An excerpt from chapter one of Shadow of a Doubt.
Chapter One – Mr. Green
All I wanted to do was crawl into bed and get some shut eye, but the phone rang. I considered ignoring it and going to bed anyways. But I’d never learned how to ignore that sound, even when it barked at me in the middle of the night, and it wasn’t like Ingrid would wake up to get it. Ingrid slept like Jacob and all the other dead. It didn’t help my mood that I had to run downstairs to answer it.
“Hello,” I said, half awake. Exhaustion prevented me from hiding my anger at whoever had interrupted my chance to collar a nod.
“Lucky’s dead,” my boss said. His voice sounded tinny over the phone line static.
I blinked sleepiness from my lashes, his words waking me like a slap of cold water. “Lucky Gambini?”
I needn’t have asked. I only knew one person he called Lucky. In my defense, I’d worked until well after midnight processing the film from his last stakeout. All I had to show for a night’s work—besides exhaustion and a chipped fingernail—was a stack of grainy photos that would be pornographic in thirty territories. Not to mention the final nail in the coffin of a client’s failed marriage.
“Yeah, that Lucky,” he said drily.
“Sorry Mr. Templeton,” I said. Sorry for asking if it was that Lucky. Sorry you lost your best friend. Sorry I was angry that your call ruined my chance to sleep when more important and painful things were happening in the world than one woman being deprived of her rest.
“Forget it, Mirabel,” he said. “I need you to do me a favor.”
“Sure, name it.”
“I need you to meet with a client for me while I take care of things.”
“Right now?” The clock above the stove read two thirty. The darkness outside the kitchen window confirmed the clock’s grasp of the lateness of the hour.
“No, this afternoon at Patapsco reservoir. The north turn-out. Fifteen hundred hours.”
I converted naval time to standard in my head, while trying not to curse out loud that he hadn’t needed to call until morning. Mr. Templeton was nothing if not oblivious to time. “Three o’clock, got it.”
“Good. And I wouldn’t ask, Mira, but—”
“—It’s no problem, Mr. Templeton,” I interrupted. I’d waited a long time for a chance to show him that I could do more than develop his films and research his clients. My sleep-deprived brain decided this might be the opportunity I’d been seeking. No way I’d pass it up or let him change his mind.
“Thanks,” he said, and hung up without saying goodbye. I placed the receiver back in its cradle and walked up the stairs to my bedroom, my long nightgown swishing against my legs. The wood floors were cold against my feet, and I welcomed the warmth under the blankets. But I couldn’t get to sleep as I lay under the covers. I thought of the meeting, of the chance to prove myself, of my boss and his loss.
With a sigh of disappointment, I gave up on mister sandman. I slid out of bed and headed for the bathroom to clean up and get ready for the long day ahead.
The early wake-up call guaranteed I got there long before the meeting. The lack of sleep meant I’d weighed down my stomach with large quantities of lousy coffee, a necessity to keep me awake.
I patted the side of my coat and felt the comforting weight of my revolver resting in its holster, tucked up against my side. “Why am I always early,” I said. I looked at my watch and noted that there were still a few minutes left until Mr. Green arrived.
There was no one to hear me; my model T was the lone vehicle in an otherwise vacant turn around located next to the reservoir. I kicked at the rocks that pebbled the parking area, and stuffed my hands in the pockets of my coat to keep from glancing at the wristwatch again. I had a slim pulp novel in my pocket to keep from getting bored, but I was too wound up to focus on reading.
Instead, I looked out over the lake and saw fall the way it should be. Not the ugly falls of Baltimore, with muted browns and dingy yellows. The leaves not falling until almost December, some holding on until January. An industrial, slow, tired fall. Baltimore seemed to regret its autumnal season, as though the idea of shedding its summer trappings was a ridiculous concept better left to other less hard-working cities.
This lake recalled the splendor of a proper autumn, and it coaxed its trees into vibrant colors. Brilliant reds and flashing yellows drew my eyes in a never-ending profusion of color. I nodded my head in appreciation of the dryads and nyads who ran the local chapters of flora and fauna.
I turned at the sound of an engine and watched as a black car pulled into the parking lot at the exact time Mr. Templeton had indicated, a precision I found enviable. Mr. Green’s Cadillac Sixty Special was a muscular vehicle the size of a tank, and the gravel crunched under its tires. It was fitting, given the size of the man who slid from behind the steering wheel. He walked like he knew how to handle himself, and his build reminded me of a strongman I’d seen at the circus when they’d come to Baltimore.
He wore a long black trench coat cinched at the waist. A bowler hat the size of a washtub rested on his head, and his eyes were covered by dark glasses. Though the spectacles and hat hid his features, there was something familiar about him. I spent a moment trying to decide who he was. Then he lifted a large, lit cigar to his face, and his scent reached my nostrils, a vague whiff of musk and asparagus mixed with tobacco. It was not a common flavor of cologne he sported.
He was a troll. This man was a hulking presence when he walked, even with his shoulders hunched forward under his trench coat. His skin was green-tinged, with the odd hairy wart plastered to it. His right hand was jammed into a coat pocket, but I could see the white lines of criss-crossing scars on the knuckles of his left hand, which held the cigar. That suggested he was used to using his fists to do his talking.
I realized that my gun wouldn’t do me much good. I’d loaded the snub-nosed revolver with silver jacketed, cold iron slugs, the ends scratched with a holy glyph of warding, but trolls were immune to bullets. Getting shot would probably only piss him off without doing any lasting harm. If I needed to fight, I’d have been better served with lighter fluid and a zippo. Or a can of gasoline and some matches. Maybe a nice, sturdy torch.