better. She’d have to thank him later.
“The shrink and the shrunk,” LaMoia said. No love was lost between most detectives on the force and Nathan Prair, a man who by most accounts had tarnished the SPD shield. “I need to borrow her a minute.” He hooked Matthews by the elbow and steered her away, out of earshot, back down the bridge toward a gathering of patrolmen.
“Am I ever glad to see you,” she said.
“Listen, you stand too close to garbage, you start to smell like it. Couldn’t let that happen to you.”
“Truth be known, Lieutenant,” he emphasized, “I’m surprised to see you here. Night tour, raining, and all.”
“I was nearby when I heard the call,” she stretched the facts slightly.
“This wouldn’t have anything to do with that other teen jumper, and you getting all sideways over your not stopping it?”
“Who’s analyzing whom?” she asked.
“I’m just asking.”
“You’re using an interrogative to make a statement, John.”
“I just love it when you talk dirty.”
She elbowed him playfully, and he chuckled. This was not their typical rapport, and she found herself enjoying a LaMoia moment.
“You can almost see your place from here, huh?”
“I suppose.” She was looking down toward the black water where the scuba divers swam beneath the surface with powerful flashlights, the beams of which looked gray in the depths. The body, believed to be a woman’s, had been spotted on the surface less than an hour before but had blown its bloat and sunk during the attempt to recover it. Some people didn’t want to be found.
“SID caught it,” he said. Scientific Identification Division—the crime lab.
“Caught what?” she asked.
LaMoia was spared an answer as a semi passed too closely—a patrolman shouted at the driver to slow down—causing the hastily erected halogen light stands to shake and nearly fall. Instead he pointed to where a lab technician worked over what looked like a tiny patch of dried blood on the bridge railing.
Sight of the blood took her aback—not for what it was, but for what it implied. She’d come to the crime scene because of the implication of a jumper. The presence of blood indicated foul play.
“How’d we find that?” Matthews asked.
“Very carefully,” the woman lab technician answered without looking up. She added, “Doesn’t mean it’s hers.”
“Of course it’s hers,” said LaMoia.
“We’ll know by morning.”
“Could be anything,” Matthews said.
“Yeah, sure. All sorts of bleeders choose this section of the bridge for a view.”
It was then Matthews saw the drip line. Some of the droplets had been stepped on and smeared, but the line was clear. A second technician was busy delineating the area of sidewalk that contained the blood pattern that led from the roadway. A more scientific study of the blood splatter would determine both direction and approximate speed of that trail, but on first glance it seemed obvious.
“Car parked there,” LaMoia said. “Guy hoists her out of the trunk or the backseat, carries her to here—carries, not drags—bumps her against the rail as he gets a better grip and voilà. To bed she goes.”
“Moi,” LaMoia said.
“Try Spanish, John. You don’t wear the French very well.”
“Si,” he said.
The Hispanic lab tech winced at his lack of accent, or maybe she was flirting with him. She wasn’t the first.
Matthews studied the drip line again, a part of her relieved that maybe it wasn’t another jumper. She knew she couldn’t voice such a sentiment—others wouldn’t understand.
Excited shouting from below alerted them to the diver that had surfaced and was waving his flashlight toward the nearby dive boat. MARINE UNIT was stenciled on its side. A phone number. A website address. A new world.
A King County Sheriff’s special operations section, the marine unit’s involvement helped explained Prair’s presence.
“They found her,” LaMoia said, stating the obvious.
A quiet descended over the four of them. A moment of respect, as the shouting spread up onto the bridge. Two of them were collecting her blood. One of them was assigned to figure this all out and attribute it to someone.
Matthews was there to observe. But as the pale, swollen mass that had once been a woman came to the surface with the three divers, she turned and walked away, very much aware that Nathan Prair watched her every step from his huddle with several other KCSO officers. She crossed her arms a little more tightly.
Happy to be gone from the scene, she realized she might leave, but she could not, and would not, leave this case behind. This one was hers as much as it was LaMoia’s.
5 Pretty in Pink
- On Sale
- Aug 1, 2003
- Page Count
- 464 pages
- Hachette Books