Read Shallow Graves Online

Authors: Jeffery Deaver

Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense

Shallow Graves (4 page)

He let that sit for a thick moment then said, “The film’s got a dark side to it, violence in a small town. Any of that?”

“Oh, yeah. A lot of domestic stuff. Last year a man took a shotgun and killed his family. They found him at home, watching
Wheel of Fortune
with the bodies all around him. Then the police found a couple guys from New York City murdered not far from downtown.”

“What happened?”

“Nobody’s sure. They were just businessmen. Looked like robbery but who knows? Then you have your assorted drownings, car wrecks, hunting accidents. A lot of those.”

Pellam took more Polaroids. “Look, they call it Main Street. Great.”

“Yeah, they do. I never thought about it. Wild.”

He paused, looked across the street into the window of the Dutchess Realty Company. The morning
light fell on the storefront glass and he thought somebody else was staring at him, a blond woman. But she wasn’t like the other supplicants; there was something intense and troubling about the way she studied him.

Then he decided he was just being paranoid.

Goodbye . . .

He looked away, then back. The blond voyeur was no longer there. Just like the imagined spy in the forest overlooking the cemetery.
Maybe
imagined.

Janine said, “I’ve gotta open the store now but, you want, sometime I can show you the only building that survived the Great Fire of 1912.”

“Love to see it.”

“You mean that?”

“Sure do,” Pellam said.

NO, WE’LL SPLIT
the worm. . . .

Pellam was walking down a side street in Cleary. The red-covered script was in his hand. He made notations, he shot ’Roids.

No, John, really. . . . I insist.

He was thinking about the assignment in Mexico last month.

He and Marty had found a great jungle outside of Puerto Vallarta and after the principal photography had started, the two men had hung around and drunk mescal with the crew and watched the director waste eighty thousand feet of film (shot through a Softar filter so the flick would have that smoky soft look of a Nike or IBM commercial). The story had something to do with forgers and Swiss businessmen and skinny dark-haired women who resembled Trudie, a woman Pellam occasionally dated in L.A. (Damn, he’d forgotten
to call her. It had been five days. I’ve gotta call. I’m going to. Definitely.)

In Mexico, Marty had spent time looking over the director of photography’s shoulder—the boy wanted to be a DP himself one day. Pellam had been on plenty of sets, too many, he’d decided years ago, and so he hung out mostly in the one bar in town, which was filled not with roustabouts, like the crew in the opening scenes of
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,
but with urban Americans on seven-night, six-day packages. Pellam avoided them like the local water and spent his time with a senior gaffer, an old bearded guy, who had two intense loves—one was antique generators and the other was emaciated brunettes.

The latter Pellam shared with him—the love for, not the Gold’s Gym’d bodies themselves, since he was among the caste of mere hirelings. Oh, a pert little assistant from wardrobe or makeup might make herself available to Pellam but any woman whose name was on a Screen Actors Guild contract was off-limits to the likes of location scouts and electricians.

In two weeks, the men had polished off bottle after bottle of greasy liquor, in which agave worms floated like astronauts spacewalking. They shared the worms. The last one they cut in half with Pellam’s Buck knife and dropped into the last shot of the granular, smoky drink. The gaffer swore it had hallucinogenic effects and muttered some mumbo jumbo as he tossed back the shot.

Pellam told him he was crazy and didn’t feel anything but extremely drunk.

The movie stank but Pellam’d had a good time. For Christsake, it was Mexico. How could you lose?
The final scenes (
final
scenes? Hell, the whole movie) involved more explosives and machine guns than acting but Pellam was happy to watch the liquor in the bottles sink toward the fat worms and listen to the explosive charges, which were so much quieter in real life than in the final cut of a film itself, after the sound effects were added.

Whump whump whump.

After a while, things got boring in paradise and Pellam, who maybe didn’t smile a whole lot and whose eyelids didn’t grow as wide as Marty’s but who loved pranks, came up with some good ones. On that Mexican trip, he got a lot of mileage out of stuffed Gila monsters and latex rattlesnakes. The best was when he talked a stuntman into hanging from boots bolted to the ceiling of the director’s hotel room. When the director, stoned on some powerful ganja, walked into the room, the stuntman shouted, “Man, you’re on the fucking ceiling! How do you
do
that?” The director stared at him in shock, frozen like James Arness in the big ice cube in the original version of
The Thing.
The stuntman began to pass out, both from laughter and blood to the brain. Pellam recorded it on videotape and planned to send the tape to selected friends as Christmas presents.

Pellam got away with a lot. Location scouting is to the film business what Switzerland is to war. Whatever cataclysm, betrayals and victories occur in boardrooms and on sets and casting couches, nobody has much of an opinion about scouts. Producers are thieves, actors are brain damaged, cinematographers are
artistes,
the trades are gorillas. Everybody hates the writers.

But location scouts, they’re cowboys.

They deliver then they’re gone.

That, or they sit on the sidelines drinking mescal, picking up script girls and trying to pick up actresses, and
then
they’re gone. Nobody thinks twice about them. Pellam had had other jobs in film, and no jobs other than in film, but scouting was the only one he’d kept at for more than a couple years.

Mexico last month. Georgia last week.

Now, Cleary, New York. With rosy-cheeked blonde-bait Marty. With a busty former hippie. With a hundred squares of slick Polaroid pictures. With a cemetery.

With some people who weren’t too happy to have him in town.

Goodbye . . .

He paused on a small road that led to what looked like a town park. It might have been private property, though; the lots in Cleary were massive. He thought about his place on Beverly Glen, whose lot line you could measure in inches and not end up with an unwieldy number. Pellam stopped and gazed at the property, at the huge robin’s-egg-blue colonial in the middle of the beautiful yard. So, it wasn’t a park at all. It was a residence. And it was for sale. The sign was stuck in the front yard.

Pellam wondered what it was like to own a house this big in a town this small. He counted windows. The place must have six or seven bedrooms. He didn’t
know
five people he’d want sleeping in his house. Not all at the same time.

He started across the road. What would a house like this cost?

What was the backyard like?

He never found out.

Pellam was halfway across the road when a small gray car crested the hill, hit a patch of leaves slick as spilled oil and skidded hard. He tried to dance out of its path but a part of the car—some piece of resonant sheet metal—caught him square on the thigh.

John Pellam saw:

A sea of leaves, mostly yellow, rising to the sky. A flare of sunlight on glass. A huge oak tree spinning, the blue house turning upside down, caught in a tornado. Then someone swung the curb at him, and everything disappeared in a burst of dirty light.

Chapter 3


WHERE’D YOU GET
that scar?”

Pellam opened his eyes. Thinking only that he wanted to throw up.

He told this to the white-jacketed man standing above him, muscular, in his forties. And, as the doctor was telling him that it was normal, Pellam started to.

A bedpan appeared just in time and, while Pellam was busy with it, the doctor continued his calm monologue. “You wake up from a concussion, you always see regurgitation. I don’t mean stunned but actually knocked unconscious. Yep, completely normal reaction.”

He looked like a veterinarian Pellam had taken a dog to once. A standard poodle, he thought, but he couldn’t remember for sure. He liked standard poodles but he didn’t think he’d ever owned one. That bothered him, not remembering. Maybe he had amnesia. Or brain damage.

He groaned. After the completely normal regurgitation, he felt burning stomach muscles and a fiery throat join the agony that swelled inside his skull, a balloon that wouldn’t stop expanding until the bone
cracked and the pressure hissed out like steam from a burst pipe.

He took a mouthful of water, rinsed, and spit into the bedpan. There was no nurse and the doctor disappeared with the pan. He returned with a clean one and set it on the table next to Pellam.

No, it wasn’t a poodle, it was a terrier. One of Trudie’s, he believed (Trudie, Trudie . . . had he called her?).

“That should be about it,” the doctor said and didn’t explain any further.

Pellam did a self-exam. He wore just his Jockey briefs under a blue cloth robe. He lifted the sheets and checked body parts in descending order of importance. The only sign of damage, apart from the bandage on his head, was a bruise on his thigh the color and shape of a mutant eggplant.

“I wouldn’t drink anything for a while,” the doctor said.

Pellam said he wouldn’t. Then added, “I got hit by a car.” He was disappointed that this was the most significant thing he could think of to say.

The doctor said, “Uh-huh.” Mostly he seemed curious about the scar. It was a foot long, a gouge of glossy, indented skin across Pellam’s right biceps and chest. It was a memento of the time an arms assistant got the charge instructions wrong during a car chase gag and used dynamite instead of smokeless powder in rigging the Oldsmobile Pellam was driving. When the car exploded, Pellam got an eighteen-inch auto part in the chest. The medic told him that if it’d been going straight it would’ve pinned him to the wall. “Lahk a stuck piyag, Pellam. You a lucky somvabitch.”

“Used to do stunt work,” he now said to the doctor.

“Oh, you’re the movie man, huh?”

Pellam focused on him. He really looked like he should be treating fuzzy terriers and poodles and mending tipped cows.

“I’m the movie man.”

“Don’t do stunts anymore, I hope.”

“Life’s exciting enough.”

“I hear you,” the doctor said.

“How am I?”

The doctor said, “Nothing serious. Concussion but no cracks. You fell good—I guess because you’re used to stunts. That scrape on your head is wide, it can get infected pretty easy, so keep an eye on it. I’ll give you some Betadine.”

“This a hospital?”

The doctor laughed. “It’s got me, a mini lab, a podiatrist, an OB-GYN. If that’s a hospital, this is Cleary General.”

“Can I leave?”

“Nope. You’ll have to stay here the night. You’ll be pretty dizzy for a while. I wouldn’t want you to fall. I’ve got plenty of magazines.
Reader’s Digest
s. Some
National Geographic
s. Good things like that. A Bible, if you’re interested.”

“I’ve got to get a message to somebody.”

“There’s a phone in the lobby. I can make a call for you. If you—”

“No, not a phone call. Somebody’ll be waiting for me back at my camper. It’s parked on Main Street.” Pellam told him that Marty would be returning about six.

The doctor said, “I’ve got a son works at the IH
plant. He’s a manager. He can take some time off and leave a note on your camper door.”

“Be obliged.”

Pellam watched the doctor take a small chart from beside the bed and write on it.

“Who was it? Who hit me?”

The doctor kept writing.

Pellam wondered if it was a hit-and-run, wondered who the driver was—some hotshot, a kid, probably.

Wondered too if it
really was
an accident.

Thinking of the mural of crosses on the Winnebago.

Thinking:
Goodbye . . .

Maybe he should call the sheriff. That’d be the smart thing to—

The doctor looked up. “She’s outside.”

“What?”

“She’s here. She’s been waiting to see you.”

“Who?” Pellam asked. (Did he mean Trudie? Damn, I hope I called her.)

“The driver. The woman who hit you.”

“Oh,” Pellam said. “With a lawyer?”

“Just by herself.”

He said, “Can I see her?”

“You want to see her?”

“I guess.”

The doctor said, “Then you can see her.”

PELLAM’S FIRST REACTION
was that she was pretty but not sexy. Pert ’n’ perky, he thought, discouraged. Not his type at all. A girl with a mile-wide smile.

She was maybe thirty-two, thirty-three, but looked older—something about the teased blond hair, the
heavy pale makeup, the fleshy panty hose made her seem matronly. Pellam could picture her as a Miss America contestant, with a baton, sending it sailing up into the height of the proscenium. Her face was blank when she entered the room but as soon as she was over the threshold, she grinned shy crevices around her mouth.

He was expecting:
Goshhowy’allfeelin’?

But she didn’t sound that way at all.

“Welcome to Cleary,” she said in a low, sexy voice that almost made him ignore the mask of pancake makeup. She walked right up to the bed and stuck her hand out.

She saw the scar and it threw her. The facade cracked for a minute then the down-home smile returned. “Meg Torrens.”

“John Pellam.”

Her mouth went tight. “I don’t know what to say.”

Pellam knew what to
think:
Bummer. He’d done a fast inventory. A cocktail ring that wouldn’t quit, a wedding band, a fat rock of an engagement ring.

Pellam said to her, “Not a problem. These things happen.”

(Pellam had a lawyer one time, a former flower child who’d done a pretty good job for him on a legal matter—at a time when he needed a lawyer to do a pretty good job. The ponytailed man’d been real concerned about what Pellam said in public and he’d drummed into his client’s head that there were a lot of things you shouldn’t say to people you might be involved with in court. It occurred to him now that he probably shouldn’t have said,
Not a problem.
)

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