Molting like a snake. Needing something new.
Novelty had always been my drug. I craved insomnia and menace punctuated by long stretches of solitude, puzzles that hurt my head, infusions of bad company and the delicious repellence of meeting up with the slimy things that coiled under psychic rocks. A racing heart jolted me happy. The kick start of adrenaline punching my chest made me feel alive.
When life slowed down for too long, I grew hollow.
But for circumstance, I might've dealt with it by jumping out of airplanes or scaling bare rocks. Or worse.
Years ago, I'd met a homicide detective and that changed everything.
Robin had put up with it for a long time. Now she'd had enough and, sooner rather than later, I'd have to make some kind of decision.
She loved me. I know she did.
Maybe that's why she made it easy for me.
In Paris, clichés are just fine. You leave your hotel, step out into the winter drizzle, walk aimlessly until you find yourself at a café near the Jardin des Tuileries where you order overpriced baguettes and grainy, French-press coffee, then move on to the Louvre, where even during the off-season the lines prove daunting. So you cross the Seine on the Pont Royal, ignoring the motor din that washes the bridge, study the murk of the water below, try the Musée d'Orsay and murder your feet for a couple of hours, sucking in the fruits of genius. Then, deeper into the grubby side streets of the Left Bank, where you press yourself into the all-in-black throng, and laugh inwardly at an imagined wheezy accordion sound track overpowering the burping motor scooters and the whining Renaults.
It was early afternoon, near a shop in St. Germain, when it happened.
Robin and I had stopped into a dark, narrow men's haberdashery with a window full of aggressive neckties and slouching mannequins with pickpocket eyes. The rain had been coming in fitful bursts all day. The umbrella we'd cadged from the hotel concierge wasn't generous enough to shelter both of us and we each ended up more than half-wet. Robin didn't seem to mind. Her curls were beaded with droplets and her cheeks were flushed. She'd been quiet since we'd boarded the plane in L.A., sleeping for most of the flight, refusing dinner. This morning, we'd woken up late and barely talked. During the walk across the river, she seemed distractedstaring off at nothing in particular, holding my hand, then dropping it, then grabbing again and squeezing hard, as if scrambling to cover for some infraction. I put it down to jet lag.
The St. Germain stroll led us past a private school where beautiful, chittering adolescents spilled out onto the sidewalk, then a bookstore where I'd intended to browse until Robin pulled me into the clothing store, saying, "These are good silks, Alex. You could use something new."
The store peddled menswear, but smelled like a nail salon. The shopgirl was a skinny thing with hacked-up hair the color of eggplant rind and the anxiety of a new hire. Robin took a while thumbing through the goods, finally found me a very blue shirt and an extravagant red-and-gold tie of heavy weave, got my nod, asked the girl to wrap it up. Aubergine Tresses scurried to a back room and returned with a stout, cardiganed woman in her sixties who sized me up, took the shirt, and returned moments later brandishing a steaming iron in one hand and the garment in the othernewly pressed, on a hanger, shielded by a clear plastic bag.
"Talk about service," I said, as we returned to the street. "Hungry?"
"No, not yet."
"You didn't touch breakfast."
The stout woman had followed us out and was standing in the doorway of the shop. She looked up at the sky dubiously. Checked her watch. Seconds later, thunder clapped. Flashing us a satisfied smile, she went back inside.
Excerpted from The Murder Book by Jonathan Kellerman. Copyright 2002 by Jonathan Kellerman. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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