He was out of the hospital by Friday morning of that week. The ensuing recovery involved a lot of sitting around with his knee wrapped in bandages as thick as a bolster. We watched trash television, played gin rummy, and worked a jigsaw puzzle with a picture depicting a roiling nest of earthworms so lifelike I nearly went off my feed. The first three days I did all the cooking, which is to say I made sandwiches, alternating between my famous peanut-butter-and-pickle extravaganza and my much beloved sliced hot-hard-boiled-egg confection, with tons of Hellmann's mayonnaise and salt. After that, Dietz seemed eager to get back into the kitchen and our menus expanded to include pizza, take-out Chinese, and Campbell's soup--tomato or asparagus, depending on our mood.
By the end of two weeks Dietz could pretty well fend for himself. His stitches were out and he was hobbling around with a cane between bouts of physical therapy. He had a long way to go, but he could drive to his sessions and otherwise seemed able to tend to his own needs. By then, I thought it entirely possible I'd go mad from trailing after him. It was time to hit the road before our togetherness began to chafe. I enjoyed being with him, but I knew my limitations. I kept my farewells perfunctory; lots of airy okay-fine-thanks-a-lot-I'll-see-you-laters. It was my way of minimizing the painful lump in my throat, staving off the embarrassing boo-boos I thought were best left unexpressed. Don't ask me to reconcile the misery I felt with the nearly giddy sense of relief. Nobody ever said emotions made any sense.
So there I was, barreling down the highway in search of employment and not at all fussy about what kind of work I'd take. I wanted distraction. I wanted money, escape, anything to keep my mind off the subject of Robert Dietz. I'm not good at good-byes. I've suffered way too many in my day and I don't like the sensation. On the other hand, I'm not that good at relationships. Get close to someone and next thing you know, you've given them the power to wound, betray, irritate, abandon, or bore you senseless. My general policy is to keep my distance, thus avoiding a lot of unruly emotion. In psychiatric circles, there are names for people like me.
I flipped on the car radio, picking up a scratchy station from Los Angeles, three hundred miles to the south. Gradually, I began to tune in to the surrounding landscape. Highway 395 cuts south out of Carson City, through Minden and Gardnerville. Just north of Topaz, I had crossed the state line into eastern California. The backbone of the state is the towering Sierra Nevada Range, the uptilted edge of a huge fault block, gouged out later by a series of glaciers. To my left was Mono Lake, shrinking at the rate of two feet a year, increasingly saline, supporting little in the way of marine life beyond brine shrimp and the attendant feasting of the birds. Somewhere to my right, through a dark green forest of Jeffrey pines, was Yosemite National Park, with its towering peaks, and rugged canyons, lakes, and thundering waterfalls. Meadows, powdered now in light snow, were once the bottom of a Pleistocene lake. Later in the spring, these same meadows would be dense with wildflowers. In the higher ranges, the winter snowpack hadn't yet melted, but the passes were open. It was the kind of scenery described as "breathtaking" by those who are easily winded. I'm not a big fan of the outdoors, but even I was sufficiently impressed to murmur "wow" speeding past a scenic vista point at seventy miles an hour.
The prospective client I was traveling to meet was a woman named Selma Newquist, whose husband, I was told, had died sometime within the last few weeks. Dietz had done work for this woman in the past, helping her extricate herself from an unsavory first marriage. I didn't get all the details, but he alluded to the fact that the financial "goods" he'd gotten on the husband had given Selma enough leverage to free herself from the relationship. There'd been a subsequent marriage and it was this second husband whose death had apparently generated questions his wife wanted answered. She'd called to hire Dietz, but since he was temporarily out of commission, he suggested me. Under ordinary circumstances, I doubted Mrs. Newquist would have considered a P.I. from the far side of the state, but my trip home was imminent and I was heading in her direction. As it turned out, my connection to Santa Teresa was more pertinent than it first appeared. Dietz had vouched for my integrity and, by the same token, he'd assured me that she'd be conscientious about payment for services rendered. It made sense to stop long enough to hear what the woman had to say. If she didn't want to hire me, all I'd be out was a thirty-minute break in the journey.
Copyright © 1998 by Sue Grafton. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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