Sometimes I think about how odd it would be to catch a glimpse of the future, a quick view of events lying in store for us at some undisclosed date. Suppose we could peer through a tiny peephole in Time and chance upon a flash of what was coming up in the years ahead? Some moments we saw would make no sense at all and some, I suspect, would frighten us beyond endurance. If we knew what was looming, we'd avoid certain choices, select option B instead of A at the fork in the road: the job, the marriage, the move to a new state, childbirth, the first drink, the elective medical procedure, that long-anticipated ski trip that seemed like such fun until the dark rumble of the avalanche. If we understood the consequences of any given action, we could exercise discretion, thus restructuring our fate. Time, of course, only runs in one direction, and it seems to do so in an orderly progression. Here in the blank and stony present, we're shielded from the knowledge of the dangers that await us, protected from future horrors through blind innocence.
Take the case in point. I was winding my way through the mountains in a cut-rate rental car, heading south on 395 toward the town of Nota Lake, California, where I was going to interview a potential client. The roadway was dry and the view was unobstructed, weather conditions clear. The client's business was unremarkable, at least as far as I could see. I had no idea there was any jeopardy waiting or I'd have done something else.
I'd left Dietz in Carson City, where I'd spent the last two weeks playing nurse/companion while he recovered from surgery. He'd been scheduled for a knee replacement and I'd volunteered to drive him back to Nevada in his snazzy little red Porsche. I make no claims to nurturing, but I'm a practical person and the nine-hour journey seemed the obvious solution to the problem of how to get his car back to his home stale. I'm a no-nonsense driver and he knew he could count on me to get us to Carson City without any unnecessary side trips and no irrelevant conversation. He'd been staying in my apartment for the two previous months and since our separation was approaching, we tended to avoid discussing anything personal.
For the record, my last name is Millhone, first name Kinsey. I'm female, twice divorced, seven weeks shy of thirty-six, and reasonably fit. I'm a licensed private detective, currently residing in Santa Teresa, California, to which I'm attached like a tetherball on a very short cord. Occasionally, business will swing me out to other parts of the country, but I'm basically a small-town shamus and likely to remain so for life.
Dietz's surgery, which was scheduled for the first Monday in March, proceeded uneventfully, so we can skip that part. Afterward, I returned to his condominium and toured the premises with interest. I'd been startled by the place when I first laid eyes on it, as it was more lavish and much better appointed than my poor digs back in Santa Teresa. Dietz was a nomad and I'd never pictured his having much in the way of material possessions. While I was closeted in a converted single-car garage (recently remodeled to accommodate a sleeping loft and a second bathroom upstairs), Dietz maintained a three-bedroom penthouse that probably encompassed three thousand square feet of living space, including a roof patio and garden with all honest-to-god greenhouse. Granted, the seven-story building was located in a commercial district, but the views were astounding and the privacy profound.
I'd been too polite to pry while he was standing right there beside me, but once he was safely ensconced in the orthopedic ward at Carson/Tahoe Hospital, I felt comfortable scrutinizing everything in my immediate range, which necessitated dragging a chair around and standing on it in some cases. I checked closets and files and boxes and papers and drawers, pockets and suitcases, feeling equal parts relief and disappointment that he had nothing in particular to hide. I mean, what's the point of snooping if you can't uncover something good? I did have the chance to study a photograph of his ex-wife, Naomi, who was certainly a lot prettier than he'd ever indicated. Aside from that, his finances appeared to be in order, his medicine cabinet contained no sinister pharmaceutical revelations, and his private correspondence consisted almost entirely of assorted misspelled letters from his two college-age sons. Lest you think I'm intrusive, I can assure you Dietz had searched my apartment just as thoroughly during the time he was in residence. I know this because I'd left a few booby traps, one of which he'd missed when he was picking open my locked desk drawers. His license might have lapsed, but (most of) his operating skills were still current. Neither of us had ever mentioned his invasion of my privacy, but I vowed I'd do likewise when the opportunity arose. Between working detectives, this is known as professional courtesy. You toss my place and I'll toss yours.
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.
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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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