Read Shallow Graves Online

Authors: Jeffery Deaver

Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense

Shallow Graves (23 page)

Moorhouse, smiling, sucked air in through his white teeth. “I may have to add contempt to your growing list of infractions, you aren’t careful—”

Pellam put his hands, balled into fists, on the desk, and leaned forward. Light shot off the steel cuffs. “I want bail set and I don’t care if you’re busy fixing DWI tickets for the sons of your clients—I want a trial tomorrow. I’m calling my lawyer in Manhattan and getting him up here today with a habeas corpus writ and you fuck around any more with me and I’ll sue your ass for abuse of judicial process and failure to get an injured prisoner adequate medical attention—”

“Now, just let’s calm down here. Let’s—”

“You tell me,” Pellam said between angry jaws, “how easy your town treasury’ll afford a judgment of two, three hundred thousand?”

Moorhouse kept the false smile. His face reddened and he faked a cough to swallow. His eyes strayed to the phone. Pellam could see he was furious. Somebody’d put him in this tough position. “My, my, you are a touchy one. I’ll tell you what. You just leave our town, and I’ll drop all the charges.”

Pellam said softly. “What’s bail?”

The smile twisted and became lopsided. “Bail is set at five thousand dollars.”

The door behind Pellam squealed open. He hardly heard it. A broad trapezoid of light fell into the room. He snapped,
“How
much? Where am I going to get that kind of money on Sunday?”

A woman’s voice said, “From me. A check’ll be okay, won’t it, Hank?”

He frowned. “Morning, Meg. What’re you doing here?”

She walked up to the desk. “A check?” She was already writing it out.

“You don’t have to—” Pellam began. She glanced at his face, which must’ve been in worse shape than he’d thought since her eyes flashed wide for a second.

Moorhouse was peeling a piece of tape off the dispenser and rolling it up. He chewed on it absently. “Meg, this isn’t a good idea.”

She finished writing out the check. Pellam said to her, “How did you know?”

She ignored him.

“Meg,” Moorhouse tried again. “It really isn’t a good idea.”

Meg dropped the check onto his desk. “A receipt. I’d like a receipt.”

He couldn’t find one and had to write one out by hand on a yellow pad.

Meg pushed through the door. Pellam, frowning, looked after her. Moorhouse spit the tape out of his mouth and said, “Trial is set for Monday morning. I know a local lawyer, you want.”

Pellam pushed his fists out toward the man’s chest. “What I want is the cuffs off. They’re a little disruptive.”

PELLAM SAT IN
the passenger seat as Meg pushed the little car up through the gears and shot out of town.

He casually slipped the seat belt and shoulder harness on. He noticed the knob on the manual transmission gearshift was twisted and worn from heavy use, the gear position symbol upside down. As if to show him why, she downshifted on a gentle curve and brought the speed back up to about seventy.

It was a forty zone.

Over the roar of the engine, he said, “Thanks. I—”

Meg shook her head.

He didn’t know what she meant: that she didn’t want him to talk or that she couldn’t hear him. The tach was almost redlined.

Pellam looked around. The streets were empty. The parking lot next to a church was full of small trucks and cars. It was classic American religion—a sweeping white steeple and red brick, symmetrical, unchallenging, simple. He wondered what denomination it was, then decided it didn’t really matter; religion
in Cleary would be pretty much the same whatever church you happened to be in.

“Where’s Sam?”

“Sunday school.”

“Where’s Keith?”

“Some errand then he was going to the factory.”

“Oh.”

They drove in silence to the house. To
her
house. In
her
car.

With
her
flinty eyes and taut mouth.

When they got there, she left four-foot skid marks in the gravel and climbed out, slamming the thin door with a crash. She walked up on the porch, leaving Pellam in the passenger seat.

She disappeared inside.

He sat.

She reappeared a minute later and said, “You coming inside or not?”

“Well, I guess I—” he said to her receding back.

The house was quiet. A funny thing, an old house like this—huge and warm with a woody-smelling heat coming up from parquet floors—being quiet. A house that ought to have a dozen kids running around in it, raising all kinds of hell, adults doing their weekend tasks. But it was still, completely still.

He followed her into the kitchen. She was setting up a Mr. Coffee. She put rolls in the oven. He crossed his arms. She didn’t say anything. He leaned against the counter. He unfolded his arms and sat down. He said, “I—”

She slammed the coffee can down, spun to face him. “I’ve only got one question.”

“You got me out of jail to ask me a question?”

“Did Sam get that shit from you?”

He didn’t answer.

She looked at him.

Pellam stood up. “If you think that then I’m just going to walk back to your lockup, thanks.”

Meg walked over to him and stood inches away. “I want you to say it. I want you to tell me.”

“I didn’t give him any drugs.”

She turned away.

He said, “I thought you knew me . . . I thought we knew each other better than that.”

Then she was digging in her purse, pulling out sheets of paper.

He squinted. His right eye blurred. A renegade bit of dirt from the night before shifted. He wiped tears. Then he was focusing on the sheets of paper, the kind with the holes in the side. She’d printed something out of a computer.

Pellam frowned and leaned forward.

So that was it.

He cleared his throat. Even here. Cleary, New York, population 5800. Even here.

Pellam said softly, “So you know.”

Meg pushed the printouts toward him. They were dirty and well read.

Honing in on his eyes, she said, “I thought I’d heard your name. When I was a model in New York I got interested in movies. I used to buy some of the film magazines, the highbrow ones. I knew your name was familiar.”

He lifted several of the articles, glancing at newspaper headlines he could recite in his sleep.

Pellam’s “Time Out of Mind”—L.A. Film Critics
Top Pick for Independents, New Director Pellam Captures Cannes, Sundance. New York Film Festival Must: Pellam’s “Sandra’s Apartment.”

Then the others, with words that often did come to him in his sleep:
Film Director Indicted in Drug Death of Star. Pellam Trial Revelation: Drugs “Flowed” on Set. Director, Associate Indicted in Star’s OD Death. Death Movie “Central Standard Time” Shelved as Backers Drop Out.

He dropped them on the table. He stood up. “Better be going.”

Chapter 17

MEG STEPPED BETWEEN
him and the door. Took his arm, and held it hard.

“No, please. I don’t want you to go. I was so scared about Sam. I was so hurt. I didn’t think they came from you but I couldn’t help but think about these.” She touched the articles hesitantly.

She let go of his arm and Pellam walked to the back window, pulled aside the curtain. He said, “I never sold anything. The man who died was my friend. Tommy Bernstein.”

Meg said, “He was a wonderful actor. I saw a couple of the movies he was in. They weren’t yours, I don’t think.”

“He never worked for me. Not until that last movie.
Central Standard Time.
We were just friends. Best friends, I guess you’d say.” He laughed. “God, that sounds strange. Adults saying they’re best friends.” He laughed hollowly. “Well, we weren’t very adult.”

“What happened?”

“I was directing indies—you know, independent films. Jarmusch, Seidelman. That sort of thing. I met Tommy the first week he got to Hollywood. You’re right—he
was
good. But he got famous real fast,
too
fast—he never grew a thick skin. He got shook too easily and the only way he could work was high. We wrote
Central Standard
together—we went out to the desert a couple times and spent the whole day writing. Just the two of us. He was going to star. His first serious film. But the only way he could work was on coke. He wanted a lot and I gave him a lot. And more. He did too much. He had a heart attack and died. He was thirty-one.”

Pellam looked at the refrigerator. A construction paper airplane was stuck to the door with magnets. Printed on it:
Love you, Mom!!!

“It was so strange. At first nothing happened. Nothing at all. It was like the whole incident vanished. I even got up and went to work, trying to find a new star, looking at rough cuts, seeing what we could salvage. Then, everything fell apart. Me included. I couldn’t work, I just didn’t care. The financing backed out and I didn’t have a completion bond—star insurance. So I lost my savings and my house, the equipment. I did a year for manslaughter; my assistant got suspended.”

“But it wasn’t your fault.”

“Yes, it was. I kept supplying him. It was in the film’s budget. Under ‘Miscellaneous Cast-related Expenses.’ ”

“Was that when your wife left you?”

He smiled. “No, it was a little after.”

Meg said, “That was six years ago, Pellam. You mean nobody would let you work? I don’t mean this bluntly but it wasn’t the end of the world.”

“Well, it’s funny what qualifies for the end of the world. A year in the Q—that’s San Quentin. That’s
one way to define it. Believe me, that’s
definitely
a way to define the end of the world.”

“I’m sorry, John.” She touched his arm. This was a different touch. Softer. Closer.

His laugh was bitter. “Hell, there were publicists in L.A.’d shake my hand and say, ‘Fucking great promotion idea—you kill the star. Isn’t a newspaper in the country won’t do a story about you.’” He paused, listening to the mumble of the coffee machine. “Sure, I probably could have gotten it together after I got out. I’d lost a lot of contacts but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was I just didn’t care. I had no desire to direct anymore. So I got a job scouting locations.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

He walked away from her. “It’s temporary. Things’ll get better.”

“You’ve got to watch that,” she said.

“What?”

“Saying that—things are only temporary. Your life could be over before you know it.”

“I like scouting,” Pellam said.

“You don’t think your camper’s just a place you’re hiding out?”

“We all have places we hide out. Mine just happens to have wheels.”

“Exactly what
are
you doing here, Pellam? We aren’t going to get ourselves a movie here in Cleary. You aren’t real interested in colored leaves. What do you want?”

Pellam reached into his sock and pulled out the clear packet of drugs that the bear had planted on him last night.

Meg glanced at it several times, her eyes flipping
back and forth between the powder and his face. “What’s that?”

“A gift to me. I think from the same place Sam got that stuff he took.” He explained to her about the attack the night before. “One of them planted it on me.”

“No! Why?”

“So Moorhouse could throw the book at me and have more leverage to get me out of town.” He saw her shocked look. “Oh, the mayor’s not behind it. Someone else is.”

“Who?”

“Whoever didn’t want the movie made here.” He looked at her. “Whoever’s behind those drugs that Sam got. Whoever killed Marty.
That’s
what I’m doing here. That’s why I’m not leaving until I find out who it is.”

“In Cleary . . .” She shook her head. “This is the town where every other car has a red ribbon on the rearview mirror.”

Pellam shook his head, frowning.

“Mothers Against Drunk Driving,” Meg said. “The grocery bags at the Grand Union say, ‘Say No to Drugs.’”

Pellam opened the packet, sniffed it.

She said, “Why didn’t they find it?”

“I swallowed it. Then I got it back last night after they searched me, by a well-known biological process there’s no need to go into on this fine morning.”

“Jesus, Pellam. What if it’d broken open? You could’ve died.”

“I couldn’t really take a felony possession count.” He nodded at the printouts.

“Why didn’t you just flush it?”

“Sometimes, they test the water in jails.”

She smiled. “I can’t exactly see Tom testing the john water for drugs.”

Pellam laughed. “Who knows what kind of kits he got mail order from
Small Town Cop Monthly
he’s just dying to use.”

He stepped to the sink, opened the packet and let the contents disappear into the garbage disposal, under the smiling observation of a cut-out wooden goose wearing a bonnet. “I know people’d cry real tears, see me do this.”

Pellam dried his hands then walked up to a tall breakfront. He didn’t know anything about antiques. He stood awkwardly in front of the elaborate piece. “This is really something.”

The breakfast rolls came out and she set them in front of him. He ate two right away. They had a strongly yeasty flavor. Homemade.

They sipped coffee in an awkward silence for a few minutes. He was on his third roll. “The best compliment there is,” she said and ate one herself. “I never gain weight. Oh, I’m not being vain. It’s just a fact.”

Pellam walked into the hall. Looking at the wallpaper, the furniture.

Houses.

He knew what Tommy Bernstein would have said about his little place on Beverly Glen north of Sunset Boulevard.
Shit, you got a fallee house, man. You be in trouble. . . .
Houses on the top of the canyons were faller houses; at the bottom, fallee.
You gonna get squashed in the ’quake,
he’d have said.
Sell that sucker now.

He said to Meg, “I’ll bet you have nice holidays here.”

“Holidays?” Meg paused. “I guess so. Quiet. Just the three of us. And friends sometimes. A house like this needs big families. It was different when I was growing up. Family all over the place.” Her voice faded. Then she said, “I have a confession.”

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