Shadow White as Stone
The Oregon Coast
Tommy Belmont knew how to make himself invisible. Brush and strips of cammo cloth hung off his ghillie suit, moving in the breeze like the sea grass around him. The whites of his eyes shone against the greasepaint on his face.
He tugged his boonies hat lower on his forehead and peered over the edge of the bluff to get a better look at the sailboat anchored in the cove below him. A sloop-rigged Westsail 34, the kind of boat he’d always wanted. He’d never have one now.
The sun broke out of a fog bank at the horizon, painting the sails a glowing orange. A dinghy floated in their long shadow. He raised his camera and fired off a quick frame just for the hell of it. His real target, the one he was getting paid for, was in a tent at the base of the bluff: a cheating husband and his latest girlfriend.
A moment later, the sun slid beneath the waves. A line of clouds moved in across the ocean. Rain hung beneath them like tendrils on a jellyfish. The cliff at Tommy’s feet seemed resolute, reaching down to the sea as if bracing for attack. He kicked loose a clod of dirt, watched it build to a minor avalanche and disappear beneath a wall of foam. The waves lifted a driftwood log, drained away setting it back on the sand.
Getting dark. Time to earn his money. He tucked the camera under his arm and crawled through the brush, trying to imagine himself on a mission behind enemy lines instead of a sordid little divorce case.
The tent sat at the foot of a cliff tucked in amongst the scrub pine, right where his client had said it would be. Inside would be her husband, Scott Hudson, with an office temp named Lisa.
Tommy crawled closer and stopped to listen. The only sound was the hiss of the waves and the occasional screech of a sea gull. No noise from Scott and Lisa inside the tent. He crawled the last few feet, slipped off his lens cap and slid it in his pocket.
The boom of a rifle on the bluff came at almost the same moment he lifted the tent flap. A girl inside sat up. He saw her form in the viewfinder, face obscured by a hooded sweatshirt.
The light from his flash filled the tent.
A second boom from the gun. The bullet buzzed past his head, caught the girl’s shoulder and threw her back in a spray of blood.
Tommy rolled into the brush and scrambled behind a stump as another shot, then another, tore through the branches overhead, sending brush and pine needles raining down on his back. He counted six more shots before the gun fell silent. The shooter had emptied his magazine.
Tommy jumped up, aimed the camera at the bluff and triggered the shutter. A sandy hill in the viewfinder, beach grass and empty sky. Something moving up toward the highway. A running figure?
The girl moaned inside the tent. He slipped in and knelt beside her, felt the warmth of her blood soaking into his pants leg. He pulled back the sweatshirt’s hood.
Face pale, eyes circled with black, Goth-style makeup, her mouth a slash of purple lipstick–darker than the blood on her shoulder.
Something wrong. His brain struggled to make the connection–not wanting to believe: His daughter’s face. Ghost-white skin, eyes glassy–staring.
“Daddy?” she whispered.
He stripped off his jacket and laid it over her, held her hand and squeezed gently. “I’m here, baby.”
She squeezed back once, then her hand went limp.
An engine roared to life up on the highway. A strangled cry burst from Tommy’s throat–he was up and running.
Shadow White as Stone
The Russian girl clawed at me like a panther as we struggled across the Sheraton’s roof. We were locked in a kind of reverse tango, my arms clamped around her waist as we shuffled along, feet slipping in the tarry gravel. I handcuffed her to a vent pipe and pulled the tape off her mouth.
She screamed, but there was nobody to hear her on the eighth floor–nobody but her new boyfriend, the Colombian cultural attache, Cayo Perez. I crouched behind a ventilator shaft and waited, holding the end of a black nylon cord in my hand. Mr. trip wire. The Russian girl wailed and banged her cuffs on the pipe.
The phone in my pocket vibrated. I ignored it. Five vibes. It stopped. Probably Pamela, checking up.
Perez burst out of the roof door, a holy fire in his eyes. He wore tight black pants, narrow-toed boots and a blue satin shirt–the Zorro look. He sniffed the air like a bull, spotted the girl and charged. Even if he hadn’t been blinded by love, he probably wouldn’t have noticed the loop of wire lying on the roof. He stepped right into the middle of my snare.
The girl mewed like a kitten and showed him her cuffs. He fumbled with them, muttering words of comfort. I yanked my trip wire and the snare jerked tight around his ankles. He toppled backwards off the roof, screaming like a girl. The wire snubbed tight around a ventilator pipe. I followed it to the edge of the roof.
Cayo hung a dozen or more feet below, frozen with fear. I pulled out my nippers and made like I was cutting the wire. He held his hands toward me in supplication.
Right on cue, the Channel Two news van slid around the corner and bounced onto the curb in front of the hotel.
It took the crew less than a minute to get their lights and camera aimed at Cayo’s dangling figure. He must have wet his pants. It looked like he was twisting his body to avoid the trickle down his satin shirt. A great lead for the evening news.
The Russian girl struggled with the cuffs, hair falling across her face. She spit out the classic Russian insult: “Fuck your mother.” Her voice was deep and sensuous, a Russian Kathleen Turner. I smiled in spite of myself. Under different circumstances, I think we might have been friends. I grinned my best grin. “Bolshoye spasibo.” Thank you very much.
She shook her hair out of her eyes. Ocean green, I noticed, luminous against her pale skin. An inquisitive tilt to her head. “Vy govoritye po russki?”
“Da.” Which was true, in a language-school kind of way. I unlocked her cuffs. She wiped her tears, straightened her clothes and started fussing with her hair. I pulled her toward the roof door. “Go to the consulate, tell them you must return to Russia. Tonight.”
“Why? What is going on?”
“I was hired to kill you.”
She put her hand to her mouth and looked back at the roof.
“Not him,” I said. “Your other boyfriend.”
That won me a little smile. I think she enjoyed the idea of being fought over. “Da, Bhradley.”
‘Bhradley’ was Bradley Hummelston, The State Department’s under secretary for international relations. He had a thing for the Russian girl, who had a thing for the Colombian dangling off the roof. Her infidelity had struck Bradley’s fragile ego a killing blow. He wanted me to kill her. I’d told him he had hired the wrong guy.
I’d decided to get rid of her my own way. The end result would be the same–she’d be out of his hair before his wife found out. Maybe he’d consider that fulfilling my contract and I’d still get paid. Maybe I’d tell Bradley to shove his money up his ass.
She was fighting me again, struggling back toward her dangling lover. “Cayo–”
I opened the stairwell door and pushed her inside. “Go. Before Bradley hires somebody who will kill you.” She disappeared down the stairwell, sobs echoing off the bare concrete. Her hysterics would occupy the cops for a few minutes.
I ran to the back wall and grabbed a coil of rope I’d left on a grappling hook. I tossed down the rope, clipped on a carabiner, stepped over the edge and made it to the ground in a four-hop rappel.
I flipped the rope loose, stashed it in my trunk and pulled out of the alley behind the Sheraton. A Metro blue-and-white screamed by as I waited for the light at “K” Street. Not a glance at my ten-year-old Toyota. A fire truck followed the cruiser, lights and siren adding to the chaos in front of the hotel.
More spotlights on Cayo’s dangling figure. The humiliation should be enough to send him back to Colombia with his pee-stained tail between his legs. In addition to courting the beautiful Russian diplomat, he was a drug runner. I hated drug runners.
I spotted Mike Haines’ red Corvette in the mouth of an alley. My boss was checking up on me. That meant he was pissed. Bradley was a high-paying client, one of the few who had our unlisted number. I’d probably burned him. But right then, I didn’t care. I’d done the right thing and my adrenalin was singing. I love this shit.
As I drove home, I remembered the call I’d missed on the roof. I punched a button. It had come at ten-eighteen. I recognized the 541 area code: Oregon. A sense of dread went through me. I knew only one person out there, someone I hadn’t seen in fifteen years. Someone I hoped I’d never see again.
I played the message: “Chase, it’s Tommy. Answer your goddamn phone!”
I played it again, hearing the anger in Tommy’s Belmont’s voice, and an unfamiliar note of desperation. I told myself no matter how desperate he was, I wouldn’t get involved. Still, he and I had partnered for two years in a D.C. Metro cruiser. And once, he had saved my life.
Most of Washington knew what had happened on Franklin Street fifteen years ago. Our pictures were in the paper. Two rookie cops had killed three gang-bangers and become heroes. The fact that those cops had been scared out of their wits–one of them buzzed on tequila–never made it into print.
The neighborhood where I live is mostly townhouses and old bookstores. The streets were dark and quiet as I drove toward home. Washington is a town that gets up early. I turned onto Euclid Avenue and parked two houses down from my condo. A parking space on Euclid–the age of miracles.
I owned the top floor of a three-story grey colonial. It looked regal in a manufactured kind of way, faux columns gleaming ivory in the streetlight. A waist-high iron fence guarded a manicured patch of lawn. A warm wind stirred my Acacia tree and a streetlight sent feathery shadows across the sidewalk in front of me.
My condo was dark. Apparently Pamela hadn’t taken advantage of the key I’d given her a week ago. Good. I’d have a chance to burn off some adrenalin before she showed up, mellow out with a touch of Jameson’s. I unclipped the Glock from my belt, wrapped it in my sweatshirt and trotted up the stairs.
The answering machine blinked its red eye in the dark kitchen. I hit the button: “Chase, they shot my kid–shot Alyssa. I think she’s dead–she wasn’t . . .” My old partner was crying. “County sheriff’s right on my ass.” I heard sirens in the background.
“I’m in pursuit of a Black Escalade. Southbound on 101. Can’t see the plate. The son-of-a bitch is getting away.”
He’d reverted to cop-speak, calling for backup–to a partner who was three-thousand miles, and fifteen years, away.
“I’m against the wall–like old times,” he said. A thud, a muffled curse. The line went dead. I hit redial. A mechanical voice informed me the person I was trying to reach was not available.
Like old times. Tommy’s message was clear–and he was right. I owed him. But did I have the courage to pay my debt?
One night fifteen years ago, a local gang banger, who liked to be called Bad Daddy, had shot and killed a cop. An hour later, we spotted him and two of his buddies up along the riot corridor. They ignored my orders to stop. I went after them, ended up facing three Uzi’s–looking eternity square in the eye. Then I heard the shotgun.
Tommy Belmont was walking straight up the middle of the street, firing from the hip, silhouetted in the cruiser’s flashing lights. It was something out of Dirty Harry. Bullets chipped the pavement around him, a shot tore off part of the light bar on our cruiser and the street went dark. Tommy fired again. Two bodies flew back in a red haze of blood.
Our cop killer fired a long burst at Tommy. My partner grunted and dropped to his knees. I fired again. Bad Daddy was down.
Tommy limped toward me, a savage smile on his face. I still don’t know if it was Tommy or Jose Quervo who saved my life that night.
The Washington Post ran a long article about the bravery of D.C.’s finest fighting the war on drugs. It was probably that article, and the glowing TV interviews that followed that kept us from getting booted off the force. Our actions had been foolhardy, the captain had said, not calling for backup, risking our lives needlessly. And it wasn’t our first offence. But we got the cop killer. For us, that was all that mattered.