catcher's gear, each sending the other thought vibes. A silent conversation nobody else could hear. We gotta give him the rainbow curve, man… Or give him the slider… Jody, reading these thoughts and shaking his head even before Shane's fingers flashed the sign. Nothin' doin Hot Sauce… Gonna throw the heater, he telepathed back as clear as if he had walked up and shouted it at Shane. That was what was happening right now. Jody's thoughts shooting across the painted lane dividers from the Charger's front seat, shooting a vibe… A warning, plain as if Jody had shouted it: Forget this, man. Forget you ever saw me. And then, some kind of good-bye: See ya. Sorry

Suddenly, Jody floored the dust-covered Charger, shooting ahead, changing lanes around a slow-moving truck.

'No!' Shane's voice was a strangled plea. 'Don't go! Not again!'

Shane pushed the pedal all the way to the floor, but Alexa's Subaru was underpowered, winding up slowly like a twenty-year-old airraid siren, taking its time to reach full power, its thin whine lost behind the Charger's four-barrel roar. Finally, Shane was going almost a hundred, chasing the vanishing muscle car between semis and soccer moms, businessmen and airport taxis, weaving dangerously in and out amid a chorus of blaring horns and unheard curses.

The Charger was ahead, gaining ground, its loose but empty chrome license-plate holder winking morning sunlight back at him.

Suddenly, Jody cut off a Ryder van and the top-heavy rent-a-truck, with its inexperienced driver, started pinwheeling across all four lanes. In seconds, it was directly in front of the Subaru. Shane had a scary two seconds as he tried to avoid death at a hundred miles an hour. Alexa's car, broke loose, swapping ends. Then he was carouseling wildly down the freeway: the landscape strobing past his windshield-dangerous, disembodied glimpses of trees, guardrails, and concrete abutments. A kaleidoscope of images on spin cycle… Around and around the Subaru went, metal lint on the busy L. A. freeway, until he saw the end coming. A bridge abutment spun into view like a huge concrete iceberg.

Shane fed the little Japanese car some gas, trying to straighten out the spin. He caught some traction, and the car made a try at straightening out, but he was still crooked and sliding sideways when he hit the wall of concrete, slamming into it hard. He felt the whole right side of Alexa's car explode, as door handles, side mirrors and paint all disintegrated or flew free, followed a second later by the whole left door-all of this accompanied by the scream of tortured metal. Shane was staring at blurred concrete graffiti and tagger art grinding and Strobing past the doorless opening like the scenery wheel in an eighth-grade play.

The Subaru finally shuddered to a halt, and then it was over. He was sitting in the car, stuck in the fast lane, facing the wrong way, his heart jackhammering in his chest.

Shane spun around and looked out the back window. The black and orange Charger was nowhere to be found.

Jody Dean was gone as suddenly as he had reappeared.

Chapter 3

YOU'RE QUTTA THERE

OKAY, so HOW do I bullshit my way out of this one? I'm a police officer, trained to make split-second observations but also regarded by the department as something of a head case. I'm forced to sit in a cracked vinyl La-Z-Boy three times a week while an overweight, balding therapist looks across at me over templed fingers, saying› 'Uh-huh, ' 'I see, ' and 'How does that make you feel?'

His career was already in big trouble. This little story about seeing a dead man on the 405 Freeway would make him look as though he'd started carrying his shit around in a sock.

Shane sat in the office of the towing company, waiting for the cab he'd called, looking out the window at a crumpled gallery of traffic mistakes, the latest of which was Alexa's little Subaru. Aside from the destroyed right side, the car looked badly torqued to him. If the frame was bent, it was a total. Right on top of this sobering realization, his cell phone rang. He dug it out.

'Shane, where are you? Bud just called, and nobody was at the airport. He had to take a cab.' Alexa sounded annoyed.

Shane had completely forgotten about Bud, the breakfast-food salesman. Shane had never met Bud but had talked to him once or twice on the phone. His booming 'Hey, pal' voice always seemed jovial while still managing to convey displeasure.

'I'm sorry, honey. I hate to tell you this, but I had an accident in the Subaru.'

'Are you okay?' Instant concern.

'Yeah, I'm fine.' But of course, he wasn't. He was close to hysteria, his whole body shaking, his nerves buzzing like a desert power line. 'I'm great,' he lied, then added, 'I need to talk to you. We need to sit down. I'm taking a cab over to the Glass House. I should be there in half an hour.'

'Shane, I-'

'Look, I'm sorry about Buddy and the car. I'm afraid I really boxed it.'

'I don't care about the car, Shane. As long as you're okay, that's all that matters.'

Through the fly-specked office window, Shane saw the Yellow Cab pull into the tow company's parking lot. A round-shouldered Melrose cowboy, wearing a plaid shirt and a silver buckle the size of an ashtray, got out and started looking around for his fare. Shane motioned to him.

'Cab's here. I'll be there in forty minutes.'

'Shane, you know I'm swamped getting this financial review finished.'

'I need help. Something just came up. I can't go into it on the phone.'

'Okay, then let's try meeting at the Peking Duck. It's fast. We can grab something while we talk, but gimme at least an hour.'

'Okay,' he said, and closed the phone. He heaved himself up and walked on stringy, oxygen-starved muscles out of the tow-service waiting room, then got into the Yellow Cab.

They were on the 405 heading back to L. A., Shane sitting quietly in the backseat behind the driver, looking for his bridge abutment, finally seeing the crash site sliding by across six lanes of traffic at Howard Hughes Parkway. A pound of rubber and a powder-blue slash of paint. His accident, like a thousand others, was now immortalized on freeway concrete, insignificant as a sauna-room butt mark.

A block from Parker Center was the Peking Duck, which was actually now called Kim Young's. It had been sold by the original owners after an armed robbery attempt, but the old sign was still hanging out front. Kim Young had bought the restaurant from his cousin, who retired, giving up his American Dream after four dust bunnies in ski masks had tried to take the place, unaware that half the LAPD Glass House Day Watch lunched there. This criminal brain trust of highwaymen had just pulled their breakdowns out from under cool street dusters when they were surprised to hear half a dozen automatics trombone loudly behind them. They spun around and in seconds ate enough lead to qualify as the second-largest metal deposit in California. It took a crane to lift them into the coroner's van.

Shane took a booth in the back. The restaurant had linoleum floors and was always noisy.

He sat alone, waving at a few friends who came in but not over.

He thought about Jody-or more correctly, how he would explain what he had seen to Alexa. His mind was already hunting for a way out: shifting details to make them seem more acceptable, eliminating facts, pulling them this way and that. Piece by piece, he was trying to arrange the event so that it would become at least digestible, removing one crumb at a time, working to make it disappear, his thoughts like ants struggling to carry away a picnic. However, this was too big. He had to deal with it. But how? What should he do? How could he explain it?

Ten minutes later Alexa entered the place, and Shane heard the volume of conversation dip as forty or fifty guys whispered her arrival across tables stacked with egg rolls and dim sum. Then again, maybe that was just his jealous imagination-he wasn't sure. She walked toward him, her hips swaying slightly, her slender calves flexing.

She slid in, reached across the table, and squeezed his hand. 'You sure you're okay? No whiplash?' she asked,

Вы читаете The Viking Funeral
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