Red Rain

Red Rain

by Michael Crow

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ISBN-13: 9780451410863
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date: 04/22/2003
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 4.32(w) x 6.72(h) x 0.86(d)

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1

The wiper blades screech in protest through each jittery arc, trailing an oily smear on the windshield across my line of sight. Blurred, starry brake lights flash on in pairs, flash off, flash on, red glare richoceting off the rain-slick black asphalt. My eyes ache. It's a sour, clammy late August morning. Sullen smoke-gray clouds hang so low they're muffling the tops of office buildings and hotels. And we're trapped in a miles-long traffic crawl on York Road. Bad coffee from Teddy's Gyro Shop is already eating a hole in my stomach lining. The little cardboard pine tree Ice Box has hung from the rear-view mirror is losing its fight against residual odors of pizza, KFC chicken, fries, Big Macs and all the rest of the nasty, hasty meals others who've cruised in this Crown Victoria have wolfed down on their shifts.

"I got two words for you, Ewing," Ice Box says, both hands white-knuckled on the wheel like an eighty-year-old with glaucoma who knows he shouldn't be driving on the clearest, sunniest day of the year, let alone in a downpour like this. "Just two words: Shut the fuck up!"

I stick my fingers in that lousy coffee and flick a few drops in his general direction.

My best suit! Shit, man!" Ice Box squeals, taking both hands off the wheel to swipe at the wet spots, almost rear-ending a Ford Explorer.

"You call those Kmart overalls a suit? Anyway, doesn't your wife spray everything you own with Scotchgard, being familiar with your eating style?"

"I'm going to sit on your skinny bones one day and crack you open like a crab!" Ice Box is close to a giggle.

"Anything but that, IB, anything. I most sincerely regret all my impetuous gestures."

"How long, O Lord, how long?" Ice Box sighs. "What'd I ever do so wrong in life that got me stuck with this spook beside me, can you tell me that? Can anyone tell me that? I think about this a lot and I never get no answers."

Poor Ice Box. He's been stuck with me for almost two years now, ever since I came on as a detective with the Baltimore County Police Department. He didn't have a choice. Neither did I, really. It wasn't a job I much wanted or a place I specially picked, but my options, let's say, were few to none at the time.

But it's okay with me and Ice Box. Never like it was with my homies on the Alpha team in Iraq. Couldn't expect that sort of brotherhood anywhere out in the world. Only once, in a time, a place, a situation where if you aren't ultratight, somebody dies. Afterward, you have to settle for what you get. I got lucky. Ice Box made my cut. I made his too, though I still don't know what his exact parameters are. We trust each other on the job, we see each other off-duty as friends, he has me over to his house for holiday dinners and so forth. But we've yet to go up against anything truly hard together, and that's the only way you ever really find out what you need to know.

I'd just been asking him-idle teasing to get my mind off my stomach and my eyes and stir some life into a dead, dull day-if he's going to name the twins his wife is carrying something original like Cholesterol and Iodine instead of more traditional choices, like Tawana and Tasheba. "Just two words...." IB's an unlikely tenor, almost always near the top of his range.

And that's a smile. The man's a white guy the approximate size and shape of a Sub-Zero. Not all pumped up, cut and buffed like the steroid freaks I see every day in the Department workout room. Just huge, solid as a sandbag. He looks like a fat man, but nothing ever jiggles or shakes when he moves, and he can move. Yes he can. You don't want to be in the way when the Ice Box moves.

I know exactly what to make of him, at certain levels. Joseph Cutrone, raised in "Bawlmer, Merlin," calls the ballteam the "Oreos," says we work for the "PO-leese." Runs out of the tough Highlandtown neighborhood where he'd spent his boyhood to the County just as soon as he's making enough money to do it. Like lots of white guys in his situation. The professionals, the dual-income couples, the young yuppies, they've already been out here for a generation or two. Their parents or grandparents fled the city to the first modest developments in the early '50s. The kids grow up, go away to college, come back and do better than their parents ever dreamed of, move farther out to grander houses on more land. The old folks die or retire to Florida, leaving behind places people like Ice Box can afford. Still safe, still easy, still good ground to raise kids. Total suburbia these days, the city a half-deserted war zone except for a few surrounded outposts, and showplaces like the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards, where all the money that could've gone to housing and schools got spent on a stadium and an aquarium. Only in the County's far north, near the Pennsylvania line, do the farms and neat, small towns survive. And it's just dumb, unimportant redneck crime out there: brawls in roadhouses, semitough family disputes, a few burglaries, cockfights and dogfights, once in a while an armed robbery. Only gunfire usually comes from hunters who down too much peach brandy against the cold, miss their deer, start blowing holes in traffic signs with their Savage and Winchester 30-06s. Working out their frustrations the way they do in rural areas.

I don't know anything about all this when I first come on. Learn as I go. Learn the place, learn the people. It's a skill. Ice Box, smart as he is, still doesn't know any more about me than I give him, and he knows more than anybody else in the Department, except Annie. I like to think this is very deliberate on my part, something necessary, deliberately planned. Yet more and more lately I don't feel certain even I know the truth about myself. Seems I've had a couple of lives, each lived by a different person.

Poppa, or Gunny to everybody including me as a kid, was in the Crotch, a marine lifer, central casting's perfect choice for a scary spade top sergeant if they couldn't book James Earl Jones for the part. Two tours in the Nam, then moving around between Camp Lejeune, Quantico, Parris Island, embassy security in Hong Kong, Belgrade, Bonn. Some Fleet time, a little visit to Grenada too. Momma's Vietnamese. It pleases me to think she wasn't just another Saigon bargirl. It pleases her to claim she's part of an old Cochin China family, well bred and once well off, with illicit but far from scandalous aristocratic French connections. She drops French phrases into her conversations. It could be just a good act.

I never need an act. People's eyes go all puzzled when they check me out and try to classify me. I don't look like an African American. I don't look true Asiastic. My eyes are brown flecked with gold, my skin's sort of like copper left unpolished just a bit too long, I've got straight black hair, thick and glossy like Momma's. But my nose must have come from some rogue French gene in Momma's blood. It's narrow but big, high-bridged and long. Maybe her story's true. People generally make me for Native American. Or Mexican, Colombian, Nicaraguan, some sort of south-of-the border mestizo. But they never feel sure.

I get off on that. In the military I'm sly, get it going without actually saying so that I'm a full-blood Comanche. Oh man, the dudes dig that. They get intensely into the concept. They believe I have the powers-a man who moves and leaves no sign, a ghost rider who smells the presence of the enemy, a quick and silent throat slitter who fades to invisibilty after the kill.

It's easy not to disabuse them of these notions, since Gunny's idea of playing with little Luther never involved bats and balls, but some toned-down version of bootcamp and a lot of jungle stuff he'd learned in Nam. Training. Stalking squirrels in the Carolina boonies with a .22 rifle at eight, nailing rabbits with a .22 semi-auto pistol at ten, my first buck with a .243 Remington Model 7 at twelve. Full-auto action with an M16 at fourteen.

I go army at eighteen instead of the corps, which pisses Gunny off until he understands my motive. Too many Marines would know I was my father's son, maybe cut me some slack. He's proud when I make Special Forces, where they just dig the hell out of their Comanche. "You ever get into combat, Luther, make it real for 'em. Scalp your first KIA. You'll start a legend," Gunny says laughing, when I visit on leave after training and before assignment to my team. He's only half-joking.

I do worse. Little more than two years on, hair past my shoulders, warpaint instead of camo grease on my face and the teams getting high on it, I go insane in a crappy stucco house just outside Kuwait City and kill my military career. I want to be a lifer like Gunny, but I screw that right then, right there.

"I can't take it anymore!" Ice Box shouts, jolting me out of bad memory. He jumps the curb, guns around a mom waiting patiently at a red light in her Audi Quattro station wagon-silver, what else?-hangs a hard right and slams down over the curb onto Ridgely Road. I catch a glimpse of a tennis-tanned face, mouth open in a perfect O, and a dozing toddler well strapped into a safety seat behind her. Ice Box is up to almost 60 when he laughs, slows down to the 35 limit. We're passing through a '50s development, little tract houses all variations of the same Cape Cod theme on little quarter-acre lots where the fragile saplings and hedging the original residents planted so hopefully have burgeoned and prospered until they've almost overgrown the homes. We pass a Presbyterian church on a little knoll likewise sheltered, and Ridgely Junior High School down a slope opposite. The three ball fields and the track below look like a swamp today. Then Ice Box goes left on Pots Spring Road, and we're flanked by custom homes, ranches and split-levels and colonial revivals from the '60s maybe, on two or three acres, a couple of vehicles in each curving asphalt driveway, Grand Cherokees and Land Cruisers for the soccer moms, fast little Acuras and Miatas and entry-level BMWs for their older kids. The shrubs are trimmed to scale, the lawns as manicured as golf greens.

"Their fuckin' kids never mowed a blade or clipped a hedge," Ice Box mutters.

"Professional job, you think?" I smile. "Good policework, IB."

"I got just two words to say to you, just two words...."

"One. Turn," I say, and he does, heading us north on Dulaney Valley Road, newer and grander houses on much bigger properties on our left now, and to the right a great looming forest of rain-blackened pines planted in perfectly symmetrical rows in the 1930s to protect the watershed of Loch Raven Reservoir.

"They didn't think ahead," I say.

"Who?"

"The idiots who planted the pines."

"Say what?"

"They forgot trees grow," I say. The forest is now so damned dense, the trunks now two to three feet in diameter and the needle-carpeted alleys so narrowed you'd have to snake your way through on your belly. Can't see any water at all. I know it's down there, within half a mile or so, dark and deep, a long, sinuous lake that follows an old stream valley's twists and turns, only the streambed's now a hundred feet or more underwater.

As we move farther out, wipers still screeching, masssive waves of fog begin a slow tumble out from the woods and break over us, obscuring the road. Ice Box switches on the headlights. One's burned out, so he flicks to high beam. Fat drops of rain are smacking down harder and faster, sheeting on the unwaxed hood of the Crown Vic. The greasy streaks on the windshield worsen the glare bouncing back at us off the fog.

"Put the lights back on low," I say.

"Who, my man, is driving this ve-hicle? Is it the mighty Ice Box, or some squirrel they call Five-O?"

That's what I get for that Chlorophyll and Mercurochrome crack or whatever I'd said about his twins' names. He's punched my button. What can I do but laugh? Enough time's passed to laugh.

Just two weeks with the Department, under suspicion because I'd come in as a detective on orders from higher than anyone could see, on a nod-and-name basis with Ice Box and a colder version of that with the narc boss, Lieutenant Dugal, who likes to pick his own people, not have them dumped on him. A nothing night in the squadroom, me well outside the conversation as usual, when Dugal comes in and says, "Showtime."

"Good to go, LT," I say. Damned stupid reflex. Yeah, it's around I'm ex-army, but I know from day one that doesn't go down too well with these guys, any more than the fact that I'm there at all.

"Good, Ewing? Go where, Ewing? These men are geared up and you're not. Why is that, Ewing?"

Because none of you dickheads said anything about a mission, I think. "Making it happen now, sir," I say, sprinting off to the locker room. I put on a Kevlar vest, pull a black turtleneck on over it, open my lockbox and shoulder holster a most nonregulation weapon, slip into a black leather jacket. The rest: black Levis and black Chuck Taylor hightops, the white rubber edges blackened with a Sharpie. Then I run out to the parking lot.

There's a mean snickering when I scramble into the waiting van with Ice Box, two pumped dudes I don't even know and the LT, all of them wearing jeans or khakis and navy windbreakers with POLICE stenciled on the backs with white reflective paint. "Christ, Ewing, you think this is some kind of commando shit? Get your police coat," the LT snaps. The two unknowns are smirking, Ice Box's broad face is blank. Then Dugal looks at his watch. "Fuck it. We can't waste the time."

It seems there's enough of it to do the traffic crawl ten miles or so up York Road to Cockeysville, a warren of town houses, condos and apartments on what Ice Box says used to be all farmland. And then get lost for a while, driving slowly around crescents and circles. The LT's doing a slow burn on the driver, whose name turns out to be "Taggert You Fuck" in Dugal-speak. Finally we pull up behind a four-story brick condo and stop beside a Dumpster that hasn't been emptied for too long. Otherwise, the place looks pretty good, well maintained, solid citizens inside judging from the years and makes of the cars in the parking lot. Then we're through the unlocked steel service door and climbing the steel-railed service stairway, like the one in my apartment building, which I realize now isn't too far away. No need for Maglites. The stairwell's bright with floods in steel cages.

"Three B," the LT says as we ease out into a hallway and pad down beige carpet toward the target. There's thick, condo-grade patterned paper on the walls, bright white sconces between each anonymous beige apartment door. Outside 3B, the LT gives a hand signal, we draw our weapons, and suddenly everybody's looking at me like I've unzipped my pants and pulled my pecker out.

They're all holding cheap Ruger 9mm semis. In my right hand gleams a .50AE Desert Eagle, Israeli-made, wearing an Aimpoint. When the Aimpoint's red dot shows on whatever you want to hit, the Eagle hits exactly there. Awesome handgun. It'll punch through a car door, rip up the torsos of two men inside, and blast out the other door. Which makes any nine a limp dick by comparison.

The LT puts his lips so close to my ear it's almost a kiss. "Get that monstrosity on safe now, mister. You will not-repeat, not-fire that weapon no matter what goes down."

I nod assent. No way I'm following that order, though. "Clusterfuck," Gunny would've called this whole operation. I'm about to go through Alice's mirror with four men I have no reason to trust. I don't know how good their intelligence is, I've no idea if they're clear about what's on the other side. Only thing I'm confident of is that if 3B's the crib of stone gangsta drug dealers with Tec-9s, maybe Glocks or even full-auto mini-Uzis, I'm taking out at least two and more likely three with the Eagle before they can do anything but swiss-cheese the ceiling. I'm positive the guys inside and out don't know squat about fire discipline. Amateurs. Spray-and-pray. I've no intention of going down myself on some asshole's pure-chance shot.

Ice Box is through the door like it's wet cardboard, me right behind him spinning left into combat crouch, red dot already fixed on the chest of one of the dealers. Then I start laughing, really laughing, and Ice Box does too. The LT and Taggert You Fuck and the other guy come in like all their training's from watching old Miami Vice reruns. The LT glares at me and Ice Box. We're laughing so hard we're almost out of control, but he's covering the dealers while Taggert You Fuck and the other dude move to pat down and cuff our gangstas. I decock the Eagle and holster it.

"Freeze," screams Dugal. His timing's a little off tonight.

They've been frozen on a brown corduroy sofa, newest Pearl Jam cranked up on the stereo, since the door smashed down. Three pure white-bread suburban punks, no more than eighteen to twenty, in total shock. On the glass-topped coffee table before them there's a plastic salad-spinner bowl full of pills, and the kids' hands are suspended in the act of placing two pills each into tiny Ziplocs. There's maybe two dozen of them already filled and stacked at one end of the table. I pick one up. Ecstasy.

Taggert You Fuck and the other dude hustle the kids upright. One of them starts to piss himself. I can see the stain spreading fast down the billowy leg of cargo pants so huge they're gonna slide off his hips, the kind he's seen the black kids and rappers wearing on MTV but, my guess, never in his life face to face. Another starts to cry when he feels the steel snap closed on his wrists.

I catch Ice Box's eye, and we both erupt again.

"Shut up!" Dugal snarls, more to me and Ice Box than the weepy kid. We go off to toss the place. No more drugs, no weapons at all, unless you count some dull kitchen knives. The LT, after scooping the salad bowl, the pills and the pile of Ziplocs into an evidence baggy, turns on me.

"Hand over the piece, Ewing," he says. Taggert You Fuck and the other joker have taken the kids downstairs to the van. I unholster the Eagle and drop it into his outstretched hand from about an inch above the palm. He isn't ready for the weight and fumbles it, almost lets it fall to the floor. Recovering, he slides open the action and neatly catches the ejected cartridge. He tosses it up and down, slips a 9mm out of his spare clip and tosses the two of them together. "Ice Box, take a look at this," he says, dumping the cartridges into IB's massive hand while he looks over the Eagle. "Can't see shit through this laser thing," Dugal says. I don't mention it isn't turned on.

"Holy Christ," Ice Box says. "The round's almost a double 9. Bigger than a .44 Magnum. Say .50 caliber. They make pistols in .50? Ohhh, that's evil. Oughta be a law against it."

"I think maybe Ewing's confused about where he is," Dugal says. "You here, Ewing? Or you imagining you're still army? You believe you're some kind of warrior? We got no place for military warriors. We're in the law enforcement business."

"Eagle's a good gun, sir, in my experience," I blurt, knowing before I've finished that I've gotten too dumb to live.

"Do I care? Do I really give a shit about your experience? Is it meaningful to me in any conceivable way at all that you once ran around in the desert? I don't ever want to see this pistol again. Understood?"

"Yessir."

"Ice Box is now your partner..."

"You puttin' me with this Five-O crazy?" the big man interrupts.

"Your senior partner, Ewing. Your superior," Dugal goes on, ignoring IB. "You do what he says to do, when he says to do it. You do anything else, your ass is out of my squad, no matter how high up the brass who stuck me with you."

"Aw shit," Ice Box says. "Wait a minute, Lieutenant. I'm seeing Lethal Weapon movies here on my eyelids, and Ewing's the crazy Mel Gibson guy. I got some serious reservations about this."

"Live with 'em, Ice Box," the LT says and storms out of the condo.

Ice Box does. Ice Box susses I'm no pyscho, but not before he's told half the Department about Ewing's cannon, not before every half-ass is calling me Five-O and laughing as they say it.

"At least they're talking to you, acknowledging you exist, am I right?" Ice Box smiles a few days later. He's invited me for coffee at Teddy's. I take one sip of the grayish sludge in my cup and ask for a Coke instead. "They figure they've made you now, we know they haven't, but it'll relax the fucks. So you're not pissed, right?"

"What do you think?"

"I think you were thinking what I was thinking the other night. Too many cop movies. Lights, camera, action. They're going to go down looking real surprised one day, we hit anything bad."

"Yup."

"A fucking generation living TV and Hollywood referential," Ice Box says. He's starting to surprise me. "They got no idea what's real and what's not. They think the streets are some kind of set. Gotta watch your own back whenever you're out and about with any of these stumblefucks."

"You planning on watching real hard with me?"

"Do I need to?" Ice Box says. And for the first time I hear that high-pitched giggle.

He's saying the right things, but there's still payback due. He asks for it without knowing it. "Hey Luther, let me fire that Eagle thing on the range one day, huh?" he says as we're leaving Teddy's. He sees what he thinks is suspicion in my eyes.

"C'mon, man. No set-up. You gotta let me try it out."

Early next Sunday morning we drive to the outdoor police range and Ice Box has the time of his life. He fires ten clips, grinning like a lunatic. "I love this piece, Five-O. I want one, with this red dot thing and all. Want one bad, bad, bad!"

I'm grinning Monday when he comes to work with an Ace bandage around his right wrist. "You shoulda told me about the fuckin' recoil, man," he whispers to me, mild reproach on his face, waving his wrist. "I think it's broke."

"Dude your size? Never crossed my mind it'd bother you," I say with a smile.

—from Red Rain: A Luther Ewing Thriller by Michael Crow, Copyright ©: May 2002, Viking Press, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.

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Red Rain 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
im a 14 year old boy, so i dont read much... i picked up a used copy of this book at some low rate bookstore on the hampton shores. when i picked it up, i couldnt put it down, its amazing and i can't wait to read 'The Bite' the book dwells into luther's dark past with flashbacks. his emotional walls he puts up by numerous sexual conquests with younger woman, all the while dealing with his police work
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was very disjointed. I got about halfway finished and decided to spend my time on other things, which is unusual because I typically finish EVERYTHING I start. I just never saw the point to this book. I'd put my energy into anything other than this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I didn't enjoy this book at first, but it grew on me. I didn't like the Luther Ewing charachter because of his pshycotic flashbacks of the war and his crazy snaps a a mercenary in the Balkins, but it all comes together the more you read on. His knowledge of weapons and his love of handguns I found funny and entertaining. It's full of great characters that also grow on you, so I do recommend this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book rocks. If you like a story that moves, and is written by a guy who obviously knows his stuff, this is for you.The main character, Luther Ewing, carries a ton of baggage, and has a rather 'nasty' side, but what I liked about the book was the sense of humor to go along with the carnage. These characters never forget to have a little fun with each other. If you want to know about the plot read the other critics' comments. All I know is that I read this book with no interruption.