"Hume is forced to question everything he's ever believed in."--Kirkus Book Reviews; "I held my breath."--National Public Radio.
Night Hume is an INET (Interagency Narcotics Enforcement Taskforce) agent in Eugene, Oregon. His years undercover have cost him a home, a marriage, a daughter --- yet, always the good soldier, he does his job. Assigned to buy from a college professor who sells to her students, he meets Ceredwen Lawrence --- a most unlikely dealer.
From across the street Night Hume watches the woman through a rain-spotted windshield.
Miserable, he wrings rain from a sopping ponytail.
In the back seat Derek yelps. "Hey, watch it, man, you're dripping."
Resenting the rain, Night ignores him, cracks the window, peers out. June in Oregon. Can't turn on the wipers without attracting attention he doesn't want. It's her all right. It's the one they are here for. But something is wrong.
From Derek a sigh. "What's she doing now?"
Night cranes his neck to look at his partner, smiles at what he sees. Five-eight in his boots, hundred-fifty pounds, half white, half black, calls himself a zebra. Derek-- the only guy he can stand to share a car with all night, seven nights running and not get to hate the sight of, the stink of.
Night watches his target unload groceries from the Volvo, jeans clinging to long legs as she strides up stairs and inside. He frowns, fingers an ear stud. Can't be right. Unconsciously Night reaches to the neck of his sweatshirt to tug down a vest that isn't there. Fingers finding nothing, he sighs. The Kevlar may be in the trunk, but the habit he carries like a scar, like the mange. Useless gesture. Dead give away if
anybody knew what they were looking at. They don't.
He watches her move as she returns for another load. "Have any professors look like her when you went to college?"
Derek reads the paper in the back seat, feet up, toothpick filling the gap in his front teeth. Earphones dangle from his ears. "Never one looked like that. Never dealt either." He turns the page without a glance up, wrinkles a wide black nose, "Your car smells like something died. What you been doing, moonlighting for the coroner?"
Night scans the street--she's still inside. "Mouse chewed up my lunch, found the napkin all torn up in little bits on the seat. Making a nest."
Derek grimaces, "What you do, shoot him?"
Night keeps his eye on the Volvo, hatchback still yawning. Still inside. "Of course I didn't shoot him. Poisoned him."
Derek looks up. "Poisoned him? What's the matter with you? You don't poison mice in a car. You trap them. Where the hell you raised, boy?"
Night wishes she would hurry up. "Where we didn't have mice in the car." Derek's paper rattles. "Say what? That sounds like a racial slur to me."
Still no action at the house. Doors still wide on the boxy Volvo 980. Professor's car. Classy, yet staid--the slacks and silk blouse of station wagons. The thought of this woman driving it lends it an aura of sex.
"Any more of that I be axing IAD to do something about certain racists in this here po-lice department. That's what I be doing."
Something about the way she moves. What is it? He's seen it before somewhere. "Get my name right this time."
"How's I supposed to do that, youse all looks alike to me." Derek tosses the paper away, lays a hand on the back of the seat palm up. "Sports."
Brown fingers wag. "Pass that sucker back." Night does, and Derek takes a look out the window, sighs again. "What you waiting for? Get your ass over there and save U of O's sex-puppies from the evil professor peddling them green dope."
Not willing to be hurried, Night finds him in the mirror. "Read your paper and let me do my job, huh?"
Derek blows air, goes back to his reading.
Behind her the house stands, a domestic fortress. Eyebrow dormers frown down at him from above a wraparound porch as he plots its downfall. Across the slope of a park-like front lawn oaks stoop, branches pendulous. Castle in the sky. Domestic charmer. Close to U of O. Steps from public transportation and shopping. The kind of house that doubles in price every five years in the hot Eugene market. Too much to lose selling a few finger bags. And to your students--how stupid can anybody be?
Derek taps the paper with a nail, "Look here, says they did a poll and sixty-eight percent of voters in Oregon favor initiative 82. Can you believe that?"
Night watches her take in another load, body moving like a dancer. In control. Never off balance or overextended. Night frowns, thinking. "That the one about logging?"
"Nonono." He glances up, appalled. "You sure is one ignorant ass white boy, ain't you? It's the one legalizing pot. Don't you read the paper?"
He doesn't. Doesn't want to know what they call news, what they call cops in what they call news. "Not lately."
"Oh, yeah, you been elbow deep in gypsum dust, haven't you? Well, I tell you what, partner, that one passes, we be working a garbage truck."
Night releases his seat belt and it whines as it slips away. "No, no, you'll be work- ing the garbage truck. I'll be warning hot little coed's not to drive their Beemers too fast on their way to class."
Derek sneers and the paper crackles. "One lousy year of seniority. Where are quotas when you need them?" Again he glances out. "Nice neighborhood, anyway. This where you picked up that fixer, isn't it?"
Night nods, attention across the street. "One block down." The neighborhood is wrong. Again Night checks his pad. On it he finds the address given him by the informant he'd met at IHOP that morning. Usually reliable, Linda had seemed clean and lucid. He'd checked her eyes, her scarred hands, the veins between her fingers and had found nothing. If he's wrong, he'll find out soon enough.
"I'll have to come check it out." Night isn't listening. "Sure."
"Tell me again how you can afford something over here?"
Night watches the professor lean over to retrieve a bag. Three years with Inter- agency Narcotics Enforcement Team and he's seen thousands of white dope freaks. He knows the walk, the talk, the type--she isn't it. Everything about her screams education, class, restraint. None of the twitchiness of the tweaker, nothing slatternly. He finds Derek in the mirror. "What did you say?"
"How'd you get it?"
"Probate sale, heirs wanted out. Ray turned me on to it."
With this load the Volvo is nearly cleaned out. Night flexes his right elbow, working feeling into buzzing fingers. Nights are the worst. Cold curls his fingers into claws without the strength to grasp his Glock. Three surgeries later it's no better. At forty, the scars, the aches are piling up.
"Your ex's husband, Ray? Why would he do that?"
"He's a nice guy, that's why." He wishes he weren't. Might make him easier to hate. Night reaches into his jacket for the compact .40, drops out a magazine the size of half a Snickers, taps it against the steering wheel to seat the cartridges--more super- stition than necessity. He slips it in, cracks the slide to spy the nickel glint of casing, hides it away, opens the door. "I'm gone."
From behind his paper Derek grunts. "Watch yourself, man, she looks dangerous. One slip, she be messing you up."
Night laughs, hoists himself out of the sedan, knees stiff from a vault over six-foot chain link the week before. He glances down the street. Nice neighborhood. Noth- ing like the trailer park he goes home to every night. Halfway across a rain-slickened street, kinks almost worked out of his knees, he thinks of Jade, and piranhas of guilt swarm in his gut.