JEOPARDY SURFACE Excerpt: Chapter One, Part One

January 8, 2017

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

November 14

Triangle, Virginia

38°32’40.87”N, 77°19’32.87”W

 

 

FOG ROLLED AND shifted like a living thing, prolonging

my confusion. Cold. Wet. Dark. A streetlight’s feeble yellow

glow illuminated the Tahoe and Jeep parked in the driveway.

My driveway. Great, that explained where, but certainly not how

or why. I’d been in bed, mentally clicking through a macabre slide

show, my version of counting sheep. I must’ve fallen asleep, but

my body felt too heavy to be dreaming. How had I gotten from

my bed to the front yard? My sleep patterns hadn’t exactly been

normal lately, but somnambulism was a new one.

          Think. Start with a couple of facts. Okay. Fact: Bare feet. Fact:

Damp grass. Fact: Mid-November.

          It was November when I’d gotten in bed, but I couldn’t rule

out the involvement of a space-time continuum. It was apparently

that kind of night. Chilly temp, damp grass. Hence, cold wet feet.

Cold wet everything. My hair was undoubtedly a Medusa-like

mass of dark, wet tendrils. Time? My gut said it was the witching

hour, sometime between midnight and zero-three-hundred when

most law-abiding citizens were asleep and the insomniacs and serious

miscreants were not.

          Sounds. Chattering teeth. Crickets. Yipping—incessant, at that

grating octave unique to the diva breeds. This little shit, a tiny

mop with legs, belonged to Mrs. Schroeder and barked at anything

that moved. Skipper? Skippy? Really? You gonna stand here shivering

all night in thin pajama pants and a tank top? A porch light came

on. Skittles must’ve woken a neighbor.

          When I raised my wrist to check my watch, intense white

light bathed my lawn. The weight in my left hand registered a

moment before I realized what I was holding. Sonofabitch. Cool

to the touch. No odor of burnt gunpowder, which would’ve lingered

in the fog. A slide check revealed a round in the chamber. I’d

obviously meant business. The motion-sensing security lights were

timed to shut off after ten minutes without motion. They’d been

off. Well, this is just great. You’ve been standing here for at least

ten minutes, oblivious, holding a firearm.

          No neighbors had come out to investigate the sound of a gunshot,

a good sign. On the other hand, sounds of violence often

went unheard in the middle of the night, especially in neighborhoods

like mine where half of the potential witnesses removed

their hearing aids before bed. For the first time, I considered what

I might find inside my house. The front door was wide open, and

the fact my alarm wasn’t going off didn’t exactly put me at ease. I’d

managed to enter the six-digit code, apparently while sleepwalking.

          A methodical check of each room revealed nothing out of

place, with the exception of my bedroom. Assuming I hadn’t traveled

through a wormhole, I’d fallen asleep a little after midnight,

which would’ve been about three hours earlier according to the

alarm clock on the nightstand. The nightstand drawer where I

kept the Glock was open, and the bed looked like the aftermath

of a WWE match. After smoothing the fitted sheet, I released

the magazine and counted each round as I ejected them onto the

bed. Thirteen, plus one in the chamber. Well, that’s one thing to be

thankful for. I’d have to do something about this, but I was too

tired to figure it out.

          After reloading the pistol and returning it to the drawer, I

stumbled to the bathroom through an obstacle course of strewn

bedding, ungracefully shedding my wet pants in the process. My

hand blindly explored cold tile, found the switch. Fifteen pounds

of perturbed feline glared at me from the vanity.

          “Sorry, Stell.”

          Ignoring me, she yawned, arched her back, and smoothly transitioned

to the cat version of downward dog.

          Random thoughts flitted like gnats. What day is it? Saturday.

God, my legs feel like someone beat me with a stick. What else had I

done in my sleep? Was this the first time, or just the first time I hadn’t

woken up in my bed? Jesus, what if I’d fired my weapon! What in the

hell is wrong with me? And what am I going to do about it? It’s not

like I can call a damned hotline. Why now? Things had been better

until… until what? Until your partner went on leave and your

workload doubled? Until Erin started reminding you that December

21st is right around the corner? No. Yes, but there was something

else, something that might explain the nightmares and, apparently,

some kind of fucked up sleep disorder.

          Dame Stella resettled and began half-heartedly grooming herself.

Stella’s a survivor. It takes one to know one, I suppose. One

night seven years ago I was dumpster diving behind a Greyhound

station. Ridiculous, I know. In a blind rage, I’d tossed out a couple

of things, and after calming down I was ass-deep on a mission.

The object of my frantic rooting was forgotten when I discovered

a skinny gray kitten curled up inside a Stella Artois beer box. I’d

abandoned a cat before, in Scotland, when I was a kid and didn’t

have any say in the matter. Oh, quit being so dramatic, Regan. It’s

not abandonment. Mrs. Naughton will give Galileo a perfectly lovely

home. In retrospect, my aunt had been a tad busy burying my

parents and relocating Erin and me to the States. My tabby was

understandably low on her priority list, but try explaining that to a

distraught six-year-old.

          “We’re a sad pair, Stell.” Two quick tail swishes. Translation:

Speak for yourself, woman. She resumed lick-swipe-licking.

          I avoided the mirror like I’d managed to avoid my sister since

we moved my niece into her dorm weeks, shit, months, ago. Erin,

my ever meddling sister, would take one look at me and offer her

diagnosis, undoubtedly something involving rapid weight loss and

sleep deprivation with some complicated clinical terms thrown in.

A check-in with my supervisor loomed, but at least he wouldn’t

be so goddamned clinical about it. Jesus Christ, Ross. You been on a

bender? is more Harry Spielman’s style.

          Not surprisingly, Stella bolted at the mere suggestion of running

water. The hot water did nothing to revive me. Shit. Zero-three-

thirty. Chance of getting back to sleep: nil. It was supposed

to be my day off, or at least the closest I got to a day off. I’d

planned to unpack, then find something relaxing to do, but there

would be no relaxing until I did something about my sleepwalking

problem. Vincent Tomaro, a friend and former colleague, owned a

private security firm. Video surveillance was one of his many specialized

skills. He could set me up with cameras and a DVR so

I could monitor myself. No one else needed to know. With the

exception of my insurance company, Vincent was one of only four

people who knew what was parked in my garage. He’d assume I

was finally taking his advice to upgrade my security.

           After that was taken care of, maybe I’d go for a long run or to

the shooting range. I turned off the faucet and had another idea.

Chang’s gym. I was preparing to test for fourth dan rank soon and

my sore legs begged for activity. Was there a better stress reliever

than going for a run then kicking and pounding the hell out of

a heavy bag? Nope. As I was drying my face and hands, I heard

metal bouncing on tile. My Virginia Tech class ring. What the hell?

It slid back onto my finger too easily. Shit, had I lost more weight?

As I stashed the ring in a drawer, I imagined Erin staging her version

of an intervention, like she tried to do seven years ago. That

had gone so well.

          She was a single parent dealing with a resentful kid while managing

a surgeon’s schedule, and she’d wanted to add her moody,

jobless sister to the mix. Had her offer not felt like an ultimatum,

or had I been a little more gracious in refusing it, things might’ve

gone differently. Maybe I wouldn’t have become so evasive. Maybe

I would be the kind of aunt my niece deserved. It wasn’t fair to

Erin or Lanie. Hell, it wasn’t fair to me for that matter, but I didn’t

have the first clue what to do about it.

          I’d changed into shorts and a t-shirt, and was sitting on the

edge of the bed lacing up a Nike when my phone vibrated. Shit. As

it continued to rattle obnoxiously on the nightstand, I ran through

all the possibilities. If it couldn’t wait until Monday, it probably

meant a helicopter or plane ride to God-knows-where less than

twenty-four hours after returning from Seattle. Or, maybe it was

Erin commencing another voicemail barrage. She’d been obsessed

with my plans for the holidays, as if this year might be an exception.

We’d spend the anniversary like we always did, binging on

booze and Turner Classic Movies and not talking about our dead

parents. My participation was a given, but Erin apparently had

something else in mind. It occurred to me, like it always did, that

something bad had happened to Erin or Lanie.

            The name on my missed call log was equally perplexing and

unnerving: Haskins, Robert. When I returned the call, a tired,

familiar voice answered. “Hey, Regan. Sorry to call so late.”

          “Early.” Nonchalant. That’s what I was going for, anyway.

          “What?”

          “It’s early, Rob, not late. It’s three-thirty in the morning.”

          “I haven’t slept, so it’s all the same to me.”

          Tell me about it.

          “So, to what do I owe this howdy-do at the ass crack of dawn?”

I said, trying to keep things casual.

          “Well, you never sleep anyway, so I figure now is as good a

time as any. You at home?” he asked, because I often wasn’t.

          “Yeah, what’s up?”

          “I need your help.”

          “Uh-huh.”

          “With a case.”

          “How many locations?” I asked, hobbling one-shoed into the

living room, where I found a notebook and pen in my messenger

bag and sat on the sofa.

          “One so far, but we really don’t know what we’re dealing with yet.”

          Ominous.

          “Where? Baltimore?” The locus of his field office’s jurisdiction

seemed a logical guess.

          “Nope. Farther east.” Though we hadn’t spoken in several months,

Haskins’ need to constantly test my patience clearly hadn’t waned.

          “What the hell is east of Baltimore besides water?” I conjured a

mental map of the North Atlantic region.

          “The Eastern Shore, near Chestertown—”

          “Jesus,” I blurted, “is it Abbott?”

          “Looks like it, but we can’t make a visual ID. We’re waiting for

a dental comparison.”

          My hand paused over the notebook as images of Jennifer

Abbott flashed. Her disappearance from a small college campus

was national news.

 

 

To be continued . . .

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