Cover image for Six white horses
Title:
Six white horses
Author:
Dold, Gaylord.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Minotaur, [2002]

©2002
Physical Description:
274 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
"Thomas Dunne Books."
Language:
English
Geographic Term:
ISBN:
9780312290252
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Don't be a fool and think you can change the picture I've drawn you of the future. Look at it this way. Most guys your age would be happy as fuck to get a picture of the future that looks as clear as this. On a beautiful, foggy evening, Marine Corporal Palmer stands at the end of a pier, staring out over the ocean, waiting to meet his girlfriend Suzanne. Instead of meeting Suzanne, however, Palmer encounters Staff Sergeant Harry Wilde, who gives Palmer a stark choice: help Wilde's criminal activities, or be railroaded to jail on drug possession charges. With Suzanne's help, Palmer flees to Mexico. Seven years later, ex-Sergeant Wilde is a rich drug dealer and gun runner, trading stolen Marine guns for the deadly synthetic heroin, fetanyl. The murder of the "mule" who brings the drug over the border leaves Wilde badly in need of a new courier. Fate delivers one in an encounter with Palmer in the small Mexican town of Wilde's supplier. Wilde holds all the cards and Palmer is desperate. Desperation, however, doesn't make Palmer as easy to control as Wilde thinks. I was in a place where nothing mattered but one thing. It wasn't my life that mattered. Not my life, not anything but one thing. Nobody had any power over me, Sergeant. I was as free as those pelicans over there. Throughout, Gaylord Dold tells a story driven by human characters, raw tension, and palpable suspense.


Author Notes

Gaylord Dold , the author of Schedule Two , The Devil to Pay , and twelve other crime novels and thrillers, lives in Wichita, Kansas.


Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Seven years ago, Corporal Jesse Palmer went AWOL from the U.S. Marine Corps and fled to Mexico to escape an illegal drug frame-up orchestrated by sadistic Sergeant Harry Wilde. Now, in an unfortunate twist of fate, Wilde shows up in the sleepy Mexican town where Palmer has been living in exile and demands that he smuggle six bags of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic heroin known as White Horse, over the border into the U.S. Wilde is holding hostages--Suzanne, Palmer's ex-girlfriend, and Adam, a son he has never seen--and promises to kill them if Palmer refuses to act as his courier. The tension runs so thick you'll be able to cut it with a switchblade as Palmer races frantically to find a solution to his seemingly insurmountable problem. Desperate characters, seedy locales, and a pat but satisfying ending all contribute to the appeal of this neo-noir thriller by veteran suspense author Dold. Violence, while not gratuitous, is very much a presence throughout the book. --Michael Gannon


Publisher's Weekly Review

Gaylord Dold (Samedi's Knapsack, etc.) offers spare prose and first-class entertainment in his stand-alone thriller, Six White Horses. After his Marine sergeant, Harry Wilde, frames him for drug possession, Palmer manages to break out of jail and escape to Mexico, but seven years will pass before Palmer catches up with Wilde, now a wealthy drug dealer-and the woman and child he left behind. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

  One The codeine had given Palmer a stomachache. On mornings like these he stayed in bed, waiting out the pain. This early there was no wind, and Palmer could hear lizards scuttle on the stucco walls of the hotel, their claws against the parapets and sills. The color of time was brown, a vague tumbling of sequences. When the pain ended, Palmer got up and mixed himself a glass of nonfat dry milk. Glass in hand, he stood before two open windows watching gulls drift in and out of the harbor, birds that made no sound. In the gray pre-dawn, every mile of ocean to the north was as flat and nearly opaque as smoked glass. Palmer hauled himself through the screenless double windows and climbed a fire escape onto the roof. In midwinter, Palmer enjoyed the cold spiky air of the desert, the absence of mosquitoes, a rarefied sense of being close to the source of something serene. Perhaps it was merely the mien of the deserted malecón below he liked, its dusty broken concrete stretched along the forlorn beach, the street drowned in fading pools of yellow light from street lamps still burning. Maybe it was nothing so much as absolute solitude that soothed Palmer. Perhaps it was codeine. Palmer had been on the roof for only a few minutes when, from the corner of his eye, he noticed the boy Ramón huddled under a scrap of cotton blanket, his gaze the hollow miles-away vacant expression of hunger. " Buenos dias," Palmer said. Now there was a puff of breeze under the quiet of town. Ramón adjusted a serape around his shoulders, edged his skinny legs under the blanket. Off somewhere came the sound of a bicycle bell. " Buenos ," Ramón replied. Palmer offered him a drink from the glass of milk. Ramón grasped the glass in two hands and finished it. He looked up at Palmer as if expecting to be cuffed. "It's OK," Palmer told him. " Tu madre?" " Borracha ," Ramón said. Drunk. Palmer turned back to the east, waiting for sun. " Lo siento ," Palmer said. If shame was not the sorriest thing, then it was one of them. For Palmer, the brown waste of time was six years, from when he had come to La Paz until now. In the third week after his arrival, Palmer had slept with Ramón's mother. He had been drinking tequila at a tourist bar on the Paseo Alvaro Obregón, about two hundred yards from the beach. One thing had led to another in the usual way. There had been a great clatter of noise and celebration, a broad staircase of exhilaration, and then a lengthy descent into something smothering, until the cantina dimmed, and Palmer found himself awake in a tiny rooftop cell where a woman lay beside him, snoring gently, Ramón across the room on a pallet, just three years old. The boy was asleep. Palmer had put on his clothes quickly and left the room. By way of self-justification, Palmer didn't do things like that anymore, hadn't in a long time. Twice during his days in La Paz he had slept with Americans, once with the unhappy wife of a tourist fisherman who'd come down from San Diego for the weekend and had gotton drunk aboard Palmer's charter, passed out, and had to be carried to his hotel. Later, Palmer had slept with a widow from Canada who was doing carnaval. And once, during a particularly lonely period for him, Palmer had stayed up all night with a Canadian student snowbirding from Vancouver. Although he was tempted, nothing happened, and in that way the danger of sex had vanished from his life. Now it was enough that each day passed harmlessly. Palmer wanted his life to be a book that was ignored, unread, for other books. Sitting up and tossing the cotton blanket from his knees, Ramón said, "Teach English, OK, Palmer?" Palmer asked the boy to wait. He climbed back down to his room for another glass of milk, a few stale Oreos he kept for emergencies. When Palmer returned to the roof, Ramón had put on some sandals, and had wrapped the serape around his shoulders again. Palmer placed the milk down on the tarred surface of the roof. Ramón hesitated, then drank it off hurriedly. "My name is Palmer," he said to the boy "My name is Ramón," the boy said, cheerfully. Palmer pointed to a sliver of moon, just now going down in the west above cactus and television antennas. "Qué es eso?" Palmer asked. "La luna?" Ramón said. "The moon," Palmer told him. He repeated the word again. "The moon," Ramón said. Now the sky had hazed with pink. A fizzle of thin cirrus clouds glazed the horizon. Palmer guided the boy to the parapet. Down on the street, a few fruit and vegetable vendors were opening the awnings of their portable stalls. An old man walked his lame dog on the dirty beach, picking through garbage, tin cans, plastic bags, refuse that had washed ashore overnight. To the northeast, open ocean rippled toward mainland Mexico. "Qué es eso?" Palmer asked. "El sol," Ramón told him. "The sun," Palmer said, enunciating clearly. Palmer could sense the incantatory value of the words to Ramón, their hint of far-off strangeness and promise, their primacy. "The sun," Ramón said dutifully. Years ago, Ramón's father had gone off to Guaymas for work in the cotton fields and had not returned. When he could afford to, Palmer gave Ramón milk and bread, some sticks of sugar candy. Palmer let the boy shine his shoes down at the zócalo. "And the sun is what?" Palmer asked. "Amarillo!" Ramón shouted. "Yellow," Palmer said. "Yellow," Ramón said, getting it right. Palmer picked up the empty milk glass. Ramón squatted on the roof and began to fold his cotton blanket with the careful seriousness of a diamond merchant. "America?" Ramón said. "You take me, Palmer, yes?" Ramón looked at the sun, shading his eyes. "Yes, Palmer?" Palmer studied the street. At a vendor stall, a young girl was slicing papaya, splitting the orange fruit and spilling out its black seed. In the rhythm of her work there was a tremendous sensuality, music played by the girl's hands, the sharp knife and the vulnerable object. Palmer told the boy good-bye and climbed down to his room. Domínguez watched as Palmer crossed the zócalo, paused, then bought a newspaper from a vendor on the corner of the square opposite the cathedral. Palmer unfurled the newspaper and read its headlines in a patch of sun beneath a huge royal palm. Domínguez thought about Palmer as he watched the man read his paper. Domínguez judged him to be about thirty years old, although the beard he had grown made him look older. Quite by accident, Domínguez found himself pondering the fact that Palmer seemed to be going downhill, as they say, an imperceptible loss of station in life. Domínguez sat in shade, beneath a triangle of tlaco trees that cast moving shadows on the white tablecloth. He had finished his first espresso with milk, and was contemplating another. He was chain-smoking Marlboros, tapping the ashes just at the point where they threatened to fall of their own accord. Domínguez had learned this gesture from some American movie or another, and had incorporated it into his image. Palmer had his shoes shined by one of the boys in the square, a dirty urchin in rags with a mop of straight black hair and skinny shoulders. Palmer was wearing his typical attire, gray chinos, blue work shirt, sandals. His skin was bronzed from the sun, his hair jet black. Domínguez lifted a hand in greeting, enough to attract attention. Palmer paid the boy, skirted the zócalo, and sat down at the table with Domínguez. Domínguez raised his bandaged left hand, four fingers protruding from a cocoon of white gauze and tape. "What happened to you?" Palmer asked. Palmer's blue eyes were red from no sleep. Domínguez knew about Palmer's codeine, his insomnia. "Tyson," Domínguez explained sadly. Domínguez was referring to the pit bull kept by his brother in the back of a farmacia near Avenida Constitución, at the edge of the square. Domínguez fired a cannonade of Spanish epithets, all delivered in a rapid staccato he had made his calling card on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles, the neighborhood he had haunted for ten years. Palmer listened patiently as Domínguez complained that the hand throbbed, as he put it, "like a great blue cock." "The dog is dangerous," Palmer said when Domínguez had finished his harangue. "He's dangerous because pit bulls are unpredictable and because your brother beats him." "Then why did he bite me and not my brother?" Domínguez managed a smile. "Eh, you tell me that?" The waiter came and Palmer ordered limón. He rested himself in the sun, closed his eyes, seemingly deep in thought. "You look sick, my friend," Domínguez told him. "Thank you," Palmer said. "I have the old troubles. They are not unfamiliar to me and they do not worry me much." "I'm serious, caballero," Domínguez said. He knocked back the last of his second espresso, sighing deeply and contentedly. For a moment he closed his eyes and admired an image of himself in a black cowboy shirt with two small red roses on each breast. He was grateful to have lived in North America during the gilded Age of Reagan. Before his arrest, Domínguez had endured both toil and turmoil. Now his struggles imparted to him a certain discernment. To have been busted by the FBI before the era of mandatory sentencing and long prison terms without parole was enlightening. For a brief time it had proven a good experience to be incarcerated in an American prison. But also good was the short bus ride to the Tijuana border some months later. Now Domínguez led a different kind of life, less toilsome. "I need some stuff," Palmer said. "Ask your brother the pharmacist. I'll be getting some charters soon. Fishing is pretty good and the economy is better." "You been idle how long now?" Dominguez asked. "Two weeks? Maybe longer?" "Just a week," Palmer said. "Don't make it worse than it is." In truth, Palmer earned a steady living on the charter vessel. The present week without a voyage was inexplicable. Out on the zócalo some shoeshine boys had grown bored with doing nothing and had organized a game of soccer, kicking a practically deflated football off the sides of the stucco walls of the cathedral. Two black-robed priests watched them from the steps of the church. For a moment, Domínguez thought about Rodrigo Soto-Robles, who owned the boat on which Palmer worked, who hired Palmer to translate for gringo fishermen, haul ice to and from the vessel, take photos, clean and repair equipment and fishing gear. This man Rodrigo could be trusted a little, for he was religious and burdened with a family, and he did not hate gringos on principle. Dominguez himself had grown to admire gringos, their flair for money, their hypocrisy. "Why don't you come into business with me?" Domínguez said at last, surprising himself. "I like my job," Palmer said. The midmorning silence was shattered as a bus rattled across the plaza, scattering pigeons, raising diesel dust. "We could be very happy together," Domínguez said. "And besides," Palmer added, "I'm not sure what business you're in." Domínguez laughed heartily at the joke. "Import-export," Domínguez said to Palmer, who had gone back to the headlines again. Domínguez tapped his empty espresso cup on the table top. "Let me buy you another," he said. While they waited for their drinks, Domínguez explained his wounded hand to Palmer. The pit bull named Tyson had been sunning himself on the back steps of the farmacia when Domínguez sprayed it with a hose, sending a jet of cold water up its nose. In a matter of seconds the dog had charged and leaped at Domínguez, clamping its teeth onto his left hand with the power of a shark. "I thought I would lose the fucking hand," Domínguez said angrily "Fuckeeeeen," Domínguez repeated, holding the word in his mouth as if it were a delicious candy. He explained to Palmer that he had thought his fingers would be lost, for a moment imagining himself with a hook or worse. "I sprayed that dog up the ass finally," Domínguez said. "Fucking dog anyway," he said, shaking his head unhappily. "Forty stitches from that motherfucker." Palmer thanked his friend for the second limón. "What about the cough syrup?" he asked at last. "Why don't you talk to your brother this afternoon and let me know?" "Let me tell you something, caballero," Domínguez replied. "You continue to do this codeine shit and you won't be able to take a crap for weeks and weeks. And then when you do take a crap it will drop from your ass like steel marbles. You don't sleep, my friend, and if you do sleep your dreams are decorated with vampires and magpies. Take it from one who knows, food don't taste so good no more, and when you see those beautiful young girls on the zócalo with their apple asses, nothing happens to your cock. Am I right, Palmer?" Dominguez smiled a satisfied smile. "I'm right, no?" He shrugged when Palmer said nothing. "I'm right, no? You got nothing hard in your pants for the young girls?" Palmer looked away discreetly. "Hey, hermano ," Dominguez said. "I know, I been there." Harry Wilde sometimes referred to himself in the third person. "Harry Wilde," he might say after a few tequilas had gone down the hatch, "he's gonna kick your fucking ass, no shit, amigo!" Things like that, codas and slogans and off-the-cuffs, on and on through a white-lightning lick until the listener had powder burns, broken eardrums. At times, Harry would catch himself holding convoluted conversations with his own image in the shaving mirror. It got so bad at times that Harry expected the image of himself to speak, this immaculately razored guy in the mirror toweling off. It wasn't as though nose candy and booze helped the situation either, auditorily speaking. Driving south on Figueroa through what Harry referred to sarcastically as the "land of the fucking buttholes and stockbrokers," the windows of his pink Lincoln Continental rolled down, tunes of seventies vintage blaring on soft-rock radio, Harry contemplated his own self for the twentieth or thirtieth time that day, and it was only ten o'clock in the morning. The third person, and the mind-set it engendered, wasn't a habit Harry developed in the Marines, those long dreary nights walking parking lot detail, parade grounds, warehouse duties, or even a penchant-like tic cultivated after he'd made staff sergeant of M.P's. Nor was it a way to distance himself from the jarheads and shavetails he bullied on the piers and in the bars of Oceanside. Way back then, before Harry left the Corps for good, Harry was cultivating something deeper inside himself, something impossible to access with normal radar, so to speak, a stealthy thing that would become a hidden fingerprint to his personality a DNA adapted to a world gone shitty beyond Harry's wildest dreams. Sometimes Donna--Harry's "current leg"--would, half-loaded, mimic this mannerism, and Harry would back her off with his scary Marine face, the unabashed barbarity she'd forgotten hitting her like a blow in the stomach. "There's two of us motherfuckers, Donna," Harry would scream, sitting in the living room of her apartment in Long Beach, the place Harry paid the rent on, where they'd blow toot and watch shit transpire out on the beach. "There's me and this other Harry I can't speak for me, Donna," Harry would say. "But that other Harry is a goddamn woman-beater. You know what I fucking mean?" And then Harry was in Gardena, arriving the way one always arrived in some suburb of L.A., surprised, as unannounced as a tumor, Harry surrounded by a hundred square miles of stucco wilderness, bland mall barrens, crisscrosses of concrete baking in hazy ozone stillness. Smog obscured the Dominguez Hills. Driving down an access road, Harry looked at himself in the rearview mirror, out of breath, heavily jowled, pink-featured, thick-necked as a natural bully, and said, "Harry my man, Harry needs a fucking vacation!" Harry smiled at himself in reflection, not bothering to ungarble the complicated logarithm involved in this equation, its layers of self-deception that added up to a rare truth. The other Harry smiled back. In Artesia Harry stopped at an Arco station for gasoline. Traffic was heavily out of control, and he was forced to wait in line to turn left off Figueroa. He pulled into an empty full-service lane and stopped, watched as an attendant drew gas, cleaned the windshield, an automaton caught up in daily life. He was a skinny guy, Mexican maybe, with a flat-topped haircut and too-long sideburns, an ugly wide nick of a scar above his left eyebrow. Did he admire Harry's two-hundred-dollar Hawaiian shirt featuring hula girls, volcanos erupting, upside-down outrigger canoes tunneling through surf? His specially manufactured Big Island sandals? And what about Harry's pre-washed 501's, his alligator belt, an ensemble carefully wrought to space Harry from his Shore Patrol days? The kid was about five-nine, six inches shorter than Harry and many pounds lighter. Harry followed the greaser with his stare, pulling out a wad of hundred-dollar bills, handing one over while the attendant admired Harry Down at Wilmington, Harry caught the Pacific Coast heading for Long Beach. He followed the helicopters overhead with his eyes, relating to them through direct experience, his days and nights reconnoitering Pendleton, interdicting drug dealers, on the lookout through infrared. Good God, Harry thought, he loved those days on air patrol, sharing a joint with the pilot before going up, getting off on the minuscule ants surfaceward, a little chilled on the Columbian reefer he'd purchased off-base. It was like being one step ahead of the game at all times, cranking overhead from a Marine base in a black Apache helicopter, holding on to ten thousand horsepower and a lighted joint. Of the two Harrys, the one in the mirror and the one in the two-hundred-dollar Hawaiian shirt, it was the mirrored Harry, the monster, who had been drummed out of the Corps, his rank and pension taken away, disgraced, allowed to resign and given a general discharge. It was the other silent Harry who held a grudge against an ultimately greasy world, against authority, officials, traffic jams, disabled ramps on sidewalks and handicapped parking spaces, fags, lesbians, politically correct horseshit of every stripe. But this morning the real Harry was freshly cologned and nicely detailed. He drove down to Cherry Street in Long Beach and took it toward the ocean. Everywhere there were Lego-like condos piled modernistically into shoebox forms, their stucco walls colored a mixture of beige, coral, sandstone, the muted hues of stylized chic. Donna could be seen standing next to a sliding glass door, looking down as Harry pulled into a guest parking space near the Dumpsters. "Hello, honey," Donna said to Harry, letting him inside the second-story apartment, Harry trailing sweetish cologne. "Gee you smell good," she said. "You packed yet?" Harry asked her. "Hello to you too, boohoo," Donna said. As he passed her, Harry looked her over, her yellow pleated skirt, a knit top, a few freckles on her too-white arms. The light green walls of the room made a backdrop into which she nearly disappeared. One patch of tacky winter sunlight was painted on a shining surface of the kitchen nook, bringing out a nuance of plastic and chrome. Donna lit an Ultra-lite menthol. Her hair had been rinsed into platinum blonde with black roots. "You packed?" Harry asked her again. "I got a lot of things to do, Harry," Donna said. "I just can't get up and go like you can get up and go." "Like what?" Harry asked. "Like what you got to do, baby?" Harry sat down on a lime green sofa, put his sandals up on the glass coffee table. "I got a manicure at three," Donna said. "And I got an audition tomorrow. You wouldn't want me to miss my audition, would you, Harry?" Donna had begun to pace her cigarette around the living room, five steps to the bedroom door, seven over to the glass patio doors, then back again. "You like this place, baby?" Harry asked. Donna frowned through a pall of smoke. She wanted to say nothing. But seeing as how she was fucking Harry, she decided she'd have to reply. "Of course I like this place, Harry," she said. "It isn't about this place. You want me to have a life, don't you, Harry? Or what are we talking about here?" "Harry pays the fucking rent," Harry said. "Harry pays the fucking rent and Harry buys the fucking food." "Don't get that way," Donna said, five paces from the patio doors. Nineties rock from below, four girls around the small kidney-shaped pool, smoking menthols and painting their toes. Harry walked to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator door, and got himself a bottle of Tecate. Back on the sofa, he popped the top and took a long drink. "Our flight's at one o'clock," Harry said. Donna got herself a beer from the refrigerator. She stood in front of Harry, smoking a cigarette, sipping her beer. She allowed herself to sit down next to Harry, imitating a snuggle. The synthetic nap of the sofa had been molded into pelican shapes. "How long we gonna be in Mexico?" Donna asked. "Just a few days." "I don't mind Mexico," Donna said. She felt irked, one of many times. "Except for the Mexicans of course." "We'll do some fishing, have some laughs," Harry said. "Let me call the club," Donna said. "Tell them I'm not coming in for the audition. It's a little place up in Huntington. Kinda cute really. You'd like it, Harry. There are nets on the walls, and those spears they use to catch fish with, and some kinda sponges too. They might let me sing on weekday nights when things are slow. Try to build a following, you know. Just let me tell them I'll be back next week, do the audition when we come home. OK, Harry?" Harry Wilde finished the bottle of Tecate. "Harry Wilde says screw the club," he said. "We got a fucking plane to catch." The bosses had put Suzanne on third shift for two months, something the girls called "crapping out" or "coming up with a three," or simply "behind the eight ball," all because it was dark when you went to work, and pitch-dark and cold when you got off from work. At the casino, every two months the girls rotated, changing shifts to accommodate one another. Some girls were holding down two or even three jobs to support themselves and their kids without men. But none of that meant much to the bosses, who wanted to shuffle the girls through time phases to prevent grumbling or cheating routines. For Suzanne, being behind the eight ball wasn't a matter of status or convenience, but a question of child care for her boy Adam. He was five and still frail, a youngster who chafed at the stress and strain of being alone far too much, at being raised by someone to whom he wasn't related, at not having a father, growing up anchorless in a shifting world. These days Suzanne paid a neighbor to let Adam sleep in the spare room of her mobile home at the park--Pyramid Leisure Park--where Suzanne too had a two-bedroom trailer, sometimes called a manufactured home. When she got off her dealer shift at seven-twenty in the morning, she just had time to clean up a bit and battle the Sparks traffic rush, hit 445 north, and do a quick ten minutes at eighty miles an hour, give or take a stoplight or two. In the dead of winter, like now, Suzanne worried all night about snow, high winds, traffic accidents, anything that would keep her from picking up Adam around 7:45. It was then that she would take him home to their trailer, the boy dopey from sleep and wrapped in a fuzzy blue blanket, and plop him into a hot bath while she made his favorite breakfast of Malt-O-Meal. What made the eight ball hard was not seeing Adam for eight hours at night, then not seeing him for another few hours while she tried to sleep. On the other hand, the eight ball gave her a chance to clean house in the afternoons, do some much-needed laundry. It also earned her some time alone with Adam in the early evening. Money was the main problem. Suzanne's budget was like her schedule, honed to a sharp edge. Like all sharp edges, her budget was prone to dull, become nicked here and there as it sliced through day-to-day life. Besides the one hundred each week she paid for child care, there were charges for an upcoming season of Head Start, repairs to her gas-guzzling Camaro on its last legs, all minus the reduction in tips for doing an eight-ball shift overnight. Where she might clear forty or fifty dollars in tips on a weekend night and maybe thirty a day during the week, behind the eight ball she sometimes took home as little as ten or fifteen dollars in tips, once in a while less than that. Moreover, the men who gambled at Cal-Neva after eleven at night, up through three or four o'clock in the morning, were rarely in shape to win, which was the only way Suzanne ever made real money from tips. She relied on the luck of strangers, which was slightly worse than relying on their kindness. When Suzanne threw an ace at a player, she willingly took credit for his good fortune. And when she threw a deuce, or busted somebody with a come-back king, she shared the blame with fate, for so it went in the world of flashing light and whiskey. She told herself it was all for Adam, which was the God's honest truth. That morning Suzanne took her break at 5:30. It was a cold Wednesday, and bits of frozen snow were blowing off the roofs of the high-rise hotels, showering the street with nothing that would stick. Still, she worried that a minor storm up in the Sierras would make her late to pick up Adam. During break she stood outside on Virginia Street, about five feet from the curb and under electric coils buried in a concrete fan awning, the warmth designed to accommodate patrons who wanted to step outside for a breath of air, to entice passersby to stop, perhaps throw a quarter into some voracious mechanical mouth. A few whelked clouds blew across the face of the mountains, skirted the brow of hills below, and entered the canyons of new Reno. Standing there in her Cal-Neva outfit, a short green skirt of light ersatz wool, a long-sleeved brown blouse, and a bright burnt-orange vest with the house logo emblazoned on its pocket, Suzanne tried to clear her mind of buzzers and bells. She had left her cowboy hat inside at the table, the last in line toward some dollar slots at the front. In the cold air she wanted a cigarette, wanted its smoke entering her body, warming her. The soles of her feet were cold through thin flats. She didn't know how she knew, but she sensed the night shift manager standing directly behind her. Perhaps he had made a deliberate noise, a subtle toss of weight to his left, just off Suzanne's right shoulder. "What are you going to do, Suzanne?" the manager asked her. "It's your day off, isn't it?" "Sleep," Suzanne said without turning. "Do laundry, soak my feet, buy some groceries, soak my feet, watch some daytime TV, soak my feet, and then later I'm going to soak my feet." "How's your boy?" he asked. Some people were walking across the wet street. Even as Suzanne heard the question, a drunk vomited on the sidewalk a short distance away, down the disused railroad crossing, beneath the sign featured in so many tourist posters: "Reno--Biggest Little City in the World." "You're a nice guy, Tony," Suzanne told him. "You're polite. You're fine. Your mother dresses you neatly. In another kind of life we could get married and have a lot of chubby babies. You're every girl's dreamboat, Tony. And no, I don't want to get some breakfast later." Tony shifted, lighting the cigarette that Suzanne desperately wanted. The smoke from it slipstreamed by her, enticing her urges. About twice a week Tony would test these urges, ask her to breakfast, inquire about the boy. In the five years since she'd moved to Reno, Suzanne had slept with three men, none of them Tony, none of whom she could remember with any degree of precision or clarity. After the third she'd given up the practice as dangerous and annoying, too much a risk for Adam, many reasons too messy for exposition. These days for sex she masturbated in the tub after Adam had gone to sleep for the night, lighting a few herbal candles and playing her old CDs quietly on a portable stereo she'd had since she was a teenager. It was then that she thought about things, and for a few spasmodic seconds failed to think. "Hey," Tony said. "What's with you, Suzanne, huh?" Suzanne turned slightly, achieving just enough context to half-regard Tony in the neon of perpetual Reno timelessness. Dark greasy hair combed back, dark black suit, thin pink lips and a moist chigger mouth that reminded Suzanne of something swimming underwater. "Please," Suzanne said quietly. Tony flipped his cigarette into the gutter, put both hands into his suit pocket and moved away. She finished her shift at 7:20, her table idle for forty minutes of the final hour-and-three-quarter block, a woman alone behind a garish green felt oval facing a shoeful of luckless cards, another deck spread out before her, beckoning nobody. Suzanne washed her face and changed clothes quickly, and was high up on 445 north before she realized how terribly fatigued she really felt. There was little traffic on the divided highway, and from this elevation a few lights twinkled in the lava hills above Sparks, teasing out the last of night. Almost to the turnoff for Pyramid Leisure Park, a short half-mile of gravel between sagebrush desert and road-build detritus, she caught a glimpse of herself in the rearview mirror. There, just inside another image of barren hills, mobile homes, recreational vehicles parked willy-nilly, a twin electric utility cable overhead stabbing into nowhere, was her face, a black cup of luxuriant hair clipped short, pale skin, a dusting of tiny freckles. In that single instant Suzanne thought of Palmer, whose baby-blue eyes could open her like a knife slicing fresh papaya. And then she switched Palmer off just like that, not wanting to get into it with herself. A turn of the head and Palmer was gone for the umpteenth time. Another Friday had nearly vanished when Palmer heard from Soto-Robles. In one of his rare gestures toward outward sociability, Palmer had walked to the Iguana Café on the malecón, and had treated himself to a price-fixed lobster dinner. As to form, it was perhaps the prisoner's last request, Palmer sitting alone at an outside table in the flush of evening's coolness, eating salad, french fries, a delicate white rice grown near Mazatlán, and a small lobster caught along the coast of Baja. He ate with the devoted nonchalance of a condemned man, the lame never-mind of one who has only hours left on earth, a nobody destined for the chair or a lethal injection. After his meal he walked over to the Hotel Palacio. Before he could go up to his room, the desk clerk handed him a note in Spanish from Soto-Robles. Palmer read it twice and tucked the note into the back pocket of his chinos. He went outside and jogged the half mile down the beach to where Soto-Robles kept his twelve-foot Martin fishing boat. Palmer saw him on deck, rearward toward the engine compartment, pouring diesel into a ten-gallon plastic can. The Mexican was small, furtive as a squirrel, with a busy brown goatee and smooth olive skin. "Customer, Palmer," Soto-Robles shouted to Palmer happily. He had some English, but it wasn't a concession he liked to make to gringos. "We got business!" "That's good," Palmer shouted back. On board he stood beside his boss. Across the marina they could hear the sound of guitar, bass, violin. "The fishing should be good," Palmer said. "Have you heard anything?" Soto-Robles had named his boat Constantina after his wife, a hugely fat mainlander who smothered her husband with attention. Palmer would dine occasionally at their home in the southern suburbs, part of the after-trip ritual to celebrate a successful charter. The husband and wife would dance to recorded music after, Soto-Robles disappearing into the folds of his wife's flesh. "What about yellowtail?" Palmer asked. "So-so," Soto-Robles said. "It's too early." "Who is the customer?" "A man, a woman. From Los Angeles." Palmer held the plastic can while Soto-Robles emptied gas. Robles checked the plugs in the engine, the level of oil. He handed Palmer five thousand pesos for a down payment on ice, beer, tequila, cold cuts and bread, chips: the usual gringo accoutrements they bought on credit at a local chandlery and colmado. In the morning Palmer would rise at dawn and supply the boat, arrange the sea-jigs and rigs, check the spinning equipment. Soto-Robles stood and arched his back. He stared at the sprinkling of early stars overhead. Out on the water it would be a cold night, but now it was warm, luxuriant. "You don't look so good," Soto-Robles said. "You sick or something?" "I'm fine," Palmer said. Soto-Robles handed Palmer the keys to a seventies model Impala. "They come in at eleven o'clock tomorrow morning. They've been up in Ensenada for a day and I'm told they arrive on AeroMexico." Palmer nodded. "I know the flight," he said, happy to have work, happy to get back onto water. "What are they after, do you know?" "Probably tequila and sun," Soto-Robles said. "The man is called Harry." He pronounced it Haw-ree. "Harry and Donna from Los Angeles. One can only marvel." "See you tomorrow," Palmer said. "Hasta manaña. " After pacing his room for thirty minutes in some kind of peculiar funk, trying to read a crime novel, Palmer was forced out by the tidal wave of noise, the loud music, a cacophony of voices, the rough and tumble of traffic in La Paz at the start of the weekend. Once outside he walked up Avenida Constitución and found a cowboy movie playing at the cinema. He paid for his ticket and walked in on the middle of a melodrama, taking a seat in back as a ten-foot high charro dressed in black leather braided with turquoise and bedecked with silver buttons and gold medallions seared through the featureless Mexican desert like gun smoke. When the movie was over, Palmer wandered aimlessly around the zócalo, crossed the street on a diagonal beside the post office, and found an alley where Dominguez and his brother had their farmacia in front. Down the alley Palmer saw them seated on a pair of orange crates, sharing a bottle of mescal. "Buenas," Palmer said. Dominguez smiled drunkenly and raised the bottle head high. The liquor was nearly gone, its remaining inch holding a nearly transparent worm in suspension. The brother named Ignacio sat with his head down, his shoulders hunched. "Have a drink, caballero," Dominguez said loudly. Palmer put down the paper sack he was carrying with its bottle of codeine cough syrup inside. "Give this back to your brother," Palmer said in his best Spanish, more for Ignacio than Dominguez. "I'm going off the stuff." "Eh, bueno, " Dominguez grunted. Palmer pulled up another orange crate and sat. They were halfway down the alley. Palmer could see people passing on the Avenida, going to and from the malecón, passing by the zócalo, a hundred nameless bars, discos, nightclubs and saloons. Palmer allowed himself a moment to think, then drank some of the remaining mescal, handed a nearly empty bottle back to Dominguez, whose white pants had picked up some spikes of dust on their cuffs. For some unfathomable reason, the scene--Dominguez's dirty pants, the stuffy, closed-in aroma of garbage in the alley, a moldy-looking smear of food on Ignacio's mouth--all reminded Palmer of the last time he had talked to his own father nearly twenty years before. Palmer's father had a new life with a new family now, somewhere in northern California. Palmer had half-brothers he'd never seen. Such bright sun was torture for Detective Sergeant Lennie Spicer. He had gone down to a shitty one-bedroom on Doreen in Venice on a reported DOA, and his neck was giving him hell. Now that his wife had concluded that the rash was caused by too much sun, Spicer couldn't get her diagnosis out of his mind. It was like having gum stuck to the bottom of his shoe. Just like Sharon to put something gooey on his shoe while he nosed around dead bodies. Spicer had been waiting for ten minutes on a stair landing for the landlady to bring him a pass key. Through the front windows facing a second-story balcony hallway, he could see a dead man inside the apartment, facedown in the midst of a puddle of what looked like piss, maybe worse. The carpet stain curled from beneath a blue bathrobe, a perfect halo around the subject's pelvis. All Spicer had was a name--Weems--and an occupation, Xerox jock. Someone from a Quick-Print on Venice Boulevard had called Weems when he hadn't shown up for work, and then the landlady when he didn't answer the phone. That sent the landlady upstairs, and she'd seen Weems facedown on the carpet of his living room floor in the middle of a halo of piss. Spicer scratched the patch of skin on his neck. Through the dirty drapeless window he could see Weems and his outfit on the floor, a syringe, cap, small sponge, a length of rubber hose. Nothing like going out fast and easy, Spicer thought to himself. Weems probably never knew what hit him. The landlady arrived a few minutes later and let Spicer into the apartment. First, Spicer collected the outfit in a plastic bag and labeled it. A uniformed officer named Allen had gone downstairs and was waiting for the M.E. and the forensic team, and Spicer had told him to start a canvass of the complex. Unless Spicer missed his guess, the complex was the kind of place where nobody knew anybody else, a storage bin for anonymous singles and the divorced on their way from one job to another, one marriage to another. The living room was dimly lit, poorly furnished, numb with the scent of loneliness. According to his report, Weems had missed work on Friday, then again on Monday. His body stank like cheese. After nosing around for ten minutes, Spicer found a stack of muscle magazines in the bedroom and four M-16s rolled in a scrap of carpet and stored at the back of a walk-in closet between the bedroom and tiny bath. Spicer looked at the weapons, then rolled them back up in the carpet and went out to the living room where Weems was prone in his piss halo. In his notes Spicer wrote: About 5-9, medium build, butch-cut red hair, tiny rhinestone earrings in each earlobe, two-inch ponytail splitting out the back of his head, blue eyes, freckled . Spicer kneeled down and pulled back an arm of the blue bathrobe and saw a tattoo, Semper Fi, printed above an anchor. Back on the balcony Spicer caught a breath of what passed for fresh air in Los Angeles. Patrolman Allen came up the stairs and stood beside him. They were still waiting for the M.E. and forensics. "What's the story, officer?" Spicer asked. "Neither of his neighbors left or right are home," Allen said. "Nobody downstairs knows the guy. I asked the landlady for a list of tenants and their employment." Spicer scratched the back of his neck. It was more an annoyance than a pain. "I need the place taped off," Spicer said. "Tell the landlady nobody goes in or out until LAPD says they do." "She'll scream," Allen said. "Ripe in there, huh?" Spicer nodded in reply. From where the two policemen stood on a balcony there was no view of Venice Beach, just tile rooftops, utility poles, yellow stucco walls and banks of ice plant. It seemed a shame to Spicer that the Basin could be so utterly wasted on a guy like Weems, thousands of guys like Weems. Because of the guns, Spicer had decided he should call his lieutenant, get a higher-up to back him. Spicer wasted time buttoning and unbuttoning his checked sports coat, anything to busy his hands, keep them away from the crusty patch of skin on his neck. Spicer said, "What kind of guy keeps a stash of M-16s in his closet and runs copies down at Quick-Print?" Patrolman Allen caught Spicer's eye. "That's why they pay you the big bucks, Detective," Allen said. "To answer questions like that." Two dusty paloverdes framed the pool where Harry Wilde sat on a patio delineated by breeze-block and baked tile, a bloomless bougainvillea. He was having a breakfast of huevos and Bloody Marys. Across from him was the hombre named Rodriguez, an appellation they all carried. There seemed to be many Rodriguez brothers, cousins, nephews, all chunky, charro types who favored white guayaberas and blue jeans, dark sunglasses. Before Rodriguez arrived, Harry Wilde had spent fifteen minutes over his first Bloody Mary, sitting at his table watching two college girls swim truncated laps in the tiny swimming pool, their buttery legs scissoring the water as Harry licked salt from the rim of his glass, featuring himself fitted between those legs, riding the blue morning of his Ensenada fantasy. Rodriguez folded his hands on his formidable belly, watching Harry Wilde edge back from the eggs. Rodriguez was nearly as big as Harry but not nearly as gone to fat. "You been having a good trip, amigo ?" Rodríguez asked Harry in English. "So-so," Harry told him. They were silent while the college girls toweled off. Rodríguez took that time to polish his sunglasses with a paper napkin. The college girls stretched like cats and oiled themselves. Harry said, "Actually, it was a fucking good flight, better than U.S." "You drink too early," Rodríguez said. "It goes to your head." "Yeah? Thanks," Harry said. He laughed a little to be polite and called for another Bloody Mary, just to show Rodríguez what he was made of. The two men had been doing business for several years and were total strangers, save for the one thing that united them. It was, as Harry Wilde often told Donna, a textbook case of biological need, something akin to symbiosis. Not that Harry knew the terms precisely. But he knew how it worked. You had needs and you fulfilled them. When the needs went away, you stopped. It had been that way with the puke who called himself Weems, though he hadn't mentioned that to Donna. Donna was decent leg, but it wouldn't be appropriate to tell her about needs, means, and Weems. "Let's do it," Harry said when his drink came. "I got a plane to catch." "Before that," Rodríguez said, leaning forward, his meaty arms on the table, "we got to clean up a little problem between us, huh?" Harry Wilde opened his palms; go ahead. "My L.A. people having a trouble last time," Rodriguez said. "It's not too much, but I want to hear it from you how that last shipment got some guns short. I don't want nobody getting to be nervous here, getting scrambled up in Los Angeles. But you and me, we going to be straight on each other, no, amigo?" "I'm gonna level with you," Harry said. "On account of how long we been doing business. My last mule, this guy named Weems, he held something out on you, sure. He's been taken care of and I'll make up the shortfall next time." "This guy you call Weems. What happened to him?" "It's been taken care of," Harry said. "Hey, hombre ," Rodríguez said. "Your word is good with me, but I got brothers who don't know you. They let me handle this end of the business, but they always got a lot of questions they ask me back in Chihuahua." "Sure, I understand," Harry Wilde told him, not getting annoyed yet. Keeping cool by the pool. "Weems, he went a little cockeyed. He grazed a little of your stuff and he grazed a little of my stuff. The last time he put a spike in his arm he didn't get the spike out before he hit the floor." "How you mean, cockeyed?" "You know, off the beam. He held out on me too. It was just one of those things. I spiked the fuck. Your people can probably read about it in the Times , they want. Back page memoir, a minor shitbag down in Venice, California. They look hard enough in the newspaper, it'll be there." "I no understand this shit," Rodríguez said. "The fucker is dead," Harry Wilde said. "I'll tell my brothers," Rodríguez said. "Other than that, we're straight?" "Other than that," Rodríguez answered. "I've got more of the same," Harry Wilde said. "So do we," Rodríguez said after a minute. "How you going to get it across, now that, how you say, you spiked your mule?" "I'll find another fucking mule," Harry Wilde said. "Harry Wilde and his associates never come up short. Semper Fi ." Rodríguez ran a hand across his fresh guayabera. "I have half a kilo in Chihuahua," he said. "Delivery at the factory door, just like you. You know the hotel, send your man there and I'll be waiting." "Harry Wilde has MAC-2s, and he's got M-16s." "How many?" "Two hundred. Not less than that. Along with the MAC-2s. Up in Los Angeles like before. You know where I store the stuff. Call me and have your brother come over with his truck, just like before." "We can do this," Rodríguez said, smiling for the first time. "We'll come down first this time," Harry Wilde said. "Name the mule. Risk falls on you." "No way, man. In Mexico, the risk falls on you. That shit you brew up, you make it for about fifty dollars worth of bathtub chemicals." Rodríguez adjusted his dark glasses. Out over the ocean a small Cessna dipped down through layers of sea mist and dust. The morning was semi-brown with rising smog. "In Mexico, on me, then," Rodríguez said. "After that, on you." Rodríguez finished the coffee he was drinking. "Give me the usual sign. Your shit will be waiting in Chihuahua." Harry Wilde blew his nose on the linen tablecloth and watched as Rodríguez departed, the man walking slowly under the verde arch, down a flagstone path, then beyond the disused tennis courts and their torn windscreens and weedy concrete. Harry threw down a twenty-dollar bill, walked through the hotel's glassed-in lobby, and rode an elevator to the fifth floor, right on top, a corner room facing away from downtown Ensenada. Inside the room it was dark, air-conditioned to a hush. "It's about time," Donna said, sitting up in bed, doing her lipstick. "I'm hungry, baby." "Get up, will you?" Harry Wilde asked her irritably. "I been up," she whined. "I wanted to take an early swim, but the pool was full of sand. It was yucky. You was dumbass asleep." Harry Wilde snapped open the drapes, exploding sunlight into the room. "Jesus, Harry," Donna exclaimed. Harry Wilde stood in front of the sliding glass doors looking down at the college girls around the pool. Fucking creeps, he thought. Harry Wilde owns you. Before he got back to the Los Angeles station at eight, Spicer managed six hours of sleep. Some dark pigeonhole of his memory held Sharon in suspension. He left for work in the dawn hours with the girls, jets overhead circling LAX. What woke him for good was the retired asshole next door mowing his lawn, buzzing everything alive at seven in the morning, even before traffic noise. It made Spicer think about the things he liked about Santa Monica, the things he didn't like. He liked taking his daughters down to the Santa Monica pier now and then, fishing off the pylons for bass, staying a couple of hours to catch some sun, then coming home hand in hand together as waves lapped the shore. Spicer liked the cafés and diners, and he even liked the weird people. Mostly he liked the fact that Santa Monica had been discovered by the beautiful set, people who might drive up the value of his crappy two-bedroom bungalow enough to provide Spicer an ultimate escape. But he hated the clamor and dirt, the skateboard mentality, and he hated the way the palms looked, as if they had tuberculosis or something. He really, really hated the asshole next door who mowed his lawn three times a week at seven o'clock in the morning, rain or shine, summer or winter. Someday, Spicer dreamed, the Big One would slam the Basin into flying bits of plaster and glass shards and everything would crack open into flaming lava and the guy over yonder would be jockeying his Lawn-Boy through blazing flocks of molten rock, falling timbers, oblivious of smoke and haze. At the station, Spicer sat at his metal desk reading the medical report, a preliminary to the autopsy. The M.E. had done blood on Weems, a workup of fibers, skin, hair, an analysis of the needle and some basic chemistry. In truth, they hardly needed the autopsy. In the middle of his reading, Spicer saw Lieutenant Able sit down opposite him, legs crossed. She was holding a box of chocolate-covered mini-doughnuts in one hand, a gift from Hostess to the police force. "Good for you," Able said mysteriously, showing Spicer the box of little doughnuts. Spicer looked at them as if they were chocolate-covered cockroaches. "Eat one," Able said. "Don't think, just eat." Spicer wanted a tiny doughnut, just one. He waved it away and immediately regretted his action. "Tell me I was right to call you on this O.D.," he said to Able. "You were right," she said. She ate two doughnuts at one time, popping them into her mouth one after the other. "I'm just reading about this guy Weems," Spicer said. The lieutenant was there to assure Spicer's well-being, to give him hints on procedure, cover his ass if he got into trouble. Their office was on the second floor of the station house, a gray concrete art deco structure smack in the middle of three acres of parking lot and palms dropping fronds. The big room was filled by cubicles with corkboard dividers. Long dirty windows filtered light into smudged wedges. Sometimes Spicer thought of himself as a rat, his office a maze, the wider world of Los Angeles as some kind of insane laboratory with politicians directing experiments for mod scientists full of pop theories. "I'm glad you called," Able said. "But I'm on a short string this morning. Make it quick, can you?" "You get quick," Spicer said. "The dead guy Weems rented his apartment under a false name. He wasn't David Weems after all. His real name is Austin Goode. Born in St. Louis, moved to Douglas, Arizona as a kid. His dad was in the Army. Up until last year Austin Goode was a Marine private stationed down at Camp Pendleton the other side of Oceanside. Now why would a guy like that rent a crappy apartment in Venice under an assumed name?" "He's a junkie," Able said. "But he isn't a junkie," Spicer said. "I checked his arms and legs, between the toes. They didn't look that bad, like he might have skin popped occasionally for fun. I think the syringe was his new toy." "Do you have toxicology on him?" Able asked, eating another chocolate mini-doughnut. Able was tall and black and played irony like some people played ragtime. Spicer liked her, he enjoyed her banter, and he admired the way she put up with racist bullshit around the office. She gobbled chocolate doughnuts two at a time and knew how to talk to people. She was resented here and there for all the obvious reasons, but Spicer was the kind of Detective Sergeant who ignored angles and went straight at things. "Heroin?" Able said finally, choking down the doughnut. Spicer broke down and picked out one doughnut, dunking it in his instant coffee. He held the doughnut under for a few moments, then pulled it out in one piece. "You won't believe this," Spicer said. "It isn't heroin. It's something called fentanyl." "Synthetic heroin." "Hard shit to make," Spicer said. "I'm told the chemicals are fairly cheap, but a guy could blow himself to kingdom come if he didn't know what he was doing. The process is something like distillation, and it produces terrible smells. You'd need a lot of equipment and a place away from people. This fentanyl stuff doesn't hit the street that often." "What about the guns?" "I'm waiting on ATF." Able sat thinking for a moment. She looked fresh as a daisy to Spicer, newly dry-cleaned gray suit, a white blouse. Spicer had a yen to look fresh, but didn't have the knack. "Go see DEA," Able said at last. "Fentanyl is rare enough that they might have a line on it. If that shit hits the street hard enough, junkies downtown will be dropping like flies." "Ten-four," Spicer said. "And about the O.D.?" "I'd like to treat it as a homicide," Spicer said. "I'd like to carry it on my caseload at least until we sort out this gun thing and the fentanyl angle. Give me a few days to dig around. I'll let you know how it's going." "You do that," Able said. Spicer watched her wiggle down the hallway between cubicles, Spicer counting the beats. Ribbed glass and nice ass, Spicer thought, mentally calculating the disciplinary charges he'd face if his thoughts could be seen. When Able was gone, Spicer called the DEA. Staying awake on Saturday and Sunday nights was one of Suzanne's biggest problems. Working behind the eight ball as she'd been doing, she picked Adam up after work, then had to carry the drowsy bundle of a boy with his fuzzy blanket and purple dinosaur down to her mobile home parked under a bluff at the end of a row of homes, some way from the last trailer in line. When Suzanne had first moved to Pyramid Leisure Park, she chose a space away from others so that she and Adam could enjoy a little privacy, knowing as she did how it sometimes got crazy in mobile home parks, especially in a city like Reno, known for its drinking and gambling, for its itinerants, its single mothers with bad habits. Down one side of the mountain was a barren overlook with a view of the Sierras, a gray-silver carcass of mountain range, dry side forward. In the evenings when she had no shift, Suzanne would take Adam outside and let him ride his new threewheeler up and down talus slopes while the sun went down behind the mountains, the valley displayed in austere purple shadows of color. A gravel road dead-ended at her door. There was a cul-de-sac turnaround and a place to park her Camaro, a swing set out back, and a silver lozenge of natural gas. When Suzanne let her mental guard down, she saw her situation as a metaphor. End of the road, talus slope, barren valley, no neighbors nearer than three hundred feet. She made Adam a pallet on the floor that night, the boy beside the sofa, half asleep on a pile of pillows with his dinosaur crooked under one arm, a squeeze bottle full of apple juice nearby. Lying down on the sofa above her son, Suzanne closed her eyes and touched the remote to turn on Saturday morning cartoons, adjusting the volume so that its clash of outer-space war could barely be heard. Adam breathed slowly and deeply, his tiny chest rising and falling, his eyes fixed on the screen of the TV Suzanne felt herself edging toward the abyss of exhaustion. She opened her eyes and looked at her son, his marbled blue eyes so much like Palmer's. Eyes unsullied by irony or hip. How nice, she thought. Suzanne touched her own breasts, an act almost unconscious. She caressed the nipples, letting her mind drift toward Palmer the way autumn smoke might drift toward a distant line of cottonwoods. Back in Oceanside she had noticed Palmer at once, singling him out from the hundreds of lonely Marines on-base, Palmer callow with his jarhead haircut, blue jeans, a black long-sleeve turtleneck and boots. If she'd ever seen a lonelier-looking Marine she couldn't remember, and there had been a lot of lonely Marines in the Sugar Shack at Oceanside beach and pier. Palmer's ur-loneliness had nothing to do with despair. Something in Palmer's eyes transfigured him, bathed him in dignity. Instantly, Suzanne felt herself attracted, compelled. Only later, one night when they had walked partway out the pier in dense fog, did she comprehend the level of her immediate involvement with Palmer. Perhaps he was the most completely and astonishingly unselfish man she had ever met, and there were moments in the next few months when she would feel her heart leap, leave her body, just thinking about him. His touch, stupid to say, sent her into swoons of innocent agony. She remembered the last time she'd seen Palmer at the brig on Pendleton, his eyes hollow from lack of sleep, a number stenciled on his white prison T-shirt. Suzanne had cried uncontrollably. Already she was pregnant, already another heart beat beneath her own. And there behind bars sat terrified but selfcomposed Palmer, the man comforting her for God's sake, instead of the way it was supposed to be, the other way around. Run, Palmer, run! Suzanne woke to Power Ranger pandemonium. Adam had leaped to an arm of the sofa and was peering point-blank into the television set. A dribble of apple juice trailed across the carpet. Sitting up, Suzanne could see outside to where a gray winter cold was coming down off the mountainsides, wind banging against the loose metal skirt of the trailer. Suzanne arched into a stretch, then lay quiet and prayed for Palmer, wherever he was. She rejoiced in his freedom, reveled in his absence. Whatever had touched her about Palmer had left its lovely spark, now staring eyeball-to-eyeball at a spike-headed Power Ranger dressed in red and green body armor. Harry Wilde drank his Bloody Mary and watched the desert slide past below, a vast expanse of rock-bound wilderness bordered by blue ocean, indented by bays, crisscrossed by gullies and mountain ranges. When the jet began to descend into La Paz, Harry tried to feature how he was going to find a good mule on a moment's notice, a mule by definition being a patsy to carry shit across the border for a nominal fee. For a year, Austin Goode had done the job, but that was over. Goode had gone off the deep end and had stolen a few guns, then started mainlining for kicks, when all the little prick had ever done before was blow toot and smoke weed. Harry Wilde had to hand it to the wire-headed motherfucker. He had balls and he was crazy as a shit-house mouse. Harry and Donna emerged from a tunnel into the glassenclosed lobby of the airport. Across the tile floor, Harry could see a dark guy holding a sign--HARRY AND DONNA--scribbled on cardboard with Magic Marker. The guy holding the sign was tall and lean, muscled like a college wrestler, a black shaggy beard, sharp features, wearing blue jeans and a black T-shirt. As soon as the guy saw Harry and Donna walking toward him, he put on a pair of sunglasses. "You folks Harry and Donna?" the guy asked, folding the sign in half, tucking it under one arm. Harry Wilde took a minute trying to place the guy. There was a whiff of something familiar about him, some tune playing in the back of Harry Wilde's head. "Who are you?" Harry asked. "I'm from Soto-Robles," the guy said. "I've got a car outside. I'll drop you by your hotel. Welcome to La Paz, Baja California." "Let's go, Harry," Donna said. Donna had on her regal-white leisure outfit, a white sombrero with tassels. Harry Wilde continued to regard the guy, trying to name the tune in his head, deep background to something. "Carry these, willya," Harry said, dropping two carry-ons. "We don't have anything else." "Sure thing," the guy said. Harry and Donna trailed outside to an asphalt parking lot on the eastern fringe of the airport. They climbed into the backseat of a green seventies Chevy. Down a gravel road they chased chickens and dust. Harry's mouth was dry from vodka and salt. "Do I know you?" Harry asked the guy. "Not likely," he said. They looked at each other briefly in the medium of the rearview mirror, something unsaid trailing off between them like the dust that tailed up from the speeding Chevy. SIX WHITE HORSES. Copyright (c) 2002 by Gaylord Dold. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010. Excerpted from Six White Horses: A Thriller by Gaylord Dold All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.