The images had looked and felt so real. But they couldn't be; I had been right here in my bed. Yet I had almost been able to smell the tang of salt water, exhaust, and cheap perfume floating over Biscayne Boulevard. Completely real—and wasn't that one of the signs of insanity, that the delusions were indistinguishable from reality? I had no answers, and no way to find any. Talking to a shrink was out of the question, of course; I would frighten the poor thing to death, and he might feel honor bound to have me locked away 5 страница somewhere. Certainly I could not argue with the wisdom of that idea. But if I was losing my hold on sanity as I had built it, it was all my problem, and the first part of the problem was that there was no way to know for sure.
Although, come to think of it, there was one way.
Ten minutes later I was driving past Dinner Key. I drove slowly, since I didn't actually know what I was looking for. This part of the city slept, as much as it ever did. A few people still swirled across 5 страница the Miami landscape: tourists who'd had too much Cuban coffee and couldn't sleep. People from Iowa looking for a gas station. Foreigners looking for South Beach. And the predators, of course—thugs, robbers, crackheads; vampires, ghouls, and assorted monsters like me. But in this area, at this time, very few of them altogether. This was Miami deserted, as deserted as it got, a place made lonely by the ghost of the daytime crowd. It was a city that had whittled itself down to a mere hunting ground, without the gaudy disguises of sunlight and bright T-shirts 5 страница.
And so I hunted. The other night eyes tracked me and dismissed me as I passed without slowing. I drove north, over the old drawbridge, through downtown Miami, still not sure what I was looking for and still not seeing it—and yet, for some uncomfortable reason, absolutely sure that I would find it, that I was going in the right direction, that it was waiting for me ahead.
Just beyond the Omni the nightlife picked up. More activity, more things to see. Whooping on the sidewalks, tinny music coming and going through the car windows. The night girls 5 страница came out, flocks of them on the street corners, giggling with each other, or staring stupidly at the passing cars. And the cars slowed to stare back, gawking at the costumes and what they left uncovered. Two blocks ahead of me a new Corniche stopped and a pack of the girls flew out of the shadows, off the sidewalk, and into the street, surrounding the car immediately. Traffic stumbled to a half stop, horns blattered. Most of the drivers sat for a minute, content to watch, but an impatient truck pulled around the knot of cars and into 5 страница the oncoming lane.
A refrigerator truck.
This was nothing, I said to myself. Nighttime yogurt delivery; pork link sausages for breakfast, freshness guaranteed. A load of grouper headed north or to the airport. Refrigerated trucks moved through Miami around the clock, even now, even in the night hours— This it was and nothing more.
But I put my foot down on the gas pedal anyway. I moved up, in and out of traffic. I got within three cars of the Corniche and its besieged driver. Traffic stopped. I looked ahead at the truck. It was running straight up Biscayne 5 страница, moving into a series of traffic lights. I would lose him if I got too far behind. And I suddenly wanted very badly not to lose him.
I waited for a gap in traffic and quickly nosed out into the oncoming lane. I was around the Corniche and then speeding up, closing on the truck. Trying not to move too fast, not to be conspicuous, but slowly closing the space between us. He was three traffic lights ahead, then two.
Then his light turned red and before I could gloat and catch up, mine did, too. I stopped. I 5 страница realized with some surprise that I was chewing on my lip. I was tense; me, Dexter the Ice Cube. I was feeling human anxiety, desperation, actual emotional distress. I wanted to catch up to this truck and see for myself, oh how I wanted to put my hand on the truck, open the door to the cabin, look inside—
And then what? Arrest him single-handed? Take him by the hand to dear Detective LaGuerta? See what I caught? Can I keep him? It was just as likely that he would keep me. He was in full hunting mode 5 страница, and I was merely tagging along behind like an unwanted little brother. And why was I tagging along? Did I just want to prove to myself that it was him, the him, that he was out here prowling and I was not crazy? And if I was not crazy—how had I known? What was going on in my brain? Perhaps crazy would be a happier solution after all.
An old man shuffled in front of my car, crossing the street with incredibly slow and painful steps. For a moment I watched him, marveling at what life must be 5 страница like when you moved that slow, and then I glanced ahead at the refrigerator truck.
His light had turned green. Mine had not.
The truck accelerated quickly, moving north at the upper end of the speed limit, taillights growing smaller as I watched, waiting for my light to change.
Which it refused to do. And so grinding my teeth—steady, Dex!—I ran the light, narrowly missing the old man. He didn't look up or break step.
The speed limit on this stretch of Biscayne Boulevard was thirty-five. In Miami that means if you go under fifty they will 5 страница run you off the road. I pushed up to sixty-five, moving through the sparse traffic, desperate now to close the distance. The lights of the truck winked out as he went around a curve—or had he turned? I moved up to seventy-five and roared past the turn for the 79th Street Causeway, around the bend by the Publix Market, and into the straightaway, searching frantically for the truck.
And saw it. There—ahead of me—
Moving toward me.
The bastard had doubled back. Did he feel me on his tail? Smell my exhaust drifting up on 5 страница him? No matter—it was him, the same truck, no question, and as I raced past him he turned out onto the causeway.
I squealed into a mall parking lot and slowed, turning the car and accelerating back out onto Biscayne Boulevard, southbound now. Less than a block and I turned onto the causeway, too. Far, far in front, nearly to the first bridge, I saw the small red lights, winking, mocking me. My foot crashed down on the gas pedal and I charged ahead.
He was on the up-slope of the bridge now, picking up speed, keeping 5 страница the distance steady between us. Which meant he must know, must realize somebody was following. I pushed my car a little harder; I got closer, little by little, a few lengths closer.
And then he was gone, over the hump at the top of the bridge and down the far side, heading much too fast into North Bay Village. It was a heavily patrolled area. If he went too fast he would be seen and pulled over. And then—
I was up the bridge and onto the hump now and below me—
I slowed, looking in 5 страница all directions from the vantage point at the top of the bridge. A car moved toward me—not the truck, just a Mercury Marquis with one smashed fender. I started down the far side of the bridge.
At the bottom of the bridge North Bay Village split off the causeway into two residential areas. Behind a gas station on the left a row of condos and apartments made a slow circle. To the right were houses; small but expensive. Nothing moved on either side. There were no lights showing, no sign of anything, neither traffic nor life.
Slowly I 5 страница moved through the village. Empty. He was gone. On an island with only one through street, he had lost me. But how?
I circled back, pulled off onto the shoulder of the road and closed my eyes. I don't know why; perhaps I hoped I might see something again. But I didn't. Just darkness, and little bright lights dancing on the inside of my eyelids. I was tired. I felt stupid. Yes, me; ditzy Dexter, trying to be Boy Wonder, using my great psychic powers to track down the evil genius. Pursuing him in my supercharged crime 5 страница-fighting vehicle. And in all likelihood he was simply a stoked-up delivery boy playing macho head games with the only other driver on the road that night. A Miami thing that happened every day to every driver in our fair city. Chase me, you can't catch me. Then the uplifted finger, the waved gun, ho-hum and back to work.
Just a refrigerated truck, nothing more, now speeding away across Miami Beach with the heavy metal station ripping from the radio speaker. And not my killer, not some mysterious bond pulling me out of bed and across 5 страница the city in the dead of night. Because that was just too silly for words, and far too silly for level-headed empty-hearted Dexter.
I let my head drop onto the steering wheel. How wonderful to have such an authentic human experience. Now I knew what it was like to feel like a total idiot. I could hear the bell on the drawbridge in the near distance, clanging its warning that the bridge was about to go up. Ding ding ding. The alarm bell on my expired intellect. I yawned. Time to go home, go back to bed 5 страница.
Behind me an engine started. I glanced back.
From behind the gas station at the foot of the bridge he came out fast in a tight circle. He passed me fishtailing and still accelerating and through the blur of motion in the driver's window a shape spun at me, wild and hard. I ducked. Something thumped into the side of my car, leaving behind it the sound of an expensive dent. I waited for a moment, just to be safe. Then I raised my head and looked. The truck was speeding away, crashing the wooden barrier at the 5 страница drawbridge and powering through, leaping across the bridge as it started to raise up, and making it easily to the other side as the bridge keeper leaned out and yelled. Then the truck was gone, down the far side of the bridge and back into Miami, far away on the other side of the widening gap as the bridge went up. Gone, hopelessly gone, gone as if he had never been. And I would never know if it had been my killer or just another normal Miami jerk.
I got out of my car to look 5 страница at the dent. It was a big one. I looked around to see what he had thrown.
It had rolled ten or fifteen feet away and wobbled out into the middle of the street. Even from this distance there was no mistaking it, but just to make sure I was absolutely without any doubt, the headlights from an oncoming car lit it up. The car swerved and smashed into a hedge and over the sound of its now-constant horn I could hear the driver screaming. I walked over to the thing to be sure.
Yes indeed. That's what 5 страница it was.
A woman's head.
I bent to look. It was a very clean cut, very nice work. There was almost no blood around the lip of the wound.
“Thank God,” I said, and I realized I was smiling—and why not?
Wasn't it nice? I wasn't crazy after all.
AT A LITTLE AFTER 8 AM LAGUERTA CAME OVER TO where I was sitting on the trunk of my car. She leaned her tailored haunch onto the car and slid over until our thighs were touching. I waited for her to say something, but she didn 5 страница't seem to have any words for the occasion. Neither did I. So I sat there for several minutes looking back at the bridge, feeling the heat of her leg against mine and wondering where my shy friend had gone with his truck. But I was yanked out of my quiet daydream by a pressure on my thigh.
I looked down at my pants leg. LaGuerta was kneading my thigh as if it were a lump of dough. I looked up at her face. She looked back.
“They found the body,” she said. “You know. The rest of it 5 страница that goes with the head.”
I stood up. “Where?”
She looked at me the way a cop looks at somebody who finds corpseless heads in the street. But she answered. “Office Depot Center,” she said.
“Where the Panthers play?” I asked, and a little icy-fingered jolt ran through me. “On the ice?”
LaGuerta nodded, still watching me. “The hockey team,” she said. “Is that the Panthers?”
“I think that's what they're called,” I said. I couldn't help myself.
She pursed her lips. “They found it stuffed into the goalie's net.”
“Visitor's or 5 страница home?” I asked.
She blinked. “Does that make a difference?”
I shook my head. “Just a joke, Detective.”
“Because I don't know how to tell the difference. I should get somebody there who knows about hockey,” she said, her eyes finally drifting away from me and across the crowd, searching for somebody carrying a puck. “I'm glad you can make a joke about it,” she added. “What's a—” she frowned, trying to remember, “—a sam-bolie?”
She shrugged. “Some kind of machine. They use it on the ice?”
“Whatever. The guy who drives it 5 страница, he takes it out on the ice to get ready for practice this morning. A couple of the players, they like to get there early? And they like the ice fresh, so this guy, the—” she hesitated slightly “—the sambolie driver? He comes in early on practice days. And so he drives this thing out onto the ice? And he sees these packages stacked up. Down there in the goalie's net? So he gets down and he takes a look.” She shrugged again. “Doakes is over there now. He says they can't get the guy 5 страница to calm down enough to say any more than that.”
“I know a little about hockey,” I said.
She looked at me again with somewhat heavy eyes. “So much I don't know about you, Dexter. You play hockey?”
“No, I never played,” I said modestly. “I went to a few games.” She didn't say anything and I had to bite my lip to keep from blathering on. In truth, Rita had season tickets for the Florida Panthers, and I had found to my very great surprise that I liked hockey. It was not merely the frantic, cheerfully homicidal mayhem 5 страница I enjoyed. There was something about sitting in the huge, cool hall that I found relaxing, and I would happily have gone there even to watch golf. In truth, I would have said anything to make LaGuerta take me to the rink. I wanted to go to the arena very badly. I wanted to see this body stacked in the net on the ice more than anything else I could think of, wanted to undo the neat wrapping and see the clean dry flesh. I wanted to see it so much that I felt like a cartoon of a dog 5 страница on point, wanted to be there with it so much that I felt self-righteous and possessive about the body.
“All right,” LaGuerta finally said, when I was about to vibrate out of my skin. And she showed a small, strange smile that was part official and part—what? Something else altogether, something human, unfortunately, putting it beyond my understanding. “Give us a chance to talk.”
“I'd like that very much,” I said, absolutely oozing charm. LaGuerta didn't respond. Maybe she didn't hear me, not that it mattered. She was totally beyond any sense of 5 страница sarcasm where her self-image was concerned. It was possible to hit her with the most horrible flattery in the world and she would accept it as her due. I didn't really enjoy flattering her. There's no fun where there's no challenge. But I didn't know what else to say. What did she imagine we would talk about? She had already grilled me mercilessly when she first arrived on the scene.
We had stood beside my poor dented car and watched the sun come up. She had looked out across the causeway and asked me seven 5 страница times if I had seen the driver of the truck, each time with a slightly different inflection, frowning in between questions. She'd asked me five times if I was sure it had been a refrigerated truck—I'm sure that was subtlety on her part. She wanted to ask about that one a lot more, but held back to avoid being obvious. She even forgot herself once and asked in Spanish. I told her I was seguro, and she had looked at me and touched my arm, but she did not ask again.
And three times she had 5 страница looked up the incline of the bridge, shaken her head, and spat “Puta!” under her breath. Clearly, that was a reference to Officer Puta, my dear sister Deborah. In the face of an actual refrigerator truck as predicted by Deborah, a certain amount of spin control was going to be necessary, and I could tell by the way LaGuerta nibbled at her lower lip that she was hard at work on the problem. I was quite sure she would come up with something uncomfortable for Deb—it was what she did best—but for the time 5 страница being I was hoping for a modest rise in my sister's stock. Not with LaGuerta, of course, but one could hope that others might notice that her brilliant bit of attempted detective work had panned out.
Oddly enough, LaGuerta did not ask me what I had been doing driving around at that hour. Of course, I'm not a detective, but it did seem like a rather obvious question. Perhaps it would be unkind to say that the oversight was typical of her, but there it is. She just didn't ask.
And yet there was more for us to 5 страница talk about, apparently. So I followed her to her car, a big two-year-old light blue Chevrolet that she drove on duty. After hours she had a little BMW that nobody was supposed to know about.
“Get in,” she said. And I climbed into the neat blue front seat.
LaGuerta drove fast, in and out of traffic, and in a very few minutes we were over the causeway to the Miami side again, across Biscayne and a half mile or so to I-95. She drove onto the freeway and wove north through traffic at speeds that 5 страница seemed a little much even for Miami. But we got to 595 and turned west. She looked at me sideways, out of the corner of her eye, three times before she finally spoke. “That's a nice shirt,” she said.
I glanced down at my nice shirt. I had thrown it on to chase out of my apartment and saw it now for the first time, a polyester bowling shirt with bright red dragons on it. I had worn it all day at work and it was a trifle ripe, but yes, more or less clean looking. Somewhat nice, of course, but still 5 страница—
Was LaGuerta making small talk so I would relax enough to make some damaging admission? Did she suspect that I knew more than I was saying and think she could get me to drop my guard and say it?
“You always wear such nice clothes, Dexter,” she said. She looked over at me with a huge, goofy smile, unaware that she was about to ram her car into a tanker truck. She looked back in time and turned the wheel with one finger and we slid around the tanker and west on I-595.
I thought about the nice clothes 5 страница that I always wore. Well of course I did. I took pride in being the best-dressed monster in Dade County. Yes, certainly, he chopped up that nice Mr. Duarte, but he was so well dressed! Proper clothing for all occasions—by the way, what did one wear to attend an early-morning decapitation? A day-old bowling shirt and slacks, naturally. I was à la mode. But aside from this morning's hasty costume, I really was careful. It was one of Harry's lessons: stay neat, dress nicely, avoid attention.
But why should a politically 5 страница minded homicide detective either notice or care? It was not as if—
Or was it? A nasty little idea began to grow. Something in the strange smile that flicked across her face and then away gave me the answer. It was ridiculous, but what else could it be? LaGuerta was not looking for a way to put me off my guard and ask more penetrating questions about what I had seen. And she did not truly give a winged fart about my hockey expertise.
LaGuerta was being social.
She liked me.
Here I was still trying to recover from the horrible shock 5 страница of my bizarre, lurching, slobbering attack on Rita—and now this? LaGuerta liked me? Had terrorists dumped something in the Miami water supply? Was I exuding some kind of strange pheromone? Had every woman in Miami suddenly realized how hopeless real men are, and I had become attractive by default? What, in all very seriousness, the hell was going on?
Of course I could be wrong. I lunged at the thought like a barracuda at a shiny silver spoon. After all, what colossal egotism to think that a polished, sophisticated, career-track woman like LaGuerta might 5 страница show any kind of interest in me. Wasn't it more likely that, that—
That what? As unfortunate as it was, it did make a kind of sense. We were in the same line of work and therefore, conventional cop wisdom said, more likely to understand and forgive each other. Our relationship could survive her cop hours and stressful lifestyle. And although I take no credit for it, I am presentable enough; I clean up good, as we natives like to say. And I had put myself out to be charming to her for several years now. It had been purely 5 страница political schmoozing, but she did not have to know that. I was good at being charming, one of my very few vanities. I had studied hard and practiced long, and when I applied myself no one could tell I was faking it. I was really very good at sprinkling seeds of charm. Perhaps it was natural that the seeds would eventually sprout.
But sprout into this? What now? Was she going to propose a quiet dinner some evening? Or a few hours of sweaty bliss at the Cacique Motel?
Happily, we arrived at the arena just before panic 5 страница took me over completely. LaGuerta circled the building once, looking for the correct entrance. It wasn't too hard to find. A cluster of police cars stood scattered outside one row of double doors. She nosed her big car in among them. I jumped out of the car quickly, before she could put her hand on my knee. She got out and looked at me for a moment. Her mouth twitched.
“I'll take a look,” I said. I did not quite run into the arena. I was fleeing LaGuerta, yes—but I was also very anxious to get 5 страница inside; to see what my playful friend had done, to be near his work, to inhale the wonder, to learn.
The inside echoed with the organized bedlam typical of any murder scene—and yet it seemed to me that there was a special electricity in the air, a slightly hushed feeling of excitement and tension that you wouldn't find at any ordinary murder, a sense that this one was different somehow, that new and wonderful things might happen because we were out here on the cutting edge. But maybe that was just me. A clot of people 5 страница stood around the nearby net. Several of them wore Broward uniforms; they had their arms folded and watched as Captain Matthews argued about jurisdiction with a man in a tailored suit. As I got closer I saw Angel-no-relation in an unusual position, standing above a balding man who was on one knee poking at a stack of carefully wrapped packages.
I stopped at the railing to look through the glass. There it was, only ten feet away. It looked so perfect in the cold purity of the newly Zambonied hockey rink. Any jeweler will tell you that 5 страница finding the right setting is vitally important, and this— It was stunning. Absolutely perfect. I felt just a little dizzy, uncertain of whether the railing would hold my weight, as if I might simply pass straight down through the hard wood like a mist.
Even from the railing I could tell. He had taken the time, he had done it right, in spite of what must have seemed like a very close call on the causeway only minutes before. Or had he known somehow that I meant him no harm?
And since I brought it up anyway, did I, in fact 5 страница, mean him no harm? Did I truly mean to track him to his lair and come up on point all aquiver for advancing Deborah's career? Of course that was what I thought I was doing—but would I be strong enough to carry through with it if things kept getting so interesting? Here we were at the hockey rink where I had whiled away many pleasant and contemplative hours; wasn't this even more proof that this artist—excuse me, I mean “killer” of course—was moving on a track parallel to mine? Just look at 5 страница the lovely work he had done here.
And the head—that was the key. Surely it was too important as a piece of what he was doing simply to leave it behind. Had he thrown it to frighten me, send me into paroxysms of terror, horror, and dread? Or had he known somehow that I felt the same way he did? Could he, too, feel the connection between us, and he just wanted to be playful? Was he teasing me? He had to have some important reason for leaving me such a trophy. I was experiencing powerful, dizzying sensations—how could 5 страница he be feeling nothing?
LaGuerta came up beside me. “You're in such a hurry,” she said, a slight edge of complaint in her voice. “Are you afraid she'll get away?” She nodded at the stacked body parts.
I knew that somewhere inside me was a clever answer, something that would make her smile, charm her a little more, smooth over my awkward run from her clutches. But standing there at the rail, looking down at the body on the ice, in the goalie's net—in the presence of greatness, one might say—no wit came out. I 5 страница did manage not to yell at her to shut up, but it was a very near thing.
“I had to see,” I said truthfully, and then recovered enough to add, “It's the home team's net.”
She slapped my arm playfully. “You're awful,” she said. Luckily Sergeant Doakes came over to us and the detective didn't have time for a kittenish giggle, which would have been more than I could take. As always, Doakes seemed more interested in finding a way to get a good grip on my ribs and pull me open than 5 страница anything else, and he gave me such a warm and penetrating look of welcome that I faded quickly away and left him to LaGuerta. He stared after me, watching me with an expression that said I had to be guilty of something and he would very much like to examine my entrails to find out what. I'm sure he would have been happier someplace where the police were permitted to break the occasional tibia or femur. I circled away from him, moving slowly around the rink to the nearest place where I could get in. I had just found 5 страница it when something came at me on my blind side and hit me, rather hard, in the ribs.
I straightened up to face my assailant with a certain bruise and a strained smile. “Hello, dear sister,” I said. “So nice to see a friendly face.”
“Bastard!” she hissed at me.
“Quite probably,” I said. “But why bring it up now?”
“Because, you miserable son of a bitch, you had a lead and you didn't call me!”
“A lead?” I almost stuttered. “What makes you think—”
“Cut the crap, Dexter,” Deborah snarled. “You weren't driving around at 5 страница four AM looking for hookers. You knew where he was, goddamn it.”
Light dawned. I had been so wrapped up in my own problems, starting with the dream—and the fact that it had obviously been something more than that—and continuing on through my nightmarish encounter with LaGuerta, that it did not occur to me that I had wronged Deborah. I had not shared. Of course she would be angry. “Not a lead, Deb,” I said, trying to soothe her feelings a bit. “Nothing solid like that. Just—a feeling. A thought, that's all. It was 5 страница really nothing—”
She shoved again. “Except that it was something,” she snarled. “You found him.”
“Actually, I'm not sure,” I said. “I think he found me.”
“Quit being clever,” she said, and I spread my hands to show how impossible that would be. “You promised, goddamn you.”
I did not remember making any kind of promise that might cover calling her in the middle of the night and telling her my dreams, but this didn't seem like a very politic thing to say, so I didn't. “I'm sorry, Deb,” I said instead. “I really didn 5 страница't think it would pan out. It was just a . . . a hunch, really.” I was certainly not going to attempt any explanation of the parapsychology involved, even with Deb. Or perhaps especially not with her. But another thought hit me. I lowered my voice. “Maybe you could help me a little. What am I supposed to tell them if they ever decide to ask what I was doing driving around down there at four AM?”
“Has LaGuerta interviewed you yet?”
“Exhaustively,” I said, fighting down a shudder.
Deb made a disgusted face. “And she didn't ask.” It was not 5 страница a question.
“I'm sure the detective has a great deal on her mind,” I said. I did not add that apparently some of it was me. “But sooner or later, somebody will ask.” I looked over to where she was Directing the Operation. “Probably Sergeant Doakes,” I said with real dread.
She nodded. “He's a decent cop. If he could just lose some attitude.”
“Attitude may be all he is,” I said. “But he doesn't like me for some reason. He'll ask anything if he thinks it will make me squirm.”
“So tell him 5 страница the truth,” Deborah said deadpan. “But first, tell it to me.” And she poked me again in the same spot.
“Please, Deb,” I said. “You know how easily I bruise.”
“I don't know,” she said. “But I feel like finding out.”
“It won't happen again,” I promised. “It was just one of those 3 AM inspirations, Deborah. What would you have said if I had called you about it, and then it turned out to be nothing?”
“But it didn't. It turned out to be something,” she said with another push.
“I really didn't think it would. And 5 страница I would have felt stupid dragging you in on it.”
“Imagine how I would have felt if he had killed you,” she said.
It took me by surprise. I couldn't even begin to imagine how she would have felt. Regret? Disappointment? Anger? That sort of thing is way beyond me, I'm afraid. So I just repeated, “I'm sorry, Deb.” And then, because I am the kind of cheerful Pollyanna who always finds the bright side, I added, “But at least the refrigerated truck was there.”