Also by Stephen White
The Best Revenge
Manner of Death
A N o v e l
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Published by Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Copyright © 2007 by Stephen W. White
All rights reserved
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
White, Stephen 1951–
Dry ice : a novel / Stephen White.
1. Clinical psychologists—Fiction.
2. Boulder (Colo.)—Fiction. 3. Psychological fiction. I. Title.
Set in Sabon
Designed by Spring Hoteling
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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T o J a n e D a v i s
It is always easier to fight for one's principles than to live up to them.
Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.
THE SKY above the mountains was stained with the last pastels of a mediocre sunset.
Headlights approached from the east.
Cruz climbed from the raw dirt to the bucket, jumped from the bucket up to the ground, killed the diesel, and prepared to meet the maintenance supervisor halfway between the fresh grave and the truck.
The work was running late.
The Ford rolled to a stop on the crushed granite with its brights aimed directly at the grave. Ramirez stepped down from the pickup's cab and marched toward the hole. Crazy shadows bent every which way as the beams from the truck and the wash from the floods above the excavator competed to obliterate the creeping darkness.
One at a time, Ramirez rubbed the tops of his cowboy boots on the calves of his jeans. Not content with the results, he polished the leather on one boot a second time before he tucked his right hand into the pocket of his down vest, turned his head, and spit. Ramirez kept his boots shinier than a new quarter. If he was outside he almost always spit before he spoke a word.
"Should've been done an hour ago. Two things," he said to Cruz, holding up his left hand like a peace sign. "Don't like one-man crews." He folded down his index finger, leaving his middle finger pointing skyward in unintended profanity. "Don't like digging in the dark. Alonso knows that. People get hurt. I'm two-hundred-twelve straight days nobody hurt. Tomorrow's two-thirteen. Understand?"
Cruz's eyes were focused on the ground in front of Ramirez. "All done diggin', Mr. R.—had to pull a couple big rocks. That slowed us, but I'm just about to get the casket placer set and the drapes hung. Alonso said it's an early interment, wants everything ready before I go. I know that's the way you like it too."
Ramirez was oblivious to being played. Alonso joked that the man wouldn't spot an ass-kiss unless the suck-up's lips ended up Krazy Glued to his butt.
The boss looked around—the trailer with the folding chairs wasn't near the grave. "What about chairs?"
"Alonso'll bring 'em out in the morning—said nobody wants to sit on a chair covered with dew."
"Doo?" Ramirez asked. "Why the heck would there be any doo on the chairs?"
Cruz coughed to disguise a laugh. "Sitting out at night? That kind of dew?"
Ramirez spit again. He pulled a sheet of paper from his pocket and angled it so that it was illuminated by the Ford's headlights. "I want forty-eight. I want a center aisle, and I want 'em in place by eight-fifteen. Not eight-twenty." He stuffed the paper back into his jeans and gestured toward the fresh rectangular scar in the sweep of bluegrass. The lawn was just beginning to green up for spring. "Right there. Between there and the path. Sun at their backs."
"No problem, Mr. R."
The shiny chrome components of the equipment that would manage the weight of the casket as it was lowered into the grave were already lined up square beside the hole. Ramirez knew his gravedigger's job was almost done. He spit again, shooting saliva four feet to his left through the fat gap in his front teeth.
"Eight-fifteen. I mean it. Gonna be cold. Some wind maybe. Where the heck is Alonso anyway?" he asked.
Alonso had worked maintenance at the cemetery for eighteen years. He operated the compact excavator at grave sites. His most important job, though, was keeping the short-timers in the corral, which saved Ramirez a lot of work and even more aggravation. Alonso used up most of the accumulated goodwill trying to keep an eye on his adopted teenage daughter. He used what was left to create some cover for the younger members of the crew, kids like Cruz who tended to be less diligent than their mentor.
Cruz said, "Toothache. Dentist."
Getting Alonso to take off early had promised to be the trickiest part of what Cruz was doing. The plan had been to fake an emergency call from Alonso's daughter's school. It seemed that happened at least once a week, anyway. The abscess was a gift.
"No moving that equipment," Ramirez said. "We both know you're not ready for that." He laughed at the thought of Cruz driving the little excavator.
"Soon as I'm done squaring it off I'll lift the bucket and set the frame. We have that other plot to dig—the double by the lake? I promised Alonso I'd get the installer on this one and get the drapes done tonight. He'll move the digger over there early and we'll start on that double as soon as the mourners are gone."
Ramirez didn't reply.
The boss's silence caused Cruz's anxiety to rustle. "Alonso wasn't sure you wanted a canopy up for the family. Sun'll be low when the service starts. No weather coming, but we've had that wind the past couple of mornings." Cruz thought Ramirez was leaning forward, examining the grave. "If you want a canopy, Mr. R., just say the word. I'll throw it on the trailer and bring it out with the chairs."
Ramirez took his hands from his pockets. He spit. "Almost done?"
"Five minutes. Clean up the hole a little. Line up the placer, check the rollers, tighten the straps. Drape it just the way you like."
Ramirez spit again. "Want a hand?"
Ramirez didn't much like labor. He viewed himself as a supervisor, even if the only one he supervised was Alonso, who didn't need any watching. Alonso did all the real herding of the crew of kids who cut the grass, plowed the snow, placed the headstones, and did the shovel work on the deep caverns in the bluegrass. Had Cruz asked for actual help, Ramirez would have pretended that his pager had gone off and he had someplace important to be.
Like his "office" in the equipment shed.
"No, Mr. R. I'm cool. Square corners, level base, perfect depth."
Ramirez took two steps toward the grave. Two more and he'd be able to see the bottom of the hole without any trouble, and he'd be able to make his own judgment about how level that base was and how square those corners were. "You like the Hepburn?"
Ramirez was asking about the new casket placer they'd been using since the beginning of the month. The contraption cost a fortune. He liked to show it off whenever he could like he was displaying a new car on his driveway to make his neighbor envious.
Cruz nodded. "Sets up much faster than the old one, Mr. R. Much smoother, too. The bearings on the rollers on that old one were—"
The boss didn't like the word "shit" so he completed the sentence himself. "I know. Shouldn't be no squealing around funerals. Finish up then."
The lights danced again as Ramirez walked back toward the truck. He stopped for a moment in a position that left his shadow covering the black rectangle of the grave. "I get wind you moved that digger, I'll fire your ass. Understand?"
"Mark it right where it's at. That's where it'll be in the morning. All I'm going to do is lift the bucket."
Ramirez pulled himself into his truck. Behind him the profile of the Front Range marked a jagged break between the darkening sky and the frantic lights of Boulder at rush hour.
Cruz knelt down and tested the rollers, just for show. The new equipment was working fine.
The taillights of Ramirez's Ford disappeared down the access road.
Only one more thing to finish before installing the Hepburn and hanging the drapes. Cruz hopped onto the bucket, dropped back down into the grave, and said, "Bingo."
I THOUGHT I spotted a rosy glimmer in the water sluicing through the fountain.
My next patient was sitting calmly ten feet away, covered in blood.
I don't need this.
Diane Estevez, my longtime partner and friend, had recently decided to renovate the waiting room of the old house that held our clinical psychology offices. She thought the time had come for the parlor's evolution into a transitional space, like the quiet stone and bamboo anterooms she loved to visit prior to being welcomed into a favorite spa.