Current Danger: Is Anyone Really Safe?by Marilyn Wallace
Claudia Miller is a rarity--a female general contractor in the cutthroat world of the Manhattan building trade. Her work is tough enough--but now Claudia is about to become the target in a perverse game of cat-and-mouse. People around her are being killed. But why? The truth is stalking her on the streets of New York, and Claudia will have to get even tougher if she wants to survive.
- Random House, Incorporated
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 4.85(w) x 6.83(h) x 1.54(d)
Read an Excerpt
"You have to come meet me. This is totally amazing." The voice on the telephone was barely audible, as though speaking an endearment.
"Look, just put it away, joker. Don't call here again." Claudia was about to hang up when she heard a familiar note in the reply.
"I know it's late," the hoarse voice whispered tenderly, "but I want to share this with you. There's all this crystal stuff covering the streets. They're practically glittering."
Tommy. Her half brother, twenty-three years younger and trying on adulthood. Her father's son, juiced and jangling and quivering with adolescent energy. "Tommy? Call me tomorrow. We'll talk then, okay?"
"Hey, I have a better idea. Come walking with me, Claude. It's amazing out here. So many crystals. This time I really think I can write it down before it melts." Her brother's words popped and sizzled like water drops in a hot frying pan, tense, ready to explode. "Come on, Claudia, it's like total shimmer out here."
"Tommy? What did you take? Who sold it to you? What is it, speed?" Two months ago, they'd tramped together through the snowy wonderland of Central Park to catch Carmina Burana at Lincoln Center. His arms and legs and his worldliness seemed then to be growing more quickly than the rest of him.
More quickly than his good judgment, she thought sadly.
"Very funny. I'm perfectly straight. Listen, I really need you to meet me. I'm --"
"Tommy, it's late and I'm exhausted. I set framing tracks at Duane Street all day. Go home. Get in a cab and go home."
"Come on, Claudia, you have to -- Hold on, okay? "
The sound of a muffled voice raised in anger made her stomach clench the way it used to thirty years ago, when Mrs. Aubrey from upstairs would go after one of her sons with a hairbrush.
"Claudia, listen, I really don't feel so good.... It would help me out if you could come and get me."
"What's going on, Tommy? You're not sick, right?"
"I need you to come get me."
He wasn't sick and he wasn't high and he didn't simply want company. Her mind raced, trying to put together pieces that didn't fit. Maybe if she got him talking, she could figure it out.
"If you're in trouble, Tommy, you can tell me. Someone's there with you, right?" A school chum pulling a prank? Or an urban predator who wanted to hurt some skinny, dreamy-eyed high school kid?
A sandpaper rasp...no, something else. Tight. Tommy's voice was tight.
"That's it, Claudia."
Something was cutting off his breath.
"As soon as you can."
Strangled. That was it. He sounded constricted. Let me not blow this, she prayed. "Okay, Tommy, listen, where are you? This other person, is he demanding money? Is that what this is about?"
"No, no, I just need you to come get me."
"All right, I'm on my way." Claudia pushed aside a T square, scooped up her keys, brushed through the welter of catalogs on the file cabinet, fumbled on the desk for her pocketknife. "Tommy, where are you?"
"The street of resurrected dreams, Claude. The avenue of second chances, the bridge over trouble waters, the walkway to the stars, the --"
"Cut it out!" If he'd give her a straight answer, she could do as he asked. She wrestled down her dread and asked, "The nearest street sign, Tommy -- what does it say?"
"Can't talk, Claude. It can't say anything. It...Hey!" Her brother's words were lost in shouting.
"Tommy, hang up so I can call nine-one-one. I can't call the cops unless you hang up the phone!"
A hostile voice yelled an incoherent threat. A series of sickening thumps followed, drowned out by the sound of the phone smashing against something hard, again and again.
"I'll find you, Tommy. I'm coming!"
Through the phone, Claudia Miller heard footsteps clattering on the pavement, fading, and then only a single soft moan.
She flew up the curving staircase, called 911 from the house phone as she grabbed her coat from the closet. Claudia jabbed at the elevator button, jogging in place until the door slid open.
The walkway to the stars...She'd better have this right.
Normally, it was a fifteen minute walk from her TriBeCa loft to the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. Her brother, she knew, might not have that much time.
A gust crossed the Hudson River, honed its edge on the decaying docks, then sliced down the cobblestoned corridor of Harrison Street. No taxi, no car, no intelligent life braved the cold. Tommy had chosen the bitterest night in months to let trouble find him.
She turned south, skirting icy patches and heaped garbage bags as she ran along Hudson Street past the nursery school, Tabak's real estate office, past Duane Park and the grocery store. Except for a yellow square of light in a window above the florist shop, everything was dark.
What was he doing out so late, anyway? Last time they spoke -- could it really be three weeks ago? -- he'd gone on and on about how he'd discovered the purity of sunrise.
Besides, it was a school night.
At Chambers Street, brighter, more traveled, she headed east toward the Municipal Building and the golden, winged figure looking down from its towering perch. To her left, a ribbon of blacktop pointed north to the Empire State Building, its thatch of St. Patrick's Day lights glowing green against the black sky. The cold made her eyes water. She loped past figures clustered in doorways under cardboard layers, ignoring the voices that called out as she surged past a subway entrance.
Tommy Miller was too damn young, too pampered and protected, too inexperienced for late-night walks on the wild side.
Dark shapes huddled under bare-branched trees in City Hall Park. Claudia looked away, not wanting to see who they were or what they were doing. She focused instead on every street corner, on each doorway, searching for a pay phone. Midway through the park, she spotted a shadow, legs, a crumpled figure that seemed to sprout from the bushes. Caught in the yellow light, the body lay like a bug trapped in amber, unmoving, indifferent to the cold.
Tommy was curled into a ball, his left hand cupped over his ear. He wore only a pair of jeans, sneakers, a torn plaid flannel shirt, and, improbably, a blue wool blazer with a gold crest on the pocket. Claudia knelt and touched the side of his neck. A pulse beat faintly; his eyelids fluttered open.
"I'm here," she managed. "Who did this, Tommy?"
Dry lips barely moving, he rasped, "Don't know. Swear to God, Claudia. I...don't know."
His icy fingers unfurled at her touch, not warming even when she rubbed them. She tried to brush what looked like strands of dark hair from his face, leaned closer when her hand came away wet and warm, sticky with blood from the scratches that ran from his ear to his mouth.
Siren fading, an ambulance screeched to a stop. Doors slammed and footsteps crunched along the street as two men, Mutt and Jeff in medical mufti, skidded toward them.
"Please step aside, ma'am." The slender technician snapped on latex gloves as he knelt beside Tommy. Above the left breast pocket of his Army-green jacket a gold badge announced that he was R. Coreggio. He played a flashlight beam along the cuts on Tommy's face and the bright bruise on his neck. The bloody slashes looked like a truncated music staff -- four thin, straight parallel lines running down his smooth cheek. Not a knife, not fingernails that left this delicate tracery of blood. Coreggio frowned, leaned in for a better look, handed his partner the flashlight as he tore the protective paper from a swab. "Weird. How you do that, my man? "
"Some guy was swinging this cable at me like it was a lasso."
Each word an effort, he croaked, "Black rubbery stuff stripped off the end so these wires, red, white, black, copper, they were sticking out. Electrical cable. That was what cut me."
"Close your eyes, Tommy. Don't move." Claudia gripped her brother's fingers as Coreggio dabbed at the bloody mess on his cheek. Talk to him, she told herself, and don't watch. "Sounds like ten-four Romex. I use that cable for clients with heavy equipment."
The attendant tossed the crimson swab into a plastic bag. "My uncles used that stuff to wire up a hunting lodge in the Poconos. So, what about that bruise on your neck? "
"He was choking me with the cable. I pulled it off." Tommy massaged his throat. "When he tried to grab my hands, I kicked him in the nuts. Some taxi passed by and the driver honked his horn and the guy ran away."
"Way to go, bro." Coreggio lifted the tatters of Tommy's shirt and examined the scrapes on his chest, gently prodded his belly. With the help of his burly partner, he lifted Tommy to a sitting position. "His face'll be fine. Thing I'm concerned about is the stuff we can't see. This kid got knocked around, maybe there's internal bleeding or spleen damage or something. We're going to St. Vincent's."
Tommy's fingers clutched hers. "No hospital. I'm okay." He pushed upright, his smile wobbly.
"You can sign this release, says you refused treatment," Coreggio said, turning away from Tommy to address Claudia. "He starts throwing up or gets dizzy, don't wait for no doctor's office. You get your kid to Emergency."
"My kid? I --"
Tommy grabbed her hand, danced from foot to foot like a boxer dodging body blows. "I'm fine, Mom."
At least he didn't say Mother. Which was what he called Nora Ransom Miller, three years older than Claudia, her father's wife for the past seventeen years. Claudia scribbled her name on the release form and waved as Coreggio and his silent partner climbed into the ambulance, gunned the engine, and roared into the darkness.
"So, your throat isn't too sore for you to talk?" She threw an arm around his shoulder, flinched at the sight of the raw wound on his cheek as they passed under a streetlight. "I need to know what happened, Tommy."
Tommy glanced over his shoulder, wincing when he turned his head. "All I did was go hear Mako, you know, the poet. The place was cranking. The Knitting Factory. After he was done, I decided to walk across the bridge to see the magic of the city. And then this guy comes up and starts swinging a cable in my face."
She steadied him as he stumbled on the ice. "You want to wait till we get back to my house to tell this story? Because maybe it will be easier then for you to remember the truth. The whole truth, Tommy."
"I'm sorry, Claude. This is like...shit, I don't know what it's like. A nightmare."
Meet the Author
Marilyn Wallace's first novel, A Case of Loyalties, won the Macavity Award for Best First Novel in 1986. Her second, Primary Target, was nominated for an Anthony Award. She is also the editor of the Sisters in Crime anthologies, which have won Anthony, Macavity, and American Mystery Awards. Current Danger is her seventh novel. She lives in New York City.
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