Table of Contents
No more loafing around . . .
Sheriff Mitchell led Barry to the edge of the moat, and I trailed along behind. The firefighters moved aside, clearing our view of the muddy bottom.
The beams of heavy-duty flashlights cut through the mist in the moat. The reflected light cast crazy shadows, throwing the scene at the bottom into chaos.
My brain struggled to make a recognizable image from the jumble. The moat itself was a place I knew well, and I could sort out the steep sides and the temporary bridge.
But the bottom didn’t look right. As I looked harder I saw three paramedics, the reflective tape on their brown jackets spelling out “Clackamas Fire.”
The fog shifted and I got a brief clear look at the scene below.
I don’t know what I expected to see. But I didn’t expect to see a pair of hand-stitched Italian loafers motionless at the bottom of the moat.
Their owner lay partway under the temporary bridge, his upper body hidden by the piers and planks. But I knew those shoes . . .
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Christy Evans
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A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with Tekno Books
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / April 2010
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This one is for my mother,
and for Steve,
whose love and support makes everything possible.
The list is long, and my memory is short, but I want to thank everyone who helped make this book a reality:
Colleen, friend and first reader;
Denise and Michelle, fabulous editors;
Kris and Dean, mentors and friends who are there to talk me off the ledge when necessary;
Sheldon McArthur, the Yoda of crime fiction, and bookseller guru;
Jim, the “day job” boss who actually “gets it”;
Pat and Shane, who trusted me enough to let me practice on their new vanity;
All my OWN buddies, for being a cheering section;
Especially to Cindie, for the coolest wrench ever;
And to Steve, my husband, best friend, and biggest fan. I hope you always feel that way.
“Let’s get a move on, Neverall,” Sean Jacobs, the crew foreman, said as he gestured toward the muddy bottom of the trench. “The inspector’s due in an hour.”
Mud sucked at my boots as I slipped down the steep side of the troublesome McComb moat project, a shovel banging clumsily against my leg.
With permit hearings, never-ending inspections, and construction snafus, this job was fast becoming a plumber’s nightmare.
The drainpipe we buried last week had to be uncovered this week. As the apprentice, I got all the bottom-of-the-barrel jobs. Or in this case, bottom of the moat.
We were supposed to be done before the rain started, but this year summer limited itself to a few weeks of clear skies and temperatures in the high nineties. Now it was only October, and the Great North-wet was already living up to its nickname.
I bit back a curse as the mud squished beneath my weathered steel-toed boots. No swearing on the job. It was one of the rules my boss, Barry Hickey, insisted upon. Barry had a lot of rules.
I reached the muck at the bottom of the six-foot-deep trench and checked the marker stakes. Buried beneath fourteen inches of dirt—now mud—was the pipe in question. It had to be uncovered and inspected—again—before the concrete lining could be poured.
This close to the recently erected bridge piers, the power equipment was useless. With the piers in place there was no room for a power shovel to maneuver. All this job required was a strong back and a lot of stubborn.
Sean and I had reached a truce of sorts. Although he still didn’t believe a girl belonged on any kind of construction crew, after working together all summer I felt as though I was slowly earning his respect.
It was a familiar scenario. Several years in the boy’s club of Silicon Valley high tech had taught me how to adapt. When I left behind the Union Square wardrobe and the hundred-hour workweeks, I had come away with some hard-earned lessons.
Not to mention a flattened bank account, a bruised ego, and a broken heart—all courtesy of some of the slimier boys in the club.
By comparison, the thick mud at the bottom of the moat felt clean.
I shifted another shovelful of ooze, depositing it behind me. Water, dark with the rich soil, ran back down into the hole I’d created, obscuring the bottom.
I moved along the width of the moat, carefully uncovering a narrow trench. We would have to pump it dry for the inspector, but at least the rain had stopped. With luck, we could get the approval we needed and re-bury the pipe before the skies opened up again. The concrete, fortunately, would be someone else’s problem.
Building a moat sounds simple. It’s nothing more than a ditch, dug in a circle instead of a straight line. It was the stuff that went inside that circle that was the problem.
Power lines, cables, water lines, drainpipes—all the modern conveniences had to be fed to the McComb’s castle—and had to run under the moat. It was one of the requirements of the permit. A local ordinance said
. That meant at least a foot of dirt over every pipe and cable, and we were sticking to the letter of the agreement.
It was a complex puzzle, feeding the latest technology to a state-of-the-art castle at the farthest reach of the grid. Three years ago, I would have been on the design team. As owner of Samurai Security, it was precisely the type of challenge I had looked for.
Instead I was up to my ankles in mud, dressed in stained coveralls and work boots. I was shoveling the muck, my hands protected by heavy leather gloves. I wore no jewelry, except a battered plastic wristwatch.
I was happier than I’d been in years.
Above me I heard a vehicle crunch to a stop on the gravel apron next to the bridge supports. I glanced at my watch with a sinking feeling. The inspector was half an hour early, and we were nowhere near ready.
“Hello, Mr. McComb,” I heard Sean say, and I breathed a silent sigh of relief.
Chad McComb, the eccentric millionaire who wanted a castle and was willing to pay for it, was a welcome visitor at the job site. A retired Microsoft engineer who’d been hired so early in Microsoft’s history that his employee number was rumored to be only two digits long, McComb treated the contractors and their crews well.
“Chad please, Sean.” I could hear the smile in McComb’s voice. “How’s the work going?”
Sean sighed. “Another blasted inspection. We’re getting ready to pump out the rainwater. Inspector should be here in a few minutes.”
“Won’t keep you, then. Let me know if you need anything.”