Lindy spoke up. "Excuse me, Captain?"
"What is it, Mr. Lindy?"
"Detective Ryder was invited by Dr. Peltier. She also invited his partner, Detective Nautilus."
Squill pursed his lips as if preparing to speak or spit, shook his head, and disappeared into the crowd. I shrugged off the incident, said I wanted to thank Dr. Peltier for the invite, and dove back into the crowd.
Clair stood at the door of her office, speaking with Alabama's attorney general and his satellites. A simple black dress set off her skin, velvet over china, and I enjoyed watching her dominate her audience. A striking mid-forty-four year old woman with cropped anthracite hair and ice-blue eyes, Dr. Clair Peltier, director of the Mobile office of the Alabama Forensics Bureau, needs only spear and helmet to claim center stage in a Wagner opera. The effect is enhanced by about fifteen extra pounds, which she wears in her thighs and shoulders. When the AG and his retinue paraded away, I stepped up. With high heels she was almost tall enough for her eyes to level into mine.
"Will Lindy says you're the reason I'm here," I said, raising my cup toward those amazing eyes. "Thanks."
"No thanks are necessary, Ryder. The guest list was top heavy with police brass. The media being here, I figured it appropriate to have some detectives in attendance. I chose you and Detective Nautilus because you might be recognizable from the Adrian case."
Carson Ryder and Harry Nautilus, token detectives, so much for the A-list. I doubted we'd still be recognizable; as demonstrated by the reporter, the media's present-tense mentality had filed the year-old case somewhere between the Norman Conquest and the Industrial Revolution. I started to thank Doc P again anyway, but an upwardly mobilized junior prosecutor shouldered me aside and presented his giggly fiancée to "one of the top female medical examiners in the nation."
I smiled as I walked away. "Top female medical examiners . . ." Clair was gonna eat that little bastard's soul the next time they worked together.
A heavy black hand squeezed my shoulder. Harry.
"Working the crowd, amigo?" I asked.
He winked. "A bash like this, Cars, all the politicos and wannabees getting half blammed, you can't beat it for getting milk."
Milk was Harry's term for inside information concerning the department or its influences. Though not a political type himself, he loved departmental gossip and always had the skinny, more milk than a herd of Guernseys. He leaned whisper close. "Rumor has it Chief Hyrum is rolling and strolling next spring, summer at latest."
"He's taking dancing lessons?" Harry's rhyming affliction alternately amused or irritated me. Today was irritation.
"Early retirement, Cars. Two years early."
I'd been a street cop for three years, a detective for one. Though I knew of the thicket of departmental politics, I was indifferent. Harry'd spent fifteen years studying them on a molecular level. I requested a translation. He paused, divining.
"Gonna be power plays, Carson. Upstaging, backstabbing, and downright lying. People that do nothing but push paper are gonna make like they're the hottest shit since the devil's stables."
"How much of that manure is gonna land on our heads?" I asked.
Harry scowled at his empty glass and pushed toward the bar, the multitude parting like water for a black Moses in pink slacks and purple shirt. "Don't fret it and sweat it, bro," he said over his shoulder. "We're too far down the ladder to get caught in the shitstorm."
My glass of iced tea was mostly cubes and I strained it through my fingers and swiped ice chips over my sweating face and the back of my neck. The effect was delicious in the night's heat; a cold startle of wet ice and the astringent draw of tannin. I sighed at the joy of small pleasures and leaned back in my deck chair. A gibbous moon swept above, hazy and haloed, the air glutted with wet. Hours gone from the morgue dedication ceremony, bare feet propped on the railing, I watched the golden plume of an oil rig burning off gas three miles across the Gulf. Fire from the dark water seemed as exotic as a parrot in a scrub-pine woodlands.
Reprinted from The Hundredth Man by Jack Kerley by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright © Jack Kerley, 2004. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.
Blood at the Root
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