Bryan Murphy is chasing a rapist down the sidewalk when he feels the pain in his chest. Before he knows it, he’s in the hospital and his days in the NYPD are finished. Quitting the force isn’t enough; he needs to get out of the city. He needs to move to Los Angeles.
It doesn’t take long for Murphy to tire of clean living and California sunshine. He’s on the beach one afternoon when he sees a fellow lost soul—a recently released inmate with nothing to do but stare into the ocean and pray for his luck to turn around. When ex-cop and ex-con strike up an unlikely friendship, it puts them on a collision course with two stick-up artists who are desperate for one big score—and who aren’t afraid to kill to make it happen.
“A heart stopper.” —The New York Times on “Role Model”
“Breathtakingly fast-paced, snappily written.” —Publishers Weekly on Tightrope
“Old-fashioned . . . Fast and lively.” —Kirkus Reviews on Bleeding Hearts
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By Teri White
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1988 Teri White
All rights reserved.
That was a bad sign. The very last thing a man in his position wanted was to have Emory Whitson showing any kind of displeasure. Please-the-Parole-Officer was the name of this particular game; if you lost, it was head straight back to jail, do not pass go, and, for sure, don't collect any goddamned two hundred dollars.
Chris shifted a little in the Leatherette chair. The burnt-orange plastic crackled beneath his thighs.
Whitson, still frowning, walked right past him and stopped in front of the only window in the room. Some kind of fern sprawled out of its pot and dangled over the edge of the sill. With one quick tug, Whitson pulled off a hapless leaf. He held it up so that Chris could see the yellowing tip. "You see that, Moore?" he demanded.
Chris blinked and nodded. What the hell was this? Had the parole system added one more piece of garbage to the twice-monthly rigamarole he had to go through? Were they going to be testing his eyesight now? "Yes, sir," he said, relieved to realize that the frown apparently hadn't been intended for him at all, but for the errant leaf.
There was a moment of silence as they both stared at the object of Whitson's disdain.
"This small thing could have spelled the beginning of the end for the whole plant," Whitson said finally. "If I hadn't spotted the problem and dealt with it. Immediately and firmly."
Now Chris knew damned well what was coming. He swallowed a sigh.
Whitson dropped the potentially deadly leaf into the wastebasket and watched its delicate descent with gloating satisfaction. One problem disposed of. Then he walked back to the chair on the other side of the desk—the power side—and sat, fixing Chris with the same stare he had used on the troublesome greenery. Now it was time, the look seemed to say, to deal with this other irritant. "That's a little like what I do on this job, Moore," he said. "Spot the little problems and then work to remedy them before they turn into major ones. Do you see my point?"
"I see your point," Chris said.
And a fucking stupid point it is, he wanted to add.
But he didn't, of course. Nobody ever accused Christopher Moore of being dumb enough to shoot himself in the foot. So, on the first and the last Tuesday of each and every month, he sat in this humid little office and listened to a first-class asshole make the same stupid points over and over.
Whitson thumbed through the file folder on his desk. "You still living at the same address?"
"Yeah, same place."
"Any change in the job situation?"
This time, unfortunately, the frown was most definitely aimed at him and not at any of the green and growing things that crowded the small room. "I told you before that working through the temp-job agency is not really a satisfactory arrangement. Stability is important for someone like you."
That was a laugh. What the hell did this guy know about somebody like him? Chris reached for his crumpled pack of Camels, then remembered the THANK YOU FOR NOT SMOKING sign posted on the office door and dropped his hand. Whitson was such a fucked-up wimp. Afraid of a little cigarette smoke. Probably he was one of those guys who fastened his seat belt all the time and took a big dose of vitamin C whenever he sniffled.
Chris hated men who were afraid of life. Too goddamned chicken to take a chance now and then. What was the point of being alive otherwise? Of course, being such a candy-ass made Whitson the perfect civil servant.
After a moment, he realized that Whitson was looking at him expectantly; apparently, some kind of response was called for. He tried to remember what the hell Whitson had last said. The job thing, right? Something about not liking the temp service. "A steady job is hard to find," he said belatedly. "Especially when they hear I'm an ex-con."
"Life is hard," Whitson replied. "Some of us make it even harder on ourselves by screwing up and getting caught, right?"
"Right," Chris agreed. Of course he agreed. What the hell else?
"Let me ask you one very simple question. Do you want to make it on the outside?"
Chris gripped the wooden arms of the chair. "I sure as hell don't want to go back there," he said in a low voice. Did Whitson think anybody would, for chrissake?
Whitson nodded. "Then I suggest you get your act together. People who mess up the parade for the rest of us usually end up in trouble."
"I'll keep trying."
"Very good. That's all I ask of my men." He surveyed the file again. "Staying away from your old friends?"
"I don't have any friends left from before. Seven years is a long time to be away."
"Just as well, I'd say. Considering the trouble you were in back then."
"Hey, man, I'm doing just what I'm supposed to do." Chris's tone was sharper than it should have been, but the patience he could summon up for these meetings had a limit. That limit was reached at about the same time during every visit.
But Whitson, as usual, didn't seem to notice.
He only stood, signaling an end to the conversation. "See you next time," he said. "And work on getting a full-time job by then." There was an unspoken threat dangling at the end of the sentence.
And fuck you, sir.
Chris didn't say that, either, naturally. He just left the office and took the elevator back to the first floor, pausing long enough in the lobby to light a cigarette. Blessed smoke filled his lungs. Then he exhaled deeply, feeling the built-up tension leave his body as well. Maybe the doctors were right about the dangers of smoking, but sometimes, when he couldn't inject a quick shot of nicotine into his system, he thought he'd lose his goddamned mind, and how healthy could that be?
Midday heat rose up from the concrete in brutal, almost visible waves that hit him like a blow as he stepped outside. And then there was the smog. Weren't they supposed to have cleaned all this shit up? He blinked a couple of times. Hadda be close to ninety, and a man could hardly even see the sun behind the gray-blue haze that lay over the city. It was Chris's opinion that the bastards who made the air so dirty ought to be sent up. Crime was crime. But what could you expect?
The sidewalk was jammed with lunchtime strollers, mostly just more civil-servant lackeys like that asshole Whitson, and others who might as well have been, by the beaten-down look of them. Chris glumly viewed the motley stream of humanity for a moment, then plunged into its midst. Most of these creeps weren't even speaking English. Whose country was this, anyway?
Despite the heat and the thick, almost choking air, Chris moved as quickly as the crowd would allow. His impatient jostling earned him a few cautiously dirty looks, which he blithely ignored.
Sweat was rolling down his face profusely by the time he had covered just two blocks. He checked the traffic, jaywalked across the street, and climbed into the passenger seat of a battered yellow Volkswagen bug that was parked just far enough from the fire hydrant to be legal.
Chris leaned back against the seat with a sigh. "Shit," he said after a moment.
"You know what I was sitting here thinking about?" Dwight asked lazily.
Chris took a Kleenex from the glove compartment and ran it over his face. The tissue dissolved into a damp mess. "How the hell would I know that?" He tossed the soggy lump out the window.
"I was sitting here thinking that before we leave this city for good, we should do Whitson. I mean, the man deserves to die, right?"
Chris took one last, massive drag on the end of the cigarette, burning his fingertips in the process, then flicked the butt out into the gutter. It landed next to the discarded tissue. "Don't tempt me," he said. "Just don't fucking tempt me."
Dwight laughed softly and reached for the ignition.
Maybe he had only been kidding about offing Whitson. But maybe not. It was hard to tell with Dwight. Simple, everyday kinds of things made him nervous as hell, but he could talk about killing as if he were talking about running out for smokes.
Frankly, it made Chris more than just a little nervous. Throughout his career, he had prided himself on not getting real physical with people. A smart man didn't have to do that. But lately they seemed to be living on some kind of dangerous edge. Like at any moment, something violent might happen. It wasn't the way life should be.
He didn't like it. He didn't like it a whole lot.
The ancient car was hacking and groaning its way to life. Chris listened to the reluctant engine and shook his head. Damned thing was going to crap out in the middle of the Santa Monica Freeway one of these days and then what the hell would they do?
However much the car irritated him, though, Chris accepted the fact that Dwight wouldn't give it up until its last breath of life was gone. And he, himself, even felt a certain sentimental attachment to the damned thing. He could still remember the pleased shock he'd felt stepping down from the bus on his first day out and finding the lemon-colored bug waiting for him.
Dwight St. John, barely recognizable beneath the shaggy auburn crop of postprison curls and behind the mirrored sunglasses, was perched on the hood, grinning broadly.
Chris waited until the bus had gone and the lot was empty. Then he shifted the duffel to his other hand and strolled over to the car. He kicked one of the tires like a prospective buyer, then looked at Dwight. He was wearing a pair of faded jeans with one knee torn and a tie-dyed T-shirt. Chris hadn't seen a shirt like that in years. "What're you supposed to be? Some kind of damned hippie reception committee?"
Dwight lowered the glasses briefly and glanced around the deserted lot. He covered his eyes again. "Looks like I'm the best you've got," he said.
Chris couldn't really argue with that, so he just shoved the duffel in the back, and they both got into the car. It was a tight fit for him. When he was finally comfortable—or, at least, as comfortable as he was ever going to be in the passenger seat of a toy car—he turned to look at Dwight again.
Three months on the outside seemed to have loosened him up a lot, easing most of the familiar tension lines from his face. He looked younger than the thirty-three Chris knew he was.
Dwight glanced at him. "You grew a mustache," he said.
"Thanks." Chris fingered the thick, dark blond hair above his lip. "This isn't exactly kosher, is it?" he asked. "I mean, it seems to me that the rules don't allow us to get together. Something about avoiding bad companions. I have a feeling a former cellmate just might qualify."
"That's true," Dwight agreed cheerfully. "The rules do say that. You want to get out here and stay pure?"
Chris didn't bother to answer that.
Dwight snickered. "That's what I figured."
Something else occurred to Chris. "Thanks for the birthday card, by the way."
"You figured out it was from me? I didn't want to sign it."
"I figured it out." Actually, it hadn't been so hard. It was the first time he'd ever gotten one from the outside and there wasn't anybody else it could have come from.
Neither man spoke again until they were hurtling down the freeway, which seemed like even more of a madhouse than it had the last time Chris had seen it. Dwight was hunched over the steering wheel, watching the traffic. At least Chris hoped he was watching the traffic; with those damned mirrored glasses, it was impossible to be sure.
"Where are we going, anyway?" Chris finally asked.
"Home," Dwight replied.
He didn't know what the hell that was supposed to mean, but he didn't bother asking. After so many years inside, he didn't have anyplace else to go, and sure as hell nobody else was waiting for him.
So maybe another parolee in a broken-down VW wasn't the greatest welcome wagon a man could have, but, as Dwight had pointed out with deadly accuracy, this was as good as it was liable to get for one Christopher Moore.
He reached over and punched Dwight lightly on the shoulder. "Good to see you, you bastard," he said.
Dwight grinned at him. "Yeah."
Chris sat back, feeling fine all of a sudden. Maybe he didn't know where the hell he was heading or what was going to happen next, but that was okay. After he had some time to catch his breath, they could figure things out, he and Dwight.
And now, six months later, Chris had to admit that things weren't so bad. At least now they had a plan, which the so-called experts inside had always told him was important. A man couldn't just drift through life and expect to end up anywhere at all—except maybe back in the joint.
But that wouldn't happen to them. They were getting on just fine, under the circumstances. They had a plan.
It had actually been Dwight's idea, and, to be perfectly honest, Chris had been more than a little skeptical about it in the beginning. After all, what the hell did they know about looking for treasure in Mexico? But Dwight had a pile of books on the subject and he had pressed his case with enthusiasm. Sunken pirate ships. Buried hoards of Aztec gold. There was a fortune to be made for those smart enough to go after it. Chris had gotten the impression that Dwight had been thinking about this for a very long time. And it hadn't taken so much for him to be convinced, too. Even if they never found a damned thing, which he figured was likely, a change of scene would be good for both of them. Change your scene and change your luck.
The bad part was that making such a move would cost money. A lot of money, because they had no intention of starting this new life as a couple of paupers. They wanted a nice fat stake.
And getting a bankroll like that together was, unfortunately, a lot easier said than done. Especially when you were trying to do the job with Dwight St. John. Chris couldn't quite figure out if Dwight was crazier on the outside than he'd been in prison or if it just showed up more.
Chris stared across the street at the small liquor store. He wiped sweat from his forehead. Although it was nearly midnight, the city was still almost as hot as it had been at noon when he'd left Whitson's office. To make matters even worse, the inside of the car they were using—a pale green Ford stolen two hours previously—smelled of sour milk.
Dwight, sitting behind the wheel, yawned hugely. "Pretty soon, huh?"
"Yeah, yeah," Chris replied irritably. "If you think you can stay awake that long."
The unrelenting heat and the stinking car were giving Chris one massive headache. He leaned back and closed his eyes.
"Hope this goes down right," Dwight said suddenly.
"Any reason why it shouldn't?"
"No, I guess not. That's an old man in there. He won't give us any trouble."
"Probably not," Chris replied. "Of course, he might have a double-barrel under the counter. He might pull it out and blow both of us away. That could happen," he added perversely.
Chris massaged his temples. "Dwight?"
"Shut the fuck up. You always do this."
"I always do what?" Dwight asked, sounding offended.
"You're worse than some old lady on a job. Worrying and fretting about the dumbest shit every damned time."
Dwight tapped the steering wheel. "Yeah, well."
"Yeah, well, nothing. I'm getting damned tired of it. If you don't want to do this, let's just go home. Tomorrow morning we can go into the temp service and maybe pick up some work. See how long it takes us to get to Mexico that way."
"We're going to do this," Dwight said. "Of course we are. Sometimes I think of things, that's all."
"Do me a favor, willya? Don't think."
It wasn't easy trying to pull jobs with a novice. The big problem was that no matter how willing he might be, a killer was just not a heistman. Sometimes he thought that Dwight's first transgression of the law, the one that got him incarcerated, really had been just a fluke, an accident, as Dwight always claimed, and that maybe he just didn't have the right kind of mind for this line of work.
Chris opened his eyes long enough to see a couple more customers go into the store, then shut them again. Another problem, he knew, was that Dwight had this overactive imagination. That might be a good thing in a guy you were locked up with for five years because it helped fight the boredom, but it was not an advantage on a job. It allowed him to see all kinds of possibilities—most of them bad—in what should be just easy little jobs. They'd been pulling one or two of these a week for almost six months now, and nothing ever went wrong.
Excerpted from Fault Lines by Teri White. Copyright © 1988 Teri White. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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