JEOPARDY SURFACE Excerpt: Chapter One, Part One
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.
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
“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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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 . . .