Last Ditch (Leo Waterman Series #5)

Overview

Seattle p.i. Leo Waterman knows the city like no one else. And he knows how to stretch the limits of the law, when necessary, to accomplish what needs to be done—a very useful talent Leo acquired from his late, larger-than-life father, once one of the region's most powerful and colorful political characters. But just how seriously Waterman senior transgressed during his time on Earth comes into question when one of "the Boys"—Leo's "residentially challenged" barfly allies—digs ...

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Last Ditch: A Leo Waterman Mystery

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Overview

Seattle p.i. Leo Waterman knows the city like no one else. And he knows how to stretch the limits of the law, when necessary, to accomplish what needs to be done—a very useful talent Leo acquired from his late, larger-than-life father, once one of the region's most powerful and colorful political characters. But just how seriously Waterman senior transgressed during his time on Earth comes into question when one of "the Boys"—Leo's "residentially challenged" barfly allies—digs up a human skeleton in Dad's backyard.

The remains that remain belong to "Wild Bill" Waterman's staunchest foe—an ultra-conservative muckraking journalist who vanished mysteriously thirty years before. Leo has always struggled in his father's shadow—but he's convinced that his old man was much too savvy to have committed murder—let alone to have interred the victim in his own backyard. But in order to clear his father's damaged name, the dutiful son is going to have to start digging up a very dangerous past...and do his damnedest not to get buried beneath it.

Seattle p.i. Leo Waterman knows the city like no one else. And he knows how to stretch the limits of the law, when necessary, to accomplish what needs to be done—a very useful talent Leo acquired from his late, larger-than-life father, once one of the region's most powerful and colorful political characters. But just how seriously Waterman senior transgressed during his time on Earth comes into question when one of "the Boys"—Leo's "residentially challenged" barfly allies—digs up a human skeleton in Dad's backyard.

The remains that remain belong to "Wild Bill" Waterman's staunchest foe—an ultra-conservative muckraking journalist who vanished mysteriously thirty years before. Leo has always struggled in his father's shadow—but he's convinced that his old man was much too savvy to have committed murder—let alone to have interred the victim in his own backyard. But in order to clear his father's damaged name, the dutiful son is going to have to start digging up a very dangerous past...and do his damnedest not to get buried beneath it.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
It's hard work trying to keep a series fresh, and in Ford's fifth novel about Seattle private detective Leo Waterman (Slow Burn, etc.) the strain shows. Most of the recurring jokes--about Leo's powerful family and their embarrassment about his work, about his dysfunctional Fiat and his animosity toward the police department--fall flat. Even the Boys, the band of homeless drunks Waterman supports and employs from time to time, aren't quite as engaging anymore. When the 30-year-old remains of a gay-bashing, right-wing newspaper columnist named Peerless Price turn up on the grounds of the mansion belonging to Leo's late father, politician Wild Bill Waterman, it begins to look as if Wild Bill had shot his arch enemy. Because both his starchy uncle Pat and the Seattle PD warn him against it, Leo risks life, limb and ancient convertible to prove his father's innocence. What he finds out--from Wild Bill's old driver and other ghosts from the past (including an earless Oriental phantom straight out of Sax Rohmer; see the review of The Revenge of Kali-Ra, below)--proves more bizarre than exciting. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Seattle private investigator Leo Waterman (Slow Burn, LJ 2/1/98), a caring but in-your-face kind of guy, discovers a skeleton in his own backyard. Since he lives in a house inherited from his father, police and press assume the worst: Leo's politically powerful father murdered "Peerless" Price, a local muck-slinging reporter of some repute who disappeared in 1969. Leo sets out to prove otherwise, despite opposition but with the aid of his pathologist girlfriend and humorous homeless sidekicks. Good plot, unlikely adventure, and sharp-edged prose; strongly recommended.
Kirkus Reviews
It looks like an insultingly routine task for the unemployed Irregulars who usually pull tail jobs for Leo Waterman: digging up the grounds around the 12-room palace the shamus inherited from his father, veteran Seattle politico Wild Bill Waterman. But when one of them uncovers the one-handed skeleton of Peerless Price, the red-baiting columnist who'd vanished 30 years ago in the middle of a well-publicized feud with Wild Bill over dueling Fourth of July parades, Leo's off and running on his most personal quest yet: to vindicate his old man in the face of the media firestorm Price's family is sure to kindle. The problem isn't that Price had no other enemies; the phone book is brimful of likely candidates. But each of Price's pet peeves in the days before he disappeared back in 1969-a gay bar he was determined to get raided, the tide of illegal Asian immigrants he was convinced were linked the Red Menace, and of course the antiwar parade he was rabid to scuttle-seem to lead straight back to Wild Bill, miring him still deeper in the legacy of Seattle's nastiest secrets. Besides, reasons Leo, how could anybody else possibly have buried Peerless's distinctive corpse in his old enemy's yard without the homeowner knowing something about it? Though Leo's flat-footing is flat, his fifth (Slow Burn, 1998, etc.) fills out the obligatory return-to-the-gumshoe's-roots entry with an appealing warmth and a couple of nifty surprises. .
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380793693
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/1/2000
  • Series: Leo Waterman Series , #5
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,002,813
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

G.M. Ford is the author of six widely praised Frank Corso novels, Fury, Black River, A Blind Eye, Red Tide, No Man's Land, and Blown Away, as well as six highly acclaimed mysteries featuring Seattle private investigator Leo Waterman. A former creative writing teacher in western Washington, Ford lives in Oregon and is currently working on his next novel.

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Read an Excerpt



Chapter One


The prosecutor looked like Hoss Cartwright.

    "Mr. Waterman ..." she continued. "... in your capacity as a licensed private investigator, did you have occasion to be employed by anyone present in this courtroom today?"

    "Yes, I did."

    The assistant DA's name was Paula Stillman. Before this morning, I'd never heard of her. For the past ten days, the papers had been quoting reliable sources, all of whom whispered that Mel Turpin, the DA himself, was going to step in and take the reins. On the surface, it made sense. After all, what could be better? A state supreme court justice on trial for murder. Not only that, but the case was a slam dunk. Big-time moral high ground. Más photo ops. It was money, baby. Money.

    Mel Turpin knew better, and so did I. It didn't matter that the case against the judge was a grounder. What mattered were the pictures. And the pictures were going to get real ugly. The evening news anchors were going to put on their Mr. Serious faces and warn their viewers about the graphic nature of the photographs they were about to see and suggest that children and the faint of heart might want to leave the room.

    What politicians like Turpin and my old man understood was that the average citizen had a short and very selective memory. Two weeks after the trial was over, all the voting public would remember were the pictures they'd seen on the tube. Exactly who had done what to whom and why would get downright fuzzy for most of them. Mel Turpin was smart enough to make damn sure that his cherubiccountenance was not among those ill-recalled images. That's precisely what assistant DAs like Paula Stillman were for. Photo fodder.

    "Could you please point out that person," Stillman said.

    The defense attorney jumped to his feet. "Your Honor," he said in a world-weary voice, "the defense is prepared to stipulate that the defendant ..."

    Dan Hennessey was the best legal help money could buy. On those few occasions when I'd seen him in action, he was all controlled confidence and meticulous motions. He always seemed to have a little something extra in his sock that the opposition wasn't expecting. It wasn't surprising. He had the best help money could buy. The way I heard it, even a junior partnership in Hennessey, Howell and Kidd was worth a cool million a year. If you were ambitious enough and good enough, clerking for Dan Hennessey was the next logical step after Stanford Law Review. I'd never before seen him desperate.

    "Excuse me. Excuse me, Your Honor," Stillman interrupted. "Once again, Your Honor, if Mr. Hennessey doesn't mind, I'd like to try my own case here."

    Judge Bobbie Downs had a reputation for quick and dirty jurisprudence and for making a fair number of procedural mistakes. I figured Hennessey had danced in his office when he heard she'd been assigned. That was before the defendant decided to lend a hand on his own case. Downs waved the gavel at the defense table, indicating that Hennessey should slide his charcoal-gray Armani back into his seat and then turned to me.

    "Mr. Waterman."

    I pointed at Judge Douglas J. Brennan, who was seated next to Hennessey at the defense table. "He's right there next to defense counsel," I said.

    Stillman spoke directly to the judge. "Your Honor, please let the record show that Mr. Waterman identified the defendant Douglas J. Brennan."

    "So noted," she said.

    Brennan sat there like a bird of prey. His fierce eyes hooded, looking downward toward his piously folded fingers, allowing the mane of white hair and the square chin to command the room on their own. I felt like Adam in that painting from the Sistine Chapel. Except, in this picture, God wasn't pointing back my way.

    "And what was it that Mr. Brennan wanted you to do?"

    Hennessey started to rise, but Judge Downs waved him back down.

    "He wanted me to find his housekeeper. A woman named Felicia Mendoza."

    "Did he tell you why he wanted Miss Mendoza found?"

    "He said she'd stolen a number of things from his house. Jewelry. Mementos. Things with sentimental value was how he put it."

    "And did Judge Brennan give you any indication as to why he wished to employ a private detective in this matter, rather than ... say taking the more traditional path of simply calling the police?"

    "Your Honor, Ms. Stillman is leading the witness," Hennessey complained. "If she wants to—"

    All it got him was a frown and another gavel wave.

    "He said he didn't want to make a big deal of it. He said the stuff wasn't of great monetary value, and he didn't want to make trouble for the woman. He said she didn't speak much English, and he didn't want to scare her. The judge said he thought he could convince her to return his belongings, so he just wanted me to find her for him."

    "And did you do so?"

    "I found her," I said.

    Hennessey was on his feet again. "May we approach the bench, Your Honor?" You had to admire a guy who thought of himself as plural. She waved him forward. Stillman followed along. They formed a tight muttering knot around the judge. My name and the word "prejudicial" were being bandied about. Damn right I was prejudicial. Prejudicial as hell.


    I FOUND HER sleeping on the floor in a Catholic women's shelter down in Tacoma. They didn't want to let me in, but since I'd tracked her that far, and had made it plain that I wasn't going away, they figured they didn't have much to lose by letting us chat. Two very large women stood by her side and glared at me while we talked. She was maybe five foot two, with a big pair of liquid brown eyes taking up most of her round face. Her English was just fine, which was more than could be said about the rest of her. The right side of her face was blistered and the color of an eggplant. The insides of both her arms were pitted with burn marks, old and new, and from what she showed me of her shoulders and the backs of her legs, it was obvious that she'd been systematically beaten for years. Seems the judge, while on a judicial junket to Central America about six years before, had more or less bought her from a Guatemalan orphanage. Four hundred bucks and the promise of American citizenship. She was twelve at the time. Being twelve and not speaking a word of English, she had to watch a lot of daytime television before she picked up enough of the language to become absolutely certain that the judge's little sexual idiosyncrasies were neither a standard part of the American courting ritual nor a painful prerequisite to U.S. citizenship. She'd run away for the first time three weeks ago. The judge had tracked her down at the bus station and used a steam iron on the side of her face. She'd hired an attorney. Said she learned about lawyers watching "Anoder World."

    I gave her my card and the hundred and seventy bucks I had in my pocket. I spent the thirty-minute drive back to Seattle analyzing my options and trying to keep my lunch down. In retrospect, I did a hell of a lot better job with the lunch than I did with the options.


    Stillman went on. "So then, Mr. Waterman ..." She gazed back over her shoulder at the defense table. "... before we were interrupted, you indicated that you were successful in your search for Miss Mendoza, is that correct?"

    "Yes," I said.

    "In what condition did you find Miss Mendoza?"

    I told her. Hennessey objected three times during my recitation. Once complaining that my entire conversation with Felicia Mendoza was hearsay, once to decry my lack of medical credentials and a third time to object to the jury being allowed to see the postmortem photos of Felicia Mendoza's horribly crosshatched back, buttocks and upper thighs. He went O for three. Trolling for grounds for appeal, I figured. Make the judge rule on as many matters as possible. Hope she'll screw up something important. When your client, two weeks before he goes on trial for murder, gets caught trying to off one of the key prosecution witnesses, you are then forced to cast upon the waters the very straws at which you may later be forced to grasp.

    "What did you do next, Mr. Waterman?"


    I SLID THE CHECK, face-down, across the table.

    "I'm returning your retainer and your advance for expenses," I said. "Twenty-four hundred dollars."

    The judge pulled the crisp white napkin from his lap and dabbed at the corners of his mouth. He looked down at the check as if I'd pushed a turd over next to his elbow.

    "It can't be that hard to find one little wetback," he said.

    If he'd said something else, I most likely would have let it go. I'd have said something noncommittal, made my excuses and headed up the road. Yeah, sure. And if Mama Cass had shared that ham sandwich with Karen Carpenter, they'd both be alive today.

    I leaned over the table, putting my face close to his.

    "Maybe it escaped your notice, Judge, but slavery, sexual and otherwise, went out of fashion quite a while back."

    He never batted an eye.

    "Oh, dear," he teased. "Moral indignation? How quaint."

    I held his gaze. "Listen to me, Judge. I've never rolled over on a client in my life. I've gone to jail for refusing to divulge." I held up a finger. "But you know, in your case, just this once, I might be willing to make an exception."

    He made a dismissive noise with his lips. "I was like a father to that girl," he mocked.

    I ignored him. "The only reason I'm not going to the authorities is because Miss Mendoza is going to do it for me."

    "I am the authorities, you moron."

    I stood up and pitched my napkin into my plate.

    "God help us all, then."

    "Your father would be terribly disappointed in you," he said.

    "I don't think so."

    He used his napkin to polish the rim of his water glass.

    "And to think I came to you because—"

    I cut him off. "You came to me because you thought you could trade on your relationship with my old man. That's why you came to me. That and because you couldn't take a chance on a big agency. They'd drop a dime on you in a New York minute. You figured you'd find somebody who needed the money."

    "Exactly," he said. "And that is precisely why no set of spurious allegations from an illiterate—and, I might add, illegal—alien and a low-rent private dick can possibly cause me even the slightest bit of concern."

    My fist itched to wipe the smug look off his face.

    "You know, Judge," I said instead, "my old man was a great believer in the notion that timing was everything. And you know what? I think your timing on this thing is lousy. As a matter of fact, I don't think it could be worse if you tried. Domestic violence is the crime of the month. Right now a guy will do more time for belting his old lady than he would for holding up a Seven-Eleven.

    He seemed to be paying attention, so I pressed on. "You read the papers. You know what I'm talking about. Presidential advisors. City councilmen. Actors. Athletes. You want to screw up your life forever, you just kick in your ex's front door." I shook my head. "We're awash in post-O.J. rage here, Judge." I gave him my best smile. "Hold onto your shorts, Your Honor, because unless I'm mistaken, the illiterate—and, I might add, illegal—Miss Mendoza is about to rock your little world." He didn't exactly faint, but the shit-eating smirk was sure gone. If he said anything to my back, I didn't hear it.


    "And during this meeting with Mr. Brennan, am I to understand that you did not divulge Miss Mendoza's whereabouts."

    "No, I didn't."

    "And why was that? Hadn't the judge retained you to provide him with that very piece of information?"

    "The judge didn't need a private detective," I said. "He needed a pimp."

    "Your Honor," Hennessey bellowed. Even while springing to his feet in protest, he still managed to button the single button on his suit coat. Muscle memory, I figured.

    Hennessey ranted; Stillman did her best to appear appalled; Judge Downs had my answer stricken from the record and gave me the gavel shaking of a lifetime. As for me ... I tried to look chastened.


    NINE DAYS after I gave the judge his money back, at seven-thirty on a Saturday morning, I groped for the ringing phone, knocked it over onto the floor where it ricocheted off the oak planks and disappeared under the bed. I had to find the cord and drag the whole thing up over the covers like a stubborn puppy. I heard a dial tone, but the damn thing was still ringing. Rebecca elbowed me hard in the other ear.

    "It's the doorbell," she moaned.

    Even in my dream state, there was no doubt about what I was looking at through the crack in the door. Two cops. Detectives. Not local. Detective Gregory Balderama and Detective Sergeant Vince Wales. Tacoma PD. Balderama was younger. Under forty with a thick head of carefully coiffed black hair. He stood on the porch, shifting his weight from foot to foot. Wales was old school. Wrinkled. Fifty or so. No more than five years from a pension. Once we agreed on who we all were, he thrust a photograph under my nose.

    "You know this person, Waterman?"

    It was a woman. Maybe forty years old with a thick neck and dirty blonde hair. A head shot. In this case, a shot of a head that had been shot in the head. Twice. Once just under the right eye and once, it looked like, in the fight ear. A symmetrical pool of dark liquid fanned out around her wide face like a pagan headdress.

    "I don't think so," I said.

    Balderama stepped forward with another picture.

    "What about this one?"

    It looked to be a hundred pounds of raw beef liver in a blue dress. I pushed his arm away and turned my head.

    "Jesus Christ," I complained. "What the hell was that?"

    "Whatever it was, was carrying your business card," he said. He pulled a plastic bag from his coat pocket. Sure enough, one of my cards rested on the bottom of the bag.

    I pointed at the photo. "Lemme see that," I said.

    I held it by the edges, as if something might get on my hands. It was hard to tell that it had ever been human. The skull had been pounded flat. The arms were splayed at impossible angles and the shinbone on the left leg was visible in two places.

    "Jesus Christ," I said again.

    Sergeant Wales filled me in. The deceased were found in the basement of an abandoned building in downtown Tacoma. The first woman had been shot three times. Two in the head. One in the upper right chest. The second woman had been beaten to death. The ME thought baseball bats. From the imbedded fragments taken from the body, at least two separate bats. One steel, one aluminum. The ME said even her toes had been pulverized.

    "No ID on either of them?"

    "Just your card, Waterman."

    I shrugged. "Wish I could help."

    Balderama took over. "The medical examiner says she was Hispanic. Probably South American. Somewhere between eighteen and twenty-five. A hundred ten pounds. No vaccination marks. Maybe an illegal alien ..." He stopped when the photograph slipped from my hand and floated to the ground.

    "Come in," I said, when I could speak again. "Give me a few minutes to get dressed."

    An hour later, Rebecca came padding through the living room in her bare feet, following the smell of coffee back toward the kitchen. As Wales and Balderama stood and mumbled introductions, Duvall picked the pictures up from the coffee table. Wales tried to stop her, but it was too late.

    "Small caliber. Probably a twenty-two," she said. "The ear wound was point-blank. Classic wise guy pattern."

    She winced slightly at the second photo. "Cripes," she said. "Somebody use the poor thing for a piñata, or what?"

    Her exit left the cops openmouthed. I gave 'em a break.

    "She's a pathologist for the county ME," I said.

    When they could breathe again, we got back to work.

    From what Wales and Balderama told me later, they went from my house right to the shelter. The other woman's name was Jill Clark. She was a volunteer. A couple of days later, when the Seattle Times ran a different picture of her, I realized that she was one of the women who'd been in the room while I interviewed Felicia Mendoza.

    The two women had gone to a movie together. The seven o'clock showing of My Best Friend's Wedding at the Uptown Cinema. A sixteen-year-old usher named Shantiqua Harris remembered seeing the women leave together at the end of the show. Shantiqua had noticed how protective Jill Clark seemed to be of the smaller woman and had wondered if they were lesbians. That was the last time either woman was seen alive. Two kids looking for a lost kitty found the bodies.

    Wales and Balderama interviewed the rest of the shelter staff and the doctor who had examined her. They interviewed both Felicia Mendoza's priest and her attorney. Then they consulted their direct superior, took three deep breaths, said three Hail Marys and requested a Murder One warrant for Washington State Supreme Court justice Douglas J. Brennan.

    Local legal wisdom made the case against the judge to be pretty much a dead heat. A mountain of circumstantial evidence and hearsay, all pointing at His Honor, but nothing to connect the judge directly to the murders. When the judge hired Dan Hennessey, most legal pundits figured he had better than a fifty-fifty chance of walking. Apparently, however, the judge was not similarly convinced.


    Stillman finished up for me. "And after telling the police your story, the rest, as they say, was history. Is that correct, Mr. Waterman?"

    "Yes, it is," I said. "Until ..."

    "Until what, Mr. Waterman?"

    "Until about six weeks ago, when one of my ..." I groped for a word. "... contacts told me that somebody had a contract out on my life."

    "And you believed this person?"

    "Absolutely."


    FRANKIE ORTIZ sitting at my backyard patio table drinking iced cappuccino with Rebecca was the equivalent of Charlie Manson sipping tea in the Rose Garden with Hillary Clinton. Frankie was a little guy. No more than five-six or so. I'd always thought he looked like the old-time bandleader Cab Calloway. Thick, processed hair combed straight back. A bold, wide mouth accented by a pencil-thin mustache which clung precisely to the outline of his prominent upper lip. He had a penchant for light-colored suits and two-tone shoes. Frankie worked for Tim Flood.

    Tim Flood and my father had started out together working for Dave Beck and the Teamsters. At the time, their official title had been "labor organizers." Revisionist history now labeled them as thugs, but neither of them minded. My father had parlayed his local notoriety into eleven terms on the Seattle City Council. He'd run for mayor four times, suffering a narrow defeat on each occasion. Tim Flood had gone on to become Seattle's homegrown version of organized crime. Tim Flood had his fingers in every pie. My old man had his relatives in every city and county department. The way I figured it, six of one, half a dozen of the other.

    Rebecca was beaming. "Oh, Leo ... Mr. Ortiz tells the most outrageous stories," she said. "I can't believe it."

    "I'll bet," I said.

    I figured Frankie was probably skipping the one about how he'd shot Sal Abbruzio in the spine for skimming the numbers take. And you sure wouldn't want to tell the one about cutting off Nicky Knight's fingers in the back booth at Vito's. Especially not the part about Big Hazel freshening their drinks between fingers. Not before dark anyway.

    "Frankie," I said, and offered my hand. He took it.

    I dragged a chair over next to Rebecca and put a hand on her knee. She crossed her legs and gave my hand a pat.

    Frankie took a sip of his cappuccino. "You know, the kid's gonna graduate this June," he said. "June eighth."

    The kid was Tim's granddaughter Caroline Nobel. A few years back, I'd gotten her out of a nasty situation involving some dangerous tree huggers who thought they could save the planet by blowing things up.

    "Gonna be a schoolteacher," he said.

    "Great."

    "I think it's what's keepin' the old man alive. He ain't been outta the house in years, but he says we're goin' to the ceremony. His doctors are shittin' bricks. Say it'll kill him."

    "How is the old man? He still lucid?"

    Frankie smiled. "Depends on who he's talkin to. Caroline comes around, they have a hell of a time, laughin' and carryin' on. His doctors try to talk to him, all of a sudden he thinks he's friggin' Cleopatra."

    Another four minutes of mindless small talk and Rebecca finally picked up the vibe. Frankie was old school. Nothing personal, but Frankie Ortiz didn't do business in front of women. She shot me a pitying look and got to her feet. "If you gentlemen will excuse me, I best go inside before I get the vapors."

    Frankie rose and shook her hand in thanks. He stayed on his feet until she closed the French doors behind her and then sat back down.

    "Nice girl, Leo. You're a lucky guy."

    "Thanks, Frankie. You just stop by to shoot the breeze, or did you have something a little more substantial you wanted to discuss?"

    I think he was surprised at how polite I was. Usually he likes to dance around a bit, at which point I usually get impatient and impolite, and then the whole thing goes to shit. Today he got right to it.

    "Got a call from a guy we know in Vegas," he said. "A macher." He said it right, with the back-of-the-throat noise. "You know what a macher is, Leo?"

    A macher was a maker. A big shot. A guy who could make things happen. I knew the breed well. My old man had been a macher.

    "Yeah, I know what it means," I said.

    "So the guy says to me, he says, `Hey Frankie, didn't you tell me about some private dickhead guy named Waterson or something who helped you and Tim out that one time wid the kid?'"

    Frankie looked up at me to see if I was paying attention. I was.

    "So I says to him, `Yeah, that's right, why?' And he says, there's a couple of dweezels been losing big lately out at the south end of the strip, tellin' the workin' girls the dough they're pissin' away is no problem `cause there's more where that came from. Say they're headed up north to pop a Seattle private dick named Waterville or some such shit. My friend says he thought maybe we'd like to know. From what he hears, these bozos been tellin the honeys that they crewed for this same party a while back. He asks me if we know anything about what's goin' on." Frankie made a face. "And I ask him, `Hey ... what the fuck are you callin' us for? The friggin' newspaper knows more about the shit goin' on around here these days than Tim and I do; we're strictly legit. Only staff Tim's got anymore are the nurses in charge of wiping his wrinkled ass, for Christ sake. We're not exactly still in business, if you know what I'm talkin about.'" He sounded almost wistful. Almost.

    "You trust this Vegas guy?" I asked.

    He tilted his head and pursed his lips. "I don't trust anybody, Leo," he said. "But I was you, I'd watch my ass."


    "And that, of course, explains why you were wearing a bulletproof vest," Paula Stillman prodded. It was a smart move. Most citizens don't jog in a Kevlar vest or carry a nine-millimeter automatic, with two extra clips taped to their chests. Tends to chafe. Stillman knew she could count on the defense to bring it up, so she did it herself. Hennessey would sure as hell try to show that my state of paranoia was somehow responsible for the gunplay rather than the two professional shooters the judge had hired to put me out of my misery.


    ABOUT TWO MINUTES after Frankie said his good-byes, I'd called the cops. Balderama and Wales had sympathized and offered twenty-four-hour police protection, but I knew what that meant. Two weeks down the road, they'd need the manpower for something else, offer us the services of a retired school crossing guard, and we'd be right back where we started. Rebecca and I talked it over and decided that we weren't going to let anybody bring our lives to a grinding halt. The way we figured it, if we stopped our lives, the judge won. The way I figured it, if I let scumbags like the judge run me around, I might as well find a new line of work. Like selling Amway maybe.

    I settled for the loan of a Kevlar vest and took what I considered to be prudent steps to protect us. We had a first-class alarm system installed in the house. Rebecca and I now locked our cars in the garage every night, instead of leaving them strewn about the driveway. She was carpooling to work with Judy Benet. I made it a point to meet new clients in busy public places in broad daylight. We consoled ourselves by telling each other that these precautions were appropriate for the late nineties and what's more, long overdue. Neither of us believed it for a minute, but for some reason, neither of us was willing to abandon the illusion, either. Go figure.

    While I normally only carried a weapon when it seemed likely I might need one, these days I didn't go to the john without considering the question of how many rounds I was carrying. The judge's trial began in a couple of weeks. I figured that once I testified, the threat was over. At least, I hoped so. Despite our best efforts, the strain was wearing us down. Without consciously willing it so, lately, more often than not, we found ourselves staying at home, watching the boob tube in darkened rooms. I spent the nights lying awake listening to Rebecca toss and turn and trying to remember what programs we'd watched.

    My sleep patterns had been a mess ever since Frankie's little visit. I'd taken to dawn runs around Greenlake as a way to work off some of the stress. I hated running, but what the hell, I was up.

    It's a little under three miles around the lake. When I was a kid, I'd run around and around until I lost interest. Back then, it was more of a swamp than a lake. These days, they pump it full of reservoir water to keep it pretty, and if I manage to jog around it once without pulling a muscle or projectile vomiting it makes my whole day.

    I always start and end at the south end of the lake by the Mussert Shell House. It's a dark little glen with an attached parking lot and the only part of the lake that doesn't directly front a city street. I figured if I started and ended there, I could make all the noise I wanted and not bother anybody. After all, wouldn't want the sound of my puking and wheezing to keep anybody up. It never occurred to me that it was also an excellent choice for a kill zone.

    I was walking in circles out at the end of a twenty-foot floating dock that juts out into the lake, trying to catch my breath and spitting into the water, when he walked by on the path, giving me a curt nod of the head before disappearing behind the Shell House.

    He should have gone shopping at Eddie Bauer first. Or maybe REI. Gotten himself a nice earth-tone Gor-Tex shell, some chinos, a pair of waterproof wafflestompers and a FREE. TIBET button. If he'd blended in better, he and his partner would have ended up back in Vegas with the hookers, and I, in all probability, would have ended up dead. As it was, he stuck out like a barnacle in a béarnaise sauce.

    About forty years old and twenty pounds overweight, he'd greased his hair into an old-fashioned pompadour with a sharp part on my side. Bob's Big Boy. Not only was he wearing the last leisure suit in America, but the poster boy for polyester was also carrying a four-foot floral arrangement wrapped in newspaper. Flowers for his girlfriend. Longstemmed. Real long. At five-fifteen on a Tuesday morning. Every hair on my body suddenly stood on end.

    The fact that they were here at this time of the morning meant they'd been casing me for a couple of days and knew my habits. The fact that I hadn't spotted them meant I was getting old and sloppy.

    I reached behind me and tried to bring the automatic out from under the back of the vest, but I was sweaty and everything was stuck to me. Before I got my hand to the gun, he came roaring back around the corner of the building, sprinting down the asphalt ramp toward the landward end of the dock, spewing flowers in his wake. A pair of blue steel nostrils the size of my fists now protruded from the front of the flapping newspaper. He was no more than twenty-five feet from me when he let fly with the sawed-off shotgun, emptying both barrels. Double ought buck shells contain what amounts to four thirty-two-caliber projectiles, coming at something like a thousand miles an hour. Three of them hit me directly in the Kevlar vest. The fourth, although I didn't know it until later, entered the soft flesh of my left arm just above the elbow. At the time, I was too busy to notice. The last image I had was of him, still in full stride, cracking the gun and reaching into his pocket for more shells.

    The impact blew me completely off the end of the dock, sending me down into the dark water, where my primal urge to breach and breathe was instantly overcome by the certainty that if I so much as poked my head above the surface, he'd blow it clean off.

    I groped around in front of me in the murky water and found one of the concrete-filled drums which had been sunk in the lake to hold the dock in place. The ribbed metal was cold and slick with algae. I wrapped both arms around the barrel and pulled myself to the bottom of the lake. The water was about six feet deep and teeth-chattering cold. I'd been out of breath from running, and whatever air I had in my lungs had been driven out by the impact of the slugs. I'd only been down about ten seconds, but shotgun or no shotgun, I had to breathe.

    With the last of my strength, I pulled myself past the submerged barrel, pushed hard off its surface with my feet and came up under the dock. I held my nose and mouth with my hand, forcing myself not to sputter or gasp. I eased my lungs full and looked up. Through the cracks between the boards, I could see the outline of his feet silhouetted against the gray morning sky. He had no reason to be careful; he'd seen the slugs hit me full in the chest. He was standing out at the end, waiting for me to float up so he could pump another load into me.

    As I moved his way, I pulled the nine-millimeter from the small of my back and thumbed off the safety. I moved slowly, walking on the bottom, making sure I didn't create ripples. I got right between his feet, put the muzzle of the gun tight against the treated boards, checked the angle to make sure it was perpendicular and pulled the trigger three times. He hit the deck like he'd been dropped out of a helicopter.

    I swallowed some more air, dipped my head under the water and pulled myself out from under the dock. He lay with his face no more than a foot from mine, rocking in agony and moaning, his eyes screwed shut, both hands clutching his groin. I was so close that when I shot him in the forehead, I saw hair fly from the back of his head.

    I didn't have time to dwell on it. The sound of squealing tires jerked my head toward the parking lot. His partner had probably been watching my car, in case I changed my morning routine. The sound of two weapons had brought him running.

    I heard him shout. "Lamar, you okay?" He waited a minute and then tried again. "Lamar, come on, answer me, boy."

    I stood shivering in the chin-deep water using the now-departed Lamar as a shield. The partner poked his head around the corner of the building and then quickly pulled it back. He was blond and younger.

    "Lamar, can you hear me?" he shouted.

    I reached under the front of the vest and tore off one of the extra clips which I'd taped to my chest. I put it on the dock next to Lamar's nose. A small stream of blood rolled down the side of the dock and into the water beside me. In the distance, a siren was winding our way. Somebody had called the cops. I mouthed a silent prayer.

    I'll give the kid credit for loyalty or maybe some sort of overdeveloped sense of male bonding. Even with an approaching siren whooping in his ears, he wasn't about to leave his buddy. He came out from the building in a combat stance. Moving quickly, waving a square black Uzi from side to side, spinning as he searched for a target.

    He spotted the body. "Oh, shit, Lamar," he cried.

    He never saw me. When he looked to the right, I bobbed up out of the water, steadied both hands on the edge of the dock and shot him in the chest. He staggered backward and then sat down on the pavement with his legs spread out before him like a child at play. The Uzi slipped from his fingers, ratcheting off several rounds as it hit the pavement, and then suddenly everything went quiet. I was still standing in the water, shaking uncontrollably when the cops arrived and pried the automatic from my stiff fingers.


    Stillman again spoke directly to Judge Downs.

    "Your Honor, please let the record show that Mr. Waterman's assailants have since been positively identified as Lamar B. Highsmith of Winnemucca, Nevada, and Johnny Dale Smits Jr. of Hayden Lake, Idaho. Mr. Highsmith was pronounced dead at the scene, the victim of multiple gunshot wounds. Mr. Smits will be appearing as a witness for the prosecution later in these proceedings."

    "So noted," she said.

    They said I missed his heart by an inch, but if I were to judge, I'd say I must have nicked it. Faced with the death penalty for aggravated murder, Johnny Dale Smits rolled over like a trained seal. Once he started talking, they couldn't shut him up. In return for life without possibility of parole, he confessed to everything but the Lindbergh kidnapping. The grand jury had been particularly interested in the part of his story about how the judge had insisted that Felicia Mendoza must not be shot, how he wanted what he called "that little greaser" to suffer big-time before she died. I heard that one of the grand jurors fainted during Smits' vivid depiction of the crime, and that a veteran court stenographer had to be excused.

    A week later, a scant forty-five minutes after Judge Downs issued her final instructions, the jury delivered a verdict of aggravated murder in the first degree, with a recommendation for the death penalty.

    On my way down the courthouse steps after the verdict, Rebecca clung to my good arm with both hands. About halfway down, Tracy Tanaka of KOMO TV-9 shoved a microphone in front of my face. "How do you feel about me verdict, Mr. Waterman?" she asked.

    I answered without thinking. "I feel lighter," I said. "Much lighter."

    Tracy made a disgusted face and sprinted up the steps toward Dan Hennessey. Rebecca hugged my arm tighter.

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