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A Darkness More Than Night Excerpt

Someone’s coming.”

Terry McCaleb looked at his wife and then followed her eyes down to the winding road below. He could see the golf cart making its way up the steep and winding road to the house. The driver was obscured by the roof of the cart.

They were sitting on the back deck of the house he and Graciela had rented up on La Mesa Avenue. The view ranged from the narrow winding road below the house to the whole of Avalon and its harbor, and then out across the Santa Monica Bay to the haze of smog that marked overland. The view had been the reason they had chosen this house to make their new home on the island. But at the moment his wife had spoken his gaze had been on the baby in his arms, not the view. He could look no farther than his daughter’s wide blue and trusting eyes.

McCaleb saw the rental number on the side of the golf cart passing below. It wasn’t a local coming. It was somebody who had probably come from overland on the Catalina Express. Still, he wondered about how Graciela knew that the visitor was coming to their house and not any of the others on La Mesa.

He didn’t ask about this — she’d had premonitions before. He just waited and soon after the golf cart disappeared from sight, there was a knock at the front door. Graciela went to answer it and soon came back to the deck with a woman McCaleb had not seen in three years.

Sheriff’s Detective Jaye Winston smiled when she saw the child in his arms. It was genuine, but at the same time it was the distracted smile of someone who wasn’t there to admire a new baby. McCaleb knew the thick green binder she carried in one hand and the video cassette in the other meant Winston was there on business. Death business.

“Terry, howya been?” she asked.

“Couldn’t be better. You remember Graciela?”

“Of course. And who is this?”

“This is CiCi.”

McCaleb never used the baby’s formal name around others. He only liked to call her Cielo when he was alone with her.

“CiCi,” Winston said, and hesitated as if waiting for an explanation of the name. When none came, she said, “How old?”

“Almost four months. She’s big.”

“Wow, yeah, I can see … And the boy … where’s he?”

“Raymond,” Graciela said. “He’s with some friends today. Terry had a charter and so he went with friends to the park to play softball.”

The conversation was halting and strange. Winston either wasn’t really interested or was unused to such banal talk.

“Would you like something to drink?” McCaleb offered as he passed the baby to Graciela.

“No, I’m fine. I had a Coke on the boat.”

As if on cue, or perhaps indignant about being passed from one set of hands to another, the baby started to fuss and Graciela said she would take her inside. She left them then, standing on the porch. McCaleb pointed to the round table and chairs where they ate most nights while the baby slept.

“Let’s sit down.”

He pointed Winston to the chair that would give her the best view of the harbor. She put the green binder, which McCaleb recognized as a murder book, on the table and the video on top of it.

“Beautiful,” she said.

“Yeah, she’s amazing. I could watch her all —”

He stopped and smiled when he realized she was talking about the view, not his child. Winston smiled, too.

“She’s beautiful, too, Terry. She really is. You look good, too, so tan and all.”

“I’ve been going out on the boat.”

“And your health is good?”

“Can’t complain about anything other than all the pills they make me take. But I’m three years in now and no problems. I think I’m in the clear, Jaye. I just have to keep taking the damn pills and it should stay that way.”

He smiled and he did appear to be the picture of health. As the sun had turned his skin dark it had worked to the opposite effect on his hair. Close cropped and neat, it was almost blonde now. Working on the boat had also defined the muscles of his arms and shoulders. The only giveaway was hidden under his shirt, the ten-inch scar left by transplantation surgery.

“That’s great,” Winston said. “It looks like you have a wonderful setup here. New family, new home … away from everything.”

She was silent a moment, turning her head as if to take in all of the view and the island and McCaleb’s life at once. McCaleb always thought Jaye Winston was attractive in a tomboyish way. She had loose sandy blonde hair that she kept at shoulder length. She had never worn makeup back when he worked with her. But she had sharp, knowing eyes and an easy and somewhat sad smile, as if she saw the humor and tragedy in everything at once. She wore black jeans and a white t-shirt beneath a black blazer. She looked cool and tough and McCaleb knew from experience that she was. She had a habit of hooking her hair behind her ear frequently as she spoke. He found that endearing for some unknown reason. He had always thought that if he had not connected with Graciela he might have tried to know Jaye Winston better. He also sensed that Winston intuitively knew that.

“Makes me feel guilty about why I came,” she said. “Sort of.”

McCaleb nodded at the binder and the tape.

“You came on business. You could have just called, Jaye. Saved some time probably.”

“No, you didn’t send out any change of address or phone cards. Like maybe you didn’t want people to know where you ended up.”

She hooked her hair behind her left ear and smiled again.

“Not really,” he said. “I just didn’t think people would want to know where I was. So how did you find me?”

“Asked around over at the marina on the mainland.”

“Overland. They call it overland here.”

“Overland then. They told me in the harbor master’s office that you still kept a slip there but you moved the boat over here. I came over and took a water taxi around the harbor until I found it. Your friend was there. He told me how to get up here.”

“Buddy.”

McCaleb looked down into the harbor and picked out The Following Sea. It was about a half-mile or so away. He could see Buddy Lockridge bent over in the stern. After a few moments he could tell that Buddy was washing off the reels with the hose from the freshwater tank.

“So what’s this about, Jaye?” McCaleb said without looking at Winston. “Must be important for you to go through all of that on your day off. I assume you’re off on Sundays.”

“Most of them.”

She pushed the tape aside and opened the binder. Now McCaleb looked over. Although it was upside down to him, he could tell the top page was a standard homicide occurrence report, usually the first page in every murder book he had ever read. It was the starting point. His eyes went to the address box.  Even upside down he could make out that it was a West Hollywood case.

“I’ve got a case here I was hoping you’d take a look at. In your spare time, I mean. I think it might be your sort of thing. I was hoping you’d give me a read, maybe point me someplace I haven’t been yet.”

He had known as soon as he had seen the binder in her hands that this was what she was going to ask him. But now that it had been asked he felt a confusing rush of sensations. He felt a thrill at the possibility of having a part of his old life again. He also felt guilt over the idea of bringing death into a home so full of new life and happiness. He glanced toward the open slider to see if Graciela was looking out at them. She wasn’t.

“My sort of thing?” he said. “If it’s a serial you shouldn’t waste time. Go to the bureau, call Maggie Griffin. She’ll —“

“I did all of that, Terry. I still need you.”

“How old is this thing?”

“Two weeks.”

Her eyes looked up from the binder to his.

“New Year’s Day?”

She nodded.

“First murder of the year,” she said. “For L.A. County, at least. Some people think the true millennium didn’t start until this year.”

“You think this is a millennium nut?”

“Whoever did this was a nut of some order. I think. That’s why I’m here.”

“What did the bureau say? Did you take this to Maggie?”

“You haven’t kept up, Terry. Maggie was sent back to Quantico. Things slowed down in the last few years out here and Behavioral Sciences pulled her back. No outpost in L.A. anymore. So, yes, I talked to her. But over the phone at Quantico. She ran it through the computer and got zilched. As far as a profile goes or anything else, I’m on a waiting list. Do you know that across the country there were thirty-four millennium inspired murders on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day? So they have their hands full at the moment and the bigger departments like us, we’re at the end of the line because the bureau figures the smaller departments with less experience and expertise and manpower need their help more.”

She waited a moment while letting McCaleb consider all of this. He understood the Bureau’s philosophy. It was a form of triage.

“I don’t mind waiting a month or so until Maggie or somebody else over there can work something up for me, but my gut on this one tells me time is a consideration, Terry. If it is a serial, a month may be too long to wait. That’s why I thought of coming to you. I am banging my head on the wall on this one and you might be our last best hope of coming up with something to move on now. I still remember the Cemetery Man and the Code Killer. I know what you can do with a murder book and some crime scene tape.”

The last few lines were gratuitous and her only false move so far, McCaleb thought. Otherwise he believed she was sincere in the expression of her belief that the killer she was looking for might strike again.

“It’s been a long time for me, Jaye,” McCaleb began. “Other than that thing with Graciela’s sister, I haven’t been involved in —“

“Come on, Terry, don’t bullshit me, okay? You can sit here with a baby in your lap every day of the week and it still won’t erase what you were and what you did. I know you. We haven’t seen each other or talked in a long time but I know you. And I know that not a day goes by that you don’t think about cases. Not a day.”

She paused and stared at him.

“When they took out your heart, they didn’t take out what makes you tick, know what I mean?”

McCaleb looked away from her and back down at his boat. Buddy was now sitting in the main fighting chair, his feet up on the transom. McCaleb assumed he had a beer in his hand but it was too far to see that.

“If you’re so good at reading people, what do you need me for?”

“I may be good but you’re the best I ever knew. Hell, even if they weren’t backed up till Easter in Quantico, I’d take you over any of those profilers. I mean that. You were —“

“Okay, Jaye, we don’t need a sales pitch, okay? My ego is doing okay without all the —“

“Then what do you need?”

He looked back at her.

“Just some time. I need to think about this.”

“l’m here because my gut says I don’t have much time.”

McCaleb got up and walked to the railing. His gaze was out to the sea. A Catalina Express ferry was coming in. He knew it would be almost empty. The winter months brought few visitors.

“The boat’s coming in,” he said. “It’s the winter schedule, Jaye. You better catch it going back or you’ll be here all night.”

“I’II have dispatch send a chopper for me if I have to. Terry, all I need from you is one day at the most. One night, even. Tonight. You sit down, read the book, look at the tape and then call me in the morning, tell me what you see. Maybe it’s nothing or at least nothing that’s new. But maybe you’ll see something we’ve missed or you’ll get an idea we haven’t come up with yet. That’s all I’m asking. I don’t think it’s a lot.”

McCaleb looked away from the incoming boat and turned so his back leaned against the rail.

“It doesn’t seem like a lot to you because you’re in the life. I’m not. I’m out of it, Jaye. Even going back into it for a day is going to change things. I moved out here to start over and to forget all the stuff I was good at. To get good at being something else. At being a father and a husband, for starters.”

Winston got up and walked to the railing. She stood next to him but looked out at the view while he remained facing his home. She spoke in a low voice. If Graciela was listening from somewhere inside, she could not hear this.

“Remember with Graciela’s sister what you told me? You told me you got a second shot at life and that there had to be a reason for it. Now you’ve built this life with her sister and her son and now even your own child. That’s wonderful, Terry, I really think so. But that can’t be the reason you were looking for. You might think it is but it’s not. Deep down you know it. You were good at catching these people. Next to that, what is catching fish?”

McCaleb nodded slightly and was uncomfortable with himself for doing it so readily.

“Leave the stuff,” he said. “I’II call you when I can.”

On the way to the door Winston looked about for Graciela but didn’t see her.

“She’s probably in with the baby,” McCaleb said.

“Well, tell her I said goodbye.“

“I will.”

There was an awkward silence the rest of the way to the door. Finally, as McCaleb opened it, Winston spoke.

“So what’s it like, Terry? Being a father.”

“It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times.”

His stock answer. He then thought a moment and then added something he had thought about but never said, not even to Graciela.

“It’s like having a gun to your head all the time.”

Winston looked confused and maybe even a little concerned.

“How so?”

“Because I know if anything ever happens to her, anything, then my life is over.”

She nodded.

“I think I can understand that.”

She went through the door.  She looked rather silly as she left.  A seasoned homicide detective riding away in a golf cart.