The road to my house twists up the west face of the northern end of the Sandia Mountains. It doubles back on itself in a number of hairpin curves, and it is a hard run. I take it every day, and as I run, occasional breaks in the pine and cedar forest offer a comfortable hundred-mile perspective on the human race.
Even at sea level I hate jogging. At a touch under seven thousand feet, it’s like running in a vacuum. I’d never do it if the twenty-three hours a day when I don’t run weren’t so flat and lifeless without the exercise. It keeps my carcass as lean as can be expected and helps my mirror maintain the polite fiction that I’m still a year or two on the cradle’s side of forty. I hate running, but I do it. Still, I get by with the bare minimum—two and a half miles to the ridge above Placitas and then back again.
The ridge makes a good rest stop. Directly below, the village lies strung along the tail end of the pavement. A pine and juniper forest dies into grassland farther to the west. Beyond that, a golden plain falls away toward the dirty green line that marks the bosque, the cottonwood and scrub cedar forest along the Rio Grande. The dry plain is interrupted only by the thin north-south thread of Interstate 25.
Albuquerque lies to the south, crouched behind a shoulder of the Sandia Mountains. At night, especially when there is a high overcast, the lights of the city provide a waning moon’s illumination. But in the late afternoon, when I do my running, the only hint that five hundred thousand people are playing out their lives twenty miles away is the sunlight glinting from the cars and trucks strung out along the freeway.
From my resting spot, you look down at a steep angle on the white and brown stucco, the adobe, and the weathered wood of the village of Placitas. You look down at a lesser angle to the river, ten miles away. Above the river, the high desert of western New Mexico looms as if you could scratch it with a short stick.
The desert is dry. A wet year brings seven or eight inches of rain and snow. A number of low volcanoes interrupt the mesa toward the southwest. Black on brown. To the northwest lies the dark purple smudge of the Jemez mountains. Seventy miles away and snow-capped most of the year, Mt. Taylor sits on the western horizon like an ancient Navajo god.
There’s a lot to look at if you like things that don’t change from day to day. I stand there, waiting for my lungs to get over their excitement, and I watch nothing happening. Maybe a hawk or an eagle wheeling high overhead, a black speck against the turquoise sky. A woodpecker hammering in the forest. I can take a lot of nothing happening without getting tired of it. I get nervous when things start happening.
That Thursday a car growled somewhere below as it climbed the ridge. I only have five neighbors on my road. I know them all well enough to say howdy, and they know me well enough not to say anything more than howdy back. Only one could be called an acquaintance—Jenny Murphy, who has the place next to mine. Neither she nor any of the others was likely to be traveling at that time of day.
I turned reluctantly from my resting spot and began the jog back. I kept my ears open. The car was a surprise, and I didn’t like it. There had been too many surprises in my past. When it was about a minute behind me, long before I could be seen, I slipped off the road and into the trees and watched it pass.
It was a red ’eighty-seven Jag with California plates and one occupant. Female, dark hair, yellow scarf against the wind, dark glasses. She was driving slowly, as though she didn’t know where she was going or was uncomfortable so far from civilization.
When she was well past, I shrugged and moved back onto the road. She’d kicked up enough dust to make me run with my mouth shut. I set as steady a pace as the terrain permitted. It’s hard to run uphill without slowing down, or downhill without letting gravity encourage you too much, but I had years of practice. I spent the time wondering which of my neighbors had a visitor and checking the dust in their drives.
I have the last house on the county road. When I passed Murphy’s place, I was still following the Jaguar, so I had a visitor. A little prudence was called for.
Half a mile ahead, the driveway cut off to the right and then turned back south. I picked up my pace for a few minutes and then climbed into the forest on the uphill side. At that point, the house was about two hundred yards above me and maybe the same distance north. I slowed to a walk and recovered my breath, then climbed straight up the mountain, well above the house, before turning north. Eight minutes of quiet walking took me to a point from which I could see the front of the house, the driveway, and the graveled parking area. The car sat in the center of the yard, between the garage, below me on the uphill side, and the front of the house.
The girl stood by the front door, looking dejected. She pounded on the door halfheartedly and then stepped back from the house. She walked over to the kitchen window and peered in, then moved to each of the other windows on the front and repeated the process. She tried to walk around the house, but the steepness of the slope and the cactus I ’d planted stopped her. She went back to her car and sat in it. After a few minutes, she rested her face against her arms on the steering wheel. Her shoulders shook gently.
I moved silently back along the drive. Once out of sight, I climbed down and began jogging toward the house. I kicked a couple of rocks to make some noise, but the girl apparently wasn’t listening. When I reached the yard, she hadn’t moved. I called out a friendly hello and walked over to the driver’s side of the car.
She was about twenty, Eurasian, pretty. Her black hair fell halfway down her back. Her bangs were cut square above the slope of her eyes. She seemed nervous, so I smiled. “Are you looking for me? I was running.”
She sat up quickly, wiped her eyes, and managed a smile. “Hello. Ahh . . . you are Mr. Porter?”
She spoke with a faint accent. English wasn’t her first language, but she was comfortable with it.
“What can I do for you?”
She hesitated a moment. “I don’t . . . do you know . . . I mean, did you know a James Bow?”
The name threw me. And the past tense. Jimbo. Good old Toker. I kept my voice noncommittal, my face open, friendly, and curious. “Why do you ask?”
“He’s my father. I mean, he was. He’s dead.”
That made no sense. The last time I saw Toker, sixteen years ago, there had been no child. This girl was young, but she wasn’t that young. Maybe half my age. I closed in a little, just in case action was called for. “Sorry to hear it. So?”
She seemed to sag a bit, as if she’d had a lot riding on my response. “Maybe you’re the wrong man. I’m sorry.” She reached for the ignition.
“Maybe not.” I reached through the window and took her keys. “Come in the house. Tell me about it.”
I walked over and unlocked the house, leaving her to follow. My back felt exposed, but what the hell, sometimes you take a chance. If she was armed, she wasn’t carrying anything under that thin silk dress. There was barely room for a bra and panties.
She came in as I was pouring a glass of club soda. Angry and frightened at once, she stopped just inside the door. “You took my keys.”
“You came from L.A.?”
She nodded. “Give me the keys.”
“That’s too long a drive for nothing. Would you like something to drink?”
She licked her lips. “Water. And my keys.”
I handed her a glass and motioned toward the sink, then lobbed her keys onto the dining room table and dug a cigarette from my stash. She watched me, looking surprised.
“You jog and smoke?”
“Nicotine’s good for the soul.”
She savored the word. “My father never spoke of a soul.”
“Maybe he didn’t have one.”
She ignored that. Or maybe she didn’t. “He was a good man. He was good to me. He gave me my car.”
“How did he die?”
“You haven’t said you knew him.” “I knew him.”
She hesitated, licked her lips. Her lipstick was a deep red. It went well with her coloring. “He was killed. Murdered.” She put a lot of emphasis on the word.
The front door was open. I gave the yard a good once-over, then locked up and led her through the living room and onto the deck that hangs off the back of the house, fifteen feet above the ground. A piece of the county road is visible from there, and you can hear any traffic. The only sound was wind in the pines and an occasional bird. The road was empty.
There is a wrought-iron patio set on the deck. I sat at the table and motioned her to a chair opposite me. She hesitated, but she sat. I considered her carefully. She was good to look at. Her hair was long and straight, brushed until it shone. Her eyes were dark brown, not quite black. The dress was some kind of print, off-white with a pale green leaf pattern. Very snug. Very attractive. But it didn’t look comfortable for a long drive and it wasn’t wrinkled. I decided to clear the air.
“When I saw your father the last time, around ’seventy-four, he didn’t have any kids. Where did you come from?”
“Hong Kong. He was on vacation there when he found me. That was in nineteen eighty-one.”
“You don’t look Chinese.”
“I’m Vietnamese. Half Vietnamese, anyway. My father was an American. I was one of the boat people.” She hesitated a moment. “I was in a refugee camp when Dad found me.”
I had recognized the Vietnamese blood in her face, of course. But this wasn’t making any sense. “ You said he found you?”
She nodded. “And brought me home. He took good care of me.” She looked about to cry.
“He was your father? Your real father?”
“Oh, no! My adopted father. My real father was a cowboy. Or that’s what my aunt said.”
A cowboy. How the hell would a Vietnamese aunt recognize a cowboy? And why an aunt? “What did your mother say?”
“That’s what she told my aunt. I don’t remember my mother. She was killed a long time ago. In ’seventy-one.”
A lot of people were. I made a polite noise anyway. “What happened to your aunt?”
“I don’t know. She put me on the boat. She said there wasn’t enough money for her to come with me. A family took care of me, at least until we got into the camp. Then they sort of forgot me. Things were scary in the camp. Everyone was trying to get to America. Maybe Mr. Nguyen thought his family would have a better chance if there were fewer people on the application. But they never got out. Only I did, when Dad found me.”
“And brought you to America.”
She nodded. “And put me in school. Then helped me get into UCLA.”
“And now he’s dead.”
She lowered her head and blinked. “Tell me about it.”
She swallowed. “I was in class when the police came. Mrs. Stillwell told them where I was. They told me he was dead and then they took me to her. She lives right next door. She heard the explosion and ran over and found him and called the cops.” She took a deep breath. “They wouldn’t let me see him. I guess he was messed up pretty bad. They said it was a clayman bomb. In his office.”
“What?” The interruption confused her.
“Not a clayman. A Claymore. It’s an explosive device a little bigger than a paperback book,” I told her. I didn’t add that they can make a hell of a mess if they’re used right. She knew that. After a moment, I asked, “Who did it?”
“They don’t know.”
“Do they know why?”
She shook her head. “It wasn’t money. Nothing was taken. At least then. And he didn’t have any enemies. He was just a businessman. He had a foreign car dealership in Westwood. I don’t know why anyone would do this.”
Of course he’d had enemies. We all do. I hoped that he had made some recently. And the dealership. He’d put his share to good use. It also explained the Jaguar the girl was driving. “When did this happen?”
“Tuesday. Two days ago.”
I whistled. I’d thought we were talking about something older, something she could have a little perspective on.
“Why are you here?”
“Mrs. Stillwell asked me to stay with her that night. The police let me in the house to get some things. I guess I was kind of numb. I didn’t notice much. The door to the master bedroom was closed and I could hear some men talking in there, but everything else looked normal. Anyway, I took my toothbrush and went with Mrs. Stillwell. But later, way after midnight, when I was trying to sleep, I remembered . . . something. I went back to get it, but there was this tape on the door that said it was a crime scene, and I was afraid to break the tape. I got a flashlight from my car. I was going to climb in my window.”
She blushed and looked away from me. “I used to do that sometimes, when I was in high school. When I was grounded.”
I wondered if Toker had known. “Okay. So you broke in. Then what? Why did you come here?”
“But I didn’t! I was going to, but when I looked in the window, everything was a mess. It looked like the house had been searched or something. Things were upside-down. The drawers were emptied on the floor. I looked in all the windows. It was the same everywhere.”
She took a few deep breaths. “His office was there, in a little sitting room off his bedroom. I even looked in there . . . where it happened . . . and it was torn up too. There was stuff thrown on the blood and on the outline of his . . . of Dad’s . . . .”
She was right on the edge. I looked out over the valley while she composed herself. It took a while, but not as long as I expected. This wasn’t the first bad thing that had happened in her life.
“. . . anyway, I thought I might be in danger. Because it wasn’t the police, you see. When I was there, they were being pretty neat. So I thought somebody else had been there, in my house, and that scared me. I got my purse from Mrs. Stillwell’s and then I just got in my car and started driving. At first, I didn’t know where to go. But a couple of weeks ago, Dad told me to come to you if I ever needed help. He was very serious about it. He even wrote down your name and address and put it in my purse. He told me to say something to you.”
That got my attention. My eyes jerked to her face. “What?”
She looked straight into my eyes and said, “ You owe me.”
“That’s all?” She nodded.
I let out a sigh. It was a mess, and she’d dragged it straight to my doorstep. But of course, Toker had been right. I did owe him, in a sense. I spent a few minutes looking and listening. The trees hadn’t changed a bit. The same birds were making the same noises. The breeze still whispered through the pine needles. If she’d driven straight through, she was probably untraceable.
All the trouble was in L.A. There was no choice. I had to go there. I had to find out exactly what had happened to Toker, make sure it was something recent, not something from the past.
It was hard to judge how much danger she was really in. A Claymore was good for killing, but it wasn’t selective. Whoever had set it must have watched Bow and the girl long enough to know their schedules. The killer had taken out his target. If he’d wanted the girl, he could have had her. But something had drawn him back to search the place. That was the thing that didn’t make sense—one of the things. The house should have been searched before the bomb was set. Maybe there hadn’t been time, but there were problems with killing first and searching later. Re-entry would have been dangerous, and whatever the killer wanted might well have been found by the police during their investigation. Or moved by someone else. Of course, the killer might not be the searcher.
I looked at the girl and smiled reassuringly. “What’s your name?” I asked.
“April.” She didn’t return my smile, but she bright- ened. “April Bow.”
I offered my hand. “Hello, April. Your father called me Rainbow. You can too.”
She shook. Her fingers were warm and soft. “Does this mean I did the right thing?”
I nodded, and she began to tremble. I stood and walked around behind her, put my hands on her shoulders and squeezed gently. She stiffened, then relaxed. After a moment she rubbed her cheek against the back of my hand, wetting it.
“It’s been hard on you?”
“I haven’t felt so lost for a long time. Since the boat.
When I left Vietnam.”
“What happened then?”
“Auntie took me to the docks at night. The boat was old and small. It was very crowded. It cost her a lot to buy my passage, more than she could afford. But she did it. She said it was my only chance. Because my father was an American, you understand . . . ?”
I nodded. “Go on.”
“We couldn’t take much. I had a small rice bag with some clothes and food. And a little doll she’d traded cigarettes for. That was all I could take. It was all I had. Auntie gave it to Mr. Nguyen to keep for me. He put it in the pile with his family’s things. They were going to watch over me. Anyway, I hugged my aunt and then she stood on the dock until we left. I tried to watch her, to call out goodbye and that I loved her, but it was too crowded. I couldn’t see her, except for just flashes, between the people crowded by the rail. I was crying. Everyone was nervous because of the patrols and wanted me to be quiet, but I couldn’t. I was only ten, and I was very afraid. Then Mr. Nguyen slapped me until I was quiet. Later, after we were past the patrols and it was time to sleep, I asked for my doll. He told me it was lost. He was still angry because I had made too much noise and the others had yelled at him, I suppose. But he said my doll was lost, and it was the only thing I had from my aunt. Later I saw his daughter playing with it. When I asked her for it, she threw it into the water. I ran to the back of the boat and watched for it, but it was gone into the darkness. I spent the rest of the night there, looking back into the dark. I was so scared. But I didn’t cry anymore. Not in front of Mr. Nguyen, anyway.”
She had spoken quietly, staring out over the pine forest. She noticed that my hands were still on her shoulders and shrugged them off. I walked over to the rail and stood with my back to her. “ What happened then?”
“Nothing. The trip wasn’t too bad. It seemed to take forever, but it couldn’t have been more than two weeks.” Her voice was steady again. “Mr. Nguyen gave me my things a day later. He acted indifferent to me. Not sorry that he gave away the doll. But I suppose he thought it was justified. I had to be punished, you see. To learn about keeping quiet.
“We were low on food toward the end, but we were just hungry. That was all. Many people in the camp had it much worse. And I didn’t have to stay in the camp very long. Only six months. Some of them are still there, I bet. Mr. Nguyen. The girl who threw away my doll. Serves her right.” She managed a small laugh. “Some sad story, huh? My father’s dead and all I talk about is a stupid doll.”
I shrugged. “It’s a story, anyway. You hungry?”
She nodded. I went into the house and started some rice. There was a small pork roast in the refrigerator. I sliced it into long strips and dumped them into a bowl with cornstarch, oil, and a dash of soy sauce, then put the wok on the fire and left it to heat. While I was chopping a head of broccoli, I heard her clear her throat behind me. When I looked over my shoulder, she was standing in the doorway watching me, her keys in her hand.
“Bring in your things,” I said. “ There’s a spare bedroom on the left of the hall.” She stared at me for a long moment, then nodded and disappeared. I stir-fried the meat and the vegetables, added some oyster sauce, and let the mixture simmer.
When I heard the shower running, I walked quietly down the hall and opened the door to her room. The bathroom door was half open and the glass shower door was steamed up. April was vaguely visible, a slender shape moving behind the mist. A small suitcase was open on the bed. I went through it quickly. It was new. Two days’ worth of dirty clothes were wadded up on one side of it. The clothes on the other side still had price tags. Her dress, underwear, and sandals were on the floor by the bathroom door. Her purse wasn’t visible. I took another peek into the bathroom. It was on the vanity, beneath the mirror. Some cosmetics had been taken from it and spread over the counter. I avoided taking a longer look at the body in my shower and went back to the stove.
Dinner was on the table when she appeared. I’d opened a bottle of Chablis. She accepted a glass, but didn’t do much more than sip at it. She ate the meal without commenting on it. While we ate, I questioned her about the trip.
She had driven as far as Phoenix, taken a room, and slept most of Wednesday. She awoke in time to find a mall and a new wardrobe, then got back on the road. She made it to Albuquerque early this morning. Instead of driving straight out, she took another room, slept for a few hours, and asked the desk clerk if he knew where Placitas was and how to get here. She dithered around for a few hours, working up her nerve, I guess, and then drove to the village and asked around until she found someone who knew who Paul Porter was and where he lived. The rest I knew.
When I asked what she was doing for money, she looked surprised. If I’d had a daughter, I probably wouldn’t have thought to ask. Credit cards, of course. That gave me something to worry about. Plastic leaves a trail. But it was probably all right. It’s a hard trail to follow, unless you have access to the right computers. There was another problem. I asked whose name the cards were in. Of course they were in Toker’s.
“ You know you’re probably breaking the law?” I asked.
She looked surprised.
“They aren’t your credit cards. They belonged to Toker. He’s dead. The card companies will consider them invalid.”
“They’re all I have! They can’t take them away!” “They can and will,” I told her.
“But how will I live?” She thought a moment. “And who’s Toker?”
“Your father. It was his nickname when I knew him. He called me Rainbow and I called him Toker. Don’t worry about living. I can take care of you for a while. Your father must have had a lawyer, and he probably left a will. You can pay me back later if you like.”
“His lawyer.” She nodded. Then a thought struck her. “Do I have to go back? Right away?”
“Tomorrow morning. I’ll go with you. There’s the funeral, for one thing. And the police will want to know why you ran away and where you went. We have to find the lawyer and the will. We have to find out who is executor of his estate and get that settled. You’ll have some explaining to do to your professors. There are other things I haven’t thought of yet.”
She took a deep breath. “What about the person who searched our house?”
“That’s another problem. The cops probably think you did it. They will want to ask you why.”
I didn’t add that they might want to ask her what she knew about detonating a Claymore. If she hadn’t called it a clayman bomb, I’d be damned curious about that myself. I asked her what she was studying at UCLA.
“Business administration,” she said.
At least it wasn’t theater. If she were an actress, that would be one more thing to worry about. I stretched and started heading her toward bed. There are two bedrooms in my house, both the same size. Big. Eigh- teen by twenty feet, with large closets and one large bathroom between them. It has a shower, Jacuzzi, soaking tub, double sinks in the vanity, everything I thought might be useful when I designed the place.
April appreciated the bedroom and bath, but looked a bit uncertain when she realized that the second door off the bath opened onto my room, and that neither of them had locks. I knew what she was thinking and waited to see if she would say anything.
She didn’t. My opinion of her went up. Common sense is a rare thing.
She closed the door behind her. When the radio in her room came on, I headed for the office off my bedroom and spent a few minutes thinking. A call to a man in Albuquerque got me the number of a useful man in West Los Angeles. Next, I fired up my computer and found an account of the bombing. There was nothing of interest there, except that it had really happened. I made two reservations to Las Vegas in the name of Miller, then dug out a suitcase and packed for a week. Just in case, I dug out a fall-back identity. Harold Stephenson. I hadn’t been Harold for ten years, but I’d kept him alive.
I poured myself a double scotch, grabbed another cigarette from my stash, turned out all the lights in the house, and walked out onto the deck. The woods aren’t quiet at night. Things move in them. But I was used to the woods. I was not used to the things that were stirring in my mind.
Toker. I hadn’t seen him in sixteen years. I’d seen a lot of him in ’seventy-four. And of course, I’d seen him daily from June of ’seventy through July of ’seventy-one, while we were both in-country. In-country meant Saigon, mostly. What had happened there after I left? Or what had happened to him later, that led him to seek out and adopt a Vietnamese child? Did he go to Hong Kong looking for one, or was he really just on vacation, as April had said? Was there some significance to the fact that he’d picked a girl?
There had been two kinds of soldiers in Vietnam. Those who hated the locals and those who liked them. Toker was one of the first type. He called them slopes or gooks. That made April harder for me to understand. Had Toker been trying to assuage some guilt I didn’t know about?
Guilt. That word sent a lot of things scurrying for cover in the recesses of my skull. I let them go. I knew all their hidey-holes if I had to track them down. With luck, they would sleep peacefully for the next few weeks.
I finished the cigarette and the scotch, then just sat on the deck for an hour and listened to the night. No one was stirring.
The radio in April’s bedroom was silent when I locked up. I tapped gently at her door. There was no answer, so I opened it and slipped inside. I stood for three or four minutes, an eternity, breathing through my mouth, listening. No sound. My eyes adjusted to the darkness. Her head was a dark blotch against the white pillow case. Her clothes were spread on the foot of the bed. Her purse was on a table under the window.
I padded over and took it, made my way out of the room, and went to the kitchen. Her driver’s license said April Bow. It was dated over a year ago. The plastic case looked scratched enough to be a year old. She had the right student ID as far as I could tell. All the credit cards had the right name on them. She carried no weapon beyond a nail file. It took ten minutes to get my night vision back and another three to replace the purse. It was after midnight when I turned out my bedside lamp.
At seven-thirty I had breakfast going, a large omelet with vegetables and a mild chile sauce. Toast and coffee. April answered my knock by opening the door a crack and peering around it. I glanced past her. The mirror above the dresser on the other side of the room showed her naked back, pale, without tan lines, slender. My thin face and blond hair peered over her shoulder through the cracked door. Her backside was very attractive. I didn’t like or trust the looks of the fellow in the mirror. I looked back into her eyes and told her breakfast was ready.
She grumbled a bit. “So early?”
“We’ve got some stops to make and our flight leaves at eleven. Eat now. You can dress later.”
She appeared in a few minutes, barefoot, wearing a pair of new jeans and a cream-colored blouse. I gave her our schedule while she worked on the omelet, then took a tour of the property while she cleaned up and dressed. I wanted to be outside, far from her bedroom door. It had been too long since I’d had a woman. And at least to part of me, she qualified. Despite her age and looks. Or maybe because of them.
The first stop in Albuquerque was at my bank. I picked up five thousand in cash. Then I made some arrangements with the woman who manages certain of my properties and left her with a check for a thousand in case I was gone longer than expected. We barely made it to the airport in time to pick up our tickets and take the long walk to our gate.