Stephen King’s “favorite American suspense novelist” plunges a woman into secrets of the 1960s and ’70s as she races to save her daughter.
Peter Abrahams (also known as Spencer Quinn, New York Times–bestselling author of the Chet and Bernie Mysteries) delivers a gripping thriller about a Los Angeles single mother caught up in a conspiracy with roots in 1969’s Woodstock Festival.
Jessie Shapiro restores paintings for a living, but ever since her divorce from unfaithful musician Pat, she can barely make ends meet. One weekend, Pat fails to bring their ten-year-old daughter, Kate, home. When Jessie goes to his Venice Beach house, she hears a disturbing cut-off message on his answering machine and discovers strange foreign words written in big block letters on his kitchen blackboard. Then her life is threatened.
The police are dragging their feet, so Jessie embarks on her own search for Kate. Her quest takes her across the country and back decades, from the drug haze of Woodstock to the lethal jungles of Vietnam to the highest echelons of Russian and American intelligence. The truth—more shocking than she ever imagined—may not set her free. But it could cost her everything.
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About the Author
Abrahams lives on Cape Cod with his family. Visit his website: www.spencequinn.com
Read an Excerpt
By Peter Abrahams, Spencer Quinn
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1988 Peter Abrahams
All rights reserved.
The man they called Bao Dai lived in a three-colored world. Brown was the color of leeches. Orange was the color of Corporal Trinh's decayed boots. Green was the color of the jungle and of misfortune.
Bao Dai's own boots had rotted long ago. Now he wore sandals made from truck tires. His other possessions were a torn shirt, a loincloth and a tin bowl. The bowl was filled three times a day — rice with swamp grass at dawn, plain rice at noon, rice with watery gravy at night. It was a diet that had killed a lot of men. Bao Dai had watched them die. It hadn't killed him. He wasn't even hungry now, maybe because he believed that any extra food he got would only be consumed by the worms inside him.
Like his namesake, the playboy emperor, Bao Dai dreamed many dreams of escape. But that's not why they called him Bao Dai; everyone in the camp dreamed of escape. He was given the name because of his chubby knees, which reminded them of pictures of the emperor in short pants, at his lycée in Paris. Corporal Trinh especially had enjoyed calling him Bao Dai, sometimes bowing to him before they got started in the torture room. But by now the joke had been lost — they called him Bao Dai because it was the only name they knew. And his knees hadn't been chubby for a long time. He was as tough and stringy as the hill people.
Nothing like hope remained in Bao Dai, but his dreams persisted, night after night. In the end, it was rain that made them come true: not flares, rockets, Hueys touching down from the sky — the fiction of his nightly adventures. Just rain, the hard rain of the late-summer monsoon. It struck with a force gravity alone could not explain, pounding stinging rhythms on all living things, drumming out all sound but its own, cascading in sheets off the trees, flooding the ground below.
Down in the mud, Bao Dai worked with the others. They were building a jetty by the river. A truck brought stones as far as the camp, where the road ended. They hammered the stones into pieces, packed them into big woven baskets and carried them on their backs to the river. Two hills stood between the camp and the river. The first was the easier — it had once been known as Hill 422 and wasn't completely refoliated yet. The second was overgrown and much steeper.
Bent almost double, Bao Dai toiled up the slippery path of the second hill, wrapped in a translucent curtain of rain. All he could see were the straining calves of Nhu, the wife-killer, a few feet in front of his face. On his own legs, he felt the panting breath of Huong, who had once owned two taxis and was now being reeducated. Huong's eyes never stopped crying — something had gone wrong with his tear ducts. Behind them all walked Corporal Trinh, unburdened by anything except his Marakov nine-millimeter pistol and his homemade whip.
They came to a little clearing, halfway up. Now the rain fell in powerful gusts, so hard it almost knocked Bao Dai to the ground. He fought to control the heavy basket on his back, fought to keep his shackled feet from tangling in the chain that linked them, kept going. The slight tug at the skin behind his knee meant a leech had fastened on. There was nothing he could do about it — he needed both hands pulling at the tumpline around his forehead to stop the basket from toppling him over.
Bao Dai went on. The mud sucked at his feet, belching rotten gases. He heard the taxi owner slip and fall, heard him struggling to his feet. He was too slow. Corporal Trinh's whip made its whistling sound. The taxi man cried out. Bao Dai tried to go faster. He rarely felt pain anymore, but he hated Corporal Trinh's whip. Corporal Trinh had tied a three-pronged fishhook to the end. Sometimes it stuck, sometimes it didn't. That's what made it sport for Corporal Trinh.
By the time Bao Dai started down the hill, he could no longer see Nhu in front of him or hear the taxi man and Corporal Trinh behind. He paused and leaned the weight of the basket against a tree, groping for the leech on the back of his leg. That's when Corporal Trinh went right past him, the Marakov in his hand. There was no sign of the taxi man.
Bao Dai straightened under his load and followed. They were supposed to stay together. Another rule. His back tingled in the spot it had last felt Corporal Trinh's whip. Bao Dai knew it would be worse if he tried to hide. Half-walking, half-sliding, he hurried down the hill.
Lightning flashed. Thunder boomed, a heartbeat later. Someone yelled. Bao Dai rounded a corner and saw Nhu, the murderer, lying under a fallen tree. The weight of the tree rested on his chest. His spine was doubled backward over the basket of stones. He was dead. Bao Dai sniffed and smelled burned air.
For a moment, he didn't see Corporal Trinh. That was because Corporal Trinh had been farther up the path when the tree caught him. Now he was trapped under its middle branches, partly covered with leaves. His head was bleeding.
Corporal Trinh strained under the tree with all his might, but he couldn't free himself. The Marakov lay in the mud nearby. Corporal Trinh saw Bao Dai and twisted his free arm around a branch, stretching it as far as he could. It wasn't far enough. Bao Dai went closer. Corporal Trinh's fingers clutched at the mud, inches short. Bao Dai squatted down and picked up the gun.
He looked at the gun, he looked at the tree, he looked into Corporal Trinh's eyes. Pounding in his head drowned out all sound, even the rain. Bao Dai heard the pounding for a long time. Then, slowly, he shook the basket of stones off his back and let it fall.
Corporal Trinh's eyes watched. There was no fear in them. Corporal Trinh had prepared himself to die before Bao Dai had fully realized that the man was in his power.
Bao Dai rose and stood over Corporal Trinh. The rain washed the leaking blood away from Corporal Trinh's head wound. It was a deep wound — Bao Dai could see gray corrugations inside. He reached down, took the keys off Corporal Trinh's belt, unlocked the shackles. Then he tore the leech off the back of his leg. It came with the sound of a bandage being ripped off a scab and rolled up in his hand, round as a half-dollar.
Bao Dai noticed that Corporal Trinh's eyes were fixed on the Marakov; noticed that it was pointed — that he was pointing it — at Corporal Trinh's head; noticed his own finger wrapped around the trigger. Bao Dai lowered the gun. He wanted badly to kill Corporal Trinh — killing Corporal Trinh was the stuff of his sweetest dreams. But not like this, not with a bullet, not quickly. And he had no time.
Bao Dai knelt in front of Corporal Trinh. He held the leech close to Corporal Trinh's eyes so he could see it. Then he shoved it as deep as he could into Corporal Trinh's wound. Corporal Trinh screamed. It was the most wonderful sound Bao Dai had ever heard — opening a world of possibilities, giving him hope.
Bao Dai turned and ran, slipping, stumbling, falling, down to the river. The river was muddy brown, not very broad, pocked with driving rain. The far side looked no different from his: dense jungle cowering under the monsoon. But it was another country.CHAPTER 2
Jerry Brenner was celebrating. All by himself, drinking cognac from a bottle with no label, in a bar with a name he couldn't read, in a city he'd never seen until the day before yesterday, he was as happy as he'd ever been in his life. It was like the feeling he remembered from the last day of spring semesters, back at USC, but blown up to adult size: a feeling of accomplishment, followed by no immediate responsibilities.
"Go Trojans!" he said aloud. The bartender, a young woman in a tight silk dress slit high up both sides, glanced at him in the mirror. He gave her image a big smile.
Son of a bitch. That afternoon he'd sold the Bank of Thailand two million dollars' worth of data-base software. The contract was signed and sealed, back in the hotel safe. It was going to mean a bonus, at least twenty grand, and maybe a promotion. And his flight didn't leave till late tomorrow afternoon. He had time for an all-night celebration and a long sleep the next day. Son of a bitch.
A woman sat down on the next stool. The bartender gave her a drink without being asked. Jerry felt her hip pressing against his. He looked at her out of the corner of his eye. She was dressed like the bartender, looked like her too; they might have been sisters.
The woman smiled. "You like me?" she said. She had long fingernails, painted bright red.
Jerry laughed. "Sure," he said.
The woman reached over and laid her hand in his lap. Jerry looked down at the bright red fingernails. He was shocked; but not because he was a prude: he'd expected a longer preliminary, that's all. And in the end, he'd probably have refused: Jerry Brenner didn't pay for it, and in any case he tried to be faithful to his wife — he'd only had two little flings in the past ten years. But the woman's one touch was more exciting than the total of all Ginny's touches since their first date, and besides, what the hell, tonight was a special night. And he was far from home.
Jerry Brenner stood up. The room slipped its moorings and swung like a barge at the end of a long anchor line. Son of a bitch, Jer. Cognac wasn't his drink. Beer was his drink. But tonight was a special night. You don't drink beer on special nights. The woman laughed and took his hand. She led him up some wobbly stairs, down a long hall and into a little white room that was as neat and clean as a Buddhist shrine.
There, on a bed that smelled of Lysol, she pleasured him. There was no other way to put it. She made him cry out, again and again, like a woman in orgasm. It scared him.
On the way out, he had a few beers, just to put things in perspective. The bartender gave him the bill, which included everything — the cognac, the beer, the woman. It was very reasonable. Jerry put it on his MasterCard. His hand shook slightly as he signed his name, but the little piece of plastic, like a pilgrim's amulet containing a pinch of native soil, was reassuring; he began to get hold of himself. He even smiled a little as he stuck the card in his wallet. It was his business entertainment card: a tax-deductible fuck.
Jerry went outside. Night. Son of a bitch. Had it been night when he'd entered the bar? He couldn't remember. Jerry started walking. It was cold — maybe that's why no one was about. He smelled water, rotting fish, sewage. Nausea bubbled up in his stomach — beer on top of cognac, a bad idea.
He stopped and looked around. Only one street lamp shone, a few blocks away: a smear of yellow, seen through a liquor-coated lens. Jerry walked toward it, all the while fighting a nagging feeling that the hotel was in the other direction. Maybe there'd be a cab parked under the light, he thought. He felt tired.
He kept walking. The distance was greater than it looked. Once Jerry thought he heard footsteps behind him, but when he turned no one was there.
And no one was parked under the light. The street ended a few yards beyond it, at a low wall. On the other side flowed a canal; he heard it slurping at the concrete. The smell of sewage and rotting fish was suddenly overpowering. The nausea bubble inflated and rose through his chest. Jerry stumbled into the shadow of a building and vomited.
He vomited the beer, the cognac, the satays he'd had for lunch, the shrimp in peanut sauce. He vomited on his brogues and on his Brooks Brothers tropical suit. But when he finished, he felt much better. "Son of a bitch, Jer," he said. "You're not as young as you used to be." He stood up, straightened his tie, and turned.
A man was standing in the shadows, watching. Jerry jumped. "Christ, buddy," he said. "You scared me."
The man didn't speak. He kept watching Jerry. He had strange eyes — blue for one thing, hard blue like glaze fired in an oven.
The man raised his fist. There was something in it, something that gleamed for a moment with reflected light from the street lamp: a gun. A burst of adrenaline swept through Jerry, sobering him at once. "Hey," said Jerry, "don't do anything foolish, I'll give you what you want." He reached for his wallet.
There was an explosion, not very loud. Then Jerry was lying on his back. The man was going through his pockets. "I'm hurt," Jerry tried to say, but no sound came. The man found his passport, opened it, looked inside. Then he stripped off all of Jerry's clothing — the brogues, the executive-length socks, the tan suit, the tie with the sailboat figures, the 100-percent-cotton shirt, the boxer shorts.
Jerry was very cold.
The man dragged him over rough concrete. He was humming a song. Jerry recognized it. "When the Music's Over." The tune rose high, higher, out of hearing.
"Oh God, help me," Jerry tried to say. But no sound came. He fell through air and splashed down in water. It felt cold on top, but much warmer below.CHAPTER 3
From the moment Bao Dai stepped on his native soil, he had problems with the glare. It bent the shape of everything he saw. He looked up at the sky, to see why home should be so bright, and saw that the sun wasn't even shining; it was a cloudy day. He rubbed his eyes, hard, as if dislodging distortion lenses that had been implanted without his knowledge, maybe in his sleep or when he'd been in fever land, but when he stopped rubbing the glare remained. It twisted the edges of things: the cars, the buildings, the hollow-faced mannequins in the clothing-store window.
Bao Dai went inside.
A tall black woman, hollow-faced as the mannequins, came through the glare and said, "May I help you, sir?" She didn't talk like a black person, not like any of the black people he'd known over there; she didn't talk like any white people he'd known over there either: too fancy. Her eyes gave him a quick once-over, taking in the suit, the button-down shirt, the tie, the leather shoes with all the little round holes in the toe.
"Jeans," said Bao Dai.
He wondered if he'd pronounced it right. Had he said something like "jinns"? He repeated the word, taking care to stretch it out.
"You're looking for jeans, sir? That will be the Country Weekend Boutique." She led him toward the back of the store. "Do you have any designer preference? Calvin Klein? Jordache? Ralph Lauren?"
"Bell-bottoms," said Bao Dai.
He said it again, pronouncing it with special care.
The woman blinked, very rapidly, five or six times. In the glare, her long flickering eyelashes were like movements under a strobe light. "Do you mean bellbottom jeans?" asked the woman.
Bao Dai grunted.
The woman gave him another quick once-over, this time taking in his face as well as his clothing. "There's a revival store near Coolidge Corner. You could try that."
Later he was on a bus, rolling along a highway, a paved highway, paved the whole way. A sign above the driver's head said: TOILET AT REAR. He went to it. He unzipped the suit pants and pissed in a metal toilet that made a sucking sound when he flushed. He thought of the black woman in the store. Then he looked up and forgot about her immediately. He saw a face in the mirror. It was his face, of course; he knew that. What he hadn't known was how much older it looked than the face of the black woman. He would have said they were about the same age. But it wasn't true. He returned to his seat, glancing at the other passengers as he moved along the aisle, trying to tell who was older, who was younger, who was the same age. He walked up and down the aisle several times until he noticed eyes peeking at him and the driver's eyes darting up in the rearview mirror. He went back to the toilet, locked the door, took off all his clothes and stared at the figure in the mirror until he realized the bus was no longer moving.
Bao Dai walked along a country road.
What was that song, he wondered as he walked. "Changes"? "Sit by my side, come as close as ..." As what? He didn't remember. He remembered the chord progression though — C, D, G, E minor. His left hand made barring motions in the air.
It was a country road he knew well, glare or no glare. Rain was falling now, and he kept his head down, not because he felt the wet or the cold, but because he didn't like the hazy glare around every raindrop. He didn't need to see where he was going; he knew the road like the back of his hand. Bao Dai looked at the backs of his hands.
Excerpted from Hard Rain by Peter Abrahams, Spencer Quinn. Copyright © 1988 Peter Abrahams. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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