Marcia Muller

Burn Out

Book 25 in the Sharon McCone series, 2008

For Melissa Meith and Mike White:

Friends through both the good times and the bad.

Thanks to:

Marcie Galick, good friend to horses-and to me.

Bill, my first editor and best friend.

Les Pockell-your suggestions were right on.

Celia Johnson-yours, too.



I sat on the bluff’s edge, facing southeast, where a newly risen full moon cast a shimmery path over the waters of Tufa Lake. To my right, the towering peaks of Yosemite had disappeared into purple darkness. Here in the high desert the evening cooled quickly this time of year, but I’d prepared for it, appropriating a shearling jacket several sizes too big for me from the closet at the ranch house. As I’d appropriated it every night since I’d come up here from the city ten days ago.

Behind me, my husband Hy’s twenty-year-old horse, Lear Jet-an ironic name for the red dun gelding, which had never willingly picked up the pace in its life-whickered. I hadn’t ridden a horse in more than a decade. Pretty much disliked the creatures, in fact. Lear Jet was big-about fifteen hands and twelve hundred pounds-with a white star on his forehead and a white snip on his nose. He didn’t like me any more than I liked him. Every chance he got he’d lean hard on me, try to stomp my feet, bare his yellow teeth and snort.

I wasn’t riding the creature for pleasure but in response to a challenge from Hy’s ranch manager, Ramon Perez, who lived on the property and tended Lear Jet and the small herd of sheep Hy kept.

I sat watching the water as the moon rose higher. No longer visible by night or day were the brownish-white towers of calcified vegetation-tufa-that gave the lake its name. Years ago, the siphoning off of feeder streams for drought-stricken southern California had caused the lake’s level gradually to sink and reveal the underwater towers; the brine shrimp that inhabited it and the waterfowl that fed on them had seemed doomed. But they were saved by the efforts of a coalition of conservationists, headed by Hy, and now the streams flowed freely, the lake teemed with life.

I wished I were so alive, but all I felt was burned out and hollow inside.

Last February I’d escaped death by mere seconds when a building where Hy and I had been temporarily living blew up-one of a series of bombings directed at the security company in which he was a partner. I’d solved the case of the Ever-Running Man, as the bomber had been called, but the fear and nightmares lingered; the grinding day- to-day effort of managing a growing investigative agency had sucked my spirit dry. Throughout spring and summer depression dragged me down. I’d tried coping with it myself, eventually resorted to antidepressants, and, when the pills hadn’t worked, consulted a therapist. Therapy didn’t work, either; I’m a private person, and I found myself lying to the doctor whenever she probed too close to the root causes of my condition.

Severe depression is like being at the bottom of a deep, dark pit: you want to put your feet and your hands against the walls and, squirming like an overturned spider, crawl up into the sunlight. Only when you try you find you can’t move your limbs. I dreamed of being in that pit night after night. Finally, at Hy’s urging, I’d come to the ranch for a change of pace-rather than the more familiar environs at Touchstone, our place on the Mendocino Coast. I’d planned to rest, regain my perspective, and rethink my future.

Well, everything but the rest part had so far eluded me. That I managed just fine, sometimes sleeping twelve to fourteen hours at a stretch. It wasn’t good, and I knew it.

I also knew the choice of this spot on the bluff that I returned to night after night wasn’t good, but here I sat again. It was the place Hy had come the night his first wife, Julie Spaulding, died of a long, debilitating illness. He’d told me how the sunset had flared above the Sierras, then died on the water…

You’re not coming here tomorrow, McCone. It just depresses you more. Get on with figuring out your life.

Behind me, Lear Jet snorted impatiently. He wanted his alfalfa.

“Okay, you smelly old thing,” I called and got to my feet. “I’m coming.”

The horse, of course, was obstinate. He turned his back on me and tried to pull the reins loose from where I’d tied them to a tree root. I took the reins myself, but when I tried to mount him he sidestepped. I hung on, got my left foot in the stirrup, and threw my right leg over his back. Before I could locate the other stirrup, he began walking; I clung to the pommel until my foot was secure. Then he stopped.

I clicked my heels authoritatively against his sides.

He snorted and put his head down.

“Look, you miserable bag of bones, I’m not in the mood for your antics!” I clicked my heels harder.

Lear Jet took off at a sudden wild run across the mesa.

I lost both stirrups, yanking hard on the reins. “Slow down, dammit!”

And he did-jerking to a dead stop. I flew from the saddle over his lowered head and landed on my butt in an area of soft dried grass.

As the horse turned away and trotted toward the stables, I could have sworn I heard him snicker.

I wasn’t hurt, although I’d probably be sore in the morning, but I stayed where I was for a while, lying on my back, my knees bent upward, cursing Lear Jet and watching the emerging stars.

What else could go wrong today? That morning I’d nicked myself with a kitchen knife; been snappish for no reason with my office manager, Ted Smalley, who was holding down the fort back in the city; been even more snappish when my sister Charlene, who lived in the LA area, called to see how I was doing.

That afternoon Citibank’s fraud division called to tell me someone was using my MasterCard to make Internet purchases; they’d frozen the account and a new card would have to be issued. I should have been grateful to them for spotting the problem within hours, but instead I grumbled at the representative about the inconvenience of having to change the number on all my automatic payments. Then I called my nephew and agency computer expert, Mick Savage, and asked him to find out who’d made the charges; he could work faster than Citibank, who were bound to have more important cases on their hands than mine. When he said he was swamped, and why not let the bank handle it, I yelled at him and hung up. Then I slept the rest of the afternoon.

Now I’d been thrown by a horrible, hateful horse.

Well, at least you’re not having a bad hair day, my inner voice said.

“Shut up,” I said. “It’s not funny.”

Now I was losing my sense of humor! I’d always depended on it to get me through the rough patches, but it was fading along with everything else.

I got up, brushing dried grass from my pants and hair, and started toward the house. The moon and starlight showed me the way, and eventually I found a familiar well-traveled path.

A bobbing light was coming toward me, I saw then. “Sharon?” Ramon Perez’s voice called.

Вы читаете Burn Out
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату